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What isn’t wrong with DC Comics Jesus? January 18, 2019

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DC comics is turning Jesus into a superhero. Has the writer even read the Bible? Yes, he has – but he’s often wondered if some of the people complaining have.

image twitter.com/rpace

The first I head about DC Vertigo’s “Second Coming” was from people who don’t like the idea. So far over 72,000 people have signed a petition. (I’ll give you the link later but first read a little more and maybe even pray about it). Here’s the letter you can send without knowing anything more than what is in the petition…

Dear DC Comics Board and Management,
I am appalled by your decision to publish “Second Coming,” a comic that features Jesus Christ as a clueless superhero sidekick.
In a recent interview with Bleeding Cool, author Mark Russell described the concept behind his upcoming comic. He explained, “God was so upset with Jesus’s performance the first time he came to Earth, since he was arrested so soon and crucified shortly after, that he has kept him locked-up since then.” In Russell’s comic series, Jesus comes back to earth as the roommate of “an all-powerful superhero, named Sun-Man.”
Would DC Comics publish similar content about other religious leaders, such as Mohammed or Buddha? 

This content is inappropriate and blasphemous. It should be immediately pulled from your publishing schedule.
Sincerely,
[Your Name]

Citizon Go Campaign, Stop Release of “Second Coming”

“What isn’t wrong with DC Comics Jesus?” was more than a rhetorical question. I genuinely wondered if there might be some good coming out of it? After all Jesus didn’t always respond to opposition as his disciples expected (Luke 9:49-56) and Paul one said, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” (see Phil 1:15-18).

An article in the Christian Post digs a little deeper into Russell’s motivation

The theme of the comic is noticeably birthed from Russel’s own idea of Christianity, shared in the books he authored, God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now. Both revealed that he believes people have “really misunderstood” the Bible and the Christian faith “doesn’t really base itself on what [Jesus] taught, particularly in the modern Evangelical megachurches.”

Christian Post, DC Comics to introduce Jesus Christ as new superhero with a distorted telling of the Savior

…and the preface of his earlier book is worth reading for its challenge to us to actually read and understand the Bible for ourselves and not just the bits we get in Sunday School.

Among other things Mark Russel says, “The Bible may be the single most important book in human history”. He also says, “it’s my guess that of more than a billion people who claim to live according to the teaching of the Bible, not too many of them know what the Bible actually says. They, like me prior to writing this book, probably only know the tiny morsel of the Bible that was spoon-fed to them in Sunday School”.

How much of the Bible do Church-going Christians know? How much less do those outside the church know?

I do think the Bible is worth reading and have a different approach to encouraging people to engage with the text. Russel’s summaries cross the line much of the time, (one reviewer talked about there being a place for a sanctified irreverence), but should at least lead people to saying, wait, does the Bible really say that?

As for the comic? In Russel’s own words

What can readers expect from Second Coming?
Mark Russell: An all-powerful superhero, named Sun-Man, has to share a two bedroom apartment with Jesus Christ. The conceit is that God was so upset with Jesus’s performance the first time he came to Earth, since he was arrested so soon and crucified shortly after, that he has kept him locked-up since then.
God then sees this superhero on Earth a few thousand years later and says “that’s what I wanted for you!” He sends Jesus down to learn from this superhero and they end up learning from each other. They learn the limitations of each other’s approach to the world and its problems.

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2018/08/25/jesus-superhero-mark-russell/

Note that Russel refers to the plot device as a conceit. He’s not claiming this to be the truth just a fanciful device to explore his own ideas.

(I googled a definition of ‘conceit’)

Wikipedia also has an article on ‘conceit’ in which it says “In modern literary criticism, more common with genre fiction, conceit often means an extended rhetorical device, summed up in a short phrase, that refers to a situation which either does not exist, or exists rarely, but is needed for the plot.”

In other words this work of fiction might not be intended to be a false gospel, it might be a parable intended to make readers think. There’s usually a lot of thought provoking stuff in comics for those that stop to think about them.

Sun-Man is not as far as I know based on a real character unless Russel chose to model him on that angel of light known as Lucifer, or perhaps the kind of superhero the devil tempted Jesus to be at the start of his ministry. And in the Biblical narrative the crucifixion was not a mistake. The DC JC may appear naive and misguided. The real Jesus was no such thing. He chose not to avoid his arrest, beating and crucifixion. He chose not to heal himself at every lash of the whip, or come down from the cross but to endure his suffering and humiliation despite Pilate giving the people opportunity to petition against it.

That bit in comic books were the hero seems to die but then comes back to life again. Jesus did that first!

I’m not urging people to rush and buy the comic book but I’m not sure it’s going to lead readers of DC’s Vertigo series any further from the truth than the other titles. It is going to be a distorted picture of Jesus and it may or may not inspire a few people to search out a clearer picture.

If you want to sign that petition after reading a bit more the link is here.

The Preface (and others bits) from God Is Disappointed in You is available on Google books or Amazon (with audio sample). Some of the book is quite clever and funny, some bits will make you feel a bit uncomfortable (much like the original).

If you want more uplifting overviews of the Bible I recommend the Bible Project. You can even read or listen to the Bible at Bible.com , Bible.is and many other sites.

scene from the Bible Project overview of the New Testament
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From Dr Who to the Bechdel test of the Bible January 15, 2019

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I love how quickly the web can lead you from one interesting thing to another. My son binge watched a lot Dr Who over Christmas, and I admit it I joined him in viewing many of the episodes. Recently I clicked on an article asking why the latest Doctor doesn’t seem to be the lead character in her own show.

That article mentioned the Bechdel test, a simple formula for evaluating how well women are represented in film and TV (must have at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man). Its a fairly low bar so disappointing the number of films that don’t reach it. From there I wondered whether anyone had applied the Bechdel test to the Bible. (Yes, well done Paidiske).

My curiosity now is which of the three links in this blog get the most clicks?

Apps and accountability for a fresh start with God January 1, 2019

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Wanting to be in a better place physically, emotionally or spiritually, often isn’t quite enough to get us there. Most of us need a few nudges and some external help.

This is a new year post but it can apply every morning or every minute. It’s easy to make plans or even New Year’s resolutions – harder to stick to them. That’s why people buy fit-bits, or join some kind of club to keep them on track to achieving goals around fitness.

The same is often true about people’s desire to improve their ‘spiritual health’. We know that reading our Bible, spending time in prayer, and quiet contemplation, and then also spending time living out what we learn would help us feel better, live better and love better, but somehow it is easy to get distracted.

Thomas Aquinas with a smart phone
(adapted from an earlier work by
Gentile da Fabriano )

Fortunately, the same technology that can distract us from the world around us and the people around us can also help us stay connected to people, to God, and to the world he so loved.

Go Tandem app from Back to the Bible

Go Tandem is an app (and a website) from Back to The Bible, which leads you through your own self assessment to determine what you see as strengths and areas you would like to grow in and then gives you multiple nudges with Bible verses and questions for reflection throughout the day. When I first reviewed it a few years ago it also included an option for you to jot and share your own notes. A more recent upgrade has removed this function but links you to additional reading plans on other apps.

YouVersion Bible app and website

YouVersion and Bible.com now provides free access to scripture in 1,258 languages, (1,257 more than you might need) but it is designed not only to give as many people as possible access to the Bible but to encourage you to engage with God through the Bible. There are hundreds of different reading plans plus the tools to create bookmarks, highlight verses and create notes that you can either keep just between you and God or share with friends. Most versions can be downloaded for offline use but you do need to connect to the internet to use the search function or access some of the options. Getting a virtual badge for completing a reading plan or sharing your first verse may or may not be an encouragement to you but it obviously helps some people.

Additional resources include videos from the Jesus Film, Lumo, and the Bible Project, plus audio of many of the translations.

There are many other apps and tools through which the Bible is available in multiple languages and versions. Faith Comes by Hearing specialise in audio scriptures and have partnered with Jesus Film and others to bring together audio, text and film. Their Bible.is app also form the underlying technology of the Gideons app.

A longer list of Bible apps and sites is available at https://1000bibles.wordpress.com/ . If you have a favourite Bible app not listed leave a comment to let me know and be sure to let others know about it via your social media feed (or even by talking to people). But more important than the applications we have on our phones is how the Bible is applied in and through our lives.

Another resource worth exploring is PrayerMate. which is a helpful way to remind you what and who to pray for, drawing from selected prayer guides from different organisations and from your own personal list. The video gives a good overview but it would be good to emphasise that prayer is about who you are praying too not just what you are praying for.

Languages and relocation December 18, 2018

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gloppant

I almost missed it but Dec 18th was International Migrants Day . I’m a migrant, though in recent years I have migrated back to near where I was born.

I always thought of myself as British as well as English and for a a few years now I’ve also been a Canadian. I’ve learned other languages but not enough to be fluent. In the UK I’ve lived in  seven English counties, two Canadian provinces, and also spent a couple of years in a country in Asia. In each of the places I’ve lived I’ve spoken English (most of the time) but my accent and speech patterns have shifted a bit.

I’m on the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshire so I might have grown up sounding a bit like this…

But I don’t (at least to my ear) and I hadn’t heard the words “gostered” or “gloppant”. 

When people move they take their language(s) and dialects with them but the way they talk and the people they talk to changes.

A BBC  Future article talked about how people can lose their first language, even as adults and delved deeper into the how and why.

I’ve been involved in a lot of interesting discussions about languages over the last 22 years and in the last year a lot of those have been about how migration, urbanisation and multilingualism make thinking about what language someone speaks a lot more complicated than I’d previously thought.

Firstly, a huge number of people don’t just speak one language. A Dutch colleague is quite fluent in four languages and knows bits of a few more, a Kenyan colleague said he could preach in about ten languages and greet people in a few others.

Often our organisation talks about ‘heart language’ or ‘mother tongue’. Some people grew up with just one language spoken at home and then been exposed to another when they go to school and and then perhaps learn more as they move to a new location, but  many people today are exposed to several languages in their home and wider community from birth.

No one knows exactly how many languages are spoken in the UK (or any other country) as records are often imprecise. In the 2011 UK census there was a question about language but it asked what people’s ‘main language’ was and was open to a lot of interpretation and has lead to considerable under reporting.

Multilingual Manchester, a project of Manchester University has encouraged the office of national statistics to rethink it’s census question to uncover the many hidden languages in the data.

One example of the need for this cited the difference in census reporting vs information reported by local schools, ” in the Manchester ward of Ardwick just 2.2% of residents declared Urdu to be their ‘main language’ while over 13% of schoolchildren in that ward were registered as having Urdu as their ‘first language’.”

Language is strongly linked to identity but it’s possible to identify as belonging to multiple groups as well as speaking multiple languages.

How multilingualism is regarded in society and in the UK church is something I hope to investigate further in the coming months. 

But for now here’s a seasonal multilingual link

WhyChristmasLanguageshttps://www.whychristmas.com/customs/languages.shtml  

Do you or anyone in your church know how to say it in a language not listed on the Why Christmas site?

I don’t have time (not) to think December 4, 2018

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or “Not idleness but amplitude of space for thought…”

“Missiological Reflection” is a term that is being used a lot in our organisation at the moment. It’s not a new idea. It goes well with another common term “reflective practice” which really means think about what you are doing and why, and then do things better.

There’s a bit more to it than that if you want to Google the terms but you might be too busy for a long read right now.

One advocate of missiological reflection quoted the old idea that we should reflect on the world with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. This idea is often attributed to John Stott, but looking for the quote I found he referred to other theologians and preachers including Karl Barth and to CH Spurgeon. BibleandNewspaper

Each of these men are known for both their reflections and their practice. I found Spurgeon’s 1878 book “The Bible and the Newspaper” online and he quoted minister and hymn writer John Newton.

“I READ the, newspaper,” said John Newton, “that I may see how my
heavenly Father governs the world;” a very excellent reason indeed. We
have read the newspaper during the last three months that we might find
illustrations of the teaching of our heavenly Father’s word; and we think
we have not read in vain…

Spurgeon goes on:

“A sense of leisure and of rest is needed if one is to follow
the trails of nature, and listen to all her echoes. Not idleness but amplitude
of space for thought is a requisite for the weaving of allegory and the
fashioning of similitudes. Lacking these essentials, amid the hum of London
and the whirl of the wheel of daily duty, we have produced a little homespun
where others might have woven tapestries of golden thread.”

It sounds a bit old fashioned and you might need to read it a second time to get the meaning. The “whirl of the wheel” may have got even faster and newspapers and more modern media may have got more crowded and not overly encouraging, but read together with the Bible you may still see how our heavenly father both governs and cares for a world that too often seems to care little for him.

May you find “amplitude of space for thought” and have time to reflect alone and with others on what an amazing world we live in, and an amazing God we serve.

(oh and if you read this and don’t know this amazing God yet you can find online Bibles in many languages.

pictures from wikipedia articles about Stott, Barth, Spurgeon, and Newton.

 

 

 

 

Have you discovered Follow JC Go? November 3, 2018

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A few weeks ago I called YouVersion’s new Bible Lens “The Pokemon Go of Memory Verses“. I meant it in a good way, seeing it as something that had the potential to help people look at the world around them and wonder what Bible verses the new app would suggest went well with what they see.

followJCgo At that point I was unaware that another new app was also on the horizon from a different set of developers.

Follow JC Go” really is trying to copy the success of Pokemon Go in an app by getting the Catholic faithful to get their phones out and look for saints and Biblical characters digitally overlaid on the world around them.

I heard about it first from a friend on Facebook and then in an article on the BBC news.

Follow_JC_GOA translation of the apps description states “It allows players to form their eTeam (Evangelization Team, made up of friends, biblical characters, saints, blesseds and Marian devotions.

The eTeam will help you generate a collection of characters (virtual and real) that will accompany you in your day and pilgrimage to the WYD 2019 in Panama and other religious events in the world, for this you must fulfill individual and group missions; Search and answer trivias to incorporate collectables to your eTeam.”

So far it has had over 100,000 downloads and mixed reviews, partly because not everyone who has found it is a fan of either Jesus or the Catholic Church, and partly because so far it is only available in Spanish and lots of people are frustrated at not being able to understand it (perhaps they have got too used to the Bible itself being in their own language).

I’ll save my thoughts on the game itself until the English version comes out in a few weeks. You can download it (or not) and make your own decisions, but at least now you’ve read this you have a choice.

That ability to choose is a big part of what Christianity, in all it’s forms is about and part of the reason I’ve spent over twenty years of my life working in the ministry of Bible translation.

Around the world there are still people who have never heard of Jesus, many others who have never clearly heard about who he is in a language or a way that they understand.

I don’t know yet how much this app will help people truly connect with the real Jesus, but I pray it will be part of some people’s journey, both from the content of the app and the conversations it starts.

 

Bible translation progress 2018: looking beyond 2025 October 26, 2018

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At the end of 1999 Wycliffe and it’s partners launched Vision 2025, part of which said:

“We embrace the vision that by the year 2025 a Bible translation project will be in progress for every people group that needs it.”

That powerful soundbite wasn’t the whole of the Vision 2025 statement any more than the great commission and the great commandment is the whole of the Bible’s message.

While the need is still great, the amount of work currently in progress is impressive.

Matrix-complex

(Chart from FAQ sheet accompanying new annual Bible translation statistics at wycliffe.net/statistics).

But the goal of starting work is not enough. In some languages work started, and then stopped. Those that stopped (for now) without any scripture having been produced have been added back into the current calculation of need for initial translation. Other languages may have had selections or even a full New Testament for five, ten, or even a hundred years and nothing since. Is that enough?

It is people not languages that need the Bible so it is not as simple as saying that the entire Bible needs to be translated into every language on the planet before everyone can understand.

But it is clear that many people would benefit from more of the Bible in their main language, or from updated translations, or additional scripture products. And while some scripture exists in 3350 languages, that doesn’t mean that everyone who speaks (or signs) those languages know that the translation exists, or where to access it, or why it matters.

It isn’t enough to start work. Another important fragment from the Vision 2025 statement

“Our desire is to build capacity for sustainable Bible translation programs and Scripture-use activities.”

from the Vision 2025 statement, 1999

Bible translation doesn’t just need to start, it needs to continue. Engagement is the goal – individuals and communities engaging with God, and people becoming not just converts but disciples – knowing, and showing what it means to love both our God and our neighbour.

Bible Translation Statistics 2018 October 23, 2018

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It’s a privilege to be part of the team that tracks the progress being made in Bible translation. The full set of numbers available at wycliffe.net/statistics not only show in how many languages some or all of the Bible is available in but also a revised estimate of how many more translation programs may need to begin.

2018 BTstats-en This year the number of possible translation needs has actually gone up. This is in part due to the inclusion of a large number of sign languages adding to those that were already part of the lists.

The real celebration is not about the numbers. The statistics page also links to six sites where Bibles, New Testaments and scripture selections and stories can be downloaded or accessed online and in phone apps.

The goal of Bible translation isn’t translated Bibles, it is transformed lives.

One statistic that saddened me recently was a report that suggested many modern Christians are unaware of the term “the great commission”, which refer to the command of Jesus as written in Matt 28:19. Here it is as translated in the Easy English Version.

17 When they arrived at the place, they saw Jesus. Then they went down on their knees and they worshipped him. But some of the disciples were not sure that it really was Jesus. 18 Jesus went close to them and he said to them, ‘God has given me authority over everyone and everything. I have all authority in heaven and in this world. 19 So, you must go to people in every country of the world. Teach them how to become my disciplesBaptise them by the authority of God the Father, his Son and the Holy Spirit20 Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will be with you until the end of time.’

The “great commission” goes hand in hand with the “greatest commandment” which Jesus gave as his answer when asked “Διδάσκαλε, ποία ἐντολὴ μεγάλη ἐν τῷ νόμῳ;” (‘Teacher, which of God’s Laws is the most important rule for us to obey?’)

Perhaps you already know the answer, if not you can find it at Matt 20:37-40

More from me about some of the numbers at wycliffe.net/statistics soon.

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