So Why Don’t They All Do It?

My daughter asked me a great question… “So… why don’t they all do it?”

Okay, we need some background. My daughter was watching a Youtube video by a creator named “Saberspark.” The Title is, “What Ruined Veggietales: The Tragic Fall of Bob and Larry.” The Youtuber, if I remember right, has described himself as being brought up in a rather conservative Christian environment, but as he got older, he lost his religion, and would now describe himself as an agnostic. (Again, this is by memory. I could be wrong.)  He likes to review things, especially animated films. He has reviewed a number of religious animated movies, VHS, and TV shows.

As the Youtuber was telling the story of Veggietales and Big Idea, he gave a surprising compliment. He said that even though Veggietales was clearly religious in content, it was clever and entertaining enough that many non-Christian families would watch it and be happy if their children enjoy it.  That is actually pretty unusual. Most of the Christian animation out there is pretty horrendous. It is commonly lazy, on-the-nose, and preachy. As a Christian, I would have strong misgivings of many of them, and if I was a non-Christian, I would work, very strongly to keep my kids away from them.

Bibleman: The Animated Adventures (2016-)

<Not Veggietales>

That is why my daughter asked me, “Why don’t they all do it? Why don’t other Christian producers do this as well. If Christians really want to spread the message of Christ to non-Christians, why would they NOT try to make the works appealing to non-Christians?”

Great question!! I am not sure I fully know. I am not in “The Biz.” But I think there are a few no-brainers here— and I am just the guy to do no-brainers.

  1.  The Engineering Triangle. I used to be a Mechanical Design Engineer. Back then I learned about the Engineering Triangle. The three points on the triangle are QUICK, CHEAP, and HIGH QUALITY.  The understanding is that one can have ANY TWO of these. A design can be cheap and high quality, but it will not be quick… it will take time. A design can be quick and High quality… but it won’t be cheap. One will have to have deep pockets. And a design can be quick and cheap, but the result will be low quality. It seems as if the decision for Christian producers is almost without exception to embrace Quick and Cheap. The result is Low Quality. But why would that be the choice? Often the money that is available to invest in religious productions is not great, so Cheap is often a given. But why Quick? I am not as sure of this one. In some cases perhaps there is the view that if one pops out something quick and brings in some money, one can afford to do high quality work later… maybe. However, in Evangelical Christian missions, quick and cheap are often part of the mantra. One must get more “bang for the buck.” Christ is coming ANY DAY so methods that are more developmental, rather than relief, are often frowned upon. A lot of methods of sharing the gospel are heavy and pressuring a quick (and superficial?) decision, rather than focusing on developing a relationship. Quick, easy, and efficient just seem so right, that quality and excellence seem to be irrelevant, or even a delay to real ministry.
  2. Religious Jingoism. Most Christian producers know who their audience is. Their audience is Conservative, Evangelical Christians. And there is a tendency for many to have a certain… toxic form of militarism when it comes to faith. Paul utilizes the war metaphor, as well as dualism (dark versus light, Sarah versus Hagar, etc.) to contrast Christians from others. Many Christians embrace a strong Us vs. Them. Often Christians are seen as just really really awesome, and non-Christians are seen as pretty awful, caricatures with less nuance than a Charles Dickens novel. Producers end up coddling these people because they are the ones who are going to buy their materials. I know that some like to suggest otherwise, much like with “God is Not Dead” where it is suggested, ‘Bring your unsaved friends.” But what unsaved friends would want to go, much less be impressed by the strawmen to be knocked down by dubious plot devices. Christians often want to hear “We are on the side of right, and God is on our side.” I have heard that 700 Club has long held the policy that it would never share a story that has a “non-victorious” ending, for Christians. That is worthy of some pretty serious condemnation, since it leaves Christians ill-prepared for real trials that often do not have ‘feel good’ endings. But that is what people want. They want to see Christians “dunk” on the (incompetent) “enemy,” rather than explore truth through thoughtful dialogue. Paul may have described the Christian life in terms of war, but he also spoke of becoming like the person he is reaching out to— to be effective. He also speaks of “adorning the gospel” through loving and faithful behavior to non-Christians. Peter speaks of sharing one’s faith not with a Ben Shapiro (make the other side look bad rather than seek truth) form of debate, but dialogue built on gentleness and respect.
  3. Preservation over Creativity. Creativity is hard. For some people it seems easier than for others, but it is a challenge for everyone. But in religious circles, it can be even more difficult. Years ago, some Muslims decided to make a movie about the life of Muhammed. They put a lot of work into but it, but then they couldn’t really show it, because the dominant view of the more traditional side of Islam is that one should never show an image of their ‘final prophet.’ Christians struggle with that as well. There is certain coding that one must do, or it may not be seen as “Christian enough.” I remember years ago when Amy Grant decided to create a ‘secular’ music album. I remember people acting like she was going over to “the dark side.” I seems like it is easier to go from the other side. If one is a ‘secular artist’ and then decides to act on their own Faith to produce a religious creation, that person is given much greater freedom. For “Christian materials” there is often a strong pressure to say certain things and not say other things. I remember on a “Christian network” a person being interviewed who said that slavery in the Old Testament, and the execution of homosexuals were pure, good, and just. I understand why this person may say this. If the person says there are problems with these things, some people may think one is saying that God is unjust. If one says that there are cultural and historical issues that one must consider, some people will think that one is saying that God changes. One could point out that Jesus said to love our neighbors and express compassion regardless of whether they are like us or different, and regardless of whether they are friends or enemies. Jesus also described Himself as one who liberates and frees those in bondage. Further, the New Testament says that we are not bound by the Mosaic Law. That means that being kind and compassionate to homosexuals, to oppose slavery in all its forms, and rejecting the Law are also absolutely pure, good, and just. But this is pretty subtle, and Christian media is rarely so subtle. It may be easier to be creative as a Christian in a secular setting than within the bounds of Christian arts and media. In essence, Christians may want their media to reinforce their own beliefs and prejudices, rather than make them think. One of my favorite Christian movies is “Silent.” However, I think there is absolutely NO CHANCE that it would have been made by a Christian media company. Its message is too challenging and ambiguous to make it into film within “Christian circles.”

There may be more things, but this is a good starting place for the discussion I think. I have hopes for Christian media, but I do think that media that effectively engages the non-Christian culture(s) will have to work against the system, not with it. May their numbers increase.

Defining Myth for Missionaries

The term “Myth” is very hard to define because so many people have investment in the term. It is used in anthropology, it is used in religious studies, it is used storytelling and literature. It is used by the scholar and the layman alike. But the meanings often differ. I teach in a seminary and I am very careful how I use the term myth. I like to use the term from an anthropological understanding. Many however prefer a theological or general public understanding of the term. So if I say that something is a myth, I have to make sure that people don’t think that I mean that it is a very old sacred story. I also have to make sure that I am not being interpreted as saying that “It is a false story.”

Lauri Honko’s definition of myth is well-received by many

Myth, a story of the gods, a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation, fundamental events, the exemplary deeds of the gods as a result of which the world, nature, and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms society’s religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behavior to be imitated, testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of cult.

Honko, Lauri (1984). “The Problem of Defining Myth”. In Dundes, Alan (ed.). Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. University of California Press. p. 49.

It can been seen as a useful definition for some forms of myths. Here too is a bit of a problem, to me at least. I colored the single definition in red and green. That is because the first part is the definition in terms of “what it is.” The second part is “what it does.” For me, then, I see this as two definitions… and two definitions limited to religion. When we add culture to the mix, the definitions must broaden.

A definition for myth must include its various usages. Many people use the term as:

  • -Widely held belief without a strong basis in fact.
  • -Things that are not true.
  • -Really old story.

I like mine because it is grounded in culture, not in religion or in antiquity. The Spiderman origin story can act as a myth if it has a strong role in shaping or reinforcing key aspects of a culture.

Stephen Larsen (in “The Shaman’s Doorway: Opening Imagination to Power and Myth,” Chapter 1) talks for four general theories of where Myths come from— how they develop. Larsen also lists Campbells four functions of myths. I have modified the wording a wee bit and the order of things as well.  I wanted the rows to line up.

Where do Myths Come from? Campbell’s Functions for Myths
Distortions of Real Events/Things (Euhemerism) Mystical Function (Instill awe and gratitude in the mysteries of life)
Explaining the way things are (Etiological) Scientific Function (Explaining the way things are that makes sense at that time)
Describing the world as it is wanted rather than the way it actually is (Wish Fulfillment) Personal Function (Serve as a guide for the individual in how to live in each stage of life)
Echo of Social structure (Social Emanation) Sociological Function (Validate, support, and indoctrinate in the social and moral order)

The last row is the one that I tend to go by. It is sociological/cultural. However, myths are far too broad to assume that one function covers all myths. And it is likewise true that myths are too broad to assume that they all have one source.

The problem ultimately is that when a term has such a broad range of definitions, sources, and functions, the word can become useless.

One presumption in all of these definitions is that the myth is not true. This makes no real sense. If a culture has a myth… is it impossible that such a story is historically or factually accurate? A historical story can have a mythic function.

So what do we do as missionaries? I would suggest that a functional understanding is more useful. If we are attempting to express the Gospel message in a culture in a manner that is understandable and relevant in that culture, we are ill-advised simply to focus on propositions. We are better guided by utilizing stories. And if we are using stories we have two main strategies:

  1.  We can use Biblical stories (stories that have a strong “mythic function” in Christianity. There are clear advantages to using stories from canon. But it has two risks. It can be misinterpreted/misunderstood in the new culture. It can be understood but seen as irrelevant to that culture.
  2. We can use stories within the culture that have a mythic function already. There are at least two risks here as well. First, we may not understand the story and its context well enough to use it effectively. Second, the story may not succeed in drawing people to God’s message but reinforce the original worldview of that culture.

The most well-known example of the second strategy in the Bible was Paul utilizing Greek legends and poetry to point people to the God of the Jews. There are other examples as well. And of course, the stories of the Old Testament were not disregarded as the church expanded beyond the Jewish culture. The stories of Jesus, likewise, were used to express the message far beyond its original setting.

Either strategy, however, points to the importance of knowing myths in the culture.  For strategy #1, we may be using Biblical stories, but we need to understand their myths to know how our stories can be made understandable. For strategy #2, we need to know their stories to know how they can be used ministerially.

Either way, we need to know their stories to be used missiologically and ministerially. For missionaries, the functional understanding is more important than a source or process understanding of myths. So I believe one should embrace a functional understanding of myths. It should be centered on its role in culture rather than whether it is true or false.

My definition: Myth: A story that has power within a certain culture because it resonates with the culture’s deep-seated values.  (in “Theo-Storying:  Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.”)

 

 

 

 

Robert Alter Extended Quote

I recently been reading Robert Alter’s book, “The Art of Biblical Narrative” (Basic Books, 1981). A few years ago, I wrote a book, “Theo-storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” A friend of mine, who has since passed away suggested that I might benefit from Robert Alter’s work on narrative in the Hebrew Bible. I finally got around to it. The following is an extended quote from near the beginning of chapter 3.

One of the chief difficulties we encounter as modern readers in perceiving the artistry of biblical narrative is precisely that we have lost most of the keys in the conventions out of which it was shaped. The professional Bible scholars have not offered much help in this regard, for their closest Robert Alter's 'The Art of Biblical Narrative' and Qur'anic ...approximation to the study of convention is form criticism, which is set on finding recurrent regularities of pattern rather than the manifold variations upon a pattern that any system of literary convention elicits; moreover, form criticism uses these patterns for excavative ends— to support hypotheses about the social functions of the text, its historical evolution, and so forth. Before going on to describe what seems to me a central and, as far as I know, unrecognized convention of biblical narrative, I would like to make clearer by means of an analogy our dilemma as moderns approaching this ancient literary corpus which has been so heavily encrusted with nonliterary commentaries.

Let us suppose that some centuries hence only a dozen films survive from the whole corpus of Hollywood westerns. As students of twentieth century cinema screening the films on an ingeniously reeconstructed archaic projector, we notice a recurrent peculiarity. In eleven of the films, the sheriff-hero has the same anomalous neurological trait of hyperrefexivity— no matter what the situation in which his adversaries confront him, he is always able to pull his gun out of its holster and fire before they, with their weapons poised, can pull the trigger. In the twelfth film, the sheriff has a withered arm and, instead of a six-shooter, he carries a rifle that he carries slung over his back. Now, eleven hyperreflexive sheriffs are utterly improbable by any realistic standards— though one scholar will no doubt propose that in the Old West the function of sheriff was generally filled by members of a hereditary caste that in fact had this genetic trait. The scholars will then divide between a majority that posits an original source-western (designated Q) which has been imitated or imperfectly reproduced in a whole series of later versions (Q1, Q2, etc.— the films we have been screening) and a more speculative minority that proposes an old California Indian myth concerning a sky-god with arms of lighting, of which all these films are scrambled and diluted secular adaptations. The twelfth film, in the view of both schools must be ascribed to a different cinematic tradition.

The central point, of course, that these strictly historical hypotheses would fail even to touch upon is the presence of convention. We contemporary viewers of westerns back in the twentieth century immediately recognize the convention without having to name it as such. Much of our pleasure in watching westerns derives from our awareness that the hero, however sinister the dangers looming over him, leads a charmed life, that he will always in the end prove himself to be more of a man than the guys that stalk him, and the familiar token of his indomitable manhood is invariable, often uncanny, quickness on the draw. For us, the recurrence of the hyperreflexive sheriff is not an enigma to be explained but, on the contrary, a necessary condition for telling a western story in the film medium as it should be told. With our easy knowledge of the convention, moreover, we naturally see a point in the twelfth, exceptional film that would be invisible to the historical scholars. For in this case, we recognize that the convention of the quick-drawing hero is present through its deliberate suppression. Here is a sheriff who seems to lack the expected equipment for his role, but we note the daring assertion of manly will against almost impossible odds in the hero’s learning to make do with what he has, training his left arm to whip his rifle into firing position with a swiftness that makes it a match for the quickest draw in the West.   (pages 47-49)

A narrative understanding of the Bible is useful, but challenging since, as Alter has noted, we are disconnected from the conventions. In some cases we can reconstruct them, but in others we must struggle tentatively forward. Jesus told great parables by not only connecting them to classic tropes in his day, but also knowing how to break the patterns. Unfortunately, it is too tempting to fall into a historico-critical perspective or simply to get lost in the words and miss the underlying story… and the story behind the story.

 

 

Mary at the Feet of Jesus

One day Jesus was invited to the house of a woman named Martha, along with a number of his disciples. The disciples sat on the floor in the main room, and Jesus began his instruction. Martha and her sister were not rich. They could not pass on the duties of preparation to the servants— servants they did not have. So Martha and Mary began to prepare the meal for their very special guests. It was a great honor, but also a great amount of work.

Mary, however, had heard second-hand some of the strange and exciting stories and teachings of Jesus. Thus, she would strain her ear to hear what Jesus and His disciples were saying inside the house. She would find reasons to linger by the door to listen. Jesus began to tell a story, and Mary did not want to walk away in the middle and not know the ending, or what the story means. She stood in the doorway for the entire story. But as the story ended the discussion began and she did not want to leave. She knew, however, that there was work to do. Regretfully, she began to back out to continue preparation; but Jesus looked at her and with a subtle motion of His hand beckoned her to sit down.

She was nervous to do so, but she did want to listen if she could, and it certainly seemed right to do as their special guest requested. So she moved toward the corner of the room farthest from Jesus and prepared to sit down. Jesus responded, “No Mary. I want you to join the group, not hide in the back.” He motioned His disciples to make room in the circle, and Mary, feeling out of place, sat down in the circle. This was foreign to her— other rabbis would not have allowed her to join in such a way. It was exciting to hear the words of Jesus directly and listen to the discussion and explanations and questions. She started to have questions of her own but was unsure if it was appropriate to speak up.

Before she had resolved this in her mind, her sister peaked into the room and attempted to wave her to come out. Martha gave her an exasperated look and tried to mouth silently to her to leave the guests alone.

Jesus looked up at Martha and said, “Oh, don’t be worried Martha. I invited her to join our little group. I hope you don’t mind.”

Martha responded, “I apologize to disturb you Lord. But don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Could you tell her to help me?”

Jesus then said, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things. If we eat now, or two hours from now doesn’t matter. If you truly need help, we all can help prepare the meal. None of that is vital. I am here not to eat or to sleep, but to teach and proclaim. That is what is most important and Mary has chosen the more important thing. I will not send her away, and I ask you not to pull her away either. In fact, if you want to join us, there is room in the circle for you as well.”

Update to Theo-Storying

I finally got around to revising Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative and Culture. I expanded one chapter, and added an entirely new chapter. The new chapter is on the use of stories for theological reflection. I alsotheostorying fixed a number of little errors from the earlier edition. Curiously, I was able to keep it the same number of pages because I adjusted the formatting slightly. This allowed me to keep the same cover. I don’t know why… but I like the cover.

For some reason I had a bit more trouble with Amazon this go-around. For the E-book version, it wasn’t accepting my .doc file. I ended up sending my .pdf file. Amazon Kindle doesn’t really recommend using .pdf because the results apparently can be a bit “wonky.” However, I saw no more “wonkiness” with this version than the normal e-book result. But hopefully later we can solve that problem. With the paperback version, it was different. Everything went in smoothly, but then Amazon said I need to verify that I hold the copyright. I don’t think I gave them any reason to doubt that, so not sure the problem. Then I found that the Edit button is disabled… so I can’t (yet) fix things. However, when I went onto Amazon, it looks like the new version of my book is there. So not sure what is going on… but it seems like it doesn’t really matter to the end user— just me.

In some ways, Theo-Storying is my favorite book. That is because it is the only book that I wrote because I wanted to write it. This is not strictly true. It is the only book that I wrote because I wanted to THAT I FINISHED. Other books I finished I wrote because of it being my dissertation, or because my wife or I are teaching a course and we wanted a book for students here in Asia that covers the topics in a way that is appropriate for the trainees.

 

The Curses— A Reflective Story

I wrote a story, a midrash of sorts based on II Kings 2:23-25 — the story of Elisha and the bears.

He was a man among men– gone now or so they say. Some said he was sucked up in a gust of wind some said he was taken off by horses into the clouds. That would have been amazing to see.

It is sad that he is gone. I resisted the idols, the groves, the fertility rites, but I cannot say that it is due to holy character. I have to say that it was because of the great prophet, who stood up to king and country, challenged hundreds, preaching fearlessly the message of Adonai. Baal and Ashtoreth had no one to compare to him. He was the man I aspired to be… at least sometimes.

But he has gone and another has taken his place. The great prophet, a fierce hairy man who could intimidate by his stare alone even before saying a word, is gone and replaced by one who seems so much less. The new is hardly a shadow of the old. I am not sure this is a man who would have inspired me to follow Adonai.

This new one came to our place. Some of the troublemakers came out to mock him, as troublemakers always do. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I joined them. It was so evident that this was not the man who took hundreds of Baal’s priests to task. And yet, this new prophet wears his mantle and rumor has it that he sought twice the blessing and twice the power of the older. How disrespectful! The disrespectful should expect disrespect.

Different jeers were thrown at him, but it moved toward a rhythm— “Go on up, O bald one, Go on up.” Where are those horses who would draw you into the heavens like they did your master?

This young prophet (although quite a bit older than all of us, I think) was becoming red in the face, and he shouted a curse in our direction. Nothing happened. Some of us threw curses back at him, while others laughed. But the laughter died with the roar— the roar of two raging bears that burst from the treeline. They began to trample the group, crushing them underfoot and tearing at their flesh. Over 40 were soon dead, and many more were injured. I was more fortunate, being among just a few that made it up into the trees. I have never seen bears behave like that. They do not attack unless provoked, and even then would soon look for an escape route rather then stay around to do more harm to the injured.

It has been many days now, and the dead are now buried and only those who can afford the time to grieve are still in mourning. It has given me time to think. Clearly, only a prophet of Adonai could command wild bears. That is obvious.

But I alone in my village, perhaps, feel sorry for this prophet. A prophet is a servant of Adonai. They speak His message to the people. Sometimes He gifts them with special powers like the great prophet– to heal the sick, change the weather, to fight evil spirits, or maybe even raise the dead. But this new prophet has the power to curse. Now that I think about it, the great prophet also had the power to curse… as did Moses. Our father Abraham, did he as well? I don’t know. God blessed him to be a blessing to all nations, but also a curse to some. Did that mean he could actually call a curse on a nation? I don’t know. But what a horrible power to have!

Having the power to curse and have the curse come true— who can handle such temptation. Even the great prophet could not fight off that temptation. He killed 50 soldiers by his word who were treating him disrespectfully. I cannot condemn him for it, because it is a temptation that few could resist. Moses could not resist it. Even the great kings David and Solomon in all of their righteous wisdom could not always resist the temptation to destroy their enemies through the power of the sword and state. I get angry and I say regretful things far too often. I thank Adonai that my curses float in the air and then dissolve to nothing.

To have one’s curses come true— that is a curse in itself. This new prophet, I think he sees how true this is. I could not look at the carnage below me, and so I looked at the prophet. I watched as his eyes were fixed on the dead and dying– his face filled with horror.

Jephthah

Some would talk and some wouldn’t. Mr. James, however, would always have something to say. As I did my rounds, I knocked discreetly before entering.

“I didn’t do it!” he stated emphatically as soon as both of my feet were inside the door. “They think I did it. But I would NEVER do it.

By Vincent van Gogh – https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/d0378V1962, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18416421

 

The old man was sitting in the lone chair in his almost barren room, facing away from the window and towards the door that I entered. As always he was somewhat disheveled, but with still with an air of authority to him. He reminded me of a man I worked for in the military— arrogant and pitiable at the same time. I wanted to help him. I always wanted to help him.

“Do what?” I asked, even though I knew exactly what ‘it’ is.

“They think I did it. But I know the law… maybe better than anyone else. Promise or no promise… evil is evil. You know that, right Chaplain?”

“Yes, evil is evil,” I agreed. “But I am more interested in how you are doing.”

“They weren’t there. They wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know either. But you think you do, don’t you?”

I agreed with him that I didn’t know. I know what others had told me, nothing more.

“You got that right. You think you do. I know you think you do—- but you don’t know anything….” His voice trailed off at the end. Then he buried his face in his hands and ignored me.

Awkward silence would follow. Or at least it did when I first started working there. But I soon understood that I was being dismissed. This was our ritual. The pattern varied only in the smallest of details. I wanted to think that this ritual was a comfort and a help for him. I doubted it however.

“Well it was nice talking to you Mr. James,” I said. How many times before had I said those exact words? “You know I am available if you need someone to talk to.”

He ignored me as always. So I stepped out and closed the door behind me.

Rejecting Christ in a Rejected Land

Jesus was traveling with his core Image result for fire from heavendisciples to Jerusalem for the final time. As was his practice, he traveled through Samaria rather than avoiding it. Having to stay overnight in that region, he sent a couple of His disciples ahead to prepare a place for them to stay. As these two arrived at the village gates, a group of elders stopped them and began to question them. They wanted to know where they were going. They wanted to know why Galileans would be traveling in this part of Samaria. They wanted to know why they should show hospitality to these Jewish travelers.

The elders said, “Why should we show hospitality to you? You are traveling to your beautiful temple in Jerusalem, walking right by the mountain on which the ruins of our temple resides— destroyed by YOUR people generations ago. You treat us as unclean… worse than the Greeks that bring their sinful practices into your land, and the Romans that bring heavy taxes and all sorts of misery.  Would you welcome us into your own village? …Into your own house? Ridiculous! Push off.”

The two disciples were shocked. They have been treated with disrespect before. But these were Samaritans! It was like these Samaritans were considering themselves superior to them! Ridiculous indeed.

Returning to the group, they passed on to Jesus and the disciples what happened. James and John, the fiery and protective brothers, reacted the strongest.

James said, “Samaritans! Treating us like dogs?”

John chimed in. “Yes. And such a miserable village. Rejecting the Lord’s anointed… something should be done.”

Putting their heads together for a moment, they strode over to Jesus with determination and fire in their eyes.

“Lord,” they said. “Do you want us to call down fire to destroy this village?”

Amusement and anger danced across the face of Jesus. But He knew that His time was short and so this learning moment could not be lost.

Jesus called the others over and said to them, “James and John here want to bring down fire on this village. What do you think about this idea?”

The disciples looked at each other awkwardly. Some nodded but then stopped uncertain what was the appropriate response. Not waiting for a response, Jesus pushed forward.

“We have been rejected. Do they deserve death because of this? Should we hate them because they hate us?”

More uncertain looks but the disciples were starting to see where this was going.

Jesus continued. “But do they hate us? They don’t even know us. And we don’t know them. All they know is that our ancestors fought with their ancestors. I can assure you that our ancestors and their ancestors are done fighting. And we should stop fighting as well. So I have a better plan. Let’s go to a different village.”

Everyone nodded, even James and John. It was a much better plan.

<A somewhat speculative reflection on Luke 9:51-56>

 

Rizpah– A Short Reflection

She stayed when others ran away. She stayed while others mocked and derided. She stayed while others (filled with shame perhaps?) stayed on the periphery and then snuck off. A man hung above her… and he was not alone. Her son did no wrong. He died because of the sins of others. He died because of political expediency. He died because of what he represented, not for what he did.

And the man was not alone. 0x0_10756834There were others with the condemned man. Were they innocent or were they guilty? It is not really for us to say. But even if they were guilty of wrongdoing, that hardly allows those directly or indirectly  involved with their executions to walk away hands washed of all responsibility.

She stays there… the mother. She will be faithful when no one else is. She will honor as others heap dishonor. One day she, whose own past behavior was questioned,  will be vindicated. This woman of low estate will bring even the mighty to self-doubt.

And one day, she will be honored in a manner that few have. But she did not do it because of that. Her actions came from a mother’s love— and because it was right.

-II Samuel 21:1-14

An additional website that relates to this story, and speaks of the Jewish practice of “shmirah,” is “Rizpah, Guardian of the Dead

Solomon’s 2nd Dream (a Speculative Story)

The following might be considered a “midrash aggadah.” While these can vary, they are often stories built on a Biblical narrative. Sometimes they essentially serve as a running commentary. Other times, they can be quite speculative, leading hopefully to interesting discussions.

————————————-

In Gibeon Solomon had his first dream. As he slept, God appeared to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon replied, “… Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

God was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. He replied, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, not have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart.” God also promised him riches and honor.

Solomon rapidly grew in wisdom, not only gaining understanding of governance,  but also the ability to discern the true nature of matters that he had to deal with. And he was successful— wildly successful.   But in his personal reflections, he was confused. God granted wisdom. But Solomon also knew that wisdom was inseparably linked to obedience to the will of God. Yet he still found himself commonly disobeying God and doing things that benefit himself. Surely, that is not wise. To disobey God is to be the fool.  Could one be wise and a fool at the same time?

Solomon dwelt on this matter a long time. One day, many years into his reign he was sitting in his palace, the only building in all the land more opulent than the Great Temple of Yahweh, he felt that he now understood the matter. He called out to God… but God did not answer. Many days he called out to God, but with no response. One night, however, close to giving up God returned to him in a dream.

God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon responded, “O Lord my God. Your humble servant has served as king over Your people. You granted me wisdom, and I have sought to lead with wisdom and discernment. Yet I find failings in me. I believe I know what I should do for the good of the people, but far too often I find that what I do is guided more by what will give me pleasure, wealth, and honor. I now see that a wise man can still disobey You, and thus makes himself the fool. So as Your humble servant, I ask for strength of character, a disciplined heart and mind, to live and act wisely, not just be wise.”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon asked for this. He replied, “You have asked for something great… much greater than wisdom. It is also a much more difficult thing. A man’s character is like a boat— it moves easily as the current and the wind drive it. But to move against the wind and the water takes great labor”

God continued. “I do not grant character any more than do I make a waterfall flow upward. But if you truly desire good character, this is what I will do. I will give you suffering. I will take away what gives you pleasure, and what I leave you will not bring you satisfaction. I will give you dishonor, and grant your honor to fools.  I will scatter your wealth to those who did not earn it. It is a difficult path, and very few choose it voluntarily, but it is out of the seeds of suffering that discipline can slowly grow, and out of this growth, character  may bear fruit. Think on this.”

Solomon awoke, and meditated on his dream for many days, each day becoming more disconsolate. Finally, he called his scribe and began to speak,

“With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”