Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Noah Film (SPOILER ALERT)

There are better reviews of the movie out there, so I’ll just touch on a few pieces of the movie that interested me.
It was Enochian
Within 2nd Temple Judaism there is a strain that focuses on Genesis 6 as a fruitful starting point for sin—sin came through the Sons of God having sex with the Daughters of Man and bore Nephilim and the mighty men of old. In this version of Judaism these Sons of God give a variety of cultural gifts to humanity—make up, weapons, etc… which the humans use badly. These Sons of God and their descendents function very similarly to the Titan Prometheus in Greek Mythology, and in some versions of this strain of speculative Judaism they are in fact treated similarly to Prometheus—they are bound (check out Jude 1:6 sometime).
The stories of these angels/Nephilim/etc (sometimes called Watchers) is told through the eyes of Enoch, who as Genesis says “was took by God.” So, he’s an obvious choice for narrator, a human (though some traditions have him translate into the angel Metatron) who communicate the heavenly things to us, his earthy siblings.
The Noah movie makes a pretty big deal about the Watchers, who in its version landed on Earth and were literally captured by the earth, engulfed in mud and sealed up as crippled ash creatures… who (again SPOILER ALERT) are eventually redeemed and return to heaven by martyring themselves against the humans who wish to board Noah’s Ark. These Watchers are able to return to the spiritual realm, no longer cursed with the mud of flesh… it actually felt like a rather Gnostic take on their existence. (As a side note one version of the Watcher narrative has them all drown in the flood and then haunt the earth as Evil Spirits).
It interacts indirectly with my favorite topic, Akedah Isaac
Genesis chapter 22, as you all know, is one of my hobbyhorses. I wrote my M.Phil. Thesis on it, I’ve preached on its connection to religiously motivated violence, it’s my bag. So, no surprise I see allusions to it where they might not actually exist sometimes… However, the Noah Movie makes a very obvious connection to it.
In the movie’s version of events, Noah decides that God wants every human dead, including his family. So, when two granddaughters are born to him on the Ark, Noah decides to commit infanticide in the name of God. But (this is the last time I’ll say it SPOILER ALERT), as he prepares to do the deed he recognizes he feels nothing except love in his heart toward the two little twins, and in that moment realizes the human capacity for both the evil he has seen in his generation, as well as the good of parental love. Just so you know I think that is a lovely solution to the problems posed by Genesis 22.
It engages with source criticism
If you read scripture carefully… or even not so carefully really… you’ll start to notice seams in the text—places that repeat, or contradict, or refer to times that within the story shouldn’t be known.
What most scholar say is happening is we are seeing where different traditions are being stitched together—where early traditions from the Northern and Southern tribes, as well as later traditions from the era of King Josiah, and from priests captured in Babylon, are weaved together.
The most famous (likely because it is often the first thing people read in the Bible and therefore is quite familiar) of these seams comes between Genesis 2:3 and 2:4… this is where the first account of creation is separated from the 2nd… the first, which is rather cosmic in scale refers to the Creator as God, the second is much earthier and in a sense smaller refers to the Creator as the LORD God.
In the Noah movie there is an origin to these sources. A majority of the first account is credited to Noah—he tells it to his family while they are on the ark. His telling of this account puts humans within the animal kingdom. But there is another source, the villain Tubal-Cain, who tells Ham that humans were created to subdue the earth, that we are little lower than Gods, as well as points to humanity being cursed by God.
I thought this was a creative re-working of source criticism, acknowledging the sins of Scripture (or at least their sinful use) by attributing them to the line of Cain (and Ham… ).
Noah is a fanatic
I really liked the fanatical devotion and the anguish that accompanies such devotion, that Russell Crowe portrayed. Sometimes we’ve dealt with so many Sunday School retellings and battered felt figures that we forget how scary (and scared) Noah and his ilk are portrayed.
In fact, there was an interesting line in the movie—at one point a family member says to Noah “I thought God chose you because you were a good man in a generation of evil men,” to which Noah replies, “No, God chose me because I am able to finish the job.”
Why is this intriguing to me, because the Rabbis read the line in Genesis that says Noah was “the best of his generation,” and point out his generation was a bunch of people so horrible God slaughtered them all… so perhaps Noah was just the least bad guy.
All that to say Noah is more than a felt figure, he might even be a fanatic.
It was an entirely white cast
First off, for a fuller account of this aspect of the movie check out Dr. Gafney’s post.
If you know the interpretation history of the flood story you know that Noah’s three sons become the fathers of the three known continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe. This is later used to justify the enslavement of Africans. Ham, for “uncovering Noah’s nakedness” is cursed, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” Canaanites are equated with Africans, and the Slave Holding Religion is off and running.
So, back to the casting of the movie—they are all white… now Tolkein’s Middle Earth being all white is one thing (and there was some uproad when a British person of African Descent was rejected as a Hobbit because of their skin-colour)—but when the characters are so fraught with real world consequences writing non-whites out of the picture is dangerous.
That said, they did better than the Noah Production at Sight and Sound Theater, which seemed to include multi-culturalism in the list of wickedness of Noah’s generation (on the other hand there were non-white characters).

In sum, I thought it was a very interesting movie, and the Akedah moments are worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When my blog posts "go viral"

So, in the last couple of months I’ve had two blog posts that blew up.
The first was a colorful map of the ELCA Synods, which several hundred people looked at right after I posted it.
The second was an old post of my Watch Night Sermon on internship, which a bunch of people looked at the two weeks leading up to New Years.
That got me thinking, what makes my posts go viral?
I looked and saw my top five most looked at posts are:
I think the Synod map went viral because the ELCA’s version of the map is so bland that mine was useful.
My Watch Night Sermon apparently shows up when you google “free watch night sermon” and clearly there are pastors whose preaching pallet is dry after Christmas Eve and are looking for inspiration or outright borrowing—I hope my meditation on Genesis 22 is helpful for them.
As for the Zorba the Greek quotes… I get messages from time to time that I should put page numbers down, or even add an essay about the book that they could copy and paste… because people are using the quotes to write English 101 papers… so again they are looking for inspiration, borrowing… or outright plagiarism.
The Open Letter likely went viral because it rode the wave of disgust at Washington for their cuts to SNAP funding, and because it came from a faith perspective.
Then, finally, judging from emails I received about it, my New Years Resolution involving going without internet (yeah… I need to get back on that) genuinely horrified some of my more tech-appreciative friends and followers… so reading that post was maybe a little like rubbernecking.
So, in short, my most read posts are useful or hit a certain nerve… which means my “Weekly Simul” theory of expanding readership was off.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Poetic Sermon/Gospel Reading

The Holy Gospel According to John the 4th Chapter

         So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

Resting on the wrong side of the track
The bad part of town
A gay couple wandering into Westboro Baptist,
Into Fred Phelp’s funeral
A Ukrainian Soldier off base in Crimea
When the gates smashed open

Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

When Nicodemus showed up,
To meet with Jesus
It was night
In the darkness was unbelief
Not now
Now in this noonday sun
All is visible
All is known
Here comes belief.

         A Samaritan woman came to draw water,

A Samaritan woman…
No name.
Nicodemus had a name
She does not
Just some other person

and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
         (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

When a parent wants to get something done
But the kids are there
They might be in the way
Daddy gives them busywork
Dig a hole
Count the leaves
Fill in the hole
Jesus says,
“Oh… could you all go and get us some food?”
So the disciples won’t get in the way
In the way of this woman’s important experience of Jesus

         The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

She’s unnamed… but
She’s a woman
She’s a Samaritan
The wrong gender
The wrong religion
For Jesus

         Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

Living water
The Rabbis recommend it
For ritual baths
The Early Church Fathers recommend it
For Baptism
Water that flows
Fresh and clean
Bubbling, clear, and living
From God’s good earth

         The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"
         Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

Think of it!
To be filled up with a life flowing
Flowing from the goodness of what God creates!
A living, clear, bubbling life
Fresh and clean
Flowing from purity and in the likeness of our Baptism

         The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

She just wants a small thing
One less backbreaking job
No more going to draw water in the heat of the day
That’s all, slaking thirst and less monotony
A small thing
But he’s offering more
A big thing

         Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."
         The woman answered him, "I have no husband."
         Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"
Five husbands
Some assume adultery
My bet is abandonment
Maybe because of barrenness
And again
And again
And again
And again
Left to fend for herself
To carry her own water
To grow hard

         The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

Peter doesn’t even top this
Nicodemus was blind
But she sees
Sees Jesus in the noon light
Both of them
Exposed for who they are
He names her and she names him
And they see
There at Jacob’s well

         Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."
         Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
         You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

You’re a prophet, but not of my religion
Brass tacks then
The place between you and me
The space between Mt. Gerezim and Jerusalem—Mt. Zion
What of it?
…You say there is no space?
It’s not about place…

         The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."
         Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

He doesn’t say I am he…
English communicates this poorly
He says I am.
…When Moses spake with the burning bush
The bush said, “I AM”
I am. with a period after it
No genealogy, but Genesis instead
The origin
The formation of it all
It all flows out from this
He says I AM

         Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?"

These awkward, unspoken, question marks
Would be shepherds crooks
Removing this bad comedian from the stage
Removing this woman from the Lord’s presence
This is why Jesus came up with that task
This is why he said,
“Oh… could you all go and get us some food?”
They see a woman
They see a Samaritan
The Disciples get in the way of Jesus

         Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"
         They left the city and were on their way to him.

Her question mark is a shepherds crook too
One leading her people,
Like Moses with a staff
Miriam’s song at the river
She’d found the one who fills her water jar
Fills it forever
She’d seen one who saw her
Knew her name and saw her
In the noon sun
She saw him
Come and see

         Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something."
         But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about."
         So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?"
         Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.

Sometimes the disciples don’t see
Even in the noon sun
They don’t see

         Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

She sowed
She sowed with her words
Sowed in the noon sun
Sowed because of who she saw
They did not labor
But they will reap
Because she sowed
There in the noon sun

         Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done."
         So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.
         They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

They came to see
In the noon sun
Bright with belief
These Samaritans
Stayed with the Savior
Seeing him
Because she sowed
And said
And suggested
And saw her Savior.

The Gospel of the Lord,