Sunday, 29 April 2012

Rubbing a little salt in the wound

Today (Sunday) at 2.55pm I went below sea level, and I didn't get wet. Well actually I did. After driving through a surreal landscape with roadside signs bearing such helpful information as; "firing on both sides", "do not stop at side of road", and "no photography, military zone" (all of which rather pointlessly try to hide Israel's nuclear weapons facility) I entered the Dead Sea region,.... and it rained! You could see the stuff sheeting down from the clouds. Fewer that a dozen drops must have touched the windscreen though as the rest evaporated before it could reach the ground. I guess that's what happens when the temperature reaches the high thirties.
Anyhow, it did scotch my plans to go up Mount Sodom, and walk its (by all accounts) beautiful wadi. The nature reserves people immediately close off access to wadis if rain is forecast. I suppose there is the added danger that the landscape itself is soluble: The mount is 97% salt.
Still, I did manage to get a good view of Lot's Wife. Now nobody is suggesting that this is the actual petrified wife of Lot (Genesis 19:26), rather a suitably placed, and visible, lump of rock salt that serves to remind us of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I wrote in the last blog about the importance of hospitality in Middle-Eastern culture. In the story of Sodom the two messengers who had gone with God to meet Abraham carry on to the city of Sodom. There they are offered hospitality by Lot, who knows how unfriendly the locals can be. True to form, later that night the local rowdies show up demanding Lot hands over his visitors. So important is his offer of hospitality (and safety) to Lot that he does everything to dissuade them, even going so far as to offer his own daughters in their place (there's other issues such as women as property there, but that's one to save for another time). The locals will have none of it, and the visitors have to step in to save Lot and his family. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, along with the surrounding countryside, and a legend is born.
It sounds a fantastical tale, but the Dead Sea region is a place that demands fantastical tales. The normal just doesn't work here: the sea is so salty that it's impossible to sink in it; the surrounding land is so desolate that few have been able to survive here for long, the first permanent settlement being built by the British in the 1920's; you're 800m below sea level and the temperature can reach the 40's, but the dense atmosphere means its difficult to get sunburnt; and, the dense atmosphere is oxygen and mineral enriched, meaning you feel as if you have lots of energy and yet are very relaxed. Normal, it ain't!
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah and its total destruction is a story of punishment for a lack of a commonly accepted standard of hospitality. It's not about sex or sexuality. That's something that has been read back into the story later on to answer the questions of a much later generation. Indeed, homosexuality is barely mentioned in the Bible, and most references are more concerned with the idolatry of religious prostitution. Jesus had nothing to say about it that anyone thought worth recording.
Strange how the modern day Church has got so caught up with this issue that our saviour seemed indifferent to (in comparison that is to say, adultery, or putting religious practice aside for the sake of justice, or giving your all for the sake of God's Kingdom). Why do you think that is? Could it be an example of displacement? When you're faced with something you don't want to do you make something that doesn't affect you so personally so important that you justify it displacing what you originally needed to do (and still do). Does the Bible truly make human sexuality a big issue, or has the Church done that in order to avoid more pressing, and demanding issues, such as the one to love your neighbour as yourself? I suppose that's actually at the heart of what I'm looking for in this sabbatical: What is the essence of what God is calling his Church, and me, to be? If I had to put the peripheral to one side for a moment and write a single sentence saying what it means to be a Christian Church, what would I write?
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Hi Jeremy,
    Am enjoying the Blog and finding it very interesting. I would perhaps disagree with you that there is little about same sex partnerships mentioned in scripture. However I think you are right to say it is so easy to overlook sins that seem to trouble us little that Jesus clearly spoke out about. I found a useful look at the subject in John Stott's book Issues Facing christians today chapter 16 Same sex partnerships. I found this made me really think and gives a balanced view about the issues.
    Hope you have a great time Ian.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I know the John Stott piece you mention very well. It was one of a number of articles I read as a curate. There was a debate in the Deanery about homosexuality caused by someone getting asking offence at a sermon they heard (not mine). The Dean decided to pick on two curates; a very liberal one and me, representing an evangelical point of view. We read, discussed, disagreed and prepared a presentation each which was then delivered to packed churches. It was probably one of the most worthwhile things I have done in my ministry. Any road, I stand by my point that there is next to nothing said about non-abusive ( ie. not prostitution or rape) homosexual relationships in scripture. There is vastly more said about other things that today's church seems quite comfortable with however.