Archive for November, 2008

Just Too Cool…

Posted: November 21, 2008 in church, music lyrics

You’ve gotta love a church that is willing to do this.

This video was used as a introduction at a youth retreat. Could you imagine? I bet they got the kid’s attention.

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I’ve been blogging about different things lately and have gotten away from finishing my series of reviews concerning The Voice: New Testament. We’ve covered the look and feel of it and the gospels, so today we’ll conclude with the epistles etc…

My friend, Chris Seay, retells the Pauline epistles and I think they are very well done. As folks take a look at The Voice, the first thing they do is look to “troubling” passages — passages dealing with woman and homosexuality mainly. Once you purchase your copy of The Voice, you can check out the text you find most interesting, but I have found that the epistles attempt to be true to the language and intent of the author while realizing that The Voice is geared to an emerging generation. All that to say this: Those looking for accuracy concerning difficult text will find it. Those looking for sensitivity (one of the core values of The Voice) will find that as well.

Outside of difficult texts, I’ve was overjoyed to find personally meaningful text like the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 and heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 to be fresh while retaining much of the NRSV pacing and rhythm — the poetry! In addition, it is in the epistles that the notes included within The Voice are the most helpful. Without being obtrusive, the notes offer a ton of important background information without feeling like someone is draining the joy out of your reading. Those new to the scriptures will get some advanced training in these notes.

Conclusion:

I have started to use The Voice — not for my personal study — but for teaching. Audiences have found it fresh and accurate. What I like most about The Voice is that it offers something for everyone regardless of familiarity with the Biblical text. Advanced students will be refreshed, newbies will get a beautiful, poetic read of the teachings of Jesus and those in between will be enlivened by a accurate, articulate perspective of things they thought they always knew.

The Non-Writing Life

Posted: November 18, 2008 in church, family, home, life, prayer, preaching, speaking

I’m not dead!! If you were beginning to worry where I’ve been, I want you to know that the Grim Reaper hasn’t yet caught up to me. I’m still alive and kicking. The reason for my blogosphere absence is because (1) I haven’t had time recently to post, (2) I haven’t had anything to post, and (3) I think Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook” is so powerful that I wanted people who haven’t read it to get a chance to — folks typically only read the top post. I know the essay/letter is long, but if you haven’t read it, you should.

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While I’ve been away, my wife, Rochelle, and I have spent a lot of time talking and trying to discern where God is leading our family. For a while now we’ve been feeling the pull to expand what we do, and now we feel both pulled and pushed. Therefore, we ask that you join us in prayer about the move of God and the Palmer family.

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I’ve been talking with a wonderful literary agent about writing a book shaped around the idea of the radical reconciliation preached and proclaimed by both Jesus and Paul. What do you guys think? Is it worth my waking at 4:00 a.m. for 6-12 months to hammer that out? If so, what areas of reconciliation should we explore? Here’s my beginning list: Race, gender, religions, and race again. What would you add? E-mail me or leave a comment.

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This past weekend I was out speaking at the Redwood Church in Redwood City, CA. They are a wonderful congregation, geared to loving and serving their neighbors. If you’re ever in that part of the country stop by and visit them. And tell them Sean sent you by.

Well, since we have been surveying African-American literature this week, I thought I would post James Baldwin’s My Dungeon Shook. Baldwin penned this letter to his nephew — also named James — on the occasion of America’s 100th birthday. This piece is beautiful, with some of the most poignant phrases in all of literature. 

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Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!” but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven’t made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fifteen years ago; and though your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me you were a big baby, I was not here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate’ ” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine-but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your uncle,

James

Now that we’ve reviewed the look of The Voice: New Testament we turn to examining how The Voice handles the gospels.

Let’s begin with what I like about the way the gospels were handled. First, Chris’ choice regarding who would best retell each gospel was genius. Lauren Winner penned Matthew, which is fitting given that she is Jewish. Greg Garret retells Mark, Brian McLaren retells Luke, and later Acts, of course, and Chris Seay takes on John’s gospel. It should be said at the outset that the gospels, neither in older versions of the Bible or this one, was written by one person. And having people retell gospels that somewhat reflect their authors biography and interest adds significantly to the depth of the project.

As you read through The Voice you will notice words in both italics and in boxes. These words are explanatory. For instance, as Lauren retells Matthew 5, she highlights that Jesus is referencing material found in Deuteronomy. I love the fact that this note is not tucked away in a bottom footnote. Rather she has incorporated it into the text. This is not “Bible Reading For Dummies,” rather the writers take seriously the addition of material that the originally audience would have known that 21st Century readers don’t.

Second, the gospel narratives are told in screenplay (or play) form. As a high school student, I loved reading plays because it seemed like I could more easily enter the written world, and it seemed like the reading went faster. As I read through the gospels I noticed that I had not sat down and read through the gospels in that manner in years. Though I knew the story, it was coming alive again for me. What’s more, in the screenplay format, staging directions are given, like (everyone talking at once) or (overhearing them). I truly felt like I was watching something unfold. It wasn’t unlike watching one of your favorite movies; you know the story and what’s coming, but you’re just drawn into the story because it’s told so well.

Unfortunately, the screenplay format makes it difficult to use The Voice with an audience if there is no Keynote or PowerPoint available. As you read the gospels to people, you have to come up with a way to explain who is talking, because the text doesn’t do that. There’s no, “Then Jesus said…” It can be used with an audience, I do it every week, but you have to be created. If you teach a weekly Bible study, I suggest you just buy one for everyone in attendance.

Before you call me a corporate shell for The Voice, I want to highlight one BIG thing I do not like about it. Here it is: Baptism is called “Ritual Cleansing.” Here I show my church of Christ heritage and Restoration Movement bias. In the footnotes, ritual cleansing is referred to as baptism, but I think that baptism is such a meaningful and beautiful image that it should have been retained.

As a contributor to the project, I know that there are some things that are “decided” in terms of language. I suspect that is what happened here because the term is used consistently throughout the gospels. For instance, in Old Testament references to God, we were asked to use “The Eternal One.” These changes are made for many different reasons, and to coddle Sean Palmer’s sentimental regard for the word “baptism” certainly wasn’t one of them. However, the term “ritual cleansing” makes baptism sound more pedestrian and effectual that I believe it is.

In total, the gospels are wonderful, particularly Matthew. And while much of the advertising around The Voice is about emerging generations and new Christians as a young man, but old Christian I found that the gospels inspired in me a desire to re-enter this timeless story.

P.S. If you would like to order a copy of The Voice e-mail me and I will add you to my bulk order. You’ll pay a seriously reduced price plus whatever it cost me to mail it to you wherever you are.

The good people at Thomas Nelson have asked this blog and 99 others to review The Voice: New Testament. I informed them that I was a part of the project, and they said that was OK. So, here we go.

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I’m holding in my hand – actually it’s sitting on my desk – a new copy of The Voice: New Testament. The Voice brings together some of the best contemporary Christian writers in an

New Testament Cloth/Leather Version

The Voice: New Testament Cloth/Leather Version

 attempt to tell the story of scripture. The Voice attempts to be a “fresh retelling” for a “new generation.”

Let’s peel back the cover and see if the writer’s and editor’s goals were indeed met.

Let’s begin with the look of it. The Voice constructs for itself four primary goals. It seeks to be “holistic, beautiful, sensitive and balanced.” I think they hit the nail on the head in terms of beauty. Bible publishers have gone through a great deal of trouble in recent years to make Bible visually appealing. There are Bibles that appeal to all sub-groups – men, woman, kids, teenagers, soldier’s, any and everyone. It is obvious that The Voice’s design is geared toward people who appreciate simple beauty. Both the cloth leather and the paperback boast simply covers that look both contemporary and durable. The one significant drawback to the cloth leather version are the words “The Voice: New Testament” etched across the front leather panel. Perhaps for most people this won’t be a problem for most people, but I have this quirck about my Bibles not looking like Bibles. Trust me, I’m not ashamed of the Bible, I’ve carried one in my backpack since I was 14, I just prefer Bible that don’t look like Bibles.

 

Hopefully in future editions, Thomas Nelson and Chris Seay will decide to go with an all leather version. I suspect that this will be dependent on sales. After all, The Voice is designed for young and new Christians who might hesitate at spending $40-$50 bucks for one testament. My NRSV Study Bible that I use for scholarly work and study cost $100, not many people are willing to pony-up that much. One of the pluses of the cloth-leather version is that the cloth feels extremely durable. This is a toss in the back-pack, throw in the laptop bag kind of Bible – great for traveling and a highly mobile generation.

New Testament Paperback Edition

The Voice: New Testament Paperback Edition

Beside the cover, the inside page are both tough and visually appealing. In fact, the look and feel of the pages is the very first thing people notice. So far, I’ve received comments ranging from “neat” to “beautiful.” Interestingly, women seem to love it. Todd Hunter told me that his wife hijacked his, and Jack Garland, a local attorney, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic professor told me, “My wife will love this.” However, it doesn’t have a “chick” feel, so don’t worry about that. Rather it has a beauty to it, which highlights, I think, the fact the pages themselves are part of telling a beautiful story.

In terms of the individual books of the New Testament, The Voice is fairly standard. Bypassing the early mistakes of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, The Voice does give both chapter and verse. In some case, in order to not interrupt continuous thoughts, verses are paired together. Fortunately, aesthetics don’t get in the way. The Voice makes it easy to find chapter and verse. Folks new to scripture will find this helpful when using The Voice in Bible studies.

You will not be disappointed in the look of The Voice. Next time, we’ll turn to a look at how the gospels are handled in The Voice.