The Common Good
September-October 1996

In the Image of God

by Bob Hulteen | September-October 1996

For generations which begat generations, the Bible has been translated into the languages of the people. Soon to follow
were commentaries to aid in interpretation.

For generations which begat generations, the Bible has been translated into the languages of the people. Soon to follow were commentaries to aid in interpretation. Since the "language" of our day—the medium of communication—is visual, the popularity of biblical resources on video cassettes is not surprising.

What may surprise us is the quality. Excellent at setting the context and naming the basic principles of scripture, the following two video series should be viewed by clergy and lay alike.

Bill Moyers and Public Affairs Television are offering a gem, a pearl of great price if you will, this fall. Genesis: A Living Conversation is a tremendous social contribution to biblical studies, both in substance and in style.

Each one-hour segment of the 10-part series opens with a relevant introduction by Moyers and a retelling of the Genesis story discussed in the section—Cain killing Abel, Sarah mistreating Hagar, Jacob stealing from Esau, Adam blaming Eve—by expert storytellers (and actors) Mandy Patinkin and Alfre Woodard. The discussions—with Sojourners' contributing editors Roberta Hestenes, Eugene Rivers, and Walter Brueggemann featured prominently—are driven by their diversity. Difference of opinion, and even civil conflict, are viewed as a positive, and so open the possibility for creativity to emerge. In several instances the participation of people of different faith traditions brings new clarity for all involved. For instance, the Muslim view of Potiphar's wife in the Joseph narrative allows the discussion to take a step further for all those of Christian or Jewish background.

The variety of participants add fascinating perspective. Novelists detect drama and pathos in each story. Theologians and philosophers search for the truth; historians, the facts. All look at the deep questions of the human condition that the Genesis stories so often touch—the nature of evil, the reality of suffering, the ambiguity of free will, and the relationship between created and creator.

The first episode of Genesis examines the "first murder"—the story of the relationship of Cain and Abel. The participants wonder who the story is about: humans or God. They don't pull back from the difficulties that arise from the story. Novelist Mary Gordon argues that the "challenge of a moral person is to be a witness to Abel," difficult because humans seem unable to identify willingly with the suffering body. Author Oscar Hijuelos reminds us that people confuse physical power with moral development, but that God shouldn't make that mistake. (He is outraged that God protects the murderer.)

As significant as the substance is, the style in this series is as instructive. Anyone who participates in or facilitates small-group discussions will benefit from viewing this series. Moyers proves to be a master of small-group facilitation—including everyone naturally, always ready to elevate the discussion to a new plane or dig deeper where it is. And the gender dynamics in these rotating small groups are intriguing.

While Moyers' participation is utterly brilliant, the series is noticeably weaker when Rabbi Burton Visotzky, founder of the Genesis Seminar and unofficial co-facilitator, is absent. Still, this is Mr. Moyers' Opus.

Genesis: A Living Conversation is scheduled to air on PBS beginning October 16. Check your program listings for time and date in your locality.

TURN LEADERSHIP Foundation and The Biblical Institute for Social Change have produced a tremendous resource offering Christians new paradigms for the devastation caused by racism. Noted theologian Cain Hope Felder and evangelist Tony Campolo provide a strong vision for renewal on Lift Every Voice: The Bible in an Age of Diversity (Seraphim Communications, 1-800-733-3413, 1996).

Felder walks us through biblical texts, demonstrating the hugeness of our inclusive God. Always faithful to the scripture, Felder reminds us of what is already there, with no need to create something new. He offers us truth in order to set us free. We meet the Africans and Asians who fill the texts, many of whom have been magically transformed into the image of Europeans throughout our long church history.

Felder, always both teacher and preacher, never opts for the easy, smarmy, feel-good inclusiveness that the church often brings to discussions of racial reconciliation. No, instead he wants to build something more honest, more difficult, more radical. He seeks true community, koinonia, based on equity and common sharing.

So Felder builds toward the final segment of this two-and-a-half hour series (five nearly half-hour segments), in which he describes hope for the peace of the city. He believes we have a hard time reading about community in Acts because radical capitalism makes it difficult for us to believe God's New Community could be historically accurate.

But Felder does not let us be stopped by our unbelief. He forces us to see the wounds and believe. We no longer want to doubt, because we can almost taste the promise toward which Felder points.

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