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Showing posts from September, 2009

Esther, The Inglorious Basterds and the Hoard of Golden Treasure

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9.20-22
Psalm 124
James 5.13-20
Mark 9.49-50

In the film 'Inglorious Basterds' Quentin Tarantino plays with history. He imagines a situation where a group of Jewish American soldiers are parachuted into occupied France to get even with the Nazis and kick ass as a punishment for the way the occupiers are hunting down and exterminating French Jews. I mention this simply because the Book of Esther is the same kind of story. 'Inglorious Basterds' begins with some white words projected against a black background, 'Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France' and Esther is also make believe. It could easily begin with the words, 'Once upon a time in ancient Persia.' Not only that, but both narratives are equally bloodthirsty. The theme of both stories is that Jewish people - even when they are a beleaguered minority far from their Promised Land - cannot be knocked down and counted out. If the need arises, and they are threatened by great evil, th…

The Tongue

Isaiah 50.4-9, James 3.1-12, Mark 8.27-38

A few years ago I was sent to see a consultant at the Leeds General Infirmary because I had lost my voice. She was prodding inside my mouth with a thing like the back of a tablespoon, trying to see the inside of my throat. "Can't you stick your tongue out any further than that?" she asked. "No," I said, "That's as far as it will go." "Really?" She was a bit surprised, so she lifted up my tongue and then exclaimed, "Hey, look everyone! He's tongue-tied!" The students and junior doctors in the room crowded rounded to see. Someone opened a door and called out to the nurses, "Come and look at this!" And I thought, "Fantastic! I'm a freak show!" Apparently, tongue-tied people are very rare nowadays because if a baby is tongue-tied the paediatricians cut the tie in the first few days of life to help them breastfeed better. But that never happened to me, and I had t…

Our instruction manual

Psalm 19.1-4
Proverbs 1.20-33

Someone claimed on the Radio the other day that the real difference between human beings and the rest of the animal kingdom is that only human beings can write - or read - an instruction manual. Instruction manuals combine language and tool making so that we can pass on really complicated designs to people who have never seen them before and enable them to make a copy of their own, or learn how to use a piece of technology that someone else has devised. No other animal can do that.

Mind you, before we congratulate ourselves too much for our superiority to the other animals, let's remember that it's not easy to write a good instruction manual. I saw one example posted on a blog which was intended for making a bike tower, to hang up bicycles on the wall in a garage or shed and save space. It begins, 'Please read this instruction manual carefully before use.' But then it goes on, "If you lost this instructions, please call us written on the…

Justice for the Lockerbie Bomber

Proverbs 22:8-9 & 22-23, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-30
Our reading from Proverbs says, 'Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.' The Psalm says, 'The Lord sets the prisoners free.' And the Letter of James says, 'So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.' Two of these passages date back about three thousand years, the other one about two thousand years, yet the issues they address - about justice and mercy - are still in the headlines today.

Although it's an Arabic news service, the Al Jazeera website reported the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi in very even-handed terms. On the one hand it reported the outrage of the victims' families in America, from where the vast majority of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing came. Most of them still believe that al-Megrahi was responsible for the attack, which was…