A kind act that can't be repaid: 3-28/29-15
We're all in lingering shock: 3-31-15

A great Bible resource site: 3-30-15

Do I read the Bible every day? No, but I do read it and study it with some regularity. For instance, I'm often part of a Sunday morning class at my congregation that studies the scriptural passages used in last week's and this week's sermons.

Bible-stackThen each Wednesday morning, a small group of men from my church -- a group that I've been part of for more than 30 years -- does fellowship, breakfast, Bible reading and prayer.

On Thursdays I help to lead a Bible study group in Downtown Kansas City. The group was started by my church more than 30 years ago but now is mostly made up of people (Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians) who are not members of my congregation.

In between all of that I may be reading this or that passage of the Bible as I prepare a blog entry, a column, a book or a sermon.

Over all my adult years of reading and studying the Bible, however, I wish I had had access to an online source I just discovered by reading the print edition of The National Catholic Reporter. It was about an online Bible study reference site founded by the Society of Biblical Literature. It's called Bible Odyssey, and it is the phenomenal mother lode of useful, accessible, readable scholarly information about the Bible.

And when I say mother lode, I'm not exaggerating. At the bottom of the home page, there's a "browse by subject" line that's done alphabetically. Oh, my. Just under "A" there are nearly 70 main topics and dozens and dozens more subtopics.

Never heard of the Society of Biblical Literature? Here's its own description of itself: "Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible based on the Humanities’ core disciplines. With over 8,000 members worldwide, it represents and convenes scholars whose life work is in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies. The SBL promotes the academic study of the Bible and of sacred texts generally."

I particularly liked this quote in the NCR story from John Kutsko, SBL executive director: "The Bible is particularly susceptible to misinformation, bad information or even hurtful interpretation. We can't understand Shakespeare and Elizabeth English without notes. The same goes for the Bible."

At any rate, if you have any interest in the Bible at all, this is a site you don't want to miss. Along with texts, there are videos of scholars explaining things in pretty easy-to-understand language.

So if any of the groups with which I read the Bible suddenly finds me sounding a lot smarter, I'll be happy to give credit to the Bible Odyssey site.

* * *

THOSE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILLS

Quite a few states, moving against the tide of history, are working on bills that would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, the Associated Press reports. When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was adopted at the federal level under the Clinton presidency, it was meant to (and did) restore the freedom of such groups as Native Americans to use otherwise-illegal drugs in religious ceremonies. But now that concept is being used to allow rank prejudice to have the status of legal protection. And yet, as religious scholar Stephen Prothero pointed out in a recent Facebook posting, even rank prejudice can be sincerely held religious belief and, as such, should be protected (not just religious belief we agree with). Here's Prothero's post: Distressing to see so many of my FB friends lining up to take down the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the grounds that it is a "license to discriminate" against the LGBT community. The original RFRA was passed unanimously by the US House (and with 3 dissenters only in the Senate) in an effort to restore religious liberty to Native Americans using peyote stripped from them in Employment Division v. Smith (1990). Recently, the federal RFRA was used to protect the rights of a Muslim prisoner to keep a beard. I support gay rights. I support gay marriage. I also support religious liberty. There are sometimes conflicts between these commitments--I recognize that. But it is a sad, sad day when there is so little regard for the rights of religious conscience for fellow citizens, especially among my liberal friends who should be their defenders. Religious liberty (and freedom of speech) are not just for people who agree with your religion (or secularity) or your speech. It is for people with whom you disagree, even evangelicals. [PS--I disagree with one key feature in the law, which extends this religious liberty protection to "entities" including corporations. But I support state RFRAs in general for protecting religious minorities.] Smart letter here by legal scholars for those who want to learn more about this law (versions of which have been passed in 31 states, for reasons having nothing to do with homosexuality)--rather than just venting about it without understanding the history of religious liberty in the US or the specific provisions of this law. (Here's a link to the letter Prothero mentioned.)

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