The New New Testament, 3019 C.E.

If, as the United Church of Christ says, “God is still speaking,” it must also be true that the Bible is still being written. What will be in the New New Testament?

The present Bible was started 3,400 years ago (depending on how you count). It was completed around 90 C.E. or 1,900 years ago. So, it was written over a period of 1,500 years. The specifics are debatable, but you get the picture. A long long time.

I’m thinking ahead about 1,000 years. Should humanity have not committed suicide by then, some scholars may wonder what 20th-21st century Christianity looked like.

The Bible Bible is a wondrous book of tales, contradictory rules, questionable history, sex, ponderings about divinity and humanity, poetry, love, crime, conflict, hope, all seen through the lens of a people’s relationship with their God. So will the next one be.

Logically, the New New Testament (NNT) should begin 90 C.E., when the last one ended, but my current number of brain cells can’t cope. I will start using the method I’m most familiar with: off the top of my head.

Let’s go with the obvious first: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, sections of at least one of his books will be included. 

Marvelous tales: Lewis’ friend, J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories would fit in with David and Goliath and the Ark stories. As would A Wrinkle in Time.

No doubt the scholars will come across the Left Behind series, which would not show up in my Bible version, but will no doubt end up in some version.

And whose stories will be told? Dorothy Day via columns from the “Catholic Worker;” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the work of Reconciliation in South Africa; Simone Weil, creepy but popular; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; MLK, Jr. 

In the Psalms section: Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is 19th century, but I love him and it’s my bible. W.H. Auden, Carolyn Forche, Denise Levertov, David Whyte.

I’d wait another 200 years to see whether Joel Osteen’s writing stands the test of time, or that of Tammy Faye Bakker, or Rick Warren, or Oral Roberts. 

My Books of the Bible are shamefully English-language centered, but that’s what lives at the top of my head.

I suspect that the NNT will not be limited to Christians. The search for the divine is not limited; the People of God are no longer a small group, but an encompassing people. 

I encourage you to create a list of Books/ Stories/ People/ Poems for the NNT. It is an exercise in Seeing Biblically. The world we live in is full of “biblical life,” that is, the stories of how people struggle with the idea of the Divine. The Bible is not dead, but passed along in thousand-year chunks. Future people will learn from us, so let’s think about it now.

Leggo My Jesus!

I was meeting a friend at a coffee shop in a very large bookstore which shall remain unnamed. From afar I saw a bright, shining cloud. I was drawn to it as if I were ascended, only horizontally. There, on the shelf of bibles, was one I had never seen before. Glowing, as if barcoded from heaven: the Lego Bible in a box. The penultimate of American Christian art! A reflection of how devout bad taste can be! And the combo set of Old and New Testaments with moveable figures for only $29.95!

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the many bibles available to Christians now {The New Color-Coded Bibles]: the Green Bible, with lines highlighted in green to show us how often dirt is mentioned; the Justice Bible, highlighted to show that God cares about the poor and oppressed “a lot,” and my then-favorite, the American Patriot’s Bible with George Washington on the cover (let the French write their own damned bible).* But this…..
On the cover, I kid you not, DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” with little Lego people. Awestruck, I knelt before it to look closer. I have looked closely at DaVinci’s version, the faces, the expressions, bodies. I’m sorry, but it does not compare to this version: cube heads, blank expressions, little plastic bodies with somewhat moveable arms, primary colors only. So easy on the eye.

Revelations of biblical scenes appeared before me: Jesus knocking all those money-changers off the table onto the floor where the dog can chew them up, a barbie-sized Goliath smiting a teeny tiny David. Are pebbles supplied for stonings? Or do we have to supply our own? I wondered how they would depict Peter cutting off the Roman soldier’s ear since Lego people have no ears.

Turns out, I am years behind the times. The original version came out in 2001. “The Brick Bible,” as it is called, was pulled off the shelves at Toys-R-Us and Sam’s Club because someone noticed the sex scenes. The Brick Bible includes, you guessed it, graphic Lego sex scenes. (This whole blog was worth writing just to be able to use that phrase.)
The creator, Brendan Powell Smith, was astonished at the censorship. The depictions in his bible were nothing compared to the Bible bible’s sex scenes. Why didn’t they ban the original? I’m not sure how his version ended up on the shelves again. Perhaps the graphic Lego sex scenes were removed.

At the unnamed store, my fingers coveted that Brick Holy Book, that igniter of imagination, that simplifier of all things miraculous, the pure Americanism of it, the graphic Lego sex scenes in it, but I resisted. However, Christmas is only eleven months away… (a hint for those who have ears to…. oh, never mind).


God’s Opinion on Everything (for Dummies)


God has proved himself (herself) very clumsy and a bit vague on what his (her) opinions are, including whether he or she is he or she. On topics as varied as abortion, capitalism, the environment, child-rearing, Occupy Wall Street, women, yoga, apocalypse, same-sex anything, God sends confusing and contradictory rules and regulations.  What kind of God is that?

God (let’s go with “He”) tried to narrow things down with Ten Commandments, but that doesn’t seem to help much. What exactly does “covet” mean anyway? He probably thought “Thou shalt not kill” fairly straightforward. But translations (“kill”? or “murder”?) and a wealth of interpretations (i.e. “Just War Theories”) muddied the issue. I imagine Him banging His head on His desk.

Maybe the problem is the language He chose. What Christians call the Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a little Aramaic thrown in. Other than a few Yiddish phrases, I’m at the mercy of translators. “Oy vey” doesn’t appear often in Scripture.

Leviticus offers a wealth of mysterious commandments. “You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed.” So much for companion planting. Carrots are forbidden to lie with tomatoes. But Leviticus is too easy a target. Any book with instructions on exactly how a man should sell his daughter just isn’t going to hold any father’s respect. Except perhaps when she’s in her teens.

After God’s done banging His head on His desk, I imagine Him calling in His Leviticus scribe, “What the hell were you thinking? Who cares if a coat has two fabrics?” By then it was too late. Humans had already taken it as the word of the God – the God of mysterious ways.

I love that the slogan describing the UCC` faith comes from Gracie Allen: “Don’t put a period where God has put a comma.” Those of us struggling to hear God’s voice can take another cue from Gracie when she was channeling God:  “Try to understand me. Nothing is impossible.”

“Forget Grilling, You Can Cook Your Hot Dogs in a Pringles Can”

-Headline from Huffington Post

I was all set to write a serious column about social justice and spiritual consequences when I saw this headline. It’s July, how can I let hot dogs cooked in a Pringles can pass me by? It has solar energy and the two greatest culinary gifts of the U.S. combined in one headline.

This alternative cooking method was developed by an elementary school teacher and used as a science project for her class. Since we’re talking about grilling, it’s probably his class. Cut a window in the Pringles can. The inside, you will see, is lined with some shiny silver aluminum foil substance. Cut two small holes in either end of the can. Stick a wood skewer in, through a hot dog, and out the other side. Set in sun. Aluminum foil substance catches sun’s heat and cooks the hot dog.

Aside from the mind-bending combination of artificial components creating a single meal, there are questions: who ate all the Pringles? Who ate all the hot dogs? Who allowed this teacher to work with children?

The idea of our bodies being the temple of God, the embodiment of our souls, a wondrous mystery of nature, or all three, is dust.  Nutritionists try to head us back in this direction, but keep bumping into each other. (Butter or margarine, vegan or fish, cooked or raw, green leafed vegetables or something that tastes better, vitamin B-somenumber, vitamin C or too much vitamin C, etc.) They could make their lives easier by simply putting up signs over the Pringles shelf that said, “Your body is a wondrous mystery. Think about it.” I suppose someone might think, “Yeah, it can even process this stuff,” and buy two cans.

Having been first raised in Queens, NY, I never ate a fresh bean until I was twelve.  A friend pulled one from her father’s plant and gave it to me. I’m 64 and can still taste that first taste. My parents, born and bred in Manhattan, ate vegetables taken from cans. As they had grown up city poor, having the luxury of a full plate to feed me was a triumph.

Food itself has become something of a religion. As I was eating an egg in a restaurant, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you eat that embryo?” and walked away. I’d committed chicken abortion?   No matter what you eat, someone somewhere will give you a dirty look. Food purity has replaced sexual purity. In parts of our country being gay is okay; give Pringles to your kid and someone will call child services.

I remember that first bite of a raw bean more clearly than my First Communion. And think of it when I pull a bean in our garden.  I admit I am easily shocked. When I hear Gregorian Chant played in a mall to encourage shoppers at Christmas, I am tempted to stop and yell in frustration. One store  had a “Sale Rack” sign hung on a statue of Guadalupe. I dug my fingernails into my palms to keep from ripping it off. However, I’m no food purist, but hot dogs cooked in a Pringles can is just too much. Some people ask whether there is such a thing as sin.

Beans are from heaven, Pringles are from hell.






Delicious Christmas Controversies

Ahhhh, January. Time to kick back and review all the juicy controversies surrounding Christmas. The controversies are often dry as toast, but, like toast, can be delicious.

1) At the all-time, top-of-the-list controversies must be poor Megyn Kelly’s (Fox news reporter) insistence that Santa Clause and Jesus were/are white. She later claimed it was a joke, but I saw it and her comedic talents are somewhere below her news reporting. The reactions of black newscasters and the comic parodies will keep Christmas joyous for decades. Which leads me to believe that Megyn Kelly is really a black comedian with a ton of make-up who works for “The Onion.”
I did come across one disturbing article about “The Legend of the Candy Cane,” a book used in Florida for first graders. (Since removed.) “White is for Jesus because he’s white and red is for Jesus’ blood and if you flip the candy cane upside down it makes a J for Jesus.” Some psychologist should write about the creepy aspects of this statement. Too many to begin here.
2) The dueling billboards outside Lincoln Tunnel in New York took up some media time. The “atheists-hate-Christmas billboards” vs the “Christians-hate-atheists’ billboards” billboard war is getting old now.Both sides display an appalling lack of imaginative advertising.
3) “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Christmas” controversy is new to me. I thought it simply had to do with which side of the pond a person lived, Brits: “Happy”, Yanks: ” Merry.” Silly me. Somewhere back in the convoluted history of the English language, “merry” meant “intoxicated.” I enjoy watching young children singing, “We wish you a merry Christmas” so much more now.
4) “Happy Holidays!” As you know from many sources, this phrase is a weapon in the War Against Christmas. I thought it was a slightly more inclusive greeting than “Merry Christmas.” More than one Jewish writer has pointed out that Jews do not have any holidays after Hanukkah, so why say it? I’ve had only a taste of being a minority in Thailand and Vietnam and when living in Dorchester, so I don’t take greetings lightly. Joyful greetings are a necessity in this dark time of year, however “Happy Winter!” is disingenuous when the slush is two inches deep. I thought I was so clever: at Eurphoria Bakery I said to the woman behind the counter, “Enjoy your time off!” She looked at me oddly and said, “Have a Happy Holiday.” I may just have to go with “See ya next year!”
5) On NPR a woman called in to say that the Star of Bethlehem was sent by the devil so the Wise Men could lead Herod to Jesus. Good point. I’ll have to think about that.
6) Miscellaneous: -A conservative Alabama town mistakenly invited a black drag-queen dance troupe, “Prancing Elites,” to dance in its Christmas parade. – K-Mart’s ad for boxer shorts: a line of men in tux tops and boxer shorts shaking their booty to “Jingle Bells.” -And lastly, the most crowded Capital steps in the country? Florida! A beer can Festus pole, a Nativity scene, a chair holding fake spaghetti with eyeballs. Officials drew the line at the Satanic Temple’s depiction of an angel falling head first into an open fire. Satan has the same letters as Santa, so I don’t know what their problem is.

Struck by Lightning


This week a headline caught my attention: “Lightning Strikes Creation Museum During Kentucky Storm.” How ironic is that? The American Atheist Convention goes off without a hitch and the Creation Museum gets hit with lightning. Like a comic book made in heaven just for me. “Atheist churches” have opened across the U.S., apparently ignorant of the meaning of the word “church”: originally from kyriakon, Lord’s house.  It’s like they have “Irony” tattooed on their foreheads. “Creationist scientists”  limit science to Genesis 1 – 11, blissfully dissing the “scientific method.” My mind is spinning with the juxtapositions. Like a spiritual whirly-gig. 
Behind my enjoyment is, of course, the conviction that these people, atheists and creationists, are all very peculiar and I am quite normal in my approach to God (or not-God).
An astrophysicist once said, “We can’t really prove that Venus is not carried around the sun on the back of an angel.”  What a refreshingly quirky observation. Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Fairy tales? How can Einstein insult our intelligence like that? And a physicist admitting he can’t PROVE there are no angels spinning us around in the solar system?  These are two great examples of science and myth walking happily down the road hand-in-hand.
We humans, however, lust after certainty, any certainty. We’ll grab at one like a merry-go-round brass ring. Zen Buddhism is harshly honest about certainty: “Forget about it! Nothing is certain.”  No brass ring. Which sounds decidedly uninviting.
Learning about the world from myth and from science and from literature and from people and from cooking Delicota squash and from the pain in my piriformis muscle, is more confusing and much richer than pinning down the nature of God (or not-God). So where does religion fit in? An atheist recently wrote an article called, “Can atheist churches make unbelievers nicer?” I’m inspired to write one called, “Can churches make believers nicer?”
On August 25th, another headline caught my eye:  “Pope Francis to Atheists: ‘Just Do Good’.” No argument there.

The Garden at the Center

Members of the Church of Latter Day Saints believe that the Garden ofEden was originally located in Jackson County, Missouri. Mormons have taken a lot of ribbing recently, so I won’t give my opinion on the likelihood of that being true. However, research continues, trying locate the exact spot where Adam and Eve screwed everything up. Major consensus is that the Garden was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in ancient Mesopotamia.The Garden of Eden was very likely in or around Baghdad, Iraq.

Of course the Garden of Eden may not have been at all. However, more important than where it may have been, is what it may have been. When I think of the Garden, I see two naked people trying to hide behind a scrawny bush. But how did the authors of Genesis see it in their mind’s eye? What did the Garden of Genesis look like? Streams and waterfalls? What trees, fruits, flowers, animals did the authors and listeners imagine? What birdsongs, rushing water? The smell of rosemary? We know about the apple tree. Probably figs and olives and nuts, pomegranates. There would not have been waves of grain; that happened after The Fall.

The Garden stories look back to the time when we transformed ourselves from hunter-gatherers, eating what was given, into agriculturalists, toiling to coax food from dirt.

Simply gathering all the food we need from trees and bushes sounds great. No worries about draught or tomato blight or Japanese beetles or grubs or frost. Paradise.

When my friend Ladda was a girl, she walked to school from her home in Bangkok, plucking breakfast off fruit trees on the way. Now Bangkok is a congested hell of pollution and traffic. In many areas walking is impossible. Our friend Koi was killed in a rickety open cab used by people who cannot afford cars, a common occurrence. “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot,” says Joni. Or worse.

We know the life of hunter-gatherers was no picnic, but we do look back, long for, the beauty and harmony of a life we imagine existed before everything went wrong.

Genesis was written by Jews exiled in Babylon. The Persians had been building gardens there since 4000 BC. The authors heard about those gardens of ancient Persia: cool oases of trees, flowers, walkways, and graceful buildings built for royalty. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is called one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, if it existed. Is that what they imagined, envied,  as they wrote in exile the story of their beginnings?

In Goshen (this Goshen, not that Goshen) we are struggling to build a garden on the steep slope on the south side of our barn. We wheel in dirt and leaf compost from other parts of the land, patch together holding walls of stone and logs, experiment with drainage. Plot the size and shape of each step. We drag a hose over to water plants, we weed, we build a fence to keep deer out and put row covers to keep birds off. We read seed packets. Not what I think of when I think of paradise….until. As the summer ends the slope is green, illuminated with the colors of flowers and vegetables. The smells of rosemary and tomatoes and dirt. We eat peas out of the pods; the cherry tomatoes are eaten before they get to the kitchen. We eat pickled beans and beets in winter.

Our garden is a rarity in the history of the world; if it fails, we go won’t starve. When we imagine Paradise, we are the royalty; we are not the hungry slaves cranking water from the Tigris up the steep slopes of the Hanging Gardens.

Did the Garden of Eden exist? What grew there? How did Adam and Eve spend their time if not weeding?

 If it did exist, it is a rubble of rock buried in desert now. What matters is the Garden those writers passed down to us. The longing for the beauty and harmony that was snatched from us. And that its loss was somehow our fault. The only thing that Adam and Eve had to do in the Garden was NOT eat an apple.  That’s like saying, “Don’t think of an elephant.” What a set up!  The odds were against us from the beginning.

We inherited the sense of its loss, and the hope of reclaiming that harmony. So we dig and plant, weed until our fingers hurt.  Because the Garden is here somewhere, if only we had eyes to see.

Despair is a Funny Thing

I once had a tee-shirt that read, “Boredom is an interesting thing.” A new one is in order: “Being down-in-the-dumps is a funny thing.”

Why? I just finished listening to “The Confederate in the Attic,” a disheartening book about the legacy of the Civil War in the U.S.  Now I’ve started chapter two of Bill McCabe’s “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.” Its conclusion: global warming is now irreversible. And I have a toothache, and I’ve pickled too many beans.

            Buddhist practice advises us to watch the constant change of one’s own emotions. On a car trip to Connecticut, I listened to a CD by Mary Chapin Carpenter.  When she sang a sad song, I felt sad. When she sang a wistful one, I felt wistful, etc., etc. For an hour, Mary Chapin was in complete control of my emotional life. And I don’t even know her!

I live with someone who tells stories that make me cry from laughing so hard. The same night I’m convinced that she’s Satan because she’s vacuuming at 11 p.m.

At this moment, the end of the natural world as we’ve known it (McKibbon) and another bag of beans awaiting pickling are bringing me down. The sun is shining in the south windows and this afternoon we’ll finish painting the barn doors, so I feel a faint stirring of cheer. Who’s in charge here? Bill McKibbon? String beans? The sun?

The point of observing my emotions is to make me see the never-ending change of all things. And to begin to enjoy the ride. I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. We are bigger than just our emotions, so there’s no need to get attached to them. Just realizing that is enough to start to lift the doldrums.

This practice is considered to be the ability of the Buddhist practitioner of “ordinary capacity.” A practitioner of “great capacity” will look deeply at the essence of an emotion, realize its true nature and unlock the wisdom within it.

“ It is like placing a tiny spark into a heap of dry hay: it will immediately burst into flames and be completely destroyed. Although the original spark is tiny, it can burn away any amount of hay. Similarly, just one tiny spark of wisdom can burn away completely all the mind’s confusion and the emotions associated with it, until all that is left in the mind is ultimate reality.” (Lama Gendyn Rinpoche)

Jesus put it in a more prosaic way: When someone hits you, turn the other cheek. He’s advising us not to react, not become attached to anger and resentment. Not to let them own us.

We turn away in order to see and experience those emotions’ true power on ourselves. Turning the other cheek must be the most difficult and most illuminating of Christian practices.  We can interpret it as “doormat” submission, or as denying our emotions, or as an excuse not to act for justice. If we don’t take his advice as a wisdom practice, we may miss the point.

No pickled bean has smacked me in the face…yet. It just feels that way.  So the advice is the same. Being of exceedingly “ordinary capacity,” I watch the play of emotions with curiosity. I see that despair, annoyance, physical pain can lead to ultimate wisdom, but I’ve a ways to go before fully stretching out to my fullest Buddhist and Christian capacity.

Excuse me, I’ve got to go call the dentist now.

The New Color-Coded Bibles: Just for You!

In “The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare’s  Antonio warns us, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”  That puts reading the Bible into the danger zone. The Catholic Church of my youth took the warning seriously and simply forbade the faithful from reading it. (I suspect because there is too much sex.) The Bible is a thick, complicated and contradictory book, on occasion offering questionable advice, i.e. wives should be subject to their husbands.

Thanks to the Avery Dennison Corporation, inventor of “Hi-Liter”, we are now in the age of the “highlighted Bible.”  No need to struggle with all those contradictions, just don’t highlight them.

 We can now choose a Bible highlighted by people we agree with and skip all those inconvenient passages. We do not have to read or wrestle with anything we don’t like, thank God.

For instance, I gravitated toward The Poverty and Justice Bible.  On the cover is the face of a child and a broken chain. Here’s what the marketing says:

poverty bibblThe publishers of the Poverty and Justice Bible went looking and highlighted almost 3,000 verses in the scriptures to show that God has something to say about injustice and oppression. With bright orange highlighting, a quick glance is all you need to see that God cares about the poor a lot.”

Good thing the highlighting is bright orange, I might have missed them. And I only need to commit to a quick glance to convince myself that God cares about the poor “a lot.”

 I flipped through The Green Bible. It is ecologically correct, and here is the reason to buy it:

green-bible “The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God’s vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.”

  Guess what color ink for the favored passages?

 Three thousand references for poverty and justice and only one thousand for the earth. Poverty wins  by two thousand! Love loses; heaven comes in last.                  

amer patriots My personal favorite is The American Patriot’s Bible. It has the most eye-catching and colorful cover: the American flag waving, the founding fathers signing something, the Washington Monument. The publishers of this Bible are the most ambitious of all. This one proves that the Bible is actually the story of America. This one isn’t actually highlighted. In columns next to the text, the story of America is told, beginning with Adam.

“The American Patriot’s Bible reveals how God has been and will continue to be a part of this great nation.”   -Ralph Reed

This helpful trend is not limited to print. According some websites, Adam was white. Not satisfied that God was clear enough on this point, someone added a passage to Genesis stating that Adam was indeed white.  Unfortunately, highlighting in white makes the words invisible, so it may not make it to the bookshelves.

            Our town had a littering problem recently. Supremely white people threw what is politely called literature  on lawns. Those anti-Semites really know how to make a mess. My English-language classes were reading two books at the time: a  biography of Anne Frank and one about Rosa Parks.  In my head that week, anger and hope wrestled with each other, like they do in the Bible.

This may catch on. I like the idea of Moby Dick highlighted. With a few swipes of a blue highlighter, we could have The Fisherman’s Moby Dick: a short guide to catching the big one.  The possibilities are endless.

Right now I can see Dorothy Day and Jerry Falwell fighting over a highlighter in the afterlife.  Whichever one wins gets into heaven.