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).

>https://religion-sightunseen.com/2011/09/17/the-new-color-coded-bibles-just-for-you/

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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.”

February-type news

Each month I keep my ears open to news and ideas in the religion realm that would be fun to write about. Maybe it’s my mood, or the cold, but there is so much bad stuff in religion news this February.

Two parents were sent to jail 3 – 7 years for allowing their child die rather than call a doctor. They prayed with their pastor instead. This is the second child they killed this way. They have seven more children.

A snake handler died a similar way. He got bit, refused a doctor, and is being hailed as a martyr.

Then there is the 84 year-old nun sentenced to three years for breaking in government property to protest nuclear war. Our friend Paki Wieland was sentenced to fifteen days for a peaceful protest against war. (She said Jail “was almost like a Vipassana retreat. The operative word being ‘almost’”.)

“The Son of God” movie had to cut out a scene with Obama look-alike Satan. Well, at least they cut it.

Miranda Barbour, the “Craigslist Killer,” said she killed at least 22 people after joining a satanic cult. But the Temple of Satan says she’s not a member. I’m not not sure if this is in the good news or the bad news column. She probably made it up.

John Tavener, composer of beautiful spiritual choral music, including “The Lamb”, died in California. Okay, that was in November, but I heard about it in February.

I have to admit, there was a concert by the Israeli-Palestinian Chorus singing for peace in the Middle East. (At the Jerusalem YMCA!) Not all is gloom and doom. [Question: in India, is Israel the Middle West?]

Column I wish I had written: Omid Safi’s February post asking what Islam would teach if Mohammad had been born in a snowy climate. Would we have metaphors like God’s love covering us like snowfall covers us all? Check him out at religionnews.com.

But listen to this: Richard Dawkins says any alien civilizations would be atheist. Oh boy, something to look forward to writing about! Spring must be right around the corner.

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.