Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Genesis 22 is all about the time that God tested Abraham, who prepared to sacrifice Isaac — even though Isaac was the only son he had by that time. I wrote more about that story (and the theological debates that surround it) in my letter to Abraham as part of the previous series.
Continue reading Genesis 22:15–18: The Day to Live (a poem)
This is the first in a new series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Continue reading Genesis 3:8–19: The Wind in the Orchard (a poem)
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Joseph.
Joseph had a very eventful life. It’s the subject of Genesis 41–50. Although his brothers sold him as a slave, he ended up in Egypt and rose to power just in time to manage a famine. He reconciled with his brothers and then his whole family came to live in Egypt. When Jacob/Israel died, Joseph led a large entourage to bury him with his wife, father and grandfather. Curiously, Joseph didn’t ask for the same thing when he died. Well, not in the same way: he asked for his bones to be taken back to Canaan when God came to his people.
And that’s what I focus on in this letter.
Continue reading The witness of the body: a letter to Joseph
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Jacob.
This letter focusses mainly on the end of Jacob’s life.
Continue reading Our heart’s desire: a letter to Jacob
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Isaac.
Continue reading Last(ing) words: a letter to Isaac
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Abraham and in particular the part of his story where he very nearly sacrifices Isaac. The story is in Genesis 22, though Genesis 18:1–15 and Genesis 21:1–7 provide context.
Jews refer to the (non-)sacrifice of Isaac as the “Akedah.” Some of what I write in this post draws on a book by scholar Aaron Koller: Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought (2020: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).
Continue reading The truth of worship: a letter to Abraham
This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Sarah. Her story is broken up and intersects with those of her husband, Abraham, and her slave Hagar. You can find the relevant passages in Genesis 12:10–20, Genesis 16, Genesis 17:15–22, Genesis 18:1–15, Genesis 20, Genesis 21:1–21.
Sarah’s not exactly a comfortable story—both in terms of how Abraham treated her and how she treated Hagar. Nevertheless, Sarah’s story and her identity as a mother figure was of huge importance in Jewish thought and we can see this in New Testament writings.
Continue reading The story never told: a letter to Sarah
This is the fourth in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Abram (later renamed Abraham) looking at the events of Genesis chapters 12–15. I will write another letter to Abraham in a couple of weeks.
I’ll be honest, I have many unanswered questions when it comes to Abraham. And part of me wonders if that’s the point: he wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was just that there were moments in his life when—for whatever reason—he was able to recognise the voice of God for what it was.
Continue reading What do you make of your younger self? A letter to Abram
This is the third in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Noah. The story of him and of his ark is in Genesis 5:28–9:17.
By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.Hebrews 11:7 (NET)
Your story certainly captures the imagination. I grew up with sing-along stories and songs about you, the ark, the animals and all that rain. My choir was actually on TV once singing “Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo” by Michael Flanders and Joseph Horowitz. But since then, it seems many of us have grown tired of hearing the flood spoken of like a children’s story.
Continue reading Commission, courage and completion: a letter to Noah
This is the second in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Enoch. His story is in Genesis 5:18-24. Note that this Enoch was descended through Seth and was the seventh generation (Adam being the first) recorded in the book of Genesis. He’s not to be confused with Enoch son of Cain!
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.Hebrews 11:5 (NIV)
Sorry, but we didn’t talk about you in Sunday School. Or church. Or our Bible study group. In fact, most of what I know about you, I learned from Wikipedia.
Or rather, I learned about the idea of you and the ideas people have attributed to you over the ages.
Continue reading The hidden life: a letter to Enoch
So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.Hebrews 12:1 (NET)
Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring the “cloud of witnesses” listed in Hebrews 11. The author of the book of Hebrews was looking to encourage Christians in the early church not to lose faith or hope. The author looks back to the Old Testament scriptures and starts naming a number of people who walked by faith, but did not receive the fullness of what they hoped for. I say “starts naming” because we only get half-way through the judges before the author writes about all the names they don’t have time to write about!
Continue reading Faith, offering and voice: a letter to Abel
“Family is the first community you know.”
I was listening to a British Asian woman speak about her experience of living in the UK. Her parents and grandparents had made a huge effort to settle in the UK. It hadn’t been easy and she felt a weight of responsibility not to disappoint them – especially in the life choices she made. Her family was, after all, the first community she had known.
I find the idea of family so hard to reckon with at times. Who is family? What is family? When do we see family happening?
Children can be unjustly burdened by the expectations and demands of their parents. But children can also unmake or misuse the hard-won rights their parents fought for. When I ask what family really should be, I don’t like the idea of blanket obedience, but I can’t shake off regarding elders with respect.
Continue reading Christmas 2020: Week 4, Day 3: Family
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