Where Could I Go but to the Lord?

The Ghent Altarpiece

I have a hard time staying off religion. To me it’s like bad food or television. I know I shouldn’t indulge, but I frequently do. While at times I can delude myself into thinking that I’m a rational human being, the minute the car starts to make weird noises I can be found chanting some improperly remembered snippet of superstitious incantation. The cliche is that there are no atheists in fox holes. I break long before getting shot at. My version would be closer to, “There are no atheists who have to pee really badly.”

It’s not just the superstition part of religion that I like. I like conviction too. Sometimes I’m amazed that in 2017 people are still fighting over religion. Then I see some neo-pagans banging drums and howling at the moon and I, like all my Catholic ancestors, think, “I should take their land.” I mean, some of the modern pagans have really nice houses and tons of swag. What are they using them for? They want to be close to nature, let’s help them divorce themselves from the hedonism of modern living. They can have the forests if I can have their in-ground swimming pools.

I often find myself pondering religious questions. I frequently ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” Usually when buying things like toothpaste (Answer: Crest in the normal tube. Not the stupid tube that stands up on its own. Jesus would hate the new tube). I spend a lot of time constructing metaphysics, thinking about religious books and asking questions about other religions.

Anyway, another part of religion I can’t stay away from is the Bible. I read it for the pictures. Here are some of my favorite pieces of scripture:

Selections From the Hebrew Scriptures

Adam Rats Out Eve (Genesis 3:8–12)

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, 
because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of 
which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

My Exegesis

There are two interesting points to be made about these verses. The first is that, contrary to what one would think, Adam did not have sex with Eve the minute she was created. How do we know? The fact that they haven’t had sex can be deduced. Eve is the only woman on Earth. If Adam had already had sex, do you think he would rat her out like this? God might kill her and that would mean he would NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN. If he knew what sex was, Adam would be lying in this story.

The second interesting point is that the anthropomorphized Yahwistic Da Da is walking around the Garden naked. The scripture doesn’t say he’s naked but it does make clear that God has to invent clothes for Adam and Eve out of animal skins as part of the consequences of the fall. Furthermore, If God wasn’t walking around in the buff, Adam could have said, “Well, I figured out I was naked because I ain’t wearing any clothes like YOU.” By careful study of scripture it appears that God in his early Avatars didn’t opt for clothes. He was the first nudist.

God Goes Japanese (Exodus 3:1–5)

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest 
of Mid’ian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and 
came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the 
midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was 
not consumed.
And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush 
is not burnt.”
When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of 
the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.”
Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for 
the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

My Exegesis

Why does God make Moses take his shoes off? Seems pretty clear from the text. God thinks those shoes are DIRTY. God won’t even talk to Moses before he gets those nasty shoes off his feet. God can’t bear to watch those sandals defile his holy ground. Why, I wonder, do we in the West not have the dirty foot obsession that many Asian cultures do? Shouldn’t we be taking off our shoes in churches and cemeteries? If you want to listen to God, shouldn’t you take your shoes off in preparation? If he shows up in response to your prayer, the place you are praying is instantly holy and we know he has a hard time not being distracted by THOSE NASTY SHOES in his holy places.

The Popeye Quote (Exodus 3:13–15)

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

My Exegesis

Moses is asking for a lot here. The ancients had what’s called a “realistic view of language,” which means that they believed that the name of a thing was intimately connected to the essence, or “being”, of the object. That’s why there is no word for “bear” in the Indo-European mother tongue. All the words for “bear” are taboo surrogates. Most mean things like “brown one”. You don’t actually want to say “bear” because naming the four hundred pound animal with teeth and claws may make one show up.

Somewhat paradoxically, being able to name creatures has also been thought to confer a kind of dominion over the creature by the namer. That’s why Adam is given the task of naming all the creatures of the Earth and why the earth opens to swallow Rumplestilskin when his name is uttered. It’s also why you’re not supposed to write out “God” unless you are a blasphemer like myself.

So Moses asks a pretty heavy duty question when he asks, “What’s your name.” God responds like Popeye. Now I’m no biblical scholar, but I would say that the last verse looks suspiciously like a little priestly addition. I suspect someone might have cracked the book and said, “Let’s just add a line of what the Lord would have said if he realized how much fun the Philistines will make of us if we go around praying to a god named ‘I AM’.”

God Slaps Down Job (Job 38:1–7)

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

My Exegesis

The story of Job in a nutshell is this: Job is perfect and upright before the Lord. Satan and God get into a contest of what it will take for Job to forsake God, so Job is beset by horrible afflictions until he finally breaks. He questions God and, essentially, asks “why do the just suffer?” Above is God’s answer, which is, more or less, “you don’t get to question me because I am God.”

God bases his authority on his superior knowledge and experience. Job doesn’t get to question God because God knows more and has done more than Job. IS MY SON READING THIS? WHY IS THIS NEVER THE SCRIPTURE READING THE TWO DAYS A YEAR THAT I DRAG MY KID TO CHURCH? And, by the way, why doesn’t Job roll his eyes and say, “you’re such an asshole.”?

Selections From the Christian Scriptures

The Beloved Footrace (John 20:1–9)

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

My Exegesis

The Gospel of John is concerned about getting across the importance of the “beloved disciple” who may or may not be the Apostle John. In the early Church there were several different “communities”; the Petrine, Johannine, and Pauline being the most important to the development of the Christian cannon. So here we have the author of the Gospel of John wanting to make sure that the members of the Johannine church know that the “beloved disciple” was faster than Peter.

Peter lost the footrace.

It’s mentioned twice.

There is understanding the ministry and preaching of Jesus, and there is the ability to run fast. If you are a slowpoke like me, don’t delude yourself. Being able to run fast matters.

Chez Jesus (John 21:5–12)

Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.
He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea.
But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

My Exegesis

Jesus gets a bad rap nowadays. If you read the Gospels one thing that comes through pretty clear is that Jesus was a nice guy. He’s the kind of guy that even after being crucified and rising from the dead doesn’t forget that his friends need breakfast.

If you have any friends with “WWJD” on their cars, you should ask them, “Where’s my breakfast?”

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