June 28, 2007
by Bowie Snodgrass
Featuring Genesis 2:24 and 3:24, JPS trans
the fine art
let it be so bountiful!
into dry dust, breathe breath
god made the food garden
a river with four branches
and declared that from
hence, a man leaves his father
and mother and clings to his wife
so that they become one flesh
the mother of all the living
listened for good and evil
ate apple after serpent
and caused the couple
to be expelled outside Eden where
the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning
sword wait to guard the way to the tree of life
June 20, 2007
The Simple Way is a New Monastic Community in Philly, PA, founded by Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistable Revolution. Isaac and I both heard Shane speak at Greenbelt last summer and were floored (I cried, maybe we both did). Various Transmissioners have also been deeply moved by his book and by the basic tenents (12 Marks) of New Monasticism presented online.
Please keep this community in your prayers and consider making a cash donation. Transmission does not ask it’s members to pledge, but many of us give generously to Transmission and do other spiritual giving as part of our tithe or giving back to God.
Official Fire Update from The Simple Way in Philly, PA
This morning, a 7-alarm fire consumed an abandoned warehouse in our Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia. The Simple Way Community Center at 3200 Potter Street was destroyed as well as at least eight of our neighbors’ homes. Over 100 people were evacuated from their homes, and 400 families are currently without power. Despite this developing tragedy, we are incredibly thankful to share that all of our community members and every one of our neighbors is safely out of harm’s way.
This fire will forever change the fabric of our community. Eight families are currently homeless, and in many cases have lost their vehicles as well as their homes. One of our neighbors, the Mahaias Family, lost their three cars as well as the equipment one family member uses for her massage therapy business. Teenager Brian Mahaias is devastated not because he has lost his belongings, but because he fears that this fire will force him to move away from this neighborhood that is his family as well as his home.
The Simple Way has lost a community center that was home to our Yes! And‚Ä¶ afterschool program, community arts center, and Cottage Printworks t-shirt micro-business as well as to two of our community members. Community members Shane Claiborne and Jesce Walz have lost all of their belongings, Yes!And‚Ä¶’s after school studio and library were ruined, and community member Justin Donner’s Cottage Printworks equipment and t-shirts were destroyed.
We are thankful that we are able to help each other during this time of need, and we will continue to keep your informed about today’s events.
We have established funds to support the families who have lost their homes, the Yes! And‚Ä¶ afterschool program, and the Simple Way community.
A fund to support the families has been established through a partner organization, EAPE. Tax-deductible donations can be made online here. Please make sure to put “Kensington Families Fund” in the memo section.
Donations to the Rebuilding Fund can be made via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-The Simple Way Community
June 19, 2007
Hey, Transmissioners! To celebrate the summer solstice, we’ll be having a picnic ritual in Sheep Meadow in Central Park. It’s on the west side – the best place to enter is around 66th St. The ritual will be focusing on the creation account in Genesis and will be led by our resident dancer/choreographer, Sarah Godbehere, and me. The ritual will be open-ended, allowing for many different levers of participation, and will include elements of contact improv, pilates, meditation, and improv theater. Please wear comfortable clothes. =)
Since the park is pretty far away from a kitchen, feel free to bring food to contribute to the picnic. Also, if you like, please bring a prop to play with (umbrellas are encouraged).
See you then!
June 19, 2007
“then God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
Many of you probably know this already, but the Hebrew word which is usually translated as “soul”, i.e. nephesh, doesn’t really mean that at all. Biblical Hebrew, in fact, doesn’t even have a word for “soul.” Yep, you heard me right – all of those beloved passages like “Bless the Lord, oh my soul,” and “You shall love the Lord with all your strength, all your mind, and all your soul” don’t actually mean what you thought they mean.
Take this passage from Genesis, for example. When God breathes the breath of life into Adam, he becomes a “living being,” a nephesh chayah. Some people would interpret this to mean that God put a soul into the clay, but that word is also used for all the animals in creation, as in Genesis 1:24, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living nephesh: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” So either we make like the Hindus and believe that every dog, cat, and tapeworm has a soul or we are forced to call into question the central basic soul/body dichotomy which is so prevalent in our culture.
Genesis 2 gets it right; we are earthly creatures, physical creatures, and I mean “creature” in the literal sense of “that which has been created.” As I mentioned earlier, the word used for humanity in this passage, adam, is a variation on the word for soil, adamah. This word used to be translated as “man” or “mankind” and was later translated as “humanity,” but the most literal translation would be something more like “earth creatures.” As much as I love Origen, there’s no evidence here for the preexistence of souls.
Why does this matter? Ever since Descartes (or some might say, Aristotle), we’ve been taught to view pursuits of the mind and of the soul as higher than pursuits of the body. We’re taught that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, that sexuality is purely procreative and not spiritual, that only shallow people care about their appearances, and that people who work with their bodies should earn less than those who work with their minds.
And yet Genesis seems to tell us that we are our bodies. Suddenly the fact the average American spends 90% of his or her time indoors seems not only unnatural, but sinful. Suddenly obesity, alcoholism, and violence are not only physical problems, they are spiritual problems. Suddenly, taking care of our sisters and brothers with physical disabilities is a spiritual ministry.
Ultimately, it’s important to realize that divisions like “mind, body, and spirit” are completely artificial. All of those things make up who we are: our nephesh.
So at tomorrow’s Transmission, we’ll be celebrating creation and exegeting Genesis through movement, blessing the Lord with our entire integrated beings. Come join us in Sheep Meadow, 7pm.
June 18, 2007
So one of our Transmissioners, j. Snodgrass, wrote a play for a service at Sanctuary, an Episcopal church over on the east side. I’m a big fan of using arts in worship, yet I don’t know much about drama and rarely think to include it in a ritual. Kudos to Sanctuary. It’s an entertaining read – go read it on their site.
Also, in the spirit of Elijah, enjoy this song written by j. Snodgrass and myself (Isaac Everett). The extended intro features my friend, Yoel Ben Simhon, and the english-language singer is RC Laird.
June 15, 2007
I recently came into possession of an advance copy of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It’s by A.J. Jacobs, a secular Jew, who spends an entire year trying to obey every commandment in the Bible. It’s startlingly entertaining and thought-provoking; Jacobs doesn’t set out to trash religion and, although he remains an agnostic at the end, he ends up being quite changed by the experience. It’s a worthwhile read.
At one point in his travels, he visited the newly opened Creation Museum. I’m including his reflections:
I told my friend Ivan – a good Catholic – that I was considering visiting a creationist museum and he let out a loud groan. “Those people give Christianity a bad name.”
I understand what he’s saying. It’s the way many Jews feel when we see a billboard announcing Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah. Or the way many gay men feel when they see a Rip Taylor tossing a handful of confetti. It’s kind of embarrassing. Like Ivan, I’ve always taken evolution to be a cold, hard truth. As indisputable as the fact that the sun is hot or that Charles Darwin married his first cousin (the latter of which I learned in the encyclopedia and can’t get out of my head).
But creationism is Biblical literalism at its purist, so I need to check it out. I researched various creationist hotspots – both Jewish and Christian – and found a handful of possibilities. But nothing came close to Answers in Genesis. This is the $25 million, soon-to-open Kentucky-based museum – the Louvre for those who believe God made Adam less than 6000 years go from dust – started by an Australian evangelical named Ken Ham.
AiG is still under contstruction, which is fine by me. There’s something appropriate about seeing the creation of a creationist museum. So I flew down to Cincinnati, a few miles from the site.
A half hour later, I pull up to the museum – a low building with thick yellow columns perched on a gentle Kentucky hill. In the parking lot, I spot a bumper sticker of a Jesus fish gobbling up a Darwin fish.
I’m greeted by the publicist Mark Looy, a gray-haired man with a gentle, schoolteacher voice who guides me to a door that lets us into the lobby. It is, in a word, awesome.
The place is still deep in construction. Hard hats everywhere, the smell of sawdust, the whine of drills. But even in its unfished state, you can tell this is going to send the media into a Michael-Jackson-rial-like frenzy.
The first thing I see is a life-sized diorama of an Edenic scene. There’s a waterfall, a stream, and weeping-willow trees. An animatronic caramel-skinned cavegirl giggles and cocks her head to look straight at me, which is odd and impressive and disturbing all at once. She’s playing awfully close to a fierce-looking, razor-toothed dinosaur. Don’t worry, Mark tells me. In the beginning, humans and dinosaurs lived together in harmony. The scary incisors are for coconuts and fruit, just like pandas’ teeth.
When AiG opens, they expect thousands of visitors. And they’ll probably get them – polls say that as many as 50% of Americans believe in creationism. Not intelligent design. We’re talking strict, the-earth-is-less-than 10,000 years old creationism. (The creationists I met scoffed at Intelligent Design, which says the world was designed by a superior being, but not necessarily in seven literal days. The creationists think of it as some sort of nebulous theological mumbo jumbo).
Mark introduces me to Ken, the founder of AiG. Ken is wiry and energetic 56-year-old with a red Van Dykish beard. He quizzes me about my last book, the one about reading the encyclopedia, and I end up telling him about my ill-fated appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I was stumped by the question “What is an erythrocyte?”
“It’s a red blood cell,” says Ken.
He’s right. I’m thrown off-guard. A creationist who trumps me in science knowledge – that’s unexpected and unsettling.
June 12, 2007
Turning to the first chapter of Genesis, we find a very different portrayal of creation and, correspondingly, a very different portrait of God. Instead of a craftsman God, shaping clay like a potter, we have a royal God, summoning the world into existence by divine decree. Instead of playful, creative improvisation we are given a majestic sense of divine order.
Everything about this passage speaks of order. The passage is very stylized with regular repetitions – “God said… let there be… and it was so… and God made… and God saw that it was good… and it was evening and morning.” Furthermore, nothing is created at random; the world is created according to a repetitive scheme of sky, sea, land:
1) light (sky)
2) seperation of waters (sea)
3) dry land and vegetation (land)
4) stars, sun, and moon (sky)
5) fish and birds (sea)
6) animals and humanity (land)
It’s very interesting that this story doesn’t suggest that the world was created out of nothing, rather we are giving a glimpse of God drawing the world out of primoridal chaos. Before there is light, before God utters a single proclamation, the earth is formless and darkness covers the face of the deep. Rabbinic midrash makes a point of the fact that Genesis starts with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, not the first, suggesting that we are not entering the story at the very beginning. We just don’t know what happened before God created light and, perhaps, it isn’t very important to know. What is important, however, is that this present reality is not a random occurance.
It’s important to pay attention to the geography of these stories. Genesis 2 leaves no doubt as to the location of this narrative; Eden’s location is tied into the Tigris, the Euphrates, Assyria, and several other locations. The majority of the action takes place in a garden, and God condescends to talk to Adam about individual trees.
Genesis 1, however, is much more cosmic in scale. Scholars believe that this story was written several hundred years after Genesis 2, when the Israelites were living in forced exile in Babylon. While the early Israelites viewed God as a local, tribal diety who was to be worshiped in the temple of Jerusalem, the later exiled Israelites had no temple and no land of their own, and so they envisioned God on a grander scale. They needed God to be bigger than their Babylonian oppressors. While Genesis 2 says “God made everything around us and placed us here within it,” Genesis 1 says “God is God no matter where you go or who rules over you.” Very different emphases.
So what does a modern person of faith do with the various contradictions between these creation accounts? I claim that such a reconciliation is not necessary. These two stories were written in different contexts and they have different theological agendas. If these stories are read literally, then the mutual contradictions demand explanation. If, however, they are read theologically, these same contradictions create greater depth of meaning. Together, they show us a God who is both majestic and playful, both cosmic and personal, both immanent and transcendant.
June 11, 2007
Many people believe that the creation stories tell us a great deal about humanity and about the world we live in. Although I believe that’s true, I think we often forget to examine what the creation stories tell us about God.
So let’s begin in the beginning: Genesis 2:4-25.
But wait, you say! How is chapter 2 the beginning? Shouldn’t we start with chapter 1? Well, actually, the first two chapters of Genesis comprise two entirely separate creation accounts which use distinct vocabulary, style, and structure, indicators that they come from different periods. Over time, these two different narratives were combined into the document we now know as the Torah.
Of the two, the second is older and so instead of starting with ‚ÄúIn the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…‚Äù (Gen 1:1) we’ll start with ‚ÄúIn the day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens…‚Äù (Gen 2:4)
What does this story tell us about God? First, it tells us that God is immanent, real, and above all, creative. Adam (heb: ‘adam) is not created out of nothing, he is created out of dirt (heb: ‘adamah). Furthermore, the when God forms Adam from the soil, the same verb (yatzar) is used that you would use for a potter making a bowl. God is not some abstract spirit thinking (or speaking) the world into existence; instead God is a craftsman with rolled up sleeves, an artist with brush in hand, a real, physical presence in the world which sculpts the earth and breathes into Adam’s nostrils.
The story also tells us this creative God is collaborative, both in shaping the world and in shaping human history. There is no fatalism here, no sense of any ineffable divine plan; to the contrary, God seems to be improvising.
First, Adam is made and given food to eat. When God notices that Adam is alone, all the animals and birds of the world are crafted to keep Adam company. Each new creation is brought to Adam for naming, making him a partner in the creative process.
This is such a playful, childlike image. I’m reminded of the many finger paintings and lego constructions I made as a kid – immediately upon completing a project I would run to my parents and present it for approval. Imagine God having the intense concentration of a child at work, making giraffes and hedgehogs and redwoods, and joyfully gushing, ‚ÄúAdam, Adam! What do you think of this one?‚Äù
Adam, for his part, gives them names, validating and affirming God’s efforts, being as patient and appreciative an audience as my parents were for me. This must have gone on for quite a while, because God did not make just one of everything, he made fields of lilies, flocks of birds, and forests of pine ‚Äì the joyful act of creation being repeated over and over, just like a gleeful child saying ‚ÄúDo it again! Do it again!‚Äù
Ultimately, Adam and God are unable to make a true partner for Adam out of the soil. So together they make Eve, God providing the creative energy and Adam providing the raw materials from his own body. Adam and Eve cling to one another, become one flesh, and the chapter ends.
The divine improvisation is not complete, however, for at this point the future is open-ended. No forbidden fruit has been eaten, no children have been born, no cities have been built, and all the creatures of the world wonder what might come next.
So what does this mean? It means that our actions matter. If we are co-creators with God, then global warming matters. If we are co-creators with God, then nuclear proliferation matters. If we are co-creators with God, then urban sprawl matters. This creation story rejects the divine watchmaker, who created the earth and then left it to run on its own, but it also rejects the all-powerful master of fate, in whose hands rests the future of the world. As inheritors of Adam, we are called to join with God in creative, improvisatory collaboration, bringing things of joy and beauty into the world and caring for the things that are already here.
June 11, 2007
If you haven’t heard, the Church of England is considering suing SONY because it reproduced Manchester cathedral in last year’s premier first-person-shooter for the Play Station 3. Needless to say, this is not being received well within the gamer community, which has responded with a great deal of polemic about Christianity’s inability to differentiate fantasy from reality. Hmm.
It seems to me that the real issue is not whether a violent, bloody action game like Resistance falls in line with the church’s values. Rather, the real issue is about intellectual property: if the Church of England owns the interior design of a space, does someone else have to get their permission to reproduce that design the way they would for a photograph or a poem? I don’t know anything about British IP laws, but it seems a reasonable question to me.
Unfortunately, however, everyone is treating the church’s complaint as if it’s a battle over values, and therefor the church is again coming off like a tired old man shaking his fist at a bunch of kids smoking on a street corner. How could we react to this sort of thing in a positive way? I applaud the fact that they’re trying to get Sony to fund anti-gun crime groups in Manchester – how could this sort of activity be brought into the foreground?
June 10, 2007
Isaac and John are working on an album this summer and need a name for it by next week, yikes! below are some of sample we’ve been bouncing around…
please comment and let us know which you like – or add one to the mix!
Ike and the Hipostles
Moment of Inertia
resistance of a body
Mass, Density, Volume