Showing posts from 2011

Who is my neighbor? Part I: "Goodbye Solo"

This week I find myself working on an article on "The Good Samaritan" figure in contemporary film.  Rather than looking at films that explicitly retell the story, I have decided to look at a few films whose characters enact elements of the narrative form found in the parable: persons in need being aided and assisted by those whom the narrative audience would consider least likely to come to assistance. I've narrowed by thoughts down to three or four films.  Since the article is not due until the end of November, I thought I'd use my blog for the next couple of weeks to reflect on a few films I've been watching lately. The first film I'd like to reflect on is a lovely indie shot by the Iranian director, Ramin Bahrani, entitled "Goodbye Solo."  This 2009 film was shot in, of all places, Winston-Salem, NC, here in my neck of the woods.  In the film, a Senegalese cabby, Solo, is offered $1000.00 by one of his fairs, an older white North Carolinian na

But Even the Dogs Eat the Crumbs that Fall from the Master's Table

It has become popular for some churches to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis (it was on Tuesday) with pet blessings.  I have never been to one, but have always wanted to.  For some people, this may be kind of a controversial ceremony.  It makes for great publicity for the church.  The church need not be some stuffy, rigid haven of orthodoxy.  What a wonderful opportunity to present the church as an inviting community, by posting pictures on the church website of parishioners with their "fur babies" being blessed by their pastor! Several years ago, Janka and I were adopted by our own creature, a now 100 lb Rottweiler mix who decided one morning he was going to be part of our family.  After greeting Janka at the car as she was leaving for work and giving her a kiss on her hand, he followed me to our front porch where I proceeded to slam the door in his face, hoping he would get the message and go away.  Later, after I had gotten ready for the day and was pulling around t

The King James Anniversary

For my blog this week, I thought I'd push out a post I made for my Old Testament students about the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible a few weeks ago. The KJV holds sway still over many people in the English speaking world.  In times of illness and despair, for example, my mother still cites from it by memory as a form of solace.  The majestic poetry of the KJV provides believers a sense of the awe and wonder of the divine. Like any revered cultural object, the KJV also attracts its share of fetish-like behavior.  I'm not so sure, for example, that requiring children or youth to learn their Bible stories from the KJV is quite conducive to them seeing the relevance of the Bible in their lives. I have attached two lovely little clips in the blog (click below).  They are both interesting and informative--and very well done. One other aside: on one of my trips as a translator from the Berlin Cathedral, where I worked as a guide, to St Paul's in London, Canon John

The Importance of Hydrating

I did something today I never thought I'd ever do. I registered for my first 5k, a race I'll run this Saturday. Those of you who know me, know me as a chubby (a polite word for fat) man. I always have been. And while I am taking it off, I will likely always be somewhat chunky. But somehow, in the past couple of years, I have become more aware of the importance of exercise. So when a student introduced me to the couch to 5k program last spring, I started doing something I never thought I would, actually trying to run. Well, "running" is a kind word for what I do, more like slow jogging. Still, as I have increased distance and time, I have come to realize how important it is to drink water, both before and after my exercise. Since I have also been more thirsty than usual, I notice water everywhere. My students, many of whom are athletes, carry water bottles with them. Water is an essential for us. But it also has destructive power. This is clearly illustrate

Forgetting Joseph

My apologies to those of you who started following me in January.  With the start of the new semester, I am making a resolution to stay current with this blog. For many folks in the US, this has been truly a week of reflection and remembering, as the 10th anniversary of the September 11 tragedy has come and gone. This week, for my classes, I have been going through the Exodus narrative.  There is a particularly striking line at the beginning of the story, that the new Pharaoh has forgotten Joseph and the things he did to save Egypt from famine.  Of course the Exodus story is a narrative of Israel's liberation from injustice and oppression.  Yet this other dimension, the dimension of remembering and forgetting, did not strike me until I read through the story again this year.   Of course, it is a bad thing for the descendants of Joseph and his brothers that Pharaoh has forgotten that Joseph's wisdom and action saved Egypt from famine.  By forgetting the unique and important

Exodus, Sci-Fi., and the Colonial Impulse

I think it was a good decision to get rid of cable this past fall and just have the internet as my sole source of entertainment.  I signed up for Netflix the same day I got rid of cable.  Needless to say, I've been watching a whole lot more movies.  In fact, Janka and I so enjoyed our winter evenings together, cuddling by the fire, turning on the Christmas lights, and watching movies with the laptop on our laps.  Well maybe that last part isn't so romantic.  In any case, we caught up on a wide variety of films.  I've been contributing some articles on the Bible and film to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception History , so I've been thinking a great deal about how movies convey and repackage certain biblical themes.  One of the movies Janka and I watched this past week was Dune , the David Lynch film based upon the novel by Frank Herbert.  Neither of us had ever seen it before. I was struck by how the story encompassed key narrative themes of the E

Desire of violence lurking at the door

I think all of us have been thinking some about violence and anger this week.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with anger.  It can be a basic, healthy emotion, and an important element for bringing about positive social transformation.  The Cain and Abel story (Genesis 4), one of the primeval narratives that comprise the first eleven chapters of Genesis, captures the very human theme of crossing the line from anger to violence. After God approves of Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's, Cain becomes very angry and his countenance falls.  God asks Cain why he is angry and warns him that sin is lurking at his door.  I think I can understand why Cain got angry.  In verses 4 and 5, the story doesn't explain why Abel's sacrifice is accepted and Cain's not.  Many interpreters read God's words in verse 7, "if you do well, will you not be accepted?" into the narrative gap to explain that Cain must have done something bad that his offering was not accepted.

Comfort Ye, Oh Comfort Ye!

Wow, I was really struck by the prominent place of Scripture in tonight's memorial service in Tuscon.  Isn't it amazing that these ancient texts, one from Isaiah and one from one of Paul's epistles, would be picked up and used by tonight's readers, without hardly any commentary?  The Isaiah 40 text read by Napolitano was so powerful, "....but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their faith, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint..."  What could be more profound than such words when facing a national tragedy as our own? What gives this text such profound and universal appeal?  What narrative do we share with those who have cherished this text before us?  This text celebrates and signals the return from exile.  In the prophetic understanding, the exile was part of God's punishment for Israel's sins.  I find it a little scary to think that what happened in Tuscon had anything to do wi

What key is it in?

Reading the Bible is like playing jazz, not that I know much about playing jazz.  But what I do know is that jazz has structure, chord changes, and a melody that floats over the changes.  Jazz musicians not only have to be trained in their instruments, they have to understand chords, harmonies, and music theory.  Most of all, jazz musicians really have to listen, listen to what the other musicians are doing, listen to the music as it is being created, birthed all around them. Biblical interpreters need similar skills.  They need to look at the structure of the text, hear historical, cultural, and literary overtones, listen to other interpreters down the ages, and then, add their own voice to the music that is being made. This blog will be about some of my daily thoughts, listening to the culture around me, connecting what I am seeing and hearing to biblical passages, and how they might relate.  As such, this blog is an attempt at engaged cultural commentary, but also commentary on th