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 Statepersonally 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 groundand 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 ChristianAmericans – 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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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.
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…
I last posted on July 26, 2021, over two months ago.* The reason for the lapse? I was preparing for a month-long overseas adventure. The plan was to fly first into Paris, and from there take a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in southwest France. And all during that time I had my doubts that the proposed trip would actually occur, because of Covid….
The trip started with a flight to Paris on August 25. It ended last Friday night, September 24, with a butt-sore 13-hour flight from Madrid back home to Atlanta. (With a nightmare layover in Amsterdam.*) Which – with six time-zone changes – meant 26 hours straight without sleep. (Can you say “body-clock bedraggling?”) In between, I accomplished what I set out to do.
Like I said, all of this was part of a month-long trip, first to Paris and then over the Pyrenees. The main feature was a month-long, 170-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. The push for this adventure came after a similar one in 2017, noted in “Hola! Buen Camino!” That post began: “My brother and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, October 12[, 2017]. This was after hiking – and biking – the Camino de Santiago, as shown in the map above. “
There was only one problem in 2017. I hadn’t hiked over the Pyrenees, like my brother Tom, and it’s bothered me ever since.So why didn’t I hike over the Pyrenees in 2017? Because the year before, 2016, Tom and I – along with his son, my nephew – had hiked the Chilkoot Trail. They called that “the meanest 33 miles in history,” and I found out why.*
One result was that for 2017 I’d had quite enough of mountain hiking. So while Tom flew into Paris and hiked over the Pyrenees hike – and had a miserable time by the way – I flew into Madrid and met up with him in Pamplona. That still left 450 miles of hiking to get to Santiago. (With biking as well for the last 200 miles; we started running out of time.)
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I’ll be writing more on my 2021 Camino pilgrimage in future posts, but for now I’ll focus on the first four days. I spent those four days in Paris, which I visited for the first time since 1979.
One place in Paris I visited back in 1979 was the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris. And – viewed from the inside – that visit was literally awesome. But given the Notre-Dame de Paris fire in 2019, I was curious to see how things had changed, how the repairs and renovation were going.
I took the picture at right on Saturday, August 28, 2021, during a walk around the entire complex. There were lots of other people around, checking out the progress, or just standing and looking just outside the chain-link fencing on the sides and back. I was pleasantly surprised at the progress, but it’s definitely a work in progress. (For a more detailed and comprehensive review see Notre Dame Rebuild Progress | 2021 Updates.)
On a related note, September 2021 included “feasts” for Holy Cross Day (9/14), St. Matthew, Apostle (9/21), and St. Michael and All Angels (9/29). For more on those “holy-days” see the notes, with summaries and links to past posts. But for now it’s enough to say yet again:
There’s no place like home!
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Re: “I last posted on July 26, 2021, over two months ago.” As noted in Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021,” that wasn’t exactly true. I had “prepared and pretty much written” the St. James/Transfiguration post before I left, but never actually published it. Which is why that post and this one were published “out of order and ‘after the fact.'” But with the next post I’ll get things back in order. Probably on my experiences actually hiking over the Pyrenees and into Pamplona, and somehow tying all that in to the next major feast day, for St. Luke. (Written and updated Monday, October 11, 2021.)For an appetizer, see 2014’s On St. Luke – physician, historian, artist, and – from October 2019 and its happier times – On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal.
Re: Nightmare in Amsterdam. One big nightmare factor was having to go through Dutch Customs, with only two staffers for our huge plane-load of people, and even though I had gone through security in Madrid, and was simply changing from one plane to another.
This is a contrast that makes the queues of pilgrims, pious women and devotees of the Christ of Medinaceli, much appreciated, frequently mix in the square with nomadic groups of celebrators, tourists and subjects of the Madrid aperitif.
I’m not sure what all that means, but I enjoyed my two nights at the plaza. I’d stop there after a day of doing touristy stuff like visiting the Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia – home of Picasso’s “Guernica” – or strolling through the Real Jardín Botánico. The Wikipedia article has a good closeup of the tile “plaza sign.” In my picture, at left, there is a street – or plaza – sign, in blue, just above the head of the tall man in the foreground. Just above that is the tile of the representation of Jesus, the one you can see better in the Wikipedia article.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself, “What the heck does Romans Chapter 11 have to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning Super Bowl LV?” (As shown above.) Or for that matter, what does Romans 11 have to do with “Whatever happened to FSU football?” We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first…
Put it this way. For 30 years now I’ve been doing “novel” research. Research for a series of novels; three published already and one in the oven. The hero of the newest novel – call him “Nick*” – is a crazy-ass football fan. (Redundant?) This fan honestly thinks he can “help” his favorite sport teams win championships. And if this wacko’s theories are correct, he just helped his NFL-fave Tampa Bay Buccaneers win this past year’s Super Bowl LV. (BTW: “Nick” has been a Buc-fan ever since the early days, of “Buccaneer Bruce” and flaming orange team colors, shown above right.)
To cut to the chase, Nick started out trying to help FSU football win championships. (Because he started law school there back in 1981.) And there were some, but lately things have gone downhill. And what seems to have happened is that FSU football’s recent string of extremely bad news has turned out to be Good Newsfor Nick’s other favorite teams. And now for some explanation…
The first post describe the method – the hard “spiritual exercise” – that Nick used to help his favorite teams win championships. (Initially just FSU football, but later his list of favorite teams expanded.) And that first post described how – along the way – he learned lots of valuable spiritual lessons. (Since 1989 or so, as have I, in doing the research.) And like I said, the “Nick” novels* are about a “crazy-ass football fan” who keeps plugging away alone, trying to help his favorite teams:
But in time it also came to involve that Daily Bible Reading noted above. (Which he started in 1992. And FSU won its first national championship in 1993. You do the math.) And so – to make a long story short – you could say that my research for the novels also led to me creating this blog.
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As it turned out, Nick’s hard-exercise “ritual sacrifice” was a big part of his spiritual awakening. (And mine.) But daily Bible reading also became a big part of it. Along with “Living a Good Christian Life.” (Well, mostly… “He’s Still Working on Me.”) In the process, it led him – and me – to lots of spiritual insights. For example, insights into “how the original Children of Israel must have felt when they did all the right things – and yet ended up conquered and sent into exile.”
As noted, Nick started his Mystic Quest trying to help FSU football win National Championships. And there were a number of good years that followed, including three national championships and the FSU football dynasty. (14 consecutive finishes in the Top 4.*) But over the last several years, FSU football has hit rock bottom. The team has fallen on extremely hard times. Which you might say is the functional equivalent of ancient Israel’s being conquered and sent into Babylonian exile. (Illustrated below left; “By the Waters of Babylon We Wept.”)
In FSU’s case, their “football dynasty” ended in 2001. (They went 8-and-4 and ended up ranked #15.) There followed a roller-coaster-ride series of seasons, with a third national title in 2013. Then things really fell apart…
But what was bad news for FSU football became very good news for the rest of Nick’s favorite teams. At least lately; over the last six months or so…
What may have happened is like what the Apostle Paul explained in Romans 11. We’ll get back to that in a minute as well, but again, what seems to have happened is that FSU’s “blessings” got transferred. Transferred away from them and on to some of his other favorite teams. (See a fuller list of of those expanded other-team blessings in the June 2018 post, “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth.)
And those blessings have come in a rush over the past six months or so. (That is, with Nick’s “favorite” Tampa Bay Lightning, L.A. Dodgers and Bucs all winning their respective championships, described below.)
Which could be another way of saying the suffering (or sacrifice) of some can lead to manifest blessings for others. (As one prime example, Google “Jesus suffering servant.”) Or it could be another way of saying that being “God’s Favorite Team” may not be all it’s cut out to be…
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In other words, the original Children of Israel found out – the hard way – that being “God’s Favorite” wasn’t all they thought it would be. One thing they learned was that it was “to vigor, not comfort” that they were called.* Which is another way of saying that being God’s Favorite involves a lot of hard discipline. Or as Luke put it (in 12:48), if you get a lot of blessings from God, He will expect a lot from you in return. (Paraphrased.) Then too, as it says in Hebrews 12:6, God disciplines those He loves. Which is fine when you can keep on the straight and narrow, but what happens when you mess up? That could be one big lesson from “Whatever happened to FSU football?”
Briefly, if you – or your favorite team – mess up, you mayhave to go through a period of chastening. For another, if you mess up spiritually, some of your blessings may get transferred to others; other people or other teams. Which leads to the thought, “More recently, there has been a slew of good news for Nick’s ‘otherfavorite teams.'”
As to “what the heck happened to FSU football,” Nick has a theory. And it comes from Isaiah 66:4, “I will choose their punishments and bring on them what they dread. Because I called, but no one answered; I spoke, but they did not listen.” (In the NIV.)
Which is being interpreted: “Nick” first told his story* in 1994, right after FSU football won its first national championship. He described how the team was God’s Favorite, and that the 1993 national championship had been “preordained.” He put out ads in the Tallahassee papers and magazines covering FSU sports. He went on book tours , and in one such tour personally handed a copy of “Zen Football*” to Bobby Bowden.
The result? Nothing. Little or no response.
There was even one time when Nick’s wife put out a bunch of fliers on windshields at Governor’s Square Mall in Tallahassee. (At least until a not-unfriendly cop stopped her.) And pretty much the same thing happened when Nick published his second and third books, again claiming that FSU football was “God’s Favorite Team.” It was all of a lot of “I called, but no one answered.” (Like in Isaiah 66:4, noted above.)
But in all this there is some good news. (And not just for Nick’s other favorite sport teams.) For one thing, if Nick’s original theory is correct, FSU football hasn’t fallen completely from God’s grace. That’s where Romans 11 comes in. And specifically, Romans 11:11-12 (NIV):
Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
Which could be another way of saying that eventually – in the fullness of time – FSU football will again rise to prominence; back to championship level. In the meantime, there could be other positive benefits for FSU football fans during the “time of their exile.” For one thing, it was only during that Babylonian exile that the Old Testament as we know it came to be. (As I explained – VIS-À-VIS the how and why of that “collateral benefit” – in my April 2019 post, “If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem.*”)
In other words, if it hadn’t been for the Babylonian Exile, there might have been no “finalized” Old Testament.* And without that Old Testament as we know it, it would have been difficult for Jesus to spread His message of salvation.
Hmmm. I wonder if should write another “Nick” novel, this one proclaiming that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are “one of the newest ‘God’s Favorite Teams?'”
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The upper image is courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl – Image Results. With an article, “Super Bowl: Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate victory as Tom Brady wins seventh title.”The reference in the caption is to Exodus 33:13, variously translated but in the English Standard Version, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. “
The “Bruce” image is courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneer Bruce – Image Results.And a word of explanation. Nick was a Tampa Bay fan first, but later went to law school at Florida State, in the early 1980s. (That was when the Bucs were really bad.) So his starting the ritual sacrifice to help FSU was just a matter of timing. FSU football seemed to offer a better chance of success.
Re: The “Nick” novels. Only the newest “in the oven” novel will feature Nick, as described featuring a Third Person Narrative. The earlier novels used the First-person narrative, but I figured this “crazy-ass football fan’s” story could benefit from the style that offers “the most objective view of a story because neither the narrator nor the reader are participants.” (And actually that newest novel will use a combination of the two styles.)
Re: Nick’s hard ritual-exercise “sacrifice.” His routine has evolved over the years. When “he” lived in Florida in the 1990s the routine included (in the main) a series of three long jog-walks per week, usually afternoons after work. That meant juggling between waiting for the heat index to drop below 100 degrees, and trying to avoid the “clockwork regular” thunderstorms that came in summer afternoons. And those jog-walks sometimes included sprint sets, or using five-pound ankle weights.As Nick’s routine stands at the time of publication, it involves five hours per week of medium-intensity aerobics, two hours a week of high intensity aerobics, 49 minutes of yoga, and ten strength exercises. The “medium aerobics” can include kayaking, jog-walking or plain old walking, or timed calisthenics. The high-intensity aerobics include 30-minute sessions of stair-stepping, wearing a 30-pound weight vest and ten pounds of ankle weights. (And if you think that’s crazy, consider the Lightning, Dodgers and Buccaneers all winning their championships over the past six months or so.)
Re: “14 consecutive finishes in the Top 4.” In 1994 and 1995, FSU ended up ranked Number 5 in the Coaches Poll, but still ranked Number 4 in the Associated Press Poll. See Florida State football – Wikipedia. Note that starting in 2014 college football moved to the College Football Playoff rankings system. Unlike other polls, it’s “the only one that really matters,” since it determines the current four-team playoff.
Re: “To vigor, not comfort.” An allusion to a quote from About the Blog:
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 [as a Christian] 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.
Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism, Ariel Press, 1914, at page 177.)
Re: Nick’s first telling his story. In 1994 “he” published a book which he titled “Zen in the Art of College Football,” about the events leading up to FSU football’s 1993 national championship. He felt that at the time the method of choosing which two teams would play for a national championship “sounded a lot like Zen. A lot of double talk that really doesn’t make a lot of rational sense.” (Or words to that effect.)
Re: Romans 11. There’s a good analysis of this metaphor in Grafted in: An example from nature : The Simple Pastor. (Which by the way, features a great painting by Vincent van Gogh.) See also Acts of the Apostles – Wikipedia: “Luke–Acts is an attempt to answer a theological problem, namely how the Messiah of the Jews came to have an overwhelmingly non-Jewish church; the answer it provides is that the message of Christ was sent to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected it.” The “Jews rejected it” link has further information about Nick’s theory of “what happened to FSU football.” However, fitting “Acts of the Apostles” into the title of this post would have been exceedingly difficult.
Re: How and why the Babylonian exile shaped the Old Testament, from If I Forget Thee: “Professor Cynthia R. Chapman began by focusing on Psalm 137 as the story of how the final version of the Old Testament got made up by that Hebrew Remnant – those people in exile. In other words, something very good – the final version of the Old Testament – was the result of something very bad happening to ‘God’s Chosen People.’”
I.e., the Old Testament as we know it didn’t exist before 586 B.C., when the Exile started. Starting with executions during a post-siege “mop up” followed by a “death march” of 800 miles to Babylon. After those horrors – and the shame of this national disgrace – the Remnant of Israel compiled, edited and shaped their collected national stories into a “virtual library.” A library that connected them to their homeland.
I recently got the idea I might live to the ripe old age of 141. First from watching a Ric Burns documentary, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, and from there some research on my ancestor William Bradford. He came over on the Mayflower, and served as governor of Plymouth Colony. And he – my ancestor – ended up living “twice as long…”
The spine of the story is the use of excerpts from the 30-year historical account of the early colony written by William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Plantation; his presence is effectively evoked by the late actor Roger Rees.
On that note: According to family legend, William Bradford is my long-ago “great–great-great-times-many” grandfather. (Then too, Bradford is my middle name.) The good news – for me – is that if I inherited “Grandaddy-Plus” Bill Bradford’s genes, I could end up living to 141.
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There’s more on that later, and on why I reviewed and re-titled my 2019 post. (Reviewing Burns’ documentary.) But there was one big benefit: It started off with lots of information on “what’s coming up in the Church Calendar.” On that note I must confess – I “do not deny, but confess” – that I’ve been a slacker when it comes to the main purpose of this blog. Instead of “spreading the Goood News,” I’ve been paying too much attention to politics.
That’s also Valentine’s Day 2021. (The link is to Nine great ideas for virtual dates; which is pretty appropriate for this 48th full week of the COVID. That’s roughly 12 full months.*) It’s also the anniversary of the marriage to my first wife, who died in 2006. But we digress…
But now it’s time to get back to why I may live to 141 years old…
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It just hit me – in the last few weeks or so – that I’ll be turning 70 next July, 2021. When I turned 69 last July, it didn’t seem like a big deal. But this new situation seems way different. Compared to turning 69, this summer’s “turning the Big Seven-Oh” is a whole new ball game.
Which brings up why I went back to review this particular long-ago post:
Mainly I remembered something in that 2019 post about that “other Bradford” living twice as long as most people back then. So I went back, reviewed, and found the information I was looking for. That led me to re-title the 2019 post. It’s now, “Am I going to live to be 141?” Which explains the title for this new post, “From two years ago – ‘Will I live to 141?*’”
All of which led me to re-think this idea of turning 70.
Instead of being bad news – necessarily – there’s a lot of good news as well. (In the idea of turning 70.) That is, once I got used to the idea – in the last week or so, and after re-reading that 2019 post – I found the new situation quite liberating. So to repeat, the really good news is that – if I inherited my long-ago “great-times-many” grandfather – I could very well “Live long and prosper.*”
From there I did some interpolation. Dividing Bradford’s then-ripe-old-age of 67 by the “average life” 36 years, I came up with a “1.86 factor.” And if that 1.86 factor applies to me today – with a male U.S. life expectancy of 76 years – I should live to be 141. (76 years times 1.86.) Which would give me another 71 years of life. (Which is kind of nice, but also a bit scary.)
But don’t take my word for it. I did some more research and found More People Expected To Live Beyond 100 – Redorbit. It said the number of people aged 100 years or older “is expected to increase to record levels by 2050.” Two reasons: better diet and more aggressive medical procedures. Which means the “centenarian population in the US is projected to rise from 75,000 to over 600,000 by 2050.” (I found varying estimates, but this is about average.)
I read another study that said the number would be over 840,000, but whatever the figure, it represents a significant increase. Even using the lower 589,000 figure, that would be a seven-fold increase. (Seven times the number of Americans over 100 by 2050.)
That’s a far cry from the “Biblical three score and ten.” (See BIBLE VERSES ABOUT THREE SCORE AND TEN.) The usual citation is Psalm 90:10, “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty.” But see also Deuteronomy 34:7, “Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” That last of which is pretty much what I’m hoping for.
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So if I play my cards right, I could live to the age of Moses, 120 years. Or I could live only to the 105 years that can be gleaned by Googling “woman 105 covid.” And there’s quite a few of them. So if I lived only to that ripe old 105 years of age, I would still have 35 years (hopefully) of good living left. And my life now would only be two-thirds over. I’ll still be a “lot closer to the end than the beginning,” but that end won’t be quite as close. And who knows, I might end my years with an old-age benefit like King David:
King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. So his servants said to him, ‘Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant; let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.’ So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The girl was very beautiful. She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her…
SNOHOMISH — Robert “Stu” Williamson isn’t much for publicity and the limelight… When he jumped from 14,000 feet up in an airplane Sunday to celebrate turning 100 years old, the limelight found him anyway. Everywhere he went at Skydive Snohomish, there followed a dozen or so family, friends and staff with cameras… The Seattle centenarian made his second skydiving jump to mark his 100th birthday in airy fashion… “I recommend it to everybody who’s 99 years old,” Williamson said after landing… “And if you’re younger, get in practice.”
Re: “Been there, done that.” I did my second tandem jump back on October 1, 2020. The first tandem jump – at Skydive Spaceland Atlanta – happened the previous summer, in July 2019. But those were actually the sixth and seventh times I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. My first jump happened on May 30, 1971, at Zephyrhills (FL) municipal airport. The fifth jump happened on April 29, 1990, at Keystone Heights Airport, nine miles south of Starke, Florida. (My wife at the time – who died in 2006 – watched the jump, then said “You’re never doing that again!” Which led to a 19-year hiatus.) Anyway, with that second tandem jump I’m now qualified to jump “solo” at Skydive Spaceland. But I’m not sure that’ll happen any time soon. After all, I am turning 70 in a few months…
Re: 12 months of COVID. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020, where 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’” started Sunday, March 15 and ended Saturday the 21st.”Also note a discrepancy: 48 weeks makes “roughly 12 full months,” but a calendar year has 52 weeks.
Re: Giving the old 2019 post a new title. It was a long post, with a lot of information about how many Pilgrims died in the first year after landing at Plymouth Rock. The information on Bradford’s longevity came at the end, and was pretty brief. So I chose to focus on that last-part “Good News.”
Re: Psalm 90:10. The full reading: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.” Which leads to a question. Should “Fundamentalists” do away with themselves once they reach 70, or at most 80 years of age? I’d prefer the answer that some things are just way different now than in Bible times. And that we should accept that potential seven-fold increase in life span as a Gift from God.
It’s mid-December, 2020. At such times – near the end of a given year – people tend to look back. They look back at what happened in that year just past. Or maybe we take a look back at “this time last year.” Sometimes it helps to see what a difference a year makes. Or recall what we were doing and thinking “this time last year.”
So – in looking back over posts from “this time last year” – I came across an unfinished draft. That is, a post I started, but never finished. The tentative title? “Bad things to good people?” Which may have been a bit of foreshadowing. That is, it may have been an early “indication of what is to come.” (2020 has been a crazy year…)
The last time I modified the post was December 15, 2019, a year ago. So now – after our crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 – seems like a good time to bring the topic up to date… I started the “bad things to good people” post off with this:
It struck me recently [in December 2019] that sometimes – when it seems that “bad things happen to good people” – God isn’t punishing us. Maybe He’s just trying to get us back on the right track, in the only way He has available. Usually through negative feedback. In the manner of a sheep dog “nipping at the heels” of a member of His flock.
The point is that through the Bible, God’s been saying for years how we should act, what we should do. But when we don’t pay attention – when that fails – the only option He has left is to resort to that negative feedback. Which brings up the difference between negative and positive feedback. Put simply, what if – instead of having to be told constantly what not to do – you could get positive feedback from God that tells you should do in the first place?
(You know, besides the stuff that’s already in the Bible.) In other words, if you “learned to speak God’s language.” That’s where the Bible comes in, and why it pays to actually read the Bible…
That brings up a theme I’ve tried to advance in this blog: That studying the Bible is a good way to get thatpositive feedback from God. (To “learn His language.”) If you read and study long enough, you can figure out what God wants before He has to use negative feedback.
Which brings up What the Bible says about Sheep as Metaphor. One point? Sheep are really stupid. The only way they ever get going in the right direction is to have a sheep dog “nipping” at their heels. So my point: Read and study the Bible. It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…
Getting back to the “negatives” of 2020, check a review in 2020 events so far: Yep, these all happened this year. (From the New York Post). Australian brush fires, beginning December 2019 and extending into 2020. (Burning a record 47 million acres and killing at least 34 people.) Kobe Bryant’s death, Donald Trump’s impeachment (and whitewash). Blacks Lives Matter protests. An exceedingly nasty presidential election. And of course the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 stock market crash that followed.
If that’s too subtle, here in simpler terms: “Stop hating so much, and show a whole lot more compassion than you’ve shown the past year!” But that’s already in the Bible. (See Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:28. And What does the Bible say about compassion, especially 1st John 4:20, that if “we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?”)
. . . sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that [leader] may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:50; 19:34; Numbers 16:2).
Following a dangerous or foolish leader? (Instead of sticking to the eternal truths of the Bible?) “Extremely gullible?” Charismatic leader? Shiny new idea? “Herd mentality?” All these sound very familiar. But getting back to why bad things can happen to good people. Or why “God” might have “sent the Coronavirus.” Or why the reminder to have more compassion…
“Finite God Theodicy maintains that God is all-good (omnibenevolent) but not all-powerful,” while theodicy in general tries to answer why God permits evil. (Or COVID.) It’s a “theological construct” trying to “vindicate God in response to the evidential problem of evil that seems inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.”
We are simply not up to the task, not wired for such an overload. We are no more prepared to comprehend an answer than – to make use of a memorable example – cats are prepared to study calculus. It’s just not in our nature.
That is, Virgil took issue with the “all or nothing” idea that eitherthere’s a God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all. (That “chance or strictly natural forces give rise to all that we see around us.”) Another name for that “all or nothing” approach is splitting, or in more familiar terms “black and white thinking.”
I discuss that phenomenon routinely in the notes below. In plain words, the human brain doesn’t like ambiguity. Or for that matter cognitive inconsistency. The human brain would much rather think in black-and-white terms than deal with Virgil’s nuanced approach. And Virgil crystallized his spiritual “sense of things” in the Aeneid, Book III:
Divine order could be seen in some things, but other things more or less just happened. This is not a view we tend to share, but it does make a certain sense… [A]n overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work. But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part…
So one of my conclusions? That compared to God most of us humans are “really stupid sheep.”
On the other hand some of us take the time to read and study the Bible, with an open mind. And so we realize that however much we learn – from the Bible and life experience – we can never fully comprehend “God.” Which means we can reject the idea of an unpowerful God who “does His best” but can’t – or won’t – prevent human suffering. And reject the “black and white” idea that either God is all-powerful or that there is no God, and so human life is totally random, without any meaning or purpose. (On that note see The True Test of Faith.)
As to that idea we can never fully comprehend “God?” There’s one answer: “Not yet anyway.” In the meantime, keep reading the Bible with an eye to getting that positive feedback.
As to what all this means about what “we” can do about the Coronavirus, “Psychology Today’s” Dr. Lewis had one good answer, that we “rely on each other:”
There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter and that what happens to them has an emotional impact on us. When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.
Which is actually a very “Christian” thought. And which was pretty much my point in Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000. To wit: That it would be a greater miracle if Jesus “got a bunch of normally-greedy people to share what they had,” rather than simply performing a routine magic trick.
The feast is observed by Western churches on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29. The slain children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. It may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.
As indicated in the main text, this “feast” was transferred from the 28th to the 29th. This year the day for St John, Apostle and Evangelist – normally December 28 – was transferred to Monday; standard procedure when such a feast day falls on a Sunday.
For more on metaphors see e.g.Famous Metaphors in The Bible – Literary Devices. Metaphors turn difficult ideas into simple concepts. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.
Here are some thoughts from the 2019 rough draft, included for completeness:
The point of all this is that normally – based on our own shortcomings – God has no way of telling us directly “the way we should go.” He can only direct us through negative feedback, telling us where not to go, in the manner of a sheep dog. He can only get through to us by a process of elimination... Which can be very difficult for us to comprehend. When we don’t get our way, or when we think we’ve done the Right Thing and that “God owes us,” we get mad when “bad things” happen.
Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand. Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.
The lower image is courtesy of Sheep Dog Nipping Heels – Image Results. The image came with an article, “Social sheepdogs: nipping and nudging into the mainstream,” about the “sheep-dog-like” behavior of sports team-mates of the writer’s adolescent special-needs son.
It all started with the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End, followed by the Election Legal Challenges That Seem Like They Will Never End. In the meantime we’ve also celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 26, followed by the Feast Day for St Andrew, Apostle. (Shown at left.)
That was last Monday, November 30. And aside from all that, Christmas is coming up three weeks from Friday, December 4. Which is preceded by the Season of Advent, which itself started last Sunday, November 29, in the First Sunday of Advent. About that “First Sunday,” see Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig:
Advent … calls us to look back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth. It is a time of anticipation… The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year  has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.
So the Season of Advent is about looking ahead and New Beginnings, which brings up my “hope-fully” spending November preparing a new book for publication – in both an e-book and paperback – as detailed in the November 18 post, On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.” (Which actually was a lot of fun, remembering and writing about all those great travel adventures and pilgrimages I enjoyed – back before the COVID hit…)
Then it went on to discuss an “Old Testament reading from Isaiah 19:19-25 … of a future highway, running from Egypt to Assyria and vice versa, and which will eventually lead to something new under the sun: ‘when the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians:’”
On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’
One problem? At the time the Assyrians and Egyptians were arch-enemies, with each other and with Israel. (Which they took turns conquering.) “Which means this passage looks forward to an ultimate day of peace and harmony, between those nations which were at the time bitter enemies.” So here’s hoping that that reading may be a bit of positiveforeshadowing.
Heck, if Israel could have gotten along with either the Egyptians or Assyrians, today’s Democrats and Republicans should be able to get along too. (They are after all, fellow citizens of the same country.) Which brings us back to the theme Advent [as] The Season of Hope:
This year, more than ever, we really need to focus on hope! We have been bruised and battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a polarizing election, racial strife, and so much more.
The point being that “Advent is always a season of hope, a season that reminds us never to lose sight of the hope we Christians are called to live with year-round.”
So here’s looking forward to a happy and much-better 2021!
Not to mention, “Blessed by God,” or at least, “Back in God’s good graces.” That is, last May I posted “As a spiritual exercise.” In it I described a system of ritual purification that I’ve followed since 1989, as a way of helping my favorite college team win. It began with some experimental ways to “help” Florida State University win its first football national championship.
And just as an aside, during that next football season – in the fall of 1993, and after much drama, with twists and turns of fate – the Noles squeaked by Nebraska to win that first national title. (In a game they were expected to win easily.)
“My” FSU football team went on to win two more national championships (in 1999 and 2013). They also established the Florida State football dynasty: 14 consecutive Top 4 finishes, a feat no other team has been able to match. But lately, FSU football has fallen on hard times…
They’ve suffered through back-to-back losing seasons – 2018 and 2019 – for the first time since 1976. (Bobby Bowden’s first year as head coach.) And a lousy start to the 2020 season as well… Of course I have my theories, like maybe God wanted me to ease up on my hours of the stair-stepping, with a 30-pound weight vest and 10 pounds of ankle weights? (After all, I am 69 years old, and that’s a lot of wear and tear on the knees, ankles and other vulnerable joints.)
There’s more on that later, but first a word about the Battle of Refidim. (Or “Rephidim” in some spellings.) You can read about it at Exodus, Chapter 17, and notably verses 10-12.
3,500 years ago the Amalekites launched a sneak attack – like Pearl Harbor – on the Children of Israel in their Exodus from Egypt. (They’d just arrived at Rephidim near Mount Sinai.) While Joshua led the army, Moses and two buddies went up to the top of a hill to watch:
Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Am′alek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
As noted earlier, that sounds a lot like a modern-day sport fan, watching his team on TV. Sometimes moving around the room, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. Other times he’ll mute the sound, or tell his wife to leave the room – because she may be jinxing his team!
That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since 1989, trying to find those “things that work.” But lately those things haven’t gone so well. At least not for the FSU football team…
As noted in 2018’s “Unintended consequences” there have been some “collateral wins” for some of my other teams. (Adopted or otherwise.) The FSU ladies won their first Women’s College World Series in June 2018. And of course the Tampa Bay Lightning had won their firstStanley Cup, but that was way back in 2004. So aside from the Lady ‘Noles in 2018, the last one of “my teams” to win a major championship was the Atlanta United football club, which captured its first MLS Cup in December 2018. (I moved to the Atlanta area back in 2010, so I “adopted” the Braves, Falcons and Atlanta United, as those among the teams I perform my ritual sacrifice for.)
And by the way, since that December 2018 I’ve proudly worn a “bad-ass black” Atlanta United ball cap. Including but not limited to my overseas travels. That included my trip to Israel back in May 2019, where I wore a Shemagh – from Ranger Joe’s at Fort Benning – on top of my “United” ball cap. (It “combined the best of the old and the new,” and also gave a visor that helped shield my eyes from the intense Eastern Mediterranean sun.)
But we digress… The point is that it’s been a long time since one of “my teams” won a major championship. And as I’ve mentioned, the FSU football team has really gone downhill. As a result I was starting to despair. I repeatedly asked God – metaphorically or otherwise – “What am I doing wrong? Why are you doing this to me and my teams?” Which is probably the same kind of questions the ancient Children of Israel asked when things went so wrong for them. (When you’re dealing with God, it seems that’s your first tendency, to blame yourself.)
Then came the night of Monday, September 28, 2020…
But first came the night of Saturday, September 26. I hadn’t been paying any attention to the Lightning, but on a whim I checked out “NHL scores.” Much to my surprise, they seemed to be on the way to this year’s Stanley Cup finals. That Saturday night I learned that they led the Dallas Stars three games to one. I started keeping track of that fourth game – tied at two all at the time – but later found out they lost 3-2 in double overtime.
For the life of me I could have sworn these were the semi-finals, and that if the Lightning won that fourth game they’d get into the finals. I was wrong, as I found out that next Monday night. Late in the evening I checked their website and found out they’d won that fourth game, and with it their second Stanley Cup. And all the while – that blessed Monday night – I paid no attention, not keeping track, not worrying about their progress…
Then I wondered if this was not unlike what the Zen master said in Zen in the Art of Archery. That rather than “aiming” your bow, you should wait until “it shoots.” Or, “Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out! The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.” (See Quotes From Zen in the Art of Archery.)
In other words, I didn’t pay much attention to the Lightning these past few months, and they won their second Stanley Cup. I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s softball team in 2018, and they won their first College World Series. And I didn’t pay much attention to the FSU women’s soccer team in 2018, and they went on to win their first National Championship.
But what I did pay attention to – what I’ve continued doing, lo these many years – is keep on practicing the discipline of “ritual sacrifice.” (As I once wrote, “God answers our prayers, but often not in the way we expect.” Or words to that effect. Thus the“Unintended consequences” post.)
But we’re ranging way too far afield. I may explore these esoteric ideas later, but for now here’s the point: For the first time in the last two years, I don’t feel totally lost in my ritual sacrifice. For the first time in a long time I feel vindicated, and that maybe all this exercise and Bible-reading hasn’t been a waste of time. (Not that I’d think that anyway. “The Reward is in the Discipline.”)
For now it’s enough to celebrate “my” Tampa Bay Lightning winning its second Stanley Cup. And feeling vindicated, finally! And enjoying the feeling of being “blessed by God,” or at least “back in God’s good graces.” Now, if I could just get that FSU football team back on track…
Re: The FSU football dynasty. The reference is to If Florida State in the 1990s isn’t a dynasty, then what is? Another headline: “The case for FSU’s dynasty.” The major listed accomplishment: “Fourteen consecutive top-five finishes,” which should read 14 consecutive Top-Four finishes. In one of the 14 seasons the AP had FSU Number 5, while the Coaches Poll had them ranked Number 4.
I just found out that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts that make up the 27 books of the New Testament. None. No Gospels, no letters or “Epistles,” and not even any of the Acts of the Apostles. None.
What we do have are “copies of copies of copies.”
Which doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. But it should make a difference to someone – like an old friend of mine who I last saw several years ago – who told me that he believed the Bible was literally true, and was thus “without error.” (See Biblical literalism – Wikipedia.)
Now this old friend – let’s call him “Fred” – was a real rabble-rouser when I first knew him, back in the 1970’s. For one thing he was famous for off-color banter. On one weekend camping trip he spoke of hearing “organisms” in the night just past. (Meaning “orgasms.”) And for a while then he drove a hearse, and once – stopped by police for a moving violation – calmly said, as the officer unfolded his ticket book, “Uh, yes, I’ll have a cheeseburger, fries and a coke.”
But times change and so did Fred. Like when I visited him – the last time as it turned out – and he turned from the TV news and said that to me. (About the Bible being “literally true.”) I was totally flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say then, and it’s bothered me ever since. (Saying “What are you, an idiot” seemed a bit harsh, even with, “BTW, that’s a rhetorical question.”)
We can say with some confidence that we don’t have the original text of any of the books of the New Testament. … There is no alternative to this situation and there never will be unless by some unbelievable stroke of luck we discover the original text themselves. We do not have the originals of any of the books that were later canonized into the New Testament. What we have are copies of the originals, or better yet, copies of the copies of the copies of the originals – copies made for the most part hundreds of years after the originals themselves.
(Emphasis added.) Which again, doesn’t make a bit of difference to me.
Personally, I believe the Bible “proves itself” with what I do with it as an individual believer. What I do as a Believer, and how I interact with God in my own life.* In how I have gone through the tests and trials that come to every person, and yet – by and through ongoing Bible study – I came through those trials not only whole, but better for the experience.
And in the way that – through reading the Bible and applying it to my own life in my old age – I’ve ended up feeling alive and cheerful. (Despite having “come to the breaking point – and broken.*”)
Alive and cheerful about where I am and where I’m going, and how I can now be the kind of witness that people will listen to. And about feeling – with Frank Sinatra – The Best Is Yet to Come.
in Hebrew there are no vowels, and the letters of a sentence are strung together. An example: a sentence in English, “The man called for the waiter.” Written in Hebrew, the sentence would be “THMNCLLDFRTHWTR.” But among other possible translations, the sentence could read, in English, “The man called for the water.”
Another problem came from Jesus’ usual method of teaching, parables. (That is, a short story different from a fable, in that fables use animals as characters, while parables “have human characters.”) In plain words He taught by parables, “a type of metaphoricalanalogy.”
So one question is: “How do you literally interpret a parable?” Then too – according to the book Christian Testament – parables are “very much an oral method of teaching.” Further, in such a tradition, it was up to the listener to decipher the meaning of the parable, to him:
The essence of the parabolic method of teaching is that life and the words that tell of life can mean more than one thing. Each hearer is different and therefore to each hearer a particular secret of the kingdom can be revealed. We are supposed to create nimshalim* for ourselves.
After which I noted such a thought was one “that can give a conservative Christian apoplexy; the fact the Bible might mean different things to different people.” Like my old friend Dick. Which means that – to me – the choice is up to the individual Bible reader. “They” can use a strict or narrow interpretation, “but for me and my house,” I will use the more open-minded or even – gasp! – liberal Interpretation, so as to implement the object and purpose of the document.
In other words, I’ll use the interpretation of a God who accepts anyone (who comes Him), and who expects us to do greater miracles than Jesus. And who wants our lives to be “abundant.” (Which I’ve heard before somewhere, with Luke 24:45. And that’s not to mention “adventure…”)
Meanwhile, I now have an answer to what my old friend Fred said when I visited a few years back. Thanks to the years I’ve spent working on this blog, I would respond today that – as far as reading the Bible literally goes – “That’s a very good place to start!“
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.”These may be in a future post.
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: “Despite having ‘come to the breaking point.'” In one of Garry Wills‘ books he uses a translation of the Lord’s Prayer which – instead of “lead us not into temptation” – reads, “and lead us not to the breaking point.” I’ve always found that translation far more applicable to my life…
Re: Nimshalim. See 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 form.)
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.”
As for Ein Karem (at right, “in the Jerusalem hills”): According to tradition, it’s where Mary stopped for water while visiting John the Baptist’s parents. In turn, that’s when the soon-to-be born John “leaped” in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth. (Luke 1:41.)
And here’s what I wrote last year about that visit: “Thursday May 16[, 2019] we visited Ein Kerem, the Church of the Visitation and Mary’s spring.” After that we had lunch at the “Tent Restaurant, Beit Sahour” – a really good meal – then visited the Church of the Nativity and the “chapel” – and Cave – of St. Jerome, both in Bethlehem:
The church [including the cave] was both packed and crowded. There we stood a long while, waiting to do a hump-through-a-tunnel extension of the tour. It was then I noticed a fellow pilgrim in danger of getting stressed out by all the crowds and noise. So I did a Good-Samaritan thing – kind of – and persuaded him to join me at the garden restaurant next door – and have a prophylactic Taybeh (Palestinian) beer.
In other words, you had a choice…
You could bend down and crawl through a small, dark, damp tunnel, with somebody’s rear-end right in front of you – and yours right in front of the face of the person behind you. Or you could do what I did and opt for some liquid refreshment. (In the process helping a stressed-out fellow pilgrim.) Of that episode I wrote later that in such situations you need to “pick your battles.” And that it always seemed to me that finding a spiritual breakthrough usually comes when you’re alone, not “surrounded and jostled by hordes of hot, sweaty and pushy ‘fellow travelers.’”
Getting back to 2014’s St. Mary, Mother, it explained why she is often shown wearing blue, as in the top image. “In Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is portrayed wearing blue, a tradition going back to Byzantine Empire, to about 500 A.D., where blue was ‘the colour of an empress.'” Another explanation: In Medieval and Renaissance Europe they got blue pigment from lapis lazuli, “a stone imported from Afghanistan of greater value than gold… Hence, it was an expression of devotion and glorification to swathe the Virgin in gowns of blue.”
In turn the highlight of the day’s Bible readings is the Magnificat, beginning “My soul magnifies the Lord.” In Luke, Mary recites this hymn during her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. “In the narrative, after Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth’s womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings what is now known as the Magnificat in response.”
But of course Mary’s life wasn’t always – or maybe even that often – just a bowl of cherries. See for example the Seven Sorrows of Mary, including but not limited to the flight into Egypt, losing Jesus – at 12 years old – in the Temple, meeting Him carrying the cross, the Crucifixion and burial. “When Mary said ‘yes’ to bringing Jesus into the world, she took on both the joys and the pains that came with it. “
Which brings us back to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and to last year’s visit to Israel. And to my photo above left. That is, we ended Mary 16 – the same day we visited Mary’s Spring – at Bethlehem‘s Wall of Separation, also known as the “Israeli West Bank barrier.” And in a bit of sarcasm – or irony – we stopped at the “Walled Off Hotel.”
I took some photos of both the “Walled Off” and the Wall of Separation that runs right by it, and right through the City Of Jesus’ birth. Doing that I caught the expression of the Palestinian in the foreground of the photo above left, and later commented, “That look about says it all.*”
Then there was the irony of Bethlehem as where Jesus was born, and thus where “God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, compassion, and glory” – expressed in Him – were to begin. “But seeing the Walled-off Hotel in His birthplace, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
And speaking of “Walls That Divide Us,” tomorrow – Monday, August 17 – will begin the Twenty-third full week of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s hoping that someday that “wall between us” will come down too, along with all the other walls that divide people, as expressed in Ephesians 2:14. Speaking of the wall that once (?) divided Jews and Gentiles, the Good News Translation reads, “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.”
We could use lots more of that. The only problem is, we may have to do a lot of the work ourselves. Meanwhile, here’s my photo of “Mary’s Spring,” from last year:
As to weeks of the Covid pandemic, see for example On 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.” Or for my exercise and other weekly-quota routines, starting on Monday, March 16 and ending Sunday night, March 22d.
The lower photo I took myself during that trip to Israel last year. (2019.)And re: “That look about says it all,” here’s a bigger view of the photo:
This post is on catching up on “skipped Propers” that often happen at the beginning of a new Liturgical Season. And about “going back to my roots.” Back to the day when I first started reading the Bible on a daily basis. Way back on May 18, 1992 – 11 days before Sister Act.
That is, two weeks ago last May 31, 2020, I did the Daily Office reading for Pentecost Sunday. (According to the Daily Office Lectionary – and my copy of “Year 2, Volume 2,” at left – of the four-volume set.)
But then for the next day’s reading, I had to skip ahead some 42 pages, to the reading for the week after “the Sunday closest to June 1.” So from that next Monday-after-Pentecost on, I had to – or really, chose to – read not only the reading for that particular day. In addition, I also had to (chose to) also read some of the “skipped Propers.”
That’s because – as noted – Pentecost came on May 31, but after that the daily readings jumped from page 12 to page 54. (Of Year 2, Volume 2.) To explain better, “Proper 1” starts the readings for the weeks of the Season after Pentecost. And it starts with the Sunday closest to May 11. Which means that this year Daily Office readers had toskip ahead to Proper 4, for the week of the Sunday closest to June 1st. But because I’m assiduous, I don’t like to skip those “in-between readings.” (Readings “in between” those listed for Proper 1, up to the start of Proper 4.)
So each morning – that first week of June, 2020 – and after doing the “proper” reading for that particular day, I tried to read one or two of the skipped readings. And so, by that Saturday – June 6, 2020 – I had gotten caught up as far as the reading for the Monday of Proper 2. (For the Week of the Sunday closest to May 18. Which of course had already passed.) And there – on page 25 of Year 2, Volume 2 – I saw my handwritten notation, “5/18/92.”
As it turns out, that date was – as far as I can tell – the day that I first started reading the Bible, on a daily basis, through the discipline of the Daily Office. And the readings for that day – now over 28 years ago – started off with Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7. (Another note: When I’m in the process of catching up at the beginning of a new liturgical season, I normally skip the day’s psalms.)
One version of that passage reads,”Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (It continues, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”) Which – strange as it may seem – mirrors perfectly what I was trying to say in Pentecost 2020 – “Learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” For example, in that post I cited 1st Thessalonians 5:21.
So the point of that last post was that by such open-minded “exploring,” we real Christians can achieve that rich life experience that Jesus promised. (John 10:10.) And that – to each individual – is the surest proof that God “is.” The surest proof that there is a God and that “He” is willing to work with us as individuals, to help us grow spiritually.
Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity… Wesley insisted that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally… Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple… Although tradition establishes the evidence a long way off, experience makes it present to all persons.
Which – as it turns out – is hardly a novel idea. (That is, it’s hardly unique to Christianity.) Consider for example what Gautama Buddha – seen “below” – once explained:
Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations… Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or priests. After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is good for your good and that of others.
That is, a mere two years after I started reading the Bible on a daily basis, I published my first novel, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” Then in 1995 – one year after “Zen Football” and a mere three years after I started Daily Office reading – I published Jesus Christ, Public Defender. (Now in its 4th Edition.And for more details on the life-long pilgrimage that followed, see – from February 2019 – the post On my “mission from God.”)
So, can you say to come full circle? But in the good way. Like the Buddhist anecdote: “A child looks at a mountain and sees a mountain. An adult looks at a mountain and sees many things. A Zen master looks at a mountain and sees a mountain.” But the point of all this is: My starting to read the Bible on a daily basis – back in 1992 – turned out to be a life-changing experience.
I’ve been through a lot since then. The death of my first wife in 2006, getting re-married way too soon and to the wrong woman. Which led to a nasty divorce, the loss of my career and my home – and to feeling abandoned by God. (As in, “Lead us not to the breaking point,” but He did, and I broke.) All of which just might be the functional equivalent of the exile that led to the creation of the Old Testament as we know it. See “If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem,” in which talked about my then-upcoming trip to Israel in May 2019.
Which brings up the point that in the past few years I’ve come through and had a number of great adventures. Like that 2019 trip to Israel. And like canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi for eight days. (See On achieving closure, or type in that search.) Or hiking the Chilkoot Trail, then canoeing 440 miles “down” the Yukon River in Canada in 2016. Or hiking the Camino de Santiago twice, once from Pamplona (2017) and once from Porto, Portugal (2019).
And I’ve been publishing two blogs, and a number of books as well. (For a partial list see For a book version.) In other words, I’ve overcome any number of obstacles and arrived at a rich, fulfilling life. And it all started back on Monday, May 18, 1992…
* * * *
An open-minded Christian can learn even from a “Fat Buddhist…”
Re: Handwritten notations. When I do a “daily” reading on the noted day, or within three days thereafter, I put in the relevant date, such as “5/18/92.” That signifies that I have read both the main readings – normally Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel – and the Psalms for that day. But when I can’t do a reading “within three days” – like when I have to “skip some Propers” – I put a check mark. That means I’ve done the main readings but not the Psalms. And according to those dates and check marks, I’m now on my 14th trip through the Bible.
The John the Baptist image is courtesy of Wikipedia. The caption: “‘The Baptism of Jesus Christ,‘ by Piero della Francesca, 1449.”
Re: “Lead us not to the breaking point.” That’s an interpretation from one of Garry Wills‘ books, and it seemed especially appropriate for my life. As in, “I was led to the breaking point, and broke.” See also Luke 11:4 (Bible Hub), which includes the usual translations of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Good News Translation reads, “And do not bring us to hard testing.” But for the reasons noted, I prefer “And lead us not to the breaking point…”
The Laughing Buddha, or the Fat Buddha, was a Zen monk called Budai who lived in China around the 10th century, meaning about 1.600 years after historical Buddha. Budai was as a bold man with a big tummy, big smile, large ears, wearing a simple robe… The fat Buddhist monk was known as a good-hearted, happy and content man of humorous personality, jolly nature, and eccentric lifestyle. Budai was nicknamed the Laughing Buddha because of his big smile and happiness he was spreading around him. Furthermore, Budai … became a famous character of Chinese folktales.
Thus the “Gautama Buddha – ‘below,’” with the “below” in quotation marks.