“Ancient Texts – Current Crises: Hebrew Scriptures Sounded NEW for NOW”

Archive of resources used in the Epiphany 2021 adult forum on Zoom by Rev Dr David Schlafer


What insights for addressing racism, nationalism, and pandemic can be gleaned from a close reading of Biblical texts written long ago for circumstances that seem far removed? 

We will take up that question, with the help of two brief essays and one short book by Walter Brueggeman, Virus as a Summons to Faith. The series begins this week and continues each Sunday Morning at 9:00 AM until February 14th. The book (traditional and e-book) is available through your favorite online retailer or the publisher (wipfandstock.com).

A schedule of topics, readings, and discussion prompt questions for the first week’s discussion will be sent in a separate email, along with a brief bio of the author. 

Discussions will be convened by David Schlafer.


SCHEDULE

Week 1, January 24: 
Racism—George Floyd and the Breath of God    

Reading: “The God of the Second Wind” 
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD INITIAL READING

Week 2, January 31: 
Pandemic—The Place of Plagues in Hebrew Scripture    

Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapters 1 & 2 (pp. ix-27)
READING TAKEN FROM THE BOOK

Week 3, February 7: 
Pandemic—Faith as HOPING, PRAYING, TURNING and IMAGINING  

Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapters 3-6 (pp. 28-60)
READING TAKEN FROM THE BOOK, and PSALM 77:1-20 and ISAIAH 43:15-21

Week 4, February 14: 
Pandemic and Nationalism—Groaning, Glorying, and Grappling   
Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapter 7 (pp. 61-70)       

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD ADDITIONAL READING: “An Unwelcomed Read of History” 
and read PSALMS 105 and 106


READING MATERIALS

Week 1, January 24: 

Racism—George Floyd and the Breath of God    
Reading: “The God of the Second Wind” 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD INITIAL READING

SELECT FROM THIS LIST OF DISCUSSION QUESTIONS THOSE YOU FIND WORTH PURSUING IN THE SESSION, AFTER YOU HAVE DONE THE READING. You do not need to read the book before the first session, as it may not arrive in time. Just read the linked PDF.

Breath belongs to God, we do not own our breath. We cannot hold it, but we rely on that moment-by-moment gift of God’s goodness.  How and when have you been explicitly aware of that dependence and that gift?

BREATH, it turns out, is a theme that shows up in the Scriptures from beginning to end.  With which of these Biblical references were you already familiar?  Which ones that Brueggemann names are new to your awareness?  Can you think of other Biblical references to breath?

Breathing is normally an unconscious activity.  Over the course of the week, pay attention to some of the different activities that are sustained and energized by your breathing—including but not limited to ones that Brueggemann mentions.  What are some of those?

What takes YOUR breath away?  Again, reflect in light of Brueggemann’s set of descriptions.

Every breathing human person always remains a potentially subversive agent in the world.  When and how have you been a “subversive breather”? 

How has your breathing been related to and evident in your employment of IMAGINATION?

It is the work of the faithful to create policies and practices, institutions and a culture in which the deprived of breath can live and stand on their feet.  Where does this take you in terms of your personal sense of Christian vocation—to relay the second wind of Jesus to those most short of breath.

What do you make of Brueggemann’s connection between the history of slavery and the role of the police?


Week 2, January 31: 

Pandemic—The Place of Plagues in Hebrew Scripture    
Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapters 1 & 2 (pp. ix-27)

READING TAKEN FROM THE BOOK

Discussion Prompt Questions for January 31 – Virus as a Summons to Faith, 1-2

Thank you for investingboth with preparation and participation—in last week’s Adult Forum!  Zoom limitations notwithstanding, we listened to one another closely, and exchanged a wide array of insightful observations and implications about the “Breath” of God—especially in relation to issues of racial justice.

Below are some “prompt” questions for the first two chapters of the Brueggemann “Virus” book.  The hope and purpose is to generate your own further questions for our consideration (and we will save discussion space for those questions).

As a prelude to your consideration of Chapters 1 & 2, please read, if you can, BOTH 2 Samuel 24 and the parallel text 1 Chronicles 21—curious texts, indeed!

  1. Coming to them “cold,” what do you “make” of what you read in these two stories?
    (Spontaneous responses are important, and none of those are “wrong”!)
  2. Brueggemann claims that the Old Testament does not speak with a single, unequivocal voice about how a plague might be seen as “God-linked”.   (Different Biblical texts seem to suggest different strategies of theological imagination in their writers.)  What is the distinctive focus of each “interpretive option”?  What similarities and differences do you see you between them?  
  3. Which of these three options, in your estimation, aligns most closely to the “David” story recounted in these two Biblical texts? Which option which strikes you as the least and most plausible overall approach to “plague and pestilence” texts in the Old Testament?  Brueggemann suggests that there may be other interpretive options—can you think of one?  Might it be the case that “no one size fits all”?  (OK—that’s MORE than ONE question!)
  4. Brueggemann takes such Biblical stories not literally, but very seriously; and he offers a number of “imaginative” implications for a crisis like the pandemic.  Which of those resonate most closely with you?  Do you draw other implications that are informed by Scripture and/or your own faith perspective?
  5. What does Brueggemann seem to mean by “imagination” and its “place” in reading Scripture?  How does that differ from “cherry picking” (and literally asserting); or from summarily dismissing hard texts like these as “irrational,” or “unscientific”?
  6. Both of these two essays (and the ones that follow) end in a prayer.  How are those prayers informed by Brueggemann’s theological “imaginations”?  How might our prayers and practices be similarly informed?

Thanks so much!  Looking forward to seeing you!  Feel free to share thoughts on topic or practice with me via email if you like! (drdavidjschlafer@gmail.com)     
                                                         David Schlafer


Week 3, February 7: 

Pandemic—Faith as HOPING, PRAYING, TURNING and IMAGINING  
Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 (pp. 28-60)

READING TAKEN FROM THE BOOK

It will be helpful to read Psalm 77:1-20 in preparation for our group reflection on Chapter 5; and Isaiah 43:15-21 in preparation for talking about Chapter 6.

Discussion Prompt Questions for February 3 – Virus as a Summons to Faith, 1-2

  1. Chapter 3:  “Until the Dancing Begins Again”
  • In the face of overwhelming disaster, Jeremiah expresses the hope that YHWH will “restore the fortunes” of Israel.  How is that different from hoping for “a return to the good old days”?
  • How does Jeremiah’s trust in YHWH’s “tenacious solidarity” give particular meaning and focus to his hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless disaster?
  • The vision of hope for restoration, says Brueggemann, “can be rendered only in song and parable”.  Why?  (What meaning is given to singing “Now Thank We All Our God” when you know where it “comes from”?
  • What does Brueggemann mean by “the work of ministry is to render the virus penultimate”?

2. Chapter 4:  “Praying Amid the Virus”

  • Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple explicitly anticipates the prospect of different kinds of disasters.  What do the prayers have in common? 
  • What does it mean that these prayers are set in the context of “covenantal attentiveness”? 
  • How are those prayers different from PROPAGANDA and MAGIC?
  • How do these prayers “recontextualize disaster”?

3. Chapter 5:  “The Turn from Self to God” (Psalm 77)

  • What are the distinctive characteristics of EACH STAGE of this prayer?
  • What is the significance of the “critical turning point” in Verse 10?
  • God is neither “on call” or “a fortune cookie”—what is Brueggemann attempting to convey in these phrases?
  • “In our culture, a religion of petty moral obedience goes with an economics of satiation.” Can you put that “in your own words”?
  • “God’s people are always trapped and always on the move from I to THOU.”  Can you recall times when you have been similarly “trapped” and “on the move”?
  • What does “enormous imagination” require when we are at “critical turning points”? How is that different from imagination as Wishful Thinking or Escapist Fantasy?

4. Chapter 6:  “God’s New Thing” (Isaiah 43:15-21)

  • “It is possible to trust that God with/in/under us without believing God is the cause of virus.”  What does Brueggemann mean?  What do you think?
  • What does it mean to be “heirs of a prophetic imagination”—engaged in the imagination of “a new neighborly normal”?

5. Overall

  • In these four chapters, what relationship does Brueggemann seem to see between “hoping,” “praying,” “turning,” and “imagining”?   
  • For People of Faith, how might these be similar to and different from responses to the virus that come from those who may not share in a Faith Tradition?
  • How is Brueggemann’s theology reflected in his prayers?  What might it mean to join our prayers to his?

Week 4, February 14: 

Pandemic and Nationalism—Groaning, Glorying, and Grappling   
Reading: Virus as a Summons to Faith, Chapter 7 (pp. 61-70)   
    
“An Unwelcomed Read of History” 
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD ADDITIONAL READING

IT WILL BE HELPFUL TO READ PSALMS 105 and 106 IN PREPARATION FOR OUR GROUP REFLECTION.

  1. “It wasn’t so bad, was it?”  In the face of current “birth pangs that feel like death pangs,” why is the denial symbolized in this phrase both inappropriate and unhelpful?
  2. Brueggemann cites several Scriptural instances of groaning/crying out in the midst of suffering and transition.  How do these differ?  What similarities do they share?
  3. What implications do these Biblical “groaning stories” have for where our culture finds itself?  What, according to Brueggemann, needs to die in order for new life to emerge?
  4. Brueggemann claims that giving space for groaning is important (perhaps essential) as a prelude to and preparation for the coming of newness.  What might be the role of the Faith Community in undertaking and facilitating such groaning?

* * *

  1. In a full and balanced accounting of Israel’s history, what are the respective places of Psalm 105 and 106?  Why is each essential to the other in such an accounting?
  2. What overlaps occur in the themes of each Psalm?
  3. Israel’s own acknowledgement of both “sides of the story,” what implications does Brueggemann draw about how American history and the history of the church HAVE BEEN and SHOULD BE read?
  4. What happens to a people’s self understanding if either “wonder telling” or “truth telling” dimensions of its history are underplayed, ignored, or denied?