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

Harriet Tubman, Unlikely Patriot and American Icon

Who’d have thought that words such as “hot” or “trending” would refer to Harriet Tubman? Yet, there they are. Hers may be the face that boots Hamilton from the ten dollar bill, and her words graced Viola Davis’ historic Emmy speech. Friends knowing how my preoccupation with Harriet Tubman led to writing a screenplay Tell Mister Lincoln have been kindly quick to point out that – look! – she’s not so obscure after all. She shouldn’t be. Not now, or ever. Never mind that I’d forgotten about her for decades.

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Be a Dog, Get Outside; It’s National Get Outside Day!

The din is deafening. It’s morning at our local SPCA, and all anyone wants to do is get outside. I plan as I drive there. Rico will go first, since his kennel is closest and he “holds it” longer than anyone would think is physically possible. Then, the little pair on the other side, the sweetest little lap dog ever and her chubster kennel mate, who need a break from theSPCA Brittany noise. The skinny hound Christoff is also heroically house trained, but I can’t leave him in an outdoor run — he’s a “fence climber,” they say, though a perfect gentleman on the leash. So I’ll get Miss Energy-Plus Brittany out and into a balls-riddled pen before walking him. She’ll be a great adoptee — lab mix and full of love — if only she can get enough exercise. Then to Tilly, whose kennel gets no window light and lies depressed until I stop at her door, bearing the promise of fresh air and sunshine. I map out my strategy; but when I open the main doors, all planning goes out the window. The air is thick with desperation. Each dog needs outdoor time. Now.

On This Feast Day of the Ass

Happy Feast Day of the Ass! No kidding. Animals get short shrift in religious beliefs and practice (apart from the Hindu cow, and sacrifice, of course), so I found it quite wonderful to stumble on an old tradition celebrating the biblical donkey.joseph-leading-mary-on-donkey

For a time, Christians seriously honored the animal who brought a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem and spirited the newborn Jesus to safety in Egypt. There is that sweet if monotonous Christmas carol in which the friendly animals each get a word: “I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown. I carried his mother up hill and down. I carried his mother to Bethlehem town. I, said the donkey shaggy and brown.” But the holiday has since died out.

Firefly’s “Broken Bible”

If the Bible’s broken, can it be fixed? You owe it to yourself to watch some of the old tv series Firefly, even if you were one of the lucky few who caught it when it was first broadcast. In the “Jaynestown” episode, idiot savante River gets ahold of Shepherd’s Bible and sees how little makes sense on the surface.  “Noah’s ark is a problem,” for example. So she sets about setting things right, marking up pages and tearing some out. When he catches her, she explains, “It’s broken. Doesn’t make sense.” Shepherd’s response: “It isn’t about making sense… It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith. It fixes you.” Depending on how one interprets the context of the whole episode (the “heroism” of Jayne and its efffects on the oppressed, e.g.), you may or may not agree with Shepherd.

Suspicion and Being Desperate

Eliza Griswold’s story of meeting the Ethiopian monk said to guard the Ark of the Covenant includes his saying, “two things keep you from God: suspicion and being desperate.” I like it. His explanation is less compelling, but so what? Its bare bones are worth contemplating.

Where Islam and Christianity Meet

The furor over mosque-building in Manhattan and Koran-burning in Florida reminds us that like it or not, religious differences continue to challenge civic peace. A new book, The Tenth Parallel, by journalist Eliza Griswold narrates her experiences on the 10th parallel, 700 miles north of the equator. This line of latitude runs through territories where about 60% of the world’s Christians and more than 50% of the world’s Muslims live. Griswold traveled this line for seven years, investigating religious relationships in Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.  Much of the conflict, Griswold notes, has “largely to do with population growth… [and the forms of these religions that are growing the fastest]… tend to be the most radical…” It’s a sobering assessment, but Griswold’s perspective isn’t completely negative.  She observes that religious institutions sometimes provide necessary, basic care when states cannot and often promote a morality of care. You can read an interview with Griswold by Christian Science Monitor‘s Marjorie Kehe here.

“Bible-based job skills” — huh?

I just read this morning a brief notice that an Illinois Corrections Department uses a Bible-based job skills program to help released inmates find and maintain jobs. It’s so successful that they’re expanding it. Hey, I’m happy for them — sounds like a great goal, and kudos for achieving it! But I’m confused. What exactly IS a “Bible-based job skills program”? Anyone know? Surely it’s not to imitate biblical jobs. It’s tough for me to imagine the practicality of, say, shepherding in Chicago or officiating as a priest in the style of Leviticus. Fishing, maybe, carpentry, too; but  winnowing grain, or prostitution? er, nevermind. And how, exactly does an arm of the judicial branch of the US government justify the application of a distinctly religious set of ideas? Clarification is welcome!

Forgetting… and Remembering

Living as a nomad, it was bound to happen: I left my computer behind. Bouncing between cities (two) and offices (four) as I’ve done the past semester, I rely on THE LIST — things to do before leaving the house (empty the kitchen compost, e.g.) and things to bring (er, that’d be the computer, e.g.). The list works great… if I actually use it. Last week, I didn’t. The irony is, I’m finally settling in again, finally staying put  — one city, one office, for the most part, anyway. Maybe that was it. I let my guard down, got cocky.

Sexy Spring Comes ’round Again, Just Like Back in Biblical Times

A version of this post first appeared in Christian Century‘s “Theolog.”