April 2012


It’s no news or secret that some churches will not acknowledge that it’s the 21st century. From their subjugation of women in various ways to their attitudes toward people of different faiths (or no faith) or lifestyles to their refusal to use current technologies for meetings or for convenience and communication, one would think these congregations and denominational bodies were stuck in some earlier time.

A case in point is the controversy in some circles over contemporary Bible translations.  There seems to a flood of these lately. There’s the Common English Bible, the updated New International Version, and one I read about only today, The Voice (Thomas Nelson/Ecclesia Bible Society). The last named is apparently raising the ire of some of the “King James only” folks out there with its translation (not transliteration) of the Greek term “Christos” (“Anointed One”), so that the words “Jesus Christ” do not appear in The Voice. The translators make the point that “Christ” is a title, not Jesus’ last name, and so to avoid confusion, they have translated the term and at times expanded it to add “the Liberating King” in explanation, depending on the context. “Angel” is translated “messenger” and “apostle” appears as “emissary,” both completely accurate renderings, by the way. Explanatory notes appear in the body of the text, clearly marked, rather than in footnotes or in the margins.

Another feature of The Voice is the use of screenplay format to present dialogue, as in Matthew 15:  

Disciple: "It’s a ghost!"

Another Disciple: "A ghost? What will we do?"

Jesus: "Be still. It is I; you have nothing to fear."

The stated goal of the translation is to reach a new generation with a contextual equivalent translation, somewhere between word-for-word and a paraphrase. It recognizes that contemporary readers/hearers process ideas and information through complex observations involving emotions, thought, “tactile experiences, and spiritual awareness” (from the Preface to The Voice New Testament: Revised and Updated, Kindle edition http://www.amazon.com/The-Voice-New-Testament-Revised/dp/1418550760/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335532470&sr=1-1).

The Voice is clearly still an evangelical translation (apparent right away from its insistence on capitalizing any pronoun referring to Jesus or God, a practice which is not found in the Greek text, an alphabet certainly equipped with capital letters). It’s trying to make the Bible accessible and readable for folks who are not steeped in traditional biblical and theological language, as is increasingly the case in our culture. Yet some in the fundamentalist world still cling to their KJV as if it were sent down on high from God, whether people can understand it or not. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/the-voice-new-bible-translation_n_1435998.html?ref=religion and  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-piatt/taking-jesus-christ-out-of-the-bible_b_1452275.html for more.)

The Voice, from what little I’ve read in a sample on Amazon, is not for me.  I don’t even like the Common English Bible, which strikes me as too chatty. Sometimes I don’t care for my go-to text, the NRSV. But just because it’s not for me, and I won’t use in it in the pulpit, doesn’t mean The Voice or some other newer translation is bad or to be rejected. Bible translations/editions today are targeted at different demographics and intended for a variety of uses. Something ideally suited for personal devotional reading (such as The Voice or The Common English Bible or the Contemporary English Version) may not be appropriate for the more formal setting of worship in a liturgical church like mine. But any approach, any translation that gets people reading the Bible and helps them understand and take its message to heart is a good thing.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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It’s too late for this year, but if you’re looking for a good movie for reflection for Lent, get Changing Lanes (2002; R for language). Actually, it’s probably a pretty good choice for these Great 50 Days of Easter as well. Susan and I saw it recently when it came up on our Netflix queue.

On Good Friday, two men are rushing to court on the FDR freeway in New York City. One is Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), who must prove to the probate judge that the appointment of the board of a foundation was in accord with the wishes of its founder, recently deceased. He’s in a huge rush, and in his impatience and inattention, has a car accident with the other man, Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also stressed and inattentive. He is due in court to try to convince a judge to let him have dual custody of his sons with his estranged wife. His marriage has fallen apart due to his drinking, but he’s trying to get his life back together. That’s been very difficult, though, since as his AA sponsor says, Gibson is “addicted to chaos.”

In the aftermath of the accident, Banek leaves an important file—indeed, the file he needs to prove his case—on the highway. Gibson picks it up, after having been left stranded by Banek with a wrecked car. The lawyer must have the file back, and throughout the day, as he seeks to get it, a game of one-upsmanship pits the men against each other in an ever-escalating cycle of revenge and dire consequences.

The movie is the kind you can and must unpack for awhile. At the very least, it raises questions like: What does it cost to be a good person? What happens when good people are put in situations of extraordinary stress? How do we maintain our standards in the midst of tremendous temptation to abandon them? What happens when even those we love and trust betray us and/or urge us to do wrong? How do choices we make at the spur of the moment affect us for good or ill? How does our true character come out in times of distress?

As I said, the film’s action takes place on Good Friday, so another question worth considering is how the story meshes with the biblical narrative of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. For some insight into that, particularly check out the extended scene in the DVD extras in which Banek talks to a priest in the confessional.

The story ends on a kind of Holy Saturday note, that is, open-ended. I highly recommend Changing Lanes, especially if you like small, thought-provoking, character-driven movies.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.  

A couple of weeks ago I thought I had finally found a frame to fit a matted print of my former church in Montevallo, AL. I got the drawing at the congregation’s 110th anniversary celebration in 2006, but since then it’s been propped up on the top of a bookcase in my home office. Time to remedy that and display the wonderful picture properly!

The drawing is in charcoal or maybe pencil, black and white, matted in white, so I wanted a black frame. Not too plain, but not too fancy either. Finding something in that Goldilocks zone was proving impossible, for a reasonable price anyway. On a trip to a nearby town with a K-Mart, Susan and I stopped by that store and found what I thought was a good choice.

Boy, was I wrong! Even though the frame cost almost $14 (remember: this is K-Mart, so that’s a high price), the opening on the back was cut poorly and would not fit an 11 x 14 print as claimed. Also, the “glass” on the front turned out to be merely a plastic sheet!

I carefully prepared my “speech” to give to the cashier when I returned the defective product for credit, detailing what my expectations had been and what was wrong with the frame and how disappointed I was and how much trouble I had been caused to have to bring back the purchase all the way from Starkville. To my chagrin, the clerk didn’t even look at me, much less listen, as I began to rattle off my concerns. She just scanned the receipt and gave me my credit. No “I’m sorry for your trouble” or “Please shop with us again. We’ll try to do better” or “I’ll tell the management about this poor product.” It was as if she knew the stuff K-Mart was selling for a higher price than I expected was junk. And she didn’t care. She was there to give refunds. Period.

That young woman was not invested in the image of K-Mart. She offered me nothing extra (lagniappe, value added) like even an expression of concern that their product was so lousy. I didn’t even get a friendly smile. Consequently, though I rarely shop at K-Mart, I will definitely not do so again unless there is no other choice.

I criticize that refund clerk, but how many of us do any better in our work? We perform competently and show up on time. But really, isn’t that the minimum requirement for holding a position? Is there anything special we do for clients or customers that sets us apart as individuals and creates an impression of our firm as a notch above everyone else?

And what about on a Sunday when we attend worship or some other day, when we’re involved in mission? Are we particularly interested in showing hospitality to guests or to those we serve? Is there anything that sets our witness and welcome apart as particularly winsome and inviting or do we just sit and/or talk with the same people, wondering about a guest “who is that?” rather than introducing ourselves? Are we imaginative and creative in worship and welcome such or do we expect the same words and music and thoughts every week?

I learned a lesson from that disinterested K-Mart clerk. If I ever get into a rut or stop caring, I’ll remind myself of her and try to be someone distinctive, knowing that I represent One who cared so much he gave his very life.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

At least as early as the Friday before Palm Sunday, a church up the road from us posted John 11:25-26 on its sign. In that passage, Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life.”

While every Sunday in Lent is considered a “little Easter,” I was bothered by the timing of the message. The church is not a liturgical one, and thus does not observe Lent, but surely they would know something about Holy Week or at least Good Friday. Why would they rush to Easter in such a way, skipping over the crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus? I’m certain the preacher often spoke of how “Jesus died for our sins.”

Maybe the congregation was trying to offer a little hope in a world of constant war, economic uncertainty, joblessness, greed, violence, abuse, brokenness, hunger, and on and on. Do we really need one more instance of grief and suffering, namely the death of Jesus, to think about? And the church was right in its strategy insofar as the gospel word is never complete without the word of resurrection that reminds and assures us of the ultimate triumph of God over all the forces that deform and destroy human life.

But skipping over Good Friday, rushing to resurrection, does not help us in our suffering. Instead, we need to meditate on the terrible events of this day, because they remind us that God in Jesus Christ knows our troubles, has endured the worst oppressive governments and threatened religionists can do, and goes with us even to death. He has known loneliness and sorrow in the experience of betrayal and desertion by friends. He has even been subject to that ultimate suffering: godforsakenness, the sense that we are utterly alone with no one to help.

And Good Friday calls us to stand in solidarity with the suffering of our world just as Jesus did. It’s a summons to mission, to love as servants to our neighbors, to give of ourselves in sharing and sacrifice. Maybe when it comes down to it, that’s why someone might want to rush to Easter, with its bright and joyous message of victory and new life. Discipleship is not easy, and we obey One who, before he was exalted and sat down at the right hand of God, endured the cross and grave. He bids us daily take up our cross and follow him. 

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.