- "Hello; (big grin, not fake) I left a pamphlet on your door some time ago, did you get it?"He opened a worn brown leather bag and pulled out what I immediately recognized as an issue of "The Watchtower".
- "Whatever pamphlet on the door you left surely wound up in the recycle bin, I'm afraid. What was it?"
- "Oh, so that's what you are selling! You are a Jehova's Witness."I turned and looked at the pixelated printout of the political cartoon which I had taped to my front door a year ago. It is a complete list of the names of the 2,000 young Americans which up until that point we'd sacrificed in the name of the current occupation of Iraq (the number is 3,000 now - not to mention the civilian loss over there - G-sh help us). This conglomerate of tiny names is drawn crammed together tightly and arrayed so as to form one big sentence: "WHY?" I looked down at the cover of the magazine he offered me and he was right. Under a drawing depicting a stylized end of the world scene, somehow simultaneously apocalyptic and cheerful (the dichotomy is fascinating), was written the word "WHY?" in big bold yellow letters.
- "Yes, and I noticed the question on your door. It happens to be the same question we are asking in our publication. Here."
- "Yes, I see. Hmm..." (pause) "Are you suggesting that the war in Iraq is the apocalypse?" I brushed away the magazine, "save it for someone else, please. I'd only throw it in the recycle bin as soon as you leave; I promise you."He raised the book up to me and pointed to the text, something he need not have done, as the passage in question was already highlighted and underlined.
- He laughed, "but, have you considered why these things are happening?", and neatly returned the pamphlet to his bag.
- "Yeah - because we gave the keys to the government to some self-indulgent rich spoiled frat boys."
- "Well, have you ever read the Bible?"
- "Yes, I have. In fact, I have fourteen different translations of it. Listen, can I help you? I don't have a lot of time and I really have no interest in either your magazine or your church. Why do you even do this, anyway? You don't even know it's intrusive, do you?"
- "Well," and here he opened his Bible and quickly found a page, "I do it because Jesus commanded us in Matthew 24 to make disciples of all nations."
- "Ah, I see. . . and. . . . who wrote this?"Here, he searched some appendix in the back pages of his Bible, hoping to find whatever rote response was appropriate at this point.
- "Who's Matthew?"
- "Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples."
- "And he wrote this?"
- "You're sure?"
- "How do you know that?"
Finding none, he tried another tack.
- "Matthew 9:9", he said, vaguely remembering some favorite recent sermon, and flipped back some pages in his bible.While he waited in the living room, I went into my room, grabbed a couple of volumes from the top shelf of my history of Christianity collection and returned with an RSV translation and my three-columned synopsis.
- "What about it? Is that verse gonna show me who wrote this book?"
- "Ok, hold on; I'm gonna go get a Bible. Come inside for a moment."
- "Thank you."
- ". . . let's see ... Matthew . . . . 9 ...9; here it is. (pause) . . . okay . . . all this says is that Mathew, in the gospel that bears his name, was counted among the "chosen twelve", this doesn't tell me anything about who wrote the book itself. See . . . what I find astounding is not just the mission, but the certitude involved . . . . you readily accept that the guy who wrote this was one the guys that was closest to Jesus, but you can't tell me how you know that. If the author was such an intimate of Jesus, I ask two questions right off: (1)First . . . Why does he copy the words of the book of Mark (who is supposed, just as vaguely, to have been a companion of Peter in Rome)? Think about it, Mark wasn't there, right?, but Matthew supposedly was, yet Matthew chooses to copy Mark virtually verbatim, almost in its entirety (a fact made even more perplexing by Mark's deficiencies in the written Greek language - to choose to quote crude Greek seems doubly suspect). He embedded Mark's text in his own pentaform gospel like a wire underframe . . . do you even know about Markan priority? . . . and (2)second, why doesn't he explicitly state within the text itself that he is the author of this book? Wouldn't such a priviledged position among the twelve lend authority to its tenets and demands? Listen, kid, I could tell you about Iraneus of Lyons and about his quoting of Papias of Hierapolis, or I could tell you about Eusebius' opinion of Papias' abilities (he called him an idiot, pretty much), or I could tell you about the whole background history of the scholarship done on the origins of these texts . . . but you'd probably still keep quoting verses, wouldn't you?
- "How about this verse in second Peter, 'For the Lord . . . '".
- "See? Do you know who wrote that book?"
- "Really? ... Suppose I told you that that book in all probability was not even written until about the middle of the second century. Jerome knew that its authorship was in doubt way back in 381 (and not the only book of questionable provenannce). Go read about it if you don't believe me. He talks about the differing opinions regarding the origins of these epistles without admonishing those who held these doubts. This is evidence that even as early as that late patristic age, there was no certainty as to the authorship of the books contained in the New Testament. We simply don't know who or where they come from, having only tenuous threads of vouched-for tradition. Yet, here we are in 2006, and you are more certain than even Jerome was about such things. It boggles the mind. (pause) But let's not digress. Can you tell who wrote Matthew and how we know he did? I have to get back to work."
- "Look at this verse in 2 Peter."
- "You haven't heard a single word I've said, have you?" I laugh; "Listen, why do you do this, anyway? What business is it of yours what I or anyone else believes?"
- "I do it because I love my neighbor."
- "You love me. . . . hmm . . . . and you want to do . . . exactly . . . what for me? Fix my thinking? Do you see how breathtakingly (and delusionally, I might add) arrogant that is to some of us that you are trying to evangelize? (pause)
Look . . . can I help you somehow?
Think about it, you are not going to suddenly instill the kind of fixation or the kind of reverence for the Bible that you have into me, and you're not going to suddenly make me profess adherence to yours or any other sect. So . . . that being the case, is there anything else I can do for you this afternoon?"
- "Can I come back sometime?"
- "Are you kidding? Is it some kind of self-imposed martyrdom of some kind? (laughs) Don't answer that, kid, it's rhetorical." I show him out, "Next time, I won't take it so easy on you."
After he left, I got back to work on what I was doing before the doorbell rang, i.e. making a leadsheet for tomorrow's morning session. ( * see below) Tonight, I will put up an accompanying sign underneath the WHY? poster on my front door. It will read:
"Irony of the day
Why ...Yes!!! , I'd love to hear why your religion is preferable to mine."
anyway, here's that chart. . .
. . .. to be played tomorrow morning with Ted, Rob, and Joe.