Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Exegesis of a Stop Sign

If you have at least a moderate level of exegetical training from a seminary, this might just be the funniest thing you've ever read. I found it here.

The Exegesis of Stop Signs

Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign with his bumper, ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic doesn't bother to read the sign, but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, allowing the text to interpret itself, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A suburban preacher looks up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discovers that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

1) Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.

2) Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed. Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: "Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for three more pages]

8. A Karaite does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

9. A Unitarian concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A divinity professor notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called "Q". There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

11. A tenured divinity professor points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP". For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P".

12. A rival scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglects to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, a later scholar emends the text, changing "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When God Prepares

I am currently studying Systematic Theology, working on my masters of divinity. The chapel services at the grad school are really excellent. These guys are so sincere and so deep. I always get more out of my one-week short courses in chapel here than I usually do out of the rest of the year of church services. (When you're the one who is always preaching, you can never really participate in worship, because you're too worried about what you're about to have to get up and say)

Today the speaker was a guy named Augustine who is from Ghana, I believe. He is in charge of a Christian school over there. He had a really good talk about the importance of not seeking credit for the good that we do. What hit me the most was how he prayed.

He began by addressing God in very missional terms. I can't quote him exactly, but it was something like this: 'O Mighty God, who is already present in every village before we seek to teach them the Gospel; who is already on top of every mountain before we can even climb it to survey the people below and think about how to evangelize them; O God who always goes before us, preparing the way for your Word before we can even arrive; O God who uses us to spread your Kingdom, though we are weak and inadequate for the task...'

I liked his very active understanding of God. God is not the god of deism who wound up the clockwork of the universe and then sat down for a nap; neglecting us like a child who's lost interest in a new toy. God is the God who hears us and even goes before us, preparing the way for the Gospel to be spread, giving us the very words to speak and the very message to teach.

Many will approach evangelism with the thought, "I'll bring God to the inner city" "I'll bring God to this village". We'll think this, only to find out that God has been preparing the minds and hearts of people to hear his Word long before we've thought of teaching it to them. God is already working there. People are already hoping for something better than what they have. The fields are ripe; we must pray that God will raise up workers who are unafraid to march out and carry his good news to the ears who are aching for hope.