My wishlist

So, inspired by Sally’s suggestion, I am rethinking my holiday wishlist.  Here is what I really want for Christmas:

1) That we all might realize the “true cost” of things, and consider when making our decisions who made the product, and how — whether they were paid fairly, whether their working conditions were healthy, whether their community suffered environmental damage, what was polluted in the making of the product, what was destroyed, were communities built up? were families destroyed?  For Christmas, I want to consider the costs before pulling out my wallet.

2) That I might spend less time thinking of the perfect object to demonstrate how I feel about another person, and more time thinking of the perfect WAY to demonstrate my caring.

3) That I might be freed from anxiety over people who are “just too difficult to shop for.”

4) That meaningful healthcare reform might come before one more person has to lose their home over suddenly unmanageable medical expenses.

5) That I might not once so much as sigh in exasperation at an underpaid and too often abused retail worker.

6) Is it too much to hope that no one might kill another person? How about if I narrowed it down to no more killing other people ON PURPOSE?

7) And the pews absolutely filled to bursting the Sunday after Christmas.  That would be pretty cool!

Like any of my previous wishlists, this list is not nearly complete!  Feel free to give me something worth hoping for that I am not expecting – I love surprises!



Love your enemies

So I haven’t posted lately. And I haven’t responded to the many people who have left comments on my blog. I’m so sorry. I have lots of good excuses, including flu and an Advent devotional booklet that I am editing, and very little childcare coverage.

I anticipate that next week, after I have preached (woohoo! first time in more than 2 years!) and celebrated Thanksgiving and finished the devotional booklet and taught Sunday school, I am going to blog like crazy. After all, I have notes built up for several entries that I have just been too overwhelmed to flesh out. But as a stopgap, I am pasting in here one of my contributions for my congregation’s devotional booklet.

(This will make better sense if you read Psalm 70:19-29 first. But you probably know the kind of Psalm I’m talking about.)

I had always had trouble with Psalms like this. Praying that bad things would happen to other people didn’t seem to be what Jesus had in mind when he advised, “love your enemies.” I struggled even more as the desire grew in me to embrace all of the Bible, not just part of it. How could I embrace words like these?

Then a rabbi explained to me how our “Old Testament” is viewed in the Jewish tradition: it is divided into the words of God for humanity (the Law and the Prophets, invoked as authoritative throughout our New Testament), and the words of the faithful to God – the Ketuvim, or Writings. And included in the Writings were the Psalms. Perhaps the inclusion of these Psalms did not mean that God had any intention of raining destruction on my enemies – only that I was liberated to spill even my darkest emotions in the safety of God’s loving presence.

And so it was that I found myself, weeks later, on my knees in Duke Chapel. I was consumed with anger with a fellow student. [Note to my J2J friends who are now wondering who it is: I can say with some certainty that he doesn’t even know about this blog, so at least you know a couple of people you can rule out! ] I prayed that God would obliterate him with great fanfare, but only after letting him suffer a bit. I described in great detail all the horrible things that I hoped would befall him. And after many minutes of this – I remember my knees aching on the stone floor – I was spent. My rage was all poured out, and I was empty. And into that silence, a new thought entered: God loved me! God loved angry, hate-filled me! … and God loved my enemy. Could I bring myself to love him, too?

That day, bringing the full force of my anger before God had in fact empowered me to love my enemy so well that I remembered that he was my brother in Christ, and God’s own beloved child – without feeling ashamed of my having expressed such rage, remembering that I continued to be God’s beloved child, too.

Loving Creator, sometimes I get really angry, so angry that I don’t want to admit it to anyone, even myself. Give me courage to bring even my scariest and darkest emotions to you, trusting in your saving love, knowing that my darkness can never overcome your Light. Amen.

So, friends, I hope that you can forgive me for not yet responding to your helpful and thoughtful comments, nor reading your own blogs in the past week or two — or at least I urge you to take whatever vengeful thoughts you have to God in prayer! 😉 No, that is not really why I posted this. I posted it because I did not realize until later that this interpretation of “be angry, but do not sin” might be controversial. And I thought I’d put it out there for community discussion and review.

Children’s Bible Stories?

A year ago, a little girl told my (non-church-going) niece that she was going to Hell because she didn’t know a particular Bible story. This has all worked itself out in the meantime, with the two little girls each coming to a broader understanding of the world, and becoming friends. But one lingering effect of the initial trauma has been my niece’s conviction that in order to understand certain people, she is going to need to know about the Bible.
I would know just how to proceed if she were 14. But from what I have been able to see, the quality of younger children’s Bible story books is, at best, inadequate. Story lines are altered to suit rhyming schemes, works righteousness abounds, God is everywhere “He,” and the single thrust of most every story is that it is our bounden duty to tell everyone that Christ died to save them from damnation – even if the story is from the Old Testament. (See, for instance, Arch Books’ Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Temple.)
This may be an evangelical strategy, but it seems doomed to be an evangelistically ineffective one – families who are not churchgoers are going to be so turned off by these stories that they wash their hands of the Bible entirely and move on to Old Turtle. And so I had been fantasizing about writing my own series of children’s picture books from the Bible – that this might not be another lost opportunity to introduce children to Christianity.
It is a popular argument that the Bible is not particularly kid friendly. The stories we tell to children from the Old Testament are almost comically grim: the expulsion from the Garden, David killing and decapitating Goliath, Jonah swallowed by a giant fish, Ananias and Sapphira struck dead for lying… “Noah’s Ark” is a great example of this – not in reality a story mainly about a bunch of animals living peaceably together on a dear little wooden ship, but unavoidably a story about the death of all humanity except for 8 people (and all of the arguably blameless animals but two (or 7) of each species) at the hands of an angry God.

But even this is nothing compared to the stories we dare not tell children – Tamara raped by her brother, Jezebel torn apart by dogs… so I have begun to agree that perhaps the Bible really is not a book for children. My niece is right to think that the Bible is an essential book, but perhaps wrong to consider that she therefore needs to know all about it right now, as a second-grader. I hope that one day she reads Crime and Punishment, too, but by “one day” I mean “when she is sixteen or older” – and again every five to ten years. I am not in the meantime frantically scouring bookstores for the storybook version.
The Bible is a diverse collection of texts, so naturally there are passages which I would except from my “this is no book for children” dictum – but most of them are not the narratives. For instance, I recently came across a beautiful rendering of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 for children (To Everything There is a Season, by Jude Daly.) Certain Psalms would lend themselves to this sort of treatment, certain sayings of Jesus and passages from Paul and Isaiah.

But on the whole it seems that we are more in need of Tolkien-esque authors – writers who can write stories that illustrate the themes and truths of Christianity in new settings – settings that do not necessarily invoke Christ, but rather evoke Christianity.
What do you think? Are Biblical narratives suitable for children? What are some of your recommendations for books for readers under 10? Not only Bible stories, but also those books which point towards the insights of the Christian faith?