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A Prophet Without Honor by the Rev. Bernice A. King

September 17, 2014

Several years ago, President Reagan signed the legislation setting aside the third Monday of January to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Many across the land rejoiced. For many of us, it was an honor long past due for a man who changed the face of this nation. It was the first time an African American was honored with a national holy day. And now every January, in every state, we pause to honor the man, the message, and his mission.

Unfortunately, as we survey the land, we would have to ask ourselves, where is the real honor? On the one hand, we celebrate a man who stood for peace, and yet we are the most violent nation in the world, so where is the real peace? We pay tribute to a man who fought for justice, and yet we have the Rodney King [Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Timothy Thomas, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Shelly Fry, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown] incidents. We pay tribute to a man who fought for economic freedom, and yet African Americans are denied loans to buy homes and start businesses. We commemorate a man who struggled for equality, and yet African Americans continue to be judged first by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. We honor a many who championed nonviolence, and yet we glorify violence from the silver screen to the TV screen, from the state house to the school house.

How dare we say we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. when we allow these atrocities to occur with impunity? We must do more than honor a man of this magnitude with just a holiday; we must honor him with action. We must honor him by bringing into reality what he merely dreamed about. Until we are willing to honor Dr. King with consistent, liberating actions, then we dishonor him with our mere words, and he is a prophet without honor.

Throughout history God has sent us prophets who have spoken the word, but who have seldom been heeded. In essence, they were forced to prophesy in a vacuum. That’s why Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.” (Matt. 13:57) It was, and in some cases still is, very difficult for America to find a real place for Martin Luther King Jr. We fear the prophet. We ridicule the prophet. We jail the prophet. We even kill the prophet. But we have no problem making the prophet merely a dreamer. Let’s face it, there are some people in power how have no intention of allowing my dad’s dream to become a reality.

from Hard Questions, Heart Answers

the offense of the poor, of the midwives, of the black folk, of the local prophets

September 16, 2014

On Sept 11, h00die_R (Rod) wrote:

God’s kindness and compassion are not restricted to ever-fluctuating rules of civility that give those with privilege the advantage. Rather God’s lovingkindness for all persons shines through in God demonstrating God’s preferential option for the poor. It is in the bodies and experiences of the oppressed that have the greatest knowledge of what human wickedness looks and feels like.

He rightly focuses on kindness and compassion, as these are God’s, as “in the bodies” of “the poor.”

Notice what else. He is reading Exodus and is reading a contemporary context where he himself is not the most othered other:

When Pharaoh asked why infant boys were living, the midwives satirize the essentialist logic of the [majority, privileged] Egyptians, “declaring” Hebrew women to be stronger (therefore, more capable of reproducing more children, thus the population growth). The Hebrew midwives played with the fears of the oppressor. And in turn for their acts of mercy, Exodus 1:20 says that YHWH was kind to the heroic midwives.

I observe the harassment that Women of Color educators/activists face everyday; trolls creating multiple accounts to make racist diatribes and violent threats against persons like Mikki Kendall, Sydette, Trudy, Suey Park, and others. I don’t think I can claim to have encountered a microcosm of what these brave women deal with every day 

On Aug 15, Wil Gafney wrote:

The Church does not have a good track record of responding to holy rage – particularly of black folk. It kills prophets.

Notice what else. She is reading Job and is reading a contemporary context where she herself is not necessarily the most othered other:

And I am complicit….

I have been stunned into silence by this summer of horror. I could not blog. I could not shape a paragraph. I don’t know if I could have preached. Instead I tweeted, I prayed, I raged – keeping vigil in the age of social media.

On a day, in a summer, two years earlier, Wil Gafney wrote:

We have these ideas about who can be God’s messenger: men, white men, heterosexual white men, with long beards and robes, projecting our notions about race and gender and sexuality onto the text. So many think of Charlton Heston but not Harriet Tubman or Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou when we imagine prophets. We don’t think to look to our children for a prophetic word, not always to our elders, especially when they are no longer strong and vibrant, to people whose bodies don’t work like ours, or to people who don’t live and love like we think they ought.

Notice what else. She is reading the gospel of Mark and is reading a contemporary context where she herself is not the most othered other:

[I have to say here that I am guilty of this (i.e., this "not thinking to look to our children for a prophetic word"), thinking that today’s guest musician must be an adult, and I was wrong and happily so! Thank you Abigail, for sharing your gifts with us.]

And so today let me write others’ words:

No. I haven’t the heart to go and see the sufferings of my people played on the stage. I’ve heard Uncle Tom’s Cabin read, and I tell you Ms Stowe’s pen hasn’t begun to paint what slavery is as I have seen it at the far South. I’ve seen the real thing, and I don’t want to see it on any stage or in any theater.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.

“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise.”

In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.

That’s right—all of my history as an African-American woman, as a Jewish woman, as a Muslim woman. I’m bringing everything I ever knew [and all the stories I've read]—everything good, strong, kind and powerful. I bring it all with me into every situation, and I will not allow my life to be minimized by anybody’s racism or sexism or ageism. I will not. So I will take the Scandinavian story of the little princess, I will take the story of Heidi in the Alpine mountains, I will take the story of O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck’s book The Good Earth, I will take them all. I take them, and I know them, and I am them. So when I walk into a room, people know that somebody has come in—they just don’t know it’s 2,000 people!

….Yes. Some think, “If I marry this guy who’s two inches taller than I am and who has a nice bank account, I won’t die. If I buy six cars, I won’t die. If I hate Jews, I won’t die. If I hate homosexuals, I won’t die.” They think they will increase their life by shunting misery onto somebody else, but it’s just the opposite….

Freedom and discipline. Freedom and responsibility. Freedom and a path. Freedom and a row to hoe. Freedom to do something, not freedom to be idle. And the hardest part for me is to realize that while God loves me, and I am a child of God, I have to see the bigot and the brute and the rapist, and whether he or she knows it or not, I have to know that that person is a child of God. That is part of the responsibility—and it’s hard….

I had to get to a place where I could forgive the man who raped me when I was 7 years old. And that was a matter of incredible mental gymnastics. I had to think of what I had done to other people and how I’d been forgiven. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve been forgiven. I won’t—I don’t—forget. And I will not put myself in a situation where that can be done to me again. But I understand.

Notice what else. We are reading the words of scandal of other prophets and are reading a contemporary context where we ourselves, very likely in the local locale, are not the most othered other.

 

The NFL, Ferguson, and the Bible

September 16, 2014

nflcovergirlWith a pregnant girlfriend in the news because she’s been allegedly beaten,
and two different 4-year-old boys of different mothers allegedly by the same father beaten,
and Janay Palmer,
and Nicki Holder,
and Candace Williams
in the NFL news,
and with Michael Brown dead
in the Ferguson, Missouri news,

I was reminded of the Bible,
and the ways that Wil Gafney,
a woman, African-
American, in the diaspora
reads it

(not so unlike what Brigitt Hamman

and Willis Barnstone see):

Here -

The normative portrayal of marriage in Ruth is a particular problem for English readers because it masks sexual and domestic violence in a text that has been canonized as scripture for Jews and Christians.  There are at least three indicators that Ruth was abducted into marriage:  (1) the use of the verb ns, “lift,” with “woman,” instead of the standard lach, “take (as wife),” (2) the long-standing Israelite practice of abduction or rape-marriage, and (3) the preferential abduction of foreign women for rape-marriage.

The verb in Ruth 1:4, vayis’u, from ns’, “to lift” or “pick up,” may be taken to indicate that Ruth and Orpah, both Moabite women, were abducted into marriage.  I translate the first three works of Ruth 1:4, “They-abducted for-themselves Moabite-women. . . . ”  The verb ns’ occurs 661 times in the MT.  The primary meaning of ns’, according to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), is “to carry” or “to lift.”  In virtually every translation of ns’ in which the object is not a person, the verb is rendered with some form of “lift,” “carry,” “take,” or something similar.  Any thing or person may be the object of ns’:  the hand (Deut. 32:20), prayer (Jer. 7:13), or sin may be lifted off of a person or community (Isa. 53:11), and so forth.  In Ruth ns’ is also used to indicate lifting grain in 2:18.  Women are the object of ns’ five times:  Judges 21:23; Ruth 1:4; Ezra 10:44; 2 Chr. 13:21 and 24:3.  Note that in Judges, the context is the abduction of sexually naive girls from Shiloh into forced or rape-marriages for the purpose of progeny.  The verb chtph in Judges 21:21, “to catch” (women), functions as a synonym.  In Ezra, the women in question are specified as foreign.  In 2 Chr. 13:21, Abijah’s collection of women and the resulting offspring is cited as evidence of his strength in the previous verse, suggesting that these were abduction-marriages….

The normative verb indicating marriage in the Hebrew scriptures, lach, “to take,” with a woman as the object, indicates in every case in the Hebrew scriptures socially sanctioned union (Gen 4:19; Exod. 6:20; Jer. 16:2, and so on)….  Rape-marriage as a normative practice is introduced in Numbers 31, where sexually naïve girls are abducted as “booty,” shalal.  It is codified subsequently in Deuteronomy 20,21, and 24.  Among the modifications introduced are the shift of focus from any outsider girl whose people are designated as “enemies” (as in Num. 31:19) to “beautiful” women and girls among the enemy (Deut. 20:11).  Deuteronomy20:12-13 also calls for the abducted women and girls to be stripped, their heads shaved, and their nails cut….

…. The very name, “Moab,” literally “from [my] father,” evokes the alleged incestuous and therefore despicable nature of all Moabites according to the Israelite account of their origins in the Genesis 19 account of Lot and his daughters.  As a result, Moabites, particularly Moabite women, are highly sexualized in the scriptures of Israel, as are many contemporary Africana women readers of those same scriptures.
Given the specific vocabulary deployed in the text and Ruth’s identity as a Moabite woman — which she never escapes — Ruth is multiply marginalized, socially and sexually vulnerable.  Ruth and Orpah’s marriages, therefore, hide dirty not-so-little secrets, covered up by generations of male translators.  Yet the experience of abduction-marriage and forcible pregnancy is not unimaginable to contemporary Africana readers.  In some parts of Eastern and raped into marriage.
The Associated Press (AP) ran a story on June 21, 2005, under an Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, dateline in which a twelve-year-old girl, kidnapped by men who wanted to force her into marriage, was rescued by three lions that chased off her abductors and guarded her until police and relatives located her.  Sergeant Wondimu Wedajo of the local police reported that the men had held the girl for seven days, repeatedly beating her:  “Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force them to accept the marriage.”

The AP report noted that in Ethiopia, kidnapping has been part of the marriage customs for quite some time and that the United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia occured by abduction, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the country’s population lives.  (The AP report did not delineate its sources).

Interpreters appealing to biblical narratives to describe idealized marriage have in many cases legitimized violence in marriage.  Religious authorities (Bible translators, pastors, seminary professors) have been negligent (and, I argue, criminally so) in failing to expose the ways in which the biblical narrative sanctions and contributes to the abuse of women in general and wives in particular.  By highlighting Ruth’s embrace of Naomi and Naomi’s god, interpreters of the book of Ruth have regularly overlooked the colence with which Ruth was initiated into marriage (and relationship with Naomi), as specified by the Biblical Hebrew vocabulary of that union.  Biblical interpreters, like all readers, are shaped by their own constructed cultures, which they in turn lay onto the text even as they identify “biblical principles” for marriage.  In doing so, lay and professional, clergy and academic interpreters of the Bible overlook the violence in which many women live, particularly in their marriages.  Men in every part of the world rape their wives.  According to Molly Egan and Jason Wood’s 1999 Lehigh University report, The Abolition of Marital Rape Exemption, in the United States, spousal rape was criminalized by only seventeen out of fifty states in 1996.  By 2007, all fifty states and the District of Columbia had criminalized spousal rape.  (The state of New York relies on the ruling of an appeals court in 1984, People vs. Liberta, because an exemption for married men accused of raping their wives remains on the books.)  Spousal rape affects all people in the United States and beyond, including those in the African dispersion.

and here – 

Hitler adopted Jewish “purity of race” as nothing less than a model for his own weltanschauung regarding the necessity of the racial purity of Aryans.

Brigitte Hamann, “Jews in Vienna,” Hitler’s Vienna: A Dictator’s Apprenticeship

 

It is enough to say that Yeshua and his circle, whatever masks their writers gave them, would have fared less well in Germany between 1933 and 1945. In those days, the designation of the Jew as “vermin,” found famously first in Matthew’s “brood of vipers,” was fixed, and even the intervention of Pope Pius XII could not have altered that designation of Yeshua’s blood and racial identity, and his inevitable way to the chamber. His parents, brothers, sister, and messengers would also have been picked up in trucks and sent to the death camps as Jews. In the eyes of the master race, the identity of Yeshua as one of the Jews had no way out.

Willis Barnstone, “Afterword:… A Gentleman’s Agreement in the Gospels that Jews in the Yeshua Movement Not Be Perceived as Jews,” The New Covenant: Commonly Called the New Testament

 

Responsible reading of the scriptures of Israel also calls for revisiting the ways in which racial constructs are imposed on the text. Israelite identity is, like all identities, a constructed identity; in its earliest formulation, it is a cultural rather than a biological identity. Yaakov, the Heel-Grabbing Sneak, who becomes Israel the God-Wrestler, is the grandson of Abraham the Chaldean in Gen. 11:28. His Caldean kinfolk would eventually evolve into the Babylonian Empire that decimated his descendants — so the Israelites and Babylonians shared biology but not culture. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shared African maternity because of Joseph’s marriage to Asenat, the Egyptian in Gen. 41:45. Even Moshe, Moses, the Torah-Vessel, married non-Israelite women — Zipporah the Midianite in Exod. 2:21 and an unnamed Nubian woman in Num. 12:1 — meaning that some of the priestly community had multicultural heritage. A non-Israelite, mixed multitude accompanied Israel when they departed Egypt in Exod. 12:38 and became absorbed into the community. In 2 Sam. 22:51, David — called “meshiach,” or “messiah” in Hebrew, and “christos,” or “christ” in Greek (although generally translated “anointed” in English) — was the grandson of a Moabite woman named Ruth.

The multicultural nature of Israel is especially important to read over and against racialized constructions of Israel as ethnically and racially monolithic, and their construction as “white” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The supposed whiteness of biblical Israel has been used to sanctify colonization of black, brown, and beige peoples around the globe, invoking the ahistorical “Conquest of Canaan” paradigm.

Wil Gafney, “Reading the Hebrew Bible Responsibly:… Multicultural Israel,” The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora
Ruth was abducted into the messianic lineages of David and Jesus.  But the text should not be read as an endorsement of abduction.  It is in Ruth’s power to choose where she will make her way in the world.  She chooses her mother-in-law….  When Ruth gives birth, she is a surrogate for Naomi:
“Blessed be YHWH, who has not left you, woman, without redeeming kin this day; and may that name be proclaimed in Israel!  That one shall be to you, woman, a restorer of life and a provider when your hair grays, woman; for your daughter-in-law, she who loves you, woman, she has given birth — she who is more to you, woman, than seven sons.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurturer.  The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.”  (Ruth 4:14-17, my [Wil Gafney's] translation)
Wil Gafney, “Ruth,” The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora

sexism online

September 11, 2014

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

Second, online comparisons like this decontextualize the problem of harassment, as though a connection to what happens offline is trivial or inconsequential.

Third, the binary frame camouflages the degree to which harassment of people, often men, is frequently aimed at people who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules. LGBT youth experience online bullying at three times the rate of their straight peers.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

– Soraya Chemaly, “There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online” Time online, Sept. 9, 2014

More Odd Greek: Melania, the anthropos of God

August 31, 2014

So many, many times, men have told me that anthropos means a human being, or a male human being, but never a woman on her own. One man asked me what the feminine term was for Adam. When I claim humanity for women, when I say, “but women are human beings, and these words which mean “human being” must refer also to women,” usually they mutter words like “shrill” “vitriol” etc. Why should a woman make such a fuss? Sad, but true.

Here are two passages of odd Greek, where the anthropos and the aner are female.

ποτὲ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίγνοιτ’ ἄν,
τὴν ἀνθρώπῳ προσήκουσαν ἀρετὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔχων ,
εἴτε ἄρρην τις των συνοικούντων οὖσα ἡ φύσις εἴτε θήλεια, νέων ἢ γερόντων

- in which a member of our community -
be he of the male or female sex, young or old,-
may become a good citizen,
possessed of the excellence of soul which belongs to man. Plato’s Laws 1 – 6, Bury, Harvard U. P. 1926, 6. 770d. 

“In brief this was the substance of the agreement,
in whatever way a member of the community,
whether his nature be male or female, young or old,
might become a good man,
possessing the virtue of soul that befits a human being … ” page 158 Laws by Plato, trans. by T. Pangle, 1980. U. of Chicago P. 6. 770d

In the first translation, the Greek word ανθρωπος is translated as “man” generic – meaning human, “the excellence of soul which belongs to man” and the word ανηρ is translated as citizen, either male or female. Being human had an excellence which belonged equally to men and women. However, being a man had an excellence which properly belonged to men, but women could also share in it. Bury translated aner as “citizen” in a gender neutral way, and Pangle translated aner as “man,” a man which could be either male or female.

Here is another expression, one which I was told did not and could not exist. It is not found in the Bible but in Greek literature a few centuries later.

Ἐν τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ Νιτρίας γέγονεν ἀνὴρ ἀσκητὴς Ὠρ ὀνόματι ᾦ πολλὴν προσεμαρτύρει ἀρετὴν καὶ πᾶσα μὲν ἡ ἀδελφότης ἐξαιρέτως δὲ ἡ ἄνθρωπος τοῦ θεοῦ Μελανία, πρὸ ἐμοῦ εἰσελθοῦσα εἰ τοῦτο τὸ ὄρως Palladius Lausiac Histories, chapter IX

In the mountain of Nitria there was an ascetic named Or, to whose great virtue the whole brotherhood bore witness, and especially Melania, that woman (anthropos) of God, who came to the mountain before me.

The Lausiac History of Palladius, trans. W.K. Lowther Clarke B.D. Aeterna Press, April 18, 2014, tns. W.K. Lowther Clarke B.D.

Some commentators have translated he anthropos of God, as the “female man” of God. Bible translators usually translate ho anthropos of God as “man of God.” But aren’t Melania and Timothy both equally “persons of God.” How can we show the equal status of the two? How can we show that a woman does not have to be a man to be an anthropos.

There are two words translated “man” in Greek, and two in Hebrew. The way I understand it anthropos and adam predominantly mean “a human being,” while aner and ish mean an individual and predominantly refer to men, but can include women. In English, “man” can include women, but “a man” cannot. So, one cannot really say “a good man, male or female” in English. It doesn’t quite work.

However, many Bible scholars, not familiar with obscure classical Greek and modern Hebrew, claim that aner and ish exclusively mean “a man” and there is no deviation from this. Joel, at God Didn’t Say That, expresses the case regarding ish well. It is inclusive, although with less clarity, he compares anthropos to ish. These are not usually thought of as equivalent terms.

My point is that anthropos is not like “person” or “man” in English.

Here’s another example, this time from Modern Hebrew, where we can actually test hypothetical sentences to see if they are accepted by native speakers.

There’s a Modern Hebrew word ish.

In many contexts, it looks exactly like our English “person.” The phrase anashim tovim (“good ish‘s”) refers to good people of any gender or age. In the negative — ish lo nimtza, e.g., ["not an ish was present"] — it again refers to people of any gender or age. And so on.

Yet in other contexts it contrasts with “woman.” The phrase ish v’isha, “an ish and a woman,” means “a man and a woman.” Even more clearly, the phrase at lo ish, “you (f) aren’t an ish,” simply means “you aren’t a man.” It does not mean “you aren’t a person.”

The main point is clear. These words are not exact equivalents of either “man” or “person.” There will be no exact equivalents. Perhaps the most worrisome for some people is that neither aner nor ish exclude women.

Here is another passage, from the Dialogue of Palladius on the Life of Saint Chrysostom,  chapter 16, pqge 151, which may clarify a little how the early church used these Greek terms. I will take a stab at transliterating this, starting with “the deacon” at the end of the first line, and ending with schema, second word in the last line.

Olympias aner Greek

ὁ διάκ. ποταπῂ γυνὴ τυγχάνει οὖσα;
ὁ ἐπίσκ. μὴ λέγε γυνὴ, ἀλλ’ οἷος ἂνθρωπος.
ἀνὴρ γάρ ἐστί παρὰ τὸ τοῦ σώματις σχῆμα.

The deacon speaks: Now, if it’s not too much trouble, tell us about Olympias,
if you have some knowledge of her.
The bishop: Which one? There are several.
The deacon: The deacon (diakonos) of Constantinople,
who was the bride of Nebridius, the former prefect.
The bishop: I know her well.
The deacon: What kind of woman is she?
The bishop: Do not say “woman,” but “such a person” (anthropos),
for she was a man (aner) despite her bodily appearance.

The deacon: How is that?
The bishop: By her life, her asceticism and knowledge,
and her patient endurance in trials. Madigan, Osiek, 2011

So, in the early church, the most important thing about being a Christian woman was being a man. And many women were called manly in the early church. How else can we phrase this in English? Sometimes, I see that people can’t wrap their brains around the women that are men. Not women who inherit eternal life because they are “sons.” These are women who behave as men, who perform as men, and are respected as men. But you must empty your brain of your native language, before trying to fill it with a new one. Is translation – the pursuit of equivalent words and terms – even possible?

What is a man? A man is a mature and fully responsible human being with all the rights of citizen and head of the family, and with all the attributes of the ascetics and martyrs, male or female. That’s why a man would set the price of a manly – ἀνδρεία – wife far above rubies. Nobody ever remembers that the Bible says a woman should be manly. But if we define the Greek word “man” properly, then women are also to be men. Or men should be called “persons.” One way or the other.

Matthew 18 and Spiritual Abuse

August 30, 2014

(Cross-posted from Wordgazer’s Words)

I have been asked a few times over the last several months to do a blog post on Matthew 18:15-17, where Jesus teaches about what to do if a member of a Christian group is committing wrongs that are harmful enough that they cannot be overlooked.  Here’s the text, from the 2011 NIV:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The context of this verse is as part of one of Jesus’ large teaching units in the gospel of Matthew.  He is here teaching about interpersonal relationships within the  “kingdom of heaven” [verse 1], which will include all who trust and follow Jesus.  He starts by stating that the greatest in the kingdom is as a little child, which, as I described in another blog post, meant letting go of earthly status and hierarchy. Then He goes on to warn against “despising” any of these “little ones– those who believe in Me.”  In other words, those who believe in Jesus should voluntarily become lowly and without status, like children (“little ones”), and their resulting vulnerability must not be taken advantage of or used to harm them. (For an excellent study of the whole chapter, see the Christian Resource Institute’s study by Roger Hahn.)  He then talks about how valuable these “little ones” are to the Father, and how He will seek them if they stray.

It is at this point that verses 15-17 occur: just after the discussion of stumbling blocks put in the way of the “little ones.”  The Christian group as a whole can choose to remove anyone who is causing grievous harm to one or more members of the group.  Jesus speaks in terms of “brothers and sisters” to indicate equality of status in the group.  He does not envisage the church as a hierarchy where leaders alone assume the power to excommunicate; an action as drastic as that should be done by the consensus of the whole group.

The rest of the teaching is about interpersonal forgiveness when brothers and sisters sin against one another.  Jesus speaks of the need to forgive “up to seventy times seven” times, and tells a parable whose point is that, since God has forgiven us so much, we ought also to forgive one another.  Taking this section together with verses 15-17 leads me to conclude that Jesus is differentiating between forgiveness (personal letting go of animosity) and reconciliation (restoring relationships).   To forgive someone up to seventy-times-seven times is one thing; to have them “listen to you” so that you have “won them over” is another.   The possibility of excommunication means that relationship is not to be restored when the person who has harmed you is unrepentant and unwilling to change– even after being confronted with witnesses to the harm that was done.

The principles of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 are sound.  A group should have the power to disassociate itself from people who are causing serious harm to one or more members, and a graduated-step process seems the most appropriate way to deal with such people.  The problem is that these verses are so often misused, particularly by people in power to enable themselves to stay in power.  Here are some examples from around the blogosphere:

From Under Much Grace:

In many spiritually abusive groups, Matthew chapter 18, verses 15-19 is used like a static formula which is misapplied to manipulate and control others. Many misapply it as something appropriate for minor offenses instead of overt sin, as the consequences of the process can result in excommunication from that local church. A person can be offended by someone’s behavior, but it may not necessarily constitute a sin, particularly not one that carries such heavy consequences. In aberrant Christian groups, the passage is used to rid the group of “problem,” nonconformist members (who are not sinning) and becomes a means by which clergy can micromanage if not threaten church members. (It is used to manipulate and control behavior.)

Among very litigious groups, the process is used to declare people non-Christian or never legitimate Christians so that they can be at liberty to violate a directive of the Apostle Paul who forbids Christians to sue other Christians, as it is found in a letter he wrote to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). This practice of threatening to “de-Christianize” other professing Christians is actually common among those who follow patriarchy. This type of abuse of the passage has become popular enough that the saying that a person has been “Matthew Eighteened” has become somewhat commonplace among some Protestant Evangelical groups.

From Debra Bouey at Crossword Articles:

When Biblical apologists comment publicly on . . . aberrant, sometimes heretical, teachings, the principals involved, and their supporters, quickly and repeatedly raise the “Matthew 18 Argument”, contending that the “brother” [or, as the case may be, "sister"] should have been approached privately, “according to Matthew 18″.

From ResolveChurchConflict.com:

Jesus’s words here were not intended and should not be used as a general model for all conflict resolution. . . Matthew 18 instructs the church on how to deal with sin on an interpersonal level that is serious enough to remove an unrepentant member from fellowship. . .  Matthew 18 is not applicable for solving differences of opinion and other kinds of problems.

From Slacktivist:

99 percent of the time, this is the way this passage is used and abused — as a cudgel to beat truth-tellers back into silence. How dare you expose my wrong-doing? Jesus commanded you to come to me privately, so that we could work this out just between the two of us. . .

From the Biblical Seminary Theology Blog:

Does this passage require that abuse victims forego reporting abuse to the authorities and to make a private confrontation of the perpetrator? Sadly, I have heard stories where not only were victims chastised for reporting abuse, but then made to go to the perpetrator and confess their sin of not following Matthew 18.

From Rachel Held Evans’ Interview with Boz Tchividjian:

[T]his passage is used as a justification for 1) not reporting abuse disclosures to the civil authorities and 2) convincing sexual abuse victims to privately confront their perpetrators. Needless to say, this misinterpretation of Matthew 18 is hugely destructive on a number of fronts.

It’s very important not to lift verses like Matthew 18:15-17 out of their historical context– how they were meant to be understood and applied in their original setting, to their original audience. Jesus’ words were meant to be understood in terms of a small counter-cultural group within an indifferent or even hostile surrounding culture.  Such a group had a much greater need to police its own members for things which today are crimes which should be handled by civil authorities.  Jesus also was not envisioning a church where power was concentrated in the hands of one or two people who would then be in a position to abuse their authority.  Neither was He setting forth some universal principle for conflict resolution to be applied in a blanket manner to all situations.  As Boz Tchividjian says later in the above-linked interview:

Matthew 18 is important for local church life, because Jesus commands us there how to deal with sin. But it is not the only passage in which Jesus tells us how to deal with sin. It must be properly synthesized with others that address the same subject directly and/or indirectly. It is critical to remember that all passages are regulated and interpreted by the balance of Scripture. . . [For instance,] on Romans 13, Jesus tells us through the Apostle Paul that believers are to be subject to the civil authorities.

I don’t think that even in the early days when the civil authorities were mostly hostile, would the church have required a sexual abuse victim to privately confront a perpetrator.  1 Corinthians 5:1 seems to indicate a situation like this, where the man who “had his father’s wife” appeared to be held solely responsible and the congregation was instructed to remove him from the fellowship.  Women had far less agency then than they have today in any event– but there appears to have been no idea in Paul’s mind that the woman should follow a Matthew 18 private confrontation.

In the authoritarian, spiritually abusive group I was part of in my earlier Christian life, the problem was not so much crimes that should have been handled by civil authorities, but the fact that confronting a leader with his sin would lead directly to leader-led discipline against the person who dared to complain.  Trying to discuss a wrong privately with an authoritarian leader is impossible– it will immediately be turned around to be construed as your sin, not his.  As the above Slacktivist quote states, Matthew 18 thus becomes a way to keep the rank-and-file members from speaking out.

And of course, authoritarian leaders often also use Matthew 18 as if simply disagreeing with them– about anything at all– were sin.  And then once a person has been excommunicated using the Matthew 18 process, they can be treated as enemies and prosecuted or sued accordingly (as the above Under Much Grace article notes).

Finally, a person who speaks out publicly against spiritually abusive doctrines can be accused of not handling it biblically, by taking the disagreement to the person privately first. This has a way of simply shutting down all discussion.  But Jesus and the apostles themselves were actually quite vocal about publicly refuting doctrines and teachings they disagreed with.  Matthew 18 is not about doctrinal differences.

Other passages show situations which were not “Matthew 18″ events.  In Acts 15:39 Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” without handling it according to Jesus’ Matthew 18 teaching, because His teaching simply did not apply to disagreements about who to travel with!  And when Paul found Peter, a fellow church leader, involved in public hypocrisy, Paul also rebuked him publicly (Galatians 2:11-14).  Paul doesn’t seem to have expected any of the Gentiles who were being ostracized at the table, to confront Peter privately.  Jesus’ Matthew 18 teachings apparently didn’t apply there, either– possibly because Peter’s sin was not harmful enough that he needed to be asked to leave.  Or possibly because Peter’s actions were in front of everybody, and so his correction needed to also be in front of everybody.  Or perhaps because Peter was an apostle, and Paul thought it best for another apostle to confront him.  Or all three.

It’s never a good idea to isolate one set of verses from the rest of scripture and follow them slavishly as if they were universally applicable in every situation.  Particularly in ways that violate the good which the passage intended, and do harm the passage never contemplated.

In any event, Christians, and especially Christian leaders, need to be careful about using passages of scripture to their own advantage at the expense of others.  This is against every principle that Jesus taught– and it’s what most of His rebukes of the scribes and Pharisees were about.

A Bible used as a weapon against other human beings, is always a Bible misused.

Womanly Silence in the Dirt: a translation of the fragment of John 8

August 26, 2014

Let me offer here a translation of the first 11 verses of John 8, a reading, an Englishing with the verb tenses tense. This is how I hear it (in light of some of the recent blog commentary here and here).

1 Joshua goes to the Mount of Olives

2 At the crack of dawn again he comes to the Temple
The people all go with him
He sits he teaches them

3 To him the Midrash Writers, the Purists, bring
a “wife” wearing a Scarlet Letter
They sit her in the middle 4

“Teacher” they say to him
This “wife” for her adultery has cause to wear this Scarlet A
5 By law we are commanded, by the Torah of Moses, to execute her by stoning
What do you say to that, sir?

6 This speech of theirs is intended to test him
To give cause to categorically convict him

Joshua goes squatting in the dirt, like a woman, silent, his finger writes in it

7 Since they stay with their line of questioning at him,
He goes back up to their eye level and says to them

Fine, the “Error-Free” Men Go First: “Bash her with a stone”

Again, Joshua goes squatting in the dirt, like a woman, silent, writes in it

9 The men hear, they go away, the senior men first
He is left alone
This wife is in the middle

10 He goes back up to her eye level, says to her

“Wife”
Where are they?
Are none of your judges here?

11 She says
None, Master

Joshua says
None is your judge, not even me
Go on now
No more error for you

[[1 Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν.

2 Ὄρθρου δὲ πάλιν παρεγένετο εἰς τὸ ἱερόν,
καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς ἠρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν,
καὶ καθίσας ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.

3 ἀγουσιν δὲ οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι
γυναῖκα ἐπὶ μοιχείᾳ κατειλημμένην,
καὶ στήσαντες αὐτὴν ἐν μέσῳ 4 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ,

Διδάσκαλε,
αὑτη ἡ γυνὴ κατείληπται ἐπ’ αὐτοφώρῳ μοιχευομένη·
5 ἐν δὲ τῷ νόμῳ ἡμῖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο τὰς τοιαύτας λιθάζειν·
σὺ οὖν τί λέγεις;

6 τοῦτο δὲ ἐλεγον πειράζοντες αὐτόν,
ἵνα ἐχωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ.

ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς κάτω κύψας τῷ δακτύλῳ κατέγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν.

7 ὡς δὲ ἐπέμενον ἐρωτῶντες [αὐτόν],
ἀνέκυψεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

Ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ’ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον·

8 καὶ πάλιν κατακύψας ἐγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν.

9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐξήρχοντο εἷς καθ’ εἷς ἀρξάμενοι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων,
καὶ κατελείφθη μόνος,
καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ οὖσα.

10 ἀνακύψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ,
Γύναι,
ποῦ εἰσιν;
οὐδείς σε κατέκρινεν;

11 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν,
Οὐδείς, κύριε.

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς,
Οὐδὲ ἐγώ σε κατακρίνω·
πορεύου,
[καὶ] ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἀμάρτανε.]]

The Sexist Greek Jesus Addresses of Women

August 25, 2014

γυνη is Greek for “woman” or “wife.” It is in the vocative case [i.e., Γύναι] as Jesus addressing her directly. It is not nearly so abrupt in Greek as it sounds in English. It is the same form of the word Jesus uses when he tenderly comforts Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (John 20:15). And yet it is not usual. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 180) comments that while the vocative can be used to express “respect or affection,” it is an unusual term for a son to use of his mother. It is not a Hebrew or a Greek expression.

– Bill Mounce, How Rude was Jesus?

There is no getting around that the fact that the use of “woman” sounds pejorative to our ears, and yet there is nothing pejorative at all in the Greek γύναι. After all, this is what Jesus calls his mother (John 2:4; 19:26). It is the term Jesus uses to address the weeping Mary at the tomb (John 20:15)…. “Lady” sounds pejorative to me, and “girl” is only a young “woman” and again sounds pejorative. So what are we left with [in English for the Greek Jesus’s addresses of women using γύναι]? Nothing.

– Bill Mounce, An Untranslatable Word: γύναι

After reading my post The Womanly Adultery of a Gospel, my BLT co-blogger Victoria responded this way: “Can you help us out a little here, Kurk? What is odd about this gospel Greek?”

I apologize for being unclear sometimes. And much much more than that I always appreciate intellectual curiosity, especially Victoria’s on this blog and at her other blog Gaudete Theology.

So here are a few things I’m thinking as I try to begin answers to the helpful questions:

  1. The fourth canonical gospel of the New Testament often uses odd Greek, and also since it’s the oddly non-synoptic gospel (i.e., it doesn’t always see things about Jesus and his message in the same way that the other three canonical gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, see things together), I’ve got this blog series going themed ambiguously:  “Odd Gospel Greek” (or the gospel using odd Greek and also the oddest of the gospels in Greek).
  2. The first quotation of Bill Mounce (i.e., my epigraph) above correctly asserts that Γύναι /Gynai/ “is an unusual term for a son to use of his mother” and is “not usual” for a tender comfort coming from a man when addressing a grieving woman.
  3. That first quotation of Mounce could even be more general and still be correct:  Γύναι /Gynai/ is odd Greek. The vocative address is used only a couple of times in the Homeric epics (in the Iliad twice); once only in one of the fragments of Bacchylides; once only in Thesmophoriazousai by Aristophanes, who has women celebrating the festival of the Thesmophoria; and only thrice by Sophocles  (only twice in the Oedipus King, and only once in Ajax). Much later, after all this old Greek literature shows only these few uses of the vocative Γύναι /Gynai/, this odd Greek address to a woman/wife/lady/mother/girl is also rare in the Septuagint: only once in Judith and only twice in 4 Maccabees. Then comes the New Testament in Greek and its few odd uses of Γύναι /Gynai/ for direct speech to or at a woman:  the first Pauline epistle to the Korinthian readers has it once; Mark’s gospel does not have it; Matthew’s gospel puts it in the mouth of Jesus once; Luke’s gospel has it once in the mouth of Jesus and once in the mouth of Peter and no more; and, except for the odd gospel of John (which uses Γύναι [Gynai] six times), this odd Greek does not appear anywhere else in the post-LXX Christian scriptures.

Here are a couple of other things to note as we begin to consider Englishings of this odd Greek:

  1. The gospel of John uses the Greek vocative address of a woman Γύναι [Gynai] twice as often as the Septuagint uses it and nearly twice as often as the rest of the writers of the New Testament use it. Invariably, the Greek writer of the gospel has Jesus saying this to women, different women in different contexts  — his mother at a wedding; an unnamed Samaritan adulteress; an unnamed Jewish adulteress; his mother watching him hang naked and shamefully on a Roman cross; the crying grief-stricken Miriam of Magdala [addressed exactly the same way as angels had addressed this Miriam moments earlier]. This is high frequency usage of a rare Greek form in one short narrative mostly in the mouth of its male protagonist. Odd.
  2. That first quotation of Mounce is correct in quoting Morris in saying that, in Greek, for John to have Jesus addressing his mother as her son with Γύναι [Gynai] is rather odd. It’s also correct in noting that “γυνη is Greek for ‘woman’ or wife’.” In Greek literature, the only other writer to have a son address his mother, in Greek, this way is Sophocles. Sophocles has Oedipus address Jocasta, his mother, as follows:

Lady [Γύναι /Gynai/], do you know the one whom we summoned just now? [English translation by Sir Richard C. Jebb]

Wife [Γύναι /Gynai/], do you remember the man we were earlier asking to come here?  [English translation by Dr. George Theodoridis]

Here are a few other things as we begin to consider whether this odd gospel Greek is really translatable or not (especially since we might not want to make the ambiguities of Oedipus and Jocasta our standards):

  1. That first quotation of Mounce correctly claims generally that “γυνη is Greek for ‘woman’ or ‘wife’.” And yet for a man to call the woman who is his mother by “the vocative case [i.e., Γύναι]” is “unusual” and odd and “not a Hebrew or a Greek expression.”
  2. However, that second quotation of Mounce incorrectly claims, in all too overgeneralized way, that “there is nothing pejorative at all in the Greek γύναι.” Mounce incorrectly claims by this second quotation also that this term John’s gospel puts five times in the mouth of Jesus is “untranslatable.”
  3. What Mounce has overlooked is how the sexist Aristotle quotes Sophocles, who has his character Ms. Tecmessa quoting a sexist Greek jingle or insult using Γύναι [Gynai] to justify her subjugating herself to Mr. Ajax in the play Ajax. Here’s the Greek in her mouth and a couple of good translations:

ὁ δ᾽ εἶπε πρός με βαί᾽, ἀεὶ δ᾽ ὑμνούμενα:

     γύναι, γυναιξὶ κόσμον ἡ σιγὴ φέρει.

κἀγὼ μαθοῦσ᾽ ἔληξ᾽, ὁ δ᾽ ἐσσύθη μόνος.

But he answered me curtly with that trite jingle:

Woman, silence graces woman.”

And I, taking his meaning, desisted, but he rushed out alone. [Jebb]

What I got as an answer from him was the usual short insult.

Listen woman! Women are only beautiful when they are silent!”

At that I shut up and he ran out of the hut all alone. [Theodoridis]

For Mounce, it would seem, there is no English to address a woman, as a son must his mother, that is not pejorative. Of course, to address a woman who’s committed the capital offense of adultery (as much as Mounce would have translators put non-pejorative English in the mouth of John’s Jesus addressing individual women), I’m afraid it’s not so clear that the johannine Greek is not sexist.

Γύναι [Gynai] seems as marked, and as odd, as any other term of address at a “Wo-Man!” or a “Fe-Male!” has to be.

The Womanly Adultery of a Gospel

August 23, 2014

Females are botched males, claimed Aristotle.

Adulteresses botch marriages, as we all know.

And so it’s a perfect example of imperfection that there’s this odd gospel Greek botching an otherwise fine Greek gospel (and here’s the United Bible Societies text – Ed.26.):

[[1 Ἰησοῦς δὲ ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν. 2 Ὄρθρου δὲ πάλιν παρεγένετο εἰς τὸ ἱερόν, καὶ πᾶς ὁ λαὸς ἠρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ καθίσας ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς. 3 ἀγουσιν δὲ οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι γυναῖκα ἐπὶ μοιχείᾳ κατειλημμένην, καὶ στήσαντες αὐτὴν ἐν μέσῳ 4 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, αὑτη ἡ γυνὴ κατείληπται ἐπ’ αὐτοφώρῳ μοιχευομένη· 5 ἐν δὲ τῷ νόμῳ ἡμῖν Μωϋσῆς ἐνετείλατο τὰς τοιαύτας λιθάζειν· σὺ οὖν τί λέγεις; 6 τοῦτο δὲ ἐλεγον πειράζοντες αὐτόν, ἵνα ἐχωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτοῦ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς κάτω κύψας τῷ δακτύλῳ κατέγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν. 7 ὡς δὲ ἐπέμενον ἐρωτῶντες [αὐτόν], ἀνέκυψεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὁ ἀναμάρτητος ὑμῶν πρῶτος ἐπ’ αὐτὴν βαλέτω λίθον· 8 καὶ πάλιν κατακύψας ἐγραφεν εἰς τὴν γῆν. 9 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες ἐξήρχοντο εἷς καθ’ εἷς ἀρξάμενοι ἀπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, καὶ κατελείφθη μόνος, καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν μέσῳ οὖσα. 10 ἀνακύψας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Γύναι, ποῦ εἰσιν; οὐδείς σε κατέκρινεν; 11 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Οὐδείς, κύριε. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐδὲ ἐγώ σε κατακρίνω· πορεύου, [καὶ] ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μηκέτι ἀμάρτανε.]]

This bit is purified out of ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 8 of the SBL Greek New Testament, which is a little weird. It’s weird also because the Society of Biblical Literature has a website called Bible Odyssey, where some decent articles are posted by Bible scholars in somewhat of a pop format.

For example, there’s “The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11)” by Jennifer Knust. When you read what she’s written, here, doesn’t it make you think “How appropriate this ‘inappropriate’ womanly adulteress story in this would-be unadulterated gospel”?

Painted Screens & Painted Stations: A Secular and Sacred Art Report

August 16, 2014

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology

Last Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple hours at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, one of the two interfaith centers in which my parish has a presence. The building has a central area resembling a courtyard, with plenty of natural light, opening out to various worship spaces and meeting rooms around the perimeter, and the walls of this courtyard-like space are used as an art gallery. Sunday was the final day of an exhibition called Picture Windows: The Painted Screens of Baltimore.

I’ve been intrigued by painted screens since I first learned about this Baltimore folk art form, but this was the first time I’d seen them. Like many domestic arts, it was intended to be both practical and pretty. In the days before air conditioning, the row houses of Baltimore would get pretty sweltering in the summer, and folks wanted all the windows and solid doors open to get as much ventilation as possible, with no curtains in the way to obstruct the air flow. But then what do you do about privacy, especially in an urban environment with folks walking right past your windows?

Well, it turns out, if you paint a picture on the front of the window or door screens, then that effectively blocks the viewers’ gaze through the screen. Your eyes focus on the picture, instead of looking through the screen; at least, if the area behind the screen is not illuminated. What a clever way to solve the problem! And what an opportunity it creates for beautifying a city street. Time was, most houses in some areas of Baltimore had painted screens on the windows and doors, so walking down the street was much like walking past a gallery of paintings.

The exhibit included screens that had been painted by traditional screen painters near the end of the era when the art was flourishing, and contemporary screens (for sale!) by currently practicing screen painters, some of whom had been trained by traditional painters. There was a little biography of each painter mounted among their works. The sizes ranged from small screens that might cover a ventilation window, to medium/large screens that would fill a normal sized window or the top of a screen door, to full door-sized screens (in some cases, mounted in the door frame, into which the painting extended).

What struck me at first inspection of these pieces is that they reminded me of cross-stitch. The screen, of course, is a fine rectangular grid to which the colors are applied; visually, this creates an impression similar to the fine rectangular grid used for cross-stitching.

The older, traditional pieces had some common themes; I don’t recall whether these were themes that were common to screen painting generally, or to one particular screen painter. They were landscape themes, mostly: a cottage, a stream, a flowering tree nearby. Quiet bucolic images, gentling the urban landscape in which they resided.

My favorites among the traditional pieces, though, were the ones that depicted a block or two of Baltimore rowhouses, each with its windows and doors covered by painted screens, as well as people scrubbing stoops, selling vegetables from a horse-drawn cart, or just ambling along. Delightfully self-referential, as well as showing how these screens looked in their native habitat.

Some of the contemporary pieces were painted in traditional styles; others took traditional themes but rendered them in a more contemporary style; still others ignored tradition entirely, and simply used the screen as canvas. It seemed to me that the modern pieces tended towards a more pastel palette and an airier feel. There were lots of Baltimore scenes, often harborscapes, or showing city landmarks like the Bromo-Seltzer Tower. My favorite, though, was much like this whimsical piece that portrayed a cat clinging to the screen door from the inside, obviously after the butterflies she could see outside. What fun!!

The same artist, Anna Pasqualucci, exhibited a few small (5×7, maybe? 8×10?) pieces in shadowbox frames, in which the screen had been shaped to create a 3D effect. A scene of the Baltimore harbor, with buildings standing out from their surroundings and waves rolling up onto shore, was my favorite of these.

After taking my time with all the painted screens, I decided to check out the Catholic chapel. While weekend Catholic masses are celebrated in one of the large worship spaces, both interfaith centers have a dedicated Catholic chapel for the reservation of the eucharist. I normally worship at the Wilde Lake interfaith center, and I’ve been in its tiny eucharistic chapel a number of times, but I’d never been to the one at Oakland Mills.

Well, it was lovely. It was larger than the one at Wilde Lake, and clearly intended for small masses and prayer services of 30-40 people. The chairs were arranged choir-style, in rows along the left and right walls, facing each other across a central aisle, as they are in the large worship space at Wilde Lake; the altar, centered in front of the far wall, was small and plain; there was an electric piano off to one side. But it was clearly designed for both communal and private prayer: there were a few prie-dieux here and there.

A characteristic artistic feature of most Catholic churches are the Stations of the Cross. These are fourteen artworks, each of which corresponds to a moment in Jesus’ passion, beginning with his condemnation to death and ending with his burial in the tomb. How the stations are depicted may vary, which is part of their charm as works of art. They may be lavish or simple; they may represent the entire scene, or just a symbolic element. They are typically placed along the outer wall of the worship space, so that as you pray the devotion, you move from station to station and thereby walk with Jesus on his via crucis.

That wouldn’t work in this small chapel, which has a large central aisle, but no outer perimeter through which one might walk. I was delighted by their solution: the stations of the cross in this chapel are presented as tall narrow paintings, each containing a single key word (“condemned”, “falls”, “meets”, “dies”, “buried”) painted vertically in black capital letters ending at the bottom of the painting against a purple background, with the remaining vertical space, above the word, filled with swirls and smears of purple paint. (The stations are a particularly Lenten devotion, and purple is the liturgical color for Lent.) They are hung close together, on the front wall behind the altar, so that while they take up relatively little linear wall space (maybe 12 feet?), it would still be possible to stand in front of each one to pray, then step to the next.

My initial reaction was to be pleased by the text-oriented nature of these paintings: I’m about the most text-oriented person I know, and it’s rare indeed that I find a visual presentation that feels like it was made for me. But the more I think about it, the more I’m appreciating the non-text aspects of this art and its presentation. Each word has a different length, so the black text reaches up to a different height in each panel. This gives the visual suggestion of a rising and falling path, subtly reinforcing the notion of walking. And it hangs on the wall behind and slightly above the altar: a space that, in Catholic churches, is normally occupied by a crucifix. This artwork expands the crucifix, so that we have before us an image of the crucifixion from condemnation to burial. I would never have thought of this, and it probably wouldn’t pass muster for a lot of liturgical purists, but I think very highly of it.

Centered on the right-hand wall (as you face the altar and this representation of the crucifixion) is hung a medium-sized square textile artwork in shades of yellow that abstractly suggests a sunrise. Because it’s off to the right from the left-to-right ordered stations, and because there is a gap of unadorned wall between the stations and the sunrise, it also suggests the continuation of the story: the time Jesus was in the tomb, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I don’t recall that there was any art on the lefthand wall.

Immediately to your right as you enter the chapel, in the corner formed by the righthand wall and the wall containing the door, is a statue of Mary as our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s a medium-sized statue, perhaps three feet tall, on a low wooden stand; she is dressed in green, brown-skinned, holding a chaplet (a real one, not a painted one). A prie-dieu is placed in front of her. On another low stand, off to her left, is another small statue: Juan Diego, on one knee, looking up at the lady, with his cloak full of roses. I love this little tableau, and the fact that Juan Diego kneels alongside a person who kneels before our Lady.

Just a little further along that right hand wall, there hangs a wall-mounted tabernacle, centered slightly above eye-level for me, which meant I could get a really good look at it. It was quite beautiful: the sides of the case were silver, and the doors were clear glass covered with small square simple line drawings, rendered in silver or gold, arranged in a grid like patchwork. So you could see through the decoration to the simple gold ciborium, which thus contributed to the beauty of the tabernacle. Looking through the artwork to the ciborium reminded me that we look through the bread and wine with eyes of faith to see Jesus. The line drawings in some cases represented loaves or fishes, which are traditional tabernacle art, and in other cases seemed to be simply pleasing abstract shapes, often in groups of three. This was a lovely yet sparse use of the fine metals to give luster and beauty without a hint of opulence.

To the left and slightly above the tabernacle is mounted the usual red sanctuary lamp; before it is another prie-dieu, and beneath it is another wooden stand, in the center of which stands a medium-sized carved and painted wooden crucifix, so that a person kneeling there can look directly into the eyes of Christ. I noticed particularly that he seemed to be wearing a crown woven both of brown thorn and green laurel, and I very much liked that artistic representation of the resurrection victory over sin and death.

Overall I was very pleased and impressed by the sacred art in this chapel, both its quality and the care and thoughtfulness of its installation. It is a welcoming and peaceful space that I look forward to visiting again.

Ferguson, Missouri

August 14, 2014

Today, it’s finally made the mainstream media. But terrible things have been happening in Ferguson, Missouri — a small municipality in St. Louis County — since Saturday afternoon, when 18yo Mike Brown was shot and killed by police. According to multiple witnesses, he was shot multiple times despite being unarmed and having his hands in the air; and the interaction was police-initiated, who aggressively confronted Michael and his friend because they were walking down the middle of the street instead of walking on the sidewalk.

His body was left lying in the street for hours, while police kept everyone, including the youth’s mother, at a distance.

Trudy tweeted:


[TW] After a lynching, the body left on tree for a while. 3 reasons. To make images of it. To entertain Whites. Psych warfare on Black ppl.


And this reason, this context, this history, and this power, *directly* connects to Michael Brown’s execution and his body left in street.

Please note that Brown’s family has requested that pictures of his body be taken down from the web and not further shared.

In response to the resulting peaceful protest that afternoon, and the peaceful prayer vigil that evening, police responded with a show of force: bringing out dogs (dogs!! police bringing dogs in response to black protesters!!), showing up in riot gear, huge numbers of police cars converging on the area, presenting an extremely aggressive posture that I could only read as deliberately provocative. Later that night, there was some property destruction against local businesses, including a fire at a local gas station. Police responded, and the next day there was some minimal coverage in the media focused on the “looting” (scare quotes because really, it only seems to be called looting when black people do it) rather than the original issue of police killing an unarmed black teen.

Sunday the police finally held a press conference, but still didn’t release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, which they had previously said they would do then. They did, however, describe a scenario that was at odds with witness accounts.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: …

Read the rest, including links to more information and actions you can take, over at Gaudete Theology.

The 9th of Av, 1914

August 4, 2014

Anthem

 

ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH by WILFRED OWEN

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
—Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Pagnini and the Brest Bible

August 2, 2014

I have argued for many years that the Pagnini Latin translation is the basis for Prostestant translations into the vernacular languages of Europe. The Brest Bible is an interesting example. But first let me provide a little timeline as background.

Erasmus Latin New Testament 1516

Luther German New Testament 1522

Tyndale English New Testament 1526

Le Févre French Bible (from Vulgate) Old Testament 1528, complete Bible 1530

Pagnini Latin Bible 1528

Brucioli Italian Bible 1531

Zurich Zwingli German Bible 1531

Luther German 1534

Coverdale English 1534

Olivetan French 1535

Each of these Bibles was translated with the benefit of the preceding Bibles. Luther worked from Erasmus Latin translation, Tyndale from Erasmus and Luther, Brucioli and Coverdale openly credit Pagnini, Olivetan worked from Pagnini and Le Fevre, Luther used Pagnini at least in part, although not predominantly, and so on. No complete vernacular Bible in Europe claimed to be from the original Greek and Hebrew, was actually done without the use of Erasmus’ Latin New Testament and Pagnini’s Latin Hebrew Bible.

Neither Erasmus nor Pagnini were Protestant. They were both Christian humanists, with a commitment to knowledge and scripture, but not Protestants. I am somewhat concerned that Protestants, on this continent, at least, do not often acknowledge the enormous debt owed to these two Latin translations by Catholics.

Back to the Brest Bible. For anyone interested in the debate regarding the debt owed to Latin translations,Hebraica veritas in the Brest Bible by Rajmund Pietkiewicz.

Here are paragraphs from the introduction and the conclusion.

Budny claimed that he could exemplifyit by means of  many examples, some of which he presented inthe preface to his own translation of the Holy Scripture of 1572 (BSzB). This problem was also undertaken by Irena Kwilecka in her research, who came to the conclusion that the translators from Pińczów used, to a large extent, the new Latin translation of Santes Pagnini, which was made directly from the original. The basic auxiliary source in this respect was Latin edition of the Bible done by a well-known French editorRobert Stephanus (Estienne) of 1557, containing the Old Testament in faithful translation of Santes Pagnini,with added comments by an em
inent Parisian Hebrew scholar François a Vatable and the translation of the New Testament based on the best Greek codes by Théodore de Bèze with his own comments. 

On the grounds of to-date studies on the Bible we can be sure that the translation of Santes Pagnini played a crucial role in its creation (if not a paramount one). It seems tremendously intriguing because of the fact that the BB is evangelical-reformed in character, whereas Pagnini’s version is decidedly catholic. It came into existence on the basis of manuscripts collected since the times of Pope Nicholas V at the Vatican Library, and pope Leo X was the patron and sponsor of Pagnini’s works – the very one who on 3 January 1521 excommunicated Luther. The first edition of Pagnini’s Bible (Lyon 1527/1528) was equipped with a preface and approval of two popes: Adrian VI and Clement VII. On the third page we encounter the words:Datum Romae apud sanctum Petrum, sub annulo piscatoris twice. The author of the translation, Santes Pagnini, Dominican from Lukka, never joined reformation, and during his stay in Lyon (in the years of 1524-1536), where his greatest works came out, he vehemently combated the Lutherans and the Waldensians. It should be emphasized, that the catholic version of the monk, played a significant role not only in the emergence of the BB, but also in other translations made into national languages e.g. English and French, created in different factions of reformation.The same version constituted the basis of the translation of the reformed Bible, and at the same time found its way into the renowned Antwerp Polyglot (Antwerp 1569-1572) called „Counter-Reformation in folio” (figure 7). Hence, we can say that Pagnini’s work was of service for both Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Quality was the key element contributing to the significance of Pagnini’s translation, among the mentioned 16th century ones, new translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, which ideally met the requirements put forward before the translators of the Bible (especially those who felt inadequate as for their knowledge of Hebrew):Versio haec, quae verbum de verbo exprimit, propter sinceritatem maxime laudatur; Versio isthaec est grammaticalis, sed tamen fidelis.

Your Male Privilege: “God” & other “Biblical characters”

July 31, 2014

10. God will be pictured as male and described in masculine terms 90% of the time.

8. Biblical characters of your own gender will be featured as primary subjects and as positive examples  90% of the time in the educational curriculum.

Male characters will be featured in the children’s curriculum, and in the youth group curriculum, and in the Sunday morning sermon, and in the small group studies…you get the idea.

The above are 2 of the 10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up in the Church, in a recent post by Ms. Gail Vaughn Wallace at the Junia Project.

 

Fabiola, the 4th century divorcée

July 30, 2014

Probably lots of women were divorced in the 4th century. But Fabiola’s story is particularly interesting. I couldn’t find her written up in any history of previously ignored Christian women. She lived at the time that Jerome was teaching Roman matrons Greek and Hebrew and studied these languages herself but not from Jerome. HOwever, she did meet him later. She was married off as a teenager to an abusive and adulterous husband. She then initiated a divorce from him under Roman law. Jerome was later to say that this man was so abusive that not a prostitute nor a slave would put up with the treatment he gave her. So, all is good for the divorce.

Since under Roman law women had the right to remarry, Fabiola married the man she truly loved, but she was then excommunicated from the church for adultery. She was cut off from the life she aspired to. As a wealthy women she wanted to participate in the studious and reflective life, and in a life of pious activity. However, her second husband died young and Fabiola became a widow, although not considered so by the church. She was naturally thought of as an adulterous woman because the abusive first husband was still alive.

However, after the death of her second husband, she paraded in penitential clothing in front of the Lateran Basilica and was eventually reinstated in communion with the church. Considering her wealth, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Then Fabiola carried out the plan that was closest to her heart. She built the first real hospital in the western world, and a nursing home beside it for those whose stay would be permanent. She worked in the hospital, going out herself and sending out staff to bing in the sick, who had no idea what a hospital was.

Now, she thought, now she could seek the meditative life of study and reflection that she desired. So she packed up and went to Jerusalem to stay with Paula and Jerome and study Greek and Hebrew again. She stayed a year only. There are two theories of why she left. One is that is was unsafe as there were rumours of an attack from the east. But the other theory rings true, that she just couldn’t stand the ongoing controversy about whether Origen was a heretic or not.

On her return to Rome she built a hostel for Pilgrim’s and settled down to work in the hospital, taking the most difficult cases, acting as administrator, nurse and surgeon. She is recognized here and there in books on public health but does not get much press as a Christian woman and leader. She was not associated with any great Christian man, nor was she a martyr. She was an independent, strong-willed, intelligent and productive woman.

Disclosure: I have not read the 19th century novel about her.

 

 

Pagnini and the welfare state

July 28, 2014

I have tried drafting a few posts lately but none of them seemed interesting enough. So I gave up and retreated to reading French books in Google books on Santes Pagnini to see where he has been hiding out. This time I found out that he is not best known for having produced the most influential translation of the Bible in the western world. He did that. But he did something else for which he was more celebrated. He and a friend of his, Jean de Vauzelle, another of the preaching brothers, not monks, but Dominicans, who are not cloistered, the two of them were the inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of the first public welfare system in France. They wrested the feeding of the poor out of the hands of the church, which wasn’t doing such a great job, and founded a public system run by the city of Lyon and funded by local wealthy merchants and nobles, the church, and a tax rebate from Paris. He persuaded a relative, a fellow Florentine, to build a new hospital and make sure the poor were cared for. Someone went around house to house in Lyon and registered the poor, handed out bread once a week, set up homes and schools for poor children, and hired doctors for the hospitals, one of them being François Rabelais. Approximately 5% to 7% of Lyon was on welfare at the time due to recent crop failures and famine.

Pagnini went to Lyon because he knew there was a printing press with Hebrew fonts and a patron who would support his work. But ostensibly, he was sent to Lyon by the pope to suppress Lutheranism. Luther was calling for the abolition of the mendicant, (begging) orders, such as the Dominicans, since they were doing such a terrible job of caring for the poor. He supported the secularization of welfare.

So, Pagnini, against the wishes of his own prior, Nicolas Morin, an inquisitor no less, simply advocated for the secularization of care for the poor as well, preached compassion and education, mixed socially with the populace and made sure that Lutheran influence in the city was always low key and did not gain ground. No one could complain about the Dominicans of Lyon not caring for the poor. As well as secularizing welfare, he had wealthy citizens build and staff new hospitals. In this way he supported humanism and moderate Catholicism in Lyon during his lifetime and the city rewarded him by making him a citizen, giving him a living allowance and all he wine he could drink, so he was no longer a “begging” priest, but one who was well supported and could give his free time to teach Hebrew to his students, some of whom later became Hebrew professors themselves. Many of the same men were medical doctors, and wrote medical pamphlets on surgery, etc. mixing theology and medicine.

It happens that in these same years, 1520 to 1550, women poets were first published in France. The Lyon school of poets included many women, who participated with men in a salon of poetry readings, also producing poetry for publication. I fell into flights of fancy and wrote a poem which reflects Pagnini’s translation of the Psalms, in particular the first few lines of Ps. 42 and Ps. 22.

Here are the disputed lines,

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם–

כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים

As the deer (masculine) desires (feminine) the springs of water

So my soul (fem.) desires (fem.) you, O God.

The problem is that the feminine of deer ends with the letter ת tau, and the verb  “desires” in the feminine begins with the tau. Since there is only one tau in the first line, the reader has to chose, either the tau is mistakenly added out of nowhere and the deer is really masculine, or two tau’s are reduced to one tau, and the deer is feminine. This is called haplography, writing a letter once when it should be written twice. Most exegetes see the point, but in English the word “deer,” gender indefinite, is just too handy. However, in Hebrew the feminine “doe” has an echo in the feminine soul, so the feminine is more poetic. Here are some of the translations,

  Vulgate

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum,

ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

Pagnini

Quemadmodum cerva desiderat ad torrrentes aquarum,

ita anima mea desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

Luther Bible

Wie der Hirsch schreit nach frischem Wasser,

so schreit meine Seele, Gott, zu dir.

KJV

As the hart panteth after the water brooks,

so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Geneva Bible

Comme une biche soupire après des courants d’eau,

Ainsi mon âme soupire après toi, ô Dieu!

  Conferenza Episcopale Italiana

Come la cerva anela ai corsi d’acqua,

così l’anima mia anela a te, o Dio.

The French and Italian have translations which reflect the Hebrew, “doe,” but for English and German, I haven’t found any translations with “doe” or the equivalent. Perhaps I will later. Pagnini also introduced the expression, the “doe of dawn” in the heading of Ps.22. For this reason, I wrote a poem imagining what it would be like to be a woman during the Reformation. It was not uncommon for girls from wealthy families to have a Greek tutor, but never a Hebrew tutor. That was mostly taught in other venues, inaccessible to women. My friend was over for supper a few days ago, and we reminisced about how we had studied, one of us Greek, and the other Hebrew, for 7 years, along with several years of the other language as well. We were lucky. Here is my poem,

Dawn’s doe desires the rushing water
She is not filled by the stagnant pool
Ancient wisdom’s anxious daughter
Will not be this ages fool.

Open those pages to her as well
And keep not the seal of unknown forms
The wandering mind will not dwell
In shelter from the word-waged storms

Text is the tumbled torrent where
Three flow together in equal share.

David Capes’s Assault Against the “Assault” Against “the male-female distinction”

July 22, 2014

We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.
– David Capes, 21st century

There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no “male and female”; you are all one in the Messiah Jesus.
– Paul, 1st century (translated by N.T. Wright in the 21st century)

At the blog for “The Voice” Bible, David Capes posted yesterday “They Come in Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark)” to correct, or perhaps to clarify, posts from Creig Marlowe. Capes also says he’s been inspired by the Marlowe posts and also by comments elsewhere made by N. T. Wright. The gist of Capes’s post is to acknowledge what Marlowe does with “binaries” in Genesis, but he wants to move away from what Marlowe does to make a greater acknowledgement of some sharp inherent distinction between male and female as part of God and as part of humanity. His post is written to assault the assault against “the male-female distinction.”

Here’s the paragraph in which Capes gives Marlowe’s “binary” method the nod:

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction. “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys. “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear. If a case is “open and shut,” on the other hand, it is clear. In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word,”the universe.” “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then both words together mean “everything.” That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing [sic], the heavens above, the earth below . . . “

Here’s the conclusion of Capes, his assault against this alleged assault on humanity itself:

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention. Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God. But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei. Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God. It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process. Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation. God no longer creates ex nihilo. He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

What is interesting is how much more space and “special attention” Capes gives to this “final binary” of six total that he reviews. He need not apply his logic of distinction to any of the other five “binaries.” For the “the male-femalebinary, Capes feels the need to assert “their differences, their complementarities.” For the “the male-female” binary, there needs to be “the sexual.”

N. T. Wright, who “inspires” Capes, has said that these special binaries are indeed the most special. They are the ones that must be complementary. The metaphors of difference, the constructs, therefore, whenever there is sexual difference, must be realities of difference, even if the Lamb (a male) and the Church (a female) are married.

Here are just a few problems:

  1. With the sexual in the binary of special attention to save all humanity, there is this idea, a hint of it anyway, that the Creator Being is sexual in the same way a human “male and female ” must be to keep the creation of “the next generation” going. Capes cannot go that far, of course. The best he’ll let himself do is to admit the following:  “Good points, Emily. There are some wonderful images of God in the Scriptures that clearly describe the feminine side.” But he has to distinguish sharply the god-human binary (as a male-female binary) from all the other binaries, for the sake of the next generation.
  2. The logic of a “hendiadys” ostensibly must be abandoned when there is sex. The assertion of “both/and” categorical binaries, for Capes, becomes an assault, towards a denial or erasure of the male-female distinction.
  3. Genesis 5 and the story of Noah is still close by, despite what Capes wants for his funny blog title: “… Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark).” So when Paul uses “ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ” as a frozen phrase to his Greek readers in 1st century Galatia explicitly in order “to deny or erase the male-female distinction,” he’s likely not forgetting that old story of salvation that requires pairs on the ark, where in the LXX the same phrase is used. Paul is saying that his “Messiah,” who never was a male-one-flesh-with-a-female kind of savior, makes this very special sex binary a hendiadys.

 

Debts or Trespasses? And Other Riffs on the Lord’s Prayer

July 20, 2014

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology, as I expect and hope that the commentariat and my cobloggers here may take up rather different points in their responses. :)


Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Those are the words I learned as a child, and still most frequently use when I pray. But sometimes I riff on it.

At some point in young adulthood, I encountered a translation that used “debts” and “debtors” instead of “trespasses”, and a commentary asserting that when Jesus talked about forgiveness, he was typically preaching to the people at the top of the wealth/power hierarchy. It was the people in positions of wealth and privilege who were called to forgive the debts of those who owed them money: not the other way around. This made sense to me in a “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” kind of way.

The economic metaphor also helped me understand more concretely what forgiveness meant. I knew what it meant to forgive a monetary debt: it meant tearing up the IOU, wiping out the debt entirely, declaring “you don’t owe me that money anymore.” And, at least if you’re not an asshole, you also don’t bring up how generous you were in writing off that debt whenever there’s a conflict or negotiation between you and the person whose debt you forgave. A debt that’s forgiven is done, it’s over, it’s off the books.

In my first scripture course in grad school, I learned about the parallelism that permeates much Hebrew poetry, and I began to look for it everywhere.

Our Father in Heaven, / may your name be holy.
May your reign come / and your will be done
on earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts / As we forgive our debtors.
Don’t lead us into temptation / But lead us out of evil.

I could even see some nested structure: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name” has an ABBA structure (name/holy/holy/name).

Parallelism isn’t just aesthetic word games, though; like any other literary device, it accents the important concepts and brings out relationships between ideas. So I found this a fruitful reflection.

This form makes clear that “debts” beats “trespasses,” at least in English, by having a properly directional noun for the acting subject that makes sense with a possessive. “As we forgive our debtors” is perfectly clear. “As we forgive our trespassers”… not so much. Those might be our trespassers, that we sent out to trespass on other people’s lawns to go stir up trouble or hand out leaflets or sell Girl Scout cookies. And the connection with lawns (which is where I mostly saw “No Trespassing” signs as a kid) and the associated trivial level of infraction was also unhelpful.

Lately, though, I’ve been riffing on the Lord’s Prayer with a brain well soaked in mimetic theology.

Our Father in heaven / holy is your name.
May your reign emerge / and your will be enacted
On earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / what we need for today
And forgive us our trespasses / so we learn to forgive those who trespass against us
Do not put us to the test / but free us from evil

“Trespasses” is making sense again, in this theological framework in which defining my identity over against somebody else is sinful, and pacifically receiving my identity from God is holy; in which my righteous indignation is a surefire giveaway that I’ve been scandalized and hooked into mimetic rivalry with somebody who has done whatever it is they did to make me say “how dare they”: how dare they trespass against me or mine like that.

Forgive us our trespasses
So we can let go of that bristling defensive posture,
that tendency towards escalation, that mirror-imaging of sin.
Forgive us our trespasses
To remind us how it feels to be welcomed,
To remind us that we are no better no purer no holier
Than those who trespass against us.

Keep us out of that temptation
And free us from that evil

For yours, not ours, is the reign, and the power, and the glory:
Foreverandeveramen.

Paulo Freire in and on Translation

July 16, 2014

Abram K-J posted today his wonderful Spanish language “poem-prayer” inspired by his study of the works of Paulo Freire. Abram in comments below his post explains why he didn’t use Portuguese but used Spanish instead: La clase para que escribí un papel sobre Freire (la poema apareció al fin del papel) estaba una clase enseñaba en español. In other words, the professor and Abram and his classmates spoke and wrote in Spanish to study Freire in translation. And yet, he clarifies, in English, that when he read Freire’s most famous work it was in English translation.

Here’s a cover shot of the cover of one of the editions of this famous book:

Freire.translated.byMyraBergmanRamos

This is one of the few covers of Pedagogy of the Oppressed that gives credit to the English language translator, Myra Bergman Ramos. What did Freire think about her and her translation?

Well, in Pedagogia da Esperança, co-written with Nita Freire (aka Ana Maria Araújo), he tells his thoughts about Ramos’s translating, and more.

Freire.Pedgogia.da.Esperanca

Below we get some of that in the Freire’s Portuguese and in the English (translated by Robert R. Barr as Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed):

Freire.WashingtonDC

 

Freire.CambridgeMA

Freire.NewYorkNY

Additional detail of Freire’s work with Ramos is given by James D. Kirylo in his essay, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Publication Process of Paulo Freire’s Seminal Work“:

Freire.translated.Kirylo

 

I do not know, but I would imagine, that when in the United States teaching, Freire spoke with audiences and taught classes of students at Harvard in English (even if through an interpreter of his spoken Brazilian Portuguese). Given his play with and his practice of the power of language of the oppressed, it seems he had a great admiration for how young people — learners as pedagogues and pedagogues as students — would struggle with texts. He stays with this question, and I think he would appreciate what Abram has prayed in his poetry en español, as a translation of Freire’s language and ideas.

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