The Church of Us vs. Them with David E. Fitch / Transcript

Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.


Intro

Hey, friends, welcome back. It's another week, we did it. I usually steer away from politics and any conversation like that, because it is so charged. And we're already talking about faith, I would rather not talk about two charged topics, but the guest at hand that you will hear in a moment, wrote a book that just intersects it too beautifully. And I think for those listening, I'm going to go ahead, and you don't know what day this is. But, you know, tomorrow will be September 5, and I'm gonna go ahead and send out David's book, to the level of Patreon supporters that get books, I think this book is fantastic. And I can't wait for you all to get it. And so if you are not a Patreon supporter, there's some big things happening there, click the button and do it appreciate every single…every, every, every single one of you there the adequate words, to express how true that is, this show continues to grow at a pace that blows my mind. And without y'all that's just not, it's just not a thing that could happen. You know, another thing that you could do, if you can't do that, because I know not everybody can is you could just click the button, you know, an in iTunes, your podcast app of choice. And you could just rate the show, type in a little comment there and say, you know, Seth is awful at this, or I really enjoyed this. Or you can say whatever you want. Just say something, I read those. And some of them I love, some of them made me laugh. Others I won’t to talk about. So one of my favorite songs, I listened to it frequently, quite frequently, actually, is from Gungor, and it's called us for them. And I love that play on words. And there is a lyric in there towards the end, you know, that says, you know,

prepare the way of the Lord wielding mercy like a sword. You know, every mountain topple be made low, he holds the earth like dust and his judgment, his love. His judgment is love.

And then it says

we will not fight their wars, we will not fall in line because if it's us, for them, it's us for them. We reject the binary either or like it's just us for them.

And so David's book is titled on the church of us versus them. And I think that that is so often the rhetoric that permeates every single conversation, be it religious or non religious, it's just always my side versus your side, somebody must lose. There's no discernment, there's no patience. There's just finger pointing. And I am as guilty as the next person.

I love this conversation. I love this book. I'm sending it to some of you. And if you're not on that list, get the book. It is very It is very good. And so here we go. No more belaboring the point. Here is the conversation that I have with David E. Fitch about freedom from a faith that feeds on making enemies.

Seth

David E. Fitch and I'm partial to the “E” also have any mines Edward I don't know what yours is. But Welcome to the show. Man. I'm excited. You're here.

David

Good to be here. And I won't tell you what my e is because I don't want anyone to make fun of me on the airwaves…but it’s Elmer

Seth

That's but you said you. Are you making that up? Or that's the real name?

David

No, that is my real middle name. And it's a sacred name in our family. It links back to my grandfather.

Seth

Yeah, I'm I am similar with mine

David

It's got huge lineage in my family.

Seth

I'm with you. Both of my names are grandparents further up down the line. So I'm with you and we've done the same thing with my son like he's in his middle name is named after grandfather and you know, etc. So yeah, no, I definitely. Why would I make fun of your name? Like you had any choice? And but Oh, that would do that.

David

I'm not saying it'll be you. But it would get back to me somehow.

No, I named my son, Elmer. Elmer Max Fitch. And my wife said, well, we'll go with the Elmer but nobody can actually call him Elmer. The only person that can know about Elmer is you and me. And so that's kind of the way you know, his first name is Elmer. But nobody calls him Elmer. And want anybody to know, his first name is Elmer, can you imagine this?

Seth

Well, he will now

David

Hopefully this won’t get back to him

Seth

My favorite conversations are the ones that I laugh a lot. And we're already doing that. So we're well on our way to making this a good one. What would you want people to know about you, David? Like, what is kind of your story? Like what makes you…you?

David

Well, I know most people know me, because I'm a theologian, and I've written books. But the real story is, I was a struggling guy coming out of seminary that got a job as a stockbroker. Rose to the heights of Wall Street, you know with some well off people, I did, okay, in other words, in like, six years, and then I had I tell people.

I got saved, saved for real the second time. And that's when I began a journey of studying for a PhD and running a business and leading a church and trying to sort out life in the big city, if I can put that way. And so I didn't come at being an academic by choosing to be an academic. I actually went through all kinds of stuff, searching, struggling, going through a PhD, leaving the church, writing a book. And then I was asked to take an academic position. I think I want people to know, I'm a pastor, and I've gone through…I've gone through stuff, that non righteous people that grew up living a perfect life have gone through. Does that make sense?

Seth

Yeah, although, I mean, I can half relate to that being in finance. I didn't know you were in the financial world. I like that. Because I often tell people if I could actually make the amount of money that I need to make, and do this full time. And so if you're listening, somebody make that happen. I would I get so much fulfillment out of doing this, I read so many new ideas. And so I am envious, that you did it, you know that you've done it. Not that I don't like banking? I do like it. But I love this, if that makes sense…

David 8:04

Well, I wouldn't say I've done it, I'm, you know, Stanley Hauerwas starts off the first line of his autobiography, by saying “I did not intend to be Stanley Hauerwas”.

I did not intend, really, for my life to develop the way it did. It was just like submitting faithfully to what God had for me. And if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have done it differently. But actually, God works in through all things to achieve and accomplish His purposes. So that's the way it turned out. And probably who knows if you stay faithful day in day out to your job and this work? Who knows? guys can take you. That's a message for anybody, not just this old guy talking on a podcast.

Seth

But yeah, who does know? I mean, if you'd asked me five years ago, if I would be sitting right here at this moment, I would have been like, Yeah, probably not. Nobody cares what this idiot has to say. And I would still think that that's probably true. But I think people care for a genuine conversations, which leads me to what you've written. So the book that you have most recently written, I think came out in what is it July? Is that when it came out?

David

Yeah.

Seth

And so I apologize. I think I've had it since then. And I’ve just been so…because July, the summer months for me, I’ve got three small kids that are consuming, like consuming is not the applicable adjective... like it just sucks the life out of everything. But it's fun. They're all under the age of 10. And it is consuming.

David

Wow.

Seth

So I read your book a while back, and then I refreshed on it a little bit before talking to you today. And I absolutely liked this book. And so when you say the church of us versus them, I wanted to start with that, like, who is us? Who is them?

David

Yeah, well, it starts with the church, it just starts with a general description of churches, United States of America, and how we started defining ourselves; self understanding who we are by who we're not. And so church has kind of develop this mentality, this competitive mentality, this us versus them mentality, even within the church. So, you know, John MacArthur might define him, and who he is over against the charismatics, or over against the social justice people, etc, etc. And that kind of mentality kind of spreads the progressives against the conservatives, the arming LGBTQ against the non affirming, and we have all these us versus them, definitions of who we are as Christians, but it doesn't stop there, it actually becomes the DNA of how we relate to the world.

And so we can't get we define ourselves over against this person or that person. It's kind of like a disease. It's kind of like an idiological way of being that is infested how we gather as a people. And my argument or my plea, in the church of us versus them is, no, this is not who and who Jesus is, this is not the people of God in Christ. This is not who were called to be. Let's get out of this ideological existence. So we can be the people of God for the world, and for his mission in the world.

Seth

Well, I mean, getting John MacArthur, he keeps switching to them, because he just gets mad at say, Well, I'm not that old, I'm almost I'm an upper mid 30s, there we go. Um, but in my just limited history, like, he just yells at somebody different every couple years, he finds a new them, which seems like a lot of energy wasted, like, you should really just target somebody. And if you're going to act that way, you know, beat them into submission, I guess, if that's the mindset, but he seems to jump around from who is the them, which seems just like a lot of wasted energy.

David

And people are going to accuse me of like, defining myself over against John MacArthur. And there's always those feeling, he, you know, double negative things that happen, we can't get out of the spiral. But just looking at Dr. MacArthur and what goes on, it kind of illustrates the principle of the way ideology works. If you have to define yourself and who you are, and rally a crowd, by gathering them against an object or an enemy, I described this in, I think, the first couple of chapters of the book, then once that runs out, you've got to find a new enemy, because that energy doesn't have anything substantive out of which to live life, and it will run out, the enemy will kind of have a shelf life, and then you'll have to invent a whole new enemy to keep the machine going.

And you know, we have a president in office right now, who basically lives this way every day. But it's very signifying as to kind of the bad habits we've gotten into, as far as the church and its formation as a people in the world.

Seth 13:17

So I usually intentionally do not talk politics, but I don't see a way to talk about this conversation, without government and politics like forefront. And so I just want to, I just wanna get a few things out of the way, I'm not a fan of the President. And those that know me know that. And so anything I say, to talk badly about our government is really from a heart of, I really wish that it would work, because I live here, and I needed to work. And my kids live here. And I need it to work. And so does everybody listening, and anyone that you share it with?

One of the things that annoys me and I, I argue all the time, David, about how we are not a Christian nation, how we've never been one. And it's, I find myself when I do that, though, I oftentimes feel like I'm creating a new us versus them. And it's not progressive versus that's not what I'm trying to say. I feel like it's those that know, history and those that don't. So how would you recommend someone have a conversation of an us versus them specifically, when it comes to like politics, as we're entering into the primary season? You know, in at recording, you know, the senator, what is it Gillibrand, I think that's who it is, you just dropped out of the race. And so that will continue to go. And as minds coalesce, the US is and then dems are going to get bigger, be that the church? Or be that the party of choice? So how do you enter into a conversation with someone, and even find a level playing field to begin a conversation in actual authentic by purpose,

David

What ideology does is, it creates a cause, and creates promises around that cause that are impossible to be fulfilled. And then it aligns, it kind of builds your identity around being against this enemy in this fraud. And what happens is you never…it takes you out of the actual discerning process of any real issue on the ground. This is what is so damaging about ideology, we extract beliefs or discernment’s out of their context out of actual discipleship, people's lives, and we turn them into a banner, I call it a banner, and then rally people using the banner against an enemy. And we never get to actually discerning anything, we do this in sexuality, right? We are either affirming or not affirming. And we go into these big culture wars, and rallying people to become so emotional, our identity gets so tied into it, we actually never get to actually talking to anybody was gauging all, as far as I know, engaged in sexuality issues of multiple complexities. But we never actually talked about or get to discerning these in these places of safety, under the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ.

No, we never get to that we just stay above it all in these arguments for against now, this is what happens with politics. We create this imaginary christian nation as a cause to get behind. But nobody really believes forget all this legislation put it in, and all these supreme court justices putting it all of a sudden, we're going to have a nation that looks more Christian, actually, that kind of I've shown the book how that works against the idea of more Christian.

So what we do is we just get the strategy and I want to say no, let's actually work on the ground locally, on the issues that are so important politically, that we have to work out, you know, whether it be taxes, whether it be legislation for how we take care of our health care problems, or whatever it might be, let's start working it on the ground in groups of people. You know, that's what the word ecclesia, the Greek word, that Paul the Apostle used for church that came off the set to agent that referred to the people of Israel, but actually it was, it was actually a word that meant the political organizing locally, of every Greek, little state or city or village or town. And what Paul was saying is the church does the work of organizing people for God's kingdom in Christ, even though those people don't know they're under his rule yet. We're going to discern it here first. And then we're going to proclaim the good news to other people. And I just, I don't know if that was too long, and explanation, but I've what I'm really trying to say is let's start local. And let's stay on the ground and discern these issues locally. Whether it be Who should I vote for, whether it be how do we deal with taxes? Whether it be how do we deal with the injustices of racism in this town, or whatever it might be? Let's let's deal with it locally. And then let's work out solutions together as a people got then let's take him to the town hall village meeting. And let's take him to the state. You know, Canada's national health care system started in the in a small city in Saskatchewan, Canada, under the leadership of a Baptist pastor named Tommy Douglas. And the revolution began, it didn't start in Ottawa, House of Parliament started in a little town with a guy named Tommy Douglas.

Seth

Yeah, I remember I forget what book it was one of the first time I talked to a Benjamin Corey, I was reading a lot about, you know, back in like, you know, 17 1800s, like some of the church did some beautiful work, because they weren't really attached at the hip to making enemies or naming enemies, just actually maybe loving people, caring for people. And they did a lot. They start libraries start schools start churches start, you know, the Red Cross start Salvation Army. And I didn't know that about Canada. But that was back when the church, I think acted like one as opposed to a social club with money influence.

David

Yes, I think I give the example of how the civil rights movement didn't happen through Lyndon Baines Johnson and the administration in the White House, it happened. If you read Charles Marshes book, Beloved Community, all the history is kind of sketched out of the Jim Crow South and Nonviolent Coordinating Committee started to happen locally in various colleges, campuses, towns, villages, what they really were were prayer meetings, where people white and black, gathered together around tables, and started praying and upsetting the Jim Crow South. And from that came the civil rights movement.

We must understand, let's go local. So I'm saying, Let's because if we just get caught up in these ideological struggles about what does it mean to be a Christian nation, which really we don't, it really doesn't mean anything. We don't really know what it means. Like, what would it mean, for the United States to be a Christian nation? Can somebody please don't me that? I don't think we know. And I don't think it's possible to even you know, have a so called Christian nation at this point in time. No, what we need to do is go local, and spread the gospel, the justice of Jesus Christ, and every nook and cranny where we where we live and let God take care of how he's going to reign the world.

Seth

I agree, because I don't think we have a Christian nation because most Christians don't agree on simple things like say, the Bible, or so until there's that. I don't see how you could have a Christian nation, because that's, that's why we have all these different. Well, one of the reasons we have all these different denominations. One more thing on Christian nation, I've heard you either speak, or maybe I read it. But I've read a lot lately. But I've heard you talk about, you know, the pre and post World War Two, Germany and how it was the preeminent Christian nation, if there ever there was one, you've got all these Lutheran ministers, and kind of how that morphed into what it became. And a lot of that I remember when I when I saw it, I was like, this is I didn't have any of that context. I wonder if you could go into a bit of that here. Because I feel like I'm probably not the only one. Because I know in the school systems I went to we don't really talk about any things that aren't America. And so it's hard to make those correlations.

David

Yeah. Well, you know, the fact the matter was Germany, by legislation was Christian nation. Well, third Catholic, two thirds Lutheran, but it was all into the German church structure. We all pay taxes. So anyways, the real question, I mean, I'm still studying it to this day, I was happy to be in Berlin last summer stunned by just the history that that country is living and grieving over and repenting of, and how it all happened. But you know, all you have to do is study, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the end, the German church movement and the Barman Declaration, to see how by the time the church woke up, it was too late. And it was in the church, the German church, and you know, I Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the things was, like, I don't know how famous this is, but when I read it, it became famous to me said the reason why seven thousand Lutheran pastors that have for one reason and can summarize their pensions.

So when money and power and everything gets loaded up into the structure, we end up succumbing. And I think the same power is going on today, with so many white evangelicals in the south. aligning themselves with a very non Christian, almost disgusting administration is mind boggling how the ideologies gotten ahold of us. So I think we need to study how and when things happened in Germany, there's a lot of people who poo poo that idea, oh, this is not Germany. But yet there are things to learn from what happened there. And how we became, I have this, these two lectures I'm I'm writing right now, in the process to deliver in California in February, where I say the problem isn't that we're on the wrong side of history. The problem is that we're on the wrong side of power. You know, the argument is get on the right side of history, and get ahead of things. Actually, every time we've been on the wrong side of power, things have gone very wrong. God works among the poor, the hurting, the broken, the marginalized, because his power doesn't operate the way the world's power does. And he changes things where his power spaces may open for. So anyways, all these things we can study through the German church problem. And you know, I'd start with Reggie Williams. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus. Love that book, in terms of understanding how we can get so sucked up into white nationalism. And we're just not seeing this is not the gospel. This is not Jesus.

Seth

I don't know anything about that book. But I'm going to fix that today. So you talked, you talked there. And there's a reason I asked that question. I hope that you go there. And so that's why you're a person rational, and I am not. So you talked about, you know, the way that you know, we have a love affair with power, and evangelicalism. And I struggle with that word, I struggle to call myself an evangelical because it means so many other things that have nothing to do with the gospel. But that's a slightly different topic. But you’ve got a section in a chapter on let's make America Christian again, that's titled and the reason it's caught me as I went to Liberty, and so I'm very attuned to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. And so you say Jerry Falwell, or Jim Wallace, what's the difference? So what is the difference for those that haven't read the book like what he's saying there?

David

I'm an Anabaptist most people know I'm a NEO Anabaptist. I have learned from Stanley Hauerwas and many other Neo Anabaptists. It just, I tell people, Stanley Hauerwas, you know, was the means by which I became a Christian again, he got me into understanding the Bible. One of the one of the things anabaptism is we realize that God's power in in through Jesus Christ, and I do believe its power. But it is just so different. Usurping force, violent power of the world, and by violence, I just don't mean physical violence, or shooting somebody with a gun. Although that is a very visceral manifestation of the same dynamic. I mean, all forms of force all forms of coercion, all forms of me over you getting you to do something that I want you to do in the name of an agenda or some purpose that I have decided or become part of.

So anyways, the whole point here is, is that there's two kinds of power. Another distinction in theological world is preservatory power. Luther call that the left hand of the government and the right hand is redemptive power. What I'm trying to say here is, is that we need to understand that Jim Wallace, who was an Anabaptist, suddenly started writing books like God's Politics, and we've got to do things through the government. And yet he had this he had a Biblically, I think he called it the Isaiah platform. And that book, and he's got a very Biblically are well argued, biblical ethic that he wants the government to enforce. Very similar to Jerry Falwell, of course, and the Moral Majority, although both have they both had very different senses of what what what that ethic and the emphasis within that should be, they both took the same means, which is let's get the government to do the bidding of God.

And what I want to say is, government can do some things. But it's very limited. So go ahead and vote and go ahead and work for government. But it's going to be very limited, the redemptive work of what God wants to do in our culture can come only in in through the church through the power, and the presence of God through Jesus Christ. That may sound very individualistic, because that's the way evangelicals have already said it. I believe it's very social. I think God wants to work in in through the neighborhoods, and the places of worldly power, for his purposes, through his presence, and to the way he works in the world. Does that make sense? Can you clarify for me everything I just said?

Seth

(Laughter) just read the book. There we go.

David

laughter……

That's why I see Jim Wallace and Jerry Falwell as two sides of the same coin.

Seth

Yeah.

David

Employing worldly power to accomplish their biblical agendas, even though their Biblical agendas are quite different.

Seth

I don't think there's a way to read the Bible. I think it's really hard to read the Bible and not read looking for the God that you're trying to find. And I don't know that I'm saying that well, and but then you take that as ammunition. And so I want to backtrack back to the beginning of the book, you talk about people using the Bible is a blunt instrument. And that phrasing is used often. And so I'd like to turn the question a bit, how would you invite us You said, you know, you're a pastor. And I mean, obviously, you're training pastors while you're an academic. And so in your experience, how would you train pastors to instead of using the Bible as a blunt instrument, to use it as a precise one? Because I think there is a purpose for how Scripture can sometimes cut down what doesn't need to be there. So how would we instead frame using Scripture and using Scripture is a bad way to say that, you know, letting Scripture use us as a precise instrument, as opposed to just a God hates gays? God only likes Republicans, you know, or whatever the blunt, whatever the blunt thing is,

David

Yeah, well, we have to deconstruct.

I'm going to use a couple of big words here.

Seth

Perfect.

David

I'm going to deconstruct epistemology, the way we know something. We have said, The Bible is inerrant, every word is God breathed. perspicuous is a word the reformers have used, it is eminently clear, all I have to do is my homework, and I get to the right, meaning. But we individualized that; the fact of the matter is that worked in Christendom, Euro-Christendom where there was already a consensus on what all the texts means.

Now go to your average church meeting or go to a pick a commentary off your library wall, and you'll find four or five meanings for every text, for every verse. Well, how do we deal with that? You know, so the first thing I think, when we, when we meet over an issue, it's a communal work of God, by His Holy Spirit; Acts chapter 15 I think it is, you know, they got together, they asked, what does this mean, they will search the Scriptures. They said, We are seeing the Holy Spirit at work in Gentile believers. What does this mean? And then what are the demands, and then they say it See, it is good, thenI believe James wrote that, that note, it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit to do A, B and C. You know, that's the process of how we gather together to interpret Scripture on things that we don't agree on.

And so when we had a couple of people, wonderful people disagree with our church, and how we were affirming women in ministry, we all got to get there. All those who were committed to this issue. Some were even offended that we would open up the discussion again, of women ministry. But we first deconstructed what Scripture is, we all bring agendas here. We're submitting them to the work of the Holy Spirit, then we're going to look at verses and submit one to another and listen carefully and we're going to pray. And we're going to open space for God to speak. And we're going to hear all side. And we'll listen to the teachers. But we're also listening to pastors and the evangelists and the other gifted people in our midst.

And you know, after like seven weeks of going through the texts, and listening to one another, and we all came to some conclusions, we wrote some conclusions on the big whiteboard, or what we call it that we had, we didn't have everybody agree, like we take a one to five assessment. Where you? 1: Satan's working this affirmation that cannot agree…. 5: I agree wholeheartedly, 4: I have some reservations…but I could follow this.

We had no threes twos or ones, we had all fives and three fours, but even the ones who couldn't completely agree said, I can trust what the Holy Spirit is doing in this church, where he's leading us through the teaching, and submitting to Scripture on this issue. So everybody, everybody was met, in one way or another and came to a coalescence as to where God was taking us in relation to this issue. I wish we could do that kind of thing. It takes some training, we had to train people how to submit to one another and reading scripture. But I wish we could do that in regard to sexuality. I wish we could do that, with regard to all the all the problems we have in our towns and villages and families, even over issues of finances. You know, let's listen to Scripture, listen to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, submit to one another and then say, it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit that He is leading us to do this.

Seth 34:05

So I want to push on that a little bit. Because the way that my brain works, I can see…so say, I'm out here in Central Virginia, and the people that I'm involved with whatever the community is, however many hundreds or thousands of us are, I come to a submission to one another that this is the way that scripture is viewed. And then someone and say, I don't know, let's say somewhere in Iowa, I don't even know what town in Iowa, that’s sad, whatever, a town in a different state that they come to the opposing view. So then how did those two sects come together and figure out how to lower the banner, or to use a descriptor that you use, when they don't agree? Like how did those two after they've come to a massive consensus between the two, which is amazing if it happens, because people are letting go of power, which is one of the most Christ like things I think you can do. And it's hard to do. So how do you do it when you know, across our country or across the ocean, the two opposing sides come into clash, like just in the past few years, and you've got, you know, the Methodist Church on homosexuality, but you also have the Methodist Church on women in ministry. And I believe like the Mennonite Church is coming up for a vote on that in the next little bit. And the the covenant was called evangelical covenant church is coming up for it again, and I think they just decided to table it, because nobody could figure out how to talk about it. So what happens for those that do talk about it, you know, they made a decision. And it disagrees with another massive body that has also figured out how to submit one another. And they've made a decision. How do you know he wants us to?

David

in regard to denominational structures? You know, I probably shouldn't try to give a single answer to all the problems that we have, across all denominations. But if I were a denominational President, I would charge all the issues that we cannot agree on, I would give the local churches power to discern this locally and give some freedom in the various churches to discern things locally.

But we will find out where God is working and where he's leading and where he's not. The fruit will become apparent. But I think the real revolution and things that shaped our churches start locally. I think the problem with United Methodist is they tried to enforce a single unilateral decision from the top down across multiple contextual boundaries. I don't even think American white people in the United Methodist Church understood that when the Africans were saying the word sexuality, they did not mean the same thing that Americans mean, when they say sexuality.

I could go off on a riff on that. But the fact is, power structures of denominations trying to enforce a singular decision top down through a vote is a recipe for disaster because it employs worldly power, not the power of the Holy Spirit. I think we need to start locally, give it 10 to 15 years and a consensus…

Host note:

Time out real quick. So you'll notice there and the audio just went crazy. I don't know what happened to the internet. I'm going to blame it on nobody. So what we did is I decided to go old school when him got David's phone number. So I apologize for this brief interruption. Here we go. We'll do the rest. A little bit more old school. Back to it.

David

Dave Fitch here…

Seth

Here we go! We will finish it old school. So yeah, so to recap that, because some of the cut in and out. So basically, where you can agree, give the local church autonomy to make that decision for what works best in the community that they're in?

David

Yeah, yeah. And I wouldn't say autonomy. But I wouldn't call it autonomy, because we're all linked. But what it means is we're giving freedom to open space for those conversations and discernment locally, on the ground. Listen to people, listen to Scripture. If I were denominations, I'd give some, you know, some simple directive, some handouts, some directions, and study scripture together locally. And I do believe, I do believe when there's not consensus, I do believe over time, the fruit will be born and become clear and eventual consensus will happen.

I mean, isn't this the way? You know? I mean, I don't want to idealize or romanticize the great councils of the third and fourth and fifth century because there was actually a lot of Constantinian power being wielded around at Nicea and elsewhere. But you know, basically, things were happening on the ground in various regions of the church. And they came together to discern and ask what's happening over there? What's happening over here? And how does this make sense? And what can we learn from each other in terms of assembling a unifying document? And I think that's what we need to do again.

Seth

So I'm glad that you went there. For those that haven't bought David's book go and do so. Because this entire episode, we've bounced around themes that are in an appendix at the back at least, that's what I'm hearing, David. And if I mishearing that wrong, you just tell me, but most people don't read pass the last chapter. So you have to appendix is dependencies, whatever that word is? And so I'm going to read those out if that's alright, with you.

So you know, the first thing you talk about, you know, for tactics for engagement, you know, we're opening space, for the antagonisms is, tell a story about a real person, and then ask how do we discern this issue, which is what you know, you basically just broke down, make observations and ask questions that reveal the contradictions at work, which I really like, because that forces me to have to listen to you. Like I have here, what you saying? Because I have to ask questions about the contradiction, as opposed to saying… “You're, you're stupid, of course” you read it wrong. I mean, of course, you're from, you know, you're from you from wherever you're from. That's y'all are stupid over there”.

You know, and then, three, don't humiliate or defeat the other person, which is literally what I just did,

David

Laughter.

Seth

Four start in agreement, from what we have in common, and I think that is perfectly fine. What it was somebody I spoke with Bonnie Kristian, that said, you know, concentric circles, like we don't agree about a lot of dogma. But that dogma doesn't matter as much as what we do agree on. And that's Jesus. And so let's focus on that, and then branch out from there. And then lastly, you know, make a proposal in the spirit of mutual submission. And I just love those five things. And I wonder what the church would maybe look like, in the future if we actually did that. And so that leads me to my final question.

You know, I am a millennial. I'm one of the first of the generations of millennials, barely a millennial, but I relate a lot to them. And so people in my age demographic are, like, jettisoning as quickly as possible from the church, because I'm so sick and tired of it, just all of it capital “I” capital “T”, just all of it. Yeah. And so, for pastors listening, how can they use those five things I just very briefly read out to create a place or a new type of church, that will be something that both I and my children will exist in? Because I'm terrified that if I honestly am terrified that whatever version of the American church exists, it won't be that. I don't know what it will be. But I know if it looks like it does now, it will just get more and more unhealthy. So how can we take those five things and create a better, like a better church that millennials are happy to go to? Because to be frank, they are the biggest population in not only this country, most countries.

David

So yeah, yeah. Well, we're in a hell of a mess right now.

You know, for years, especially if you're a white, old guy, old, defined as 50 and over, you grew up in a time when white Christians were pretty much in charge, and even in charge in a way of the culture. And that's all like, flittering away, and those who are out of those time frames, but even those who've been raised by people who were used to that, we want to hold on, and we're used to just arguing and holding on to our power.

And when that's no longer there, we now we're in a space of mission, and we just have to operate totally differently. We can't assume anything, we can't actually assume there's any power to be granted. And so we must become organizers of the Kingdom. The way we organize, is by doing those things, you just like described in the appendix but really that run throughout the whole book. I've written this book to try to help people to understand the dynamics that are work it ideologically that come from, you know, Christendom wanting to hold on to its power, and it's not going to work. And so we have to give up the power. And we have to trust the power at work in Christ, wherever we gather in his name.

And so I'll summarize those tactics you just set off the appendix with the story of Jesus and the adulteress and, you know, in John chapter 8, the adulterous is put into kind of the middle of or before everybody as an object of distain, an enemy. And so often, pastors, churches, get caught up in in that that issue, we have an enemy and by the way, the world just presents us for these terms all the time, because this is the way the world operates. Apart from God, well, we don't want to do that. Nobody is an enemy. Enemies might be revealed, but we don't make enemies. And it's not our job to call out the enemy instead. You know.

So where was I? My son just walked? You said, you said,

Seth

you said enemies might be revealed, but we don't make enemies.

Hey Elmer how are you doing?

David

Laughter—-Don’t call him that…ha ha..he didn’t hear that.

speaks with Son! more laughter

Okay, anyways, let's get back on track here. Yeah, the adulterous is being made into an object of disdain the enemy when must overcome that, by, you know, whenever we're in the middle of these arguments, or tempted to enter into these antagonisms. Tell a real story about a real person or ask the person their story. And when the real facts come out, the issues come out. It's hard to make an enemy out of it person, but instead God wants to work in and through that person.

Jesus, you know, makes observations and starts with agreements, basically says, Okay, yeah, you are perfect. Yeah, I agree with the law. The law has become the theology of banner in this case. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, what shall we do stone her according to the law, and they're trying to turn the law into a banner and Jesus resists that. And he just says, frankly, does something to reveal the contradiction in their lives by finding a point of agreement? And he says something like, yeah, you who are perfect…throw the first stone. And then of course, they're able to see the contradiction. And they all start walking away. And that clear space for Jesus to be present to the adulterous and say you are forgiven. Say you are loved, and now go and work out your salvation go and send them. We the church need to be Jesus in clearing the antagonisms. Allowing them to fritter away because God can't work in in these antagonistic environments. Conflict is one thing, turning them into antagonism is another thing. And we must be present to one another. And the conflicts allow the antagonism to go away, clear space for God to work, reconciliation, and healing in and through Jesus Christ. That's my challenge. That's the call of the church to be this kind of people in our culture today. This is what God wants to do. He will raise up a new people, and millennials and everybody else that so aggravated pissed off and wants to walk away from church will be lining up to become part of this. This new movement of God in our culture, I believe.

Seth

Yeah, I hope so. Point people in the right place, David, where do they go? Where do they either yell at you if they disagree, so that we can find that common ground? Or we're hopefully that's not what happens? Where do they go to interact with you get the book, which I'm sure is available, everywhere that books are available. But where would you point people to?

David

I have a lively conversation that goes on on my Facebook page, David Fitch, Fitchest, at Facebook, you can't become my friend, because I don't have any space. And I won't go to a public page. But followers, just follow me. And you'll get in on all the conversations. I have a Twitter page, which is pretty active, @FITCHEST. And you can buy the book, of course at Amazon, in your local bookstore, or wherever you find books.

Seth

Perfect.

Thank you so much for coming on. And I've enjoyed it quite a bit.

David

Good to be with you, man. And I hope to meet you along the way there in Virginia Keep up the good work,

Seth

Will do

Outro

The appendix at the back there, right that we went over at the tale end it is simplistically hard. And it is something I've tried to model not only in the way that I did faith since reading this book, but in just the way that I do conversations, it is really helped me oftentimes see things from a different lens. And there have been a lot of things that have come into contact of my life lately that have done that have re-framed the way that I see the world. And it is uncomfortable. And I think that it is true. I think that I meet God there. And I think that I'm changing in ways that I wouldn't have thought prior. And so I hope that you got as much out of today's conversation as I did a very special thank you to Derek Meyers for your music for today's episode. You'll find links to all of his stuff in the show notes as well as everything that David and I spoke about. I cannot wait for next week. We're going to have a conversation about Henry now and and that is fantastic. I'm excited for that very excited.

I hope that you realize how beloved you are. Be blessed. Talk to you next week.

Parenting Forward with Cindy Wang Brandt / Transcript

Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.


Intro

Hey there, welcome back to the show. This is Seth. And you should know which show you're listening to. I mean you downloaded it. So welcome to the show. I'm glad you downloaded. I'm glad you're here, big things happening. So some great conversations upcoming for the next few weeks and then hopefully for the next few months but I think that should work itself out. Before we get started with a couple brief announcements.

I cannot thank the supporters of the show enough. Patreon supporters y'all have been such a tremendous blessing and so some of the things that I want to try to do for next year I sent this out to the Patreon supporters and if you haven't jumped into that yet, consider doing so you'll find links in the show notes or at the website for the show or a bunch of different ways.

I really want to try to do some form of a live event like a gathering of everybody where we just get together. I don't know what that looks like. And I'm beginning the early stages. And I've gotten some wise counsel from both a friend and one of the supporters of the show on Hey, make sure that we do this with intentionality. And so I think that that will happen and hopefully it will happen sometime early next year, but I'm really excited about the possibility for it and that is really because of people that support the show. So thank you and if you haven't done that yet, consider doing it. Remember to rate and review the show, recently they just continued to uptick and that helps you know as people search for what they want to hear in the podcast things, be it Podbean or Apple iTunes. It lets people know hey, other people are enjoying this and so you may too when they search for God or faith or religion or deconstruction or trauma or doubts or really anything that we talked about here on the show. And so consider doing that because it's literally What's it take like 42 seconds you can do this. Enough of that.

Oh no, not enough of that! Another brief announcement is this store for the show, I am going to try a couple of new things. So if you are a patron supporter of the show, today, most likely you will get an email with a “Hey, if you support the show on Patreon of any level, you're going to get a discount coupon code for things that are on the podcast store at the website”. And I recently added a new shirt there I've tweaked a few things and I have some ideas for a couple other things that I want to do there but that takes time. It's just me. And I only have so much of it but be patient with me there but I'm really enjoying that. It's crazy.

There's there have been mugs that have been shipped to Australia and stuff to Canada and stuff to the like it's it's insane. You people are insane. And I love every single one of you, so thank you.

Today's conversation I thought we’d do something easy maybe to have a conversation on parenting and how to do that well, in this new age that we live in, because this our generation is entirely different than the one that raised us, like, we're just different. Everything about us is different. We are more communal and less communal. At the same time, we have easier access to information. And because of that, we can use that for hate and bigotry. And so I figured we would bring on Cindy Wang Brandt, and talk about parenting like what that looks like going forward. And so I really hope that you enjoy this conversation with Cindy. She's doing some very cool things I would highly recommend. We'll talk about some things at the end of the episode, that you dive into that to the seven or eight of you that recommended Hey, you should really talk with Cindy. I heard you I reached out to her months ago just took some time. But thank you for that recommendation. And so if you're listening and you're like, Hey, I would like to know about this or can you talk with this person? The answer is probably yes. Just tell me who that is. And what piques your interest there and I will figure out how to come at it at the most honest and transparent way that I can so here we go. conversation about parenting because it matters.

Seth

Cindy Wang Brant, welcome to the show. And for those that heard all the stuff prior, you'll realize why you're on the show. But thank you for coming onto the show. Also, most people when I email them are not as succinct as you and I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to go back and forth with 27 different emails to nail down the date. And so I appreciate your brevity and your punctuality which, for those that know me well will know why that matters. But thank you so much because I struggle with calendaring things. So you made it easy and I appreciate that but Welcome to the show.

Cindy

Yeah, well um yeah, I don't really like long rambling emails either so I appreciate your succinct emails that's, that's the strangest thing I've been complimented on but I like it.

Seth

I get yelled at at work because I only type something in the subject line and it's one sentence and there is nothing in the body. But effectively I don't even want you to have an excuse to not know what I said in the email.

Cindy

I wonder if… I worked for a comp like a business company before and I business emails tend to be very just bullet points. I think in like writer communities is much different because we're writers we love words. And I think maybe I have some of that past experiencea that influences things. It was like to waste people's time either.

Seth

It was well definitely not a waste of time, but I it's so much easier. So anyway, that is all beside the point. Welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you here. You're doing big things and from what I understand, based on a moment ago, it's in the morning for you so for those listening where exactly are you?

Cindy

I am in Taiwan. So yes I am exactly 12 hours from eastern time before daylight savings kicks in and then it's like 13 hours which to me makes all the difference 12 and 13 I think the math is a lot easier if it’s just 12 hours

Seth

13 which way forward backwards?

Cindy

Yeah, so it's Friday here already.

Seth

Well, happy almost weekend. So here we go. So for those that are unfamiliar with you, tell us a bit about you. You know, what makes me tick specifically religiously, but overall just kind of how are you you like what are those things in life that you know when I think back? This is why I am what I am today. Yeah. So specifically religiously?

Cindy

I grew up conservative evangelical, and I have since deconstructed which is a term I know a lot of people use, but not everyone loves it. But that's the process. I would say my 30s, I'm 41 now. So it's been a long journey. So I now am more of an Ex-Vangelcial. For the past few years, I published a book called parenting forward and I've been kind of moderating a Facebook group called raising children unfundamentalist and the spirit of my work is, I feel like it's kind of the next step in my deconstruction is figuring out how to parent the next generation and not just parent but teachers and educators and Sunday school ministers. How do we shepherd the next generation of kids and values that matter to us? How to shed the toxicity that a lot of us have wrestled with? So that's the work that I do right now; so I'm a writer, podcaster, speaker. And but yeah, most of my work is with this niche of parenting and progressive faith.

Seth

So how has that been? Because that was like, so 10 years ago, and you and then I don't know when you started deconstructing. But let's say 10 years ago, because why not?

Cindy

Yeah

Seth

Is that what you thought you would be doing now? Like, did you like, how did it How did you? How did you not set segues, not the word How did you migrate? That's a better word, migrate to that lane.

Cindy

I think because of my own life experience, I started to I think part of becoming a writer was part of my deconstruction because you know what, I don't I don't know if you grew up conservative evangelical, but in this fundamentalist mindset, we were not encouraged to really pursue our passions and interests it was all about God how we can serve God best and, and yeah, there were like, you these little quizzes on your spiritual gifts and stuff. But as a whole, like, part of deconstructing for me was very much recovering my gifts and my calling and so that was becoming a writer was part of that but when I started writing, you know, when you start writing you, it takes a while to discover your voice. So I was writing different things just to test things out and, and eventually I landed on writing about faith. I think because it was just the most important thing to me, was the truest part of my experience. And so I started writing faith and then I you know, kind of in the in the footsteps of like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessy and, and all these bloggers who were walking this path of evolving faith, and then I was raising kids. I been raised the evangelical I got married young and had kids young and so my kids were quickly growing up as I was going through this process of deconstructing.

So I realized that there was this clash intention of, well then how do I raise my kids when I'm going through all this anger and anxiety and not one wanting to pass on kind of my spiritual trauma and giving them values to live by or a faith or lack thereof? And I don't have any answers. But like so many other writers, I think we write as we learn, right? So I wanted to learn I wanted to gather a community of people who felt the same way so that we could pull our resources and our ideas and say, Well, how do we do this? You know, I have this problem. How do we deal with this? So that's how I landed on it. And then it turned into started as a blog series back when people did blog series and turned into a book and the book and the Facebook group and, and now I'm running a conference.

Seth

So yeah, I saw that. So that that looks that looks fun that Well, I I say fun. It would drive me insane. Like I, I struggle if I don't have control of all I think is we've I think if we've we've found out if I don't have control the pieces that's just I'm going to see in a self psychoanalyze there. So real question, I thought we'd start with an easy question about parenting. So A: I am a kid and many I am a kid, I have kids, and many that have listened to the show since the beginning. What broke open my faith into a deconstruction, will use the same term there, was having kids because there are parts of me that I see in them that I don't always see in me. And I find I often see healthy and unhealthy parts of both myself. And in the way that I see God changes as I watch my kids grow, if that makes sense.

Cindy

Yeah. Very common story.

Seth

Yeah, um, well, that's good, I guess. Well, I hope. I hope it's a good story.

Anyway, so what I thought I'd start with an easy question, what is what should our job be as parents?

Cindy

I think growing up in an authoritarian system, or at least authoritarian religion, one of the most damaging things was the way it wrested control out of children, I think the most important thing we can do is offer our children autonomy. So I think the job of us as parents, is to figure out how we can give our children as much of their autonomy as we can, even as we are responsible for taking care of them. And so that I think is our most important job, how do we kind of guard our children's time? And I think a lot of times we say giving our children autonomy, it seems like…”Oh, so we just kind of let them do whatever they want”. But it's also understanding that there are forces in this world and then the system who seek to undermine their autonomy, and protecting them from that as well.

So I think about like the market fundamentalism is real, you know, all those ads, all these messages, trying to tell our kids to buy, buy, buy to the status that's kind of robbing them of their autonomy. There's, it's a billion dollar industry to, you know, create messaging that manipulates our children's brains. I think about messaging that tells our girls that they have to be a certain size or that they have to be small, that they have to be quiet. That's also something that robs our girls have their autonomy. And so I think our job as parents is to figure out what are the things that take away their their freedom, and offer it to them so that they could kind of cultivate their true-selves in the environment of our families.

Seth

I wanted to touch on a few things there. So when I hear autonomy, what I think of is, do your own thing and don't hurt anybody. Don't hurt yourself and don't hurt anyone else. And so when you say autonomy, what do you mean? Like, what does that look like on a Tuesday or on a Friday like… so my son's 10. So what does an autonomy? What does autonomy mean for a 10 year old?

Cindy

Yeah, no, I think for a 10 year old, it looks like first for them to develop what they like and what they don't like. The way that what they choose to do with their free time, what they choose to eat, what they choose to wear, those are the things that develop the sense that they can trust themselves and then they can discover who they are without intervention from, you know, outside influences. And if you want to dig a little deeper into like, you know, gender identity and all these things know we're discovering how harmful it is for let's say trans kids to be told they're certain gender when they feel differently inside.

So those those are the things but also I think, for a 10 year old autonomy means, how do they get to be a creative, create creatively express who they are in this world? Because I believe we're all creatives, just by being—just by existing, were having some sort of impact in this world. And so how does a 10 year old present themselves? Do they have access to ways that they can be who they are, project who they are? So, you know, for some people, it might be, whatever YouTube channel lots of kids are doing that or be you know, participating in the community theater or playing a sport, whatever it is, do they have access to those things to live out who they are.

Seth

I want to I want to stay on the community and autonomy. So if I agree, and I wrestle with this often because I as working as a banker, I know that I perpetuate this society of “hoard wealth”, more like it's always “How can I help you? Cindy, how can I make sure that you're set up? Well, when you're 60, 50, 80, 90 127, however old, which there's an inherent selfishness with that, and so if I'm trying to, I mean, I just literally talked about this with my daughter before bedtime, who's literally right above us. I'm all above me. She's not above you, anyway, of you know, you have too many things and she's constantly asking for so many more things. And some of that is her friends. We don't have cable so we pretty much watch Netflix like we we don't see any ads for anything.

Cindy

Yeah,

Seth

but there's something there. And just the way that at least, I don't know how Taiwan is, is Taiwan similar in that sense in the way that Americans…

Cindy

Yeah…capitalism is kind of everywhere. Yeah.

Seth 18:03

How do we model as parents that what we have is enough? Does that make because I feel oftentimes, you know, my wife and I are very similar, you know, in similar in making the same mistakes of this is a good sale. I can't afford not to buy that, like,

Cindy

yeah,

Seth

how do you effectively model? What is enough? Because the fear is it five years from now, man eight years from now, you know, she starts driving and I built a bubble around her and then she doesn't know how to cope in the world that does exist because I don't think capitalism is going away anytime soon. And I want to make sure that she's healthfully prepared to engage in society. When she is more autonomous than my roof.

Cindy

Yeah. Well, let me flip the question around a little bit instead of saying, how do we kind of instead of going on the defense against capitalism, let's go on offense. When will we can show our kids that life that there's a lot of life outside of just, you know, the material things. So I'm thinking, getting out in nature, showing them how wonderful and life giving nature could be showing them how kind of scaling down your life can bring you so much joy. And that could be really simple just like spending an evening, you know, playing games that, you know, 10 year old games that you have sitting on your shelf, because I don't we never want to like rules, like rules is very against kind of what what I'm about, right? We don't want to say don't buy this, don't buy that. But to give the alternative, like look at the profound joy that can come from simplicity from being grounded in the outside world. So yeah, I don't know if that's helpful to kind of go on the offense…

Seth

It is helpful, and we do that. So I live at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were out just last week my wife, myself, and my son went on a 14 mile bike ride.

Cindy

Yeah, so that's free, right?

Seth

too which he hated every minute of it because, you know, it's hot. And I'm like, well, you just be quiet. There's no cell phone service out here. How cool is this? There's literally no service out here.

Cindy

Yeah. And letting the kids be bored. Like I think boredom is a really huge thing.

I know it's hard but just to be still and to practice I'm, it's hard for me to think it's hard for all of us because we're all kind of intertwined in the system. But I think it's so important. And, and also, like, I think for a lot of us, like I got into this whole parenting forward thing because I realized that there was a crisis. A lot of times we only make changes when there's a crisis. And I had a crisis of faith shift.

So I think with like capitalism, you know, I think reveal to you to, you know, maybe you and your partner and your children that we were in a crisis here, we're in a crisis where we're overwhelmed with too much stimulation, too much stuff.

Talk about climate change. This is a crisis. Too much stuff is killing the earth. Too much carbon, whatever usage. We have a crisis we need to figure out ways to combat it.

Seth

You write in your book about justice and dignity, and I want to center in on dignity because I've never really heard anyone I never read anyone either. Before what I read in your book about dignity and like you talk about I've heard you talk other well other other places as well about like the United Nations in the way that we as a society, in a culture, dignify kids, and kids is probably a bad word for that. Can you talk to that a bit because I honestly I'd never heard nor read nor even really thought about any of that?

Cindy

Right, I think it's a blind spot a lot of us still have because for years and years and years, but most of human history, children are treated as subhuman. It's only until the last few decades that the United Nations has even recognize that a child is a human being. So it's very recent that we're starting to politically and legally treat children as human beings. But culture, I think popular culture, is still even now taking time to catch up to that standard. And so in many ways, we do treat children as subhuman. And it's easy to do that because they're vulnerable and they can't speak up for themselves. So you know, one example is just posting pictures of kids, we everyone post pictures of their of their babies because babies give consent. And so there's something to it. And I'm not saying that it's across the board, bad to post pictures of babies, but it's something that we just don't even think about.

We take for granted that we can do this without their consent. And that's kind of not treating them as a human being because with other human, you usually ask for consent. Once you open your eyes to that blind spot, then you kind of see it everywhere. You realize the many ways the way people talk about children. There's so many, like parenting humor, websites and videos, it's all over. And some of them are good, but some of them are seriously anti-child. And so I would love for us to kind of wake ourselves up to this reality. And, yeah, talk about how can we actually treat children as human beings?

Seth

So I'll ask you for some of those examples. So outside of not posting them on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter without consent, because I think you're right. I my wife and I've argued about this before of, you know, when, when our kids in 10 years from now, like everything that's on the internet is not going away and we've built this persona of only their best moments, or their most embarrassing moments, one or the other.

Cindy

Right

Seth

And that's who they are, like, that's who the internet. And the algorithms think that that's what they are. Which will impact the news that they see the jobs that they get the college that they get into, it will impact a lot of things. But besides that, what are some other examples to I guess, humanify…that's not a word

Cindy

Humanize.

Seth

There it is. That's the one. Children like, what are some other things for those listening? And they're like, Oh, I didn't see that. It's like just that in the family level. Like, what are some things to do?

Cindy 24:41

Yeah, I think when it comes to like media, when you hear people talk about children or post a video of children or anything in popular media, picture yourself, viewing that from the perspective of a child and think to yourself, what would a child think about this? How would a child feel? I think that's a really effective way. That's what I do to try to kind of get a different perspective.

When it comes to the family, there's gosh, there's so many things like one example that I can think of is, a lot of times our children have emotions. And guess what emotions are super, super human like that.

Seth

and by “alot of times” you mean “All the time”

Cindy

Yeah. I mean, it's like, they get frustrated, they complain, they get angry, they get sad, they get distressed, they get happy there's all this range of emotions that we seem to allow adults to have and just say, yeah, that's totally understandable. And yet when it comes to children, we rush to comfort them to say stop being sad, stop being angry, stop being all these things. And it just is a total double standard. We seem to not let kids be human just as much as we are. And so I think, again, when we have these encounters with our children just think well, how would I want…It's the golden rule…How would I want to be treated if I have been tired and hot all day and I complain really loudly about something. How would I want to be treated?

Seth 26:34

I do want to pivot to that. So I feel like churches in specific, and I did you'd asked earlier you didn't know my upbringing. So I did grow up relatively Southern Baptist-ish. I grew up in the central part of Texas. And part of me doesn't like that. And the other part of me understands that because of that, I'm still the person that I am today. Like, there's still some value in all of that.

Cindy

Yeah,

Seth

here's not and not everything was bad. I won't ever say that. There were some things that were very unhealthy. And so for those that are influencing the children that are in our faith communities, how do they better do that outside of just once a year? Because my fear is and this is often when your name has been recommended is my fear is 30 years from now the church that exists is a broken one, because we haven't been intentional with focusing on I don't want to say youth, I want to say the next generation that will come after us. So what are some ways that we can humanize, enlighten, glorify and and allow space for questioning in our churches? Because the answer would change from denomination to denomination but there has to be a few basic tenants. I think that would work well. Any at any intersection of faith?

Cindy

Well, a lot of people ask me about how to, because I talk a lot I'm their social justice, I talk alot about advocating for marginalized people. And kind of like diversity and reconciliation, those are all kind of buzzwords in faith communities, like we want to be multicultural and, and all these things. And a lot of times people will say, well, we welcome them into our pews. But what we really should be saying is how do we welcome them into our leadership and allow them to have a say in how things are actually run at the most influential levels?

Now, this is tricky to do with children, because are you really going to have children step into board meetings? And my answer is, why not? You know? So I think I think we have to listen to the people. So I feel like I keep repeating myself. It's like think about what a child would say think; same thing when it comes to faith communities how does your child feel? How would a child feel if they stepped into church for the first time? How would they be treated? How would they want the church to be run?

Seth

Do you think we've gotten better? Since you've been studying this? Like as you've as you've watched you year after year after year? Do you feel like we're getting any better as I don't want to say a civilization because every country is different. But do you feel like we're progressing at all? Or are we just stagnant?

Cindy

Since I've been doing this so long? I mean, three or four years?

Seth

Since you since you've been watching?

Cindy

No, I don’t.

Seth

Well, that's awful.

Cindy

Yeah, well, but it hasn't, you know, in the grand scheme, if you think about the history of human civilization, and that's it's only been a couple few decades that you're not even so in the grand scheme of things three and four years is a drop in the bucket, so I wouldn't be too discouraged. I think that the work of justice for children is a marathon.

And that anything that is worth, that is actual change and meaningful change takes a long time. So I wouldn't be too discouraged. I think we just have to stick with it for the long haul. The reason that I say no is because the fundamentalist influence continues to be there. Authoritarianism is continuing to be a huge influence that permeates not just faith communities, but culture. I see that and I realize that we have a long way to go. Are there more resources being created and communities that are trying to truly honor children happening?

I think what I can tell you that I'm discovering more of them, but a lot of them don't get airtime. They just don't get the publicity, which is frustrating to me and something I'm really trying to change. So with this Parenting Forward Conference, it's like I've gathered all these people who are doing amazing work, trying to honor children's autonomy and but you know, many of them don't have big platforms.

So I just want to do my best to keep spreading this message and saying there are Coalition's of people who are doing this work, let's join them and amplify their voices and make our voice louder than the fundamentalists.

Seth

I want to ask you things that I'm sure you've been asked before, and I'll try to do it in the best way possible. But really, they're going to be either questions directly from listeners, because I sequestered questions, I have created this very small community at stay small intentionally and I said, “Hey, I'm gonna be talking about parenting. What do you want to know”? And so I'm going to pull some of those up. I'll be honest, though, that a lot of them center on sexuality, LGBTQ and that type of stuff and so I want to ask you a few of those if that's okay.

Cindy

Sure.

Seth

One person said, and I'll just quote them here. So it says, I know that if asked directly by my son, that my parents will tell him that they believe that his lesbian moms are sinning by even being together and that they believe that we will go to hell for it. When this comes up, how should I address this?

Cindy

When the kids say that… just say grandma's wrong? So, so easy.

Seth

Is it though?

Cindy

It's so funny, because when you told me you solicited questions from your group I was like, I bet I can anticipate every single one of them. A very, very common question is how to deal with fundamentalist parents grandparents.

Seth

Well, that's one of my questions. And specifically, it would be not grandparents, it would be my parent,

Cindy

but your kids grandparents, right?

Seth

Yes.

Cindy

There is so much tension, I think that this is quite particular to our generation right now, because of the changes that have been happening in faith demographics. I think that historians, religious historians, are going to look back at this time and say that this is kind of when we started splitting.

So this is a very common problem. It's very hard for me to give answers because every family is so different and everyone has different values and priorities. I personally would not hesitate to tell my kids that grandma's wrong about this because if anything our kids are more gay affirming than we are. For them they're growing up watching LGBTQ characters in Marvel movies… well, not Marvel quite yet, but it's coming the pipeline.

Seth

Really?

Cindy

Yes, yeah, they have some.

Seth

I don't keep up with it. I just watched the movies, I don't really read about any of the other things. I do enjoy watching them.

Cindy

But you know, TV shows, books, there are lots of for many of them, it's really a non-issue, I don't know if we need to…

Seth

then let me pivot that question, then how do I feel like what I'm hearing in that question is how do I deal as a parent and I'm not, I'm definitely not a lesbian. So how do I deal as a parent with possible shame that comes from that conversation?

Cindy

Yeah.

Seth

How do I help?

Cindy

Yeah, I think it's really important to first of all, recognize that it's shame in this really quite abusive, right for our parents to say that you're living in sin and that who you are. That's, that's abuse. And I think we have to call it what it is, in order to know how to deal with it. And if you know that someone has been abusive to you, you have to create some distance draw some very solid boundaries.

And, as well for your children and say that well, I'm going to choose to not expose my children to that kind of rhetoric. I know it's hard because they’re grandparents and you want them also have that love and nurturing. But so as much as possible, like if it's possible, to still give them exposure but have certain boundaries. But for some families, it's just not possible, especially with very conservative family members, they don't respect those boundaries. And in that case, you know, you still hold the power to how much time you spend with your grandparents, how often you speak to them. And that's the thing about the autonomy to you have the power and I think it's really important to give our kids the power to say that you can express your opinions in front of authority, right, like that's, to me, that's very important that they should never be afraid to say, you know, to say what they believe or or assert themselves.

Seth

So that leads me to my next question. So the age that you and I live in now the the social media age would be the it's…in everything is politically charged. Right. And I've often thought I mean, school just started on Tuesday, and I've already had both of my kids that go to school. Talking about the President and the teacher said this or that said that.

And I am quick to tell them you know, that's wrong, that's racist, and it doesn't matter what anybody says or that's what is loving is loving. And if that offends people, that's more about them, than anything else,

Cindy

Right.

Seth

But how would you recommend someone parents in a way that they I mean, you have to talk about politics because if you don't, that’s think that's dangerous to such as to shy away from the conversation on the other. So how do you broach that topic either, but with children of any age, but But mostly, you know, in a healthy and intentional way?

Cindy

I think there's two things. First of all, I think as parents, we've kind of earned the right to tell our children our values. So let's say you're affiliated with a certain political party, like I think it's okay to tell your child Okay, I'm, you know, whatever. I'm this political party, because these values I align with this is what I believe in. And for now, I think it's important to add for now, because we can always change this is what I align with, and but the other piece of parenting is to give your children again, that autonomy to explore and make decisions for themselves.

And more likely than not, they will imitate you, I found that that's just true, and that's just what children do. But as much as possible, and especially as they grow and as they develop more mature cognitive and critical thinking capacities, the more they can desent and discuss and debate. And I think those are all really good skills and what better way for them to do that, but to practice with you and the safety of your home, but I do agree with you that it's so important now for the kids to learn how to live with a plurality of people with different convictions and how to engage and how to live in society. Like that's those are just life skills, right.

But yeah, so I would say first, don't be afraid. I think a lot of progressive parents are kind of afraid to assert their own ideas and opinions because they're so concerned about letting their kids decide for themselves. I think it's okay, we're all humans and we all get to it's our right to have an opinion. So we share our opinions, but we also give them the space to develop their own.

Seth

At least, and again, I don't know the demographics of where you're at, but within the next, you know, decade or so, at least in the area that I live, my children will become the minority. And so I try to intentionally prepare them for what that should look like. Yeah, always trying to reframe that lens. But I don't know that everybody is intentional that way. And so what are some resources? I mean, you've alluded to this conference and I do want to plug that at the end. I've listened to the most recent episode of your podcast, and I heard about that, and I thought that's, that's a good thing. I also like the time frame that you're doing it in because I work for a living and so that's fantastic. But we will get there in a minute.

What are some resources to do that in an interfaith way? Because it can't just be Christianity that has that conversation. And it can't just be Islam that has that conversation or Hindu or Buddhist or Sikh. So are there any resources to bring faith communities together, to do this as a village is really a tripe word is the wrong way to say it, but it's the best way I can come up with.

Cindy

Okay. Well, you talked, you touched on two things you touched on on race and religion. So I didn't know which one you want me to address.

Seth

I mean, well, they're going to blend together but mostly I want to know where their conversations or communities or resources that blend the faith together. So interfaith because there's truth that you can learn from, there's a lot of truth to learn from other faiths if you can get outside of the Bible Belt.

Cindy

Today, I was just helping promote a curriculum called A Joyful Path, which is an interfaith spiritual curriculum. And I actually got a coupon code it’s CWB 25 and you get 25% off the curriculum there and I'll give you the link that you can link to your show notes. Yes, so that's a spiritual curriculum that is interfaith. It's probably more Christians still drawing mostly on Bible stories, but they have some folk tales from other cultures and religions. And so kind of that idea that yes, wisdom can be found anywhere. I also had interviewed on my podcast, Susan Katz Miller, who talks about interfaith parenting, how to parent when both parents are of different faiths. So, that's another resource. But, you know, I say we create our own let's get, you know, let's use our imagination, get creative and figure out how to form these communities that are truly diverse, faith wise, and racially, and yeah, if any of your listeners are doing this, like let me know I would love to hear stories of how people are actually doing this in their communities, forming kind of healthy communities. Forming kind of healthy communities that are diverse. I think that we're still figuring that out. Right. And I think that's scary and exciting at the same time.

Seth

I think it's more exciting and scary. Because it means that there's a recognition that the issue exists, which is better than say 15 years ago because you can't fix something if you don't even see it. If that makes sense.

Cindy

I think scary and that people are afraid of offending, you know, with all this talk of cultural appropriation and like being racially insensitive. I think I feel it like I'm afraid to offend someone of another religion or appropriating so but I think we just have to be brave and not be afraid to make some mistakes and to own our mistakes when we do make them. I guess I mean, fear in that way, like, okay, it's gonna be kind of messy.

Seth

Well, anything worth doing is probably slightly messy. So here's my other question that came back to me. So you talked about, you know, children modeling after hopefully healthy parenting. And then I can envision, you know, a 13 year old coming into their own embolden with hormones and everything else that happens, and they're trying to be and I'll use a bad word but you know, some version of their parent as a social, like someone who's going to speak out against oppression, or someone that's going to speak out for justice, or speak out against patriarchy, which is a much bigger topic that we haven't touched on, although it's one that I struggle with how to model what a healthy patriarchy is for my wives or so…for my wives for my daughter so that when they are wives

Cindy

Freudian slip,

Seth

like they know what that looks like, yeah, I hope not. So how, how would you best prepare a child that is in that stage of life, that is trying to do trying to voice their voice and that's the best way that I can say it, but they don't necessarily have the knowledge to back it up. Does that make sense? Because that can that could possibly cause trauma.

Cindy

I think it's I think we let them just like I was saying before, don't be afraid to make mistakes. So don't be afraid to let our children make mistakes. That's how we learn is by making mistakes. So yeah, they're not gonna, you know, they might parent some rhetoric, they might be a little bit offensive, but especially for girls like, because our girls are given such strong messaging from the world then you might not see it because you're a man.

But I think women will be able to tell you…Yeah, we are told to be quiet. We were told to be silent. We're told to not, not speak our opinion out loud. We're told to apologize if our tone isn't quite right. To smile more, to be more polite to be more of a bridge builder. Those are all messaging I receive every single day as a public person as a woman.

So I know that it's out there and I know it's very strong. So anytime girls speak up, have an opinion, share their opinion, however loud they do I say, encourage it, because anything you say to try to tamper that is another voice telling them to be quiet. Like, we have to counter that voice telling them to be quiet, so and but I mean of course what once they, you know speak their opinions and maybe it's like problematic; what they've said. Of course you can have conversations with them and say, Okay, well let's talk about it, but talk to them as equals. Don't condescend. Don't say you said that wrong. That was dumb. You know, don't say that ever again. loud. Say Hey, listen, this is ,you know, this is what I've learned maybe this is something we can discuss. Here's what I feel about it. What do you think.

Seth

Hmm, I promise I'll stop asking questions. So we're beginning to get to questions I have. So for myself, I wasn't raised that way. And I don't think you were either, but I could be wrong with that.

Cindy

Yeah

Seth

I find myself often immediately reverting back to an authoritarian figure. Yeah, I talked about this a few weeks ago with some friends. I don't know if I've ever actually said it out loud. And so I won't edit this out. Maybe I did. I don't remember. I probably have blocked it is traumatic. What are some steps that parents can do when they're starting to realize “holy crap? This is not this is to get unhealthy. Yeah, really quick, right?” Because I often find myself and luckily I married a woman that will come in and be like, you need to Yeah, like I hear your voice. I've known you for a long time. I'm gonna need you to go do literally anything else,

Cindy

Time out for dad.

Seth

But sometimes it's also the same for her like I'll walk Kelly, what do you what are you doing? No, no leave. I need you to go away.

But outside of that, because there's also single parent, a lot of single parents like, what are some what are some practical steps to be like, you know, I feel myself slipping into what was beaten into me quite literally as a child.

Cindy

Yeah, that's a great question. I think this is this is a part of parenting because it allows us and it almost forces us to confront our own wounds. Because if we don't address our own wounds, spiritual or otherwise, and sometimes even physical, then we will risk passing that on just as you describe, will we will use the same system that was used on us will inflict the same pain that we endured on to our children. And so this is almost kind of a separate work apart from your children because your children are not responsible for fixing you or healing you. You have to do that hopefully with other adults or with a therapist. And I think the first thing to do is to actually know, understand that what was done to you was wrong, that it was authoritarian that it was abusive and that you are suffering from trauma. Like you said, all those words, but to reiterate that understand this happened to me it was traumatic. And we know so much more about the way trauma works now that we have the tools and the resources to begin to address it. And none of us are going to do this perfectly, because again, that's not how trauma works. It doesn't just disappear overnight. But I think having the posture of being willing to do the work of healing within ourselves and wanting to do better, is a huge departure from you know, maybe our parents to even that awareness and consciousness. So, yeah, I think one thing I would say is just to be be aware, don't make your children do that work for you. You know, do that work yourselves or with other adults, with your friends, with your community with a therapist.

And I think that will go a long ways to you. And then as you begin to break those cycles of treating your parents differently, I think that is incredibly healing to you, as the parents, as you see, oh, wow, it doesn't have to be this way it gets to stop with me. Like that's incredibly empowering to know that the trauma that happened to us, doesn't control us. It doesn't have to dictate our future and it gets to stop. And I think that will go a long way in even future incidents as you get triggered again, from your own pain to say, Hey, you know, I am resilient, and I can break the cycle.

Seth

I like that. That's a good word. Your kids are not responsible for fixing you. I like that a lot. Plug the places and the so where did the people go? To get your book? Where do they go to get in touch with you and then talk to me a bit about this conference, specifically. And I may edit this part out. When is it? Because I want to make sure the episode is out before that, yeah. so that people can actually participate in the conference, provided it's not like tomorrow because as we've alluded to, I'm the only one that does this. So that's just won't happen.

Cindy

Yeah, so my my conference is called Parenting Forward conference. And you can find the information on that on parentingforwardconference.com, it's going to be online, which means anybody with a computer and an internet connection can join. And it's the dates are September 23 to 27th. And it's going to be every evening and Eastern time. And the reason it's kind of an odd time is because I'm in Taiwan, so I kind of had to fit my schedule. But the good news is that all of the recordings will be accessible to you. So if you can't make it live, then you can just watch the recordings at some other time.

It will be 20 plus speakers all from either parenting niche or the progressive faith niche. And I'm really excited because there are a lot of people who talk about progressive faith. A lot of them are your previous podcast guests. And they don't normally talk about parenting. And this is something that I want to change, because I think parenting is one of the most important things that you can talk about if you want to promote social change. So I'm excited to kind of draw these speakers together to talk about this one topic of how we raise children with justice. And so check out the speakers on the websites. Do you want to get my book it's called parenting forward and it's available on Amazon and everywhere where books are sold.

Seth

So you should go get you should go get the book, I think everyone listening should

Cindy

thank you.

Seth

Thank you so much for coming on. I did not know that there was a 12 hour time difference, but that's even more impressive, but thank you. I really appreciate you coming on.

Cindy

Thank you for having me.

Outro

I like what Cindy said there at the end it is not the work of our children to do the work for us when we go through trauma and I know so many times and I've seen so many people read and write about and speak on you know we have to be the ones that break the cycle and so that can be traumatic cycle that can be abusive cycles that can be sexual abuse that can be bad faith, bad religion and bad ways to binarily see the world I pray and I hope that we just get better at it. I think that we can.

A huge thank you to the Eagle and Child for the use of their music in this show. They have become one of my favorite albums of the year. You will find the music from today on the Spotify playlist for Can I say this at church which because, of some beautiful human, that has been converted into also an apple music playlist. So search for that out and not quite certain how to find that link but feel like if you use Apple Music; you are so I will talk with you all next week. I cannot wait. Have a good one.

Biblical Narrative, Translation, and Literalism with Professor Robert Alter / Transcript

Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.


Intro

Hey there, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I'm really, really excited for today's conversation. And so I'm going to belabor all of the normal things, the plea to support the show and rate and review the show because you know that you should have already done that. You'll find those links at canisaythisatchurch.com, and you know, fire up the Patreon, Facebook, Twitter, all the places and so here we go.

Show of hands, how many people have ever translated anything? Your hand is down just like mine. I finished recently wrapping a conversation with Professor Robert alter. I recently read a post somewhere online that said, you know, who would intimidate you to talk to and so, you know, Robert is definitely on the list. And I think you'll hear that trepidation in me repeating questions here in a minute, but the conversation was beautiful. I do not want to belabor any points. And so here we go, Professor Robert Alter.

Seth

Professor Robert Alter, thank you so much for agreeing to come on to the show. I'm a very big fan of your work. I'm actually looking at a set of your Hebrew Bible that was on sale recently, I grabbed a copy, because I could not afford it at full price, but I've really enjoyed it. So, welcome to the show.

Robert

I'm happy to be here.

Seth

I was pointed in your direction by a few people. One of them was the creator of Bibliotheca Adam Lewis Greene and talking with him. He had said, you know, you should really look at the work you know on biblical narrative and poetry and etc, by you. And before that, I didn't realize who you were, but I believe your work has been fairly impactful for just theology as a whole. So thank you for that. But for those that are going to have the same problem that I had tell us a bit about yourself, what is important as we discuss, you know, biblical narratives and, and thematic elements and whatnot, what is important to know about you as a scholar?

Robert

Okay, well, I started my career strictly as a literary scholar, and, in particular a scholar of modern literature of the European and American novel. Now I happen to have known Biblical Hebrew also modern Hebrew, by the way, quite well since about the age of 18. And the Bible always enchanted me but I couldn't figure out what was so great about it, given the fact that it's so sparing in details and seems, at times, almost simple. And then about 15 years into my career, I thought, well, I'm beginning to figure out a few things about how biblical narrative works. So I wrote an article and the article, I was pretty young then, which was rather feisty. You know, I sort of scolded Biblical scholars for spending all their time hunting down Acadian lone words, and not knowing how to read a story. And I tried to demonstrate how you read a story by proposing a reading of the the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, and how it relates to everything around it.

And I thought that this was going to be a one off, but that there was a rather big response to with letters from readers and so forth. So I thought, well, I have a couple of more ideas about Biblical narrative, and I'll write another article. And then soon it was four articles. And by that time, I saw I was on my way to writing a book about Biblical narrative which came out I guess, 38 years ago in 1981. And it's been in print ever since.

And that kind of drew me into the Bible in general, and I wrote a book on Biblical poetry and a series of articles and then one thing led to another and through a proposal from a publisher, I ended up doing a translation of Genesis.

To begin with, I didn't really think I was going to do the whole ball of wax. But I did end up doing that.

Seth

Yeah.

Robert

Now maybe I should say something about the importance of Biblical narrative.

Some people ask, well, if you're talking about something about these writings, in literary terms, aren't you misrepresenting the Bible by putting such an emphasis on its literary art? And here's the thing that I am convinced of; these Hebrew writers from whatever from about the year 1100 before the Christian era, and onward down to around 165 BC, they, of course were impelled by a powerful religious motive.

They had this new vision of monotheism one God replacing the many gods and all that entails morally and in terms of a covenant between God and Israel and so forth. That's what they wanted to talk about. And that's what everyone is always recognized about the Bible right? But for reasons we cannot fathom they happen to be, really in comparison with their big neighbors with Egypt and the various Mesopotamian kingdoms, which were very sophisticated cultures. Far suppressing ancient Israel in material culture, but they completely Eclipse their neighbors in literary brilliance. And they made the decision to cast their vision of God, creation, history, Israel, the moral realm, in highly sophisticated literary narrative and, and great poetry.

So my contention over the years has been that in order to see what they want to say about all those grand, religious, theological themes, you have to pay more attention to the literary vehicle through which they convey those things.

Seth 9:51

I want to circle back to a word you said a minute ago because I'm just going to show my ignorance here. You said Acadian lone words. What are what is that?

Robert

Oh!

Well, okay, here's the story. The Bible is full of puzzles, that is words that appear only once or twice in the whole biblical corpus. And scholars over the centuries, including the modern, highly informed period, when we have archaeology and all that have been making guesses about what those words mean. And of course, we do want to know, to the best of our ability, what every word in the Bible means. So sometimes, when scholars come across a word, this an enigma, they will look around to the other Semitic languages in the region, and say, “Well, here's a word and Acadian”, Acadian was the language of the Syrian Empire and that's, you know, over the the area of Mesopotamia.

“Here's a, here's a word and Acadian. That means, I don't know torrential rain. So maybe this word in a Ezekiel, which sounds a little bit like it also means torrential rain”. So that's what what an Acadian lone word would be.

Now, I might add to this that this is a tricky road, to conclude that if two languages are in contact, and words look similar, that they mean the same thing in one language is another. I'll give you an example. Let's say in the year 3500, when 21st century English is not known very well, a scholar who knows French very well comes across the person word assist in an English text. And he knows that in French, you have this verb, assisté which doesn't mean to help, it means to attend, like to attend to ceremony.

So he says, oh, then assistant English must mean to attend to ceremony, and he’d be dead wrong.

Seth

What do you do with that then if it's someone like me, that doesn't know Hebrew, how do I recognize those when I'm reading scripture? Like if I'm reading that, and I don't know the difference? Did those words have like an ultimate impact in the overarching narrative? Or will it not necessarily…

Robert

It depends, I would say that if you reading in translation, of course, there is no way to know unless you're reading some kind of annotated translation. We're an honest translator. And there are a number of the translations by committee, I have a dim view of them, but they are, some of them are honest in this respect. They'll put a little notice about the meaning the Hebrew is obscure.

And what I do because I ended up writing a commentary, not just the translators notes, I often explain in in detail, and it's, I think, frequently the case that a single word that's obscure, isn't going to mess up the understanding of the the whole Texas maybe just a small, local nuance, and to be frank what translators and scholars do often is to make an educated guess, based on context.

I'll give you one rather frequent example. Biblical poetry is based on parallelism in meaning, that is the second half of the line somehow echoes; I think it often develops, but it echoes the meaning of the first half of the line. So let's say in the first half of the line, you have a noun, that means ship. And everybody knows it means ship. And then in the second half of the line, you have a word that appears only at this point in the whole Bible. And you don't know what the word means, but you figure…it's okay, it's parallel to ship. So it's some kind of see craft.

Seth

I want to pivot a bit. So earlier, you talk about religious motives and biblical narrative. And so, there's a lot of things there that fascinate me that we can that we can dovetail into, but I'd rather not. So my question is, I often get the most confused in the metaphorical language of the prophets, and how often I feel like they call back to Genesis or they call back to Exodus or you know, Jesus will call back to that, but we read him so flatly. How does one sit down and relate well you know, with the prophets or move past or or knit together, thematically, how they all are telling a narrative?

Robert

Now, I would say this, that this mechanism of said the prophets, harking back to Genesis or the Exodus story, or whatever, is part of the the dynamic of all literature that is, all literature, particularly secular literature is as well work but by building on its own pass by taking earlier tech and getting into a dialogue with them, sometimes transforming them. And that happens again and again in the Bible.

So what I would invite a serious reader as a Bible to do is when he or she hears an echo of an earlier text, simply for these readers to ask themselves.

Well, why is this piece of Genesis being invoked in Jeremiah? What does it tell us about Jeremiah's intention? So I'll give you one example. For the moment I'm blocking the chapter number. But there is a passage in Jeremiah, in which he invokes the ghastly devastation that will overtake Israel, if Israel does not remain faithful to its covenant with God. And the way proceeds is by a verse by verse, recollection of the creation story in Genesis with things turn backwards.

That is, you know, I’m paraphrasing from rough memory, you know, the Prophet says, and I look to the heavens, and there is no bird flying, I look to the sun, and it is turn dark and so on and so forth. So what you have here is almost like a film spool running backwards, where all the steps of creation that you get in Genesis 1 are being reversed. And the world is being returned to its primordial chaos. Okay?

So if you then ask yourself, and I think you don't have to be a profound scholar to do this, just a thoughtful reader, yes. But why is Jeremiah doing this? He's doing this because he's trying to get across to his people, the message that creation itself is contingent. That said, if humankind doesn't observe its responsible, moral stewardship of the world, the world can turn back into chaos. And that's a very powerful religious message.

Seth

It is. So I crowdsource some questions when I told people that I will be speaking with you.

Somebody had said that they're currently reading through your Genesis translation currently. And they had some thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of those that read the Bible in literal translations. And so I guess what does literal translation mean, as opposed to like a literal literary narrative approach?

And then maybe if you could also what is an example of a literal translation of the Bible, and then the translation that would possibly be like approaching it from a literal narrative version?

Robert

Well, what I tried to do a kind of tricky balancing act. That is, I want to make the Bible readable as a beautifully wrought narrative, for the reasons that I've indicated earlier. Because that's what it is in the Hebrew and to make it sound clumsy or bizarre would be violating what the original is like. But I try to do this to the best of my ability by hewing closely to the contours of the Hebrew.

The King James version does this to a large extent, I think I do it even more than the King James. Although, I have to say I do have a lot of respect for the King James Version. So maybe I'll give you since you mentioned metaphor a couple of minutes ago. I'll give you an example of literal translation of a metaphor.

When Joseph's brothers come to see him in Egypt for the first time. And as you will recall, he knows who they are, but they don't know who he is, he looks like an Egyptian to them. At one point in anger, he says to them in my translation, which follows the Hebrew including the word order, quite literally, “the nakedness of the land you have come to see”.

Now, two or three Translations by committee, done in the 20th century that looked at, translate this as “you've come to seek out or spy on the weak points in our defense”. Now, what have the translators they're done?

They figured, well, here's a metaphor, it's going to confuse people. People don't understand metaphors anymore, which I think is wrong. And so, instead of conveying the metaphor, we will represent in our English version, what the metaphor refers to. So they say, the weak points in our defense, which may or may not be what that metaphor refers to, but I preserve the metaphor literally. Why? Because I think it is quite powerful. That is, a reader familiar with the Bible and those that to see that nakedness is a metaphor for taboo, sexual relations, like you shall not see your mother's nakedness.

And, and so what Joseph is saying to his brothers is something that never should be seen by alien eyes. You've come to see in in Egypt, and that's why the, the metaphor works so beautifully. And that's the kind of thing that I tried to do pretty consistently in my translation of the Bible.

Seth

So I'm glad that you brought up taboo because it's a question that I have, a question actually spoke about with my pastor a few days ago at our church, and then with a few friends online.

So I thought so they're currently going through like a 13 week summer series, just because I honestly I think, Robert that the calendar just matches well, but we just finished Nahum, and then we're just we're going to Habakkuk next week, like we're just going through all of the prophets, which has really been enjoyable because they're throwing in all the context context.

Robert

Yeah, that’s a big challenge.

Seth

So I find that oftentimes, people only talk about the easy things, and the things that require too much context that you can't fit into 25 minutes sermon, we just can't talk about these because you can't do it justice. Right. And a 13 week series is so big. But I told I was like, you know, we should talk about, you know, the wisdom books and Song of Songs and like, we just don't talk about any erotic prose or narrative. And so I'm curious, your thoughts on that. Like, that's a taboo subject. It's rarely if ever, talk about so how does a reader approach those texts in a way that they can learn something? Because the metaphors they're like, I've read some stuff from Robert Williamson where he's like, you know, this isn't really, there's three or four ways to view this. But because we don't talk about it, it's entirely confusing. So what is your take kind of on those erotic prose and those erotic poetry? And how does that relate, I guess to the narrative of you know, the Hebrew Bible?

Robert 24:24

Okay, well, the first thing I have to say is that the Biblical writers are quite frank about erotic matters. That, by the way, this is a kind of tricky challenge in translation. For example, terms that refer to the sexual act, you will find in the modern translation, translators rendering these terms as to be intimate with, to have relations with, to co-habitate with all of which are kind of ponderous and don't feel at all like the Biblical world. Or one translation I looked at with Potiphar’s wife when she tried to seduce Joseph has to say to him, make love to me.

Which is all wrong because it's such a modern locution. It's like a frustrated wife might say to her husband make love to me, but not an ancient Egyptian aristocratic lady, right. So, the Bible uses very simple terms, which I think still work that is, to lie with, to come into and to know. That is because of the King James version which literally translated, the Hebrew didn't know as that it's become an established term in English in a Christian we even have a kind of legal term carnal knowledge.

So, I think that a translator needs to respect the dignity of these references to sex. But as I said, the Hebrew writers are quite frank about this, and the Song of Songs which of course, both Christians and Jews, as I'm sure you know, have read allegorically.

I myself don't read this mainly allegorically but kind of very exuberant, guilt free, celebration of the joys of sensual love, and my own take on this is that this is a, I would say this to believers, that this is a gift from God to humanity and there's good reason to celebrate it.

Seth 27:45

if you're not going to read it out gorgeously for those like me that don't say up on the English verbiage, English is whatever it is on the internet anymore. So allegory is you know like a metaphor revealing you know some form of hidden meaning like the message behind the message. So what would be another way to read that text or text like that? Because there is so much allegory.

Like I remember asking Professor NT, right about, you know, water wheels in the sky, I think in Ezekiel and he's like, I just don't know.

Robert

(Laughter) Yeah. That’s a great question.

Seth

He's like is like I don't know what to do with that. I'm just going to really say didn't really answer the question. I was like, what do I do with it? No, it wasn't NT Wright it was Brueggemann. But either way, I was like, What do I do with this?

He's like I there's some questions that are great questions. I just don't have answers. So how else would you read it if not allegorical?

Robert

Okay. So, here’s the thing. As I said, both Jews and Christians have gone the road of allegory. There's a wonderful moment in the Talmud, where there's a debate among the the sages as to whether the Song of Songs should be included, and scripture and one of the greatest early sages, Rabbi Akiva says, if all the writings are holy, then the Song of Songs is holy of holies. By which he clearly meant that it was a sacred allegory. From the Jewish point of view. It's about the love between God and the community of Israel. In the Christian allegory, it's the love between Christ and the church.

And the allegorical reading is beautiful in its way and I don't dismiss people who choose to read it that way. And probably without the allegory, it wouldn't have gotten into the camera, but I think that the original meaning, I suppose, not the only meaning but the original meaning of these poems is the love between a young man and a young woman.

And love, and love poetry, were part of the the cultural experience of ancient Israel. And these poems are so expressive of that experience of balancing a kind of refinement with frank sensuality, that, that I think that the people didn't want to let go those problems. So they were preserved in the Canon and then to make them fit better into the overall religious impulse of the canon it became the practice, as I say, for both the Christian and the Jewish community, to read them allegory,

Seth

So I’m going to use the word Sola Scriptura only because I think it matters when you translate in the Bible. So I get a lot of pushback from people when I say, you know, I don't necessarily believe the Bible is literally always trying to say what you think it's saying. But as you're reading through translations, what would you say to someone that says, you know, Robert, if you're going to retranslate the Bible, or really anyone, the words, I hear you earlier, you know, there's words that really only exist and a handful of places and we're just guessing.

So how can someone that really wants to rest in the the, I guess the safety net, of a Sola Scriptura mentality? How can they wrestle with Scripture in a way that they're going to allow themselves maybe to see new insights that they didn't see before without really dealing with trauma; with intentionally dealing with it. Because there's a small little loss of fidelity there I think for a lot of people, you know, they're wrestling with things are like, “wait, it has…it has four meetings? This isn't acceptable. I need just this one”. How would you advise you know, if a student was asking you that?

Robert

Well to begin with, this goes back to our discussion of the invocation of Acadian loan words, now that we understand what those are. There could be places where there's a word that appears only once in the entire Bible and there doesn't seem any convincing etymology to relate it to something we know. And at best, we can only guess by context, and that's just built in. Now a second thing that I hope this won't disconcert some of your readers. But ancient texts, this is true of the Greek and Latin as well as the Hebrew, are copied by scribes and the scribes in a generation of scribes, you know, one generation of scribes copying the work of a preceding generation. And the fact is that scribes are human, and scribes make mistakes in copying, unfortunately, and I can attest to this because I've discovered quite a few times in my own translation that my eye has skipped over word, which is something that scribes do.

So this means, and there's not much to save this part of Scripture, that being in ancient text copied by hand, from one generation to another there are places where the text got scrambled. And it's very hard to unscramble it. Maybe the best example is In the Hebrew Bible is Job. Job is a very powerful book, brilliant poetry maybe the most brilliant poetry in the whole Hebrew Bible.

But the Job poet uses a much bigger vocabulary than any other biblical poet, which means that he's often uses words that don't appear anywhere else. And the ancient scribes, what a scribe does when he's copying a text, if he comes across a word that is unfamiliar to him, he may substitute a familiar word and by that scramble the text or he may simply get confused and do something odd with that word. So the fact of the matter is that we can carry with us the brilliance and the profundity of the book of Job.

But there are places where the text is kind of messed up.

Seth

Yeah.

Robert

So that is a built-in problem and it's something as you say, that maybe lay readers of the Bible don't like to think about because as your question suggests…the whole idea that would make them a little uncomfortable.

Seth

Yes,

Robert

But it just, it goes with the territory.

Seth

And if correct me if I'm wrong, but you did your current translation by hand correct, and then I assume it was someone else's job to type that up? And that's a big job, but you did it by hand?

Robert

Yeah.

Seth 35:59

That is absolutely insane. I'm curious with your training.

A narrative and, and literature outside of biblical texts. What are some of the ways that you know the Hebrew Bible that we have now? And maybe the New Testament Bible as well, although I'm not sure where your training ins has drawn from other texts that we have maybe forgotten about or just pass over and so because of that, we may lose some of the meaning.

Robert

You mean, my training and other texts?

Seth

Yes.

Robert

Okay. Let me give you one example. I mentioned earlier that I've been focused in my general literary studies, mostly on the novel. Something that is observable in the novel maybe beginning in the 19th century with the so called “art novel”, is that many writers choose to build their novels by weaving in from one episode to another a recurring image or motif.

For example, in Flaubert Madame Bovary, the first time we see Emma Bovary, she has a parasol, and the sun is shining through it and the parasol is blue, and casts a blue light on her face. And then we find that the color blue keeps coming back in the novel, in her fantasies. Her romantic fantasies involve blue distances and so on and so forth. So this is something that I was alerted to early in my training in my reading as a student of literature. And then I came to Genesis, and I saw that something quite similar is going on, for example, in the Jacob- Joseph's story, garments are very important.

Almost from beginning to end, that is, Jacob first deceives his father to steal the blessing by wearing his brother's clothes. Then Jacob's sons, deceive their father, by taking this coat of many colors in the King James Version, that the father's made as a gift to Joseph dipping in in blood and bring it to him and saying that wild beast has devoured him. Then we have the change of garments in the Joseph's story from prison garb to royal arraignment, and so on and so forth. I don't want to hold for too long, but a long stretch of story is tied together by this. Oh of course I should mention that one prime example that when his wife assault, Joseph, she tears the garment off his back and he runs naked outside; and then she sets the garment alongside her. And when the people the household answer her screams, she says, “Look, he took off his garment to assault me” when, of course with the real fact is that she tore the garment off him. So it becomes a crucial evidentiary fact. So see what I mean that something that I learned from reading Flaubert or James Joyce pops up almost 3000 years earlier in the Hebrew Bible.

Seth

I want to end with this because my time is coming quickly to a close and so I must thank you guys as well. One of the things that Adam had said I'd asked him a question and he'd said, I'm going to try to paraphrase something that I think Robert has said in the past, but I like the way that it lenses the way that we should methodically and intentionally sit with uncomfortable in Scripture, but also read with the lens of a little bit more beauty.

And so one of the things that he said is the thing about the Hebrew Bible, you know, when it's held up to the New Testament or I think he was also arguing not really many other large libraries of text, or that it's just a level of artistry that is achieved in the Hebrew Bible that is rarely if ever reach elsewhere in Scripture. So I'm curious if you could break that down a bit? So if that is true, and hopefully it is that paraphrase is true, because I didn’t fact check it, I didn't know where to look. How can I, you know, I'm sitting down and I'm going to pull out and I'm just going to randomly open up and you know, just, you know, I'm going to wrestle with Jonah today or I'm gonna wrestle with 2nd Kings today; like how do I read scripture in a way to just kind of read that beauty as opposed to let flat reading for those listening that are going to turn it off, grab a Bible and be like; “all right let's see what Roberts actually talking about”?

Robert

Okay, I have one rule of thumb, it won't cover all cases, but it covers a surprising number of cases. One of the primary procedures, artful procedures, in both poetry and narrative in the Bible is repetition that looks like repetition, but turns out not to be exact repetition. And where it's not exact repetition, something revalatory happens. For example, and this is by no means the only category but on the microscopic level. Again, and again in Hebrew narrative you have let's say a narrator saying something and or one of the characters, and then another character says something and it looks like exactly the same words.

But if you read it carefully and as long as the translation doesn't play games with the original, and I try not to play games, you can do this in translation. When there's a repetition, most of the time it looks like an exact repetition, but it's not. Sometimes one word will be changed, or the order of words, or something will be subtracted or something will be added. And that always tells you something important about what's going on in the story. So when, when Joseph is falsely accused by Pulitzer Prize wife of attempted rape, she tells the people in the household that the Hebrew men that “he brought to us” (he being her husband-in which he doesn't call them by name or title, but contemptuously he) that who brought to us came into me to play with me to mock me; it's a double meaning word.

Now, when her husband comes home, she tells him exactly the same story in almost exactly the same words, but instead of saying, “the Hebrew man”, she says, “The Hebrew slave”.

Now why the difference between the two versions so just in that one word? Well, when she's talking to the workers on her estate. She’s talking to people who are no doubt slaves and she doesn't want to remind them of Joseph’s slave status, tut the fact that he's an Egyptian…I'm sorry, Hebrew man, you know, one of those wild Semites from the North who are all rapists! Right?

Whereas when she talks to her husband, she grounds, just in that one word, because otherwise she's repeating what she said, verbatim, but instead of “a Hebrew man”, she calls him “a Hebrew slave” because to her husband, she wants him to be conscious of the fact that a mere slave; someone who is his property, had the audacity to attempt to assault her.

Seth

Yeah,

Robert

So it's a little thing but it's quite beautiful and it gives you a much more vivid sense of what's going on in the interaction between the characters.

Seth

Well, and it makes me ask questions I don't have time to answer, but I'll ask him here. And we won't answer him, but I'll ask them intentionally. It makes me wonder of the metaphor, in this part of the story, of you know, nakedness calls back to how often Israel is stripped naked, or laid bare after sins are exposed.

And in the way that we view humanity today, you know, what that story has to talk about with, you know, the way that I view other people and whether or not they have value to have their voice be heard. But we won't we won't go there today.

Robert

Yeah, that’s a big topic.

Seth

Yeah, that's a four hour topic, and I think my internet connection has proven today, it is not going to cooperate for that.

Robert

Ha (laughter…) okay.

Seth

Thank you for your grace with that. Where would you point people to Professor that want to get ahold of your work? That want to read more, and honestly, I'm curious…is there a place to go back and see those original articles that you referenced at the beginning, I wrote them down that you had some and I'm happy to Google that, but I'm curious if there's a place to get the original articles.

Robert

The original articles are put together in a book, not a very long book, there's about 230 pages, called The Art of Biblical Narrative, and I revised that somewhat, not fundamentally, though I did expand a few things here and there and modify a few statements back in I think 2011-2012, somewhere around then, and it's available in paperback. So under the imprint of Basic Books, so it's not very expensive and I think I try in all my writing, not to use academic jargon and not to be highly technical. So I think an open minded reader can follow it well enough. And it would give that reader, I think, a certain handle on how Biblical narrative works. And really, I do try to write in an accessible and lively way without technical language.

And my aim really is to give readers a kind of toolkit; that is, after they read the book on Biblical narrative, can they take those tools and go read other Biblical narratives beyond the ones I’ve discuss and read them more fully?

Seth

Yeah, absolutely. So there's that book and then how do they find more about you know, they're inclined and they're like, I need to know more about this. Where Is there like a repository of just all the places to go to is there an easy way to access your stuff?

Robert

Well, I've never set up a website. Let me see, if you go to the website of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University California, there's, you know, a bio on me.

And otherwise, one can always, I'm not recommending purchases, but one can, can go to, under my name to Amazon books and see what I've written that's out there.

Seth

Well, I would recommend purchases. The only reason I know that that most recent version is 2011 is because I recently bought it. But then when you said that they were older, I was like, this sounds familiar. And then I looked at the copyright and said 2011 I was like, well this has to be something different. So I appreciate that clarification. Well, Robert, in fear of the internet breaking again, I'm going to thank you now for coming on.

Robert

It was very nice.

Seth

Thank you, Robert.

Closing

Man, I am so happy to have been able to speak to Robert and I have about 5000 more questions to talk about. And maybe that'll happen one day. For those of you that are Patreon supporters of the show, you will know how hard this one was to edit. The Internet broke like 29 times. its closest I think I've ever come to literally just yelling at the computer.

Anyway.

It is a privilege to be able to do this. I would really encourage you to go and get some of the writings of Robert Alter, those books that we talked about right at the very end, I'll put a link to that book in the show notes. They're brilliant. So I bought them since discussing with Robert and really, really good books and I cannot recommend enough his Hebrew Bible translation with commentary it is, it is a love labor-labor of love, however you say that. I hope that you got as much out of that as I did. I cannot wait for the next time that we're together, I hope that you are all blessed.