Shuck and Jive
Thursday, January 31, 2008
As we read the stories of the Hebrew scriptures we may wonder if are reading historical reportage of events or if we are reading stories of creative imagination. We may decide that somewhere between these poles the truth is found. Most of us would see the story of Adam and Eve in the garden as a myth rather than an event of history. What about the stories of Abraham, Moses, and David?
There is much debate on this theory among biblical scholars today for both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament. The debate is called, somewhat inaccurately, the maximalist-minimalist debate. Maximalists generally affirm that the Bible is accurate historically and minimalists affirm that it is not and that it never intended to be read as such. Most scholars fall somewhere between these poles.
Archaeology and literary and rhetorical criticism have come of age in the past couple of decades to show that the Bible is a work of theology more than history. Archaeology has shown that there is very little evidence for the "events" recounted in the Bible. Literary and rhetorical criticism has helped us see these stories as works of art.
This may lead to the next question of realism. Is there something real and true about the theological claims in the Bible if we view them as imaginative creations? That is an important question. Do these stories in some way, tell us the truth about the human condition and about the nature of reality itself?
For example, is the character YHWH, more than a literary character, a projection of artistic imagination on one hand, and more than an actual being who acted this way in history on the other? Is their a reality to YHWH even if the stories about him are not real in the historical sense? This question will require of us who find the Bible as the normative text for the church to enter into these stories and let the Bible confront us even as we confront it.
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has spent a great deal of time thinking about these kinds of questions.
A helpful book is his Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. He goes through the Hebrew Scriptures, book by book, with a fresh look at these texts.
For more discussion on the maximalist/minimalist debate, you might find these Essays on Minimalism helpful from the on-line magazine, The Bible and Interpretation.
If you have been on the fence regarding sponsoring our Creating a Culture of Peace, let me tell you brothers and sisters, we are now at the eleventh hour. This is the time to make your commitment. None of us know what the morrow brings. Do not tarry! Do not wait! A hand is being held out for you today. Are you almost persuaded? Almost? Oh, friend, accept that invitation!
Here is a good old hymn
to get those tear ducts flowing...
and that checkbook showing
your love for peace.
And if that song doesn't do it, maybe this one will.
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail—
“Almost,” but lost!
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
We are getting interest in our PFLAG chapter for the Tricities area. Four of us will be meeting next week to start the affiliation process and make plans.
If you are interested in PFLAG or have questions, visit our PFLAG Tricities weblog and contact me.
Our area is in desperate need for a support and awareness group for lgbts, families, and friends.
I am pleased to report that First Presbyterian Church, Bristol is a sponsor of Creating a Culture of Peace. My colleague, Gordon Turnbull e-mailed me the good news.
Today's Johnson City Press had on the front page an article on bullying, Take That, Bully - Woodland students learn tips for dealing with tormenters.
This is what this CCP event is about. It is not exclusively, nor even primarily, anti-war protest training, even though it includes training on how to be peacemakers in all aspects of our lives. It is about coming to terms with how we respond and how we can better respond to conflicts. This training will be excellent for teachers. You can take what you learn back to the classroom. It is also good for students (age 14 and up) in dealing with bullying.
It is good for us adults in how we can better use our words and actions for peace and for building up. I know it is training I can use.
Thanks again, First Pres. Bristol for getting on the peace train!
First Presbyterian Church
701 Florida Avenue
Bristol, TN 37620
I have created a blog, Bible and Jive, to help with this process. Begin with the sidebar. Check out the overview, schedule, quick guides, and quizzes. Each month, on the first Sunday, I will award a prize to those who have completed the quiz. Even if you do not live near our mountain you can join us. Send in your answers via the comment section or by sending me an e-mail and I will send you an e-mail with my responses including the biblical references and a virtual prize that you can download. Suitable for framing!
So far, quick guides and quizzes have been completed through June. I am looking for excellent on-line resources. Especially helpful are syllabi from college and university professors. The Society of Biblical Literature has some swell ones. The more web-friendly the better. I am still looking for a good one for the Old Testament Apocrypha/Deuterocanon. We will read that in July and August.
If you would like to join us on this quest, I have one suggestion. Begin with the February readings, (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 &2 Kings). Pick up the earlier readings later. Don't spend too much time on the internet that you don't read the text. The point is to make the text more understandable.
Let me know what you think. Let me know if you find good on-line resources. Let me know what questions you have which will help in designing the weblog. The Bible and Jive site is strictly for this educational purpose. I will moderate comments there. It will not be a place to debate and hassle. Shuck and Jive is for that!
This is designed for beginners. So let me know when I am not beginner-friendly. However, those who do have familiarity with the Bible will also find insights and information to help deepen their study of the Bible.
Finally, I approach the Bible as literature with the aid of modern historical/critical scholarship. It is not the only way to approach it, of course. But I find it a helpful way to begin our enjoyment and appreciation of the Bible. If you Don't Know Much About the Bible (good book, by the way), Bible and Jive is the place to start with no embarrassment.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
We are on the little peace train that could!
Democracy Now Tri-cities
P.O. Box 421
Bristol, TN 37621
Appalachian Peace Education Center
APEC, P.O. Box 1831
Abingdon, VA 24212
Thanks to Andy at pieforlunch for alerting me to this. King College in Bristol has opened the Frederick Buechner Institute.
Inauguration celebrations are tomorrow. Here is the page for the institute and here is the lineup for tomorrow's celebration. Of course Buechner will be there all day. Joining him tomorrow night is Walter Brueggemann.
I just noticed! My colleague, Beth Yarborough, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Jonesborough (they only call ministers whose surnames rhyme with their town), is going to roast Buechner at 4 p.m.
Good job, Beth!
Saturday, January 26, 2008
The Promised Land
January 27, 2008
First Presbyterian Church
Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants”; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.’ Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Never since has there arisen a prophet in
We come to the end of the Torah. We find Moses on the top of
It doesn’t seem fair that Moses doesn’t get to cross the river. YHWH seems a bit petty. The answer is given in the book of Numbers 20:2-12. According to the story, the people are thirsty. There is no water. They complain to Moses. According to the text:
The people quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of
Moses and Aaron ask YHWH what to do. YHWH tells Moses to take his staff and go to a rock. In front of the people Moses is to command the rock to yield water. So Moses and Aaron gather the people before the rock. Instead of commanding the rock Moses says to the people:
‘Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’
YHWH wants credit where credit is due. He sees Moses getting the glory when Moses said: “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” This seems like a minor point. After all Moses has been through, you would think YHWH would give the guy a break.
Yet this is an important theme throughout the Torah. The storytellers want us to know that it is not by human power but the power of YHWH that things get done. Not even Moses can presume to have this divine power. Moses, in this instance, lost his cool and in so doing showed a lack of humility.
There is probably no bigger sin in the eyes of these storytellers than the sin of arrogance or presumption on the part of human beings. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures we find YHWH choosing the second son, the weakest person, the smallest army in order to show that it is not human power, but divine power that gains us freedom, victory, or blessing.
This point is hammered home throughout the Bible. Jesus is an example. The messiah is crucified. In our weakness the power of the Divine Presence reveals itself. In our February readings, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, we will see this theme repeated.
Joshua wins the battle of
In the books of Samuel, we read about the adventures of the first Israelite king, Saul. Saul is not a bad king. Nor is he a bad guy. But he has a tragic flaw. He has an arrogant streak. He lacks humility. He starts to believe that it is all about him.
Moses doesn’t go into the land because he showed a lack of trust in one instance. But the story is bigger than Moses’ disobedience. His story is over. He can’t do it all. It is appropriate for the Torah to end with Moses on the mountain. They made it to the edge. He can see it. But it will be the next generation that takes them across the River Jordan. Crossing that river will require the skills, gifts, and faith of more than one hero.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said:
“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”
Moses’ story ends. Joshua’s begins.
The Torah is the story of a people outside of the Promised Land hoping to get there. It was completed in its final form when the people were exiled in
The Promised Land. What is it? Some believe it is a narrow piece of real estate between the Mediterranean Sea and the
and cast a wishful eye
where my possessions lie.
I'm bound for the promised land,
I'm bound for the promised land.
Oh, who will come and go with me?
I'm bound for the promised land.
on trees immortal grow.
There rocks and hills and brooks and vales
with milk and honey flow.
shines one eternal day;
there God the Son forever reigns
and scatters night away.
No chilling wind nor pois'nous breath
can reach that healthful shore;
sickness and sorrow pain and death
are felt and feared no more.
When shall I reach that happy place
and be forever blest?
When shall I see my Father's face
and in his bosom rest?
I'm bound for the promised land,
I'm bound for the promised land.
Oh, who will come and go with me?
I'm bound for the promised land.
I do love those hymns.
Still others believe that the Promised Land is something for which to dream and strive on this side of the grave. It is the realm of justice and peace for all people. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on the Promised Land just before he was assassinated in
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Like Moses, he died before crossing the
It's alright to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's alright to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the
What is the Promised Land? Perhaps the Promised Land will be realized when human beings arise to a heightened level of consciousness. Perhaps it will happen when we realize that we are all in this together. Perhaps it will be when we internalize trust in a power greater than our own egos.
There is a deep wisdom in these scriptures. That wisdom and our experience tell us that we will not reach the Promised Land through arrogance. The powerful and the wealthy will not give us the Promised Land. We cannot force it through means of violence. Superpowers and their armies cannot get us there.
The wisdom of these scriptures and our experience should also tell us that we will not reach the Promised Land by waiting for a charismatic hero to lead us. Charismatic leaders generally end up dead. The rest of us are left to flounder.
There is a new consciousness arising. We can only reach the Promised Land together. Everyone must participate. No one can reach it unless we all reach it. This means we need to foster this new consciousness of belonging to Earth as one global family. We need to meet together to do small things.
The Promised Land, in my view, is at least living within our means and in balance with Earth. I had a conversation this past week with a minister by the name of Jim Deming. Jim is part of a program called Interfaith Power and Light. The goal is help congregations become “cool congregations.” This is an effort to connect interested people in local congregations to become more conscious about Earth.
It is a simple plan. We find people interested in reducing our waste and we meet with them. We share ideas and we make a commitment to do small things. And we meet again, a few times a year, to encourage each other. We invite others to join us. The key is a growing number of people doing small things together.
I am hopeful regarding our Creating a Culture of Peace workshop in March. Again, it is about people getting together to learn the difficult--yet I believe, life saving and planet saving—principles of non-violence.
We will not reach the Promised Land by waiting for the powerful to get their acts together or for a charismatic leader to whack his staff on a rock and make it all better. It will involve us, in humility, in trust, and in action, to envision this Promised Land and to live it, little by little. That is the Divine Spirit at work.
So let us sing those great hymns of the Promised Land.
Milk and honey on the other side,
Chills the body, but warms the soul,
Let the Divine Spirit in those hymns stir us, all of us, each of us, to vision and action. Let us cross that river so all of Earth’s children will enjoy and share her milk and honey for many, many generations to come.
Here is an excellent film for Evolution Sunday (or any Sunday) for a religious education class. Professor David Wollert presented it during our Adult Forum last year.
The film is very well done. It is entitled: Paradise Lost: The Religious Life of Charles Darwin.
View the trailer.
Yesterday's Johnson City Press published an article about Professor Wollert and the film:
In the shouting match between proponents of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories and those who demonize him, the story of his own religious faith is lost. How might Darwin’s own struggles illuminate today’s discussion of his ideas?
Biology professor David Wollert found the topic so compelling that he wrote and directed a documentary film titled “Paradise Lost: The Religious Life of Charles Darwin.” Apparently others find the topic just as interesting. The film was recently named an “Editor’s Pick” by Library Journal, the official journal of the American Library Association. Wollert said he was surprised by the honor.
“I was pleased just knowing that they wanted to review it,” said Wollert, a faculty member at Northeast State Technical Community College since 2000.
More than 100,000 libraries and institutions subscribe to the journal. Amongst thousands of submissions, only a few titles each year are singled out as an Editor’s Pick, and these are usually books, rather than films.
The documentary premiered at Northeast State in June. The film was most recently screened at the Tennessee Science Teachers Association conference in Nashville.
“The film has been very well received,” said Wollert. “Charles Darwin is a fascinating, but often misrepresented figure in history. I suspect few people know that he once trained for the ministry.”
The cross-disciplinary film traces Darwin’s personal and professional life as it documents his transition from theism, to deism, to agnosticism. (Read More)
The article mentions that the film is a resource for Evolution Weekend. According to the article:
Hundreds of churches across the country (including two in the Tri-Cities) will host special events Feb. 8-10 designed to increase awareness and understanding of the positive relationship between science and religion. Many will show “Paradise Lost.”
Wait a minute! There are three congregations celebrating Evolution Weekend in the Tricities:
First United Methodist Church
The Rev. Joe-d DowlingSoka
Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
Gray , TN
The Rev. Jacqueline Luck
and, of course,
First Presbyterian Church
The Rev. John Shuck
Our plans for Evolution Sunday include a trip to the Gray Fossil Site to see Sue. Check it out!
Friday, January 25, 2008
We just set this up for our 225th. Mike Morgan is going to visit East Tennessee, March 1st and 2nd.
He is bringing his display of first edition Bibles from the Reformation Era plus he is a long-time organist and will perform a recital for our 225th anniversary.
Here is his biography:
Michael Morgan, CCM is a native of Georgia, and long-time organist at
’s historic Central Presbyterian Church. He also serves as Seminary Musician at Columbia Theological Seminary. Previously he served congregations in Atlanta Florida, California, and . He hold a B.M. degree from Arkansas Florida State Universityand a Masters from Clark Atlanta University, and did post-graduate work with Richard Purvis at Grace Cathedral in . San Francisco
He has played worship services and recitals at Presbyterian music and worship conferences in
North Carolinaand Texas, and across the Southeast, Texas, California, New Mexico, Kentucky, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania; and in Switzerland, England, and . He has participated in organ seminars in Spain Great Britain, Germany, and . He holds the highest degree of certification (CCM) conferred by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians. France
Michael is currently serving as Dean of the Atlanta Chapter, American Guild of Organists; Treasurer of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians; and is a member of the Hymn Society of the
United Statesand . Canada
His primary interest is the history and literature of the English Bible, Psalms, and liturgies of the
. His library of English Bibles, Testaments, Psalters, and liturgies is one of the most complete collections in the country. In 1999 his paraphrase of the Psalms, The Psalter for Christian Worship, was published by the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). English Church
Here is the schedule of events:
- Display of Bibles at Holston Presbytery's March meeting at First Pres., Morristown.
- Possible recital at Presbytery.
- Display of Bibles at First Pres. Adult Forum at 9:45 a.m., March 2nd.
- Organ piece during worship at 11 a.m, March 2nd.
- Organ recital at 3 pm, March 2nd at First Presbyterian.
Here are a couple brief bios of our co-presenters for Creating a Culture of Peace, March 7, 8, and 9.
A co-founder of the Western North Carolina Chapter 099 of Veterans For Peace. Tim has consciously been learning about nonviolence since his days of schoolyard conflicts. From military Special Forces to conscientious objector, from wealthy businessman to lien-ridden war tax resister, Tim comes to Creating a Culture of Peace to learn more about violence and nonviolence through the popular education model of sharing experiences in a non-judgemental group setting.
A community-based activist for peace and justice. She co-founded and leads Tiffin Area Pax Christi and People for Peace and Justice Sandusky County. She has also served local mental health and environmental efforts. Josie is a former college educator and scientist. She serves her Catholic parish as lector and Eucharistic minister and leads a contemplative prayer group. She is a certified CCP facilitator, who enjoys learning and living stories of nonviolence with her fellow CCP participants.
Thanks to First Presby, Mary Jane for getting out the news:
The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton announces the First Event in its year long 225th Anniversary Celebration.
Step back 225 years as The Overmountain Singers entertain with Celtic and Folk Music incorporating close harmony and traditional instruments. Then travel forward in time with the amazing
This event is free to the public and all of the community is welcome to this first great event for the year long 225th Anniversary Celebration of The First Presbyterian Church.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The First Presbyterian Church
"Uncounted" is an explosive documentary. It shows how the election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2004 election led to even greater fraud in 2006, and now looms as an unbridled threat to the outcome of the 2008 election.
On Saturday, January 26, the League of Women Voters of Northeast Tennessee will be showing this film at the Johnson City Public Library, on 100 West Millard Street, at 12 noon. This showing is free and open to the public.
As we approach the decisive election of 2008, Uncounted will change how you feel about the way votes are counted in America.
I have had interest from several folks about starting a P-FLAG chapter (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in the Tricities in response to this post a few days ago.
I am going to be contacting PFLAG headquarters to see about the nuts and bolts of starting a chapter and a couple of counselors and I will be meeting next week to talk about next steps.
I have also started a temporary blog, PFLAG Tricities for ideas, interest, and news.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
These dances are really good. They are the right thing to do. Check one out near your mountain or visit us over on ours.
Get on the Peace Train!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Doug (see picture) of the Witherspoon Society sez, "Peace is good."
Thanks to Doug for linking to Creating a Culture of Peace. It would be cool if all presbyteries could do this thing. By the way, you can still be a sponsor for our workshop. Thanks to the Ethics and Human Needs Committee of Holston Presbytery for becoming the latest sponsor!
Find out more!
the Overmountain Singers
and the Skinner Family.
Here are the Overmountain Singers with Shenandoah.
And here is a YouTube of the Skinner Family with Memphis Five String:
We are excited to kick off our 225th Anniversary concert series with these great local musicians!
Monday, January 21, 2008
Who You Should Vote For
Dennis Kucinich: 100%
Mike Gravel: 75%
John Edwards: 69%
Barack Obama: 56%
Hillary Clinton: 50%
Ron Paul: 31%
John McCain: 25%
Rudy Giuliani: 25%
Mike Huckabee: 13%
Mitt Romney: 13%
Fred Thompson: 6%
Who you agree with on the war in Iraq: John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Ron Paul
Who you agree with on the economy: Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, and Mitt Romney
Who you agree with on health care: Dennis Kucinich
Who you agree with on taxes: Dennis Kucinich
Who you agree with on abortion: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani
Who you agree with on gay rights: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Barack Obama
The minister, Rev. D. Dean Weaver, named a bunch of theological trivia for its decision:
"The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has uniform ordinations standards across the board that say a person must believe in Jesus Christ as the only way, the only truth, and the only light; the bodily resurrection of Christ; the Bible as God's word; the historic doctrine of the Christian church," Weaver said. "We wanted to be in a denomination that was bold in its proclamation of that, unapologetic."The keeper is of course, The Gay:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is among several Protestant denominations embroiled in a bitter debate over what role gays should have in their churches. The national church's highest court ruled in 2000 that Presbyterian churches may bless same-sex unions as long as they don't equate the relationships with marriage.
"We consider those kind of issues to be secondary," Weaver said. "We're about proclaiming Christ and his love."
Yes, Christ and his love. Unless you are gay. Then no love for you.
NOT IN OUR TOWN is the inspiring documentary film about the residents of Billings, Montana who responded to an upsurge in hate violence by standing together for a hate-free community. In 1993, hate activities in Billings reached a crescendo. KKK fliers were distributed, the Jewish cemetery was desecrated, the home of a Native American family was painted with swastikas, and a brick was thrown through the window of a six-year-old boy who displayed a Menorah for Hanukkah.And here is a tribute to MLK from Barack Obama's at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Rather than resigning itself to the growing climate of hate, the community took a stand. The police chief urged citizens to respond before the violence escalated any further. Religious groups from every denomination sponsored marches and candlelight vigils. The local labor council passed a resolution against racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Members of the local Painters Union pitched in to paint over racist graffiti. The local newspaper printed full-page Menorahs that were subsequently displayed in nearly 10,000 homes and businesses. The community made an unmistakable declaration: "Not in Our Town." Since then, no serious acts of hate violence have been reported in Billings. (Read More)
You can read the text here.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot walk alone.Amen.
In the struggle for peace and justice, we cannot walk alone.
In the struggle for opportunity and equality, we cannot walk alone
In the struggle to heal this nation and repair this world, we cannot walk alone.
Lovely Spouse and I purchased our tickets to see Janis Ian tomorrow night at the Down Home.
She lets you download some her songs for free on her website. Here is she is with Dolly Parton, My Tennessee Hills.
This was her big hit Seventeen. But this is the song that raised eyebrows and told the truth:
Sunday, January 20, 2008
First Presbyterian Church
January 20, 2008
The only historical map that contains the phrase is The Lenox Globe that dates to 1510. It is the second or third oldest known globe. It is the only known historical map that contains the Latin phrase, “hic sunt dracones” or “here be dragons.” The phrase appears on the
The Borgia Map of the world around 1430 has a dragon figure across Asia with a Latin inscription that is rendered in English: "Here also are men having large horns four feet long, and there are even serpents of such magnitude that they can eat an ox whole."
This phrase “Here be dragons” has come to represent the dangers of the unknown. “Here be dragons” can elicit the challenge within oneself to venture out into the danger on a hero’s quest. Or it can make a person think twice and say, “There is no place like home.”
The Lewis and Clark Caverns are near
It is called “Decision Rock.” This is the point in the tour when the tour guide becomes solemn and serious. Every time I went on the tour the guide would say something like, “This is your last chance to turn back. I can take anyone back who doesn’t want to go ahead. But after we go ahead there is no turning back.” Hence, decision rock. The cave pilgrims need to make a choice. Forge ahead or return to the entrance. I never saw anyone turn back, although the guides would say that on occasion, some folks do. After all, there be dragons or at least tight squeezes.
Our heroes in our biblical story have reached decision rock. After their dramatic escape from
They haven’t been in the wilderness for very long. After a few weeks, they arrive at the edge of the
According to the minority report, filed by Caleb and Joshua, the land is lush and filled with grapes, figs, and pomegranates. It is a land of milk and honey. There are people there but we can take them. The Lord is with us!
But, then the other ten spies exaggerate their report a bit. Not only do the Jebusites, and the Amalekites and so forth live there, also in the
“When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ 4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.”
According to Genesis, the sons of gods knowing the attractive human women in the biblical way, was the last straw. YHWH decides to wipe out all living things except Noah and two of every kind of animal with a big flood. So, how then, do we still have Nephilim after the flood? Either the Nephilim survive the flood, or the spies are lying, or there is a hole in the plot. At any rate, the threat of the Nephilim is the argument that wins the day. A little fear-mongering often does wonders.
The congregation votes with the majority report. No way are they going to go into the
Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb plead with the people to trust YHWH. But it is no use. The congregation threatens to stone them.
Then YHWH gets angry. YHWH tells Moses that he has had enough of their whining and whimpering. He is going to wipe them all out and start over with Moses. But Moses, like Abraham before him, pleads with YHWH not to act rashly. He gives an interesting argument.
“But Moses said to YHWH…. "Now if you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, 16“It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.”
Moses tells YHWH that it won’t look good on his resume. "Everyone will laugh at you YHWH. You will be considered a failure." So YHWH reconsiders. He decides instead on an interesting solution. The people will wander in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each day the spies were in
How do we enter this story? How does it become something other than a bizarre fable on one hand or something that literally happened on the other? The theme of this saga repeats itself throughout the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament. One of the main problems that YHWH has with his people is that they don’t trust him.
Yet YHWH does not always come across as trustworthy. Remember YHWH was the one who told Abraham to sacrifice his son, then at the last minute, said, “Just kidding.” Literary critic Harold Bloom, has written a book I recommend, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. In an interview about the book, Harold Bloom speaks about YHWH and what the name means. The name comes from the story when Moses is told to go down to
“… that necessarily also means, "And I will be absent wherever and whenever I choose to be absent." And there's a lot more evidence in the last 2,000 years for the absence of this personage than the presence.”
What do we make of YHWH? Here is what Bloom says about him:
You have to be absolutely a bad reader or crazy or so bound by Judaic tradition of that kind which produces Satmars or Orthodox... how can you possibly like him? He's very bad news…. There's a kind of scamp in there. But he also goes violently crazy as he leads the Israelite host in that ridiculous, mad 40 years [of] wandering through the wilderness, trekking back and forth. He gets crazier and crazier and the poor things get crazier and crazier…. Yahweh is not a theological God. Theology is Greek, as the word itself indicates. Yahweh is a human, all-too-human, much, much-too-human God, and very scary. He is irascible, he's difficult, he's unpredictable, and he himself doesn't seem to know what he is doing.
I don’t think we can enter these stories unless we allow ourselves to read them in the way that Bloom reads them. YHWH is not the immovable mover. He is not the god of the philosophers. We cannot, unless we ignore the text itself, think of YHWH as unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. That is later theology put on the Bible. YHWH as Bloom writes, is irascible, difficult, and unpredictable. It doesn’t take long to read the Bible before you have issues with YHWH.
So what kind of people conceive of a god like YHWH? If the gods we tell stories about are windows into the way we see the world, what does YHWH show us about the world? How did these authors of the Bible experience their world?
The real world must have seemed to them to be irascible, difficult, and unpredictable--like the god they told stories about. Wars happen. Floods happen. Crops don’t grow. Good people suffer and the wicked seem to prosper. People die in the wilderness never reaching their promise. And yet life goes on. Another generation is born. People find time in the midst of their worries to dance, sing and tell stories about their troubles. These ancient people found meaning by telling stories about their experience of life. They did so by personifying life through a god who was as unpredictable, violent, and crazy as life itself.
And yet, they said, trust anyway. Rather than fight life, trust it. What other options do we have? We can trust or we can live in fear. We can despair. We can feel sorry for ourselves. We can be bitter.
As I read the stories in the Torah, I am reminded of the stories in the gospels, particularly, the Gospel of Mark. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is also unpredictable and irascible. The disciples never understand him. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. Trust. But what is to trust? The guy is insane. He goes off and gets himself crucified.
One of the most challenging aspects of living is our fear of what could happen. Here be dragons. The Nephilim will devour us. We might get crucified. Other people won’t like what we decide to do. We are not strong enough. Disaster will befall us. The crazy promise of the Bible is not that those things won’t happen. They might.
The message that the authors of the Torah and the Gospels leave us is “don’t fight it and don’t run from it. Live through it.” Neither YHWH nor Jesus will keep us safe. Both of them are just the opposite. They are not safe. They are risky. C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia depicted Christ as the lion, Aslan. Aslan, according to the books, is not a tame lion. I think that means that Life is not tame either.
Jesus and YHWH are cut from the same cloth. They are persistent. Jesus and YHWH are parables for Life. They are the invitation to seize the opportunity. They are the invitation to live with integrity. If we are going to live with some degree of inner peace and joy, we have to take life for what it is and not complain about what it is not.
Our heroes, our traveling tribes, made a choice at decision rock. They retreated and lost an opportunity. They acted on fear rather than on trust. They spent the next forty years moaning and complaining until they died.
No, they didn’t face the Nephilim. But, they didn’t enjoy the milk and honey either.
Here be dragons. Let us venture forth!