Sweatin' to Scripture
My oldest son listens to podcasts when he works out at the gym, and he’s persuaded me to try it, too. I’m delighted that I struck it rich right off the top. Two feminists annotate the bible is a chance to listen in on a spirited, considered and often amusing discussion of Scripture. The hosts, an Episcopal priest and a high school religion teacher, thoroughly enjoy each other and the book that they’ve pledged to work through from Genesis through Revelation. They raise good questions, draw on scholarship and pull in pop culture -- Disney movies, camp songs, Dungeons and Dragons. They don’t always agree, either with each other or with me, but their commentary reminds me of the riches in the Bible if only we’d read it with open minds and discuss it with good friends. I'm a big fan of serious Scripture study, but "2fab" keeps it real. Here’s the link.
I’m still reading Preaching the Luminous Word, a collection of sermons and essays by Ellen F. Davis. Here’s a good quotation to ponder during Lent: “‘Sacrifice’ and ‘restraint’ are dirty words in a culture committed to ever-more aggressive and rapacious economic strategies,” she writes. “This we know for sure: where true sacrifice is offered -- when human life is made holy, at some cost to ourselves, there God creates abundance, giving life and more life, against the odds and beyond all calculation.”
This morning, as I listened to the radio, I heard a woman who said she’d read, in an English version of the Quran, a passage that forbade Muslims from starving or killing their own children. But, she continued, many Muslim children have been killed by their parents or other Muslim adults. Based on this careful analysis, she labeled Islam “a so-called religion” and, therefore, opposed the building of a mosque in her community.
Part of me wants to forget this particular news report. Part of me can’t. I have spent the last hour composing a post that points out passages from Christian and Hebrew scriptures that Christians and Jews sometimes don’t obey to the letter. Or a brief essay on the way history, culture, and even economics, shapes the way some believers interpret their own scripture. Or an angry screed opposed to cherry-picking a handful of passages (or just one) from a holy book and using them (or it) to condemn an entire religion. Maybe something on the power and pointlessness of labeling anything “so-called.”
But, I’ll settle for this. Reading scripture -- our own or someone else’s -- is an important but also dangerous endeavor. To do it well requires knowledge of the original language, issues of translation, history, theology, sociology and anthropology. And that is a minimal list. That’s what reading demands. Understandingrequires curiosity, questions, conversation and a measure of compassion.
Woke up early this morning.
Flitted through Twitter.
Clicked on a story about Patrick Stewart.
One thing led to another.
Five pieces for jigsaw junkies:
Stewart tells the Radio Times that jigsaw love is “like a secret society” and reveals that he has a puzzle “on the go in each of his homes – one in LA, one in Brooklyn, one in London – and he’s currently about a third of the way through an early Cubist portrait of a woman in a chair by Picasso.” He also mentions his new movie.
Some celebrities like jigsaw puzzles (Stewart is on the list).
John Spilsbury may have invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1767.
"A jigsaw puzzle may also be a useful variety of brain training since it involves visuospatial skills, which rely on a different part of the brain,” according to a piece on puzzles in general in The Economist. “There is some evidence that finding new challenges for the brain helps to ward off dementia, rather than relying on a single intellectual exercise.”
What do you call someone who enjoys jigsaw puzzles? A dissectologist, according to a worldwide group of like-minded souls.
I was a religion reporter for a daily newspaper for several years, and I wrote dozens of stories about Ash Wednesday. The editors always wanted one, if only to explain the dark smudges that readers would see on peoples’ foreheads for the rest of the day. It was also an easy assignment to sell to photo editors. Unlike most religion stories that were about ideas or ordinary actions (stocking a food bank, visiting the sick, even praying and preaching), Ash Wednesday presented lots of photo opportunities: the faithful of all ages standing in line for ashes, weathered hands smudging youthful foreheads, a thumb dipped into a bowl of black ash.
Priests I know joke about how crowded Catholic Churches can be on Ash Wednesday. The cynics among them suspect they won’t see most of the people who line up for ashes in line for Eucharist any time soon. Ash Wednesday isn’t a holy day of obligation, they say, but it’s a day Catholics show up because they are getting something for free at Mass. Even if it's only ashes.
I have my own theory about Ash Wednesday. In a church where the formal rite of confession is slowly fading away (4 in 10 Catholics say they receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year, according to the Pew Research Center), I think many Catholics come to church on Ash Wednesday because deep down they want someone to look them in the eye and remind them that they are, like ashes, dust. Followed quickly by a reminder that they can turn away from sin, they can repent. Once a year, on Ash Wednesday, this call to conversion comes illustrated with a black smudge.
Of course, repentance is part of every Mass, but if you don’t go to church very often, you forget or overlook that. For many people, whether they acknowledge it or not, Ash Wednesday is a moment of truth with a tangible receipt. How it changes our lives depends on us.