Category Archives: Daily Office readings

Background and color commentary on highlighted readings from the Daily Office Lectionary

Palm Sunday: To “not sin,” or to accomplish something?

Is this the face of a prophet?  He did say to mind your own business, just like Jesus did…

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Two mornings ago I was reading the DORs for Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018.

For some reason Psalm 103 struck a chord, but not in a good way.  It seemed to focus on “sin,” in the manner of so many “busybodies” who masquerade as “good Christians.”  (Illustrated at right.)  See for example 2d Thessalonians 3:11 … Bible Hub, and the citations therein.  And see also – from the Palm Sunday readings –  Psalm 103, and especially Psalm 103:3 and Psalm 103:10.

All of which led to this question:  What does God want us to actually do with our lives? 

Should we focus on trying not to do anything wrong?  Or should we focus more on actually doing something with our lives?  Put another way:  Should we focus on developing the talents and gifts that God gave us?  Or – as some Christians seem to imply – “We have to focus on staying ‘sinless,’ and thus on staying Simon Pure?”  (A term which can mean either “genuinely and thoroughly pure,” or “superficially or hypocritically virtuous.”  The problem?  Too many so-called “Conservative Christians” seem to fit the latter meaning…)

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.pngMy theory is that God would prefer that we actually do something positive with our lives, and not worry so much about not making mistakes.  See for example On sin and cybernetics, which noted “You can’t hit the target without ‘negative feedback,’” shown at left, and also that:

Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us get closer to the target next time out, even if we never become “perfect.”

And which also leads to the Biblical concept about Minding Your Own Business.  There was a variation on that theme by Hank Williams.  (“Hank the Elder.”)   It has the standard chorus, “If you mind your business then you won’t be minding mine.”  And it closes by saying, “if you mind your own business you’ll stay busy all the time.”  You’ll be so busy, in fact, that you won’t have time to be telling other people how to live their lives.  (I.e., being a “busybody.”)

Which is actually Biblical.  See Matthew 7, and especially 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye:”

Here the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount … gives a new motive to the work of self-scrutiny and self-reformation…  When we have wrestled with and overcome our own besetting sins, then, and not till then, shall we be able, with the insight and tact which the work demands, to help others to overcome theirs.

See also On “holier than thou,” for more on the Parable of the Mote and the Beam (In which Jesus warns His followers on “the dangers of judging others, stating that they too would be judged by the same standard.”)  That post also presented an easy test:  “Being aware that you may be self-righteous – or have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude – is a strong indication that you probably don’t have either problem.”

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And speaking of Palm Sunday, it’s that time of year again.

We are now in the midst of Holy Week.  On that note, see the following posts:  From 2015, On Holy Week – and hot buns;  from 2016, On Holy Week – 2016; and from 2017, Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus.”  The latter post included the image below, with the note about Good Friday, to wit:  “Here’s a spoiler alert:

There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…”

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Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

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The upper image is courtesy of Hank Williams – Wikipedia:  “Hank Williams in concert in 1951.”

The complete set of Daily Office readings for Palm Sunday:  “AM  Psalm 24, 29Zech[ariah] 9:9-121 Tim[othy] 6:12-16;  PM: Psalm 103Zech[ariah] 12:9-11,13:1,7-9;” and Luke 19:41-48.

The “masquerade” image is courtesy of Drama – Wikipedia:  “Comedy and tragedy masks.”  See also Definition of two-faced by The Free Dictionary.

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  It was also used in the 2017 post, Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus.” 

Was “Abraham” a pimp?

“A painting of Abraham’s departure” – which happened beforeAbram” became “Abraham…”

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I was reading the DORs for last Saturday morning – January 20, 2018 – starting with the Old Testament reading, Genesis 12:9-13:1.

It told about “Abram” – before he became Abraham – going down to Egypt “to reside there as an alien.”  (Which raises whole ‘nother train of thought, vis-à-vis aliens in the Bible.  And which explains why I put “Abraham” in quotation marks in the title.  When he “pimped” he was still Abram.)

So anyway, “Abram” went down to Egypt to escape the famine – “severe in the land” – that was afflicting Shechem in Canaan(“Shecem” was a village roughly 70 miles north of modern Jerusalem.)  But Abram had a problem.  His wife “Sarai” – before she became Sarah – was extremely beautiful.  (As seen above left.)  So here’s what he did:

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’  Then they will kill me but will let you live.  Say you are my sister [ – as illustrated below right – ] so that I will be treated well for your sake…  And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.  He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

That’s according to Genesis 12:11-16.  But then Pharaoh suffered a series of plagues or mishaps, and he finally figured out it was because Sarai was Abraham’s wife, not his sister.  But somehow God turned that to Abram’s advantage, and so he left Egypt a much richer man than when he first arrived.  (In much the same manner of the Children of Israel, as Moses led them out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery.  See Exodus 3:22, “and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.”)

But Abram ended up a much richer man because he gave his wife to another man.  So  when I read that I thought, “Was Abram a pimp?”  Then I wondered if I was the first person that thought had occurred to.  (“To whom that thought had occurred,” to be grammatically correct.)

But no…  I Googled “was abraham Bible a pimp,” and got 8,210,000 results.  Most were from sites like Intelligent Blasphemy or The Heretic’s Bible.  But aside from heretics and infidels, the same thought seems not to have occurred to many Christians.  (Gee, I wonder why?)

But the question does bear consideration.  And the answer I came up with is that many times you definitely don’t want to interpret the Bible too literally.  And this is a prime example.

That is, if a “good Christian” takes the Bible too literally – and uses the plain meaning rule – the only logical conclusion is that Abram did indeed “pimp out his wife.”  (Like the heretics and infidels say.)  But that would miss the whole point of Abraham’s story.  That story is not about Abraham pimping out his wife, any more than the Book of Jonah is about a stinkin’ whale!

https://mediamythalert.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/braburning_atlcty_1968.jpgSee On Jonah and the bra-burners (with the image at left):

My point was that the “attention-getter” in Jonah – the whale – got in the way of the real message.  So the Book of Jonah was just like the “bra-burners” at the 1968 Miss America pageant, where that real message got lost too.  The real message of Jonah is:  God’s love is universal…   (It ain’t about no ^%$## whale!!!)

Thus the problem of using an attention-getter (Like burning bras.)  Sometimes it gets in the way of the real message.  And so, “Ever since the Book of Jonah was written (it seems) Bible-readers have ‘picked up on the whale part.’  In doing so they’ve ignored the real message behind the book.”  The same thing could happen here.

Maybe the real message of the Abraham saga is that he was a human ^%$# being, just like us today.  He was not some “goody two-shoes” bent on preserving his “virtue.”  And there’s another thing that Abraham was not.  He was not a conservative.  For example, notice that when God changed the names of both “Abram” and “Sarai” – to Abraham and Sarah – He expanded their horizons.  (Just like it says at the top of this page.)

But imagine if Abram and Sarai had turned too conservative…  For one thing, Abram would never have left Ur of the Chaldees.  “I can’t do that!  I’m too afraid of an unknown future!

Also, note that the saga kind of concluded with this morning’s reading, Genesis 18:16-33. That’s where Abraham did another thing that “conservative Christians” would never think about doing.  See On arguing with God.  That post includes a section on Abraham “arguing:”

Take Sodom and Gomorrah…  “Please!”   That is, see: Genesis 18:16-33.  That’s where Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom.  (And quite frankly, he was kind of a pain about it, haggling with God not to destroy the city if there were 50 good people in it, down to as few as five good people…) 

Anyway, the point of all this is that with a true Christian – a real Christian, not a too-conservative “Pharisee” – God changes people.  And you won’t accept that change if you’re too conservative.

God changed Abram from an old man with no sons – from Sarai anyway – to Abraham, the “father of a multitude of nations.”  God changed Sarai from a barren, childless old hag to Sarah, “the mother of the Church.”  And God changed Jacob – who also wasn’t afraid to argue with God – to Israel,  “Patriarchof the Israelites.”  The lesson:  Don’t be too conservative – too “literal” – in reading the Bible.  Let God change you – for the better…

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File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpg

Jacob wrestling with the Angel” – as a result of which his name got changed to Israel

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The upper image is courtesy of Abraham – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.”

The “Sarai” image is courtesy of tâniarubiminenglish.blogspot.com.  (“Women in the Bible in real times,” and/orhttp://2.bp.blogspot.com/_W0RrCetBQQ0/TGoAWj…s1600/Bia49.jpg.”  Or you can just Google “sarah Bible image.” 

The image of Abraham counseling Sarai – “ Say you are my sister [ – as illustrated below right – ]” –  is courtesy of Abraham – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘Abram’s Counsel to Sarai’ (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot).”  Note that – according to the Bible (Genesis 17:17) – Abraham was ostensibly 10 years older than Sarah – but he looks much older in the picture.

Re:  “Abram to Abraham.”  See the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary to Genesis 17:5:

In Eastern countries a change of name is an advertisement of some new circumstance in the history, rank, or religion of the individual who bears it.  The change is made variously, by the old name being entirely dropped for the new, or by conjoining the new with the old;  or sometimes only a few letters are inserted, so that the altered form may express the difference in the owner’s state or prospects.,,  In dealing with Abraham and Sarai, God was pleased to adapt His procedure to the ideas and customs of the country and age.  Instead of Abram, “a high father,” he was to be called Abraham, “father of a multitude of nations.”

See also Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, which explained that at first “he was the father of Aram, and therefore his name was called Abram, but now he is the father of the whole world, and therefore called Abraham.”  As for his wife’s change of name – from Sarai to Sarah – see Genesis 17:15:  “God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai;  her name will be Sarah.'”  The notes indicate that the name “Sarai signifies my princess, as if her honor were confined to one family only,” while the name “Sarah” indicates a change of status, from a “princess,” to something more.  That is, “whereas formerly she was Abram’s princess only, she was henceforth to be recognized as a princess generally, i.e. as the mother of the Church.”  So God expanded her horizons.

The full Satucket readings for Saturday, January 20, were:  “AM Psalm 30, 32; PM Psalm 42, 43,” along with Genesis 12:9-13:1Hebrews 7:18-28, and John 4:27-42.  The full readings for Sunday, January 27, 2018, were:  “AM Psalm 55; PM Psalm 138, 139:1-17(18-23);  Genesis 18:1-16Hebrews 10:26-39; and John 6:16-27.  The Gospel reading included John 4:32, where Jesus said to His disciples – who had urged Him to eat – “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  That’s another indication that God didn’t intend the Bible to be taken too literally.

On that note, see also John 2:13-22, one of the recent Daily Office Readings:

The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’   Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’   The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The point there is that in saying “destroy this temple,” Jesus didn’t mean to be taken literally, but figuratively.  And that pretty much goes along with the major theme of this blog.

Re:  Genesis 18:16-33. That’s where Abraham was a real pain to God:

Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?   Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’   And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’  Abraham answered, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.  Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’   Again he spoke to him, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will not do it.’   Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’  He said, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.’   Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’

The line – “Take Sodom and Gomorrah…   ‘Please!’” – harks back to a classic Henny Youngman one liner.  See Comedy Classics: Henny Youngman – “Take My Wife. Please.”

The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia, is Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir(1865).  Leloir (1843-1884), was a a French painter specializing in genre and history paintings. His younger brother was painter and playwright Maurice Leloir.

 

 

“From Yahweh to Yahoo” – and the Great Dissenter

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. – otherwise known as “The Great Dissenter…”

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

This blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (See John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us all to live lives of abundance (See John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus.  (See John 14:12.)

And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live live abundantly 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:

It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2017, and snowing in God’s Country(See “Twitter erupts in memes, jokes and snowy scenes.”)

Which means we’re not supposed to leave home – i.e., drive on the roads.  Which also means I have no excuse for not doing a new post.  (The last was Happy Epiphany – 2018, 11 days ago.)

And just to catch you up, last Saturday,  January 13, was the Feast Day for St. Hilary.  See last year’s On Hilary – 1″L,” and HE was a bishop.  An aside: “Hilary’s parents were pagans – ‘of distinction.’  And he was said to have had a ‘good pagan education, which included a high level of Greek.'”  He went on to convert to Christianity, and ultimately became the Bishop of Poitiers(A city 210 miles southwest of Paris.)

But after that Hilary ran afoul of both church and secular authorities.  He backed the wrong side in the Arian controversy, and for that the Emperor Constantius II sent him into exile for four years.  But he put those years to good use.  In fact, his “dissents” became so persuasive that they were ultimately adopted as the “majority opinion.”  (So to speak.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr circa 1930-edit.jpgIn that he was not unlike Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., at right.  His “dissents were often prescient and acquired so much authority that he became known as ‘The Great Dissenter.’”

Anyway, Hilary – 1″L” concluded that sometimes God’s work means being “a disturber of the peace.”  (See Pastor denounces Trump’s ‘s–thole’ comments with red-faced Vice President Mike Pence in the pews.)  Which brings up a book from 15 or so years ago, getting my Master’s degree in Journalism:  From Yahweh to Yahoo!: THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF THE SECULAR PRESS.  The Amazon review said this:

{The book} provides a fresh and surprising view of the religious impulses at work in the typical newsroom…  Doug Underwood argues that American journalists are rooted in the nation’s moral and religious heritage and operate, in important ways, as personifications of the old religious virtues.

As a quasi-journalist I tend to agree.  And add that the same can apply to bloggers.

Definitions.netOr as has been said before, the job of both reporters and real Christians is comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  The link gives a good history of the development of that concept, to wit:  That the job of both reporters and true Christians is to be “watchdogs:”

The “comfortable” were the fat cats in business and politics who were dabbling in crime and corruption behind the scenes.  The journalists saw their dual role in the media as both comforting the victims of corruption and also calling the sleazy fat cats to account for their crimes.

And while the phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible, “the concept of God comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted is thoroughly Biblical.”  See for example, Psalm 18:27, which in the NLT says of God:  “You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.”

Dooley in 1900.jpgFor another look at the link between reporters and real Christians, see the original “Mr. Dooley.”  He was the “fictional 19th century Irish bartender” created by Finley Peter Dunne.  See Poynter:

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”

(Emphasis added.)  Dooley was clearly being hyperbolic, but there are similarities.  Which is pretty much what Doug Underwood said in Yahweh to Yahoo!

Which brings us back to today’s Snow Day.  I’d found my copy of Yahweh to Yahoo earlier, and when I picked it up this morning, I found the back flap inserted between pages 276-77.  (A sign from God?)  The first sentence atop page 276:  “Journalists are highly attuned to hypocrisy, and their disgust at the discrepancy between what is preached and what is practiced among [some] religious folk can quite high.”  And note that I inserted the word “some” before “religious folk.”

I did that for a reason, expressed more fully in June 2014’s On “holier than thou.”  The gist of the post:  There are a lot of “prevailing quacks” in the Christian church.  The problem?  Such Bible literalists – who never go “beyond the fundamentals” – are both giving the rest of us a bad name and driving possible converts away in droves.  (Not to mention cheating themselves.)    

And that post included a quote from H. L. Mencken, in his Minority Report:

The only way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men [ – people – ] sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks.  No such class has ever appeared in strength in the United States.  Thus, the business of harassing the quacks devolves upon the newspapers.  When they fail in their duty, which is usually, we are at the quacks’ mercy.

The point of all this is that the right of dissent  – considering different points of view – is crucial to both personal spiritual growth and a healthy democracy.

For example, it was once said to be “contrary to Scripture” that the earth revolved around the sun.  But as I noted in Moses and Paul “dumbing it down,” the dissent finally prevaiied:

It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

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Gene Kelly as the Mencken-like character in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind

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The upper image is courtesy of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “1978 postage stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office to commemorate Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.”

Re:  Holmes as “the Great Dissenter.”  See Amazon, The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind – and Changed the History of Free Speech in America.  But there are other claimants to the title.  See for example John Marshall Harlan – WikipediaNorman Thomas: The Great Dissenter – amazon.com, and International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame – Thurgood Marshall.  Marshall – the first black Justice – “became known as ‘the great dissenter’ for his vigorous opposition to majority Supreme Court decisions he believed violated human and civil rights.”  As for Harlan:

He was known as “the Great Dissenter” [as] the lone justice to dissent in one of the Supreme Court’s most notorious and damaging opinions, in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.  In arguing against his colleagues’ approval of the doctrine of “separate but equal,” John Marshall Harlan delivered what would become one of the most cited dissents in the court’s history.

The point being that “dissent” is essential to spiritual growth, for both persons and communities.  But see also Right to dissent legal definition:  While some on the Supreme Court have said  freedom of speech is absolute, most Americans agree with Justice Holmes:  The Constitution allows some restrictions under some circumstances.  See Shouting fire in a crowded theater.

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Returning to the notes:  See the full Daily Office Readings for Saturday, January 13, 2018 on Satucket:  “AM Psalm 20, 21:1-7(8-14); PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 116, 117;  Genesis 6:9-22Hebrews 4:1-13John 2:13-22,” which includes a blurb on Hilary (of Poitiers).  They include Hebrews 4:1-13 and John 2:13-22.  Hebrews 4:1-13 reads:  “So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God;  for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.”  The point there is that after that initial Sabbath-day’s rest – see Genesis 2:2 – God went back to work.  (See Is God at Work in History? – Everyday Theology.)  The logical conclusion is that “in the hereafter,” those who “cease from their labors” for one “Sabbath” in heaven will also likely “get back to work.”  As to John 2:13-22:

The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’   Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’   The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The point there is that in saying “destroy this temple,” Jesus didn’t mean to be taken literally, but figuratively>  And that pretty much goes along with the major theme of this blog.

Re:  “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  See also Finley Peter Dunne – WikipediaTo comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortableSermon, Acts 19:1-10; 21-41, Comfort the Afflicted, and/or Who said comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

The lower image is courtesy of Inherit the Wind (1960 film) – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Gene Kelly as Hornbeck.”  The cast list included this note:  “Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck of the Baltimore Herald (patterned after Henry L. Mencken).”  In fairness I add this:

[T]he film engages in literary license with the facts…  For example, Scopes (Bertram Cates) is shown being arrested in class, thrown in jail, burned in effigy, and taunted by a fire-snorting preacher.  William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady) is portrayed as an almost comical fanatic who dramatically dies of a “busted belly” while attempting to deliver his summation in a chaotic courtroom.  The townspeople are shown as frenzied, mean-spirited, and ignorant. None of that happened in Dayton, Tennessee during the actual trial.

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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).  

A fourth main theme is that the only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…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

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…)

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

Also, 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.*”  

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgIn 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 related image at 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?

Paul describes an out-of-body experience

An irreverent view of an out-of-body experience, described by Apostle Paul in 2d Corinthians. 12:2-4

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The Daily Office Bible readings for Thursday, June 15 included 2d Corinthians 12:1-10.  That reading included 2d Corinthians 12:2-4.  That’s the passage where the Apostle Paul described an apparent out-of-body experience:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.  And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

incidentally, this Third Heaven is a “division of Heaven in religious cosmology.”  The concept is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in “some traditions it is considered the abode of God.”  In other views it’s seen as “a lower level of Paradise, commonly one of seven.”

Be that as it may, this business of “third heavens” and out-of-body-experiences is way too complicated for today’s post.  The point I’m making is that there’s more to the Bible than meets the eye, and that you can’t fully appreciate it with a narrow-minded literalist approach.

For one thing, according to Paul the idea of heaven – “third” or otherwise – involves things that “no one is permitted to tell.”  (No one who’s been there anyway…)  Which fits in with John 21:25:

Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

That is, Jesus “did many other things” that weren’t written down in the Bible.  Which leads me to say again:  “There’s more to the Bible than meets the eye.”

Which makes this the perfect time to mention that June 15 is also the Feast Day for Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941).  She’s the English author known for “numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism.”

Put another way, her main teaching was “that the life of contemplative prayer is not just for monks and nuns, but can be the life of any Christian who is willing to undertake it.”

Which is also pretty much the theme of this blog.

I discussed Evelyn Underhill in the May 2014 post, On a dame and a mystic.  That post in turn was mainly about Dame Julian of Norwich, described as follows:

She was born in 1342 and died “about” 1416.  As Wikipedia noted, she was an English anchoress regarded as an important early Christian mystic.   (That clunk you heard was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy over the word “mystic.”)

Which is another way of saying that the “terms ‘mystic‘ or ‘mysticism‘ seem to throw Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians into apoplexy.  (‘Try it sometime!!!‘)”  See On the Bible and mysticism, and The Christian repertoire.  But the gist of both posts – and this blog as a whole – is that that “there’s more to the Bible than meets the eye.”  And also that you “can’t fully appreciate that by using a narrow-minded literalist approach.”

A drill sergeant posing before his companyWhich is another way of saying that in reading the Bible, you don’t want to be one of those boot-camp Christians,” as shown at left.  (That is, the “Biblical literalists who never go ‘beyond the fundamentals.’”)

On that note, consider what the Apostle Paul said about the “mysteries” of the Bible.  As told in St. Mark’s “Cinderella story,” Christianity has arguably been – all along – a “mystical” religion, full of mysteries; “secret, hidden, not readily known by all:”

For example, see 1st Corinthians 2:7, where Paul spoke of “the word of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.”  He spoke of the “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:4, and of the “fellowship of the mystery” in Ephesians 3:9.  In Ephesians 5:32 he wrote, “This is a great mystery:  but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Paul told Christians to “make known the mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19, and to hold “the mystery of the faith” – or the “deep truths” – in a “pure conscience” in 1st Timothy 3:9.  He said that “great is the mystery of godliness” in 1st Timothy 3:16, and in 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul said that Christians were to be faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Which is what makes reading and studying the Bible – and applying it to your own life – so fascinating.  Instead of going to church to become “mass produced carbon copies of each other,” Christians who go beyond the fundamentals find their lives have become a “fascinating detective story.”  (“You’ll be like Charlie Chan, unraveling the mysteries of life…”)  

In other words, the theme here is that the Bible was written to liberate us, not shackle us.  In other words, this blog says you develop more by reading the Bible with an open mind.  And that if you read it too literally, you’re only cheating yourself.  Or as a great philosopher once put it:

Mind like parachute.  Work best when open.”

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http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51smUOfD0aL.jpgMysticism, one way of “unraveling the mysteries of life…”  
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The upper image is courtesy of Out-of-body experiences are harder to remember | Ars Technicaarstechnica.com.  The article included a discussion of the “region of the brain called the hippocampus,” which “acts as a sort of stenographer, integrating all the goings-on in the brain into a record that can be encoded into memory.” 

The caption for the out-of-body image:  “A 19th-century illustration of Robert Blair‘s poem The Grave, depicting the soul leaving the body.”

The full Bible readings for July 15, 2017:  “AM Psalm [70], 71; PM Psalm 74Ecclus. [Ecclesiasticus] 44:19-45:5; 2 Cor. 12:1-10; Luke 19:28-40.”

Re: Evelyn Underhill.  See also the Wikipedia article on her.

Re:  “Carbon copy Christians.”  See How to Break the Cookie-Cutter, Carbon Copy Christian Cycle:

Churches, wittingly or otherwise, often taken on the role of mass producing assembly lines. Each Christian is instructed in the same way, given the same set of rules, a particular sanitized clothing lines of music selection, and specific speculative interpretations of scripture which they must abide by.  Churches such as these are not interested in creating unique Christians but mass produced carbon copies of each other.

The lower image was borrowed from The basics.

D-Day remembered – June 6, 2017

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, 73 years ago…

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On June 6, 2017, it will have been 73 years since the Normandy landings in World War II, otherwise known as D-Day.

And what – you may ask – does D-Day have to do with the Christian faith and Bible reading?  One answer came in On June 6, 2016.  Another answer from On D-Day and confession, from June 6, 2014.  The latter talked about sin, confession, and the kind of “de-briefing” American fliers got during World War II:

Maybe that’s what the [] concepts of sin and confession are all about.  (Or should be about.)  When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals; we “miss the target.”  When we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were.  And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty all the time, as some seem to imply.

Impromptu pipes and drum on Gold Beach during the D-Day 70th AnniversaryIn other words, the “negative” concepts of sin, repentance and confession are just tools to help us get closer to the target “next time out,” even if we know we can never be perfect.

Then too,  June 6, 2016 – including the image at right – talked about the value of independent judgment rather than a “rigid obedience to a pre-formed set of ‘rules.’”  

(Which seems to be just the approach advanced by boot-camp Christians.  See the Notes.)

The whole point of this blog is that such independent judgment – along with regular Bible reading – is the key to success in life, and especially spiritual life.  And like I mention in the notes – beginning and end – “God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus did.”

In turn, just like I note in the Introduction, “How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?”

Which brings us back to the value of being able to think on your feet, to be able to adapt, to meet and overcome unexpected obstacles, like our forefathers did on D-Day and beyond:

During World War II, German generals often complained that U.S. forces were unpredictable…  American troops [were] 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 just the kind of Bible study and interpretation this blog is all about.  (One example:  Before D-Day the Allies’ created the fictitious “First United States Army Group under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex.” That ruse was complete with the creation of the shoulder patches seen at right, designed for the units of that fake “army.”)

But to get back on point – and as I noted in DORs for June 6, 2015 – a Bible-approach that emphasizes literalism or fundamentalism simply “stifles the very creativity that is such a big part of interacting with God.”

And all of that brings us back to why we were able to win World War II.  (And on D-Day.)

Like the obstacles our servicemen faced on and following D-Day, life is unpredictable.  And if you approach life by trying to force it – and yourself – into some pre-formed, pre-digested set of cubbyholes, you’re bound to fail.  In turn, that’s exactly the kind of approach you’ll get if you follow the kind of fundamentalist “Bible-thumpers” who advance a way of Bible study-and-interpretation that “rewards conformism and stifles creativity.”

File:David Playing the Harp 1670 Jan de Bray.jpgOn the other hand, the Bible itself tells us many times to “sing to the Lord a new song.”  In other words, you are not – with your life – supposed to sing to God a “stale, warmed-over rehash, like what you tend to get by reading the Bible too literally or ‘fundamentally:'”

How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?   For that matter, why does the Bible so often tell us to “sing to the Lord a new song?”   (For example, Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.)

See On singing a NEW song to God.  And that ties in with one of the Daily Office readings for June 6, 2017, Psalm 45:1:  “My heart is stirring with a noble song [and] my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.”  And just what is the reward for all this “creative” hard work?  The same reward gotten by all those brave American servicemen who died on D-Day, and beyond.

They – and we – will ultimately get to “go where the music is born…”

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 The upper image is courtesy of Normandy landings – Wikipedia.  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.”

Re:  The “DORs” for June 6, 2017.  The full set of Bible readings:  “AM Psalm 45;  PM Psalm 47, 48
Deut. 12:1-12
; 2 Cor. 6:3-13(14-7:1); Luke 17:11-19,” and also Ini Kopuria.

The lower image is courtesy of humanlifematters.org/the-quest-to-express, and was used in the post  On the DORs for June 6, 2015.  That post talked about “the Bible-approach that emphasizes literalism or fundamentalism.  It seems to me that such an approach can comfort some people, like those ‘creatively challenged.’  But more often it just stifles the very creativity that is such a big part of interacting with God.”  As for Bach’s last words, see also Bach’s last words … The World’s Greatest Music:  “‘Don’t cry for me, for I go where music is born,’ Bach said to his wife as he lay on his deathbed.  Or, so the story goes…”

Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus”

Holy Week started with “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …”

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Holy Week is upon us.  It’s the last week of Lent.  (Which started back on March 1, with Ash Wednesday, as shown at right).  And it’s the week that leads up to Easter Sunday.  (This year, April 16.) 

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and includes “Holy Wednesday (also known as Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.”

Which sets up the reference to Psalm 22.  It was a Daily Office Reading for Friday, April 7, and Psalm 22 is inextricably intertwined with the “Passion of Jesus.”  (A reference to the “2004 American biblical epic drama film directed by Mel Gibson,” alluded to in the post title.)

Scholars believe that Psalm 22 was written some 600 years before Jesus was born.  (That is, in the “pre-exilic period … before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587.)  The first words of the Psalm – at least in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, shown at left – are “Deus, Deus meus.”  In English we know the verse better as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We know that verse well because that’s the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, as told in Matthew 27:46:  “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?'”  (See also Mark 15:34.)  

What most people don’t realize is that Psalm 22:1 goes on:  “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”  (And that’s a thought many have had from time to time…)

Then there is Psalm 22, verse 16, which reads in part, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”

Which is pretty much what they did to Jesus at the Crucifixion.

In that historical method of capital punishment – as shown at right – “the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.”

(But see also 10 Misconceptions About Jesus: [He] was pierced through His hands.  The article noted among other things that there was a “translation difficulty” involving the original Greek word usually translated as hand:  “The word xeiros, which we translate to ‘hand’ has a wider semantic range.”  Then there is the fact that – anatomically speaking – the “bones and tendons of the hand simply do not have the strength to hold the weight of the body without the nail ripping through.  The easiest and strongest place to hammer a nail is through the wrist, between the ulna and radius bones.”

And finally comes Psalm 22:18.  In the NIV it reads:  “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”  That verse from Psalm 22 was mirrored in Matthew 27:35:  “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments by casting lots.”

So, in order, Matthew 27 tells first of Judas Iscariot hanging himself for betraying Jesus.  Then comes “Jesus Before Pilate,” followed by “The Soldiers Mock Jesus” and “The Crucifixion of Jesus.”  Finally there is “The Death of Jesus,” with its three references to Psalm 22.  

gospelgeeks.netThe first reference came with the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-44), when Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross.  They fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:16, which notes, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”  (Or feet and wrists, depending on the translation of the Greek wordxeiros.”)  Then came Matthew 27:35, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

And finally, in Matthew 27:46 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, crying out “in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’”

All of which is pretty depressing, at first blush.  But here’s a spoiler alert:  There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…

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Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

Another hint: Good Friday leads to the happy ending…

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The upper image is courtesy of Palm Sunday (Wikipedia).  The full caption:  “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem depicted by James Tissot.”  I used the image in 2015’s On Holy Week – and hot buns.  See also On Holy Week – 2016.

The full readings for Friday April 7 were “AM Psalm 95 & 22;  PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)
Jer. 29:1,4-13; Rom. 11:13-24; John 11:1-27 or 12:1-10.”

For further information on Psalm 22:16 see They have pierced my hands and my feet – Wikipedia.

The “crucifixion” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article.  The caption:  “‘Crucifixion of Jesus’ by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting c. 1490.”

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  The full caption for this theatrical release poster reads:  “This is a poster for the MOPTOP #1 The Passion of the Christ. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film.”  Further provisos:  1) Under the heading Portion Used:  “The entire poster: because the image is poster art, a form of product packaging or service marketing, the entire image is needed to identify the product or service, properly convey the meaning and branding intended, and avoid tarnishing or misrepresenting the image.”  2)  Under Other information:  “Use of the poster art in the article complies with Wikipedia non-free content policy and fair use under United States copyright law as described above.”

On Moses and Paul “dumbing it down…”

In writing his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down…”

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I should note first that Friday March 25 was the Feast of the “Annunciation.”  That celebrates the day – nine months before Christmas – that the Virgin Mary “would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.”  (See last year’s Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and also An Annunciation-Good Friday anamoly, which noted that in 2016 the Annunciation was celebrated on Good Friday; thus the anomaly, an “odd, peculiar, orstrange condition, situation, quality, etc.”)

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Philippe de Champaigne - Moses with the Ten Commandments - WGA04717.jpgI ended the last post by observing that when he wrote the first five books of the Bible, Moses – at right – had to really dumb it down.

In plain words, when he wrote the Torah Moses was forced by circumstances “to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.’”

Moses was addressing an audience of the largely “unwashed” … illiterate men and women who had been trained since birth to be “mindless, docile slaves…”  Suppose Moses had mentioned dinosaurs in his writings.  Or how “we” revolve around that “big bright thing in the sky.”  The result would have been similar to what nearly happened [in] Exodus 17:4, “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people?  They are ready to stone me!’”

(See My “pain in the back.”)  Which is one good reason why Moses wouldn’t have mentioned dinosaurs, or said things like “the earth we live on actually revolves around that ‘big bright thing in the sky.'”  If he had told his contemporary audience such things he would have gotten stoned, burned at the stake or worse.  (See On Moses getting stoned.)

Which is another way of saying that all the people who wrote the Bible had to keep in mind the human limitations of their audience.  They were trying to put incomprehensible things into plain and simple language that even the most obtuse dolt could understand.  Or to paraphrase Sir Kenneth Clark, the people who wrote the Bible had to have the intellectual power to make God comprehensible.

Which is no mean trick.

And which brings up one main theme of this blog:  That reading the Bible means operating on at least two different planes.  The first is the literal plane, the literal story of Jesus – which is so simple that even a child can understand it.  But understanding the second plane requires more thought, more persistence, more work – and having more of an open mind.

Which is another way of saying that no one can ever know all there is to know about the Bible.

There will always be more to learn…

Which is pretty much the point the Apostle Paul – seen at right – was trying to make in Romans 6:19.  (From one of the Daily Office Readings for Saturday, March 25.)  In the New International Version the passage reads:  “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”  In the International Standard Version:  “I am speaking in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature.”

But either way you translate the passage, the point is that Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down.”  But that was also pretty much the point of Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Then too, Paul made pretty much the same point in Galatians 4:21-5:1, one of today’s New Testament Daily Office Readings.  Specifically, in Galatians 4:24 he used an allegory.  (The image at left shows a “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life.”)

Paul used this allegory – in Galatians 4:21-5:1 – to illustrate the difference between salvation through faith in Jesus and – reasonably interpreted – trying to achieve salvation through following the “letter of the law:”

Now this is an allegory:  these women are two covenants.  One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery…  But the other woman [“Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham] corresponds to the Jerusalem above;  she is free, and she is our mother.

See also the GOD’S WORD® Translation of Galatians 4:24, which has Paul saying, “I’m going to use these historical events as an illustration.  The women illustrate two arrangements.”

Which – you could say – is what the Bible does on a regular basis:  Use “historical events as an illustration.”  And then of course there’s the end of John’s Gospel, John 21:25:  “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Or as it says in the Matthew Henry Commentary for John 21:25:

Only a small part of the actions of Jesus had been written…  Enough is recorded to direct our faith, and regulate our practice…  We may, however, look forward to the joy we shall receive in heaven, from a more complete knowledge of all Jesus did and said, as well as of the conduct of his providence and grace in his dealings with each of us.

Which seems to be a fact that many Biblical literalists seem to overlook.  You begin your process of Bible-reading and study by “learning the fundamentals.”  But then – after your spiritual boot camp – you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training, as noted below.  That way – using an open-minded approach – you can get a head start on gaining a “more complete knowledge” of all that Jesus did and said, as well as a knowledge of the whole Bible itself.

And which brings up one final point for today:

“It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

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Galileo facing the Inquisition, for saying the earth revolved around the sun…

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Apostle Paul.  The caption:  “‘Paul Writing His Epistles,’ painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.”

The full Daily Office Bible readings for Saturday, March 25, include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136Jeremiah 13:1-11; Rom. 6:12-23; John 8:47-59.”  See also The Annunciation:  “AM: Psalm 85, 87; Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 2:5-10  PM: Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132;Wisdom 9:1-12John 1:9-14.”  See also The Lectionary – Satucket Software Home Page.

The Kenneth Clark paraphrase is from the hardcover book version of Clark’s Civilisation (TV series). On pages 84-85 of the book, Clark compared the poet Dante with the painter Giotto.  Then on page 85, Clark noted the differences between the two men, beginning with the fact that “their imaginations moved on very different planes.”  But in the film version – and only in the film or TV version – Clark said Dante had  “that heroic contempt for baseness that was to come again in Michelangelo.   Above all, that vision of a heavenly order and the intellectual power to make it comprehensible.”  Which is the phrase that drew my attention…  See also Wikipedia, for more on the TV series.

The “allegory” image is courtesy of Wikipedia’s Allegorical interpretation of the Bible, referring to the:

…interpretive method (exegesis) which assumes that the Bible has various levels of meaning and tends to focus on the spiritual sense (which includes the allegorical sense, the moral (or tropological) sense, and the anagogical sense) as opposed to the literal sense.  It is sometimes referred to as the Quadriga, a reference to the Roman chariot drawn by four horses.

The full caption for the map image reads:  “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life, or an Accurate Map of the Roads, Counties, Towns &c. in the Ways to Happiness & Misery, 1775.”

Re:  “Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham.  Wikipedia noted that she was “the wife and also the half–sister of Abraham and the mother of Isaac…  According to Genesis 17:15, God ‘changed her name to Sarah as part of a covenant after Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.'”

The lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – is from a prior post (The latest from a “None“) and is courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Note that Galileo almost got burned at the stake – for saying the earth revolved around the sun – almost 3,000 after Moses was trying to lead his people to “the Promised Land…”

The “Overlooked Apostle,” Ruth and Mardi Gras

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras – which is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!

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St. Matthias, from a 1708 Book of Common PrayerIn case you missed it, last Friday, February 24, was the Feast Day for St. Matthias.  (The “Overlooked Apostle” – as seen at right – of which more anon.)   Then too, the end of the Book of Ruth came last Saturday, February 25, in the Daily Office Bible Readings.  And finally, Lent begins next Wednesday – March 1 – and that season of penance and fasting is preceded by Mardi Gras.

I wrote about St. Matthias in St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts.”

Briefly, Matthias was the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot.  (After Judas killed himself.)  Then too, Matthias is not to be confused with either St. Matthew – who wrote the first Gospel – or with Mattathias, who rebelled against the Roman Empire just before Jesus was born.  (And who in turn was the father of Judas Maccabeus, “the greatest guerrilla in Jewish history.”)

You can see more about this “substitute 12th Apostle” at St. Matthias, or in the post about him and “Father Roberts,” noted above.  But unfortunately we know so little about him that he is often referred to either as  “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.”

Turning to the Book of Ruth:  It’s about ”Ruth the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of David.”

 Also briefly, she – a foreigner – chose to accept the God of Israel as her God, and the Children of Israel as her people.  And this was despite the disasters that happened to her mother-in-law Naomi, as shown at left.  Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to leave Naomi, as also shown at left.  (And a BTW:  Oprah Winfrey was originally named “Orpah,” but people got confused.*)

But it was the words that Ruth used – in refusing to leave Naomi – that made her famous:

And Ruth said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go;  and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people,  and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

And that of course was the highly-poetic King James Version.  (Which is of course “the Bible that God uses.”  And for more, see also Ruth (biblical figure) – Wikipedia.)

Finally, there’s the upcoming season of Lent to talk about.  I addressed the season last year in On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.  That post noted that Lent is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.”  But it also noted that that season of self-denial is preceded by “Fat Tuesday.”  That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that this year Fat Tuesday is February 28.

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!”  Or as As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”  That “debauchery, etc.” has come to include “showing skin for beads” as part of an “alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal.”  But because this party-time comes right before the beginning of Lent, there’s an object lesson here.  That lesson?  That “to every thing there is a season…  A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance…*”

Have a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Season of Lent…

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mardi gras

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The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

The black-and-white image of St. Matthias is courtesy of St. Matthias, in the Satucket website listing the Daily Office readings.

Re:  St Matthias, Apostle.  The full set of Bible readings for his feast day are:  Acts 1:15-26Psalm 15Philippians 3:13-21 and John 15:1,6-16.  The Satucket website had this to add:

The man chosen [to replace Judas] was Matthias…  Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him…  [And a]bout most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

The caption for the image of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah:  “Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to people getting confused about “Orpah” Winfrey, see Oprah Winfrey – Wikipedia:  “Winfrey was named ‘Orpah‘ on her birth certificate after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and ‘Oprah’ stuck.”  Also, the caption for the photo at left:  “Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.”

Re:  “To every thing there is a season.”  See Turn! Turn! Turn! – Wikipedia, referring to the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, which “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  In turn the lyrics were taken “almost verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible,” at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  

The lower image is courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted that “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).  [Emphasis in original.]  The blurb below the lower image added:

Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973 … the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

On the “creepy” end of Isaiah…

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Since November 27, 2016, all the Daily Office Old Testament readings have been from the Book of Isaiah.  (As illustrated at right.)  The final reading from the Book of Isaiah came today, Sunday, February 19, 2017.  (That works out to a total of 85 consecutive daily Bible readings from Isaiah.)  And which also could be translated:  That is one long book!  

That final reading was Isaiah 66:7-14.  And parts of that final Bible reading reminded me of the ending of a more-recent tome, John Steinbeck’s controversial Grapes of Wrath:

At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event.  It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”

One big reason the novel got banned and burned was its “surprise ending.”

Briefly, the ending features a grown woman breast-feeding a starving man.

That is, near the book’s end, the Joad family finds shelter in a barn from flooding rains.  There they find a boy and his starving father.  “Rose of Sharon,” one of the characters, has just miscarried; lost her baby.  But seeing the starving father, she feeds him from her breast:

Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast.  “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close.  “There!” she said.  “There.”  Her hand moved behind his head and supported it.  Her fingers moved gently in his hair.  She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

JohnSteinbeck TheGrapesOfWrath.jpgSee Is This The Creepiest Ending Ever? | 101 Books.  Which pretty much gives away that blogger’s opinion.  For one thing, he started off the post by saying, “If you’ve read the novel, you know that last paragraph is just weird – and a little graphic.”

He ended by noting there was “all kinds of symbolism going on there” – in the book version, shown at left – but that nevertheless, Steinbeck wrote a “creepy, uncomfortable ending.”  He then asked,  “Am I wrong here?  Is that possibly the creepiest ending in all of literature?”

Well, not quite.  And that brings us back to Isaiah 66:7-14.

Overall, the reading is one giving comfort to a long-suffering people.  As in Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…  When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass.”  But right before that came some really graphic imagery:

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;  rejoice with her in joy … that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;  that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

See Isaiah 66:10-11.  Of course, to my knowledge no one has debated whether this “graphic ending” to the Book of Isaiah was good and proper.  (As in Grapes of Wrath – The debate of the anticlimax, which closed with the rhetorical question:  “can the anticlimax … be seen as a cynical plot device that plays with the reader’s emotions or genius piece of creative writing?)  

Nor – to my knowledge – has any smart aleck read the last part of Isaiah and warned others, “You’ll Never Think Of ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’ In The Same Way Again.”  (See The Grapes of Wrath What’s Up With the Ending?)  And finally, nobody has called Isaiah 66:11 “creepy.”

So – just in case I’m being too subtle – there are a couple points being made here.

Antique Valentine 1909 01.jpgThe first is that – contrary to the image set out by conservative Christians – the ancient Hebrews were a very earthy people.  (In the sense of “enjoying and being honest or clear about things connected to life, such as the body and emotions.”)  And one example of that “earthiness” just got discussed in the last post, On the Bible’s “erotic love poem.”

Which leads up to the second point, that Isaiah was a great book:

In Christian circles, it was held in such high regard as to be called “the Fifth Gospel,” and its influence extends beyond Christianity to English literature and to Western culture in general, from the libretto of Handel’s Messiah to a host of such everyday phrases as “swords into ploughshares” and “voice in the wilderness.”

And it didn’t get that way by being “conservative.”  Put another way, one major theme of this blog is that the Bible was written to stretch and expand the human mind, not restrict it.  It was not written to make people boot-camp Christians.  (See the notes below.)

Put another way, the Book of Isaiah – and indeed the Bible as a whole – was written and designed to give us all a “rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

Even if it does have a bit of a “creepy ending…”

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Detail of the entrance to Rockefeller Center, citing a verse from Isaiah 33:6… 

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The upper image is courtesy of drifting cowboy: Best Chatsworth Movies — The Grapes of Wrath (1940a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com.  And incidentally, the painting in the movie poster was done by the artist Thomas Hart Benton.  See Wikipedia.  See also Thomas Hart Benton | Departure of the Joads. [The Grapes of Wrath Series.  See also the grapes of wrath | Movie Poster Museum.

The full Daily Office readings for Sunday, February 19:  “AM Psalm 118, PM Psalm 145
Isa. 66:7-14; 1 John 3:4-10; John 10:7-16.”

The painting of Isaiah is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Book of Isaiah.  The caption:  “Michelangelo (c. 1508–12), ‘Isaiah,’ Vatican City:Sistine Chapel ceiling.”

For a more-erudite view on Isaiah’s imagery, see Isaiah 66:11 Commentaries: That you may nurse and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.

For another Steinbeck book using themes from the Bible, see East of Eden (novel) – Wikipedia:

The book explores themes of depravity, beneficence, love, and the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction and especially of guilt and freedom.  It ties these themes together with references to and many parallels with the biblical Book of Genesis (especially Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel)…  The title, East of Eden, was chosen by Steinbeck from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (King James Version).

The Wikipedia article then featured a chart showing further “biblical parallels.”

The lower image is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Detail of entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza showing verse from Isaiah 33:6 Rockefeller Center, New York.”  Isaiah 33:6 reads: “He [God] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;  the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”

And finally, for another “earthiness” in reading and/or interpreting the Bible, see the notes to On sharing the “Keys to the Kingdom.”

On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord”

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (1).jpg

This could be called the “Second Presentation” – Good Friday, as Jesus is about to be crucified

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Thursday,  February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  This presentation – of Jesus as a baby – was done in accordance with a thousand-year-old custom started by Moses.  See Exodus 13:2, where God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”  And by that tradition, the consecrating came 40 days after the day of birth:

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2.  A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Yegorov-Simeon the Righteous.jpgSee Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  (Including the image at left.)  And just to be clear, that brings up the old-timey, “once-prevalent custom of churching new mothers forty days after the birth of a child.”

That quaint custom came to be called “the churching of Women,” starting – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages.  It was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, but then discontinued.  (The Anglican Church still offers the service, but it seems rarely used.)  

Among other things, that quaint practice took place in “the good old days when giving birth was a time of real and great danger for all mothers.  Accordingly, the usual prayer of Thanksgiving went something like this:  “ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of child-birth.”

Beyond that, this once-prevalent ritual drew “on the imagery and symbolism” of the original Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2.  But for Mary, there was the problem of Virgin birth.  (She hadn’t been “sullied” in the normal manner of procreation.)  

The answer?  According to church practice, even though Mary had “borne Christ without incurring impurity” – that is, the usual “impurity” involved in conception – “she went to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.”  In other words, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Mary went through the ritual that became known as The Churching of Women, even though she didn’t have to.

And of course, to set a good example.

But we digress…

You can see the Bible readings for the day at Presentation of Jesus.  They include Malachi 3:1 – seen at right – where God said, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  And of course Luke 2:22-23:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord…”  (E.A.)

And that ritual – “required by the law of Moses” –  in turn went back to the time of Moses, as detailed in Exodus 13 and as already noted.

For more on the February 2 Feast Day, check out Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  But the ritual described in this post brings up what might be called “the Second Presentation of the Lord.”

That Second Presentation came when Jesus was “presented to the people of Jerusalem.”  But this time it came at the hands of Pontius Pilate, on what turned out to be the day before He was crucified.  This Second Time Around came when Jesus was “presented,” but not in the religious Temple in Jerusalem.  Rather, it came in the praetorium of the secular power.  (See Pilate’s court, which noted two possible sites for this trial;  either the Antonia Fortress or Herod’s Palace.)

The point being that from the time He was first “presented” at just over a month old, Jesus’ life was one long journey to the Second Presentation.  (On the eve of His making the ritual sacrifice that would literally change history, if not “split history in two.”)  In the same way, this February 2 marks the beginning of our own spiritual journey:  through Epiphany, then Mardi Gras – as seen above left – followed by Lent, and then on into Easter Week.

And all of which reminds us that life is not all fun and games.  Put another way, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.”  (BTW:  That 1944 song by The Ink Spots was based on a quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem, The Rainy Day.)  Which is another way of saying that while we know those “rainy days” are coming – that our lives will be interrupted by pain and suffering – we also know that we have “already won the Game of Life.*”

That is, we as practicing Christians know how our lives are going to turn out.  We already know we’re going to have a happy ending.  It’s just those “in between” details that worry us.

On that note, yesterday I ran across a Bible passage apropos to current events.  The Daily Office Readings for February 1 included Isaiah 54:15:  “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me…”

“Just sayin’…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to knowing “that we have already won the Game of Life,” see Two Marys and a James – Saints, which indicated that the spiritual life is like water-skiing:

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…  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

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Re:  The full Daily Office Readings for Wednesday, February 1, 2017:  “AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 119:73-96Isaiah 54:1-10(11-17); Galatians 4:21-31; and Mark 8:11-26.”  They also included the readings for the Eve of the Presentation:  “PM: Psalm 113, 122; 1 Samuel 1:20-28a; Romans 8:14-21.”

The “Mardi Gras” image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

Re:  Rainy Day, by Longfellow.  One line reads:  “My life is cold, and dark, and dreary.”  Another:  “Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”  But there’s also this line of hope: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;  Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Re:  “Just sayin.'”  I first used that phrase for this blog in The True Test of Faith, in February 2015.

The lower image is courtesy of Chaos Defines Trump’s First Week in Office – NBC News.  See also Analysis: Trump’s start creates chaos, and Chaos, anger as Trump order halts some Muslim immigrants.  BTW:  The search term “trump chaos” got me 1,430,000 results.  The search term “trump strife” got me 565,000 results.