Monday, December 30, 2013

Why Words Matter 2013

Rev. Molly was invited to be a part of an ecumenical workshop called Why Words Matter: Expansive Language & Liturgical Leadership (on Friday, October 4). She was unable to participate, and I was among the people she suggested as alternates -- "a lay person in our congregation for whom these issues are very close to her heart (and she is very articulate about gender and God! She's been keeping me on a growing edge about God, gender and trans issues for some time now)." ♥

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I was pleased to get to attend and participate.

I knew the audience would be somewhat wide-ranging, so I was expecting some conservative folks (I don't think there were any) but was surprised to encounter people who would likely have described themselves as good liberals who said things like that The New Century Hymnal "ruined" the Christmas hymns. Yeah ... my starting place for gender/language conversations is apparently different from other people's.

Near the end, one of the organizers commented that from her dropping in on various conversations throughout the afternoon, it was clear that there was a lot of energy for these conversations to continue. I would definitely be interested in attending additional stuff like this. I will have my expectations calibrated more accurately -- and also may be more assertive about bringing up my hobby-horses: non-binary gender, non-male Jesus, and cultivating a practice of volunteering names and pronouns. [Sidebar: Nametags with pronouns!]


Apparently the impetus for this event was that someone was cleaning out her basement and sent the Mass Council of Churches [MCC] a (mimeographed! typeset!) booklet ("Faith and Mission: An Ecumenical Women’s Liturgy Resource Book was originally prepared by the Task Force on Women of the Massachusetts Council of Churches in 1978," says their blogpost) and MCC posted a photo to their facebook and got a surprising number of comments -- including from many people who were on the task force that helped create it. This suggested to them that while we may often feel like we're sort of "over" the inclusive language conversation, that we've "solved" that problem, in fact there's still a lot of energy around that issue.

Rev. Laura Everett told a story of being a teenager in a church that did a carrying the cross Good Friday walk, and she wanted to be Jesus, and of course she wasn't allowed to be. (On reflection, I wish we had talked more about imaging Jesus as female, since even in progressive contexts we're usually insistent that of course Jesus was male, and imaging Jesus -- or even the risen Christ -- as other than male seems wholly off the table, in a way that imaging Jesus as for example any race/ethnicity isn't. Laura talked about how she was excluded/marginalized, but I don't think she or any of us really talked about embodying Jesus as female -- other than Stephen Burns reading a Christa poem by Nicola Slee.)

Stephen Burns (professor at EDS) talked some about the history that brought us to this point. He said that while people talk about the 1970s, he thinks the heyday of inclusive language was the 1990s:

  • The UCC put out The New Century Hymnal (which edited the words to many traditional hymns as well as commissioning many new hymns) in 1995.
  • The Episcopal church put out Enriching Our Worship (a liturgical supplement) in 1997.
  • The Roman Catholic Church put out the ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy] Psalter in 1995 -- which book was quickly quashed, 'cause oppressive Roman Catholic Church. (He said it's "like gold dust" -- that you can get it on eBay.)
Stephen Burns talked about the danger that expansive language can be co-opted, can be used to disguise a reality that is not as inclusive/liberative as the language might suggest, and so advised us to approach with a degree of suspicion and not naivete.

He talked about gesture -- which is one of his big things -- about how it's not enough for us for example to use non-hierarchical language if the way we structure all our liturgy and worship is still very hierarchical.

(One audience member I read as female talked about being mentored by Madeleine L'Engle who told her, "When you get ordained -- and you will -- don't become a little man.")

He also talked about context. He said he went to every feminist gathering in the north of England [he's originally from England] and removed all the Lord Father He etc. language from his vocabulary about God ... and then he became a father, and he needed to reclaim that language.

One attendee works primarily with a non-literate congregation, so she can't just hand out sheets of paper with alternate words. Also, as a well-educated financially comfortable white woman ... with a congregation of poor/homeless African-American men who use very traditional language ... she feels really uncomfortable telling them that their language for God is "wrong." Stephen Burns suggested that maybe that's not the fight to have in that congregation, that maybe in that congregation she needs to find ways to be on their side fighting poverty, racism, etc.

Another attendee brought up multi-lingual issues -- that in different languages, words can have very different connotations. She said that "Lord" in French has a "sweetness" to it, and even the tone the presider uses is different than when people say "Lord" in English liturgy.

People talked about The New Century Hymnal a lot. One woman said they "ruined" the Christmas hymns. Another woman said she has pastored 6 congregations in the past 16 years and there has been conflict about The New Century Hymnal in every one of them.

Wendy Miller Olapade talked about coming to the church through AA, having not grown up in the church, and getting out of seminary and into her first Call right around the time The New Century Hymnal came out and people were having lots of trouble with the new hymnal and she just didn't understand, because she thought the hymns were beautiful and these were the only versions she knew -- she reminded us that not everyone's coming from the same place, not everyone has the same history.

Inez Torres Davis talked about some of what she has learned in dealing with privilege. She said that she's learned that you need to acknowledge the pain that privilege experiences when it's .. she used some less strong word than "threatened," but I can't remember how she phrased it.
She said that privilege is fragile -- which she said neutrally and without any of the tone I would have inflected into that, but I totally loved it :)
She said that being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe.
She said that the purpose of the divine is healing, liberative.
She said that the Church, the Body of Christ, is suffering.

There was a little bit of conversation about referring to "expansive" vs. "inclusive" language.


In the first breakout session, our prompt questions were on a handout that asks about your experiences of gendered language in liturgy, etc. Initially no one in my group said anything, so I opened with the fact that my experience is heavily influenced by the fact that my best friend is genderqueer -- so every time we say e.g. "male and female and a little bit of each" or "brothers and sisters," I wince because in that language my best friend is erased and told "you're not welcome here, you don't have a place here," even though of course I know that yes ze is welcome here.

One woman expressed concern that we go far that we're falling all over ourselves to be overly PC, and I chose not to respond. I wanted to respond to people's pushback, but I worried I would come off as defensive, and it felt more important to me to allow people to say their piece than for me to respond to every little piece of everything everyone said.

We talked some about language that would include my best friend -- like saying "brothers and sisters and siblings."

People talked about the concern of using the wrong language (in trying to be inclusive).

One of the women said that when you get to know people as people, then you'll know the right language -- because it will be language that you've learned being in relationship with that person, rather than just some abstract concept. She said that it's taking a risk, and you must be willing to fail -- that when people know you and know your intentions, they'll forgive you, and that you'll continue to have opportunities to try. (I think she was over-generalizing from her personal experience a bit, as I know people who would have felt excluded/offended in the examples she cited, and I don't think Good Intentions grant total absolution, but I did really appreciate her comments and felt it was more helpful for the gathered body for hers to be the last word on this than for me to pick it apart.)


We had 2 themed breakout sessions -- you could choose from 4 topics (and there was a booklet with some reading material for each, which I wished we'd gotten in advance; it's up on their blog now):

  • The Lord's Prayer/Our Father
  • Trinitarian Idioms
  • The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer
  • Texts and Contexts, Words and Actions

The first of the themed breakout sessions I went to was the Trinitarian Idioms one. We started with talking about what the Trinity is (because I was like, "I'm really bad at being a Trinitarian, and I know that any time I attempt to explain the Trinity to someone I'm using modalism or some other heresy, so I really have no idea how to go about using more expansive language without somehow being heretical" -- not that I necessarily personally have a problem with being heretical, but...) and the facilitator talked about inter-relationship and dance (she didn't say "perichoresis," but I thought it) and how one thing that Trinity indicates about God is that God is dynamic, not static. I said that was really interesting, because I feel like a lot of the pushback around changing Trinitarian language is that the inherited language is the language we have to use, that we can't change it, but there's a variety of Scriptural language for the Godhead -- including the Second Person of the Trinity: Jesus using "mother hen" language. One of the women at my table said that she taught her kids the "God is like a mother hen" song so they would have at least one alternative image of God in their minds as they grew up.


The second one I went to was the Eucharistic Prayer one, but I don't have much in the way of notes/commentary from that.

One participant offered the language:
hold bread: this is the broken body of Christ
look around: this is the Body of Christ made whole

Stephen Burns offered: "receive what you are: the Body of Christ; be what you see, become what you are"


The person before me on the closing panel was a 58-year-old man who's been an ELCA pastor for like 30 years.

He talked about how using "traditional" language can be really powerful -- that he spent time in ministry with refugees from Communist Czechoslovakia, and they used very old-fashioned Slovak to pray the Lord's Prayer, and to pray in that language on the other side of the ocean was very powerful.

He talked about the importance of engaging in conversations, that you can't just impose things by fiat. (Which I suppose is equally true when you're a lay member with a fiat agenda :) )


One of the prep questions I was given for my part on the closing panel was: "What changes has your congregation made to gendered language in liturgy? How did you implement these changes to make language more expansive?"

I reached out to some folks who have been at FCS longer than I have, and I cribbed heavily from one person's response, so you get a c&p, which is more artful than my unrehearsed regurgitation was:

One shift we made during my time was adopting the New Century Hymnal [NCH], with its resolutely inclusive language. Prior to that we used the Pilgrim Hymnal, which had a lot of inclusive language but by no means always. For a while we kept both hymnals in the pews and sang some songs from each, and gradually phased out the old hymnal. But we still used the Pilgrim hymnal at Christmas, because many people found the inclusive language jarring in the very familiar Christmas carols. [...]

After we had used the NCH for a few years, [person] mentioned to me that she had attended a service at a different church where they were still using the Pilgrim Hymnal, and she was looking forward to singing the good old words. But, she reported, when they actually sang, it was jarring to hear He/Him/His all the time after getting used to inclusive language. Her consciousness had been raised, though she didn't say it that way.


As for LGBTQ [...] inclusive language, that really started with Molly. We became an ONA church years before Molly's tenure, but as is quite usual, he first few years after making the declaration, our ONA stayed on the down low. Some older members were very sensitive and anxious about it, and it didn't seem useful to pick fights with them. When Molly came, she "didn't know" how sensitive the issue was, and so "naively" flew a rainbow flag right away. Precipitating some pushback, and a compromise, but the tide had turned. Our prior settled pastors had mentioned LGBTQ…I people sympathetically but carefully; Molly was the first to talk about us casually, as if there were no controversy. And by being the change she wished to see in the world, the world (or at least, FCS) changed.


Katie Ernst, the final closing panelist, cautioned that we not perpetuate gender essentialism as we attempt to expand our language (e.g., only using She for gentle nurturing and He for fierce strong anger), which I can't say enough YES to. I do really appreciate that a lot of the ~contemporary hymnody that uses expansive language for God intentionally talks about e.g. fierce Mother God and nurturing Father God.

People had lots of positive feedback about the Welcome liturgy [also up on their blog], so Katie Ernst talked a bit about the process of shaping it. (It was like a very extended version of the Welcome we do at FCS.)

  • you start with what parts of yourself do YOU need to have named/affirmed/welcomed?
  • think about the people who will be in attendance, naming those diversities
  • acknowledge darkness -- "you who are worn out... you who are grieving..."
  • in the opening, acknowledge/honor those who have been in this space before us (including those who lived on this land before we colonized it)
  • this is gonna be like 5-10 minutes long, and people aren't used to a Welcome being that long, so there will be some discomfort, but lean into that

Sunday, November 10, 2013

JiffyCon East 2013

Last Monday night, my housemate and I saw some RTs about the game "slash: romance without boundaries," linking to the website
After watching the promo video, she said, "I need to buy this, don't I?"
me: "If you don't, I will."
Housemate: "I'm a little tight on cash right now, so why don't you buy it?"

So I did.

The promo video referenced a Kickstarter, so I Googled because I was curious what the offered rewards had been.

I couldn't find the Kickstarter, but I found a blog post in which I learned they would be at a con near me on Saturday. So I left a comment on the site saying Hey, you might wanna link to stuff like this on the website. The form was broken, so I then emailed. That's me, winning friends and influencing people :)

So I learned that the Kickstarter was actually launching on Thursday and that even though the blogpost suggested that games wouldn't be ready to ship until January, I would still totally get a prototype copy,

I read through the print and play PDF on the website, and I felt like general familiarity plus the descriptions on the cards meant I wouldn't have significant difficulty playing the game.

I rescheduled plans in order to go to JiffyCon (yes, I was that into playing the game) and found that wow, it was surprisingly difficult to tell stories -- especially characters I only have vague familiarity with.

The "rules" say you can discard characters you don't know anything about, but I'm stubborn, and I felt like I'd be okay. And you can swing this for the Casual Round where you're just playing without commentary -- because sometimes the pairing just sells itself, or the Matchmaker's knowledge fills in the blanks sufficient that you win (e.g., some of the plays I won: Virginia Woolf/Lisbeth Salandar, Chewbacca/Captain James T. Kirk, Treebeard/The Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

But for the actual storytelling rounds, it's really hard to actually generate a story based only on vague fannish/cultural osmosis and the description on a card (though I did win Princess Peach from Super Mario Brothers/Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic -- "unlimited pony rides" -- and Cheetara from Thundercats/Bumblebee from Transformers -- I think I would have awarded Cheetara/Cleopatra with its mutual suicide pact ending, but whatevs).

We had an interlude while the GM went to move his car, during which I opted to discard the cards I'd been hanging on to that I theoretically *could* play in favor of cards I was actively excited to play.

Though I didn't actually get to experience much of how that would have changed the game because on practically the next play I awarded Veronica Mars/Lydia Deets from Beetlejuice (that I had recently been reminded of my love for Lydia definitely helped) and the game was over on account of someone had achieved 20 points. Yeah, I basically never play Apples to Apples or its ilk in an actual "play until N is achieved" -- we play until we run out cards or energy or people.

(We then played Skulls and Roses, which I enjoyed more once I got the hang of it -- it's a bluffing game, which isn't really my thing, but it was more that it took me a few rounds to catch on to how one strategizes for this -- though I don't love that one of the logos is "Indians" with an image of someone wearing a headdress.)

There's plenty of white space on the character cards, so I think I'm gonna rewrite a bunch of the ones in my copy to be characters I'm actually interested in.

I went through the deck while on the phone with Ari that afternoon and and wow, I'm discarding literally about half the deck. I may go back and put some of them back in -- I remind myself that I can still discard characters from my personal hand while playing, so I can retain in my copy of the game characters I know well enough to be interested in stories about even if I wouldn't tell stories about them myself.

Because crowdsourcing is always fun, tell me which characters to include -- Description is optional, and interpret "Fandom" broadly; Glenn describes the game as including characters from "literature, history, and pop culture." [Edit: I checked the slashcg spreadsheet, and their column says "Origin," which is more intuitive than "Fandom" when one is including e.g. Historical Figures, so I changed the column heading on my spreadsheet as well. /edit]

My other reason to crowdsource is that I'm gonna be playing this game with *my* friends, not Glenn et al. (who I think must be older than me given how much the 1980s are represented in this game), though I realize many of my friends live far away -- and bff, I'm now imagining Skyping you in to a round, and because we would be playing with separate decks there being the possibility for shipping characters with themselves (possibly MirrorVerse but possibly just e.g. Time Turner) :)

Ari has a gift for that flash fic a la the 12 characters meme (in which lists of characters and lists of questions/scenarios are generated independently, though those aren't always shippy, e.g. "If 5 + 9 had to rob a bank, could they pull it off?") that I don't so much.

Conversing that afternoon, I was reminded that give me a Scripture text and a theme, or more than one Scripture text, and I *will* find a way to make them work. #sonofapreacherman

At JiffyCon, I think the consensus was that it's way more fun to play with storytelling than just pairing cards, but coming up with questions/scenarios to solicit stories from the other players is actually kind of difficult. So I want to generate a "cheat sheet" of questions in case people get stuck. This is a preliminary list of the ones I can recall from JiffyCon, but I added a sheet to the GDoc for people to add their own if anyone wants.

  • How do they meet?
  • My character is initially uninterested, how does your character win them over?
  • How does your character win my character away from [canonical love interest]?
  • How does your character rescue my character?
  • Describe their first date.
  • Describe the date that leads up to the first time they have sex.
  • What's their shared sexual fetish -- what bedroom electricity keeps them in relationship despite all the odds?
  • Why do they break up?
If I were creating this game, there's a bunch I would do differently (obviously), but actually bringing projects to completion is not something I have a strong track record on, so I have to give them props for actually generating something I can tweak, and I do love the idea of this game. Go fund their Kickstarter.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

[Savor] the prodigal (house of the rising sun remix?)

Savor last night was the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Knowing how Savor works, I spent the meditative period thinking about how I would tell the story. (content warning for dubcon prostitution)


Once upon a time, there lived a parent who had a beautiful house, and acres of fruitful land, and two children.

The elder child was dutiful and hardworking, never complaining about anything.

The younger child, on the other hand, ached to leave the confines of this home.

One day, the younger child said to the parent, "I wish you were dead so I could take my share of the inheritance and get out of here."

The parent's heart broke a little bit, and ze handed over the younger child's portion of the inheritance.

Delighted with this newfound freedom, the younger child rushed out of the house. She was soon wallowing in all the luxuries money could buy -- food, sex, drugs, clothing, jewelry, transportation, lodging. The parent missed the daughter very much, but ze didn't talk about it -- the elder child had always bristled at the younger's longing to leave, and now he seemed even more quiet and withdrawn, working harder than ever now that they were short one laborer and with a significant cashflow problem.

Time passed, and the land continued to flourish, despite famine and storm. And the parent continued to miss the younger child.

Not everyone flourished in the midst of famine and storm. The younger child found that bartenders who had been willing to comp her drinks for little more than a smile started asking for more and more. Her wealth began to decline, and she started to sell many of the items she had accumulated -- always at a loss.

Things grew worse and worse, and eventually she was out of items to sell. She'd been using her body as a kind of currency since the beginning, but that had always been fun, a game she chose to play. Now she didn't have a choice.

As the only clothes she had were wearing out, she realized soon she would literally have nothing to call her own -- not even her body. She thought longingly of living even as a servant in her parent's house. She knew she was no longer worthy to be called "daughter," but perhaps, if she begged, she would be allowed back as a servant.

She swallowed her pride and began the journey home.

While she was still far off, her parent saw her and ran out to meet her on the road, embracing her.

She cried, "I have sinned against heaven and you; I am no longer worthy to be called your child."

But the parent called the servants and said, "Quickly! Bring the finest robe and put it on her, covering her shame. Put a family ring on her finger and sandals on her feet that she no longer be in the dirt. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. We shall have a feast and celebrate, for this child of mine was dead and is alive again, she was lost and is found."

So the celebrating began.

When the elder child came back from working in the fields and heard the commotion, he asked one of the servants, "What is going on?"

The servant replied, "Your sister has come home, and your parent has killed the fatted calf to celebrate."

He fumed and refused to go in. When the parent heard about this, ze went out and pleaded -- "Come inside and celebrate with us..."

But the elder child said, "Haven't I worked hard for you all these years, never complaining and never disobeying, and you've never given me even the smallest thing to use to celebrate with my friends, but this ... " he waved his hand rather than say the word, "squanders everything and you kill the fatted calf the moment she shows back up?"

The parents' eyes filled with tears, and ze said, "My child, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this sister of yours was dead and is alive again. How could I fail to celebrate that?"

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"It's hard to dance with the Devil on your back..."

Once upon a time, there was a young woman.

One day, she left the town she had been living in, and she traveled to the river at the edge of the wilderness -- that place where civilization and wilderness meet -- where her cousin had been baptizing people.

And her cousin said, "I can't baptize you! You are the one we've been waiting for."

("Shhh...," the air whispered. "We are all the ones we have been waiting for. The realm of God is within you."

But that is another story for another time.)

She said, "No, cousin, you must baptize me. For today I am beginning the work I have been called to do."

And so her cousin baptized her, and as she rose up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove, resting on her shoulders, enveloping her, and said, "This is my Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased."

And the Spirit of God hugged her tightly and kissed her like a parent sending their child off, and the young woman traveled further away from the town she had lived in, through the wilderness and into the desert. And she neither ate nor drank, and some of us might call her journey a vision quest. Whatever it was, she was tempted mightily.

Out there in the desert, the rocks shimmering in the heat looked like they could be cakes of bread, and she knew somehow that if she wished it, she could make those stones into bread. But she remembered the teachings of her youth, and she said the words aloud, like honey on her tongue -- though they tasted sour in her stomach.

Sitting on a tall mountain, her stomach still empty, looking out over the places she had traveled through, out over the river where her cousin continued to baptize, out over the town where she had lived, out over other towns she had visited and towns she had never visited, she felt as if she could rule over them all, as if she need only say the word and they would be handed over to her power. But she knew that was not the power she was meant for, knew that taking that power would be giving herself over to another Power altogether, and again she quoted the teachings of her youth, trying to keep her voice strong, imagining as she spoke into the emptiness that the sounds floated over all that she saw, even as tears filled her eyes.

And then she imagined herself at the very pinnacle of the Temple, and she imagined what it would be like to fall off. Surely the God who loved her, who had birthed her, who had called her, wouldn't let her die? Surely she could find some rest. And all the teachings of her youth about God's protection danced at the edge of her consciousness; she could see the words dancing at the edge of her vision even as she felt like she might black out. But she knew that those were not the teachings for this moment. And she remembered who she was and Whose she was, and she whispered, "Into Your hands, I commend my spirit," and she passed out.

And when she came to, she was surrounded by good angels who gave her food and drink and shelter and rest. And after she had recovered, she went on and began her ministry.


At Savor tonight, Rev. Jeff M. told an abbreviated version of the Baptism/Temptation story that opens Jesus' public ministry in the Gospels. He invited us to tell the story in our own way. My best friend is the one with poetry in hir soul, but apparently it's catching?

[Blogpost title is a line that didn't make it into my story but which is from Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance."]

Sunday, June 30, 2013

[H!PS] this is not an evangelism testimony [Stuttering Sisters; June 27, 2013]

For some years now, I've been part of what started as a women's preaching circle. I opted out of this most recent round, as the spiritual journey slant (or however it was framed to me) wasn't something I really connected with. But then one of the sisters was visiting me in January and as she said to the list, "I met up with Elizabeth and she was talking about all these conversations she's been having with others regarding the substance of her faith and what difference it makes and I thought - that's what we're doing too!"

The month that I rejoined, one of the members explained: "This month we had an assignment to speak to someone in our lives about Jesus (to testify and evangelize) in a way that was new, uncomfortable, even scary."

This continued to be the theme for the duration -- though when I met with a couple of the sisters a few weeks before the season's closing session (in which I had the floor), one of them reminded me that technically I could do whatever I wanted with my portion of the time.

Since I'd rejoined, I'd been sporadically trying to cultivate some sort of practice of evangelizing, but nothing really stuck. In trying to help me brainstorm, the sisters who were visiting asked me why it is that I do all the church stuff I do -- which answer was basically the theme I'd already been thinking about talking about, but I felt somewhat more legitimated in my choice of topic.

(The name of the circle this season was, "Graceful Stuttering: Testifying to Intimate Encounters With Grace." Which I reminded myself of at times as I was attempting to write a draft and feeling off-topic.)

Below is the draft I wrote -- which is fairly close to what I actually said, except I ended up extemporizing at length about community at the end.


A few years ago, I was attending weekly events at 5 different churches in 4 different denominations. "You frequent ALL the houses of worship on [this street]," one of my then-pastors said, her innuendo both intentional and appreciated by me.

I routinely tell people that I live in in my head and while I have plenty of emotional response, I don't really have ~spiritual experiences~ -- so I often get asked why I do so much church, and 5 years later I have yet to come up with a good answer.

Marcus Borg uses the family analogy for religious traditions -- many of us grow up in one, and it feels like home because of that -- though he also acknowledges that some people justifiably need to leave their family of origin and find a new one.

Definitely a lot of my attachment to Christianity is because I grew up with it.

My mom brought my brother and I to church regularly when we were growing up, but the pastor's sermons put me to sleep, so I experienced church as more of a community than a theological anything.

When I started college and again when I moved out of my parents' house after college, it took some time for me to start attending church on Sunday mornings again because hey, sleeping in, pretty appealing.

I grew up without a denominational affiliation, so I tried out churches in various denominations -- but it didn't occur to me to try out Judaism or anything. Which is arguably in part a sort of blinkered privilege, but it is also true that Christianity is my home.

There's something about this Christian story that has a hold on me. Every time I think, "It would be good for me to have a better understanding of religions not my own," I am reminded that I am interested in, in decreasing order of interest: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, everything else.

But the fact that I will spend hours down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia or other parts of the Internet researching obscure parts of Christian tradition doesn't explain why I attend so much church stuff -- since I was definitely accumulating worship services, not just Bible studies and small groups.

For all that I'm a misanthrope, I think I have to admit that one of the reasons is community.

I used to comment frequently that I didn't know how people who weren't part of a faith tradition met people when they moved somewhere new. Coffee Hour has free food and people are obligated to be friendly and welcoming to you but you can also hang out on the fringes for as long as you want until you feel comfortable actually engaging.

And then churches go even further and organize social events -- and do-gooder events, for people who like that sort of thing.

Also: physical contact. I am weirded out when I'm visiting a church and we get to the Passing of the Peace part and people just shake hands with the people in a 360 degree circle around them, not actually moving from the floor right in front of their pew. I have literally climbed out of pews so I can go peace people when whoever's at the end of my pew isn't moving. I will hug just about everyone -- though I try to remember to ask when it's someone I don't know, since people have different levels of comfort with physical contact.

Chelsea and Eda and I were talking about this when they were visiting, and then over ice cream after Bible study earlier this week it came up with some folks from First Church Somerville -- for most of us, church is basically the only physical contact we have all week. One of my friends literally worries about deciding to go home with a guy for a one-night stand just because the prospect of touch is so appealing.

First Church has grown big enough that I can't peace everyone I know on a given Sunday morning, and I keep being confronted with people I don't know at all, whom I feel obligated to greet and welcome even though part of me wants to weave past them to hug more of my friends.

The peril of built-in community, of course, is that it's not a community you built yourself, and so it may contain members you wouldn't have chosen for yourself.

There are people at First Church Somerville who when I first met them, I didn't like them all that much. Some of them I still don't like that much, but most of them have grown on me. Being in community forces me to live into Kindom reality -- even when I resist it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

[book review] A Story of God and All of Us: A Novel Based on the Epic TV Miniseries "The Bible"

I didn't have any interest in watching this miniseries, but when I learned there was a NOVELIZATION of it, I was morbidly curious and ILLed it.

Contrary to my ~expectation, it's not actually ridiculous over-the-top bad. There's not a lot that I'm really adamantly opposed to, though there are various things that make me uncomfortable, as well as various narrative changes that make me go, "But that's not how the story goes!"

There's a lot of telling rather than showing -- which given that this is a novelization of film is kind of ironic ... were there a lot of explainy voiceovers?

-- and then I learned that GoodReads has a character limit for reviews. Hence, blogpost.

Long writeup: [I quote/cite/link a LOT.]

The introductory "Authors' Note" talks about their choice to "choose fewer characters and stories but make a much deeper emotional commitment" (rather than trying to tell many many brief stories -- it doesn't explain whey they chose a ten-hour mini-series format to begin with). They say, "we began the TV scripts, written by a team of writers under the guidance of many theologians, advisors, and Biblical experts. Their combined expertise brought forth vivid spiritual and historical images. To our great joy, when we showed the scripts to others for technical and creative feedback, the resounding messages we heard over and over were 'I've never been able to imagine these Bible stories so clearly in my mind,' 'I'm going to reread the Bible,' and 'You really should publish these scripts.' [...] We feel very inadequate to teach the Bible, and we are certainly not theologians. We are television storytellers. It will be easy for people to focus on how we have 'compressed stories' or find 'theological inaccuracies.' But on this point, we must be clear: we are not retelling the story of the Bible; it has already been told in the richest, fullest possible way, from the mouth of God and through His chosen prophets, students, and apostles. Instead, we are dramatizing some of these beautiful stories from our scripts."

1) Do we have stats on how much people's response to adaptations is to go read the original? Even when people know it's an adaptation and that there's so much ~more~ in the original, I feel like it's a minority of viewers who actually follow through on reading the original.
*I* wanted to go back and re/read the Bible thanks to various parts of this, but that was mostly born out of a desire to fact-check them/to see how the "real" story went.
2) I understand, theologically, why people think the Bible is God's best attempt at telling the Story, but seriously, I must be reading a different Bible than those people who say just open the Bible and read it and you'll get converted. It's not all narrative, and some of what is narrative is confusing, repetitive, contradictory, etc.

The opening chapter harmonizes the Creation stories and then spends most of its time on the Noah/Flood story, closing with:

      But God will act once again to save the world. For all time. But next time He will not need a Noah.
      Next time He will send His only son.
      This is a story of God and all of us.
I don't love the "everything is leading up to/foreshadowing Christ," but it is understandable. It actually wasn't as bad as I was expecting.

God literally "destroying mankind in order to save it" (p. 2, literal quote) is kinda creepy, though it's not necessarily in violation of a "plain reading" of the text.

There's a nod to realism in the description of the experience of living on the ark, though the reminder that many of the animals onboard are not equipped for seafaring was I think unintentionally uncomfortable.

Noah telling the Creation story to keep people's minds off their distress is perhaps a heavy-handed "The Bible is the Greatest Story Ever Told," but I did actually appreciate the nod to the fact that the story/s we Christians see as old old stories (and thus, a bit far-away and musty) are the stories that are the lifeblood of the Jewish people -- the power of story, it is one of my themes.

Noah's wife and his son's wives don't get names, which I initially thought was one of the ways in which the authors were choosing to not embellish the Biblical story ("asks the wife of Noah's son Shem" -- from the Prologue -- is not a non-awkward phrase, so it had to be on purpose, right?), as females not named in the Biblical canon (e.g., Lot's wife) continued to remain unnamed. but then Pharoah's daughter who adopts Moses is named Batya -- but Wikipedia suggests that this name does stem from an extra-canonical tradition [note: Moses' birth mother does NOT get a name]. Given some of the other ~significant changes they make (see below), I'm not sure why giving names to the nameless is so verboten. (Later, in the Samson story, Samson's first, Philistine, wife gets named Habor [p. 101]. Maybe there's a minimum of screentime that gets a woman a name? I don't know how the on-screen mini-series dealt with identifying the people in Noah's ark... In one of the bonus additional fight scenes, we get one of Lot's shepherds named Lemuel and one of Abram's named Amasa -- both of which are Biblical names but of decidedly different people. We also get Ira, a spokesman for the Israelites who oppose Moses -- another Biblical character who doesn't exist in the canonical text.)

I disliked how so much negativity gets attributed to the women -- misogyny, much?

Given the canonical story of Lot's wife being punished for looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, it's hard for me to quibble with her characterization as consistently suspicious of Abram's One God, but "seeds of dissension are sown by Lot's wife, a jealous and small-hearted woman who chafes at Abram's authority for forcing her to relocate" (p. 12) seems excessive.

The story of Abra[ha]m opens with telling us that Abram "is a direct descendant of Noah, eight generations on, through the lineage of Shem" (p.9) but it doesn't say anything about where all this paganism (which Abram is immersed in) comes from. God's call to Abram is unmistakable, and there's a nod to the fact that we're inventing monotheism ("Sarai, we are blessed. Today, God has spoken to me." / "Which God?" / "The God." / Sarai pulls back, confused. Theirs is a world of many different gods and idols, each designed to fulfill a specific need. Placing faith in just one god is a tremendously risky act. -p.11), but 8 generations seems a short time to have lost all memory of the God of Noah's ark, even with the Prologue's statement that, "mankind is fickle, and destined to make the same mistakes once again, turning their backs on God and His all-encompassing love." Though, I've been reminded recently about how recently slavery was legal in the USA, so maybe a few generations isn't all that long to forget things after all.

The Christianity Today article I read a few weeks prior noted that the mini-series adds in violence (as if the Bible is lacking), and I was reminded of this when reading the Abram/Lot story.

I don't oppose fleshing out a potential ideological (and, ultimately, theological -- when there isn't enough grassland for your herd, do you trust that God will provide because God has told you to stay there, or do you head for somewhere you know has more grassland?) disagreement that leads to Abram and Lot parting ways, but do we really need Lot and his followers to get attacked by bandits (off-screen) and then rescued by Abram (on-screen) on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah? [edit: This seems to be riffing off an actual incident in the Bible.] Does Lot's insistence on continuing on even after the attack really add anything to the story? Why couldn't they have just parted ways and the next scene be Lot in Sodom?

I had skimmed a devotional companion [via online preview, which I can no longer find, hence no direct quotations] before reading the book, and I was really pleased by the way it dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah -- Abram bargains with God, and the devotional explicitly supports that and even suggests that maybe Abram should have kept bargaining. It doesn't say anything about "the sin of Sodom," which I was braced for.

The novelization is less explicit in its endorsement of Abram's bargaining, and I am (mostly for other reasons) less of a fan.

      On it goes, Abraham bargaining for the people of Sodom while the Lord gently concedes, until Abraham reduces the number of ten righteous people. The Lord leaves. Abraham stands alone on the road, despairing for Sodom and his nephew. Because he knows, just as God knows, that his bold haggling with God is for naught. For there are not ten righteous people in all of Sodom.
      In fact, there is just one.
      Of course, God knows that. He has only bargained with Abraham as a testimony to their covenant. Abraham's fears about seeing Sodom destroyed showed the depth of his compassion, and God is honoring that. Now it is up to that one righteous man to save himself and his family.
The text uses sexual sin as the primary symptom of Sodom's turned-away-from-God-ness, but that focus doesn't bother me a huge amount -- I think because the way the description arcs, I feel like the theme is that everyone in the city is using everyone else, including at very base physical levels.
The city is infamous for its vice and depravity, a place of idolatry that has not only turned its back on God but celebrates that fact. [...] Lot fears for his daughters, terrified that they will grow up to become as lascivious and faithless as the women of Sodom. It breaks his heart to imagine his gorgeous young girls living a life defined by lust instead of love, of fear instead of faith. [....] He can hear the moans of men and women having sex in the dark, dingy alleys. Were he to turn around right now, he would be able to see a barely dressed young couple groping one another, nearly nude prostitutes pushing their wares, a band of drummers entertaining a group of drunks, and a feral dog tied to a post--snarling loudly at all who walk past, and more than eager to bite into human flesh. (28)
I like that Lot is sitting by the city gates, gazing out into the desert -- liminal space, ftw!

We remove the "Lot offering his virgin daughters to the Sodomites" plotline, which I can't really fault them for, except that it seems so disingenuous to remove such a HUGE stumbling block of a story.

The pillar of salt that Lot's wife turns into gets blown to dust as Lot watches (I guess she was ahead of him? or looking back at your wife is okay so long as you don't look back at the city?), which irritated me because although non-canonical, there is a tradition that that pillar of salt still stands.

Hagar is with Abram and Sarai from their initial departure, conveniently eliding not just Abram's "she's not my wife, she's my sister" trick(s) but also eliding the fact that she's given to them along with so much other property (though she is explicitly identified as Egyptian).

God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. The inheritance will go to Isaac. That is God's decision. It means that there is no more place for Hagar and Ishmael in his camp, but God reassures Abraham that they will be taken care of, and that the children of Ishmael will also become a great nation. (35)
I don't love God endorsing Sarah here.
This is being done at her insistence, and she knows full well that her demands might lead to the deaths of Hagar and Ishmael. She knows she created this problem in the first place by insisting that Abraham sleep with Hagar. So this is her solution. She is surprised to find that she does not take delight in forcing Hagar and Ishmael out. Sarah knows it needs to be done. This may be a cruel act, but she is not a cruel woman. For if this is not done, grave trouble could arise when Abraham's two boys grow to be men. (35-36)
Don't hate the player, hate the game?
The two of them will wander out into the desert alone, yet she [Hagar] trusts God to protect them. Hagar prays to God for help, and God provides it. Less than a week into their journey, they will run out water, and Hagar will fear for their lives. An angel of the Lord will appear to them at that time, promising that Ishmael will one day become the leader of a great nation. When the angel departs, a well filled with water will suddenly appear to Hagar and Ishmael, saving their lives. (36)
In writing this up, I realized that we got pages and pages of description of a MADE-UP story involving Lot and Abram, whereas this true story (a story shared by all three Abrahamic faiths) is all tell, no show. Also, didn't Hagar leave once before? (Hi, my research for preaching on the story of Hagar and Ishmael is showing...) Yes, I know we cut/condense lots of stories for time here.

We include the aqedah. I was actually a little bummed by Sarah running up the mountaintop to save her son, because I love the midrash from the lacuna that we never again see or hear from her -- the possibility that her pre-emptive grief kills her, the possibility that she stops speaking to Abraham (though this text doesn't preclude that latter possibility).

I'm irritated that the blame is placed on Jacob for favoring Joseph -- though, okay, at 17 years old, we can cut Joseph some slack for being a bit of a snot -- but we don't actually get any of him lording over his siblings; it's not a story of being humbled and then redeemed but rather a story of a good person to whom bad stuff happens, who ultimately prospers (because of God's favor) and gives back the same grace ("He shows his brothers the same love and mercy God has always shown him, particularly when times were so hard that hope barely flickered in his soul" [45] -- do we get to see those hard times in the film? because we don't get much in the novelization beyond the line "he becomes gaunt and filthy from months in the squalid and barbaric conditions" [42] re: his life in prison -- which line is immediately followed by, "Yet Joseph is an optimistic and a warmhearted man, even in the toughest of times").

More interesting, arguably, is that we skip the entire Jacob+Esau story -- INCLUDING Jacob wrestling with the "angel" :/ (I have gotten kind of attached to the idea of this story since my mom saying to me back in February of 2009: "I love that you struggle with Christianity fiercely and faithfully and I trust the Angel will not let you go without a blessing.")

I was bummed to lose out on "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). Instead we get:

For while they now live in luxury, this is not the land that God promised Abraham.
      Even worse, over the generations that follow, the drought that Joseph predicted means that thousands upon thousands are forced to leave. The people of Israel willfully travel to Egypt in source [sic] of food, then adopt this terrible new lifestyle just to stay alive. They build the great palaces and monuments of Egypt, working all day under the blazing desert sun, They are slaves of a great Pharaoh.
I think "a man who will have the most extraordinary relationship of all with God" (47) is overstating it a bit, but I can let it go (since Moses is such a huge major figure).

The idea that Rameses and Moses had been rivals growing up in the palace is a neat addition. We get NOTHING about Moses' speech impediment/general feeling of unworthiness; Aaron is just kind of a sidekick (yes, it's explicit that Aaron and Miriam are his blood siblings, so we're not surprised that Aaron goes with Moses, but we lose a lot of depth).

I do kind of love that Moses gets "black kohl eyeliner" (53) -- to protect his eyes, obvi.

We blow through the plagues quickly -- which I don't actually have a problem with. Pharaoh says No after each plague (except, of course, the last) instead of canonically agreeing to let the people go and then retracting.

I appreciate that we do get an acknowledgement of the tragedy of the drowning of all the Egyptians, though it could have been better -- "A moment of sad realization passes, as the Hebrews realize that so many men are now dying. But this is followed immediately by the natural joyfulness of freedom, and the end of slavery for the Hebrews" (82).

We get a brief account of the giving of the Ten Commandments on Sinai, and a note that Moses doesn't get to enter the Promised Land, but not only do we get no explanation for why Moses doesn't get to enter the Promised Land, we totally ignore the fact that no one else from Egypt gets to enter the Promised Land, either -- no whiny wanderers, no golden calf.

I actually balked at the statement that Joshua leads the Hebrews into the Promised Land, so much have I internalized the idea that no one born in Egypt gets to enter the Promised Land (and Joshua got a lot of screentime as an adult in Egypt), but I Googled and apparently Joshua+Caleb got to enter the Promised Land.

I don't have particular thoughts on the Jericho/Rahab story. Yay for a story involving a woman positively. I'm not clear what the big deal is about Rahab, as the winning blow is the walls falling down, but that's a fault of the original story...

While I think it's an accurate precis of the original text, I still don't love the "God punishes the Israelites like a parent disciplines a child."

      But when Joshua dies, that faith seems to die with him. Generations of Israelites forget their covenant with the Lord, turning to other gods to meet their needs--gods of rain and fertility, gods of the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land, who they wrongly believe will bless their new way of life.
      God is grieved by this betrayal. He reminds the Israelites of the covenant with Abraham, and that the Promised Land is a gift that must be cherished. God uses hard, powerful armies to attack the Israelites, like a father disciplines his son.
      The cycle will be repeated for hundreds of years: Israel breaks their covenant; God sends foreign armies to subdue and subjugate them; they learn the lesson and cry out for help; God then raises a deliverer or "judge" to save them; and, once again, the land enjoys peace, until a future generation again forgets God.
      Of all the foreign enemies that subdued the rebellious Israelites to this point in history, none was more powerful than the Philistines. They soon conquer the Israelites and claim much of the Promised Land for themselves, yet God has not deserted his chosen people. He longs to renew His covenant with the Israelites and return to them the Promised Land.
      Once again, God chooses a most unlikely individual to carry out this plan--an eight-year-old boy named Samson, who has the strength of a lion.
Someone with super-strength is not an "unlikely" savior, and Samson is much older than eight when he saves the day. ("The boy is soon born and given the name Samson, By the age of eight, he knows the story of the angel by heart. His mother believes that he is destined to free the Israelites from the Philistines. Ten years pass. [101]")

Samson's enough of a jerk that I probably wouldn't have included his story in an evangelization tool (to my surprise, they do the full version of the story -- and as I approvingly noted above, they give his first wife a name). They take out the flaming foxes, which is a bit of a bummer; and they also kill off his first wife (rather than just marrying her off to the best man), which seems a bit excessive. The addition of his mother convincing him to turn himself in is a narrative choice I don't have particular thoughts about -- I'm not sure if it's meant to emphasize how malleable Samson is to the will of women or something. The decision to take out Delilah's repeated betrayals of Samson make Samson look like less of an idiot, though it seems like a cheat to me.

We get the story of the Israelites asking for a king (p. 121).

The Samuel/Saul/David story feels fairly standard (I totally channel Kings). I was bummed that we don't get to *see* the anointing of David. They leave in the 100 foreskins story which, um, is a choice you can make. We don't get Jonathan protecting David, though I've heard they have a 'shippy vibe onscreen (even the bible ships it).

We extrapolate a whole story from, "Whoever wishes to strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates [or, those who hate David]" (2 Samuel 5:8). [Wikipedia tells me, "According to the version of the story in the masoretic text, David managed to conquer the city by a surprise attack, led by Joab, through the water supply tunnels (Jerusalem has no natural water supply except for the Gihon spring)."]

David first lusts after Bathsheba BEFORE the famous "he saw her bathing on the roof...". Otherwise, the story stays fairly accurate -- and I appreciate that it's clear that David is sinning and Bathsheba is resistant (and did nothing to encourage the king's inappropriate attentions other than existing). We do get Nathan's indicting parable :)

After the death of Bathsheba's firstborn, we elide most of the rest of the story of that family. We're told in a sort of summary transition that they will have another son, Solomon, who "gains a reputation as the wisest man in the world. [...] But, like David, Solomon finds it impossible to follow God's laws. He is a man easily corrupted by his privilege and passions. After he dies, power continues to corrupt Israel's kings." (160)

Then we get:

      A new prophet named Daniel will speak in images telling of a dream in which God promised to once again save the Israelites by sending them a new king. "There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power. All peoples, nations, and men of every language worshipped him." Daniel is dazzled as he speaks, overcome with the majesty and wonder of the dream that God revealed to him. But he does not know when he will come. Nor does Daniel know that this king will be directly from David, nor that his name will be Jesus.
I thought we would jump to the NT here, but actually we get Jeremiah.

Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem (e.g., "The only question remaining now is the degree of suffering the king Nebuchadnezzar will inflict upon Jerusalem, and who among the Israelites will find a way to escape it." p. 173-4) reminded me of the story of slaughtering all the Amalekites -- which I think is a discomfort the authors didn't intend, since I don't think they want us to be critical of God's sanctioned genocide(s).

"The king of Babylon has been two long years in the battle waiting for Jerusalem to fall, and the simple act of leveling Jerusalem and burning the entire city to the ground has whetted his appetite for more." (178) So the conquest of the Near East ("every tribe and nation from the River Tigris to the River Nile, from the sands of the great Arabian Desert" to the great mountains that mark the gateway to what will one day become known as Europe") by the Babylonian Empire is the fault of the disobedient Jews? I don't think this is the authors' intent, but it makes me really uncomfortable.

The narrative takes up the "Fourteen generations of Israelites pass from Abraham to his descendant David, Another fourteen generations from David to the great deportation to Babylon. There will be fourteen more generations until the birth of Jesus" (176) and we get a longer version of the story of Daniel than the flash-forward allusion we got earlier.

I'm a little surprised that they left in the bit about "and God wants you to be subservient to the Persian king," though I suppose it's not all that problematic for the authors' theological worldview.

"They don't fear the new king--they welcome him. To them, he is a liberator. Daniel has studied the new king, and knows that the people in every territory that the Persian conquers have been left free to live and worship in their own traditions. Daniel smiles and says, 'He will set us exiles free.' " (184-5)

I knew that the story of Daniel in the lion's den as being that Daniel prayed to his God despite the ruler's decree. I'd forgotten that the ruler gets coerced (tricked, really, a la the story of Esther) into that decree.

In the original text, it's because Daniel has gained so much favor under the Persian ruler (who is named -- Darius -- in the original, but interestingly remains unnamed here) that the king is going to appoint him over the whole kingdom, whereas here we've already built up a narrative of the chief priests displeased that Daniel is favored under Nebuchadnezzar and thus they cut in front of Daniel to make accusations to the new ruler about Daniel before he can speak for himself. It's a nicer narrative flow this way, though I feel discomfort with the framing of the chief priests vs. Daniel (and, by extension, his God). It also lets the filmmakers add in "Daniel and his God are haunting the Persian king's dreams" (191) and a dramatic run through the palace (despite the fact that he's yelling, "Your God is real, your God will save you!"), rather than Darius fasting and unable to sleep because he has condemned Daniel to death and at dawn hurrying (wow, I am suddenly having flashes of "Early in the morning, on the first day of the week..." the Easter story) and calling out, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?" (Daniel 6:20).

At the close of this chapter, we get Daniel's vision of the Son of Man again, and this time the next chapter does bring us "[f]ive hundred years" (p. 197) ahead to the time of Jesus. In keeping with contemporary Christian culture, it's not until page 216 that we get the story of John the Baptist -- when we get to Jesus' baptism.

We open with a summary of Jewish history in the interim and the people's Messianic hope -- which begins with this devout couple in love. (In keeping with Matthew's genealogy -- from which we already got the 14 generations thing -- "Joseph is a direct descendant of King David" [197].).

The announcements to Mary and Joseph are fairly standard. On their way to the Bethlehem for the census, the ("[n]ow happily married" [201]) couple see the star ("Its brightness is a lamp unto their feet, and a light unto their path" [201] -- I see what you did there [Psalm 119:105, though really I just sing Amy Grant's "Thy Word" ... and now I'm thinking about the story of Jesus as the star]), which strikes me as a touch odd.

Babylonian Balthazar and two "Nubian potentates" (also called "Magi" in this text) also notice this star.

The captain of the guard comes to drag the elderly priest away. But the old man will not be silence, and even as he is pulled from the temple library, soon to meet his fate, he keeps reciting prophecy. -206-207
I'm reminded of slacktivist [e.g., this post] talking about contemporary apologetic evangelism -- the idea that you can (should) just tell people things and they will be converted by the power of the Truth (I joke that's how the Athanasian Creed works, but...)

I'm not sure why we make Herod ill. It's not like he surprisingly drops dead shortly after the escape to Egypt or anything. He's also explicitly *fat* and ill, which I think is supposed to be interpreted as symptomatic (his excess having corrupted both his body as his soul and his kingdom) -- which suspicion is supported by a later text: "Herod has lived a life of debauchery, and it catches up to him" (212).

As expected, everyone shows up at the manger together, including children -- "A young shepherd--the same boy who gave Joseph a bundle of kindling just hours earlier--now steps forward to offer something far more precious: a lamb." (208) I see what you did thar, authors. And oh, next sentence: "Joseph is thankful, but the truth is that he doesn't fully appreciate the gift." (208)

The star has led many to this site. The same angelic intervention [ed. what? this is the text's first mention of angels] that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem has also spread the news to those who need to hear it most: local. shepherds, neighbors, and ordinary people. These are the ones whom Jesus has come to save, and for them to be standing in this small barn on this cold night in a moment unlike any other in time. They are witnessing the dawning of a new era--the fulfillment of the new covenant between God and humanity. (208)
Balthazar and the Nubians arrive later that same night.

We hear about the ~anarchy that ensues after Herod's death, and about the Romans quelling the disturbances. We are told that "The penalty for political dissent is crucifixion" (212) which I really appreciated, since so often in evangelical circles, Jesus' death is de-politicized.

Jesus' family returns to Nazareth and then at age 12 his parents take him to Jerusalem for the first time, for Passover, and we get the familiar story of Jesus in the Temple -- with bonus dove guiding Mary to him (heavy-handed foreshadowing, much?). "Nearly twenty years" later we finally meet John the Baptist. I do appreciate that we retain the familiar John the Baptist stories that precede Jesus' baptism, though I don't love the contemporary evangelical way we talk about baptism.

The Messiah is here. Now. His head and body are submerged in a baptism that he does not require, for Jesus has no sin. But the ritual sends the symbolic message that a time of renewal for all mankind has begun. (219)
The blogger who wrote the Christianity Today piece interestingly notes:
For a mini-series about the Bible that makes a point of showing how conscious its characters could be of the scriptures and traditions that already existed in their day, it is striking — if not puzzling — that the scene of Jesus’ temptation in the desert downplays any reference to the scriptures.

The gospels make a point of showing how Jesus refused each of Satan’s temptations by quoting scripture, and when I was growing up, this story was always held up as an example of how we needed to know our Bibles. But in this episode, Jesus seems to appeal to nothing more than his own impulses.

He does quote the verse about man not living on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God — but he never says “It is written.” He never makes it clear that he is quoting the words of God himself even as he speaks.

After the three temptations in the desert, Jesus immediately goes to synagogue and reads from Isaiah.

      "Mary's fears are well founded. For she knows, just as Jesus knows, that they live in a world where making waves and challenging the status quo is met with unrelenting violence." (222)

This is the part where it started feeling overmuch to me -- because I know the context of the authors, and I worry about a USian Christian persecution complex.

This is immediately followed by the arrest of John the Baptist.

I had recently read Mark in its entirety ("chronological" NT read-through) and was struck by how it feels like it's quickly moving from story to story.
Maybe the gospels read more compellingly onscreen, but reading this book, it felt even more disjointed and less compelling than the actual gospels do.

Jeremy commented about the salesperson feel, somewhere I can't find, but the Christianity Today article also says:

More significantly, when Jesus first meets Peter and gives him a miraculous catch of fish, the script omits any reference to Peter's awareness of his own sinfulness (as per Luke 5) and, instead, has Jesus make bland pronouncements such as, "Give me an hour, and I will give you a whole new life." Later, Jesus tells Peter he's giving him "the chance to change your life" and says that, together, they will "change the world." This is the language of talk shows and infomercials, not the language of first-century Jews and Christians.
The chapter ends with "Change the world" and the next chapter opens with a picture of Roman-occupied Israel. I don't love the heavy-handed "The baker is the busiest vendor of all, with crowds lining up to purchase their daily bread, the symbolic reminder of God's ultimate authority over their future. It would be foolish to buy 'monthly bread.' It would spoil. They buy it day by day, living in the moment, not fixated on a future they cannot control. That gives the people of Israel an important sense of peace at a time when their nation is tormented." (229), though I do like that the first miracle we see (okay, fine, after the miraculous haul of fish) is sending the 7 demons out of Mary of Magdala, though it feels a little strange to me that they don't keep with John's account (2:1-11) of the wedding at Cana as the first (public) miracle.
The Roman soldiers study Jesus as if he is a threat. Their job, should this be the case, would be to subdue him immediately.
      But Jesus doesn't give them cause to do so. His every action is one of peace.
Erm... Okay, Jesus never acts violently except overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (which story we do get later, pp. 264-266), but come on, "I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34) anyone? Plus, I feel like this makes Jesus into someone who is explicitly about not upsetting the status quo.

I'm uncomfortable with the "Jesus' forgiving sin was blasphemous because only God can do that" (even when I hear it in my own Christian contexts, I'm not entirely convinced) -- and REALLY uncomfortable with the "Jesus offered them a new way to connect with God, without animal sacrifice etc." (since I think that oversimplifies the Judaism of the time).

"never talking down to the disciples, patiently letting the words soak in until they understand them fully" (234)

Haha, that's cute...

'His revolution is a grassroots movement" (234-5)

Yup, the Tea Party has ruined me on this. It's totally a true statement, but knowing that this text is being written by conservatives I get squicked.

"He has chosen this moment because his audience of farmers, shepherds, laborers, and their families do not have the financial luxury of taking time away from their occupation during working hours" (235). Nevermind that fishermen "fish all night, mend nets in the daytime, sleep, and then fish some more" (223). I understand what they're trying to get at (and again, I should be a fan, but knowing their background I make inferences and get squicked), but they're being sloppy.

At one of his sermons, Jesus quite clearly told the crowd to uphold the law, knowing that to ignore Roman law would mean a wave of punishment against his new followers. In Israel, Roman law and religious law are closely intertwined. If the Pharisees can catch Jesus in the act of breaking a religious law, then they can try gum before a religious court. Based on the words of the Pharisees, if Jesus is also shown to be a radical or a revolutionary whose teachings will incite rebellion against Rome, he could also be tried before a Roman tribunal. (238)
I appreciate the build-up to Jesus being crucified by Rome, but since when was Jesus an accomodationist? I am forever referencing Horsley's Jesus and Empire and dude, what sermon are you effing talking about? There's the "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," which I don't think we actually get in this text, but that's about all I can think of. Dear authors, you're thinking of Paul (or perhaps more accurately, "Paul").

Jesus writes "Judge not, lest you be judged," in the dirt in the story of the woman caught in adultery. I've possibly encountered that before, but I still don't love it. I haven't seen much midrash about *what* (or even why) Jesus wrote in the dirt there, but I want some serious payoff for that mystery.

I'm not sure what to make of the addition of the woman caught in adultery having an infant baby.

"Jesus and two of his disciples" (240) dine with Simon and a small group of Pharisees. Mary Magdalene slips into the room, bringing with her a woman who is a sinner and who brings with her "a small stone jar" (241), She "pours a few drops of the precious liquid on Jesus' feet, and rubs it in with her bare hands" (241). Her fear seems really plausible, and the text tells us that Jesus recognizes how important this moment is for her, but the original text is about an outpouring of excess -- and we don't get Jesus schooling the Pharisee, which I was a bit disappointed about.

The Sabbath healing of the man with the withered hand triggers a riot in the streets, which I was not stoked about, especially because Jesus then leaves the riot to happen -- I'm not disputing his nonviolence stance, but it seems callous to not do anything when "The city's streets are now in a state of unrest. Roman soldiers wade into the fracas, grabbing the Pharisees and dragging them back toward the synagogue. The Romans are only too happy to mete out punishment with fists and clubs. Jesus goes one way, leading his followers to safety. The Pharisees go another In the streets, it escalates into a bloody scuffle between the oppressed Jews and the Roman legionnaires" (244). (Okay, I do like that we used the word "legionnaire," even if we don't get the "We are legion" Gerasene demoniac.)

"The Pharisees represent the common man." (244). I'm glad that the authors acknowledge that, since it's so easy to vilify the Pharisees based on the way the gospel writers always talk about them in opposition to Jesus.

"Peter eyes the man with suspicion. 'We went through all sorts of trials to become disciples,' he mutters to Matthew. 'Now this guy just walks in from who knows where and gets to join?' " (248). No, you didn't. I would like to think that we the readers are supposed to roll our eyes at Peter, but this guy turns out to be Judas, and while the text doesn't go overboard in making him a bad guy from the get-go, it also sort of suggests throughout that Judas doesn't exactly fit as a disciple.

"The crowd is soon demanding more food" (249) bzuh? Are we supposed to dislike the crowd? This seems to really undermine the power of the miracle -- canonically there were always leftovers!

When we hear about the death of Lazarus (p. 253), we learn that Mary of Mary-and-Martha-and-Lazarus is the "sinner" who anointed Jesus' feet -- which is one way to reconcile the multiple accounts of the anointing of Jesus, though it seems a bit random to tell us here that Lazarus is a friend of Jesus' when we've had no prior indication of any relationship (the Mary-and-Martha story is kinda fraught, so I'm okay with losing it, but still) including when the woman showed up and anointed.

Also, we miss the one time when Jesus weeps :(

Immediately after the raising of Lazarus, the chapter ends with Jesus declaring that they're going to Jerusalem. I don't love the framing of, "Don't you think it's time, Peter. that we finally go to the one place that needs to hear my message more than any other?" (256)

We have a recurrent theme of Pontius Pilate's wife Claudia, which I'd forgotten actually shows up in canon (Matthew 27:19) rather than just being a development of tradition.

"He rides a donkey, which is most unusual for a man who walks everywhere, but it is the traditional way a king would come to visit his subjects if he came in peace." (261)

I don't know how actually accurate that is, but I think it's interesting.

"The symbolism is not lost on the crowd, who know their scripture well." (261)

While I don't love (including in the canon) the incessant "and this was to fulfill the prophecy," I actually felt fondly at this line, because it treated "the crowd" as intelligent, thoughtful, well-versed in their traditions.

"What does he mean?" asks the one they call Thomas, the one who is constantly so doubtful. "Destroy the Temple? I don't get it."
      John has a gift for vision and insight that is unparalleled among the disciples. "He's saying that we don't need a stone temple to worship in. He will be our access to God."
      "Really?" Thomas questions him, once again showing his unerring ability to question every little fact.
-p. 269
Oh, so we're using John the Gospel writer as John the disciple -- and could we not be such a jerk about Thomas? I'm glad we retained his "Let us go so that we may die with him" as they head to the dead Lazarus even if he says it "glumly" (254).

[And on page 336 we learn that this same John is on Patmos, too.]

Thomas gets a bit unfairly treated, I felt. I get that having a recurrent characteristic can be a way to flesh out characters, and I kind of liked what they did with Peter as rock, but with Thomas it felt like harping on one note ... like the little sister always wearing purple in a children's book I proofread.

The way Caiphas frames to Judas turning over Jesus to them ... "Save him from yourself while you still can" (273) -- yeah, "This is not at all what he intended." (289) And so we get the version where he gives back the money and hangs himself (Matthew 27:5).

Mary Magdalene is the only person besides the Twelve to be at the Last Supper, which I understand is consistent with traditional representations of the story, but which is contrary to the way I read that story (as an abundant open table).

Interesting that the authors (through Nicodemus) bring up "Judas is bringing him to us before dawn." (Caiaphas) / Nicodemus: "But the law does not allow it. A trial must be held in daylight." (278) -- and again, "You can't go through with this. This is not legal. Our laws say that a capital trial should be held in court, in daylight, and in public." (285) I'm not sure what the authors are trying to get at with that -- almost no one reading this is going to be familiar enough with Jewish law to know that (and if they are, this will likely be the least of the problems they have with this mini-series); does the extra vilifying of the authorities add anything to the story?

I was confused by, as one character states, "The witnesses' evidence in clear and unequivocal" (287) since Mark 14 is at pains to tell us the witnesses' false testimony did not agree (which retaining would seem to support the authors' stance that the authorities are conspiring to unjustly condemn Jesus):

Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”
-Mark 14:55-60

We get the story of Mary going to the tomb alone. She enters it, so initially she doesn't recognize Jesus because of the darkness she is literally in (wow, I see what you did thar). She recognizes his voice when he says her name. We don't get "Noli me tangere." He tells her, "Go and tell our brothers I am here," and, "overcome with joy, she sprints back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the good news" (309).

She drags Peter and John back with her, and Peter enters the tomb and is greeted by white light Jesus, who disappears before Peter can touch him (echoing "Noli me tangere"?).

Peter's exuberant response to this is to buy some unleavened bread and pour a cup of wine and say, "His body. And his blood, Believe in him. He's here. In this room. Right now. Remember what he told us: ''I am the way, the truth---'" and then Jesus appears and finishes the sentence: "'--and the life.'" (311)

Hello, Real Presence.

Wow, we totally vocalize the skeptics through Thomas -- "This is not possible. There is no way you are Jesus standing here with us. This is all a fantasy, an apparition brought on by our insane mourning for a man we loved so very much" (311). Which, actually, doesn't feel to me like a jerk characterization of Thomas -- yes, he's standing in for all the modern-day skeptics, but it's legit.

      "No," says Thomas. "This is not possible. There is no way you are Jesus standing here with us. This is all a fantasy, an apparition brought on by our insane mourning for a man we loved so very much"
      Jesus walks toward Thomas and takes his hand. "Thomas," Jesus tells him. "Stop doubting and believe." He places Thomas's fingers into the gaping holes in his hands, and them to the hole in his side. Looking down, Thomas can clearly see the awful marks atop Jesus' feet where the spikes passed through flesh and bone, then into the wood of the cross.
      Thomas doesn't know how to respond. He has traveled far and wide with Jesus, and he knows Jesus' voice and appearance as well as he knows his own. But when Jesus is asking of him is impossible. Thomas is a man of facts--a man committed to truth that cannot be disputed by emotion or trickery. He is being asked to believe that he is touching Jesus, as alive as the last time they all broke bread together in the upper room. It seems impossible. But it is real. This is Jesus, not some dream or vision. Thomas touches the wounds and hears his teacher's voice. Overwhelmed, Thomas looks into Jesus's eyes. "My Lord and my God," he stammers, tears filling his eyes. "It is you."
      Jesus looks at his disciple with compassion. "You have believed because you see me. But blessed are those who have not seen me, and yet have believed."
      Faith floods Thomas's entire being as he slowly accepts what it means to believe that anything is possible through God. This is the faith in Jesus that will transform lives. Not seeing and yet still believing.
What really struck me when I was reading this book the first time was the Pentecost. We get cheated out of Road to Emmaus :( and then the disciples are gathered together just them when Pentecost happens.
But Jesus' disciples are not in Galilee. They are gathering in Jerusalem, easily concealed among the hordes of pilgrims. Jesus has promised them that the Holy Spirit will come to them, but they're not quite sure what that means. So they remain in their hiding place, waiting. [....]
      The lamps in the room flicker and smoke as the prayer continues. The room grows suddenly dark. The wind outside rises and sound fills the room. Shutters bang open. Scared but unbowed, the disciples continue praying. Tongues of fire enter the room and settle upon each apostle. The Holy Spirit fills them. Soon each of them is praying in different languages, even though none of them have ever understood those tongues before. In this way, they are being prepared to go out unto all nations and preach the Word of God.
      Their prayers and their foreign words now miraculously reach out across the city. People can hear the apostles, even though they cannot see them. [....]
      The wind howls across Jerusalem. Even a Roman soldier understands the simple phrase now ringing in the ears of every man, woman, and child in Jerusalem: "Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved."
Okay, rereading Acts, that is the last line of the Joel quote -- apparently what I always remember about the Pentecost story is the actual experience of the tongues of fire and everyone hearing the message in their own language.

We get "silver and gold have I none..." (to quote the song I learned as a child), the martyrdom of Stephen, and the conversion of Saul/Paul -- which adds in Saul meeting Ananias earlier in his journey to Damascus and having him arrested and beaten (he escapes). I don't love, "Saul hasn't touched the meal provided for him last night, and he has knocked over a bowl as he groped in the darkness" (324) since I think Saul fasted on purpose and I don't love the "poor helpless disabled people."

Rather than the bedsheet vision before Cornelius' visit, we get Jesus telling Peter to move out of the Jewish communities to Caesarea -- Peter: "But cleanliness keeps us close to God." / Jesus: "Peter, you could not be closer. I am with you always. And it is I who make all things clean." (328) The narration continues: "Peter is confused. All along, he has been thinking that only Jews can be led to faith in Jesus. It is a radical notion that anyone, of any faith or nationality, can also receive God's blessing." I eyeroll a bit, because the battle Paul fought was whether Gentiles had to convert to Judaism first -- there was never any doubt that Gentiles could e.g. come to Jesus.

We do get the conversion of Cornelius' family, which is sort of a nice nod to the historical fact that entire families would convert, though it's also a little uncomfortable because it's the patriarch (word used advisedly) making the decision on behalf of everyone else.

Paul's best lines are all packed into one opening evangelism speech (actually directed at a community of believers who, remembering his past, "debate within themselves whether or not to set aside the peace of their beliefs just long enough to kill this awful man standing before them" [331]) -- which I can buy for dramatic narrative purposes (I'm reminded that we don't know exactly *how* Paul started his communities). Interestingly, one of the new converts is Luke the Gospel writer.

Then we get a series of martyrdoms (including Peter famously being crucified upside down) and John on Patmos -- because of course you have to end with Revelation (though in a very abbreviated fashion).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

[Evolution of the Word] 1 Thessalonians

I forgot that one of my favorite verses is in here -- "Test everything. Hold on to the good" (5:21, NIV).

"Did you just do Bible Study over the phone?" my housemate asked me last Sunday. Yup.

Chelsea is a much deeper reader than I am.

She talked about the fact that Paul didn't call the Thessalonians to repentance but rather to do more [of the good they were already doing]. She mentioned Patrick Cheng's idea of sin as immaturity. [I haven't yet read Cheng's "grace" book, but he mentions the idea in e.g. this interview.]

She's reading the Jewish Annotated New Testament (which I want to own*) and talked about what it says about the "the Jews killed Jesus" portion (2:14-16) -- which I somehow had no recollection of having read ... what even, self?

She said that the JANT suggests Paul said "Judeans" but that his Gentile audience might not have caught that nuance. I talked about Borg's point [which I wrote about in my last post] that Paul's prime audience was Gentiles who were already attracted to (and somewhat involved with) Judaism (including synagogue life), so I wasn't entirely convinced that the Thessalonians took away a simplistic "the Jews killed Jesus (so we hates them, precious)" message -- though it is certainly sadly true that later in Christianity, that became a dominant message.

At the end of Chapter 2, Paul says to the community, "You are our glory and joy."
Chelsea talked about this idea of it feeling like it doesn't matter what happens to you because you know this community will continue on, like your legacy.
This reminded me of the importance in Judaism's lack of belief in an afterlife and how that leads to children being considered very important (they're your legacy).
In articulating what she said back to her, I linked it to the parent language Paul uses (e.g., "But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children." [2:7b], "As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children" [2:11]) and she said that parent language doesn't actually resonate for her (here) -- and rightly pointed out Paul's frequent use of sibling language (Ari: every time in I read "brothers and sisters" in Borg's NRSV, I ~auto-corrected it to "siblings"). She talked about the idea that there are people who, she can't explain/understand herself apart from them -- those people have so supported/formed her that she can't take any credit on her own.

I said that having read Borg's front matter, I was primed to have the "rapture" passages stick out for me. Borg talks about the fact that Paul wasn't trying to provide a blueprint of the End Times but was reassuring people whose loved ones have died. I was also reminded of Prof. Koester talking about the "meeting Jesus in the air" as not meaning that the people are gonna go up into the sky to live but as just meaning that like when one leaves the walls of a city to meet an incoming king, you go out into the roads ... since Jesus is going to come from the sky, of course that's where you have to go to meet him on his way.

Later in the week, I pulled up my class notes:

1 Thess 4 -- Paul & Timothy forgot to tell them about the resurrection of the dead? that is NOT the problem Paul is addressing. people have died, so what about them when Christ comes?

could not be buried inside city, so buried outside city, along road (esp. fashionable decorated ones) -- people want the tombs of their loved ones to be seen

apanthesis -- what happens if a dignitary comes to a city? city sends out delegation, who meets king/governor/whatever outside the city and leads that person in with a triumphal entrance

meet Christ on clouds because Christ is coming from the heavens -- the parousia is Christ coming back to earth (clouds are not to take people up to the heavens)

ch.5: who will be scared by the coming of the Lord? those who say "peace & security" (e.g., the Empire) -- those people are the first who will perish
Christians: don't be scared, you are already children of the day/light

I mentioned to Chelsea on Sunday that I'm used to Jesus' parables about "no one will know the day or the hour" and that yes, Jesus does also talk about the importance of being prepared, but that this emphasis on "you are children of the light" is something I'm less used to.

Other notes from Koester's class:

1 Thess 2:13-16 -- the wrath against "the Jews" is a non-Pauline interpolation

"[the more difficult reading is a ~good criterion] -- but not in the case where the more difficult reading is idiotic"

Up Next: Galatians

[book | HuffPo article]


* I was thinking about how I have a gut-level love A-J Levine (though I have still never actually read any of her books -- she was at Karl Donfried's retirement symposium #SmithCollege, but my love for her is most connected to her being the "Bible Study" person at the first Convo I went to #Vanderbilt; I was less in love with the last talk I saw her at #Harvard but still) and I was thinking about who else I have these strong gut-level love memories for, and my first thought was Lauren Berlant ("Monster") whom I also first encountered at a talk at Smith and whose work I've never read (I looked her up sometime this past year and her work doesn't actually appeal to me that much).

Continuing to recall my Smith experience, I remember Tammy Baldwin Bruce, who, okay, my dominant memory is, "I wanna be that hot at 41 ... and I want your silver coat," and I would probably find her even more problematic now than I did then -- though still, MUCH better choice than Ann Coulter, Smith College Republicans.

(I have a knee-jerk fondness for Tammy Baldwin, but that's more about a Pavlovian response to #Smith & #queer than any personal experience of mine.)

Who else do I have a gut-level deep and abiding love for from my time at Smith? Okay, "The Naked I," and I think Toby Davis identifies as a trans man, though I have fond memories of S. Bear Bergman but not in the same way that I do e.g. A-J Levine -- huh, I think there's an element of seeing myself in them/wanting to be them, where that happens more intuitively with women-people 'cause I am a woman. I have a lot of love for certain male teachers I had at Smith, and certainly there are male people I admire a lot, and I used to say I wanted to grow up to be Eugene Volokh "thoughtful and consistent and intelligent and knowledgeable and compassionate and yeah," but there's an appeal to awesome women-people that doesn't happen for me with awesome male-people.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

[Evolution of the Word] (the past is) prologue

H!PS-Chelsea and I talked about reading the "New Testament" in ~chronological order, and she reminded me that Marcus Borg put out a book [HuffPo article] which orders the NT documents (NRSV) chronologically (and also includes some front matter), so that's what we're using for our read-through. (Well, I'm using the book anyway -- she may just be using his ordering and not shelling out the cash for the book.)

When she and I were first talking about it, I felt like that's how Bibles "should" be printed (in chronological order) -- which I think makes sense especially since the canonical NT gives the impression of being in chronological order, but it is also true that I'm a Western child of the Enlightenment, can you tell? :)

So I was struck by this in Chapter 3:

I began my introductory New Testament course one year with Paul's letters rather than the gospels. About half of my students had grown up without any involvement in a church, and so they knew little or nothing about Jesus and the gospels. Paul knew about Jesus, but they didn't. They were lost as they tried to figure out what on earth Paul's letters were about. I taught the course that way only once.

I eyeroll at Christians who insist that if you just pick up the Bible (by which I think they might mean the New Testament, I've never asked) and read it through, you'll be converted; but it does make sense to start with the documents which tells stories about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ before moving in to the documents which focus on resolving disputes in communities of Christ-followers.

If one has been raised in a Christian tradition, I think it matters less what order the documents are printed in because you've already absorbed something of an oral tradition -- just like Paul's audience -- but yes, if you're designing a book you can hand to newbies (though seriously, people, that is not how the Bible is intended -- I know, I know, I am All About The Text, but I have been converted to the importance of in-community), you probably don't wanna open with 1 Thessalonians (which Chelsea and I are gonna talk about tomorrow -- you know you wanna read with us :) ).


Borg also talks about why, "when Paul arrived in a new city, he went first to the synagogue--not because his mission was to convert Jews, but because Gentile 'God-lovers' [Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism] would be there" (p.26). He points out:

it is unlikely that Paul preached in synagogues or to crowds of strangers who were completely unfamiliar with Judaism. What would his message, which makes so much use of Jewish language and tradition, have meant to Gentiles who knew nothing about Judaism?
Which got me thinking about how evangelicals in my day present Christianity as its own self-contained thing -- reminded me of an exercise I think we did in some FCS setting once about what we would say in a gospel for our time, as well as reminding me of the troublesome tendency in so many Christian communities to downplay/dismiss/oppose Judaism :/


Other things I didn't know:

In the canon, the thirteen letters attributed to Paul are organized according to two principles. The nine letters addressed to communities are placed first, followed by the four letters addressed to individuals. Then, within each category, the letters are arranged in descending order of length, from longest to shortest. The exception is Galatians; it comes before Ephesians, even though the latter is about two hundred words longer.