Monthly Archives: May 2015

On Trinity Sunday, 2015

The Trinity, as envisioned by “Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (d. 1682)…”

 

Last year Trinity Sunday – always the Sunday after Pentecost – came on June 15.  This year it’s celebrated on May 31st.  See Trinity Sunday – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Trinity Sunday celebrates the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…   The Sundays following Pentecost, until Advent, are numbered from this day.  In traditional Catholic usage, the First Sunday After Pentecost is on the same day as Trinity Sunday…   [T]he Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) now follows the Catholic usage…

The link First Sunday after Pentecost will take you to the “RCL” Bible readings for that day:  Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13, Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17.

The first reading – from the Book of Isaiah – is by the prophet who lived in the “8th-century B.C. Kingdom of Judah.”  The book told how God would make Jerusalem the center of His world rule through a Messiah, an “agent who brings about Yahweh’s kingship.”  In general, Isaiah spoke out for the poor and oppressed and “against corrupt princes and judges.”  And Isaiah 44:6 contained the “first clear statement of monotheism,” a model that became “the defining characteristic of post-Exilic Judaism,” as well as of Christianity and Islam.  (See Wikipedia.)

As for the Trinity Sunday reading, Isaiah 6:1-8 told of the prophet – seen at right iconocally – being first “cleansed and commissioned” to be a prophet, in the year “King Uzziah died.”  (Asimov put that at 740 B.C.)  At first he protested that he wasn’t worthy:  “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”  But he got cleansed through the act of a seraph, holding a hot coal with a pair of tongs:

The seraph touched my mouth with it and said:  “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Which brings up a note about the whole idea behind Trinity Sunday, to wit:  the Trinity itself.  (That is, both the doctrine of the Trinity and the idea that Isaiah could have his lips “touched” with a hot coal without screaming like a banshee are difficult to comprehend.)

As to the Trinity, see for example All About Trinity Sunday | Prayers, History, Customs:

Trinity Sunday … is one of the few celebrations of the Christian Year that commemorates a reality and doctrine rather than a person or event…   The Trinity is one of the most fascinating – and controversial – Christian dogmas.  The Trinity is a mystery.  By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol, and faith.  It has been said that [this] mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.

(Emphasis added.)  And as noted in June 15 [2014] – Part I, the Trinity is so extremely difficult to understand that even a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do it.

To prove my point:  On April 29, 1962, President Kennedy gave a White House dinner to honor Nobel Prize winners “of the Western Hemisphere.”  Attendees included Pearl S. Buck and Robert Frost, as well as a number of lesser-known Nobel laureates listed in the Notes.  (Buck won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature.  Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.  In 1960 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his “poetical works,” and in 1961 he was named Poet laureate of Vermont.)   Kennedy’s conclusion was:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  (E.A.)

The point is this:  If a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t comprehend the Christian Trinity, what hope do we “mere mortals” have?  Or as I noted in the post, Readings for June 15 [2014] – Part I, don’t worry:

Neither did Thomas Jefferson, so you’re in good company…  Jefferson questioned key parts of Christianity including Mary’s virgin birth, Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ teachings of being the messiah long before his death in 1826.  “As early as 1788, we have a letter where he said he didn’t understand the trinity, and if he didn’t understand the trinity, how could he possibly agree to it?”

The thing is, even though Jefferson was a very smart guy, he fell into a “common error of thinking that he could ever really understand everything there is to know about God.”

But as noted above, “the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension.”  It’s a reality that we may only begin to grasp.  The same seems to be true of much of the Bible, and especially the “mystical” parts.   (That may be why some choose “literalism.”  It’s ever so much easier…)

Fortunately the New Testament and Gospel readings are a tad easier to understand.

In Romans 8:12-17, Paul wrote that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” and thus that we have “received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba! Father! it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  As the International Bible Commentary put it:  “The Spirit is not one who maintains the frightening, servile conditions of the old era, but gives the confidence that God is a personal Father.” (1331)

And in the Gospel  –  John 3:1-17  –  Jesus had a talk with a “Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews” who was also a follower, but secretly.  And again, even a smart guy like Nicodemus didn’t understand the concept of being “born again.”  His problem?  He took Jesus’ words too literally:  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?'”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
…  If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Which goes to show that reading the Bible too literally can only take you so far in your spiritual journey.  As Jesus Himself noted, the Bible includes many realities that are simply above our human comprehension:  “How can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

See also the end of John’s Gospel, John 21:25, which said there were many other things Jesus did, “which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”   There’ll be more about this in the next post…

 Painting of Jefferson wearing fur collar by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

As smart a guy as Thomas Jefferson couldn’t comprehend the Trinity

 

One final note:  The Trinity Sunday Gospel included John 3:16, “one of the most widely quoted verses from the Christian Bible.”  It has been called “the most famous Bible verse,” and also “the ‘Gospel in a nutshell,’ because it is considered a summary of the central theme of traditional Christianity.”  See John 3:16 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  See also the 3:16 Game – Wikipedia, and “John 3:16” signs that people hold up at football games?   (The “3:16” game was the “AFC Division Wild Card game on Sunday, January 8, 2012, between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers,” noted for “its statistical correlations to John 3:16, the quintessential Bible verse of Christianity.”)

For myself, I prefer to focus on the promise that Jesus made in John 6:37, to wit:  That He would never turn away anyone who came to Him.  See “What’s in it for me?”  That post noted that John 3:16 was “a nice general sentiment,” but doesn’t answer the question, “what’s in it for me?”

Moving on to the credits and references:

The upper image is courtesy of Trinity – WikipediaThe full caption:  “God the Father (top), the Holy Spirit (represented by a dove), and child Jesus, painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (d. 1682).” 

The Isaiah image is courtesy of Isaiah – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Russian icon of the Prophet Isaiah, 18th century (iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).”

The lower image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.”  That article also provided the Jefferson postage stamp image:  “1st Jefferson stamp, 1856 issue.”

Re:  Kennedy on Jefferson.  See also Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners, “…when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” | The Pavellas Perspective,” and Dinner in Honor of Nobel Laureates.  The latter noted that aside from Ms. Buck and Mr. Frost, other attending Nobel Prize winners included: Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at Cornell University Medical College, Dr. Vincent du Vigneaud;  physicist from the Institute for Advanced Study, Dr. Chen Ning Yang;  biochemist from the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Melvin Calvin;  and chemist from the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. William F. Giauque.”

Re:  Thomas Jefferson on the Trinity.   See for example Controversial Thomas Jefferson book pulled over complaints.  See also Jefferson Bible – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said Jefferson’s book titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth began with an account of Jesus’s birth “without references to angels (at that time), genealogy, or prophecy.   Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection are also absent from his collection.”

One other final note:  I wrote about last year’s Trinity Sunday in The readings for June 15 – Part II.

On WHY we’re getting “less Christian”

“Christ cleansing a leper…”

 

On May 12 the AP published Study reveals Americans are less Christian than ever.  The gist of the article was that a recent poll found that Christianity is on the decline, but that lots more people being polled are checking “another box.”  That other poll-box was “nones,” or “no religion:”

The number of Americans who don’t affiliate with a particular religion has grown to 56 million in recent years, making … “nones” the second-largest in total numbers behind evangelicals, according to a Pew Research Center study…

Which raises the question:  Why?  On that topic, I have a few thoughts…

For starters, check out The Blog link at the top of this page.  That’s where I wrote that one thing I’m trying to do here is “reach out to Nones and others turned off by ‘negative Christians.'”  And as to the why of those turned off by some of the current Christianity:

[T]he single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns [“Nones”] is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.

Those “visible leaders” include far-right politicians who wear their religion on their sleeves.  There’s an example in the photo-caption in “less Christian than ever;” a man holding rosary beads in Baton Rouge, as “Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to court Christian conservatives for a possible presidential campaign…”

Here’s the problem: both those right-wing politicians and the voters they court are seen as negative by most other Americans.  You don’t believe it?  Just Google “negative Christians.”  I did that and got almost 12 million results. (As noted in The Blog.)

And that seems to be a big reason so many younger Americans are turning away from mainstream Christianity.  There’s a general but widespread perception – especially among the young Americans who “really are our future” – that way too many older Christians especially are just way too negative.

Put another way, it’s hard to imagine one of today’s older far-right conservatives ever coming near a leper, let alone touching or healing one.  But that’s what Jesus did in Matthew 8 (1-4), Mark 1 (40-45), and Luke 5 (12-16), and shown in the top painting.   In the same way it’s equally hard to imagine Jesus ever saying “There’s No Such Thing As A Liberal Christian.”

For more on that topic, just Google “rick santorum liberals not real Christians.”  But take note:  Such a search should also lead you to Liberal media shamelessly twists comment from Rick Santorum.  Which is of course a distinct possibility, though I’d add that reporters in general seem to be equal opportunity “lazy cusses.”  That’s what Harry Truman – a devout Democrat himself – said about reporters in general.  Then there was that quote from Joe Namath:

Shortly after Joe signed with the Jets (for a record salary), a wise-guy New York reporter asked what he had majored in, down south at the University of Alabama; “Basket-weaving?”   Joe answered, “No man, I majored in journalism.  It was easier.”

See Harry Truman and the next election and “Gone Girl” movie review and Media Frenzy.

But be that as it may

That is:  “Be that as it may,” there’s still the widespread perception in the American public at large that too many Christians are too negative and too close-minded.  (See the notes.)

For another example, try this.  Start typing “holier” in your search engine.  “Holier than thou” will automatically pop up.  (There’s probably an object lesson there: an “example from real life that teaches a lesson or explains something.”)  Then too, a “holier than thou” search will lead to Self-righteousness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The article defined self-righteousness as a feeling or display (usually smug) of moral superiority, “derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person.  Self-righteous individuals are often intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others.”  Wikipedia said the term is usually derogatory; “self-righteous individuals are often thought to exhibit hypocrisy.”  On that note see Molly Ivins June 29:

When it comes to religion, I’ve always believed it’s more important to walk the walk than to talk the talk.  I come from a tradition (Episcopal) that considers it rather in bad taste to wear your religion on your sleeve…

http://www.themonastery.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Jesus-Prayer.pngIn a sense I couldn’t have said it better myself.

But see also my post On praying in public.  That post – like Molly’s – cited Jesus in Matthew 6 (verses 5 and 6), “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…   But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (As ironically illustrated at right.)

Which leads right in to Matthew 6 (verses 16 to 18), “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting…  But when you fast, [do] so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Which is another way of saying that religious hypocrisy had been around for a long, long time.   And that brings up another thing Molly Ivins said better than I could ever hope to:

I long ago learned to shy away from the stink of sanctimony.  We are all familiar with pietistic hypocrites and spiritual humbugs wearing dog collars.  I doubt the clergy is more afflicted with canting Pharisees than the legal profession is with sleazy chiselers, but neither type is exactly rare…  When you throw politics into the religious mix, or vice versa, you get some real beauts in the hypocrisy department.

And that’s a cross that all Christians have to bear…   (Which raises anew the question:  “Should I wear my religion on my sleeve?”  The quick and pragmatic answer would be:  “Not if if drives away the very ‘converts’ that you’re trying to reach out to!“)

And speaking of “reaching out,” we come to Rembrandt’s “Hundred Guilder Print:”

It is also called Christ healing the sick,Christ with the Sick around Him, Receiving Little Children, or Christ preaching, since the print depicts multiple events from Matthew 19, including Christ healing the sick, debating with scholars and calling on children to come to him.  The rich young man mentioned in the chapter is leaving through the gateway [at] right.

Note that Jesus is opening His arms – reaching out – welcoming those around Him.

Note also that Jesus doesn’t seem to be saying – to the crowd of unwashed – “Excuse me, I have to find out if you’re a liberal – or other ‘untouchable‘ – before I can welcome you in…

 

File:Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg

 

The upper image is courtesy of Jesus cleansing a leper – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “Christ cleansing a leper by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, 1864.”  Note also that in this post I borrowed “liberally” from two prior posts, On “holier than thou”, and On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?

The “stop” image is courtesy of Christianity’s Image Problem – TIME.  Other posts from 2007 included Study: Christianity No Longer Looks Like Jesus, and A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with ChristianityThe latter included these observations:

Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative.  Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. (E.A.)

(Apparently 2007 was a really bad year for “perceived Christianity…”)

The “ironic Jesus” image was borrowed from On praying in public

The bottom image is courtesy of Rembrandt The Hundred Guilder Print.jpg – Wikimedia Commons.  See also the top image in On praying in public, and Wikipedia.

Re: “Nones.”  In other posts I cited “Nones” on the Rise and Losing Our Religion: The Growth Of The “Nones.”  These were about the rise of fellow Americans – and especially younger Americans – who seem to overwhelmingly think that religious organizations are “too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”  As to the term “fellow Americans:”  That was one of Richard Nixon’s favorite phrases that’s been burned into my memory from long ago.  He first used it famously in his 1952 Checkers speech.  He continued using that favorite phrase until Aug 08, 1974, when he resigned as President of the United States after Watergate.

 

For a book version…

 

 

 

 

Just to let you know:  On October 29, 2015, I published The mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes.  That’s a collection of posts from my second blog, The Georgia Wasp.  That post is a bit more worldly, but just as entertaining.  (I hope.)

Some time earlier – back on March 3, 2015 – I published Volume 3 of my ongoing collection of these blog-posts.

That means the e-book versions of Volumes 1 through 3 are now available through Amazon.com: Kindle eBooks.  (The image at right shows the “e-cover” for Volume 2.)  And aside from the electronic “Kindle” edition, these three volumes are also available in an old-fashioned paperback version, an example of which is seen below.

Volume 1 included my first 13 blog-posts, up to On “Titanic” and suspending disbelief.

The DOR ScribeVolume 2 began with On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?

It went on for a total of 12 posts and ended with On “Patton,” Sunday School teacher and On the readings for June 1.   (That last one was subtitled “On liberally interpreting ‘Sabbath day’s journey.’”)

To see more about Volume 3, check the post, Reflections on Volume 3.

In terms of formatting, the goal for the book version “post collections” is now to have about 72 pages, in the paperback format.  Another note:  While the e-book version will feature full-color images – like those in the Blog – the paperback’s images will be in “grayscale,” to save money for both author and reader.

And due to the difference in publishers – Kindle and Lulu – the paperback and e-book versions tend to have different covers.  For example, the paperback version of Volume 2 – seen above left – has a different cover than the dove-on-a-blue-background seen above right, but the contents of the two versions are pretty much the same.

So:  To get an e-book go to Amazon.com: Kindle eBooks: Kindle Store and type in “T. D. Scribe” (the Scribe’s nom de plume).    To order a paperback, go to Shop Books – Lulu, and do the same.

On the Psalms

 

 

 

David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray, 1670.”

 

 

 

 

 

As noted throughout this blog, each set of Sunday Bible readings – in the Anglican Lectionary – includes a psalm.  (Or portion of a psalm.)  And, each set of Daily Office readings usually has at least three psalms and sometimes more.  (For more on that see DOR?)

Which means that people who follow the Lectionary spend a lot of time on the psalms, and some people may wonder why.  As to why we spend so much time on them, the Church itself – including the Catholic “Mother of All Churches” – spends a great deal of time on the psalms.  Aside from that, the psalms are widely recognized as critical to spiritual growth.

To begin with, the Hebrew Bible – Tanakh, or what Christians call the Christian Old Testament – is divided into three parts.  The Torah, or “Teaching” – also known as the Five Books of Moses – is followed by Nevi’im (the prophets), then comes the Ketuvim (‘Writings’) that constitute the third section of the Hebrew Bible.  The Book of Psalms is the first book of the Ketuvim:

The English title is from the Greek meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music.”   There are 150 psalms in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition[, ] divided into five sections, each closing with a doxology (i.e., a benediction) … probably introduced by the final editors to imitate the five-fold division of the Torah.

See Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Wikipedia added that the  “version of the Psalter in the American Book of Common Prayer prior to the 1979 edition is a sixteenth-century Coverdale Psalter.  The Psalter in the American Book of Common Prayer of 1979 is a new translation, with some attempt to keep the rhythms of the Coverdale Psalter.”  (This blog is based in large part on the American Book of Common Prayer.)

Among other things, the Psalms are key to meditating on the Bible.

See for example Psalm 1:2, “Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on His law day and night;”  Psalm 77:12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds;”  Psalm 119:15, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways;”  Psalm 119:23, “The evil have been sitting and plotting against me, but I have been meditating upon your commandments;”  and Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”

And incidentally, Psalm 119 – home of three of the five quotes above – “is the longest psalm as well as the longest chapter in the Bible…    It is the prayer of one who delights in and lives by the Torah, the sacred law.  With its 176 verses, Psalm 119 has more verses than 14 Old Testament Books and 17 New Testament Books.”  See Psalm 119 – Wikipedia.

Getting back to King David (seen above), Wikipedia noted he is credited for writing 73 of the 150 psalms in the Bible, along with some 3,600 tehilim (songs of praise) plus other compositions,” according to “one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QPsa).”  And it seems that David got started singing and going on to write such psalms after he was called to the court of King Saul.  (Not to be confused with “Saul of Tarsus” who later became Paul the Apostle, “second only to Jesus Christ” in New Testament importance.  See The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) – Missionary Giant, and also Saul – Wikipedia, the first ruler of the United King of Israel and Judah, circa 1082-101 B.C.   The Apostle Paul is said to have been born about the year 5 A.D., and died around 67 A.D.)

Returning to the subject of David and his “call to courtship:”

As punishment for his previous misdeeds, Saul was tormented by an “evil spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14) and it was suggested he send for David, a young warrior famed for bravery and his lyre playing.  Saul did so, and made David one of his armor-bearers.   From then on, whenever “the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”

See David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  As far as the spiritual efficacy of reading and studying the psalms, see Thomas Merton’s Praying the Psalms (Liturgical Press 1956), where he noted the Catholic Church has “always considered the psalms her perfect book of prayer:”

There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of man that cannot be depicted and lived out in the Psalms.

Also, Psalms – Wikipedia made the following points:  1)  the Psalms have been used throughout traditional Jewish worship, for thousands of years. (See also On “originalism”.)   2)  Many Jews complete the Book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis.  3)  The reading of psalms is viewed in Jewish tradition as a vehicle for gaining God’s favor.  4)  The Psalms have remained an important part of worship in most Christian Churches.  5)  In the early centuries of the Church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire Psalter from memory (all 150 psalms).  6)  Several conservative Protestant denominations sing only the Psalms, and do not accept the use of any non-Biblical hymns.  And 7)  The Psalms have always been an important part of Catholic liturgy as well, as Merton noted.

For more on the Anglican and/or Prayer Book take on the psalms, see The Psalter.

See also The Significance of the Psalms | Bible.org, which said that Psalms is one of two Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament.  (The other most-quoted OT book is Isaiah).  The article added,  “In their preaching and writing, the apostles often quoted from the Psalms as biblical proof of the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.”  For example, Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 as proof that Jesus must be raised from the dead in Acts 2:24-36.  Thus, “Any book so prominent in the minds of the New Testament writers should also be important to us.”  (Emphasis added.)

See also The Daily Office | From the Diocese of Indianapolis (aka “dailyoffice.org”):

Psalms are the poetry and songbook of Jesus’ day.  All we have are the words, not any music that was sung with them, but the words themselves are musical.  Christ and all the Jews were taught the Psalms as children and probably memorized them…   The Psalms are the essence of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Scripture instructs, while prayers request;  psalms worship, and that’s the point of the Office.  Worship is the only intelligent response to the overwhelming lovingness of God.

This then is why we spend so much time on the psalms, for reasons including to “gain God’s favor” and to make better and greater spiritual growth (like Thomas Merton, below).

 

 

The upper image is courtesy of Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The lower image is courtesy of  the Thomas Merton Center website, discussed further below.

As to David playing the harp, see David – Wikipedia, which noted First Samuel, Chapter 16, about Saul, the first-ever king of Israel, being tormented by an evil spirit as noted above.

*   *   *   *

A lectionary is a “book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion.  There are sub-types such as a ‘gospel lectionary’ or evangeliary, and an epistolary with the readings from the New Testament Epistles.”  See Lectionary – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which added that the practice goes way back:  “The Talmud claims that the practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses.”  Wikipedia added that the Roman Catholic Mass Lectionary – the Roman Rite of Mass – “is the basis for many Protestant lectionaries, most notably the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).”  (The readings in this blog are based on the RCL.)

As to “the Catholic ‘Mother of All Churches.’”  The phrase including “mother of all” came into the popular lexicon in 1990-91, “after its use by Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, in reference to the Gulf War as ام المعارك (umm al-ma‘ārik, ‘mother of battles).”  See mother of all – Wiktionary, and also Mother of all | Define Mother of all at Dictionary.com, referring to “mother of all, the greatest or most notable example of,” as in: “the mother of all mystery novels.”

For more on Thomas Merton – and/or his book Praying the Psalms – see On Thomas Merton.

The lower image is courtesy of  the Thomas Merton Center website, which noted, “His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite.  Merton is the author of more than seventy books that include poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism, and writings on peace, justice, and ecumenism.”

(Ecumenism is “an interdenominational initiative aimed at greater Christian unity or cooperation. The term is used predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice.  Within this particular context, ecumenism is the idea of a Christian unity in the literal meaning: that there should be a single Church.”  See Ecumenism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   For more on that subject, Google the phrase “there are no denominations in heaven.”)


On Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”

An artist’s depiction of Pentecost – the “birthday of the Church…”

 

Pentecost Sunday is coming up on May 24th.  The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek for “the 50th day,” and it’s always celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday.  (That’s “seven weeks plus one day.”)  And it’s been around a long, long time.  See Pentecost – Wikipedia:

Pentecost is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai.  This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot.  Later, in the Christian liturgical year, it became a feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ (120 in all), as described in the Acts of the Apostles [verses 1-13 et seq.].

Another name for Pentecost is Tongue Sunday.  For one thing there were the “tongues of fire” that appeared that day, as shown in the El Greco painting below. (See also Acts 2:3.)

The Theotokos & the Twelve Apostles — Fifty Days after the Resurrection of Christ, awaiting the descent of the Holy SpiritFor another thing there was the “speaking in tongues” – also known as glossolalia, as shown at left – that was such a feature of the original Pentecost.  See Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

That made some onlookers skeptical, even at the time.  As noted in Acts 2:12 and 13, some people who saw the event were amazed, but “others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine!'” 

But as Isaac Asimov noted, the Apostles weren’t just “babbling.”

Instead they spoke in concrete, known languages.  As a result, people from a host of different nations could understand them.  As Asimov put it, “in their ecstasy, they uttered phrases in both languages”  –  i.e., the “marketplace” Koine Greek prominent at the time, or the disciples’ native Aramaic  –   so that “those who listened to them from the various nations … would have understood something.”  (See Readings for Pentecost (6/8/14).)  See also Acts 2, verse 8-11:

“How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?   Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

(See also 1st Corinthians 14:19, on the potential abuse of that “gift,” where the Apostle Paul said that while he was glad he could speak in tongues, in church “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”)

For another view of this “first Pentecost,” see What is Pentecost?  (Patheos):

Before the events of the first Pentecost … a few weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.”  Thus, from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started.  This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it.  Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.

Another thing that Pentecost does is mark the beginning of “Ordinary Time,” as it’s called in the Catholic Church, and shown in the chart at left.

Such “Ordinary Time” takes up over half the church year, though in the Episcopal Church and other “Protestant” denominations, it goes by another name.  That is, in the Anglican liturgy, the Season of Pentecost begins on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday and goes on “through most of the summer and autumn.”  It may include as many as 28 Sundays, “depending on the date of Easter.”  (See also the List of Anglican Church Calendars.)

In other words, this year – 2015 – the Season of Pentecost begins on Monday, May 25, and doesn’t end until Saturday, November 28.   That’s Thanksgiving Weekend, and the day after that – November 29 – marks the First Sunday of Advent, and with it the start of a new liturgical year.

Also, the readings for each Sunday – from June 7 to November 22  – are designated as a given “Sunday after Pentecost,” with a given “Proper” number.  For example, the Bible readings for Sunday August 16 – right about the middle of the Season of Pentecost – are designated as those for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 15.

But the key point to remember is that it wasn’t only people who were already Christians who saw the Pentecost in Acts as a miracle;  “so did the onlookers … for many were converted to the belief in Jesus as Messiah.”   (Asimov, 1002-1003)  Or as was noted in Acts 2:41, “the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”

To sum up, the Pentecost described in Acts “was a momentous, watershed event.”  For the first time in history, God had empowered “all different sorts of people for ministry.  Whereas in the era of the Old Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings,” on this Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit had been given to “‘all people.’  All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.”  (See What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter? – Patheos, noted above and emphasis added.)

*   *   *   *

El Greco. Pentecost.

The upper image is courtesy of Pentecost – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption: A Western depiction of the Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732.” 

The version at left is courtesy of El Greco. Pentecost – Olga’s GallerySee also El Greco | Hear what the Spirit is saying, with the following notes by Hovak Najarian, on “The Pentecost, Oil on Canvas,” circa1600:

“Its height above floor level would place the seminarians at the lower part of the painting and they would see the subject matter increase in complexity as their gaze moved upward toward Mary, the apostles, and the plumes of fire.  A dove at the top of the painting represents the Holy Spirit; its wings are spread and the light that surrounds it is radiating downward over the gathering. 

“The two men in the foreground at the bottom of a short flight of stairs have lifted their arms and are leaning back slightly in order to look at the dove.  Mary (dressed in red and blue) is seated at the center of the painting with apostles gathered around her; two other women are included in the painting.   

“The woman at Mary’s left shoulder is thought to be Mary Magdalene and the fourth person from the left side may be Martha…  El Greco also included himself in this painting.  His face is second from the right; he is the man with a white beard who seems to be in deep thought and is not looking up toward the dove.

“Although the term, ‘Expressionism,’ did not come into use until the twentieth century, it is an apt term for El Greco’s late paintings.  Expressionism is the result of an artist’s effort to project emotional intensity and inner feelings into a work.  The figures in The Pentecost are not posing for a formal group portrait.  They are an animated informal mix of people who in body language and facial expression are reacting individually, and yet they are part of the collective experience. They are responding with awe and excited emotional involvement as they take part in this miraculous event.”

On the subject of “Propers” in the liturgical year, and especially in the season of Pentecost.  A “proper” definition of the term Proper is far beyond the scope of the themes explored in this blog.  However, those interested in further information on this rather ethereal concept are directed to web articles including but not limited to The Revised Common Lectionary, Proper Ordinary Time | Liturgy, and/or Lectionary #, Proper #, or Sunday after Pentecost?

For more on the issue of speaking in tongues, see On the readings for Pentecost (6/8/14), which noted in part that such “speaking” refers to the “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases as part of religious practice.   Some consider it as a part of a sacred language.  It is a common practice amongst Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity:”

On the other hand, it could be argued this is another example of some people taking isolated Bible passages out of context, like those who handle snakes based on Mark 16:17-18, or those who have a “quiverfull” of children based on a passage from Psalm 127.  (See Snake handling – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.)

On Ascension Day 2015

 “Jesus’ ascension to heaven,” by John Singleton Copley

 *   *   *   *

“Liturgically speaking,” it was a year ago that I posted On Ascension Day.   More precisely:

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.”

But this year, that 40th day after Easter falls on Thursday, May 14.  (15 days earlier than last year.)  The upshot is that since it hasn’t quite been a year, this isn’t technically an anniversary post.   But “Ascension Daywas one of my first-ever posts, so to me it’s worth commemorating.

But why “40 days after Easter?”  That’s because according to tradition, after Jesus was crucified and rose again, He stuck around on earth for 40 days, before He ascended to Heaven to “sit on the right hand of God.” See Mark 16:19, Resurrection appearances of Jesus – Wikipedia, and Why did Jesus stay around for 40 days after He came back from the grave?

The former noted that these appearances of Jesus “are reported to have occurred after his death, burial and resurrection, but prior to his Ascension.”  The latter noted:

During those 40 days [between Easter and the Ascension], He appeared to various groups … proving beyond doubt to them that he had been raised from the dead by the power of God.  Over two decades later, the Apostle Paul wrote that “he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living” (1st Cor. 15:6).

But getting back to The Ascension itself:  In the 2014 Ascension Day post, I discussed the whole idea of this “bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.”  I noted that some people – skeptics – 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.”  To such skeptics I cited the First law of thermodynamics, that “energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.”  Put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changes form:

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. (E.A.)

The 2014 Ascension Day also cited On arguing with God, for the idea that the name Israel literally translates, “He who struggles with God.”  But in a metaphoric sense, Israel can mean anyone who “struggles with the idea of God.”  (Or with the idea of an afterlife.)

File:Christ's Descent into Limbo by Dürer .pngIn turn I cited the post on Ascension Day in Jesus in Hell.  That post talked about how 1st Peter 3:19–20 and 1st Peter 4:6 led to the Catholic doctrine 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. (E.A.)

See also CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Harrowing of Hell – New Advent.  That in turn led to the idea that “Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil ‘who has the power of death.'”  (Citing Hebrews 2:14, that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”)

Or as I put it:  In his First Epistle, Peter was one of the first to advance the “whole concept of ‘life after life.‘”  (See also Raymond Moody – Wikipedia.)    I then added this:

One constant has remained:  “The above views share the traditional Christian belief in the immortality of the soul…”   [See also] Psalm 68:20[, which reads in one version] “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 [be] from.  In the meantime it’s reassuring to think that Jesus would [literally] “go to hell” on our behalf…

So first Jesus got crucified, for us.  Then He “descended into Hell,” for us.  Then He reappeared on earth and stuck around 40 days, just to make sure His message got through.  Then He ascended to Heaven, to “sit at the right hand of God.”  One possible point being that we too should enjoy our time here on earth, just like He did at the Supper at Emmaus:

 

 

The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Ascension of Jesus, with the full caption:  “Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775.”   

The lower image is courtesy of Resurrection appearances of Jesus – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Supper at Emmaus,” in which Caravaggio “depicted the moment the disciples recognize Jesus.”  As Wikipedia noted, “The Road to Emmaus appearance refers to one of the early resurrection appearances of Jesus after his crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb.

Re: commemorating.  My 2014 post – On Ascension Day  – was the 25th of 151 I’ve done so far.  (As noted, on or about May 29, 2014.)  My very first post was The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary, and was published on April 24, 2014.  That post included information on:

Quasimodo Sunday … not through any connection with Victor Hugo’s character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.   Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2, a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day.    First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…”  In Latin the verse reads:  “Quasi modo geniti infantes

I also cited the 2014 post on Ascension Day in On the readings for June 1, which included a painting by Eugène Delacroix, Lion Devouring a Rabbit.  That post cited Peter’s warning in 1st Peter 5:8, and added that “you don’t want to end up like the rabbit in the Delacroix painting.” (E.A.)

The next-to-last image, in black and white, is a woodcut, courtesy of Harrowing of Hell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption:  “Christ’s Descent into Limbo, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, c. 1510.”  See also the Jesus in Hell post, which included: Other references of possible interest include: Paradise – Wikipedia, Zohar – Wikipedia, and/or Heaven – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

On “Job the not patient” – REDUX

Ilya Repin: Job and his Friends

Job and his friends, by Ilya Repin (1869). . .

 

I spend a lot of time driving.  A lot of it I spend visiting Mi Dulce, who lives three counties over.

The point is that to help pass the time I’ve gotten the habit of listening to “lectures on CD.”  I’m now listening to Hebrews, Greeks and Romans:  Foundations of Western Civilization, by Professor Timothy Shutt.  The other point is that in this lecture, Professor Shutt gave the best analysis of the Book of Job I’ve ever heard “in all my born days.”

Some think Job is a great book, but not me.  Alfred, Lord Tennyson loved it; “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.”  But to me it’s always been greatly depressing and impossible to understand.  In that spirit I posted Job, the not-so-patient last August, which ended:

For just that reason, guys like John R. W. Stott took issue with literalists who say the Bible should viewed as “inerrant per se.”  Instead – he said – the Bible should be viewed as inerrant “in all that it affirms.”  As applied to this case, Stott would say that the “plain meaning” of the Book of Job should not be seen as affirming suicide…   But since we’re running out of space and time, Stott’s views will be explored in a future post.

This then is that “future post…”

The point of Job the not-patient was that there are some parts of the Bible you really don’t want to take too literally.  Another case in point is Mark 16:18, part of the Great Commission of Jesus. That’s where He said of His disciples, “they will pick up snakes with their hands.”  But as noted in Snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide, Mark 16:18 is a verse that can definitely be “taken out of context.”  (That would be Part I and Part II, with the  “Stumpy” photo below left.)

But to get back to the depressing part of Job… 

Verses 1-22 of Job, Chapter 3 are a good example of passages from the Bible that should both be approached with great caution, and not taken too literally.  Put another way, Job 3:1-22 itself could definitely be taken out of context:

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 [or] 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.  Thus as Wikipedia noted, the Book of Job addresses the ongoing theme of “God’s justice in the face of human suffering – or simply, ‘Why do the righteous suffer?'”  (See also When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a book by Harold S. Kushner.   Or just Google the words “why do bad things happen to good people.”  I got some 170,000,000 hits.)

But getting back to Professor Shutt, he noted that Job was written – or at least came to light – just after The (First) Destruction of the Temple.  (I.e., the first time it was destroyed, around 586 B.C., and not to be confused with the second great destruction of the Temple, in 70 A.D.  See  Siege of Jerusalem (AD 70) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Needless to say, the destruction of their Holy of Holies provoked a crisis of faith in the Jewish people.  (Not unlike the one after the Holocaust, 70 years ago and seen at right.) That in turn led to the question:  How could God let this happen to His Chosen People? 

Or as put above, Why do bad things happen to good people?  To that there are two main answers.  First, God was not who the Hebrews thought He was.  Second: There Is No God at all.  But as Professor Shutt said:

Even in the most hopeless days of the Babylonian exile, though [roughly the 70 years from 605 to 539 B.C.], another answer seems to have been possible, and we find it formulated most powerfully, if not, perhaps, most clearly, in the Book of Job.

That’s the conclusion in Track 7, Disc 1, of Hebrews, Greeks and Romans: Foundations of Western Civilization, and/or pages 24-27 of the Course Guide (“CG”).

But wait, there’s more!

As Professor Shutt put it, God’s covenant started out with the Hebrews as His Chosen People, which carried with it an implied promise.  (If not an “implied contract.”)  That promise – quite simply – was “obey and prosper.”  But the Job examines what happens when good people do “obey God” and don’t prosper.  The short answer – the one given repeatedly by Job’s friends – is that he had to have done something wrong.  (A fallacy that continues “even to this day.”)

Put another way, many a person thinks that if he or she lives a good life, God owes me!   

But as we all know, life doesn’t work that way.  No one has found the magic formula to change God into a “magic genie” who will cater to our every whim.  (See “O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,” by Janis Joplin, at left.)

The upshot of that is that – for better or worse – we are simply incapable of ever fully understanding God.  As Professor Shutt put it, we can’t “put God in a box.”  But that’s exactly what many people still try to do.

Even though we can’t make sense of it, there’s a presence out there, somewhere.  A presence that we can “feel,” even in our darkest hours.  “We can’t put it in a box, we can’t tie it up in a ribbon,” as Shutt put it, but it’s there.  Yet many people still try to put God “in a box” or “tie Him up in a ribbon.”  We always tend to commit the error of “making a god of our idea of God.”

And that’s the ultimate lesson of the Book of Job:  “We can make a god of our idea of God.”  We keep trying to conceptualize God.  We are always trying to make some sense of “Him” (anthropomorphism), which is of course only right and natural.  But the key to remember – as Shutt noted – is that “we have to sit on the conceptualizations lightly.”

All of which may be why God chose to bring Jesus into the world.  Because without that image of a “finite” human being to focus on, our poor little pea-brains simply couldn’t even begin the process of bringing The Force That Created the Universe into any kind of focus at all.

Shutt noted that in approaching God, it’s all “about contact and experience.”  It’s not about finding persuasive “courtroom evidence.”  It’s not about finding the actual Noah’s Ark in Turkey to prove – once and for all – that God does indeed exist.  And it’s not about finding the one true passage from the Bible that will bowl over all doubt.  The covenant – as Shutt put it – is “the face of our interaction with God.”  In other words, God can’t be “proven,” only “experienced.”

So since it all comes down to personal experience – but mostly just because our minds are so limited – “we cannot ever fully know the nature of God.”  We can never fully either understand or explain “God.”  Yet that’s just what Job’s friends did.  Their solution was to “make a god of their idea of God.”  They tried to put God into a “conceptual box.”

So in Shutt’s final analysis, “God’s answer to Job is, again, no answer.”  Which is just another way of saying that – in that final analysis – we are simply not up to the task of fully understanding God:

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

But that doesn’t mean we have nothing to go on.  Even if we can never fully understand God, we can – from time to time – ” feel His presence.”  We can have that experience of God.

Our view of the tree in the yard is not the result of logical calculation…  So too in a way, and so too surprisingly, our sense of God’s presence, should we feel it.  Even if we obey and don’t prosper, the covenant somehow seems still to hold.  Or so in any case the ancient Hebrews seem to have decided.

Or as Isaac Asimov put it, “At the end of God’s speech, Job realizes divine omnipotence and understands the folly or trying to penetrate God’s plan and purposes with the limited mind of a human being.” (487)   And that’s a lesson we need to keep on learning…

 “Job and his friends…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of Job and His Friends – Ilya Repin – WikiArt.org.  See also Ilya Repin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, on “the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century, when his position in the world of art was comparable to that of Leo Tolstoy in literature…  His method was the reverse of impressionism.  He produced works slowly and carefully.  They were the result of close and detailed study.  With some of his paintings, he made one hundred or more preliminary sketches.  He was never satisfied with his works, and often painted multiple versions, years apart.”

As to the “redux” part of the post-title.  It’s an allusion to the 1971 book by John Updike, Rabbit Redux.  This was the second of five “Rabbit” books about an aging high-school basketball star – Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom – as he went through five decades of life.  The series began with Rabbit, Run (1960), when Harry was 26.  The five books feature “recurring themes of guilt, sex, and death.”  See, Wikipedia.  The article added that the word redux means “brought back” or “restored,” and that other works of literature with the title-word include John Dryden‘s Astraea Redux (1662), and Anthony Trollope‘s Phineas Redux (1873).  Wikipedia also noted, “Rabbit Redux led to a redux in popularity of the word redux,” for example, in Rabbit At Rest itself.  Updike had Harry Angstrom notice a story in the local paper, headlined “Circus Redux:”

He hates that word, you see it everywhere, and he doesn’t know how to pronounce it.   Like arbitrageur and perestroika…”

Re: Professor Shutt.  See also Tim Shutt · Kenyon College.

Re: the Great Commission of Jesus.  “According to some critics, in Mark”  –  the first Gospel to be written  –  “Jesus never speaks with his disciples after his resurrection.  They argue that the original Gospel of Mark ends at verse Mark 16:8 with the women leaving the tomb (see Mark 16).”

Re: bad things happening to good people.  See also When Bad Things Happen to Good People – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted: “Harold Kushner, a Conservative rabbi”  addressed “one of the principal problems of theodicy, the conundrum of why, if the universe was created and is governed by a God who is of a good and loving nature, there is nonetheless so much suffering and pain in it – essentially, the evidential problem of evil.”  Note also that in the NRSV, Job 3:22 speaks of those who are bitter of soul, and “rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave…”

Re: Professor Shutt’s conclusion on Job.  See pages 24 and 25 of the Course Guide.

The Janis Joplin photo is courtesy of The story behind Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz,” which noted of the original recording session:  “she begins to sing, exercising soulful control over her enormous, whiskey-soaked voice…  ‘Mercedes Benz’ is a lonely blues tune about the illusory happiness promised (but rarely delivered) by the pursuit of worldly goods…”

The “God in a box” image is courtesy of www.bransonparler.com/blog/what-we-talk-about-when-we-say-you-can’t-put-God-in-a-box.  See also Relevant Bible Teaching – Don’t Put God in a Box.

As to Isaac Asimov on Job, see Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), beginning on page 474, up to the “not-so-patient” quote on page 480, on to the “folly or trying to penetrate God’s plan and purposes with the limited mind of a human being,” at page 487.  

The lower image is courtesy of Bildad – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaBildad, from the Hebrew meaning “Bel has loved, was one of Job‘s three friends who visited him Book of Job:

He was a descendant of Shuah, son of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1), whose family lived in the deserts of Arabia, or a resident of the district.  In speaking with Job, his intent was consolation, but he became an accuser, asking Job what he has done to deserve God’s wrath.

See also Job and his three friends Drawn by Gustave DoreGetty images.

For more on this topic, see When Bad Things Happen to Good People – My Jewish Learning.

On singing a NEW song to God…

File:David Playing the Harp 1670 Jan de Bray.jpg

“David playing the harp” – and singing a new song to the Lord, as noted below…

 

The Bible readings for next Sunday  –  May 10, 2015  –  are: Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, and John 15:9-17.  Or see Sixth Sunday of Easter.  Some highlights are below.

But first – also coming up, on Friday, May 8 – is the Feast Day of Dame Julian of Norwich.

Norwich – pronounced “NOR-idge,” as in “rhymes with porridge” – is a town in England a bit north and a tad east of London.  See Wikipedia.  Getting back to Dame Julian:

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.”)

See On a dame and a mystic, one of the first blog-posts I did.  (Back on May 9, 2014, just after On three suitors (a parable) – including  the image at right –  and just before On dissin’ the Prez.)

Getting back to the readings for Sunday, May 10.

The psalm – Psalm 98 – is one of many Bible passages addressing the theme of “sing to the Lord a new song.”  (Not a stale, warmed-over rehash, like what you tend to get by reading the Bible too literally or “fundamentally.”)  On that note see On the DORs for July 20, which asked:

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.)

Psalm 98 begins, “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”  In Latin the first words translate “Cantate domino,” which is also the title of a number of church hymns.  See  for example Cantate Domino, Sing a New Song! (SAB ).  Or see Cantate Domino – Texts and Translations, which noted that the rest of verse one would read, “canticum novum.”  As in, “Cantate Domino, canticum novum.”  (Thus endeth the Latin lesson for the day.)

See also Psalm 98 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted:

Psalm 98 … is one of the Royal psalms [Psalms 9399], praising God as the King of His people.  [In Judaism it’s] the fourth paragraph of Kabbalat Shabbat [and] Verse 6 is found in the Mussaf Amidah on Rosh Hashanah.  [In Christianity it] may be recited as a canticle in the Anglican liturgy…   The Christmas carol Joy to the World is a lyrical adaptation of Psalm 98 written by Isaac Watts and set … to a tune attributed to George Frideric Handel.

Baptism of cornelius.jpgIn Acts 10:44-48, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word,” as Peter spoke.  Peter spoke thus as part of his visit to Cornelius the Centurion (shown at left.)  That was prompted in turn by the “vision” that Cornelius had, in Acts 10:1-8.   And in Acts 10:9-16, Peter had a vision of his own, that “what God has cleansed, you must not call uncommon.”  (Or “unclean” in some translations.)

The gist of these readings can be found in Acts 10:34 and 10:35:

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partialitybut in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

(Emphasis added.)  Note that Acts 10:34-42 is usually summarized, “Gentiles Hear the Good News.”  The summary for the May 10 readings is: “Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the Good News of Jesus is available to anyone who follows His promise made in John 6:37, that “anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.”  (In other words, the Faith of the Bible is not an exclusive club “for members only,” as some seem to imply.)

The second reading includes 1st John 5:1, which continues that theme:  “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.”  (See also Romans 10:9-10:  “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (E.A.)

And the Gospel reading closes with John 15:17, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”  That’s as opposed to the constant bickering and fault-finding so prevalent these days.  In other words, as a Christian you’re not supposed to go around criticizing others for the “speck” in their eye while ignoring the “beam” in your own.  See On “holier than thou,” which includes a link to The Parable of the Mote and the Beam.

Thus the major theme for this Sunday’s readings is aptly summarized in Lectionary Scripture Notes, which quite often includes pithy Biblical exegesis:

It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm.   It has to do with living in right relationship with God. (E.A.)

That’s important to remember, especially for those who like to stick their noses in other people’s business.  After all, King David was one of God’s Favorites, even though he was hardly a paragon of virtue.  Quite the opposite:  he was merely a real-life “living breathing human being,” with all the “inherent faults and flaws” shared by us mere humans.

 

 

File:Gerard van Honthorst - King David Playing the Harp - Google Art Project.jpg

Another view of David, playing the harp and “singing a new song…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of Psalms – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption:  “David Playing the Harp by Jan de Bray, 1670.”

See also the web article King David misunderstood says Yale scholar, with the rest of the headline reading:  “Politician, psalmist, adulterer and more.”  The Old Testament scholar in question is Doctor Joel Baden, whose work – including his The Historical David: The Real Life of an Invented Hero – argued that we’ve “lost sight of David as a real-life ‘living breathing human being’ with all our inherent faults and flaws.”    See also On the psalms up to December 21:

The starting point is the biblical text itself.  I try to understand not only what the biblical authors were saying, but why they were saying it.  That is to say, what was their purpose in writing these stories the way that they did?   I take very seriously what they actually wrote: what they included (and didn’t include)…   The second important step is to view David not as a character in the Bible, but as a living, breathing man in the early first millennium BCE…  The portrayal of David I put forward in the book is thus a combination of these two approaches:  a close reading of the biblical text filled out with the background of the ancient world as we now understand it.   It is an attempt to find the real David moving beneath the veneer of the Bible’s own interpretation of his life. (E.A.)

Which is pretty much the theme of this blog, that the Bible was not written by super-heroes not remotely like us, but by people just like us –  “with all our inherent faults and flaws.”

The lower image is courtesy of File: Gerard van Honthorst – King David Playing the Harp.  The artist (1590-1656) was a “Dutch Golden Age painter” who early in life visited Rome, where he found success “painting in a style influenced by Caravaggio.  Following his return to the Netherlands he became a leading portrait painter.”  See Gerard van Honthorst – Wikipedia.

As to the topic David playing the harp in general, see also David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The article noted the account of First Samuel, Chapter 16, about Saul, the first king of Israel being tormented by an evil spirit.  It was suggested “he send for David, a young warrior famed for bravery and his lyre playing.  Saul did so, and made David one of his armor-bearers.  From then on, whenever ‘the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play.  Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him,’” as illustrated above.

See also On the psalms up to September 28.

Re: “for members only.”  See “Mr. Chan?”  That page noted:  “That promise alone” – in John 6:37 – “is far different than the idea – promoted by many who should know better – that Christianity is some kind of exclusive club, ‘for members only.'”