Tag Archives: Bible

Just in time…

Against all my better judgment, I’m presenting the following hymn, a metrical rendering of 2 Maccabees 10.1-7 in the KJV — just in time for sunset of the first night of Hanukkah. You can sing it to any Common Meter tune, although it goes well with Consolation (no. 53 in Singing the Living Tradition).

I tried to keep my interpretation of the KJV text to a minimum. So before you ask, yes, the original text mentions boughs, branches, and palms, and the fact that they remembered their last feast which they spent hiding out in the mountains. It’s easy to forget how weird some of these Bible stories are. I did add the references to freedom and to tyranny, though I feel they are implicit in the story; ditto the reference to the curséd idols.

1. When Maccabeus and his band
Did free Jerusalem,
When they did cast the tyrant out,
‘Twas God who guided them.

1. Good Maccabeus and his band:
They freed Jerusalem.
They cast the wicked tyrant out,
For God was guiding them.

2. The altars which the heathen built
Out in the public square,
They pulled them down, and then destroyed
The curséd idols there.

3. They cleansed the temple, kindled flame,
Gave thanks they now were free.
They then besought God keep them safe
From barb’rous tyranny.

4. They celebrated eight glad days,
Rememb’ring their last feast,
Which they had held in mountain dens
Where they had lived like beasts.

5. Therefore they bore fair branches forth,
Green boughs, and also palms.
They praised the strength that set them free:
To God they raised their psalms.

Road trip notebook: Wyoming and Nebraska

When we first got on the road, I noticed that there seemed to be as many semi trailer rigs as other vehicles. I decided to count to see if my estimate was right. In the time I counted five smaller vehicles (a car, two RVs, two pickup trucks pulling trailers), I counted 27 semi-trailers. I started wondering how much of each highway tax dollar goes to subsidize the trucking industry.

Carol found out about Hobo Hot Springs, so we drove south from the interstate to Saratoga, Wyoming, to visit them. Carol said that the Indians sold the hot springs to white people with the condition that the hot springs be open year round, 24 hours a day. We found the hot spring down a side street, past the public fishing access point on the North Platte River, in behind the municipal swimming pool. While Carol soaked in the hot springs, I walked around the town, across the river, and over to Veteran’s Island Park. When i got back, Carol was ready to get out of the hot springs: the water was too hot, and you had to sit in the direct sun besides.

Carol had ice cream, and I had a sandwich, in the center of the town. We took a walk around town to stretch our legs, and Carol spotted a geodesic dome green house. An older couple was out working in their garden next to the green house. Carol struck up a conversation with the woman, whose name was Kay, and got us an invitation to see the inside of the green house. While she and Kay went inside to look at the orange tree, I talked Lee, her husband. He said the growing season there went from the first of June to early September. He had a small apple tree, a variety called “Sweet 16” which I have never heard of, one of the few varieties hardy enough for their climate.

Kay asked us each our names, and went inside our house. She came out in a moment and gave us each a small New Testament. “He’s a Gideon,” she said, pointing to Lee, “the ones who place Bibles in all the hotels.” She told us about all their activities distributing Bibles. “This is the King James Version,” she said, pointing to the Bibles she gave us, “because that’s the one that’s acceptable to most denominations.” Carol told her I was a minister, and she was a little taken aback, but I said I was glad to get a copy of the King James version as I had recently given my copy away — which was true, I frequently give away copies of the Bible to Unitarian Universalists who say they’d like to finally read the Bible. “Well, it’s just the New Testament,” she said, “it doesn’t have the Old Testament”; but I said that was fine with me.

We talked a little while longer. They want the green house to grow food year round, because they worry that things might fall apart and they might have to become self-reliant. Then we said our good byes, and headed on our way.

The road climbed up out of Laramie, and at last we saw a sign that said “ELEV. 8640.” It’s all down hill from here, I thought to myself.

We’re spending the night in Ogallala, Nebraska. We just walked down to the North Platte River, and watched the Cliff Swallows swarming around the bridge at sunset:

How To Feed Five Thousand People

Another in a work-in-progress, stories for liberal religious kids.

Once upon a time, Jesus and his disciples (that is, his closest followers) were trying to take a day off. Jesus had become very popular, and people just wouldn’t leave him alone. Jesus and the disciples wanted a little time away from the crowds that followed them everywhere, so they rented a boat and went to a lonely place, far from any village.

But people figured out where they were going, and by the time Jesus and his friends landed the boat, there were five thousand people waiting there for them. So Jesus started to teach them, and he talked to them for hours.

It started getting late, and the disciples of Jesus pulled him aside and said, “We need to send these people to one of the nearby villages to get some food.”

“No,” said Jesus. “The villages around here are too small to feed five thousand people. You will have to get them something to eat.”

“What do you mean?” his disciples said. “We don’t have enough money to go buy enough bread for all these people, and even if we did, how would we bring it all back here?”

“No, no,” said Jesus. “I don’t want you to go buy bread. Look, how many loaves of bread have we got right here?” Continue reading

We hear about Abigail, and learn to make storyboards with a ringer

It’s been a month since I got to teach Sunday school, but finally today I was the lead teacher once again; Susie, who had been the lead teacher last week, was the assisatant. Three of our regulars came to class today — Heather, Zach, and Dorit. We sat down in a circle, and Dorit immediately said, “Can tell about a good and bad thing?” Zach and Heather both said, “Yeah!” I said that we would do check-in as usual, but we had to do attendance first, and light the chalice. Susie took attendance, and when it was time to light the chalice, both Heather and Zach put their hands up.

Susie pointed out that Heather had been lighting the chalice a lot lately. I proposed that Heather light the chalice first, then blow it out, then Zach would light it. Heather and Zach said that Dorit should get to blow it out. After a more discussion, that is what we decided to do. Heather lit the candle in the chalice. Dorit blew it out. Zach lit the candle, and we were ready to begin.

We were about halfway done with check-in when tow more people walked in: Bobby, and his father William. (Bobby usually attends the 9:30 Sunday school.) I explained what we were doing, and asked them to join us in the circle. We continued the check-in; I had to explain to Bobby that just one person talked at a time (I believe they don’t do check-ins in his regular Sunday school class). Heather had gone on a sleep-over; Zach had had a good football practice; I had seen a car accident on the way to church; William had gotten a good letter from a client; Bobby wasn’t ready to say anything yet. When we got done, Dorit had “two more things” she wanted to add to her check-in. At last check-in was done.

“Because we have some new people, let’s go around the circle and everyone say our names,” I said. By now, our regulars are used to doing this, so we went around the circle twice and said our names. I asked who could say everyone’s name, and Dorit said she could, and she did. Continue reading

Abigail and David

The Sunday school class I’m co-teaching is doing a unit on King David. We used the stories from the book From Long Ago and Many Lands about David and Saul, and David and Jonathan — which are pretty much guy stories. So for tomorrow’s Sunday school class, I decided to do the story from 1 Samuel 25.2-42, which features the quick-thinking and clever woman Abigail. It’s still a rough draft….

Long before he became a king, when David was still running from Saul, afraid that Saul would kill him, he and his six hundred followers travelled to the wilderness of Paran.

In Carmel, which was near the wilderness of Paran, there lived a rich man named Nabal, who owned three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. Nabal was married to a woman named Abigail, who was clever and beautiful. Nabal himself, however, was rude and ill-natured; his name meant “The Fool.”

In the wilderness, David heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep. He decided to send ten young men to Nabal. David said to them, “Go to Carmel, find Nabal, and give him my greetings. Say to him, ‘Peace be upon your peace be upon your household, peace to all you have.’ Tell him that we have been living here among his shepherds, and we have not attacked them, nor have we stolen anything from them;– we have only the best intentions towards him and all those who work for him. You will arrive at his household on a feast day, and ask him if he would please give whatever food and drink he might have on hand to me and all of us.” David knew that anyone who lived in that land would feel compelled by the laws of hospitality to give at least some food to a band of men living in the wilderness.

David’s ten young men went to see Nabal the Fool, and they politely passed on David’s greetings, and his request for hospitality. But Nabal spoke to them harshly. “Who is this David?” he said. “There are many servants who try to run away from their masters. Why should I take bread and meat and water away from the people who have been shearing my sheep, and give it to people who come from I know not where?”

When the ten young men came back to David and told him what had happened, he told four hundred of his men to strap on their swords. “I protected his shepherds and everything else Nabal had in the wilderness, but for this good I did he returned to me only evil,” said David. “Now we will go and kill every male in his household.” They followed David towards Nabals’ house, while the remaining two hundred men stayed to guard the animals and the camp. Continue reading

On Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley

This evening, I was browsing in a used bookstore. The man standing at the cash register was talking with two women. He had a ponytail and a beatific smile. I noticed one of the women wore a bright orange t-shirt. They were having a long conversation, and I didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying.

But then I happened to be browsing through the used sheet music, idly hoping to find Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” when I heard the woman with the orange t-shirt say, “Do you have any Bibles?”

“Right over here,” said the man, and walked over to show her the Bibles, which happened to be right behind me.

“Have you ever read the Bible?” she said.

“Oh, yes,” said the man. “Several times, in fact. But I don’t believe in it. I guess I’m more of a Hindu.”

“How come you don’t believe in the Bible?” said the woman innocently.

The man proceeded to rehash some of the old arguments of the Higher Criticism, getting one or two of them wrong. I made it a point to wander away to different part of the store. I felt tempted to involve myself in the discussion and make corrections, but I also felt that perhaps they were flirting a little bit and I didn’t want to interrupt them.

The man had to go back to the cash register to take care of a customer. When the customer had gone, the woman in the orange t-shirt went over and continued the discussion: “How come you don’t believe in the Bible? Don’t you worry about what will happen after you die? Because life is short, but what happens afterwards lasts much longer.”

“Well,” said the man, still smiling, “I can’t be a Christian because I can’t believe in a God that would damn people to hell. Either everyone goes to heaven after they die, or I can’t believe in God.”

He continued at great length, and I restrained myself from bursting into their conversation and saying, Ah ha, you are stating the case for classic Universalism as set forth by Hosea Ballou…. — as I say, I restrained myself, because by now I could sense that the woman was not as innocent as she appeared at first. She was determined to save this poor man’s soul, to bring him to Christ, or whatever phraseology might be used by her particular sect or denomination. I couldn’t see her face, but I could see from her body language how intent she was. I could also see from her body language that she was still flirting with him.

At last I couldn’t wait any longer; I wanted to buy a few books and move on. “Excuse me,” I said, walking up to the cash register. “I hate to interrupt your conversation, but…”

The man, still smiling beatifically, cheerfully took my money. The woman stood there, intent, silent. Her t-shirt was very orange.

I picked up my books, saying, “And now I’ll let you get back to your theological discussion.” By the time I had turned away, they were at it again.

I walked back out onto Telegraph Avenue, dodged the drunks, the addicts, and the homeless, wove my way through the well-dressed college students, the hippies, and a few middle-aged suburbanites, until I got to the next used bookstore.

Religious literacy: What do kids need to know about religion?

We’ve tentatively identified four big educational goals for the religious education programs in our church, and one of those goals is to make sure children have basic religious literacy compatible with the society they’re living in. More specifically, we want children who have gone through our program to know: (a) the main Bible stories they’re likely to encounter in Western culture (in literature, film, painting, etc.); (b) stories and facts about the main world religions they will encounter both in their immediate environment and in current events; (c) a basic knowledge of the history of Western religion (primarily Western Christianity), and in particular the history that led to the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism; and (d) the main characters and stories of Unitarianism and Universalism in North America.

Yesterday I had lunch with three of the lay leaders in the children’s religious education program to talk about assessment strategies for our religious education program. I suggested that part of our assessment strategy for this educational goal of religious literacy should be a list of the specific things we want to teach our kids; i.e., which Bible stories should kids know? which famous Unitarians and Universalists should they know? etc.

Below is my first attempt at generating such a list, with material to be covered from ages 3 to 18. I would love to have your comments on, suggestions for, corrections to, and additions to this list.

Continue reading

Small RE programs, pt. 2

Read the whole series.

We started off this second session in the workshop with me teaching a sample lesson. I taught the lesson pretty much as I would teach it to a small, mixed-age group of children.


We began by saying together a simple affirmation of faith, with hand motions. Then we went around the circle, and each participant said their name, after which they could say one good thing and one bad thing that had happened to them since we had met together yesterday. One participant had something very important to say, and we spent several minutes listening to her.

After the introductory bits, I read the story about the God of the Israelites parting the sea so Moses and his people could escape form Pharoah’s army. I read the story straight out of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (Exodus, all of ch. 14), and of course I made sure to read it dramatically.

The participants wanted to discuss the story right away (a quite different reaction than children would have had). But instead of allowing the discussion, I said, “Let’s act the story out. Who wants to be which character?” Sheila agreed to act out the part of the God of the Isrealites; I was Pharaoh, Mary and Helen said they would be the sea (“the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left”); and so on. We had great fun acting out the story, and we really hammed it up — I had Phraoh talk in a pirate voice, Sheila played God as a deadpan New England Yankee, Mary and Helen were very active as the waters of the sea, etc.

When we had finished acting, it was time to discuss the story. “What happened in the story?” I asked. The participants reviewed what had happened in the story. Then I asked, “What did you think about the story?” Some of the participants didn’t like the story, because it was violent, and the God of the Israelites seemed vindictive to them. But as the participants kept talking they came to some interesting conclusions: Moses was a strong leader; the God of the Israelites was like a superhero character; the parting of the sea could have been explained by natural phenomena. I asked whether this story was non-fiction or fiction. Continue reading

Bible cheat sheet

I’ve been using the “Bible Study Cheat Sheet” below in my Unitarian Universalist Bible study groups. I’m about to put it through another revision, and thought I’d post it here and see what kind of reaction it gets from you, dear readers….

Bible Study for Religious Liberals ~ Cheat Sheet

Ask: Where are the women? Often, those who wrote the Bible tend to diminish the role of women. Yet often the women are there, if you just look for them. (And sometimes the Bible gives us the actual words women wrote or spoke or sang.) Our assumption: the Bible was not originally intended to keep women down, but later editors and commentators and churchmen have interpreted it that way.

Ask: Where are the poor and the dispossessed? Some of the stories in the bible are about kings, and queens, and rich and powerful people. But frequently Bible stories tell about ordinary people like shepherds, carpenters, and laborers. Our assumption: originally the Bible was written to be meaningful to all people, no matter what their socio-economic status, but later editors and commentators and churchmen have interpreted it differently.

Ask: How are the experts biassed? Various self-proclaimed experts have interpreted the Bible as supporting slavery in the United States, subjugation of women, ongoing racism, homophobia, etc. Such experts include: scholars who translate the Bible out of the original languages; preachers; pundits. Our assumption: any time you come across a person who claims to know something about the Bible (including Unitarian Universalist ministers; including yourself!), that person is going to have some kind of bias.

Above all, ask: What does this have to do with my life? Lots of people claim they have the exclusive right to interpret the Bible. These people will claim their interpretation is the only correct one and then try to shove it down our throats. But there’s no reason to pay any attention to those people. Great literature like the Bible does not have one simple-minded interpretation, because great literature interacts with the specifics of our individual lives. Our assumption: the Bible, like any great work of literature, is supposed to make our lives better — richer, more humane, more grounded in compassion.

Notes for Bible geeks: The first item is basic feminist theology, making the case for a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion. The second item is basic liberation theology, introducing the hermeneutical privilege of the poor to a First World audience. The third item uses tools from critical theory for a critique of domination and power in Biblical studies. The fourth item is standard Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics. The whole cheat sheet comes out of a functionalist view of religion, and a critical theory perspective.