Category Archives: Not your daddy’s Bible

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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Psalm 137, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem” – 2021

By the waters of Babylon,” where an exiled Remnant finalized the Old Testament…

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November 12, 2021 – It’s over two weeks before the next major Feast Day, Thanksgiving.

Which means I have time to re-visit a post I did in 2019, “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.*” In that post I previewed my three-week pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and in the process talked a lot about n Psalm 137. (And the creation of the Old Testament as we know it.) I was reminded of that post while finishing a book on turning 70 in 2021. (And hoping to live 50 more years, to 120, like Moses, with “eye undimmed and vigor unabated.” See Deuteronomy 34:7.)

I put the boring details about how all that came about in the notes. (How writing the last chapter of my book on Turning 70 in 2021 reminded me of that to 2019 pilgrimage to Israel.) But here’s the point: That in my own version of a “Babylonian exile,” something good eventually came out of what was originally – at the time – something really bad. (Kind of like how the Old Testament as we have it today only came about because of a national catastrophe.)

So here’s more about that April 2019 post. (Where something good happened from “something very bad.”) It referred to a series of video lectures, The World of Biblical Israel | The Great Courses Plus. (Before that site was changed to “Wondrium.”) Lecture 2 was “By the Rivers of Babylon – Exile.” In it Professor Cynthia Chapman focused on Psalm 137 as the story of how the final version of the Old Testament came about. Chapman said Psalm 137 is the mid-point of both years of Jewish history and the Bible itself. Chapman said Psalm 137 came just when the books of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – were collected, edited and redacted. 

In other words, the “Old Testament” as we know it didn’t exist before 586 “B.C.”

That’s when most Judeans were taken from their homeland. They went through a “death march,” 800 miles to Babylon, where many of the Remnant died. In further words, before the Exile (circa 600-515 BC) , the Judeans had a lot of uncollected books (or scrolls), but “here is where they were first collected into what we know as the Old Testament today.” In that captivity they compiled, edited and shaped their collected national stories into a “virtual library,” a library that connected them to their homeland. See also Psalm 137 – Wikipedia:

This period saw … the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.  According to many historical-critical scholars, the Torah was redacted during this time, and began to be regarded as the authoritative text for Jews. This period saw their transformation into an ethno-religious group who could survive without a central Temple.

But here’s the point, as it relates to my life: Without all that life-drama I went through ten years ago, I might still be living back in Largo. I might still living in highly congested mid-Pinellas County, Florida, with all its heat and sopping humidity, instead of up in “God’s Country.” (The ATL, or Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) Another happy result is that, for the first time in my life, I’m “comfortable,” spiritually, artistically and financially. But that’s a subject I’ll discuss more in my “2021” book. (And while it’s about turning 70, I’ll title it, “Will I really live to 120?)

A side note: When I publish it – in both an E-book and paperback version – I’ll include a link, For a book version, for your consideration. (As detailed in the Introduction.)

And here’s yet another kicker: St George’s College is Open for Pilgrims!

In 2022 that is.

Saint George’s Cathedral (and) Pilgrim Guest House is where I stayed for two weeks in May 2019. And that means next year I may be able to go back to Jerusalem, hopefully for the “Footsteps of Jesus” course. Another reminder: In 2019 I took the “Palestine of Jesus” course, along with 20 other members of my church. To review, I wrote about that pilgrimage in “On to Jerusalem” (before I left), “If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem,” also before I left, and On my first full day in Jerusalem. That one I posted once I got back home, in June 2019.

Which means that I can look forward to the future and now say, with feeling:

Next Year in Jerusalem!

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A late-afternoon view of Jerusalem – with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground…

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Psalm 137. The caption: “‘By the Waters of Babylon,’ painting by Arthur Hackerc. 1888.”

Re: “Thanksgiving.” The link is to a post I did, On Thanksgiving 2019. That post started off: “Things have been hectic since I got back last September 25th [2019] from my 19-day, 160-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. See On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal, along with Just got back – Portuguese Camino!” It ended with a note on pilgrimages in general, and how if a truly-meaningful spiritual journey was easy, “anybody could do it!”

Which brought up the topic of “dormancy, darkness and cold,” referring to the Dark Ages, that period of intellectual darkness between the “light of Rome,” up to the rebirth or “Renaissance in the 14th century.” (Not that there was any connection to current events or anything)… Which in turn serves as a reminder that whatever “Dark Age” you may be going through, during this fine but politically-hectic November of 2019: “This too shall pass.”

Another note: That 2019 post came shortly before the current COVID pandemic started, and at a time when Donald Trump seemed to be a shoe-in for re-election.

A note about the post, If I Forget Thee, Oh Jerusalem. The original version in the Bible reads, “O Jerusalem.” I put “Oh Jerusalem” in the 2019 post, but corrected it in the main text here.

Re: “Breaking Point – and broke.” The “breaking point” quote is from Garry Wills’ translation of the Lord’s Prayer. See Garry Wills’ book, What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87. The alternate translation is in Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”

Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.    

The usual Lord’s Prayer translation: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” per Wikipedia. My life tells me “breaking point” is more accurate and appropriate.

Re: Being reminded of the “Jerusalem” post while finishing a book on turning 70 . in 2021. At the beginning of the last chapter, I made a reference to that long-ago post. That chapter (Chapter 9) is about Leaving a legacy, and it in turn is based on a 2015 post that I did in a companion blog. (That post, about leaving a legacy, reminded me of my 2019 trip to Israel.) I wrote – in that companion blog, about my legacy – that in a sense I started thinking about that back in 2009-2010. As explained in the book, that’s when I had to retire early “due to circumstances beyond my control.” In simple terms, I got led to the “Breaking Point – and broke.”

I didn’t enjoy life much back then [in 2009-2010], during the functional equivalent of a Babylonian exile. Among other things I felt abandoned by God. (“Why hast thou forsaken me?”) On the other hand, the results of my exile-and-feeling-abandoned have been good. (Much like the original Exile was “good…” Something very good – the final version of the Old Testament – was the result of something very bad happening to “God’s Chosen People.”)

I originally had all that in the main text, but it was way too confusing, interrupted the flow of the narrative, and distracted from its main point.

Re: St. George’s College, Jerusalem. A continuing education center of the Anglican Communion, its programs “focus on pilgrimage, community, study, and reconciliation. Programs typically last 8, 10 or 14 days, and are open to clergy and laity of all denominations and any faith.” See Wikipedia.

Re: On my first full day in Jerusalem. It included a link to another post, Back from three weeks in Israel.

Re: “Next year in Jerusalem.” The link is to a “Desiring God” article, which read in part: “It seems to me that ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ is what we Christians ought to wish each other as we mark the closing of another year. It voices far more clearly the sort of happiness we long for than the generic and rather hollow ‘Happy New Year.'” And BTW: Googling the phrase got some 11,800,000 results. Which included Why are you supposed to say “next year in Jerusalem”? – Vox.

The very last words of the traditional seder are “next year in Jerusalem.” As the final moment in the Seder, it’s emotionally significant, and it finishes the Seder’s journey from a reminder of the suffering of the past (and present) to hopes for wholeness and freedom for all in the future.

See also Passover Seder – Wikipedia: The Seder is “a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.” The Seder is based on Exodus 13:8: “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'”

The lower image is courtesy of Jerusalem – Image Results, as featured in the 2019 “On to Jerusalem post. See also Jerusalem – WikipediaNote also that my post-title – “On to Jerusalem!” – alludes to the Civil War’s famous (or infamous) battle cry, “On to Richmond!” See the National Park Service’s The Focal Point of the Civil Warand Richmond in the American Civil War – Wikipedia.

On Garry Wills and “What Jesus (REALLY) Meant…”

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison – would a Close-minded Christian follow Matthew 25:36 like this?

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Two months ago, on a Tuesday morning, I was driving to the gym. On the way in I listened – again – to an audio version of the book What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills. (I had listened to it, repeatedly, on CDs from the local library, but then finally broke down and bought the complete 4-CD set. That’s because I plan to keep listening to it, over and over again, “into the future.”)

That long-ago morning I heard a favorite section of Wills’ book. It was about a favorite topic: Close-minded people who call themselves Christian, but have little or no concept of what The Faith is all about. Like what that great philosopher Johnny Cash once said:

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

(See Johnny Cash – Man in black with lyrics – YouTube.) But getting back to What Jesus (Really) Meant. The section of the book that I really like talks about how some modern-day Christians selectively interpret the Bible to suit their own conservative political agenda.

Like the hateful claim that God hates fags!

Garry Wills provided a perfect answer to such haters. (Who are certainly not Christian. And that answer came at pages 34 and 35 of the 2006 Penguin Books edition.) Unfortunately Wills wasn’t sure of the source of the clever riposte. Then too it was quite a long passage, so I wasn’t crazy about having to type it all out myself. But fortunately I finally found a transcript that I could cut-and-paste into this post. It’s from It’s the Law, Kid – Jane Tawel.

The anonymous author – who Tawel quoted – first gave a tongue-in-cheek “thank you” to a man who cited Leviticus 18:22 as proof that homosexuality was a sin. But he was curious about some other passages from Exodus and Leviticus. Mostly he was curious about how the people who violated those passages should be killed.

In one example he cited Exodus 35:2, which says “Whoever does any work” on Sunday, the Sabbath, “is to be put to death.” Which led to the question: “Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?” Then came a question about Leviticus 24:10-16. (Blasphemer put to death.) “My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19,” as does his wife. (For wearing clothes made out of two different kinds of thread.) “He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.” Which led to the question: Was it necessary to get the whole town together to stone them both to death? “Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair?”

Then came questions about social protocol. For example, he cited Leviticus 15:19-24, which prohibits any contact – “period” – with a woman during her menstrual period. “The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.” (Indeed.) And finally, Exodus 21:7 allows a man to sell his daughter into slavery. “I would like to sell my daughter into slavery… In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?”

You can see the full set of tongue-in-cheek questions in the notes, but here’s the point. Many so-called Christians are guilty of selective perception. That’s the process by which “individuals perceive what they want to in media messages while ignoring opposing viewpoints.”

In other words, some so-called Christians use selective interpretation to promote an “earthly” political agenda. But Jesus was above politics, much like Johnny Cash, and much like Billy Graham became in his later years.* (So much so that some “conservative Christians” called him Antichrist. See for example BILLY GRAHAM: SERVANT OF CHRIST OR OF ANTICHRIST.)

Which is just another way of saying that “Christianity has been twisted and warped to such an extent that not even Jesus would recognize it now.” And the main reason Jesus wouldn’t recognize Christianity today – according to Wills and others (including Yours Truly) – is the way it’s been warped and perverted. So much so that it’s been used to promote so much hate.

But for Johnny Cash, Billy Graham and Garry Wills, Jesus was all about love. And that’s not to mention the Apostle Paul, who gave us 1st Corinthians 13:4-7….

The main theme of Wills’ book is that Jesus was “radical” in his love for all people. (Even – gasp – for liberals! And for that matter, even for those people who should know better but are a real pain in the ass.)

Wills noted that Jesus spent little time with the well-to-do, and seemed to prefer the company of whores, lepers and outcasts of all types. As Wills put it, Jesus “walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs.” Which is pretty much the Christian love of Johnny Cash.

See Johnny Cash’s Religion and Political Views | Hollowverse, whose author wrote, “I like to think that Johnny was above politics and more about people and peace and happiness and cooperation.” Or as Cash’s daughter Rosanne said, her father “didn’t care where you stood politically.” He could “love all stripes, and that’s why all stripes claim him.” Even people in prison.

Which is a pretty radical proposition indeed. (Can you say great minds think alike?)

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And by the way, the next major feast day – after the last June 24 and June 29 days for John the Baptist and Peter and Paul – is on July 22, 2021, for Saint Mary Magdalene.

Something (better) to look forward to…

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The upper image is courtesy of Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison – Image Results. Note that my original caption asked whether “a Conservative Christian would follow Matthew 25:36″ as Johnny Cash did at Folsom Prison. But to be a bit less confrontational I changed the wording to “Close-minded Christian,” since it is possible that some Conservative Christians are open-minded, while it is also possible that some Liberal Christians are close-minded.

And before I get into extensive notes further explaining the main text, the lower image is courtesy of wiki/Penitent_Magdalene_(Titian,_1565).

And note the full “God hates fags” link, Is there any truth to the ‘God hates fags’ slogan? Which noted in part that “the Bible tells us that those who pervert the Gospel and teach it falsely are ‘anathema’ which means ‘eternally condemned’ (Galatians 1:8-9). Jesus was called a ‘friend of sinners’ but He saved His words of condemnation for the religious leaders of Israel whose teaching was making it impossible for people to know, trust, and follow God (Matthew 23:1-36). If there’s anybody that God hates, it’s false teachers.” See also Westboro Baptist Church – Wikipedia, and Fred Phelps – Wikipedia.

Re: Billy Graham in his later years. See A Soldier of Christ – “and BEYOND!” From October 2018, based on my listening to the book-on-CD version of The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. (Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.) I noted that Graham eventually grew in grace so much – as he got older – that he came to say that God loves all people – even Liberals.  Which led some Fundamentalists to criticize him for his ecumenism, “even calling him ‘Antichrist.’” 

The quote “Christianity has been twisted and warped” is from Nonfiction Book Review: What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills.

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At any rate, the “image results” photo atop the page came with an article, The REAL Story Behind Johnny Cash & Folsom Prison Blues. The link in the captionJohnny Cash … at Folsom Prison – added this little bit of history:

In the midst of depression and a steep decline in his musical career, legendary country singer Johnny Cash arrives to play for inmates at California’s Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968. The concert and the subsequent live album launched him back into the charts and re-defined his career.

So maybe that “Jesus Guy” knew what He was talking about. (In other words, “Maybe there’s an object lesson there?”) As to the caption itself, the full text of Matthew 25:36 reads, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Also Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering with them,” and Matthew 25:39-40, “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.’”

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And here’s more information on Will’s book and that “favorite section. See What Jesus Meant: Wills, Garry: 9780143038801: Amazon.com: Books. See also Garry Wills – Wikipedia, about the “American author, journalist, and historian [b. 1934], specializing in American history, politics, and religion, especially the history of the Catholic Church. He won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993.

The following is the full section, courtesy of the “Tawel” blog, which began by saying not to read the Bible if you don’t want to contemplate mystery, confront hypocrisy or get a sense of “God’s humorous humbling of us.” Ms. Tawel then provided a complete transcript:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination – end of debate.  I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how to follow them.

  1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
  2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
  3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
  4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.  Should I smite them?
  5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
  6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11;10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
  7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
  8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
  9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
  10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton-polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help.  Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging (34-35 Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant. New York: Penguin, 2006).

On D-Day and St. Barnabas – 2021

A reminder of this past June 6: Saint Augustine was an early advocate of the Just war theory...

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I just got back from a lightning, one-week mini-vacation. First to Rockville Maryland – for my grandson’s wedding – then on to Pigeon Forge Tennessee for a family get-together. (Including a day-visit to Dollywood, illustrated at left.)

I got back home late last Thursday (6/10/21), and over the long Recuperation Weekend that followed, I checked my blogs. My last post on this blog – “Pink Floyd – and Pentecost Sunday, 2021” – came back on May 29, 2021. So it’s about time another post on this Blog, but lucky me, just last June 11 was the Feast Day for St. Barnabas. And five days before that we – or some of us – remembered D-Day, back during World War II. Which is a reminder that life isn’t always a bowl of cherries.* Or put another way, we are called to vigor – spiritual discipline – not comfort. (See About the Blog, above.)

There’s more on that below, but first a word about St. Barnabas.

The Bible first mentions Barnabas in Acts 4:36:  “Joseph, a Levite, born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles.”  And Barnabas the Apostle – Justus added that even after Paul’s Damascus Road experience, most Christians in Jerusalem “wanted nothing to do with him. They had known him as a persecutor and an enemy of the Church. But Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance.” (Which is pretty much what Jesus is all about.)

To sum up, 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.*”

But what’s all this about “just war” and our annual remembrance of June 6 as D-Day, a key turning point in World War II? Just that the lessons our American armed forces learned in that war can teach us a valuable lesson today about the better way to read and study the Bible.

That is, American armed forces succeeded on D-Day – and contributed greatly in winning World War II – because of our native INGENUITY. (That is, because as Americans we are inherently creative and constantly ask questions.) We constantly look for better ways of doing things. On the other hand there are some “Bible-thumpers” who look at the Faith of the Bible as a way of “trying to create a culture that rewards conformism and stifles creativity.” 

In the same way, one theme of this blog is that the very same question-asking, probing method of Bible study is far better for both an individual reader and our society as a whole. It’s far better than just saying, “Oh, I’ll take everything that slick-haired televangelist says at face value!

My point is that Bible reading should be an adventure. It should help us reach our full potential, as individuals and as a nation. It should help us become happier, more creative and able to find better ways of living lives of abundance. And that’s as opposed to the concept of “sin,” and how some of those same Bible-thumpers seem to relish making other people feel guilty.

On that note see On June 6, 2016 and also On D-Day and confession:

Maybe that’s what the Bible and/or the church concepts of sin and confession are all about… When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals; we “miss the target.” When we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were. And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty all the time… [M]aybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are tools to help us get closer to the target “next time out,” even if we know we can never become “perfect.”

Also on that note see On sin and cybernetics, from 2014, which added this: “Maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are simply tools to help us realize the purpose Jesus had for us, to wit: To ‘live life in all its abundance.’” (See John 10:10, above.)

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You can’t hit the target without “negative feedback…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Just war theory – Wikipedia: “The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure that a war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met in order for a war to be considered just.” For more information google “christianity and just war theory.”

Re: Life as a bowl of cherries. (Or not.) See Life is just a bowl of cherries – Idioms by The Free Dictionary. Originally meaning everything was great, the “slangy phrase, often used ironically, gained currency as the title of a song by Ray Henderson,” performed by Ethel Merman in the in the Scandals of 1931. “Today it is nearly always used ironically…”

Re: Vigor, not comfort. From Evelyn Underhill’s book Practical Mysticism:

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.

Re: The Apostle Paul as a “Founder of Christianity.” A search “st paul founder of christianity” leads to wildly divergent opinions. But see also A brief guide to the Apostle Paul, and why he is so important.

A final note: Most of this post was gleaned from On St. Barnabas and On St. Barnabus’ Day, 2015. The lower (“arrow”) image is courtesy of “releasetheape.com … 2012/12/arrow-target1-890×556.png.

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On “Zen in the Art of College Football…”

The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” – on Easter Day – by Rembrandt

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Today is Palm Sunday, and next Sunday is Easter. That’s the “Christian festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.” (And thus the end of Lent, that 40-day period of “fastingprayer, and penance.”) I’ve written about Easter Sunday in Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter” – including the image above – and Happy Easter – April 2020!

The post from last year – 2020 – said that “clearly this Easter is different, mostly because of the current coronavirus pandemic.” Which led me to this observation:

Back on March 12 [2020] – what seems so long ago, and in light of the pandemic just then making headlines – I checked out two books from the local library. (Not realizing the libraries around here and the country would be closed, “for the duration.” And that I wouldn’t be able to return them for that “duration.”) One book was The Plague, by Albert Camus.

Fortunately the libraries are back open and we’re starting to get a handle on this “COVID” thing. (I get my second vaccine shot this upcoming Wednesday, March 31, down in Barnesville.) Which is a good reason to be especially thankful during this Holy Week, 2021.

For more on past posts on Palm Sunday and Easter you can check the notes, but for now I want to go back to my last post, Romans 11 – and “What happened to FSU football.” Because: If you looked at that post you may have noticed a quote that seems unexplained.

It’s concerns the fictional hero of my newest novel. (I named him “Nick,” in homage to the fictional character created by Ernest Hemingway.) It’s ostensibly about a book that he – Nick – wrote back in 1994. As in, “He went on book tours , and in one such tour personally handed a copy of ‘Zen Football*’ to Bobby Bowden.” (At right.) But I ended up doing too many updates – after publishing the post – and so couldn’t update the post one more time, in a way explain that asterisk.

Here’s what happened…

As noted, I’d already done a boatload of updating, and apparently there’s a limit on how many updates you can do with this platform, after you’ve published the post. (I kept getting “update failed, update failed.”) So I’ll try to explain the asterisk here, and in that process I’ll elaborate on that 1994 book, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” (Subtitled, “Pondering the Metaphysical Mysteries of Major College Football.”)

To review, that last post had a footnote about my fictional hero, Nick:

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. [It’s first of three.] 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.)

So here are the precise “words to that effect.”

To find them, I had to go back to the original paperback.* The main title is, as noted, “Zen in the Art of College Football.” The title page says it’s a novel “Based on the Florida State Seminoles’ Seven-year Quest to Win a National Championship.” (Which they finally got in 1993.) And there’s the alternate subtitle, “Pondering the Metaphysical Mysteries of Major College Football as a Path to Enlightenment and/or Salvation.”

Which is quite a mouthful.

As for the “words to that effect,” they – and the idea for the book – came as a result of my getting an audio version of Zen in the Art of Archery. (This was around 1992 or early 1993, referring to the 1948 book by Eugen Herrigel.) I’d tried to actually read it – in book form – before that time, but always got bogged down. (In that way it was kind of like trying to read the Book of Leviticus.)

So instead I listened to the audio version on a weekend road trip down in Florida, early in the 1993 college football season. Then a few days later, “as if in a flash, I got the idea of connecting Zen in the Art of Archery with ‘Zen in the Art of College Football.'”

At the time I was – in a sense – doing research on that first novel. Specifically, I was trying to figure out why FSU’s football team had so often gotten snookered out of a shot at the national title game, year after year. (With a reference to the Greek god Tantalus, whose story gave us the word tantalize, as in “to tease or torment by or as if by presenting something desirable to the view but continually keeping it out of reach.”)

That in turn involved the method by which the two teams – back in 1993 and before – got picked to play for the national championship. I wrote at the time that it all sounded very “Zen” to me. As in, “if it’s full of contradictions, sounds like double-talk, and really doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s probably Zen.” Which led to this:

Seen that way, Zen becomes remarkably similar to major college football, especially in the 1993 season. There are lots of similarities between “Zen” and how a national champion is picked:* both sound like double-talk, both are full of contradictions, and neither really makes a whole lot of sense.

Now about that last asterisk. Strictly speaking, the similarities were not between Zen and “how a national champion is picked.” Instead they were between Zen and how the ostensible “top two teams” who would play for the national championship got picked.

Which is another way of saying that even after all these years, I’m still finding things I need to correct in that paperback book I published back in 1994, “a long time ago and [what seems like] a galaxy far away.*” (See Star Wars opening crawl – Wikipedia.)

So right about now you may be asking, “What the heck does ‘Zen’ have to do reading the Bible?” The answer? It has to do with reading the Bible “with an open mind.” And that brings up Thomas Merton, along with the next book I wrote. (In 1995, a year after “Zen Football.”)

I called it Jesus Christ, Public Defender. (Subtitled, “and Other Meditations on the Bible, For Baby-boomers, “Nones” and Other Seekers.”) And unlike Zen Football, it’s actually now available in E-book form.*

As I wrote in “JCPD,” Merton (1915-1968) was a Catholic (Trappist) monk. In his later years he found a lot of similarities between his “orthodox” Christianity and the exotic Eastern alternatives – like Zen – that were so popular back in the 1960s. But dallying in these exotic Eastern spiritual disciplines didn’t weaken Merton’s Faith; if anything, they strengthened that faith. As one 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

Of course there are those who disagree.* Like the woman in 1989 who said the goal of Zen is to “obliterate rational thinking.” A note: This same woman said Mormonism is a cult and that practicing Hatha Yoga will turn you into some babbling zombie. (Or “words to that effect.”) And just so you know, I’ve been practicing Hatha Yoga for 50 years now. (Since the late 1970’s.) Without a guru and without shaving the hair off my head. (That came with the passage of time.)

Also, 45 years ago – when I started doing yoga – I was a typical child of the 1960s. As I wrote in JCPD, in those younger days I turned my back on the Established Church and “tried different ways of Coming to Terms With Life.*” But then in middle age I found myself coming back to The Church of My Youth. This was despite my misgivings that it was “full of hypocrite fat-cat conservatives, intolerant, self-righteous, narrow-minded.” At this point I could say “some things never change.” However, I’ve come to realize that the Christian Church in America has lots of good, faithful Seekers After Truth. (But still way too many of “that other kind.”) The point being:

Between 1987 and 1993, I went through a life-changing transformation. As I once wrote, “In 1987 I was a godless heathen dirt-bag, but by 1993 I was a church-going pillar of the community.” How did that come about?

As to how that change came about, part of it was listening to that audio book, Zen in the Art of Archery. Then making the connection between Zen and FSU’s football team. And from there – having been “invigorated and released” – going on to see the connection between Jesus Christ and the public defending that I was doing at the time. And from there continuing my Bible studies and serving in my local church, both in Florida and now up in “God’s Country.” (The Atlanta metropolitan area.) And serving in various capacities, including chalicist and Vestry member.

And now for a moment of zen. “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 Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” But why?

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. Another old Zen saying is that 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. 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 becoming like children again means – among other things – looking at a mountain and seeing … a mountain. Not to mention cleaning those “assumption filters” on a regular basis. (See Dirty Air Filter – Image Results.) And that involves 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, opening up to God. (Like it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”)

The same can apply to our Bible study. Which means in part both reading the Bible itself and getting feedback from other people, other teachers who can help explain how deep the Bible is.

There is a choice, “But as for me and my house,” I choose the life of abundance in John 10:10.

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The upper image is courtesy of “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” – Art and the Bible.  See also Rembrandt – Wikipedia, and/or Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work.

Re: “Past posts on Palm Sunday and Easter.” For Palm Sunday see 2015’s On Holy Week – and hot buns, and – from 2018 – Palm Sunday: To “not sin,” or to accomplish something? For Easter, and aside from the links in the main text, see On Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday – and a Metaphor. Note that the post from last Easter – 2020 – included the image at right, captioned “Which would you prefer: Let the Plague ‘wash over you,’ or be ‘passed over?’”

Re: The quote comparing Zen and major college football in the years leading up to 1993. It’s on page 4 of the 69-plus pages of the original paperback. I.e., there was a “scandal” involving FSU football after the 1993 season, but before publication. So I had to add a “(Post Scandal) Post-Script,” on two additional un-numbered pages.

Re: Tantalus. See Wikipedia, noting that he was a Greek god “famous for his punishment in Tartarus… He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.”

Re: Reading Leviticus. See Wikipedia, and also – for example –Where Bible Reading Plans Go To Die | Stray Thoughts.

Re: “Unlike Zen Football, it’s available in E-book form.” As noted, I published ‘Zen Football’ in 1994. This was before print on demand, so I had to order – and pay for – a thousand copies of the paperback. And to this day I still have 700-800 copies, in boxes strewn around my four-bedroom house in the piney-woods. (So maybe when I die they’ll be worth a gazillion dollars.)

Re: Thomas Merton. In “Jesus Christ Public Defender” I added:

Near the end of his life, Merton traveled to India and Tibet, and at one point interviewed the Dalai Lama.  As described in a biography, Merton and the Dalai Lama discussed in part that condition in meditation where “the mind becomes so absorbed in concentration that it forgets itself in ecstasy.”

Re: Merton’s being helped in his spiritual quest by both his Christian mysticism and “a wide knowledge of Oriental religions.” Later in life Merton became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and the Zen writer D. T. Suzuki (q.v.). He studied Taoism, “regular” Buddhism and Hinduism.

Re: “Those who disagree.” In JCPD I cited the 1989 book, Another Gospel: Cults, Alternative Religions, and the New Age, by Ruth Tucker. (See also Wikipedia.) As to Zen, Tucker said it was so “utterly esoteric” that it couldn’t be “rationally understood or explained through language.” She said the goal of Zen is to produce the frame of mind to “obliterate all rational thinking and dependence on language and knowledge in preparation for satori,” ultimate insight or enlightenment. Tucker also characterized yoga, Zen, and most non-Christian religions as cults or false religions, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses

Tucker also said Yoga – for example – can only be practiced with a “guru,” and its religious nature is disguised; “individuals frequently practice the exercises without, they claim, becoming involved in the actual religion.” She cited an authority who said that as time passed, people doing Hatha Yoga “gradually and imperceptibly begin to accept other concepts which involve definite religious convictions,” and that “yoga cannot be practiced in isolation from other Indian beliefs” like reincarnation...

And just for the record and as noted, I’ve done Hatha Yoga for 50 years now. (Since the 1970’s.) Without a guru, without shaving my head and without becoming a Hare Krishna, thank you very much.

And a side note: Tucker’s 1989 book is not to be confused with the 2020 book, Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, by Alisa Childers.

Re: “Child on the 1960s.” The link is to Flower child (or “children”) – Wikipedia, which one philosopher “viewed in Jungian terms as a collective social symbol representing the mood of friendly weakness.” Or those who reject established culture and advocate “extreme liberalism.” (Free Dictionary.) Little of which applied to me, at the time or since.

Re: “As I wrote in JCPD.” Notes and quotes are in Chapter 4: “A brief digression – about the author.”

Re: Moment of Zen. See also 5 Inspirations for Being in the Moment – zen habits zen habits, which talks about “living in the moment.”

The lower image is courtesy of Life Abundance – Image Results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of compassion – and too much hate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are simply not up to the task, not wired for such an overload. We are no more prepared to comprehend an answer than – to make use of a memorable example – cats are prepared to study calculus. It’s just not in our nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a whole lot easier on the heels…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unintended consequence – and ‘Victory O Lord!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Book of Job as “Law School 101”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On an old friend – and his “Bible literalism…”

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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.”)

What brought all this back was a recent lecture on Great Courses Plus, The New Testament, by Bart D. Ehrman, PH.D. This particular lecture was, “Do we have the original New Testament?” The short answer – and to me the surprising answer – turned out to be, “No, we don’t.”

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.

I’ve written on some problems reading the Bible “too literally.” First in 2014’s On three suitors (a parable), and later in 2015’s True Test of Faith. One problem came from the Hebrew method of writing:

in Hebrew there are no vowels, and the letters of a sentence are strung together. An example:  a sentence in English, “The man called for the waiter.” Written in Hebrew, the sentence would be “THMNCLLDFRTHWTR.” But among other possible translations, the sentence could read, in English, “The man called for the water.”

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 metaphorical analogy.”

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 Interpretationso 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!

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Maria apparently went “beyond the fundamentals” – in her “do-re-mi’s…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Flabbergasted – Image Results.

Re: The Bible as “without error and therefore completely true.” See Biblical inerrancy – Wikipedia. and – for a 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.” 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: Interacting with God in my own life. See for example On my “mission from God,” and “As a spiritual exercise…”

Re: “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). The “nimshalim” quote(s) are from page 321 of my copy.

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.

The lower image is courtesy of A Very Good Place Start Sound Music – Image Results. See also Sound Of Music – Do-Re-Mi Lyrics | MetroLyrics. The lesson from this metaphoric parable – from The Sound of Musicis that real Christians will go on to read and write great works, and perhaps create great symphonic masterpieces in music, while the “boot camp Christians” will continue on, endlessly going over their a-b-c’s and do-re-mi’s in an ongoing cycle of repetition.

Happy Easter – April 2020!

Jesus – “kicking down the gates of hell” – with Satan (at bottom) “bound and chained…”

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Today – April 12, 2020 – is Easter Sunday. That is, the …

… festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary [circa] 30 AD.  It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

And incidentally, the painting (icon) at the top of the page shows Jesus as “having kicked down the gates of Hades.”  It also shows “Satan, depicted as an old man … bound and chained.” See On Easter Season – AND BEYOND, and Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter!”

Which could lead to one of this morning’s Daily Office Readings, Exodus 12:1-14. Specifically, Exodus 12:13, “I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you.” Which could be a reassuring Easter promise, in this time of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.

For more on more traditional views of Easter, check the two post-links cited above. But clearly this Easter is different, mostly because of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Which leads to this: Back on March 12 – what seems so long ago, and in light of the pandemic just then making headlines – I checked out two books from the local library. (Not realizing the libraries around here and the country would be closed, “for the duration.” And that I wouldn’t be able to return them for that “duration.”) One book was The Plague, by  by Albert Camus.

The other book was What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills. I figured it might cheer me up. And it did, but initially I was most struck by this passage:

Christian leaders have often rebuked the rebelliousness of young people by offering them a pastel picture of the young Jesus as a model of compliance and good behavior. They make this mystifying child an examplar of “family values” in the most restrictive and conformist sense. But there are many indications that Jesus was more like those restive and resisting children who have all the idealism and absolutism of youth – young people who chafe against the boundaries of the past and who are panting to explore new horizons

Which is pretty much one main theme of this blog. That the Bible was not meant to stuff you into some cubby hole, or make you just another a “carbon-copy Christian.”

Instead the Bible – and especially the message of Jesus (see John 14:12 and Luke 24:45, above)  – was meant to help people break through the boundaries of the past and “explore new horizons.” Unfortunately – and as Garry Wills noted near the end of his book – many who “call on His name return often to the forms of religion He renounced.” Which brings up an opposing view to his, What Garry Wills Thinks Jesus Meant | Bible Thumping, which said this:

[A]ccording to Wills’ social justice Jesus, if we don’t love everyone, help the poor, and affirm homosexuals, then we will not be saved. But it gets worse… Matthew 25:35-40 does not command Christians to help the poor; it commands Christians to help other Christians – brothers – when they are in need, especially during persecution.”

Which I assume means that in the current coronavirus pandemic, the writer would help only “other Christians,” but not all Christians. Only those who agree with his Wingnut version of Christianity. (And incidentally, a “wingnut” is a person with “extreme, and often irrational, political views, primarily those considered to be right wing.” Which sounds about right.)

At the very least, Wingnut interprets the Bible in a “most restrictive and conformist sense.” 

And that sounds a bit like one headline I read this morning, Trump Reportedly Weighed Letting COVID-19 ‘Wash Over’ U.S. Note the difference – and maybe the similarities – in “wash over” and “pass over.” And how in this case, the latter would be preferable to the former. As in, “Would you rather the Coronavirus ‘wash over’ America, killing millions in the process, or have this latest plague pass over our house and not strike us down. (Or compare this “wash over America” idea with the Conservative Christian health-care plan, which seems to be, “Let ’em die!”)

And by the way, it’s not helping the poor or “affirming homosexuals” that saves you. It’s believing in and following Romans 10:9, “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved.” See Do this – “and you WILL be saved!” (Dumbass…)

But seriously, the “wingnut” view is a cross all us real Christians have to bear. And the only thing we can do – to try and “fight the good fight” – is not to refer to such wingnuts as “dumbasses,” tempting as that may be. Instead it’s getting out the real Christianity, the one that follows the Great Commission of Jesus, to wit: Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” (See also 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think… God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”)

Or as I’ve said before, “If Jesus was a conservative” – like Wingnut – “how come we’re not all Jewish?” (See “For many are called, but few are chosen.”) But we’re digressing here…

The Good News is that it is Easter, which means we celebrate Jesus – the Risen Messiah – rising from the grave “in a blaze of glory[,] holding the white banner of victory over death.” (Which is – after all – “what Easter Sunday is really all about.” Not Easter bunnies or Easter eggs…)

Which means in part that – as applied to even this latest and most devastating “plague-slash-pestilence” – it can be said, “This Too Shall Pass.” Which among other things means some day – maybe some day soon – we won’t have go around wearing those dorky-looking masks…

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Which would you prefer: Let the Plague “wash over you,” or be “passed over?”

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The upper image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia. The full caption:  “Icon of the Resurrection, with Christ having kicked down the gates of Hades and pulling Adam and Eve out of the tombs. Christ is flanked by saints, and Satan, depicted as an old man, is bound and chained.” Used here, an icon is “a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox ChurchOriental Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic, and certain Eastern Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks but ‘an icon is a sacred image used in religious devotion.'”

Other Daily Office readings for this Easter: “AM Psalm148, 149, 150; PM Psalm 113114, or118[,] Exod. 12:1-14 [AM]; Isa. 51:9-11[PM]; ; John 1:1-18 [AM]; Luke 24:13-35 [PM], orJohn 20:19-23 [PM].”

Re: The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. See the specific Wikipedia article, and Coronavirus – Wikipedia: “The name ‘coronavirus’ is derived from Latin corona, meaning ‘crown’ or ‘wreath,’ itself a borrowing from Greek [for garland or wreath]. The name refers to the characteristic appearance of virions (the infective form of the virus) by electron microscopy, which have a fringe of large, bulbous surface projections creating an image reminiscent of a crown or of a solar corona.”

Re: “What Jesus Meant.” The “Christian leaders rebuked young people quote is from the 2006 Viking-Penguin hardback edition, at pages 7-8. The “near the end of the book” quotes are at pages 137-142. Also, Wills’ original had “his,” referring to Jesus, in the lower case. I capitalized “His name” and “He renounced.” (In an abundance of caution.) On another note, Wills commented – on page 20 – on the accusation that Jesus was “a drunkard and a glutton,” at Luke 7:34. Wills wrote, “For Jesus to be called a drunkard and a glutton was not a light criticism.” In fact, such was a serious violation of Levitical law. See Deuteronomy 21:18-21:

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,  his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you.

Re: “This Too Shall Pass.” See e.g., Is the Phrase, “This Too Shall Pass” in the Bible? The answer? Apparently not, or at least not directly. The link-article noted, “In Deuteronomy 28, the phrase, ‘It shall come to pass’ is repeated twice.” I.e., in Deuteronomy 28:1 and Deuteronomy 28:15. The article noted a number of other passages with similar thoughts.

The lower image is courtesy of Plague Doctors Beaked Mask – Image Results. For more on the “beaked mask” get-up, see the notes to On Moses, Illeism – and “10 Plagues.”