Category Archives: Bible Study

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.

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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

Genesis 1:1-31 and time

I am back home from the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers and I am fired up about Genesis 1. A surprising amount of the Festival went over Genesis 1 this year. I learned some great stuff and heard and saw the very best storytellers do this passage. So I have a bit of a start.

Yet, of course, as always, my first reaction is “Oh I couldn’t possibly learn that.” And my second reaction is “But when would I need it? I don’t need to learn that one.” But after all these years, I need to tackle something from the Hebrew scriptures. And I need a challenge. And I need my brain to have something to chew on so that I will worry less about other stuff. But already my brain is going, “but this is a busy time, this isn’t the time….”

So I am boldly pushing pass all that. And I just have this feeling that I will need it.  Sometimes I ignore or squash the inner negative voice. Sometimes I treat it tenderly — “it is okay,” I say. “There will still be other stuff as well. And you have already forgotten, this is fun.”

One of the things that struck me, hearing it at the FG, was the rhythm of time in this section. Time is creating a structure right from the start, although God does not create time, in our sense of days and nights, until the 4th day — “And God said, Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years…” (verse 14). I even asked about this. The answer boils down to “it’s a mystery.” Or that the editor/author of Genesis wove a structure with built-in memory aids, for example, “And there was evening and there was morning….” Or that God’s time is different from our time. I really have found this interesting to think about.

Although, “In the beginning when God created ….” seems uncontroversial, it actually is and once again because of time. I like the way Everett Fox in his translation (“The Five Books of Moses”) puts it:

“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth…” This puts “time” in the present tense. It puts creation into a continuing project. God did not just wind a clock and set it ticking. Nor does God need a starting point — God is creating — then, now, and to come in our words. Maybe this whole thing — creation — is timeless and continuous actually. Maybe there is for God that “flow”, that wonderful feeling when you are just in the moment and the process? Language can barely capture that!

Well, we’ll see where this goes!

(Welcome any new readers — likes and comments are very welcome!)

FTGOG!

 

 

Thoughts on “God” and the Bible’s tension

I do not think of the bible as a some sort of children’s book – or as some sort of instruction manual or rule book for life – I think by and large that is missing the point. The Bible seems to me to be a story of God’s relationship with humans and the world and vice versa, told in sagas, histories, poetry, songs, Gospels, letters, all sorts of styles of writing. So the character known as “God” can be very different in different places. Whereas the “real God” is whole and loving and … cannot be put in words, really, cannot be put in a box. We have clues and beauty and thoughts and history and the Bible. We see the sweep of it! I have felt the Love envelop me. But we cannot actually know God.

That is one of the mysteries.

I wanted it to be all much easier and clearer when I was a “baby” Christian. But most of all I wanted the character of “God” to be fair.

Here’s where I am with that – we have to hold on fast, with faith and trust, that God revealed in the Bible’s character of God, and God revealed in Jesus, are one and the same and the biggest huge thing about God is love defined richly and with textures: Mercy, charity, grace, trust, peace, well-being, joy… God delights in us. We are to delight in Him/Her. So when it doesn’t seem that way, there is a tension.

For example:

The story of Abraham and Issac cannot be – to me – a story about obedience. “Because Abraham obeyed God, even unto being willing to sacrifice his only son, God had mercy for him and provided a ram.” That’s the general theology that I have heard. That I have been mulling over for decades now.

You can run with that powerful story of Abraham and Issac in a million directions. But a God of love deeper than anything we can imagine would not demand that a man kill his son and certainly not just to prove some point of loyalty or obedience. The traditional interpretation satisfies many people, and if that is you – great! I am not here to take that away. But I will say that I think there are small children who find that God unfair and unjust and immoral and wrong.

So…

For me holding this tension is part of the fun of studying the Bible. The tension of having unshakable faith that God is love and caring and so on. The tension of a story about the character named “God” demanding obedience in such a cruel and horror-filled manner (in other stories too) that seems to fundamentally violate everything I trust and know. This tension isn’t necessarily mine to solve, like a puzzle. I am not sure we are supposed to solve it.

I think we are just to allow the tension to be. To say from the depths of our being, our inner most self, that story is not fair. That is not moral behavior by a person therefore it cannot be moral behavior by a God. We cannot wish away the story, but we can wrestle with the story. We can honor the limits of our knowledge. We can honor what we know is right and good and proper. We can trust that real God, as opposed to the character of God, is as much robust love as we are able to conceive of and then add some more. We can press on the story and go deeper and see what other possible things there are to learn. We can not turn away just because we don’t like it. But we don’t have make it pretty or claim that something that is wrong is right.

God is…A love so rich and full and complete that God sent God’s beloved Child down to us…..Sent in some fashion Godself down… to walk our walk and die our death.

FTGOG

Pentecost and beginnings, Acts 2:1-13

One of the tough things about this section of scripture is getting the simple physical geography of it all to be clear — because it just isn’t clear. They didn’t re-tell this and then write it down with the thought that anyone who heard or read it later — us in fact — just wouldn’t understand the basics of what was going on. They must have assumed that we would know about why “they were all together in one place” again for the day of Pentecost and understand that the “house where they were sitting” was, in fact, a house. We would know what it looked like. Think about “Bob met Caroline at the Palm restaurant.” We would know (even if you don’t know the Palm restaurant) that the name signifies a ritzy place or a special place because, after all, they didn’t meet at Applebee’s or Denny’s, you see. And we would understand that maybe they didn’t yet have a relationship of any sort if they were meeting there instead of arriving together. Or maybe they had a vendor-client type of relationship to meet there. Just one tiny made up sentence and we have a little story that subsequent sentences would flesh out and cue our thoughts. So we just do not have the information in our heads and hearts to fully understand Acts 2:1-13 instantly the way that an early listener would have. Or … that “practical” information might not be as important as it feels to me. So what exactly do we know?

 

Here’s what we know: It was the day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place (the footnote says it was “the full 120 people from Acts 1:15” but maybe it was just the newly reformed 12 with Matthias now taking the spot vacant by Judas). A big house indeed for 120 or they were on a patio or a rooftop? They were sitting with the sound started. Other people who were not a part of them (but were devout Jews even if they were strangers) showed up. Had Peter and the gang jumped up and rushed outside? We don’t know. In Acts 2:14 it says that “…Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed” the crowd. So that’s the little scene in terms of human physical details that we have to visualize.

Oh, since Pentecost is 50 days from Passover, we could envision that is was warmer weather than at Passover. And I have just turned to Wikipedia, and discovered that the Jewish Pentecost or Shavuot marks the wheat harvest and commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Passover is freedom from slavery; Pentecost is the gift of becoming a nation, of having the Torah. (I would say freedom from fear — now we know what to do, how to act, who we are.)  The Holy Spirit arrived and gave the gift of being understood in all languages; of being able to share the story of Jesus — God’s deeds of power — on the day celebrating the giving of the Torah! Well! That is the sort of thing that just thrills me.  And I finally — finally! — get why it is called the Birthday of the church. Since the gift of the Torah formed the Israelites into a nation; thus this gift from God is the starting point for the church (maybe?).

Of course I barely know anything. But it feels nice to have the basics shipshape, so that we can go on and think about the more important mystical stuff like tongues of fire.

FTGOG

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!

FTGOG

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.