Category Archives: Bible Study

Back to Genesis 1 and thinking about word choice

Genesis 1 starts in the NRSV of the bible:

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

the earth was a formless void

and darkness covered the face of the deep,

while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”

I often use The Schocken Bible, vol. 1, “The Five Books of Moses” translation and notes by Everett Fox when looking at Genesis:

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth

when the earth was wild and waste

darkness over the face of Ocean

rushing spirit of God hovering over the face of the water”

 

So how I have internalized it for storytelling is

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth

the earth was a formless void

and darkness covered the face of the deep

And God’s spirit hovered over the face of the water.”

 

I love the sense of creation as still being in progress by using “at” and “creating”. I like “formless void” better than wild and waste although the poetry of wild and waste is wonderful. My own imagination just brings too much to “wild and waste” and I think we need to be careful about that — this is a situation where we should be very careful to not “know” what the void is; how “wild and waste” look or sound or feel. “Formless void” is a picture of “nothing” and keeps the focus on the chaos of nothingness (I hope). I love “face of the deep” — again “the deep” brings more mystery. And what is the “face”? That is such a strange word choice. I am not scholar enough to know why that word choice is so consistent, but if anyone does let us know in the comments!

And myself, I want it clear that the “ruah” — the wind — isn’t just some wind, some movement of air. It is God’s spirit/energy/presence/mystery. It is a something of holiness. It is somehow connected to or invokes the Holy Spirit — right here in the beginning.

I rarely do anything with the New King James Version, but here is that translation (from Biblegateway) which I like:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

The earth was without form, and void;

and darkness was on the face of the deep. 

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There are so many translations and so much delicate and exquisite delight to take in words.

FTGOG!

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Mark 12:38-44 and another twist

So the first twist to this story, Mark 12:38-44, what I think of as a living parable, is to beware of the perfectly respectable scribes. But the next twist, I think, is not that we are to give all we have to live on as the poor widow did. Stay with me. I think it is to know why we give, and to give honestly and from the heart.

I think that Jesus was watching the crowd putting in to the treasury and waiting, waiting, waiting for the example of giving that he wanted to use to show the difference between giving when you are rich and giving when you are poor.

While time doesn’t seem to pass in the story, note that “the crowd” shows up. When the “the crowd” shows up ….watch and listen. The crowd is easily amazed. The crowd does what is normal and proper. The crowd isn’t good or bad or lost or found. The crowd puts in to the treasury, as is right and proper. Many of the rich in the crowd put in large sums. I think a lot of time passes as Jesus waits and watches the crowd.

Jesus waits.

And a poor widow shows up who puts in only 2 small copper coins.

This is what he needs. He calls the disciples to teach them (and us) the difference between giving out of abundance versus giving out of poverty. I truly don’t think he is trying to shame us all into giving until it hurts, until you have no more to live upon. After all, that means merely that the treasury will be used on you.

I think he is showing that giving out of abundance is not the same thing as giving out of generosity or faith. It can be a way to easily soothe the pangs of conscience. A way to prove how rich you are. A way to play at being a nice person. A way to win.

The widow was giving out of hope and faith? We really cannot know her motivations for giving, but we know that she did not have to give anything and that no one would praise her for giving such a tiny amount. In fact, they might have criticized her. What good would her 2 small coins do?

But the rich? Did they just give large sums for show? Just because it was a habit? Was their heart in it?

We can look in a mirror, most of us, perhaps. And we can wonder and hope that we are giving — however small or large — out of faith and for justice.

I would have expected Jesus to praise the rich for giving large sums, no matter why they were giving. But that isn’t what happens. That’s the twist. Jesus cares why you give.

Give for the glory of God.

Mark 12:38-44 and parables

I think at a surface reading of this living parable — a story that is intended to be heard as a real event that happened as opposed to a type of fiction — it is easy to think “yep, those rich folks who don’t help people, they are in trouble” and leave it at that. And that is not wrong. But Mark 12:38-44 is also, I think, exactly like a parable — I think to the people then, and to us now if we let it, it is shocking. I think there is danger all around this story. It turns the world about in a twist. I’ll be getting back to Genesis but I’m the lay reader this Sunday so I’m working on this passage.

So thing about parables is that they have a twist. If familiarity has rubbed the shock off, then it is on us to press on the scripture, to envision how the people who heard Jesus talk would have thought, or how the people those people told might have reacted. It is on us to take the gloss off and put the twist back in so that the bible breaths back to life. Or perhaps rather, up to us to let the holy spirit shock us back to life by breathing life into the scripture.

So… Jesus says “Beware….”

He doesn’t say “look” or “Truly I tell you” or “How about that guy” or “Despite how nice they look and act, rich people are a problem”. He says “Beware”.

Wouldn’t you expect that opening to be followed by “Beware of criminals!” or “Beware of strangers!” or “Beware of those with loose morals.” Or “Beware of snakes!”

“Beware of scribes….”

Scribes??? Scribes were respectable. Scribes were experts in the Law of Torah,  and relied on for marriages, wills, and all the legal stuff of day to day life. Not the Roman laws, but the laws of Judeans, from the bible. They studied; they worked hard. It would be an honor if your son was one. It was important. Yet Jesus says to beware of them, to be careful around them, as if they were a snake or a falling tree or some danger.

This is shocking. This is the twist. I imagine some of the listeners chuckled a little, and then maybe a little more as Jesus describes them — those scribes like to walk around in long robes, be greeted with respect, get the good seats and the good invitations. Well, who wouldn’t? Wouldn’t that be nice? Some of the laughter might be because some of the scribes are obnoxious in their airs and superiority? Then Jesus says “they devour widow’s houses….”

Now no more chuckles. This isn’t pulling down the pretenses of those above us in the social ranking. This is saying that the scribes are dangerous, something to be as wary about as a snake or a criminal. This is not something that people say, out loud, in the open.

I imagine the crowd leaning forward and also darting glances around hoping not to be seen or heard listening to these dangerous words.

Beware of those high in rank who hurt others.

More to come about the widows, but for now, thanks be to God!

 

Genesis 1 and light, life, and love

While this might seem obvious if you grew up in the church, for those of us who did not maybe I am not the only one to find a connection between God and Light and Jesus to be surprising and beautiful. I’m not sure how far to push this connection or story thread.

Genesis starts out with light: “God said, Let there be Light.”

And in John 8:12, we read “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

As I quoted downstream, Fleming Rutledge wrote about the light of God being something far beyond our ken. Perhaps as the light that we see from a candle is so vastly different from the light from a bonfire — or worse a wildfire — thus the essence of “God is light” is some dramatically different way from what we mean by “light”.

Perhaps what “Let there be Light” means is more like “Let there be life.” Or even — is it too much to say? — “Let there be Love”.

Which seems to be perhaps what Jesus means in the quote above from John. Honestly, since becoming a Christian I have heard and read that verse and thought that it was beautiful but it didn’t connect to anything. It didn’t seem to mean something concrete or, in fact, anything but it is lovely.

Silly me!

Perhaps it is Jesus saying “I am made of the same stuff as God. And you can have this light in your life too, and no matter how horrible things get, which they may get, I will be with you.” And perhaps not in an “invisible friend” way or any way we can understand, but in a “give you strength” way.

FTGOG

 

Genesis 1-2:3 and what others have to say

Everytime I learn (or try to learn) part of scripture by heart it becomes a lens to seeing the world — and this is amazing at times, and mysterious, strange. Learning Genesis 1 (and a bit)  is truly very difficult and yet the world (despite everything) appears more beautiful than ever. I was amazed driving home from work yesterday at how blue the sky is, how green this patch of evergreens was, how amazing to see a father walking hand in hand with tiny toddler son. There is so much more than just beauty going on in the world. But the beauty catches me by surprise because of my work on learning Gen 1 by heart.

I came across a recent Christian Century this morning, the July 18th issue, and an article by David Grumen discusses Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. At the turn of the last century, in about the 1920s, Teilhard “thought that attributing all sin to a single historical act that might, in fact, not have occurred was grossly immature. And to defend a version of the doctrine of original sin that ignored the evidence of reason and experience diminished its deepest meaning.”

Yep. What he said. Not that I’m going on too far into Genesis 2 (at this time of my life anyway), but what a nice way to just have that clear and written out.

Rachel Held Evans’s book “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” — so far I have only read the Intro and the first chapter but they are excellent, perfect! As she writes so clearly — and go read her not me — every culture has an origin myth and the point of Genesis 1 is that our God created everything — and called everything Good. Including humans. How fantastic and wonderful is that?! How much better than being created to be slaves. How much better to have a world designed with joy and hope instead of war and fear, yes? I can’t wait to read more in her book.

Christian Century, again, had a wonderful essay by the amazingly brilliant Fleming Rutledge in the Sept 12 (2018) issue, “Why does God hide?” Rutledge writes, “God dwells in inaccessible light — light that we can’t directly look at. It’s uncreated light that emanates from God’s very being. This light was already there before God created the light that we see — [as the hymn says] ‘In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.’ ”

Wow!

“God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”

I have heard this described as God being a verb, that there is no difference between God speaking something and God doing something. God is the “I am”. God verbs us all and everything to life.

But I never before realized that God is light, whatever that is and whatever Godself is, so far beyond our knowledge. So deep into mystery.

Finally, I was trying to tidy up my bookcases, when out fell Madeleine L’Engle’s book “And It Was Good”. I had completely forgotten that I even owned this book. It was published in 1983. On page 30, L’Engle writes, “The amazing thing is that at the beginning there was darkness, formless and empty, and the Spirit brooding, brooding almost as though getting ready to hatch creation, and then the Word shouting for joy, and here we are! The Word spoke, and from nothing came the glory and the music and pattern of a universe.” While L’Engle doesn’t seem to speak to my heart the way she did earlier in my life when a book falls off the shelf you better pay attention to it.

All of these writers are — as with me — not denying the “myth-iness” of Genesis, or denying evolution and science, or trying to twist everything into something that it isn’t. The Bible is a big messy book as full of boring begats and detailed sea voyages and genocide and rape and so on as much as it is full of beauty and hope and love and humor and talking donkeys and so on. These stories fascinate me and enrich my life and give me eyes to see the world in ways that otherwise I would be blind to. And to my surprise Genesis 1 (and a smidge) is everywhere! I find joy and surprises in dwelling on a story or a section long enough to learn it by heart, to have the words running in my mind as I fall asleep and at red lights and intermingling with my days.

 

 

Mark 9:38-50 and exaggeration

It is so easy to take scripture by habit. I must own up with all humility — I do not like this passage (Mark 9:38-50) and I have had a hard time taking it in any new direction or deeper or layered in any way. I do not like to think of Jesus as using exaggeration to make a point, and certainly not a point to his peeps, his band of disciples. Maybe if he was talking to “the crowd” or the scribes or the Romans or whatever, maybe then he could exaggerate and it wouldn’t bother me. “See do things my way, or it would be better if you chopped off your hand.” And we’d all be proud of him for just laying things out for those people. Giving’em the truth, plain and unvarnished, isn’t that right?

But he is talking to his disciples. And he is talking to us.

Exaggeration is something a teenager will use. “I’m just going to die without a new phone!” Exaggeration is emotional and not something logical and clever. “I tell you that was the best job ever.” Politicians use it. And people use it to children. “Don’t put that look on your face, it could freeze.” It deploys fear.

So the disciples and us: Jesus is treating us like children. Jesus is using emotion and fear and not reason. Jesus is going on and on like a parent talking to a teen who desperately wants to go to the concert with that boy.

And we are not being told that we are special. Or that we have rights and privileges because we follow Him. We are just like “those people” and he is treating us like that. So disrespectful. Haven’t we been following him, wearing out our sandals, sleeping in fields, and rowing boats? If just anyone can use his name and do deeds of power in his name — what makes us special?

What indeed?

Jesus over and over breaks down the walls and games of power and of being “in” or “out”. And he is willing to use the rhetorical tool of exaggeration if that is what it takes.

I can see him there at the end in verse 50: “and be at peace with one another.”

Stop worrying about rank. Stop creating winners and losers. Love one another, even though we all need salting with fire, and even love the stranger.

FTGOG

Sun and moon and Genesis 1-2:3

Goodness, getting the 4th day by heart is a bit daunting. First off, I sort of drift off thinking about the sun and moon and beautiful stars. As beautiful as Sky! Also, the lights in the dome of the sky were to “separate the day from the night”. Huh! What a fantastical sort of image, of day and night, light and dark, all mixed together up to now. Maybe like the “tao” symbol, as I understand it, where the black swirl has a dot of white and the white swirl has a dot of black. Maybe far more random like the artwork I sort of remember that was all wild colors and shapes.

I know, I know, the point isn’t to stick on one thing, or to imagine this sort of thing…. maybe the point is to do exactly that! The brilliant and unknown “editor” who wrote this down — I have to think they might be rather pleased that I stuck on this mixed up light/dark entanglement image.

But I am very pleased that the God of Order created day and night, seasons, and years, instead of leaving things mixed up.

A bit of Mark 9:38-50

Since the next time I am the layreader it is at the end of the month, I found time to sort out the lectionary readings for that day, and Mark 9:38-50 is the gospel reading. Now this is the rather horrifying passage where Jesus, of all people, is saying If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; if your eye offends you, then tear it out. Who would say such things? And the terrible things that have been said because he said that are terrible. What is going on here?

In the context of the passage, it is clear that he is using exaggeration to try to get the disciples to understand something — the something might be, I think might be: don’t make this God stuff harder than it needs to be. Don’t put up rules and barriers just to create “people who follow Jesus right” and “people who follow Jesus wrong”. If you do the right thing in not quite the right way, who are still doing it right. If you do the right thing in a way that makes someone lose faith — stumble and question and doubt and turn away from faith in Jesus — then you have done right in the wrong way. (I am not touching the whole doing the wrong thing but it ends up being right situation. And don’t do wrong in order to create wrong, eh?!)

Don’t make this whole thing harder than it needs to be. Just be kind and give a thirsty person a cup of water.

Salt does one thing — it makes things taste salty. (Maybe it does more than that, but roll with me here.) So if we’re to be like salt, then we are to keep things as simple and clear as possible.

The hardest thing in this broken beautiful mess of a complex world is how difficult it is to communicate.

Genesis 1-2:4 and order

One thing that seems to happen to me is when I dive into studying some passage of scripture is that suddenly it is everywhere. It is as if I am given new lenses to look at the world. The vision of the whole beautiful mess of the world being created in an orderly way and it all being pronounced good — this beautiful.

Then I was cleaning a pile of mess in my house — trying to create a spot of order one could say — and found an article in The Biblical Storyteller (summer 2018) by Richard Swanson, he writes “The rabbis say that God has two main names (Elohim and YHVH) because God has two key attributes. When God is called Elohim (translated as “God”), the storyteller is naming God’s Justice Attribute, that quality in God that establishes reliability and regularity. ….But the rabbis say, the other Name of God is even more important. The Divine Name (YHVH) [usually translated “Lord”] names God’s Mercy Attribute. This name is used when God acts to nurture, to heal, to choose, and to restore…..the Mercy Attribute makes life livable, gentle, joyful, and safe. Regularity is necessary (since we cannot live in chaos), but Mercy is creative and life-giving.”

Justice and Mercy.

The character of God in Genesis 1-2:3 is the God of justice and order. And that’s important — that is vital for life. That is the ground. This is the stage. That is what is needed to have life, and have it abundantly, along with love and kindness and peace and joy and…..none of that can exist without life and life cannot exist in chaos. yes?

Even in Genesis 1 let’s not put this order/justice in a box — our God of order must know about the importance of wetlands, for example, even if it isn’t explicitly said. It isn’t just “earth here seas there” in a living world. This could be read as a story that says some things are good and some things are bad. But God simply did not create a binary world. We have a world that is rich in complexity and nuance and interconnectedness. God says it is all good! And our scripture says this life-structure, this gift of order, is meant to be good, it is meant for life and love.

It is in fact not all good in our human understanding — as I am healing slowly from poison ivy I well know this! But I think it would be a bigger error to overlook the complexity that exists or assume that is not a part of what God called good. Binary thinking does no good.

And it would be extremely wrong of me to write about this and not mention how climate change and other things are affecting the world — our only world — and putting life in danger. I do not want to be political on this blog; but it is only responsible to use my tiny voice to urge each of us to cherish our world.

Chaos threatens order, life, justice, creativity, safety, the future….and so on. Being a part of the creating of life-enhancing order, however small a part, is to act in the image of God (verse 27).

FTGOG!

 

Genesis 1-2:3

So long-time readers know, but if I have any new readers I should explain: I “do” scripture very slowly! I try not to be satisfied with some “this means that” reading. I try to really breathe into it; to go slow.

Just before I wrote this, I was re-reading what I last wrote about Genesis 1-2:3 and thought that when I wrote “We are in a story about the creating of the everything with no starting point needed” that wasn’t quite what I was trying to say. Of course, the story says “At the beginning…” It has a starting point and goes in a very orderly manner to build up our world. What I meant was if you ask “what was there before God created the heavens and the earth”, that would be a meaningless question. There is no before. And we may not be at the end; I don’t mean that God is still resting as in “the job of creating heaven and earth is finished”. I mean, maybe He is still busy creating.

What we have is our “now” or maybe a “now” that encompasses “every-when”.

I do wonder about time. The inevitability of time, the steady march of it and there is nothing we can do, is terrifying to me. There’s a connection here, isn’t there, to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8? And here is Ecclesiastes 3:15: “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”

From a God-level point of view, isn’t it wonderful and amazing that She loves us, counts all our tears, writes our name in the palm of Her hand?

FTGOG