Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Let's start with this:
Mary didn't ride into town while having contractions, then deliver that night. She and Joseph were probably there for a few weeks.
And the young couple wasn't turned away from every local hotel.
Bethlehem wasn't even big enough to support a commercial "inn".
They were actually staying with Joseph's relatives.
Oh, and Mary didn't give birth in a barn, or under the stars.
And I'm afraid it wasn't winter. The shepherds came, but they weren't shivering shepherds.
You probably know, too, that the wise men weren't there the night Jesus was born, and that we don't know how many of them there were.
Ken Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is likely my favorite book of the decade. The very first chapter (which is available as a free sample here) is what opened my eyes to a whole new nativity scene.
Fluent in Arabic, Bailey has spent forty years living and teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. He studies ancient, medieval, and modern commentaries and translations in Semitic languages— Syriac, Hebrew/Aramaic, and Hebrew. Drawing upon his expertise in Middle Eastern culture and his study of these eastern commentaries and traditions, he paints a truer picture of the birth of the Messiah.
"No room at the inn"
In Luke 2, the Greek word (katalyma or kataluma) translated as inn does not mean a commercial building with rooms for travelers. It refers to the guest room of a personal house (in Luke 22:10-12, it is translated as “upper room,” whereas in the parable of the good Samaritan the Greek word for a commercial inn is pandocheion). Most village homes in Bethlehem had two rooms - one for guests, one for the family. The family room also had an area, several feet lower, where the family animals could be brought in for the night.
When Mary and Joseph arrived at their relative's home, others were already using the guest room. So Mary and Joseph stayed in the lower part of the family room, where the animals also stayed through the night.
Why is Bailey so sure they were staying with family?
I've never found a Western nativity scene that included cousins or aunties. But Middle Eastern cultures have always valued family and hospitality. Mary and Joseph were traveling to Joseph's ancestral home. He would naturally have had relatives there, and they would have welcomed him. “To turn away a descendant of David in ‘the City of David’ would be an unspeakable shame on the entire village,” Bailey writes in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Even if no one had room for them, they could have traveled just a little further to stay with Elizabeth and Zechariah.
"While they were there, the time came..."
Mary wasn't in labor when they arrived in Bethlehem. In the Greek, Bailey explains, Luke's text indicates that Mary spent the last stages of her pregnancy in Bethlehem. A literal translation might read, "While they were there, her days (plural) were fulfilled."
Jesus wasn't born in a barren, windswept stable in an unfriendly town where Mary labored afraid and nearly alone.
Jesus also wasn't born under a halo of fluffy winged angels who sang as Mary painlessly delivered a child while clean baby animals gazed adoringly at the manger.
Mary and Joseph spent the last weeks of pregnancy with their relatives in Bethlehem. Probably because of the census, both of the rooms in the house were full, so they stayed in the lower part of the house, where the animals spent the night. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. God became man and was born into a family, a large, warm community of humble, broken people trying to care for each other. He cried and was washed, fed, and comforted, wrapped in a clean blanket and laid in a manger.
It's true. But isn't it also a better story? And one that will inform our family Christmas traditions, and even our decorating.
PS: Ken Bailey has also written a Christmas musical drama to reflect this more accurate telling of the Christmas story. If your church or family wants to check it out, it's available here.
(re-post from the archives)
Sunday, November 3, 2013
One her need in her preaching to remind congregants of their instrinsic worth:
Because we assume little of value can be found within us, few of us bother to look. We fear we'll find in ourselves something so shameful or painful we decide it's better to keep busy than to be still and know God is God. It seems more prudent to make coffee than to reckon with a feeling. My task when I preach is to speak messages that mean, Reckon with it. Look deeper into your life. Rummage around in the stuff you cast off. Read the book you closed long ago. In that old Bible story you doubt can tell you anything new, in that memory you have no further use for, God may be found. God will help you live your life with love, and God will help you die your death in peace.
On why she writes:
A writer of faith may face the vexing problem of making yet one more "unnecessary" contribution to an overloaded literary market, in the service of a dying religion. Why bother?
I bother because I notice myself turning toward what is more wonderful than me. I need to tell the story. A girl as good as dead somehow notices a healer's hand laid on her and gets up. A woman wan from blood loss who notices the fringe of the healer's garment musters just enough nerve to graspp it and be made well. A psalmist, depressive perhaps, insomniac maybe, notices daybreak purshing darkness away and calls the light "my Lord." A moralist noticing the difference between foolishness and wisdom characterizes both of them as women. A woman notices the forturne she stores in an alabaster jar will be worthless until she spills it on one who affirms her humanity. God notices prostitutes, rape victims, infertile and repeatedly married women still bearing in their weary beings the holy love knit into them when they were formed in their mothers' wombs. The world notices when a woman gives birth to its Messiah. The seas swell, the trees burst into green applause. The mountains aspire to lift up all creatures. Among them it's the humans who were fashioned to tell stories. People notice in ourselves the signature of life's Author. In Scripture we discover God and our own precious, numbered days. The urge to recount them, to write our sacred lives, becomes too great to resist. It is necessary.
And it is hazardous.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
|and this is how you hold a baby|
|Me, as writer and director of "A Cambodian Christmas Carol" at age 23|
A question for you: How do you know when to speak, and when to stay silent?
Saturday, October 19, 2013
|the field affectionately known as Andrew Wyeth|
Grasping a heavy Bible, Jack reads from Genesis 18 - the story of Abraham's hospitality to the Lord when he appeared to him in his home under the oaks of Mamre.
Jack stops at Genesis 18:8, as the liturgy indicates, as if to say, This is just the first part of the story. This is the part where you open your heart to the LORD as he appears, suddenly, within your tents. The part with the blessing, the surprise, the laughter, the disbelief; the warning, the pleading, the bargaining, the blessing -- all that is still to come. Tonight is for the welcoming and the feasting.
Our socked feet pad from room to room, we herd of worshippers and friends sidling next to each other in the office, the bedroom, the playroom, the kitchen, for prayers. Owen and Charlie run headlong from one side of the house to the other, and back again, cutting through the ranks of pray-ers, pretending to be rescue bots. Soon Rosie has changed into her Supergirl costume and joined them.
They're playing, we're praying, and I don't mind; after all, we are all in need of a rescuer.
I know some people might wonder why we do this; why we chant our way through an outdated prayer service, sprinkling holy water all over our new home.
This isn't superstition; we're not here because we think ghosts and evil spirits haunt our home and an incantation can ward them off. This isn't about good luck charms, a horseshoe hanging over the door or a double happiness symbol bringing us luck.
These prayers are a way of reminding ourselves of the truth. Remembering
in the office, that God is the source of wisdom;
in the bedroom, that we can sleep in peace because God alone makes us dwell in safety;
in the children's rooms, that Jesus called the little ones to himself;
in the kitchen, that God supplies all of our needs;
in the guest room, that by showing hospitality, some have entertained angels unawares.
V: Open your homes to each other without complaining.
R: Use the gifts you have received from God for the good of others.
When the prayers finish, we cut the cheesecake and gather in knots around the table or the bookshelves. I put Denison Witmer on the record player and photocopy a poem for Karen. Eventually the children go to bed, and Jack and some guys head to the back of the property to talk around the bonfire. The moon is full tonight. I wash dishes and add whisky to my cider, taking a book of Mary Oliver poems to bed with me.
This isn't the house I would have chosen, nor the town, nor the job. I would have gone with an older house, a more diverse city, a job where I got to feel like I was saving the world.
But last week I told this house that I would be happy to grow old with it. Every day I thank the chickens for giving me their eggs, and I've mowed the grass enough that I'm learning where the ground is level and where it slants, where the milkweed pods grow and what the names of the trees are. "Plant sequoias," Wendell Berry says, and I agree.
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Im teaching three classes this semester. Our schedule is all new and so many things are happening, I'm too busy to write out the emotions. But just looking at the difference in Rosie from the first day of 3 year old preschool to the first day of 4 year old preschool fills my eyes with tears.
Owen's not that happy about it, either. He wants to go to school, too.
But for now (for now, for now) he's home with me.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
On the drive back to IN I listened to 1200 Curfews and cried at "The Language or the Kiss," so don't worry: all is right with the world.
A week later, we all jaunted over to Minneapolis for an Alaback family reunion,and here's my cute family:
Also (not pictured) coffee at the sugar shack with DL Mayfield. So sweet.
To brag about a few more things that are making me happy at the end of summer (#grateful, #blessed, etc., I hate myself):
New shelves Jack built (almost finished, so beautiful)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
While we were in Georgia, Jane texted us a picture of a kitten that had been dumped at her house. Did we want him?
Well,we weren't sure, but how do you say no to this face?
He's a boy, so we named him Jesse.
Maybe he was named after one of the two main characters in Richard Linklater's trio of "Before" films.
If you haven't seen the movies, here's some only slightly spoilery background. In "Before Sunrise" (1995), the first film, Jesse and Celine meet on a train, then spend the night walking around Vienna, talking about life, love, religion, and the city. At sunrise, as Celine boards a train to Paris, they hastily vow to meet again on that platform in exactly six months.
But when we next meet Jesse, in 2004's "Before Sunset," nine years have passed, and he's in a Paris bookstore, signing copies of his popular novel, which is (not very loosely) based on his one night encounter with Celine, whom he hasn't seen since. Celine appears at the bookstore, and the two of them spend the afternoon before Jesse' flight walking through Paris. Celine explains why she didn't meet Jesse at the rendevouz nine years ago, and they quickly launch into talking, picking up right where they had left off.
In the latest addition to the series, this summer's "Before Midnight," we find out where Jesse and Celine are now. Like the other films, this one unfolds in a single day, and Celine and Jesse's conversations over the course of the day are personal, intense but often humorous discussions of work, ambition, parenthood, jealousy, and sex.
This summer we re-watched the first two movies with David and Kinsley, which was interesting, because they're about the age that I was when i first watched "Before Sunrise" - in their early twenties, like Jesse and Celine are in that first film. The four of us also drove to Indy to see the newest installment in the lives of Jesse and Celine in theater. The movie was painful to watch, but so brilliantly written and acted.
I was going to write a review of "Before Midnight" for Christ and Pop Culture, but Jack suggested we review it together, through discussion, a very Jesse-and-Celine thing to do. If you want to peek into our dialogue about the movies- what they reminded us of, how we related, what we want to happen next, you can read our emails.
Or if you mostly just want Jesse-cat, here he is too.