Monday, December 24, 2007

Bible Stuff

Friday night at dinner, a friend of mine was talking about Bible-related conflict at his job. I won't go into detail, but Bibles play a part in the business they conduct at this workplace. So this guy, Ervin, picked up one of the office Bibles and used it as a flat surface on which to write a note, and somebody got pissed. He shouldn't do that, he was told, because it's desecrating the Bible.

Ervin furrowed his brow and thought. How do you know it's desecrating the Bible? He asked. How do you know this Bible's not conferring special righteousness to this note I'm writing?

Later on he got yelled at for putting his coffee cup on a Bible, and his response was pretty much the same. The Bible is a holy document, he said. Maybe it's having a beneficial influence upon my coffee instead of being corrupted by it.

I was interested in his reasoning because of a speaker at a local church service I went to a few weeks ago. This speaker, Dr. Rocco Errico, has spent his life studying the language and culture of Jesus. He's done some translation from Biblical writings in Aramaic into English. Now, I'm not saying that I think Dr. Errico would think it's okay to use Bibles as coasters, but I think he does believe that the Bible as we know it is distorted from its original meaning.

Assuming that the Bibles in Ervin's office are the King James Version, can you really say they're the word of God? The folks who originally told those Biblical stories did not speak the Shakespearian English featured in the KJV. Jesus' people (none of whom were blond or blue-eyed) spoke Aramaic, and sometimes the act of translation is clumsy work. From Aramaic, Biblical writings were translated into Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and the KJV was translated from those languages. Think of it like this - if you photocopy a page and make a photocopy of that and photocopy the last one again, each time you wind up with a slightly more distorted reproduction of the original.

Take into account that the meaning of Biblical writings may have been distorted to begin with, then think about how hard it has become for speakers of English to understand the kind of English used in the KJV. When's the last time you heard somebody say, "My brother knew his wife and begat a son?"

I admire people who say they've read the Bible cover to cover, but at the same time I feel sorry for them because they spent so much time reading something they probably don't understand. Because it's so hard to understand, people wind up fabricating ideas about what's right and wrong according to the Bible. Like, they replace the commandment about "Thou Shalt Not Kill" with "Thou shalt not put cups of coffee on the Bible."
Photo: There's still some flowery color outside Deep Roots Market, even though we're well into hothouse poinsettia season.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Homage to Ridgeway Road

There have been moments this season when I wanted to defect to a Muslim country governed by Sharia law - anything to escape the onslaught of Christmas crapola.

Though I'm not exactly a sutras thumper, I am Buddhist in my religious practice. Yet I can't escape this Santa-loving Christmas culture I was raised in, both because of my family and because it's the dominant culture here.

Maybe I shouldn't exclusively blame the Christians, because Santa's not a Biblical figure. In fact, he smacks of paganism, which in my mind is mostly pretty cool except where he's concerned.

I loathe Santa-based Christmas activities. Every year when someone suggests organizing Secret Santa proceedings, I have to suppress the urge to go cross-eyed and clutch at the wall. And at the inevitable Dirty Santa parties, I need four or five extra drinks, and even then it's all I can do to hang on - being jolly is out of the question.

And now that I'm an adult, I don't groove on the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, because now I see it for what it always really was: a way to assuage the consciences of family members who gave you nothing but a hard time all year long. I hate the desperate feeling I get when trying to shop for people who I'm related to, because there's a 75 percent chance I'm going to get them something they don't want. Just because we're related doesn't mean we know each other well enough to buy for each other. There's always the gift card, but when retailers invented the gift card they really envisioned a gift for themselves. Inevitably, the receiver of this gift will have to overspend the value on the gift card, or not use the random number of cents left on it after a purchase. Yet it's considered gauche to just give money as a gift at Christmas.

There's that old saying "It's the thought that counts," which is supposed to make people feel better when they've struck out with gift giving and getting. It's not acceptable for adults to make each other construction paper cards with original poetry written inside - what's expected is that you spend money on useless merchandise to in order to prove that your thought counts. You must make a sacrifice to a retailer to prove you love someone else, even if you can't afford it and your gift is destined to be held up to others as an example of feeble, and to go under the tree at a Dirty Santa party next year.

There are a lot of other unreasonable expectations at Christmas. Like, you must leave your home and spend days traveling back and forth to the homes of others, and once you arrive there you must pretend to be festive no matter how tired you are from all the Christmas frenzy. If you don't feelings will be hurt. You will have committed sacrilege, and your relatives will commit suicide from the emotional wound you inflict. Jesus will weep and the Devil will rejoice.

There's one thing I love about Christmas, however. It's the Christmas light orb orgy that goes on in the neighborhood around Ridgeway Road between Friendly and Market. I believe that's the Sunset Hills neighborhood, but I'm not sure. If you haven't seen it, GO! It could pass for the second coming, or a mushroom-fueled hallucination. I really admire how all those neighbors got together to stage this thing. I respect how they're able to string those Christmas-light-wrapped chicken-wire globes so high up in the trees. And really, something like this light display is what we need this time of year. Many of us are settling in to the blues of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and of maxing out credit cards so others won't be able to tell how poor we are by our gift giving. The days are short, the nights are long, and the stress is high. What we really need is something amazing to make us feel wonder again, like we did in front of the Christmas tree as kids. The Ridgeway Road display makes me feel like that.
Forgive the non-seasonal picture. I took this photo of my neighbor's cat back before it got too cold for indoor plants to be outside.