Saturday, August 21, 2010

Holly Sharp's Art

Holly Sharp's paintings are now featured with both the written and audio versions of the poem "And It Was Good". WooHoo!

Thanks Holly for being the first.

Adam & Eve Audio!

Now the entire Adam & Eve Saga is available in audio!

Dramatic readings complete with sound effects and musical score.
Stream or Download them all:

*"And It Was Good" has Holly Sharpe's visual art embedded in it, which is why it is only available as download.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Ask? by Nancy Jarosi

And Phillip said, "Why did you ask us the question when you already knew what you would do?"

Jesus said, "Think about it. I asked the question so you would be part of figuring out the answer. First you used logic, but discovered it is too costly to buy bread for all of these. We don't have the money. Then you saw impossibility. There is a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish. What is that among so many? Then you saw possibility when I said, 'Make the men sit down.' You believed.

"I asked the question so you would be a part of finding the answer."

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Boy Would Understand, by Chad Johns

Jesus mopped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. The day was warm and he was tired from healing so many. They just didn't get it. He hadn't come to fix all of their problems. He had come to show them the reign of God, to show them how to join with him in bringing it to life. His gifts were meant to empower them, to inspire them to become givers.

Yet they were so young. Like their ancestors, every gift led to a demand for more. Why couldn't they see?

Jesus groaned as he saw the multitude crest the hill. Here they come again. . . . Finish the story!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Free or Reduced Lunch, by Kellye Schroeder

Outings with a large group of kids is not always easy, but as a teacher, its something you have to do. Do I have them all? Where are the lunches? Are they safe?

These thoughts all ran through my mind as we became consumed in the crowd waiting to hear more from this man Jesus. The kids don't really know who He is or get his role in their community, but they don't really need to in their minds. He's interesting and unknown so they're intrigued--especially Michael. Meeting Jesus was all he talked about and as I did a quick head count, I realized he was gone . . . Finish the story!


I remember Jesse Schroeder by his smile--humungous, almost giddy. But that was not the only thing physically memorable about him. At first glance, I was immediately struck with physique envy. Jesse is built like Superman, which is what made his grin so oxymoronic. Most buff guys look mean. It's like they all got together and decided they couldn't smile in any picture anymore. I really shouldn't stereotype because 3 of the gentlest guys I know look like action heroes. Jesse reminded me.

Jesse participated in our inaugural Stories that Compost workshop. Toward the end of June, he wrote me with most exciting news. He had gone home to share the experience and practice retelling stories with his emergent village cohort in Columbus, OH. I so wish more of those who participated would follow suit (hint-hint, clue-clue!).

They read the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 10 and John 6, asked the three questions we use in our workshop to unpack a story and then rewrote the story and shared. He passed along some of the retellings that came out of the experience.

I'll share a different one each week for the next few weeks. Hopefully by then, I'll have more to share from some more of you (HINT-HINT, CLUE-CLUE!).

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Events—Episode 3

(from Genesis 3—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of
"A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Event - Episode 3"
complete with sound effects and musical score!

"The woman you gave me made me do it!" the man blamed God and the woman.
"But—" God sought to interject.
"Be a man! You could have said no!" the woman retorted.
"Still—" Elohim tried to get a word in.
"Besides, that snake tricked me!" the woman passed the blame.
"Enough!" God commanded their attention. "You both were wrong. And as you can see, it's already begun to cost you. Look at yourselves. You're running from me. Me. I'm the one who loves you no matter what. 'You shall die' wasn't 'I'm going to kill you.' And listen to yourselves. Blaming. Resenting. That can't seem right."

Then Elohim turned his attention, "Don't go slithering off, deceitful one . . . Finish the story!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Events—Episode 2

(from Genesis 3—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of "A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Event - Episode 2" complete with sound effects and musical score!

What a great image, attempting to sew fig leaves together to hide one's shame. Like the leaf of any tree, once stripped from its branch, fig leaves eventually become dry and brittle and crack and crumble into uselessness. Still, maybe it's human nature to try to hide, even defend, our foolishness.

And that's what the woman and the man continued to do in deed and in word. They must have asked themselves over and over again, "Why? What were we trying to accomplish?" Somehow the answer seemed so lame, so insufficient after the fact. How very much they had risked. The things they did all day. Unbelievable. The new things they discovered every day. The good, hard work and the delirious thoughts they would think and inventions they would come across—creation. It was the most amazing thing, to every day continue the creation that God had started. It was hard work, but good work. This was their true life’s work. They both knew it.

It was agonizing. The thinking. The mulling over everything in their minds. "What if I had just walked away?" the woman must have asked herself. "What if I had just said no" the man must have thought. "What were we thinking?" The waiting must have been agonizing as well. "Of course someone is going to say something, not the least of which, God. What will he say?" As many times as they told themselves that today would be no different, that nothing had changed, that the world was the same—waiting there on the rock, as the sun rolled away from them, a pain stabbed their eyes and they could not catch their breath—and they knew the truth—it was they who had changed. "We need to get our story straight? Maybe we should come right out and tell him. Yeah, that would be best. Honesty. Yeah."

But the resolve to be entirely forthright must not have had enough time to set in, because before he realized what he was doing, the man was up and running. "He’s coming!" . . . Finish the story!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Events—Episode 1

(from Genesis 3—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of "A Series of Graciously Unfortunate Event - Episode 1" complete with sound effects and musical score!

So even if we come of age and no longer insist that our early creation stories are scientific or historical accounts about specific individuals and particular incidents, they still remain quite useful in helping us find ourselves. In that regard, they are invaluable. Take for example the third story in the Genesis saga, the one about the man, the woman and the talking snake. I've never heard an animal talk and don't have to believe that they did at one time to imagine that a story about a talking snake has something important to say to me. Again, we don't have to make the Bible something that it's not to recognize its value.

With that in mind . . . Finish the story!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Being Human

(from Genesis 2—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of "Being Human" complete with sound effects and musical score!

In the second version of the creation myth from Genesis, instead of both being created at the same time, man is created first without woman. The story goes that once Elohim had made man, he said to him, "Now that you're here, we have planted this garden for you, called Eden. It is your home. 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'"

Now, this may sound strange at first . . . Finish the story!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Too

(in reference to Genesis 1 & 2—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of "Why Too" complete with sound effects and musical score!

Did you know there are two creation stories in the Bible? Really, there are! The first is the creation poem with which most are familiar: "In the beginning... God said ,'Let there be... in our image...' and it was good." The other starts by covering the same ground in a much shorter fashion that offers a distinctly different rationale for why and when things came into being. The second creation story begins:

"In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flows out of Eden to water the garden."

Some might say, "That discrepancy right there proves the Bible isn't worth the paper it's printed on . . . Finish the story!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Forget Me Nots

(based on Genesis 2—a story of creation)

Download a dramatic reading of "Forget Me Nots" complete with sound effects and musical score!

"Finish telling us about the beginning of things, Grandpa!"

"All right, honey. Everybody, gather around. Yes, yes, you there and you and you. Now, where were we? Oh, yes, I remember. We had come to the end of the sixth day."

"Did it actually take seven whole days for God to make the world?"

"Honey, no one knows. We weren't there. I imagine God could have just as easily done it in one day or a million, as in seven. All I know is that seven is how my grandfather told the story to me, and he said it was the same story his grandfather told him, so it's the story I pass on to you. There are some very important things to learn from that first week . . . Finish the story!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

"Gay Dogs... Don't Listen," by Sarah Durant

This is part allegory, part midrash, part conversation concerning the story of Lot on the eve of Sodom's destruction. Thank you Sarah for the story of your sister's dog.

"I Shall Ascend Above the Clouds..." by Ray Atkins

This is less midrash and more a brief telling of the story of Babel (targum). Thanks Ray for your eyes.

"Is God Mean?" by Tim Seitz

Tim Seitz, a wonderfully creative yet meek soul, offered this beautifully simple window into the subversive nature of God, as seen through a paradoxical understanding of the flood. Doesn't scripture say something about using the simple to confound the wise.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I Hear Dead People, by Mike Stavlund

Thanks to Mike for offering this heart-rending meditation on the individual cost of our corporate malfeasance.

Mike blogs here about participating and creating in our Stories that Compost workshop. He chose this art by Jon White to illustrate his thoughts.

A Brief Exchange

Here was my contribution to our communal exploration of Exodus 1. Like I said, barely 7 lines. (However, I did in talking to Brian McLaren later that day discover why writing is such a labor for me, as much as I enjoy it. It seems that extroverts struggle to write because writing is such a solitary--introverted--process. Extroverts by nature find collaborative processes easier to engage in. Go figure.)

"I can't submit," Pharaoh resolved.
"Ramses, you must," Moses pleaded.
"I can't."
"Why, my brother; why?"
"Because I killed all those babies. I keep thinking about their little bodies lying at the bottom of the river to become food for crocodiles."
"Elohim is the morning star. She does not hold you hostage to your yesterdays, but with the rising of the sun extends to you new mercies."
"It's not that. I can accept that I knew no better. But there are those who did. How come they did nothing? I cannot submit to a god who would do nothing."

All in the Family, by Mark van Steenwick [for ages 15&up]

This is a contemporary midrash inspired by the fact that Moses' people were an immigrant people who had fallen out of favor with the dominant culture, simply because of a fear of what their increasing numbers might portend. Because of language and content, it is for maturer audiences (15&up).

With Child

Here is a story inspired by the Moses story, but re-contextualizes it to address more contemporary concerns.

I would desperately love to know the name of the women who composed this. All I remember is that she was caring for a baby of a different ethnic heritage than herself, which led me to believe her story was deeply personal.

Survivor's Guilt [for ages 12&up]

Here is another piece for which I again cannot make full attribution. All I know is that it was composed by Dave. Thanks, Dave (please send me your last name when you have the chance).

Update: Dave finally contacted me (6/11/10) to let me know his last name is Huth. He's a communication professor in western NY state and can be found online at

Beloved Conspiracy

I place these wonderfully conspiratorial pieces together because they seem two insightful parts of the same whole.

The haiku (the 2nd audio) was composed by Cathy Norman. I do not have a name for the first author. If anyone remembers her name, please forward it to me.

Update: We now know the first story was composed by Nancy Jarosi!

Census, by Glenn Zuber

True to form, I started recording late when Glenn stepped to the mic to share his story. I count on Glen's graciousness to send me a complete copy of his story. Until then, I am haunted by his last line. Speaking of Pharaoh, Glenn said,

"...When he saw the strength and numbers of the Israelites, he saw a competitor, a threat, instead of people who added to his kingdom."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"What About Our Needs?" by Russell Rathbun

With the inaugural Stories that Compost workshop (transFORM East Coast Gathering, 1 May 2010), I began to collect midrash on the biblical episodes I've been re-telling. The workshop was an amazing success thanks to Russell Rathbun, the co-facilitator, and the participation of nearly 30 intrepid souls, several of whom got up in the moment to tell their stories!

One of the most memorable moments for me was witnessing the reaction to Russell's declaration that the Bible's wonderful stories of faith--though useful, formative and important--are not precious. The astonishment which quickly melted into relief is a mental snapshot I shall never forget. Russell then assured everyone that, try as we might, we cannot break the Bible, which set everyone free to explore.

Then Russell read an excerpt from his new book Midrash on the Juanitos to help us understand the rich tradition of Judeo-Christian midrash in scripture:

"Idiot John continued... 'The rabbis, when they read, walk into the text. They bring themselves to it and step across the edge of the scroll onto its body, bouncing a little, believing it will hold their weight. And then on hands and knees crawl through the furrows of words, examining, brushing away dirt, not unlike a botanist examining growth patterns and evidence of the soil's mineral content, water content and whether there is deep clay below the cracks in the soil from which the words emerged. It is the cracks, the gaps, that allow them a way in. The Midrash is the exploration of the gaps. Stories and parables, proverbs and legal case studies come from mining these gaps. The text is changed by their having been there. There are footprints left behind, indentations, great hollowed out places and covered over, smoothed out portions. The tents of opposing camps are set in the text side by side. Conclusions leaned up against refutations, some decaying, some flourishing. Having once been a oral wisdom that required a speaker--and what is an individual speaker if not a unique interpreter--the text was not allowed to pass into stone, to become hardened, but was kept alive and fertile, even malleable. But with deep and unknown roots.'

My head hurt. 'What the hell are you talking about? Did you memorize that? Or do you just love your own metaphorical meanderings?'"

With that, we set to work on our own midrash based on Exodus 1. I completed perhaps 7 lines. However, in the same 7 minutes Russell composed this wonderfully incisive piece of flash fiction, full of his customarily eloquent mix of wry humor and critical analysis. In all the best ways I envy my brotha, and thank GOD for his company in this adventure.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pentecost, A Poet's Tale

(from Acts 1 and 2—a story of incarnation)

"What in the world is going on? I've never participated in a Shavuot ("Festival of Weeks," a holiday commemorating the grain harvest and the teachings of Moses given at Sinai) so full of energy."
"I know. Isn't it great? It's as if God were about to give the Torah (teachings) to us all over again."
"I imagine this is exactly how it felt at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses presented the Torah to the people for the first time. There had to be such a sense of promise. For the first time our people had tangible ways to practice being God's shalom (peace and good will) in the world."

"Isn't that Peter, the follower of Jesus, up there speaking?"
"It sure is!"
"Isn't he an uneducated Galilean fisher? Isn't his native tongue Aramaic? Where did he learn to speak Greek so eloquently?"
"Greek? What do you mean? That's the finest Leshon HaKodesh ("The Holy Tongue," Hebrew) I've ever heard. And to think that he'd be so bold as to use it for such a public occasion is magnificent! Praise Elohim!"
"What are you two talking about? I know both Greek and Hebrew. What you are hearing is Arabic, the language of the eastern scholars."
"What?" . . . Finish the story!

The Pursuit of Respectability—Episode 2

(from Ezra, Nehemiah and Isaiah 56—a story of inauguration)

One would think that the vehement exclusion of one group—foreigners—for the sake of increased respectability would be enough, but as is often the case with this kind of thing, respectability is seldom satisfied with the exclusion of just one group of 'outsiders.' To do it once is to become addicted. It didn't take long before the ever more respectable Israelite insiders had compiled for themselves a growing list of outsiders to pick on: foreigners, Israelites married to people of foreign descent, the children of mixed marriages (all of whom coincidentally were longtime residents of the land these returnees from Babylon were trying to reclaim) had to go; those without land, women, children born out of wedlock, eunuchs (sexual minorities), weren't banished but were afforded few or no political rights. Only the most respectable could have full rights in the temple assembly. Only they could retain God's favor. At least that's what Nehemiah, Ezra and those most like them had come to believe.

Not everyone agreed . . . Finish the story!

The Pursuit of Respectability—Episode 1

(from Ezra, Nehemiah and Isaiah 56—a story of inauguration)

With the completion of the wall around Israel's capital city, Jerusalem, there arose a wave of national pride. It had only taken fifty-two days of focused effort. The repatriated exiles, the returnees from Babylon, were excited about being recognizable as a nation again, no longer the conquered and displaced people whose gentry had been carried off into bondage and whose peasants had been left to eek out subsistence on the surrounding lands. And as is often the case, as the returning gentry felt better about themselves, they also felt better about how God felt about them. The possibility of God's renewed pride for Israel was exhilarating. Had he not already extended his favor by allowing them to return and restore the temple and the city walls?

Though the total city had not been rebuilt, the 3 most important symbols of a promising future had been. The first was the temple, a symbol of God's abiding presence. Now the walls and gates. Walls and gates are symbols of a nation's self-determination. Like the walls of your bedroom which define the space you call "yours" and the door to your bedroom which limits access (even if it stays open all the time), Israel's walls and gates said, "This is our city, and we decide who gets in." Gates and walls also give a nation the ability protect itself as necessary. And wasn't that what God wanted? Wasn't that why he had allowed them to return: to redefine themselves and to protect that renewed vision?

That is exactly what Nehemiah, former cup-bearer to the king of Persia appointed governor of Israel, and Ezra, former scribe to the king of Persia commissioned as high priest, believed. Once the physical walls that defined who Israel was as a nation were complete, these two men believed it was time to erect by analogy the cultural walls that would help define the restored Israel further. After 70 years in exile, who were they? They were the people of God's favor, were they not? Okay, but what does in mean to be the "people of God's favor"?

What does God favor? . . . Finish the story!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everything Costs Something

(from Exodus 4—a story of liberation)

If you've ever heard the story of Moses, you may have gotten the idea that all the confusion in Moses' life happened before the burning bush, and that after the burning bush, everything was pretty straight forward: Moses goes home, tells his family what he has to do, packs his bags, goes to Egypt and gets the job done. There may have been some struggle along the way—some things Moses had to contend with—but Moses is often depicted as a man crystal clear as to his purpose and mission. However, that was not the case, as Aaron likely learned a few nights later when he met up with his brother's family at Mt. Sinai while they journeyed toward Egypt.

"So what did Zipporah say when you told her?" Aaron inquired upon sharing his own story and hearing of his younger brother's remarkable encounter with God.
"She was all for it—until she found out what it would cost."
"What do you mean?"
"After Jethro, Zipporah's father, gave us his blessing, we spent the rest of the day preparing for the journey and left the following morning, early. We kept a good pace. As desert dwellers, Zipporah's people know how to travel. By the end of the day, Geshom, our son, was very tired. We made camp, set a fire, and Zipporah and the child laid down. As I stayed awake and prayed, the Lord spoke to me and said I must circumcise my son here at the outset of our pilgrimage, even as Abraham did, as an act of faith and covenant.

"The next morning I told Zipporah what the Lord had asked of us. To my astonishment, she flatly refused. 'You will not cut my son! That is not a custom among my people. It may be something mothers among your people allow, but I will not. And if you try to make me, I'll go back to my father and leave you to return to Egypt by yourself.'
. . . Finish the story!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Making of Job—Episode 2

(from Job 2—a framing story)

Well, Lucifer was undone. He thought for sure that the compounding tragedy, one awful hit after the other, would be enough to devastate Job to the point that he would curse God and prove Lucifer right. "Surely loyalty cannot survive such great loss," he thought to himself. But as awful as things had gotten for Job—and things were awful, there is no way to gloss over that or to minimize it—Job was not destroyed. And what that meant for Lucifer was . . . Finish the story!

The Making of Job—Episode 1

(from Job 1—a framing story)

There is an ancient allegory—perhaps the oldest story in the Bible—which explores the epic struggle between good and bad and humanity's efforts to tell the difference. Like any cherished old story, this story shaped the way those who told it understood the world around them. In fact, there are those who even believe that this story may hold the secret to help us properly value all other Bible stories. Let's tell it and see.

The story goes that one day God called a general assembly of all the sons and daughters of God. This assembly involved hearing reports of generative activities throughout the universe. Reports came in from all over. When it came time to hear the report from Earth, most members of the assembly expected only silence. It had been a long time since the assembly members had heard from her. Her guardian had long since turn his back on the assembly. As had become the custom, when Earth's name was called the guardians of the universe instinctively bowed their heads to whisper a blessing for her, when all of a sudden, the doors to the great chamber where the daughters and sons of God had gathered flew open and in strode Lucifer, the lost Guardian of Earth . . . Finish the story!