Moments That Matter, Giving Heroism Another Look

Let’s get on to part two of Rancho Community Church (Murrieta) three-part series on the Book of Esther smartly billed as Moments that Matter. I was super excited to see Lauralyn Vasquez visit, teach, and preach in Murrieta campus for the first time. Although I wouldn’t describe Lauralyn as a humor-based, tongue-in-cheek presenter, a small aspect of her style very much reminds me of Anne Lamott. They both have a wholehearted, deep and practical sense of social needs and justice awareness —and it’s highly recognizable in the content of their messages. Lauralyn includes cleverly set digressions in her message. Her anecdotes are rich and evoking. She has a subtly dominant and yet endearing technique of reaching the audience. I hope she visits and preaches more in Murrieta.

Part 1 Moments That Matter, Book of Esther

The Book of Esther reveals what would look like the first recorded plan of the Jewish holocaust. If we are to follow this assertion, then Haman’s character parallels that of you know who.

Haman was an Agagite and the right hand to Xerxes the King of Persia. Later in the story’s twist, Mordecai would be elevated to the said position by the King himself. Persia was the conquering empire to the exiled people of Israel. Esther is the last book in the Bible that follows a linear narrative (Chronological storytelling). It is important to note that the setting of the book is in Susa, the capital of Persia. Also necessary to understand is that both protagonists in the book were not born or raised in the land of Israel.

In the series, we talk about Moments that Matter. Although the storyline primarily shines on Esther and Mordecai, there’s also a secondary story of female heroism in the book, Queen Vashti’s. Please understand that in ancient literature, heroism is regarded as something done that is bigger than expected and it’s not necessarily an act of sacrifice or giving your own life to benefit others.

Others may call Queen Vashti’s refusal of the King’s order as a display of prideful arrogance of a woman who doesn’t recognize her spousal and societal duty. Contextually, this isn’t the case. She actually acted boldly and fearlessly, and evidently punished for standing up for her conviction. What’s lost in most discussions is that her action paved an opening for Ester and her own display of boldness.

Queen Vashti’s bravery is a juxtaposition to Ester’s brand of courage. Queen Vashti is a full-grown woman while Esther is a young inexperienced teenage girl. Ester’s is conspiring and deceivingly passive. Queen Vashti chose her moment she would stand for even if it meant losing a crown, or potentially, her life. The individual stories of Queen Esther and the dislodged Queen Vashti teach us that heroism comes in various forms.

The ”when to speak” part simply means to choose for the moments to stand for. Frankly, it’s a tall order for such a young girl. Given the times Ester was exposed to, she had to grow up fast. She didn’t just have to learn to navigate through and around despicable moments but she also had to do terrible things to survive and be the heroine her adoptive parent expected her to be. Speaking of him, it is easy to judge Mordecai as complicit to the pimping of his adoptive daughter. In a world where you are held as captive people, what would you have done? Mordecai and Esther will both choose which moments to stand for.

Lauralyn touched a little bit on social justice, on adoption and its life-changing moments, and the response to social needs. She puts out a call to be a consistent champion for someone needing of championing. Like how she sees Mordecai was for Ester.

One of the major things that Mordecai impressed upon Esther was the importance of having the proficiency to gauge when to speak and when to be silent. Lauralyn brought up a clear distinction on the type of silence Mordecai refers to in his mentorship of Esther—when to be silent. I will expound a little on this. The skill of knowing when to be silent is strategic. And it pertains to the gift of shrewdness, not of indifference or subservient quietude. The silence Mordecai taught to Esther, in a narrative and logical perspective should be understood in a tactical sense. In the story, we see not just Esther but also Mordecai choosing their moments of fortuitous silence.

If it were for the critics of the Book of Esther, this book wouldn’t have been included in the Bible because God wasn’t mentioned in it. There were no allusions to prayers and faithful devotion to God. Many have looked at the character of God (Yahweh or Lord) as silent, meaning absent, in the Book of Esther. But is this really the case? Was God truly absent in the narrative? Was this writing technique deliberate on the part of the author? What was the author’s intention? Who wrote Esther? What do we know of the Hebrew literary style of writing?

If we were to count on the thematic elements used by Esther’s author to convey important points, then we have to follow where the storytelling bounces.

In case you may be interested in pursuing an in-depth study of Hebrew literary style of writing, here’s a link to the 411-page dissertation prepared by a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical Languages, David Mark Health, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/37326772.pdf

IMPORTANT ELEMENTS TO BIBLE READING

The Bible cannot be approached in a one-dimensional reading direction. Recognizing the genres, techniques used in the passage, and the connection of the part to the totality of the narrative is a must.

The Bible is a three-genre story. It’s a collection and redaction of ancient scrolls designed to fit as a single-construct novel of 66 books that were written by over 44 authors in three continents over a span of 1500 years. It is God-inspired, not a God. The Bible is not a Holy Book. It is a book, although it’s one of a kind in its assembly. It is history, theology, and literature combined.

1. Historical Writing (it depicts the journey of the exiled Hebrew people in search of its national identity and its land),

2. Theology (it describes the relationship between God and humans), and

3. Literature (it commits to period-writing styles and inspirations, and employs writing devices such as characterization, imageries, symbols, invented speeches, culturally-evoked stories, monologues, and epical depictions).

It’s important to point out that the Bible is NOT a story of the battle between God’s providential nature and humankind’s free will. In the study and reading, you will find that the Bible evokes paradoxical narration. It has both the action of the Divine Providence and the Freewill of humans present in the storytelling.

Another important learning mechanism that I encourage readers to employ in their study of the Bible is developing the skill to properly distinguish between historicized literature and actual historical writing. Think of it as watching a movie or a theatrical play. Historicized literature or historical fiction narrates a story in a historical narrative style for a believable effect. It’s a reconstruction of past events or inclusion of a historical figure in a made-up anecdote, scenes, and overall plot to present an interesting and credible reading effect to the audience. Although there may be details or characters that are probably real, it doesn’t mean that the entirety of the passage itself conveys an actual historical truth. The narrative goal isn’t about historical accuracy. Rather, the author’s intention is to evoke an emotional and intellectual reaction from the audience about a particular theme or discussion point.

As informed and learned readers, we should be able to, at the very least, examine the prose for its narrative intentions. Remember, the Bible’s world is a close narrative, operating only within three continents and selected races of people. Any critical and mindful learner would know that the ancient world expands wider than just three continents. From just leaning on basic knowledge of high school history, anybody would know that neither one of the conquering empires in the Bible invaded the Shang Dynasty or that of the Inca and Mayan civilizations. These three weren’t in the storytelling of the Bible but the races of people from these civilizations existed in humankind’s history. I lay all these informative facts for us to mindfully consider and reflect as we individually and collectively learn about the Scriptures.

Ignoring facts puts the reader and learner in a path towards a false understanding of the passages.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
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A Brief Attempt to See How the Overall Gist of Revelation Connects to Rancho’s Radical Unity Series

The Bible is an incredible read and I wish and yearn for all of us to really see and appreciate it in its entirety and finished form, and not deal with it like a hodgepodge of institutional or self-serving doctrines or worst as a de facto god. The Bible is not a hallowed book or God’s book. It isn’t the source of anyone’s salvation and it serves no reasonable purpose to put it on a pedestal for worshipping. It’s not a weapon or a morality and ethics compass to throw or use at people to keep them in line.

One of the points I shared with the group in a recent Developmental Leadership Course discussion is the attraction people have on using labels for identification purposes which in and by itself isn’t really a bad thing except when it progresses into divisive identity affiliations. Albeit unknowingly and undesired, it likely does, unfortunately. When this happens, most often than not, the ensuing result you see is factional polarization if not polarizing factions. And we have gone through this so many times—fall into the trap of identity-labels that pull people apart. I identify as a _________. She or he, on the order hand, is a _______. And now we see we not as us but as the other.

The other point I shared was the approach by which most Christians or Bible believers have taken on the Bible reading. If we do a survey, I will bet heavily that only a very small segment of the Bible reading demographic recognizes the three-genre nature of the Bible. Genre-wise, the Bible is a 1. historical narrative (it depicts the journey of the exiled Hebrew people in search of its national identity and its land), 2. theology (it describes the relationship between God and humans), and 3. literature (it employs writing devices such as characterization, imageries, symbols, invented speeches, culturally-evoked stories, monologues, and epical depictions).

Often, we overlook that the Bible is unified writing of 66 books written in three continents over 1500 years by over 44 authors. And many of its stories bear mark resemblance to older works of literature (e.g., the Genesis flood story is strikingly similar to the flood story in Gilgamesh and Psalm 104 to Pharoah Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Sun). It should also be understood that the Bible includes a consistent paradoxical narrative flow in the sense that both human free-will and Divine Providence exist in the storytelling. To deny this information will lead to misleading assumptions and mystical perceptions. For instance, irrationally believing that everything is either divinely-willed or preordained and deliberately negating the role of human free will —thereby unwittingly characterizing the Lord alluded in the Bible in the same category as the capricious gods of the polytheistic ancient times who treat humans as pawns and puppets.

I like how both Scott Treadway and Steve Salomon would always include in their Sunday message-presentation a brief historical background and a concise definition of terms. Theirs is a combined preaching and teaching approach. Scott’s style is scholarly bright, a little of TED Talk and a little of the professorial lecture. He has straightforward expertise in how he delivers a multilayered, complex lesson. Steve’s energy is refreshing and his technique has a multigenerational appeal to it. I listened to both’s take on Revelation, Rancho’s closing on the series, Radical Unity. Although their leanings are different in their perceptual reading of the book, their messages are complementary. I get it and I do appreciate their honesty, but on one end, this particular assertion where they lay on theological perception on Revelation is a borderline needless digression (just my two cents). But then again, I also see that it’s a perfect demonstration of how supposedly two differing opinions are not so different after all. Or that you can differ in viewpoint and remain lovingly diplomatic, respectful and united. Not only did Scott and Steve’s take on Revelation in relation to Radical Unity complement each other, but they also intersect and found their way steering in the same direction.

Once you get the context and direction of the Book of Revelation and alongside a sound understanding of the previous books, you will find that there’s not really anything mystically transcendent, cryptic, or dooming about the Bible’s final writing. In fact, the overall apocalyptic narrative of Revelation markedly alludes to the everlasting and encompassing power of transformational grace. Love is the motivation by which Salvation comes upon us.

Anyway, here are the links to Scott Treadway and Steve Salomon’s closing salvo on the series called Radical Unity.

Scott Treadway Wraps Up The  Series, Radical Unity

Steve Salomon Wraps Up the Series, Radical Unity

 

 

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A Joint And Informed Look On Faith: Studying Matthew 18, 19, and 20

Huge thanks to everyone in the family group. ❤️ We tackled the lesson over hot soup, salad, bread, sweet desserts, strong coffee, and chilled wines.

In our discussion on October 11, we thematically linked the study of the three chapters of Matthew (18, 19, 20) to the topic of faith. Our opening activity was a quiz on Hans Rosling’s Factfulness. The reality is, we view our faith, form biases, and decide how we shall relate to each other and to others on the basis of the information we have or not have of the world. The activity was meant to check where we are on global awareness. Do you want to check if you have an accurate view of the world? Here’s the link to the quiz, https://factfulnessquiz.com/

Is the world better today than it was during the old times? Are we healthier today compared to our ancestors? How is subscribing to facts or accuracy on how you view the world connected to tonight’s lesson? Our awareness condition on what’s truly happening in the world affects our compassion IQ and how we view other people’s humanity. It influences the position we take on various social, political, medical, and economic issues. Our awareness condition is tied to the faith we practice and vice verse. Being that faith is a reasoned response to God’s revelation and not a blind leap into the abyss, going after the facts and continually learning helps us confront our biases and consequently strengthen and promote a Gospel-based faith. After looking into the 17 chapters of Matthew, to include cross-referential studies of the Old Testament and other books in the New Testament, we now get the following comprehensive view of faith.

Faith is a reasoned response to God’s call. It is based on knowledge and insight (of who and what God is), belief (in his being), and trust and confidence (safety under his care). Faith doesn’t stop with a confession or declaration just like what Peter demonstrated in Matthew 16. From the confession of faith, we move into the expression of faith and then to the interconnected communal and intra-personal growing of it.

Faith in accordance with the Gospel as we learned from the Ministry of Christ was the backdrop by which we looked at the stories and parables written in chapters 18 to 20. In the discussion, we reaffirmed the foundational basis of reading the Bible as a unified literary work and studying it in it’s final and finished form while at the same time bearing in mind the following imperatives:

1. The thrust to bring together what’s been pulled apart. (In reference to the Bible’s continuing theme)

2. Left to their own accord, human beings are incapable of overcoming sins. (The consistent conflict is seen in the Bible’s narratives)

3. God’s Plan of Salvation —The premise that Salvation is solely by God’s Transformative Grace received through faith alone. The Gospel is consistently shown in the Bible’s storytelling. (The reflected conflict resolution from Genesis to Revelation)

4. The Foundational Interactive Direction (FID) of the conversation is that the GOSPEL is the heart and the very point of every discussion. The Gospel, literally translated as Good News, is defined in the Bible as the person and the works of Christ. The person of Christ is about his life, death, and resurrection. The works of Christ pertains to his Ministry which revolves around three things: TEACHING, PREACHING, and HEALING. In short, this is about us coming together as a unified unit, bringing the promise of God’s Kingdom available to all herein and now.

Here’s the Study Guide to Matthew 18, 19, 20 discussion, https://1drv.ms/w/s!AoY5dWd1NI-dulbUnaIMbWxm7X7N

Here’s the powerpoint presentation we used to moderate the lesson’s Socratic-style study, https://1drv.ms/p/s!AoY5dWd1NI-dumGF9XdKzZ1IJ0P-

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

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