Category Archives: Personal experience

December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?”

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It’s mid-December, 2020. At such times – near the end of a given year – people tend to look back. They look back at what happened in that year just past. Or maybe we take a look back at “this time last year.” Sometimes it helps to see what a difference a year makes. Or recall what we were doing and thinking “this time last year.”

So – in looking back over posts from “this time last year” – I came across an unfinished draft. That is, a post I started, but never finished. The tentative title? “Bad things to good people?” Which may have been a bit of foreshadowing. That is, it may have been an early “indication of what is to come.” (2020 has been a crazy year…)

The last time I modified the post was December 15, 2019, a year ago. So now – after our crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 – seems like a good time to bring the topic up to date… I started the “bad things to good people” post off with this:

It struck me recently [in December 2019] that sometimes – when it seems that “bad things happen to good people” – God isn’t punishing us. Maybe He’s just trying to get us back on the right track, in the only way He has available. Usually through negative feedback. In the manner of a sheep dog “nipping at the heels” of a member of His flock.

The point is that through the Bible, God’s been saying for years how we should act, what we should do. But when we don’t pay attention – when that fails – the only option He has left is to resort to that negative feedback. Which brings up the difference between negative and positive feedback. Put simply, what if – instead of having to be told constantly what not to do – you could get positive feedback from God that tells you should do in the first place?

(You know, besides the stuff that’s already in the Bible.) In other words, if you “learned to speak God’s language.” That’s where the Bible comes in, and why it pays to actually read the Bible…

That brings up a theme I’ve tried to advance in this blog: That studying the Bible is a good way to get that positive feedback from God. (To “learn His language.”) If you read and study long enough, you can figure out what God wants before He has to use negative feedback.

Which brings up What the Bible says about Sheep as Metaphor. One point? Sheep are really stupid. The only way they ever get going in the right direction is to have a sheep dog “nipping” at their heels. So my point: Read and study the Bible. It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

Getting back to the “negatives” of 2020, check a review in 2020 events so far: Yep, these all happened this year. (From the New York Post). Australian brush fires, beginning December 2019 and extending into 2020. (Burning a record 47 million acres and killing at least 34 people.) Kobe Bryant’s death, Donald Trump’s impeachment (and whitewash). Blacks Lives Matter protests. An exceedingly nasty presidential election. And of course the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 stock market crash that followed.

So what “right track” could God try to get us back on? Especially in the U.S., where the death toll from COVID is approaching 292,000? (See COVID updates: US death toll surpasses World War II combat fatalities.) If I had to guess, I’d use three little words (and an addendum):

Lack of compassion – and too much hate!

If that’s too subtle, here in simpler terms: “Stop hating so much, and show a whole lot more compassion than you’ve shown the past year!” But that’s already in the Bible. (See Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:28. And What does the Bible say about compassion, especially 1st John 4:20, that if “we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?”)

Which brings us back to “stupid sheep.” Consider Why does God call us sheep? – Blogger, or What is the significance of sheep in the Bible? The latter’s reasons for the metaphor included that sheep don’t “have a defense system” and are helpless without a shepherd. Also:

. . . sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that [leader] may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:5019:34Numbers 16:2).

Following a dangerous or foolish leader? (Instead of sticking to the eternal truths of the Bible?) “Extremely gullible?” Charismatic leader? Shiny new idea? “Herd mentality?” All these sound very familiar. But getting back to why bad things can happen to good people. Or why “God” might have “sent the Coronavirus.” Or why the reminder to have more compassion…

One precedent from the Bible? The Massacre of the Innocents, which we remember on December 28, three days after Christmas. (This year “transferred” to the 29th, as Holy Innocents.) There, on hearing of Jesus’ birth, “Herod the Greatking of Judea, orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.”

So why did all those male infants have to die, near the time of Jesus’ birth? Or for that matter, why did some 292,000 Americans have to die in the past year, from COVID?

One answer came in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the 1981 book by Harold Kushner, “a Conservative rabbi.” The gist of his book was that God is benevolent but not all-powerful to prevent evil. “God does his best and is with people in their suffering, but is not fully able to prevent it.” Which brings up Finite God Theodicy

“Finite God Theodicy maintains that God is all-good (omnibenevolent) but not all-powerful,” while theodicy in general tries to answer why God permits evil. (Or COVID.) It’s a “theological construct” trying to “vindicate God in response to the evidential problem of evil that seems inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.”

Another answer – ostensibly – can be seen in Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? | Psychology Today, posted in October 2019. That review of Kushner’s book – by Ralph Lewis M.D., a “scientific thinker” – answered bluntly, “Bad things happen for the same reason anything happens.” He listed Kushner’s answer, to “drop the belief in God’s omnipotence.” And to accept his “scientific” conclusion, that the universe has no inherent purpose or design.

I don’t buy it, for reasons including those listed in May 2019’s “As a spiritual exercise,” and the recent Unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’ But then there’s a post from 2015, On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.” It talked about some wisdom I gleaned – from both Virgil the old Roman poet, and a “‘Frisco” Hell’s Angel named Magoo. And Professor Timothy Shutt, who said our human minds are just too limited to ever fully understand “God:”

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

That is, Virgil took issue with the “all or nothing” idea that either there’s a God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all. (That “chance or strictly natural forces give rise to all that we see around us.”) Another name for that “all or nothing” approach is  splitting, or in more familiar terms “black and white thinking.”  

I discuss that phenomenon routinely in the notes below. In plain words, the human brain doesn’t like ambiguity. Or for that matter cognitive inconsistency. The human brain would much rather think in black-and-white terms than deal with Virgil’s nuanced approach. And Virgil crystallized his spiritual “sense of things” in the Aeneid, Book III:

Divine order could be seen in some things, but other things more or less just happened. This is not a view we tend to share, but it does make a certain sense… [A]n 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…

So one of my conclusions? That compared to God most of us humans are “really stupid sheep.”

On the other hand some of us take the time to read and study the Bible, with an open mind. And so we realize that however much we learn – from the Bible and life experience – we can never fully comprehend “God.” Which means we can reject the idea of an unpowerful God who “does His best” but can’t – or won’t – prevent human suffering. And reject the “black and white” idea that either God is all-powerful or that there is no God, and so human life is totally random, without any meaning or purpose. (On that note see The True Test of Faith.)

As to that idea we can never fully comprehend “God?” There’s one answer: “Not yet anyway.” In the meantime, keep reading the Bible with an eye to getting that positive feedback.

It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

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“You’re going the wrong way, you stupid sheep!”

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The upper image is courtesy of When Bad Things Happen Good People – Image Results.

As to what all this means about what “we” can do about the Coronavirus, “Psychology Today’s” Dr. Lewis had one good answer, that we “rely on each other:”

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter and that what happens to them has an emotional impact on us. When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

Which is actually a very “Christian” thought. And which was pretty much my point in Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. To wit: That it would be a greater miracle if Jesus “got a bunch of normally-greedy people to share what they had,” rather than simply performing a routine magic trick.  

Re: December 28. See also Feast of the Holy Innocents (Britannica):

The feast is observed by Western churches on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29. The slain children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. It may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

As indicated in the main text, this “feast” was transferred from the 28th to the 29th. This year the day for St John, Apostle and Evangelist – normally December 28 – was transferred to Monday; standard procedure when such a feast day falls on a Sunday.

For more on metaphors see e.g. Famous Metaphors in The Bible – Literary Devices. Metaphors turn difficult ideas into simple concepts. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.

Here are some thoughts from the 2019 rough draft, included for completeness:

The point of all this is that normally – based on our own shortcomings – God has no way of telling us directly “the way we should go.” He can only direct us through negative feedback, telling us where not to go, in the manner of a sheep dog. He can only get through to us by a process of elimination... Which can be very difficult for us to comprehend. When we don’t get our way, or when we think we’ve done the Right Thing and that “God owes us,” we get mad when “bad things” happen.

See also The Gospel reading for May 4, with this about the “way of the sheep:”

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 vigour rather than comfort that you are called.

The lower image is courtesy of Sheep Dog Nipping Heels – Image Results. The image came with an article, “Social sheepdogs: nipping and nudging into the mainstream,” about the “sheep-dog-like” behavior of sports team-mates of the writer’s adolescent special-needs son.

December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning…”

For one November event I’m thankful for finishing, see “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age…”

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It all started with the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End, followed by the Election Legal Challenges That Seem Like They Will Never End. In the meantime we’ve also celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 26, followed by the Feast Day for St Andrew, Apostle. (Shown at left.)

That was last Monday, November 30. And aside from all that, Christmas is coming up three weeks from Friday, December 4. Which is preceded by the Season of Advent, which itself started last Sunday, November 29, in the First Sunday of Advent. About that “First Sunday,” see Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig: 

Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year [2020] has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.

So the Season of Advent is about looking ahead and New Beginnings, which brings up my “hope-fully” spending November preparing a new book for publication – in both an e-book and paperback – as detailed in the November 18 post, On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.” (Which actually was a lot of fun, remembering and writing about all those great travel adventures and pilgrimages I enjoyed – back before the COVID hit…)

But getting back to those upcoming Feast Days and Liturgical Seasons. I’ve covered them in posts like An early Advent medley, from 2015, and On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent, from 2016. And by the way, in the Daily Office set of Bible readings, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan. So it looks like another busy month…

But first, remembering Thanksgiving: Past posts include On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part IIThanksgiving 2015Thanksgiving – 2016Thanksgiving – 2017, and On Thanksgiving 2019. I started off the latter (2019) post with this: “Things have been hectic since I got back last September 25th from my 19-day, 160-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. See On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, along with Just got back – Portuguese Camino!”

Then it went on to discuss an “Old Testament reading from Isaiah 19:19-25 … of a future highway, running from Egypt to Assyria and vice versa, and which will eventually lead to something new under the sun: ‘when the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians:’”

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’

One problem? At the time the Assyrians and Egyptians were arch-enemies, with each other and with Israel. (Which they took turns conquering.) “Which means this passage looks forward to an ultimate day of peace and harmony, between those nations which were at the time bitter enemies.” So here’s hoping that that reading may be a bit of positive foreshadowing.

Heck, if Israel could have gotten along with either the Egyptians or Assyrians, today’s Democrats and Republicans should be able to get along too. (They are after all, fellow citizens of the same country.) Which brings us back to the theme Advent [as] The Season of Hope:

This year, more than ever, we really need to focus on hope! We have been bruised and battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a polarizing election, racial strife, and so much more. 

The point being that “Advent is always a season of hope, a season that reminds us never to lose sight of the hope we Christians are called to live with year-round.” 

So here’s looking forward to a happy and much-better 2021!

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results, and was featured in the previous post.

Re: Other Feast Days coming up: As noted, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan, in the Daily Office. (See What’s a DOR?) And also An early Advent medley. That post noted that Ambrose is one of “Eight Doctors of the Church” and four “Fathers of the Western Church,” and that “perhaps his greatest work was converting St. Augustine of Hippo.”

The lower image is courtesy of Looking Forward 2021 – Image Results. The image accompanied an article, New Cruise Ships To Look Forward To In 2021 – Cruise Bulletin.

An unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’

Hey, if you think I’m strange, Google the Battle of Refidim – where Moses (at center) may have been the first “sport fan” to say, “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work…”

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“My” Tampa Bay Lightning just won the Stanley Cup, and I feel vindicatedFinally!

Not to mention, “Blessed by God,” or at least, “Back in God’s good graces.” That is, last May I posted “As a spiritual exercise.” In it I described a system of ritual purification that I’ve followed since 1989, as a way of helping my favorite college team win. It began with some experimental ways to “help” Florida State University win its first football national championship.

In the spring of 1992 I added Daily Bible Reading, with this result:

And just as an aside, during that next football season – in the fall of 1993, and after much drama, with twists and turns of fate – the Noles squeaked by Nebraska to win that first national title. (In a game they were expected to win easily.)

“My” FSU football team went on to win two more national championships (in 1999 and 2013). They also established the Florida State football dynasty: 14 consecutive Top 4 finishes, a feat no other team has been able to match. But lately, FSU football has fallen on hard times…

They’ve suffered through back-to-back losing seasons – 2018 and 2019 – for the first time since 1976. (Bobby Bowden’s first year as head coach.) And a lousy start to the 2020 season as well… Of course I have my theories, like maybe God wanted me to ease up on my hours of the stair-stepping, with a 30-pound weight vest and 10 pounds of ankle weights? (After all, I am 69 years old, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on the knees, ankles and other vulnerable joints.)

But that’s a subject for a post I’ll do later…

Meanwhile, on a personal level I have been doing quite well. (Including lots of overseas travel and other adventures, at least before the COVID hit.) Then too, there have been successes for my “other favorite teams” – and coaches – as listed in “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth, from June 2018, and On my “mission from God,” from February 2019…

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There’s more on that later, but first a word about the Battle of Refidim. (Or “Rephidim” in some spellings.) You can read about it at Exodus, Chapter 17, and notably verses 10-12.

3,500 years ago the Amalekites launched a sneak attack – like Pearl Harbor – on the Children of Israel in their Exodus from Egypt. (They’d just arrived at Rephidim near Mount Sinai.) While Joshua led the army, Moses and two buddies went up to the top of a hill to watch:

Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am′alek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

As noted earlier, that sounds a lot like a modern-day sport fan, watching his team on TV. Sometimes moving around the room, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. Other times he’ll mute the sound, or tell his wife to leave the room – because she may be jinxing his team!

Or in the case of Moses, his “team” started winning when he held his arms up, but they started losing when he let his arms down. Which again raises the question: Was Moses the first sport-fan to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”

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That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since 1989, trying to find those “things that work.” But lately those things haven’t gone so well. At least not for the FSU football team…

As noted in 2018’s “Unintended consequences” there have been some “collateral wins” for some of my other teams. (Adopted or otherwise.) The FSU ladies won their first Women’s College World Series in June 2018. And of course the Tampa Bay Lightning had won their first Stanley Cup, but that was way back in 2004. So aside from the Lady ‘Noles in 2018, the last one of “my teams” to win a major championship was the Atlanta United football club, which captured its first MLS Cup in December 2018. (I moved to the Atlanta area back in 2010, so I “adopted” the Braves, Falcons and Atlanta United, as those among the teams I perform my ritual sacrifice for.)

And by the way, since that December 2018 I’ve proudly worn a “bad-ass black” Atlanta United ball cap. Including but not limited to my overseas travels. That included my trip to Israel back in May 2019, where I wore a Shemagh – from Ranger Joe’s at Fort Benning – on top of my “United” ball cap. (It “combined the best of the old and the new,” and also gave a visor that helped shield my eyes from the intense Eastern Mediterranean sun.)

But we digress… The point is that it’s been a long time since one of “my teams” won a major championship. And as I’ve mentioned, the FSU football team has really gone downhill. As a result I was starting to despair. I repeatedly asked God – metaphorically or otherwise – “What am I doing wrong? Why are you doing this to me and my teams?” Which is probably the same kind of questions the ancient Children of Israel asked when things went so wrong for them. (When you’re dealing with God, it seems that’s your first tendency, to blame yourself.)

Then came the night of Monday, September 28, 2020…

But first came the night of Saturday, September 26. I hadn’t been paying any attention to the Lightning, but on a whim I checked out “NHL scores.” Much to my surprise, they seemed to be on the way to this year’s Stanley Cup finals. That Saturday night I learned that they led the Dallas Stars three games to one. I started keeping track of that fourth game – tied at two all at the time – but later found out they lost 3-2 in double overtime.

For the life of me I could have sworn these were the semi-finals, and that if the Lightning won that fourth game they’d get into the finals. I was wrong, as I found out that next Monday night. Late in the evening I checked their website and found out they’d won that fourth game, and with it their second Stanley Cup. And all the while – that blessed Monday night – I paid no attention, not keeping track, not worrying about their progress…

Then I wondered if this was not unlike what the Zen master said in Zen in the Art of Archery. That rather than “aiming” your bow, you should wait until “it shoots.” Or, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.” (See Quotes From Zen in the Art of Archery.)

In other words, I didn’t pay much attention to the Lightning these past few months, and they won their second Stanley Cup. I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s softball team in 2018, and they won their first College World Series. And I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s soccer team in 2018, and they went on to win their first National Championship.

But what I did pay attention to – what I’ve continued doing, lo these many years – is keep on practicing the discipline of “ritual sacrifice.” (As I once wrote, “God answers our prayers, but often not in the way we expect.” Or words to that effect. Thus the Unintended consequences” post.)

But we’re ranging way too far afield. I may explore these esoteric ideas later, but for now here’s the point: For the first time in the last two years, I don’t feel totally lost in my ritual sacrifice. For the first time in a long time I feel vindicated, and that maybe all this exercise and Bible-reading hasn’t been a waste of time. (Not that I’d think that anyway. “The Reward is in the Discipline.”)

For now it’s enough to celebrate “my” Tampa Bay Lightning winning its second Stanley Cup. And feeling vindicated, finally! And enjoying the feeling of being “blessed by God,” or at least “back in God’s good graces.” Now, if I could just get that FSU football team back on track…

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Captain Steven Stamkos lifts the Stanley Cup Monday night, September 28, capping the Lightning’s “comeback season after being swept in the first round last year.”  

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The upper image is courtesy of Battle of Refidim – Wikipedia. The caption: “John Everett Millais, ‘Victory O Lord!‘ (1871).”

The full credit for the lead sentence is: Tampa Bay Lightning wins Stanley Cup – NBC2 News. See also Tampa Bay Lightning Win Stanley Cup in Pandemic Bubble, and for a kicker (so to speak), Tom Brady congratulates Tampa Bay Lightning on Stanley Cup.

Re: Battle of Refidim post. In October 2015 I posted – in a companion blog – Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”

I borrowed the photo to the left of the paragraph – beginning “Meanwhile, on a personal level” – from the post, “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth. My caption: The FSU Women’s first CWS title:  A recent example of the Law of unintended Consequences?

Re: The FSU football dynasty. The reference is to If Florida State in the 1990s isn’t a dynasty, then what is? Another headline: “The case for FSU’s dynasty.” The major listed accomplishment: “Fourteen consecutive top-five finishes,” which should read 14 consecutive Top-Four finishes. In one of the 14 seasons the AP had FSU Number 5, while the Coaches Poll had them ranked Number 4.

I was going to say the lower image is courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup – Image Results. (Note the similar “arms up.”) An article accompanied the photo, which led me to the original story, “How social media reacted after the Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup,” from thestar.com | The Star | Canada’s largest daily.

On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism…”

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I just found out that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts that make up the 27 books of the New Testament. None. No Gospels, no letters or “Epistles,” and not even any of the Acts of the Apostles. None.

What we do have are “copies of copies of copies.”

Which doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. But it should make a difference to someone – like an old friend of mine who I last saw several years ago – who told me that he believed the Bible was literally true, and was thus “without error.” (See Biblical literalism – Wikipedia.)

Now this old friend – let’s call him “Dick” – was a real rabble-rouser when I first knew him, back in the 1970’s. For one thing he was famous for off-color banter. On one weekend camping trip he spoke of hearing “organisms” in the night just past. (Meaning “orgasms.”) And for a while then he drove a hearse, and once – stopped by police for a moving violation – calmly said, as the officer unfolded his ticket book, “Uh, yes, I’ll have a cheeseburger, fries and a coke.”

But times change and so did Dick. Like when I visited him – the last time as it turned out – and he turned from the TV news and said that to me. (About the Bible being “literally true.”) I was totally flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say then, and it’s bothered me ever since. (Saying “What are you, an idiot” seemed a bit harsh, even with, “BTW, that’s a rhetorical question.”)

What brought all this back was a recent lecture on Great Courses Plus, The New Testament, by Bart D. Ehrman, PH.D. This particular lecture was, “Do we have the original New Testament?” The short answer – and to me the surprising answer – turned out to be, “No, we don’t.”

We can say with some confidence that we don’t have the original text of any of the books of the New Testament. … There is no alternative to this situation and there never will be unless by some unbelievable stroke of luck we discover the original text themselves. We do not have the originals of any of the books that were later canonized into the New Testament. What we have are copies of the originals, or better yet, copies of the copies of the copies of the originals – copies made for the most part hundreds of years after the originals themselves.

(Emphasis added.) Which again, doesn’t make a bit of difference to me.

Personally, I believe the Bible “proves itself” with what I do with it as an individual believer. What I do as a Believer, and how I interact with God in my own life.* In how I have gone through the tests and trials that come to every person, and yet – by and through ongoing Bible study – I came through those trials not only whole, but better for the experience.

And in the way that – through reading the Bible and applying it to my own life in my old age – I’ve ended up feeling alive and cheerful. (Despite having “come to the breaking point – and broken.*”)

Alive and cheerful about where I am and where I’m going, and how I can now be the kind of witness that people will listen to. And about feeling – with Frank Sinatra – The Best Is Yet to Come.

I’ve written on some problems reading the Bible “too literally.” First in 2014’s On three suitors (a parable), and later in 2015’s True Test of Faith. One problem came from the Hebrew method of writing:

in Hebrew there are no vowels, and the letters of a sentence are strung together. An example:  a sentence in English, “The man called for the waiter.” Written in Hebrew, the sentence would be “THMNCLLDFRTHWTR.” But among other possible translations, the sentence could read, in English, “The man called for the water.”

Another problem came from Jesus’ usual method of teaching, parables. (That is, a short story different from a fable, in that fables use animals as characters, while parables “have human characters.”) In plain words He taught by parables, “a type of metaphorical analogy.”

So one question is: “How do you literally interpret a parable?” Then too – according to the book Christian Testament – parables are “very much an oral method of teaching.” Further, in such a tradition, it was up to the listener to decipher the meaning of the parable, to him:

The essence of the parabolic method of teaching is that life and the words that tell of life can mean more than one thing. Each hearer is different and therefore to each hearer a particular secret of the kingdom can be revealed. We are supposed to create nimshalim* for ourselves.

After which I noted such a thought was one “that can give a conservative Christian apoplexy; the fact the Bible might mean different things to different people.” Like my old friend Dick. Which means that – to me – the choice is up to the individual Bible reader. “They” can use a strict or narrow interpretation, “but for me and my house,” I will use the more open-minded or even – gasp! – liberal Interpretationso as to implement the object and purpose of the document

In other words, I’ll use the interpretation of a God who accepts anyone (who comes Him), and who expects us to do greater miracles than Jesus. And who wants our lives to be “abundant.” (Which I’ve heard before somewhere, with Luke 24:45. And that’s not to mention “adventure…”)

Meanwhile, I now have an answer to what my old friend Dick said when I visited a few years back. Thanks to the years I’ve spent working on this blog, I would respond today that – as far as reading the Bible literally goes – “That’s a very good place to start!

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Maria apparently went “beyond the fundamentals” – her “do-re-mi’s…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Flabbergasted – Image Results.

Re: The Bible as “without error and therefore completely true.” See Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia. and – for a view different than mine – Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy.)

Also, vis-a-vis missing NT manuscripts: The night before posting I learned – through another Great Courses Bible lecture – that many “puns” in original OT Hebrew were lost in translation. See for example Bible Secrets Revealed, Episode 1: “Lost in Translation,” and Five Mistakes in Your Bible Translation | HuffPost. From the former, “different copies of the same Biblical books from the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t often match, [so] at the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Biblical texts existed in different versions and traditions that were still being sorted out. What this means is that it is very difficult to argue that the Bible is the verbatim ‘Word of God,’ especially when all of the ancient manuscripts contain different words.” From the latter, “In the original Hebrew, the 10th Commandment prohibits taking, not coveting. The biblical Jubilee year is named for an animal’s horn and has nothing to do with jubilation. The pregnant woman in Isaiah 7:14 is never called a virgin.” Also, “Metaphors are particularly difficult to translate, because words have different metaphoric meanings in different cultures. Shepherds in the Bible were symbols of might, ferocity and royalty, whereas now they generally represent peaceful guidance and oversight.” These may be in a future post.

Re: “My old friend Dick.” It wasn’t just me he “flabbergasted.” A mutual friend said he also cut off all communications with his family, and other old friends, who didn’t share his “conservative” views.

Re: Interacting with God in my own life. See for example On my “mission from God,” and “As a spiritual exercise…”

Re: “Christian Testament.” The full reference is Education for Ministry Year Two (Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Testament) 2nd Edition by William Griffin, Charles Winters, Christopher Bryan and Ross MacKenzie (1991). The “nimshalim” quote(s) are from page 321 of my copy.

Re: Despite having ‘come to the breaking point.'” In one of Garry Wills‘ books he uses a translation of the Lord’s Prayer which – instead of “lead us not into temptation” – reads, “and lead us not to the breaking point.” I’ve always found that translation far more applicable to my life…

Re: Nimshalim. See Mashal + Nimshal = Meaning/Teaching | Discipleship Curriculum: “The teaching method was simply brilliant. A fictional story (the mashal) was created by the Rabbi. This was almost always in response to something going on in their immediate world or an important principle they wanted to teach. The story would be crafted in such a way as to disguise it’s intent but also in such a way as to intrigue.” See also Mashal (allegory) – Wikipedia, about a “short parable with a moral lesson or religious allegory, called a nimshal.” (Nimshalim is the plural form.)  

Re: “Me and my house.” The reference is to Joshua 24:15. In the ESV, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The lower image is courtesy of A Very Good Place Start Sound Music – Image Results. See also Sound Of Music – Do-Re-Mi Lyrics | MetroLyrics. The lesson from this metaphoric parable – from The Sound of Musicis that real Christians will go on to read and write great works, and perhaps create great symphonic masterpieces in music, while the “boot camp Christians” will continue on, endlessly going over their a-b-c’s and do-re-mi’s in an ongoing cycle of repetition.

St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation…”

Mary (mother of Jesus) – who heeded God’s call “to set out on a mission of charity…”

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

This blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.)  The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did. (John 14:12.) The fourth – and largely overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. See Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is – as noted – to read the Bible with an open mind. For more, see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Finally, I get to do a fun post. Fun because it takes me back to last year’s St. Mary, “Virgin,” and more on Jerusalem. That’s because yesterday – August 15 – was the feast day of St. Mary the Virgin. (As celebrated in the Episcopal Church.) And it’s a reminder that last year I got to visit – among other places – Mary’s spring in Ein Kerem, in Israel. For more on this Mary see August 2014’s St. Mary, Mother, and Mary (mother of Jesus) – Wikipedia:

She is identified [as] the mother of Jesus through divine intervention. Christians hold her son Jesus to be Christ (i.e., the messiah) and God the Son Incarnate. Mary (Maryam) also has a revered position in Islam, where a whole chapter of the Qur’an is devoted to her, also describing the birth of Jesus… [She] is considered by millions to be the most meritorious saint of the Church. Christians of the Catholic Church[,] Anglican Communion, and Lutheran churches believe that Mary, as Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God and the Theotokos, literally “Bearer of God.”

As for Ein Karem (at right, “in the Jerusalem hills”): According to tradition, it’s where Mary stopped for water while visiting John the Baptist’s parents. In turn, that’s when the soon-to-be born John “leaped” in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth. (Luke 1:41.)

And here’s what I wrote last year about that visit: “Thursday May 16[, 2019] we visited Ein Kerem, the Church of the Visitation and Mary’s spring.” After that we had lunch at the “Tent Restaurant, Beit Sahour” – a really good meal – then visited the Church of the Nativity and the “chapel” – and Cave – of St. Jerome, both in Bethlehem:

The church [including the cave] was both packed and crowded. There we stood a long while, waiting to do a hump-through-a-tunnel extension of the tour. It was then I noticed a fellow pilgrim in danger of getting stressed out by all the crowds and noise. So I did a Good-Samaritan thing – kind of – and persuaded him to join me at the garden restaurant next door – and have a prophylactic Taybeh (Palestinian) beer. 

In other words, you had a choice…

You could bend down and crawl through a small, dark, damp tunnel, with somebody’s rear-end right in front of you – and yours right in front of the face of the person behind you. Or you could do what I did and opt for some liquid refreshment. (In the process helping a stressed-out fellow pilgrim.) Of that episode I wrote later that in such situations you need to “pick your battles.” And that it always seemed to me that finding a spiritual breakthrough usually comes when you’re alone, not “surrounded and jostled by hordes of hot, sweaty and pushy ‘fellow travelers.’”

But we’re going a bit off on a tangent here…

Getting back to 2014’s St. Mary, Mother, it explained why she is often shown wearing blue, as in the top image. “In Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is portrayed wearing blue, a tradition going back to Byzantine Empire, to about 500 A.D., where blue was ‘the colour of an empress.'” Another explanation: In Medieval and Renaissance Europe they got blue pigment from lapis lazuli, “a stone imported from Afghanistan of greater value than gold… Hence, it was an expression of devotion and glorification to swathe the Virgin in gowns of blue.”

In turn the highlight of the day’s Bible readings is the Magnificat, beginning “My soul magnifies the Lord.” In Luke, Mary recites this hymn during her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. “In the narrative, after Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth’s womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings what is now known as the Magnificat in response.”

But of course Mary’s life wasn’t always – or maybe even that oftenjust a bowl of cherries. See for example the Seven Sorrows of Mary, including but not limited to the flight into Egypt, losing Jesus – at 12 years old – in the Temple, meeting Him carrying the cross, the Crucifixion and burial. “When Mary said ‘yes’ to bringing Jesus into the world, she took on both the joys and the pains that came with it. “

Which brings us back to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and to last year’s visit to Israel. And to my photo above left. That is, we ended Mary 16 – the same day we visited Mary’s Spring – at Bethlehem‘s Wall of Separation, also known as the “Israeli West Bank barrier.” And in a bit of sarcasm – or irony – we stopped at the “Walled Off Hotel.”

I took some photos of both the “Walled Off” and the Wall of Separation that runs right by it, and right through the City Of Jesus’ birth. Doing that I caught the expression of the Palestinian in the foreground of the photo above left, and later commented, “That look about says it all.*”

Then there was the irony of Bethlehem as where Jesus was born, and thus where “God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, compassion, and glory” – expressed in Him – were to begin. “But seeing the Walled-off Hotel in His birthplace, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

And speaking of “Walls That Divide Us,” tomorrow – Monday, August 17 – will begin the Twenty-third full week of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s hoping that someday that “wall between us” will come down too, along with all the other walls that divide people, as expressed in Ephesians 2:14. Speaking of the wall that once (?) divided Jews and Gentiles, the Good News Translation reads, “For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.”

We could use lots more of that. The only problem is, we may have to do a lot of the work ourselves. Meanwhile, here’s my photo of “Mary’s Spring,” from last year:

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The upper image is courtesy of Mary (mother of Jesus) – Wikipedia. See also Mary’s spring in Ein Kerem – BibleWalks.com, and Ein Karem – Wikipedia.

As to weeks of the Covid pandemic, see for example  On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.” Or for my exercise and other weekly-quota routines, starting on Monday, March 16 and ending Sunday night, March 22d.

The lower photo I took myself during that trip to Israel last year. (2019.) And re: “That look about says it all,” here’s a bigger view of the photo:

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“That look about says it all.”

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added-on phrase, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mindSee the Wikipedia article, which talks about its opposite:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

See also Splitting (psychology) – Wikipedia, on the phenomenon also called black-and-white thinking, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

So anyway, in plain words this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. The Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible offers so much more than their narrow reading can offer… (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” And as noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind

For more about “Boot-camp Christians” see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” And as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want 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 Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The image below is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

http://www.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?

Remembering Monday, May 18, 1992…

Another event from May 1992: Sister Act released – 11 days after I “started reading the Bible…”

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This post is on catching up on “skipped Propers” that often happen at the beginning of a new Liturgical Season. And about “going back to my roots.” Back to the day when I first started reading the Bible on a daily basis. Way back on May 18, 1992 – 11 days before Sister Act.

That is, two weeks ago last May 31, 2020, I did the Daily Office reading for Pentecost Sunday. (According to the Daily Office Lectionary – and my copy of “Year 2, Volume 2,” at left – of the four-volume set.)

But then for the next day’s reading, I had to skip ahead some 42 pages, to the reading for the week after “the Sunday closest to June 1.” So from that next Monday-after-Pentecost on, I had to – or really, chose to – read not only the reading for that particular day. In addition, I also had to (chose to) also read some of the “skipped Propers.”

Which means that by Saturday, June 6, 2020, I’d done the scheduled Daily Office readings, plus some skipped Propers. (And according to the Daily Office Lectionary, those Saturday readings were Psalm 55, Psalm 138, and Psalm 139, along with Ecclesiastes 5:8-20Galatians 3:23-4:11, and Matthew 15:1-20.) But also on that Saturday I had to do some more catching up.

That’s because – as noted – Pentecost came on May 31, but after that the daily readings jumped from page 12 to page 54. (Of Year 2, Volume 2.) To explain better, “Proper 1” starts the readings for the weeks of the Season after Pentecost. And it starts with the Sunday closest to May 11. Which means that this year Daily Office readers had to skip ahead to Proper 4, for the week of the Sunday closest to June 1st. But because I’m assiduous, I don’t like to skip those “in-between readings.” (Readings “in between” those listed for Proper 1, up to the start of Proper 4.)

So each morning – that first week of June, 2020 – and after doing the “proper” reading for that particular day, I tried to read one or two of the skipped readings. And so, by that Saturday – June 6, 2020 – I had gotten caught up as far as the reading for the Monday of Proper 2. (For the Week of the Sunday closest to May 18. Which of course had already passed.) And there – on page 25 of Year 2, Volume 2 – I saw my handwritten notation, “5/18/92.”

As it turns out, that date was – as far as I can tell – the day that I first started reading the Bible, on a daily basis, through the discipline of the Daily Office. And the readings for that day – now over 28 years ago – started off with Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7. (Another note: When I’m in the process of catching up at the beginning of a new liturgical season, I normally skip the day’s psalms.)

Which brings up some of the main readings for that day, over 28 years ago, starting with Proverbs 3:11-2. (That set of proverbs began with “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline.”) Those readings also included 1st John 3:18-4:6, starting with “Dear children, let us not love in word and speech but in deed and truth.” (Which seems especially appropriate these days.)

And also Matthew 11:1-6. (Which told of Jesus and John the Baptist – at left – with John in prison, asking if Jesus was “he who is to come?”) Which led in turn to this especially-relevant note, for today: The New Testament reading which included 1st John 4:1.

One version of that passage reads,”Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (It continues, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”) Which – strange as it may seem – mirrors perfectly what I was trying to say in Pentecost 2020 – “Learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” For example, in that post I cited 1st Thessalonians 5:21.

In the Good News Translation, “Put all things to the test: keep what is good.” And in the Aramaic Bible in Plain English, “Explore everything and hold what is excellent.” 

So the point of that last post was that by such open-minded “exploring,” we real Christians can achieve that rich life experience that Jesus promised. (John 10:10.)  And that – to each individual – is the surest proof that God “is.” The surest proof that there is a God and that “He” is willing to work with us as individuals, to help us grow spiritually.

And as audacious as that claim sounds, it’s part of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

That – as noted in Pentecost … “pleasing to the Lord” – is a method of theological reflection. I.e., a spiritual discipline by which we attain personal spiritual growth. It’s credited to John Wesley (at left), who noted four sources of such growth: Scripturetradition, reason, and Christian experience:

Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity… Wesley insisted that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally… Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple… Although tradition establishes the evidence a long way off, experience makes it present to all persons.

Which – as it turns out – is hardly a novel idea. (That is, it’s hardly unique to Christianity.) Consider for example what Gautama Buddha – seen “below” – once explained:

Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations… Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or priests. After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is good for your good and that of others.

Which – by the way – is a quote I cited in Jesus Christ, Public Defender. It’s now a Kindle Book but I originally published it in paperback form in 1995. (The Kindle edition was published under the nom de plume “James B. Ford.”) Then too – right after the Buddha quote, in Chapter 8, “The Bible, Yoga and Zen” – I went on to cite 1st Thessalonians 5:21 and 1st John 4:1.

That is, a mere two years after I started reading the Bible on a daily basis, I published my first novel, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” Then in 1995 – one year after “Zen Football” and a mere three years after I started Daily Office reading –  I published Jesus Christ, Public Defender. (Now in its 4th Edition. And for more details on the life-long pilgrimage that followed, see – from February 2019 – the post On my “mission from God.”)

So, can you say to come full circle? But in the good way. Like the Buddhist anecdote: “A child looks at a mountain and sees a mountain. An adult looks at a mountain and sees many things. A Zen master looks at a mountain and sees a mountain.” But the point of all this is: My starting to read the Bible on a daily basis – back in 1992 – turned out to be a life-changing experience.

I’ve been through a lot since then. The death of my first wife in 2006, getting re-married way too soon and to the wrong woman. Which led to a nasty divorce, the loss of my career and my home – and to feeling abandoned by God. (As in, “Lead us not to the breaking point,” but He did, and I broke.) All of which just might be the functional equivalent of the exile that led to the creation of the Old Testament as we know it. See “If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem,” in which talked about my then-upcoming trip to Israel in May 2019.

Which brings up the point that in the past few years I’ve come through and had a number of great adventures. Like that 2019 trip to Israel. And like canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi for eight days. (See On achieving closure, or type in that search.) Or hiking the Chilkoot Trail, then canoeing 440 miles “down” the Yukon River in Canada in 2016. Or hiking the Camino de Santiago twice, once from Pamplona (2017) and once from Porto, Portugal (2019).

And I’ve been publishing two blogs, and a number of books as well. (For a partial list see For a book version.) In other words, I’ve overcome any number of obstacles and arrived at a rich, fulfilling life. And it all started back on Monday, May 18, 1992…

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An open-minded Christian can learn even from a “Fat Buddhist…”

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The upper image is courtesy of May 1992 – Image Results. See also Sister Act – Wikipedia, and Sister Act (1992) – IMDb.

The “liturgical seasons” link is to The Liturgical Seasons of the Catholic Church. But see also Liturgical year – Wikipedia, about the “cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches that determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read either in an annual cycle or in a cycle of several years.” And List of Anglican Church Calendars, on “my” church’s seasons. “Ordinary time” or the “Time after Pentecost” runs from Pentecost Sunday to the beginning of Advent, which leads to Christmas, and so on…

Re: Handwritten notations. When I do a “daily” reading on the noted day, or within three days thereafter, I put in the relevant date, such as “5/18/92.” That signifies that I have read both the main readings – normally Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel – and the Psalms for that day. But when I can’t do a reading “within three days” – like when I have to “skip some Propers” – I put a check mark. That means I’ve done the main readings but not the Psalms. And according to those dates and check marks, I’m now on my 14th trip through the Bible.

The John the Baptist image is courtesy of Wikipedia. The caption: “‘The Baptism of Jesus Christ,‘ by Piero della Francesca, 1449.”

Re: Monday, May 18, 1992. See Calendar 1992 May – Image Results.

The Buddha quote is courtesy of Lawrence LeShan‘s book How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-DiscoveryBantam Edition, 1975, at pages 101-102. See also On the Bible as “transcendent” meditation. Also, as noted, On my “mission from God.”

The citations to 1st Thessalonians 5:21 and 1st John 4:1 – following the Buddha quote – are at page 53 of the Third Edition paperback version of “JCPD,” in Chapter 8, “The Bible, Yoga and Zen.”

Re: “Come full circle.” See also Alpha and Omega (Freedictionary), or the Wikipedia article.

Re: “Lead us not to the breaking point.” That’s an interpretation from one of Garry Wills‘ books, and it seemed especially appropriate for my life. As in, “I was led to the breaking point, and broke.” See also Luke 11:4 (Bible Hub), which includes the usual translations of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Good News Translation reads, “And do not bring us to hard testing.” But for the reasons noted, I prefer “And lead us not to the breaking point…”

The lower image is courtesy of Fat Happy Buddha – Image Results. But see also Skinny Buddha vs Fat Buddha: Who is the Fat Buddha, noting the Fat Buddha wasn’t “Buddha” at all:

The Laughing Buddha, or the Fat Buddha, was a Zen monk called Budai who lived in China around the 10th century, meaning about 1.600 years after historical Buddha. Budai was as a bold man with a big tummy, big smile, large ears, wearing a simple robe… The fat Buddhist monk was known as a good-hearted, happy and content man of humorous personality, jolly nature, and eccentric lifestyle. Budai was nicknamed the Laughing Buddha because of his big smile and happiness he was spreading around him. Furthermore, Budai … became a famous character of Chinese folktales.

Thus the “Gautama Buddha – ‘below,’” with the “below” in quotation marks.