“Back in the saddle again,” again

You call this a pilgrimage?  I call it a pile of ^%$# rocks!  (Other people call it the Chilkoot Trail...)

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has three themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12.)  And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live in abundance and do greater miracles than Jesus is to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more see the notes below or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

http://www.americaremembers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/GATRI_photo.jpgSunday, August 28 – I said this a year ago, but once again “I’m back in the saddle again.” (Not unlike Gene Autry – “Singing Cowboy” – at left.)

I posted the first “Back in the saddle” after last year’s canoe trip on the Columbia River.  That four-day canoe trip took a total of three weeks to accomplish, from August 10 to August 27, 2015.

This year’s pilgrimage – including 12 days canoeing on the Yukon River – is now in its sixth week.  (I flew out to Salt Lake City on July 23, and am “fixin'” to fly back tomorrow, to the ATL.  Also known herein as “God’s Country…”)

For one description of this latest pilgrimage, see “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  (From my companion blog.)  It noted that last July 26 – a Tuesday – my brother and I started the drive from Utah to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  Four days later – on Friday, July 29 – we met up with my nephew, fresh from the Army.  From there we drove to Skagway, and the following Monday – August 1 – we started a four-day hike on the Chilkoot Trail.  (The “meanest 33 miles in history.”)

Once we three finished the “Chilkoot &$%# Trail” – as seen at the top of the page – my nephew flew back to Philadelphia, and from there to Penn State University, for fall classes:

That left two old geezers – my brother, 70, and me, just turned 65 – to paddle our canoes “up*” the Yukon River.  From Whitehorse  to Dawson City, that’s a distance of 440 miles, and we covered it in 12 days.  (Not counting the full day we took off on Sunday, August 14, in beautiful Carmacks, Yukon Territory, to rest and refit.)

So it’s been a busy several weeks.  And – during most of that time – I haven’t had a chance to write much on this blog.  But my last post – The Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016, which included the image at right – did note that I was “on a pilgrimage of my own.”

It also noted, “Assuming I survive all that” – that being the Chilkoot and Yukon ventures – “I should be back in business some time after August 29.”

It’s now Sunday, August 28, and I’m “back in business.”

On that note, a word on “reading the Bible on a daily basis.”  Not only did I have no time or opportunity to write on this blog, neither did I have time to do my daily Bible readings.  That is, neither on the Chilkoot Trail nor on the “mighty Yukon River” did I have the time to do my Daily Office.  (That’s where the “DO” in the name “Dorscribe” comes from.  See THE SCRIBE.)

And aside from no time, there just wasn’t room to pack either a Bible or the laptop I’ve been using since leaving home.  (Using the Satucket website instead of the actual books at home.)  

Aerial view of Dawson City with the Yukon RiverWhich meant that beginning on Sunday, August 21 – the day after our two canoes landed at Dawson City, Yukon Territory, at left – I had some catching up to do.

So this post will focus on two things, to help bring us up to game speed:  The spiritual side of pilgrimages like the one – or two – that I just finished, and catching up on the gap in Bible readings between August 1 and 21.

As to why an otherwise seemingly-sane 65-year-old would leave the comforts of home for the “harsh northland” – as Jack London might call it – see “I pity the fool!”

That post noted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”  I freely translated that to:  “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”

It also quoted Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for.  To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind.  And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

In much the same way, nothing can “occupy and compose the mind” so much as trying to walk the Chilkoot Trail. (Especially with only one good eye and thus no depth perception, as illustrated at right.)  Or for that matter, canoeing 440 miles “down” the Yukon River…

Which brings up a moment during that river pilgrimage.

At that moment I thought to myself, “I wonder how the Don-and-Hillary show is going?”  Then I asked myself, “Who is Don again?”  Which itself is a very good reason for a pilgrimage.

I’ll be writing more on the Chilkoot and Yukon experiences in later posts, but now it’s time to address that gap in the daily Bible readings.

On August 1 – when we started on the Chilkoot – the non-psalm Bible readings included Judges 6:25-40; Acts 2:37-47; John 1:1-18.  The “Judges” part was about Gideon, who was a “judge of the Israelites who wins a decisive victory over a Midianite army with a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 men.”  The reading from John started with the well-known, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

PullingBy Thursday, August 11, “Judges” had moved to the story of Samson. (And Delilah.)  As Wikipedia noted, Samson was blessed with supernatural strength.  However, “Samson had two vulnerabilities – his attraction to untrustworthy women and his hair, without which he was powerless.  These vulnerabilities ultimately proved fatal for him.”

From which story an object lesson or two might be gleaned…

But then on Thursday, August 20, the Old Testament readings switched from Judges to the Book of Job.  I covered that perplexing book in On Job, the not-so-patient and On “Job the not patient” – REDUX.

One key point from the “Redux” post:  No matter how hard we may try, our limited human minds are simply incapable of ever fully understanding God:

We are simply not up to the task, not wired for such an overload.  We are no more prepared to comprehend [God] than – to make use of a memorable example – cats are prepared to study calculus.  It’s just not in our nature.

Which may have been why God “chose to bring Jesus into the world.”  Without that image of Jesus as a “finite” human being to focus on, our poor little pea-brains simply couldn’t even begin the process of bringing The Force That Created the Universe into any kind of focus at all.

In other words, the main point of the Book of Job seems to be this:  We can never fully either understand or explain “God.”  Yet that’s just what Job’s friends tried to do.  Their solution was to “make a god of their idea of God.”  They tried to put God into a “conceptual box.”

Which seems to be a fallacy trap that many people fall into, “even to this day.”  They give the impression that their limited minds are capable of not only fully understanding God, but also of telling other people that their interpretation of God is the only valid one.  (And that if you don’t believe their version, you will certainly “burn in hell.”)

Which is one good reason to go on a pilgrimage, like the one – or two – that I just did.  A good pilgrimage will remind you – sometimes forcibly – that you are not the center of the Universe.

And it may even help by making you ask yourself, “Who is Don again?”


Ilya Repin: Job and his Friends

Job – on the left – “and his friends, by Ilya Repin (1869)…”

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The upper image is from a series of photos I took during the aforementioned “pilgrimages,” on the Chilkoot Trail and the Yukon River.

As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12).  

The fourth big theme is that the only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind.

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgNow, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training.  Youbegin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training

Also, and as noted in “Career buck private,” I’d previously written that the theme of this blog was that if you really wanted to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*”  

In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See also Slogans of the United States Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image above left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

On the Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016

“Moses viewing the Promised Land” – proving once again that God has His own time-table

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has three themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12.)  And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live in abundance and do greater miracles than Jesus is to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more see the notes below or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

The next major feast day coming up is The Transfiguration of Jesus, on August 6.  I wrote about the day in last year’s Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World.

One key quote noted that this Transfiguration “stands as an allegory of the transformative nature” of the Bible-faith.  (Indicating a “marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.”)  Other key quotes from the post include that God has His own time-table, noted above.  And that as a result, Bible-explorers generally learn quickly that patience is definitely a virtue.

Which definitely applied to Moses.  The thing is, while Moses was allowed to view the Promised Land – from the top of Mount Nebo – he wasn’t allowed to actually enter the Promised Land.

That is, not until a thousand years or so after he died.  That’s when he appeared with Jesus, along with Elijah, when Jesus was being “transfigured” on Mount Tabor:

Moses finally entered the Promised Land – [at] the Transfiguration – albeit a Millennium [a thousand years] after he expected…  Moses died some seven miles due east of the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, inside Jordan [on Mount Nebo], while in the Transfiguration he “met up” with Jesus on Mount Tabor, inside Israel and 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

And by the way, that part about “the greatest miracle in the world” came from Thomas Aquinas: “Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration ‘the greatest miracle’ in that it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.”  Others note that all the other miracles of Jesus involved Him doing things for other people.

But unlike the other miracles of Jesus, this one happened to Him.

moses viewing the promised land from mount nebo by robert dowling

You can get the full story at the Greatest Miracle in the World post.  Or see On Exodus (Part II) and Transfiguration.

But another key thing to remember is that the Transfiguration shows that God always keeps His promises, even though His time-table may be different than ours.

That is, the Transfiguration “fulfilled a centuries-old dream for Moses, who God kept from the Promised Land. (See Why was God so upset with Moses and Why Moses [couldn’t] enter the Promised Land, as illustrated at right.)

In the meantime, I’m on a pilgrimage of my own.

I wrote a while back that this “may be the last post I’ll publish for awhile…  Next Tuesday – July 26 – I’ll be heading north to Skagway, Alaska.  From there I’ll spend four days hiking the Chilkoot Trail.  (The ‘meanest 33 miles in history.’)  Once that’s done, my brother and I will spend 16 days canoeing down the Yukon River, from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

“Assuming I survive all that, I should be back in business some time after August 29.”

“But stay tuned.  There may well be ‘further bulletins as events warrant!'”

Calvin and Hobbes

Here then, is one of those “further bulletins.”

I’m finishing this post up in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, on Thursday, July 28.  Going back to Tuesday, July 26, we made it to Great Falls, Montana.  This was after driving 560 miles:  “That means it’s about 120 miles to the Canadian border – unless they’ve built a wall or something.”

The  next day we made it to Drayton Valley, Alberta.  (West and a bit south of Edmonton.)

It took about 30 minutes to get through customs, and from there into Alberta, but once through customs and on the road “we saw a ton of these yellow plants, fields and fields of them.  It turns out they are Canola plants” – as shown below – “and they’re quite the cash crop:”

From Drayton Valley, today we made it to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.  In America-talk, it runs from Mile-marker 301 to 308. (On the famed Alaska Highway.)  But they use kilometers here.

That means when the speed sign says “Maximum 110,” you have to calculate kilometers to miles and figure that means about 65 mph on your dashboard.  And that when the speed sign says “40,” that means you have to slow down about 25 mph.

And the gas prices are unbelievable!  We saw signs in Alberta that said “96.9.”  Unfortunately, that was the price for a liter, or one-fourth of a gallon.  So to get the “American” price you have to multiply that by 4 and get gas at $3.87.

Also today, we passed through Dawson Creek, B.C., about 3:00 this afternoon.  It’s the southern end of the Alaska Highway, as shown at right.  And on the way we “gained an hour.”  Once we crossed into British Columbia, 3:00 p.m. magically became 2:00 p.m.

Tomorrow we’ll continue, heading up to Whitehorse and Skagway.  Monday the three of us will start that four-day hike on the Chilkoot Trail.  In the meantime, there will be “further bulletins as events warrant.”

But on August 6 I’ll be sure to pause to remember the Transfiguration.  (As shown below.)

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 The upper image is courtesy of Moses on Mount Nebo – Robert Hawke Dowling – Athenaeum. Dowling – whose middle name is spelled alternately as “Hawke” or “Hawker” – was born in England in 1827, the youngest son of Rev. Henry Dowling.  He and his parents moved Tasmania in 1839, but after taking art lessons – and showing an artistic aptitude – he moved to London in 1856.  In the next 20 years or so he exhibited 16 of his paintings at the Royal Academy.  Around 1882 he moved back to Tasmania, then to Melbourne , Australia, where he painted portraits.  He returned to London in 1886, “but died shortly after his arrival.”  Other online biographies noted that as a youth “he was deeply impressed by the tragedy of the Tasmanian Aboriginals.”

The colorful image just below “In the meantime” is courtesy of Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  The article added that in the painting, Moses and Elijah symbolically represented “the Law and the Prophets.”  Further, Moses and Elijah also “represent the living and the dead.”  (Elijah represented “the living, because he was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire.”  Moses represents “the dead, because he did experience death.” 

The smaller image of Moses on Mount Nebo is courtesy of Robert Dowling Auction Results – Robert Dowling on artnet.  The alternate title is Moses viewing the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, 1879.

The cartoon image is courtesy Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, October 25, 1986.

I borrowed the lower image from a prior post, On the Bible and mysticism.  Courtesy of Christian mysticism - Wikipedia, it has the caption:  “Transfiguration of Jesus depicting him with Elijah, Moses and 3 apostles by Carracci, 1594.”  The site said church practices like “the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities” noted for both their “ritual and symbolic values.”  Further, “Jesus’ conception, in which the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation.”

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.  (John 14:12).  

The fourth big theme is that the only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind.

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgNow, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training.  Youbegin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training

Also, and as noted in “Career buck private,” I’d previously written that the theme of this blog was that if you really wanted to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*”  

In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See also Slogans of the United States Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image above left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

Two Marys and a James – Saints

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project.jpg

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” as featured in this Sunday’s Gospel…  

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This post is on this Sunday’s Gospel, and on three feast days coming up at the end of july.

For starters, this Sunday’s Gospel is Luke 10:38-42.  It’s about Martha, who had a sister named Mary.  And Mary turned out to be not much help when Jesus came to visit them in Bethany:

Martha was distracted by her many tasks;  so she came to him [ – Jesus – ] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

I wrote about the two sisters in Mary and Martha of Bethany.  That post featured the painting above left, a  “plot twist” by Velázquez.  (Among other things, the artist did a “painting within a painting.”  Which leads to the question:  “Who are the two women in the foreground?”)

The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt - Vincent van GoghNote also that this July 29 is the feast day for Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus.

(But that’s only in the “Satucket” or Daily Office Lectionary.  As in Mary, Martha, [& Lazarus, their brother].  Note also this was the Lazarus who Jesus Raised From The Dead, as interpreted by Van Gogh, at right.  But he’s not to be confused with “the beggar named Lazarus,” described in Luke 16:19-31.)

At first glance, the story of these two sisters seems to exemplify the kind of ongoing personality conflict so prevalent today, and especially in our politics.  But Luke’s point seemed to be:  That “far from being bickering sisters, these two were a team, each complementing the other.”  

That is, the sisters could be seen as two parts of a unified whole:

Which is another way of saying that the debate over which is the better path … has been going for most if not all the 2,000 years since the Church was born…  Mary and Martha remind us that we need not “be at odds with each other” over religion [or other matters].  Instead we need to work on becoming two – or more – “parts of the whole.”

For the rest of the story, go ahead and read On Mary and Martha of Bethany for yourself.

Tizian 009.jpgCloser to home – chronologically – is the feast day for Mary Magdalene.  Her special day is July 22, which I wrote about in Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles.”  That post featured the painting “Penitent Magdalene,” by Titian, at left.  (Along with a link to “a ‘racier‘ version in 1533.”)  

But seriously, here’s the main point of this Mary’s story:

Jesus “restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection.”  She did that, and set an example for us all.  And she did all that despite a sordid past and a really lousy reputation.

That is, according to Wikipedia, this particular Mary – which was a common name in Jesus’ time – had a really bad reputation.  “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman.'”  Or as Isaac Asimov put it, this Mary “has been considered, in tradition, to have been a prostitute and to have repented as a result of her meeting with Jesus.  Thus the seven devils” – noted in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2 – “might then be considered devils of lust.”  

However, further research seems to show that such claims “are unfounded.”

For one thing – and as Wikipedia noted – those claims “are not supported by the canonical gospels.  The identity of Mary Magdalene is believed to have been merged with the identity of the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36–50.”  But one thing is clear:

She is most prominent in the narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus, at which she was present. She was also present two days later …  present two days later [when] she was, either alone or as a member of a group of women, the first to testify to the resurrection of Jesus.   John 20 and Mark 16:9 specifically name her as the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary MagdalenTo repeat:  Mary Magdalene was both the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection – as shown at right – and the first person “to testify to the resurrection of Jesus.”

Which may explain why this Mary had such a lousy reputation. (Male vanity being what it is.)  That is, while Jesus’ male disciples cowered in their hiding places – John 20:19 – Mary of Magdala stayed at the tomb, braving the danger.  (John 20:11.)

So it would only be natural for those male disciples to spread rumors about Magdalene’s past.  (In an effort to cover up their shortcomings when they got to their own personal “breaking point…”)

This is called building yourself up by tearing other people down.  And it’s a common phenomenon “even to this day.”  In turn, Mary’s bad reputation may well have been the result of the jealousy of her male rivals, as noted in “Apostle to the Apostles:”

The one indisputable fact seems to be that Mary Magdalene … was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus.  (Which may have accounted for jealous males trying to sully her reputation.)

And finally, the third of three feast days coming up at the end of July is for St. James the Greater.

Guido Reni - Saint James the Greater - Google Art Project.jpgHe’s called the Greater – as seen at right – to “distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus and James the Just.”  He was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. (Matthew 4:21-22.)  He was one of only three apostles selected by Jesus to witness His Transfiguration.  And he was apparently the first Apostle to be martyred.  (One author suggested it was because of the “fiery temper, for which he and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or ‘Sons of Thunder.’”  See Mark 3:17.)

And finally, this James is the patron saint of pilgrims.

That’s fitting because I myself will be doing my own pilgrimage for pretty much the whole month of August.  (As in North To Alaska.  As to whether I will go “from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude,” that’s a whole ‘nother matter entirely.)

Which brings up the water-skiiing metaphor shown below, and how it applies to pilgrims:

As yours truly once wrote, starting your spiritual pilgrimage by reading the Bible on a regular basis “is a bit like water-skiing,” or more precisely, “a bit like grabbing the handle of the rope” attached to a metaphoric “Big Motorboat in the Sky.  (As shown below.)  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

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CG-20 The Big Jump Water Skiing at Florida Cypress Gardens Lakeland

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A note about the wording of the title.  Being assiduous, I Googled the search term “what’s the plural of mary.”  (Just to make sure the title was grammatically correct.)  The most relevant answer came from What is the plural of bloody mary? – WordHippo:  “The plural form of bloody mary is bloody marys.”  (Though the plural form still looks a bit strange.)

The upper image is courtesy of  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Vermeer) – Wikipedia.  See also Mary of Bethany – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Christ in the House of Martha and MaryJohannes Vermeer, before 1654–1655, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Scotland,Edinburgh) – Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus.”

The other Bible readings for 7/17 are, in Track 1, Amos 8:1-12 and  Psalm 52.  The Track 2 readings are Genesis 18:1-10a and Psalm 15.  Colossians 1:15-28 and Luke 10:38-42 are in both tracks.

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Thus as noted, Titian did a racier version in 1533, some 32 years before the “more mature” version herein. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.  (But that racier version can’t necessarily be explained by excess hormones.  Titian was born between 1488 and 1490, so he would be at least 43 years hold when he did his 1533 version.  By 1565, when he did the version shown above, he would have been at least 75 years old.  That may explain why he felt the need to “tone it down” a bit, being so much closer to the end of his life.)  So anyway, for more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about Mary Magdalene are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 899-902. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re: “Breaking point.”  Garry Wills translated the Lord’s Prayer to read “and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.”  (The traditional translation reads “lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.”)  But as I noted in The True Test of Faith, “somehow, based on my own life experience, the term ‘Breaking Point’ seems more appropriate.”  See also Wills’ book What the Gospels Meant, and/or What the Gospels Meant … Book Review.

The “James” image is  courtesy of James, son of Zebedee – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Surfing and Waterskiing Vintage Postcards & Images, and/or CG-20 The Big Jump Water Skiing at Florida Cypress Gardens  Lakeland Florida (FL), Linen unused.  (As to why someone my age may go on such an arduous journey, see On returning from a pilgrimage.  

Those “not-so-good” Samaritans…

Luke the Evangelist – who wrote the Gospel for 7/10/16 – was said to have been quite the artist…

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The Lectionary says that July 10 is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.  (Using “Proper 10.”)  It offers a choice of two sets of Bible readings, but what they have in common are the second reading and the Gospel: Colossians 1:1-14, and Luke 10:25-37.  Luke begins like this:

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He  said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer…”  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Two points.  One is that this passage is Luke’s version of the “Cliff’s Notes‘ summary of the Bible” that Jesus gave in Matthew 22:36-40 (See The GIST of the matter.)  In other words, in His response to the smart-alecky lawyer’s question – trying to trick or “test” Him – Jesus did us all a big favor:

Jesus boiled the whole Bible down to two simple “shoulds.” You should try all your life to love, experience and get to know “God” with all you have. And to the extent possible, you should try to live peaceably with your “neighbors.”

(See “Bible basics” revisited.”)  The other point is that in further response to the lawyer, Jesus went on to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Portrayed at left.)  And I wrote about that parable in the post, On those “not-so-good” Samaritans.

For starters, one thing most people don’t know is that “calling someone a ‘Samaritan’ in the time of Jesus was pretty much like calling him a ‘Communist’ – or worse – in the America of the 1950s.”   The Jews – of which Jesus was one – hated Samaritans and the Samaritans in turn hated the Jews.  And tensions “were particularly high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones.”

That “Not-so-good” Samaritans post noted that in the eyes of Jesus’ Jewish audience, Samaritans were Second-Class Citizens, or worse.  “‘Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil’ was the mode in which the Jews expressed themselves when at a loss for a bitter reproach.”

That’s reflected in Matthew 10:5–6, where Jesus told His disciples:  “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.” (E.A.)  And sometimes other Jews hurled this epithet at Jesus.  See John 8:48, where “The people retorted,  “You Samaritan devil!  Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”  (In the New Living Translation.)

The sentence [- “you’re a Samaritan!” -] is singularly insulting in its tone and form.  We cannot measure the exact amount of insult they condensed into this word, whether it be of heresy, or alienation from Israel, or accusation of impure descent. (E.A.)

All of which is another way of saying there’s more to this parable than meets the eye.

To get the full story, read On those “not-so-good” Samaritans yourself.

(The post includes the cute Samaritan at right, who “formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18” and did the voice-over role of “Ella of Frell (played by Anne Hathaway) in the Hebrew dub of the film ‘Ella Enchanted.’”)

And finally, the post cited Isaac Asimov.  He said the “flavor of the parable” could be set in modern terms with a “white southern farmer left for dead.”  The farmer would be ignored and passed over by a minister and sheriff, but helped and ultimately saved by a Negro sharecropper.

In other words, a man is not a “neighbor” because of what he is but because of what he does.  A goodhearted Samaritan is more the neighbor of a Jew, than a hardhearted fellow Jew.  And, by extension, one might argue that the parable teaches that all men are neighbors, since all men could do well and have compassion, regardless of nationality.  To love one’s neighbor is to love all men…  The point Jesus was making was that even a Samaritan could be a neighbor; how much more so, anyone else.

And finally, Asimov noted that only the Gospel of Luke included this parable, which is “among the most popular of all those attributed to Jesus, and which preaches universalism.”

All of which makes for a good and timely object lesson for today…

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Vincent van Gogh's Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), The Painting

Vincent van Gogh‘s interpretation of The Good Samaritan

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The upper image is courtesy of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “’Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus,’ by Maarten van Heemskerck.”  On that note:

Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he [Luke] was the first icon painter.  He is said to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child…  He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.

The caption for the Parable of the Good Samaritan image reads:  “Christian Charity coin.”  The link-reference is to a Wikipedia article on Euro gold and silver commemorative coins, and specifically on Austrian coins, part of a collection “2000 Years of Christianity.”  One side of the coin portrays a “modern instance of Christian charity…  A nun working as a nurse comforts a sick man:”

The reverse depicts one of the best-known parables of the New Testament, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, Christ compares 3 differing responses to a stranger that has been attacked and robbed.  The coin shows the Good Samaritan with the wounded man on his horse as he takes him for medical attention.  On the coin, the text “Barmherziger Samariter” (“Merciful Samaritan”) can be read.

The “cute Samaritan” image is of Israeli actress Sofi Tzadka.  “Born as an Israeli Samaritan, along with her siblings [she] formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18.”  

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about the Samaritans are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 377-382, and pages 943-45.  The quote about the “hated and heretical” Samaritans is from page 523. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy,mathematics, the Bible,William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’” 

 The lower image is courtesy of “The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix),” by Vincent Van Gogh.

(See also “Inclusion,” the practice where “different groups or individuals having different backgrounds like origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and other are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, equally treated, etc.” )

On Independence Day, 2016

Emanuel Leutze (American, Schwäbisch Gmünd 1816–1868 Washington, D.C.) - Washington Crossing the Delaware - Google Art Project.jpgWashington Crossing the Delaware” – which he somehow did without “rocking the boat…”

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Sam DuPont.JPGJune 29 – I’m sitting here in the dining room of my aunt’s home, in Wilmington, Delaware.  (Near Rockford Park, as seen at left.)  And the folks in the kitchen – to my right – are now talking about Washington Crossing the Delaware.  (And about his not “rocking the boat.”)

So naturally I had to use the painting above to start off this post.

And speaking of the July 4th – coming up this long weekend – yesterday the whole family visited downtown Philadelphia.  (“Birthplace of American Democracy.”)  And today we’re planning to visit Valley Forge.

Which makes this a perfect time and place to bring up Independence Day in the U.S.

Independence Day is a day of family celebrations [with] a great deal of emphasis on the American tradition of political freedom…  Independence Day is a patriotic holiday for celebrating the positive aspects of the United States…  Above all, people in the United States express and give thanks for the freedom and liberties fought by the first generation of many of today’s Americans.

But it’s also a religious feast day , as noted in the link Independence Day.

About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.That article noted that on July 4th we commemorate the day the formal wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and the document signed.  (As ostensibly shown at right.)

In turn – and as Satucket noted – the words of the Declaration – written mostly by Thomas Jefferson – spoke “in terms of the Natural Law and God-given principles of justice and right.”  And Jefferson did so in language that was, as one British writer said, “combines great prose, great politics, and great theology.”

And speaking of great theology, the Bible readings set aside for that day include:  Deuteronomy 10:17-21Psalm 145Hebrews 11:8-16, and Matthew 5:43-48.  I commented on those Bible readings in the post, On the Bible readings for July 4, 2014.

The gist of that post was that the political leaders of the Colony of Virginia – in creating the Statute for Religious Freedom – voluntarily gave up a monopoly in matters of religion.

That was important because Jefferson based much of his Declaration on the Virginia statutes he’d grown up with.  That is, the official religion of the Colony of Virginia was Anglicanism.  (The Church of England.)  In turn, most if not all Burgesses in Virginia at the time were members of that official state church.  That means the Established Church of England in Virginia voluntarily gave up its power, including the power to tax residents to support their church:

The [Virginia Statute for Religious Freedomdisestablished the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths, including Catholics and Jews as well as members of all Protestant denominations [and] was a notable precursor of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Statute for Religious Freedom is one of only three accomplishments Jefferson instructed be put in his epitaph. (E.A.)

But first note the definition of disestablish.  It means to “deprive an established church, military squadron, operations base, etc of its official status.”  And Jefferson’s tombstone – at left – shows how important that was to him.

He wrote the inscription for the stone himself, and it reads: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

So Jefferson seems to have considered his part in writing the Statute for Religious Freedom just as important – if not more important – as his part in writing the Declaration of Independence.

Bible readings for July 4, 2014 went on to note some reasons those Virginia Burgesses gave up their monopoly on religion.  For starters, they wrote that “Almighty God hath created the mind free,” and also that when any majority tries to influence the religious beliefs of others, they “tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.”  Which I wrote:

…sounds like it was written yesterday!

The Burgesses also knew of the  “impious presumption of legislators and rulers,” to establish “their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible.”  They knew that’s when trouble starts.  That is, when “fallible and uninspired men” try and establish their own view of religion as “the only true and infallible.”  (Which also could have been written yesterday.)

And finally, the statute noted “that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself … and has nothing to fear from the conflict.”   In other words, that religion is best that proves itself in the “free market place of ideas.”  See Marketplace of ideas – Wikipedia.  In further words, if your faith is true and sound, you won’t be afraid of a little competition.

See also the 2014 post Sunday of the July 4th weekend.  (With the image at right.)  It noted that “our duty as Americans – and especially as Christian Americans – is to help and not hinder either the endless possibilities of the American Dream or the promise of Jesus that we should live a life of abundance, in His name.”  Which is pretty much what the Collect of the Day says:

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace…

Which is another way of saying that we as Christians should be willing “fight to the death” to protect the right of our fellow citizens not to believe in God, or Jesus.

But here’s a cautionary note:  You can only do that if your faith is really strong…


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The upper image is courtesy of Washington Crossing the Delaware – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Washington Crossing the Delaware is an 1851 oil-on-canvas painting by the German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.  It commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War.  That action was the first move in a surprise attack against the Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey, in the Battle of Trenton.

Wikipedia listed inaccuracies including:  The American flag in the boat “did not exist at the time of Washington’s crossing;”  The boat was the wrong model, and much too small;  The painting showed “phantom light sources besides the upcoming sun,” while the crossing itself “took place in the dead of night;”  and finally: “Washington’s stance … would have been very hard to maintain in the stormy conditions of the crossing[, and] would have risked capsizing the boat.”  (See also artistic licence.)

And speaking of rocking the boat, Washington and his fellow Founding Fathers did in fact rock the boat, according to the British during the Revolutionary War.  (In the sense of causing “trouble where none is welcome;  to disturb a situation that is otherwise stable and satisfactory.”)  See also John Paul Jones’ CLOSEST call, in my companion blog.  It included a British caricature of the man they called “the pirate Paul Jones.”  (To us of course he’s the Father of the American Navy.) 

The Declaration of Independence image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “John Trumbull‘s famous painting is often identified as a depiction of the signing of the Declaration, but it actually shows the drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.”

The lower image is courtesy of the link – When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going (album) – within the article When the going gets tough, the tough get going – Wikipedia

John the Baptist, Peter and Paul – 2016

“Scholars Disputing” – a painting of Peter and Paul – yet still they managed to work together… 

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We have two major feast days coming up.

Friday, June 24, is the feast recalling the Birth of St. John, the Baptist.  (He went on to “preach in the Wilderness,” as shown in the painting at right.)  The following Wednesday, June 29, is the day for remembering St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles.

And as noted in last year’s Peter, Paul – and other “relics:”

On January 18 [each year,] we celebrate the Confession of Peter:  “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.”  A week later on January 25 we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.  Then comes June 29, when we celebrate both men…  (Emphasis added.)

http://www.dralionkennels.com/images/newsflash.jpgBut getting back to The Nativity of John the Baptist.  Last year’s post noted that  “John the Baptist served as a precursor, forerunner or advance man for Jesus.  (As in, ‘News Flash:  Jesus is on the way!)  Or as it says in the Collect for the day:  ‘Your servant John the Baptist [was] sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior.'”

Which is pretty much what he did with his life…

See also Nativity of St. John the Baptist, from the Satucket website.  (It lists the Daily Office Readings.)  The article there helps explain the comment by Jesus – so puzzling to many – in Matthew 11:11:  “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;  yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he:”

Which sounds a lot like a backhanded compliment

So what was the point Jesus was trying to make?  One interpretation goes like this:

John represents the climax of the long tradition of Jewish prophets…  John is the climax of the Law.  He lives in the wilderness, a life with no frills…  He has renounced the joys of family life, and dedicated himself completely [to] calling people to an observance of the law…   In terms of natural goodness, no one is better than John.  But he represents Law, not Grace.  Among men born of woman, among the once-born, he has no superior.  But anyone who has been born anew in the kingdom of God has something better than what John symbolizes.

How Faith WorksWhich brings up the controversy that’s been going on for over 2,000 years.

(Since the birth of the Church.)

That’s the ongoing controversy between Faith and Works.  (Or between Faith and following “the Letter of the Law,” as illustrated at right.)

The question is this:  “Are you ‘saved’ by following a set of rules and regulations, or by faith in Jesus alone?”  (See e.g.Controversy Over Faith And Works Continues.”  As also noted in last year’s Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”)

Thus the argument is about how “Jesus saves.”

Does Jesus want you to earn your way into heaven?  Or do you get there simply by accepting His free gift?  (Or put another way, the issue is one of  “legalism” versus “grace.”)

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/upload/img/caravaggio-salome-receives-head-saint-john-baptist-NG6389-fm.jpgIn this debate, John represented the Old Way.  (Resulting in the kind of “ending” illustrated at left.)  Jesus – on the other hand – represents the New Way.  “John is the climax of the Law…  But anyone who has been born anew in the kingdom of God has something better than what John symbolizes.”  That would be grace, which “excludes merit.”

Which is another way of saying that practicing Christians should not go around being obnoxious, as Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 4:7:

Who says that you are any better than other people?  What do you have that wasn’t given to you [by God]?  If you were given what you have, why are you bragging as if it weren’t a gift?

Of course many say, “I earned everything I have, through the sweat of my brow.”  Which raises the questions:  “Who gave you the brow?  And who gave you the capacity to sweat?”  Which is another way of saying the myth that you can earn your way into heaven dies hard.

But we digress…   Getting back to the feast for the Birth of John the Baptist:  The Bible readings for the day are Isaiah 40:1-11Psalm 85Acts 13:14b-26, and Luke 1:57-80.

Turning to the Feast for June 29:  Last year’s Peter, Paul – and other “relics” noted that that particular date was chosen as “the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics:”

On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles.  The date is the anniversary of a day around 258, under the Valerian Persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.

Thus the term relic – as used here – means the body parts of people considered especially holy. (Like Peter and Paul.)   In turn translating relics means moving those “holy objects from one locality to another.”  (Usually to a “better neighborhood,” metaphorically.  For example, the image above right  shows “St. Corbinian’s relics being moved to Freising from Merano.”)

Last year’s post indicated the dispute between Peter and Paul came to a head with the Incident at Antioch.  As to that dispute the Wikipedia article added,  “The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain resulting in several Christian views of the Old Covenant to this day.”

(Briefly, that question involves how much of the Old Testament “law” is binding on Christians.)

However, to me the main point of the Feast of Peter and Paul was that it’s okay to have differences of opinion between Christians.  (Or even to “squabble” from time to time.  And for that matter, that it’s okay to argue with God too, if and as necessary…)

In the meantime, enjoy the painting below, of Jesus and John, together as youngsters


 John the Baptist – at right – and the boy Jesus, enjoying their childhood

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The upper image is courtesy of Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon … (web gallery of art.)  The explanatory section added that the most likely explanation of the painting is that it “represents St Peter and St Paul in conversation,” or even Argument:

Rembrandt omits the attributes by which the two apostles were traditionally identified, he relies only on their physical characteristics … and on what they are seen to be doing, that is earnestly discussing a text which the one (St Peter) is explaining to the other.

For other interpretations and/or images, see also www.canvasreplicas.com/Rembrandt.htm.  See also Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

The upper “painting at right” – of John the Baptist preaching – is courtesy of John the Baptist – Wikipedia.  The caption: “St. John the Baptist Preaching,c. 1665, by Mattia Preti.”

Re: The Controversy Over Faith And Works.  See also the Matthew Henry Commentary on  Matthew 11:11:  “The things of God are of great and common concern.  God requires no more from us than the right use of the faculties he has given us.” 

Re:  John as “climax of the Law.”  See In the Bible we read about “the law”. What does this mean?

As God’s new creation we actually want to obey His law – not because it gets us anything, but because of our love for Him.  We still say with the Psalmist in his ageless words, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8)

Emphasis added.  Which is yet another way of saying that even Christian of long-standing need to remind themselves that “the myth that you can earn your way into heaven dies hard.”   

The “Jesus is Lord” image is courtesy of How Faith Works | Christianity Today.  That article studied the issue in-depth, including a note on the “progressive character” of the Christian spiritual journey.  It said that “under the influence of the Word and the Spirit … believers begin to grow in holiness.”

Re: the “sweat of my brow,”  The term also refers to an “intellectual property law doctrine, chiefly related to copyright law.”  See Sweat of the brow – Wikipedia.

Re:  The image to the left of the paragraph, “Briefly, John represented the Old Way.”  Titled “Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist,” it is courtesy of nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/caravaggio

The subject is from the New Testament [Mark 6, verses 14-29].  Salome had danced so well for King Herod that he swore he would grant her any request.  Her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge on John the Baptist, persuaded Salome to ask for his head.  The old woman behind Salome may be Herodias.”

The lower image is courtesy of John the Baptist – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “John the Baptist (right) with child Jesus, painting by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo.”

Re: John and Jesus enjoying their childhood.  See also Childhood – Wikipedia, which noted:

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, refers to the trend in the United States and Canada towards less time for outdoor play resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. With the heavy use of cellphones, computers, video games and television, children have more reasons to stay inside rather than outdoors exploring…  The media has accelerated the trend by de-emphasizing views of nature, as in Disney films.

See also Food for thought, i.e.:  “something that warrants serious consideration.”

On “latitude, attitude,” and other life changes…

This is something like how it was at the high-school graduation party I attended yesterday…

*   *   *   *

It’s early June.  (Actually June 12, 2016.)  That means it’s time for Changes in Attitude.  Or at least time for a change of status, for “moving on.”  In other words, June is a time for big changes, like weddings and graduations.  (See also On June 6, about another major “Life Change…”)

In my case, yesterday I went to the high-school graduation of my “favorite grandson named Austin.”  And among other things, such life-changes for other people – especially those important to you – can lead you to do some reflections of your own.  (As illustrated at right.)

Like my giving Austin a check for $100, to celebrate his change in life-status.  I did that in part because my aunt Esther gave me a check for my high-school graduation, back in 1969.  (Which I promptly blew on playing poker “with my idiot buddies.”)

That led me to give a cautionary instruction to Austin:  Here’s a hundred bucks for you, but don’t blow it “playing poker with your idiot buddies!”

But we digress…

The point of all this is that the graduation reminded me of some recent Daily Office Readings.

Like the ones for June 1, 2016.  That was the morning I set out on my most-recent jaunt into the Okefenokee Swamp.  (As detailed in “There he goes again,” which included the image at left.  And which itself will be the subject of a future post.)  

So anyway, those readings included Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.  It begins:  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.”  And verse 8 reads like this:  “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this Bible passage was immortalized in Turn! Turn! Turn!  That’s the song sub-titled, “To Everything There Is a Season,” which makes it especially appropriate for June, the time for weddings and graduations.

Turn! Turn! Turn! as a song “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  But it was written a decade before, by Pete Seeger:

The lyrics, except for the title which is repeated throughout the song, and the final verse of the song, are adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, set to music and recorded in 1962…

Wikipedia noted the Book of Ecclesiastes – illustrated musically at right – was written in the “late 3rd century BC,” and is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon.

Finally, the article noted that the song is “notable for being one of a few instances in popular music in which a large portion of scripture is set to music.”  And that the song holds the distinction of being “the #1 hit with the oldest lyrics.”

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature…  American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote that of “all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth – and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth…  Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

Which makes it well worth reading in its entirety, and especially at times of great change.

Like for the month of June in general, with its weddings and graduations.  (Or during a fascinating election season, like the one we’re now in the middle of…)  

But be forewarned:  Ecclesiastes can be depressing.  For example Ecclesiastes 2:17-18, where the writer said, “I hated life, because [it is] grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”   And that he “hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me.”  Or Ecclesiastes 2:23:  “For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest.  This also is vanity.”

Or – for that matter – your grandfather giving you $100 for a graduation gift, but then adding, “don’t blow it ‘playing poker with your idiot buddies!'”

But it also has some positive notes, like in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.

That passage also contains some good advice, like that there is “nothing better for [us] than to be happy” and enjoy ourselves.  And that “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”  And also that “God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.”  (Which is good advice indeed.)

So for those of you undergoing life changes this June 2016, remember to enjoy the good times, while also remembering to “stand in awe” before God.  (Which sounds a lot like some of those long and – shall we say – “involved” graduation speeches I listened to yesterday…)

And incidentally, the Daily Office Readings for last June 1 included the Gospel – Matthew 14:1-12 – which told of John the Baptist literally “losing his head.”  (Talk about “life changes.”)

But that’s a subject for another time, and another post…

 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/upload/img/caravaggio-salome-receives-head-saint-john-baptist-NG6389-fm.jpg“Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist…”

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The upper image is courtesy of the graduation parties link within the article, Graduation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The actual caption:  “Wedding Feast in front of a Farm by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel c. 1620.”  (But Brueghel’s painting did look like “my” graduation party…)

The “reflections” image is courtesy of the philosophy link in the Wikipedia article, Human self-reflection.  The caption: “Plato (left) and Aristotle (right): detail from The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509.”

The full Daily Office Readings for June 1, 2016, were Psalm 119:49-72 (for the morning); Psalms 49 and 53 (evening), along with Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Galatians 2:11-21; and Matthew 14:1-12.

Re: “few instances” of a “large portion of scripture is set to music.”   Other examples include:  The Melodians‘ “Rivers of Babylon,” Sister Janet Mead‘s “The Lord’s Prayer,” and U2‘s “40.”

The “aces and eights” image is courtesy of Dead man’s hand – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/caravaggio:  From the “New Testament [Mark 6, verses 14-29].  Salome had danced so well for King Herod that he swore he would grant her any request.  Her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge on John the Baptist, persuaded Salome to ask for his head.  The old woman behind Salome may be Herodias.”  (I borrowed the image from a prior post, On the Nativity of John the Baptist.  And again, “Talk about ‘life changes…'”)

On June 6, 2016

Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit.jpg

Men of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division wade “into the jaws of death,” on D-Day, 72 years ago…

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As of today – June 6, 2016 – it’s been 72 years since the Normandy landings.  (Otherwise known as “D-Day.”)  See 72nd Anniversary 2016 Events #DDay72, which noted celebrations in France:

World leaders and other dignitaries flew into Normandy to pay tribute to the real VIPs – the veterans themselves – whilst the global media descended on the region in huge numbers as they do every five years.

Impromptu pipes and drum on Gold Beach during the D-Day 70th AnniversaryThat article was affiliated with “the UK’s only museum” dedicated to the D-Day Landings,” near the “Southsea Castle in Portsmouth,” England.  It included the picture at right, of last year’s “Canopies Over Normandy (#DDay71).”  In that “jump:”

British airborne veteran Jock Hutton (89) and American veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin (93) both returned to the skies above Normandy.  At different ends of the invasion area, both veterans bravely made tandem parachute jumps into the countryside into which they dropped 70 years before.

Closer to home, see D-Day in the United States – Time and Date.  That site noted that throughout America, museums and war memorials “host exhibitions featuring photos and film as a tribute to soldiers who were part of the Normandy landings.  D-Day memorials and ceremonies are also held to remember these soldiers.”  The article also noted that the invasion of Normandy was “one of history’s most significant military attacks.”

I first wrote about the commemoration – and “covenant renewal” – in On D-Day and confession, in 2014.  That post compared the kind of “de-briefing” that American fliers got – after their missions – with the concepts of “sin” and “repentance.”  But the goal back then was not to make people feel guilty.  (As some seem to imply.)  Instead they were and are “tools to help us get closer to the target ‘next time out,’ even if we know we can never become ‘perfect.'”

Description of  Planes from the 344th Bomb Group, which led the IX Bomber Command formations on D-Day on June 6, 2014. Operations started in March 1944 with attacks on targets in German-occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After the beginning of the Normandy invasion, the Group was active at Cotentin Peninsula, Caen, Saint-Lo and the Falaise Gap.  (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)Then came On the DORs for June 6, 2015.  (Which included the image at left.)  That post noted that June 6, 2015 was a “red letter day, and not just because it’s been 71 years since the best-known D-Day.”  And from the Daily Office Readings for that day, I came up with the idea that those 40 years of wandering in the wilderness were a kind of “boot camp.”

(Of the kind necessary for the armed forces to succeed in their mission, 72 years ago…)

That idea was based on Deuteronomy 29, which was both a commemoration – like our remembering D-Day – and a “renewal of the covenant.”

Which by the way, seems to be another function of such celebrations of such long-ago events.

We “renew the covenant” that led thousands upon thousands of perfectly sane men and women to risk their lives for a cause they believed in.  And in that effort, those people who fought those battles 72 years ago succeeded largely because they weren’t “rigid.”

Put another way, this is a day to remember that “independent judgment” – not rigid obedience to a pre-formed set of “rules” – is the key to success in life, and especially the spiritual life:

During World War II, German generals often complained that U.S. forces were unpredictable…  After the Normandy invasion in 1944, American troops found that their movements were constrained by the thick hedgerows…   In response, “Army soldiers invented a mechanism on the fly that they welded onto the front of a tank to cut through hedgerows…”   American troops are famous for this kind of individual initiative.  It’s a point of pride among officers that the American way of war emphasizes independent judgment in the fog and friction of battle, rather than obedience and rules.  (E.A.)

Which is precisely the kind of Bible study I believe in.  And that in turn is “just another way of saying that by reading the Bible with an open mind, you’ll be on your way to the creative judgment that overcomes ‘the fog and friction’ of everyday life.”

On a somewhat related subject, this upcoming June 11th will celebrate St. Barnabus.  For more on that, see On St. Barnabus’ Day, 2015.  That post spoke of Barnabus, the apostle who was open-minded enough to welcome Paul, formerly an enemy of the early Church.

if it hadn’t been for Barnabas and his willingness to give Paul a second chance – a second chance for the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the “Founder of Christianity.”

“So we might just call Barnabas ‘the Apostle of Second Chances.’”


 If it wasn’t for Barnabus, Paul’s experience “might have gone for naught…”

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 The upper image is courtesy of Normandy landings – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption: “Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944.”  Clicking on the picture in the Wikipedia article will lead to the attribution: “File: Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit.jpg.”

The lower image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Conversion of Saint Paul, a 1600 painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio.”  See also What happened on the road to Damascus?  That site noted:  “The events that happened on the road to Damascus relate not only to the apostle Paul, whose dramatic conversion occurred there, but they also provide a clear picture of the conversion of all people.”  (E.A.)

On the Visitation – 2016

Sassoferrato - Jungfrun i bön.jpg

The Virgin Mary in prayer – by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, “c. 1650.”

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Today – May 31 – is the feast day dedicated to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (As it’s formally known.)  See also Visitation (Christianity) – Wikipedia, which noted:

The Visitation is the visit of Mary with Elizabeth as recorded [in] Luke 1:39–56.  It is also the name of a Christian feast day[,] celebrated on 31 May…  Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist.  Mary left Nazareth immediately after the Annunciation and went “into the hill country” [of Judah] to attend to her cousin.

The VisitationWikipedia added, “In the Gospel of Luke, the author’s accounts of the Annunciation and Visitation are constructed using eight points of literary parallelism to compare Mary to the Ark of the Covenant.”

Which I didn’t know…  (And a BTW:  An old-time interpretation of the event is shown at left.)  So anyway, the Blessed Virgin Mary article added that Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Mary responded with what became known as Magnificat.  In turn:

John the Baptist, still unborn, leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. Thus we are shown, side by side, the two women, one seemingly too old to have a child, but destined to bear the last prophet of the Old Covenant … and the other woman, seemingly not ready to have a child, but destined to bear the One Who was Himself the beginning of the New Covenant, the age that would not pass away. (E.A.)

And speaking of Mary, see the post On St. Mary, Mother.  Among other things, it noted that “In Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is portrayed wearing blue, a tradition going back to the Byzantine Empire … where blue was ‘the color of an empress.’”

Another explanation comes from “Medieval and Renaissance Europe,” where…

…the blue pigment was derived from the rock lapis lazuli, a stone imported from Afghanistan of greater value than gold.  Beyond a painter’s retainer, patrons were expected to purchase any gold or lapis lazuli to be used in the painting.  Hence, it was an expression of devotion and glorification to swathe the Virgin in gowns of blue. (E.A.)

Which explains Mary being shown in blue in the painting at the top of the page.

That post also noted that the Magnificat “echoes” several Old Testament passages, including allusions to “the Song of Hannah,” in 1st Samuel 2:1-10.  (Not to mention “the Book of Odes, an ancient liturgical collection…”)

See also On the psalms up to December 21, which included the image at right.  (Of Mary, reciting the Magnificat.)  

That post included a note that Mary’s hymn of praise was “distilled from a collection of early Jewish-Christian canticles,” and patterned in turn on the “‘hymns of praise’ in Israel’s Psalter.”  In turn, “Mary symbolizes both ancient Israel and the Lucan faith-community.”  (That is, the particular “faith community” that Luke addressed in his Gospel.)  

And finally, some notes from Isaac Asimov.

Among other things, he noted the apparent ongoing competition between the two men – Jesus and John the Baptist – or at least between or among their followers. (See e.g. John 3:22-36 Competition in Ministry and Were Jesus and John the Baptist Competitors?)

Which may explain why Luke  – and he alone, in his Gospel – included the episode of Mary’s “visitation.”  His goal may have been to show that – even in the womb – John the Baptist “recognized Jesus’ priority and transcendant importance…  This would  be a strong point for the followers of Jesus and against the competing followers of John.”

Asimov too noted that Mary’s “hymn of praise” – starting at Luke 1:46 – was very much like that of Hannah, “on the occasion of her giving birth to Samuel, and is widely considered to be inspired by it.”  (See 1st Samuel 2, 1-10, which begins, ““My heart rejoices in the Lordin the Lord my horn is lifted high.  My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.”)

Asimov also noted that Elizabeth and Hannah were more alike than Mary.  Mary was young and “unmarried,” while both Elizabeth and Hannah were old and had been married many years, “in a society that considered barrenness a punishment for sin.”  Thus they were “blessed by a pregnancy, in old age and after many years of marriage,” and thus were vindicated.

But we digress…

Getting back to Asimov, he found it significant that Luke chose to focus on Mary, unlike Matthew, whose birth narrative centered on Joseph, the earthly “father figure” of Jesus.

(As shown at left, with Jesus as a young boy…)

One big factor seemed to be Matthew’s preaching to pious Jews, who could understand his ongoing citations to the Old Testament in his Gospel.  But Luke had another audience in mind:

The Gentiles knew of goddesses, and their pagan religions often had a strong feminine cast.  If Luke were a Gentile, he would be drawn to the tales Mary.  Matthew, on the other hand, a product of the strongly patriarchal Jewish culture, would automatically deal with Joseph.

Or as Asimov put it, Matthew aimed his Gospel for those “learned in Old Testament lore.”  Luke on the other hand wrote his Gospel for Gentiles, translated alternately as “Goy,” non-Jews, or “outsiders.”  That is, he wrote for those outsiders who were “considering conversion” – to Christianity – “or perhaps are already converted and wish to know still more concerning the background of their new religion.”

In turn, Jesus Himself is “portrayed as far more sympathetic to Gentiles in Luke than in the other Synoptic Gospels.”  (And a good thing too, I might add.)

So today we celebrate this early meeting of Mary and cousin Elizabeth.  As noted below, “Their meeting sets the stage for all that will come later, and it is women who recognize it first.”



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The upper image is courtesy of the Marian perspectives link at Mary, mother of Jesus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  The Virgin in Prayer, by Sassoferrato, c. 1650.”  (Or in the alternative:  “Jungfrun i bön (1640-1650). National Gallery, London.”)

The Isaac Asimov quotes-and-notes are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Two Volumes in One, the Old and New Testaments, Avenel Books (1981), at pages 914 and 920-21, with emphases added.    

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy,mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Wikipedia

Asimov also noted the “legend” that Luke knew Mary personally, “and learned of the story of Jesus’ birth from her in her old age.”  He also noted the tradition – in his view, unsupported – that “Luke was an artist and painted a portrait of Mary that was later found in Jerusalem.”

The Joseph-and-Jesus painting is “St. Joseph the Carpenter, by Georges de La Tour, 1640s.”

The lower image is courtesy of Paintings of Elizabeth and Mary Meeting – Bible Images.  It shows a detail of The Visitation Painting by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijnand adds this note:

Although not a big part of the Christmas story today, in the past, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth was considered very important.  The two women were cousins.  Elizabeth, an old woman, is the wife of the priest Zechariah, who is told by an angel that his elderly wife will become pregnant.  Unknown to the couple, their child will grow up to become John the Baptist.  Mary was pregnant with Jesus.  When they meet, Elizabeth’s baby leaps for joy inside her womb.  Elizabeth and Mary both realize that Mary’s child is very special.  Their meeting sets the stage for all that will come later, and it is women who recognize it first.

The site added that all paintings of the Visitation “are based on the Gospel of Luke, 1:40-45, the only place where this story appears.”


On snake-handling “redux”

The snake handler on the right – “Stumpy?” – is arguably taking Mark 16:18 “out of context…”

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I just went back over some posts from last year around this time.  I found this post, still in draft form.  So for the past couple days I’ve been updating it to this final form.

http://www.themonastery.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Jesus-Prayer.pngAlso last year at this time I did WHY we’re getting “less Christian.”

Posted on May 23, it included the ironic image at right.  Then there was The wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel,” posted on June 2, 2015.

So this post will review those two from last year, plus the original On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I and Part II.

Part I noted that a small group of rural Christians practice “snake handling” as part of their religion. And that they do that based on a passage from Mark 16:16-18, part of Jesus’ “Great Commission:”

 And [Jesus] said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation…    And these signs will accompany those who believe:  in my name they will cast out demons;  they will speak in new tongues;  they will pick up serpents with their hands;  and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them;  they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (E.A.)

On the other hand there was an article, Snake-Handling Pentecostal Pastor Dies From Snake Bite.  (Which arguably showed that “such a practice may not be such a good idea.”)

Then came the meat of the post, that the Bible is both “simple” and “deep:”

In other words, you could say that the Bible message is both simple enough for a child to understand, yet so full of subtle mysteries that a lifetime can be spent on its study, yet still leave myriads of lessons yet to be learned.  (See 1st Corinthians 4:1:  “This then is how you should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”)

Part II went on to discuss what many say is the proper way to read, study and interpret the Bible.  It also discussed both the topics of “Biblical inerrancy” and Fundamentalism.

I said the business of “requiring every word of the Bible to be inerrant” reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 23:4.  He was talking about the Pharisees of His time, and noted that they tended to “make strict rules that are hard for people to obey.  They try to force others to obey all their rules.  But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.

Which brings us to WHY we’re getting “less Christian.”  That post noted a study: Americans Less Religious Than Ever Before.  The gist of the article was that a then-recent poll found Christianity is on the decline, especially among the young.  And here are some of the reasons:

Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative.  Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. (E.A.)

And finally, note The wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.”  That post led off with the fable of the Blind men and the elephant.

The moral of that story?  That each man ended up with a good idea of part of the elephant.  But each went on to “err greatly” – as Jesus might say – by mistakenly assuming that his view was the only accurate picture of the whole elephant.

(Or as Wikipedia said, “the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.”)

That in turn brought up Virgil, and his views.  That is, throughout history most people have seen religion “in terms of black or white:  ‘our attitude toward the possibility of divine control of things tends to be all or nothing.'”  But Virgil’s view seemed more practical.

His view was that – despite our best efforts – some of what happens to us may make some sense.  But then again “some of what happens seems to make pretty much no sense:”

There is, in other words, an overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work.  But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part

Which could be just another way of saying that when you become a Christian, God doesn’t become your personal servant, willing and able to cater to your every whim.  Or as one Christian mystic once said,It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.”

Or here’s another way to put it.  (In case I’m being too subtle.)  In plain words, God doesn’t owe you a thing.  (See Luke 17, verses 7-10.)  In still further words:

…way too many people think that getting good stuff from God – The Force that Created the Universe– is somehow easier than trying to shoot the head off a match stick…

Which means there are a some important lessons for our spiritual quest.  One is that we shouldn’t expect God to cater to our every whim, like some glorified butler.  (Maybe we should learn to say, “It’s hard as hell, but now and then I’ll do it just right…”)  And maybe we should start worshiping – not to get anything – but rather “asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.”

All of which could lead to a far more accurate picture of that “elephant as a whole…” 


The parable of the “Blind men and the elephant…” 

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The upper image was featured in On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I.

For some background on the “redux” part of the title, see On “Job the not patient” – REDUX.  It’s an allusion to the 1971 book by John Updike, Rabbit Redux.  That book-title in turn “led to a redux in popularity of the word redux.”  So much so that in a later book, Rabbit At Rest, Updike had his hero – Harry Angstrom – say he “hates that word, you see it everywhere, and he doesn’t know how to pronounce it.   Like arbitrageur and perestroika…”

Re: Draft form.  See also Writing Rough Draft of Research Paper – Duke of Definition.

Re: “vigor rather than comfort.”  The quote is an allusion to the book Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, as discussed in On the Nativity of John the Baptist:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.  (E.A.)

Ariel Press (1914), at page 177.  See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Blind monks examining an elephant, an ukiyo-e print byHanabusa Itchō (1652–1724).”  (See also Stay tuned, for future reference.)