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Driving route 30 from Lancaster – biblical history & URBN’s massive warehouse

Last weekend, following my talk at WordCamp Lancaster, I decided to take Route 30 back and made a couple stops along the way.

Why Route 30? I typically take the turnpike, but I wanted a more scenic drive home. Route 30 has its roots in the historic Lincoln Highway, one of the earliest transcontinental roads in the States.

And in fact, the road has deeper roots than that. The Pennsylvania Turnpike now runs parallel to Route 30, but in fact Route 30 was the original Pennsylvania turnpike. Via the Department of Transportation’s website:

“The privately built Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Road was the first important turnpike and the first long-distance broken-stone and gravel surface built in America according to formal plans and specifications. The road’s construction marked the beginning of organized road improvement after the long period of economic confusion following the American Revolution. The road opened the territory northwest of the Ohio River and provided cheap transportation between the coast cities and the new Republic’s ‘bread basket’ region surrounding Lancaster. The Spread Eagle Tavern is shown as it appeared in 1795.” Painting by Carl Rakeman.

The scene in this picture was located just outside of Wayne.

On the drive, I was tempted by a couple sights, and though I did not get to see Dutch Wonderland and its synthetic udders this trip…

… I did see a couple interesting things.

The first was the Lancaster Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies. I’ve had a lay but enthusiastic interest in biblical history for the past decade after spending 2007-08 living in Jordan. Growing up in Presbyterian and Methodist churches, I was familiar with the moral stories of the Bible, but living in the Levant made it clear that I was ignorant regarding the true history behind the book.

Admittedly my expectations for this place were low, but they were far exceeded. I expected my experience to be like Bill Maher’s, but in fact I found that the exhibits were in general equally respectful of religious and historic/archaeological traditions. This is an extraordinarily difficult needle to thread – simply put, the Bible is riddled with contradictions, inconsistencies, and straight-up falsehoods. The tendency towards textualism, considering the Bible as a set of divinely inspired words, undermines our ability to understand these stories in their full historical and moral weight.

The organization is run by Dr. Stephen Meyers whose personal story (excerpted from the previous link) could be a novel. His autobiography concludes:

So now I have completely fallen to the bottom of the barrel, and I’m in danger of falling out of the barrel into atheism according to fundamentalists. But maybe, just maybe, I have stumbled across the liberating truth that has set me free from the bondage of fundamentalism.

That’s a powerful sentiment for me and one that should be comfortable to any spinozist, deist, unitarian, or pantheist. I don’t subscribe to the belief that in order to benefit from the moral teachings of the Bible, one has to necessarily vow the Apostle’s Creed. In fact, a true chronicling of the Christian story would note that much of what we consider canon today was invented by men living centuries after Jesus had walked the earth.

Consider for a minute the prevalence of flood myths across cultures. What does this mean? Is it evidence that there was some cataclysm? Proof that humans gravitate to certain types of stories?  An echo of some earlier, primordial event that affected ancient man? These questions are difficult and ultimately unanswerable, but rather than conveniently omitting them from religious education, there is a certain wisdom in embracing the ambiguity. Such ambiguity ultimately is human, just as the Bible itself is the human composite of multiple sources and traditions.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but in Bible school today we tend to gloss over the actual, ancient history of western civilization – yes, western, because if Europe reclaimed civilization in the Renaissance, it was the Mediterranean peoples who created a cultural basis on which “western” civilization first rose.

From Gilgamesh to the Dead Sea Scrolls to the varied stages of Jerusalems’s development, the exhibits were equally appealing to both my theological and archaeological interests – not an easy feat!

Lastly, and in a much different vein, I drove by a massive URBN distribution center that I had no idea existed. Pretty empty on a Saturday but I bet it’s poppin’ during the week.

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Real publishers, real problems, real opportunities

Here is a copy of my presentation and prepared remarks from WordCamp for Publishers 2019 in Columbus.

Chris Gethard & Mal Blum – Crying At The Wawa (Official Video)

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