Showing posts with label Cultural Commentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cultural Commentary. Show all posts

Monday, July 12, 2010

Becoming Bardic

Cancer has given me the opportunity to re-invent life. I've always wanted to write fiction. It used to be that people understood when an argument was well-made and would be persuaded by reason. Not any more. Now people need a story. They are persuaded by personal connection and emotion. They need a bard, not a lawyer.

I've had fun this spring and summer working on the lyrics for my second daughter's musical tribute to American service men and women. See the progress on the project at 21 Gun Salute. In the course of researching for the lyrics, I've been able to interview some wonderful vets, read some fascinating military bios and even some heart-stopping poetry penned by our warriors and their families. Now I'm ready to tell other sorts of stories.

Trying to decide which to write first.
The mystery: A Levite detective in an ancient city of refuge must find the real human trafficking culprits before they dissolve King David's precarious reign into civil war.
The fantasy: Renowned inventor Daedelus discovers that his inventions for sinister King Minos have destabilized both the foundations of Atlantis and his own son's sanity.
The action-thriller: In an America groaning under an oppressive regime, a young man is drawn into a web of intrigue when he begins to find in his geo-caches messages from his dead mother.

What would you most like to read?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unity of the Body

Zac Hicks has an intriguing analysis of the value of using the Common Lectionary as an aid to Bible study and worship. He rightly points out that this is one tool of the Holy Spirit to knit the scattered bones of the church back together as so many read, study, pray and worship around the same texts week by week.

It is also a way to be joined together in ordering our time, all of us dancing to the same delight in the same celebrations throughout the year; all of us pacing to the measure of His work rather than to the commemorations of our various States or to purely personal memorials and agendas.

I have been working on a cycle of daily Bible studies based on the daily readings from the Lectionary. The set for Lent is complete, and will soon be available for personal or group study. Below is a sample lesson. I'd love to hear your comments. Is it clear? Easy to use? Does it draw out the themes that echo among the Old and New Testament readings for the day?

Thursday: Beloved Enemies


Ps. 35, 148; Romans 11:25-36; Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Discussion & Study

1. What point does Moses emphasize about the Law in Deut. 30:11 – 14?

2. Where does David turn for justice when he is oppressed, according to Ps. 35?

3. Who were David’s most painful enemies according to Ps 35:12 - 17?

4. On what basis does he make his plea? Why can he expect God to take up his case?

5. Who had become the enemies of God’s people in Paul’s day (Rom 11:28)?


Our worst enemies are the ones we helped and trusted. The ones we counted as friends or family. David’s anguish is increased by the nearness of his enemies. But in his pain, he does not take matters into his own hands.

David pictures himself in the Court of Heaven. He asks for the Judge to plead his cause on the basis of His covenant, and proceeds to give evidence of his oppressors’ abuse of that covenant. He lays before God, his complaint and trusts in God’s justice and mercy. He calls for God’s punishment on the wicked and His defense of the righteous, but David understands that, particularly in the case of once-friend enemies, he himself might not know who the wicked are. “Judge me,” he says.

God knows not only the outward violations, but the inward ones as well. He knows the particular wounds and rottenness in the oppressor’s heart. He is the only one who can truly mete out justice. But God’s purposes in His justice go far beyond simple retribution. His justice not only gives the wicked his just desserts and the oppressed relief, but it produces restoration of the offender.

Israel in Paul’s day had become the enemy in God’s bosom and the God-fearing Gentiles had taken David’s place. Paul exhorts these Gentile converts to take up David’s wisdom. For God is not merely shaming and confounding covenant-breakers, but He is preparing an unprecedented union as well. Because of God’s rejection of Israel, both Israel and non-Israel know the wrath of God, so that those physical descendants of Abraham and those spiritual descendants of Abraham who fear God will be unified by their experience of God’s grace.

They will all be Israel together, beyond all pettiness, beyond all betrayal, beyond all pain.

Does one near you oppress you? Do not seek revenge. Lay your complaint before God, who is just beyond Justice. His grace will not gloss over wickedness; will not merely excuse the destroyer. But His justice will produce real healing and real unity.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Entering the Story

In preparation for Advent, our church commissioned me to write and direct several short scenes for our living history installation: Journey to Bethlehem. I'm posting bits of it here so that I can work out the kinks before we go to rehearsal. Please leave a comment to help me refine it.

We want our audience to be invited by our scenes to enter the story of redemption for themselves. We hope that these vignettes will help modern people connect with the ancient story and, more importantly, with the Word Who lives.

The two scenes below sketch the story of Joseph's family. It is the story of every "good Christian" family. We all have dreams about how our lives will look if we "do things right". We think that we dream big enough, and we think that the moral & relational capital we generate by 'doing things right' is for us to use as we please. But God has bigger plans, and our treasures are to advance His Kingdom. We struggle to accept this and ultimately, it takes a deep personal encounter with the living Lord to bring us to joy in His will. Not shown in this script is the reconciliation between Joseph and his mother, Rahab, which will be played in pantomime in the living creche we will build at the climax of the concert.

A blind beggar, Mephibosheth, comes into the last scene as well. He is modeled after the spunky blind man Jesus heals in Jn 9. As a social outcast, he sees in the babe carried by that other outcast - Mary - a promise of Light and Life. I hope his story helps us all to connect with the already-but-not-yet aspect of God's work that we experience living in a world that is both fallen and redeemed.



This group is on a shopping trip. The children

have their arms full of baskets and burlap bags of

food. Boaz has an especially large bag or, if it

can be found, a wine amphora or wineskin. The

women have baskets full of packages. They stop to

rest a moment at the well under a tree.

Lights in the square come down slightly. Subtle

spotlights on well

BOAZ (Joseph's brother)

So, do we have everything?

CHAVAH (Boaz' wife, Joseph's sister-in-law)

Let me think…we got the cheese, the wine, the raisins…

RACHEL (Boaz' & Chavah's daughter)

(advocating for more of her favorite


…the dates? Do we really have enough dates?

(Adam waves a big package, which she

grabs & hugs)

RAHAB (Joseph's & Boaz' mother)

Remember Itzak’s family will be staying with us as

well as Leah’s. I don’t think we have enough lentils

at home.


No, Itzak is staying with Uncle Lev, because your

brother needs a place to stay with his new wife. You

know her time is nearly here, and I’m the best hand

with births.


Oh, that woman! She certainly had us all fooled. We

all thought she was so godly, such a good catch…Why

Joseph didn’t put her away, I’ll never understand.


Mother! We agreed we’d wait and see how it goes.

ADAM (Boaz' & Chavah's son)

Joseph saw an angel! And He told Joseph this babe

would be the Messiah!


(snorting derisively)

He dreamed an angel!


Just like he dreamed you would recover from your fever.


Bah! That was just kindness.


But it gave you hope to fight for life. You’re still

with us because of Joseph’s kind word…and besides,

maybe he did see an angel.


Angels! Well, he always was a dreamer – just like his

namesake in Egypt. And he got into just as much

trouble with that as our Joseph. Sold into slavery by

his brothers! Dumped in Pharaoh's deepest dungeon



But it turned out in the end to save our whole people.


Well these dreams of our Joseph's - they're dangerous.

And what about the ordinary dreams of sane people? The

whole family gathering in peace around the Sabbath

candles... Being able to hold my head up in the

synagogue because my children have spotless



(sad & gentle)

Would that be enough, mother?


(grumpy, defensive)

It's little enough to ask.



It's little enough to aspire to. Our fathers asked for

more...a glimpse of God's glory, freedom after slavery,

a king over all kings...


Dangerous dreams, indeed!


Caesar wouldn't appreciate them.


That reprobate! Why can’t he just leave us in peace?


Is that why we have to swear allegiance to Caesar?

Because he's afraid of the king God promised would



Rome must believe that there is no threat to Caesar’s

rule from us. So we of the royal clan of Judah must

particularly swear allegiance to him to keep our people

invisible to him.


But Papa, if Joseph’s dream is true, then this baby

would be…


(cutting him off)

...too good to be true!


Enter Mary & Joseph walking toward the well.

Joseph has the luggage. During the scene,

villagers pass by, noticing the notorious couple,

and turn away, whispering. Two soldiers patrol the

square. Adam, Joseph’s nephew passes through

during the hubbub with the beggar. Spotlight on

the well group.


Whew! Now I know how the donkey feels at the end

of the day.


Me, too. Caesar really should have checked with our

midwife before he scheduled his special census. After

all, he considers all the house of David potential

royal rivals.

(They arrive at the well. Joseph dusts

off the edge with a flourish, and helps

Mary sit down. He is worried about her.)

Your throne, your Majesty! How’s the prince?


Well he’s been the prince of peace up to now, your

Grace. But he’s getting restless.

(laughing, she sits carefully on the

edge of the well)


I’ll just hail a passing servant for a drink for you.

(He waves at a pair of girls coming to

draw water))

Tamar! Olivia! Will you draw us a drink from the well?

(They stop, embarrassed, and run away.

Joseph is embarrassed)


(rescuing him)

They are too awestruck to approach, your Majesty.

(They laugh)

Is there still bread in the saddlebag?

(he looks)

Enter Mephibosheth, the beggar, working his way to

the well, begging from the customers at the Inn on

his way. Follow spot on the group. Two gangly teen

boys grab his cane and start shoving him around in

a sort of blind man’s bluff, tossing the cane to

each other, smacking Mephibosheth with it.


Alms! Alms!

LOT (a village bully)

What’s the matter, old man?

ANDREW (another village bully)

Can’t you stand up?


Where’s your cane?


What’s your story?

This is nothing new to Mephibosheth. He steadies

himself, catches the cane as it whistles towards

him and hangs on. He whirls the startled guy on

the other end around him like a hammer thrower,

toppling the other bully and scattering onlookers.

The second bully picks himself up and wrests the

cane away. Mephibosheth sprawls on the ground.Two

Roman soliders, who are patrolling the square, are

drawn to the ruckus. They catch the boy’s hand as

he is about to smash the cane down on the fallen

beggar. They take the cane away, looming

menacingly over the boys.

LUCIUS (an old Roman Legionnare)

(clicking his tongue)

Can’t have bullying in the square. Can we now, Gaius?

GAIUS (Lucius' buddy, a veteran of many campaigns)

No indeed, Lucius. Bullying is strictly forbidden.

(They laugh threateningly, shove the

boys. Lucius gets one boy in a choke

hold with the cane.)


Hey! My cane!


What's this?

(grabs M’s begging bowl, pours out the



Looks like more tribute for Caesar.


Tax day!


No! Someone....please!

Just as they are about to complete the robbery and

start on the boys again, the Centurion slaps a

heavy hand on the soldiers’ shoulders. They snap

to attention, dropping everything. Mephibosheth

scrambles to retrieve his things. The boys are



We’ll be mustering now to clear the square for the


(in a ferocious whisper, steering his

men out of the square)

What in the five hells are you thinking? Caesar’s

census hasn’t exactly made the provincials love us!

(His eye falls on the boys. In a louder


You there! You carry their gear!

(The soldiers grin & shake off their

packs. They boys grimly pick them up.

The five of them exit. Mephibosheth

makes it to the well with Joseph’s





Sorry, friend. But what I have, I’ll share. Bread?

(He breaks some off)


Are you hurt?


Not really. No more than usual.


This happens often?


They see that I’m afraid. Sometimes I’m afraid in a

place where I don’t know my way. If I could only see, I

wouldn’t be afraid. I wouldn’t let them push me around.

I’d make them see the light!

(He devours the bread)


What's your name, young man?


I’m Mephibosheth, ma’am.

(he rises to bow & take her hand, but

misses, falls, rolls and jumps up in one

smooth move.)

I meant to do that!

(They all laugh)


You aren't from around here, are you?


No, sir. I’m from Jerusalem. My parents brought me

with them when they came to pay the tax and sign the

registry. I don’t usually get to go anywhere... Born

blind... But we hoped this would be a good place for me

to beg while so many are here for the census. Besides,

the Romans even tax blind beggars!


So we saw!


It sure is quiet right here. It being the inn well and

all. I’, but I usually don’t scare

people away from a well….Say! You must be that couple

everybody’s talking about.

(he realizes this is a faux pas)


Why would you think that?


Even a blind man can see you’re being shunned….Some of

them say your baby is the Messiah! Is it true? He’s

royal blood – son of David - or you wouldn’t be here.

Will he be king one day?


(putting a protective arm around Mary)

Messiah? Yes, so the angel has told me. “A virgin shall

conceive and bear a son and shall call his name

Immanuel, God with us.”


But, 'king'? We have no word of that.


When I was little and I had been beaten on the streets,

my mum used to comfort me with stories of the Messiah.

She said “Behold your God will come with vengeance,

with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” (pause) Is

your time very near, like they all say?


yes, very...

(she takes his hand and places it on her

belly. He shouts, jerks back as if

burned, then reaches again)


What!? What?!


What! What is it?


I...don't know! Something....

(He tears the bandage off his eyes,

opening them wide - but blindly.

Crestfallen, he dashes tears from his


I have to go now. We are leaving tonight. I won’t get

to meet Him.

(reluctantly he rises to go, then turns


Wait! My mum told me that the Messiah would come to the

Temple – in Jerusalem. That’s where I live! I will wait

for Him there... Every day... Tell Him. I’ll be


(As he leaves, Joseph begins to gather

up their belongings)


We should be going, too. It will be dark soon and we’re

almost home. Boaz will have a lamb roasting and Mama

will have the place all decked out for all the family

coming in for the census…

(he breaks off, seeing Mary’s flaming



Will they? Will they have room for all of us? After

the wedding…


The wedding isn't the whole story..


It is for your mother...It is for the town.


I’ve written to Boaz. He understands…he believes.

He’ll welcome us… all of us. And he’s the head of the

household now. Mama will do as he says.


Boaz is a true son of David, but he can't...


I can! God has appointed me to protect His promised

Messiah, and to defend his mother. It starts here…


Then don't ask me to birth this child in your mother's

house. Think of something else.


It would be the gravest insult to my family not to go

to them while we are here in Bethlehem. You know that.

Boaz, Rahab, Rachel & Adam enter. Boaz calls

across the room. Lights catch them in the crowd.


Joseph! Mary! Adam told me you had arrived, but we

didn’t see you at the house.



(he with joy, she with dismay. Joseph &

Boaz embrace. Joseph hugs everyone. Mary

is left out)


(cuffing Adam affectionately)

Where are your manners? Why didn’t you bring them with

you as soon as you saw them?

(turning back to Mary & Joseph)

I was afraid you wouldn’t come to us. Mary! Welcome.

You will always have a place in my home.

Mary smiles at him but looks past him to Rahab.

Joseph and Boaz exchange worried looks over her

head. Rahab won’t look at Mary. The brothers turn

to Rahab expectantly.



(with a forced smile)

Hello Mary. I wish we were meeting under happier


(she catches Joseph’s warning look)

The census. Caesar is most inconsiderate.


(with stiff politeness)

How are you?



(under her breath)

...until today.





I am an old woman! She is about to give birth.

Neither of us has time for these games! How am I? NOT

fine! There is nothing fine about any of this!


Did the angel’s message in my dream mean nothing to



I too had a dream! I dreamed I had a son who would

bring glory to God and joy to my heart! This is not a

dream. This is a nightmare!

There is a long tense pause. Mary groans in

labor. The Roman squadron enters. Everyone starts



It's time! He's coming!


No time to get home now!


Rachel! Run fetch you mother. We need her midwifery


(Rachel runs)


I’ll speak to the innkeeper!

(they all turn to stare at her. She

shakes her head dismissively.)

I would do this for anyone.


The square is closing for the night! Go home, everyone!

He and the soldiers keep interrupting with this

message as they begin to clear the room. Lights

come up near inn.


(crossing to the inn)

Daniel! Have you got space for Joseph and his wife?

She’s just gone into labor. She won’t make it to my

house tonight.


It’s really packed. Besides, the birth will make all

my guests unclean! They’ll complain. She’ll be



She’ll be miserable anyway, you oaf! How about the



The sheep are all out for lambing. Isn't it nearly



Well...yes. and there's fresh straw ready to be strewn



Boaz! Adam! Help Joseph get the stable ready for this


The family group exits to the stable. The

soldiers clear the room, lead by the squadron's

piper, escorting everyone to the concert. Lights

come up in the room. Remaining characters &

shopkeepers open the auditorium doors, helping

everyone to leave.

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