Friday
Sep222006

« Of Bibles And Belting »

I find I like school, and I also find that it is stupid of me to find ways to be distracted so that I am not able to attend each semester. If it were not a matter of economics, I'd go. I just dig the feeling of enriching myself, even at the general-ed community college level where I operate now. I took ten years off from '93-'03 as I sorted my world out and started to find myself some. But since then I have not been able to just charge through the stuff one semester after another. But when I am there and doing whatever class, I feel alive.

This semester I have three classes that I actually like. Aside from the math classes early on, I've not taken any classes that were just total bummers, though I have dropped a few classes for various reasons. But this time around, the classes all have something very alive about them for me now.

In order to try to put an end to my oft-repeated refrain of "I'm not a singer" I am taking the beginning voice class so that maybe I can at least do a better job of the mechanics of singing. The teacher is quite a fun character who obviously knows it takes a lot to get wannabe singers out of their shells. So he gives us a loose and recreational approach to opening up to the dreadful task of singing in public. Just today I did a first run on a song that I have to present properly in a week. I actually did okay. I memorized it earlier than everyone else, and didn't clam too hard. I was actually pretty good on the intonation, but he had some comments about breathing and using a fuller voice. I did better than others did in many cases. If I can't get a day gig doing real work, I could at least fall back on singing some Shakespearean English songs! One thing I've found is that my voice likes to be wide open. After trying to emulate pop singers of various eras, and others who sing with that clinched-jaw technique, it's no surprise that I top out on notes and choke them off. Maybe I can be on my way to finding my songwriter voice finally.

The other two classes are related to each other and are already turning out to be handy in deepening my knowledge of the Bible. Back to back, I have the Old Testament class and the New Testament class. Of course, as the disclaimer goes, this is not a theology class. It is a humanities class, a history class, a literature class. But for me the time is right to take a better look at this book. Sure, some of it has rubbed off nicely from Kelli's exposure to it and all sorts of material surrounding it while at seminary. That is what really got me interested. Obviously it has resonated with people for a few thousand years now, and I finally found that there were things in it that mattered to me. What I feel the need to do is learn more about how it all is organized, and how it fits into history. When I look at the things that matter to me now, there is some precedent for it in the Bible, if not being originally from the Bible.

My Old Testament teacher is a veteran of teaching this material. She brings a distinct voice from the 60's-70's feminist movement, and often reminds us to simply look at the text and try to find the statements that have done so much harm to women over the years. When stripped of corrupt theology, some key parts of Genesis just don't seem to be so loaded. She apparently took Hebrew and can translate things on the fly to some degree, which helps remind us that there is no one correct translation from a language of limited vocabulary into a language that has almost unlimited vocabulary. While not a class on theology, one can't help but be drawn into the discussion on what one phrase means when interpreted either literally or abstractly—the theology shifts radically with the turn of just an article, or a suffix or prefix. It's remarkable. Things like this I have already been introduced to by Jerry at my church, but this is the first time when I will encounter these things as a student who needs to get a grade and therefore needs to pay attention and hone in on such subtleties.

The New Testament class is taught by a young man of 26 who is already pushing toward his PhD. This is his first teaching gig. He looks (by his own admission) like he should be in high school, but he has a very comprehensive and polished teaching presence, and he knows his shit. Again, I've been exposed to the language and some examples of this approach to learning the Bible as a work of literature or history. I've been exposed to its context, but have never had to learn it too well. Like many people, the theology came first, and its something to overcome the gaps in knowledge of its history and the history it conveys. I've never been around a community of people who take it literally, so this class is not going to blow my mind open and make me cry "blasphemy!!!" or anything. It will give me more depth when I read the Bible and have to figure out the nuts and bolts of why one statement contradicts another, or why Revelation seems like such nonsense to me, especially when presented by religious nutjobs today.

In an age when people want to take a look at the Bible with a closed mind and only have it validate their closemindedness, I'd like to go the other way. The Bible is actually a radical book through and through. The fact that it is bandied about so carelessly in circles of power show how greatly misunderstood it is. My chief interest in the Bible is how it reminds us that no oppression lasts forever. Themes recur but there will always be something deeper, something larger that puts a boundary around evil, injustice, hatred, and fear. In that regard, the Bible is far from out of date. We still need it. We still need to understand that anything we can possibly encounter now with regards to the timeless parts of the human condition have already been acted out by others, several thousand years ago. There are many things that have not changed since then. In Jesus' time, people looked for a way to escape the crushing Roman empire. Today, people still have to cope with empires/power run amok. One thing that Americans need to realize now is that WE are Rome. The liberating power of the Bible does not seem to work in the US now because we are essentially what it so often railed against—empire, oppressor, power, the system, etc. But not all Americans are at that level. The hallmark of an empire is that it will consume itself to grow just a little more. And so it is, I believe, that America will do the same, just so it can eke out the last bit of wealth from the poorest people, inside and out of its borders. Americans need the Bible, for sure, but not for the reasons that some think. We don't need it to put pro-choice people in their place, or to condemn people who don't support the imperial wars-for-profit. We need it to remind us to be humans with compassion and love. We need it to be reminded of the fragility of community if it allows some to have disproportionate shares compared to others, and to let that system run amok until it literally kills people. Oh, we need the Bible. We need it to remind us that corporations are not the gods we make them out to be. Nothing has changed since Jesus' time except our ability to work at a world wide scale, and to bring more misery to more people and places in a way that would give Herod or Pilate a hard on that even Viagra could not give!

If globalization was as efficient and successful in moving around the world the finest qualities of what the Bible teaches, then the world would be a better place. But as such, it does not. So we remain under the boots of men of outlandish power and wealth robbed from the poor, and in a world of environmental degredation because the sabbath year was not honored (the intentional interval that is meant to let the land rest from being worked and abused). Instead, the Bible is used (still) to justify the worst we can do to one another. Sad.

For now, you can just know that I look forward to my classes this semester. My main reason for leaving school in 1993 was that I had no clue on how to connect the things I was learning to what I wanted to do in life. Now I have moved a long way toward figuring that out, and these days, class makes a lot more sense.

This post brought to you under the influence of Samuel Barber, as played by the St. Louis symphony orchestra.

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