Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Cain and Abel

Book Review: Harvey’s Hideout

Harvey’s Hideout, Russell Hoban, Plough Publishing, 2018. 

Harvey Muskrat and his sister, Mildred, find themselves in a continual feud.

Originally published in 1969, Russell Hoban’s classic, much like Bread and Jam for Frances or Charlie the Tramp, Harvey’s Hideouthas a hint of realism. Whether muskrats or humans, siblings fight. Both siblings have their lesser qualities, which seem to be the entry of frustration with the other. Harvey is inconsiderate, while Mildred is bossy.

But, as Father Muskrat reminds them, it does not mean that they are “stupid and no-good” or “mean and rotten.”

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Noah: Discussion Questions

ark4As I’m been working on collecting my thoughts and reading other thoughts about the new film Noah, the Christian educator in me wrote out some questions. I’m sharing them here for those who are looking for such a resource. As a Christian educator, I should tell you, if you use these questions, don’t feel like you have to use them all. If anything, let the questions be a guide to having a conversation around the themes presented in the film.

Noah Discussion Questions

1. Which of the characters, as they are presented in the film, did you relate to the most? In what ways?

2. There is a lot of longing for communication with God in the film. How have you experienced (or not experienced) communication with God? What was that like?

3. In the film, God communicates with Noah through a dream. How has God traditionally communicated with the Church?

4. His father tells Noah about the tradition that has been handed down regarding caring for God’s creation. How is this a part of your faith tradition? How do you feel about humanity’s responsibility for caring for creation?

5. The film depicts the results of sin and wickedness through the barrenness of the earth. In what ways have you seen sin and wickedness depicted in prayers, hymns, or other forms of faith tradition?

6. Use this chart to compare the Biblical narrative with the film. Discuss how the filmmakers depicted different parts of the story.

7. There were a number of added scenes that were not recorded in Genesis. For example, the Bible does not communicate what happened on the ark through all the rain and floating. The filmmakers make an attempt to fill in that gap. What do you imagine may have happened on the ark? If you were one of Noah’s family members, what would it have been like for you?

8. One of the Watchers comes to Noah in the middle of the night to help him and his family get to Grandfather. Why do you think he came at night to help him? In what ways is this Watcher like Nicodemus (John 3)?

9. When Noah is describing his dream from God, he tells his Grandfather, “I saw death and new life.” How does this statement summarize Christian theology?

10. The first animals that are sent to the ark are doves. What do you think the significance of that is?

11. Ila, the girl Noah adopts and who will become Shem’s wife, is barren at first. Note other women in the Bible who were barren (at first). What similarities are they between them and Ila? What does barrenness symbolize in the spiritual life?

12. Noah changes in the film. At what point does this change happen and how does it affect him and his relationships?

13. What significant changes have happened in your life that has affected you and your relationships?

14. Noah and his wife have a conversation where Noah says that there is wickedness in all of us. His wife counters that there is goodness in us. How does this relate to the debate over original sin?

15. In what ways is Noah’s wife like the persistent widow in Luke 13?

16. In the battle scene, the Watchers one by one return to the Creator. What form do they take when they return to the Creator? How is this redemption?

17. While on the ark, Noah tells his family the story of creation. Temptation is symbolized by a black snake coming out of a green snake, living the skin behind. The fruit of the tree, beats like a human heart. A shadowed figure of Cain kills his shadowed figure of Abel. These images are shown throughout the film. Talk about each symbol and how it is significant to the Christian Story.

18. When Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, he holds true to his task of destroying humanity. Why is Noah so certain that God has called him to destroy all of humanity?

19. Noah walks out of the ark and cries to God, “Why do you not answer me?” When have you had days like that? Why do you think God seems so silent at times?

20. After the ark finds dry ground, how has Noah changed? If you had such an intense experience, how would you have changed?

The Ten: Don’t Hurt People

Do not kill. (Exodus 20:13, Common English Bible)

There is a story in Genesis of two brothers, the world’s first two brothers: Cain and Abel. They both brought sacrifices to God. Able brought the first and best of his sheep, while Cain brought scraps from his harvest. Their tithing was their worship. God looked favorably on Abel’s offering, and not so favorably on Cain’s offering.

In a fit of jealousy and anger, Cain kills his brother Abel.

The world’s first murder.

Perhaps this story from the Hebrew tradition is what came to mind for the Hebrews when Moses announced this commandment. Life is a precious gift given by God. The responsibility for giving and taking life belonged to God. But the commandment to not kill may have a broader stroke.

Terence Fretheim writes about this commandment:

….any act of violence against an individual out of hatred, anger, malice, deceit, or for personal gain, in whatever circumstances and by whatever method, that might result in death.

“Any act of violence” with the intention of death.

Recently our community had bomb threats at a number of area schools, elementary through high school. A fire drill blared, and the students, in orderly lines, went outside. Some of the students were funneled into school buses. The next day there were children who did not want to go to school. They were filled with anxiety and fear. And I can’t blame them. If I was in the first grade and had that experience, I most likely would fight my parents to not go to school.

The person or persons who called in these bomb threats are attempting to act in God’s stead. This act of violence goes against God’s loving creation. The effects of this act will last longer than that moment, which can be wildly dangerous. God beckons us to place value on the lives of others.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, goes a bit farther. Jesus, always one to turn the world upside down, tells the crowd that the commandment goes beyond physical violence. Verbal abuse and other expressions of anger, hatred, malice, and so on. Jesus extends the commandment to include anything that we might do to hurt others. Name-calling, gossiping, back-stabbing, (all the stuff you see happening on House of Cards), is damaging to the person you do that to. It kills a part of them. And frankly, it kills a part of us as well.

When we hurt others – in physical, emotional, or verbal ways – we are hurting God’s plans for a safe and loving world. When we call in bomb threats that leave first graders huddled on a cold school bus, we are disrupting God’s plan for a safe and loving world. When we choose vile and selfish ways to keep people out (even in the name of God), we rattle God’s plan for a safe and loving world.

In the beginning, God created and it was good. When we hurt others, we disturb the goodness of God’s creation. And that is not good.

Scandal 1.6: The Trail

Season 1We often find ourselves on a trail, tracking down much-needed information to complete a task, to solve a problem, or hosting an event. As a parent, a youth minister, or a teacher, you are following of trail of Facebook and twitter postings, side comments, and behavior to discern what is going on with a teacher. As a detective, you follow a trail of evidence to discern who the suspect is and why. However we are doing it,  we are, in a way, connecting the dots in order to formalize a picture of what is going to happened or what has happened.

Olivia and the gladiators find themselves in this place in the sixth episode. Which in many ways is an amazing feat in story telling. The episode seamlessly flows from present day to two years ago, connecting the dots. This back and forth continues until the picture comes into focus. The trail this storytelling style fulfills is not just answering the Amanda Tanner questions, but it is a trail of understanding these characters more and more.

Two characters are convinced that there is more to this Amanda Tanner thing than suicide. Gideon, the reporter who has eyes for Quinn and David the district attorney. Both are spending time looking into this Amanda Tanner thing, trying hard to discover what really happened.

Billy Chambers, Cyrus, and Olivia

Billy Chambers, Cyrus, and Olivia

As the dots are getting connected for the two men, the viewer is taken on a trip down memory lane. The flash backs take us back two years ago with Fitz’ presidential campaign is suffering. Cyrus brings in the best to fix it: Olivia Pope. This is the first meeting between Olivia and Fitz. Olivia tells them that the reason the campaign is struggling so is because the American people do not believe that Fitz and Mellie’s marriage is strong. Olivia preps them in showing more affection towards one another.

The Governor loses New Hampshire primary to Sally Langston, the same Sally who will become his Vice-President. He loses the primary because a story is leaked that Mellie had an affair with a man who was advising Mellie on literacy. Olivia pulls together her people – for the first time possibly – to fix this problem.

Abby is at home baking, looking like a Stepford Wife, freshly divorced. Huck is a street person, complete with long hair and long bread. Harrison wears an ankle bracket, freshly out of jail. Together the team figures out that the advisor has been paid to do a number of adult films. He quickly decides to make a statement setting the record straight. What is fascinating about this is that it gives us a glimpse to the beginning of the gladiators.

Olivia: “I’ve got a guy.”
Fitz: “You’ve got a guy? Another guy? Hells angel? Mobster? A kind-hearted felon who owes you a favor?”
Olivia: “Technically he’s on probation.”

During these flash back scenes, the sexual tension between Olivia and Fitz is so obvious. Despite the fact that Fitz wanted her gone from the start. It seems that Olivia grew on him. It is also obvious that the relationship between Fitz and Mellie is slipping. But Olivia’s advice works. Fitz and Mellie start being more affectionate in public. Mellie takes it a step farther though. While having pie in Georgie, she unexpectantly announces that she has had a miscarriage. As she hugs Fitz, she whispers, “I think that’ll take care of it.”

She lied! She made it up! The trail to Mellie’s true side has ended. She was running for First Lady. She seems to be more of a political animal than Fitz. This starts to put together just how much Mellie knows about Olivia and Fitz. Statements like “I trust you will sleep better tonight,” that Mellie makes to Fitz are beginning to make more sense. She is concerned for her husband because of the political gain, less because they are married.

The most eye-opening trail that is who got Amanda Tanner pregnant. We learn that Amanda was a volunteer working for Sally Langston’s campaign. When Fitz and Olivia gave in to the sexual tension for the first time, there was a recording device in the Governor’s hotel room recording it. That flash drive, the same one that would end up in Cyrus’ hands, was passed through the hands of Amanda and Billy Chambers, Sally’s chief of staff.

Yep, the very tape that was suppose to be Fitz and Amanda was actually Fitz and Olivia. This show just keeps throwing out twists and turns, keeping the audience guessing and engaged.

Throughout this entire episode, Gideon, the reporter, is following the Amanda Tanner trail too. And it all leads him to Billy Chambers. Billy, he learns, was Amanda’s boyfriend in the White House and the most likely baby-daddy. Gideon calls Billy out on it. At first Billy thinks that Gideon has very little to make a case. But then Billy starts to get uncomfortable with what Gideon is presenting, grabs a pair of scissors and stabs Gideon in the neck.

Yeah, that just happened. The right-winged, evangelical chief of staff to the Vice President just killed someone.

It seems that Billy forgot the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Cain kills his brother Abel. The Lord comes to Cain and says, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10, CEB). Even though Cain thought his murderous act would be a secret, God followed the trail of Abel’s blood that called out to him. The Psalm writer talks about secrets come to light in God’s presence. The trail of our actions will be revealed. We cannot hide from them.

The episode ends with this horrific act by Billy. But we do have this universal truth: it takes us a lot longer to connect the dots than it does God.  And for that, we should be thankful.

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