Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Trinity – Jefferson’s “3-headed monster…”

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg

As smart a guy as Thomas Jefferson couldn’t understand the Doctrine of the Trinity

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pentecost copyLast Sunday, May 20, 2018 was the Day of Pentecost (illustrated at left by El Greco.)  It’s also called Whitsunday.  This Sunday, May 27, was the First Sunday after Pentecost It’s also known as Trinity Sunday.

There’s more on the Trinity below – along with the “Three-headed Monster” – but first:  For more information on May 20 and Pentecost, see Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016Mary’s Visitation – and Pentecost – 2017, and Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Before the events of the first Pentecost … there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.”  Thus … 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.

Pentecost also marked a big change in the idea of “Ministry.”  In the Old Testament, “the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings.”  But starting with Pentecost, God recruited “all different sorts of people for ministry.”  That is, the Holy Spirit – the spirit of ministry – now became available to anyone and everyone:  “All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.”

Thus the first Pentecost was indeed a “momentous, watershed event.”

Incidentally, 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.”) 

For more information on May 27, 2018, see On Trinity Sunday, 2015, and On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more!  For starters, Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday after Pentecost, and  celebrates the idea of the three Persons of God:  Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

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.)  In other words, the Trinity as a concept is so difficult to understand that even a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do it.  But while Jefferson referred to the Doctrine of the Trinity as a “Three-headed Monster,” I prefer the metaphor of “an ocean in which to swim.”  (For a long, long time – and ultimately the rest of your Christian pilgrimage on this earth.)

It also seems to me that – while Jefferson was really smart – he fell into the “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 can only begin to grasp.  The same seems to be true of much of the Bible, and especially the “mystical” parts.  (Which may be why some choose “literalism.”  It’s ever so much easier…)

That brings up the Gospel for May 27, John 3:1-17.  There Jesus had a talk with a “Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews” who was really a “Christian,” but secretly.  And even a smart guy like Nicodemus – shown at right talking with Jesus – didn’t understand the idea 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, 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.”  (Also there’s Ecclesiasticus 42:17, the Old Testament DOR for the Eve of Trinity Sunday:  “The Lord has not empowered even his holy ones to recount all his marvellous works.”)  Which just goes to show there’s more to the Bible than meets the eye.

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The artist He Qi‘s interpretation of The Holy Spirit Coming down…  

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.” 

The full set of readings for Pentecost Sunday (5/20/18):  Acts 2:1-21, or Ezekiel 37:1-14Romans 8:22-27, or Acts 2:1-21John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, and Psalm 104:25-35, 37.  The full set of readings for Trinity Sunday (5/27/18):  Isaiah 6:1-8Psalm 29Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17.

Pentecost is also called “Tongue Sunday,” for the “tongues of fire” that appeared that day, as noted in Acts 2:3.  Also for “speaking in tongues” – also known as glossolalia – noted in Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Third, Pentecost marks 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.  In the Episcopal Church – 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.”

As to Whitsunday: The name is a contraction of “White Sunday.”  In English “the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding.   [In] one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptised on that Sunday…  A different tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church or chapel in new white dresses on that day. 

Re:  “Ecclesiasticus.”  That book – not to be confused with Ecclesiastes – is also called the Wisdom of Sirach And the “book itself is the largest wisdom book from antiquity to have survived:”

Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian biblical canons by CatholicsEastern Orthodox, and most of Oriental Orthodox. The Anglican Church does not accept Sirach as protocanonical, and says it should be read only “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

Note that the link in the main text provides the King James translation of Ecclesiasticus 42:17.  The quote as given in the main text is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The lower image is courtesy of The Good Heart: Holy Spirit Coming (Painting by He Qi):  

“A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding.  It listens to the sorrows of the world.  Our society is wrong to think that happiness depends on fulfilling one’s own wants and desires.  That is why our society is so miserable…”

See also He Qi « Artist:  “One could say that among other things his paintings are a celebration of colour.  The style of his work is iconic, and [his] images are strong but gentle.”

 

The “stick figure” parable…

Image titled Draw a Stick Figure Step 7

This is the faith of a boot-camp Christian.  (Who never goes “beyond the Fundamentals…”)

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The “stick” drawing above is a kind of parable.  That’s the kind of story that Jesus used to tell:

Jesus’s parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and all convey messages.  Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep, and central to the teachings of Jesus.

In doing so, Jesus followed Psalm 78:2:  “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things…”  (See also Matthew 13:35:  “So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:  ‘I will open my mouth in parables;  I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.'”)

And incidentally Psalm 78:2 was one of the Daily Office Readings for May 8, 2018.

So here’s the point:  If you stay a boot-camp Christian – if you never go “beyond the Fundamentals” – your life and your faith will look like the stick-figure drawing at the top of the page.  But, if you read the Bible with an open mind – if you follow Luke 24:45 – your life and your faith will more closely resemble the much more in-depth oil painting at the bottom of the page.  Full of depth, full of life, and much more pleasing.  So much more pleasing in fact that other people around you may want to imitate what you’ve done, and follow your path.

Which is – after all – the whole point of evangelism.  Making the Faith attractive, not driving potential converts away “in droves.”  (See Perverting “Fundamental” – ism.)  

Or as the old idiom says: A picture is worth a thousand words

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Now about that idea that you need to read the Bible with an open mind:  The Pulpit Commentary for Psalm 78:2 said the “facts of Israelitish history are the ‘parable,’ the inner meaning of which it is for the intelligent to grasp.”  (Emphasis added.)  See also Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Psalm 78:1-8:  “These are called dark and deep sayings, because they are carefully to be looked into.”  (Emphasis added.)

The latter added: “Hypocrisy is the high road to apostacy” (sic).  (“Apostasy” is the “abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person,” but that’s all a whole ‘nuther story altogether.)

Anyway, there are problems interpreting “the law of the Bible.”  And that’s especially when that “law” comes in the form of a parable.  See On three suitors (a parable):

Jesus taught primarily through  parables.  When Jesus spoke in such parables, they were “very much an oral method of teaching.”  That method of teaching left it 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.”  [See Matthew 11:15 and Mark 4:9.]

The commentaries on Matthew 11:15 add that interpreting such a parable requires “more than ordinary powers of thought to comprehend.”  And that God asks “no more from us than the right use of the faculties he has given us.  People are ignorant, because they will not learn.”

The commentaries to Mark 4:9 indicate that – in reading the Bible with an open and discerning mind – the words of God to Ezekiel (33:32) are fulfilled, “And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice.”  Or for that matter, “A very lovely work of art.”

The problem came when these oral-tradition parables were finally written down.  (At least 20 years after the fact, as in Mark, “the first gospel.”)  In translating the parable from oral to written form, an interpretation had to be added to it.  In Hebrew the word for such interpretation is mashal, or allegory.  In the alternative the word is nimshal, in  the plural, nimshalim:

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.

Which raises a good question:  How do you “literally interpret” a parable?

Or a work of art, for that matter?  In turn the question becomes:  How do you interpret that parable – or work of art – in such a way to develop your own talents?

One answer is that you can. (Literally interpret.”)  But if you do that, your “faith” will more closely resemble the primitive, undeveloped stick-figure drawing at the top of the page…

You make the call!

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6 Ways to Create Depth in Your Landscape Painting

This represents the faith of those who read the Bible with an open mind

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The upper image is courtesy of How to Draw a Stick Figure: 7 Steps (with Pictures) – wikiHow.

The image to the right of the paragraph beginning “The ‘stick’ drawing above” is courtesy of Parables of Jesus – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Parable of the Prodigal Son by Guercino.”

Re:  Oil painting being like reading the Bible.  See Copying a masterpiece … Fine Art Painting:

Studying a master’s work by copying it can have beneficial effects on our own work.  It can help us through a tough time, like when we’re not sure where our art is going.  It can inspire us to get to that next level!  It can help understand about the painting process he or she used, the palette and color mixes.  Learning by copying was done throughout the history of art.

In this case, the “master’s work” we copy is the Bible, with its stories written by men and women in the long-ago past who managed to forge a relationship with the Living God.  “Copying” their work “can have beneficial effects on our own work.”  I.e., our own work learning to sing a NEW song to God…

Re:  Problems interpreting the Bible.  See also in On three suitors (a parable):

[Then] 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.”

The full title of the last-noted blog-link is Develop your talents with Bible study.  That post discussed Matthew 25:14-30, with the Parable of the talents.  There, the “slothful” servant didn’t “develop his talents.”  He just buried the money in a hole.  So metaphorically, he – that slothful servant – “fit his talents into a pre-formed, pre-shaped cubby-hole.”

The lower image is courtesy of 6 Ways to Create Depth in Your Landscape Painting. The painting is by Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947), “an American Western landscape painter and muralist.”  See Wikipedia:  “Payne is most remembered for his work of American Indians of the Four Corners area, and, of course, the paintings of his beloved Sierras.  In the Sierras, high up in Humphrey’s Basin, you will find the lake named for him, Payne Lake.”

Jesus to His followers: “Don’t get TOO conservative!”

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus might have added, “Go beyond the “fundamentals…”  

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Narrow Is the GateThe Daily Office Readings for Saturday, May 5, 2018, included Matthew 7:13-21.  Specifically, they included Matthew 7:13-14:

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

But what did Jesus mean when He said that?  Just what is the “narrow gate?”

The traditional view is that getting through the narrow gate means you should spend your life “staying pure.”  Or spend that life focusing on staying “sinless.”  That view in turn implies that no matter how much suffering is going on in the world, no matter how many millions of people are starving, or are oppressed, or are otherwise being killed off or maimed, none of that matters to God as long as you – yourself – stay “sinless” and “pure.”

Which sounds to me – after 13 trips through the Bible – like a crock.

It seems to me – after a lifetime of experience, and going through the Bible 13 times now – that there’s a better, more accurate answer.  That answer is:  “Forget about staying pure:  Do something with your life!”  In other words, God probably couldn’t care less how “pure” you stay, if you do nothing to help make the world a better place.  If further words:  Don’t turn too “conservative!”  See for example How narrow is the narrow gate? – GotQuestions.org.

The gist of that post is that “many will follow the broad road.”  And that’s what we have in America today.  The “many” are following the broad road of so-called “Conservative Christianity.”  (Which to me is a classic oxymoron, or more precisely, a contradiction in terms.)

That is, there are a great many so-called Conservative Christians in America today, and they are the “many” who showed their power by helping elect Donald Trump.  Then too, they are the “many” who are driving other Americans away from the Christian Faith, “in droves.”  See No wonder there’s an exodus from religion, which began with this:

Do you wonder why the proportion of Americans declaring themselves unaffiliated with organized religion has skyrocketed in recent decades?  This trend is especially pronounced among adults under 30, roughly 40 percent of whom claim no connection to a religious congregation or tradition and have joined the ranks of those the pollsters call the “nones.”

The article noted the “partisan irresponsibility” creating a powerful skepticism among young Americans “about what it means to be religious.”  (Largely due to “Trump-humping evangelicals.”)  In plain words, young Americans increasingly see a strong connection between organized religion and conservative politics.  To them, conservative politics and organized religion stand together, and they are leading us “toward the right in the culture wars.”

Which is bad news for those of us striving to be “Real Christians.”  (And for the Faith itself.)  See No wonder:

If a chaplain could be rebuked for voicing [a] simple and undeniable truth, what’s the point of the “religious liberty” that Trump and his GOP allies celebrate?  And when will those who advertise themselves as religion’s friends realize they can do far more damage to faith than all the atheists and agnostics put together?

The “chaplain” was Reverend Pat Conroy, Chaplain to the House of Representatives, just fired and “re-hired” by Paul Ryan.  And the long and short of the story is that House Republicans were more inclined to fire their chaplain than “impose accountability on a president who is a proven liar and trashes the rule of law for his own selfish purposes day after day.”  In other words, they were more inclined to “comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.”

But we digress.  The point of this post is that becoming a “conservative Christian” is taking the easy way.  And that’s because it’s so much easier to be a “literalist.”  You don’t have to think, you don’t have to take chances, you never have to worry about falling on your face because you made a wrong decision.  In other words, you never truly “live,” and you will certainly never, ever get to the point where you can perform greater miracles than Jesus, as He commanded.

You want proof?  Check out the Wikipedia article on the Beatitudes:

Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result.  In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation

http://cmsimg.marinecorpstimes.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=M6&Date=20120913&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=209130325&Ref=AR&MaxW=640&Border=0&Boot-camp-curriculum-up-reviewIn other words, if Jesus had been a conservative, we would never have the Beatitudes.

In further words, it’s the Christians who choose to remain conservative – who choose to never graduate from spiritual boot camp (at right) – who are the “many” taking the broad, easy road.  It’s only we – striving to be “real Christians” by following Luke 24:45 – who will get through that narrow gate.  And on that I am literally betting my life…

So what could happen if you do turn too conservative?  You could end up a Pharisee:

Because of the New Testament‘s frequent depictions of Pharisees as self-righteous rule-followers … the word “pharisee”… has come into semi-common usage in English to describe a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of the law above its spirit.

In other words, the Pharisees were a “plague unto Jesus” in His own time, and they remain so “even to this day.”  (Indeed, perhaps more so.)  And that is leading to what Paul noted in Romans 2:24:  “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

In plain words, those “Trump-humping evangelicals” are failing in their duty to God…

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 The ongoing “Dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees….”

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The upper image is courtesy of Sermon on the Mount – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Sermon on the Mount’ by Carl Bloch.”  The article noted that this Sermon is best known for the “Beatitudes,” which “present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction;  they echo the highest ideals of Jesus’ teachings on spirituality and compassion.” 

The complete Bible readings for Saturday, May 5, 2018 are: “AM Psalm 75, 76; PM Psalm 23, 27 Lev. 23:23-442 Thess. 3:1-18Matt. 7:13-21.”  The full set of Bible readings for Monday, May 7:  “AM Psalm 80; PM Psalm 77, [79] Lev. 25:35-55Col. 1:9-14Matt. 13:1-16.”

See also the Bible readings for Friday, May 4, which include Matthew 7:1-2:  ““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.”  That’s another Bible passage “more honored in the breach” by today’s “Trump-humping evangelicals.”  See also On “holier than thou”,” about Jesus’ Parable of the Mote and the Beam)  The full readings for Friday, May 4, 2018:  “AM Psalm 106:1-18; PM Psalm 106:19-48[;] Lev. 23:1-222 Thess. 2:1-17Matt. 7:1-12.”

Re:  Comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.”  As noted in “Trump-humping,” the real job of both Christians and reporters is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  See also James 4:6:  “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

The lower image is courtesy of Pharisees – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Gustave Doré:  Dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees.”  As to placing the letter of the law above its spirit, see 2d Corinthians 3:6.

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Re:  The number of times I’ve read through the Bible.  See Reflections on a loss:

I started my spiritual journey that led to this blog back in the summer of 1992.  That’s when I started reading the Bible on a daily basis – using the DORs – and also started fine-tuning my exercise “ritual sacrifice.”

Re:  “Blasphemed among the Gentiles.”  The quote is from the English Standard Version.  See also the New Living Translation: “No wonder the  Scriptures say,  ‘The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.'”  This follows Romans 2:23:  You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law?  See also Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:

From the LXX. version of Isaiah 52:5…  The Apostle [Paul] is not careful as to the particular context from which he draws.  He knew that he was giving the substance of Scripture, and he takes the aptest words that occur to him at the moment. Translated into our modern modes [it] amounts to little more than “in the language of Scripture.”  The intention, as so frequently with St. Paul, seems, as it were, to be divided between proof and illustration.