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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hymnical Limericks – A Mighty Fortress Is our God

In recent days I have been writing a series of Biblical Limericks.  Today I thought I'd try something slightly different: a Hymnical Limerick, if you will.

I give you A Mighty Fortress Is our God in meter

We sing Martin Luther’s mighty song, 
a bulwark never failing, always strong,
for still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe
but, armed as he is, he is still wrong.

It’s not in our own strength we confide
but we trust in the one at our side.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus it is he;
with him in battle we are allied.

There may be foul demons in our way
even so, we won’t fear, come what may.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
with one word from Christ he can be slayed.

The Word of God above all powers,
the Spirit and all the gifts are ours,
so we let all else go
this mortal life also.
God’s kingdom over all things towers.

Biblical Limericks – Well that’s a Different Kind of Boner...

Was it a rib from the man’s sternum
that God used to make the first woman?
Or could it be that God
used a different rod,
and that’s why we have no baculum?

Go ahead.  I’ll give you a moment to look it up.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reason #27

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Biblical Limericks – You’da Cussed Too!

Now Paul was not a great orator,
to put it plainly – he was a bore;
Eutychus grew sleepy
as Paul droned on and he
fell from the window on the third floor.

Acts 20: 9

By the way Eutychus means “fortunate.”  

A Perpetual Silent Praise

The body lay crumpled on the bottom step leading up to the dais.  Twisted into grotesque contortions by the violent spasms that had wracked his body in the moments before his death, he lay motionless, his face an obscene grimace.  His mouth was open in a final, silent scream. A dried, bloody froth of spit and bile was encrusted around the cracked lips. Thick, dark blood pooled around his face.

It was cyanide; he’d been poisoned.  The cyanide had bonded with the hemoglobin in his blood, inhibiting the red blood cells from carrying oxygen.  As his brain became starved for oxygen, the synapses began firing off random, desperate electrical discharges causing the spasms that had thrown him down the stairs. His skin was blue and livid with bruises.

And still the four living creatures stood around the throne at the top of the stairs and the seven lamps before the throne continued burning, their flames casting flicking shadows over the corpse.

To him who was slain
be a perpetual silent praise

And, without speaking, the four living creatures said ,”Amen.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Pudendum

Solomon described her, foot to head
for poetry woos women to bed;
your navel is refined
may it never lack wine

but “navel” isn’t what Solomon said.

Our English translations are too tame
to accept what’s actually named,
for we can’t even say
the word vajayjay,
and we cover it all with great shame.

Song of Songs 7: 2

Seriously!  Did you know that the word “Pudendum”  is derived from the Latin word meaning “to be ashamed?” 

For more: The Many Varied Interpretations of The Song of Songs

The Coroner

The coroner was drunk that night.  I remember how he slurred his words as he sagged in the doorway. “Another corpsh,” he said and then flung his hat and coat toward a chair in the corner.  I wondered how he was able to hold himself upright; his large belly swung left, then right as he staggered toward the autopsy table, swinging like a crazed clock pendulum, threatening to throw him to the ground with its inertia.  He came to rest at the table’s edge and grappled the overhanging light to catch himself.

“Another night, another godammm corpsh!”  he spat.  As the light stopped its swinging he studied the corpse on the table for a moment and then declared, “Shuishide.  Death by shelf terminashun.”

“But, boss!” I objected as I handed him his scalpel.  He hadn’t bothered to scrub in; he never did.  “Those wounds,” I pointed to each one –the punctures in the hands, the legs, the abdomen, and the jagged cut across the throat, so deep that spine was exposed to the light, “were clearly not self inflicted…”

He snorted at me, withdrew a flask from his shirt pocket and took a drink.  When he’d finished, he wiped his face with his sleeve and replaced flask.  “Well then, let’s get started.” With the scalpel in his right hand he stood poised over the body, ready to make the Y-incision that would begin the procedure.

And I heard a loud voice proclaiming, “Who is worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll?” But no one was found, not in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth.  No one, especially not the drunkard standing in front of me reeking of booze and sweat and cheap cologne, was worthy to open it. And I wept because there was no one worthy to open the corpse and to look inside.

The coroner looked up and me and said, “Stop your shnivelling, you push!”  And then he began cutting the body.  His cuts weren’t the cleanest cuts – he hesitated and twitched as he cut clumsily through the dead flesh.  Suddenly he paused and pulled his hands away from the corpse.  I watched as a pained but vacant expression washed over his face. 

And then he belched, loud and long.  He belched and then blew the alcoholic fumes in my face.  “Ha!” he laughed, and turned back to his cutting.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Hello Nurse!

When David the king was quite old
he found that he was always cold
though cloaks were piled on
his warmth had all gone,
so his staff made a plan that was bold.

A virgin, beautiful to behold,
into King David’s bed would be rolled.
This was nothing debased,
she was perfectly chaste;
at least that’s how the story was told.

1 Kings 1: 1- 2

If she was just there to keep him warm (cough, cough) then why is the narrator so very keen to point out that she was "young" and "beautiful" and "a virgin?"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2013 - Week 10

Each week I create a new background image for use in Powerpoint (or similar presentation programs) presentations.  This one has my 11 year old son's vote of approval, so it must be good.  I use them at my little church and share them here on my blog  You are free to use them in your own projects - at home, at work, at school, at church.  Use them how you will.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Week 10 photo Week10_zps5c31ee84.jpg

Paradoxical Grace

I was struck this morning by some of the lyrics in the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing – written in the year 1757 by Robert Robison when he was but 22 years old. The line that caught my ear and my eye this morning was in the third verse (though words and verses today are changed somewhat from Robinson’s original…)

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

It was that third line of the (modern) third verse with its Grace like a fetter that stopped me, bound me

Grace is what sets us free, right?  Grace is what liberates us…
But here we have grace like a fetter – like a chain or a shackle around the feet – binding us, restraining us. 

This is paradoxical grace – both liberating and confining.   But grace that is only one or the other liberating or confining is not really grace.

Biblical Limericks – Deviled Ham

In Garasenes lived a man in a jam
one hundred demons in him were crammed,
to Jesus they whined
let us go into those swine,
and that’s how Jesus made deviled ham.

The rest of us have to do it the old fashioned way.
Mark 5: 1 - 20 / Luke 8: 26 - 39

Today, Tomorrow, and the Next Day

I wrote a little bit the other day about the strange sort of behavior going on in Luke 13: 31 – 35.  In the first half of that brief reading we have two sets of Jesus’ “enemies” who are not acting very much at all like enemies – and that’s because they’re not.  Not really.

Many of us have come to perceive the Pharisees (the first of the groups in view here) as the bad guys, as the villains of the story.  They seem to be waiting and watching on all occasions for Jesus to make some sort of mistake or misstep so that they can spring upon him and have him removed.  But this perception might be wrong.  They were not the melodrama villains that our incautious readings of the stories might make them.  While it is true that the Pharisees in Luke’s writings, as in the other gospels, are antagonistic toward Jesus we might need to modify our perception of them somewhat, lest they become caricatures and stereotypes.  Luke provides a couple of stories that might balance our opinion of the Pharisees.

In Luke 7:36 and in 14:1 Jesus was invited to eat at the homes of some of the Pharisees. Granted, it didn’t play out so well for them in these stories, but the invitation was there.  Also in Luke’s writings we read about some Pharisees who became Christians – Luke 15:5.

And in the reading for today it is the Pharisees who come to Jesus with a warning: “Leave this place, go somewhere else. Herod is trying to kill you.”  If they truly wanted to see Jesus done away with, wouldn’t  it have been more prudent to let Herod take care of the problem?  They could have simply allowed Herod Antipas to deal with the trouble maker from Nazareth.  But no.  They came to him with a warning.  ‘Get out while you can.  It’s not safe here.’

Which brings us to the second of Jesus’ enemies in this story: Herod Antipas, who, according to the Pharisees, was planning to kill Jesus.  This may have been in keeping with his character.  He’d already arrested and executed John the Baptizer.  What would have prevented him from dealing with Jesus in the same way? 

But again, we might need to reconsider our perceptions.  Herod Antipas had heard about Jesus and about the crowds that were following him and he was curious and fearful.  In Luke 9:7 – 9 we read that Herod curious about Jesus and wanted to meet with him.  And later in the story, in Luke 23: 6 – 12, when he had the opportunity to kill Jesus (and even the expectation that he would kill Jesus) Herod didn’t.  He demanded that Jesus demonstrate his miracle power, and then mocked him when he refused.  But he didn’t kill him – even when it would have been so easy to do so.

It’s a little difficult to figure out what’s going on here.  We have two groups of Jesus’ enemies, neither of whom are acting very much like enemies.  But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.  Whether the Pharisees were trying to protect Jesus or trying to stir up trouble between Jesus and the tetrarch, whether Herod Antipas was trying to kill him or merely trying to meet with him, it doesn’t matter.  Jesus ignored both of them.

 Because they were not his enemies.

Over time, these two groups- the Pharisees and Herod Antipas – have come to stand in the debate about who killed Jesus.  Some through the years have argued that “the Jews” were responsible for Jesus’ death.  And the caricature of the Pharisees has become the image of “the Jews” – distorting some aspects of their character, ignoring others.  Others have placed the blame for Jesus’ death on “the Romans” and in this case Herod Antipas (who governed with the blessing and consent and authority of Rome, and who, later, was a “friend” of Rome (Luke 23:12) acts as a stand in for the Roman Empire. 

And the debate goes on.  Who is to blame for Jesus’ death?  Was it “the Jews”?  Was it the Romans?  But the   question is irrelevant. Jesus ignored them both as enemies because they were not his enemies.  He said, “I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose.”

The Pharisees were not his enemies.  Herod Antipas (and the Roman Empire itself) was not his enemy.  They were antagonists, to be sure.  They opposed him, yes.  They stood in his way.  They may have even persecuted him and been involved in bringing him to death – but they were not his enemies.

Which is why he could ignore their threats and their warnings. 

Jesus had only one enemy to face and that was death itself.  Not the Pharisees.  Not that fox, Herod.  Death.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

“The real slave master, keeping the human race in bondage, is death itself. Earthly tyrants borrow power from death to boost their rule; that’s why crucifixion was such a symbol of Roman authority.[i]

But the Pharisees , Herod Antipas – they had nothing on him.  He ignored their threats.  He ignored their warnings and continued to do what he came to do.  He continued to preach the gospel and to heal the sick.  He continued to bring life and the kingdom of God to the people.

If we are to find in this story some contemporary relevance for ourselves, might I suggest that it is in this:  Ignoring the threats and warnings of all those who are not really our enemies.

Atheists are not our enemies.  Homosexual activists are not our enemies.  Creationists are not our enemies.  Conservatives are not our enemies.  Liberals are not our enemies.  Immigrants – not our enemies.  Muslims – not our enemies.  Evolutionists – not our enemies.  Labor Unions – not our enemies.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

We have only one enemy – Death – and it lies trampled beneath the feet of the Risen Jesus.  Ignore those who would threaten us and warn us away from doing good.  Continue to do what we have been called to- bring light and life and the kingdom to those around us. 

Today, tomorrow and the next day.

[i] N.T. Wright -

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Circle Must Be Broken!

The circle must be broken!  So we can sing!

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Drawn in Photoshop.

Theories of Imagination - New Album

I am quite excited to share with you this new collection of 24 songs - Theories of Imagination.

It began as a soundtrack for a documentary - but the project seems to have lost it's way.  But I still have all this great music and it would seem a shame to waste it.  So here it is.  (If the film ever gets going again, the music can serve for the soundtrack as well, or we can make more...)

African percussion, Greek bouzoukis, strange synthesizers, flamenco guitars, classical melodies - this album combines a wide and eclectic range of source material into a unique musical experience.

$10 for 24 songs... that's not bad, right?  And the money goes to support The Salvation Army of Newton, Iowa.  Please share the link, too.  That would be great.  Thanks.

Recorded at home with Ableton Live 8, a guitar, a cornet, a trombone, a variety of percussion instruments, some other assorted junk, and a number of sound samples from the Freesound Project.  A full list of the samples is included in the downloadable extras.

Biblical Limericks: Curses!

The Lord said, “If your wife goes astray
bring her to the priest without delay.
He will give her a drink
made of curses in ink
and her sex organs will waste away.”

Numbers 5: 11 - 31

Curiously (or not, considering the patriarchal culture...) there is nothing similar for the menfolk.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

What I’m Reading – Jefferson Burke and the Secret of the Lost Scroll

 Before reading this book, I’d never heard of the author Ace Collins, who –apparently- has been quite prolific over the years, cranking out more than 60 books .  He’s written several books about the stories behind popular and favorite music (Best Loved Songs of Christmas, America’s Best Loved Patriotic Songs, Elvis’ #1 Hits,ect…) biographies of country music artists, and even a few how-to books (Lasso Roping, Hula Dancing, Balloon Animals, Sidewalk Chalk Art, etc…)

But he appears to be trying something new with his novel Jefferson Burke and the Secret of the Lost Scroll .  It’s Indiana Jones without the plausibility.  It’s National Treasure without the charm and appeal of Nicolas Cage.  It’s The DaVinci Code without the clever word play and secret codes. 

The “secret scroll” of the title is nothing less than an ancient document written in Aramaic, purportedly by St. Joseph himself, that may reveal evidence that Jesus’ birth wasn’t miraculous and divine.  This scroll has been protected and preserved through the millennia by a secret order known as the Custodis Joseph Lacuna.  In the search for this scroll Ace connects all of the usual suspects in this sort of adventure story: the Vatican, the KGB, the FBI, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Jefferson – but he also ropes in a few surprising characters – Henry VIII, Robert Todd Lincoln, Reverend Charles Tindley and Carol Lombard.   The chase leads from The University of Illinois to the mountains of Afghanistan, to London, and the deserts outside of Las Vegas.  There are gunfights and fist fights, daring escapes and a kindling romance.  All the usual fare.

None of it is very convincing, though.  Everything happens but nothing connects.  Characters come into the story for a page or two in order to advance the story and then they’re gone.  It’s all flash and bang but there’s no substance.  But let’s put aside the novel’s literary deficiencies for a moment and consider its deeper failures.

What if there were such a scroll?  The characters in the novel are concerned that the publication of this scroll would lead to the immediate collapse of Christianity, and bring about chaos and cataclysm around the world.  There is absolutely no discussion in the book about proving the scroll’s authenticity, it’s conveniently assumed to be real. 


1 – A scroll such as the one described in Ace’s novel would be very suspect because of the lack of provenance.  Any document that changed hands as often as the scroll in this story would be suspect.  The chain of evidence isn’t clear.   

2- Even if carbon dating of the scroll (described as leather) and the ink could be proven to be from the first century AD, this wouldn’t prove its authenticity.  These things can be faked. 

3 – The text would need to be analyzed by scholars – does the writing match other writing samples of the time period?  Does the vocabulary fit?  There would be lengthy and heated debate over the translation. 

4 And even then the question of its authenticity would not be resolved.

But Ace Collin’s doesn’t seem to understand or care about any of that.  This is an adventure story, thinking isn’t necessary, as long as there is lots of running and shooting and explosions…

And again… documents claiming to cast doubt on the birth and divinity of Jesus are not new or extraordinary.  Celsus, a 2nd century philosopher, wrote that Jesus' father was a Roman soldier named Panthera.  Christianity has been dealing with questions about Jesus’ humanity and divinity since the beginning.  This is nothing new.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by Ace Collin’s book.  Maybe you could tell.

Instead, might I suggest a similar book by Paul L. Maier – A Skeleton In God’s Closet.  It has much of the same adventure flare (chases, daring escapes, a budding romance, etc…) but handles the difficulties and complexities much better – though Skeleton the question is of Jesus’ resurrection rather than his birth.


Biblical Limericks: Flatulence is Funny

The critics, I’m sure, will be quite sharp,
but on this one point no one should carp:
the King James makes it clear
that the noise we will hear
when Yahweh farts will sound like a harp.

Isaiah 16: 11  

Reconsidering the Pharisees in Luke

The Lectionary reading for this Sunday (Luke 13: 31 – 35) begins with the interesting notice: At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”

Now, I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage.  I’m sure I have.  Many times.  But, for whatever reason, it never completely registered to me that this warning came from some of the Pharisees.  Whoa!  The Pharisees?  Really?  Don’t these guys hate Jesus?  Aren’t they spying on him and watching for mistakes, waiting for their chance to catch him in an error so they can pounce? 

While it is true that the Pharisees in Luke’s writings, as in the other gospels, are antagonistic toward Jesus we might need to modify our perception of them somewhat, lest they become caricatures and stereotypes.  Luke provides a couple of stories that might balance our opinion of the Pharisees.

In Luke 7:36 and in 14:1 Jesus was invited to eat at the homes of some of the Pharisees. Granted, it didn’t play out so well for them in these stories, but the invitation was there.  Also in Luke’s writings we read about some Pharisees who became Christians – Luke 15:5.

Perhaps the Pharisees weren’t merely and only the melodrama villains with curled mustaches and black capes. 

But wait… Before we get all lovey-dovey on the Pharisees here let’s start again.

This reading began with some Pharisees coming to Jesus with a warning that Herod Antipas was planning to kill him.   But consider:  in Luke 9:7 – 9 Herod was fearful, but curious about Jesus.  He wanted to meet him.  And later, in Luke 23: 6 – 12, when he had the opportunity to kill Jesus (and even the expectation that he would kill Jesus) he didn’t.

So the question arises, was Herod really planning to kill Jesus?  Or were these Pharisees trying to stir up trouble? 
Either way, Jesus ignores their warning.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

St. Clare - Patron Saint of Television

St. Clare photo StClair_zpsea1f17b9.jpgI'm taking a break from Biblical Limericks posts... a short break anyway. I've already got one for tomorrow and the next day scheduled.  I'm taking a break from the limericks to share another photo in my series of Saints photographs.  (You can see the previous photos here, here, and here)

These are little figurines of various saints that I have in my office.  Someone gave them to me as a gift a few years back.  I'm not Roman Catholic, offering prayers to the saints isn't part of my faith tradition, but I do like these little figures, and I am impressed and inspired by the lives of the saints.  So I keep these little trinkets in my office.

This one is St. Clare of Assisi.  She was one of the first followers of St. Francis.

In 1958 Pope Pius XII declared her the patron saint of television.  According to the stories told about her, when Clare was too ill to attend the Mass she was able to hear and see it on her bedroom wall.
God of mercy, 

You inspired Saint Clare with the love of poverty. By the help of her prayers may we follow Christ in poverty of spirit and come to the joyful vision of Your glory in the Kingdom of heaven. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,one God, forever and ever.

Biblical Limericks- I Believe the Proper Term is “Prolapsed”

Jehoram was a bad king, no doubt
who led by the apostasy route;
he was king for eight years
then he died amid tears
when Yahweh caused his bowels to fall out.

2 Chronicles 21

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Biblical Limericks: No One Wants to See That

When you construct an altar for prayer
be certain to build it without stairs,
ascending you’ll expose
that what’s covered by clothes,
and no one should see your derrière.

Or, even worse, it could be your fates
as you worship with all of your mates
to make a great error
as you go up the stairs
to reveal  to the crowd your privates.

Exodus 20: 25 – 26

Biblical Limericks: Step In It

The soldiers should carry in their kit
a tool to turn and cover their shit;
this they always should do
for the LORD walks with you
and he doesn’t want to step in it.

Deuteronomy 23: 12 – 14

Ohhhhh get over it.  Limericks are supposed to be rude.

...And That Is Enough

Pastor Charles Thompson didn’t know what had happened to him, but when he awoke that morning he found himself in Jericho.  He recognized it as Jericho – but he couldn’t have explained to you how he knew.  He just knew that it was, indeed, the ancient city of Jericho.  As you might expect, he was quite perplexed by this.  How could he have gone to sleep the night before in his own bed and awakened here? How was that even possible?

He was trying to figure it all out when he began to hear the shouts of people in the street.  They were shouting for Jesus.  Already overwhelmed at having woken up in first century Palestine, it never crossed his mind to wonder that he could now understand Aramaic perfectly.  He could hear the people shouting in the street for Jesus.  He wandered towards the sound.  To be here, on the very street as Jesus passed by; Pastor Thompson couldn’t imagine a greater privilege.    He thought back to all the various times he’d preached about this incident.

At the street he saw the crowd.  He saw Jesus, followed by his disciples and friends.  He scanned the street for the sycamore trees he knew he’d find, and – yes... there he was:  Zacchaeus, the wee little man.  Well, he wasn’t “wee” exactly.  Just short.  Short and pudgy.  Pastor Thompson stifled a giggle as he watched the diminutive tax collector scrambling up the branches of the tree.  Eager to see this familiar scene play out in real life, he pushed through the crowd to stand as close as he could to the tree.

When Jesus reached the spot, he stopped and looked up, just as the Pastor knew he would. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.”   The tax man was astonished, but he climbed down from his perch in the branches of the tree and invited Jesus – and many members of the crowd, including Pastor Thompson, to join with him for a meal at his home.

“Now we come to it,” thought the Pastor.  “I have the opportunity to see how the Master spoke to sinners, how he called them to repentance.  I can learn from this.  When I see how Jesus was able to preach sin and forgiveness and how he was able to win so many for the kingdom, I’ll know better how preach with boldness, how to confront sin with the power of truth.”  The Pastor followed with the crowd to Zacchaeus’ house, and was even invited to sit at the table.

All through the meal he watched and he listened.  He watched Jesus eat and drink.  He listened as the disciples told jokes (some of which were a tad off color) and he heard Jesus laugh with Zacchaeus and the other dinner guests.  But as the meal progressed Pastor Thompson grew impatient. “When will the Master speak truth to sin?  When will he preach and convict the sinner’s heart and bring Zacchaeus to repentance?”

Just then Zacchaeus stood and urged the room to silence.  “Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay it back four times the amount.”   The room erupted in cheers and shouts of joy.   Jesus smiled broadly and hugged the short little man and then said to the crowd, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”

Pastor Thompson, now past the point of all patience, sprung to his feet and exclaimed, “But Lord, excuse my interruption, but how can you say that salvation has come?  You’ve not preached truth to his sin.  You’ve not said anything to convict him.  You’ve been the guest of this sinner, eaten his food and drunk his wine, but you’ve never spoken against his sin.”

And Jesus replied.  “You are exactly right. I have not, but he knows that he is a son of Abraham, and that is enough.”


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Noah’s Ark

I wonder how Noah did build it,
that ark, and how the animals fit,
and who fed them each day
with those great bales of hay,
and who shoveled the elephant shit?

Ohhhhhh get over it.  Limericks are supposed to be rude.

Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark - Part 1- In Over My Head

I want to go home…I’m out of my step here- it’s all over my depth-out of my head –over my step over my head body! – I tell you it’s all stopping to a death, it’s boding to a depth, stepping to a head, it’s all heading to a dead stop –

Rosencrantz  in : Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead -Act I

I’m a little out of my depth, here, I’ll admit it. 

My friend, Joel Watts has sent me a review copy of his book Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary [i] And I have begun reading it, but I feel like I’m in over my head.  I must admit that I am only an amateur theologian, an armchair New Testament scholar.  I have no formal degree.  I can’t read Greek.  

I am and have been, since high school, an autodidact. Mostly.  I will read, and read voraciously, on those topics that interest me, and especially in the area of Theology / Biblical Studies.  But I haven’t read the right books, apparently.

In Part I of Joel’s book he “(re)introduce[s] mimetic criticism.”[ii]  But for one like myself who had not been previously introduced, this is a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without the inflatable floaties around my arms.  (This, by the way, is not a criticism of Joel’s work.  The ignorance is mine.)

I am able to understand (I think) what he is saying – but it’s not with the ease of familiarity.  Of the authors he has cited so far (Sandmel, Carrier, Thompson, Verenna, Casey, Suetonius, Zahn, MacDonald, etc…) I have read exactly: none.  Oh, I have a beginner’s familiarity with Plato and Aristotle (thanks, in part, to the Monty Python sketch, The Philosopher Drinking Song) and I recognize several of the author’s names – and I’ve even interacted a little bit on-line with Tom Verenna. But, I am not immediately familiar with all the work that’s gone before Joel’s book.[iii]

And in a book about mimesis – that’s important – knowing what’s come before.

Still, it is an engaging and informative book so far.  I’m learning new words. If nothing else, I’ve increased my vocabulary.  I’m also adding to the list of books that I’d like to read (or that I need to read.)  This list is always getting longer.  I can’t read fast enough to keep up.  Qoheleth was right!

And I am trying to keep in mind that the successive chapters of this book each build upon the previous.  Part I (Chapters 1 and 2) have been preparatory, a laying of the foundation.  In these two chapters, Joel has been giving the reader a guide to the proper use of the tool (the Kopis – that’s one of those new words…) that is mimetic criticism. 

But what is mimetic criticism?  I would bet that most of those who read my blog are, like I was, completely unfamiliar with the concept.  It is the probing of a text to discover what texts the author may have been imitating… it is looking carefully behind the words to identify the intertextual relation between a work and its sources.  But it’s more than just a dry list of source material…

It’s also noticing the ways in which the text has deviated from that which it is imitating, the ways in which it heightens or exaggerates its source material.  It is looking for the way that an author has used the works that have come before, in order to create something new (both in the text s/he is writing and in the world around.) 

But I really don’t feel comfortable trying say more about it than that, yet.  I’ve already admitted my ignorance; I’d rather not demonstrate exactly how deep that ignorance goes.

I am enjoying this book.  Really, I am.  If it is difficult, it is not because Joel’s writing is impenetrable or obtuse.   He writes well, and makes many clever phrases.  I may be in a little over my head, but I don’t think I’ll drown just yet. 

*In the interest of full disclosure: I have been given a copy of the book - but have not been otherwise compensated. My opinions, like my ignorance, are my own.  

[i] Watts, Joel L. Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Wipf & Stock, Eugene Oregon, 2013.
[ii] Page 5.
[iii] I have been able, however, to recognize his references to Dr. Who and to Star Wars… does that count for anything?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians!

Once in the city of Ephesus
lived the silver-smith, Demetrius,
who started a riot
when Paul would not quiet
his contempt for the local goddess.

(Acts 19: 23 - 41)

Jesus Uncrossed

Apparently some people were offended by Saturday Night Live's recent parody, Djesus Uncrossed.  Some people are perpetually offended.  Oh well.  I wasn't offended.

I wasn't offended because 1) Jesus doesn't need me to be offended for him and 2) it's a fairly accurate picture of the Jesus that I think many Christians secretly worship.

Consider Mark Driscoll's (in)famous quote: "There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left.  Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.  In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.  That is a guy I can worship.  I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up."  (Relevant Magazine)

I also think that  many American Christians seem to want this uncrossed Jesus - a Jesus who defends the 2nd Amendment so he can put down the bad guys with a well placed bullet.  After all, "The only thing  that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  (Wayne LaPierre - the NRA's executive vice president)  The gun toting Jesus is the ultimate good guy, right?

The SNL parody is funny because it is grounded in truth (as all good satire is.)  The "historical revenge fantasy" Jesus is the Jesus that many Christians seem to be worshiping.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jesus' Internet Dating Profile

Jesus Internet Dating photo JesusInternetDating_zps27fb6297.jpg

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2013 - Week 9

Each week I create a new background image for Powerpoint (or similar presentation programs.)  I use them at church, but I make them available to you here on my blog.  They are free for you to use in your own projects at home, work, school, or church.  Use them how you will.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

Berries photo cranberry_zps972e4edc.jpg

Biblical Limericks:Goliath

Goliath of Gath was a tall man
measuring four cubits and a span.
Scripture tries to explain
how he came to be slain
but was it David or Elhanan?

(1 Samuel 17 / 2 Samuel 21:19)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Biblical Limericks – 2 Kings 2:22 – 25

Elisha was a man to beware,
sensitive about his lack of hair.
When some boys on the way
called out, “go up, Baldy!”
he cursed them to be mauled by she-bears.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Deth Kitteh

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For All the Saints

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Previous photos in this series are here and here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Another (Not Quite) Biblical Limerick: Lilith

Before there was Eve there was Lilith,
if we believe the old Jewish myth;
when Adam approached her
to biblically know her
she fled to the desert forthwith.

Happy Valentine's Day

 photo ValentinesDay_zps0527bdce.jpgOf course we celebrate romantic love on the anniversary of the death of a man who was beaten to death and then beheaded.  It makes perfect sense.

This saint fought even unto death,
for the law of his God,
and feared not the words of the wicked;
for he was set upon a firm rock.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Biblical Limericks: Genesis 2: 18 – 23

The first man, Adam, lived all alone
with no one he could count as his own.
The animals could mate
in their natural state,
but for the first man there was none.

So Yahweh became the first surgeon
to make for the man one of his own.
With a wound in his side
Adam said with great pride,
“This one, at last, is flesh for my bone.”

Ohhhh get over it.  Limericks are supposed to be rude.
Besides.  That's nothing compared to R. Eleazar said about Adam in the garden before Eve:

"R. Eleazar further stated: What is meant by the Scriptural text, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh?  This teaches that Adam had intercourse with every beast and animal but found no satisfaction until he cohabited with Eve." (From the Babylonian Talmud -Yebamoth 63a)


(from the Red Zone City)
to be played upon the mandolin

There is no sense of the sacred
in this red-zone city.
Here they venerate the severed head
of Edward Teach
and stroke his beard for luck.

Here they dream in unwashed beds
of mischief and malice.
They believe that they cannot be seen
beneath their time-distorting crystals,
but I can see and have seen.

If we cannot leave this red-zone city
then let us find our heaven here
between the clouds and mountains,
beneath the shadow of wings.
Let us share the bitter-sweet

Communion of grapefruit flesh
and mercy from beyond the stars.
The foot of pride will not crush us.
We will drink and be drunk
in the river of pleasure beneath the light of light.

More of St. Jude, Patron of Hopeless Cases

St. Jude 2 photo stjude2_zpsfdb871a6.jpg
On Friday I shared a photo I took a little figurine of St. Jude that I keep in my office.

Here is one more that I took.  In this one you can see some more of the traditional elements of St. Jude's iconography.  The tongue of fire above his head represents his presence in the upper room on the day of Pentecost   He carries in one hand a wooden club (representing the manner of his martyrdom) and in the other he carries a medallion with a picture of Jesus' face on it.

He is the patron Saint of lost and hopeless causes.  And in an unrelated  note (I hope) he is also the patron saint of the Chicago police department.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Does a Cat Know of Kafka?

The family cat pauses mid-step as he approaches me to stretch one leg out behind him, and then another.  He sits and stares at me in my chair, reading a collection of stories by Kafka.  What does a cat know of Kafka? Or care? He flicks his tail one, twice and leaves me for the relative warmth of the sun in the window.

Writings about Psalm 91,

One of the readings in the lectionary for this week is from Psalm 91.  I have written a couple of times on this particular psalm.

I wrote this sermon- Can We Find that Secret Place of the Most High? - a couple of years ago and I still like it. (Sometimes I look back over my written sermons and cringe...)

And this:

By the Speaking of this Charm

By the creative word
and his song,
by the speaking of this charm,

I will not fear the terrors of the night
or creatures prowling moon lit fog.
I will not shiver at their crossing
nor faint within their shade.

I will not fear the arrows that fly by day
though they, by their thousands,
should blot out the sun
and threaten to pierce and to skewer.

I will not fear the plague of night,
the stalking chemical burns,
and viral blasts that lurk
in dark corners and narrow alleyways.

I will not fear the noonday devil,
the scourge of havoc that
lets slip the dogs of war
for pillage, rape, and carrion feasts.

By the creative word
and by his song,
by the speaking of this charm
I will not fear.

Powerpoint Slides for Everyone - 2013 - Week 8

I make a new background image for Powerpoint (or similar presentation program) each week.  I use them in our local church services.  And I share them here on my blog.  These images are free for you to use in your own projects at home, work, school, church, or wherever. Use them freely.  I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others that you found them here.

week 8 photo Week8_zps58fda371.jpg

If you would like to download all of 2012's image in one 131 MB .zip file click here.

Biblical Limericks: Judges 4: 17 - 22

Be sure to avoid the tent of Jael
though she offers you milk in a pail.
She'll lay you to bed
then pierce through your head
with a hammer and very large nail.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What I’m Reading: The Moon is A Harsh Mistress

My first experience with Robert Heinlein's science fiction came when I was that lonely, new-kid-in-town, sixth grader.  I was given Have Space Suit, Will Travel to read and I devoured it.  Read it through three times in a row. I read it on the playground during recess.  Since then I’ve gone on to read more of Heinlein’s books.  Some I’ve loved almost as much as that first, others I’ve had to force myself to finish reading.  

But remaining right along with Have Space Suit, Will Travel in my list of treasured favorites has been The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Heinlein’s novel of political revolution on the moon.  It was originally published as a serial in 1965 -66 and published as a novel in 1966.  It received the Hugo Award for best Science Fiction novel in 1967.  It is a brilliant book in many ways – but brevity, being the soul of wit, especially.  The novel is not long. It is not plodding (as some of his works tended to be.) The plot moves along briskly but not at the expense of detailed development of the setting.  

Within the relatively narrow confines of the front and back covers, he manages to show the reader a fully developed Loonie (the resident’s of the scattered underground Lunar colonies) culture.  The Loonies are criminals, exiled political dissidents or the children and grandchild thereof, and their revolution is the fight is to free themselves of the oppressive Lunar Authority – whose polices treat the Loonies as slaves , and whose demands and quotas are stripping the moon of its resources in order to feed an overpopulated Earth below.

The story manages to include political discussions (obviously) but also discussions about polyandrous marriages, political history, artificial intelligence, astrophysics, and, and, and etc…  The depth is surprising considering, again, that it’s not a long novel – less than 400 pages.

But in this, my most recent re-reading of TMIAHM, I have to admit, I was not quite as charged by it.  I am, by nature (or nurture (or both)) a bit of a revolutionist. I admire the revolutionary spirit.  And when I first read this book I loved it.  I gushed about it.  I thrilled to it.  But not so much, this time. The Rational-Anarchy of the character Professor Bernardo de La Paz doesn’t interest me nearly as much as it did before.  I don’t believe that :

concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals.  that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. 

Perhaps my affection for the book has been blunted by the idiocies of the Libertarian / Tea Party movements. Perhaps it’s because I believe that we (as individuals) are responsible to and for each other- as individuals and as a communal whole.  I am my brother and my sister’s keeper. 

But still, I like the book, quite a bit, even if it doesn’t thrill me as it did before.

How Foolish

I’m having an existential crisis
                Who am I in this place?
you’re telling me how I can increase my Sunday School attendance
and critiquing the cut of my coat.

If I’d come with any expectations, I’d be disappointed,
but since I’d only hoped…

How foolish.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It Is Good To Be Here, But We Cannot Remain

Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  In the Church liturgical calendar this is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany, the last Sunday before the season of Lent which begins on Wednesday – Ash Wednesday.  It marks a transition both in our worship and in the life of Jesus as described by the gospel writers.  The transfiguration of Jesus upon the mountain top marked a turning point, of sorts, in his ministry path.  From that mountain he turned from teaching and healing in Galilee towards the confrontation and rejection he knew he must face in Jerusalem.

In many churches today is the last Sunday until Resurrection Sunday when any “Alleluias” will be sung. Alleluias are ‘put away’ during this season that the church focuses on penitence; they won’t be sung until the Easter morning’s glorious announcement, “He is risen from the dead!”   Transfiguration Sunday is a day of transition, a day of both dazzling displays of blindingly brilliant glory and also a day fraught with the heavy foreshadows of death. 

The story, as we have it in Luke, begins “now about 8 days after this…” - And at this we should begin to take notice, we who have read through the story more than once.  We will know that the eighth day is the resurrection day.  If Jesus was crucified and buried on the day before the Sabbath, and he was in the tomb all during that seventh day’s rest, it was on the 8th day that he was raised up.  But, we who have read through the story more than once know this.  The disciples who followed Jesus then didn’t yet understand these things.

So, about 8 days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the “Christ of God,” Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountainside to pray. Neither Mark nor Matthew relates that point in their telling of this story, (and John doesn’t tell this story in his gospel) but Luke does.  Jesus took his friends up the mountain in order to pray.  Prayer is significant in Luke.  In fact, Jesus prays more frequently in Luke’s gospel than the others. 

At his baptism, Jesus prays and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (Luke 3:21-22).  Before Jesus chooses his disciples he spends the entire night in payer.  (Luke 6: 12 – 16) When Peter makes his confession that Jesus is the “Christ of God,” it is after a time of private prayer. (Luke 9: 18 – 20) 

And now, Jesus is taking three of his disciples, three of his closest friends up the side of the mountain to pray.  It isn’t certain which mountain Jesus and his friends were climbing, but according to Christian tradition it was Mount Tabor in lower Galilee - an isolated hill rising abruptly from the surrounding landscape. 

But whether or not it was Mount Tabor or not is not strictly important.   Just as today, Transfiguration Sunday, marks a transition from one Church season to another, mountains are places of transition from the earthly below to the heavenly above.  They are places where one can meet with God, places where one can leave the world of the natural and the mundane and to ascend into very heavens. Jesus is not merely taking his friends on a nature hike so that they can appreciate the splendor and beauty of the landscape below them; he is taking them to a place where they can experience the divine presence away from the cares and troubles of the world below.

And there, atop this holy hill, Jesus prayed.  And as he was praying something happened. His appearance was changed – his face, his clothes were altered.  He was (to borrow a word from Matthew and Mark’s gospel) transfigured.  His face shined.  His robes were dazzling white.  He assumed the appearance of the glory of heaven.  And there were two men with him, speaking to him, Moses and Elijah.

(as an irreverent and irrelevant aside – I’ve always wondered how the disciples recognized them?  Did they recognize Moses and Elijah from their photographs?)

And we who have read through the stories of the bible a time or two are going recognize something here as well, well several somethings, really.  Luke has almost overloaded this story with connections backwards and forwards.  Not only is this mountain a place in which one can move from earth to heaven, but in Luke’s telling of the story it becomes a place to move backwards and forwards through the history of the people of God.

Here in this mountain top experience Jesus meets with two heroes of the faith – men, for the Jewish disciples, Peter, James and John, would have represented the nearly the whole history of their faith – Moses and Elijah,  the messengers of old, representatives of the Law and the Prophets.  And these two men, as well, had experienced their own mountain top encounters with God: Moses on Mount Sinai as he received the tablets of the ten commandments, and Elijah on Mount Horeb where he stood with his cloak pulled over his face as the Lord passed by and spoke to him in that “still small voice.” 

And they were speaking to Jesus about his “departure” that he was to accomplish in Jerusalem- in Greek that is, his “exodus.” As I said, Luke has made this mountain top a place where time and space have become thin.  This place, this event connects both backwards to the exodus in which Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and forward to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem. 

And the disciples?  What of them?  What were they doing during all of this?  They were sleeping.  As Jesus spent the night praying atop the mountain, his disciples, his friends were sleeping – just as they will when Jesus prays atop the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem the night of his arrest.  Time and space are thin atop the mountain the story connects forward and backward.

But Peter and the others awaken enough to notice that something is going on.  They see Jesus’ transfigured appearance, they see him speaking with Moses and Elijah, and they are overwhelmed by the glory of the moment.  And Peter, as he so often did, blurted out without thinking, “Master! It is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah…”  Let’s build a shrine here on this very place.  Let’s preserve this very moment in time.  But Peter did not really know what he was saying.

As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the six of them entered into the cloud – Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James and John.   Time and space are almost irrelevant here.  Booths and tents cannot mark or preserve this moment.  In this cloud we are in the presence of God. The cloud that led the people of Israel through the wilderness, the cloud that covered the mountain as Moses met with God, the cloud that settled upon Solomon’ Temple.  We are in the presence of God.  Overshadowed by his presence.  And it is not insignificant that Luke has used the word “overshadowed” here.  It is the same word he used when the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary (and these are the only two times the word is used in the NT.) 

And they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  How could they not be afraid?  They are moving through time and space into the timelessness of God’s presence. Moving out of mere chronos clock time and into kairos .

The Greek language has two words for time, chronos and kairos.  Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, the tick, tick, tick, of the clock hands one moment following after another.  Kairos signifies a time between, moments of indeterminate time in which something special happens. Chronos is quantitative and measurable.   Kairos is qualitative and cannot be measured or marked or preserved.  It can only be experienced.

“Jesus took John and James and Peter up the mountain in ordinary, daily chronos; during the glory of the Transfiguration they were dwelling in kairos.”  [i]

And there in the timeless they experienced that transcendental oneness with God.  They heard the voice of God speaking to them , “This is my son, my chosen.  Listen to him.”  The voice encouraged them to hear Jesus the same way that they would hear Moses and Elijah, to receive him the same way they would receive the Law and the Prophets.  To follow him as they would those messengers of old.

And they were overwhelmed by this experience.  They were afraid.  How could they not been afraid?  When it was all over they told no one about it? How could they?  Kairos time isn’t quantifiable, isn’t measurable.  It must be experienced.  And those who have not shared the experience will not be able to understand.  How could they have told anyone about the things they heard and the things they saw?  They barely understood them themselves.  It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that they were able to put words to the experience.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”  (2 Peter 1: 16 – 18)

But those moments of kairos time are fleeting.  We cannot live in them.  The regularity of Chronos reasserts itself and we are brought back into the ‘real world.’   We cannot stay on the mountain.  The cloud dispersed and Peter and James and John were alone with Jesus again.  And he led them back down the mountain into the cares and concerns of the world. 

Almost immediately he was mobbed by the crowd and by the man, desperate for his son, and by the feckless disciples.  He and his disciples had just experience that intimate oneness with God, a holy and sacred experience with the Divine, and now he’s confronted by the petty, and suffering, and the obtuse, and the ordinary.  Is it any wonder that Jesus sounds so exasperated when he says to them, “O you unbelieving and perverse generation! How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41)

But we cannot stay in those mountain-top experiences.  The world below calls us, needs us.

I think is significant, also, that the two men who spoke with Jesus in that experience were great leaders of unfinished works.  Moses led the people out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, led them right up to the Promised Land, but died before he could enter it. His work was carried on by Joshua.  And Elijah, the great hero of the Jewish faith did many miracles in Israel, but left his work to his disciple, Elisha, who did twice as many as his teacher. 

So too with Jesus.  He began a great work – but left it for his followers to continue.  We must come down off the mountain to continue that great work – to share the good news of the kingdom of God and to make disciples of all people.

We must come down from the mountain top experiences and face the concerns of this world; we must meet with the father whose son is desperately ill.  We must face the rejection and persecution that must come.  We must move forward through the ordinary and painful experiences – but we can do this because we have been changed.

We have been changed.  We have been transformed, reborn.  We have been altered. In that encounter with God we have been transfigured.  And we carry within us the dazzling display of his glory.  It is this glory that we are to take with us into the world.

It is good for us to be here on the mountain, but we cannot remain. 

[i] L’Engle Madeline Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, North Point Press, New York, NY, 1980. Pg. 93

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Problem-free Philosophy

If Disney's The Lion King  is (loosely) based on Shakespeare's Hamlet ...

 photo HakunaMatata_zps7b59ac1c.jpg

..then Tom Stoppard's play should have had a completely different ending.

The Many Varied Interpretations of the Song of Songs

The Revelation given to John is the most widely and contradictorily interpreted book of the New Testament. Revelation’s multiplicity of interpretations can be partially explained by its symbolic language and visionary style; commentaries written to explain its mysteries range from the scholarly obtuse to the outrageously fanciful.

Surprisingly, it is the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon, Canticle of Canticles) from the Old Testament that is equally varied in its interpretations. Despite its straight-forward and ‘literal’ language the Song has been described as "locks to which the keys have been lost.” What is very clear to 13 year old boys giggling in the back of the chapel over the words of “scripture” had been obfuscated by centuries of interpretation.

The Song has been understood as an allegory describing the relationship between YHWH God and the People of Israel. This interpretation relies on the prophets – specifically Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea and their description of the marriage of Israel and God for its key to understanding.

"Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:

" 'I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the desert,
through a land not sown. Jeremiah 2:2

Later Christian theologians saw basically the same story in the Song of Songs – but interpreted the allegory as Christ’s love for the Church – drawing on Paul’s words in Ephesians as the key to interpretation.

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33

Athanasius declared that the Song was a “Jubilee song of the Church at the incarnation of the Son of God.” An exact fit for the allegory wasn’t possible, apparently, as there are a number of different ways that the specifics of the song were applied to Christ. For example: The lying down of the king in Song 1:12 was alternately understood as 1) the repose of Christ as part of the Godhead in heaven, 2) the incarnation of Christ, 3) his passion and death, or 4) the indwelling of Christ in the soul of the believer.

Christian interpreters explained the Lover’s tree climbing adventure (7:8 – 9) by relating the palm tree to the Church and that the Beloveds breasts were either the Old and New Testaments, or the “Holy Teachers of the Church who nourish with the milk of simple doctrine those who are reborn in Christ.” Others said that the palm tree was the Cross which the Lover / Savior climbed, and that the breasts of the Beloved were the “Holy Men of God afflicted and tortured like grapes but producing the victory of salvation and gladness to God their Husbandman and to Christ and to the Bride.”

Mystics of the Medieval period understood the Song to be a description of the union of the Soul to God – a sort of spiritual wedding between the individual believer and the divinity. Other mystics said that the song was a description of the union of the “active and the passive aspects of the intellect.”

Catholic scholars applied the song to the Blessed Virgin Mary saying that what is true of the Church in general is true in particular for the Virgin. One writer put words into Mary’s mouth to explain the lying down of the king passage (same as above), “The King himself, Son of the Most High King, Himself no lesser dignity, from His equal throne with the Father, from His Royal seat, from the secret dwelling of His unapproachable Majesty where the Angels see and desire His Face evermore, vouchsafed to come hither to earth for the salvation of perishing souls, and rested in my chamber. In my womb, I say, that King gladly laid Himself down, and found naught in me to make His dwelling displeasing to Him. And there lying, He filled me marvelously with His grace. While preserving my virginity, He took away my maiden barrenness, and His forceful fire consumed me as a whole burnt-offering and filled the entire house with the most fragrant perfume of ointment.”

The Song has been thought of as a cycle of wedding songs for the near-eastern seven day wedding festival – a tradition that has some merit as Rabbi Akiva , in trying to protect the sacredness of scripture, forbid the Song to be sung at common wedding festivals; “Whoever warbles the Song of Songs at banqueting houses, treating it like an ordinary song, has no portion in the World to Come.” Others following a more theatrical urge have described the Song as a two person drama.

Origen, who considered the Song to be a nuptial poem dramatic form but applied it in higher sense to Christ and His Church – a spiritual drama free from all carnality, read back through the Old Testament to find that the Song is the seventh, and (according to biblical numerology) the ultimate or climactic song. The other 6 were: 1) The Song of the Sea – Exodus 15, 2) the Song of the Well – Numbers 21:17, 3) the Song of Moses – Deuteronomy 32, 4) the Song of Deborah – Judges 5, 5) the Song of David’s Deliverance – 2 Samuel 18 / Psalm 18, 6) the Song of Asaph – 1 Chronicles 16:8

Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia in the 4th century declared the Song to be a defense of King Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess. Other writers determined that the Song was about King Solomon’s love affair with Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 3: 13 – 18)

Historical interpretations of the Song have been popular throughout the years. Some first century Jews found in the Song a description of the Presence of God with the people from the Exodus to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Other historical interpreters have identified the Lover as a combination of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah and the Beloved as the Jewish colonies outside of Jerusalem.

In 1992 Luis Stadlemann published a new commentary on the Song. He identified the Song as a “text in code” about the “restoration of the Davidic monarchy in Judah after the exile.” His novel interpretation relied on a “hitherto unsuspected” meaning of the word “love.” In his work “love” refers to the sociopolitical alliance between the House of David and the Jewish community.

Bernard of Clairvaux held a deep appreciation for the Song; before he died he preached some 86 sermons from the Song of Songs – and only got as far as the second chapter. He admonished reader to approach the Song with “chaste” ears and to, “never imagine that it is a man or a woman to be thought of, but rather the Word of God and a Soul. (Sermon 61)” You might think that someone who devoted so much study into a book about love might have learned to be a loving person – but Bernard was the one of the loudest voices crying out for the 2nd Christian Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land, “The Living God has charged me to proclaim that He will take vengeance upon such as refuse to defend Him against His foes. To arms, then! Let a holy indignation animate you to combat, and let the cry of Jeremiah reverberate through Christendom: Cursed be he that withholdeth his sword from blood.”

Martin Luther refused the traditional allegorical understanding of the Song – but couldn’t accept a face value interpretation. He instead identified the beloved Bride as the happy and peaceful state under Solomon’s rule, and the Song as a hymn in which King Solomon thanks God for the divine gift of obedience.

In 1776 a German scholar with the unfortunate name of Herr von Puffendorff (honest!) declared that Solomon, who was versed in the Egyptian mystery religions, originally composed the Song in hieroglyphics. When deciphered this way, Puffendorff found that the Song reveals the death and grave of the Savior. In his commentary on the Song of Songs 1:3 Puffendorff identified the virgins or maidens (No wonder the maidens love you! ) as “the pure and chaste souls locked up in the dark sepulcher and waiting for the light… the Egyptian Neitha, or Minerva, tutelary deity of pious souls, was covered with a veil which none was allowed to uncover. The virgins, concealed in the same manner, have to expect that through marriage they will emerge into light. Thus the souls are here represented, which in the dominion of darkness wait for salvation and light.”

In 1813 Roman Catholic priest Johann Leonhard first proposed that the Song was a series of 38 fragmented and disjointed dream sequences. Later psychology minded readers would find the Song to be filled with Freudian images, but what do you expect in a song explicitly about Sex?

Some Scholars have pointed out certain similarities between the Song and other Ancient Near Eastern fertility cults. Within this interpretation the King and his bride are understood to have re-enacted the marriage of Ishtar and Tammuz. Alternately some have identified Solomon as Osiris, his Shulamite bride as Isis, and the focus of their love songs is the resurrection and ritual stimulation of Osiris.

Phyllis Trible has used the Song as in support of the women’s liberation movement. She describes the Song as a sort of “midrash” on the egalitarian relationship of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. “Love is the meaning of their life, and this love excludes oppression and exploitation. It knows the goodness of sex and hence it knows not sexism. Sex and love expand existence beyond the stereotypes of society. It draws into itself the public and the private, the historical and the natural. It transforms all life even as life enhances it. Grace returns to the female and the male.”

In the 17th century prophetic interpretations of a decidedly dispensationalist flavor began to appear. One such reading found 2 ‘dispensations’ of the “Legal Church” in the Song. 1:1 – 4:6 were interpreted to refer to the period from King David to the death of Christ, while 4:7 – 8:14 referred to the state of the Evangelical church from 34 A.D to the (still future) 2nd coming of Christ.

Another more detailed reading divided the Song into 7 ‘dispensations’.

1-2 The period when the Gospel was preached to Jews and Gentiles.
3-4 A time of increase for the Church and persecution
5-6:8 A time of peace without, but danger within.
6:9 – 7:10 Reformation
7:11 – 8:3 Unsettled Post-Reformation
8:4 – 8:6 Persecution
8:7 – 8:14 Rest and Longing for the spread of the Gospel and the Triumph of Protestantism.

While through the centuries the face value reading of the Song has been ignored or covered with allegory because of shame – there have been many who have said that the song is exactly what it appears to be: a celebration of sex between a Husband and a Wife.

In the fourth century a Roman monk named Jovinian defended a literal understanding of the Song. Jovinian’s brazenly declared that celibacy and virginity were in and of themselves no more valuable than marriage and that the Song of Songs was to be understood as the praise and sanctification of marital sex.

This didn’t set well with the ecclesiastical authorities. In 390 Pope Siricius called a synod in Rome to condemn Jovinian and his followers. Jovinian left Rome and took his followers to Milan, where in 395 Ambrose called another synod to reconfirm Siricius’s condemnation. Augustine and Jerome also joined in the attack on Jovinian and his ‘heretical’ notion that sexual expression could be as holy as celibacy and virginity.

The rabbis and early church fathers were committed to an allegorical interpretation because of their predetermined attitude that sex was vulgar. The Rabbis, who never went so far as to demand celibacy, advocated marriage and the “sober duty of procreation.” The church fathers went even further, declaring celibacy to be the highest good. Origen went beyond this, even, taking Christ literally and made himself a eunuch for the Kingdom. This predetermined filter (sex is bad) warped their reading of the Song into a multitude of various allegorical interpretations – each clinging tenuously to the text.

And in time these flimsy allegories have fallen away. Modern commentators are almost unanimous (there are always some hold-outs) in their agreement that the Song is exactly what it purports to be: a celebration of sacred sex.

Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna…
There I will give you my love.
(Song of Songs 7: 12 –13)

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