Archives for the month of: June, 2012

I watched the Pixar film, Cars again recently. I love cheeky kids’ films. It’s one genre in which characters are created to be endearing. Sometimes the level of transformation that takes place within 93 minutes is a little too incredulous, but at least you know something happened in the main characters.

What struck me this time through was the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson. Acrimonious to start, it naturally turns into a winning mentorship at the end. But that got me thinking–how often do youngish people get into a similar situation? For kids the lesson could translate to ‘don’t blow off older teachers.’ Yet there was certainly a message for adults, assuming that one has opportunity to connect with an other in a different age bracket. I’m thinking of those who work in an office setting (or similar), where what you’re doing today takes precedence over what you did yesterday. Congratulations, you won employee of the quarter! Now what are you going to do to earn it again next quarter? Or, how will you stay in the sights of the Big Boss? Past triumphs tend to fade in comparison to when we crash and burn. It’s no wonder that Doc hid his victory cups, or that he kept a reminder of his great crash.

When my uncle was in the hospital a few years ago, he hold me about a past episode in his life that caused a world of pain for a few people. I had heard something about this once before from another family member. But to hear my uncle recount it, undertones of guilt still pulsing, was like visiting a dusty cabinet of his heart’s curiosity shop: sad, and a bit unpleasant. I was amazed that he had held on to that memento long enough to share it with his youngest niece. Sitting with him in that place was far from a lesson in what (not) to do; it was a strange honor, a moment to listen and say under my breath, you’re forgiven in Jesus’ name.

As a young person, I hear a lot of messages about how to avoid pitfalls, traps and severe crashes. A lot of energy goes into any and all avoidance tactics. But I’ve already screwed up on a few occasions, and I probably will again. So, what do I do with it? When does it make sense to share a great crash? When is it better to share a victory cup?

The apostle, Paul, seemed to share both with equal emotion. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Gal 4.13-14) Perhaps that’s the way to do it: victory in one hand, defeat in the other, both held loosely. I don’t know how to do that just yet, but I know some folks who do.

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Let’s talk about bilingual code switching..

In Hebrew class this spring, we studied the book of Daniel–well, some of it. The middle section of the text came to us in Aramaic. Now, when I say ‘text’ I’m referring to what we have in the Hebrew and Protestant Scriptures, handed down from a group of scholars, the Masoretes. As a beginning Hebrew student, my relationship with these guys is complicated. They gave us vowel pointers which is good, but also made reading rather difficult in other ways. Challenges aside, I found that decoding Daniel was actually interesting and even got excited about some of the implications for today.

For example, the narratives that make up the first six chapters are stories of what God does for his people, beginning with delivering them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. This won’t necessarily come as a surprise once you’ve read 1Kings, especially the part about King Manasseh. In verse one of chapter one, God gave Jerusalem to the Babylonians (a complicated statement embroiled in betrayal, threats and punishment), then in verse 17, God gives wisdom, insight and knowledge to four young Israelites bound for the royal court. It’s an interesting parallel: seeds of redemption are sown in Daniel and his friends just as Yahweh appears to have sealed the destruction of the Israelites. Life from the ashes of death.

Then in chapter two, it switches from Hebrew to Aramaic, the lingua franca of the time. This part fascinates me, especially since I don’t fully understand it. One scholar, Portier-Young, brought contemporary sociolinguistic study on bilingual speakers into the discussion. Additionally, power and empire studies relate here, as well. The narratives were (most likely) written at a time when the Israelites had recently lost their temple and, essentially, their identity. While it would seem to make more sense for the whole text to be in Hebrew, it’s possible that the narrative vignettes about Daniel and his friends in the royal court were intended to be shared with whomever would listen. Anyone in the empire could hear about the power of Yahweh to deliver (his) servants. Talk about a testimony!

What about the rest of the Hebrew text? Chapter seven begins the sequence of visions and revelations, which were possibly written at a later time, using the Daniel character who, back in chapter one, was given insight into visions and dreams. (If that sounds sacrilegious, think about how many writers there were for the X-men films, based on the comic books and the time lapse between the two forms. The beauty of narrative is how meaning compounds when characters are resuscitated). Back to Daniel, the vision is recounted first in Aramaic, then in Hebrew (chapter eight), the first code switch. Visions in and of themselves are coded language, so we get the impression that narrative is no longer a ‘safe’ genre. Whatever encouragement the authors are intending for the Jewish people must be veiled.

The part of the story that caught my attention most revolved around the verb “to stand.” Daniel stands before two powers: earthly (Nebuchadnezzar) and heavenly (the holy messenger). In the face of earthly powers, Daniel stands with God-given knowledge, insight and wisdom. In the face of heavenly powers, Daniel falls and must be strengthened by the holy messenger, and is told to “stand in [his] standing place.” This contrast, simple as it is, teaches us something about where to look for our source of strength, how to stand before kings and rulers, courts and nations. For many of us raised in an American church, it’s nearly impossible to understand the place of the powerless. Yet, I think we’re learning to at least listen to the stories of those made to feel like second-class (or worse). Daniel is one such story that can remind us that life is not all victory all the time. That coming out on top is not the norm. My prayer is that Daniel can become a text today as it perhaps once was that crosses cultures, societies and languages, for the purpose of proclaiming what good things God will do.