Category Archives: Bible Study

Prepping for the Festival Gathering of NBS 2018

This year’s Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers is going to be at the beginning of August in Dayton, Ohio. There will be about 200 people, maybe more, and nearly all of them definitely extroverts. It is wonderful friendly warm welcoming bunch of people; a Venn diagram of pastors/church professionals + biblical scholars + professional storytellers/actors + a handful of “civilians” like me. It is 3-1/2 wonderful days of worship, keynote speaker diving deep into a topic and texts, and wonderful and varied breakout groups. It is place where you can say something like, “You know I’ve been thinking about the motif of fire in scripture and how it runs all through it, alternating between purifying and destructive.” And people will nod and discuss and add thoughts to your thought. It is pretty much my idea of heaven.

It is an excellent place to be a beginner and learn how to tell the story.

It is an excellent place to be not a beginner and keep on learning!

There is worship everyday and it is wonderful and out of the ordinary. The Keynote speaker speaks the first three days and has never ever been even slightly dull. The Keynote speaker is given the three themes of that year’s conference and they get to suss it all out and weave it together. There are workshops. There is story theater where you listen to folks tell longer-than-usual stories and just are amazed. There are breaks and exhibits and games and …. the very best thing is the Epic Tell. That is when a book or a large part of a book of the Bible is split up into sections and a bunch of storytellers who volunteer each have a piece and they go on one after another, maybe 30 people or so. It is hard to describe. For about 2 hours a section of scripture is performed. This year is 1 Kings 1-11. Hearing scripture out loud and hearing a huge continuous bit of it is an unique experience. You hear rhythms and themes and images repeat or stand out or interweave that you just would not hear reading in silence.

Every evening, sometimes going on quite late, is “Lighting the Fire” and that is when anyone can sign up for a “slot” that is no more than 8 minutes and tell a story. Any story. There are “jack” stories about impossible adventures and misadventures, there are sad/happy/wise stories, there are fables and folklore, there are scripture stories, there are true stories — anything at all. It is very special.

Besides the Epic Tell, this year’s “theme stories” are all about our hearts — God has or wants to write on hearts, turn our hearts of stone to hearts of love.

II Cor. 3: 1b-6

Jer. 31:31-34

Deut. 6:1-9

I think over the weeks before the Festival I’ll see if I get one or more by heart my ownself and blog about them.


Mark 3:20-35 and time for the footnotes and the word “demon”

In doing research on a passage that I am prepping to tell by heart — not this Sunday but next Sunday, yikes! — at some point I turn to the footnotes. It is always, being honest here, a boring thing to do that sometimes yields big returns. So let’s see what happens with Mark 3:20-35.

The first footnote calls this section “a controversy about exorcism and forgiveness is inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family”. Yes, I think I pulled on those threads pretty well already. It is interesting that Matthew 12:46-50 is nearly the same story of Jesus family, but without it being wrapped inside a story about Jesus having a demon. I think Mark’s version is much more effective or at least dramatic. Luke 8:19-21 is another very close version of the family story. All three synoptic gospels seem to make the same point: We followers of Jesus are “in the family”. The footnote in Luke says “Early Christian usage of this “fictive kinship” language was distinctive.”

See footnotes often cause more trouble. There’s a whole thesis or maybe a shelf on a library somewhere unpacking that tidy little statement. ha! For my purposes, it is safe to say that at that time and place — and perhaps still — who your blood relatives are puts you in your place. Jesus is not having that. He is adopting us. He (and by implication God) loves us like beloved family.

Feel free to jump in the comments if you want to pull on that string harder.

Skipping down in the footnotes, this one caught my eye: “The absence of Jesus’ father with “his mother and his brothers” is of disputed significance.”

Another shelf in the library perhaps! I remember a long-ago bible study where the  speaker said that it was at least logical to suppose that Jesus up to the death of Joseph obeyed Joseph and worked with him as a carpenter. The death of Joseph is what “freed” Jesus to begin his ministry — to obey his heavenly father after his obligation to his earthly father was complete. This is midrash as far as I know. But it also makes some sort of emotional sense to me. Joseph is not mentioned in stories of Jesus’ ministry; he must have died.

Now of course there are many footnotes leading to connections and info about demons and exorcisms. Remember when I started this I said to just roll with the word “demon”? Of course there may be demons. We in our spiffy modern world do well to just read the newspaper and realize evil is alive and well. So maybe demons. It sounds like something out of a horror movie and I hate horror movies and I’m not going further in that direction than saying: who am I to say that there are not demons?

But the footnotes do seem to agree that at that time and place this was how mental illness was described, and perhaps diseases such as epilepsy and so on. Does this change the story that much? “The doctors came from the Mayo Clinic with new treatments, saying he is just suffering from an imbalance in serotonin and some how that is causing him to say and do these healings of others. And Jesus called to them and spoke to them in questions saying, Look a serotonin imbalance is real, and what are its symptoms? To first diagnose a disease you must have a clear view of the symptoms. Depression cannot cure depression. Mania cannot cure mania. A misdiagnosis is a serious and harmful thing. ”

So that is why I just roll with the terminology of demons, it doesn’t really change the story, I think.

Jesus was sound in mind, and to think otherwise is at best a harmful misdiagnosis and at worst an eternal sin. That’s a pretty serious take away. Thank goodness he loves us like family! This story would be too scary otherwise!


Mark 3:20-35 practice and a surprise

Working on Mark 3:20-35 — to get it down by heart — has been a challenge because of the structure of the story and the repetition or almost-repetition of some of the words. But it continues to be fun to study and think about. You might be wondering how to get something memorized?

Well, in short, you just do it. You just get the words in your head. You just tell the story to yourself over and over; I do it in chunks. And I finally have all the chunks basically in my head and am working on being “word perfect” (or if I’m going to vary some of the words intentionally versus by mistake). And I’m not smooth yet. I spent about 20 or 30 minutes one morning at church, where it was less disruptive than home, and just practiced out loud, then checked the bible, then practiced, then checked, and etc. I practice out loud when I’m driving to work or driving home. I practice silently in my head when I’m falling asleep or in the shower. Basically to get the words inside, I swim in the words. I write the words down and look for connections.

The best connections seem to happen by surprise, which is what happened the morning I practiced at church. It was the first time I really had the space to let my voice power out. After all, my family doesn’t need to hear my loud performance voice.

In saying it out loud, I heard it. And this story seems to be: Is this guy Jesus, who has a mother and brothers and sisters, just delusional? Seriously, is he the Son of God or a prophet or … just someone who isn’t in his right mind? Someone who has a demon?

And the structure of the story — remember my post about that? That I didn’t know why Jesus’ family is mentioned, then we’re off sorting out the scribes, and then we are back to his family?

Well, I think it popped into my brain, at least one possible reason or feature of it. Because Jesus, in responding to the scribes, has proven pretty well that he is in control of himself, that he is clever, that he is calm, that he is not being controlled by a demon or by random impulses.

But then his family comes back and the crowd says, hey your Mother and brothers are outside. And verse 33 happens:

“And he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And for a second — how long a second? — there must have been a sudden pause in the minds of the crowd sitting at his feet. Doesn’t this guy know who his mother and brothers are? Has this guy forgotten his family? Is this guy actually not in control of his mind?

Just a second, just for a second, did we all doubt? Did those sitting there doubt him at that moment, maybe even feel the cold breeze of fear?

And how completely beautiful that Jesus brings it home, to our hearts: we are his brothers, sisters, and mother, we who do the “will of God”, we who sit at his feet.

Jesus loves us that much, that we are in the family.

Imagine sitting at his feet, he’s been talking about the scriptures (I think) and then he sorts out those scribes from Jerusalem. Your guy here is on fire. You’ve got people’s knees in your back, and your knees are hitting people, and the air is maybe a bit ripe, even with the door open. You are thirsty and hungry but at the same time you are learning so much, and feeling so much hope: this guy is making God’s love seem real. And then that moment of doubt, of fear, that you’ve been tricked all along? And then he looks you in the eyes — you know it is you he is looking at — and he calls you his sister.

And you have never felt so safe and beloved.

Mark 3:20-35 and the confusing part

The confusing part, of course, are the tiny “parables” — riddles really — that are in Mark 3:20-35, at least for me: Verses 24 through 28.

I’m not sure about this but I think here Jesus is saying: I’m perfectly rational. I make sense and can think. I’m reasonable and responsible for my actions. I’m teaching people and loving them and healing them with my actions; my actions are not destructive.

I’m still standing, says Jesus.

A Kingdom cannot be divided and stand.

A house cannot be divided and stand.

Even Satan cannot divide himself and stand.

Perhaps this is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – believing that the work of the Spirit is that of the demonic – is not forgivable, because that is to not see or not understand good and evil. Maybe? Once we humans understand good and evil, we were out of the Garden and into the world – the Garden could not stand against that knowledge, in a sense. So having that knowledge, that ability to know good and evil, means using it. Not mistaking those categories.

The only reason I have dragged in some of Genesis is because this passage is linked with Genesis in the lectionary. This world is a fallen world for whatever reason; the one thing we have now is understanding what is good and what is bad.

I’m sure there are other possibilities for “the sin against the holy spirit” and why it can never have forgiveness. This is, frankly, a couple very uncomfortable lines. Can’t God forgive anything? This just seems so wrong and harsh. Let’s go back to sheep.

To be fair, both the scribes and Jesus’ family are trying to understand what is good and what is bad – they are worried and maybe afraid. They just happen to not understand the category that Jesus is in as of yet. Their rules are maybe too formal. Maybe their logic is shaped by fear.

Jesus is responding to conflict essentially by saying “hey I’m still standing. I’m okay. This isn’t a demon.” Not with some a fierce superhero-ish display of power and might. Just by using his words.


A tiny bit more about sheep

It was thrilling when this Sunday the pastor at my church preached about John 10:11-18 and Psalm 23 and said that he thought too often they were thought of in very sweet terms: oh Jesus is the Good Shepherd! Yay! But scripture old and new is not saying anything about the sheep always being safe or happy. Just that the sheep will always been seen and known and know who has their back. He said all this much nicer. I’m just saying: it isn’t all peachy about the Good Shepherd dying in defense of the sheep because then the sheep are still alone then, right….but even then,

even then

Because Jesus is our Shepherd he has power to “lay [his life] down” and the power to “take [his life] up again”.

And suddenly, suddenly, right there in church I was had this moment of complete peace. I don’t have power, as a sheep or as a hired hand or as anything, and certainly not over life and death. But I can trust the one who does. I don’t have to think of some sort of cold uncaring force of the universe or of some angry sky bully. I have someone who knows me, silly sheep that I am, and someone who has already laid down his life for me. Accepting my limits of power, thinking about power — who would have thought about power in terms of caring for sheep? And that that turns out to be the key (for me, right now) in sorting this out?

Basically, it was just wonderful to finally have some peace with this sheep/shepherd imagery!

Also, I wonder — maybe it is because I don’t know any sheep, right? Maybe if it were “God is the good webmaster, we will not crash….”

Thank you all for reading my little blog. Any comments/thoughts? In the coming weeks, unless I get interrupted by something other thought, I get to move on to other scriptures!

FTGOG! (For the Glory of God)

More thoughts about John 10:11-18

So the Good Shepherd cares and the hired man doesn’t. The Good Shepherd can die for the sheep because the sheep belong to him and because he was given the power from God to take his life up again if he dies for the sheep.

I am still struggling with this passage!

Here’s the thing: I think the hired man isn’t being given proper credit. I work for a living and don’t often enjoy my job. But I do it as well as possible out of my own integrity not just for fear of not getting paid. On the other hand, I wouldn’t die for my job. I’m definitely not a first responder or brave like that. On the other other hand – that’s a pretty high bar. I’m not sure it is fair to judge the hired man as bad for not giving his life, to say he is only in it to get paid. I bet he likes the sheep, or some of them. I bet he has sunshine-y beautiful days where it is just plain fun to lead the sheep to still water and green grass.

Let’s not judge the hired man too harshly ok?

But let’s rejoice, absolutely rejoice, in complete amazement that Jesus knows us as completely as God knows Jesus. It is “The Message” version that shimmered this passage to me:

“I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

And this knowing and loving — this being seen and understood — is for everyone! Somehow to me being seen and known and loved (anyway) is the true gift from God.


Interrupted by the Cross

Believe it or not the same week in which my pastor preached on Christ crucified, like Paul did, in a completely random way I was trying to find “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge via my library for reasons having to do with the Festival of Faith and Writing in April. I only found a sample of the e-book but have asked my library to get it. But the sample is amazing. The sermon and this book together are bringing me — hope. I have been so angry for a over a year, at the awful awful world, at people, at some medical stuff going on with me, everything has made me angry. And living with that anger, being on that edge and needing that control all the time, is exhausting.

Rutledge writes ” Understanding the cross and resurrection as a single event, undertaken from within the Trinity itself, is of utmost importance … The scandalous “word of the cross” is not a human word. It is the Spirit-empowered presence of God in the preaching of the crucified One. The Holy Spirit … inhabits the message and empowers the speaker, so that the proclamation of God’s act in Christ is the new occasion of creation, issuing from the Trinitarian power of the originating Word itself.”

The world — as completely horrible as it seems to be — may in fact be in the midst of being made new. Not with worldly power in any way (not politics, or privilege, or people/mob power and certainly not with hate and anger); but the generative power of God…

For some crazy reason it gives me a feeling of calm. If God is trying to fix the world, then however powerless I am, its okay. I can do my best not to make the world worse and call that a victory.  It is an acknowledgment — by God no less — that the world was/is broken and needs fixing. This is a horrible world. Paul would nod and maybe even roll his eyes: Of course it is. But for so long it just seems as if no one was listening. Or they would listen in the wrong way like: yep that is it exactly, that is why I am just doing what I need to do and the rest of the time eat, drink, and be merry. Which I just can’t seem to do. I can’t seem to not care.

This world: brutal. Beautiful. Both.

But one day only Beautiful.


Mark 8:31-38 and the cross

After I have shared a scripture in storytelling form (by heart), afterward there is this beautiful peace in my mind and heart. It can last a week or so. It is just the most quiet calm feeling. My brain, heart, body was working so hard to learn the passage and after, suddenly, a welcome silence.

Last Sunday I shared Mark 8:31-38 and it went well (I think). For the first time I used a lapel mic and that gave me more freedom to turn, although I kept my feet planted. (Some storytellers move all over of course, and maybe some day for some story I might. But I like to feel grounded.) I turned first as Peter taking Jesus aside to rebuke him; then turned the other way to show that Jesus, when rebuking Peter, was not doing it in front of everyone. Their argument was in private. In verse 34, Jesus calls the crowd and the disciples back to him (and Peter) and says, that to follow him, you have to deny yourself, and pick up your cross and follow him.” So I tried with my turning to show the various movements of the story.

Now what is “your cross”? What is my cross? What does that even mean? Does it mean face your fears? Or maybe find your joy? Or speak truth to power? Or change, move, learn, grow, do … something? Something unique to us or something everyone can do (if only we all would), like just … what? The cross was an extremely painful death, and one with shame in it. I read this murder mystery a couple weeks ago and there was a scene of the death of a death row inmate. Painful. Justice? In this particular mystery it wasn’t justice. And the inmate had a family member there, who was deeply shamed and deeply grieving a life lost, “wasted”. Her life too was shamed and wasted. Perhaps Jesus’s death on a cross was intended by the Romans, rather like our death penalty, not just to deter crimes of rebellion against the state, not just to inflict a terrible death, but to shame the “criminal” and the criminal’s family? How did that work out for the Romans?

The cross then for me – should I expect to be facing something equally painful, equally hard?

Which, you know, I don’t want to especially.

And I wonder if too many of us hear “pick up your cross” to mean “pick up your cross like a sword and swing it at people”.

I feel that it is Easter that changes me, you, the world…. Hold on to your cross and feel it, and sorrow. Envision what things would be like without that to bear, without that sorrow. Envision how to create that world, full of love and joy and hope and trust. Easter is coming.

Mark 8:31-38 and suffering

So I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart, and, if you read my previous post, then you know the huge impact the rhetorical questions here made on me, how they made the passage come alive, in a whole new way.

But another thing is slowly swimming up in my mind about this passage, which is so familiar that it can be hard to hear. Jesus says he must suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again.

The order of that strikes me: He is suffering first.

His heart is broken at the brokenness of the world, at this “adulterous and sinful generation” that has not kept faith with God’s rule of love. Out of suffering, everything else will follow, including the redemption.

Was it just chance that he put the order this way? How does the story change if he is rejected, then suffers, then is killed? That’s just the story we would expect isn’t it? Of course you suffer when you are rejected, aren’t listened to, are not believed. And then that escalates to killing. Sure, that’s the proper plot.

But Jesus suffers first, and not perhaps bodily harm, but (I think) because his heart just aches for us, for the widow and the orphan and the sick and the dying and those in chains and those in loneliness and those in madness and those in prison and … everyone.

I’m not eager to suffer, I don’t know what my cross is that I have to take up, but certainly my heart aches when I hear of another school shooting or mass shooting or impulsive suicide and then yet more inaction on commonsense gun laws. My heart aches with the thought of another hurricane season and what might happen to places still not fully recovered from 2017’s season. From violence and wars and heart-breaking stories of refugees. To simple stories of families breaking apart and illness and the ordinary suffering of life. This is only the tip. I limit the news that I take in.

Yet suffering is what happens to Jesus, what happens to him first. Perhaps the suffering heart is the most important thing. Let’s have soft hearts this week, let’s have soft hearts together, as foolish as that may be in this world. That may be a cross we have to carry, in order to fully follow Him. Broken hearts may be what we give in return for the priceless gift of life itself.

Mark 8:31-38 and gifts of God

In a few weeks or so I’m the layreader at church, and so I’ve been working on learning Mark 8:31-38 by heart. Telling the story — feeling the power and witness of the history of storytellers before me — is so much more powerful than reading. Some readers are excellent at putting expression into it and that is a wonderful thing. But going one more and making eye contact makes the story come alive. And learning it by heart enriches the storyteller, and brings the story to life.

As so often I started out pretty bored. This story is so familiar and it doesn’t seem to offer much. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd who he is and what is going to happen and it doesn’t seem to be good news. There doesn’t seem to be a puzzle to sort out or a misdirection to unveil or anything except truth — I’m going to suffer, they are going to reject me, they are going to kill, says Jesus. Then I’ll rise again.

As anyone would, expecting a savior and getting this bad news, Peter thinks it is time to speak frankly. Unfortunately for Peter, it was Jesus who got to keep talking, seeming to make a bad situation worse. As often as we chuckle about how Peter and the disciples never seem to understand what was going on, in this passage at the beginning I feel that Peter thinks the same of Jesus, something like hey I love you but let’s get the story right. These visionaries. You have to watch them like children or they will just go off script and say anything.

Worse, now it wasn’t just himself Jesus was talking about being killed, but the rest of them. What sort of hope was this? What sort of saving was this?

I’ve spent about five or six weeks with this passage, and reading The Story of Mark  by David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, which break downs this gospel in a narrative analysis. One little passage talks about Mark’s technique of using questions, often rhetorical questions, and often duplicate or double questions asking the same thing in different angles.

Anvil falls.

Suddenly for me (at least for right here-and-now) I have found my center in the story in verses 36 and 37.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

These are rhetorical, double questions, because if you are dead, it does you no good to have all the world’s riches. Of course. And no matter how rich you are, you can give nothing to live longer, to not die, to be alive in the first place.

Life is a gift.

When I do this as a tell, I’m going to deliberately tweak the words just a tiny bit:

“For what will it profit you to gain the whole world, and forfeit your life?”

“Indeed, what can you give in return for your life?”

I want each of my listeners to feel as if they were there, in the crowd, listening to Jesus and going from crossed arms and “I’m not going to follow you if that means dying or even just suffering” to “following you will be the richest and most joyful life I could have, the most alive I could be.”

And how I pray for that joy to fill us up, all of us, with an abundance of love.