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‘The Bible in the Public Square: Reading the Signs of the Times’ by Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Ellen Bradshaw Aitken, and Jonathan A. Draper, editors

This book has all the joys and all the frustrations of any collection of edited readings. It’s an exploration of Richard Horsley’s “empire” ideas with respect to scripture, as applied to the life of the church and the country in – generally – the Bush administration. There are 15 essays, so the reader can identify and go read more of the writers who appeal – and, similarly, feel no special requirement even to wade past the first few pages of the writers who don’t. Very peaceful.

The essays are perhaps more discursive than one might find in a journal, and it’s wonderful to hear what Warren Carter or Neil Elliot or Norman Gottwald is thinking and reading. I had to buy three more books after finishing this book (had to!), and I might have to buy a few more. I need me some more of that good Norman Gottwald stuff.

As a biblical storyteller, I find myself wishing again and again that I could tell stories to some of these scholars, that I could unsettle some of this textiness. Because I’m not a scholar myself, I can read a book like this to inform what stories I study, tell and teach – and how I tell them.


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Shoulder-Deep in the Late Bronze Age

Spring has arrived in Bloomington and this Saturday Jennie Kiffmeyer and I will present our workshop Shepherd, Dancer, Poet, King – Teaching and Telling the Stories of King David at a diocesan conference in Indianapolis. We have worked hard, thought hard  and entered deeply into the story – and I am looking forward to sharing it.

Then I have a telling coming up for some girl scouts, and then Holy Week and Easter, which is a kind of embodied storytelling in itself. I will be telling the first Creation story at the Easter Vigil. And then Eliot and I go to the Netherlands for three or four weeks – he has business there and has graciously invited me to go along.

There is nothing going on in my head except King David, Saul, Samuel, Abigail, Hannah, and so forth. The story is so big it’s like a magnet, pulling reality towards and into the story. I can’t find closure for this pathetic little script of a post except to say that I am shoulder-deep in the Late Bronze Age.

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A wild, rainy day in December…

…with the wind wuthering around the house. I’m preparing a program on the history of Christmas carols for a gig on the fourth Sunday of Advent at a retirement home here in Bloomington, and I have been considering the folly of attempting such a program ten blocks or so from the Jacobs School of Music at IU. How many retired music professors will I have among my listeners? Best not to worry. Maybe they will be polite to the storyteller.

The church where I worship is preparing to give a group reading of my Nicholas stories on December 20 and I am immersed in that project – as an organizer, not a teller. Right now I am working on collecting six brooms. (We used to do it with two brooms, but we’ve expanded the janitorial staff. )  The program begins by claiming the performance space – a meeting room at the library – with a Christmas Sweeping Poem. I’ll put that up over on the same page as the script, later today. Not much to do today but stay indoors and hone the perfection of various web sites.

Actually, there might be one or two other things to do, and I’ll go do some. Eat breakfast, for instance.


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A fast-moving month…

Bingo! September’s gone!

Not really, but it feels that way. I am on the Building Committee at our church, which turns out to be a disturbingly big commitment that eats time in sizeable chunks. Oh, but it’s fun, though. And I am working on our new welcome brochure, exposing hitherto unexplored and vast areas of technical ignorance. Baba Yaga is overfunctioning, but this is a September tradition. Also n October tradition.

I had a wonderful time telling stories for the WELCA group at Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Louisville, Kentucky on Monday, September 8. WELCA, for those who don’t speak Lutheran, is Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was deeply moving to watch how they took care of each other – understanding and tending one another’s weaknesses without making a big deal out of it. And they took care of mine, too – came over to New Albany to fetch me because I wouldn’t drive in Louisville, put me up for the night – the program chaiman slept in her spare room so I could have her bed – took me out to breakfast – gave me jewelry, carried my suitcase. It was like being surrounded by Jesus. I’d go there again if I had to crawl on my hands and knees.

Did I mention they took me out for breakfast?

I’m reading Holly Hearon’s The Mary Magdalene Tradition: Witness and Counter-Witness in Early Christian Communities. What an astonishing book – and beautifully written, too. She’s a Biblical scholar with a storyteller’s heart, I think. I had been putting off buyoing it because she’s so young (compared to, say, Walter Brueggemann) but you know, I am coming right up on my 60th birthday which means a bunch of smart, creative, productive people are younger than I am.

Some of them are even my children.

Go figure.

I want to tell you about the cake at the WELCA telling. The church had had a reception the day before, so fo the collation following the meeting/telling there was a generous supply of cake. At cleanup, there was still quite a lot of cake – which was packed carefully and taken away by five or six women, for destinations where it might be appreciated. Quiet voices in the kitchen. “You’ll take some of this to XXX, won’t you?” “Could ZZZ use this for the children?” Again, no big deal was made. Just diaconal ministry at work.

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What am I doing this for, anyway?

When I started thinking of myself as a storyteller, there were two approaches to the role that I saw in use around me. There are professional storytellers, people like Tracy Radosevic and Dan LeMonnier who make a living from telling and travel all over the country to tell. Then there are people whose professional roles can expand to include storytelling – teachers, librarians, pastors.

It seems like I fall between these approaches. I don’t have an existing role that can expand to include storytelling – and although I approach storytelling with a professional level of commitment and energy, I really don’t want the kind of career that Dan and Tracy have.

Also, our children are grown up and we live just fine on our existing income. I don’t need the minuscule extra income that storytelling provides. Still – other performing artists say that, if I say I’ll work for free, people will assume I’m terrible. Also, if I don’t have any income, the IRS will cease believing that I’m a business – I do have income from editing, but it comes & goes; this year it has mostly gone.

I have been brooding about this for a while and spent some prayer time about it last week. What I’ve decided is to donate all my storytelling earnings for the rest of this year to organizations working towards the UN Millennium Development Goals. And since making that decision, I’ve gotten two gigs! I’ve changed my web site to reflect this policy. So – we’ll see where this takes the project. Right now, it feels good!


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The Best Thing Out of Lambeth So Far –

I have spent way too much time this last week reading blogs and news reports out of the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion’s every-ten-year convocation of all of its bishops. This wonderful picture is from Sunday’s Eucharist – click on it to see a bigger version. These Malaysian Christians, singing and dancing and playing shakers and panpipes, have brought forward the Gospel book in a miniature canoe decorated with flowers. Every time I look at this I feel a surge of joy!

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On Providing a Refuge from Secular Modernism

Secular modernism is the cultural frame in which much of my life, and yours, takes place. I get my medical care there. My husband works inside that frame – also my son and son-in-law. Secular modernism delivers to me this fine fruit-flavored computer I am using, and resources to do the kind of study and thought I like to do. It causes groceries to arrive at the supermarket where I shop and provides useful ant, flea, tick and spider control products. And so forth.
But there’s much more to humanity – things that don’t fit very well into the frame of secular modernism. Storytelling comes to mind – also art, music, and the life of faith community. And anyone with a modest knowledge of twentieth-century history knows that secular modernism has had significant and terrible failures.
As I’ve traveled around this summer I keep stumbling into places that invite children to step outside the cultural frame of secular modernism. I didn’t start out looking for these! Continue reading

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