Living with conflict: A duologue between Samuel and Jonathan

For lent and Easter 2022, I’m writing six duologues between Samuel and other people in the Bible, all on the theme of living with conflict. The prophet Samuel, now deceased, converses with a series of guests in paradise, reflecting on their past experiences and what it was to live with conflict. All posts in the series are listed here.

In this, the fifth scene, he meets Jonathan amongst a colonnade of marble pillars. Jonathan shares how Michelangelo’s David prompted him explore stories from other traditions and see echoes of his life in them.

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White wooden dove decoration on a wooden surface

Isaiah 11:1–9: The King of Peace (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Strictly speaking, the reading for today is Isaiah 11:1–3a;4a;6–9.

When I looked at this passage, the thing that stayed with me most was the concept of a hendiadys. Literally meaning “one from two,” a hendiadys is where a single thought is expressed in two words joined with “and”. 

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Background picture of pebbles with the words: A liturgy for the forgiveness of bloodguilt (based on Psalm 51) | Faith in Grey Places

A liturgy for the forgiveness of bloodguilt (based on Psalm 51)

It so happens that the revised common lectionary puts readings from Psalm 51 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17 on the same day. It’s year C, on the 19th Sunday in ordinary time.

In each of them, the authors reflect on their bloodguilt – the guilt of shedding innocent blood.

Below I’ve written a liturgy that congregations can use to pray for forgiveness of any guilt they may bear for shedding blood. First, I’ll give a little context.

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“You are a priest forever— the kind of priest Melchizedek was.” King David, Psalm 110:4

Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 6: Saviour

Above all, Tolkien has a fascination with names for their own sake that will probably seem excessive to anyone whose favorite light reading is not the first book of Chronicles.

Robert M Adams

This quote comes from a 1977 review of The Silmarillion shortly after it was first publishedThe book prequels The Lord of the Rings. 

I learned about the quote from my best friend. She said she had been reminded of me.

Touché. 

Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 6: Saviour
“All kings will bow down to him; all nations will serve him. For he will rescue the needy when they cry out for help.” King Solomon, Psalm 72:11-12

Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 3: Justice

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

Grantland Rice, sports commentator

There’s a day in the Bible that gets call the ‘day of judgement.’ It’s described in various ways: something long-awaited, vindicating, something that ends long-standing injustice.

But it’s not described as joyful or even good. If anything, it’s described as terrible. 

As I’ve said before, prophecy is a complex genre. The ‘day of judgement’ can be interpreted in a number of ways – many place it as a past event. 

That said, many Christians believe, myself included, that there is one ultimate judgement day yet to come, when God calls all wrongdoing to account. We don’t fear it, but we ask how to live as the day approaches. (Though it could be centuries yet.) 

For some Christians, this creates a desire to “be on the right side” before time runs out. And I kind of agree. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all like to think that we’re right, good and loving. We all think we deserve to be on the winning team.

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“Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me” The LORD to King David, 2 Samuel 7:16

Christmas 2020: Week 5, Day 2: Accountability

Some of the things Jesus said were pretty uncomfortable. 

One of them was this: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29, see also Matthew 13:12)

As a Christian, I don’t want to dilute Jesus’s words. I believe he said them for a reason. I also trust that the gospels were written and compiled reliably enough. But sayings like this can make for awkward conversations – particularly with people who are fragile in their faith. 

And I don’t believe the words of Jesus should make us anxious. 

I come to this question: who were these words intended for?

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"You shall be a blessing, a source of great good to others." The LORD to Abram, Genesis 12:2

Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 3: Stories

In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the crew of the spaceship meet an alien race that values stories. (Prime Factors, season 1, episode 10.) The ship’s library of stories, and permission to tell them, was valued as highly as powerful transportation technology. 

I found this idea thought-provoking. 

Personal stories can be immensely precious, but they’re also vulnerable to appropriation – especially when it comes to identity and faith. And the church does not have a good track record here. 

In the millennia since Jesus was born, we have systematically stigmatised the Jewish people, and claimed their literature as our own. I’m not proud of this. That’s why when I write about the Bible, I try to distinguish between what the text says, and how Christians interpret it. I want to remember that this text is not mine; it was not written for me. 

And many Jews do not agree with how I interpret it. 

Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 2, Day 3: Stories
"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" King David, Psalm 22:1

Christmas 2020: Week 1, Day 3: Endurance

It’s funny how stories help us bear the unbearable.

A couple of years ago I watched a Danish crime-thriller series called ‘Department Q.’ Based on a series of books, it was about two police officers who investigate cold cases. Fair warning: these stories are very grim and violent!

The last episode, A Conspiracy of Faith, was about a serial killer and extortionist tried to destroy devout believers’ faith. 

What struck me was how, despite his cruelty, despite his cunning, despite his having the upper hand, the police officers and their colleagues didn’t give up. Good people died, sustained serious injuries, or lost a loved one, but they all kept going. They didn’t hold back saying, “If we keep going, this might cost us even more.” 

I found it healing to see the police team’s determination, even in their weakness, to keep going until the killer was caught and stopped. 

Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 1, Day 3: Endurance