“Wouldn’t it be nice if WE could be ‘restored?'”

“Two Scholars Disputing” – Peter and Paul – but they ended up working for the common good… 

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In the middle of summer – June 29 to be exact – there’s a Feast Day that celebrates both Saint Peter and Saint Paul, together.

But on the other end of the church year – here, in the dead of winter,* as seen at left – good Christians remember both of these saints separately, on January 18 and January 25:

On January 18 we celebrate the Confession of Peter:  “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.”  A week later on January 25 we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.  Then comes June 29, when we celebrate both men…

See Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”  See also the post from last January 20 (2016), Peter confesses, Paul converts.  The latter noted that both saints were martyred – killed by the Roman authorities – at about the same time and place.  (In Rome, around 65 A.D.)

That post also noted that these twoPillars of the Church took completely different paths to the same destination.  (And often had “spirited” disputes. See Galatians 2:11-14, and 2d Peter 3:16.)

On the one hand, Peter was one of the original 12 disciples, and the first “to confess Jesus as Messiah.”  (See the matching accounts in the three Synoptic Gospels, illustrated at right: Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20.)

On the other hand, Saul of Tarsus – later “Paul” – started out as the most ardent enemy and persecutor of the early Christian Church.  (See for example Acts 8:3:  “Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church.  He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.”)

In other words, Peter came to his position of authority from “inside the church.”  Paul on the other hand was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.

In plain words, Paul’s Damascus Road experience (at left) “changed him from a Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.”  Put another way, Paul was led by God’s grace, from being the most hated and feared enemy of the church to becoming “one of its chief spokesmen.”  (See Conversion of St. Paul, emphasis added.)  In further words, these two former enemies were brought together – by God – to work together for the common good:

In philosophy, economics, and political science, the common good (also commonwealth or common weal) is a term of art, referring to either what is shared and beneficial for all or most members of a given community, or alternatively, what is achieved by citizenship, collective action, and active participation in the realm of politics and public service.

Which leads to this question:  What would happen if two or more American conservative and liberal politicians today could likewise come together and work for the common good?

Which brings up the topic of being “restored.”  In one sense it means bringing “back to health, good spirits, etc.”   Or “to bring back to a former, more desirable condition.”  So say what you want about the bad old days, they never seemed to be this bad.

For one thing, there once was a time when the most ardent politicians felt free to “sup with their enemies.”  Like Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy – at right – were able to do, despite their vastly different political views.  For example, Kennedy said of Reagan:  “He’s absolutely professional.  When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone.”

Or as one writer said of Kennedy, as having learned to “operate within the politics of symbolism:”

Heated rhetoric was part of the game of government.  When the day was over, win or lose, everyone could have a drink together.*

And that’s the kind of political “Restoration” I’d gladly welcome.  Then too, it turns out that both Peter and Paul got “restored,” again, each in his own way.  See Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored, which noted that Peter got “restored to grace” after basically turning on Jesus, by denying Him three times.  And as to Paul being both transformed and restored:

As a result of that transformation, the Apostle Paul got transmogrified. I.e., changed from being the early Church’s deadliest enemy to being second only to Jesus in the history of that early Christian Church.

See Paul restored – from the Damascus Road.  Which leads to this question:

Wouldn’t it be nice if we too – here in America – could also be “restored?”  Restored to a time when people of all types and backgrounds worked together for the “common good?”

Which is of course the main job of a good Christian.  See 2d Corinthians 5:18, which noted that God “reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

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“Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul” – after his Damascus road experience

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The upper image is courtesy of www.canvasreplicas.com/Rembrandt.htm.  See also Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus, as to the winter” image, it is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The caption:  “A snow-covered park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during winter.”

Re:  The common good.  See the Wikipedia article, which added this:

[T]he common good became a central concept in the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching, beginning with [a] papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, issued in 1891.  This addressed the crisis of the conditions of industrial workers in Europe and argued for a position different from both laissez-faire capitalism and socialism…  Pope Leo guarantees the right to private property while insisting on the role of the state to require a living wage.

Re:  Heated rhetoric as “part of the game.”  (Of politics.)  See On Reagan, Kennedy – and “Dick the Butcher,” in  my companion blog.  The Reagan-Kennedy photo is courtesy of boston.com/bigpicture … ted_kennedy.  The caption:  “Senator Edward Kennedy talks with President Ronald Reagan, left, on June 24, 1985, as they look over an American Eagle that graced President John F. Kennedy’s desk during a fund raising event for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at McLean, Virginia.  (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi).”  The quotes – of Kennedy and Reagan, and about Kennedy and “heated rhetoric” – are courtesy of Battle for Justice: How the [Robert] Bork Nomination Shook America, by Ethan Bronner, Anchor Book edition (1989), at pages 103-104. 

(And incidentally, “Dick the Butcher” was the character in William Shakespeare‘s play, “Henry The Sixth, Part 2,” who famously said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”)

The lower image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “‘Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul’ (c.1631) by Pietro da Cortona.”  See also Ananias of Damascus – Wikipedia, which noted his name means “favored of the LORD.”  The actual restoration of Saul-Paul’s sight was described in Acts 9:17-19 NIV:

Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”

Buzz Lightyear To Infinity And Beyond by eposselt

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Each year, January 6 is the traditional day to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  (In this sense, an “annual religious celebration…”)   See also the Satucket (or “Daily Office) piece, on Epiphany:

“Epiphany” is a word of Greek origin, related to such English words as “theophany,” “phenotype,” and “phenomenon.”  It means an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, a making clear or public or obvious.  On this day, Christians have traditionally celebrated the making known of Jesus Christ to the world.

In other words, January 6 is celebrated as the day the world got “first introduced to Jesus,” in large part by the visit from the “Three Wise Men from the East.”  That is, this Feast Day includes – but is not limited to – a celebration of “the visit of the Magi to the Christ child,” as shown in the painting above left.  (The “We Three Kings of Orient are,” from the Christmas carol.)

But January 6 also marks the start of the Season of Epiphany.  That church season runs from January 6 to – and through – the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.  This year, 2017, that date is February 26.  The following Tuesday, February 28, we celebrate Mardi Gras.  The day after that – March 1 – is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 2017 Season of Lent.

Buzz Lightyear.pngWhich brings up Buzz Lightyear.  (His catch-phrase – “to infinity, and beyond” – is popular among people including astronauts, philosophers and mathematical theorists…)  The point being that practicing Christians also work to go “to infinity – and beyond!”  Or in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, to “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life,” and to await “the completion of God’s purpose for the world.”

And that’s a promise especially meaningful after that 2016 Year from Hell. But wait!  There’s more!  Practicing Christians can also look forward to infinity – “without any bound” – as a new existence, with “the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.”

And – it could be argued – it all starts with Epiphany.

That is, the 2017 church year officially started with the first Sunday of Advent, last November 27.  That was followed by Christmas and the Season of – or after – Epiphany.  That in turn will be followed by Lent – preceded by Mardi Gras – and then Easter.  (It’s a full, 40-day season as well and not just a single day.)

Then comes Ordinary Time – the Season after Pentecost – which takes up over half the church year.  (As shown at left.)

However, you could argue – again – that it all started with the first Epiphany.  (The first “making known of Jesus Christ to the world.”)  That is, Jesus was born in relative obscurity, and it wasn’t until the Three “Wise Men from the East” visited that He started to become better known.

That was the point of last January’s post Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”  It also noted that other names for January 6 include the last day of Christmas and Three Kings Day.

The word originally used for Three Kings was Magi, which gave rise to the current word “magic.”

And  in its original sense – 600 years before Jesus was born – the word Magi referred to “followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster.”  In turn it wasn’t until well after Jesus died that a number of traditions arose about the three Wise Men.  That included their names, places of origin, and how soon after “Christmas” they actually visited the Holy family.

The most common names given the three are: Melchior, from Persia; Caspar, from India; and Balthazar, from Babylon.  (Which could present some logistical difficulties;  for example, in their getting together to start the trip.)  And as to when they actually visited Jesus:

The Bible specifies no interval between the birth and the visit [by the Magi, but] artistic depictions … encourage the popular assumption that the visit took place the same winter as the birth…  [L]ater traditions varied, with the visit [said to occur] up to two winters later.  This maximum interval explained Herod’s command at Matthew 2:16–18 that the Massacre of the Innocents included boys up to two years old. (E.A.)

All of which adds up to some confusion about these post-Christmas holidays…

You’ve probably heard of the 12 Days of Christmas, which end on January 6.  But the evening of the 6th is also known as 12th Night, and was yet another occasion for “drunken revelry.”   (From back in the days when life – especially life in winter – was “nasty, brutish and short.”)  Yet another celebration – and a time for “drunken revelry” – came on Plough Monday, which is officially the Monday following January 6.   In turn, back in Merry Olde England, Plough Monday marked the start of the new Agricultural Year.  In other words, a new year of work.  

So the point of Plough Monday – the Monday after January 6 – was to have one more big blast before getting back to work.  (That is, resuming farm-work after the extended holiday season.  And for more on this seeming rigamarole, see Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys.”)

Ruby Gallagos holds a handful of beads before a Mardi Gras parade. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) - (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)So in a way, Plough Monday is like our celebrating Mardi Gras – also called Fat Tuesday – on the day before the first day of Lent.  Or:  “one last feast before the Lenten fast.”

Are we seeing a pattern here?

In a sense it’s like the pattern of growth and debriefing – the asking of  “really aggravating questions” – that should follow such a period of personal growth.

On that note, see DORs for June 6, 2015, which took issue with “sin” as sometimes held out:

[T]he concepts of sin, repentance and confession should be viewed as “tools to help us get closer to the target.”  In other words, they help us grow and develop, and are not to be used as a means of social control…  Note also that the “Biblical Greek term for sin [amartia], means ‘missing the mark,’” and implies that “one’s aim is out and that one has not reached the goal, one’s fullest potential.”

And that – after all – is what the true Christian should be working for, during these upcoming, alternating seasons of celebration and reflection:  To reach his or her full potential.

So the Epiphany reminds us that – in order to do His job – Jesus had to be revealed to the world as “God incarnate.”  That revelation – that “revealing” – involved a substantial risk to Jesus in His earthly incarnation as God “embodied in the flesh.”  In fact, that big risk led to His ultimate – and untimely – death on the Cross.  That in turn should lead us to the conclusion that our job is not to withdraw from world into the safety of being a “carbon copy Christian.”

Instead our job is to grow into our fullest potential, and that means taking risks.  One such risk – for example – involves reading the Bible “with an open mind,” rather than retreating into a safe “fundamental” view.  For more on that see Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”

In the meantime, celebrate the “Adoration of the Magi,” and the season of growth to follow…

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The “Adoration of the Magi,” by El Greco

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The upper image is courtesy of Buzz Lightyear To Infinity And Beyond by eposselt on DeviantArteposselt.deviantart.com.  See also Buzz Lightyear – Wikipedia, which noted:

Buzz’s classic line “To infinity… and beyond!” has seen usage not only on T-shirts, but among philosophers and mathematical theorists as well.…  The 2008 quadruple platinum song “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé includes the lyric “…and delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond,” a reference which was pointed out by alt-country singer Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco during a 2010 solo performance in Chicago.  Also in 2008, astronauts took an action figure of Buzz Lightyear into space on the Space Shuttle “Discovery” as part of an educational experience for students while stressing the catchphrase…

The image to the left of the paragraph “Each year, January 6” is courtesy of Wikipedia and is captioned:  “‘Adoration of the Magi‘ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century.”

Re:  The Book of Common Prayer references.  See The Catechism, at pages 861-862

Re:  “Year from hell.”  The website 2016 has been year from hell for many – but not for comics, noted another name:  “Annus horribilis.”  Wikipedia noted that the opposite term – annus mirabilis, meaning “wonderful year” – has a long history of usage, but “annus horribilis” was apparently first used in 1891.  At that time it was used to “describe 1870, the year in which the Roman Catholic church defined the dogma of papal infallibility.”  As to its application to 2016, Googling the phrase “2016 year from hell” got me some 173,000,000 – 173 million – results.

Re:  “Magi,” giving rise to the current word “magic.”  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 788.  See Asimov’s full “Curriculum vitae” in last October’s On St. Ignatius – and “Persecution Porn.”

The “Three Kings” image is courtesy of We Three Kings Wallpapers, Photos, Pictures and Backgroundswallpaperslot.com.

The lower image is courtesy of Epiphany (holiday) – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘Adoration of the Magi‘ by El Greco, 1568, Museo Soumaya, Mexico City.”

“Same time, last year…”

A scene from the 1978 film “Same Time, Next Year,” which suggested the title of this blogpost

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SameTimeNextYearPoster.jpgI haven’t had much time to post anything lately, as explained below.

So today – Thursday, December 29 – I present “Same time, last year.”

That’s  an allusion to “Same Time, Next Year,” the 1978 American romantic comedy-drama film starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. (And featuring the theatrical release poster at left.)

 But getting back to:  “It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.”

In fact it’s been since December 6, when I posted On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.”  But I have a good excuse:  I had to go to a funeral.

My aunt died on December 7.  She was a mere 80 years old, and so still fairly young by today’s standards.  (Especially as I myself get closer to that age.)  But she had a host of health problems, and so it wasn’t really surprising to get a text from my sister-in-law on December 3.  It said Joan was in the ICU, “critical but stable.”  But unfortunately she went downhill from there.  So I had to “attend another stinkin’ funeral!”  (As we say in our family, having gone through too many lately.)

Then – less than a week after returning home from the funeral – my “mission” was to turn around and head back north again, this time to Greater Cincinnati and Cleveland.  (A trip that was basically a reprise of the one taken in December 2014, detailed in “Another brick in the wall” and featuring an image of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as seen in the notes…)

Which is why the title of this post is “Same time last year…”

Last year at this time I posted Develop your talents with Bible study, which “continues the theme of Bible study to open your mind and develop your talents.”  (And which included the image at right, about certain “moral[s] of the story” in the manner of Aesop and his morality tales.)

It included a pretty good summary of the main theme of this blog:  To help you – and me – get a better feel for communicating with the Force that Created the Universe.

It also included a reference to Matthew 25:14-30, about the Parable of the talents.

That parable was about three servants, each of whom were given some “talents.”  Taken literally, a talent was worth 50 or 60 shekels, and “so was a good chunk of change.”  But viewed metaphorically, it can also refer to a “special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude.”  Which is something we all have, to one degree or another.

So anyway, one servant got ten talents, and basically doubled his master’s investment.  The same thing happened with the servant given five talents.  But the third servant did nothing:  “So what the master got back on his investment was nothing more than the original talent he’d given out.”  Which led to the moral of the story that Jesus seemed to make:  That you can’t be a “good and faithful servant” unless you give back more to God than what He originally gave to you.  And that you can’t do that by being too focused on “avoiding sin:”

[W]hile it certainly is important to not make really stupid mistakes – which tend to have really bad consequences – that’s not the main job of a Christian.  The main job of a Christian is to “develop his talents[,” which] means a real Christian is bound to make mistakes.

Then too, once you realize that all real Christians make mistakes – if they’re really developing their talents – you’ll be that much less likely to develop the “holier than thou” complex that afflicts so many who call themselves Christian.  (Which is the kind of thing that led Paul to sayThe name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”)

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.pngOn that note see Sin and cybernetics:  “Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us realize the purpose Jesus had for us, to wit:  to ‘live life in all its abundance.’”  (See John 10:10; the second part.)  Put another way, maybe “sin” is not so much to make people feel guilty – as some Christians say – but rather as a means of self-correction, so that we can better “hit the target…”

Which brings us back to the Parable of the talents, and what it means.  As  Wikipedia noted:

It is clear that the master sought some profit from the servants’ oversight.  A gain indicated faithfulness on the part of the servants.  The master rewards his servants according to how each has handled his stewardship.  He judges two servants as having been “faithful” and gives them a positive reward.  To the single unfaithful servant who “played it safe,” a negative compensation is given.

And speaking of the hazards of a Christian “playing it safe” – focusing too much on sin, and especially that of other people – that’s pretty much what I said in Singing a NEW song to  God: “How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?”  (And for that matter, why does the Bible so often tell us to “sing to the Lord a new song?”   See Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.)

So here’s a New Year’s wish for 2017:  Let’s all work hard to avoid being boot-camp Christians.  Let’s all work hard, so that this “same time next year” – December 29, 2017 – we can say:

Boy, we sure developed our talents!!

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The upper image is courtesy of Same Time, Next Year (1978) – IMDb.  Photo  6 of 13, with the caption:  “Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year … by Archive Photos/Getty Images – © 2012.”

Picture

The post  Develop your talents with Bible study included the image at left, of Daniel in the lions’ den.  See also Daniel and the Lions Den – Hebrew Bible and ArtThe painting itself is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), “the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim.  He moved to Paris in 1891 to study, and decided to stay there, being readily accepted in French artistic circles.   His painting entitled Daniel in the Lions’ Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.”  The painting itself “uses light to symbolize God’s presence.  It is simple and there is not a lot of detail but it gets the point across.”  See also Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: Morality plays – noted here as “morality tales.”  See Wikipedia, referring to the…

genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment.  In their own time, these plays were known as interludes, a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral.  Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil.  The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.

See also Morality tale … by The Free Dictionary, and/or What is a moral tale? | Reference.com:  “a type of story, popular during the 15th and 16th centuries, that uses allegory to portray the struggle between good and evil, often culminating in a lesson.” 

Rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-sunset.jpgRe:  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “as seen in the notes.”  The “Hall” is shown at left, and in “Another brick in the wall.”

Re: “God’s name blasphemed…” See Romans 2:24.

The lower image is courtesy of  Parable of the talents – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “The parable of the talents, depicted in a 1712 woodcut.  The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.”

On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick”

St. Nicholas … “transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus…”

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Icon of St. Nicholas, from St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, TexasTomorrow – Tuesday, December 6 – is the Feast Day for Nicholas of Myra.* (But only in the Daily Office Lectionary, not the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays.*)  And he – Nicholas of Myra – eventually became the guy we now know as Santa Claus.  (Also known as “Jolly Ol’ St. Nick.”)

Of course there are those who refuse to believe in him.  That is, there are some people out there who think that Santa Clause is a myth:

A myth is a sacred narrative because it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it.  Myths also … express a culture’s systems of thought and values as the myth of gremlins invented by aircraft technicians during World War II to avoid apportioning blame.

See Myth – Wikipedia, which included the image at left, of such “gremlins” at work.  And just as a point of order:  These “gremlins” – especially during World War II – did not work for the enemy:

[E]nemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems.  As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest.

But we digress…  The point is this:  There is a solid basis in historical fact for believing in both “jolly old St. Nick” and in the spirit of Christmas.

For starters, Nicholas of Myra was a real person who lived from the years 270 to 343 A.D.  And around the year 300 he was elected Bishop of Myra.  As a bishop his “legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas:”

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries.  This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window…  Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

And here’s another side note:  “Myra” is now the city of Demre, in Turkey, where it doesn’t get that cold in the winter.  But then the story of this “St. Nicholas” started getting repeated in colder, northern climates.  (Where no one would keep their windows open in December.)

That’s when the story got tweaked, and St. Nick started delivering his gifts via the chimney.  (For more on that see The History of Santa Claus and Chimneys.  For one thing:  “In pre-Christian Norse tradition, Odin would often enter through chimneys and smoke holes or fire holes on the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter.”)

For more on the real St.  Nick, see On the original St. Nicholas, or On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas.”  The first one noted how the story of St. Nicholas was basically a gift to America from the country of Holland:

Dutch colonists took this tradition [of St. Nicholas] with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.  Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.

The second post noted how the original – the real St. Nicholas – saved three innocent men from death, as shown in the painting below.  It seems he was visiting a remote part of his diocese when he heard about three men, condemned to death back in Myra.  The “the ruler of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death.”

When he arrived back in Myra he went immediately to the site of the execution, took the sword from the executioner’s hand, and ordered that the innocent men be set free:

His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell.  Later Eustathius confessed his sin and sought the saint’s forgiveness.  Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.

So there you have it.  The real “Ol’ Saint Nick” was not only jolly, he was personally brave.

Virginia O'Hanlon (ca. 1895).jpgAnd so, back in 1897 – when Francis P. Church of The (New York) Sun responded to a letter to the editor – he was pretty much telling the truth when he wrote, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  (The letter he responded to was written by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, seen at left.) 

Of course the whole idea of “Santa Claus” – and indeed Christmas itself – has gotten glossed over and commercialized over the years.  See for example How Christmas Became the Most Commercialized Holiday.  That article started off which started off with a quote from Lucy Brown – of Peanuts fame – when she told Charlie Brown:  “Let’s face it…  We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Simply put, Christmas became big business.  And as such it spawned a host of new cottage industries:  Books published, woodsmen “heading into the forests each December to cut evergreens to sell on street corners,” tinsel, toys, candle-holders, candles, candies, garlands, ornaments, and hand-colored Christmas cards, to name a few.

All of which is wonderful for the economy.  But each Christmas it’s also a good idea to go back to the original source.  To go back to the jolly – and brave – original St. Nick.  (Seen below, in action.)  And of course to remember Jesus, The Reason for the Season.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and this is him, saving three men from death…

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The upper image is courtesy of saint nicholas church st nicholas church is the most outstanding … tourmakerturkey.com, which added:  “The protective personality of St. Nicholas and desire of helping children in difficult situations have been transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus … appearing on Christmas Eve to make everybody happy.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement with a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to St. Nicholas’ day, it’s only a Feast in the Daily Office Lectionary, not in the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays Bible readings.  Under the “RCL” – detailed at The Lectionary Page – there are no listed Feast Days until December 21, for St. Thomas, Apostle.

The Santa/chimney image is courtesy of Zat You Santa Claus? – Free Christmaslinks2love.com.  Also, re: St. Nick:  See also Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia and/or Nicholas of Myra – Livius

The lower image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution.

On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent

 St. Andrew and his “x-shaped cross” or saltire*

*   *   *   *

Last Sunday – November 27, 2016 – was the First Sunday of Advent.  And this is the theme for that Season of Advent.  That is, that season of the church-year that ends on Christmas Eve:

Advent is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”  The theme of Bible readings is to prepare for the Second Coming while “commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas.”

And as even Scrooge recognized, “Christmas is a very busy time for us.”  (The “spirit of Scrooge” is illustrated at right…)

But this time of year – in the church calendar – can also be very confusing.  That’s because both the Season of Advent and the church-year itself actually begin with St. Andrew, the “First Apostle.*”  His Feast Day is celebrated on November 30, today.

And according to the National Catholic Register, “St. Andrew was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.”  Which is another way of saying that he was pretty important, but that he often gets overlooked:

Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four…   That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[.  In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”

For more on this day see On St. Andrew, the “First Apostle.”  But getting back to the Season of Advent, see An early Advent medley, or On Advent – 2015.  (From last year.)

Or for that matter see On the readings for Advent Sunday, from 2014:

Advent Sunday is the first day of the liturgical year in the Western Christian churches.  It also marks the start of the season of Advent…  [T]he symbolism of the day is that Christ enters the church.   Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This is equivalent to the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day, 30 November, and the Sunday following the Feast of Christ the King.

See Advent Sunday – Wikipedia.  The article added that for a time – starting about 300 A.D. – Advent was “kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.”  But around 1917 the Catholic Church “abolished the precept of fasting …  but kept Advent as a season of penitence.”

I’ll be writing more about Advent in the coming weeks, but one thing to remember is that for those four Sundays, the Old Testament readings will be from the prophet Isaiah, shown below:

Isaiah is the prophet who guides our journey through Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, and Isaiah invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord.

*   *   *   *

The prophet Isaiah, featured in this season’s Advent O.T. readings…

*   *   *   *

Notes:

The upper image is courtesy of ncregister.com/blog/st.-andrew-apostle-11-things-to-know and share, which included the full text of St. Andrew’s words before he died, showing “a very profound Christian spirituality.  [He] does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.   Here we have a very important lesson to learn: Our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ…”  See also Andrew the Apostle – Wikipedia.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement with a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to the “saltire” see St Andrew … 5 facts you might have known:

Legend has it that he [Andrew] asked to be tied to an X-shaped cross because he did not feel worthy of dying on the same shape of cross as Jesus.  The shape has been represented by the white cross on the Scottish flag, the Saltire, since at least 1385.

As to the Feast of St. Andrew beginning the new church year, see Anticipating Christmas, Beginning with Saint Andrew.  Or see St. Andrew, from the Satucket website:

Just as Andrew was the first of the Apostles, so his feast is taken in the West to be the beginning of the Church Year…  The First Sunday of Advent is defined to be the Sunday on or nearest his feast (although it could equivalently be defined as the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day).

That site includes the Daily Office readings for the day:  “AM: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Corinthians 4:1-16,” and “PM: Psalm 96, 100; Isaiah 55:1-5; John 1:35-42.”  Or see St Andrew, Apostle.

Re:  “Isaiah [as] the prophet who guides our journey.”  See Isaiah: Old Testament prophet for the Advent season, which added:  “Isaiah urges us to straighten out our crooked ways, tear down our mountains of misdeeds, and fill in the valleys of our bad habits.”

The lower image is courtesy of Isaiah – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Isaiah, by Michelangelo, (c. 1508–1512, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican City).”

On Thanksgiving – 2016

Thanksgiving Day in 1863 – as celebrated in the middle of that other American Civil War

*   *   *   *

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

Which means it’s about time to give thanks “for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them.”  And that’s especially true after the bitter election* we’ve just been through.  (And survived, thank you very much.)  

Which brings up that other American Civil War.  The thing is, Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated on the same date – “throughout the United States*” – until 1863.  (In the middle of the war.)

Abraham Lincoln set that uniform date for Thanksgiving – making it the last Thursday in November – by presidential proclamation.  He did it to “foster a sense of American unity:” 

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity … peace has been preserved with all [other] nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict… Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste [in] the siege and the battle-field;  and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

See Thanksgiving (U.S.) – Wikipedia.  And speaking of Thanksgiving in the middle of a war – cultural or otherwise – the photo at left shows “Servicemen eating a Thanksgiving dinner after the end of World War I (1918).”

(And here’s hoping that image is somehow prescient…) 

I’ve written about Thanksgiving before in Thanksgiving 2015, The first Thanksgiving (Part I and Part II), and On the 12 Days of Christmas.

The post Thanksgiving 2015 offered this reality check about the First Thanksgiving:

102 [Pilgrims] landed in November 1620 [at Plymouth Rock].  Less than half survived the next year.  (To November 1621.)  Of the handful of adult women – 18 in all – only four survived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World…”  The point is this[:  T]he men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.

http://godw1nz.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/a-prosperous-wind1.jpgMeanwhile, The first Thanksgiving – Part I – from November 2104 – included the image at right, of the “Mayflower leaving English shores.”  It also included a footnote that Americans are fed up with the political status quo and are looking for a “New Political Center:”

…intermixing liberal instincts and conservative values;  “tolerant traditionalists” who believe in “conventional social morality that ensure family stability,” while being “tolerant within reason” of those who challenge such traditional morality, “and as pragmatically supportive of government intervention in spheres such as education, child care, health care as long as budgets are balanced.”

We’ll see how that plays out over the next four years…

The first Thanksgiving – Part II included a lengthy quotation from William Bradford (Plymouth Colony governor) about the difficulties inherent in  “all great and honorable actions.”  (Like trying to maintain a true democracy after the kind of heated-rhetoric election we just went through.)  Which could be summed up this way:  “If it was easy, anybody could do it!”

And finally, The 12 Days of Christmas indicated that Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of a long holiday season that doesn’t officially end until January 6, 2017 (with Plough Monday):

Christmas celebrations are closely linked to the observance of the December solstice… Although winter was regarded as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood.  To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.

And speaking of “dormancy, darkness and cold,” see also Dark Ages – Wikipedia, referring to the “period of intellectual darkness” between the “light of Rome,” up to the rebirth or “Renaissance in the 14th century.”  (Not that there’s any connection to current events or anything…)  

Which serves as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age” you may be going through,

“This too shall pass…

*   *   *   *

A 1640 painting – “ 12th Night” (The King Drinks) – ending the 12 Days of Christmas

*   *   *   *

Notes:

 The upper image is courtesy of Thanksgiving (U.S. – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Sketch by Alfred Waud of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Louis Blenker) during the U.S. Civil War in 1861.”  That’s also where the “Hymn of Thanksgiving” image came from.  That caption:  “‘A Hymn of Thanksgiving’ sheet music cover – November 26, 1899.”

Re:  Thanksgiving Day:  The full Bible readings for that day are:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11Psalm 100Philippians 4:4-9; and John 6:25-35.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to “bitter elections,” see also This bitter battle won’t end on election day – BBC News, for a point of view from “across the pond.”  For an ironic twist, see After a bitter election, a new America: Our first female president and the most diverse coalition in history, written on the morning of the election.  (Before the results were in.)  A prediction:  That “first female president” will come true, but not just yet.  I’m thinking Elizabeth Warren – “Hillary without the baggage” – in 2020, or Hillary herself.  (With or without the “I told ya so” dance.  See Donald Trump and the Hell’s Angel, in my companion blog.)

Re:   “Throughout the United States” and the “sense of American unity.”  Referring to a sense of American unity “between the Northern and Southern states.”  See Thanksgiving – Wikipedia, which noted that because of the “ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America‘s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.”  (Which is another way of saying, “good things take time.” 

Re:  “This too shall pass.”  See That’s NOT in the Bible! “This too shall pass.”  That source indicates that the phrase may originally have come from – or passed through – King Solomon.  He supposedly had a ring reminding him that all his earthly glory – as king – would eventually go away; “the inscription inside the ring became the Hebrew phrase ‘Gam zeh ya’avor,’ ‘this too shall pass.’”  See also Patton (film) Clip “All Glory is Fleeting…” – YouTube.

The lower image is courtesy of The Twelve days of Christmas, with caption, “Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by David Teniers c. 1634-1640.”

An update on “dissin’ the Prez”

Donald Trump Obama

Will the man on the left get the respect due him by Exodus 22:28?   (As the man on the right didn’t?)

*   *   *   *

Saint James the Just.jpgThis morning’s Daily Office Readings include Joel 3:10, and a reading from James, the brother of Jesus.  (Shown at right.)  And James 2:6-7 said this:

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

As to Joel 3:10, it says  “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

Both of which seem strangely appropriate after last Tuesday’s election.

Which brings up this subject:  Are good Christians – both liberal and conservative – duty-bound to honor and obey the newly-elected “leader of our country,” Donald Trump?

In May 2014, I posted On dissin’ the Prez.  Mainly it was about Exodus 22:28, and how – at that time – it seemed “more honored in the breach.”  That is, Exodus 22:28 clearly commands:  “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.”

And that’s where honored in the breach* comes in.  Since conservatives spent the last eight years “cursing and reviling” the ruler of our people, are liberals – not to mention the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton – now free to do the same with Donald Trump?

The thing is, the people who interpret the U.S. Constitution “strictly” or “literally” are – generally speaking – the same ones who say that the Bible must also be interpreted literally.  But if those Conservatives – Christian or otherwise – had truly followed the letter of the Bible, they wouldn’t have “cursed and reviled” President Obama over the last eight years:

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

http://kara.allthingsd.com/files/2011/03/irony3.jpegThat’s where the closing “Oh, the irony” in that post came in.

On dissin’ the Prez also went into great detail about the differences between strict construction, as opposed to the rules of liberally interpreting the Bible.  (And on such topics as Biblical inerrancy, or what I call being a boot-camp Christian.) 

But in one sense those pointy-headed liberals may not need to interpret Exodus 22:28 “in a fair and reasonable manner in accordance with the objects and purposes of the instrument.”  (The Bible.)  That’s because in America the “leader of the people” is The People.  As in the Sovereign People or the “We the People” that start the Constitution.

In other words, the President of the United States is not a “leader of the country” as that term was interpreted at the time the Bible was written.  (See also On “originalism.”)

Back then a leader was a king or other dictator, who served for life – or until a stronger king bumped him off.  But these days a president is more like a plumber.  He’s a hired hand who serves the people of the United States for no more than eight years.  (Or less if he ends up impeached and convicted.  See AU Professor Predicts Trump’s Impeachment.)

Therefore, since we Americans follow majority rule, and since Hillary Clinton won a majority of the popular vote, it would seem that Americans everywhere are free to “curse and revile” Donald Trump as much as they want – according to the Bible.

But as Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 10:23:  “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

Ikone Athanasius von Alexandria.jpgThen too, that brings up what I wrote last January.  I posted On Hilary – 1″L,” and HE was a bishop.  Saint Hilary – shown at right, and who died in the year 367 – served as bishop in Poitiers, a city in France.

But he served at a time of a great early-church conflict, and perhaps not unlike the conflict we just went through.  (In St. Hilary’s case, the one pitting Athanasius against Arius, for whom Arianism was named.)

Basically it was a struggle for the “soul of the Church,” much like this last election was part of a “war for the soul of America.”  (And by the way, Googling “war for the soul”  got me 13,400,000 results.)

The thing is – during that earlier “war for the soul” – Saint Hilary had to serve a term in exile. (Too?)  In 356 he backed the wrong horse, and was sent into exile by Constantius II.  (Who  found the Arian position persuasive enough to banish Hilary to Phrygia.)  However:

Hilary put his four years in exile to good use.  He honed his arguments so well that they ultimately acquired the force of (church) law.  In essence he was a “Great Dissenter…”  Which is another way of saying “Athanasianism” ultimately won the day.

And who knows?  Maybe the same will happen with today’s Hillary…

And finally, it is within the realm of possibility that that consummate Showman – Donald Trump – actually “played those far-right conservatives like a piano.”  That is, it’s possible that Trump is the “New York Liberal” that Ted Cruz said he was.  (Or at least more of a moderate than he let on, either of which – liberal or moderate – would have doomed his Republican nomination.)

At the very least it’s looking like Donald – like life itself – is like a box of chocolates.  And as that great philosopher Forrest Gump observed, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

*   *   *   *

“Are you telling me Donald Trump just got elected president?”

*   *   *   *

Notes:

The upper image is courtesy of Trump and Obama meet at the White House to begin transition.  

The full Satucket Daily Office readings include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136,” along with Joel 3:9-17; James 2:1-13; Luke 16:10-17(18).

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to “more honored in the breach:”  The quote is from Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 7–16.  And something I didn’t know:  As properly interpreted the saying means to ignore a bad custom or rule, rather than a “good custom … often breached:”

Hamlet means that it is more honorable to breach, or violate, the custom of carousing than to observe it.  So the phrase is properly applied to a bad custom or rule that should be ignored.  Instead, we and others frequently use it in almost the opposite sense…

See Mangled Shakespeare – The New York Times, and – for more on the context – More honored in the breach – eNotes Shakespeare Quotes.

The latest from a “None…”

Stoning of Moses, Joshua and Caleb

Many times Moses almost got stoned to death – for not “dumbing down” the Torah enough…

*   *   *   *

I finally got to read the September 26, 2016, edition of Time magazine.

(I get the magazine hand–me–down from my sister-in-law.)  Page 63 had an essay:  My Life As a ‘None’ and Tales of Being Unaffiliated, by Susanna Schrobsdorff.  (Which included the image at right.)  

The essay had a subhead, saying that Nones – Americans not affiliated with any religion – now make up almost a quarter of the population.

Schrobsdorff began, “Like a lot of women of a certain age, I’ve taken up yoga.”  Then – for reasons not quite clear – she apparently gave up on yoga, then went on to question her “casual pursuit of spirituality:”

I’m agnostic about God, and there’s just a smallish space where faith might fit into my life.  So I check the “spiritual but not religious” box…  I’m just the kind of person that author and pastor Lillian Daniel has aptly mocked, writing, “You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.”

She added that people like her are “on the rise,” followed by a wealth of statistics showing that in a few years, “the largest ‘religion’ in the U.S. will be None.”  (Emphasis added.)

I wasn’t sure if she was bragging or complaining.

But then she started the second half of her essay.  She noted she grew up in a mixed-faith family.  Her mother Mary Anne “was a Catholic until she eloped with my atheist German father…   We’d ask her about God and all the miraculous stories from the Bible, and she’d say:

Don’t take everything so literally.'”

(Which is pretty much the whole point of this blog:  That if you read the Bible too literally, you’re only cheating yourself…)

And yet – she wrote – that same mother was both certain that God existed and seemed to pray fervently as she approached death.  (From the emphysema that would “kill her at 73.”)

That is, shortly before she died, the mother, her atheist-husband and her None-daughter stopped at the church where – years before – Mary Anne had taken First Communion:

I don’t know if she prayed.  But I do know that my mother had the certainty that she would go “home,” as she called it, where her long-gone parents and my sister were.

Ihs-logo.svgShe closed by saying that she longed for the kind of faith her mother had.  She also noted a Jesuitical proof that “God does exist:”

We have innate cravings for food and sleep and love, and so perhaps a desire to identify with a higher power…  That built-in yearning is there because there’s something worth yearning for.  It’s the kind of logic that my mother, the student of Jesuits, would have loved.

 *   *   *   *

So:  Where to begin?  How do I respond to what seems to be a cry for help, a pleading for some proof that you don’t have a to be far-right conservative to be a “real Christian?”

(Or as it says in Mark 9:24, “Lord … help thou mine unbelief!”)

For starters,  I wrote about “Nones” in the May 2015 post, On WHY we’re getting “less Christian.” (Which noted in part that it was “hard to imagine Jesus ever saying ‘There’s No Such Thing As A Liberal Christian.'”)  See also The Blog – above – where I wrote out some of my goals:

Another thing I’m trying to do is reach out to Nones and others turned off by “negative Christians.”  See “Nones” on the Rise and The Growth Of The “Nones.”  (About the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated.”)

So this is a perfect chance to make this a Teaching – or “Teachable” – Moment.

For starters – again –  The Blog said reading the Bible can lead to “an entirely new world.”  It also said that reading the Bible doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to shape yourself into a pre-formed “carbon copy Christian.”  (Or just “another brick in the wall.”)

Which seems to be the goal of those boot-camp Christians who get all the media attention.

A drill sergeant posing before his companyThose boot-camp Christians – discussed in the notes – are the Bible literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” And they are generally perceived to be extremely negative.

(Googled “negative Christians” and got 12 million hits.)

But in John 10:10, Jesus was anything but negative.  In saying He wanted His followers to live abundantly, His goal was for you to grow and develop into all you can be.  (And not stay a “career buck private,” never going beyond the fundamentals.)

I’ll be writing more on Ms. Schrobsdorff‘s essay in a later post.  But I want to close this post by noting something that most people don’t factor in when they read the Bible.  (And especially the first five books, the Torah.)  That factor is:  Moses had to “dumb it down” enough that he wouldn’t get stoned to death, as noted in last January’s On Moses getting stoned:

In plain words, “Moses was forced by circumstance to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand…'”  And to the extent he was writing for a future audience, he probably expected that future audience to understand those circumstances, and take them into account.

That is, if Moses had written in the Torah that the earth was billions of years old – or that the earth revolved around that “big bright round thing in the sky” – he probably would have been stoned to death as a heretic.  (By the people he was leading – “those backward, ignorant, sons-of-the-desert” – as nearly happened several times in his account in those first books of the Bible.)

That post also ended with this note:

“It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

 *   *   *   *

 
Galileo facing the Inquisition, for saying the earth revolved around the sun…

 *   *   *   *

 The upper image is courtesy of Stoning of Moses, Joshua and Caleb | Byzantine | The Metroplitan Museum of Art.  (It’s a mosaic from the 5th century.)  See also Stoning – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which includes another painting of the incident. The caption to that painting, under Punishment of the Rebels:  “The Punishment of Korah and the Stoning of Moses and Aaron (1480–1482), by Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel, Rome.”  See also Heresy – Wikipedia

The “stoning” article said this of the “Korah” painting:

The painting … tells of a rebellion by the Hebrews against Moses and Aaron.  On the [left] the rebels attempt to stone Moses after becoming disenchanted by their trials on their emigration from Egypt.  Joshua has placed himself between the rebels and Moses, protecting him from the stoning

Which raised the question:  “What would those backward, ignorant, sons-of-the-desert have done to Moses if he’d told them the truth about that ‘big bright round thing in the sky?’”

 *   *   *   *

Re: Ms. Schrobsdorff, who wrote the “Nones” essay.  She is the “Chief Strategic Partnerships Editor and a columnist for TIME.”  She is also 53 years old as of this writing, and began her essay:  “Like a lot of women of a certain age, I’ve taken up yoga.”  Just as an aside, I – the “Scribe” – just turned 65 and have been doing yoga since the mid-1970s.  That’s over 40 years, which means I started yoga when Susanna was about 12 years old.  The point being that while some people – including conservative Christians – see yoga as a “cult,” there are Christians who are open-minded.  

File:Picswiss UR-28-18.jpgA side note:  Ms. Schrobsdorff seems to have gone to a trendy-slash-upscale yoga center, of the kind catering to the “norm for self-centered American culture.”  My point being:  There have always been those who take a good spiritual discipline and twist it to their benefit. See e.g., The Bible as “transcendent” meditation, which said back in the 1970s you could pay a week’s salary to a TM center – of the kind that made Maharishi Mahesh Yogi rich enough to buy this “headquarters” in Switzerland – or buy an under-two-dollar copy of Lawrence LeShan‘s book, How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery.  (Which would require a bit of self-discipline…)  

And finally – on a related topic – see 2d Corinthians 2:17.  In the NIV:  “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.”  The NLT version reads:  “You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit.”

 Re:  “Nones.”  See also Irreligion – Wikipedia.

The image to the left of the paragraph – “But then she started the second half” – is courtesy of Atheism – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “1929 cover of the USSR League of Militant Atheists magazine, showing the gods of the Abrahamic religions being crushed by the Communist 5-year plan.”

The image to the right of the paragraph including “She also noted a Jesuitical proof,” is courtesy of Society of Jesus – Wikipedia.  (“Jesuitical” is defined in pertinent part as of or pertaining to Jesuits, or as applying to those who practice “casuistry or equivocation,” and/or those who use “subtle or oversubtle reasoning,” or those who are “crafty; sly; intriguing.”)

The lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – is courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Note that Galileo almost got burned at the stake – for saying the earth revolved around the sun – almost 3,000 after Moses was trying to lead his people to “the Promised Land…”

On “All Hallows E’en” – 2016

Fashionable ladies in 1915 “bobbing for apples…”   (In England, 10/31 is also “Snap Apple night.”)

*   *   *   *

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31.jpgIn case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere – or sticking your head in the sand to get away from all the negative political campaigning – Halloween is next Monday.  (October 31.)

I’ve written of the religious meaning of this holiday before.  And noted that the word “holiday” comes from the original “holy day.”  (Or more precisely, “hālig dæg.”)  In turn the Old English word “halig” figures into the whole idea of Halloween, but there’s more on that later.

I’ve written about Halloween in “All Hallows E’en” – 2015.  And earlier – in 2014 – I posted On “All Hallows E’en,” Parts I and Part II.  This post will present the highlights.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Day of the Dead (1859).jpgOne such highlight is that there are actually Three Days of Halloween. (Also known as the Halloween Triduum, which constitutes a whole set of Feast Days.)  The third day of the three-day holiday – November 2 – is All Souls’ Day.  The original idea was to remember the souls of “the dear departed,” illustrated by the painting at left.

Turning to the name itself, literally the night of October 31 is the evening – or e’en – before “Hallows Day.”  (Or “All Hallows Day.”)

That is, “halig” is the old English word for “hallow,” which in turn is another term for “saint.”  (In this sense, one of those dear departed.)  So “All Hallows Day” is just another way of saying All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on November 1, the day after October 31st.

And a side note:  These three “holy-days” traditionally marked the “season of darkness.”  In the olden days people started noticing that this time of year the days kept getting shorter.  (So naturally they wondered if the days would eventually get so short there would be no light at all…) 

So again, November 1st is also called All Saints’ Day, and the Old English word for “saint” was halig, which eventually became “hallow.”  Another fact worth noting is that – in the really real olden days – Christians believed that on the Eve of All Hallows, “the veil between the material world and the afterlife thinned.”  Put another way, the veil was most permeable.

(Spirits could more easily “pass through” the veil separating the dead from the living.) 

 So what was the deal with wearing masks and disguises? 

As noted, people originally believed that on the night of October 31, the barrier between the living and the dead was pretty much down.  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.”

Another thing they did was build “bone fires:”

“The fires were thought to bring comfort to the souls in purgatory and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.”  The idea came from pagan times, when evil spirits had to be driven away with noise and fire.  (Note also that “bonfire” is short for bone-fire.  See Bonfire – Wikipedia, noting the term “is derived from the fact that bonfires were originally fires in which bones were burned.”)

And there was another old-time custom.  If you had to travel on All Hallows E’en – like from 11:00 p.m. until midnight – your candle could tell your future.  If the candle you carried kept burning, that was a good omen.  (The person holding the candle would be safe in the upcoming “season of darkness.”)  But if your candle went out , “the omen was bad indeed.”

The thought was that the candle had been blown out by witches.

There’s more information about “souling” and trick-or-treating in 2014’s On “All Hallows E’en” – Part I.  There’s also a note about jack-o’-lanterns, like the one to the right of the paragraph, “In case you’ve been living under a rock…”

Apparently some old-time people set such carved-out pumpkins on their windowsills, to keep “harmful spirits” out of their home.   But according to another tradition,  jack-o’-lanterns “represented Christian souls in purgatory.”  And as noted in “All Hallows E’en” – Part II, today jack-o’-lanterns are made from pumpkins, but were originally carved from large turnips.

In turn, both the jack-o’-lantern and Will-o’-the-wisp are tied in with the strange ghostly light known as ignis fatuus.  (From the Medieval Latin for “foolish fire.”)  That refers to 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:”

Tradition had it that this ghostly light – seen by travelers at night and “especially over bogs, swamps or marshes – resembled a flickering lamp.  The flickering lamp then receded if you approached it, and so it “drew travelers from their safe paths,” to their doom…

But there is some good news in all this, as noted in the readings for the “Eve of All Saints:”

[T]he souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.  In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction;  but they are at peace.

That quote is from the Bible readings for the “Eve of All Saints (Day).”  (Again, the earlier version was “Eve of All Hallows,” shortened to “All Hallows E’en,” then just “Halloween.”)

And that makes up the Good News of Halloween.  So accordingly, here’s wishing you:

A Happy “All Hallow’s E’en!”

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“A graveyard outside a Lutheran church in Röke, Sweden on the feast of All Hallows…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Apple bobbing – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Halloween (Howard Chandler Christy), 1915.”  The article added:  “Due to the nature of the game, whereupon a number of individuals each place their entire head into a bowl of water, it is thought to be a somewhat unsanitary game…  A potentially more sanitary variation of the game exists, with the apples hung on string on a line, rather than in a bowl of water,” like the Snap-Apple game shown above.  (And that’s not to mention any possible Freudian implications…)  And finally, “Agatha Christie‘s mystery novel Hallowe’en Party, is about a girl who is drowned in an apple-bobbing tub.”

Also re:  Apple bobbing:  “The current game dates back to when the Romans conquered Britain, bringing with them the apple tree, a representation of the goddess of fruit trees, Pomona.  The combination of Pomona, a fertility goddess, and the Celts‘ belief that the pentagram was a fertility symbol began the origins of bobbing for apples. “

Re:  All Saints Day (November 1).  See also All Saints’ Day – Wikipedia.

The image of the jack-o’lantern is courtesy of Halloween – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “A jack-o’-lantern, one of the symbols of Halloween representing the souls of the dead.”

The painting to the left of the paragraph beginning “one such highlight” is courtesy of All Souls’ Day – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaThe caption: “All Souls’ Day by William Bouguereau.”  See also Allhallowtide, and All Saints’ Day – Wikipedia.

The “witch” image is courtesy of Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead …54disneyreviews.

The full Daily Office Bible readings for October 31, 2016 – from the Satucket website – are Psalm 34; Wisdom 3:1-9; and Revelation 21:1-4,22-22:5.  The quoted portion is from the “Wisdom” reading. 

The lower image is courtesy of Allhallowtide – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “A graveyard outside a Lutheran church in Röke, Sweden on the feast of All Hallows.  Flowers and lighted candles are placed by relatives on the graves of their deceased loved ones.”

On St. Ignatius – and “Persecution Porn”

A more-subdued paintings of Christians and lions…  (“Christian porn” is discussed below.) 

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Ignatius of AntiochOctober 17 is the Feast Day for one of our lesser-known saints: Ignatius of Antioch.  Rumor has it that he was one of the first Christian martyrs to be literally “thrown to the lions.” (Possibly in the Colosseum in Rome, and as shown at left.)

But there are some who doubt that he was torn apart by lions, or that it happened in the Colosseum.  (As opposed to some other place in Rome.)   But it seems uncontested that he died before his time, and that his “crime” was being an early Christian bishop.

As noted in Satucket, “After the Apostles, Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch in Syria.”  Or see Ignatius of Antioch, Apostolic Father – Podcast:

Ignatius of Antioch, whom the Church remembers on October 17, is one of the most important of the apostolic fathers, the Fathers of the Church who[se] lives overlapped the lives of the last of the apostles.  Ignatius was, in fact, only the second successor of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas in the important city of Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time.

And as Wikipedia noted, “St. Peter himself left directions that Ignatius be appointed to the episcopal see of Antioch.”  In addition, a tradition arose that Ignatius “was one of the children whom Jesus took in his arms and blessed.”

In other words, he was a pretty important guy in the early Church.

We don’t know much about his early life.  (Except he converted to Christianity at an early age.)  Most of what we do know came after he was “arrested by the Imperial [Roman] authorities, condemned to death, and transported to Rome to die in the arena.”  (Wikipedia said he was sentenced to die at the Colosseum – like those at right – but actually ended up in the Circus Maximus.)  

Which brings up the question – asked by some anyway – whether Christians [were] really thrown to the lions?  According to The Straight Dope, the “story has its suspicious aspects:”

According to the historian Tacitus, Christians during Nero’s time (at least) were mainly torn apart by dogs, crucified, or burned alive – no mention of lions.  The Romans did throw people to lions on occasion, and Tertullian, writing later, remarks that the Romans were always ready to exclaim “Away with the Christians to the lion!” whenever times got tough.

But – according to Straight Dope – Tertullian didn’t witness any such throwing-to-the-lions, “and anyway he was a Christian himself.”  The site also said it was possible the “whole Christians-lions thing was a Christian ploy for sympathy.”  (The site did concede that Romans evidently “fed Christians to animals, and people to lions, [but] we have no source stating directly that they specifically fed Christians to lions.”)

Talk about picky…

But whether he was torn apart by dogs, crucified, or burned alive, Ignatius’ main claim to fame came from the meetings he had and the letters he wrote, from the time of his arrest to his arrival in Rome.

That is, he was arrested in Antioch, in now south-central Turkey, about 12 miles from the border with Syria.  (As shown above left, the tip of the island of Cyprus points directly to today’s city of “Antakya.”)  Also, Antioch is known as “the cradle of Christianity,” and Ignatius had a lot to do with that.

That’s because – on his long trip from Antioch to Rome – he was met by various groups of Christians;  “Ignatius took the opportunity to encourage them, speaking to groups of Christians at every town along the way.”  And he wrote seven letters – to various congregations – “in which he gives us a window into the soul of an early Christian martyr on his way to execution.”

Now, about those Doubting Thomases

There seems to be ample evidence that Christians – along with others deemed “undesirable” by the Roman authorities – did suffer greatly.  See Throwing Christians to the Lions: Fact and Legend:

Most Roman magistrates believed themselves to be enlightened and the government they represented to be merciful. and gave the Christians many opportunities to renounce their “strange unpatriotic beliefs…”  The crowds who came to witness the games were a different matter altogether.  Sometimes they became worked up into a frenzy of hate.  They considered the Christians to be antisocial scum and clamored for a painful death for them in the arena, being mauled and torn apart by wild beasts or forced to fight gladiators who killed them for a public spectacle.

(BTW: The part on crowds “worked up into a frenzy of hate” sounds surprisingly modern, somehow.)

But see also Tales of Roman Emperors Feeding Christians to the Lions Are Titillating to Christians … and Wholly Made Up.  That article took issue with tales of “Christians being thrown to the lions by hard-hearted Roman emperors,” as wholly made up:

There are zero authentic accounts of Christian martyrdom in the Colosseum until over a century after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In fact, not a single legitimate record exists of the Romans executing any Christians in the Colosseum.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  [E.A.]

You can see the full response to this claim by Wholly Made Up in the notes below.  However, the article did make a couple of valid points.  Like this one:

When people talk about being persecuted in modern America … it’s dangerous…  When American Christians yelp about being discriminated against, it is doubly galling:  for one, because the whole thing is so obviously spun out of thin air;  and also because such claims make light of Christians elsewhere who really do get a raw deal from their governments.

The other good point was about “persecution porn.”  You can see some examples at Damnatio ad bestias – Wikipedia, referring to “damnation to the beasts.”  That in turn referred to the “form of Roman capital punishment in which the condemned person was killed by wild animals.”

The article noted that from “the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, this penalty was mainly applied to the worst criminals, slaves, and early Christians.”  But the article also included at least two paintings of nubile young Christian women – in the altogether – bravely facing death at the “hands” of wild beasts.

Unfortunately, this is a family-oriented blog, so I can’t include them here.  However, that seems to be where the phrase “persecution porn” came from.  (The comparatively-tame painting, “Martyrdom of St. Euphemia” – which occurred at Chalcedon – is shown above right.)

As to how long such “martyr literature” has been around, Isaac Asimov* indicated that it goes back at least as far as 100 or more years before Jesus.

That is, 1st Maccabees is a book written “after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty, about the latter part of the 2nd century BC.”  But Asimov said the writer of the Second Book of Maccabees included a number of gruesome martyr stories, in a lovingly-gory detail that was not evident in the first book.

Accordingly – he said – “one might wonder if they are not merely atrocity stories made up after the fact.”  (Which seemed to be the point Wholly Made Up was making.)  

However – Asimov went on to note – the “history of Nazi Germany has proved to all of us that atrocity stories are sometimes simple truth, and understatements at that:”

In any case, the stories, whether strictly true or propaganda inventions, are told in grisly detail as edifying examples of loyalty to the death.  These are the first martyr-details in the Judeo-Christian tradition and formed a precedent for many later such tales that formed so large a part of the early Christian literature.

See also 2d Maccabees – Wikipedia:  The “long descriptions of the martyrdoms of Eleazar and of a mother with her seven sons … caught the imagination of medieval Christians [and are] considered the first model of the medieval stories of the martyrs.”

It should also be noted that this tradition continued in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.  That book – published in 1563 and with illustrations like that below – was highly influential in England and Scotland, “and helped shape lasting popular notions of Catholicism there.”

And finally, this seems to be a tradition that goes on “even to this day.”  (I.e., we can probably look forward to a whole lot of “persecution stories” – if not “martyr porn” – after November 8…)

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William Tyndale – “strangled and burned at the stake…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Colosseum – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “‘The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer,’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).”

Other sources on this saint include Ignatius’ Martyrdom by Lions in the Colosseum  (“Bible History, and Ignatius of Antioch | Theopedia.

The image to the left of the paragraph beginning, “Unfortunately, historians don’t know much,” is courtesy of Christian Martyrs at the Colosseum – Konstantin Flavitsky (www.the-athenaeum.org).

Re:  The Straight Dope: Were Christians really thrown to the lions?  This article included a wealth of information on such Roman practices, including this interesting side-note:

Roman animal sports did at least provide an answer to one perennial question:  Which is tougher, a bull or a rhino?  Answer:  Never bet against a rhino, which according to the writer Martial had no problem getting its horn under a bull and flipping it like a flapjack. 

The “writer Martial” was formally known as “Marcus Valerius Martialis,” and best known for his 12 “books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan…  He is considered to be the creator of the modern epigram.” 

The map showing Antioch is courtesy of tofspot.blogspot.com, “Crossroads of the Middle East: Lebanon and Palestine.”

Re:  “Full response to Wholly Made Up.”   For one thing, note the claim in that article that such cruelties were “wholly” made up.  As in “completely or fully,” “to the full or entire extent,” “completely ,” and/or “to the exclusion of other things.”

File:Aladdin-disneyscreencaps.com-4574.jpgFor another thing, note the number of “provisos, limitations and quid-pro-quos.”  Early Christians may have been torn apart by dogs, crucified, or burned alive, rather than being “eaten by lions.”  Or they may have died in the Circus Maximus, not the Colosseum.

The fact remains, they were just as dead.

Then there was the claim of no such martyrdom “until over a century after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.”  The fact is that the Emperor Constantine didn’t make Christianity the “religion of the Roman Empire” until 313 A.D.  See Constantine the Great and Christianity – Wikipedia, which said the effect of the Edict of Milan – aside from “decriminalizing Christian worship” – was to “cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.”

Needless to say, there’s a big difference between “decriminalizing” a religion and making it official.  Then too, early Christians were just as dead even if the Emperor wasn’t “hard-hearted.”

And Re:  “Provisos, limitations and quid-pro-quos.”  See Quotes from Movie Aladdin :: Finest Quotes.  The image above left is courtesy of Image – Aladdin-disneyscreencaps.com-4574.jpg – Disney Wikidisney.wikia.com.

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about 1st Maccabees and 2d Maccabees are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 762-63. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “William Tyndale, just before being strangled and burned at the stake, cries out, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes,’ in woodcut from an early edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”  See also, Bill Tyndale – who published a Bible you could actually READ!