From Jerusalem to Assisi – 2022

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi – that’s where I hope to be next August 30…

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

The Book of Common Prayer* says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It 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 Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12.)  

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:

Next August 27 – a Saturday – I’ll be flying over to Rome. From there I’ll take a train up to Assisi to meet up with my brother and his wife. Then on Thursday, September 1, we’ll start hiking the 154 miles back to Rome, via the Way of St Francis. But first I have some feast days to cover.

The first one is The Transfiguration of Jesus, celebrated back on August 6. I covered that in The Transfiguration – 2020. (Back in “Week 21 of the COVID-19 pandemic.”) The following Monday, August 15, was the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. I covered this “Mary” in 2019’s St. Mary, “Virgin,” and more on Jerusalem, and the next year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.”

Which is where “From Jerusalem to Assisi” comes in. My 2019 pilgrimage to Jerusalem included a side trip to Bethlehem, and in that town – where Jesus was born – we found the “Wall of Separation” discussed below. That is, the 2019 post Mary [and] more on Jerusalem gave some background on this particular feast day. But it also talked at length about my May 2019 pilgrimage to Israel. (Beginning with arriving in Tel Aviv on another Saturday evening and being able to get quickly – and surprisingly – through the “dreaded Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport.”) 

That post covered the Jerusalem visit from our arrival on Saturday night, May 11, to the following Friday, May 17. That’s when we visited the Judean wilderness, the Jordan River and Jericho. I revisited the post the following year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.” It covered at greater length our visit to Bethlehem on May 16. The coverage included the ironic if not incongruous “Wall of Separation” that runs through Bethlehem. (Where Jesus was born.)

I say ironic because what some call the Wall of Separation, the powers that be call the “Israeli West Bank barrier.” And there, right next to the Wall, our group stopped at the “Walled Off Hotel.*” For more see Banksy′s hotel with ′the world′s worst view′ opens in Bethlehem:

“With a play on words on the luxury Waldorf Astoria chain, this place is called the Walled Off Hotel, because it was built almost immediately next to Israel’s separation wall in the Palestinian-ruled city where Jesus Christ was born.”

Which of course would be Bethlehem. That’s where Jesus was born and where “God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, compassion, and glory” were expressed in Him. But seeing the Walled-off Hotel in that birthplace, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” And I still don’t.

But there’s another reason to review those two posts. I’m just finishing up a book, “On Mystic Christians – (you know, the real ones?”) Of which more in a future post, but once I finish that book, I plan to start another one, on that May 2019 three-week visit to Jerusalem. (And much of the rest of Israel, including my taste-testing the distinction between Israeli Maccabee Beer, and the also-locally-brewed Taybeh Palestinian beer.) But I also want to start a book on my three hikes on the Camino de Santiago, to include that next one coming up, the Way of St Francis

It just so happens that I wrote about St. Francis back in October 2015, in Saint Teresa of Avila:

“In other words, a mystic is a person who seeks to become ‘one’ with both God and his or her neighbor. Not unlike Francis of Assisi(Who no doubt some contemporaries thought himself was a bit of a weirdo…)

Which brings up two possible foreshadowings. One, my eventually writing a book on Mystic Christians. (“You know, the real ones?”) And a soon-to-be pilgrimage to Assisi and the Way of St Francis. But before closing, let’s get back to those feast days. Or at least the highlights.

Turning first to Mary, 2019’s St. Mary … and more on Jerusalem noted that aside from being the mother of God the Son Incarnate in Christianity, “Mary (Maryam) also has a revered position in Islam, where a whole chapter of the Qur’an is devoted to her.” And millions of Christians consider her to be the most meritorious saint of the Church, as both the Mother of God and the Theotokos. (Literally “Bearer of God.”) On that note, in Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is shown wearing blue. That tradition goes back to Byzantine Empire, to about 500 A.D., “where blue was ‘the colour of an Empress.’” Which seems appropriate…

Going back to the August 6 feast day, the Transfiguration – 2020 post talked about how COVID might be a blessing in disguise. Then it harked back to the Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World. No less a person than St. Thomas Aquinas considered it The Greatest Miracle because – unlike the other Gospel miracles – this one happened to Jesus. (Making it “unique among those listed in the ‘Canonical gospels.'”) Then too, the episode also transformed the disciples who witnessed the event, and “never forgot what happened that day.” (Which was probably what Jesus intended.) One witness, John, wrote in his gospel, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only.” (John 1:14.)  Peter also wrote of it, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18.)

And from there they went on to TRANSFORM (Transfigure) the world.

But there’s still a lot of work left for us to do. For one thing, we need to start tearing down the walls that separate us, and turn neighbor against neighbor. (See Divisive walls can be broken down through Jesus for one thoughtful review, with citations to Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28, among others.) Then there’s Ephesians 2:14, which reads in the Good News Translation, “For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.”

So as for my pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and the Way of St Francis:

Here’s hoping I don’t find any Walls of Separation!

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Bethlehem’s Wall of Separation: “That look about says it all…

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The upper image is courtesy of St Francis Assisi Basilica – Image Results. It is accompanied by an article, Finding Peace and Faith in Assisi by Rick Steves.

In Assisi, my favorite ritual is to sit quietly on the rampart of the medieval fortress high above town. I look down at the basilica dedicated to the saint, then into the valley at the church where Francis and his “Jugglers of God” started the Franciscan order. Hearing the same birdsong that inspired Francis, and tasting the same simple bread, cheese, and wine of Umbria that sustained him, I calm my 21st-century soul and ponder the message of a saint who made the teaching of Jesus so accessible.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see Online Book of Common Prayer. As to “corporate” and “mystic,” it’s like body and soul. Ideally they are a unified whole, but some people lose sight of the one in focusing too much on the other…

Re: The Way of St. Francis. The Via di Francesco website says it is a “route to reach Assisi following in the footsteps of St Francis, whether leaving from the North (La Verna) or the South (Rome).” In our case, we’ll explore Assisi on the afternoon of August 30, after meeting up, then during the day of August 31. Then we’ll head from Assisi back to Rome.

Re: Getting “quickly – and surprisingly – through ‘the dreaded Israeli security.'” A driver from Saint George’s College Jerusalem met our group of nine from my church back in Georgia. We were part of a larger group taking the 14-day Palestine of Jesus course, and in a sense that driver whisking us through Ben Gurion security was a minor miracle in itself.

Re: The Walled Off Hotel link. Be sure to read the Safety Notice, advising that due to current political developments, there is a potential for “increased tension” in the area. And further that the “narco’s [sic] among you” should bear in mind that the UK Foreign Office has advised against joining any demonstrations while visiting the area.

Re: Still a lot of work to do. For more reviews search “Jesus breaks down walls.”

I took the photo of the Wall of Separation, just outside the “Walled Off Hotel.”

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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, “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:

…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

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer 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.” 

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

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you 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 related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.” 

Re: “mystical.” Originally, 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!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

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

On Mary of Magdala and James the Pilgrim – 2022

 I hope St. James the GreaterPatron Saint of Pilgrims, will guide me this September…

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July 28, 2022 – Last Friday, July 22, was the Feast Day for “Mary from Magdala.” I covered that feast day last year in “Saint” Mary Magdalene – 2021, and the year before in Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid.” And just for the record, we are now in Week 124* of the Covid pandemic, with no end in sight. (Plus we now have Monkeypox to worry about.)

Three days after Mary’s feast, Monday, July 25, we remember James, son of Zebedee. He’s one of several New Testament “Jameses,” but he’s also “St. James the Greater.” And this James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. As such, he’ll be my patron saint this September when I start an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis, from Assisi back to Rome.

And speaking of pilgrimages, that post from two years ago, “2020 … Week 19,” talked about an earlier one. That was a four-day canoe pilgrimage on the Missouri River, 115 river miles, from South Sioux City to Omaha Nebraska. That was one of a series of journeys-of-discovery leading to this September’s Way of St Francis. But getting back to Mary Magdalene

St. Augustine called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” See also Mary … FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art. [Emphasis added.]

2015’s Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” noted that this particular Mary – a common name at the time – has long had a rotten reputation. “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman,” but the consensus now is that these claims are unfounded.  For one thing, Isaac Asimov said this Mary would be more accurately considered “a cured madwoman rather than a reformed prostitute.” (A subtle distinction.)

Yet – notwithstanding that “sordid past” – it’s clear that Mary Magdalene showed far more courage than the original 11 disciples. (Not counting Judas.) See John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Thus the one indisputable fact is that Mary was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus. And that may have accounted for the stories about her “sordid past;” jealous males trying to sully her reputation and cover up their own cowardice.

So her story could be one long pilgrimage to eventually see the risen Jesus. By and through that journey she was able to escape her sordid past and move on to become something greater, the “Apostle to the Apostles.” (A good life-lesson to be sure.) And speaking of pilgrimages, July 25 is the feast day for the Patron Saint of PilgrimsJames, son of Zebedee.

Going back to 2014, On “St. James the Greater” spoke of this James being not only the patron saint of pilgrims. He’s also the patron saint of Spain and Portugal. Which is why the Camino de Santiago* traditionally ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Tradition says that James traveled to Spain to spread the Gospel there:

[T]he Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St. James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44.

All of which is well and good, but raises the question: “Why do such a pilgrimage at all?” One answer comes from the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans. The book noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society,” but that a big problem in today’s world is that we’ve abandoned many of the rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma. The book added that all true ritual “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”

More to the point, the book said a pilgrimage – like an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis – “may be described as a ritual on the move.” And that such a moving ritual often includes the “raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep.” But through such an experience we can get a sense of our fragility as mere human beings. (Compared with “the majesty and permanence of God” and His creation.) Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

So, a month from today (August 27) I’ll be flying to Rome, to get “chastened and liberated…”

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Mary of Magdala – and note the similar pose to James, above…

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The upper image is courtesy of St. James Patron Saint Of Pilgrims – Image Results, and the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. That’s the “Latin Church ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Catholic Church in AlbertaCanada… Its cathedral episcopal see is St. Mary’s Cathedral, CalgaryAlberta. It is currently led by Bishop William McGrattan.See also Saint James, Patron of Pilgrims (Catholic Education Resource Center).

Week 124 of COVID. (Or 31 months.) That’s according to my calculations, originally set out in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back 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.”

Re: The Way of St. Francis. My brother, his wife and I will fly into Rome at different times, meet up in Assisi, and from there hike “back” to Rome. The 18 days will include three days off, of not hiking, in Spoleto, Rieti, and Montelibretti. The latter is some 32 miles from Vatican City and the end of the hike. For another take on the hike see The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages.

Re: James’ vision in Spain. Tradition says it happened on January 2, 40 A.D..

Re: Santiago de Compostela. “Iago” is another translation of “James.” As Wikipedia put it, “Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctus Iacobus ‘Saint James.””

Re: “Passages of the Soul.” The quotes are from the 1994 Element Books Ltd. edition, at pages 23-25.

The lower image is courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitent_Magdalene_(Titian,_1565):

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Also, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia. For more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

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Catching up from my trip to Dubuque…

Downtown Dubuque, Iowa, as seen from a bluff high above the city…

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I just got back from a 10-day road trip to Dubuque, Iowa. My current lady friend hails from there, and wanted to visit family. (Especially kids, grandkids and a new great-granddaughter.)

I went because I’d never experienced such a lily-white Midwestern Fourth of July. (Not lately anyway, compared to the Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) And it was quite an adventure, featuring lots of visits to her family, and my eating way too much food, and getting not nearly enough exercise. (I gained five pounds, and was lucky to limit it to that. One comment at a dinner on the evening of July 4: “That’s all you’re eating?”)

But this blog is about faith and spirituality, so let’s back on track…

To help celebrate the 4th, I went back over some past posts. I came across this, from 2014, On Sunday of the July 4th weekend. I told of another mid-summer trip, taking a train north from New York City to Montreal. On the ride up to the Canadian border I had time to read my passport. That made for some interesting reading, “especially on this holiday weekend,” of July 2014.

Page 1 of the passport said the U.S. Secretary of State personally requested – of “all whom it may concern” – to permit this particular named citizen (me) “to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.” Which I found pretty impressive. (Especially since I’ll be flying over to Rome on August 27, to hike the Way of St Francis.*)

That was followed by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which also made for some impressive reading. (“We the People…”) That was followed by pages topped with pithy quotations about America and the promise of freedom it stands for. (Mostly.) Pages 8-9 are topped by a saying from George Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

But as I wrote back in 2014, we’ve seen “way too often lately” that the stupid and dishonest can also repair to that standard of freedom. And I’d say that goes at least double for the eight years since 2014. But since this is a Christian blog I’ll take the high ground and quote John Steinbeck on the American July 4th sense of freedom that we celebrate each year:

[T]his I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

Which leads to some questions. Like, “Have we maintained that freedom of the mind to take any direction it pleases?” Are we winning or losing the fight against a religion or government that limits or destroys the individual? Which leads to the quote on pages 16-17 of the U.S. passport. Attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, it reads:  “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of endless possibilities.” (Get that? “Endless possibilities.”) All of which led me to quote Ellison Onizuka, the American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds . . . to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

To free people’s minds. To me, that’s what the Bible is all about…

But of course Onizuka could have said – in a slightly different way – “Sing to the Lord a new song.(As it says in Psalm 98:1 and elsewhere.) He could add that you can’t live up to, fulfill or implement either promise – of America’s endless possibilities or those of Jesus – interpreting the Bible or the Constitution in a closed, narrow, “strict” way. So I’d say our duty as Americans – as Christian Americans – is to foster the endless possibilities of both the American Dream and the promises of Jesus. (That in His name we should live a life of spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than He did.) Which brings up the miracle in the Bible.

To many people, those miracles are “fairy tales,” stumbling blocks like those Paul mentioned in 1st Corinthians 8:9. But the thing to remember is that they are designed to stretch the human mind, to get that mind out of its conservative, keep-things-as-they-are Comfort Zone.

After all, the English people who first settled America were neither conservative nor “keep-things-as-they-are.” They wanted to sing a new song, to experience the endless possibilities in the New World, to “look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”On that note see Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”

It’s your choice America…

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Ellison Onizuka, quoted above on our Fourth of July freedom…

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The upper image is courtesy of Dubuque, Iowa – Wikipedia. The city was named for Julien Dubuque (1762-1810), a Canadian from Champlain, Quebec, who settled near what is now the city. One of the first Europeans to settle in the area, he initially got permission from the Mesquakie Indian tribe to mine the lead in 1788. “Once he had received permission from the Meskwaki to mine lead, Dubuque remained in the area for the rest of his life. He befriended the local Meskwaki chief Peosta – for whom the nearby town of Peosta, Iowa is named.” He is believed to have married Peosta’s daughter.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: The Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. That area that has been my new ome for the past 12 years.

Re: The Way of St. Francis. I’ll meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, and hike the 160-or-so miles from Assisi to Rome.

The Steinbeck quote. See Quote by John Steinbeck: “And this I believe.”

Re: Psalm 98:1. See On singing a NEW song to God, from May 2015. See also Psalm 33:3, Psalm 96:1, and Psalm 149:1.

The Bible readings for July 4 (2014) includes a note about how a group of Anglicans – members of the official state religion of the time – voluntarily gave up their power to guarantee “freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths.” See too The Bible readings for July 4, also from 2014.

Re: “Miracles.” What Is a Miracle according to the Bible? – Bible Answers noted that the most important thing “is not about the miracles themselves but the God who performs them.” But see also Did the Miracles in the Bible Really Happen? – The Honest Skeptic, and/or Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles? One quote: “Rather than being a stumbling block, miracles should be expected. If God is who he says he is, then miracles should happen and should be expected.

The Ellison Onizuka quote is on page 28 of my passport. (The ellipses are in the passport original.) Onizuka (1946-1986) was “an American astronaut from KealakekuaKonaHawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C. He died in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, on which he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian-American to reach space.” The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Catching up from my “Big Apple” trip…

After two weeks in New York City,* including Carnegie Hall, I’m just now “catching up…”

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June 19, 2022 – I just got home from a two-week trip to The Big Apple, New York City. The main reason for the trip? To see my brother and his wife perform – with some other people – at Carnegie Hall, Friday night, June 3. They were part of a concert by the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and their group was listed in the program as “participating choruses.”

My family and I visited other sites as well, in the week after the concert. But during that visit I couldn’t do any updates on this blog. I got back home late last Monday evening, June 13, and am just now catching up. I’m just now getting back to my “rhythm.”

And speaking of getting back into my rhythm, last June 5th was Pentecost Sunday. Last Saturday, June 11, was the Feast Day for St. Barnabas, and last Sunday, June 12, was Trinity Sunday. Which means I have a lot to cover.

As to Pentecost, that’s the 49th day (seventh Sunday) after Easter. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit “upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks.” (Described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31.) I covered this special day in Pentecost 2020 – “Learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Back when we were “just starting the 12th full week of the COVID-19 pandemic.”)

Pentecost is also known as the Birthday of the Church, as noted in 2015’s Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church.” That is, “from an historical point of view, Pentecost is the day on which the church was started.” Pentecost also marks the start of “Ordinary Time,” as it’s called in the Catholic Church. “Ordinary Time” takes up over half the church calendar year. This year that long liturgical season will last until November 27, the First Sunday of Advent.

And what makes Pentecost so special? For the first time in history, God gave power to “all different sorts of people for ministry.” In Old Testament times, “the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings.” But on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit went to “‘all people.’ All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.” Which was a pretty radical development.

Moving on to St. Barnabas, he was identified as an apostle – with Paul – in Acts 14:14. He and Paul “successfully evangelized among the ‘God-fearing‘ Gentiles who attended synagogues in various Hellenized cities of Anatolia.” I wrote about him in 2014’s On St. Barnabas:

The apostle and missionary was among Christ’s earliest followers and was responsible for welcoming St. Paul into the Church.  Though not one of the 12 apostles . . . he is traditionally regarded as one of the 72 disciples of Christ and [the] most respected man in the first century Church after the Apostles themselves.

That post noted that Barnabas could be called “the Apostle of Second Chances.” First because he vouched for Paul, after his Damascus Road Experience. (The first Christians knew Paul only as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church.) Barnabas later gave Mark a second chance as well – to go on a missionary journey – even though Paul, in turn, had labeled Mark as “undependable.” As noted in D-Day and St. Barnabas – 2021, “if it hadn’t been for Barnabas’ willingness to give Paul a second chance – Paul, the formerly zealous persecutor of the early Church – he might never have become Christianity’s most important early convert, if not the ‘Founder of Christianity.'”

Then last Sunday, June 12, was Trinity Sunday. That’s a rare feast day in the liturgical year that celebrates “a doctrine instead of an event.”  See also What is the Trinity:

The word “trinity” is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence.  In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.

Sound confusing? It is, and was, even to a guy as smart as Thomas Jefferson. See for example, On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more! That post talked about things like God’s timetable being usually quite different than ours, and how “we mere human beings are no more prepared to fully comprehend God than ‘cats are prepared to study calculus.'”

On that note, it also talked about how the “Trinity” was so difficult that even Jefferson couldn’t figure it out. But he – like many of us – fell into a common error: Thinking he could ever “really understand everything there is to know about God.” But like many parts of the Bible, the Trinity is simply beyond our ability to comprehend, fully. “It’s a reality that we may only begin to grasp.” 

On that note too, consider John’s Gospel ending, 21:25: “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” Or Psalm 40:5, in various translations, basically saying that God’s wonderful deeds “are more than can be told.” Or see Isaiah 55:8. In the NLT: “’My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the LORD. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.'”

All we can do is keep trying to understand God, like a “cat studying calculus…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Carnegie Hall Image – Image Results. It goes with an article, How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? No, Seriously. | NCPR Newswith lots of background information.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: “Two weeks in New York City.” We spent eight days visiting the city, from a base in North Bergen, New Jersey; I took four days driving up there from the “ATL,” and four days driving back home.

Re “Participating choruses.” The phrase in the program was “With participating choruses.” You can click on the near-upper-right “Calendar View” at Official Website | Carnegie Hall.) The chorus in question was The Trey Clegg Singers, Inc. My brother and his wife have sung with “Trey” for years. For more on the visit (as proposed), see Back to New York City – finally, from my companion blog.

Re: Getting back to my “rhythm.” My first wife Karen (who died in 2006) used to say I wasn’t spontaneous enough, I was in too much of a rut. My response was, “It’s not a rut, it’s a rhythm.” See also The Three Biggest Benefits of Good Habits – Top Three Guide, Why Habits are Important: 5 Benefits of Habits, and – for a more “churchy” view – The Benefits of Good Habits | Christian Library.

The lower image is courtesy of Cat Studying Calculus … Image Results. Note that the cat is actually studying physics, not calculus. See also Your Cat Probably Understands Physics – Business Insider.

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Here’s to Saints Philip and James – “Whoever you are”

And for that matter, which of the eight “James” in the New Testament do we celebrate on May 1?

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May 14, 2022 – Sunday, May 1, 2022, was technically the Feast Day for St. Philip and St. James, Apostles. I say “technically” because it got transferred from Sunday to Monday, May 2. The same thing happened in 2016, as noted in that year’s post, on Philip and James – Saints and Apostles.

The post noted some confusion about which “James” is remembered on May 1 (or 2). The New Testament listed at least three “James” who could fit the bill, and there were possibly as many as eight. The Daily Office article, “St. Philip & St. James (transferred),” lists the eight possibilities. It also notes the consensus view that the James at issue was “James the Less,” son of Alphaeus. We know very little about him, “except that his name appears on lists of the Twelve.” There was also a note on why the name James was so popular at the time, detailed in the notes.

Another possibility is James the Greater, also called James the son of Zebedee. He’s the patron saint of pilgrims, and the 2016 post noted that a good pilgrimage can be “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” human experiences. Which led to an observation, a la Dirty Harry:  “So, punk, do you feel like getting chastened and liberated?”

My 2015 post Total love – and “the Living Vine” talked about some Sunday Bible readings, including Acts of the Apostles (8:26-40) and Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch:

Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and there he met the Ethiopian eunuch…  The eunuch was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah, and had come to Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip asked the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He said[,] “How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?” …Philip told him the Gospel of Jesus, and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. They went down into some water and Philip baptized him.

The post also noted that as a eunuch the Ethiopian was beyond the pale –in other words, “untouchable” – according to Deuteronomy 23:1. The King James Bible – the one God uses – puts the matter rather delicately:  “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.“

Yet Philip, guided by God’s Spirit, does not hesitate to share the good news of God’s love and salvation with this less than whole Ethiopian and to baptize him into the faith, to welcome him into the life of the Christian church. This new faith is for all, God’s love is for every human being no matter what disability or disease or affliction has come our way.

(See “Wesley Uniting Church.”)  In other words, the point of Acts 8:26-40 – and the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch – is that God’s Love is Universal.  (On that note see also Jonah and the bra-burners.) So here’s to “Philip and James – Saints and Apostles,” and their Feast Day.

For another blast from the past, I also wrote about the feast day in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. It began with a note that “we are now in the eighth full week of the COVID-19 pandemic.” And according to my calculations, we just ended the 113th full week of COVID, with no end in sight. (28 months and one week.) That post talked about strategies for getting through such a time of crisis. But, reviewing it led me to another example of “never too old to learn.”

It turns out “today’s” confusion doesn’t end with eight men Jameses. “Philip the Apostle was one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus Christ. He’s one of four people named Philip in the Bible, and he’s often confused with Philip the Evangelist.” (The other two were “sons of King Herod the Great.’) To clarify, go back to the Daily Office article, “St. Philip & St. James (transferred):

Philip the Apostle is frequently confused with Philip the Deacon, whom we read of in the Book of Acts (A 6:7; 8:5-40; 21:8f), and who is commemorated on 6 June. For arguments that they are in fact the same, see that BIO… Philip the Apostle appears in the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts only as a name on the list of the Twelve, but [also] early in the ministry of Our Lord (J 1:44), and [bringing] his friend Nathanael to Jesus as well. When some Greeks (or Greek-speaking Jews) wished to speak with Jesus, they began by approaching Philip (J 12:20ff).

And according to Wikipedia (as noted), “Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and there he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch.” But personally, I like the point of Acts 8:26-40 being that God’s Love is Universal. And that His love is so universal that He’s willing to accept anyone. (Who turns to Him. See John 6:37.) 

So here’s to “Philip and James” – whoever you are – and their Feast Day, whether May 1 or 2.

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Saints Philip and James the Lesser – in the “Basilica of the 12 Holy Apostles…*” 

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The upper image is courtesy of Who Was Philip the Apostle? The Beginner’s Guide. That’s the one that led to the confusion about two possible Philips, the “Apostle” and the “Evangelist.”

Re: Why “James” was so popular. Briefly, because that was the name associated with Jacob, who became “Israel” when he wrestled with the angel in Genesis 32:24-32. (In the King James Version, the one God uses.) The English name “James” is a variant of the name “Jacob,” or in Hebrew, “Ya’akov.”

The lower image is courtesy of Saints Philip and James – Franciscan Media. Caption: “Image: Detail of reredos | Polytych by Maestà | Wikimedia.”

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“Happy Quasimodo Sunday” – 2022

Not this Quasimodo (Charles Laughton in 1939); it’s the first line of First Peter 2:2 in Latin…

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April 24, 2022 is officially the Second Sunday of Easter. Note the “of,” not “after.” That’s because Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.” It’s a season of 50 days – called Eastertide – that runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost(See Frohliche Ostern.) It’s also known as Low Sunday, mostly because church attendance falls off so drastically on that first Sunday “after.” (Compared with the high attendance of Easter Day. On that note see “CEOs;”  i.e., Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. “Christmas and Easter Only.”)

But aside from being “low,” it’s also the”Sunday of Many Names!” That includes Doubting Thomas Sunday – the Gospel for the day always tells the story of “Doubting Thomas” – and the Octave of Easter. (Because chronologically it comes eight days after Easter.)

And finally it’s known as “Quasimodo Sunday.” But that’s not because of Quasimodo – the guy shown in the lead image – and better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2 , a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day. First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…” [Or, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”] In Latin the verse reads: “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” Literally, “quasi modo means ‘as if in [this] manner.’”

Since “geniti” translates as “newborn” and the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident, the “quasi modo” in question roughly translates, “As if in the manner” (of newborn babes)

And incidentally, that character in Hunchback of Notre-Dame was named after the opening words of First Peter 2:2. In the New International Version it reads, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Also incidentally, the passage right before it reads, “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.” Which is definitely a needed reminder these days. (“Facebook commenters!”)

I’ve written of this Second Sunday of Easter in 2017’s “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017, 2019’s On Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday – and a Metaphor, and 2021’s Happy “Sunday of Many Names!” The first of the three noted Wikipedia saying a doubting Thomas is a “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience, a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.”

The 2019 post Easter … and a Metaphor talked about these two Sundays and also a metaphor about Jesus inviting Peter to literally “walk on water.” It’s true that Peter “fell flat on his face” – at least metaphorically – but at least he took the chance of accepting Jesus’ invitation. As a result of taking that chance – and not following the safe path and staying in the boat – Peter’s faith grew in ways that the other disciples could never experience. (He “explored his full potential;” so much so that he became Primus inter pares. “First among equals.”)

The third of the three noted Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India,” on the tradition that Thomas sailed to India in 52 AD, to spread the Christian faith. And that he was martyred in 72 AD.

Some Patristic literature state[s] that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia or in North India by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers.

One result? India, and especially the Malabar coast, still boasts a large native population calling themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Not bad for a guy who started out doubting…

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The upper image is courtesy of Quasimodo Laughton Image – Image Results. Included in a “Pinterest” page on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939.” See also Quasimodo – Wikipedia.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: “Doubting Thomas Sunday.” The readings for this Second Sunday of Easter always include John 20:19-31, which tells the story of Thomas overcoming his doubt by personally seeing Jesus after His resurrection. (Overcoming his saying earlier, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”)

Re: An “Introit,” like First Peter 2:2. Merriam-Webster defines it as either “the first part of the traditional proper of the Mass consisting of an antiphon, verse from a psalm, and the Gloria Patri,” or a “piece of music sung or played at the beginning of a worship service.” The Gloria Patri generally goes like this:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, and now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

Re: St. Thomas’ martyrdom. Said to be at Mylapore near Chennai in India.

The lower image is courtesy of Doubting Thomas In The Bible – Image Results. It goes with a page, Is it Fair to Call Today’s Saint “Doubting Thomas?” The article included the thought that “faith and doubt are not antitheses – they’re twins.” And that “St. Thomas became the Apostle of India, traveling perhaps farther than any other apostle to preach the Gospel, baptizing thousands of people on the Subcontinent, creating a Christian community that has lasted to this day.”

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On Good Friday – 2022

Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Ecce Homo with Jesus and Pontius Pilate, 19th century…”

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April 15, 2022 – It’s Holy Week, which means Easter is coming. But Holy Week includes Good Friday, today, which “commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his subsequent death.” And which can include”self-guided time of reflection.” Which led to some reflection on Thomas Merton. You can type “Merton” in the search engine above right, but today I’d like to focus on two past posts, 2014’s On Thomas Merton, and 2021’s “Zen in the Art of College Football.”

Merton was a Roman Catholic monk. But in later life he found similarities between his orthodox Catholicism and the exotic Eastern religions that were all the rage back in the 1970s. One biographer said Merton was helped in his spiritual quest by both Christian mysticism and his “wide knowledge of Oriental religions.” Merton became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and writer D. T. Suzuki. He studied Taoism, “regular” Buddhism and Hinduism. 

But dallying in these exotic Eastern disciplines didn’t weaken his Catholicism, his Christian faith. If anything, they strengthened that faith. As the biographer wrote:

[B]y approaching the spiritual quest at unexpected angles, they opened up new ways of thought and new ways of experiencing that invigorated and released him. . .

Which led to my theory, that studying the Bible was meant to liberate the human spirit, not shackle it. Which goes along with the idea expressed in Luke 24:45, where Jesus opened His disciples’ minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Which brings up “a moment of zen.”

As one Zen Master said, “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” And if you think that sounds non-Biblical, see Philippians 2:7, where Paul said Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” 

But why? What example was Jesus trying to set? What point was He trying to make?

This is harder than you might realize. By the time we reach adulthood we are so full of information that we don’t even notice it’s there. We might consider ourselves to be open-minded, but in fact, everything we learn is filtered through many assumptions and then classified to fit into the knowledge we already possess.

That’s all from Empty Your Cup, an Old Zen Saying. Then there’s another old Zen saying, that a child looks at a mountain and sees a mountain, an adult looks at a mountain and sees many things, but that a Zen master looks at a mountain and sees – a mountain. Which seems to mirror what Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So maybe becoming like a child again means – among other things – looking at a mountain and seeing … a mountain. And that in turn seems to involve dropping layers of life-long preconceptions, loosening up spiritual “hardened arteries,” and opening up to the majesty of God’s creation and His gift of Jesus. In other words, be open minded, open up to God’s majesty. 

Not to mention the majesty of God coming to earth in the form of Jesus, and His living among us for 33 years – just to help us out – then making the ultimate “ultimate sacrifice.”

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Getting back to Good Friday, in 2016 I posted An Annunciation-Good Friday anomaly. The “anomaly” was that in 2016 the Annunciation fell on the same day as Good Friday, “in which the liturgical color is black.” The wearing of black liturgical color begins at the end of the Maundy Thursday evening service. (In Western churches.) That’s when the altar is stripped and “clergy no longer wear the purple or red that is customary throughout Great Lent.” Instead they don black vestments until Easter Sunday, when – as we know – there is a happy ending.

I may not be able to post anything on Easter Sunday until well into next week. In the meantime you could check other past posts, like Happy Easter – April 2020! I posted that a month after the current COVID pandemic started, and that continues “even to this day.” That post noted that I got two books from the local library, including The Plague, by Albert Camus. (The other was What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills.) Anyway, for a more cheerful note on the reason for the season, see See On Easter Season – AND BEYOND, and Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter!

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“An Easter postcard depicting the Easter Bunny…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: Prior posts on Thomas Merton. Some of them are missing the images that I put in, which means in the upcoming week after Easter that I’ll have to go back and update them.

Re “Dropping layers of life-long preconceptions.” Another metaphor: Cleaning your “assumption filters” on a regular basis. (See Dirty Air Filter – Image Results.)

The lower image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia.

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An update on “Bible inerrancy…”

If you take Bible literalism too literally, you may end up with a nickname like “Stumpy…”

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We are now in the Fifth week in Lent, with some 18 days before Easter. But aside from last March 25’s celebration of The Annunciation, there aren’t any Feast Days left until HOLY WEEK – April 10-16, 2022. Which makes this a good time to go back and revisit “Biblical inerrancy.”

But first a note about the lead picture above. The caption – from Wikipedia – reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946.”

I’ve argued before that such snake handlers interpret Mark 16:17-18 way too literally. (The passage talks about the signs that will accompany those who believe, including “they will pick up snakes with their hands,” and drink deadly poison without effect.) Which means that such a too-literal Christian could end up dead, or at least with a nickname like “Stumpy.”

And speaking of Biblical inerrancy, back in September 2020, I posted On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism.” Since then I’ve learned even more about the topic, but also realized I didn’t “define my terms, Chump!” (Borrowing a phrase variously attributed to Socrates, Aristotle or Voltaire. “If you wish to debate with me, define your terms.”) So taking a look at Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia, we can see first the distinction between “inerrancy” and “infallibility.” Thus some such believers “equate inerrancy with biblical infallibility; others do not.”

To me the issue is whether literalist Christians are saying there are no clerical or scrivener’s errors, whatsoever, in any copy, version or translation of the Bible. Or whether – for example – the “Biblical” computation of time is completely accurate. (The earth is six thousand years old, as opposed to the estimate of over four billion years old.) Then there’s this, from Wikipedia:

Some literalist or conservative Christians teach that the Bible lacks error in every way in all matters: chronology, history, biology, sociology, psychology … and so on. Other Christians believe that the scriptures are always right (do not err) only in fulfilling their primary purpose: revealing God, God’s vision, God’s purposes, and God’s good news to humanity.

To cut to the chase, I’d say the Bible is inerrant “in all that it affirms.” Which is pretty much what Billy Graham said some time ago, as will be seen. But first some background…

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The post Old friend … “Bible literalism started off noting we don’t have any original manuscripts of the 27 books of the New Testament. “What we do have are “copies of copies of copies.” (According to Great Courses Plus; Professor Bart Ehrman‘s lectures on The New Testament.) I also noted that to me, the Bible “proves itself” to you as a person, with what you do with it as an individual believer, how you interact with and experience God in your own life.*

I also noted some problems reading the Bible, like that Old Testament Hebrew had no vowels or punctuation. Words and sentences were simply strung together. Then there was Jesus’ way of teaching, parables. Which were both hard to interpret literally, and which could mean different things to different people. (That “clunk” was a Southern Baptist having apoplexy.)

Which brings up a website, Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy. Which leads to another question, “What do you mean by ‘inerrant?'” Which brings up Billy Graham helping shape the Lausanne Covenant. (The “July 1974 religious manifesto promoting active worldwide Christian evangelism.”) See Billy Graham, Evangelism,.. and Inerrancy:

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God,* without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. (Emphasis added.)

Which brings up another problem, that a claim of “absolute inerrancy” makes it easy for a would-be convert to avoid converting. All “they” need do – to avoid coming to God, through Jesus – is find one minor error or contradiction. By making such a claim, Literalists create one of those “stumbling blocks to the weak” that Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 8:9.

On the other hand, I’d say that if some Bibles contain some minor errors, it’s only because of the human element in its transmission. As in the phrase, “garbled in transmission.” And to all of which I can say to such Literalists, “I respect your right to have that opinion, but I disagree.”

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But wait, there’s more! Which is being interpreted: Since 2020 I’ve run across even more interesting data. Like a series of lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Professor Gary A. Rendsberg. And especially his Lecture 11, on the “Biblical Manuscripts at Qumran.”

For one thing, Rendsberg mentioned some differences between the original Hebrew Old Testament and a later Hebrew-to-Greek early translation, the Septuagint. (The “earliest extant Greek translation of books from the Hebrew Bible.”) For example, the original Hebrew of Exodus 1:5 reads that 70 Israelites (Jacob and his family) went down to Egypt during a time of famine. The Septuagint said there were 75. So which is it?

I’d say it doesn’t really matter. The point is not something the Bible really “affirms.” Which brings up the the better view set out by John R. W. Stott. ((1921-2011.) I’ve mentioned Stott before, in numerous posts,* but he was the Anglican cleric who Time magazine ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote Understanding the Bible, and on pages 140-143, he made three key points.

Again, there’s more boring detail in those prior posts, but Stott’s key point is that the words of the Bible are true “only in context.” (Using the Book of Job as an example of some passages that can be taken out of context, like  Mark 16:17-18. And that in turn, Scripture is without error “in all that it affirms.” (A factor not always apparent “in the so-called ‘inerrancy debate.”) And keeping in mind that the Bible often describes God in human terms, not to be taken as literally true.

For more on the “inerrancy debate,” see Fundamentalism – Wikipedia. That article noted the “Five Fundamentals” set out at the Niagara Bible Conference 1910, including the doctrine that the Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching.” Which sounds similar to the idea that the Bible is without error “in all that it affirms.”

And finally, I’d say this business of “requiring every word of the Bible to be inerrant” – without any error of any kind – brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 23:4. He chastised the Scribes and Pharisees, saying in pertinent part that such they “make strict rules that are hard for people to obey. They try to force others to obey all their rules. But they themselves will not try to follow any of those rules.” (In the “Easy-to-Read” translation.)

To me, requiring every copy and every version of the Bible to be correct in every “jot and tittle” – to say that no Bible has even the most minor clerical or scrivener’s error – is one of those “stumbling blocks” that keep potential converts away from Christianity.

More than that, it makes some people who call themselves Christian miss the whole point of Jesus’ teaching. They focus more on the letter of the law than its spirit, and as Paul noted in 2d Corinthians 3:6, “the letter kills but the spirit gives life.” So if you are such a Literalist, feel free to believe what you believe. “But as for me and my house,” I’ll follow John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

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The upper image is courtesy of Snake handling – Wikipedia.  The caption reads, “Snake handling at Pentecostal Church of God, Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky September 15, 1946 (National Archives and Records Administration). Photo by Russell Lee.” I used the image in On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I, with this caption: A snake-handler – who may answer to the name ‘Stumpy’ – ostensibly following Mark 16.” As to the validity of such practices as snake handling as a method of proving faith, see Does MARK 16:17-18 mean that Christians should handle deadly …:

This passage can be understood two ways.  One way is to assume that Jesus followers are expected to handle deadly snakes…   Another way to understand this passage is to be reassured that when Christians accidentally come in contact with poisonous snakes, God will miraculously protect them…   Such an experience happened to the apostle Paul.  After being shipwrecked and escaping to the island of Malta, Paul was bitten by a deadly snake. [Acts:28:1-6].  Additionally, the Bible tells us that we should not tempt God by deliberately placing ourselves in potential danger [Matthew 4:5-7]. (E.A.)

Further information on the “Quiverfull Movement” can be found at sites including Quiverfull – WikipediaWhat Is Quiverfull? – Patheos, part of “No longer quivering,” an ostensible “gathering place for women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse;”  5 Insane Lessons from My Christian Fundamentalist Childhood …;  and/or QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.

Re: Fifth week in Lent. Starting with the fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3, 2022.

Re: “Lent 2022.” See Lent 2022 – Calendar Date, which said this Lenten period starts on Wednesday, March 2nd and ends on Thursday, April 14 with evening mass on Holy Thursday. (Most people think it ends with Easter Sunday.) Other notes:  It is “44 days from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and another two days with Good Friday and Holy Saturday added to give a total of 46 days for Lent. But Sundays are excluded from fasting during Lent and with 6 Sundays removed from the count we get lent being a 40 day liturgical period.”

Re: “Define your terms.” As attributed to Aristotle, see Define Your Terms | Kippy. To Voltaire, see Define Your Terms – Simple Liberty. And from Socrates, see Quote by Socrates: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”

Re: Age of the earth. For the “young earth, 6,000 years old” theory see How Old Is The Earth According To The Bible? | The Institute for Creation Research. For a more expansive – between four and five billion years old – see Age of Earth – Wikipedia, with citations. (Personally, I wasn’t there.)

Re: The Bible as “without error and therefore completely true.” See Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia. and – for that view different than mine – Why is it important to believe in biblical inerrancy.)

Also, vis-a-vis missing NT manuscripts: The night before posting I learned – through another Great Courses Bible lecture – that many “puns” in original OT Hebrew were lost in translation. See for example Bible Secrets Revealed, Episode 1: “Lost in Translation,” and Five Mistakes in Your Bible Translation | HuffPost. From the former, “different copies of the same Biblical books from the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t often match, [so] at the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Biblical texts existed in different versions and traditions that were still being sorted out. What this means is that it is very difficult to argue that the Bible is the verbatim ‘Word of God,’ especially when all of the ancient manuscripts contain different words.” From the latter, “In the original Hebrew, the 10th Commandment prohibits taking, not coveting. The biblical Jubilee year is named for an animal’s horn and has nothing to do with jubilation. The pregnant woman in Isaiah 7:14 is never called a virgin.” Also, “Metaphors are particularly difficult to translate, because words have different metaphoric meanings in different cultures. Shepherds in the Bible were symbols of might, ferocity and royalty, whereas now they generally represent peaceful guidance and oversight.” I may use these points in a future post.

Re: More on Deuteronomy 32:8. In the original Hebrew, Deuteronomy 32:8 said God set the boundaries “of the peoples” – the boundaries of the world – “according to the number of the children of Israel.” The same passage in the Septuagint reads, “according to the number of angels of God.” In turn, most translations in the “Bible Hub” website had 70 Israelites going down Egypt, including the King James Version that “all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls.” But “Hub” also cited Genesis 46:26, which put the number at 66, and Acts 7:14, which said “Joseph sent for his father Jacob and all his relatives, seventy-five in all.” 

Re: “My old friend Fred.” It wasn’t just me he “flabbergasted.” A mutual friend said he also cut off all communications with his family, and other old friends, who didn’t share his “conservative” views.

Re: “How you interact with and experience God in your own life.” That “simplistic” statement could be misinterpreted, but keep in mind that I have to “dumb things down,” just like Moses, Paul and Jesus all had to do. Also re: Interacting with God in my own life. See for example On my “mission from God,” and “As a spiritual exercise…”

Re: “Only written word of God.” But see John 10:16, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” It seems to me that God – being God – is perfectly able to reach out to other people, using other languages in other countries and cultural settings. “He” – anthropomorphism – could have other servants writing in other languages, keeping in mind that “all roads lead to Jesus.” If nothing else, this claim seems to limit God’s power…

More re: Deuteronomy 32:8. Just for some deep background: Chapter 32 comes near the end of the book, just before Chapter 33, “Moses blesses the tribes of Israel,” and also Chapter 34 on the death of Moses. “The Lord’s Last Instructions to Moses begin at 31:14, and the “Song of Moses” begins at 31. Anyway, back to Deuteronomy 32:8. Many Bible Hub translations of Deuteronomy 32:8 read that God “assigned land to the nations” or “gave the nations their inheritance.” But some translations of the passage at issue vary, from “according to the number of the sons of Israel,” to the sons of God, to “the number in his heavenly court,” and – in the Brenton Septuagint Translation – according to “the number of the angels of God.”

Re: “Stott … in numerous posts.” Type “John Stott” in the search engine in the blog’s upper right.

Also, the post On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism,” includes references to a book, “Christian Testament.” The full reference is Education for Ministry Year Two (Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Testament) 2nd Edition by William Griffin, Charles Winters, Christopher Bryan and Ross MacKenzie (1991). Page 321 of my copy has some notes on Nimshalim, as methods of interpreting parables. See also Mashal + Nimshal = Meaning/Teaching | Discipleship Curriculum: “The teaching method was simply brilliant. A fictional story (the mashal) was created by the Rabbi. This was almost always in response to something going on in their immediate world or an important principle they wanted to teach. The story would be crafted in such a way as to disguise it’s intent but also in such a way as to intrigue.” See also Mashal (allegory) – Wikipedia, about a “short parable with a moral lesson or religious allegory, called a nimshal.” (Nimshalim is the plural.)  

Re: “Jot and tittle.” The link is to “Gotquestions.org,” which noted that a jot – related to our word “iota” – is the “tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest.” A tittle “is even smaller than a jot … a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another.” 

Re: “Me and my house.” The reference is to Joshua 24:15. In the ESV, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The lower image is courtesy of Letter Of The Law Vs Spirit Of The Law – Image Results. (From an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. (See Wikipedia.)

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On the Annunciation (2022) – and Mary “shrinking back”

One view of the Annunciation. by Johann Schröder. Compare that with Rossetti‘s view, below…

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Friday, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation. (The full title is “The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”) In past posts I’ve said this feast was an example of “back dating;” in other words a kind of metaphor for how the early Church “figured it backwards.”

It all started with the birth of Jesus. First, the early Church Fathers decided that the celebration of His birth would be on December 25. (For reasons explained in the notes.Then they figured backwards nine months. Since they said Jesus was born on December 25, He had to have been “conceived” on the previous March 25. And that’s where the Annunciation comes in. It celebrates “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation.”  

By the way, I gleaned the bulk of this post from 2015’s The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and 2016’s An Annunciation-Good Friday anomaly. Then too, in 2019 – before the COVID hit – I posted “On to Jerusalem!” That talked about my three-week pilgrimage to Israel, based in Jerusalem, with side trips to Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Jacob’s Well and other highlights.

Now back to “Ball rolling” and the Annunciation. As it turns out, Christmas is centered around the winter solstice, and the Annunciation is centered around the vernal (spring) equinox:

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September. The word itself has several related definitions. The oldest meaning is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration. The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night)

So the Annunciation is celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox. (Vernal is from the Latin word for “spring,” and BTW: The summer solstice is the longest day of the year.)

All of which brings up the matter of the Incarnation. As Wikipedia put it, the Incarnation is the belief that Jesus became flesh by being conceived in the womb of Mary. (Which either preceded or coincided with the Annunciation itself; “it’s a mystery.”) The idea is that the “Son of God took on a human body and nature and became both man and God.”

On that note see John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” And while Christ’s Incarnation is mainly commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, it also refers back to the Annunciation itself. In other words, Christmas and the Annunciation celebrate “different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation.” (See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia. ) 

All of which is part of this-worldly’s “Christian pilgrimage.” (Exemplified by my May 2019 trip to Jerusalem.) Which brings up the liturgical year – the church’s calendar year – which begins in Advent (December 1 or so), and goes through next November. (When it starts all over again.) 

But it could be argued that the liturgical year properly starts with the Annunciation. That’s the first moment when it became obvious that God would intervene on our behalf, by and through the birth, life and death of Jesus. More to the point, the church year “sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus.” (It’s not an “arbitrary arrangement of ancient holy days”):

It is an excursion into life from the Christian perspective [and] proposes to help us to year after year immerse ourselves into the sense and substance of the Christian life…  It is an adventure in human growth;  it is an exercise in spiritual ripening.

Note the focus on “exercise” and “adventure.” That’s a reminder that as a good and proper Christian, “It is to vigor, not comfort that you are called.

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Which brings up how Mary probably reacted to the “good news” here. Consider what Garry Wills said about it: “For me, the most convincing pictures or sculptures of the Annunciation to Mary show her in a state of panic … shrinking off from the angel, looking cornered by him.” He noted especially some 14th century paintings, “where Mary is made so faint by the angel’s words that she sways back and must grab a pillar to keep herself upright.”

See also Luke 1:29. Most translations indicate that Mary was “deeply troubled” by the angel’s announcement. Other translations have her “confused and disturbed,” or agitated, perplexed or alarmed. Which led Wills to ask – about Mary’s hearing that she had “found favor” with God – “Did she know already how dangerous is such a favor? God’s chosen people are commonly chosen to suffer.” (Which is certainly a sobering thought for good and proper Christians.)

And as indicated when Mary presented the newborn Jesus to the Temple.* That’s when she heard Simeon say, “you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger.” (Luke 2:35.*) Or that “a sword will run through this woman’s heart.” Thus in some views, Mary’s “look almost of horror at what she has just been told.” Which brings up Dante Gabriel Rossetti‘s interpretation of the event, shown below. You might meditate on that during this Lent 2022, if you feel alarmed, agitated or perplexed at the world events going on around us.

Just know that you are in good company…

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The upper image is courtesy of Annunciation – Wikipedia. The caption:  “The Annunciation – Johann Christian Schröder.” 

“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.

Re: Feast days. The link is to Wikipedia’s Calendar of saints. “The calendar of saints is the traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the day as the feast day or feast of said saint. The word ‘feast’ in this context does not mean ‘a large meal, typically a celebratory one,’ but instead ‘an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint.'”

Re: “In past posts,” that is, in past posts on the early church figuring it backwards. I originally cited On the readings for December 21, and also The original St. Nicholas.

Re: How and why the early Church Fathers picked December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth. See the full story at 2015’s The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” but basically, people back in the olden days didn’t know the winter solstice came – and went – every year. So around every December 22 they’d worry that the days would keep getting shorter and shorter, “until there was nothing but eternal night.” But then the days started getting a bit longer, and the Church basically adopted the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a “time of raucous celebration.” (Again, see the full story at “ball rolling.”)

Re: Vernal equinox. For us that would be the one in the northern hemisphere.

Re: “To vigor, not comfort.” An allusion to this full quote on the life of a new Christian:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement. . .  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.

From Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism, Ariel Press, 1914, at page 177.

Re: “What Garry Wills said.” See What Jesus Meant: Wills, the 2007 book, an “illuminating analysis for believers and nonbelievers alike … a brilliant addition to our national conversation on religion.” (Said Goodreads.) The quote is from page 1 of my Penguin Books edition, “The Hidden Years.”

Re: “When Mary presented the newborn Jesus…” See the most recent post, On the Presentation of Jesus – 2/2/22. We celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple on February 2. The custom of presenting Jesus – “as a baby, 40 days after Christmas – followed a 1,000-year-old custom that began with Moses. In Exodus 13:2, God said, ‘Consecrate to me every firstborn male:’”

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2. A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Re: Luke 2:35. The “sword will run through this woman’s heart” quote came from the translation Wills used. Most other “Bible Hub” translations say the sword will pierce Mary’s “own soul;” that includes the King James Bible. (The one God uses.) As to feeling alarmed, agitated or perplexed at world events, see 1st Corinthians 10:13, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (Well, almost “no different from what others experience.” Mary was after all in a class by herself.)

The lower image is courtesy of Rossetti Annunciation – Image Results. See also The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – my daily art display:

Take a while and look at Mary’s expression. How do you read Rossetti’s depiction of this young woman? Look at her facial expression. This is not one of acquiescence or pleasure. This is a look almost of horror at what she has just been told. This terrified look adds a great deal of power to Rossetti’s  painting. Mary herself in Rossetti’s painting looks much younger than we are used to seeing in similar scenes. She exudes a youthful beauty but only seems to be a mere adolescent with her long un-brushed auburn hair contrasting sharply with her white dress. She is painfully thin and her hesitance and sad look tinged with fear endears her to us. 

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On St. Joseph’s Day – 2022

Saint Joseph, “with the Infant Jesus.” His feast day is coming up on March 19

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This Saturday, March 19, we celebrate the Feast of St Joseph, “earthly” father-figure of the infant Jesus. Two days before that, on Thursday, March 17, we celebrate another saint, St. Patrick, and it seems that a whole lot more people know and celebrate his day, complete with Green Beer.

I wrote about these two saints in 2015’s St. Paddy and St. Joe, and 2016’s St. Joseph and the “Passover Plot.” One cited Apostles, Major Saints and Feast Days, which had St. Joseph third on the list of important figures with Feast days. (Third only to Jesus and Mary.) “St. Patrick on the other hand didn’t even make that list,” but his Feast Day “far overshadows that of ‘St. Joe:’” 

Christian tradition places Joseph as Jesus‘ foster father… Joseph is not mentioned [at] the Wedding at Cana at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, nor at the Passion at the end. If he had been present at the Crucifixion, he would under Jewish custom have been expected to take charge of Jesus’ body, but this role is instead performed by Joseph of Arimathea

Which makes you wonder, “Whatever happened to St. Joseph?” For some possible answers, check out Question of Faith: What happened to St. Joseph – Catholic Telegraph, or – for a lot of Bible passages on the issue – What ever happened to Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather? One thing we do know: Joseph is the patron saint of workers – specifically, carpenters – along with fathers in general and “the dying.” (Those at or approaching death.)

In the meantime, the 2016 post St. Joseph and the “Passover Plot” had a review of the 1965 book by Hugh Schonfield. It’s thesis was that the Crucifixion was part of a “conscious attempt by Jesus to fulfill the Messianic expectations [but] that the plan went unexpectedly wrong.”  

In this version, Jesus planned for His crucifixion by taking a drug that would simulate death. After His unconscious body was placed in the tomb, a religious sect known as the Zealots would secretly steal Christ’s body from the tomb, then spread the rumor that He had risen, thus fulfilling Biblical prophecy. 

Needless to say, the book was controversial, not least of all because in 1976 it was made into a movie. For more see The Passover Plot – Wikipedia, or you can search “passover plot book controversy.” But we’re ranging far afield here, so I’ll just say that for part of my Lenten discipline, I’ll do another post on the book, reviewing it again from a perspective “five years later.”

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Now about St. Patrick. No one can say when he was born, but he is said to have died on March 17, now celebrated as his Feast Day.  In Irish his name would be Padraig, and that’s often shortened to “Paddy.” In turn, it’s seen as a derogatory term for Irish men. See Saint Patrick – Wikipedia, and also The Free Dictionary. That in turn  gave rise to the “Paddy wagon:”

The name came from the New York Draft riots of 1863. The Irish at the time were the poorest people in the city. When the draft was implemented it had a provision for wealthier people to buy a waiver. The Irish rioted, and the term Paddy wagon was coined.

See Urban Dictionary: paddy wagon, about the “police vehicle used to transport prisoners.” But back to St. Patrick. According to legend, he was born in Britain but at 16 captured by Irish pirates. Taken as a slave back to Ireland, he lived there for six years before escaping. He got back to his family, then studied became a cleric, and in the fullness of time returned to Ireland. Legend further says Patrick used the native shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the Irish. 

As to the day, see How America Invented St. Patrick’s Day | TIME:

The [St. Patrick’s day] holiday also spread by becoming a means for all Americans to become Irish for the day. The shared sense of being Irish, of wearing green and in some way marking March 17, has resulted in St. Patrick’s Day being observed in a similar fashion to July Fourth or Halloween. It’s the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day, a tribute not only to the Irish, but to the idea that Americans are all part “other.” (E.A.)

Which is a pretty radical idea these days. But anyway, Here’s to You, St. Joseph, patron saint of workers and of the dying. And Here’s to You, St. Patrick, who – among other things – helped save Western Civilization from the barbarians. (See How the Irish Saved Civilization – Wikipedia.) All of which is a good excuse to go drink a tall, frosty mug of Green Beer!

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Joseph – Wikipedia, which also noted that the “Pauline epistles make no reference to Jesus’ father; nor does the Gospel of Mark.”  The caption for the painting:  “Saint Joseph with the Infant JesusGuido Reni (c. 1635).”

Re: Jesus as first on the list of feast days. The link is to “Christ the King,” at an apparent Catholic website. See also Feast of Christ the King – Wikipedia, about the “feast in the liturgical year which emphasises the true kingship of Christ. The feast is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar, instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.” Other churches also observe the feast, though at different times, For example, “In the Church of England, the Feast of Christ the King falls on ‘the Sunday next before Advent,’ when ‘[t]he year that begins with the hope of the coming Messiah ends with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.'” In the American Episcopal Church, Christ the King Sunday “is unofficially celebrated in some Episcopal parishes, but it is not mentioned in the Episcopal calendar of the church year.”

Re: Joseph as patron saint. See St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Carpenters and Dying and Fathers.

Re: St. Patrick. There’s also the legend he “drove all the snakes out of Ireland.” Some scholars doubt the legend, for reasons including – they say – there were no snakes in Ireland in the first place.

Re: Green beer. The link is to Why Do We Drink Green Beer On St. Patrick’s Day? (See also The story of green beer and St. Patrick’s Day.) Apparently the trend started in the early 1900s:

It is thought that actual green beer got it’s start in the early 1900’s in New York. A newspaper article from 1914 describes a New York social club serving green beer at a celebratory St. Patrick’s Day dinner. In the article, the drink is attributed to Dr. Curtin, a coroner’s physician who achieved the green beer effect by putting a drop of “wash blue” dye in his beer.

A couple side notes: One, “they used to call beer that wasn’t fermented long enough, ‘Green Beer’ because it caused stomach issues or as they called it in 1904 ‘biliousness.'” Two, that  wash blue was, “in fact, poison, an iron powder solution used to whiten clothes.” (I think I’ll pass this year.)

Re: Passover Plot. See also The Passover Plot – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Green Beer St Patrick’s Day – Image Results.

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