With God’s help – “We HAVE overcome…”

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To see the lead image from the original post – January 28, 2021 – click on “The Nightmare (Henry Fuseli, 1781).” (It’s really ugly.) I added my own caption: Asked before the 2016 election: Are we in for a new ‘national nightmare?Well yes, but (Meaning we were, but now it’s over…)

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Four years ago I asked the musical question: “Are we in for a new ‘national nightmare?” Today’s answer is, “Well yes we were, but…” That is, these past four years have been a long national nightmare, but we’ve come through.

That is, four years ago – September 26, 2016, five weeks before the presidential election – I posted “With God’s help, we can get through ANYTHING.” In that pre-election post I asked, as noted, “Are we in for a new national nightmare?” My answer at the time? “Yes, because whoever wins, half the voters in the 2016 election will think so.”

But now after further review – and American democracy having survived various Trumpian constitutional crises – there’s a “new and improved” answer. It came after the inauguration on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (Finally!) That new and improved answer? We HAVE Overcome.

That brings up the old Gospel song illustrated – and addressed – at the end of the main text.

But back to that question, “Were we in for a new ‘national nightmare?” Today’s answer, expanded, is “Well yes, but…” That is, “Well yes, we did live through four years of a long national nightmare, but American constitutional democracy has prevailed.” That, and at least some semblance of genuine American Christianity. Kind of. (See Evangelicals in Midwest Who Ditched Trump Cost Him the Election, and A Christian Case Against Donald Trump.)

Which brings up one big benefit from the last four years. I myself have “come out of the closet,” so to speak, in the sense of becoming much more vocal about my “real Christian” faith. In Facebook and elsewhere I have quoted the Bible much more, and tried to convey the real meaning of the Christian faith. (In keeping with Ezekiel 3:16-21. “Ezekiel’s Task as a Watchman.”)

Not that it always did a whole lot of good. (With some people anyway.) Which means that even with Donald Trump “bidding adieu,” there’s still a lot of work to do…

And lest you think I’m being too political for a “good Christian,” see Televangelist Pat Robertson says God told him Trump will win. (Or Google “pastor God Trump win,” for some interesting results.) But getting back to 2016’s “With God’s help,” I wrote that no matter who won, Donald or Hillary would face “intense – if not rabid – opposition from close to half the American people.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, check these four links:  For Trump, Trump presidency would be a ‘nightmare,’ says Joseph Stiglitz, and The Trump nightmare is real. Clinton could lose this. From the other side of the aisle, consider these:  The Nightmare World of a Hillary Clinton Presidency, and A Clinton Presidency: Humanity’s Worst Nightmare.  Or you could Google the term “presidency nightmare,” and add either candidate’s name.

So like I said, no matter who won the 2016 election – Donald or Hillary – a significant portion of the American sovereign people would end up badly “bent out of shape.”

Which is where a strong Christian faith can help. For one thing, and as I noted in 2016:

We’ve been through worse before!

Think the American Civil War. Think the Great Depression. Or think about the episode in our national history that led to the original “long national nightmare” quote in the first place.

That quote came from Gerald Ford, when he was sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigned. (A result of the Watergate scandal. For more on Ford’s speech see This Day in Quotes: “Our long national nightmare is over.”  But see also a parody of the phrase – from The Onion, a “digital media company and news satire organization” – which quoted President George W. Bush as saying – on his taking office – “Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity is Finally Over.”)

And by the way, that last tidbit in parentheses is an example of Using Humor to Get Through Difficult Times. But getting back to 2016, I wrote that Gerald Ford’s comments about the 1974 national nightmare “could foreshadow” what would happen on January 20, 2021.

It could well foreshadow how those 40% [or more] of voters – disappointed by the outcome of the 2016 election – will feel when – it is entirely possible – a new president takes office. (And when it is entirely possible that new president will be neither Donald Trump nor Hillary…)

And so it has turned out…

I also wrote – in 2016 – that I felt duty-bound to take the high road. To follow the dictum “Better to Light a Candle Than Curse the Darkness.” But of course there are those who disagree:

That “stupid darkness” cartoon was a nod to a book by Chris Matthews, titled Life’s a Campaign. (I did the “book on CD.”) One chapter was “Great politicians sell hope.” That became the subject of my post on June 12, 2015. (And which led to my first thought, “What rock have you been living under?“) But one good point I got from the book was that the 2020 presidential candidate “who offers hope rather than fear will win.” (Together with this: “Maybe today’s politicians are simply a reflection of the nastiness that seems to have taken hold of a large part of our population.”) 

In part because of that general, widespread nastiness – and both to fight the good fight and take the high road – I figured it’d help to go back to our Baptismal Covenant. The question-and-answer statement of faith on “how we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith”*:

[Celebrant:]  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help…

[Celebrant:]  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help.

[Celebrant:]  Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help.

I wrote in 2016 that the point was this: Each of the three questions – in the question-answer format – has the same answer:  “I will, with God’s help.” So in the face of that upcoming 2016 presidential election, we should [I wrote] keep this in mind:  “With God’s help, we can get through anything. Even if – God forbid! – [fill in the blank] gets elected!”

Which I did keep in mind, though not without some sleepless nights. And quite often – in those long four years – my mind went back to the old Gospel tune, We Shall Overcome. But there’s a difference today. Today we can sing, if only for a moment, and with so much work left to do:

We HAVE overcome!

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As noted, the upper image is courtesy of Nightmare – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Nightmare (Henry Fuseli, 1781).”  The Henry Fuseli link added:

Since its creation, it has remained Fuseli’s best-known work…  Due to its fame, Fuseli painted at least three other versions…  The canvas seems to portray simultaneously a dreaming woman and the content of her nightmare.  The incubus and the horse’s head refer to contemporary belief and folklore about nightmares, but … critics were [also] taken aback by the overt sexuality of the painting…

After noting again that contemporary critics “found the work scandalous due to its sexual themes,” the link pointed out that the main subject of the painting – the woman – seems to have been prompted by “unrequited love.” It seems that Fuseli had “fallen passionately in love with a woman named Anna Landholdt in Zürich … the niece of his friend, the Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater.”  However, Landholdt “married a family friend” soon after the artist proposed to her…   

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Re: “Come out of the closet.” BTW: That was either a metaphor or hyperbole, “exaggeration for dramatic impact.” And research led to this meme, “come out of the closet lindsey graham.” Which brings up the Internet and truth; See “Bonjour!”

The second image in the text is courtesy of Ezekiel Watchman – Image Results. It’s with an article, What about a watchman? – BibleTruths. It cited Ezekiel 33:7 – in the image – but then went back to Ezekiel 3:16-21. The article began with a man who sincerely believed God called him “to be a Watchman” for his local church, but used that “to justify enforcing harsh Pharisaical rules and regulations” on other members.” Faithful readers of this blog will note such a view is precisely what this blog opposes. For myself, I believe we are called to be “watchmen” to each other, and that by and through such fruitful dialog we can all be better “practicing Christians.” See On St. James (“10/23”) – and the 7 blind men, which included the “parable of the Blind men and elephant,and this:

Good Christians should be able to “argue” with each other – in the good sense.  (The sense of “civil” lawyers presenting concise and reasoned bases to support their position, and not resorting to name-calling or “ad hominem” attacks.)

Re: Gerald Ford’s 1974 comments “foreshadowing.” In the 2016 post I wrote that the comments could foreshadow what happened on “January 20, 2020.” (Needless to say, I’m embarrassed but will leave the 2016-post wording as it is.)

Re: “Fight the good fight.” The reference is to 2 Timothy 4:7, where Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The quotes from the “Baptismal Covenant” are courtesy of The (Online) Book of Common Prayer, at the link Holy Baptism, at pages 304-305.

Re: “We shall overcome,” Youtube. The link in the text is to the lily-white version by Joan Baez, mostly because she has such a great voice. (And she’s cute too, vis-a-vis “coming out of the closet.”) For a more ethnically-diverse version, see “We Shall Overcome”- Morehouse College Glee Club – YouTube. And in the interest of full coverage, here’s an image at left including Martin Luther King, courtesy of We Shall Overcome – Image Results.

The lower image is courtesy of We Shall Overcome – Image Results. It comes with a video, Pete Seeger – We shall overcome – YouTube, which may or may not be the version in the link. See also We Shall Overcome – Wikipedia, on the “gospel song which became a protest song,” and a key anthem of the civil rights movement. The song is commonly seen as “lyrically descended from ‘I’ll Overcome Some Day,’ a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley first published in 1901. The article traces the history of the song from 1901 to its association with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, including an arrangement by Pete Seeger. That arrangement was first sung in public in 1959, by Guy Carawan at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee.

“Gleaning” on the Epiphany – 2021

In this post I am gleaning past posts on The Epiphany – with a nod to  Jean-François Millet.

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Today, Wednesday, January 6, we celebrate the feast of The Epiphany. (It was also the day Congress (was supposed to) Count Electoral Votes, as that count affects last November’s presidential election, but that’s a whole ‘nother story entirely.*)

So this year’s Epiphany will be yet another “like no other” in American history. (For reasons both a bit surprising and yet reasonably foreseeable. And continuing a concept in line with 2020 – A Christmas like no other?) In turn, while the “secular” Electoral College count will be delayed – though only temporarily – we can still celebrate Epiphany. To review, that is the “Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.”

And that’s an idea that can definitely put things in perspective. (As in, “This too shall pass.”)

On that note, I’ve picked three earlier posts to glean from. (Seeking past “nuggets” on the Feast day.) And gleaning is now a term with multiple meanings. Originally it meant to “collect (grain, grapes, etc.) left behind after the main harvest or gathering.” Or to gather what was left in a field or vineyard. (As in the painting by Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, at the top of the page. See also Ruth 2:2, and following: “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind,” illustrated at right.)  But now it can also mean to “gather information in small amounts,” though sometimes with implied difficulty.

So, back to the past posts. From 2016, Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.” From two years later, Happy Epiphany – 2018. And from last year – which seems a decade ago – My recent Utah trip – and “3 Wise Guys.” That 2016 post noted January 6 is also called Three Kings’ Day. The post includes lot of information on those three kings – or wise men – and also on how that day ties in to the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. (January 1, also known as “National Hangover Day.”) The 2016 post also has lots of background on that particular ritual…

(That is, circumcision, not hangovers.)

As to Happy Epiphany – 2018, it said January 6 is also known as the last of the 12 Days of Christmas. (To confuse things more, the evening of January 5 is “12th Night.”) Then too, it pointed out that the word “epiphany” can also refer to an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, or “a making clear or public or obvious.” (On the question whether today’s “violence and anarchy” came under the heading “reasonably foreseeable.” See also Twitter blocks Trump for 12 hours, threatens permanent suspension. “Ya think?”)

Which brings us back to “just last year – which seems like a decade ago – My recent Utah trip.” Aside from discussing the circumcision aspect of the January 1st holiday, it also noted this:

. . . the end of an old year and beginning of a New Year is also a time to recall the events of that past year gone by, and 2019 was definitely a year of pilgrimage for me. Like my trip last May to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. (See “On to JerusalemOn my first full day in Jerusalem, or type in “Jerusalem” in the search box above right.)

So the Utah winter trip came at the end of a pilgrimage-filled 2019. Another example was my September 2019 trip to Portugal, for a 160-mile hike on the Portuguese Way (of the Camino de Santiago), from Porto to Santiago. (Type “Portugal” in the search box.) However, “my most recent pilgrimage was a 15-day drive out to and back from my brother’s house in Utah.”

All of those were great trips – great pilgrimages – in hindsight. But as for recalling “the events of that (last) past year gone by” – that is, the pandemic-plagued year 2020 – my response is “No, thank you!” It’s time to move on. (And come to think of it, I’m not too crazy about the “Capitol” events of January 6, 2021 either.) But getting back to last year’s mid-winter trip out to Utah. (As in a kind of Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet to Come. Here referring metaphorically to the time when we can once again take long road trips and travel overseas.)

That mid-winter trip included getting snowed in at a Motel 6 in Grand Island, Nebraska, with a view of a near-frozen North Platte River from my motel window, as shown below. But it also included a great burger and two draft beers at the Thunder Road Grill at the truck stop next door. So the way I figure, “there’s some kind of lesson there!

Here’s hoping for a much better 2021 (starting tomorrow)…

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The upper image is courtesy of The Gleaners – Wikipedia.

Re: “A whole ‘nother story.” See e.g. ‘Violence and anarchy.’ Chaos erupts following Trump’s unprecedented effort to overturn Biden’s election win.

Re: “This too shall pass.” The link is to 33 Encouraging Quotes for Times of Crisis | Inc.com. Some of my new favorites (from the site): “Any kind of crisis can be good. It wakes you up,” and “Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are.” Which is being interpreted: We will come out of today’s “crisis” stronger than before.

The painting of Ruth is courtesy of Wikipedia.

I took the photo at the end of the main text, of “Grand Island” outside my Motel 6 window, as noted. I also took a photo of my glasses on the bar next to a half-empty glass of draft beer. (The Motel 6 in question was at 7301 Bosselman Ave, Grand Island, NE. Next door was a full service trucker’s station, with a bar and grill. The full link to the “Thunder Road” website is Thunder Road Grill | Pizza, Wings & Burgers | Grand Island, NE.)

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2020 – A Christmas like no other?

“Seattle police wearing masks in December 1918.” Is 2020 a case of deja vu all over again?

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It’s Christmas Eve Day, 2020. Which leads to the question: “Is our Christmas Day in this crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 truly one ‘like no other?'”

The answer? “Actually, no.” There was for example Christmas in 1918…

Which led me to this article, Was Christmas celebrated during the 1918 Spanish Flu?

A largely unheeded warning from 1918…

For some background, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic started in February that year and lasted until April, 1920. (So, roughly two years and two months?) And in another “deja vu all over again,” the culprit was the H1N1 flu virus. (It also caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic.)

But back to 1918, when there was a little thing called World War I going on. The first recorded such “flu” case in the United States was said to come on March 4, 1918. “Albert Gitchell, an army cook” at Camp Funston in Kansas. (Although there were probably some cases before him.) First seen in Haskell County, Kansas, in January 1918, a local doctor warned the US Public Health Service, to no avail. Within days, 522 men at Camp Funston had reported sick, and by March 11, 1918, the virus had reached Queens, New York. And in a sign of things to be repeated:

Failure to take preventive measures in March/April was later criticized.

But wait, there’s more! Because the war was raging, censors minimized early reports. That is, they did so in the major countries involved in the war, but not in neutral Spain. There, reports of the disease weren’t censored, which is why the epidemic got the name “Spanish flu.”

From Camp Funston the disease spread through the American Expeditionary Forces, who brought it to Europe and the Western Front by mid-April, 1918. It then spread from France to Great Britain, Italy, Spain and beyond. After the March Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – between Germany and Russia – “Germany started releasing Russian prisoners of war, who then brought the disease to their country.” From there it spread to the rest of the world in four “waves,” with a much-deadlier second wave in late 1918. (With a third wave in 1919 and a fourth in 1920.) 

Later that year – on November 11, 1918 – the war ended, and people were so happy they “couldn’t be stopped from gathering to celebrate.” Then too the number of Spanish Flu cases went down toward the end of 1918, so restrictions were eased and many churches “swelled with the joyous music of the [Christmas] season once again.” But as one site noted, “History suggests that celebrating holidays during a pandemic by gathering in large groups, as one might during normal times, could have harmful and long-lasting effects.”

Which may explain the second, third and fourth “waves.” On the other hand, back then “they” had some advantages, as noted in A Look Back at Christmas During the Spanish Flu Pandemic. For one thing, Americans in 1918 were “much more familiar with epidemic disease:”

… epidemic disease was very familiar to the early 20th century public. Families, many of which had lost a child to diphtheria or watched a loved one suffer from polio, were generally willing to comply with some limitations on their activities. Most public health departments wore badges and had police powers, and this was generally uncontroversial. “They could forcibly quarantine you or put you on a quarantine station on an island.”

So much for the “advantage” being familiar with deadly epidemic diseases. But at least they were “willing to comply with some limitations on their activities.” And another point to remember is that – be all that as it may – the United States and the world survived. So much so that if it hadn’t been for this year’s COVID-19 pandemic – illustrated at right – few people today would have any reason to recall the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Which brings up a link from my last post, December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?” The gist of that link – Bad Things to Good People? | Psychology Today – was its “scientific” answer: That “the universe has no inherent purpose or design.”

However, the pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well who came up with that conclusion did offer up some good advice. (Bless his heart,” as we say in Georgia):

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter… When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

All of which is pretty much what Christians are supposed to do anyway. (Show empathy, try to alleviate the suffering of others.) And which was pretty much the point of Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. That rather than waiting on God to perform some miracle, we should get to work on the problem ourselves. Which brings up the “Christmas spirit.”

I Googled “what is the Christmas spirit” and got 4,180,000 results. Here’s one answer I liked, from What is Christmas Spirit? – Scientific American Blog Network:

The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit… After all, we are the sum of the individuals around us who generate the collective force that governs and organizes our social structure… When we “act out” Christmas spirit, we’re making visible this collective force, and we give it power.

Then there’s Christmas Spirit – Its Real Meaning | 7th Sense, which defined that spirit in three simple actions: Giving, Appreciating, and Doing service. Which is pretty much the same advice “pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well” offered a few paragraphs back…

And which is pretty much the conclusion I came to back on April 25, when I posted On St. Mark, 2020 – and today’s “plague.” Aside from the then-new COVID pandemic, it spoke of Mark’s “shorter” and more abrupt ending. (The one where, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.” I.e., without the account of His resurrection.) I said maybe the point of “both today’s Covid-19 ‘persecution’ and Jesus’ seemingly unexplained death – with ‘Mark’ ending at Mark 16:8 – have the capacity to be mysteries.”

Such “mysteries” – and even pandemics – seem to be a part of life. But from them we can learn valuable lessons, like how to develop and grow stronger, spiritually and otherwise. Which means the “answer” to such mysteries largely depends on us. “What will we do with this unexpected calamity? Will we go forward and grow stronger, or turn back the clock and start turning on each other?” In turn, “our” Covid-19 can remind us of our “fragility as human beings,” as noted in a quote from The Plague by Camus, in Part 1, early in the book:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Which certainly seems true of this latest 2020 pestilence. It certainly came as a surprise. Which brings up a book review from the Salt Lake Tribune on “The Plague,” with this relevant point:

Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.

One possible lesson? The current pestilence might lead to a massive change in our present national life, and especially our national political life. The present Coronavirus might lead to a general and sweeping American “softening of the heart.” So with all that in mind:

Merry Christmas, 2020, and may 2021 be a WHOLE lot better!

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A “time of pestilence” can show there are more things to admire in people than to despise…

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The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

The “influenza” image was accompanied by a caption: “Rules to reduce the spread of Spanish flu posting by the US Public Health Service. Cough or sneeze into your mouth with a handkerchief, avoid crowded places, do not spit, do not share the use of cups and napkins…. Typographic poster; Unites States, Washington, DC 1918. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).”

The image “COVID-19 – illustrated at right” is captioned: “A testing team responds to a confirmed case in a nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia.”

The lower image is courtesy of The Plague – Wikipedia

December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?”

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It’s mid-December, 2020. At such times – near the end of a given year – people tend to look back. They look back at what happened in that year just past. Or maybe we take a look back at “this time last year.” Sometimes it helps to see what a difference a year makes. Or recall what we were doing and thinking “this time last year.”

So – in looking back over posts from “this time last year” – I came across an unfinished draft. That is, a post I started, but never finished. The tentative title? “Bad things to good people?” Which may have been a bit of foreshadowing. That is, it may have been an early “indication of what is to come.” (2020 has been a crazy year…)

The last time I modified the post was December 15, 2019, a year ago. So now – after our crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 – seems like a good time to bring the topic up to date… I started the “bad things to good people” post off with this:

It struck me recently [in December 2019] that sometimes – when it seems that “bad things happen to good people” – God isn’t punishing us. Maybe He’s just trying to get us back on the right track, in the only way He has available. Usually through negative feedback. In the manner of a sheep dog “nipping at the heels” of a member of His flock.

The point is that through the Bible, God’s been saying for years how we should act, what we should do. But when we don’t pay attention – when that fails – the only option He has left is to resort to that negative feedback. Which brings up the difference between negative and positive feedback. Put simply, what if – instead of having to be told constantly what not to do – you could get positive feedback from God that tells you should do in the first place?

(You know, besides the stuff that’s already in the Bible.) In other words, if you “learned to speak God’s language.” That’s where the Bible comes in, and why it pays to actually read the Bible…

That brings up a theme I’ve tried to advance in this blog: That studying the Bible is a good way to get that positive feedback from God. (To “learn His language.”) If you read and study long enough, you can figure out what God wants before He has to use negative feedback.

Which brings up What the Bible says about Sheep as Metaphor. One point? Sheep are really stupid. The only way they ever get going in the right direction is to have a sheep dog “nipping” at their heels. So my point: Read and study the Bible. It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

Getting back to the “negatives” of 2020, check a review in 2020 events so far: Yep, these all happened this year. (From the New York Post). Australian brush fires, beginning December 2019 and extending into 2020. (Burning a record 47 million acres and killing at least 34 people.) Kobe Bryant’s death, Donald Trump’s impeachment (and whitewash). Blacks Lives Matter protests. An exceedingly nasty presidential election. And of course the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 stock market crash that followed.

So what “right track” could God try to get us back on? Especially in the U.S., where the death toll from COVID is approaching 292,000? (See COVID updates: US death toll surpasses World War II combat fatalities.) If I had to guess, I’d use three little words (and an addendum):

Lack of compassion – and too much hate!

If that’s too subtle, here in simpler terms: “Stop hating so much, and show a whole lot more compassion than you’ve shown the past year!” But that’s already in the Bible. (See Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:28. And What does the Bible say about compassion, especially 1st John 4:20, that if “we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?”)

Which brings us back to “stupid sheep.” Consider Why does God call us sheep? – Blogger, or What is the significance of sheep in the Bible? The latter’s reasons for the metaphor included that sheep don’t “have a defense system” and are helpless without a shepherd. Also:

. . . sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that [leader] may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:5019:34Numbers 16:2).

Following a dangerous or foolish leader? (Instead of sticking to the eternal truths of the Bible?) “Extremely gullible?” Charismatic leader? Shiny new idea? “Herd mentality?” All these sound very familiar. But getting back to why bad things can happen to good people. Or why “God” might have “sent the Coronavirus.” Or why the reminder to have more compassion…

One precedent from the Bible? The Massacre of the Innocents, which we remember on December 28, three days after Christmas. (This year “transferred” to the 29th, as Holy Innocents.) There, on hearing of Jesus’ birth, “Herod the Greatking of Judea, orders the execution of all male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.”

So why did all those male infants have to die, near the time of Jesus’ birth? Or for that matter, why did some 292,000 Americans have to die in the past year, from COVID?

One answer came in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the 1981 book by Harold Kushner, “a Conservative rabbi.” The gist of his book was that God is benevolent but not all-powerful to prevent evil. “God does his best and is with people in their suffering, but is not fully able to prevent it.” Which brings up Finite God Theodicy

“Finite God Theodicy maintains that God is all-good (omnibenevolent) but not all-powerful,” while theodicy in general tries to answer why God permits evil. (Or COVID.) It’s a “theological construct” trying to “vindicate God in response to the evidential problem of evil that seems inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.”

Another answer – ostensibly – can be seen in Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? | Psychology Today, posted in October 2019. That review of Kushner’s book – by Ralph Lewis M.D., a “scientific thinker” – answered bluntly, “Bad things happen for the same reason anything happens.” He listed Kushner’s answer, to “drop the belief in God’s omnipotence.” And to accept his “scientific” conclusion, that the universe has no inherent purpose or design.

I don’t buy it, for reasons including those listed in May 2019’s “As a spiritual exercise,” and the recent Unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’ But then there’s a post from 2015, On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.” It talked about some wisdom I gleaned – from both Virgil the old Roman poet, and a “‘Frisco” Hell’s Angel named Magoo. And Professor Timothy Shutt, who said our human minds are just too limited to ever fully understand “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.

That is, Virgil took issue with the “all or nothing” idea that either there’s a God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all. (That “chance or strictly natural forces give rise to all that we see around us.”) Another name for that “all or nothing” approach is  splitting, or in more familiar terms “black and white thinking.”  

I discuss that phenomenon routinely in the notes below. In plain words, the human brain doesn’t like ambiguity. Or for that matter cognitive inconsistency. The human brain would much rather think in black-and-white terms than deal with Virgil’s nuanced approach. And Virgil crystallized his spiritual “sense of things” in the Aeneid, Book III:

Divine order could be seen in some things, but other things more or less just happened. This is not a view we tend to share, but it does make a certain sense… [A]n overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work. But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part…

So one of my conclusions? That compared to God most of us humans are “really stupid sheep.”

On the other hand some of us take the time to read and study the Bible, with an open mind. And so we realize that however much we learn – from the Bible and life experience – we can never fully comprehend “God.” Which means we can reject the idea of an unpowerful God who “does His best” but can’t – or won’t – prevent human suffering. And reject the “black and white” idea that either God is all-powerful or that there is no God, and so human life is totally random, without any meaning or purpose. (On that note see The True Test of Faith.)

As to that idea we can never fully comprehend “God?” There’s one answer: “Not yet anyway.” In the meantime, keep reading the Bible with an eye to getting that positive feedback.

It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

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“You’re going the wrong way, you stupid sheep!”

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The upper image is courtesy of When Bad Things Happen Good People – Image Results.

As to what all this means about what “we” can do about the Coronavirus, “Psychology Today’s” Dr. Lewis had one good answer, that we “rely on each other:”

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter and that what happens to them has an emotional impact on us. When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

Which is actually a very “Christian” thought. And which was pretty much my point in Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. To wit: That it would be a greater miracle if Jesus “got a bunch of normally-greedy people to share what they had,” rather than simply performing a routine magic trick.  

Re: December 28. See also Feast of the Holy Innocents (Britannica):

The feast is observed by Western churches on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29. The slain children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. It may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

As indicated in the main text, this “feast” was transferred from the 28th to the 29th. This year the day for St John, Apostle and Evangelist – normally December 28 – was transferred to Monday; standard procedure when such a feast day falls on a Sunday.

For more on metaphors see e.g. Famous Metaphors in The Bible – Literary Devices. Metaphors turn difficult ideas into simple concepts. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.

Here are some thoughts from the 2019 rough draft, included for completeness:

The point of all this is that normally – based on our own shortcomings – God has no way of telling us directly “the way we should go.” He can only direct us through negative feedback, telling us where not to go, in the manner of a sheep dog. He can only get through to us by a process of elimination... Which can be very difficult for us to comprehend. When we don’t get our way, or when we think we’ve done the Right Thing and that “God owes us,” we get mad when “bad things” happen.

See also The Gospel reading for May 4, with this about the “way of the sheep:”

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.

The lower image is courtesy of Sheep Dog Nipping Heels – Image Results. The image came with an article, “Social sheepdogs: nipping and nudging into the mainstream,” about the “sheep-dog-like” behavior of sports team-mates of the writer’s adolescent special-needs son.

December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning…”

For one November event I’m thankful for finishing, see “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age…”

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It all started with the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End, followed by the Election Legal Challenges That Seem Like They Will Never End. In the meantime we’ve also celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 26, followed by the Feast Day for St Andrew, Apostle. (Shown at left.)

That was last Monday, November 30. And aside from all that, Christmas is coming up three weeks from Friday, December 4. Which is preceded by the Season of Advent, which itself started last Sunday, November 29, in the First Sunday of Advent. About that “First Sunday,” see Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig: 

Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year [2020] has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.

So the Season of Advent is about looking ahead and New Beginnings, which brings up my “hope-fully” spending November preparing a new book for publication – in both an e-book and paperback – as detailed in the November 18 post, On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.” (Which actually was a lot of fun, remembering and writing about all those great travel adventures and pilgrimages I enjoyed – back before the COVID hit…)

But getting back to those upcoming Feast Days and Liturgical Seasons. I’ve covered them in posts like An early Advent medley, from 2015, and On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent, from 2016. And by the way, in the Daily Office set of Bible readings, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan. So it looks like another busy month…

But first, remembering Thanksgiving: Past posts include On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part IIThanksgiving 2015Thanksgiving – 2016Thanksgiving – 2017, and On Thanksgiving 2019. I started off the latter (2019) post with this: “Things have been hectic since I got back last September 25th from my 19-day, 160-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. See On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, along with Just got back – Portuguese Camino!”

Then it went on to discuss an “Old Testament reading from Isaiah 19:19-25 … of a future highway, running from Egypt to Assyria and vice versa, and which will eventually lead to something new under the sun: ‘when the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians:’”

On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’

One problem? At the time the Assyrians and Egyptians were arch-enemies, with each other and with Israel. (Which they took turns conquering.) “Which means this passage looks forward to an ultimate day of peace and harmony, between those nations which were at the time bitter enemies.” So here’s hoping that that reading may be a bit of positive foreshadowing.

Heck, if Israel could have gotten along with either the Egyptians or Assyrians, today’s Democrats and Republicans should be able to get along too. (They are after all, fellow citizens of the same country.) Which brings us back to the theme Advent [as] The Season of Hope:

This year, more than ever, we really need to focus on hope! We have been bruised and battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a polarizing election, racial strife, and so much more. 

The point being that “Advent is always a season of hope, a season that reminds us never to lose sight of the hope we Christians are called to live with year-round.” 

So here’s looking forward to a happy and much-better 2021!

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results, and was featured in the previous post.

Re: Other Feast Days coming up: As noted, next Monday – December 7, 2020 – is the Feast Day of Ambrose of Milan, in the Daily Office. (See What’s a DOR?) And also An early Advent medley. That post noted that Ambrose is one of “Eight Doctors of the Church” and four “Fathers of the Western Church,” and that “perhaps his greatest work was converting St. Augustine of Hippo.”

The lower image is courtesy of Looking Forward 2021 – Image Results. The image accompanied an article, New Cruise Ships To Look Forward To In 2021 – Cruise Bulletin.

On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age…”

To see more images of the “meanest 33 miles in history,” go to Chilkoot Trail – Image Results

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The next major feast day is Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26. For a look at some past posts on the subject see the Notes. In the meantime I have something to be thankful for.

I just published a new E-book(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age(“Or ‘How NICE it was to travel, before COVID.’”) It’s published under my nom de plume, “James B. Ford.” The cover photo – at right – shows me in Jerusalem in May 2019, wearing a “shemagh.” Also called a keffiyeh, I got it at Ranger Joe’s in Ft. Benning before leaving for Israel. (To “blend in.”) I’m wearing it over my black Atlanta United ball cap, thus “blending in” the best of the old and new.

In the blurb I wrote for Amazon Kindle eBooks, I said this book should be timely – “in the middle of our Covid-19 pandemic” – because right now “lots of Americans can only dream about visiting such exotic locales in the future, when the crisis passes.”

I compared it to the 1920s and ‘30s, when so many Americans were fascinated by Hemingway’s books on France and Spain. (Like “The Sun Also Rises ” and “A Moveable Feast.”)

I’m guessing part of it was that back then most Americans could only DREAM of travel to such exotic places. (Like today with Covid…) Then too it may be because Hemingway gave all those exotic street names and local pubs and restaurants. Like my finding the “BEERBAZAAR,” in Jerusalem, in May 2019. Which makes me think I should have written down way more information when I was “over there.” Then I could do more what Hemingway did, vivid description. But I have something Hemingway didn’t have. GOOGLE MAPS!

Then too – aside from my May 2019 pilgrimage to Israel – the book includes chapters on hiking the Chilkoot Trail in 2016. (“Meanest 33 miles in history,” exemplified by the top photo.) Or hiking the Camino de Santiago, twice. The first time was in 2017. I met my brother in Pamplona – home of Hemingway’s Café Iruna – and together we hiked (and biked) the 450 miles to Santiago de Compostela. (He flew into Paris and hiked over the Pyrenees, but the Chilkoot Trail had cured me of any such wishes to go hiking over mountains again so soon.)

Incidentally, the last two chapters of the book are based on the last two (of three) posts I did in a companion blog: Here’s that second post on the Portuguese Camino, and “They sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal!” That “They sell beer” post was really long – “Word count 3450” – mostly because I had a lot to fit in. But, to balance things out I’ll make this post shorter.

The upshot is that I wrote about a lot of great adventures, but still had more to write about. Plus those I did cover I didn’t do full justice to. I did include one great memory from Israel:

May 28, 2019, Tel Aviv. The night before I fly home from Ben Gurion. Sitting at the bar in the basement of the Abraham Hostel, Levon St. 21. To my left, two travel buddies, Sam and Katie. Katie on my immediate left, Sam one seat over. To my right a young man who turned out to be a law student from Quebec. We got to talking, and I asked his name. He said “Silas.” So I started singing “Two was a-Paul and Silas!” Katie chimed in, “One was a little bitty baby,” then we both sang – in harmony – “Born, born, born in Bethlehem!”

(That was part of the chorus from “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” As I wrote in the book, “for a kick-ass a cappella version, see the one by Little Big Town.)

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There’s more on all that later, but first a couple production notes on the E-book. First off, you’ll notice that on page 6 of the Introduction – right after the paragraph beginning “May 28, 2019, Tel Aviv” – the line spacing goes all kerflooey. From justified it goes to non-justified text, and the line spacing gets wider. It goes back to normal for the next one-line paragraph – “Then the COVID hit” – but the text stays non-justified through near the  middle of the next page. (It says page 6 again; there are apparently two “page 6’s.”) Then it goes back to justified text.

I tried correcting it, uploading a second and ostensibly-corrected Word document, but it stayed the same, kerflooey for a page or two. Another note: I had the “Observations” at the end of many chapters in italics and non-justified, as well as the notes at the end of the book. The program made all those justified type. And for the paperback version the publishing program required a minimum of 100 pages, so I had to add four pages to the original 96.

So I’ll try to upload a corrected version, with the additional four pages and with a proper note at the very end as to where to buy a paperback version. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Meanwhile, back to the subject of the book not doing justice to all my adventures…

For one example, as to the Portuguese Camino hike: I only got “us” as far as the Casa Límia in Ponte de Lima. That’s only about a third of the way up to Santiago de Compostela. Then too I could only provide limited coverage of my pilgrimage to Israel, which I last covered in This time last year – in Jerusalem, in May 2020. And by the way, that post has a lot of those “image may contain” boxes, that used to be pictures I posted, to make the posts more interesting. And which in turn is a problem I address in the book. And that’s why I now use lead captions like “To see more images of the ‘meanest 33 miles in history,’ go to Chilkoot Trail – Image Results.” That makes it much easier to transmogrify these blog-posts into future picture-less book chapters.

And about that Jerusalem trip. I described the Leonardo Moria Hotel, a short walk from St. George’s Pilgrim Guest House, with a lounge sometimes functioning as a piano bar. (Once even having a yarmulke-topped pianist playing the Chicken Dance.) That turned out to be a favorite watering hole, not just for me but eventually many of my fellow pilgrims at St. George’s. (One night, for a birthday, “we” had 17 pilgrims there. I should have gotten a commission…)

So one point of this “limited coverage” is that in the future I’ll have to do at least one Sequel. (Tentatively titled “(More of) My Adventures in Old Age.”) In it I hope to add more oversea-travel adventures, including a return to St. George’s in Jerusalem. (Once we kick COVID’s ass.)

Stay tuned!!!

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results. See also Explore the Chilkoot Trail – Klondike Gold Rush. The lower image is courtesy of St George’s College Jerusalem – Image Results

Re: Past posts on Thanksgiving. See On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part II, On Thanksgiving 2015, On Thanksgiving – 2016, On Thanksgiving – 2017, and On Thanksgiving 2019. (Did I skip 2018?)

On Halloween 2020 – “Scariest ever?”

Can you say, “Truer words were never spoken?

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.) The fourth – and most overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. See Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Welcome to Halloween 2020. Which as it turns out, is a Halloween Like We’ve Never Seen!

With the convergence of a full moon, a blue (Hunter’s) Moon [seen below left], daylight saving time and Saturday celebrations — plus the unprecedented events of this year — Halloween 2020 will truly be one to remember. 

See also Halloween: CDC says no trick-or-treating amid COVID. (“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses.”) On the other hand, there is also that election coming up three days later. Not to mention the article with the photo at the top of the page:

While the presidential election, economic recession and ongoing coronavirus pandemic have made 2020 a notoriously bad year for many, [James] Worsham has felt personally targeted with his bad luck: A March tornado destroyed his work studio and then the pandemic, as well as an insurance nightmare, forced him to close his business for four months… Yet, despite it all, he has managed to keep up a positive attitude.

On that note, we’ll return to some “tradition.” Like from last year when I posted The Halloween Triduum – 2019. Which led with a news flash: That Halloween isn’t just one day. It’s part of a “Triduum.” It’s one part of the “three days of Hallowe’en.” (Referred to as Allhallowtide. And Triduum is just a fancy Latin word for “three days.”)

 “Hallowe’en” came from the Old English word for “saint,” halig. (All Saints Day, November 1, was originally “All Hallow’s Day.”) Wikipedia noted that this three-day period is a “time to remember the dead. That, includes martyrssaints, and all faithful departed Christians.” The main day of the three is November 1, now “All Saints Day,” previously referred to as Hallowmas

It all started with an old-time belief that evil spirits were most prevalent during the long nights of winter. People back then thought the “barriers between our world and the spirit world” were lowest and most permeable the night of October 31:

So, those old-time people would wear masks or put on costumes in order to disguise their identities. The idea was to keep the afterlife “hallows” – ghosts or spirits – from recognizing the people in this, the “material world.”

You can see more about Halloween in that 2019 post. (And links therein, including but not limited to On the THREE days of Hallowe’en, from 2017. and On “All Hallows E’en” – 2016.) They include details of a strange ghostly light called ignis fatuus. (From the Medieval Latin for “foolish fire.”) That is, the “atmospheric ghost light seen by travelers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached:”

Or about the danger of traveling on All Hallows E’en.

If you were out from 11:00 p.m. to midnight, your had to be very careful. If your candle kept burning, that was a good omen. (The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming winter “season of darkness.”) But if the candle went out, that was “bad indeed.” (The thought was the candle was blown out by witches…)

But next comes November 1, All Saints Day. It honors “all the saints and martyrs, both known and unknown” who have gone on before us. I.e., special people in the Church. (A saint is defined as one “having an exceptional degree of holiness,” while a martyr is someone “killed because of their testimony of Jesus.”) Which leads to one prayer from an All Saint’s link:

Almighty God, who by your Holy Spirit have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness…

On the other hand, November 2 – All Souls’ Day – honors “all faithful Christians … unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends.’”  In other words, the rest of us poor schmucks. (Those who will die but likely not be remembered, much.)

That is, that third day of the Halloween Triduum – November 2 – is All Souls’ Day.  The original idea was to remember the souls of “the dear departed,” illustrated by the painting below. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day, and – in many churches – the following Sunday service includes a memorial for all who died in the past year.

All of which makes the Good News of Halloween. (I.e., we “know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness,” the witness of the departed.) Accordingly, here’s wishing you:

A Happy “All Hallow’s E’en!”

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In two months we’ll say “Goodbye” to 2020. And probably “Good riddance!

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The upper image is courtesy of Halloween 2020 – Image Results. The image accompanies an article, posted on October 24, “Man thinks of ‘the scariest thing’ for his Halloween 2020 decor.” Which led to an article about the “blue moon:”

Get ready, witches and warlocks. This October 31, there’s a full moon occurring in Taurus, and it’s extra special. This lunar event is called a “blue moon” because it’s the second full moon we’ll experience in the month of October. Not, it won’t actually appear blue, but it’s rare — hence the phrase “once in a blue moon” — and astrologically, very powerful.

The lower image is courtesy of All Souls’ Day – WikipediaThe caption: “All Souls’ Day by William Bouguereau.”  See also Allhallowtide, and All Saints’ Day – Wikipedia. My original caption, from Triduum – 2019, was “The ‘Three Days of Halloween‘ end November 2, with All Souls’ Day.”

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added-on phrase, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mindSee the Wikipedia article, which talks about its opposite:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

See also Splitting (psychology) – Wikipedia, on the phenomenon also called black-and-white thinking, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

So anyway, in plain words this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. The Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible offers so much more than their narrow reading can offer… (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” And as noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly. (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind

For more about “Boot-camp Christians” see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?” And as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The image below is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

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

Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

Jonah: “Ain’t about no stinkin’ whale!”

The “attention getter” – in the Book of Jonah that got in the way of the real message…

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The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: To read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Here’s a short version. The Book of Jonah “ain’t about no stinkin’ whale!” The Moral of the Story is that God loves everyone. (“Even – gasp – liberals?”) In other words, it’s about how God’s love is universal. Or to repeat the lesson of John 6:37, God will accept anyone. (Who turns to Him…)

I mention this because starting last Tuesday – October 13, 2020 – the Daily Office Old Testament readings came from the Book of Jonah. (The readings ended – appropriately – three days later on Thursday, October 15.) Briefly, the book “tells of a Hebrew prophet named Jonah … sent by God to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh but tries to escape the divine mission.”

Which leads to the whale.

As noted in previous posts, the real message of Jonah is this:  “God’s love is universal… It ain’t about no ^%$## whale!!!” I wrote that in the January 2015 post, Jonah and the bra-burners. The “bra burner” part referred to the 1968 Miss America protest. That’s where some feminist protesters allegedly “burned their bras” as a way of getting attention for their cause. But see also Feminism Has a Bra-Burning Myth Problem:

The way we remember the Miss America Pageant protest in 1968 in Atlantic City, New Jersey is a good example.* There is no statue on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to commemorate an important protest about standards of beauty for women and a contest tied into capitalism, war, and race.  Instead, our cultural touchstone from that day is the negative and trite association of feminists as “bra-burners.”

In other words, before the event one of the organizers thought that such a form of protest “might be a good way to launch the movement into the public consciousness.” The effort succeeded, but the success turned out to be a “blessing and a curse.” 

First, organizers asked police officials for a permit to burn such items as bras – and also girdles, cookware and Playboy magazines. City officials refused the request, so the protesters threw the offending items into a garbage can. But a New York Post report “included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards.” As one organizer later noted, “The media picked up on the bra part.” (That darned Liberal Media!)

Which is pretty much what happened to the story of Jonah:

My point was that the “attention-getter” in Jonah – the whale – got in the way of the real message. So the Book of Jonah was just like the “bra-burners” at the 1968 Miss America pageant, where that real message got lost too.  The real message of Jonah is:  God’s love is universal…   (It ain’t about no ^%$## whale!!!)

That’s the problem with an attention-getter. Like burning bras, or using a whale as a minor but memorable detail in a parable. Sometimes the attention-getter gets in the way of the real message. In the case of the Book of Jonah, ever since it came out too many Bible-readers have “picked up on the whale part.” And ended up ignoring the real message behind the book. 

The real message came in Jonah 4:11, after Jonah finally did what God wanted: Go to Nineveh and “prophesy its destruction.” It was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Israel’s long-time arch-enemy and greatest tormenter. So Jonah went and proclaimed God’s message, but to his dismay, city residents from the king on down “repented their sins.”

And as a result of that, God repented of His plan to destroy the city.

Which made Jonah very angry, “angry enough to die.” He left the city and watched from afar, hoping God would still destroy it. But he got even madder, “enough to die.” Not only did God not destroy Nineveh; He killed a plant that shaded Jonah from fierce sun and burning wind.

That’s when God chastised him, saying, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” On which note see also Was “Abraham” a pimp?

In that post I pointed out the error of reading the Bible too literally. That’s because the Bible is about real people, facing real problems, not a bunch of superheroes who are so much better than us. Like Abraham, who “was not some ‘goody two-shoes’ bent on preserving his ‘virtue.’” And notice how God changed the names of both Abraham (Abram) and his wife Sarah (Sarai). The point of that metaphor is that “with a true Christian – a real Christian, not a too-conservative ‘Pharisee’ – God changes people.” 

It’s all about change, and being transformed. And you won’t be able to go through that “life-changing” – like Jacob into Israel – if you’re too conservative. In Jonah’s case he was not only “conservative” but also pretty vindictive. (Like most of us are from time to time.) Or maybe he was just an example of “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

In the meantime, go ahead and “preach to the Ninevites.” They might just listen…

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The upper image is courtesy Wikipedia on the Book of Jonah, as is the lower image. The upper caption: “‘Jonah and the Whale’ (1621) by Pieter Lastman.”

The full readings for Tuesday, October 13, were: Psalm 5, 6; and Psalm 10, 11, Jonah 1:1-17aActs 26:24-27:8; and Luke 8:40-56. The readings from Jonah, from the following Wednesday and Thursday, were Jonah 1:17-2:10 and Jonah 3:1-4:11.

The “stinking whale” quote came from Was “Abraham” a pimp? In that January 2019 post I paraphrased the point of Jonah and the bra-burners.

The “good example” part referred to “our conflicted feelings about women as major players in American history.” The full sentence in the Myth Problem article: “I think our failure to honor the movement is rooted in our conflicted feelings about women as major players in American history.”

An unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’

Hey, if you think I’m strange, Google the Battle of Refidim – where Moses (at center) may have been the first “sport fan” to say, “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work…”

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“My” Tampa Bay Lightning just won the Stanley Cup, and I feel vindicatedFinally!

Not to mention, “Blessed by God,” or at least, “Back in God’s good graces.” That is, last May I posted “As a spiritual exercise.” In it I described a system of ritual purification that I’ve followed since 1989, as a way of helping my favorite college team win. It began with some experimental ways to “help” Florida State University win its first football national championship.

In the spring of 1992 I added Daily Bible Reading, with this result:

And just as an aside, during that next football season – in the fall of 1993, and after much drama, with twists and turns of fate – the Noles squeaked by Nebraska to win that first national title. (In a game they were expected to win easily.)

“My” FSU football team went on to win two more national championships (in 1999 and 2013). They also established the Florida State football dynasty: 14 consecutive Top 4 finishes, a feat no other team has been able to match. But lately, FSU football has fallen on hard times…

They’ve suffered through back-to-back losing seasons – 2018 and 2019 – for the first time since 1976. (Bobby Bowden’s first year as head coach.) And a lousy start to the 2020 season as well… Of course I have my theories, like maybe God wanted me to ease up on my hours of the stair-stepping, with a 30-pound weight vest and 10 pounds of ankle weights? (After all, I am 69 years old, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on the knees, ankles and other vulnerable joints.)

But that’s a subject for a post I’ll do later…

Meanwhile, on a personal level I have been doing quite well. (Including lots of overseas travel and other adventures, at least before the COVID hit.) Then too, there have been successes for my “other favorite teams” – and coaches – as listed in “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth, from June 2018, and On my “mission from God,” from February 2019…

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There’s more on that later, but first a word about the Battle of Refidim. (Or “Rephidim” in some spellings.) You can read about it at Exodus, Chapter 17, and notably verses 10-12.

3,500 years ago the Amalekites launched a sneak attack – like Pearl Harbor – on the Children of Israel in their Exodus from Egypt. (They’d just arrived at Rephidim near Mount Sinai.) While Joshua led the army, Moses and two buddies went up to the top of a hill to watch:

Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am′alek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

As noted earlier, that sounds a lot like a modern-day sport fan, watching his team on TV. Sometimes moving around the room, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. Other times he’ll mute the sound, or tell his wife to leave the room – because she may be jinxing his team!

Or in the case of Moses, his “team” started winning when he held his arms up, but they started losing when he let his arms down. Which again raises the question: Was Moses the first sport-fan to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”

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That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since 1989, trying to find those “things that work.” But lately those things haven’t gone so well. At least not for the FSU football team…

As noted in 2018’s “Unintended consequences” there have been some “collateral wins” for some of my other teams. (Adopted or otherwise.) The FSU ladies won their first Women’s College World Series in June 2018. And of course the Tampa Bay Lightning had won their first Stanley Cup, but that was way back in 2004. So aside from the Lady ‘Noles in 2018, the last one of “my teams” to win a major championship was the Atlanta United football club, which captured its first MLS Cup in December 2018. (I moved to the Atlanta area back in 2010, so I “adopted” the Braves, Falcons and Atlanta United, as those among the teams I perform my ritual sacrifice for.)

And by the way, since that December 2018 I’ve proudly worn a “bad-ass black” Atlanta United ball cap. Including but not limited to my overseas travels. That included my trip to Israel back in May 2019, where I wore a Shemagh – from Ranger Joe’s at Fort Benning – on top of my “United” ball cap. (It “combined the best of the old and the new,” and also gave a visor that helped shield my eyes from the intense Eastern Mediterranean sun.)

But we digress… The point is that it’s been a long time since one of “my teams” won a major championship. And as I’ve mentioned, the FSU football team has really gone downhill. As a result I was starting to despair. I repeatedly asked God – metaphorically or otherwise – “What am I doing wrong? Why are you doing this to me and my teams?” Which is probably the same kind of questions the ancient Children of Israel asked when things went so wrong for them. (When you’re dealing with God, it seems that’s your first tendency, to blame yourself.)

Then came the night of Monday, September 28, 2020…

But first came the night of Saturday, September 26. I hadn’t been paying any attention to the Lightning, but on a whim I checked out “NHL scores.” Much to my surprise, they seemed to be on the way to this year’s Stanley Cup finals. That Saturday night I learned that they led the Dallas Stars three games to one. I started keeping track of that fourth game – tied at two all at the time – but later found out they lost 3-2 in double overtime.

For the life of me I could have sworn these were the semi-finals, and that if the Lightning won that fourth game they’d get into the finals. I was wrong, as I found out that next Monday night. Late in the evening I checked their website and found out they’d won that fourth game, and with it their second Stanley Cup. And all the while – that blessed Monday night – I paid no attention, not keeping track, not worrying about their progress…

Then I wondered if this was not unlike what the Zen master said in Zen in the Art of Archery. That rather than “aiming” your bow, you should wait until “it shoots.” Or, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.” (See Quotes From Zen in the Art of Archery.)

In other words, I didn’t pay much attention to the Lightning these past few months, and they won their second Stanley Cup. I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s softball team in 2018, and they won their first College World Series. And I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s soccer team in 2018, and they went on to win their first National Championship.

But what I did pay attention to – what I’ve continued doing, lo these many years – is keep on practicing the discipline of “ritual sacrifice.” (As I once wrote, “God answers our prayers, but often not in the way we expect.” Or words to that effect. Thus the Unintended consequences” post.)

But we’re ranging way too far afield. I may explore these esoteric ideas later, but for now here’s the point: For the first time in the last two years, I don’t feel totally lost in my ritual sacrifice. For the first time in a long time I feel vindicated, and that maybe all this exercise and Bible-reading hasn’t been a waste of time. (Not that I’d think that anyway. “The Reward is in the Discipline.”)

For now it’s enough to celebrate “my” Tampa Bay Lightning winning its second Stanley Cup. And feeling vindicated, finally! And enjoying the feeling of being “blessed by God,” or at least “back in God’s good graces.” Now, if I could just get that FSU football team back on track…

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Captain Steven Stamkos lifts the Stanley Cup Monday night, September 28, capping the Lightning’s “comeback season after being swept in the first round last year.”  

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The upper image is courtesy of Battle of Refidim – Wikipedia. The caption: “John Everett Millais, ‘Victory O Lord!‘ (1871).”

The full credit for the lead sentence is: Tampa Bay Lightning wins Stanley Cup – NBC2 News. See also Tampa Bay Lightning Win Stanley Cup in Pandemic Bubble, and for a kicker (so to speak), Tom Brady congratulates Tampa Bay Lightning on Stanley Cup.

Re: Battle of Refidim post. In October 2015 I posted – in a companion blog – Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”

I borrowed the photo to the left of the paragraph – beginning “Meanwhile, on a personal level” – from the post, “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth. My caption: The FSU Women’s first CWS title:  A recent example of the Law of unintended Consequences?

Re: The FSU football dynasty. The reference is to If Florida State in the 1990s isn’t a dynasty, then what is? Another headline: “The case for FSU’s dynasty.” The major listed accomplishment: “Fourteen consecutive top-five finishes,” which should read 14 consecutive Top-Four finishes. In one of the 14 seasons the AP had FSU Number 5, while the Coaches Poll had them ranked Number 4.

I was going to say the lower image is courtesy of Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup – Image Results. (Note the similar “arms up.”) An article accompanied the photo, which led me to the original story, “How social media reacted after the Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup,” from thestar.com | The Star | Canada’s largest daily.

On the Book of Job as “Law School 101”

From “Law School: How to Brief a Case” (“case studies”) – A useful tool for Bible study?

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Since the COVID hit – some 27 weeks ago* – I’ve been watching a lot of Great Courses Plus on TV. (Instead of cable TV, which I don’t have, or old DVDs.) One of those Great Courses – the lecture on Understanding the Old Testament – was a real eye-opener.

In Lecture 8 of the course – “The Covenant Code in Exodus” – Professor Robert D. Miller II, PhD cited Raymond Westbrook. Westbrook said the so-called “law codes” of Old Testament times were not – strictly speaking – statutory commands like the ones we know today. Instead they were the equivalent of school texts, “as if you’re teaching someone law.” He noted that in law school, teachers often start with borderline, theoretical scenarios. By starting with such “weird cases,” students can then move on to more-easily solved “ordinary” real-life situations.

One such “weird case” in the Bible – Miller said – was Exodus 21:22. (Basically asking, “how often do ‘men strive’ and injure a pregnant women?” The passage is addressed further below.) Starting with that unlikely scenario, a professor could move on to endless hypothetical examples. And all of them would be ripe with potential of educating people about the law. (Another note: Miller began the segment by saying such ancient Near-Eastern codes – like the Code of Hammurabi, strikingly similar to parts of the Torah – were never intended to be a “binding law code.”)

Miller went on to say that many such ancient law codes look more like a “Babylonian medical curriculum,” in that they were “descriptive, not prescriptive.” And finally he noted that the true meaning of Torah in Hebrew was closer to “instruction” or “teaching” rather than “The Law.” See also Torah – Definition (from Torah Resources International), which notes the “torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction,teaching, instruction,or doctrine.”

So instead of “law” as we understand that word today, much of the Torah is – according to Miller and Westbrook – more closely related to “school texts,” “curriculum,” “teaching,” and “hypotheticals.” Which brings up the “weird case” noted above –  Exodus 21:22 – along with Book of Job as a whole.

I mention the Book of Job because – since Thursday, August 20 – I’ve been reading that book as the Old Testament Daily Office Readings (via Satucket). And those rather depressing readings continued until last Friday, September 18. (When the OT readings switched to Esther 1:1-4,10-19, “or Judith 4:1-15.”) Which brings up a problem I’ve always had with Job. (“Imaged” at right.)

I’ve always felt the book is based on an impossible premise. That premise? That Job alone – of all the people in world history, aside from Jesus Christ Himself – is totally without sin. And that’s contrary to a point made repeatedly in the Bible, that no one – aside from Jesus Himself – is without sin. (See 1st John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” along with Romans 3:10-12,Psalm 14:1-3,Psalm 53:1-3, all saying “there is none who is righteous, no not one.”)

In other words, the Book of Job does seem to be a “hypothetical,” as Miller and Westbrook noted. See Hypotheticals – Wikipedia, referring to “possible situations, statements or questions about something imaginary rather than something real.” In other words hypotheticals deal with the concept of “what if?” (As in, “What if there were a man – besides Jesus – who was totally without sin, yet bad things kept happening to him?”) In turn they are important learning tools “because they provide a means for understanding what we would do if the world was different.” 

I’ve discussed the Book of Job in earlier posts, included in the notes, but getting back to the OT reading mentioned above, Exodus 21:22: It too seems more like a possible “hypothetical situation,” of the type law students dissect in their course studies. (Again, asking the question, “how often do ‘men strive’ and injure a pregnant women?”)

Which brings up the case study method that law schools are known for: The teaching method using “decision-forcing cases to put students in the role of people who were faced with difficult decisions at some point in the past.” Put another way, unlike other teaching methods, “the case method requires that instructors refrain from providing their own opinions about the decisions in question. Rather, the chief task of instructors who use the case method is asking students to devise, describe, and defend solutions to the problems presented by each case.”

In other words both Exodus 21:22 and Job seem to be “hypotheticals,” designed to teach students how to work with “the Law,” rather than a set of hard and fast “laws” to be followed literally. (Consider Job 10:18, “Why did you deliver me from my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?” Taken out of context, or too literally, it could cause no end of trouble…)

Which may be why Jesusopened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

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But getting back to ongoing Bible readings – and the Liturgical year (including feast days): There are three big feast days this month. The first – Monday, September 14 – was Holy Cross Day, one of several Feasts of the Cross commemorating the cross “in the crucifixion of Jesus.”

In English, it is called The Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the official translation of the Roman Missal, while the 1973 translation called it The Triumph of the Cross.  In some parts of the Anglican Communion the feast is called Holy Cross Day…

See On Holy Cross, Matthew, and Michael – “Archangel.” As another aside, the Feast day for St Matthew, Evangelist is coming up on Monday, September 21, and the Feast of St Michael and All Angels will be Wednesday, September 29. The latter featured a painting (below), “Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory.” To which I responded:

 “Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!

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“Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory . . .”

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The upper image is courtesy of Law School Case Brief – Image Results. It accompanies a video, “Law School: How to Brief a Case – YouTube.”

As to weeks of “the Covid,” see On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. I explained that, to me “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.” For my weekly-quotas, the week from Monday, March 16 to Sunday night, March 22d.

Re: Understanding the Old Testament, Robert D. Miller II, PhD, Lecture 8, The Covenant Code in Exodus. To access more information go to Great Courses Plus – Start Learning Online Today.

Re: Job as “‘imaged’ at right.” Courtesy of the Wikipedia article, the full caption: “Carved wooden figure of Job. Probably from Germany, 1750–1850 CE. The Wellcome Collection, London.”

For more on hypotheticals – in the “law school” sense – see Legal definition of Hypothetical Question:A mixture of assumed or established facts and circumstances, developed in the form of a coherent and specific situation, which is presented to an expert witness at a trial to elicit his or her opinion. (The “coherent a nd specific” errata were in the original.

Further, such a question “contains a mixture of assumed or established facts or circumstances, in the form of a coherent and specific situation, presented to an expert witness at trial to elicit his or her opinion.” And such a question “includes all the facts in evidence needed to form an opinion.” Then, based on the assumption that those facts are true, “the witness is asked whether he or she can arrive at an opinion, and if so, to state it.”

Re: Exodus 21:22: The complete passage goes on to verses 23-25:

 22 If men who are fighting strike a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband demands and as the court allows. 23 But if a serious injury results, then you must require a life for a life – 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, and stripe for stripe.

Note that this “Lex talionis” or an eye for an eye was a rule of limitation. requiring the perpetrator be punished only as much as the victim suffered, as opposed to unlimited or ongoing revenge. “Without it, a wrongful injury might give rise to wrongful retaliatory injuries in excess of the original loss or harm, which, in turn, would be retaliated for, and so on ad infinitum.” The ‘lex talionis’ before and after criminal law. Note too this passage has been used on both sides of the abortion debate. (Google “exodus 21:22 abortion.”)

Re: Earlier posts on the Book of Job. See On Job, the not-so-patient, from 2014, and On “Job the not patient” – REDUX, from 2015. I just reviewed the latter post just before publishing this post, and it’s worth doing another redux in the near future. The ending: “[A]s Isaac Asimov put it, ‘At the end of God’s speech, Job realizes divine omnipotence and understands the folly or trying to penetrate God’s plan and purposes with the limited mind of a human being.’ (487)   And that’s a lesson we need to keep on learning…(This was right after noting an image that humans are no more prepared to comprehend the full measure of God’s power than “cats are prepared to study calculus.”)

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, with the full caption: “Guido Reni‘s painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican.” See also Purgatory – Wikipedia, about the “intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification.” In other words, instead of the two “pass/fail” options of heaven and hell, “purgatory” provides a third alternative, a temporary place where one undergoes a purifying “fire” that is “expiatory and purifying not punitive like hell fire.”