Deep dive: Playing hooky from NYC




The Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
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The Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

by Frank Ramirez

Like most Brethren, my deep Dunker guilt means I keep my nose to the grindstone long after the job is done. I always feel like I haven’t done enough to deserve my good fortune, so I work and work and work.

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But I have never regretted those rare occasions when I give myself permission to play hooky.

Exhibit A. Spring 1977, the worst winter in Chicago’s history, and five of us at Bethany Theological Seminary skip the class we’re not allowed to miss because it’s opening day at Comiskey Park. We’re first in line for tickets, get interviewed on two radio stations so our cover is blown, and it’s the first warm day in six months. Best day ever.

Exhibit B. I was a delegate to Annual Conference in Portland, Ore., only a few years after Mount Saint Helens blew its top. I skipped a business session and crossed the border to Washington State, turned a corner, and found myself on the dark side of the moon, in a slate grey landscape surrounding a still smoldering volcano. Yet even there, tiny flowers struggled through the layers of volcanic ash. I made it part of my Annual Conference report.

Exhibit C. National Youth Conference 2018 in Fort Collins, Colo. Volunteering with the press team meant spending time with the most exciting, inspiring, and hopeful part of our church--the youth. Spirit-filled worship twice a day. Who needs to play hooky?

But there was a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

So what did I see? Real pottery, storage jars, and coins that are 2,500 years old and older. Stone boxes that stored the bones of the dead a year or two after they’d been wrapped up in cloth and spices and sealed in a cave tomb. Scratched into the side or the top were some fairly common names of that time and place--Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Matthew. A stone chip with a name that came from Masada and may have been one of the lots cast to determine who would kill the men who had killed their families so that these last hundreds holding out in the high fortress wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Roman conquerors. A simple letter written in the era of the second revolt of Bar Kokhba dealing with mundane matters, the rent for farming and harvesting fruit and grain on a particular plot of land.

But mostly the scrolls. Pieces of 2,000-year-old parchment from the dry Judean desert. In other climates they would have deteriorated and been lost forever. Precisely written, with sharp regular strokes exactingly drawn by professionals. Great effort put into exhausting work because those words pointed to the Word that called the world into being.

There was a commentary on Genesis, a commentary on Job, a scrap from the Psalms, a scrap from Isaiah.... Only a fraction of what’s been discovered. 

Words matter. These words matter. These words mattered 2,000 years ago and they still matter to us today. These are the same words speaking to our youth at National Youth Conference.

Maybe it isn’t really hooky after all.

-- Frank Ramirez was a volunteer writer on the press team for the 2018 National Youth Conference.


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The NYC 2018 Press Team includes Laura Brown, Allie Dulabaum, Mary Dulabaum, Nevin Dulabaum, Eddie Edmonds, Russ Otto, Frank Ramirez, Alane Riegel, Glenn Riegel, and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

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