Tuesday, 18 December 2012


  We've had two "snow days" so far this school year.  As usual, that means there is freezing rain making glass of the roads, and the school buses can't all run safely, so the kids don't come to school, but many of the teachers do.  I stayed at home for both snow days, as I hadn't got my snow tires put on my car yet.  Snow days are usually more of a January-March thing.
  For those who don't live where it snows, for most of the year you have regular tires on your car (called "all-season tires" instead of "useless in winter tires") but you have to keep a spare set of snow tires someplace, and get them switched onto your car each year.  The snow tires are slightly more knobbly in their treads, but more importantly, they are made of a rubber which doesn't get as hard as a slippery rock as soon as the temperature approaches the freezing point of water.  As the rubber they are made of is designed to continue to be stretchy and grabby at temperatures somewhat below freezing, they work better.  And today the roads have little patches of ice covered with slush and puddles.
  My snow tire routine is probably different than for some Canadians.  I keep my snow tires at my dad's place, which has piles of junk everywhere.  My tires get thrown in with piles of tires of motorcycles, four-wheelers, tractors, bicycles and any number of cars and trucks my father no longer owns or perhaps has never owned.  (He collects things to use and sell, and then seldom uses or sells them.)
  So, inspired by being scared to drive my car yesterday on the glassy roads, I made an appointment to get the snows put on today.  And there was quite a large snow storm all day.  There is a huge difference between a huge fall of snow that lasts four hours, and then stops and can be plowed, and moderate snow that never stops falling so you can't see well while driving, nor can it be plowed away because it keeps coming.
  I drove from school to the town where my parents live, the driving being fairly treacherous.  I indicated the piles of tires and asked my father "Where are mine now?"  They weren't where I'd left them last spring when I had them removed so the softer rubber wouldn't wear out quickly as the temperatures rose.
  My father waved airily at the piles of tires and said "Well, they're the only 17" snows in there..."  Like I should have been able to spot them from a distance.  But then he was nice.  The garage where I get my tires done is right next to my father's property.  So my dad rolls tires over to the wooden fence and just tosses them over when he's getting tires changed.  He did that, so I wouldn't have to go through stacks of tires looking for ones that had a "seventeen" written on them in black raised letters on black rubber.
  I dropped my car next door, then waited for the four tires to be tossed over, then rolled them through the snow over to the garage in pairs and leaned them outside.  Then I came home, where my father was doing a puzzle thing where they've hidden thirty names of books from the bible:

(There are 30 books of the Bible in the following paragraph.  Can you find them?
This is a most remarkable puzzle.  It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat  pocket, on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, keeping him occupied for hours.  He  enjoyed it so much; he passed it on to some friends.  One friend from Illinois worked on  this while fishing from his johnboat.  Another  friend studied it while playing his banjo.   Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly  newspaper column.  Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving;  she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves.  There will be some names that are really easy  to spot.  That's a fact.  Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam;  especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalized.  Truthfully from  answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or scholar to see  some  of them at the worst.  Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for  the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph.  During a recent fund  raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new  sales record.  The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who had  reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen.  As Daniel  Humana humbly puts it, “The books are right here in plain view hidden from sight.”   Those able to find all of them will hear great lamentations from those who have to be  shown.  One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur  without their numbers.  Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle  are normal.  A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who  claim to know the answers.  Remember, there is no need for a mad exodus.  There really  are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found.)
  (Malachi and Titus were ones I found that I thought were pretty hard) An hour later after helping my father find bible book names, I went over, rolled the all-season tires over to the fence and tossed them over (having swapped my black teaching blazer for a red flannel lumber jacket of my dad's), paid the guy who owns the garage, who I went to high school with, and who was on the phone with his sisters, who I also went to high school with, and drove the car to my folks'.  Then I rolled my four all-seasons over the a tire pile and piled them there.  Done.  Cold, snowy hands.  And now it's time for hot lasagne.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Festive, Seasonal Post

"We Live In A World That Hates Jesus"
I was writing about this in a book I'm writing, and I also encountered it again the other day, so I thought I'd say a few things about it. This commonly spoken sentiment: "We live in a world that hates Jesus."
  I was raised on this idea.  Every time a kid was mean to me in the playground, every time a science teacher mocked creationists for being superstitious idiots who didn't have the whole universe figured out, once and for all, like THEY did, it was because they 'hated Jesus.'
  I grew up on this.  Then, going out into "the world that hates Jesus" and meeting actual people who didn't go to my actual church, I found a bunch of stuff that didn't really support the idea.  For one thing, about a third of the population of the world actually wants people to view them as Christians (as compared to at most five percent who want to be viewed as atheists).  And practising, orthodox Muslims, of course, are taught by their imams to view Jesus of Nazareth as an important prophet of God.  They can't hate him without being infidels.  (Hating Christians is another story, of course.)  For another thing, many, many people who don't want to be called Christians still like some of the things Jesus taught, or think he was a good man, or something like that.  Can't really say they hate him. (I do think that if Jesus were alive in North America today, wasn't publicly claiming to be the Son of God, so people were simply responding to him as a guy with a YouTube channel or radio show which said fairly unconventional, unAmerican things, a WHOLE lot more people would hate him than do, currently.  A whole lot of right-wing Americans.)

The Secularization Of Western Culture
  One thing is certain: in my lifetime I have witnessed the growing secularization of Western culture.  And you know what?  That's never bothered me.  I was raised that the world hated Christ.  And raised on stories of people getting martyred for being Christian (Fox's Book of Martyrs), and with nods at any place in the world today where you can find Christians being discriminated against and oppressed (Looking at you, China).  And nothing that happens in North America looks like that, and I don't buy that it's getting like that, and that one day, I'll be put in jail for saying I'm a Christian or for what I teach my classes.  I know how to get along in secular settings.  And secular people have oppressed me far less than Christians have.  Atheists don't seem to care that I'm a Christian, nor how I am Christian.  Christians, on the other hand, are delighted to try to catch me "doing it wrong" so they can cause giant trouble of any kind they can concoct.  But things have gotten more secular.  And I don't care.  That's exactly as it should be.  Helps that I'm not under any illusion that my country should proudly proclaim that it, a country, is somehow a Christian.  You know what else?  I don't see this secularlization as"Christians losing their rights, one by one."  At all.

Back In The Day
There must have, logically, once been a time long ago when the number of people who identified themselves as Christians numbered less than even one hundred people.  Not like today when there are more Christians on earth than there were people on earth back when the bible was being written.  Under Jewish culture, itself in turn under Roman culture, Christianity was an underground movement.  It was oppressed.  People got martyred for being Christians, every bit as much as Jesus, an observant Jews, was himself martyred for what he said and did.  At this point in time, with Christians an oppressed minority fringe group, the New Testament was written.  That's the whole backdrop against which it takes place.  Christianity being hated by the cultures around.  Death being meted out to Christians.  So if you read the New Testament today, that's how it reads.  "Us" trying to not die, and get the word out to a world which has never heard of Jesus Christ.  Now my church ponys up the money to sent people to cities in Africa which are nominally Christian now and have been since before there was an America, a Canada or a Mexico, and tries to poach converts from the Baptists, Presbyterians and Anglicans.

Christianity Goes Mainstream
  Because that all changed.  Christianity changed, relatively quickly, from something the government might torture and execute you for doing at all in any way, to something they might torture and execute you for NOT doing, and eventually would torture and execute you for not doing "right."  At that point, the New Testament starts to read kind of funny.  All of the assumptions about the world/society Christians are in "hating Jesus" and "hating Christians" has been, somewhat turned on its head. The world/society/the government now insists on being viewed as the main (or only) agent of Christianity in the entire world.  It would be accurate to say, at this point, that the establishment demands to be acknowledged as not only Christian (loving Jesus the Christ) but also the only ones doing it right, and haters of all people who aren't Christians.  So now it's "Christians running a world they hate."
   In many ways, everything has turned sour at this point.  Corrupt power people run the governments and churches.  A global power which thinks of itself as The Church (or the Catholic (universal and only) Church) has literal armies (military forces) and untold wealth.  It has the right to oppress and torture and kill nonChristians.  And it does.  And not just for a week or two.  And it loves to kill Jews and Muslims.  And it loves more than anything to kill any kind of Christian who dots i's and crosses t's in a slightly different way, when reading the bible.  Or who translates the bible into their own language.  Or who prays to the same God, but again, in their own language.  Christian governments execute people for smuggling bibles.  Christians living in a world in which they are hated.  By other Christians. Who are running everything.

  Sloppily glossing over to the present day, we have an America which bizarrely claims to be a Christian country, and a Canada, France and England etc. which claim that many of the foundational aspects of our cultures and traditions came from people who called themselves Christian, but that we no longer want to be in any way viewed as only Christian, and excluding of other people, for instance, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and agnostics.  
  So, we've got Christmas happening this month.  You've got the establishment claiming it as its own, with its Santa Coke and parades and elves and flying reindeer, talking snowmen and other things clearly not really coming in any meaningful way from Christian tradition.  You have sacred cows like anyone teaching children there is no Santa Claus in school.  (you could get away with teaching six year olds the fact that many people believe there is no God, including you, their teacher, but could not get away with teaching them the fact that many people believe there is no Santa Claus, including you, their teacher).
  And then you've got churches with Christmas songs about the birth of the baby Jesus.  They want to claim Christmas is their thing.  Last Christmas, I sang at the school's Christmas Assembly (which we called that, and no one shot us, and we're not a Christian school or anything).  I sang an atheist Christmas hymn and a Christian one.  They were both beautiful.  I was doing, I think, what my job is.  I wasn't telling the kids to choose one.  I was showing them that both were beautiful.  
  John Lennon wrote "So This Is Christmas" and two random guys wrote first the poem (in French), then the music, for "O Holy Night,"  one hundred years earlier than Mr. Lennon's song.  No one had one objection to me singing either song.  In fact a lot of people were terribly appreciative and pretty much everyone sang along.  Lighters were held aloft.  I don't envision a time when anyone, in a high school, would object strongly to this kind of thing.  Because I was entertaining, educational, thought-provoking and not shilling for either side of the God/No God issue.

"Prayer" In Schools vs. Prayer In Schools
  When I was a kid, they stopped making kids listen to the Lord's Prayer every morning along with the national anthem before classes started.  I didn't like hearing that canned Lord's prayer.  I don't like still listening to the national anthem nowadays either.  Mine is one of the very few jobs in which I, an adult, have to stand and listen to a saccharine, shitty version of canned national anthem get piped in five times a week, and make sure kids take their hats off and aren't disrespectful as a Christina Aguilera sound-alike sings our national anthem in Charlie Brown Christmas style, all year long.
  But there is prayer in schools in our world.  People pray inside their heads whenever they want.  I can do that in my school.  No one cares.  And anyone who requests permission to use a room for group prayer at school, whether it be Muslim prayer, Christian prayer or whatever, is going to get one.  Us standing while a tinny speaker on the wall played a disembodied voice reciting the Lord's "How To" prayer wasn't students praying.  It just wasn't.  We weren't praying.  (Any more than our standing while a cassette of Christiana Gagnon-Poutine singing O Canada is us singing.)  We were waiting.
  But I've worked in nonChristian schools in which students had a Christian club or prayer room or whatever.  Muslim people are given facilities at their workplaces or schools to go pray as their religion dictates they must, including the handwashing and kneeling and facing East stuff.
  So my answer to "We used to have prayer in schools" is "We've always had prayer in schools and still do" with a healthy dose of "And students who are present while the P.A. system is used to read a prayer to them quite clearly aren't praying."
  I am one of those people, obviously, who would rather nothing, than have an empty, fake imitation of a real thing.  I think the empty fake stuff obscures the reality.  I don't feel safe about empty fake stuff being claimed and it muddying the waters when we need to see clearly. I'd rather we face what is, more baldly.

Hobby Horse Issues
  And there are such hobby horse (pet) issues.  Gay marriage is a fashionable one right now.  Along with abortion, it seems to be the only way Christians are measuring the health of their country, along with money.
   I mean, many Christians believe that gay sex isn't exactly what God intended.  But most would strongly oppose any attempt to actually stop said gay sex from happening.  Voting has shown, and I think it is the reality, that if a politician said "We're going to declare a War On Gay Sex in this country.  We've formed a taskforce which is going to raid gay clubs, roadside rest stops, wine bars and Ikea, and we're going to break up any conversations between gay people that might lead to gay sex, we're going to require proof of heterosexuality before purchasing condoms, and we're going to deny AIDS treatment to homosexuals" that that politician would definitely have no career, and would be ridden out of town on a rail.  Call me naive if it entertains you so to do.
  Yet things change, all of a sudden, when we go the other way and say "These people who are having gay sex want to be married."  Suddenly a panic.
  It is astounding to me that people confidently claim that, if they themselves are married, that allowing a gay couple to get marriage paperwork is going to somehow clearly infringe on their rights.  "They're trying to take away my rights as a heterosexual and as a Christian" they will claim.  Because they're upset.  Do they even know what they're actually upset about?
  I'm quite certain it isn't that gay people are having orgasms.  Quite certain that's not really, actually it.  I'm quite certain the  majority of these people wouldn't lift a finger to put a stop to a single gay orgasm.  I think it's that they want to, as a country, as with marijuana, teen sex and illegal betting, have it around and not oppose it, but not be seen as condoning it either.  I think it's not the gay sex that they feel the bible would have them oppose that is fuelling their outrage at all.  Because theye're not doing one thing to put a stop to the actual gay sex.  I think it's anything that could be construed as legitimizing it.
  And they have their self-image wrapped up in their country and its legal system just as if all of that were real and as advertised, and just as if the New Testament was written by people who felt the same way about their own country.  Do you think Paul the apostle was campaigning against Romans or Greeks legitimizing homosexuality? Because he himself was a Roman citizen and didn't want HIS empire to do that? I think he had other, quite different and quite pressing concerns than annoying gay people who wanted to get marriage paperwork.
  But these people will, quite confidently, tell me as a high school history and Civics teacher, what I would never get away with teaching.  It does no good to tell them what I can and actually do teach.  I can teach whatever I want, if it's a fact, and it's on topic.  I can tell them how many people vote how, and what laws say, and what the arguments for and against gay marriage are.  I can tell them what the laws say.  I can tell them what politicians and the leaders of political groups say.  I can require students to frame arguments for and against gay marriage, and require them to use logic and an understanding of the legal system and historical precedent in so doing. (I can tell you that my colleagues are good and sick of asking kids to study both sides of issues, and having kids try to get out of work by claiming, flying in the face of reality, that there aren't two possible sides, and that they also can't be required to back up any of their strongly held views with anything, including any knowledge of the bible, nor should I teach them that there are other views out there in the world, let alone what those views are.  It is so clearly our job to do all of that, and their job to demonstrate competence for us to assess.)
  I have homeschool parents tell me they don't want their kids to know that gay people get married.  Or they want to teach that no gay couple has ever been married, because this is a contradiction in terms.  I also have them tell me what I, as a mainstream professional teacher, could NEVER teach kids what the bible says about homosexuality.  Of course I can.  It's a key part of the picture, isn't it?  And presented as part of a complex interplay between people and parties with differing opinions and stances and approaches, the only people complaining are always going to be the "right-est" of fundamentalists.
  I've never had, nor have my local colleagues ever had, a Muslim parent complain about their kids learning that there is a controversy, that there are people on both sides, and that questions like this are often viewed as complex, rather than simple or black and white.  May happen one day.  Right now it's just Christians.  Because they want to feel they are the establishment, and they want to run the country.  And they quote bible verses from a time when Christians were an oppressed minority, like the clock's going to turn back and we'll all be getting stoned to death for smuggling bibles.
  But the anti-gay marriage ones with the loudest voices aren't church-goers with a knowledge of the bible.  More often, it's just grassroots rednecks whose kids can't be made to stop calling random other kids "faggots" and "queers" and "That Thing" and so get in trouble at the office for disrupting class with that behaviour, and then their parents come in and demand respect for the fact that they have a right to raise their kid to talk that way in a public school, and that their kid has a right to express his or her opinion as to the faggotyness of his or her fellow students and how traumatic he or she finds both having to go to school with gay people, and the fact that the school is infringing upon his or her rights by not letting him or her call them queers, which is what they are, isn't it?
  When all you're trying to get them to do is provide clear evidence that they can read. Or that they know who Hitler was. Or how laws and bills of rights work.

Do You Know What The Bible Says?  No, Not One Thing. The Whole Thing.
There is a simple test I like to use with people like that.  They always say "It's just wrong.  End of conversation."  You can't really argue with that.  (Even if you're their teacher, and you're teaching about homosexuality being legalized in the 60s.)  It's something anyone can say about anything, and it's also a refusal to back up an opinion, rather than being an opinion itself.  But if anyone says "the bible says," I am well aware that there are parts of the bible which are useful in hating on gay people.  There are also "How To Do Slavery Right" parts.  And "How To Take Sex Slaves In An Orthodox Jewish Manner" bit.  Thing is, if people aren't within handy googling distance of the Internet, they pretty much never know those bible verses they are claiming exist.  They're just believing what someone else told them, because it appeals to them. And if they do know a verse or two, it's almost always an older person, and one who ONLY seems to know those precise verses.  And they've had them printed on a t-shirt or bumper sticker.  It's their email signature.  You try to talk about anything else the bible says, and they're suddenly out of their comfort zone.  For them, the whole bible was written to them, to tell them that all faggottry needs to be stamped out by Jesus-loving Christians everywhere.  Because it's infringing on their rights. 
  But Christians will say "We're losing more and more rights."  I then ask "Can you tell me one right I have lost so I can miss it?"  And they always come up empty.  Well, I've lost rights I would have once had to discriminate against others.  But I don't miss those rights.  Now that the sixties are over, I can no longer call black students "niggers," nor gay kids "faggots."  And I have lost the right to bar them from our school.
  Or  any number of people, nominally Christian or otherwise will say "You can't say Merry Christmas or use the word Christmas or have certain Christmas carols in your school."  And I'll point to simple facts.  That I say Merry Christmas as often as I like (which isn't very often.  I don't actually care if people are merry at the best of times, and I also believe that the pressure to "need" to be able to conjure merriment every December, during which month Christ was not born, is responsible for the sharp rise in suicides and traditional indulgences in substance abuse which occur at this time of year).  I can tell them I sing and play Christmas carols about Bethlehem as often as I like (which isn't, admittedly, very often.  But I do do it. And I can. I haven't lost those rights).

Life In Canada
But I live in Canada. This means if anyone claims to be offended about anything, we freak out.  So if I offend anyone in any way, I may have a conversation to have with my principal.  Mostly that's just going to mean doing the same thing in a way with more finesse.  Yes, there are teenage kids who want to sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or something in their school, and whether or not they are going to be allowed to do that will depend entirely on who the school administrator is and how slick and how timid he or she is.  So, if you have a dick administrator, or a coward administrator or whatever, the whole school will suffer from that, and not just at Christmas.  So when I hear that some kid couldn't sing a Christmas song at Christmas, it makes me mad.  Because that's largely the administrator being scared.
  Shortly before we "got rid" of the P.A. Lord's Prayer in the mornings, our school board at first went in the opposite way.  They'd read the Lord's Prayer each morning as usual, but then they'd also read a native prayer or something Hindu.  You know what?  Someone somewhere made the choice to go the other way.  To decide that we weren't having any of anyone else's culture, and we'd graciously remove all the parts of our culture that we feared would overwhelm others and make them feel inadequate.  I thought that was terribly condescending.  (I do not use the word "patronizing" unless I get to call women "matronizing" when they act the same way, and generally I feel that I do not get to do that.)  So I'm annoyed about administrators who nix the songs about a baby being born, but keep the flying reindeer and singing snowmen.  But I don't think it's because the world hates Jesus.I think it's because we're being condescending and pandering to the first person who claims to be offended by anything.  I blame it on us trying not to look like ideological bullies.

Newsflash: I Am A Heterosexual
It's true.  I am a heterosexual.  I know gay people who are married.  I know Christian gay people who are married.  I have blocked people on Facebook because I'm sick of their continued postings stating confidently that if you're gay, you can't be a Christian.  That being gay is a choice (and nothing else.  And that being gay is not about genetics, not about being born that way, not about past abuse or psychological baggage) and that it's a choice to hate Jesus.  Because who am I, who am not gay, to decide I know all about what it is to be gay, and why people are gay and so on? 
  The only thing that seems to come to mind for me is that, in the most anti-gay bible verses, it clearly says that God will inflict homosexuality upon Himless societies.  Will give people over to it like He used to give people over to Assyria.  Makes me think if someone's gay, it's not terribly fun, and that God made them that way without asking them or their parents first, and that they have much choice in the matter as people living in Jerusalem once did when Syria came knocking.
  I don't think the world hates Jesus or is even "full of people who hate Jesus."  I think there are a WHOLE lot more people who hate Christians.  And sometimes I want to join them. Because they/we are such assholes sometimes.  Vindictive, arbitrary, bigoted, selfish, hypocritical, scripture-ignorant, love-challenged assholes. Judgmental, too (irony intended).  But I am a Christian.  So my only choice is to only be an asshole if I think it's in one of the ways Jesus wants me to be one.  If I'm being opinionated, rude or upsetting, I think I ought to make sure it's for a reason.  Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

More Application of Isaiah

Still trying the "not obsessing over tiny bits and then missing the whole picture" approach out.  It was partly prompted by N.T. Wright answering a question about "how to read the bible," and presenting something entirely different than what I'm used to hearing people suggest.  He stressed the importance of reading a thing the way it was intended to be read. 
  For instance, if Paul the apostle wrote a letter, and you never read it all at one go, and maybe then going back later to read through the bits, then you're probably missing the overview, the big picture.  You're not reading it in a very natural way.  Not like how you'd read a letter (or email, for modern folk.)  You're just begging to interpret the individual bits in ways any understanding of the whole thing would never support.
  I know a guy in Manhattan who has what he calls "Read Outs."  People come, as to a poetry reading, and an entire book of the bible is read aloud.  They convene elsewhere afterward, anyone who wants, and they can discuss the part of the bible they just heard in its entirety, if they want.  But the point is unmistakably not to read a tiny bit of the bible for ten minutes, and then spend all of the rest of the time analyzing that little bit, but to read it aloud in natural chunks. Like, the whole book of James.
  Growing up, I always had to go out to Reading Meeting every Thursday night.  But it wasn't mostly reading.  They usually just read one part of one chapter from one book of the bible (trying to avoid re-reading anything we'd already read).  So, we might be at verse 23.  They read that chapter fragment, starting at verse 23, in the King James Bible, which guaranteed that very few could follow it easily.  They dismissed any 20th century translations as irreverent, poorly translated paraphrases, and then spent the vast majority of the hour doing amateur, on-the-fly paraphrases of their own, despite their having much less in the way of credentials than the guys who'd done the modern translations.
  This meant that, for instance, the book of Romans took us a few months to get through.  Far more time was spent on paraphrase than hearing any large percentage of the book of Romans read as one piece.  On any given week, the majority of us were having trouble remembering anything that had come before, (most of it had been read as much as two months previous) in the book of Romans, and we often didn't have what was coming next in our minds either.  At all.
  So, basically anything could be tossed in without fear of it being cross-referenced against anything the apostle may have written twenty minutes earlier or later.  That was one way of doing bible reading.  Good to know there are other ways too.

The Bible As An Attempt To Answer Two Big Questions
After I linked the N.T. Wright clip, a Facebook friend linked me to a lengthy analysis of the different ways to interpret the bible, and correctly slotted this view put forth by N.T. Wright into the same niche one held by a guy named T. Desmond Alexander, who wrote:

 "Produced over many centuries, the differing texts that comprise this library are amazingly diverse in terms of genre, authorship and even language. Nonetheless, they produce a remarkably unified story that addresses two of life's most fundamental questions: 
(1) Why was the earth created? [oh, okay.  You could say "What's the point of there being an earth?" if you don't believe it was created.  Changes very little in terms of arguing about this topic.]
(2) What is the reason for human existence?"
T. Desmond Alexander's From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.

We Use Stories To Answer Questions
I've been teaching English and creative writing, and occasionally history, for some years now (like, seven) and I've been watching DVDs of TV shows and movies with the commentary tracks on for longer than that, in huge numbers, and I've always been into the whole "Big Picture" approach.  Context before Content in the Classroom, I say.  In Capitals.  And I've seen how deep and universal the use of a story is, as a human means of making sense of the world.
  I try to get the kids to see how very often they're going to package up "too many facts,"  snip anything that's too soon, and anything that happens too much afterward, and make a story to present to someone, usually to explain things.  Stories are the cookies we make of the stuff of life, in order to get others to swallow our own perspective and experience of things.  So, in court, in trouble with your folks, asked to explain the birds and the bees to a child, asked where life came from to begin with, talking to a teacher or police officer, trying to placate an aggrieved lover, trying to convey how good something would be, trying to convey how good something was, trying to convey how the very opposite of good something would be or was.  It goes on and on.  We do it all the time.
  All great sages taught with stories.  Plato, Jesus, Muhammad.  All great charlatans and fiends made up stories to sway the  people as well.  Jim Jones, Hitler, the Enron guys.  (It's up to you whether you think the Bush Administration, selling the necessity of the 2001 American Invasion of Iraq, were the former or the latter.)
  But stories.  So no wonder I like the view Alexander holds about overarching stories unfolding through the collection of extremely diverse writings calling and answering one to the other in the book we call The Bible (The Book).

My Adventures Reading Isaiah
  Anyway, last week I tried to see how much of Isaiah I could get through until I couldn't deal with my head being 'full' and having to stop.  I only got through the first seven chapters.  I was raised on "A Bible Chapter a Day Each Morning," but I also emember how it was to read the whole bible one summer when I was twelve.  Ploughing through.  Not stopping to try to figure out every little thing.  Assuming there was an overarching thing not to be missed, a benefit from holding a large number of chapters in my head at the same time and being able to think and feel about them like that.
  Today I tried the same thing.  I started back in chapter 1 again, and having already read the first seven made it easier to plough through, but I still only got through to the tenth chapter.  I was tempted to go research Assyria, or Ephraim or Samaria and know more about their geography, their origins and their mentions in the New Testament. To find out more about what they meant as archetypes.  But I fought that urge and ploughed through until my head complained enough that I stopped. I can do them later.  Like now, if I want.
  I had to fight one urge, deeply trained into me: to see the things God is taking away from Judah as individually "wrong," and therefore as being something individuals were being punished for doing, one at a time, individually, with no bigger picture.  Like, Isaiah describes the daughters of the women of Jerusalem as acting like divas, princesses.  Proud and haughty.  And God was going to leave them wandering the streets covered in sores, hair fallen out in patches, leaving them bald and filthy, wrapped in burlap sacking for clothes, all their makeup and jewellery and vanity gone.  And it was almost impossible to read that as a consequence for a bigger problem, done by their culture as a whole, rather than just "God hates vanity and is punishing each vain person."  Same thing with every single other consequence to an overall attitude problem Judah had.  
  It was clear.  God had bigger fish to fry than one girl thinking she was Kim Kardashian.. God hadn't sent Isaiah to talk to the people, and have his message inscribed for perpetuity in the holy writings of the three Abrahamic religions, and call Judah "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" because some girls thought they were Paris Hilton.  ("But one girl thinking she was Paris Hilton was vanity, so it was wrong," one person would say.  Another person would say  "Whatever. So not the point.")
  It wasn't just that so many people had individual vagaries, and that He was punishing lots of them individually, like we'd prefer to imagine today.  He was punishing the whole kingdom.  For a general attitude and approach to life.  Tarring all of it with one Big Brush.  Even people innocent of this attitude.  Everyone.

The Story I Was Seeing
The story as I was seeing it is is this:  God "set up" Israel for success, with Jerusalem being where He was to be worshipped.  In a very human fashion, Israel succumbed to political infighting and various men vying for power, and was split into two kingdoms (because two guys needed to be king so badly they split the whole country in half rather than give up power.  People died.  People lost everything.)  What had formerly just been Israel became two kingdoms: Israel and Judah.  Confusingly, "Israel" kept the name of the original, while Judah kept the city of Jerusalem, the central place of worship.
  Now, one would tend to assume God would approve of the side which "kept" Jerusalem.  That He's take that side.  They weren't just Israelites in name, but they also worshipped according to the book, in the right place, as it were. Yet, as I said before, God is disgusted with them.  Their every scriptural, religious, traditional observance disgusted and annoyed Him rather than was honoured by Him as proper and dutiful.  He actually sends a prophet mainly to tell them that, in great detail and at great length.  He calls them names. Specifically, besides a whole lot of animal images, he calls them Sodom and Gomorrah, places renowned for having earned God's displeasure in the past and being razed to the ground. And He threatens them.  Even if they repent, He's still going to lay a huge beatdown on them.

Stuff Judah Did Wrong
  This raises the question: what exactly did Judah do to earn the disgust of God?  How were they acting that made God no longer enjoy having His Name associated globally with them, and made Him want to distance Himself from their smug daily routine, and their whole culture?  Some common, recurrent biblical complaints are levelled against them in Isaiah. Ones you can find all through the bible.  Ones that are often levelled against every church out there today.  In Judah, center of the place to worship God:

-the powerful oppressed the weak, exploiting them rather than looking after them.  The poor, the widows, the fatherless (the disenfranchised, those with no one to speak for them) are trodden over roughshod.  Neglected like our homeless today.  Or exploited, like white folk did with the aboriginal people of...well... the entire world.  This spirit is seen in older bible stories in situations such as the one in which the Queen wants to have a regular citizen's vineyard, so has him killed to take it for herself, or where the King plays peeping tom, creeping a regular citizen's hot wife, and has him killed so he can take said hot wife to add to his own collection of hot wives.

-vanity. the success, the prosperity, the unity, the good humour, the power, the beauty, the art, the everything good that God was making sure they had and enjoyed was a source of pride rather than gratitude.  (never mind humility.  What about gratitude?) In a slightly different conversation, a comparison is made between an axe talking like it's just cut down a tree by itself, when clearly, a dude merely used it in cutting down trees himself.

-the values and virtues expected of them by their own God ignored, the people were interested in inventing gods made in their own image, or in the image of their favourite animals.  Idolatry.  Taking the focus of their attention and appreciation off the source of the good stuff, and putting it on an archetype, or 'ism, or human guy, or book, or tradition, or activity, or fictional character.

Application To A Modern Christian Church
Do I even need to do this?  Maybe.  Maybe this isn't as obvious as one would hope.  Here are some ways you could mess this up, Judah style, and earn God's disgust, His withdrawal of association, utility and blessing:

-the powerful oppressing the weak.  In a church, sometimes this just adds up to people with more social status generally getting their way, and if people with less social status annoy them or impugn them or even disagree strenuously enough with them, then potent social retribution and oppression/alienation/ostracizing occurs.  Social assassinations and career sabotage are the way of the unprincipled 21st century human being.
  Also, it can be an education or title thing.  The "powerful" can be those with a divinity degree, the title of elder, pastor or whatever, or sometimes last names and inherited family power can determine who is "the powerful."  In some churches, anyone who has a problem with how an elder, pastor or Johnson or Smith handled something may be out of luck, and had better shut up or that's it for them. In other places, if you don't have a degree, you don't get to talk.

-vanity.  Whatever it is that you like in your church can go there, if you let it. You can feel responsible for the thing, rather than grateful for it.  How much doctrine or teaching or theology you feel your group is a repository for, how much humility you feel your pastor or church shows, how diverse you claim your church is, how many people attend it, how nice it is in there, how good the music is, how spiritual you feel the people generally are, how "positive" everyone is, how noble those in positions of authority are.  Any of that.  The line is crossed when you move from enjoying the thing to using it as a badge of honour for your group, as a "product feature" to be used in selling it.
  Christians are pretty well taught against vanity, so they have evolved a pretty neat trick in many circles: having vanity on behalf of others.  Or on behalf of the entire group.  Like that's somehow not vanity.
  There is little God hates more than vanity and smug, self-satisfied boasting. In common everyday terms, we all know that feeling when we're getting high on our own primacy in something.  "I'm the prettiest girl in the room!"  "No one here can even try to argue with me, because they suck!"

-Idolatry.  Heavily connected with the other two.  Stems from the latter, quite often, and causes the former, very commonly.  I was always taught that idolatry could be identified by how much someone liked something.  I'd argue that it can be identified by how and why someone likes something.  So, the way people tried to identify idolatry, in our church (which group publicly proclaimed its superiority in terms of teaching, administrative practice, worship style and just general Christian-hood) was thusly:
  "Sam loves hockey.  He really loves playing it. Probably too much.  It takes a lot of his time. Time he could be spending reading his bible.  Therefore, it's an idol.  Sam should give up hockey for God."
  Now let's look at two guys who could be accused of having made an idol of hockey shall we?  

A Tale Of Two Church Hockey Guys
  Sam I Am loves hockey because of how it feels.  He loves trying and working and getting in the zone and falling into sync with the entire experience and having it work out.  Something really opens up inside him.  The game takes him entirely out of himself.  He isn't thinking of any of his problems while he's playing.  He actually feels wonderful playing and often remembers to correctly attribute the experience of a fun evening playing it to God.  If the players really enjoy each other, and there is warmth and camaraderie and unity, he correctly attributes that to God. He sees God as the source of all the good stuff.  He understands that God is goodness itself, and that anything that was actually good about the evening, came from God.
  Sam loves hockey.  It's a thing he can see God in.  When he's loving hockey and seeing it coming from God, God is loving him and the hockey and delivering the "good" up to Sam and the people he's playing it with, in spades.  And people are attracted to that dynamic. They want to play hockey with Sam, and they also will listen to Sam talk about life and hockey and dealing with problems and even about God and the bible.  When Sam has problems, they want to help.  If they have problems, Sam can be counted upon.  It's a whole little confluence of good things, drawing God and Sam and other people together, to have what some cheesy church folk might term "a God experience."  And then Robert Righteous has come in and demanded shame and guilt and serious piety put a stop to all of it.  Shame on him.

  Will I Wish is different from Sam I Am.  Will I Wish loves trouncing everyone who isn't as good as he is.  He likes making players look stupid, by being better.  When decisions relating to what night hockey will be played on arise, or who is playing what position and who is captain, Will cares deeply that this come out according to his own vision of how it should go, with him getting his way every time.  He will do whatever it takes to make it go his way.  He makes no attempt, and had no ability, to see anyone else's side of anything. He will use his skills, his social status, any monetary considerations he can bring into the matter, the fact that he lives near the arena. Any of that.
  When he doesn't get what he wants, he takes small, petty revenges.  He erodes and poisons the offending person's social status by slander and gossip.  He seeks to "open the eyes" of others as to how dangerous or odious this person who disagree with him is. He checks him harder or doesn't pass to him when playing.
  Will is there to win glory for himself.  He does not do assists.  He hotly contests any decision that ruins any chance for him to be seen by others to be the best.  He is  very tempted to cheat, and does if he can get away with it.  He has no sportsmanship.  He takes the confidence that comes from a position as assistant pastor, and thinks that translates into him being the king at the rink.  He doesn't drive anyone home, or if he does, they end up "owing" him somehow, generally praise and social support.
  Will goes to church because it makes him look decent and proper.  He decides it's right for everyone to do it (because he does it) and he bothers anyone who's been missing church services, and threatens to have them forbidden to play hockey with the church guys if they can't attend better.
  Will thinks hockey is awesome because he is making it awesome.  When things really aren't going his way at hockey, his "big gun" is to threaten that just maybe, he might have to play hockey elsewhere, or (tragedy of tragedies) nowhere at all.
   It was actually Will who suggested that Sam should give up hockey.  For God.  Sam is better than Will is.

It is obvious that conclusions as to judging the place of hockey in these two guys' lives based on how much they care about it (equal), or how much time they spend playing it (equal) are silly ones.  It's the spirit/attitude that is the really important thing here.  According to the bible, God looks at the "inner things of the heart."  His objections as not so much only relating to what is done, but what's in the heart.  So, the vanity, the oppression of weaker and more vulnerable people, and thinking the good in the thing (even a hockey game) is something I bring with me, and take when I leave?  All that flows out into not only what is done, but how.  Because of "why."

The Solution
The story with prophets in the old testament is almost always kinda the same one.  "God isn't happy.  You're inventing things to worship instead of seeing Him in good things. 'Jimi Hendrix's guitar sure could write songs,' you say.  The weak, powerless and helpless are exploited and left to rot.  And you're smug.  Even if you can see what He's sent me to tell you, not everyone's going to be able to, which is why He's allow crap to go wrong and 'awesome' to go away.  But if you rethink it all, and approach things in a different way, with a clearer vision of it all and your place in it, and what good you can do there, He's gonna love that.  And ultimately that's where hope is."

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Little Chunks or One Huge Swoosh?

N.T. Wright says a couple of fairly inarguable things here.  For example, he says that the apostle Paul wrote letters to the different Christian groups, and that these letters don't make much sense, actually, if each one is not read as a whole thing.  In churches, frequently they are read in little bits over the course of months.  If you never read them start to finish, you only tackle little chunks which you are almost certain to misinterpret, misapply, or generally miss the point of.  Much more likely if you get into some kind of attempt at deep analysis, when you don't have the whole rest of the book, in overview, in your head to match it up against.
  Now, I'm teaching Shakespeare this year (Macbeth) and I'm teaching the 20th Century also.  I'm doing something that's quite different from many of the other teachers.  The more years I do what I do (the way I do it) the more what they do looks nonsensical to me, and the more what I do looks equally nonsensical to them.

My Theory (Context Before Content)
 Here's my theory, as simply as I can put it: before you should weigh the kids' arms down, mentally speaking, with huge unwieldy loads of specific information about something, they need the Big Picture.  Like, a context to put those things in. Otherwise they'll "drop" them all.  So, before you explain what you think are deeper themes in Act 2 of Macbeth, and what happens there, in a whole lot of detail, and get into foreshadowing and symbols and stuff, you should make sure the kids are equipped with an overview of the whole thing that these details slot into.
  If you're teaching the minutiae of the First World War and what caused it and what effect it had, and you're going into a great deal of depth, if the kids don't even know what the main events before or after it were, they do not have in their heads what's in yours as you're teaching.  They need an overview of the century first. Then the details.
  If you're going to argue about what you think Romans 7 means, and you haven't read Romans 6 or Romans 8 recently, or if you read Romans 6 last week and aren't thinking of it very much that's not good.  If you and have forgotten chapters 5,4,3 and so on to an increasing degree, going backward, and have not yet heard what will be said in Romans 8, 9 and 10, but you're still delving deeply into 7, you might wanna rethink that.  Do the whole book, then go digging in the bits.
  So with the 20th Century, in my history class we did the whole century, in terms of main events, first.  Almost no detail. Then we did the whole century in terms of civil rights events only. (women getting the vote, the victories against the Klan in the American south and so on).  Now we are doing the whole century in terms of inventions and new technology. 
  The old system of taking from September right up until Christmas to move at a snail's pace from the First World War, through the Roaring Twenties and great Depression, then arrive at the Second, talking about Hilter and the Holocaust for the first time while the snow is making a cushy carpet and Christmas carols are in the air?  When no one can bring Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War or Iraq into the discussion, because we haven't got there yet, and won't really have time to "get there" at all before the end of the course?  I don't want to teach that way.  When I'm done teaching technology (including the development of military, vehicular, medical and communications technology over the course of all the wars) I'll teach the whys, wherefores and hows of the wars, and the economics of the century as well.  Will I rush? Will I stress Big Picture over individual facts?  I sure will.  But I actually don't have five classes to study the Treaty of Versailles.  I just don't.  Not without pulling a bonehead move like skipping teaching about little things like, oh, the Internet.  Had a bit of an effect on the world, one might argue.  Might have some effect on historical research and study.
   Does this method risk one putting one's own slant on causes and effects, outcomes, and change, with all the summarizing?  Of course.  But we do that anyway when teaching history.  All the time.  And kids watching Romeo and Juliet, or 1984 (or the twentieth century) 'go by' terribly, terribly slowly, as a teacher pads out each one by, for instance, saying more words about Romeo and Juliet than are actually in Romeo and Juliet?  Not terribly effective, I don't feel.

What I'm Not Doing, And What I'm Doing Instead

Some teachers teach about the historical period when Shakespeare was writing, and about England, and the Globe Theatre and all of that.  I don't give a toss about that.  I teach Shakespeare as a guy who wrote a whole body of work, and what it was, and what it was like.  I have a collection of 20 minute British children's cartoon adaptations of Shakespearean plays.  Every Friday leading up to doing Macbeth, the kids get to pick two, and we watch two every Friday, including the cartoon of Macbeth, which we'll be reading.  (that's a no-no.  How can they be expected to read the play if they've already seen a cartoon of it?)  My kids have to write, just from these kinds of cartoons, what Shakespeare, as a writer, is like. What is the overall structure of his tragedies?  His comedies?  It becomes easy. It becomes "Oh, Shakespeare?  Yeah, I know what HE does.  Can't fool me. This is a tragedy, so at the end the stage will be filled with bodies. He always does that.  Oh, and this is a comedy, so at the end almost every single character will all get married. He always does that too."
  Then we watch the 70s movie of Macbeth, with the subtitles on, so almost every word in the entire play is acted, by a professional, with the subtitles up to be glanced at, for the kids.  This is better than the cartoon, but now they already feel they understand the characters and plot and setting too.  If they complain "I'm confused," then they look much less justified, having already seen a children's cartoon of the basics.  They say, "Oh, that's Banquo right there on that horse. He was bald in the other one."  Then I play a small documentary in which Shakespeare experts with actual PhDs wax opinionated about what they think about Macbeth, differing quite consciously from stuff that high school teachers often teach (the thought "in a tragedy, the hero has a tragic flaw" is a notable example of something the eggheads think is a particularly stupid thing to teach children).  I myself am not a Shakespeare expert with a PhD, and tend to agree with those guys.
  Then, the kids get to get into groups and read/act out the play.  There are definitely years when especially the slacker kids and their groups do not finish acting out the whole thing by exam time because every time you turn your back, they're just holding the books but not reading.  So they get told to read it at home themselves, to prepare for the exam.  And if they can't be bothered, neither can I.
  What is generally done is rather different than what I do: the teacher waxes didactic on the Globe Theatre, and Elizabethans and stuff (Macbeth is set in a different country, in a different time, of course, which may be relevant), then reads the play aloud/has the kids read it aloud as a large class-sized group with many kids sleeping through this part, as there are far more kids in the class than can read at once, and the teacher keeps interrupting the play to lecture, explain, lecture, explain.  So Macbeth takes like a week or two.  Now, if you went to see Macbeth, in the original, theatrical version, rather than semi-literate adolescents reading the script, it wouldn't take more than an evening.

But it's viewed as "authentic" for the kids to read the script of the play before seeing the movie.  Horror is expressed that I show the movie first.  How can I say they read the play at all if they've seen it performed?
  I ask "How "authentic" is that?  The Hobbit is out in two weeks.  What if I said to my kids, now, you need to read the script first.  You can watch the movie when you're done. How can you claim to have truly watched the movie if you haven't read the script?  (How can you, in fact, eat your pudding if you don't eat your meat?  Go on, do it again!)  And I need to teach you everything you need to know about Oxford, J.R.R. Tolkien, the battle of the Somme, the horrors of the First and Second World Wars, the atomic bomb, and all the settings and races of Middle Earth (with a class or two showing from where in Beowulf and Norse mythology Tolkien cribbed his stuff).  Then you can watch the movie.  If we have time.  That?  Would be ridiculous."
  I am terribly popular in the English department.
  Because ultimately, Macbeth is a play.  Intended to be watched with perhaps a brief intermission, start to finish.  The mythic short attention spans of modern children are hardly assuaged by making it take a week or two.  In what form was Macbeth intended, by William Shakespeare, to be enjoyed, if I may use that word?  As a script read by the worst readers in modern history, or as a performance by professionals?

Romans, the part of the bible, is a letter.  It isn't intended to be read over the course of two months.  Ridiculous.  It certainly isn't intended to be lectured ad nauseam upon, when 'we' are three weeks away from even seeing what comes next.  It is a letter. Intended to be read as a whole and then perhaps gone over afterward.
  With the 20th Century, we're screwed, though.  Centuries are to be lived, and absolutely no one lives a whole one and is fully cognizant throughout those entire hundred years, starting in the first year.  Yet I apply the same idea to history class. Making it seem to actually take one hundred years to teach grade 10 history doesn't seem to be my best idea.
  I'm going bigger.  Am I drilling down to the same depths of detailed analysis?  Nope.  Don't care.  They keep asking us to teach everything important that happened from 1900 forward, and then with every passing decade there's yet another decade to cover and put into context and decide what's important in.  And the kids who are arriving each semester aren't being educated the way they used to be.  They have more and more huge gaping holes in their overall understanding, and less and less ability to draw connections.  So I teach connections, hitting the actual people, places and things I'm connecting, one to another, while I do that.  It's not perfect.  But it's what I'm doing and I'm happier.

When I Was 12
When I was 12, my dad offered our Sunday School class $20 to whoever would read the whole bible.  I read it.  At the time, I thought I was cheating, as I was reading through it pretty quickly.  I wasn't getting caught in the details.  I had to get through it.
  Thing is?  Now I end up getting into arguments with people who've done painfully in-depth study of a whole series of tiny bits of the bible.  And they don't have any kind of big picture.  You talk about Paul as a writer, or Romans as a book; and compare Romans as a book to James as a book, written by James, who was really different from Paul, but quite like Jude (and Jesus, actually. The three might have been brothers, actually.)  And they can't seem to connect.  Trouble is, maybe they've never read those books in just one or two sittings, ever.  They've read instructive, excised snippets.  Useful for building religions from.
  Even more commonly?  They've never read the whole bible.  At all.  Increasingly, when I ask bible students if they've read the whole thing, it's something they think they really ought to do, if they can find the time between studying (about) it.
  So you try to talk about anything in general, especially if some person is drilling holes in the bible, and it's like you're speaking Greek.  (and not New Testament Greek, either).  And they're back with the magnifying glass, assuming you're missing stuff when you talk to them. Because they can do so much more detail on their few expert bits than you can.
  Well, they're missing stuff too.  Including the very fact that they're missing anything, or that you have anything to say too.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Sunday Sermon on Isaiah

  To wilfully take God's prophecy given to Isaiah, which he was to deliver to people who were clearly in "the Right Place" (Judah had, after all, Jerusalem) and apply it to the modern day: 
What Was God's Problem with His People?
  God had huge problems with those people who worshipped at Jerusalem, with all the outer forms of their worship traditional and correct, and all the wordings orthodox and traditional.  They had the writings, they had the psalms.  Yet He called them "Sodom." He called them "Gomorrah." They weren't gang-raping tourists, so why did He call them these names? 

   Having Jerusalem and all, you'd think they'd worship "right." But instead, they were complacent and self-satisfied in their lives and spirituality, despite the fact that there was constant warring.  There is no war in the world, nor political or ecclesiastical in-fighting or revolution without there being blood and shameful things done in secret. 
  So there was blood on their hands. The oppression, control, manipulation and plundering of the young, the spiritually weak, the fatherless, the vulnerable. People with no one to keep them safe ended up as unprotected victims and targets. And the people of God were supposed to be on the side of the angels.  They were supposed to protect their widows, their fatherless, their poor, their handicapped and sick. But the powerful were exploiting the weak.  Attacking people who had no one to protect them. Ganging up on people who were alone.  That's where the blood came from.  And no one was allowed to talk about that.
  I know people whose fathers leave them fatherless when they are oppressed or exploited, crushed or pilloried. I know people whose fathers have joined in when it came time to throw rocks at them for daring to suggest God might be displeased with anything going on in "the Right Place."
   God sent this message to His people and told them he couldn't stand their feasts, their hymns, their incense, their holy meetings and assemblies, because there was this blood on their hands. "Your hands are full of blood," He said. 
  So He told them to stop bothering Him with religious activity until they made things right, "corrected" the oppression they'd been part of, and brought justice to the fatherless and pled the widow's cause.  He would not listen to any hymns or prayers, personal or collective, until they did this.  Until it was no longer "every man for himself" and an enforced practice of forbidding talking about what happened when someone weak fell under the power of the rich, the strong, the religiously or politically powerful. If someone was weak or vulnerable, or injured or poor, the proper response wasn't to be "So, did this man sin, or his parents? He's poor and messed up.  He must have done SOMEthing!"
  Now clearly, you won't wash blood off yourself until you acknowledge it's there, and maybe then you just might have to reflect on whose it was and how it got there.  I know circles where people get very uncomfortable and put a stop to any talk about people who've been (ecclesiastically speaking) gang-raped by their church group, Sodom and Gomorrah style.  I know circles where these people are called "bitter" as a way of not wanting to feel any humanity toward them afterward. "Did bad things happen?  Probably, but look how bitter she is...." I do not know of church apologies happening.

God Sends Isaiah To Them
   When God first singles out Isaiah, He has barely taken care of Isaiah's typical "I'm not worthy!" deal, before He tells Isaiah to take to His people news of what His first and root punishment upon them will be (military defeat and cultural collapse will come later and partly as a result of this root punishment):

ears that hear but do not understand, eyes that see but do not perceive, and dull hearts.

   So they will not be able to perceive anything, understand anything, or feel anything, nor will they get healing. But of course they'll keep worshipping and praying and singing and being decent religious folk who have to worry about their reputations.  Business as usual. Unaware. 
  This is God's curse on them, as stated by God Himself. To them. In advance.

The Way Back?

   And where is the way back for a group which doesn't see that it needs healing, doesn't hear anything on the subject, and can't feel the need of it, so never changes?  For a group that's trying to avoid change, when it needs some?  Repentance.  At the bidding of that single voice, sent to them, by God, to tell them He's displeased. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Elijah. Whoever's handy. And God doesn't choose many mighty people (or people with supportive fathers, or people with strong reputations or status, or people who are considered "spiritual") to do that. He chooses people with unclean lips, for instance.
  And the majority will not hear nor understand them, and people like Isaiah generally end up sawed in two to make them shut up, while a few listen and are awakened to what's what. And this makes the few all the more impressive to God, and the many, all the more condemned.