Monthly Archives: May 2014

On “ON Bible readings for May 11”

File:Cooper, Oliver Cromwell.jpg

Oliver Cromwell – Wikiquote:  “Use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me…”

 

 

On or about May 14, 2014, the Scribe was trying to clean up this Blog by sending the original post, “On Bible readings for May 11,” to the site’s trash bin.    (He did save it on a disk drive for future use.)   The main goal was to keep from overloading the Blog with old posts on Sunday Lectionary readings “from long ago.”  But for some reason, typing in “dorscribe” in the search engine then led to the aforementioned “May 11” post being at the top of the list of links.  But clicking on that old link led to the following message:

This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

That was followed by the note: “It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching can help.”  (On the other hand, you would be right there on the Blog site, and could click on either “Home” or “About that ‘DOR Scribe guy.'”)

Anyway, there’s probably a lesson in all of this, and perhaps that lesson is that you shouldn’t be a “historical revisionist.”   (See for example: Historical revisionism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or Historical revisionism (negationism) – Wikipedia, …)

That is, “constant revision of history is part of the normal scholarly process of writing history,” but historical revisionism in turn can be and often is “the illegitimate distortion of the historical record such that certain events appear in a more or less favorable light.”

Which brings up a key point:  One thing you’ll find out about the Bible – as for example in future posts – is that the people who compiled the historical books of the Old Testament were definitely not “revisionists.”   They presented a picture of their ancestors “warts and all.”

So, lesson learned:  No more sending old posts to the trash bin.

 

On broadminded, spelled “s-i-n”

File:Louvin.jpg

 

In 1952 the Louvin Brothers – seen above – recorded a song, “That word broad-minded is spelled s-i-n.”  The song in part: “I read in my Bible, they shall not enter in.  For Jesus will answer, Depart, I never knew you.”  (But see John 6:37:  “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”)

That’s followed by the refrain, “That word broadminded is spelled s-i-n.”

Which brings up two ways to interpret the Bible.  One is the hellfire-and-brimstone approach of the song and/or album above.  That approach sees the faith of the Bible as both exclusive and excluding.  The other approach focuses on a loving God, as seen in the promise Jesus made in John 10:10, that He came so His followers could live life “in all its abundance.”  Which raises the question: Can you live a life of abundance while being narrow-minded?

One word for “strictly” interpreting the Bible is the fundamentalism of the Louvin Brothers song.   But maybe its all a matter of context…

Louvin Brothers.jpgThe strange thing about Ira Louvin – at right in the picture at left – is that he “was notorious for his drinking, womanizing, and short temper.” (Or maybe it wasn’t so strange after all.)  Ira ended up getting married four times, and his third wife Faye ended up shooting him six times.  (Four times in the chest.)  That was after one of the times he allegedly beat her up.

But we digress…

Wikipedia defined Fundamentalism as a strict adherence to specific theological doctrines, and said the term “usually has a religious connotation indicating unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.” The article added that the term was coined from the Five Fundamentals, set down between 1910 and 1920.

Those Five Fundamentals were: 1) That the written Bible was inspired by God “and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this;” 2) That Christ was “virgin born;”  3) That Christ’s death was the atonement for sin;  4) That Christ had a “bodily resurrection;”  and 5) That Christ’s miracles were a “historical reality.”

One sticking point for many people is the idea of Biblical inerrancy.  That’s the “doctrinal position that the Bible is accurate and totally free of error…  Conservative Christians generally believe that God inspired the authors and redactors of the Bible. Hence, they wrote material that was error-free.” (See the Wikipedia article.)

But there is another way to read and interpret the Bible.

John stott.jpgAnd to many people it offers a better path to the type of abundance Jesus promised in John 10:10.  That Bible path is exemplified by John R. W. Stott – at right – in his book Understanding the Bible.

Stott was an Anglican cleric whom Time magazine ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world.  And he made three keys points about reading and studying the Bible.

One key point disputed the idea that “every word of the Bible is literally true.”  Stott said the Bible is without error “in all that it affirms.”  He added that the words of the Bible were true “only in context.”  He cited the Book of Job, noting that the first 37 chapters consisted of dialogue between Job and his ostensible comforters.

On the other hand, the truth of the book comes only in the last five chapters.  “The book as a whole is God’s word, but the first thirty-seven chapters can be understood only in the light of the last five.” (E.A.)  Consider – for example – Job 3 :1-22, summarized as follows:

Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth…  “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb…  For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest… Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day…  Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave?”

(Emphasis added.)  So – if you wanted to justify suicide, for example – Job 3 might be just the ticket.  But that would be true only if you took that chapter – standing alone and out of context – as the “inerrant word of God.”  That is, only if you believe that every word in the Bible must be taken as literally true, regardless of context.

Put another way, Job expressed those sentiments in Chapter 3, at one of the low points in his life.  (And don’t we all have those.)  But Chapter 3 could definitely be “taken out of context.”

 

JOB HEARING OF HIS RUIN

“Job Hearing of His Ruin…” 

 

The album image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  For the lyrics, see Louvin Brothers – Broadminded Tabs, Chords – Cowboy Song Lyrics.  To see an older Charlie Louvin singing the song, see also, That word,” Broadminded” is spelled S-I-N. – YouTube.

For more, see: The Louvin Brothers – Wikipedia.  Note that the “s-i-n” song was not included in the “Charted Singles” section, which began with 1955’s “When I stop dreaming.”  Note also:  “In 1963, fed up with Ira’s drinking and abusive behavior, Charlie started a solo career, and Ira also went on his own…  Ira died on June 20, 1965, at the age of 41. He and his fourth wife, Anne Young, were on the way home from a performance in Kansas City…   A drunken driver struck their car head-on, and both Ira and Anne were killed instantaneously. At the time, a warrant for Ira’s arrest had been issued on a DUI charge.”   (You might say, on the difference between Ira’s public and private persona, it “could be spelled ‘h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e,'” but that would be a bit too snippy for this Blog.  Suffice it to say, Ira was merely human, like the rest of us.)

See also John Stott – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The “Job” image is courtesy of BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF GUSTOV DORE: JOB HEARING OF HIS RUIN.

As for Jesus saying, “Depart, I never knew you,” that was a reference to Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’  (Emphasis added.)  

As is usually the case, it helps to have the full reading, to ensure things aren’t “taken out of context…”

And another, Matthew 7:1 warns, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Which is why I always try to give other people a break, so God might “judge me” the same way…  


 

On the Gospel for May 18

File:Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles.jpg

“Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles”

 

The Bible readings for Sunday, May 18 are:   Acts 7:55-60,  Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 (Page 622, BCP),  1 Peter 2:2-10,  and John 14:1-14.

The Gospel reading – John 14:1-14 – is part of the “Farewell Discourse” that Jesus gave in the Upper Room during the Last Supper.  Jesus intended to comfort His disciples by telling them of the “many mansions” in His Father’s house, a passage frequently used to comfort mourners at a funeral:  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

The reading is filled with familiar phrases, including the oft-quoted, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  But it also includes one of the least appreciated verses in the entire Bible, John 14:12: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”  (Emphasis added.)

To review: The one who believes in Jesus with do “the works that I do,” and beyond that, even greater works than Jesus did.  Put another way, the one who believes in Jesus is fully expected to do greater works than Jesus, according to Jesus Himself.  (For some interesting reading, just type into your search engine, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.”)

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

Again, how can you sing a new song to the Lord if all you do in reading the Bible is the  equivalent of, “Yes dear, anything you say dear?”  (See the post, “On arguing with God.”)

But enough of The Scribe’s ramblings.  For a far more erudite treatment of this Gospel reading, check out Doctor Thomas Boomershine’s article:  A Storytelling Commentary on John 14:1-14 – GoTell ….   Dr. Boomershine’s key:  “The primary commandment of Jesus is to love one another.”  Beyond that, the good doctor notes:

Jesus’ voice here is the voice of one who is talking to his closest friends on the night before his death.  He is sharing with them the things that they need to know.  The basic dynamic of this speech is his communicating to his disciples how much he loves them.

So maybe our job – in doing these greater works than Jesus – is not to walk on water or still a raging storm or turn water into wine, as some might expect.  Maybe our job – according to John 14:12 – is to show even greater love than Jesus showed, toward our fellow men and women, and even to our most obnoxious “neighbors.”

Now that would be a challenge. . .

 

 

 

On arguing with God

File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpg

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

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The Daily Office Old Testament reading for Monday, May 12, 2014, is Exodus 32:1-20.

That’s where Moses went up on Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments.   Meanwhile – back at the base camp – the Children of Israel turned to worshiping a Golden Calf instead of the real God.  The One who delivered them out of slavery. (Which could be a metaphor or something…)

But back on the mountain-top, God – being God – knows what’s going on behind Moses’ back.

So naturally He gets very angry about it.  In the Good News Translation of 32:10, God said to Moses:  “Now, don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them.  Then I will make you and your descendants into a great nation.” (Emphasis added.)

So God made up His mind to destroy the Israelites.  The same ones He’d gone to all the trouble of delivering out of the aforementioned slavery, which should have been the end of it.  (To a “strict constructionist” anyway.)   God had spoken, He’d made a decision, and God – being God – was neither arbitrary nor capricious, and so was unlikely to change His mind.  But wait!!

Moses pleaded with the Lord his God and said, “Lord, why should you be so angry with your people…  Why should the Egyptians be able to say that you led your people out of Egypt, planning to kill them in the mountains and destroy them completely?  Stop being angry; change your mind…  So the Lord changed his mind and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Now about that word “pleaded.”  That’s from the Good News Translation.  The New Living Translation said Moses “tried to pacify God.”  The International Standard Bible said that Moses “implored the Lord.”   But most translations, including the King James Bible – the one that God uses – used the word besought: “Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people?”

Besought is a “past tense and a past participle of beseech.”  And beseech in turn means “to ask someone for something in an urgent and sincere way.”

So in plain words, Moses argued with God.  And that’s a concept that many – including most Fundamentalist or conservative Christians – would find highly incongruous.

That is, in asking God to change His mind, Moses gave “reasons or cite[d] evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” (Which by the way is something that lawyers do.)   See for example Isaiah 50:8, in the New Jerusalem Bible, “Let us appear in court together,” and Job 23:4, in the New International Version, “I would state my case before Him [God] and fill my mouth with arguments.”

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

I.e., that passage tells of Abraham “arguing” that God shouldn’t destroy Sodom if there were even 50 people in the city who weren’t total dirt-bags.  Then Abraham went down to 45, then to 40, then to 30, and so on – in a manner that was, frankly, quite annoying – until he got God to agree that if even 10 people in the city weren’t total dirt-bags, he wouldn’t destroy the city.

And finally, there’s the ultimate case of “contending with God,” the story of Jacob becoming Israel.   See the full story at Genesis 32:22-32, or you could check Wikipedia, which noted:  “The account includes the renaming of Jacob as ‘Israel,’ literally ‘He who struggles with God.'”

The point of all this is that maybe – just maybe – we today are supposed to “argue with God,” or “wrestle with God,” or even “wrestle with the idea of 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.

So what kind of Christian would you rather be?

Someone who wrestles with God and keeps getting stronger, spiritually.  Or rather someone whose method of Bible study is either “weak and ineffectual” or “plain and unadventurous?”

 

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Notes:

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

See the full Daily Office readings at The Lectionary – Satucket.com.

Re: Job 23:4.  But see also Job 40:2, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  So there’s definitely a limit to how feisty you can get when arguing with God, but note that after his long “arm-wrestling with God,” Job ended up better off: “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (42:10)

“Sodom and Gomorrah…  ‘Please!'”  An allusion to an old Henny Youngman joke.

As to resistance training, see the Wikipedia article on strength training:  “Progressive resistance training dates back at least to Ancient Greece, when legend has it that wrestler Milo of Croton trained by carrying a newborn calf on his back every day until it was fully grown.”

The bottom image is courtesy of Caspar Milquetoast – Wikipedia:

Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created by H. T. Webster…  Because of the popularity of Webster’s character, the term milquetoast came into general usage in American English to mean “weak and ineffectual” or “plain and unadventurous.”  When the term is used to describe a person, it typically indicates someone of an unusually meek, bland, soft or submissive nature, who is easily overlooked, written off, and who may also appear overly sensitive, timid, indecisive or cowardly.

 

On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?

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Rembrandt‘s view of Jesus, showing “Biblical events as tender instances of piety and serenity.” 

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Jesus – seen above – made two main promises:  First, that He would never turn away anyone who came to Him.  Second, He came to Earth so His followers could have life “in all its abundance.” (See John6:37 and 10:10.)  Which raises a question:  Why would anyone want to interpret those promises literally or narrowly?  (See strict construction … Law.com.)

Another question:  If Jesus was a Fundamentalist, why did we need Him?  If Jesus was born both Jewish and a Fundamentalist – favoring a “strict adherence to specific theological doctrines” – why would He create a “new covenant” to replace the old one?

Consider also the apparent contradiction between Mark 9:40 and Matthew 12:30.  In Matthew 12:30 (NEB), Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me.”  But in Mark 9:40 (NEB), Jesus said, “he who is not against us is on our side.”

Under strict construction – used by Fundamentalists – “ambiguous language is given its exact and technical meaning.”   Under that rule for Matthew, if you aren’t expressly for Jesus, you are against Him.  But in Mark, being “kind of against us” doesn’t put you “outside the pale.” In Mark, if you are not expressly against Jesus, you are for Him and/or for Christianity.

Also, by strictly interpreting those quotes – giving them their exact and technical meaning – you end up with Jesus contradicting Himself.

It also raises the question: What did Jesus do when interpreting Scripture?  Was He strict or “liberal?”  One answer: Both.   See www.kencollins.com/answers/question-43.

The site’s author, Reverend Collins, said that many people try to harmonize the passages “by theorizing that when it comes to Jesus, there is no middle ground. You are either for Him or against Him.” He too was puzzled by the passages until he read an old commentary by a man named Theophylact (who died in 1108).  Theophylact says that if we observe these verses in context and compare them, we see that Jesus is talking about two entirely different situations.”

Collins said that in Mark Jesus talked of men, people, who were doing good works in Jesus’ name, “even if they don’t have the proper credentials.” So if a layman is “conducting a valid ministry where there is a need and no one else to meet it,” the Church shouldn’t stop him, but “find a way to include him. Whoever is not against Jesus is for Him.”

But in Matthew, Jesus was talking about demons. Matthew 12:30 came right after the “house divided” speech (later used by Abraham Lincoln). In 12:22, Jesus was presented with a man possessed by demons. But when Jesus cast out the demons, the Pharisees said He could only do that because He was Satan, prince of demons Himself.

After saying it didn’t make sense for Satan to cast out his own, Jesus moved to how the house of a “strong man” or Satan (translations vary) might be robbed.  He later added, “Anyone who isn’t helping me is harming me.” (Emphasis added.)

Theophylact the Bulgarian.jpgCollins said that at first he thought Jesus was talking about people in Matthew (as “plain meaning” would require).  But he changed his mind after considering “Theophylact” – shown at left – noting that he was “neither a Protestant nor a Catholic;  his native language was the same language that the apostles used to write the New Testament, and he lived in a completely different political, social, and theological context than we do.”   Thus interpreting the two passages “in context,” it seems that Jesus was indeed addressing two different cases.

With demons, Jesus used a strict construction.  If a demon wasn’t expressly for Jesus, he was against Him.  But in the case of people, Jesus used a liberal construction.  By that construction the law was “reasonably and fairly evaluated so as to implement [its] object and purpose.”

So just what is the Bible’s purpose?   The Apostle Paul said in First Timothy 2:1-4 that the Bible’s purpose has always been saving as many as possible:  “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men… This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved.”  See also Second Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish…”  (A goal that arguably can’t be met by being strict or limiting…)

In other words, it makes sense that if a person isn’t expressly against Jesus, He – Jesus – is willing to give that person (and all people), the benefit of the doubt.   But in the case of demons Jesus used a strict interpretation of Scripture.  In both cases He construed the Bible to achieve its self-stated aims.  Which means that Jesus was neither a liberal nor a conservative when it came to interpreting Scripture.  He was right there “in the middle of the road.”

That’s also called the Via media or “Middle Way,” the subject of a future post.

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Richard Hooker‘s “Ecclesiastical Polity” set out a “Middle Way…” 

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The upper image is Rembrandt’s “Hundred Guilder Print.”  See Hundred Guilder Print – Wikipedia.

Re:  The “two” great promises of Jesus.  This post-column was last edited on May 11, 2014.  That was before I fully appreciated the Third Great Promise, as told by Jesus in John 14:12:  “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”  (Emphasis added.)

The lower image is courtesy of the Richard Hooker link in the article, Via media – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Statue of Hooker in front of Exeter Cathedral.”  One author noted, ” Hooker’s moderation and civil style of argument were remarkable in the religious atmosphere of his time.”  Also:

Traditionally, he has been regarded as the originator of the Anglican via media between Protestantism and Catholicism.  However, a growing number of scholars have argued that he should be considered as being in the mainstream Reformed theology of his time and that he only sought to oppose the extremists (Puritans), rather than moving the Church of England away from Protestantism.

Another note:  I originally posted this article in May 2014.  I updated it on August 2, 2018.

On “Titanic” and suspending disbelief

File:Kate-winslet titanic movie pencil-drawing.jpg

 

Here’s another parable, about the 1997 move, Titanic.

To me, that movie is all about the power of suspending disbelief.

You see, there’s one thing that bothered me about the movie.  Those divers found a perfectly preserved charcoal drawing – the one that Jack did of Rose in 1912, on board the Titanic.  They found that perfectly preserved charcoal drawing after 80 years at the bottom of the ocean.

But the unlikelihood of that ever happening doesn’t mean the whole movie was “false.”

There was a factual basis for the movie.  The Titanic did sink in 1912.  But a core premise of the whole movie seemed to be that after 80 years at the bottom of the ocean, those divers found a charcoal drawing like the one shown above.  (In the ship’s safe, along with the huge necklace shown around Rose’s neck).  So even though everything else had turned to mush, that charcoal drawing was “picture perfect” as the night it was drawn.

That’s the problem.

Anyone who knows charcoal drawings knows that even with several coats of fixative – like that shown at right – it won’t last 80 years at the bottom of the Atlantic.  For one thing, even if fixative had been invented, the movie never indicated Jack had any, and certainly not in aerosol form.  And there was no indication that Jack took the time after finishing the drawing to apply fixative.

(It would no doubt have spoiled the mood.)

Thus the question: Since this core premise of the movie seemed patently false – it couldn’t have happened – did that make the whole film without value, not worthy of experiencing?

Again, the Titanic did sink in 1912, with great loss of life.  And many characters were based on real people who were on the ship when it sank.  Still others were composites of several real people.  And still others were pure figments of creative imagination.

So the viewer saw an impression of a real event.  In turn, in making the film some creative minds embellished the plot here and there.  They livened up the story and got certain major points across.  And they left out details that didn’t seem important and would “clog up the plot.”

(Maybe even like John did at the end of his Gospel.  That is, John 21:25 reads:  “There are many more things that Jesus did.  If all of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself would have space for the books that would be written.”) 

But in the end, the film-writers came up with a story from which many lessons could be learned.

That is, someone who saw the movie with an open mind might come away with a sense of hope.  That hope might be that there is a world beyond the five senses, a world beyond time and death.  Such a viewer might come away thinking love really can transcend everything.  He might even think love can transcend time, death, and even the sordid reality of everyday life.

But there was that troublesome false premise at the core of the story.

The story wasn’t 100% accurate.

But again, consider the viewer watching with an open mind.  He’d be willing to suspend disbelief and not require the movie to be 100% accurate.  In turn that viewer would be treated to a wonderfully intense tale of love overcoming all; logic, time, common sense, even death itself.

He’d come away with a good feeling that might help him endure his mundane, boring life for a few days or weeks.  He might even be prompted to go out and do something nice for someone else, someone less fortunate.  And he might – just might – want to share the movie’s good news.

On the other hand, consider the person who viewed the movie with a closed mind.  A person unwilling – even for a moment – to suspend disbelief.  A person who simply had to believe that everything in the movie had to be 100% accurate.

Wouldn’t that viewer just be short-changing himself?

 

 

http://breathedreamgo.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/titanic-movie.jpg

 

The charcoal-drawing image is courtesy of: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f0/Kate-winslet_titanic_movie_pencil-drawing.jpg.

The “fixative” image is courtesy of www.alvinco.com/_R_/Shop/Products.aspx?IID=971.  As noted in Utrecht Art Supplies Ask the Expert: Fixative Q&A, “Canned spray fixative was introduced in 1948 by Krylon.  Before then, artists relied on the old-fashioned mouth atomizer, which is still available today.”  For more on the disagreeable elements of using such a “mouth atomizer,” see Charcoal Fixative – how to fix your drawing – Art Graphica.

The quote from John is from the Berean Study Bible.  In the King James Bible – the one God uses – the passage reads:  “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.”

The Jack/Rose image is courtesy of breathedreamgo.com/wp-content…2012/03/titanic-movie.jpg.

The Jack-and-Rose picture also raises the question: Does your way of reading the Bible give you a spiritual “set of wings,” or is it more like a spiritual strait-jacket?

 

On dissin’ the Prez

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Angelico,_niccolina_02.jpg

 

 

 

“God will strike you,

you whitewashed wall!”

 

 

 

 

 

That’s what the Apostle Paul said that at the beginning of Acts 23.

The problem was, he said it to a High Priest.  That meant he’d violated Exodus 22:28:

You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.”

Here’s what happened.  Paul was standing trial in Jerusalem before the Sanhedrin.  (Basically the Hebrew “Supreme Court.”)  He was standing trial – for preaching the Gospel – when the high priest Ananais told a guard to “strike him on the mouth.”

That’s when Paul made his rash comment:

Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’   And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.”’

Which brings up Conservative Christians who say the Bible must be interpreted literally.

As the International Bible Commentary noted: “Paul’s stern rebuke was contrary to the letter of Exod. 22:28, and he at once admitted it.  The president [i.e., the high priest Ananias] was a criminal, but the ‘seat’ was sacred.”  (Emphasis added.)  And Exodus 22:28 says, in the New Revised Standard Bible, “You shall not revile God, or curse a leader of your people.”

That in turn brings up Biblical inerrancy, the “doctrinal position that the Bible is accurate and totally free of error.”  That is, “Conservative Christians generally believe that God inspired the authors and redactors of the Bible. Hence, they wrote material that was error-free.”

So if the Bible is “inerrant” – error-free – and must be interpreted literally, then Conservative Christians could be violating the letter of Biblical law.  (If they were – for example – to curse or otherwise criticize a sitting President of the United States…)

Of course there is a way around that.  But the only way around that dilemma is to use a liberal interpretation of the Bible.  As to the differences – between a strict construction, as opposed to a more “liberal” construction – see Strict constructionism – Wikipedia:

Strict construction occurs when ambiguous language is given its exact and technical meaning, and no other equitable considerations or reasonable implications are made…  If the language is plain and clear, a judge must apply the plain meaning of the language and cannot consider other evidence that would change the meaning. If, however, the judge finds that the words produce absurdity, ambiguity, or a literalness never intended, the plain meaning does not apply…

So the question becomes: are the “laws of the Bible” set out in clear and unambiguous language?

If the laws of the Bible are plain and clear, the “plain meaning” rule applies.  But if that language results in a “literalness never intended,” the plain-meaning rule does not apply.  (And Paul did say in 2d Corinthians 3:6, that the letter of the law kills, while its spirit “gives life…”)

Put another way, the plain meaning of Exodus 22:28 and Acts 23:5 seems pretty clear, if you interpret the Bible literally.   On the other hand, consider the potential defense offered conservative Christians through “liberalism:”

Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings…  The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.  A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.

(See Liberal Christianity – Wikipedia.)   So, if the term “leader of your people” must be interpreted literally, then Conservative Christians could be in big trouble if they were – for example – to criticize a sitting President of the United States.

On the other hand, you could “liberally” say that in the United States, ultimate power doesn’t reside in one president who can serve a maximum of eight years.  In America, ultimate political power resides in the Sovereign People, as in “We the people” at the start of the Constitution.

To sum up: Conservative Christians can avoid getting into trouble for violating the letter of Exodus 22:28, but only by using a liberal interpretation.  They can criticize the President all they want, as long as they don’t criticize “the Sovereign People” who elected him.  (A subtle distinction to be sure.)   Put another way, conservative Christians only avoid the penalty for violating the strict letter of Exodus 22:28 by using a liberal interpretation.  That could be put this way:

 

http://kara.allthingsd.com/files/2011/03/irony3.jpeg

 

The upper image, “Fra Angelico, Dispute before the Sanhedrin (1449),” is courtesy of Wikipedia: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Angelico,_niccolina_02.jpg.

The “irony” image is courtesy of: kara.allthingsd.com/files/2011/03/irony3.jpeg.

 

 

On a dame and a mystic

File:Julian of Norwich.jpg

Dame Julian of Norwich

 

In the Episcopal church-calendar, May 8 is the Feast Day for Dame Julian of Norwich, a town in England a bit north and a tad east of London.  She was born in 1342 and died “about” 1416.  As Wikipedia noted, she was an English anchoress regarded as an important early Christian mystic.   (That clunk you heard was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy over the word “mystic.”)

We don’t know much about Julian, and in fact the name “Julian” is pure guesswork:  “Her personal name is unknown and the name ‘Julian’ simply derives from the fact that her anchoress’s cell was built onto the wall of the church of St Julian in Norwich.”

An anchoress (the female version of an “anchorite”) is someone who has “retired from the world;” someone who, “for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society” in favor of an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and “Communion-focused” life.  Anchorites are usually considered to be a type of religious hermit – seeking to live a solitary life devoted to God – and the “anchoritic life is one of the earliest forms of Christian monastic living.”

And as originally defined, mysticism “referred to the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative dimensions in early and medieval Christianity.”   (Talk about “original intent…”)  And consider this from the Book of Common Prayer, at page 339: “we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.”

That’s a reminder that there should be two sides to any and every Christian church: a “corporate” or business to keep things running smoothly, but more important, a “mystical” side to help the individual church-goer achieve that long-awaited “union with the divine” (and with each other), but we digress. . .

One of the quotes from Dame Julian is this, about “our customary practice of prayer:”

“. . . how through our ignorance and inexperience . . . we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to him that through his goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by his grace cling to him with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.”

(See also the prayer of Rabia Basri, in the “Parable of the three suitors.”)

Anyway, when she was 30 years old Julian had a severe illness and was on her deathbed when she had visions of seeing Jesus.  From that experience she wrote her Revelations of Divine Love, as seen in the illustration above.  It had 25 chapters and was some 11,000 words long, and is thought to be the “earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.”

For more information check the following sources:

Julian of Norwich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

www.goodreads.com/author/…/156980.Julian_of_Norwich

Julian of Norwich – Wikiquote

 

http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/faces/evelyn_underhill_1.jpg

Evelyn Underhill, seen above, could be said to have followed in “Dame Julian’s” footsteps.  Underhill (1875-1941), was “known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism.”  (There’s that “clunk” again.)  Her books included:

  • The Mystic Way. A psychological study of Christian origins (1914). Online
  • Practical Mysticism. A Little Book for Normal People (1914);

 

On three suitors (a parable)

 

Rabia Basri, female Muslim saint and mystic.

 

 

 

Welcome to the DORscribe website, just chock-full1 of Bible-reading previews, color commentary, and “deep background.”

This morning’s post involves a parable, the kind of story that Jesus used to tell.

“Once upon a time,” there was a woman of great wealth and power. She was courted by three different men, and each wanted to marry her.

She spent time with the first man.  After much urging that he be “totally honest,” the first man made a candid admission: he was on probation, and had been ordered to find a good woman, get married and settle down.  So (the suitor admitted), he wanted to marry the rich woman so he wouldn’t have to go through the hell of prison life.

The woman decided to get to know the second suitor. Again after much urging to be honest, the second man admitted he wanted to marry her so he could be “on easy street.” He was tired of all the garbage of his everyday life.  The main thing he looked forward to (once they were married) was taking things easy and not grubbing for a living, as his “previous life.”

Finally, the woman got to know the third man better. When he got totally honest, he said while he might enjoy sharing the woman’s wealth and power, that didn’t really matter to him; she was special and that was that.  He couldn’t imagine living his life without her, now that he’d gotten to know her. It wouldn’t matter to him if she didn’t have any money, or didn’t want to share what she did have. He’d still love her and want to be with her, even if it meant living in a hovel. He wanted to be near her and share his life with her.

All of which brings up a prayer said to come from the Koran:

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell;  if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise;  but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.

That prayer might remind us that maybe there’s more to praying than just asking God for a bunch of goodies (or a Mercedes Benz), like a spoiled child.  And by the way, that prayer apparently didn’t come from the Koran, but came from “a Muslim woman named Rabia in the 8th century.”  One website said the essence of this kind of prayer is “praise rather than petitioning, an attempt to go beyond the requirements of ritual worship by adoring God.”

Which brings us back to the parable of the woman and her three suitors.

First, assume for the sake of the parable that each man told the truth.  (Which many women would say is no small assumption). Then the question would be: which man showed the greater true love? And finally, if you were that woman, which man would you choose?

*   *   *   *

Which brings up some problems in interpreting the Bible.

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

Another problem with interpreting “the law of the Bible” is that most of Jesus’ teachings came in the form of parables, like the one above.

The book Christian Testament said parables are “very much an oral method of teaching,” and that in such an oral tradition, it was up to the listener to decipher the meaning of the parable, to him.   Or as Jesus said on several occasions, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

The problem came when these oral-tradition parables were written down, at a minimum some 20 years after the fact, as in Mark’s Gospel.  Quite often, in transposing the parable from oral to written form, it  needed an interpretation added to it.  (In Hebrew the word for such interpretation is nimshal, or the plural, nimshalim.)  That in turn could lead to some uncertainty.

But Christian Testament said  this “uncertainty” doesn’t necessarily present a problem:

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 [of God] can be revealed. We are supposed to create nimshalim for ourselves.

(CT, 321)   All of which seems to be one of those ideas that can give a conservative Christian apoplexy; the fact the Bible might mean different things to different people.  Put another way, just as it seems unreasonable to say God died for one person (or one set of people), it seems just as unreasonable to say that the Bible must mean the same thing to everyone, all the time.

Which brings up the Christians who insist that the Bible must be interpreted literally, and only literally.   More to the point, if and when you read the Bible, which style of interpretation would you prefer?   A literal, strict and/or narrow interpretation?  Or would you prefer a more open-minded or even – gasp! – liberal interpretation, so as to implement the object and purpose of the document?   (That intent can arguably be found in John 10:10, where Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”)

That in turn raises a couple more questions, like:  How do you “strictly interpret” a parable, or for that matter, how do you strictly interpret “THMNCLLDFRTHWTR?”

 

File:Scopes trial.jpg

Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan chat in court during the Scopes Trial.”  Image and quote courtesy of Wikipedia, which explained this as a famous 1925 American legal case – also known as the “Monkey Trial” – in which a “substitute high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school” (which sounds an awful lot like “deja vu all over again.”

Bryan was called in as a special prosecutor, in part at the behest of the World Christian Fundamentals Association.  Darrow volunteered his services to the defendant Scopes.  The trial covered by famous journalists from arund the world, including H. L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun.  “It was also the first United States trial to be broadcast on national radio.”

 

 Other references:

According to one online definiton, the term “chock-full” seems to come from the Middle English chokkefull, probably from choken to choke + full, with the “First Known Use: 15th century.”  

The image of Rabia Basris is courtesy of http://sufipoetry.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/rabia.jpg?w=500. See also Rabia Basri – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

As to “a parable [like] Jesus used to tell.”  See Matthew 13:34 (ESV):  “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.”

As to “in Hebrew there are no vowels.” See Education for Ministry, Year One (Hebrew scriptures) 4th Edition, Charles Winter and William Griffin (1990).

As to “Christian Testament [saying] parables are “very much an oral method of teaching.”  See Education for Ministry Year Two (Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Testament) 2nd Edition by William Griffin, Charles Winters, Christopher Bryan and Ross MacKenzie (1991).

 

As to the differences between a strict or narrow construction, (as opposed to a more “liberal” construction or interpretation), see: Legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/strict+construction.  Another site that might be of interest:   A Quaker’s Response to Christian Fundamentalism.

 

 

 

On Jesus as a teenager

File:Jorg Breu Jr Madonna.jpg

 

 

 

The Madonna and Child,

by Jörg Breu the Younger.  (That knowing “J.C.” look leads to the question:  “What did Jesus know, and when did He know it?”)

 

 

 

 

 

Did you ever stop to wonder when Jesus came up with the idea that He was Jesus.”  That He was “someone special?”  That He was – literally – the Son of God?

Which leads to more questions:  Did He know the very minute He was born?  Did He know – even as an infant – that He was the First-born Son of God, as indicated by Jorg Breu’s painting above?  And did He – even as a newborn child – have a fully formed adult personality?

Some time ago there was a bracelet trend, “WWJD?”  What would Jesus do?  Turning that question around – thinking “outside the box” – the question could be put like this:

What would you do – with a fully formed adult personality, able to see and know all around you – yet you were trapped in the body of a baby?

The traditional view – the accepting, non-questioning “literalist” view – is that Jesus did in fact know every minute of His life just who He was.  (There are for example those medieval portraits of Jesus as a baby, in the manger, with that all-knowing smile, like the one above.)   But that in turn raises some pretty interesting questions.

Again, what would you do if you could only communicate with a smile, a frown, a gurgle or a belch?  To most of us that would be a living nightmare.  It would be a nightmare to be trapped inside the body of an infant, but to have a fully formed adult personality.

But the only rational, alternate view seems to be that Jesus did not know who He was at that very minute He was born.  And if that is true, the question then becomes:  “At what point in His life journey did Jesus find out?”

Sen. Howard Baker covering mike w. hand as unident. man whispers to Sen. Sam Ervin during Watergate hearings.In modern terms – and borrowing a page from today’s political circles – the question would be, “What did Jesus know, and when did He know it?

If Jesus didn’t know – the minute He was born – that He was the Son of God, He had to find out later in His life.  One take on that idea came from the man who wrote Zorba the Greek

Nikos Kazantzakis also wrote The Last Temptation of Christ.  (In 1955.)   That’s the movie that caused such a stink when it was made into a movie in 1988.  Anyway, in Last Temptation Kazantzakis theorized that at some point in His life, Jesus may have started “to hear voices:”

“I fasted for three months. I even whipped myself before I went to sleep. At first it worked. Then the pain came back. And the voices. They call me by the name: Jesus.”

So according to Kazantzakis, Jesus may not have known the minute He was born who He was. He found out some time later in His life.  Again, that seems to be a rational alternative to the idea that at the moment He was born, Jesus had a fully-formed adult personality.

It also seems to fit in with other people in the Bible, like Abraham, who also seemed to hear a voice that told him to leave his homeland and everything he ever knew in life, and make a thousand-mile trek into “the great unknown.” (See Genesis 12:1 – in the Good News Translation – “The Lord said to Abram,* ‘Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.’”)

So, in pretty much the same way that Abraham heard The Voice that told him to leave his homeland – at 75 years of age or so – Jesus may have first become aware of His being special by also “hearing a voice,” or voices…

Whatever the merits of such a meditation, it seems pretty clear that throughout the first 30 years of His life, Jesus must have had a world of patience.  And in all likelihood, at no time was that more true than when He was a teenager.

Of course He did have that one chance when he was 12 years old, to impress the elders in Jerusalem.  (See Luke 2:41-50).  But except for that one or two days of “mountaintop experience,” it seems that Jesus still had to endure 30 long years of pure, mundane drudgery.

He had to live quietly and unobtrusively – for 30 long years – before starting His ministry.  And He had to do this before the people around Him started getting the idea who He really was.  (It must have been something like spending all day in a county tag office, multiplied by 10,950.)

Which brings up another compelling question.  What was Jesus like as a teenager?  Suppose – just for the sake of argument – that by the time He was a teenager, Jesus did know that He was in fact the First-born Son of God.  For one thing, He could see into the future.  And He knew, absolutely knew, everything that ever was or ever had been.

So maybe as a teenager, Jesus did know everything there ever was to know, and everything possible that ever could be known.  Yet there He was, stuck in that backwater, hayseed town of Nazareth, far away from any possible excitement, like what He might find in Jerusalem.

And again in all likelihood, probably the worst thing of all for Him was that He had to take orders from older people, people who He knew didn’t know a fraction of what He knew about “real life.”  Of course, since every teenager in the world has felt exactly the same way since the beginning of time, how could the people in Nazareth know that this teenager was any different?

 

 

 

The Madonna-and-child image is courtesy of Wikimedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a9/Jorg_Breu_Jr_Madonna.jpg

As to the “bracelet craze, ‘WWJD’” quote, see the Wikipedia article.

“…what did Jesus know, and when did He know it?” This is one of many phrases – like “Irangate” or “Benghazi-gate” – that can be traced back to the 1972 Watergate scandal. It can be credited to Senator Howard Baker, who famously asked, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” The question was originally written by Senator Baker’s counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator [and Hollywood star], Fred Thompson. See, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Baker, and firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2011/04/what-did-jesus-know-and-when-did-he-know-it.

The image to the right of the “when did He know it” paragraph is courtesy of 40 Years Since The Watergate Hearings | Getty Images.  Senator Baker is at left, covering the microphone.  Senator Sam Ervin is at the right of the photo, arms folded.

The Abraham image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Vision of the Lord Directing Abraham to Count the Stars,” a woodcut “by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures.”  

“The Lord said to Abram*. . .”   Abram changed his named to Abraham later, in Genesis 17:5, after hearing a Voice telling him to do so.  (A voice which also told him about the covenant of circumcision, in Genesis 17:10, which may have led Abraham to ask, “You want me to do what?”)

The “teenagers” sign-image is courtesy of “HubPages (webhostinghub.com): http://s1.hubimg.com/u/4721798_f260.jpg.”