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Reform Magazine | July 14, 2020

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘They crossed, the Red Sea two metres apart’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘They crossed, the Red Sea two metres apart’

Paul Kerensa and pals rewrite the Bible from a lockdown perspective

If you watch TV from the ‘old times’ (filmed before March 2020), it can be unsettling. There are actors not socially distancing all over the place. We watched a drama recently where two people held hands! No gloves, no hand gel, no idea. We had to stop watching in case they kissed. We couldn’t take the stress of the numerous government guideline infractions.

Biblical scenes may have a similarly odd effect. It was a different time, of course. Back then, you could lay hands on people, break bread together, even gather in twos or threes without risking anyone taking photos and ‘shame sharing’ on social media.

So, a fellow Christian comedy writer, John Spencer, revisited a few Bible stories for this unusual age. Ideas grew, he roped me and others in, and before you could say ‘Parable of the Social-Distancing Samaritan’, John and his modern-day scribes had retold most big biblical moments from a lockdown perspective.

Everything from Pilate washing his hands (while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice) to putting on the PPE of God gets a mention. The crisis isn’t to be taken lightly, of course – and neither’s the Bible. But personally, I think humour can bring us together, give us a lift, and help us see things differently. The writers of The Coronavirus Bible: Revised satirical version are all pro-Bible Christian types, and the book’s profits are going to charities supporting those currently in need. Plus, anything that gets the Bible out there in a different way – well, it’s better than Mrs Brown’s Boys, isn’t it? Then again, isn’t everything…

For example, here’s an excerpt of the Parting of the Red Sea (2020 revised version):

As Moses stretched his hand out over the sea, the Israelites breathed a huge sigh of relief, for there was now more room for them to spread out, for the beach was quite pokey.

With water either side, the Israelites crossed, two metres apart where possible. At times they were a little close, especially when a jogger ran past, which was annoying for those walking more slowly. But those crossing looked out for the elderly and infirm, because that’s what we do, and always have done, and always will do.

But one person said to Moses: ‘Are you sure this qualifies as an essential journey?’ And Moses gestured his thumb behind him and said: ‘Listen for the chariots. I’d say it was pretty essential.’ And then tutted.

Paul’s letters seemed another good chance to explore communication in a swiftly-changing technological age. After all, Paul was locked down for a while, and the Church met in houses. It all sounds strangely familiar. Perhaps a modern-day letter to the Romans might be delivered by banging on the door then retreating a good distance (oh, and the wages of sin might be currently at 80%, if furloughed).

Paul might try a Zoom call to the Corinthians (who’ve arranged their books to make a nice background, and who don’t reply because they’ve forgotten to ‘unmute’). There could be a Skype call to the Philippians, a FaceTime to the Galatians and a livestream to the Colossians (who have bad wifi, so miss the odd word).

I mean this with the utmost respect for the text. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll grant you. But as we find new ways to communicate from growing isolation, it reminds me that those early scattered believers didn’t let a few annoying walls and a bit of temporary distance stop them being a community together. So long as we keep talking and keep telling the stories – perhaps that’s our version of holding hands, at least till further notice.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster. The Coronavirus Bible: Revised satirical version is available from bit.ly/cvBible

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This article was published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform

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