For many people, the fun part of Halloween is being able to think outside the box. I’m not that crazy about Halloween myself, but I do like the part about thinking outside the box. So here goes, an extra added treat for this “All Hallows E’en:” I’m imagining Jesus updating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as He would tell it today, in this deeply divided country.
“A man was traveling down from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and then went away, leaving him near death. In due course a Christian Evangelical happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed him by on the other side. So too, a Southern Baptist preacher, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a California Liberal, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, took pity on him. He went to him and tended and bandaged his wounds, then put the man in his car, brought him to a nearby Hilton and took care of him. The next day he took out his credit card and paid for two night’s lodging, and told the clerk, ‘Look after him, and when I return, I’ll reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'”
The thing is, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time hated Samaritans as much as today’s Conservatives seem to hate Liberals. (See Hatred Between Jews and Samaritans | Bible.org. Or google “liberal heresy.”) So, I wonder what point Jesus would be making, if He updated the story that way?
Then there’s this: “If God [is] generous with you, He will expect you to serve Him well. But if He has been more than generous, He will expect you to serve Him even better.” (Luke 12:48.)
A reminder for those who have “been given much,” now and in the near future.
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But we were talking about Halloween, which isn’t just one night. It’s part of a three day celebration – a “Triduum” – that begins on “All Hallows E’en.” It then continues into “All Hallows Day” – better known to us as All Saints’ Day – and ends on November 2 with All Souls’ Day. (The term “Hallowe’en” developed from the Old English word for “saint,” halig.) This three-day period is a time to remember the dead, including “martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians.” The main day of the three is November 1, what used to be referred to as Hallowmas.
Halloween itself started with an old-time belief that evil spirits were most prevalent during the long nights of winter. And those “old-timers” also thought the “barriers between our world and the spirit world” were at their its lowest and most permeable on the night of October 31:
So, those old-time people would wear masks or put on costumes in order to disguise their identities. The idea was to keep the afterlife “hallows” – ghosts or spirits – from recognizing the people in this, the “material world.”
And about traveling on All Hallows E’en. If you hiked from 11:00 p.m. until midnight, your had to be careful. If your candle kept burning, that was a good omen. (The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming winter “season of darkness.”) But if your candle went out, “the omen was bad indeed.” (The thought was that the candle had been blown out by witches…)
Next comes November 1, which honors all saints and martyrs, “known and unknown.” These are special people in the Church. A saintis someone with “an exceptional degree of holiness,” while a martyr is someone “killed because of their testimony of Jesus.”On the other hand, November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians … unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.’” In other words, the third day of the Halloween Triduum – November 2, All Souls’ Day – remembers the souls of the largely unknown “dear departed.” Observing Christians typically remember such relatives, and in many churches the following Sunday service includes a memorial for those who died in the past year.
Incidentally, there were some good reasons why Halloween 2020 was the “scariest ever.” (A Halloween Like We’ve Never Seen!) For one thing, there was the ongoing COVID pandemic, as noted in Halloween: CDC says no trick-or-treating amid COVID. Then there was an economic recession – another one? – not to mention an upcoming presidential election. (We still haven’t gotten over that event.) In turn, aside from all that there was a “blue moon:”
With the convergence of a full moon, a blue (Hunter’s) Moon, daylight saving time and Saturday celebrations — plus the unprecedented events of this year — Halloween 2020 will truly be one to remember.
By the way, to say something happens “once in a blue moon” just means it happens rarely. And here’s hoping a presidential election like the one in 2020 will be equally rare. (Or better yet, never happen again.) And while we’re wishing – and thinking outside the box – here’s hoping that the election after this one will feature civilized discourse and an exchange of thoughtful views, not name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and especially not personal physical violence.
And yes, I am naive, but then so was Jesus. I’m sure He hoped that 2,000 years after He made His Ultimate Sacrifice, we’d all be getting along a lot better than we are now…
Thinking outside the box” refers to taking an imaginative approach to solve a problem, as opposed to a rigid, unyielding method that calls to mind a square box. In other words, thinking outside the box is often counterintuitive. Each problem is unique and often can’t be anticipated or tackled with prescribed methods.
Which is pretty much a major theme of this blog…
A note on Luke 12:48. I capitalized all the “he’s and him’s” when the quote referred to God. The original used lower case.
Re: Once in a blue moon: A term “something of a misnomer, because an actual blue moon – that is, the appearance of a second full moon in the same calendar month – occurs once every 32 months or so. Further, the moon can appear blue in color at any time, depending on weather conditions.”
But first a note about the lead picture above. The caption – from Wikipedia – reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946.”
I’ve argued before that such snake handlers interpret Mark 16:17-18way too literally. (The passage talks about the signs that will accompany those who believe, including “they will pick up snakes with their hands,” and drink deadly poison without effect.) Which means that such a too-literal Christian could end up dead, or at least with a nickname like “Stumpy.”
To me the issue is whether literalist Christians are saying there are no clerical or scrivener’s errors, whatsoever, in any copy, version or translation of the Bible. Or whether – for example – the “Biblical” computation of time is completely accurate. (The earth is six thousand years old, as opposed to the estimate of over four billion years old.) Then there’s this, from Wikipedia:
Some literalist or conservative Christians teach that the Bible lacks error in every way in all matters: chronology, history, biology, sociology, psychology … and so on. Other Christians believe that the scriptures are always right (do not err) only in fulfilling their primary purpose: revealing God, God’s vision, God’s purposes, and God’s good news to humanity.
To cut to the chase, I’d say the Bible is inerrant “in all that it affirms.” Which is pretty much what Billy Graham said some time ago, as will be seen. But first some background…
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The post Old friend … “Bible literalism started off noting we don’t have any original manuscripts of the 27 books of the New Testament. “What we do have are “copies of copies of copies.” (According to Great Courses Plus; Professor Bart Ehrman‘s lectures on The New Testament.) I also noted that to me, the Bible “proves itself” to you as a person, with what you do with it as an individual believer, how you interact with and experience God in your own life.*
I also noted some problems reading the Bible, like that Old Testament Hebrew had no vowels or punctuation. Words and sentences were simply strung together. Then there was Jesus’ way of teaching, parables. Which were both hard to interpret literally, and which could mean different things to different people. (That “clunk” was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy.)
We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God,* without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. (Emphasis added.)
Which brings up another problem, that a claim of “absolute inerrancy” makes it easy for a would-be convert to avoid converting. All “they” need do – to avoid coming to God, through Jesus – is find one minor error or contradiction. By making such a claim, Literalists create one of those “stumbling blocks to the weak” that Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 8:9.
On the other hand, I’d say that if some Bibles contain some minor errors, it’s only because of the human element in its transmission. As in the phrase, “garbled in transmission.” And to all of which I can say to such Literalists, “I respect your right to have that opinion, but I disagree.”
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But wait, there’s more! Which is being interpreted: Since 2020 I’ve run across even more interesting data. Like a series of lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Professor Gary A. Rendsberg. And especially his Lecture 11, on the “Biblical Manuscripts at Qumran.”
For one thing, Rendsberg mentioned some differences between the original Hebrew Old Testament and a later Hebrew-to-Greek early translation, the Septuagint. (The “earliest extant Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible.”) For example, the original Hebrew of Exodus 1:5 reads that 70 Israelites (Jacob and his family) went down to Egypt during a time of famine. The Septuagint said there were 75. So which is it?
I’d say it doesn’t really matter. The point is not something the Bible really “affirms.” Which brings up the the better view set out by John R. W. Stott. ((1921-2011.) I’ve mentioned Stott before, in numerous posts,* but he was the Anglican cleric who Time magazine ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote Understanding the Bible, and on pages 140-143, he made three key points.
Again, there’s more boring detail in those prior posts, but Stott’s key point is that the words of the Bible are true “only in context.” (Using the Book of Job as an example of some passages that can be taken out of context, like Mark 16:17-18. And that in turn, Scripture is without error “in all that it affirms.” (A factor not always apparent “in the so-called ‘inerrancy debate.”) And keeping in mind that the Bible often describes God in human terms, not to be taken as literally true.
For more on the “inerrancy debate,” see Fundamentalism – Wikipedia. That article noted the “Five Fundamentals” set out at the Niagara Bible Conference 1910, including the doctrine that the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching.” Which sounds similar to the idea that the Bible is without error “in all that it affirms.”
And finally, I’d say this business of “requiring every word of the Bible to be inerrant” – without any error of any kind – brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 23:4. He chastised the Scribes and Pharisees, saying in pertinent part that such they “make strict rules that are hard for people to obey. They try to force others to obey all their rules. But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.” (In the “Easy-to-Read” translation.)
To me, requiring every copy and every version of the Bible to be correct in every “jot and tittle” – to say that no Bible has even the most minor clerical or scrivener’s error – is one of those “stumbling blocks” that keep potential converts away from Christianity.
More than that, it makes some people who call themselves Christian miss the whole point of Jesus’ teaching. They focus more on the letter of the law than its spirit, and as Paul noted in 2d Corinthians 3:6, “the letter kills but the spirit gives life.” So if you are such a Literalist, feel free to believe what you believe. “But as for me and my house,” I’ll follow John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
This passage can be understood two ways. One way is to assume that Jesus followers are expected to handle deadly snakes… Another way to understand this passage is to be reassured that when Christians accidentally come in contact with poisonous snakes, God will miraculously protect them… Such an experience happened to the apostle Paul. After being shipwrecked and escaping to the island of Malta, Paul was bitten by a deadly snake. [Acts:28:1-6]. Additionally, the Bible tells us that we should not tempt God by deliberately placing ourselves in potential danger [Matthew 4:5-7]. (E.A.)
Re: “Lent 2022.” See Lent 2022 – Calendar Date, which said this Lenten period starts on Wednesday, March 2nd and ends on Thursday, April 14 with evening mass on Holy Thursday. (Most people think it ends with Easter Sunday.) Other notes: It is “44 days from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and another two days with Good Friday and Holy Saturday added to give a total of 46 days for Lent. But Sundays are excluded from fasting during Lent and with 6 Sundays removed from the count we get lent being a 40 day liturgical period.”
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.”I may use these points in a future post.
Re: More on Deuteronomy 32:8. In the original Hebrew, Deuteronomy 32:8 said God set the boundaries “of the peoples” – the boundaries of the world – “according to the number of the children of Israel.” The same passage in the Septuagint reads, “according to the number of angels of God.” In turn, most translations in the “Bible Hub” website had 70 Israelites going down Egypt, including the King James Version that “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls.” But “Hub” also cited Genesis 46:26, which put the number at 66, and Acts 7:14, which said “Joseph sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five in all.”
Re: “My old friend Fred.” 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: “How you interact with and experience God in your own life.” That “simplistic” statement could be misinterpreted, but keep in mind that I have to “dumb things down,” just like Moses, Paul and Jesus all had to do.Also re: Interacting with God in my own life. See for example On my “mission from God,” and “As a spiritual exercise…”
Re: “Only written word of God.” But see John 10:16, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”It seems to me that God – being God – is perfectly able to reach out to other people, using other languages in other countries and cultural settings. “He” – anthropomorphism – could have other servants writing in other languages, keeping in mind that “all roads lead to Jesus.” If nothing else, this claim seems to limit God’s power…
More re: Deuteronomy 32:8. Just for some deep background: Chapter 32 comes near the end of the book, just before Chapter 33, “Moses blesses the tribes of Israel,” and also Chapter 34 on the death of Moses. “The Lord’s Last Instructions to Moses begin at 31:14, and the “Song of Moses” begins at 31. Anyway, back to Deuteronomy 32:8. Many Bible Hub translations of Deuteronomy 32:8 read that God “assigned land to the nations” or “gave the nations their inheritance.” But some translations of the passage at issue vary, from “according to the number of the sons of Israel,” to the sons of God, to “the number in his heavenly court,” and – in the Brenton Septuagint Translation – according to “the number of the angels of God.”
Re: “Stott … in numerous posts.” Type “John Stott” in the search engine in the blog’s upper right.
Re: “Jot and tittle.” The link is to “Gotquestions.org,” which noted that a jot – related to our word “iota” – is the “tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest.” A tittle “is even smaller than a jot … a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another.”
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.”
November 12, 2021 – It’s over two weeks before the next major Feast Day, Thanksgiving.
Which means I have time to re-visit a post I did in 2019, “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.*” In that post I previewed my three-week pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and in the process talked a lot about n Psalm 137. (And the creation of the Old Testament as we know it.) I was reminded of that post while finishing a book on turning 70 in 2021. (And hoping to live 50 more years, to 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.” See Deuteronomy 34:7.)
I put the boring details about how all that came about in the notes. (How writing the last chapter of my book on Turning 70 in 2021 reminded me of that to 2019 pilgrimage to Israel.) But here’s the point: That in my own version of a “Babylonian exile,” something good eventually came out of what was originally – at the time – something really bad. (Kind of like how the Old Testament as we have it today only came about because of a national catastrophe.)
So here’s more about that April 2019 post. (Where something good happened from “something very bad.”) It referred to a series of video lectures, The World of Biblical Israel | The Great Courses Plus. (Before that site was changed to “Wondrium.”) Lecture 2 was “By the Rivers of Babylon – Exile.” In it Professor Cynthia Chapman focused on Psalm 137 as the story of how the final version of the Old Testament came about. Chapman said Psalm 137 is the mid-point of both years of Jewish history and the Bible itself. Chapman said Psalm 137 came just when the books of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – were collected, edited and redacted.
In other words, the “Old Testament” as we know it didn’t exist before 586 “B.C.”
That’s when most Judeans were taken from their homeland. They went through a “death march,” 800 miles to Babylon, where many of the Remnant died. In further words, before the Exile (circa 600-515 BC) , the Judeans had a lot of uncollected books (or scrolls), but “here is where they were first collected into what we know as the Old Testament today.” In that captivity they compiled, edited and shaped their collected national stories into a “virtual library,” a library that connected them to their homeland. See also Psalm 137 – Wikipedia:
This period saw … the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life. According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews. This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.
But here’s the point, as it relates to my life: Without all that life-drama I went through ten years ago, I might still be living back in Largo. I might still living in highly congested mid-Pinellas County, Florida, with all its heat and sopping humidity, instead of up in “God’s Country.” (The ATL, or Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) Another happy result is that, for the first time in my life, I’m “comfortable,” spiritually, artistically and financially. But that’s a subject I’ll discuss more in my “2021” book. (And while it’s about turning 70, I’ll title it, “Will I really live to 120?)
Which brought up the topic of “dormancy, darkness and cold,” referring to the Dark Ages, that period of intellectual darkness between the “light of Rome,” up to the rebirth or “Renaissance in the 14th century.” (Not that there was any connection to current events or anything)… Which in turn serves as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age” you may be going through, during this fine but politically-hectic November of 2019: “This too shall pass.”
Another note: That 2019 post came shortly before the current COVID pandemic started, and at a time when Donald Trump seemed to be a shoe-in for re-election.
A note about the post, If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem. The original version in the Bible reads, “O Jerusalem.” I put “Oh Jerusalem” in the 2019 post, but corrected it in the main text here.
Re: “Breaking Point – and broke.” The “breaking point” quote is from Garry Wills’ translation of the Lord’s Prayer. See Garry Wills’ book, What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87. The alternate translation is in Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”
Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.
The usual Lord’s Prayer translation: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” per Wikipedia. My life tells me “breaking point” is more accurate and appropriate.
Re: Being reminded of the “Jerusalem” post while finishing a book on turning 70 . in 2021. At the beginning of the last chapter, I made a reference to that long-ago post. That chapter (Chapter 9) is about Leaving a legacy, and it in turn is based on a 2015 post that I did in a companion blog. (That post, about leaving a legacy, reminded me of my 2019 trip to Israel.)I wrote – in that companion blog, about my legacy – that in a sense I started thinking about that back in 2009-2010. As explained in the book, that’s when I had to retire early “due to circumstances beyond my control.” In simple terms, I got led to the “Breaking Point – and broke.”
I didn’t enjoy life much back then [in 2009-2010], during the functional equivalent of a Babylonian exile. Among other things I felt abandoned by God. (“Why hast thou forsaken me?”) On the other hand, the results of my exile-and-feeling-abandoned have been good. (Much like the original Exile was “good…” Something very good – the final version of the Old Testament – was the result of something very bad happening to “God’s Chosen People.”)
I originally had all that in the main text, but it was way too confusing, interrupted the flow of the narrative, and distracted from its main point.
Re: St. George’s College, Jerusalem. A continuing education center of the Anglican Communion, its programs “focus on pilgrimage, community, study, and reconciliation. Programs typically last 8, 10 or 14 days, and are open to clergy and laity of all denominations and any faith.” See Wikipedia.
Re: “Next year in Jerusalem.” The link is to a “Desiring God” article, which read in part: “It seems to me that ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ is what we Christians ought to wish each other as we mark the closing of another year. It voices far more clearly the sort of happiness we long for than the generic and rather hollow ‘Happy New Year.'” And BTW: Googling the phrase got some 11,800,000 results.Which included Why are you supposed to say “next year in Jerusalem”? – Vox.
The very last words of the traditional seder are “next year in Jerusalem.” As the final moment in the Seder, it’s emotionally significant, and it finishes the Seder’s journey from a reminder of the suffering of the past (and present) to hopes for wholeness and freedom for all in the future.
Two months ago, on a Tuesday morning, I was driving to the gym. On the way in I listened – again – to an audio version of the book What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills. (I had listened to it, repeatedly, on CDs from the local library, but then finally broke down and bought the complete 4-CD set. That’s because I plan to keep listening to it, over and over again, “into the future.”)
That long-ago morning I heard a favorite section of Wills’ book. It was about a favorite topic: Close-minded people who call themselves Christian, but have little or no concept of what The Faith is all about. Like what that great philosopher Johnny Cash once said:
I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.
Garry Wills provided a perfect answer to such haters. (Who are certainly not Christian. And that answer came at pages 34 and 35 of the 2006 Penguin Books edition.) Unfortunately Wills wasn’t sure of the source of the clever riposte. Then too it was quite a long passage, so I wasn’t crazy about having to type it all out myself. But fortunately I finally found a transcript that I could cut-and-paste into this post. It’s from It’s the Law, Kid – Jane Tawel.
The anonymous author – who Tawel quoted – first gave a tongue-in-cheek “thank you” to a man who cited Leviticus 18:22 as proof that homosexuality was a sin. But he was curious about some other passages from Exodus and Leviticus. Mostly he was curious about how the people who violated those passages should be killed.
In one example he cited Exodus 35:2, which says “Whoever does any work” on Sunday, the Sabbath, “is to be put to death.” Which led to the question: “Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?” Then came a question about Leviticus 24:10-16. (Blasphemer put to death.) “My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19,” as does his wife. (For wearing clothes made out of two different kinds of thread.) “He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.” Which led to the question: Was it necessary to get the whole town together to stone them both to death? “Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair?”
Then came questions about social protocol. For example, he cited Leviticus 15:19-24, which prohibits any contact – “period” – with a woman during her menstrual period. “The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.” (Indeed.) And finally, Exodus 21:7 allows a man to sell his daughter into slavery. “I would like to sell my daughter into slavery… In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?”
You can see the full set of tongue-in-cheek questions in the notes, but here’s the point. Many so-called Christians are guilty of selective perception. That’s the process by which “individuals perceive what they want to in media messages while ignoring opposing viewpoints.”
In other words, some so-called Christians use selective interpretation to promote an “earthly” political agenda. But Jesus was above politics, much like Johnny Cash, and much like Billy Graham became in his later years.* (So much so that some “conservative Christians” called him Antichrist. See for example BILLY GRAHAM: SERVANT OF CHRIST OR OF ANTICHRIST.)
Which is just another way of saying that “Christianity has been twisted and warped to such an extent that not even Jesus would recognize it now.” And the main reason Jesus wouldn’t recognize Christianity today – according to Wills and others (including Yours Truly) – is the way it’s been warped and perverted. So much so that it’s been used to promote so much hate.
But for Johnny Cash, Billy Graham and Garry Wills, Jesus was all about love. And that’s not to mention the Apostle Paul, who gave us 1st Corinthians 13:4-7….
The main theme of Wills’ book is that Jesus was “radical” in his love for all people. (Even – gasp – for liberals! And for that matter, even for those people who should know better but are a real pain in the ass.)
Wills noted that Jesus spent little time with the well-to-do, and seemed to prefer the company of whores, lepers and outcasts of all types. As Wills put it, Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.” Which is pretty much the Christian love of Johnny Cash.
See Johnny Cash’s Religion and Political Views | Hollowverse, whose author wrote, “I like to think that Johnny was above politics and more about people and peace and happiness and cooperation.” Or as Cash’s daughter Rosanne said, her father “didn’t care where you stood politically.” He could “love all stripes, and that’s why all stripes claim him.” Even people in prison.
The upper image is courtesy of Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison – Image Results. Note that my original caption asked whether “a Conservative Christian would follow Matthew 25:36″ as Johnny Cash did at Folsom Prison. But to be a bit less confrontational I changed the wording to “Close-minded Christian,” since it is possible that some Conservative Christians are open-minded, while it is also possible that some Liberal Christians are close-minded.
In the midst of depression and a steep decline in his musical career, legendary country singer Johnny Cash arrives to play for inmates at California’s Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968. The concert and the subsequent live album launched him back into the charts and re-defined his career.
So maybe that “Jesus Guy” knew what He was talking about. (In other words, “Maybe there’s an object lesson there?”) As to the caption itself, the full text of Matthew 25:36 reads, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Also Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering with them,” and Matthew 25:39-40, “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.’”
The following is the full section, courtesy of the “Tawel” blog, which began by saying not to read the Bible if you don’t want to contemplate mystery, confront hypocrisy or get a sense of “God’s humorous humbling of us.” Ms. Tawel then provided a complete transcript:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination – end of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how to follow them.
Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11;10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton-polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging (34-35 Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant. New York: Penguin, 2006).
I just got back from a lightning, one-week mini-vacation. First to Rockville Maryland – for my grandson’s wedding – then on to Pigeon Forge Tennessee for a family get-together. (Including a day-visit to Dollywood, illustrated at left.)
I got back home late last Thursday (6/10/21), and over the long Recuperation Weekend that followed, I checked my blogs. My last post on this blog – “Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021” – came back on May 29, 2021. So it’s about time another post on this Blog, but lucky me, just last June 11 was the Feast Day for St. Barnabas. And five days before that we – or some of us – remembered D-Day, back during World War II. Which is a reminder that life isn’t always a bowl of cherries.* Or put another way, we are called to vigor – spiritual discipline – not comfort. (See About the Blog, above.)
There’s more on that below, but first a word about St. Barnabas.
The Bible first mentions Barnabas in Acts 4:36: “Joseph, a Levite, born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles.” And Barnabas the Apostle – Justus added that even after Paul’s Damascus Road experience, most Christians in Jerusalem “wanted nothing to do with him. They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church. But Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance.” (Which is pretty much what Jesus is all about.)
To sum up, if it hadn’t been for Barnabas’ willingness to give Paul a second chance – Paul, the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the “Founder of Christianity.*”
But what’s all this about “just war” and our annual remembrance of June 6 as D-Day, a key turning point in World War II? Just that the lessons our American armed forces learned in that war can teach us a valuable lesson today about the better way to read and study the Bible.
That is, American armed forces succeeded on D-Day – and contributed greatly in winning World War II – because of our native INGENUITY. (That is, because as Americans we are inherently creative and constantly ask questions.) We constantly look for better ways of doing things. On the other hand there are some “Bible-thumpers” who look at the Faith of the Bible as a way of “trying to create a culture that rewards conformism and stifles creativity.”
In the same way, one theme of this blog is that the very same question-asking, probing method of Bible study is far better for both an individual reader and our society as a whole. It’s far better than just saying, “Oh, I’ll take everything that slick-haired televangelist says at face value!”
My point is that Bible reading should be an adventure. It should help us reach our full potential, as individuals and as a nation. It should help us become happier, more creative and able to find better ways of living lives of abundance. And that’s as opposed to the concept of “sin,” and how some of those same Bible-thumpers seem to relish making other people feel guilty.
Maybe that’s what the Bible and/or the church concepts of sin and confession are all 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… [M]aybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are tools to help us get closer to the target “next time out,” even if we know we can never become “perfect.”
Also on that note see On sin and cybernetics, from 2014, which added this: “Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us realize the purpose Jesus had for us, to wit: To ‘live life in all its abundance.’” (See John 10:10, above.)
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The upper image is courtesy of Just war theory – Wikipedia: “The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure that a war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met in order for a war to be considered just.”For more information google “christianity and just war theory.”
Re: Vigor, not comfort. FromEvelyn Underhill’s book Practical Mysticism:
Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement. . . Do not suppose from this that your new career [as a Christian] 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 post from last year – 2020 – said that “clearly this Easter is different, mostly because ofthe current coronavirus pandemic.” Which led me to this observation:
Back on March 12  – what seems so long ago, and in light of the pandemic just then making headlines – I checked out two books from the local library. (Not realizing the libraries around here and the country would be closed, “for the duration.” And that I wouldn’t be able to return them for that “duration.”) One book wasThe Plague, by Albert Camus.
Fortunately the libraries are back open and we’re starting to get a handle on this “COVID” thing. (I get my second vaccine shot this upcoming Wednesday, March 31, down in Barnesville.) Which is a good reason to be especially thankful during this Holy Week, 2021.
For more on past posts on Palm Sunday and Easter you can check the notes, but for now I want to go back to my last post, Romans 11 – and “What happened to FSU football.” Because: If you looked at that post you may have noticed a quote that seems unexplained.
It’s concerns the fictional hero of my newest novel. (I named him “Nick,” in homage to the fictional character created by Ernest Hemingway.) It’s ostensibly about a book that he – Nick – wrote back in 1994. As in, “He went on book tours , and in one such tour personally handed a copy of ‘Zen Football*’ to Bobby Bowden.” (At right.) But I ended up doing too many updates – after publishing the post – and so couldn’t update the post one more time, in a way explain that asterisk.
Here’s what happened…
As noted, I’d already done a boatload of updating, and apparently there’s a limit on how many updates you can do with this platform, after you’ve published the post. (I kept getting “update failed, update failed.”) So I’ll try to explain the asterisk here, and in that process I’ll elaborate on that 1994 book, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” (Subtitled, “Pondering the Metaphysical Mysteries of Major College Football.”)
To review, that last post had a footnote about my fictional hero, Nick:
In 1994 “he” published a book which he titled “Zen in the Art of College Football,” about the events leading up to FSU football’s 1993 national championship. [It’s first of three.] He felt that at the time the method of choosing which two teams would play for a national championship “sounded a lot like Zen. A lot of double talk that really doesn’t make a lot of rational sense.” (Or words to that effect.)
So here are the precise “words to that effect.”
To find them, I had to go back to the original paperback.* The main title is, as noted, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” The title page says it’s a novel “Based on the Florida State Seminoles’ Seven-year Quest to Win a National Championship.” (Which they finally got in 1993.) And there’s the alternate subtitle, “Pondering the Metaphysical Mysteries of Major College Football as a Path to Enlightenment and/or Salvation.”
Which is quite a mouthful.
As for the “words to that effect,” they – and the idea for the book – came as a result of my getting an audio version of Zen in the Art of Archery. (This was around 1992 or early 1993, referring to the 1948 book by Eugen Herrigel.) I’d tried to actually read it – in book form – before that time, but always got bogged down. (In that way it was kind of like trying to read the Book of Leviticus.)
So instead I listened to the audio version on a weekend road trip down in Florida, early in the 1993 college football season. Then a few days later, “as if in a flash, I got the idea of connecting Zen in the Art of Archery with ‘Zen in the Art of College Football.'”
At the time I was – in a sense – doing research on that first novel. Specifically, I was trying to figure out why FSU’s football team had so often gotten snookered out of a shot at the national title game, year after year. (With a reference to the Greek god Tantalus, whose story gave us the word tantalize, as in “to tease or torment by or as if by presenting something desirable to the view but continually keeping it out of reach.”)
That in turn involved the method by which the two teams – back in 1993 and before – got picked to play for the national championship. I wrote at the time that it all sounded very “Zen” to me. As in, “if it’s full of contradictions, sounds like double-talk, and really doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s probably Zen.” Which led to this:
Seen that way, Zen becomes remarkably similar to major college football, especially in the 1993 season. There are lots of similarities between “Zen” and how a national champion is picked:* both sound like double-talk, both are full of contradictions, and neither really makes a whole lot of sense.
Now about that last asterisk. Strictly speaking, the similarities were not between Zen and “how a national champion is picked.” Instead they were between Zen and how the ostensible “top two teams” who would play for the national championship got picked.
Which is another way of saying that even after all these years, I’m still finding things I need to correct in that paperback book I published back in 1994, “a long time ago and [what seems like] a galaxy far away.*” (See Star Wars opening crawl – Wikipedia.)
So right about now you may be asking, “What the heck does ‘Zen’ have to do reading the Bible?” The answer? It has to do with reading the Bible “with an open mind.” And that brings up Thomas Merton, along with the next book I wrote. (In 1995, a year after “Zen Football.”)
As I wrote in “JCPD,” Merton (1915-1968) was a Catholic (Trappist) monk. In his later years he found a lot of similarities between his “orthodox” Christianity and the exotic Eastern alternatives – like Zen – that were so popular back in the 1960s. But dallying in these exotic Eastern spiritual disciplines didn’t weaken Merton’s Faith; if anything, they strengthened that faith. As one biographer wrote:
[B]y approaching the spiritual quest at unexpected angles, they opened up new ways of thought and new ways of experiencing that invigorated and released him…
Of course there are those who disagree.* Like the woman in 1989 who said the goal of Zen is to “obliterate rational thinking.” A note: This same woman said Mormonism is a cult and that practicing Hatha Yoga will turn you into some babbling zombie. (Or “words to that effect.”) And just so you know, I’ve been practicing Hatha Yoga for 50 years now. (Since the late 1970’s.) Without a guru and without shaving the hair off my head. (That came with the passage of time.)
Also, 45 years ago – when I started doing yoga – I was a typical child of the 1960s. As I wrote in JCPD, in those younger days I turned my back on the Established Church and “tried different ways of Coming to Terms With Life.*” But then in middle age I found myself coming back to The Church of My Youth. This was despite my misgivings that it was “full of hypocrite fat-cat conservatives, intolerant, self-righteous, narrow-minded.” At this point I could say “some things never change.” However, I’ve come to realize that the Christian Church in America has lots of good, faithful Seekers After Truth. (But still way too many of “that other kind.”) The point being:
Between 1987 and 1993, I went through a life-changing transformation. As I once wrote, “In 1987 I was a godless heathen dirt-bag, but by 1993 I was a church-going pillar of the community.” How did that come about?
As to how that change came about, part of it was listening to that audio book, Zen in the Art of Archery. Then making the connection between Zen and FSU’s football team. And from there – having been “invigorated and released” – going on to see the connection between Jesus Christ and the public defending that I was doing at the time. And from there continuing my Bible studies and serving in my local church, both in Florida and now up in “God’s Country.” (The Atlanta metropolitan area.) And serving in various capacities, including chalicist and Vestry member.
And now for a moment of zen. “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” And if you think that sounds non-Biblical, see Philippians 2:7, where Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” But why?
This is harder than you might realize. By the time we reach adulthood we are so full of information that we don’t even notice it’s there. We might consider ourselves to be open-minded, but in fact, everything we learn is filtered through many assumptions and then classified to fit into the knowledge we already possess.
That’s all from Empty Your Cup, an Old Zen Saying. Another old Zen saying is that 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. Which seems to mirror what Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
So becoming like children again means – among other things – looking at a mountain and seeing … a mountain. Not to mention cleaning those “assumption filters” on a regular basis. (See Dirty Air Filter – Image Results.) And that involves dropping layers of life-long preconceptions, loosening up spiritual “hardened arteries,” and opening up to the majesty of God’s creation and His gift of Jesus. In other words, be open minded, opening up to God. (Like it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”)
The same can apply to our Bible study. Which means in part both reading the Bible itself and getting feedback from other people, other teachers who can help explain how deep the Bible is.
Re: The quote comparing Zen and major college football in the years leading up to 1993. It’s on page 4 of the 69-plus pages of the original paperback. I.e., there was a “scandal” involving FSU football after the 1993 season, but before publication. So I had to add a “(Post Scandal) Post-Script,” on two additional un-numbered pages.
Re: Tantalus. See Wikipedia, noting that he was a Greek god “famous for his punishment in Tartarus… He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.”
Re: “Unlike Zen Football, it’s available in E-book form.” As noted, I published ‘Zen Football’ in 1994. This was before print on demand, so I had to order – and pay for – a thousand copies of the paperback. And to this day I still have 700-800 copies, in boxes strewn around my four-bedroom house in the piney-woods. (So maybe when I die they’ll be worth a gazillion dollars.)
Re: Thomas Merton. In “Jesus Christ Public Defender” I added:
Near the end of his life, Merton traveled to India and Tibet, and at one point interviewed the Dalai Lama. As described in a biography, Merton and the Dalai Lama discussed in part that condition in meditation where “the mind becomes so absorbed in concentration that it forgets itself in ecstasy.”
Re: Merton’s being helped in his spiritual quest by both his Christian mysticism and “a wide knowledge of Oriental religions.” Later in life Merton became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and the Zen writer D. T. Suzuki (q.v.). He studied Taoism, “regular” Buddhism and Hinduism.
Re: “Those who disagree.” In JCPD I cited the 1989 book, Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age, by Ruth Tucker. (See also Wikipedia.) As to Zen, Tucker said it was so “utterly esoteric” that it couldn’t be “rationally understood or explained through language.” She said the goal of Zen is to produce the frame of mind to “obliterate all rational thinking and dependence on language and knowledge in preparation for satori,” ultimate insight or enlightenment. Tucker also characterized yoga, Zen, and most non-Christian religions as cults or false religions, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses…
Tucker also said Yoga – for example – can only be practiced with a “guru,” and its religious nature is disguised; “individuals frequently practice the exercises without, they claim, becoming involved in the actual religion.” She cited an authority who said that as time passed, people doing Hatha Yoga “gradually and imperceptibly begin to accept other concepts which involve definite religious convictions,” and that “yoga cannot be practiced in isolation from other Indian beliefs” like reincarnation...
And just for the record and as noted, I’ve done Hatha Yoga for 50 years now. (Since the 1970’s.) Without a guru, without shaving my head and without becoming a Hare Krishna, thank you very much.
Re: “Child on the 1960s.” The link is to Flower child (or “children”) – Wikipedia, which one philosopher “viewed in Jungian terms as a collective social symbol representing the mood of friendly weakness.” Or those who reject established culture and advocate “extreme liberalism.” (Free Dictionary.) Little of which applied to me, at the time or since.
Re: “As I wrote in JCPD.” Notes and quotes are in Chapter 4: “A brief digression – about the author.”
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 thatpositive 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.
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?”)
. . . 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 13:50; 19:34; Numbers 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…
“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.”
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 eitherthere’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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 firstStanley 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…
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.
Since the COVID hit – some 27 weeks ago* – I’ve been watching a lot of Great Courses Plus on TV. (Instead of cable TV, which I don’t have, or old DVDs.) One of those Great Courses – the lecture on Understanding the Old Testament – was a real eye-opener.
In Lecture 8 of the course – “The Covenant Code in Exodus” – Professor Robert D. Miller II, PhD cited Raymond Westbrook. Westbrook said the so-called “law codes” of Old Testament times were not – strictly speaking – statutory commands like the ones we know today. Instead they were the equivalent of school texts, “as if you’re teaching someone law.” He noted that in law school, teachers often start with borderline, theoretical scenarios. By starting with such “weird cases,” students can then move on to more-easily solved “ordinary” real-life situations.
One such “weird case” in the Bible – Miller said – was Exodus 21:22. (Basically asking, “how often do ‘men strive’ and injure a pregnant women?” The passage is addressed further below.) Starting with that unlikely scenario, a professor could move on to endless hypothetical examples. And all of them would be ripe with potential of educating people about the law. (Another note: Miller began the segment by saying such ancient Near-Eastern codes – like the Code of Hammurabi, strikingly similar to parts of the Torah – were never intended to be a “binding law code.”)
Miller went on to say that many such ancient law codes look more like a “Babylonian medical curriculum,” in that they were “descriptive, not prescriptive.” And finally he noted that the true meaning of Torah in Hebrew was closer to “instruction” or “teaching” rather than “The Law.” See also Torah – Definition(from Torah Resources International), which notes the “torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction,teaching, instruction,or doctrine.”
So instead of “law” as we understand that word today, much of the Torah is – according to Miller and Westbrook – more closely related to “school texts,” “curriculum,” “teaching,” and “hypotheticals.” Which brings up the “weird case” noted above – Exodus 21:22 – along with Book of Job as a whole.
In other words, the Book of Job does seem to be a “hypothetical,” as Miller and Westbrook noted. See Hypotheticals – Wikipedia, referring to “possible situations, statements or questions about something imaginary rather than something real.” In other words hypotheticals deal with the concept of “what if?” (As in, “What if there were a man – besides Jesus – who was totally without sin, yet bad things kept happening to him?”) In turn they are important learning tools “because they provide a means for understanding what we would do if the world was different.”
I’ve discussed the Book of Job in earlier posts, included in the notes, but getting back to the OT reading mentioned above, Exodus 21:22: It too seems more like a possible “hypothetical situation,” of the type law students dissect in their course studies. (Again, asking the question, “how often do ‘men strive’ and injure a pregnant women?”)
Which brings up the case study method that law schools are known for: The teaching method using “decision-forcing cases to put students in the role of people who were faced with difficult decisions at some point in the past.” Put another way, unlike other teaching methods, “the case method requires that instructors refrain from providing their own opinions about the decisions in question. Rather, the chief task of instructors who use the case method is asking students to devise, describe, and defend solutions to the problems presented by each case.”
In other words both Exodus 21:22 and Job seem to be “hypotheticals,” designed to teach students how to work with “the Law,” rather than a set of hard and fast “laws” to be followed literally. (Consider Job 10:18, “Why did you deliver me from my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?” Taken out of context, or too literally, it could cause no end of trouble…)
Which may be why Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
In English, it is called The Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the official translation of the Roman Missal, while the 1973 translation called it The Triumph of the Cross. In some parts of the Anglican Communion the feast is called Holy Cross Day…
As to weeks of “the Covid,” see On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. I explained that, to me “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – 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.” For my weekly-quotas, the week from Monday, March 16 to Sunday night, March 22d.
Re: Job as “‘imaged’ at right.” Courtesy of the Wikipedia article, the full caption: “Carved wooden figure of Job. Probably from Germany, 1750–1850 CE. The Wellcome Collection, London.”
For more on hypotheticals – in the “law school” sense – see Legal definition of Hypothetical Question: “A mixture of assumed or established facts and circumstances, developed in the form of a coherent and specific situation, which is presented to an expert witness at a trial to elicit his or her opinion.“ (The “coherent a nd specific” errata were in the original.
Further, such a question “contains a mixture of assumed or established facts or circumstances, in the form of a coherent and specific situation, presented to an expert witness at trial to elicit his or her opinion.” And such a question “includes all the facts in evidence needed to form an opinion.” Then, based on the assumption that those facts are true, “the witness is asked whether he or she can arrive at an opinion, and if so, to state it.”
Re: Exodus 21:22: The complete passage goes on to verses 23-25:
Note that this “Lex talionis” or an eye for an eye was a rule of limitation. requiring the perpetrator be punished only as much as the victim suffered, as opposed to unlimited or ongoing revenge. “Without it, a wrongful injury might give rise to wrongful retaliatory injuries in excess of the original loss or harm, which, in turn, would be retaliated for, and so on ad infinitum.” The ‘lex talionis’ before and after criminal law.Note too this passage has been used on both sides of the abortion debate. (Google “exodus 21:22 abortion.”)
Re: Earlier posts on the Book of Job. See On Job, the not-so-patient, from 2014, and On “Job the not patient” – REDUX, from 2015.I just reviewed the latter post just before publishing this post, and it’s worth doing another redux in the near future.The ending: “[A]s Isaac Asimov put it, ‘At the end of God’s speech, Job realizes divine omnipotence and understands the folly or trying to penetrate God’s plan and purposes with the limited mind of a human being.’ (487) And that’s a lesson we need to keep on learning…” (This was right after noting an image that humans are no more prepared to comprehend the full measure of God’s power than “cats are prepared to study calculus.”)
The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, with the full caption: “Guido Reni‘s painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican.”See also Purgatory – Wikipedia, about the “intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification.” In other words, instead of the two “pass/fail” options of heaven and hell, “purgatory” provides a third alternative, a temporary place where one undergoes a purifying “fire” that is “expiatory and purifying not punitive like hell fire.”
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 “Fred” – 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 Fred. 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.”)
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.
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 metaphoricalanalogy.”
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 Interpretation, so 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 Fred 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!“
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 Fred.” 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: “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.”