Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Five: The Good Book


1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?
When I was little, I remember going upstairs into our attic (a somewhat scary place for a little kid), opening the door to a long-abandoned spare bedroom, and seeing on the wall a framed, highly embellished Bible verse written in German, in old-fashioned Fraktur type, cut out of heavy black paper and placed over foil so that the letters shone. It took me a few years to decipher the text; it was from the third chapter of Proverbs: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
I almost always use the NRSV -- it's our pew and pulpit Bible, and also the Bible I use for study. But I do have a sentimental fondness for Luke's Christmas story read aloud from the King James Version.

3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
My favorite book used to be the Gospel of John; I love the High Christology of it (even the parts that my pastor refers to as "I am he as you are he and you are we and we are all together"), and the reassurances of Christ's love and presence. But in my later years I find myself preferring Mark's Gospel -- the theology of the Cross, "short, sharp, shocked," to borrow a term. I also love the Book of Jonah -- which I never really appreciated until I heard a rabbi discuss it on Sound and Spirit. It's such a great story of God's extravagant grace and our petulant resentment of that grace being extended farther than we'd like, to people we don't like.

4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther's famous words about James, to be "an epistle of straw?" Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
I really don't get exercised about the Book of James; to me it's the necessary yin to Paul's yang. I am also, frankly, not that upset about the clobber verses regularly regurgitated upon women and gay folks by fundamentalists -- because, unlike fundamentalists, when it comes to Scripture I have space in my thinking for contextual interpretation and human foible, and am under no great compulsion to make the Bible "come out right." I do find the Book of Leviticus quite tedious (except for the more amusing/bemusing tidbits of the ritual law), and the Book of Revelation really more trouble than it's worth, considering how it's been misread and misused. I understand that Revelation only made it into the canon by a slim vote; too bad they didn't hold a recount. As far as texts that do indeed make me want to scream: The sloppy use of the term "the Jews" in the Gospel of John to refer to the Jerusalem religious establishment has created untold misery throughout the centuries. If there isn't a better translation of that phrase, the least we can do is educate the people in our churches that these texts are not an indictment of the Jewish faith nor are they an easy excuse for anti-Semitism.

5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
I am very much for inclusive language insofar as it respects the integrity of the original text's meaning; "humankind" for "mankind," etc. As far as inclusifying biblical God-talk specifically...well, in the particularity of the Incarnation Jesus was born male; deal with it; and instead of bowlderizing Scripture to force non-gendered pronouns or terms for God onto the text, I think that there are ways to refer to the Godhead in more inclusive ways in the liturgy. And more than that -- female clergy and lay leadership in worship, I think, do more to affirm and welcome women in the pews than tinkering with the language of Scripture: "Show me, don't tell me."

Bonus: Back to the Psalms--which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
I think Psalm 40: 1-11:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.

9 comments:

Wyldth1ng said...

I am the only one who like Revelation. Someday I would like to expand on this with some of you who don't like it, such as yourself.

I may need that Bible for Dummies during the debate though.

Good Play.

Mother Laura said...

I love Psalm 40, thanks.

And I like translations (for prayer or worship, not scholarly study of course) of John that use "the Judeans" or "the Jewish leaders"--esp. because IMHO there is no chance those "the Jews" lines are are historical words of Jesus, who was Jewish.

LutheranChik said...

I've tried to like Revelation, really I have; I've had classes on it and read books on it, and parts of it are quite lovely, like the "worthy is the Lamb" passage that's the basis for "This is the Feast of Victory" in the ELCA liturgy. I understand, intellectually, that the author is reassuring the beleagured Christian community that, against all seeming odds, "Lamb power" will defeat the powers and principalities that oppress humankind, and God's Reign will win out in the end. But...the book just ain't my thang.

Purechristianithink said...

I'm thinking we may want to go back and counting the hanging chads on the Revelation vote . . .

Verdugo said...

I recommend highly Eugene Peterson's commentary on Revelation, Reversed Thunder. Might just change your mind about the much-beleagured book. He has some choice (and typically wryly humorous) remarks for our fellow evangelicals who get obsessed with symbol-hunting. Other than that he steers clear of the trivial pursuits and gets to the heart of the book-- which he defines as "the worship of Christ."

more cows than people said...

ooh... excellent play. very, very thoughtful answers. love your take on why to leave the difficult stuff in and... on the close vote on revelation. ooh... and your childhood memory. rich stuff. thanks.

Songbird said...

It's hard for those of us who came of age in the "Late Great Planet Earth" era to feel comfortable with Revelation. I took a semester on it in seminary (which included the very useful Peterson book), and my D&D playing menfolk loved hearing it read aloud at home. If you can take it as a fable, a vision, it's got some things to say. But instead people wield it as an implement of fear-mongering. As is true of other books in the Bible, the problem is not as much in the text as in the interpretation.

Verdugo said...

LC has seen this already, but I've always been fond of this quote from Peterson:

"People who are preoccupied with the future never seem to be interested in preparing for the future, which is something that people do by feeding the poor, working for justice, loving their neighbors, developing a virtuous and compassionate life in he name of Jesus."

Donna said...

Great post! And while I'm at it, your Kathy Griffin post is really terrific. My friend Tim, who is a Lutheran seminary intern in Oregon, emailed me (Lutheran pastor in Kansas City) and told me to read it. I'd been off your blog for a while, so I was glad for the heads-up. Traversing the country, you are. :)
Anyway, I was really writing in to say that I would have had the exact same answer to #2: NRSV, except for the King James version of Luke 2.