I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’ --Genesis 9: 11-17
It is finished.
The "it", in this case, is my first year of Education for Ministry, a theological study program for lay people designed by the folks at Sewanee. And it's been a fascinating journey of learning the stories of my ancestors and the history of the church... the good, the bad, and the despicably ugly... all of which seem to mirror the stories of our ancestors; thus proving the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree!
Year One is focused on the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures. And if you are someone raised in a Christian tradition, this is the part of the Bible that has some of those fanciful stories that they teach you through songs in Sunday school... like how Noah took two of everything onto the ark, etc. I don't know about other people, but my childhood education in the OT was piss poor! And, sadly, it meant that a whole foundation to my Christianity went totally missing. Because if we don't study, mark, learn and inwardly digest the OT... we won't really understand most of what's going on in the New Testament. Or, to put it differently, the depth of our understanding will remain at the surface.
Probably the biggest impression made on me in reading the OT are the covenants. Beginning with Noah... these solemn pacts God is making with humankind have blown me away because of what's inherent in the promises. Namely, that God does love this part of creation, humankind, inspite of the fact that we sometimes do things that should warrant God plucking us from the planet. The book of Genesis alone was a hoot, and at times, read like a script to a soap opera as Abraham takes a mistress in Hagar which produces a son Ishmael... and then his supposed-barren wife Sarah bears a son Isaac. One woman and her son are scorned and sent away (and begin the cousin religion of Islam)... and the other starts our Jewish heritage. There are good choices and bad choices. Dreams and sibling jealousy. And trickery and forgiveness. I'm serious, this is a good read!
The OT can also make you think about Shakespeare. The Hebrew tribes, having somehow managed in the desert inspite of all their complaining and kvetching and constantly needing a leader, or judge, to get them back on track with the YHWH program, realize they need a hero, a King, to lead them (or at least half of them think this and the other half say YHWH is the King... and we see a fracture). And the stories of the Kings really do seem very Shakespearean with conspiracies, and alliances... which lead to downfall and destruction of the Temple and scattering of people. All the while, there were prophets either foretelling the doom, or chronicling the doom, or bemoaning the doom after the fact. Save for the blah blah blah of Leviticus with all the laws... the Hebrew Scriptures have a lot more to them than silly Sunday school songs for 6-year-olds.
I mean, in Judges, Sisera gets a tent peg to the skull... and then the Israelites sing a little folk song about it! Who needs CSI: Miami when you have Judges Chapter 4?
The night of the Easter Vigil, I stopped by the Mickee Faust cast party in Railroad Square. The juxtaposition of those two events was a bit strange, but I got to talking to some folks about the reading from the Vigil that had been assigned to me: the story of the Israelites escape from Egypt through the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). I was retelling the story in highly dramatic... or melodramatic... fashion. One of the people said, "Y'know, if only they'd told it like this in Sunday School, I might have listened!"
But this past year wasn't just a "Bible Study" of the Old Testament. It was also done in a context of reflecting on what these readings, as well as the study points for people looking at the New Testament and Church History, have to do with where we're at today. How does the study of our ancestors inform our personal lives... and then how do we apply what we believe in a world that doesn't necessarily see eye to eye with us? We don't get trained in EfM to go out and beat up people with the Bible. But how does what we believe keep us grounded and shape the choices we make in the world? And what is it of ourselves that we are to bring to the world?
To be fair, you might want to have some aspirin on hand if you just try to dive into reading the OT on your own. Editing was "different" in those days... and there were several grandmothers and grandfathers re-telling the stories; hence there's a lot of repetition. But if you get a chance to do some study of the OT, it's well worth it. Especially if it's through EfM!