Can You Handle the Truth?

Time magazine’s Religion feature this week announces Claremont School of Theology’s decision to go interfaith. In response to declining enrollment, the United Methodist seminary has decided to offer training to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic leaders. Naturally, this will have to be done with the approval and support of training facilities for rabbis and imams, but it will be a way forward for the beleaguered Christian seminary. Seminaries have been in a state of crisis over the past few decades (otherwise it is hard to explain how I might have been hired by one, and a particularly conservative one at that!). And it is not difficult to see why.

Religion is, by nature, conservative. If truth is unchanging, there is no improving upon it. Religions claim to espouse the truth, so stability, orthodoxy – stagnancy – are required. Yet theological seminaries compete with graduate schools for students and faculty. Seminaries crave academic respectability – this is the entire reason for academic accreditation (my old-time colleague Daniel Aleshire of the Association of Theological Schools is quoted in the article). The basic operating premise of institutions of higher education, however, is that we are still learning the truth. We are not there yet. No God reveals the laws of physics in whole cloth (or vellum). Humans must theorize, discover, criticize, and theorize further. Meanwhile, seminaries wave their muted flags and shout, “Over here! We already have the truth!” To be accredited, they have to hire Ph.D.s who have been critically trained. Critical training does not accept simple truth claims. The result: seminaries hire critical faculty while religious authorities insist that the party line be toed. Something has to give.

Offering to bring different religious traditions together is a wonderful idea. Established religions need exposure to each other if the human race is going to survive. Exposure, no doubt, however, will reveal the amorphous nature of truth. The fact is that we are still looking for answers. Everything we have learned about religion points in that direction. What I find particularly telling about this situation is the motivation. Claremont is trying this route for financial reasons. The great god of all higher education, Cash, has finally gotten his talons into religious institutions as well. If there is any unchanging truth out there, it has a dollar sign in front of it.

In gold we trust...

Restoring Horror

Few television families are as true to life as the Simpsons. At least on a metaphorical or symbolic level. Last night as I watched the episode entitled “She of Little Faith,” I was reminded of just how large a role religion plays in this sit-com. While the majority of Springfield’s inhabitants don’t ever question the correctness of the local church, Lisa Simpson remains the avowed skeptic. Conflicted over her own sense of what is right and family expectations, she becomes a Buddhist yet continues to attend church with her family. This image of religious compromise strikes many as precisely what is wrong with organized religion today – it lacks the coercive power it once had.

In a free-market economy religious belief is a commodity to be selected and purchased. Most people are far too busy trying to get ahead to spend much time thinking about religion; it is far simpler to allow the clergy to do that. They come back to us, telling us what to believe, like some congressional report from heaven’s house of representatives. We pay them a salary and their service is to make sure we believe what keeps God happy. Religion, potentially the most powerful motivator in the world, is up for grabs like former Soviet nukes. Anyone is free to declare him or herself a religious leader, qualified or not.

So over the weekend thousands flocked to Washington to hear 2012 presidential hopefuls Beck and Palin tell them how to restore “honor” to our nation. Beck commented that his rally marks the point at which America starts to “turn back to God.” Most Americans at the rally (or those at home) seldom think about the amorphous God to which he refers, for themselves. Americans are consumers. We purchase what we like. If the God that is touted will make things better for me, then I’ll buy it. This is the price we pay for refusing to take religion seriously at an academic level. It is not about to go away. I side with Lisa Simpson as the honest individual who has an examined life. Facing opposite me on the Mall are tens of thousands who would rather be led. I am afraid. I am very afraid.

Faker or Fakir?

An article posted on CNN on Friday, “More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians,” suggests that many American teenagers aren’t really Christian. Whether that is a bad thing or not I’ll leave up to the reader to determine (Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary, cited in the article, has no doubt that it is bad). My concern with the premise and the presentation of Dean’s data is much larger: who has the right to determine what is “authentic” religion? In a world daily faced with the clash of religious views, particularly among passionate believers, most scholars of religion seem to agree that one’s religion is what an adherent claims it to be. There is no way to test the authenticity of a religion empirically. Whose Christianity does Dean mean? That of Jesus? Or of Paul? Or of the Pope? It seems to me that what she suggests is that “true” religion is “passionate” religion.

Religion, however, may extend well beyond belief structures. Religionists recognize many forms of religion that are primarily activity-oriented rather than belief-oriented. Does that mean the adherents of such religions are only half-hearted members of their tradition? Do only passionate believers qualify? Who is it that has the authority to decide what any religion is? If it is seminary instructors, I’d rather face the apocalypse right now. I’ve known far too many of those to trust their judgment on defining authentic religion.

Christianity is perhaps the most fragmented religion in the world, with tens of thousands of different denominations, each declaring itself correct and authentic. What person ever purposefully believes in an incorrect religion? “I know my religion’s wrong, but I think I’ll stick with it…” Who gets to determine which is the real real religion? Passion may not be an adequate measuring stick. The clashes of religious views that leave the highest body counts are between groups equally passionate about their beliefs. In such a world where people need to learn to control their religious passion, it is my hope that mere theological assent might be more than enough in most cases. And only for religions that are belief based.

The only true religion?

Gort to Flood

There seems to be a society-wide fascination with the end of the world as we know it. Or maybe it is the just the perspective I bring to it. The past two decades with their breathless run up to Y2K and grappling to forge some sense out of 9/11 before 2012 rolls over us, have been awash in popular representations of how it might all come to an end. A society begging somebody to apply the brakes. We’ve got many senior citizens still around who’ve never used a computer attempting to coexist with a generation that has never been without one. From Kitty Hawk to the moon in just 66 years. I remember watching the latter on (black-and-white) television. Now I watch students walk into class with devices about whose function I can only ask Mr. Spock to speculate.

So it was that I finally got around to watching The Day the Earth Stood Still last night. The 2008 remake. Having long been a fan of the original, I can understand the insistent draw to bring it up-to-date. Even by the time Star Trek (original series) aired, it was hard to see what had terrified 1950s audiences about Gort or the idea of aliens. Thus I had great expectations when I first saw the trailers for the remake, but the reviews took the edge off my shine and I’ve only now experienced it. Naturally, I was looking for the religious angle.

Like Justin Cronin’s The Passage, the religious metaphor came in the guise of an ark. Klaatu is here to save all species except us, prompting Regina Jackson to state that after the ark is filled, the flood will come. The apocalyptic end of the world – being eaten by bugs (perhaps prescient of New York’s bed-bug infestation) – brings nanotech and the Bible together in an unhappy marriage. As soon as the authorities learn that Klaatu’s sphere is an ark they try to blow it to kingdom come. And yet Helen Benson is here to tell the tale.

We are vulnerable. For all our achievements, we fear the kids down the block that are bigger than us. Whether they be cold, emotionally flat aliens or ragingly wrathful gods, we are constantly watching the skies waiting for the next great flood.

Gnot What It Seems

Mythology has a funny way of dying. It just keeps resurrecting itself. It is the eternal return. One of the shocking truths about religions is that their cohesiveness is exaggerated for effect. The usual desired effect is power or influence over others, as in most human enterprises. Nowhere is this clearer than at the birth of religions. Since each human brain processes information in a unique way, the two people in a room with the religious founder will hear his/her teachings in their own way and neither will be identical with each other or the founder. This phenomenon has been long recognized by religionists. It is customary to speak of “Christianities” or “Judaisms” rather than suggest a fictional singularity.

Manuscript finds and serious study of early Christian texts make a strong case for two major brands of Christianity as early as the first century of the common era: “Orthodox” and “Gnostic.” The former likely arose in opposition to the latter. Gnosticism congealed out of a heady brew of Zoroastrian dualism, Judeo-Christian nascent apocalypticism, and good old “Canaanite” mythology. The teachings of Jesus could readily fit into a worldview that rejected materialism for a pure spiritual plane untainted by physical limitations and pollution. It is only a small step from here to the belief that the physical world is an illusion. Problem is, that would mean the physical resurrection was apparent only, and what does that mean for all future prospects of bliss? Better to bring down the hammer of Orthodoxy than to live with doubt.

Yet Gnosticism lives on. One of the few direct lines of descent can be found among the Mandaeans, an endangered monotheistic sect that has maintained a Gnostic dualism for centuries. Indeed, they trace their origins all the way to Adam. Gnosticism, whether recognized or not, has left its influence on concepts from The Matrix to Philip K. Dick’s novels to Rich Terrile’s theories of God. Certainly there is a draw to believing this world is an illusion and that reality lies elsewhere. Maybe in that real world there is no need for religion since everyone already knows the truth.

sursum codex

Freiheit

This week’s Time magazine has a rhetorical question on the cover: Is America Islamophobic? Not a word need be said. The real issue at stake, the one many Muslims feel the brunt of, is religious freedom. This founding concept of America has been eroding for decades. How many Americans have tried to imagine what it would be like if they were Muslims living in “the land of the free”? For that matter, how many have tried to imagine what it would be like to be Catholic, Protestant, or Unitarian? Certainly, it would seem, Jews know the value of religious freedom. Do we ever really try to feel their experience? It is much more cozy to be part of the religious majority and tell others to step in line.

With great roaring newts and Alaskan beauty queens telling them what to think, Americans are easily stoked to injustice. No, they have no right to worship here, they tell us. The truly frightening part is how easily manipulated the masses are. America a Christian nation? Who can adequately define “Christian”? Those who make such claims tend to be Neo-Cons who assume some fundamental form of Christianity is the default version. The only version. Their goals are not religious, but rather intensely selfish – the antithesis of Christianity. By their fruits you shall know them, a wise man once said. It is easy to forget who.

We live in a nation that since the Reagan years has attempted to privatize industries that had ensured fairer treatment because of government standards, no matter how faulty. Now private companies could run with the basic necessities of civilized existence and grow wealthy on them while those who were poor could be forced to pay more. This was done with the public image of a “Christian nation.” RR, the poster-child of the Religious Right. Laissez faire has come to mean “leggo my Eggo” – let me claim the one true religion and capitalize upon it. One size does fit all as long as the wealthy are left free to grow wealthier. Let’s call it religious freedom, but let’s prevent others from pursuing their religion freely. To me it feels like 1984. And that was decades earlier than 9/11.

Two Roads Diverged

Back in my Gorgias Press days one of my co-laborers (BU) suggested that I might enjoy reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Since then it has come out as a movie, and further apocalyptic events have occurred – the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the election of Chris Christie come to mind – so I finally got around to reading it. It is a harrowing book for any parent to read and I doubt I have the heart to see the movie. Already the book is spawning internet quotes and quips, but I was particularly interested in seeing how this post-apocalyptic novel handled God.

Since the Bible, via Zoroastrian influence, gave us the religious concept of the apocalypse, it is fitting to see how religion fares in its unhallowed progeny. Mostly God is absent. When the man and his son mention God, the language is spare and laced with betrayal. “There is no God and we are his prophets,” the old man declares after the man and his son leave the bunker. A few paragraphs later he states, “Where men cant live gods fare no better.” The value of the apocalyptic metaphor is that it forces us to face life as we find it: raw and uncompromising. In the fictional apocalypse it is permissible to utter aloud implications of life’s callous lessons.

My career has had its share of jagged edges. The lacerations I’ve personally received have been at the machinations of Christians eager for self-justification. Self-congratulatory individuals and collectives that suppose God has specially favored them. “There is no God and we are his prophets.” It is like reading Camus in slow motion. One of the lessons both Nashotah House and Gorgias Press taught me was that it can always get worse. Reading McCarthy’s sad yet true tale of the woe we bring upon ourselves, the lesson for those eager for the apocalypse is that they have only to open their eyes.

Catskill Waiting

Catskills epiphany

We’re back from the Catskills and all they imply. One of the more obvious implications was a lack of internet access – one of the many reasons I like to frequent remote locations. I had planned this little get-away with some vague hopes of enlightenment of some kind. The quote from Melville in my last post is more than just nice prose; it is the essence of spiritual striving. I know those aren’t scientific words, but they embody the spirit of several nineteenth century American novelists I’ve read and reread. I did see a Catskill eagle while there, but I returned home still seeking an epiphany.

While briefly away from the constant demands of teaching, the bigger picture starts to come into focus. We visited Ellenville on the day of their Wild Blueberry and Huckleberry Festival – we’d just picked huckleberries ourselves in the mountains outside town – and religious groups were represented aplenty. I had noticed the many churches in this rural region, and one of the feters handed me a tract that informed me “If you have said ‘Yes’ to these three questions [have you ever sinned, lied, or stolen] (by your own admission), you are a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart; and we’ve only looked at three of the Ten Commandments.” And also, John Lennon is dead. Nothing like a little self-righteous judgment with your blueberry pie. Sirens began to blare and a fair-goer collapsed and had to be airlifted to a regional hospital. It was very dramatic.

This is where the big picture came in. When there is an accident, we take astounding measures to save the injured, suffering, or wounded. A fair-goer flown by life-flight to the hospital. At the same time, our society condones, encourages even, an unemployment scenario where even highly trained individuals are cut off from health care and self-esteem as well as income. Left to die a quiet death of desperation. As long as we don’t have to see it, death by redundancy is sanitary and sanctioned. Has this great society ever sinned, lied, or stolen? I have seen that Catskill eagle and I am still awaiting an epiphany.

Woeful Wisdom

“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.” Herman Melville takes the credit for this passage. It is one of the many pericopes that make Moby Dick the greatest book ever written. Those who know me only as a biblical scholar may be surprised to read that, but I invite anyone who has ever instantly fallen in love with 1 Chronicles 1-9 to reply and argue the point.

Although Moby Dick has fallen into the provenance of books that are kept alive only by required high school and undergraduate required reading lists, this novel still comes back to me at many points in my life and fractured career as both a solace and a warning. Melville was clearly a man tormented by his search for meaning. He drew heavily on the Bible for Moby Dick, likening Ishmael to Ecclesiastes at one point, and the whaling haunts of New Bedford to tophets. To appreciate Moby Dick deeply, one must be familiar with the Bible.

Is this the Bible, or what?

Considering the great changes that are taking place in society, I often wonder if we have reached a breaking point. In my university life, I see students absolutely frantic to achieve an A in an easy class, one that would not have broken a sweat in my undergraduate days. Their anxiety is real; grade inflation has forged the B into the new D, or F. Yet these same students know nothing of life apart from the internet. In times like these, I betake myself to the Catskills, and with Melville, turn my eyes upward, seeking madness.

Jehovah Jireh

They came again this week. I was, conveniently, not home when they rang the bell. One thing with which I must credit the Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, is that they do recall the identity of their targeted converts. My neighborhood missionary always addresses me by name, and although she often has different associates with her, she knows I teach Bible courses at Rutgers and when we actually talk she tries to convince me of the Witnesses’ more exacting grasp on the truth of Holy Writ. When I returned home I found a copy of Awake! tucked in the door handle. Not the current issue, but the November 2007 edition entitled, “Can You Trust the Bible?”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses resemble many of my Fundamentalist friends in that they assume if you don’t share their view of the Bible that you somehow “distrust” or “disrespect” or “disbelieve” it. Too many disses! This mono-directional view of a complex document devalues the content and power of the biblical narrative, but most people are not trained to view subjects from multiple perspectives. This is clear from Awake! One point that the magazine makes regards science: “when it comes to scientific matters, the Bible is noteworthy not only for what it says but also for what it does not say.” The writers acknowledge that a scientific worldview conflicts with the flat-earth outlook of the biblical world, but oh, what the Bible doesn’t say! This enormous argument from silence speaks volumes. When we approach the question from the point of view of what mistakes the Bible does not make, we’ve got a universe entire in which to roam.

On the question of biblical authorship, the principle of pars pro toto is utilized to justify divine authorship. The Awake! article begins, “The Bible is frank about who penned its contents.” Among the first lessons of 101 is just how much of the Bible is anonymous. The next statement, however, is wrong on several points: “Most Bible writers acknowledged that they wrote in the name of Jehovah.” Almost never does the Bible claim direct divine guidance in its writing. The credit for this goes to Pseudo-Paul in 2 Timothy – only there does an author placing in the Bible make any claims about his fellow composers having been inspired. Jehovah as a name for Yahweh is documented for the first time in the 13th century (C.E.).

I am touched that a woman who knows so little of who I really am keeps coming to my door to save me from an unpleasant afterlife. She has taken the time to find an appropriate piece of literature for my teaching interests. But, like my Fundamentalist friends, she has missed the forest for the trees. After over forty years of reading and teaching the Bible, I have my own answer for “Can You Trust the Bible?”

SpongeBob’s Evolution

My daughter has, unfortunately, outgrown SpongeBob SquarePants. She was my putative excuse for watching the (literally) brainless eponymous lead character going about his inane adventures. The creator of SpongeBob, Stephen Hillenburg, is a marine biologist and much of the fun for adults watching the cartoon derived from the biologically correct remarks made by the characters about their physiological conditions. Watching the laughing yellow sponge with his inimitable voice was a pleasant escape from the constraint of my own biological existence.

Today the New Jersey Star-Ledger announced that two researchers from Princeton University may have discovered the oldest animal fossils ever recorded. It seems that for a while, some 635 million years ago, the earth was undergoing its Cryogenian Period when the planet surface was all but completely frozen. The earliest discovered animal fossils were discovered from after that period. Princeton geoscientist Adam Maloof has recovered what appear to be animal fossils from 650 million years ago, 15 million years before the big freeze. This find had been anticipated by genetic scientists who had suggested that such early animal forms likely existed prior to the appearance of the earliest sponges 520 million years ago.

For now the new finding shifts the fossil record back by about 90 million years. There will be massive gaps to be filled in by scarce traces left in inaccessible rock. Creationists will no doubt gloat that the fossil record is now even more full of holes than ever. This is frequently the quality of ambiguity that they suggest will topple the evolutionary lie. The truth, however, faces the opposite direction. The oldest creatures found are ancestors to the common sponge, pushing SpongeBob’s ancestors back many millennia before those of the Adam who discovered them. It seems to be the silly yellow sponge who will have the last laugh.

Gee, did I really cause all this?

Dark Night of the Ark

Vampires continue to be the rage of the age. My own interest began back in the days of Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, and Barnabas Collins. Stoker’s Dracula is one of the earliest novels I remember reading. Dark Shadows was a regular, gloomy fixture of 1960s daytime programming, and black-and-white vampire movies were often available on Saturday afternoons on commercial television. I have not kept pace with the current fetishism surrounding our toothy friends, but I did read Justin Cronin’s new novel, The Passage. I didn’t know the book featured New Age viral vampires, but they do make for a compelling story.

What particularly captured my attention in Cronin’s work, however, was the crossover between religious and monstrous themes. I have mentioned this connection previously, so I was glad to see confirmation that religion still features in monster stories. The religious element comes in the form of a virus developed by the military to create super-soldiers (a theme X-File affectionados might find familiar) that ultimately goes awry. The result is a girl who is part of a project named Noah; she lives the tremendous lifespan of the biblical hero without the debilitating effects of old age. She is also the ark by means of which humanity might survive the ordeal. The novel is apocalyptic and yet vaguely hopeful. It is also very difficult to lay aside for too many minutes at a time.

The tie-in of Noah and vampires is a novel one. The point of comparison is longevity – those who imbibe the blood of others do not age and wither as mere mortals do. Noah’s survival is a matter of grace (or science in the case of the novel). The last mortal to breech the two-and-a-quarter century mark (thank you, Terah), Noah is symbolic of those who stand out as examples of righteousness in a wicked world. It was refreshing to see the theme so creatively rendered by Cronin. The biblical flood is a kind of prepocalypse, a foreshadowing of what might recur if evil prevails. The Passage has left me strangely sentimental for both vampires and ark-builders alike.

Star Trek Paradise

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Trekkie. I did watch the reruns of the original series after school on our black-and-white television, but I have never owned “Spock ears” nor does my cell phone look like a communicator. To the best of my recollection, I haven’t even seen all the episodes. I’ve mentioned before that some generous in-laws purchased the first season of the series for a gift last year. Since then my wife (a convenient excuse) has been interested in watching the remaining two seasons. We found a reasonably priced second season set and have been working our way through over the weekends of the summer.

Paradise-busters?

This weekend we watched the episode entitled “The Apple.” Even a fair-weather Star Trek watcher such as myself can’t help but notice that the series as a whole is biblically literate. Biblically literate, however, only in a popularist way. This became clear once again in “The Apple.” Stranded on a planet modeled after a troubled Garden of Eden, Captain Kirk and his landing party soon must destroy a serpentine “god” that keeps the luau-ready inhabitants in a state of perpetual ignorance. Diametrically opposed to Eden where it is the serpent who tempts with knowledge, this is a serpent that tempts with ignorance. Long, pleasant life without intellectual development and the “god” receives daily sacrifices. A world of status quo.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk points out that the only one on the ship that bears resemblance to the Devil is, by implication, Spock. This is where the popularist interpretation grates most heavily. The Genesis version of Eden has no Devil, no Satan in it. Only a much later, revisionist re-reading, (certainly post-Zoroastrian) equates the snake with Satan. Genesis does not condemn the acquisition of knowledge. It comes with pain, true, but that is simply the way life is. Perhaps it would be easier for us all if some great Kirk might vanquish the inhibiting serpents of our apotheosis, but that’s simply not the way life works. In this instance, the Bible trumps Star Trek.

Sobek to the Beginning

From some of my earliest reveries, Maine has been my favorite state. This strange feature had to have been gleaned from books since I never visited Maine until my early twenties. Since that time I’ve returned as frequently as possible; however, over a decade spent in Wisconsin made the trip somewhat daunting. So last night, still dealing with lingering intense emotions from the county fair, I decided to watch Lake Placid, the 1999 horro-comedy set in Maine. The movie is generally brainless escapism, and even the scenery is that of British Columbia rather than New England. It had been years since I’d seen the film, so I was surprised when Kelly Scott stated in defense of Hector Cyr that crocodiles were worshipped as gods by many ancient peoples, making them more prayed to than Jesus. This was, naturally, a healthy dose of celluloid hyperbole, yet it did bring to mind Sobek, the Egyptian deity mentioned by name in the film.

The ancient Egyptians venerated many animals as possessors of god-like qualities. Crocodiles, naturally dangerous to humans as well as to many large mammals, would suggest themselves as a form of divinity. Sobek was never a major focus of the Egyptian collective of gods, yet the mummified remains of crocodiles and the striking iconography of the deity attest his cult. The ancient Egyptians had no way of knowing that the crocodile had withstood the pressures of evolution for millions of years, a striking example of a body plan and lifestyle requiring no improvement. Few creatures have the staying power of the crocodile, an animal capable of feats more incredible than the fabricated beast in Lake Placid.

While Jesus has nothing to fear from crocodile worship (or, apparently, the Beatles), religion grasps, even unwittingly, to the unchanging. In a culture shifting so rapidly that our eyes barely have time to focus before something completely novel is thrust before them, the stable image of the crocodile may still serve as a useful symbol of something our religious forebears knew that we should continue to recollect. Stability is worthy of admiration. In a bizarre way, throwing Maine together with crocodiles may be an antidote for melancholy, but only in the right environmental conditions.

Trashing the Bible

For the past month any free time I’ve had apart from class preparation has gone toward helping my daughter get ready for a presentation at the 4-H County Fair. Now, the morning after the close of the fair, when prize dairy cattle and model rockets and treasured family pets have all been transported back home, I am left with that sense of purposelessness that follows a period of intense preparation. Four minutes of public exposure translated into hours, days of often emotional planning, trouble-shooting, and dreaming. Although I grew up in a small town, farm life is as foreign to me as Cambodian politics. When I’m at the fair, however, spending long hours wandering amid animals, and go-carts, and community college recruiters, somehow being outdoors feels like being truly human. Perhaps it helps that the local 4-H is part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. My regnant, reluctant employer channels enormous resources into helping the youth of the state transform into the future.

One of the vendors at the fair was the Gideons. Each year they have a table piled high with cheap New Testaments bound in flimsy plastic made to resemble jaunty orange leather, and the unwary soon find themselves with the Gospels and Paul tucked away in their bulging samples bags. It is curious that the Hebrew Bible, apart from the Psalms, is so dispensable in the cause of conversion or enlightenment. The motivation of the Gideon movement, ironically, draws on the book of Judges for its very label. An occupational hazard, I already have more Bibles than any decent human should, nevertheless, the Gideons always wish me to take on one more, if only a truncated version.

While wandering back to my daughter’s club tent after a trip to the bustling food tent, I passed one of the numerous trash receptacles mandated by any such large gathering of people in a disposable culture. Glancing in for a place to toss my greasy napkin, I spied a Gideon Bible, its optimistic orange cover partially smudged by cotton candy and other ambiguous substances. The tableau gave me a moment of reflection amid the noise, energy, and enticing aromas of church and firehouse cuisine. To someone, the Bible was that extra bit of unwanted, cheap, fair promotional junk. Although not a Bible-worshiper, the image left me just a little sad. Those weeks of intense preparation for my daughter’s presentation are brief compared to the decades I’ve spent trying unsuccessfully to cobble a teaching career out of the Bible. Sometimes symbolism can be cruel and ironic all at the same time.