Tag Archives: Bible study

Back to Genesis 1 (and a bit)

I need to get back to this, since I set a goal of getting it down by heart, well, I want to keep that goal. The first parts are coming together — and I am even remembering more often than not to say the blessing as well.

So really what is stalling me up are verses 26 through 31 — when humans come into the story.

–Because we are over-fruitful and very bad at dominion and the earth, the beautiful earth, is in serious trouble.

–Because the word “dominion” just makes me mad.

–Because the word “subdue” just makes me mad.

So I am sitting down and confessing this, and praying for wisdom. What is swimming up in my mind is to zero into structure. If I find a grid or pattern or structure, then it will be easier to learn by heart, just as all the previous parts were when I realized it was light, water, water, light, water. What is this 6th day?

It is creatures for the land. We’ve got cattle, and creeping things, and wild animals. And then in verse 26 — God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according our likeness; and then them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Then the bit of poetry:

“So God created humankind in his image

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.”

The structure so far is really: God tells us what is going to happen, then God does the actual creating.

And then the blessing — and the big question for any human who reads/hears this, what’s for dinner.

I just started laughing. Maybe I don’t like the word “subdue” and “dominion”. But there is no one who is a mother who doesn’t dread that question every. single. day.

What’s for dinner?

And it is lovely that God says all the plants and fruit are for all the creatures to eat and just immediately took that worry right off the table.

Here’s how I want verse 28 to go:

“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and enjoy it; and have care over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

I think since dominion and subdue are making me uncomfortable, I’ll need to really press into that next week.

Structure: what God is going to do; God does it; God blesses; God tells us what’s for dinner.

And it was very good.

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Luke 4:14-21

The hardest part of getting this passage by heart was the quote from Isaiah. My study bible says it is from Isa 61.1-2 and 58.6.

Partly it was hard to get by heart because it echoes all over — is this Mary talking to Elizabeth about how the poor will be lifted up, or Mary responding to the Angel? Is this Jesus responding to the messengers the imprisoned John the Baptism sent to him to ask him if he is truly the one-to-come? It is hard keep straight these exact words. It is also hard because of the repetition of the word “proclaim”.

For one thing, to say this in Nazareth in Galilee — a rather obscure corner of Israel in that time — is that really to proclaim? (Am I wrong about Nazareth being rather obscure at least back then?)

To proclaim something so big — very very big! — in a place so small — what’s going on with that?

Was Jesus feeling that his hometown, those closest to him deserved the chance to hear this good news for the poor first?

Was Jesus wanting the support of those nearest and dearest to him?

Was Jesus just wanting to be physically safe? (That didn’t turn out well. Did he mean it to demonstrate that threats of harm would not stop him?)

In our world right now, today, would we expect an announcement about say some amazing technology breakthrough for energy that won’t pollute the earth in any way to be from New York City or California or would we think it would come from some small city in Liberia? Or Indonesia?

Does where a proclamation come from add or detract to the authority of it?

So, let’s not judge his hometown’s disbelief too harshly. (Although really, they were going to hurl him off a cliff? Over-reaction much? What sort of people would react that way? I take it back, let’s judge them harshly.) However, let’s think it was part of the plan. And let’s mull on why that would be part of the plan.

FTGOG

Luke 4:14-21

Part of the reason I can’t seem to make more progress on learning Genesis 1 by heart is because I have taken a break to get Luke 4:14-21 by heart, as this will be my next lay reading in a couple weeks. This is the story of Jesus early in his ministry going to preach in his hometown, and despite being popular elsewhere, it doesn’t work out so well at home. This reading specifically is the moment just before it goes south. You can imagine Mary his mother being so proud, and his brothers and sisters, and all those who were his teachers and friends. “Look at Joseph’s son, what a fine boy!” That’s not what Jesus’ mission is all about. He will deliberately choose to be provocative.

But in this passage, it ends just before that, with all the eyes of the synagogue upon him. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Just a breathless moment as the crowd realizes that he has just claimed to be the one anointed by God, the one to come and release the captives, heal the blind, let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Well, who does he think he is, anyway? Heads are about to turn, eyes are about to slant and roll. In this second of stillness was there just a second of belief? If only…..

If only he could come and do all that.

If only…

But it is foolish to think that Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s son, could do these things. Sure, he’s smart, we’re proud of him, we love him, but he’s just one of us. We can’t do these things. There’s nothing we can do to change how the world works.

Right? If only….

What after all can we do?

It is particularly striking to me that Jesus says, “in your hearing”. Because all the eyes were fixed upon him. Why didn’t he say “in your sight”? For one reason, because however much the folks in the synagogue saw, at that moment they were blind.

For another — and yes we’re going back to Genesis 1 now! — it wasn’t seeing that created the world. It was hearing the “voice of God.”

FTGOG

Genesis 1 and the hope of beginnings

It hit me today out of the blue — a moment of hope. There has been tremendous change recently where I work and it might be a year nearly before the old is fully out and the new is in, but a moment of hope. Of the possibility of peace and, therefore, of a greater wholeness in my life. Not just relentless work and worry — of which even in the midst of that and even if it had never changed I was still richly blessed. I absolutely know it, especially with the health scares and hard-won improvements.

It was a glorious moment of hope.

And it was such a peaceful moment, and a grateful moment.

At the moment when the beginning is in play, that is a great moment. You can see that it is good. Even very good, abundantly good.

Sure as the sun is going to rise, things aren’t going to stay good.

Even if life stayed good for me, well, we still live in a broken and sad world where people suffer in so many ways, where children die, where wars are fought, where the biomass is dying and…. in a broken world it would be impossible to have more than a moment of feeling like everything is working out.

But it is a great moment.

God must have felt like that after creating light, day and night, oceans, sky, sun, moon, stars, plants, fish, birds, animals — us. God saw that it was very good.

For a moment.

I cannot let the sorrow of the world dim my joy in what is righteously joyful. Nor can I let joy blind me to the sorrows of the world that at the least demand prayer and witness.

Fear entered back into my heart by the end of the day. “What if….?” “What if….” Of course it could all go wrong. But it could perhaps work out even more abundantly than I could have imagined.

So, dear Gracious God, wrap me in your love, fill my heart with your love, help me walk in faith, eyes wide open, but heart wide open too. It is a part of beginnings to feel joy and hope. It is a part of beginnings that inevitably the beginning is fleeting.

Genesis 1 (and a smidge) and God-as-Creator and a bit more of my story

Genesis 1 is a story of creation, yes? For some folk, this an essential quality of God and sort of proof of God. A God who can’t create a world, what good is that? H’mm? If this is the case, then science and evolution are threatening. But that is not me, mostly (more on that below). For one thing, “truth” can be found as much in fiction as in fact — heart-truth, sorrow-truth, joyful-truth, bitter-truth. Exploring scripture — God’s living Word — as a conversation with God that has lasted millennia and changed over time is a way to search and sort and sift for truth. And the bible is full of poetry, myth, soap opera, fables, battles, love, rules, etc. — as an English major you take a genre for what it is and go with it and poke at it and think about it. But you don’t twist it to be something it isn’t.

But I honestly do absolutely sympathize with those who feel threatened. Raised a good Unitarian Universalist girl who loves science fiction, I was eager to take my science requirement classes in college. And I took an anthropology class thinking it would be good and interesting — which it was. But I had never truly studied evolution before, never in a getting-it-in-my-brain-to-pass-a-test sort of way.

I was suddenly in a quandary. I was maybe 19 or 20? And I had lived mostly in books, to be honest; I was an English lit and creative writing major. So I had not truly thought about evolution. I had little knowledge of scripture so that wasn’t the issue. I was only vaguely aware that “evolution” was a topic that could rile people up. I was only sort of aware that some religious folks didn’t believe in it. I wasn’t worried about the science of it at all.

But suddenly I was in a bit of a quandary, which took me several weeks to put into words. And then I went to see the TA (teaching assistant). I was too shy to visit the professor and I figured I was just being stupid somehow.

So I popped into the poor TA’s office. “Hey,” I said. “I’m in the class? And I’m confused about this one part of evolution from the book? I can’t find the answer?”

You just have to picture me, basically cheerful and un-aware and absolutely clueless.

The poor TA goes, “So what is confusing you?”

And I go, “What makes us humans different from animals?”

And he goes, “Umm?” And his face looks like Where-do-I-hide?

And I go (as best I remember), “You know, if we humans have souls, how does that work with evolution? Or do animals have souls too? Or maybe it has something to do with the brain, with the number of neurons or something?”

And he is really absolutely horrified now. He goes, “Umm.”

And I just smile at him and sit back and I’m waiting for wisdom.

Which the poor TA obviously could not supply. As best I recall he said something like, “That won’t be any part of any test, so it’s okay that there is no answer to those sorts of questions. Maybe in philosophy? But not here.”

I realize now, looking back, that the poor guy was terrified. Was I some sort of religious person? Was he going to get the university in trouble? And I realize (now) that he honestly may never have had these questions before. Maybe he had only a very practical brain.

I had thought all answers could be found somewhere, some way, by someone. But, of course, that just isn’t so. There are questions that just have mysteries for answers.

 

I was as shaken by the TA not having an answer as I was at the thought that humans might just be another sort of animal and not fundamentally different in some way. I was genuinely upset that semester trying to figure out what makes humans different from animals. I think I don’t have a very existential brain and the quandary sort of faded. And I think I also, mostly unconsciously, decided that humans-tell-stories and that works for me. At any rate, one way to look at Day 6 is that it explores this very question about animals and humans, but it has taken me more than thirty years to realize that.

So I guess pretty soon I’ll have to actually move on to Day 6. Yikes!

Genesis 1-2:3 and the Dome

God says “Let there be a dome that separates the waters from the waters.” And God calls the dome Sky.

I love the Sky. I love big wide open sweeping panorama’s of sky over field or ocean. I love the clouds and the ever changing clouds. I love the rich night sky when you can see it all spangled with stars and the moon sweeping open above you, arc to arc. I love even just the bit of sky I can see out my back windows, which look out to a small woods. The tops of the trees swaying in a breeze. The peace of it. At night the dance of the fireflies, little sparks of little everywhere this summer, in the trees and bushes and grass, creating sparkling patterns of light.

I love the peaceful feeling of being a small part of an immense world.

Already when I practice Day 2, I try to bring some of this immensity to it by looking up, moving my eyes and head in an arc. I smile — of course I smile — with the beauty of Sky welling inside my mind’s eye.

The mystery to me in verses 6 through 8 — why does God not see that the dome and the Sky are good? Are they too foundational, too fundamental? Did the ancient tellers of the story just forget to say that for Day 2? Does my bible have a typo?

Is there something about “separating the waters above the dome from the waters under the dome” that is too destructive — even if it leads to life — to be good? Or too frightening — the wild danger waters covered with darkness are meant to be frightening to the listener. Is it not called good because it is empty?

Hooray for Sky, is what I say. I love the Sky!

 

Genesis 1-2:3 and more on order

I picked up Jordan B. Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018; Random House Canada), at the library completely by random. I’d never heard of him. Well, this is a very interesting book. He’s much smarter than me and I’m sure that many smart people have written all sorts of commentary about this book. Although I’m only about halfway through I would recommend it. I don’t even know what I think about his rules. What I love is how he uses scripture — this is basically a secular book, a philosophy book. And he weaves in writing and wisdom from other faith traditions and literature and so on. It’s really an amazing work. But he uses scripture respectfully and interestingly and well, maybe brilliantly isn’t too far to go. I really don’t know enough to evaluate this book!

Page 33 he explicitly starts his discussion of Genesis 1-2 and order and chaos. On page 44, “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know.”

While my focus is far more on Genesis 1, he goes into Genesis 2 and for me — and I have heard quite a number of lectures and explications — this was really interesting stuff.

And here on page 57: “The entire Bible is structured so that everything after the Fall — the history of Israel, the prophets, the coming of Christ — is presented as a remedy for that Fall, a way out of evil. … And this is an amazing thing: the answer is already implicit in Genesis I: to embody the Image of God — to speak out of chaos the Being that is Good — but to do so consciously, of our own free choice.”

In my poor words: to trust (despite serpents and poison ivy and endless war and horror) that there is an order, that things are fundamentally supposed to be good, that we can care for ourselves (not in a let’s-eat-cake way, in a truly healthy way), that we can truly care for others, that the tension between order and chaos can be bridged in a beautiful, affirming, and generative, and creative way; in some small way even by each of us.

In many ways, because Dr. Peterson is a psychologist and a professor and so on, while this is written for a lay audience like me it is also clearly academic and …for lack of better words … deep and rich. His writing is so clear and yet the thoughts evoked inside me later sort of exploded like thought-bombs. It is completely possible that someone who truly has studied this book and these thoughts will be smacking their head going oh-my-she-does-not-understand!

Maybe in a way it is an echo from the TV show “Angel” — when the brooding vampire with a soul, Angel, says something like “If nothing you do matters [world is still going to have evil to fight, still going to be full of death, still going to be suffering], then all that matters is what you do.”

Show up and join in for building the Kingdom of God, in purely Christian language, eh? Which is “already and not yet” here.

So eat something healthy. Get a good night’s sleep. Take your medicines. Exercise.

Love your neighbor.

 

 

 

Genesis 1-2:3

Until I start working on writing Genesis 1-2:3 out (I’m up through day 4), I did not realize how much repetition that is in this. Beautiful, wonderful repetition. But still — I don’t like the vegetation day! All the plants with seeds and all the fruit trees with fruit with seeds … and it repeats. Of course what is wonderful is that hearing it, at least me, I had not noticed the repetition in a boring way, but in the way that a phrase of music is repeated or repeated and tweaked.

And somehow that makes it even more beautiful — because the earth, the dome, the sky, the seas, the vegetation — everything is created by God speaking. God verbs the world alive.

Perhaps God sings the world alive!

 

 

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!