We Are Animals, Environment and Election 2016

We are animals. I don’t mean that figuratively (though given the mud-fest incivility of this election, a case could be made). I mean it literally and to consider in the context of this election. We are blood, bone, brain, and balls, composed of material stuff and animated by love, fear, and the pursuit of happiness. We Americans are just as much a part of our planet’s natural systems and the ecologies of our site-specific homes as is any barn swallow or humpback whale or spotted salamander. We forget this. We have forgotten this in arguments about walls and email and the economy and ISIS. We forget at our peril because there’s no future for our country with its Silicon Valley and Supreme Court and health care and Rust Belt manufacturing without attending with wise intention to environmental sustainability.

A Good Thing about That Emoji Bible

One of my favorite questions as a Bible-scholar-lady is “So, what’s the best translation?” I love this question not only because it opens the door to substantive discussion that can last for the better part of a class period… no matter how long the meeting. But I also love it because we get to talk about paradox: The best translation is precisely not the one. Rather, the best translation is a whole mess of ’em, side by side, allowing a reader to see the varieties of ways this ancient text can mean (and sometimes revealing the biases of whoever’s behind said translation). So even when I disagree with some version’s particular word choice, turn of phrase, or punctuation, finally I say bring it on. Give us a new translation, and keep them coming. Come they do.Bible Emoji cover225x225

Jazz Riff on Genesis 1

It was a great honor to be invited to give the Dillard series of lectures at Trinity United Methodist Church this year. Wow, what a turn-out! and what wonderfully warm, hospitable, and thoughtful folks I met there, people deeply invested in the pursuit of understanding, committed as much to the humbling business of query and investigation as to a rich faith.

My part was a small one — to deliver four lectures on the general topic “The Power of Story and the Greatest Ever Told.” By way of beginning and end, I offered this wee meditation:

Life and Death, Mercy and Dominion

The following meditation on our relationships with animals, the strange expression “to be at the mercy of,” and what the notion of “dominion” may mean when it comes to the animals who live with us just appeared also on HuffingtonPost. I wrote it on the occasion of my old pound hound’s death. Sweet Trout is much missed.

To be “at the mercy of” is a strange expression when applied to the animals who live with us. Yet that’s what came to mind yesterday, when my dog of over a decade died. “We can be sure of death; it’s the living that’s uncertain,” my husband said to me. His point, a deeply comforting one, was that I had given this dog of rough beginnings a good life.

El Shaddai, Now on Video

There’s a new game in town. Finally, a video game based on biblical, or sort-of-biblical, stories. Bible-reading folks frequently say that there are really great stories in the Bible; but what they usually mean is that its stories instruct, correct, or otherwise inform the ways that people should live. Sure, there are such didactic texts; but there are also a lot of others — stories whose “heroes” hardly qualify, and the texts don’t explain away misbehavior. Take Abraham, as heroic as they come in the Bible. Yet to save his skin, he allows his wife to be taken by a foreign king… twice (Gen 12:10-13:1; 20:1-18). David, the greatest of Israel’s kings and the one with whom God makes an unconditional and unending promise, actually works as a Philistine mercenary for a while (1 Sam chaps 27-29, see esp. 29:3); and the disciples in Mark’s gospel, despite their status as Jesus’ select and primary followers, routinely misunderstand or otherwise fail in the message. Truth is, some of these stories, and others that shock , titillate, or surprise are some of the most interesting and provocative.

May Your Father’s Day Not Be Entirely Biblical

Despite a common assumption that the Bible is all sweetness and light, filled with upstanding moral models for individuals today, it doesn’t always translate so neatly. After Adam, the next father is one who murdered his brother. There’s Noah’s drunken nakedness whose story involving his sons ended up endorsing the slavery of Africans, Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac, Lot’s sleeping with his daughters, Isaac’s tragic failure to discern the difference between his sons, Jacob’s favoritism with the resulting conflict between Joseph and his brothers,… and by golly we haven’t even gotten out of Genesis. That said, of course there are models of fatherhood in both Old and New Testament books that strike readers as better for men to emulate. And there are texts that honor fairness, strength, generosity, and love by fathers. Finally, of course, as Rabbi Daniel Brenner wrote, “On Father’s Day, we honor our fathers not by comparing them to some ideal, but by acknowledging them for whom they really are.” I am lucky to have a dad who takes the Bible seriously but (and?) judges for himself what is right and good. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there! May you be not entirely biblical in your parenting and loved whatever the case.

Crop Mob and God

I participated in my first “crop mob” yesterday at Bellair Farms (CSA). If you’re already lost — what’s a “crop mob” and what is “CSA”? — you’re not alone. Both are pretty new ideas out of the old world of agri-culture, sustainable and sweet. First, CSA: It stands for “community supported agriculture” and is a way to connect farmers directly with consumers who buy a share in future produce. These “members” pay a sum up-front, before the growing season commences to the farmer, who agrees to do her best to grow good stuff that members enjoy throughout the season. It’s a wonderful way to share in both the risks and rewards of good farming. It’s also a cool, organic (dare I say) community-builder. A “crop mob” is a group of people who occasionally descend upon a farm to offer a helping hand, gratis. They may or may not be CSA members — just people who enjoy the labor of sun and field and are happy to help farmers doing good work.

The Dread of You

What do you make of that post-Flood biblical statement about animals living in dread of humans (Gen 9:2)? I love Charles Shields’ take on it — “to mean that we must overcome animals’ dread of us.” It reminds me of the Oct 2010 National Geographic article on Jane Goodall by David Quammen. Now there’s a beautiful life spent not only disarming animals but also dignifying them in the eyes of all the rest of us.

Tut Again

I remember when King Tut was all the rage — the impressive displays of luxury items from Tut’s tomb, the mummy himself, “Walk like an Egyptian”… Well, he’s back in the news, this time in a most 21st century way.  This time archaelogists with their cool cool stuff and rugged outdoorsy romanticism aren’t the prime movers. Rather it’s scientists poking away in their fluorescent lit labs that have shaken things up.

Cain as Vampire?

Word has it that the Good Word is jumping on the vampire bus. For all sorts of reasons, it’s not as great a leap as you might think — more on that later… Meanwhile, here’s the scoop: Will Smith as the lead in The Legends of Cain a re-telling of Genesis’ story of the first kids, the first brothers, and the first murder in which Cain is a vampire.  That’s all I know so far. Do let me know if you learn more.~ … (later) Thanks to Jospeh Laycock, a doctoral candidate at Boston University, for his essay in Religion Dispatches on the topic. Really interesting. Check it out.