Bible

Geoffrey Morin 03-18-2014

Noah Movie. Photo: © 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation

With the release of the movie Noah a couple of weeks away, the waters of controversy are already rising fast. I’ve seen the movie’s final cut, and director Darren Aronofsky’s re-envisioning of the biblical hero Noah will not disappoint — inciting some and enthralling others. Some will undoubtedly chastise him for the ways in which the movie riffs on the biblical account of Noah. Others will praise Aronofsky for his creative vision.

But the big question generated by a film like Noah is: When the Bible is the source of inspiration for art, how close does the artist have to stay to the original narrative? The Bible has been the inspiration for profound works of art for centuries. It isn’t surprising. The Bible is full of passion, romance, intrigue, struggle, and the triumph of good over evil.

Even so, it is hard to ignore the reality that not all art inspired by the Bible is respectful of its subject matter. Where, then, should the line be drawn between artistic interpretation and blatant disrespect?

Steve Green and his wife, Jackie, at a surprise 40th birthday party for Steve. Photo courtesy of Green family/RNS

Once Steve Green sets his path, there’s no turning back.

Not when he and his high school girlfriend, Jackie, totaled their cars playing chicken. “No one turned off,” he said, recalling how he aimed right at her and she just kept coming. A year later, she married him.

Not when he saw no point in college, going directly into his family’s Hobby Lobby craft store business. Green, now 50, rose up from assembling picture frames for “bubble gum money” at age 7 through every job, including cleaning toilets, to president of the $3.3 billion national chain, one of the nation’s largest private companies.

And certainly not now when, he says, the U.S. government is challenging his unshakeable Christian faith and his religious liberty.

Matthew Skinner 03-17-2014
Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place? Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

Onleilove Alston 02-19-2014
Photo by Onleilove Alston

Black Madonna at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Onleilove Alston

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” -Psalm 68:31

The Bible is a multicultural book. This statement may sound controversial but archeology, history, and the text prove it to be true. In 2013 this controversy played out in the media when viewers of The Bible miniseries were upset that Samson was played by a black man. A second controversy occurred when a Fox News broadcaster confidently declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white, yet when people researched original depictions of Saint Nicolas, they found pictures of a dark brown man. It appears that our faith has been distorted. As we celebrate Black History Month and prepare for Lent, how can uncovering the black presence in the Bible aid us in mourning against the sin of racism? One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies.

The Roman Catacombs show biblical scenes painted by first- and second-century persecuted Christians, and their paintings clearly show people of color. What would Roman Christians gain from painting these characters black? What did these early Christians know and accept that seems unbelievable today?

Jason Chesnut 02-17-2014

Word Collage on Stop Violence Against Women. Via mypokcik/Shutterstock

Christian men - males who are caught up in the ancient, raw, and radical Jesus movement, this is to you:

It's high time we say something, do something - good Christian men, stand up. Women are being raped and sexually abused across the world, and we continue to theologically shrug our shoulders. It's just the way it is, we say.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we turn a blind eye to the ways in which our holy scriptures have sanctioned this throughout history.

Eric Barreto 02-17-2014
Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com

Spectator medal at Sochi 2014 Olympic games, Iurii Osadchi / Shutterstock.com

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Seriously, Jesus? Have you even met some of us? Have you seen the depths of our jealousies, the breadth of our greed? Have you noticed how insatiable our egos are? How deeply insecure we all are?

Perfect?

You cannot mean what you seem to mean.

What then do we do with this seemingly impossible call? For many of us, this is one of those passages in the Bible we seek to explain away. Jesus can’t possibly mean what he says here. We reckon that he must be calling us merely to aspire to perfection. Or we conclude that in calling us to perfection, we realize how very far we are from it and thus lean on God’s grace. But certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, Jesus cannot be calling us to be perfect like God is perfect.

Right?

Ben Sutter 02-07-2014
Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Maybe it’s fitting that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this very clickable headline from the AP: “Go Figure: Facebook Read Daily More Than Bible.”

Ouch. That one hits pretty close to home. That aimless scrolling through my Twitter feed could just as easily have been time well spent in front of the Good Book. Has my daily devotion to social media really eclipsed my daily devotion to spiritual practice?

After 10 years of operation, Facebook has usage stats that put it in the stratosphere of dedicated readers. Just over half of adults in the U.S. and Canada use Facebook daily. The same cannot be said for the Bible or other religious texts. Really, it’s not even close.

The AP story notes that Facebook “says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those, 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that's more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily.”

Compare that to these numbers from the same article about those who read a religious text every day: “A 2006 CBS News poll found 15 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible or other religious texts daily. There are about 267 million adults in the U.S. and Canada. That means about 40 million people reading the Bible daily.”

In a country where 79 percent of adults claim some sort of religious affiliation, less than a quarter of that number statistically reads their religious text daily. Historically the term “People of the Book” has referred to the Jewish people and their reverence for the Torah, their holy law. Perhaps those of us in the U.S. should call ourselves “the people of Facebook.”

Bad religious puns aside, personally, I’ve never been one to read my Bible with much consistency, and certainly not on a daily basis. While I’ve tried my fair share of daily Bible reading programs, plans, and even Bible apps, I’ve yet to develop the habit of daily reading.

Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1 – 9a). Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

This has been a hard winter — from Minnesota to Alabama. It’s been a very hard winter for Tanya and Red and Jamie and Andre and Adrian and Mercy. They are my neighbors here in New York City. It’s not that the heat was shut off in their apartments because they didn’t pay their bills. They have no apartments. Since last fall, they have made their beds on the steps of Riverside Church, under the scaffolding at Union Seminary and on the benches near Grant’s Tomb.

“Will you be warm enough tonight?” I asked Tanya. “Oh, we’ll be plenty warm,” she said as she showed me their outdoor bedroom: the first layer was carpeting, then stacks of blankets for padding and many more blankets for covers. “Once you’re in here,” said Red, “it’s too hot to keep your jacket on.” I was grateful to hear that because, well, then I wouldn’t feel so terrible going inside my warm apartment.

Benjamin Corey 01-31-2014
UAlbany National Death Penalty Archives

UAlbany National Death Penalty Archives

The difficulty of restorative justice, is that some things simply can’t be restored.

Certainly, not 14-year-old George Stinney. He’s been dead almost 70 years.

We can however, restore his name — and sometimes, that’s all restorative justice can do. Restorative justice works to make whole what has been unjustly lost and reassemble that which has been unjustly broken, to the greatest degree humanly possible. While we can’t restore 14-year-old George to life, we can both restore his name and work to restore the community responsible for his death.

Often we forget that restorative justice isn’t just about restoring the one who was wronged; the one who committed the wrong is also need of restoration. In this case, the latter is the state of South Carolina.

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

CNN reports on Usoni , a futuristic television drama produced in Kenya that is about reversed immigration. The show depicts Europe in 2063, where life has turned unlivable after a deadly series of natural and economic disasters.

Europeans are desperately seeking a way to get to a livable continent south of them: Africa. The hardships in making the trip are unfathomable, and once the immigrants arrive, they are unwelcome, harassed, and rejected. The story follows a young couple, Ophelia and Ulysse, who are seeking to make their way with their unborn child to the land of promise.

Yes, the comparisons today to those seeking to immigrate to Europe (with obvious parallels to America) are intentional. Marc Rigaudis, the Kenya-based French filmmaker who created the program, is making a point to help us walk in the shoes of those whom we know the Bible calls “aliens and strangers.”

The chilling trailer depicting people like me being treated as illegal immigrants is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

01-22-2014
Courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company

Courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company

What if what you thought were advantages were actually disadvantages? And what you thought were disadvantages ended up being what actually makes people successful?

So embarks best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell of BlinkThe Tipping PointOutliers, and What the Dog Saw in his new book: David and Goliath. In the same clear, concise style that made his other books so intriguing, Gladwell challenges yet another widespread assumption — that being the underdog tends to make one an underdog forever.

Instead he argues that being the underdog can give one the upper hand. In his signature approach, Gladwell supports his hypothesis with a series of narratives, from the classic case of David and Goliath to the forgiveness one Canadian Mennonite woman was able to work towards after her daughter was murdered. Like his previous books, David and Goliath is both entertaining and thought provoking and obliges readers reflect over their lives and reconsider personal “disadvantages” that actually required them to learn skills they otherwise might not have had.

RNS photo courtesy of Toby Crabtree/Saddleback Church

Dr. Oz measures pastor Rick Warren’s waistline at a “Daniel Plan” forum. RNS photo courtesy of Toby Crabtree/Saddleback Church

A California pastor made headlines this month when he announced that he will live like an atheist for a year to see what it’s like on the other side of belief. But Ryan Bell is actually just the latest “stunt pastor” to use unorthodox means to draw attention to his message.

In recent years, other church leaders have challenged congregants to have sex (with their spouse) for 30 days straight or have dressed like homeless people or lived in a tiny box or on a spacious roof in order to gin up attention, attendance, or funds.

This kind of reality-show piety has a history, of sorts, especially in Christianity: A fifth-century ascetic, Simeon Stylites, achieved great fame by living — subsisting, really – atop a pillar for some 37 years.

But the rise of the entertainment industry, combined with a focus on marketing techniques to preach the faith or build up a church, have sparked a penchant for ministry gimmicks that go well beyond the old dunk tank.

Adam Ericksen 11-21-2013
Nicholas Eckhart/flickr

Costco recently apologized for placing "fiction" stickers on Bibles. Nicholas Eckhart/flickr

The religion section of The Huffington Post published an article on Tuesday about how some Christians are responding to Costco. Unfortunately, it wasn’t about how Christians are celebrating the fact that this big-box store not only makes a profit and actually pays its employees a living wage.

That, after all, would be Good News.

No. These Christians have their panties in a bunch because Costco had Bibles labeled as fiction.

*Gasp*

Juliet Vedral 11-20-2013
Photo courtesy of Beth Moore

Sure Beth Moore might have big hair and use church-ladyisms, but she knows Jesus. Photo courtesy of Beth Moore

I think what turned me off the most was the hair. It was just so ... big. And the scrappy “don’t mess with Texas” vibe. And the fact that evangelical moms all over the country were fans. As a third generation New Yorker, cynicism and snark have been bred into me, along with an affinity for black clothing and pretentious coffee. So it has surprised everyone — including me — that I have spent the past year going through (and recommending) Beth Moore studies.

How did it happen? Well, I moved from my hometown of New York City to Washington, D.C., and while I was exploring various employment opportunities, I had a lot of free time. The wife of the former associate pastor at the church I’d started attending invited me to join a “women’s Bible study” that met on Friday mornings. They were doing a Beth Moore study called Breaking Free. It seemed fishy to me — who are the only women who have free time on Friday mornings? Moms. And Beth Moore?  I had spent six years attending and four years on staff at a church in New York that got super famous because of its own rockstar, hyper-intellectual, and somewhat post-modern teaching. We prided ourselves on not being ... well, like Beth Moore.

Still, I was trying to be open to life in my new city so ...

I walked into the group a couple of minutes late wearing gold sequin pumps, skinny jeans, and a red leather jacket — what I would normally wear to bum around town in my old life. I could not  have been more out of place amidst the yoga pants and baby blankets. But I met some of the most awesome women I’ve known in D.C. and more importantly — I met Beth.

Jana Riess summarized every chapter of the Bible in witty tweets. “The Twible” is the full collection. Photo courtesy Jana Riess

Nearly every home has at least one Bible, although few read it.

But 16 percent of Americans log on to Twitter every day. And that’s where author Jana Riess takes the word of God. A popular Mormon blogger at Religion News Service and author of “Flunking Sainthood,” Riess spent four years tweeting every book of the Old and New Testaments with pith and wit.

Now, the complete collection — each chapter condensed to 140 characters — is on sale as “The Twible,” (rhymes with Bible)  with added cartoons and zippy summaries for each biblical book.

Her tweets mix theology with pop-culture inside jokes on sources as varied as ”Pride and Prejudice,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and digital acronyms such as LYAS (love you as a sister). To save on precious character count, God is simply “G.”

Rev. Dr. Guy Nave 11-11-2013
Kjetil Kolbjornsrud / Shutterstock

A close-up of a christian woman reading the Bible. Kjetil Kolbjornsrud / Shutterstock

When I was a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University’s New Testament program, I had the honor of preaching at an ordination service for a classmate who was being ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Following the service, a number of my classmates asked me why I wanted to spend four-seven years working on a Ph.D. in New Testament when I clearly had a "gift" for preaching. I responded that it was actually my academic study of the Bible coupled with my life experiences that illumined and enlivened my preaching.

I did not grow up reading the Bible. I was almost 19 years old and a U.S. Army soldier stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany when I purchased my first Bible. A series of life-changing events led to me "accepting Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior." A few months after purchasing my first Bible, I attended a revival service at a local church. I returned to post that evening describing the service to fellow soldiers, who, along with myself, comprised a group self-identified as the "Soul Patrol." We were African-American Christians who strongly believed in the necessity of Christian evangelization.

Tom Amon, a 37-year-old atheist, opens his YouVersion app nightly to engage believers. RNS photo by Beatriz Wallace.

Like lots of college students, Lauren has a smartphone loaded with some of the most popular apps around — Facebook, Twitter, and eBay. And like a lot of unbelievers, she asked to not use her full name because her family doesn’t know about her closet atheism.

One of the apps she uses most regularly is YouVersion, a free Bible app that puts a library’s worth of translations — more than 700 — in the palm of her hand. Close to 115 million people have downloaded YouVersion, making it among the most popular apps of all time.

But Lauren, a 22-year-old chemistry major from Colorado, is not interested in the app’s mission to deepen faith and biblical literacy. A newly minted atheist, she uses her YouVersion Bible app to try to persuade people away from the Christianity she grew up in.

“I know of a lot of atheists who have come to their nonbelief by actually reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,” she said. “Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.”

Lauren is not alone. No one knows how many atheists have downloaded YouVersion and other smartphone and tablet Bible apps, but it is enough that word of the phenomenon has reached the Edmond, Okla., headquarters of LifeChurch.tv, the evangelical megachurch that created the app.

Sara J. Wolcott 11-05-2013

In India, a church initiative helps promote sustainability and connect farmers with the dignity of their vocation.

Anna Hall 11-04-2013
Photo courtesy of Half in Ten

The report tracks the nation’s progress toward cutting poverty in half over the next decade. Photo courtesy of Half in Ten

Last week, Half in Ten released its third annual report on its commitment to and efforts toward U.S. poverty reduction. The Half in Ten Campaign is a joint project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights, with a mission to build political and public will to cut the nation’s poverty rate in half in 10 years. 

In her remarks, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, stressed the need to move the conversation in Washington away from implementing austerity measures that ultimately harm the poor.

Scripture also reminds us over and over again to care for the least of those in society, including widows, orphans, and immigrants in our midst. We are called to be generous with what we have. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez echoed this truth at the Half in Ten meeting, urging that at this time, we need to “turn toward one another, not against one another.” 

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

School shooting memorials at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

The plight of Job is one of the most familiar stories from the Hebrew Bible. Many of us know Job’s suffering and the tortuous advice of Job’s “comforters.” The experience of suffering is universal. In the midst of our suffering, we seek to understand, to process, to comprehend. For individuals of faith, events of radical suffering plunge us into a theological crisis. Where is God? Is God causing this to happen? Is God allowing this to happen? Why?

The crisis deepens when we realize that the suffering does not match our preconceptions of how the world should work. We seem to think that if we output positive vibes into the world, the world (or God) will reciprocate. That would be fair. That would be right. That would be just.

However, in the reality of human experience we recognize that great fortune sometimes falls on the underserving, while horrible events beat down the most innocent among us.

Perhaps this is why so many of us can relate to the book of Job. Here we have a character who does everything right. From the first verse, we know that Job is “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). In fact, these characteristics draw God’s attention and praise.

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