Saturday, December 15, 2007


His Holiness Pope Shenuda III
Head of the Egyptian Coptic Church

"How amazing that sin cost Jonah both money and effort; he paid the fare for the journey to accomplish his sin. As for grace, we obtain it free. It is amazing that we toil for our own hurt, expending money and effort. Perhaps it would have been a blessing to Jonah if he had not the money at the time to help him travel and disobey. When Jonah paid the fare of the ship, he suffered a double loss. He lost his money, his obedience and purity of heart." On Jonah H H Shenuda III

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We Want The Way Easy

"Arm-plug" by Philip Straub

We live in an "instant" culture where everything is expected to be easy, fast, and convenient. The more we have the more we expect. In a never ending cycle we are over-stimulated and over-whelmed with facts figures and fantasies. A teacher of mine, the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman, used to say that in the late 20th century, "Data was a form of substance abuse."

What does this have to do with Jonah? The part of the story that everyone remembers is that Jonah is swallowed by a fish/whale. Why? Why did God do this? Why three days? Someone has said that the smelly interior of the fish was Jonah's "timeout room". Time out -- a place to pull yourself together and prepare to take your act on the road. If you never knew that you had a problem (namely yourself) repentance and amendment of life couldn't take place. It is only when Jonah is up to his neck in seaweed and fish juice that he "gets it".

God created human beings radically free. He wants us to mature. Maturity comes by facing challenge not by plugging into some instant relief. So life is a laboratory and we do not have to get it right every time but we do have to keep trying. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, "it's about progress not perfection". We will not get it right every time but how quickly can we recover and continue on the way. Such leads to maturity if we are willing to learn from our experience. Such learning can lead to wisdom.

Nuke'em God

"Reckoning Day" Philip Straub

Jonah didn't want Nineveh to repent. In fact he wanted God to destroy the place and indeed the Assyrians had it coming. When he finally arrived on God's errand to preach destruction to the capital of the Assyrian Empire he went a day's journey into the city saying, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" I assume that he retreated in like fashion thus spending two days gleefully (I suspect) breaking the good news to the Assyrians. On every corner he memorized the buildings imagining their condition in just over a month. Just how God would accomplish this destruction had not been revealed but fire would be good. Imaging the palaces, temples and grand homes in flames with the very people responsible for the torching of countless homes and cities in the Ancient Near East fleeing in panic was delicious. But it all was not to be.

Those guilty as sin Assyrians repented, would you believe it? They escaped like cockroaches under a door. For the first time in record a prophet of YHWH was totally successful and Jonah was not pleased with with his sucess. He would have been much happier with Nineveh being Nuked. Fortunately, the God of Israel is not like Jonah.

Medieval Exegesis

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Scholars of the Middle Ages saw Scripture in a four layered interpretation. The four senses of scripture it is sometimes called. Saint Thomas developed this way of interpretation to a high art. Of late I find that I am going back to the Church Fathers to learn how they handled scripture. Why? Because I find the two extremes in the Church at present to be unsatisfying and frankly barren. Jonah is a good example. A good literalist would bog down in a discussion as to the type of whale that could have swallowed Jonah (the text clearly has it as a great fish) with speculation of how one could live in the innards of a sea creature and so forth. On the other end the historical critical method would simply say that the entire book had no historical basis and could safely be dismissed as irrelevant. A pox on both their schools.

Check the link above for an excellent short presentation on another way of looking at, learning from and taking nourishment thereof the Holy Scripture. JWS

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Prophet Ynus

Mosque of the Prophet Jonah -- Al Mawsil, Iraq

Jonah is found not only in the Bible but also in the Koran. It is interesting to compare. Check this link to a Muslim education site that tells the story of the prophet Ynus (as Jonah is known in Arabic).

The three religions of the book who mark Abraham as their spiritual father and remember the same stories as instructional must now graple with what that means. This is not new territory for Christians and Jews. In America we have lived together for a very long time. The history of the two is not one to be proud. Christians have behaved badly. Now the third point makes a triangle. This is a new experience for Christians to relate to Muslims at least in Memphis. There is a lot of ignorance to go around. We do have some stories in common. That is a place to start. It does not mean that the faiths are interchangeable. They are not, anymore than Judaism is with Christianity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Table Fellowship

Icon of Jonah Story

Jonah is one of the stories that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common. I found a fascinating conversation about Jonah in the three traditions. Check it out. It is a bit dense but is a good example of table conversation and study which is a great tradition common to all three religions of the book.