Articles for the Month of September 2011

Reading the Bible: seeking teaching on family

Previous posts about biblical teaching on family ( What is a family? and Does the Bible present a preferred pattern of family) led to lively discussion. How do we use the Bible rightly to establish teaching on family? This post addresses two aspects. The Bible uses different sorts of text to teach different ways. We also need to discern the direction or thrust of the Bible as a whole.

How the Bible teaches

The Bible is made up of many different sorts of text, and they do not all “work” the same. We understand a law from Leviticus differently from a Psalm, and both are read according to different rules from a proverb…

Some sorts of biblical passage intend to teach us something. Paul’s letters for example sought first to teach the early churches how to live, and so they also seek to teach us about Christian living.

A narrative does not teach in this direct way. When 2 Samuel 11ff. tells us about David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and subsequent executive murder of her husband Uriah. The purpose is not to teach the moral “adultery is wrong” nor even “murder is wrong”. It does want us to identify with David, and learn about temptation, sin and punishment from his mistakes. So when we read Ps 51 we will learn even more (but about God and ourselves rather than about “morals”).

Epistles and History are told in different ways and teach differently.

Narrative reaches deeper into our being, but we need to be more cautious in identifying its “teaching”. Epistles by contrast teach directly. When reading such direct teaching (and much of Jesus’ speech in the Gospels is like this – direct teaching) we need to be cautious about making the Bible say something different from what it intends. Using Jesus’ teaching about trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle (Mat 19:24 etc.) to teach about the folly of over loading a beast of burden is simply a way to avoid what Jesus says “wealth is dangerous to our spiritual health”!

Western Christians seek to avoid Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage by turning it into “safe” teaching about families.

I am saying two things here:

1. When reading a Bible passage that “teaches” we should be very cautious of making it teach something more than it sets out to teach – avoid the temptation to make the Bible say more than it does!

2. When drawing teaching from a narrative text we should be careful. Scripture is not seeking to teach ideas to readers of such texts. 2 Sam 11ff. is not merely a warning to murderous adulterers. It is a warning to all of us about following our desires and becoming faithless people.

The thrust of biblical teaching

Granted that much of the Bible (especially most poems and many stories) does not set out directly to teach, we need a way to confirm what we suspect the Bible may be teaching us.

We are so used to hearing people quote Bible verses (and seeing this – as I did above!) that we forget that we need to look at the whole sweep of biblical teaching. I’ll use quotes from the comments to the previous article to try to explain what I mean. (The quotes are in italics.)

Matthew interprets Hosea 11:1 in “messianic” fashion in Matthew 2:15 and gives a meaning to the text that is not evident in its original context.

This use by Matthew of Hos 11:1 is a really good textbook example of some of the issues involved in Christian reading of the Old Testament. At first glance it seems as if Matthew has “played fast and loose” with the biblical text. “Out of Egypt I called my son.” In Hosea the son is Israel, who as the following verses show was less than faithful to God. Matthew says that Jesus “fulfills” this. What does he mean? He uses the verb “fill, make full”(as do other New Testament writers) to point to a relationship between Jesus and Scripture. What the NT means by fulfil is something like: What Israel was intended to be, Jesus is fully. So Jesus was intended to be God’s son, called from Egypt to reveal God. Israel failed at this task, but Jesus (as the rest of the Gospel will show) fills the calling fully. In other words Matthew is not making Scripture say something it did not intend, rather he points to a consequence or conclusion drawn from comparing this text with the experience he has of Jesus.

Similarly: “In 1 Corinthians 9:8-9 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and gives it a meaning that was clearly not intended in its First Testament context.” Paul is also drawing a principle out of Scripture, that even an animal that works deserves to benefit from their labour – and as Paul says how much more a human!

In Matthew 22:32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 as proof to the Pharisees that there is a resurrection. The text he quotes in its original context has nothing to do with resurrection.

It is true that the Scripture Jesus quotes is not about resurrection. Though it is about the nature of God, and God does claim to be the God of Abraham, not to “have been” his God. He refers to a present reality. Here Jesus points to a hint that is already present in Scripture. A hint that the NT again fills out, fulfills for us. God’s self-revelation in the Bible is not static and timeless, but incarnate first in the story of Israel, and then fully in Christ and in the NT witness to what his coming means.

As you point out I did the same thing! Taking what was merely a hint in the Old Testament and recognising its fullness in the revelation of God in Christ, and even in the later doctrines that the Church developed to understand him!

In your first article Tim you say “Already the “preface to the Bible” expresses the equality, and complementarity, of men and women. Through the parallelism of Hebrew poetry we see that together they are “in the image of God”. Through this union of difference, human marriages picture the union of difference that Christian theology calls Trinity”. You of course are reading a ‘trinitarian’ meaning back into the Genesis text that can hardly be said to be intended in the original context. I’m quite comfortable with your approach however because it is consistent with broader themes within the unified canon of scripture.

So, at times the New Testament goes beyond (but builds on) the Old. Because God’s self-revelation in the Bible was “incarnate” like a human being it grows and develops. But the new builds on, and fills out, the old. So that there is a direction or trajectory of Scriptural teaching.

I do not see this happening with the topic of family. This is a surprise to me, I would have expected clear teaching on such an important topic. When Scripture is silent then I am cautious of claiming more than I read… What I think is going on (and here I am merely expressing a feeling, not claiming to teach with authority ;-) is that on this topic God recognised that human cultures are different. Different cultures would have different family and child rearing patterns. So the Bible does not impose one pattern (e.g. the Mediterranean “household”). Rather it shows and teaches us the virtues that we need to strengthen our families.

This piece, like: What is a family? and Does the Bible present a preferred pattern of family was first published on the Vision network site, but changes of URL have lost it there, so I am reposting it here.

West and Southern Baptists

Dr Southern Baptist Convention the famous blogger, biblical minimalist, pastor and insomniac

The Southern Baptist Convention is apparently considering a name change. Jim West is upset (about this, as he is about so many other things). He’s thinking himself  that he’d “like to follow suit and consider a name-change for myself “.

I have a great suggestion:

How about changing your name to “Southern Baptist Convention” the first name echoes your existing surname, the second reflects your adherence, and Convention reminds us that names are merely convenient conventions :)

And besides, that way we’ll still have a Southern Baptist Convention to moan about even after the existing one is gone West ;)

SBL and the digital communications revolution

There is an interesting confluence in aspects of two significant documents that John Kutsko (SBL) pointed me towards. Today was a news item in Inside Higher Ed, it’s titled The Promise of Digital Humanities and reports on a meeting celebrating (US) NEH grants to digital humanities projects. Among the items that caught my eye was a section stressing the importance of open publication to the future of the humanities, in an era of shrinking funding when even prestigious departments are threatened with closure (like a year or two back the University of Sheffield’s renowned Biblical Studies department).

The section I’m quoting itself quotes the NEH’s Brett Bobley:

A lot of scholarly data over the last hundred years or so is locked up in expensive journals that the public could never afford to subscribe to.

“We’re quite happy about how the digital humanities is, in some sense, opening up the scholarly world to a wider audience,” he said.

That could be the key to winning back support for the humanities, suggested Doug Reside, digital curator of the performing arts at the New York Public Library.

Basically the argument goes that open publication could, by raising the public profile, also reduce the danger of the humanities being seen as irrelevant and so not worth funding.

My mind flipped back to the other document Kutsko had pointed to a week or so back. This one was a report, New-Model Scholarly Communication: Road Map for Change from the Scholarly Communication Institute. It is a careful, yet visionary, document which is full of interesting and exciting ideas.1 They talk near the start about how:

Advancing the humanities in and for the digital age demands the active engagement of many sectors of the scholarly community working towards a shared vision. The key actors in the successful transition of humanities to a digital environment are:
• Peer communities of scholars able to assess and validate new forms of  scholarship, including genres that cross disciplinary boundaries,  reach new audiences, and use technology in innovative ways
• Publishers able to support new communities of discourse producing scholarship in multiple media and genres, and engaging the attention of diverse audiences

They also spoke of libraries, administrators and funders, but I suspect these recommendations follow from the first two and that there are few of my readers who are administrators or funders! They then provide a series of “actionable ideas”. Which offer an exciting view of humanities scholarship finally adapting to the digital communications environment. Here I’ll draw attention to one:

Reengineer the system of credit. Explore and articulate criteria for assessing scholarly merit in the online environment; experiment with venues for peer review to increase transparency, reliability, and participation; devise methods to sift through the surfeit of available information and direct scholarly attention to meritorious work; and realign reward and recognition systems to apportion credit where credit is due

The peer-review system has served us well, despite its failings2 for it has promised, and on the whole provided, a more level playing field and access to all, along with a filter to remove the trash and select the good.

But it is not adapted to assessing the worth of digital communications, nor at all “transparent”,3 nor does it begin to filter the huge and exponentially growing pile of trash (with the occasional nugget of gold) that Google presents to our students and the general public – though this steaming pile is all that the underprivileged (those without access to the fine academic libraries) can use as their starting point. And finally as they say current systems of reward and punishment calculated on “peer review” and “established esteemed journals or publishers” do not encourage – in fact actively discourage – experimental discourse in favour of more of the same old same old. Yet the humanities are about discourse and scholarship is about the new and innovative.

Later in the report they speak of the sweeping changes we are experiencing as an environment for scholarship. They highlight four

• changes in the nature and constitution of the audience (for humanities and all online information): readers now expect to be active users and producers of content, not passive receivers of information; the time span between creating and posting content is short, and reception and reaction equally short

Here there are two challenges, assuring quality within a quick turn around environment (for this modified forms of peer review would be helpful)4 and even more radical an environment where “readers now expect to be active users and producers of content, not passive receivers of information”5 this change, from a sequence (with considerable delays) of one way communications to a genuinely dialogical engagement, will require new forms of communication more like blogging than print journals.6

SBL as the largest and most active global association of biblical scholars has a huge potential to promote and develop such a shift in scholarly communications. Alongside (what I can’t resist calling) legacy journals like JBL the society should set up and sponsor alternative communications media that are more open and responsive, more dialogical and yet with robust processes of quality assurance. Such a move on it’s own would have a refreshing and renewing impact on the discipline, opening real scholarship both to producers on the fringe (the various sorts of “independent scholar” who are increasingly around but still have poor access to both resources and publication outlets) and to a new and broader body of consumers (who currently get their biblical studies from Wikipedia and any  blog Google happens to anoint today).

• rise of informal peer-to-peer networks of knowledge: the blurring of distinctions between expert and lay, academic and public scholars, and scholars and the public is potentially a sanguine development in a democracy that assumes a well-informed citizenry; but it poses challenges to professionals and the processes of professionalization

SBL is one of the prime sets of scholarly networks, with it’s massive “meetings” and the less formal networks that gather round (some of) the program units. Again technology exists (not least email, but with newer more social media offering richer affordances) and is being developed to allow far more contact and discussion to continue outside the framework of “meetings”. This would open the society further to scholars who are not Western or not employed in established educational institutions  (and who probably lack the means to spend a few days in a horrendously expensive hotel far from home as often as they would like). We could over the next ten years see SBL become a genuinely global “meeting place” for biblical scholarship.7


  1. I hope to post about others in the coming weeks. []
  2. E.g. “peers” who are sometimes not peers but either old fuddy duddies, not specialists in the precise area of the study, or professional rivals; a review process that is not always as “blind” as it claims or where editors make the real decisions… []
  3. In fact it reeks of 19th century prejudice and pride meeting in smokey rooms in a “gentlemen’s club” ;) []
  4.  Paul Nikkel was already suggesting forms of review appropriate to the digital age in his paper “Through an Open Window: Exploring Openness in Biblical Scholarship” from the 2004 AIBI session I arranged. []
  5. My bold – to match the bold above. []
  6. The technologies for such media already exist, there are even (when one reads further into the report, and you should because it is fine stuff :) some environments designed for scholarly communications currently in development. []
  7. Initiatives like the International Meeting, the International Cooperation Initiative, and awards to enable non-Western scholars to attend meetings have already made fine steps in this direction, but digital communications could swiftly outstrip their combined effect in achieving this goal. []

Does the Bible present a preferred pattern of family?

This is a follow-up to the article “What is a Family?” This follow-up asks whether the Bible presents a preferred pattern of family. Discussing Mat 19:3ff; Mk 10:2ff; Gen 1:27,28; 2:18-24; Colossians 3:18-21; Ephesians 5:21-6:4 and 1 Timothy 3:1-4 (cf Titus 1:6) as possible biblical bases for a model of “family”.

Part of the discussion between Sean and me (BTW Sean thanks for a stimulating and useful set of responses!) after my article “What is a Family ?” related to the question of whether the Bible presents a preferred pattern of family. I had used a number of examples to argue that the Bible takes families as they are and presents a set of values or virtues that go with “family”.

Sean however lists:

A number of passages however suggest that at the core of a preferred or normative family form/life are a husband and wife who are mother and father and are committed to the hesed that brings wellbeing of their children (This is not to say that in a broken world the God of grace does not accept and bless other family forms ).

Let’s look at these passages in turn (the introductory italicised material quotes from Sean’s comment):

Mtt 19:3ff; Mk 10:2ff Jesus affirmation of marriage between one man and one women can also be said to be an affirmation of the preferred context in which children are to be nurtured. By prescribing the form of the institution of marriage one would think he is also prescribing the core preferred form of family life.

Gen 1:27,28 Affirms not only the nature of the marriage relationship but the nature of the context in which children are to be raised ie “Be fruitful and increase in number”. It is the man and the woman, the husband and wife who are given the responsibility to nurture the fruit of their union.

We need to look at what is going on here and what Jesus is discussing. Because when interpreting the Bible it is vital that we identify the topic and do not use scriptures to teach about things that they are not “about”.

The topic is set by the Pharisees, “divorce” (Mat 19:3, Mark 10:2),  and Jesus addresses this topic, teaching from Genesis 1 and 2 that marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment of a man and woman to each other and that therefore divorce spoils God’s intention in creating humans (Mat 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9). This is teaching about divorce, not about family or childrearing. Marriage and children are evidently closely related, but as the example of African matrilineal societies shows not necessarily related in the way we modern Westerners assume.

Gen 1:27f. And Gen 2 are similar, they address the relationships between men and women, and they address marriage, but they do NOT set a pattern for family.

Colossians 3:18-21; Ephesians 5:21-6:4 Affirm the core relationships at the centre of family as husband, wife and their children.

These passages, by contrast, are about family, they tell of virtues we should show in our family relationships: love, faithfulness, submission, obedience… However, notice that in both cases the “family” is not a contemporary nuclear family, in each case it is assumed to include “slaves” too (Col 3:22ff.; Eph 6:5ff.). We can debate whether these “servants/slaves” (the Greek is doulos) were usually slaves or whether they were often junior members of the wider biological wh?nau. Whichever or both, they are members of the “family” being discussed, so we should not argue for our pattern of family as being “the” biblical pattern from these passages!

1 Timothy 3:1-4 Highlights key family relationships of the church leader and explictly mentions husbands, wives, fathers and children (cf Titus 1:6)

These passages discuss the qualities needed to be a leader in the community, and they focus on family values (as I have discussed them). Leaders should be monogamous (and – I’d assume but will not argue here – faithful) and bring up “their children” well, but these qualities are part of a much wider list: “Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.” (1 Tim 3:2-3) Here too we are given a glimpse of the sort of people God wants us to be, including how we should behave in marriage and towards “our children”. But we are not presented a model family to which we should seek to conform – it seems God is happy to work with and in families as they are rather than propose one shape to fit everyone!

<Related digression>
I think one of the reasons this recognition comes hard for us is that over the centuries we have come to accept the idea that the Bible is a law book, or a “maker’s manual”, when really it is more like a series of sermons. The Bible much more often exhorts us to live better and more Godly lives, it seldom lays down rules. Just think what Paul had to say about “the Law”.
<End digression>

This piece was first published on the Vision network site, but changes of URL have lost it there, so I am reposting it here.

What is a family?

Family in the Bible

Social change (high rates of separation and divorce, legislation like the Civil Unions Act last year, some impacts of the much older Privacy Act…) together with the strong Christian tradition of “defending family values” combine to make it really important that as Christians we think through what we mean by “family”.

The primary paradigm (or ideal picture) of “family” in the Western world is a mum, a dad and an ever decreasing number of children. However, among Māori and Pacific cultures the paradigm begins with whānau – a much wider concept.

Before Christians can discuss family or family values we need to look closely at the Bible and hear what God has to teach us. In this short article I will try to suggest some starting points for developing a biblical view of family.

Words translated “family”

In the NT (although a large number of words express various sorts of kinship relationship: e.g. daughter-in-law, tribe…) most places where English translations use “family” a Greek word related to “oikos” (household) is used. In the other cases “family” means something more like tribe, since all are descendants of one often distant ancestor, e.g. “the Christ will come from David’s family” (John 7:42).

OT usage is similar, but with a stronger focus on the larger units. Mishpach (clan) is the commonest term, though beth ‘ab (father’s house) is also used. The beth ‘ab was not at all a “nuclear family”. It included slaves and servants, as well as married children and their children, and possibly a widowed aunt as well. A mishpach was made up of a number of households and could be as small as a village or as large as a tribe. Hapu or perhaps whanau seem the nearest equivalents in contemporary NZ to a biblical “family”.

A model family?

The Bible nowhere presents an “ideal family” that we can use as a model for a biblical view of “family”. Firstly no family is presented as a model, and secondly few were even close to ideal. Think of the families the Bible does present. Here is a sample with some comments:

  • Adam/Eve – a two parent nuclear family par excellence which produced the first murderer.
  • Abraham/Sarah (and Hagar) – a ménage à trois with dysfunctional power relationships.
  • Jacob/Leah and Rachel – polygamy producing a dysfunctional family.
  • David and his women – this time polygamy combines with executive murder and adultery…
  • Esther/Ahasuerus – Esther is selected in a beauty contest to replace the disobedient queen Vashti.
  • Timothy who has a mother and grandmother who were believers, but his father was a pagan (he is called a Hellenos, a Pagan Greek, not an Hellenistes, a Greek-speaking believer).

Even Jesus’ family – whom Christians sometimes call “the Holy Family” – left Joseph as step-father. However good a father he may have been (and we simply do not know since the gospels tell us almost nothing about Jesus’ relationship with his parents or brothers) few people argue that step-parenting is God’s ideal!

This surprising apparent lack of biblical teaching on the basic unit of society even allows the growth in the USA today of groups like an “organization for Christian polygamy”.

Biblical Family Values

If the Bible has no model family structure to propose, it does identify and promote a clear set of virtues associated with families and living in family. These virtues are vital in constructing a Christian understanding of family today.

Typical or normative?

However, we need to be careful here. Some Bible passages describe how ancient Israel, or Christians of the first century, lived. Others prescribe how God wants us to behave. On some issues of social structure and organization Christians are clear that biblical patterns are descriptive not prescriptive. So Christians today no longer defend slavery as “biblical” (despite considerable potential textual support for the kindly keeping of slaves!), few either demand that biblical economic prescriptions be applied (returning land within a generation of purchase and interest-free loans are only the start)!

Even prescriptive texts (e.g. Proverbs) come to us carrying the baggage of the social organisation of Ancient Israel or of the Roman Empire. Most Christians accept that the spirit or principles of these prescriptions still apply, but few seek to follow their letter. The same may be true of families and family values! So Proverbs 13:24 may not so much be counselling us to beat our children as to discipline them (while heavy beating was a common form of discipline in the ancient world – see Ex 21:20 – it is no longer acceptable). Paul’s injunctions (e.g. Col 3:21; Eph 6:4) may be felt to better express the normative biblical view of discipline.

So, what does the Bible as a whole present as normative for our understanding of family? Here is one (certainly incomplete) list:

Family images God

Biblical pictures of what God is like, and of humanity’s relationship with God, are mainly drawn from either royalty or family life. (These were the two predominant institutions in the ancient world).

God is (to give just a partial list):

  • father – e.g. Dt 32:6; Ps 2:7; Mat 6:6
  • mother – e.g. Dt 32:18; Is 49:15; Mat 23:37
  • redeemer – e.g. Ex 15:13; Ps 73:2; 77:15 (this is very much a “family” word as a look at the examples of human “redeemers” shows, interestingly though the verb is used the noun is absent from the NT)
  • husband – e.g. Jer 2:2; Hos 2; Rev 21:2

The chosen people are:

  • son or daughter – e.g. Gen 42:5; Ex 1:1; Is 22:4; Heb 12:7
  • household – e.g. Ex 16:31; Num 20:29; Hos 1:4; Eph 2:19
  • wife – e.g. Ez 16; 23; Rev 19:7
  • adopted stray – e.g. Ez 16 cf. Ps 2:7 & Eph 1:5
  • slave – e.g. Dt 5:15; Josh 24:17; Micah 6:4; James 1:1

If families help us understand what God is like, then God shows us what families should be like!

Marriage is a one-to-one partnership

From the Genesis account of the creation of humans, to Jesus’ own teaching and its NT outworking, a biblical understanding of marriage is centred on the claim that God made women and men as different-but-equal partners, who need each other, not only for procreation but also by their very natures. When a woman and a man marry they become “one flesh”. Because of this, marriage is the lifelong partnership of one man and one woman. This partnership is total, including the spiritual, mental, physical, and even the economic. It is expected to produce children (when, in the Bible, this is not the outcome of marriage it is a special tragedy, from which many biblical characters prayed to be delivered).

Gen 1:27:

So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Already the “preface to the Bible” expresses the equality, and complementarity, of men and women. Through the parallelism of Hebrew poetry we see that together they are “in the image of God”. Through this union of difference, human marriages picture the union of difference that Christian theology calls Trinity.

In Gen 2:18:

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

God expresses humanity’s need to be completed by a complementary partner. The word for “helper” (‘ezer) is most often used to describe God as humanity’s helper(Gen 49:25; Dt 33:26 etc.)! A few verses later the man concurs with his creator’s opinion of this complementary equality saying (2:23):

This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.

That this partnership of equals is the point of the story – and that it speaks of marriage – is confirmed when this episode ends with the words:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (2:24)

It is this teaching that Jesus confirms when asked his views about divorce (Mat 19:3ff.; Mark 10:2ff.) “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” His teaching goes on to assert that human law (Moses) allows divorce – in case of adultery – on account of human sinfulness.

The epistle to the Ephesians takes the same OT text to teach on the “profound mystery” of Christ and the church, and of how we are the “body of Christ”.

Loving-kindness (hesed): a family word for God’s love and care

God’s faithful and dependable loving care for us is often described using a Hebrew word that is difficult to render in English. “His hesed endures forever!” is a refrain in Psalms 118 and 136 and the word is used in many places to describe God, but does it mean love, mercy, faithfulness…?

This Hebrew word hesed describes the virtue expected in relationships (like family and covenant). It is a dynamic virtue that we see exemplified in God’s loving and enduring relationship to Israel. It is often associated with words that express grace and love as well as fidelity. It implies the mutual support and protection that family members are expected to offer one another. It may well be the Hebrew thought behind John’s affirmation that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

Since hesed is used to describe actions like paying off a cousin’s or a nephew’s debt it clearly suggests that in the Bible family is not based on “love” (particularly not erotic love as the Western world defines family) but on reliability and dependability. When one party is stronger or more capable hesed involves protection and support. Yet it is mutual and not one-sided.

Families: a God’s eye view?

In the Western world today family is all about marriage and children. Marriage is all about love (understood as socially acceptable lust). Both family and marriage are discussed in terms of “rights”. Increasingly, even parenting is seen as a “right”.

The biblical view is different at every point. Family is much wider than a marriage and the children it produces. Family is about faithfulness and solidarity; about obligation, protection and trust; not about rights. Marriage does not make a family, but marriage widens the circle of existing families. While love is important, it is not the making of a marriage, loyalty is. Parenting is a gift and a blessing, not a right.

Our world likes models to which people can conform. The Bible takes families as they are, and proposes appropriate virtues: trust, loyalty, mutual dependence, faithfulness. Families that manage to show these virtues are indeed the backbone of society, and an echo of how God relates to us (children adopted into the divine family).

Five years on: Family in Scripture

Five years ago I posted Family: towards a biblical view. It was really just a link to a short article I wrote for the Vision Network site. The article’s URL there has changed, and the two even shorter follow-up pieces I wrote are even more difficult to find, so since I am still (and even more often asked to talk on such topics I will repost the material here, as the next three posts…

Bacon and egg for grown-ups

There are times when Bacon and Eggs is just the thing, as a comfort food for your inner-child it’s a combo that can hardly be beaten. But, for those times when you want something a little more grown-up, and let’s face it just a tad healthier. I have invented the perfect recipe.

Just combine a lettuce and chicory salad with bacon and blue cheese dressing with egg dressed potatoes :) The result is sharp, clean and sophisticated, but with undertones of bacon and egg comfort.

Put the potatoes on to boil, this works best with a floury potato, not a waxy one (look for those marked for roasting etc.)

The salad couldn’t be simpler, just mix lettuce and chicory leaves (you want a head that has decent leaves not one of the baby tight ones that are bestgrilled) with a little garnish of chopped spring onion.

The dressing is simple and brilliant:

  • Grill bacon (less than you’d use for real Bacon and Eggs maybe 1.5 -2 rashers per person).
  • Put a  tablespoon per person of each of olive oil and milk into a small bowl, crumble a good big nob of  blue cheese per person (I used a creamy blue, they seem to blend into the dressing better). Beat with a fork till the cheese is almost incorporated into the oil/milk emulsion, making a thick but just pourable dressing. If it is too thick add extra milk.

Chop the bacon small. Mix the salad, bacon and dressing.

Take the boiled potatoes, and put them still hot into a heated bowl, sprinkle with mustard seeds (for garnish and a slight added bite) and salt, then break an egg over the potatoes and stir to coat. The heat of the potatoes (straight from the boiling water) should cook the egg1 the stirring will soften the potatoes, and coat with yellow (I used free a range egg with a deep yellow yolk, if yours are pale you may want to cheat and add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric to the egg before stirring into the potatoes). Do NOT make mashed potatoes, just lightly stir to coat and fluff them.

Voila, bursts of lovely flavour, and pretty healthy bacon and eggs for grown-ups!

  1. More or less, you may want to avoid this recipe if you or a guest is pregnant or in fragile health as some egg may remain uncooked, just spread as a dressing. []

Being an extra in a story Jesus told

Photo by redjar

In response to my post Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas Heather commented:

…it will do nothing to convince the group that I most often encounter: those who don’t believe that what they do could possibly change ‘the system’. That’s the main point I find myself trying to argue with people.

Oh, you silly people! I’ve always tried to change the world, but, since I was three I’ve recognised that usually I have little success. I have a blog, it’s quite popular, I regularly write posts trying to change the world. However, there are nearly 600,000 websites that are visited more often than my blog. Realistically I stand little chance of saving the world :(

Happily I don’t have to. That post is already taken. What I do have to do is to try to change my little corner of the world. If I persuade five of you to change your buying just habits on just one of these three  products: Coffee, Chocolate and Cocoa, or Bananas then at least one family’s life will be changed for the better. If two of you five persuade five others, we have a snowball, and snowballs do change the world…

But, for the moment forget about snowballs, because Jesus told a story that featured a couple of possible world-changers:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:30-32)

Priests are always trying to make the world a better place, and preaching to change the world is a Levite’s job…

The Nature of Christ as a Man: and the gendering of God

A search for "Christ as a man" brought up this photo by mararie

I have just posted another short section to my online discussable book on motherly talk of God Not Only a Father which addresses the question of how The Nature of Christ as a Man interacts with my ideas of the (non)gendering of God.

Not Only a Father  is an attempt at a new way of writing a book, discussing it with people as it is written. So the text currently on the site is subject to change, but I need your comments and questions or objections to help make this work. So please visit, comment/argue with me, and/or get your friends involved :)

Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas

Photo by anthony_p_c

Some of you, I hope many, do not need to read this post. Sadly those who flick past will probably be mainly those who DO need to read it :(

When I posted a recipe for some nice Chocolate Muffins (which are actually a sort of moist and juicy cross between muffins and brownies, but that’s another story) on Repentant Carnivores Heather commented suggesting that I should have recommended that people use FairTrade chocolate and cocoa. To my reply that “I just assumed that people would (at least try to) use Fair Trade” she wrote: “Wow! You must move in very different Christian circles from me! I know relatively few Christians who think that such buying decisions have anything to do with their faith (even Christians who are very aware of and concerned about the Majority World)

Fair trade is a Christian issue:

God hates rapaciously greedy oppressors. The prophets and the Old Testament laws had loads to say about the evils of injustice and how God cannot tolerate people who oppress their neighbours. Jesus had some interesting things to say about who our neighbours  might be. Put these together and if our buying in the market (or even supermarket) is done at a price that does not allow the producers to live a decent life we are acting in a manner that God abhors. Whether or not there is any truth in claims that: “God hates fags” it is abundantly clear that God does hate rapaciously greedy oppressors.

The world trade system is rapaciously greedy: Unless it is moderated by consumer choice or government legislation the world trade system in which we operate is rapaciously greedy. (In this post we will ignore legislation, that’s someone else’s business.) Take coffee,  a high proportion of coffee is grown by small farmers,1 they get usually a tiny proportion of the price that the big coffee companies charge for the end product2 these prices hardly cover the cost of production.3 Buying “normally traded” coffee therefore is oppressive and unjust.

For Chocolate and Cocoa the issue is different, there much comes from large plantations, whose owners (Western companies or local elites) make good money, but pay a pittance to their workers, or even if many stories from reputable sources including the US State Department are to be believed use child slaves imported for the work from neighbouring countries. Buying “normal” chocolate products is therefore oppressive and cruel.

For bananas there is a third problem, here most production is from large estates, the monoculture practices of these companies require the use of dangerous chemicals, the companies have often bribed government officials and legislators to ensure that they can continue to expose their workers to these chemicals (and so not lose their commercial edge). Buying “normal” bananas thus endangers the health of the people who worked to grow your banana.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find FairTrade coffee at the supermarket – there is no excuse to buy anything else.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find cafes that sell FairTrade coffee – there is no excuse to go anywhere else.

FairTrade chocolate and cocoa are less easy to find, a few supermarkets stock them, but often you have to go to a TradeAid shop, or buy online: NZ, or search Google.

Some supermarkets stock fairly traded bananas.

If your supermarket does not stock these products do some Social Media Activism, “social media” is a hot notion among marketers, supermarkets want you to “friend” them on Facebook. Do so. And then post on their wall asking them to stock Fair Trade products. If enough people post on Pak n’ Save’s FB page, they will stock Fair Trade… it’s up to you!

  1. 70% from properties of less than 10Ha. []
  2. Typically less than 10%. []
  3. In 2010 the price was around US$2/pound  according to the International Coffee Organisation. []