Epiphany’s Choice and the Environment: In Reverence to Honor, or in Fear to Destroy

Hang on, you there, packing up the Christmas lights, dismantling the tree, boxing up the crèche with its cast of characters and that long-tailed star. Christmas is not over. Sure, come December 26th, it may have been all over for the “Little Drummer Boy,” Bing Crosby, and the Nutcracker; but not quite for Christmas. The wise men are just now arriving. And those magi from the East, with their three auspicious gifts, are not simply late to the party. They inaugurate a whole new thing: public acknowledgment by the world’s powers, of a radically new kind of rule. They’re not the only ones who notice (cue the soundtrack for the dastardly villain). What gets me now, thinking as I have been about environmental issues in Jesus-ish terms, is how relevant the contrast between the wise men and Herod is still today.

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

Exodus the Movie, God, and the Power of Stories

Let me say right off the top that this post isn’t so much about the movie Exodus as it is about God… and story. Still, I should probably warn, “spoiler alert.” But the two biggies below that might preempt one’s enjoyment of the drama hardly qualify as spoilers, and they bear immediately on the whole point of this. One is that God is depicted in the movie as a little boy (a ragamuffin, frequently creepy boy — Stephen King by way of Dickens). The other is of course how the movie ends, but that’s been common currency for centuries, based as it is on a pretty popular book, The Bible, and recalled every spring the world over in the festival of Passover. (Exodus Cliff notes: ten “plagues” and a miraculous sea-split later, God has liberated the Hebrews under the leadership of Moses from their slavery in Egypt in order to serve God. This last part, the serve God part, does sometimes get overlooked.) Exodus the movie

300, Awesome Ancient Women, and the Perils of Historical Fiction

Here’s what I just posted on Huffington Post… and then, here’s the problem with it.

Now if only there were about three hundred more 300‘s. Maybe not in blood and gore but movies with kick-ass women from ancient Persia and Greece. Artemisia Movie 300Then, more people would get what has so captivated me about Amytis, Cassandane, and Atossa. Um… who, you ask?

A Babylonian New Year

And so we’re off! — 2014, a new year, ready or not. Resolutions or not, there’s something about recognizing the end of a year and the beginning of a new one that’s downright refreshing.

The earliest public celebrations that we know about are Babylonian, dating back thousands of years. I’ve been spending a lot of time in ancient Babylon (in my head) these past few years, and it occurs to me that for all our distance from an Iraq of the B.C. years, we share some things in common. Take New Year’s. Sure, there are loads of differences. For one thing, the Akitu New Year festival happened around the time of the spring equinox and went on for days. But at its heart was this sense of putting aside the old and beginning anew with hope and possibility.Marduk

Christmas, Fact and Fiction

*A version of this article is also available on The Huffington Post.

“We, three kings of Orient are,” intone the guys in robes and crowns. But were they really three, or 3 kings starkings for that matter, and from where exactly did they come? Every year at this time, questions about historicity – what really happened (and what didn’t) in the Christmas story — come bubbling up: that the infant’s first habitation was more cave than stable and possibly not in Bethlehem at all; that Jesus was born in or before 4 B.C., when the half-blood Herod died, rather than in the year zero, which Monk Dennis established centuries after the fact to launch the new anno domine era.

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:

A Woman, the Bible, and Babylon, 560 B.C.

These mid-August days, some 2500 years ago, witnessed a violent turn-about in power — regicide followed by a week of king-less days. Imagine for a moment the uncertainty, the chaos. Imagine the mother of the assassinated king. Still alive, for the time being — a foreigner in a court conflicted about its cosmopolitan nature, a court leaning toward xenophobia. She fled.

The overturn of thrones was itself not unusual. But the ripples it sent would wash up against shores for thousands of years to come and as far away as our own. After all, this was Babylon, ancient Iraq, when the texts that would become the Bible were beginning to take shape with the thoughtful care and no doubt spirited debate of exiles far from home, committed to tradition, and dedicated to their God.

Joan Baez and Ezekiel

I had the wonderful opportunity last night to hear Joan Baez live in our little town. Yes, Joan Baez of anti-war, hippie-days, protest, and beautiful love fame. And she was beautiful. The place, Charlottesville’s Pavilion on the downtown mall was packed. Lots of gray heads in the crowd but not all, and everyone seemed to be loving the show. Just as in those fresh days from decades ago, Baez continues to sing out injustice, the challenge and responsibility to be decent in a world bent on bending goodness into greed and simple pleasure into perversity. Her hair was cropped close, she wore shorts and a v-neck, and sang with the pure tone I associate with her ’60s and ’70s tunes.