Monthly Archives: May 2014

A review (5/30/14)

http://cdn-media-1.lifehack.org/wp-content/files/2012/07/weekly-review.jpg

 

It’s May 30, 2014, a good time for an end-of-the-month review.

(A side-note:  This review was aided and abetted by The Scribe’s preparing a “Volume 1” collection of blog-posts, for both a paperback book and e-book version.   So if all goes according to plan, that Volume 1 will be followed by other volumes as well…)

For starters, and as noted in the “About” page, this blog focuses on Jesus’ “Big Three.”

First, He promised He would never turn away anyone who came to Him. (John 6:37.)   Second, He said He wanted His followers to lead a life of abundance; “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10.)  Third, Jesus expects that those who believe in Him will do greater works and perform greater miracles than He did.  (John 14:12.)

In turn a main theme of this blog is that you simply can’t fulfill those promises if you have a closed mind: “this Blog is about reading the Bible with an open mind.  Period.”

The pay-off for all this work is also pretty simple:

…the discipline of regular Bible-reading could lead to a capacity to transcend the painful and negative aspects of life, and the ability to live with “serenity and inner peace.”   On the other hand, the discipline could also lead to a your developing a “zest, a fervor and gusto in life plus a much higher ability to function.”

See Some Bible basics from Vince Lombardi and Charlie Chan, which added that in order to help us out, Jesus provided a kind of “Cliff’s Note” summary of the basic message of the Bible:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

File:CliffnotesRomeoAndJulietCover.jpg

Next, the blog-post Spiritual boot camp  indicated that the process of growing – spiritually or otherwise – presupposes your making a number of failures along the way, and indeed that overcoming those failures is a major part of becoming “all that you can be…

“You will make [mistakes] anyway and will be much more comfortable – and get along better with this exercise – if you give yourself permission in advance…”   Again and again, gently but firmly, the [practitioner] brings himself back to the discipline.  With each slip-up or mistake, “you should say the equivalent of ‘oh, that’s where I am now” [and] to “bind ourselves with humor and compassion at our own lack of discipline…”  But could that idea apply to each and every Pilgrim on his or her quest to reach God?

“So maybe the ‘good Christian’ should also begin by knowing he’s trying to do something he knows is impossible, physically, emotionally or spiritually.  No matter how hard we try, we can never, for more than ‘one brief shining moment,’ love God with all our heart, mind and soul.  Nor can we, for more than a moment, fulfill the Second Great Commandment, to love even our most obnoxious neighbors as ourselves.

“But we try anyway, and maybe in the process we become more adept at living life in all its abundance, just like Jesus promised in John 10:10…”

 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

 

The “review” image is courtesy of http://cdn-media-1.lifehack.org/wp-content/files/2012/07/weekly-review.jpg.

The Cliff’s note image is courtesy of Cliffs Notes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The “Army” image is courtesy of http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.

See also Slogans of the United States Army – Wikipedia, the free …, which said “be all that you can be” was the recruiting slogan of the Army for the 20 years from 1980 to 2001.  But see also The Army’s “Be All You Can Be” Campaign – Armed Forces & Society, which noted a certain “disconnect” between potential recruits and those who had already enlisted:

[T]here is a wide gap between the promises of Army advertising and the actual performance of the Army in keeping its promises.  This perception was expressed by many soldiers as disillusionment, frustration, and anger.  The advertisements appear to damage soldier morale, commitment to the military, and reenlistment potential.  For both ethical and pragmatic reasons it is suggested that future advertising should be designed with a concern for both effectiveness and honesty

There’s no doubt a valuable lesson there somewhere…

 

 

 

 

On Jesus in Hell

File:Christ's Descent into Limbo by Dürer .png

Christ’s Descent into Limbo, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (circa 1510)

 

The previous post –  On the readings for June 1 –  noted that the second reading for Sunday, June 1, was 1st Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11.  In turn, passages from this First Letter of Peter have led to scholarly debate about Jesus going to Hell (or “Limbo”), in the days between His crucifixion and resurrection.  It also led to the concept of “the harrowing of hell.”

Note that readings from the Peter’s First Letter have been the featured second Bible reading since April 27, the Sunday after Easter, aka the Second Sunday of Easter.

Among those readings – specifically, the one for May 25 – was 1 Peter 3:19–20, in which this first Bishop of Rome said that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison [i.e., those in hell at the time of His resurrection], because they formerly did not obey…”  Then in 1 Peter 4:6 the Apostle added, “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (E.a.)

Those passages led to the concept of the harrowing of hell:

This is the Old English and Middle English term for the triumphant descent of Christ into hell (or Hades) between the time of His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, when, according to Christian belief, He brought salvation to the souls held captive there since the beginning of the world…   Writers of Old English prose homilies and lives of saints continually employ the subject, but it is in medieval English literature that it is most fully found, both in prose and verse, and particularly in the drama.

See CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Harrowing of Hell – New Advent.   In other words, like much of the rest of the Bible, this concept of the harrowing of hell has provided a rich “mother lode” of material for art and literature, and has throughout history.

On that note, see for example, The Bible as Literature | the Bible ~ a literary work and an …:

We’ll take a look at how universal stories, themes, metaphors, and characterizations surface in the Bible, and explore the many literary forms and genres that can be found there: poetry, narratives, epistles, proverbs, parables, satire, and visionary writing.

All of which provides another reason for reading and studying the Bible: to find grist for becoming a better, more-productive and more fascinating artist or member of the literati.

Then too it might also be said that in his First Letter, the Apostle Peter advanced the whole concept of “life after life.”  (See e.g. Raymond Moody – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

 

File:Life After Life (Moody book).jpg

That is, the  “Old Testament view of the afterlife was that all people, whether righteous or unrighteous, went to Sheol when they died.  No Hebrew figure ever descended into Sheol and returned, although an apparition of the recently deceased Samuel briefly appeared to Saul when summoned by the Witch of Endor.”  It wasn’t until the “Second Temple period,” beginning about 515 B.C.*, that some Hebrew writers began to “elaborate the concept of Sheol, dividing it into sections based on the righteousness or unrighteousness of those who have died.” See Harrowing of Hell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In other words, our concept of the – or an – Afterlife has apparently developed over the centuries since “the Witch of Endor” (seen below).   One constant has remained:  “The above views share the traditional Christian belief in the immortality of the soul.” (Wikipedia.)  See also the post On Ascension Day, with a note on the First Law of Thermodynamics.

There is a third constant, as noted in the Daily Office reading for May 28, the Eve of Ascension (Day).   That is, the revelation of Psalm 68:20 came as The Scribe was struggling mightily to bring this post to a suitable end (and so that “revelation” may well have been preordained before the beginning of time).  Psalm 68:20 reads – in the Book of Common Prayer version on page 677 – “God is the Lord, by whom we escape death.”

So all in all, “death” – like New Jersey – would seem to be a pretty good place to escape from.  In the meantime it’s reassuring to think that Jesus would “go to hell” on our behalf…

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/BenjaminWest-Saul-and-the-Witch-of-Endor-1777.jpg

Saul and the Witch of Endor, Benjamin West (1777)

 

Other references of possible interest include: Paradise – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Zohar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or Heaven – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

As to “515 B.C.”  Herein The Scribe will be using the old-fashioned B.C. – “before Christ” – rather than the newer, pointy-headed liberal denomination, “before the Common Era.” See Common Era – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  “The CE/BCE notation has been adopted by some authors and publishers wishing to be neutral or sensitive to non-Christians because it does not explicitly make use of religious titles for Jesus, such as ‘Christ’ and Dominus (‘Lord’), which are used in the BC/AD notation, nor does it give implicit expression to the Christian creed that Jesus was the Christ.”  (E.a.)  See also, Anno Domini – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

The “Witch of Endor” image is courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/BenjaminWest-Saul-and-the-Witch-of-Endor-1777.jpg.

See also Saul and the Witch of Endor | West, Benjamin | V&A Search the …:   “The subject comes from the Old Testament, the First book of Samuel, chapter 28, and describes a visit by King Saul to the Witch of Endor and the apparition of the ghost of Samuel who informs him of his impending defeat and death.  Such subjects rejected the quiet dignity of classical history painting in favour of protagonists ruled by their emotions and fearful of death. The emphasis was on human frailty in the face of forces beyond the rational.”

On the readings for June 1

http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/214297/1/Lion-Devouring-A-Rabbit.jpg

Lion Devouring a Rabbit, by Eugene Delacroix.  (See the second reading below…)

 

 

The RCL Bible readings for Sunday, June 1, are:

Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1st Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, and John 17:1-11.

The first reading – Acts 1:6-14 – is about Jesus telling His disciples – some six weeks after His resurrection – that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, and that they were then to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Then came The Ascension, as described in the post On Ascension Day.

While the disciples were standing there on Mount Olivet, two men in white robes appeared and asked why the disciples were looking up into the sky.  They explained that Jesus, having been “taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The reading concluded with the disciples returning the “Sabbath day’s” journey back to Jerusalem, where they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

That is, the disciples had a far different reaction to this parting, compared to the initial one when they thought Jesus had been killed, as the International Bible Commentary (IBC) noted:

…robbed again of their beloved Master within a few short weeks of His reappearance in resurrection life, this time they are neither depressed nor dispirited, but superlatively happy

(See the IBC commentary on Luke 24:50-52.)  This of course fits in with the theme of this Blog, that Jesus came to earth mainly to insure that His followers would be able to experience life in all its abundance.  (See John 10:0.)

That doesn’t mean that such followers can go around blithely ignoring the very real dangers inherent in this life here on earth, a point that Peter made in the second reading below.

But in between the first and second readings come portions of Psalm 68, which the IBC described as “God’s Triumphal Procession.”  (The IBC also added that it was one of the most difficult psalms “both to translate and to interpret.”)  The psalm’s prelude – verses 1 to 6 – “calls the people to the worship of the God who protects them from all their enemies and cares for them in all their troubles.”   And the full psalm “has been associated with the ascension of Jesus,” with a look at the past, present and especially the future, and so anticipating “God’s final victory and universal sovereignty.”  Of particular interest is verse 3: “let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful.”

But between “now and then” – God’s final victory – there is that time “on the road to Jesus” (John 6:37), with its very real dangers.  Thus the main theme of the second reading – 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 – is that the followers of Jesus are to be steadfast in their faith. (See also First Epistle of Peter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)  But the Apostle added:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.  Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

(That is, you don’t want to end up like the rabbit in the Delacroix painting.)

And finally, the Gospel reading – John 17:1-11 – is part of the “great prayer of Jesus,” as the IBC described John 17:1-26.  Note that in this prayer – before His crucifixion – Jesus “consecrated Himself for the work which He is about to undertake,” after which He prayed for His disciples and the ordeal that they were about to begin:

“Father, the hour has come…   I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do….   I have made your name known…   And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. “

 

So the lesson – especially from the second reading from 1 Peter- could be this:

 

http://api.ning.com/files/HbWmngpSBZZrUu-5tO6yQxzT-yapP2aih7MX-o7vLPFDTzhgIq8etUXz2WZFegjNxGUhQMmnHbMVV*-0LXhxiA__/staysafeoutthere.jpg?width=320&height=238

 

The upper image – Lion Devouring a Rabbit, by Eugene Delacroix – is courtesy of http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/214297/1/Lion-Devouring-A-Rabbit.jpg.

For the full Sunday readings see The Lectionary Page.

As to “a Sabbath day’s journey.”  See How Far was a “Sabbath Days Journey” – Bible History Online, which indicated that from the time of Joshua to the time of Jesus, the distance a devout Hebrew could travel on the Sabbath was gradually and continually expanded.   In other words, they weren’t strict or “conservative,” but rather used a liberal interpretation of Scripture:  “Over the centuries the authorities within the rabbinical circles of Judaism found ways, from examining the miniscule details of the law, to increase the distance that an Israelite may travel on the Sabbath day.”

See also BibleGateway.com Dictionaries: SABBATH DAY’S JOURNEY, which indicated the distance was “supposed to be a distance of 2,000 cubits, or less than half-a-mile, the distance to which, according to Jewish tradition, it was allowable to travel on the Sabbath day without violating the law (Acts 1:12; comp. Ex. 16:29; Num. 35:5; Josh. 3:4).”

 

The “let’s be careful” image is courtesy of http://api.ning.com/files/HbWmngpSBZZrUu-5tO6yQxzT-yapP2aih7MX-o7vLPFDTzhgIq8etUXz2WZFegjNxGUhQMmnHbMVV*-0LXhxiA__/staysafeoutthere.jpg?width=320&height=238.

I.e., that lower image is a “cut” from the old Hill Street Blues TV series; the “American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987.” See Hill Street Blues – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

 

On “Patton,” Sunday School teacher

File:Patton during a welcome home parade in Los Angeles, June 9, 1945.jpg

General George Patton (lower right), at a “welcome home” parade; Los Angeles, June 1945.

 

It’s fitting on Memorial Day, 2014, to remember someone like George Patton, who was at once heroic and controversial.   For example, there’s a scene in the movie Patton, where the general spoke to a group of Army chaplains who’ve been touring the front.  Part of the tour included Patton’s private quarters, where one chaplain noticed a Bible.  Knowing the tremendous responsibilities at stake, the chaplain asked if Patton actually had time to read that Bible.

Patton said, “I sure do.  Every Goddamn day.”

*   *   *   *

He cursed like a sailor and believed in reincarnation, but Patton was a devout Episcopalian, as shown in the film starring George C. Scott.

For example, Patton was at a low point in his career during World War II, after the “slapping incident” in Sicily.  He was almost sent home in disgrace, but he found comfort in Psalm 63.

The film showed Patton praying, then going out to apologize to the troops. As he went, he recited Psalm 63, “humble and defiant.”  As abbreviated – and in the King James version, naturally – the psalm went like this: “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee…  But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword, they shall be a portion for foxes…   Everyone that sweareth by Him shall glory. But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.”

Later in the war, after his Third Army helped overrun German forces in France, the Germans counter-attacked in the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge.  The coldest winter in Europe’s history helped the Germans with terrible weather; snow, ice, and fog.  It kept the planes of the Army Air Corps grounded, unable to help. It got so bad Patton ordered his chaplain to write a “weather prayer.” The prayer, he thought, would help his tanks break through to the 101st Airborne, surrounded in Bastogne.  The prayer went like this:

Patton's Prayer

 

*   *   *   *

Patton also believed in reincarnation. According to websites, he believed that he had served in previous lives as a soldier under Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), and later as Julius Caesar himself.   To a nephew Patton once said, “I don’t know about other people, but for myself … I know there are places I’ve been before, and not in this life.”

Which brings up another scene from the movie.  While riding in a jeep with General Omar Bradley, Patton “sniffed out” the site of an ancient battle, between Carthaginians and Romans 2,000 years before.  Patton said, “I was here,” then turned to Bradley and added, “You don’t believe me, do you Brad?”  He then added, “You know what the poet said:”

Through the travail of ages,midst the pomp and toils of war,have I fought and strove and perished, countless times among the stars.  As if through a glass and darkly,the age old strife I see, when I fought in many guises and many names, but always me.

Patton then asked, “Do you know who the poet was?” When Bradley smiled slightly and shook his head, Patton answered, “Me.”   Which raises an interesting question.  Would Patton’s belief in reincarnation – or his cursing like a sailor – keep him out of heaven, despite all that he did for America, democracy and freedom in World War II?

*   *   *   *

In the end, Patton was both a devoted Bible-reader and a man of deep faith.  He was a man who accomplished much in the one life that we know he had.  But just like Robert E. Lee – another devout Episcopalian you may have heard of – Patton didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve.  He had a job to do and he did it, and for the most part kept his private religion private. It’s hard to think that God (or St. Peter) would keep George Patton out of heaven just because he cursed “like a sailor” or believed in reincarnation.  It would ever so boring without him… 

And by the way, “Old Blood and Guts” also taught Sunday School at the Church of Our Savior San Gabriel California, as shown below:

 

The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

As to Patton’s belief in reincarnation, see also George S. Patton – Wikiquote , which included the following, from “a letter to his mother from Chamlieu, France, during World War I, revealing some of his speculations about reincarnation,” dated 20 November 1917:

I wonder if I could have been here before as I drive up the Roman road the Theater seems familiar — perhaps I headed a legion up that same white road…  I passed a chateau in ruins which I possibly helped escalade in the middle ages.  There is no proof nor yet any denial. We were, We are, and we will be. 

The “Patton Prayer” image is courtesy of the generalpatton.com website, http://www.generalpatton.com/images/prayercard.jpg.

The “New Patton Role” image is courtesy of Church of Our Savior San Gabriel California, the church Patton attended (when possible).

 

On Ascension Day

File:Obereschach Pfarrkirche Fresko Fugel Christi Himmelfahrt crop.jpg

 

 

 

The Ascension of Christ,Gebhard Fugel 

 

Ascension Day is always celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.  (In 2014 it falls on May 29).  This major Feast Day – ranking with Easter and Pentecost – commemorates “the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven.”

The Gospel of Luke ends with the “Great Commission,” followed by the Ascension, like the end of Mark (16:15-20).  Luke’s version – at 24:44-53 – goes like this:

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you…  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…”   Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven

According to tradition, Luke also wrote the book, Acts of the Apostles, that follows the Gospel of John.  Acts begins like this:  “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven…”

Incidentally, there’s debate whether this Theophilus referred to a real person or was a generic title. See Theophilus – Wikipedia.  The name – in the original “refined Koine Greek” – can mean either “beloved of God” or  “Friend of God,” and thus some authorities feel that “both Luke and Acts were addressed to anyone who fits that description.”

In that sense Theophilus can be seen as like the name Israel, as in the name-change from Jacob to Israel, with Israel meaning – literally – “He who struggles with God.”  In the metaphoric sense, the name Israel could refer to anyone and everyone who “struggles with the idea of God.”

(See the post Arguing with God, which noted in part that maybe Christians are “supposed to ‘argue with God…’   Maybe, just maybe, that’s how we get spiritually stronger, by ‘resistance training’ rather than passively accepting anything and everything in the Bible, without question or questioning.”)

Which brings up the “bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.”

Some people might have a problem with that, or with the underlying idea that there is indeed “life after life,” for each and every one of us.  (In that sense – the sense of a “life” or incarnation for us after this one – Jesus as “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” – Hebrews 12:2 – may have been merely showing us the way by and through His own “Ascension,” in front of witnesses.)

As to those who may have a problem grasping the idea that our souls may continue on after we leave this life and “move on to the next level,” consider the First Law of Thermodynamics.  That law of physics states that “energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.”  Or put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changes form. See First law of thermodynamics – Wikipedia.

So if the human soul is a form of energy – an idea that seems self-evident – then it too can neither be created nor destroyed, but simply changes form.  Which brings up the question: “Where was my soul before I was born?”  Then there’s the question raised by this May 29 Feast Day:  “And what about the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven?”

Sounds like it’s time for a bit more “arm-wrestling with God…”

http://www.armpullers.com/images/Arm-Wrestling-World-Wide.gif

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia article, Feast of the Ascension – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  See also Ascension of Jesus – Wikipedia.

The full Bible readings for Ascension Day can be found at The Lectionary Page.

As to the question, “Where was my soul before I was born?”  That brings to mind a meditation from the Kaballah (basically, “Jewish mysticism”). See e.g. Kabbalah – Wikipedia.  In the meditation, you imagine your soul, before you were born, in the situational-equivalent of sitting around a kitchen table. You are sitting around this hypothetical table with other souls yet to be born.  With these other souls, you talk about your future life, looking ahead to what you might accomplish in your upcoming “incarnation.”  But of course, all of this discussion occurs against the backdrop of knowing anything and everything you talk about will be erased from memory at birth.  (“Arm-wrestling,” anyone?)

The “arm-wrestling” image is courtesy of www.armpullers.com/images/Arm-Wrestling-World-Wide.gif.

On praying in public

http://www.themonastery.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Jesus-Prayer.png

An illustration of the rhetorical device of irony

 

The caption above is ironic because Jesus said exactly the opposite – literally – in Matthew 6:6.  In the King James Version – the Bible that God uses – Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “And when thou prayest, enter into thy closet…”

Matthew 6:6 is part of the Daily Office Reading (DOR) for Monday, May 19.  The full reading was Matthew 6:1-6, and 16-18, which began with Jesus saying, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”  Instead, “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

That passage gave rise to the  common English expression, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”   And while the phrase is now “generally a term of derision for an organization where different members are pursuing opposing or contradictory goals,” in the passage in Matthew, Jesus arguably presented such “lack of coordination as an ideal.”

(So much for “strictly” interpreting the Bible.)

Jesus began on the matter of praying in public one verse earlier, in Matthew 6:5:

“…whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…”

That brings up the recent Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway.  It prompted a blog-post by Frank Kirkpatrick of the Huffington Post, The Hollowness of Public Prayer.  Kirkpatrick noted an alternative to trying to distinguish merely-ceremonial prayer from prayers with substance, as the Supreme Court seemed to do.  “Far better to prohibit any and all prayers, substantive and ceremonial, from public gatherings. Let the faithful pray before they come to the meetings or afterwards or perhaps silently during them.”

Then there’s school prayer.  One website said, “Perhaps no aspect of the church-state controversy arouses more emotion and discussion than the subject of prayer in the public schools.”  See School Prayer: News – Secular Web, and School prayer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   But see also Prayer in School Affects all of Society | Creation Today:  “Since prayer was eliminated from public schools, the quality of education has shown a steady statistical decline.  Is there a link between the two?

(As to, “is there a link?” see Post hoc ergo propter hoc – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Under that reasoning, it could be said since the Roman Empire collapsed shortly after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, that was the cause of the collapse, but we digress…)

To review: on the one hand some say that praying should be done in private, while others say that public prayer – especially prayer in schools – would both set a necessary standard for students, and prevent the declining morality that’s been so evident in the years since 1962.

But what does the Bible say?

We know that from the DOR Gospel for Monday, May 19, 2014, to wit, Matthew 6:6:  “whenever you pray, go into your room [or closet] and shut the door…”

So what’s the “plain meaning” of this passage?

Christians who interpret the Bible “conservatively” – strictly or literally – should say that in a passage like this, the plain meaning of what Jesus said is perfectly clear.  As one website said, “The Bible must be interpreted literally which is the way language is normally and naturally understood.”  Or there is the Golden Rule of Interpretation:  “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; Therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning…”  See Do You Interpret the Bible Literally? – Middletown Bible church.  (Or you could just type “Bible plain meaning” in your search engine.)

That should be the end of the story, if you consistently apply the strict and conservative “plain meaning” of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:6.  (See also, for example,  “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it, God said it, I believe it, that settles it : Dictionary of …, or – in a YouTube version – Homosexuality & The Bible 1: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

But that great philosopher Henny Youngman might have summed it up best by saying:

 

Take school prayer…  Please!

 

Henny Youngman.jpg

The upper image is courtesy of http://d8rew5imyp13e.cloudfront.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Jesus-Prayer.png.   As to “alms,” see the Wikipedia article and/or alms definition of alms by the Free Online Dictionary, …

On “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”   See the Wikipedia article, Matthew 6:3 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

On “take school prayer…”    This refers to a classic Henny Youngman joke.  Youngman (1906-1998) was known for his one-liners, and his best-known was ‘Take my wife… please.’”   Henny Youngman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

An FYI:  The joke relied on the principle of dislocation, as used in comedy, but also in magic and the martial arts in general. See, Shinogi – Budotheory.ca, which mentioned three types of dislocation: positional, temporal, and functional.  And a magician of course is also known as an illusionist.  See the Wikipedia article, Magic (illusion) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and also Alex Davies – Dislocation.  Finally, see The Internet Classics Archive | The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which noted the saying of Sun Tzu (q.v.), the ancient Chinese philosopher who said, “The fundamental principle of the Art of War is deception,” or in other words, dislocating your opponent.

So anyway, in the classic one-liner – told literally “a century ago” – the audience was led to expect Youngman to say “for example” when he began; as in, “Take my wife… for example.”  But instead of saying “for example,” Youngman dislocated his audience by saying, “Take my wife…  Please!

 

 

 

On Moses and “illeism”

File:Bob Dole, PCCWW photo portrait.JPG

“Bob Dole doesn’t like that…*”

 

The Old Testament reading in the Daily Office for Saturday, May 17, is Exodus 40:18-38, where seven times Moses used the phrase:  “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  That brings up illeism, the practice of referring to yourself in the third person.

Chapter 40 ends the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses, about Moses, and by Moses, and about his leading the Children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and into freedom.

The next book, Leviticus, begins (in the King James Version; the one God uses), “And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation…”  As noted, tradition says that Moses wrote this book himself.

In the reading for Saturday, May 17, Moses built a “portable dwelling place” for God.

He set up the tabernacle, spread a tent over it and put a tent-covering over that, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”    He took the Ark of the Covenant – as in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – and put it in the tent, “and screened the ark of the covenant; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  He put a table in the tent and “set the bread in order on it before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   Then he set up lampstand,  “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   He put an altar in and “fragrant incense on it; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  He set a screen in front and presented “the burnt-offering and the grain-offering as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   He set up a basin with water, so Moses, his brother Aaron and/or Aaron’s sons could wash before approaching the altar, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

This then was the portable dwelling place for God (as “modeled” below), as He went with the Hebrews in their 40 years of wandering, before they entered their Promised Land.

File:Stiftshuette Modell Timnapark.jpg

That brings up illeism, “referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person,” used as a stylistic device in literature, while in real life it can reflect “different stylistic intentions…”

Julius Caesar used the device in his Commentaries about the Gallic Wars, while Xenophon of Athens – from whom the term xenophobia derives – used it in Anabasis, “‘one of the great adventures in human history,’ as Will Durant expressed the common assessment.”

Both Caesar’s Commentaries and Anabasis were, as Wikipedia put it, “ostensibly non-fictional accounts of wars led by their authors,” who used the device “to impart an air of objective impartiality to the account, which included justifications of the author’s actions.  In this way personal bias is presented, albeit dishonestly, as objectivity.”

Another note: Tradition says Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In those books Moses told the story of the Hebrew people, from the beginning of time up to the time Moses was about to die and the Hebrews were about to enter their Promised Land.

Which brings up a question.  In modern terms:  What did Moses know, and when did he know it?  When did Moses find out he was “on a mission from God?”  At the Burning Bush?  Before then, when he killed the Egyptian overseer?  More important, when did he start taking notes for this massive work, five of the most influential books in the history of the world?

So the better question might be:  When did Moses write, and when did he write it?

One answer is to ignore the question.  “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  (Another way of saying, “For heaven’s sake, don’t make me think?“)  That approach seems to say super-heroes wrote the Bible and we shouldn’t even think we can become anything like them.

There is another approach.  At some point in his life, Moses had an experience that led him to believe he’d been spoken to by The Force That Created The Universe.  That experience changed the life of Moses and altered the course of history in a way seldom repeated.  And so you might think maybe – just maybe – the Bible was written by people very much like us, and the only difference is they – like Moses – had a “mystic experience with the Divine,” and we haven’t, yet.

Isn’t that what going to church should be about?  Isn’t that especially true because – as Jesus said in John 14:2 – He expects us to perform greater miracles than He did, and by extension, greater miracles than Moses?   (Of course that would mean a lot of work.) 

To be continued…

 

File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpg

Moses doesn’t like this. Moses doesn’t like this one bit…

 

*  The Bob Dole image is courtesy of Wikipedia.   As for his habit of speaking of himself in the third person, see Urban Dictionary: Bob Dole, which defined him as:  “A guy who ran for president against Bill Clinton.  Known for speaking of himself in the third person…   [Example:] ‘Bob Dole doesn’t like this.  Bob Dole doesn’t like this one bit.'”

On the original tabernacle, see: Tabernacle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Xenophobia is excessive and irrational fear of anything foreign. This fear is most often of foreign people, places or objects. People who are xenophobic may display fear or even anger toward others who are foreign. See What Is Xenophobia? – Psychology – About.com.
What did Moses know, and when did he know it?”   An allusion to the Watergate hearings. 
See Howard Baker – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaIn 1973-74, Baker was a ranking minority member of “the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, that investigated the Watergate scandal.  Baker is famous for having asked aloud, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”, a question given him by his counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson.”   Another site noted that the question “became a Washington mantra.”    For a 36-second clip, see Howard Baker asks Dean what did the president know and when did

On sin and cybernetics

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.png

You can’t hit the target without “negative feedback…”

 

In his 1969 book Psycho-cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz compared the human subconscious mind to a goal-striving guidance system.  That is, the human subconscious is like a self-guided missile aimed (metaphorically) “at an enemy ship or plane.”

Maltz said such “missiles” need information to process positive and negative feedback.  If the missile is on the right course it gets positive feedback, and makes no change and stays on the the proper course.  But if it strays, it needs negative feedback to get back on course.

He said any goal-striving mechanism – e.g. the human subconscious – needs a corrective, so if the missile is too far to the right, it compensates by moving to the left.  If the device overcompensates (too far to the left), the device moves the missile back to the right.  As Maltz said, “The torpedo accomplishes its goal by going forward, making errors, and continually correcting them.  By a series of zigzags, it literally ‘gropes’ its way to the goal.”

(Wouldn’t it be nice if a Christian felt equally free to “go forward and make errors,” on the way to his or her objective, without “feeling guilty?”)

Maltz said the more visible corrections in humans can be seen in the way a baby learns to walk or pick up toys, or (at a later stage) in a teenager learning how to drive.  And hopefully, that kind of “self correction” goes on throughout our lives.

We also seem to do just that whenever we try to improve or do something we “should do.”

Take dieting, “please.” We start with good intentions but usually try to lose too much weight too soon.  Then we lose heart (feel guilty) because we couldn’t stick to our diet through “will power.” Then “we” go off on an eating binge that puts back most of the weight we lost in the first place.  Then we start feeling really guilty, and go back on the diet.  Thus we literally grope our way toward the goal (target) of losing weight.

Which is another way of saying that most people don’t diet successfully the first time.  They succeed by getting a little better each time.  In time, they eat less when they binge and get a bit more realistic when they return to the diet.  With both positive and negative feedback, the good dieter gropes his way forward.

*  *  *  *

Which raises a question.  To paraphrase Maltz, what would happen if a missile didn’t get any negative feedback?  Would the missile or arrow ever hit the target if it never knew when it “strayed?”  The answer:  Without negative feedback, it wouldn’t.

Maybe the same thing applies to “sin,” and those who think the whole idea is too troublesome to worry about.  (Maybe the same kind of people who think those who go to church every week are too negative – and hypocrites to boot – because they’ve visibly failed to get better.) And maybe there’s something positive about the negative idea of “sin.”  Maybe we – like “guided missiles” – need to know when and where we “stray off course.”

Maybe that’s what this whole business of confession and sin is all about.  When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals.  We “miss the target.”  And when we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were, rather than blithely ignoring the problem or acting as if we need no improvement.

But those who realize their mistakes – and make corrections – will get that much closer to the target next time.  And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty, as some who-call-themselves-Christians seem to imply.

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.”

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)

 

http://fslumc.org/clientimages/54337/abundant%20life.jpg

The “arrow” image is courtesy of http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890×556.png.

On Maltz and his book, see Psycho-Cybernetics – Wikipedia.  

On that note – and perhaps anticipating the protests of religious conservatives – Maltz hastened to add that he was not saying “’You’ are a machine,” but rather that each person possesses a machine, in the form of the subconscious mind, in much the same way a person’s physical body can be viewed as a “machine.”  In his or her subconscious mind, each person has a tool, “put there by the Creator,” to achieve success in everyday life.  

The “vicious diet” image is courtesy of www.weightlosspatchesreview.com/news/yo-yo-dieting.

The “sin” image is courtesy of www.bu.edu/today/2012/evolving-ideas-of-sin, referring to the book by Paula Fredriksen, Sin: The Early History of an Idea (Princeton University Press, 2012). 

The “abundantly” image is courtesy of http://fslumc.org/clientimages/54337/abundant%20life.jpg.

 

 

 

On the readings for May 25

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/files/2013/06/areopagus.jpg

Paul speaking in the Areopagus…

 

The Bible readings for May 25 are: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1st Peter 3:13-22, and John 14:15-21,  according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

In Acts 17:22-31, Paul spoke in the Areopagus, “north-west of the Acropolis in Athens. In classical times, it functioned as the high Court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases.”  As the International Bible Commentary noted, this was an opportunity “unexpectedly provided for a Christian witness before the intellectual elite of the day.”  The IBC also noted that this was the first encounter “between the Christian message and Greek philosophy.”

He first noted that the Athenians in his audience were extremely religious, but worshiped “an unknown god.”  He then compared that with the living God he worshiped, and further that, “‘In him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.'”   (Paul was referring to a line from the Greek poet Aratus.)

He then indicated the time of such blissful ignorance was over, and that it was time to repent and turn to God.   Unfortunately, some Christians prefer to focus on that “regret,” as if that’s all a believer is called to do.  In that view, a “good Christian” is supposed to do nothing but go around feeling sorry for himself – and calling on everyone around him to feel the same way –  which in turn tends to make people miserable.  But such Christians forget that repentance is just a tool, not an end in itself.  Repentance is or should be a tool leading to the greater possibility of living a “life in all its abundance” (John 10:10), but we digress

The IBC says of Psalm 66, “Come and see what God has done,” and that this section (verses 7 to 18), calls on the people to thank God for delivering them from their recent trials.  “For you, O God, have proved us;  you have tried us just as silver is tried.”  Which is another way of saying that God loves drama, and that a good Christian should expect some in his life, rather than thinking that when he turns to Jesus his life will be a succession of triumph after triumph.  (Or as Evelyn Underhill said, “It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.”)

That’s supported by verse 14, “Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.”  Simply put, it’s in God’s best interest to have you – in the fullness of time – tell a story of personal triumph over great odds.  (That makes for much better drama.)   If all you can tell people is that your following God did nothing but make you miserable – or if your audience perceives that’s your message – your not going to attract many followers for God.

1st Peter 3:13-22 includes the line, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Really?  Gentleness and reverence?  Are those the nouns people think of when they think of Christians these days?  (That darned liberal media.)

But seriously, the IBC noted that in this passage, Peter called on believers to persevere in the face of persecution, if and as necessary, and that in view of the “blessedness” offered by God through Jesus, “reverence for God, not fear of man, should characterize them.”

Note also that in 1st Peter 2:13, the Apostle has just counseled believers to be “submissive to every human institution for the Lord’s sake.”  (For a way around that – i.e., to be free to criticize our country’s leaders – see the post  On dissin’ the Prez.)

And finally, in John 14:15-2, Jesus told the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit; “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”

So, if you were to think of God as the Ultimate Judge, of Jesus as the Ultimate Public Defender (and of Satan as the “Ultimate Prosecutor”), you would think of the Holy Spirit as the Ultimate PTI Counselor.  That is, by asking God to appoint His Son to be your attorney in the upcoming trial that you know will be coming (and the Judge’s son can get you such a deal), you can get yourself into the functional equivalent of earthly “pre-trial intervention.”

That earthly PTI is defined as follows: “Pretrial diversion is a type [of] informal disposition which involves the referral of individuals, often before arraignment, to rehabilitative or restitution programs in lieu of criminal prosecution.”   See also John 5:24, in the Good News Translation, “those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life.  They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.” (Emphasis added.)

And to help you along that path – the path toward Jesus spoken of in John 6:37 – you’ll be appointed an Ultimate Counselor.  This then is the Holy Spirit spoken of in John 14:16-17, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rU9LIYWVE9Q/T4vuEMr3UcI/AAAAAAAAAbI/Qb_hfSoAFTA/s1600/Counselor_Lucy.jpg

For the full readings see The Lectionary Page.

 The “Aereopagus” image is courtesy of http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/files/2013/06/areopagus.jpg.

The “Greek poet Aratus.”  See Aratus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or The Apostle and the Poet: Paul and Aratus – Dr. R. Faber.

On “vigour rather than comfort.”  See Underwood’s Practical Mysticism, Ariel Press (1914), page 177.

 On Satan (or “the Devil”) as Ultimate Prosecutor, see Revelations 12:7-10 (KJV): “there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…   [T]he great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.  And I heard a loud voice saying … the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”

Note also the Hebrew and Greek words “Satan” (“Satanas” in Greek) translate “an adversary,” while the root word for devil is “diabolos,” Greek for “slanderer.”  (New International Dictionary of the Bible, Regency Reference Library, 1987, Page 899.)  So like any “good” prosecutor, the Ultimate Prosecutor tries first and most to get a conviction, if necessary by slandering the character of the accused.

On pre-trial intervention, see Pretrial Intervention Law & Legal Definition – Help Build ….

The Lucy-counselor image is courtesy of http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rU9LIYWVE9Q/T4vuEMr3UcI/AAAAAAAAAbI/Qb_hfSoAFTA/s1600/Counselor_Lucy.jpg.

On spam and “angels unaware”

 

The Scribe recently caused a major firestorm.  (But to paraphrase Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, “Is there any other kind?”)  He did this by attempting to share his Blog by way of a older-person singles-group email list.*

The short version of the lesson learned:  “I shan’t be doing that again!

But the episode was instructive, and it did lead to a couple of Bible-verse memory jogs.  It also led to a realization of an apparently-unique theme of this Blog: As a general principle, it’s better to be open-minded than close-minded.  So if that idea bothers you – if your mind is already made up in many or most things – you might as well stop reading right now.

One reason it’s better to be open-minded – The Scribe contends and will contend during the life of this Blog – is that you simply get much more out of your Bible study that way.  If you read the Bible with a closed or “narrow” mind, you’ll simply be cheating yourself out of the opportunity to live life “in all its abundance,” as Jesus promised in John 10:10.

Getting back to unsolicited email – also known as “spam” – it certainly does present a major problem for all internet users. (See Unsolicited Bulk Email: Definitions and Problems.)   But from that a general principle might be gleaned:  While most unsolicited emails present a problem, that doesn’t mean some of them don’t also present an opportunity.

That is, to simply close your mind and reject all unsolicited email is arguably as unwise as refusing to extend hospitality to anyone, regardless of circumstances.  That’s because – as the Bible says in Hebrews 13:2 – “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.”  (The “angels unawares” language comes from the King James Bible, the one God uses.)

The updated version of that could be:  “Don’t automatically reject all unsolicited email, because you might find some of it interesting or even – heaven forbid – enlightening.”

On the other hand, neither clumsiness, nor stupidity, nor ignorance of the law is any excuse.

Then there’s the nice lady who created the email list in question, the nice lady who ended up getting so much grief because of the offending mass email, and to whom The Scribe has apologized and will continue to apologize profusely.

When The Scribe tactfully suggested that some of irate recipients of the offending mass email might be a tad grumpy -“Who are you and take my name of your *&^&% list” was a typical response – the nice lady politely responded that “These people are not grumpy.”  But she also noted that “I am getting hundreds of emails every day and they are all nasty.”

Which led to another Bible-verse memory jog, to wit: Matthew 7:16, which in the Good News Translation reads, “You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briers do not bear figs.”  Which might be interpreted: It’s pretty hard to send a nasty email without being tainted by nastiness yourself.  (See also James 3:11, in the Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “Is it possible that from one spring, sweet and bitter waters go out?“)

The point is, this was a Christian older-person singles-group email list.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of 2d Corinthians 5:18 – saying God has “given us the ministry of reconciliation” – The Scribe can only apologize yet again, and promise that the mistake will never repeated.  Then too, his grievous error might prevent other “newbie” Bloggers from making that same mistake: Never, ever try to expand your unique “ministry” – whatever it is – through such a mass email list.

Mea coopa, mea coopa, mea maxima coopa
Mea coopa, mea coopa, mea maxima coopa

Point taken.

 

The cartoon is courtesy of http://www.reverendfun.com/add_toon_info.php?date=20070115&language=en.

*  The practice of referring to oneself in the third person is Illeism, “sometimes used in literature as a stylistic device.  In real life usage, illeism can reflect a number of different stylistic intentions or involuntary circumstances.” Illeism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Former Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole “regularly referred to himself in the third person, a habit that made him the target of ridicule in a series of skits on Saturday Night Live.” 11 Famous Illeists | Mental Floss.

The “mea coopa” reference was to one of the verses from Jimmy Buffett’s song “Fruitcakes.” And a note: That’s the way it comes out when he sang it, but the actual words are “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  A Youtube version can be seen at FruitcakesJimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  For the lyrics see Jimmy Buffett – Fruitcakes Lyrics.  One other point to be added from the song, Jimmy noting that the “God’s honest truth is it’s not that simple,” which is why it pays to have an open mind.  (Put another way, the Bible message is simple enough for a child to understand, yet we adults can spend a lifetime plumbing its depths and still not understand more than a fraction of its eternal truthes…)  Note also the following from Wikipedia: “Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates into English as ‘through my fault.’  It is repeated three times in the prayer of confession at the Catholic Mass: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa — ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my [own] most grievous fault.'”