In this episode, we decode some of the basic confusion people have about the Bible and provide suggestions and recommendations for diving into the “shallow end” where you won’t drown in discouragement.
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One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Titus 1:12 (NIV)
A while ago I enjoyed coffee and caught-up with an old friend as she was passing through town. It was not surprising to hear her observations of our little town and its citizens. Our town has long had a reputation of being very conservative and very religious. Like most stereotypes, there is some truth to it, though it is not close to what urban legends have made it for people like my friend.
I’ve learned along my life journey that this is a problem with stereotypes. Like all generalizations and prejudices, they may be rooted in specific things that are, or were, true. They are never universally true, however, and most of the time I’ve found them to be a lazy way of categorizing a group of people in order to fit them into the box of my world-view.
Wendy and I have, for many years, lived and operated in both the Christian community and the arts community in our region. We have observed that many members in both communities paint the other with broad brush strokes of stereotypical generalizations that diminish each other in tragic ways. The generalizations only serve to perpetuate misunderstanding and negativity toward one another.
Today’s chapter begins an instructional letter Paul wrote to Titus. While Titus is never mentioned in the book of Acts, he is referenced thirteen times in Paul’s letters. Titus was a trusted companion and coworker with Paul, and had left Titus on the island of Crete to help organize the fledgling groups of Jesus followers throughout the island. His letter was meant to provide encouragement and instruction in the work.
In the opening of his letter, Paul references a stereotypical view of Cretans sourced from a Cretan prophet. All Cretans are liars and gluttons, the prophet said. Paul acknowledges the truth of the stereotype and urges Titus to rebuke them.
As I sat and listened to my acquaintance over coffee it struck me that her view of the world was based on sweeping generalizations. She saw the world as a scary place full of hatred, oppression, and fear, when facts say the opposite is increasingly true. I humored her by laughing at her perceptions of our community and acknowledged that there is some truth to it, but I also felt a twinge of sadness that she would likely never experience all the positive ways her generalization falls apart when knowing, working with, and living among the incredibly diverse members of our community.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the stereotypes with which I’ve been labeled and painted by others across my journey. I’m also thinking honestly about the people and groups whom I generalize and pre-judge in my ignorance. It seems to me that this is one of those Golden Rule moments in life. I have to lead by example and treat others the way I, myself, would want to be treated; Not as a stereotypical member of a group, but as a unique individual who doesn’t fit neatly into the box of another’s perceptions.
I received an inquiry yesterday from a community theatre who would like to do a group reading of a play I wrote, Ham Buns and Potato Salad. What excited me about the request is that it came from a town not far from where I live and in my reply I inquired about the possibility of sneaking into the reading anonymously to listen to the reading and to hear what the readers thought of it.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about watching a play I’ve written being produced is listening afterwards to what others saw and heard in it. I have been struck by the wide range of perceptions. Some people catch the jokes and enjoy the characters but clearly don’t get the things I was really trying to say about humanity, community, family and faith. Others really perceived the themes I wove into the fabric of the story and were touched deeply by them.
God, the Author of Life, was having frustrations with His people in today’s chapter: “They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.” God instructs Ezekiel to produce another performance art piece. This time, Zeke is to metaphorically act out being taken in exile. It is clear that God intended the play (that’s really what it was, Ezekiel was an actor playing out a scene) to communicate to people in ways that all the sermons delivered by the prophets had failed. The goal was to provoke thought and prompt questions as God asks his actor, “Son of man, did not the Israelites, that rebellious people, ask you, ‘What are you doing?’”
Today, I am reminded that a good story, well produced and performed, can be more powerfully moving and create more productive conversation than a Sunday sermon. Today’s chapter is evidence to me that our creator/artist God knows this to be true. It’s a tragedy that the institutional church, by and large, abandoned the arts centuries ago. I am excited that this Saturday night our local group of Jesus followers is having an “Original Works Night” which we do periodically for artists among us to have a venue to present their works. It’s a start. There is hope.
The sons of Ulam were brave warriors who could handle the bow. They had many sons and grandsons—150 in all. 1 Chronicles 8:40 (NIV)
I remember well the conversations between boys on the playground of Woodlawn Elementary School. There is something God instilled in boys that we begin to measure one another by physical strength and prowess at a young age. When comparisons on the playground ended in some kind of dead heat, the arguing escalated to comparing fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors for bragging rights. Those bragging rights often rested on military service, especially those whose male ancestors fought in a war.
I admit that, at the time, I always feared this escalation of generational military comparison. My friend, Scott, had an actual saber from one of his forebears who served in the Civil War. That was the ultimate trump card. As far as I knew, there wasn’t too much of the warrior spirit to brag about on either side of the family. My uncle was a navy man in the Korean war, but being a cook on a landing craft wasn’t about to go over big with the boys on the playground. My maternal grandfather served in the Civil Defense during WWII, but having a helmet and billy club to defend Des Moines from the Imperial Forces of Japan wasn’t exactly the stuff of playground legend either. I still remember that billy club. It was made from a sawn off pool cue, but that didn’t compare to a Civil War saber.
As I’ve been reading through the genealogies of the tribes of Israel the past week, I’ve noticed that “mighty warriors” get called out quite often by the Chronicler. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. And, I get it. A few weeks ago our country celebrated Memorial Day followed by an apt commemoration of D-Day. We honored the warriors, both men and women, who put themselves on the front lines to defend our country, our culture, our freedom, and our values from those who have sought to take that away.
Around 450 B.C. when the scribe was first penning the genealogies of the book of Chronicles, I believe things were far more precarious than anything we know in America today. City states and villages were under constant threat of raids and attacks. The Chronicles were written after both Israel and Judah had suffered destruction and exile at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. “Mighty Warriors” who could defend a village, town, or tribe were honored because they were an every day insurance policy against being raided, pillaged, tortured and killed.
Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the arts, but it is not lost on me that the freedom and affluence which affords me the luxury of being able to explore every medium of art was made possible by the blood sacrifice of warriors. I have always heard versions of the quote, “I was a soldier, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.” I did a little digging to find the source of that quote and found it predicated on a letter our American founder, John Adams, wrote to his wife, Abigail:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine.
Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780
Today, I’m thankful for the warriors, leaders, farmers, teachers, and businesspeople who paved the way for writers, poets, musicians, artists, actors, and playwrights to work in peace and freedom.
Now Joab son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s mind was on Absalom. Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman. He said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner; put on mourning garments, do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. Go to the king and speak to him as follows.” And Joab put the words into her mouth. 2 Samuel 14:1-3 (NSRV)
A few weeks ago, while Wendy and I were spending a few days at the lake, we watched the movie 12 Years a Slave. In case you’ve been hiding in a cave this past year and have not heard of it, the Academy Award winning movie is based on a book written during the abolition movement in America and is the autobiography of a free African American living in the north who was kidnapped, smuggled to the south and sold into slavery. His story was so powerful, and so powerfully told, that Wendy and I sat speechless on the couch as the credits rolled, tears streaking down our cheeks. Our hearts had been rent. It was, for me, a history lesson, a parable about the human condition, and a call to continue opening my eyes, my mouth, my pen and my wallet to address similar injustices that still exist in this world today.
One of the reasons I love the arts, and the dramatic arts in particular, is their ability to communicate spiritual truths and move people to action in a way that no other mode of communication does. During one of the final read-throughs of my script Ham Buns and Potato Salad before we went into production this last year one of the female readers, emotionally shaken by the story, exclaimed that we had better have counselors available at the back of the theatre because of the emotions and painful memories it might bring up for audience members. I was taken aback by her strong emotional response after simply being part of a table reading of the script. That’s the power of a story well told. As a writer, it gratified me to know that the story had effectively reached at least one person.
Today’s chapter is one that I studied in depth while pursuing my theatre degree in college. It is, arguably, the only story of acting told throughout the entirety of the Bible. Joab needed to get through to King David. Perhaps he’d seen how Nathan’s story of the rich man stealing the poor man’s only lamb had gotten through to the king. David couldn’t see his blind spot if you tried to reveal it to him plainly, but when you cloaked it in a metaphorical story, he could see his own situation clearly. Joab decides to hire an actor, costume her in mourning clothes, use a little make-up to make it look like she’d been grieving, and gave her a script to follow. She played the part brilliantly. What impresses me is that she took the part and nailed the role knowing that the King, once it was revealed that he’d been conned, could easily have ordered her death for tricking him.
I believe that we don’t give enough thought to how we communicate. Not only on a corporate level, but also on an interpersonal one. Most every human conflict can be traced back to a break down in communication. I believe equally that the hope of redemption and restoration hinges on our ability to communicate, not only clearly, but in multiple channels and mediums. By capably utilizing diverse mediums of communication we can reach each diverse audience member through a medium, perhaps the only medium, through which they can hear and receive the Message.
And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3 (NIV)
One of the cooler things my local church does is a semi-annual event called Original Works Night (O.W.N.). The idea is rather simple. Creative types are encouraged to bring their original songs, dance, poems, scripts, paintings, photographs and etc. Our church’s auditorium is transformed into a relaxing coffeehouse atmosphere complete with free food and drink. People gather and for a couple of hours to take in the artistic expressions.
O.W.N. happened to be this past Saturday night. While the artists were all over the map in terms of their own personal faith journeys, there were two themes that emerged. First, there those who, upon placing their faith in Jesus and experiencing salvation, felt compelled to write songs to express their gratitude and wonder. Second, like many of the psalms we’ve read together in recent months, there was a lot of creative expression that came out of pain.
Earlier in John’s vision, we encountered angels and creatures who continually utter the same praise over and over and over again. I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter there is a new song brought into heaven’s throne room. As it happens, it is sung only by those 144,000 who had experienced the pain of the great tribulation and were saved from it by the blood of the Lamb.
I am jazzed by being made in the likeness of the Creator of all things. I love to see and hear the creation of others as they express themselves, their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in artistic ways. I love that in a vision of the end times, we find Creator God in heaven’s throne room having His very own Original Works Night.
Wendy and I love movies, books, and the arts. We talk about them all the time. A friend of ours has told us on several occasions that he likes to watch movies with us. “You see things in the movie I don’t see,” he said. “And, you talk about the movie when it’s over; really talk about it. Most people I know don’t do that.”
Wendy and I tend to look at movies from different perspectives. We think about themes, the writing, the way it was directed and shot and edited. We talk about what the writer and director were trying to say about life, or death, or relationships, or whatever piece of world view they happened to address. The river of our conversation will often flow out into little tributaries of related conversations about all sorts of things.
Some people find it annoying. I know. “Cant’ you just watch a movie?” I’ve been asked on several occasions be different people. I could. I guess.
Wait, scratch that. No, I can’t.
As I observe people and talk with people in different avenues of life, I see those whose thoughts and motivations rarely, if ever, stretch beyond their natural appetites. Get to the next paycheck. Get to the next party. Get to the next major purchase. Get to the next meal. Get to the next sexual experience experience. The journey appears never to exit the interstate of base human appetite.
I have found that Life is so much more than simple appetites. We live in an ever expanding universe made by an infinite Creator. We are eternal beings on an amazing sojourn through this world that is a miniscule dot on eternity’s time line. I don’t want my life to be confined to the dot, I want it to expand toward the entire line. I don’t want to spend the journey a zombie wandering thoughtlessly to my next instinctive need never giving thought to Life which is happening all around me in a million different ways. I want to spend the journey reaching out expansively to fill my mind, my heart, my spirit with Life.
So, to me a movie is more than a two-hour nap for my mind and soul. It’s a leaf from the tree of tales that is unique and fascinating and waiting to be explored and understood in the context of Life. I know it seems weird to some. Hey, what can I say? That’s how we roll. Come on over to the house sometime for a little wine, a nice dinner, some of Wendy’s fabulous cheesecake, a movie and a little late night conversation (along with another piece of cheesecake). You might just leave feeling fullness in more than your stomach.
“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Matthew 6:22-23 (MSG)
One of the things that I love about my wife is the way we both enjoy seeing, experiencing and living with wide eyed wonder. The other week we went to the opera. It was not something I foresee us doing on a regular basis, but we were both awed by the experience which was unique for both of us. We sat in wide-eyed wonder at the entire experience, and then enjoyed sharing our wonder and the lessons learned.
Over this past weekend we watched two fascinating movies. One produced a wonderful conversation about reality and dreams. The other prompted an interesting conversation about, and appreciation for, community.
I don’t understand squinty-eyed living. God is so vast. His works are so infinite. Each day’s journey can be a glorious, wide-eyed exploration of Life that produces light, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and love in increasing measure.