Friday, December 30, 2011

After a week on the web with my own site it became blazingly apparent it was time to fill a niche no one had noticed before: there were no awards granted for Bible verses. There are still not any awards for Bible verses in the sense that particular verses or passages are voted on and receive honors such as, “Best Pauline Verse Dealing With Justification,” “Best Jesus Parable Concerned With Agricultural Motifs,” “Best Miracle: Multiplication of Food Category” – those are coming – but there are now awards which are granted to people, events or groups in which the award is a Bible verse or verses. These verses are assigned to a category to help explain or make sense of people, events, or achievements which took place in the year 2011 and to place them in biblical context.

These awards are given out according to my memory of events in 2011 – I forget a lot now and so major happenings could indeed be missing – and the crying need for a biblical perspective to explain, make sense of, and understand the human condition. They are also awards which reward good behavior and events and draw attention to bad behavior, one with an award which shouts out “well done my good and faithful servant” and the other which cries out at the top of its biblical lungs “repent!” Because the entertainment industry honors more people more often for more reasons and in more categories than any other field,  I am inevitably drawn to call these awards “Scriptars,” in an homage to the grandest award of all, the Oscars,  and because it incorporates most of the word Scripture.

These are the ten Scriptars to be granted this year:

1.       The No Longer Two But One Flesh Scriptar: Matthew 19:5-6: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The first Scriptar is awarded to Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries. I do not watch “reality” television – America’s Next Top Model excepted – and so I do not know if these crazy kids were lusting after each other, attempting to create a ratings bonanza, or hoping (or pretending) to be in love. As Jesus indicates in Matthew, you need to take marriage seriously. If this is not something you are interested in, I encourage you to take Zsa Zsa Gabor’s advice: “Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.”  You need to hang in there more than 72 days, right kids?

2.       It is not for you to know the times or periods Scriptar: Acts 1:6-7: “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.’”

The second Scriptar goes to Harold Camping and I almost feel bad about giving it to him, since he has probably had as much as he can take, but then again, why does he feel the need to predict the end of the world? Predicting the end of the world has riled up Christians for a couple of millennia, so you would think that we might be ready to get over it. Being a frail old man does not give you the right to confuse your followers, having them drop out of school and sell their possessions, and amuse the masses, to the point that Christianity becomes an institution worthy of mockery. I ask Camping and all those who are rousing themselves to predict a new date for the end of the world to read these verses every day.

3.       In return for all the joy that we feel Scriptar: 1 Thessalonians 3:9: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?”

How do you give a Bible verse to the man who has memorized all of them? The third Scriptar is for Tim Tebow. He annoys, irritates and bugs people because of his faith, and those are just the Christians.  I have to admit that his type of  Christian witnessing grates on me, but it is hard not to acknowledge what a fine young man he is and how hard he is working at being a fine young man. When I stand back from my supposedly mature critical irony, I must accept that he creates a lot of joy, even for me, with his earnestness and pure love of playing football. And since there is more joy in heaven, does he not reveal a little slice of heaven? But just a little slice: how is it that someone with those big, muscular arms cannot throw a ball down the field on a consistent basis? That’s why there is more joy in heaven: I am quite sure all the passes are on target in heaven.

4.       Esteem them very highly in love Scriptar: 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-13: “But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

I received a Christmas letter a few days ago from Larry and Shannon Hurtado only to find out that Larry was now Professor Emeritus at University of Edinburgh! How could this be!? He is old enough to retire? Larry, author of One God, One Lord and Lord Jesus Christ, amongst many other books, has been one of the outstanding New Testament scholars of the past 30 years, devout, devoted and dedicated, and, as doctoral students and newly minted PhDs knew, he was an outstanding mentor, willing to give his time, knowledge, insight and energy to help young scholars get jobs and get established. I esteem him most highly as a scholar, and because he aided me in putting together grant proposals and applying for jobs, but even more because he admonished me once as a young man to get my life together when it was chaotic. This is always a risk to friendships, but he was willing to take this risk because some things are a lot more important than scholarship. The fourth Scriptar goes to Larry Hurtado, whom I am certain will continue to write excellent books and articles and give lectures the world over.

5.        I have fought the good fight Scriptar: 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The fifth Scriptar goes to Alan Segal, long time professor at Barnard College and the Ingeborg Rennert Professor of Jewish Studies when he retired, who died on February 13, 2011. Alan Segal was a terrific scholar, funny, incisive and smart, and he was one of a number of Jewish scholars of the late 2oth and early 21st centuries who were working on the New Testament texts and Judaism, amongst whom I would include Adele Reinhartz and Amy Jill Levine, and bringing them to life in new and fresh ways.  Amongst his excellent books were Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World Paul the Convert: The Apostasy and Apostolate of Saul of Tarsus and Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religions. I last saw him and heard him speak when we hosted him at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, MN for the Year of St. Paul lecture series in 2009. I had the honor of introducing him and his talk was challenging, funny and enlightening.  He will be missed by biblical scholars, but much more by his family and friends.

6.       If you do what is wrong, you should be afraid Scriptar: Romans 13:4: “But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!”

There were many significant moral questions which arose this year with respect to the continued use of the death penalty in the USA and, in a related way, with the execution of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. I believe it is time to stop using the death penalty and while I have no sympathy for bin Laden and his deeds, I also took no joy in celebrating his death. However we feel about the government’s actions, though, Paul is correct, “if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid.” The sixth Scriptar goes to Osama bin Laden.  And to all of those who would consider following in his steps in 2012: be afraid, be very afraid. Or better yet, Repent!

7.       Be on your guard against all kinds of greed Scriptar: Luke 12: 15: “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”

Occupy Wall Street placed a focus on the moral weaknesses of capitalism, a political system which seemed to have escaped unscathed after the fall of the Iron Curtain, only to begin to stumble if not collapse under the weight of greed. There are worse miscreants than others in the system, bankers, stockbrokers, and institutional investors who care little for jobs and employees and only for the bottom line, and they do receive the seventh Scriptar, but all of us who fight with greed need to know that we could receive this award at any time.

8.       Do not despise one of these little ones Scriptar: Matthew 18:10: “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Caylee Anthony died in 2008, but her mother was put on trial and acquitted of her death in 2011. Caylee’s name became known to most of us in 2011. Caylee is one of too many children who are abused, neglected and harmed every year.  Our great task as adults is to care for those more vulnerable, trusting, weak and in need of protection from abuse and harm. The eighth Scriptar is given to the memory of Caylee Anthony and all those children, known and unknown, who suffered last year from abuse and neglect. May they find solace and comfort in the coming year and all the years and never know abuse again.  

9.       They would search for God Scriptar: Acts 17: 26-27: “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

Christopher Hitchens was a fierce critic of Christianity, even the much beloved Mother Theresa, and a declared atheist. I truly liked Hitchens’ writing, which I found fierce and honest, and though I disagreed with him on the most fundamental of issues, whether God exists, I like to think that he is a worthy recipient of the “they would search for God ” Scriptar. In his writing he kept Christians honest here on earth and showed to me that he was perhaps groping for him and hoping to find him with his unrelenting prose. I think God will make certain his honesty is divine in the afterlife.

10.   We told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution Scriptar: Philippians 3:4: “In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know.”

The New Testament especially is full of passages detailing the reality of persecution, but this passage from Philippians was chosen since it seems to accept the inevitability of it for Christians. This final Scriptar goes to all of those Christians persecuted in various places throughout the world,  but also to all those people persecuted for reasons of birth, gender, religion or sexual identity anywhere in the world. The constant reality of persecution and suffering does not mean we should ever lessen our support to aid and comfort those who suffer and to do all we can as individuals and nations to make certain persecution comes to an end.

These are the awards for this year, but I would certainly appreciate other nominees whom I might have overlooked.  There could be new categories added to the awards for next year and those suggestions would also be welcomed.

 John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens


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