Monthly Archives: June 2014

On Gregorian chant

“A dove . . . symbolizes Divine Inspiration” for the Gregorian chant. . .


 From the Scribe (6/29/14)


Once upon a time there was a Great Flood.

Actually there were at least two Great Floods, but this one took place in 1993 – from April to October – and covered “the American Midwest, along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries.”   An estimated 32 to 50 people died.  Some places on the Mississippi River were flooded nearly 200 days and some 100,000 homes were destroyed.  It was among the most costly and devastating floods ever in the United States, with an estimated $15 billion in damages. see Great Flood of 1993 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I mention this because my late wife and I took a small part in the relief effort, in the summer of 1994.  Towns like St. Louis were still reeling from the flood and needed all kinds of basic necessities – like plain clean drinking water – that most people normally take for granted.

At the time we had a  van and travel trailer, and had been planning a trip from Florida to Las Vegas anyway.  So as part of the trip we decided to take that van-and-trailer, load them full of supplies, plus a hefty check – all the fruits of a fundraising drive at our local church – and drop them off in St. Louis.   (Which by the way allowed us to deduct part of the trip’s expenses.)

Among other things the long trip west was noteworthy for the number of videos we took along the way.  Most of the videos have this enchanting background music, and that enchanting music was courtesy of the CDs of Gregorian chants that we listened to most of the way.

I mention this because somewhere on the trip from “back then to now,” I lost the habit.  I lost the habit until last Friday afternoon and a particularly bad bout of traffic.   During a long wait at a stop-light I shuffled through my pack of CDs, and came upon one of the “Gregorian” CDs that managed to survive the journey from 1994 to the present day.  It was so soothing, so calming and so relaxing that I wondered why I ever stopped listening to them.

But don’t take my word for it.  Listen for yourself, courtesy of GREGORIAN CHANT – YouTube.

Meanwhile, back at Wikipedia: “Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song of the western Roman Catholic Church,” which developed “mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries.”  The chants were usually sung by choirs of men and boys in churches, monasteries, other other religious orders.  “Although Gregorian chant is no longer obligatory,” the Catholic Church still considers it “most suitable for worship.”  And lately “plainchant” has enjoyed a “musicological and popular resurgence.”  See Gregorian chant – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

But like most popular phenomena, there’s always the story behind the story.  For one thing, there is some debate whether the chant is really “Gregorian:”

That “Gregorian” chant was named for and credited to Pope Gregory I (r. 590-604) is an accident of politics and spin doctoring.  Tension between the Pope (the Bishop of Rome) and other Bishops regarding the authority of the Pope as “first among equals” was matched by tension between the Pope, as spiritual ruler of Rome, and Rome’s secular rulers. . .    There are any number of lovely stories and legends associated with Gregory[, including] a bird singing chants into his ear as he wrote them down.   (Unfortunately, of course, there was no usable music notation at the time.)   There are [also] stories of his sending out missionaries with instructions to bring back any new music they encountered, saying “Why should the Devil have all the good songs?

(See Why is chant called Gregorian?)  I had two responses to the quote above, the first being  “Why indeed?”   As in, “Why indeed should the Devil have all the good songs?”

The second response is more along the line of “Be that as it may. . .”  That is, does it really matter if Pope Gregory got undue credit for “creating” such chants, or does it really matter if Admiral Beaufort really “created” the wind scale that carries his name?  (See Defining the Wind: The Beaufort Scale and How a 19th-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry.)

Be that as it may,” we still measure the wind by Beaufort’s scale, and – as I told a dear, dear friend (who happens to be “RC”) – “Gregorian chant is one thing the Catholic Church really got right.”  Or to paraphrase that 1970s TV ad again, “Try it, you’ll like it!


“Mississippi River out of its banks in Festus, Missouri. . .” 



The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “A dove representing the Holy Spirit sitting on Pope Gregory I‘s shoulder symbolizes Divine Inspiration.”  Aside from the sources listed in the main text, see also CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Gregorian Chant – New Advent.

As to the “old TV ad from the 1970s, ‘Try it, you’ll like it!‘”   See On “what a drag it is. . .”

The lower image is courtesy of Great Flood of 1993 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, full caption:  “Mississippi River out of its banks in Festus, Missouri.  The spot where this photo was taken” was a mile and a half and 30 feet above the river.  Note too the “waterfront dining” sign, an example of the usual warped-but-plucky American sense of humor in the face of death and disaster. 



On scapegoating


From the Scribe (6/27/14):


This afternoon I was going through my old posts, transferring them to flash drive in preparing Volume 2 of my collections of Blog-posts.   (Volume 2 will soon be available in e-book or “old-fashioned paperback version.”  See For a paperback or e-book version…)

In doing so I ran across this draft of a review of Daily Office readings for last May 19.  It was on scapegoating, but for some reason I never finished.  So here it is:

*   *   *   *

The Old Testament reading in the Daily Office for Monday, May 19, was Leviticus 16:1-19.  Of particular interest is the original idea of a scapegoat.

In modern usage a scapegoat is an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.   A whipping boy, “fall guy” or “patsy” is a form of scapegoat…    In ancient Greece a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year)…   In psychology and sociology, the practice of selecting someone as a scapegoat has led to the concept of scapegoating.

See Scapegoat – Wikipedia.   So the original idea was to make “atonement for sin,” an idea that turns a lot of people off (especially liberals and such).

So again, what’s the big deal about “sin?”

As Isaac Asimov explained, to sin “involves separation from God,” which means in turn an unhealthy separation from both The Force that Created the Universe and the community where you live.   Since the whole idea of most religions or spiritual disciplines is to “become one” with both that Force and that Community, that’s not a good thing.  So “atoning for sin” means getting “back on track on this idea of becoming one with God.”   (See On sin and cybernetics.)

Getting back to the Daily Office OT reading for last May, God – through Moses – directed his brother Aaron to take a bull and two goats, to get the people of Israel back on track to remaining one with “God and neighbor.”  Aaron was then directed as follows:

[T]ake the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; 8and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.* 9Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin-offering; 10but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel* shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, so that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

So what the heck is Azazel?

The term is used three times in the Hebrew Bible – what we call the Old Testament – and  has been “traditionally understood either as a scapegoat, or in some traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as the name of a fallen angel or demon.”

The medieval scholar Nachmanides (1194–1270) identified the Hebrew text as also referring to a demon. . .   However, he did not see the sending of the goat as honoring Azazel as a deity, but as a symbolic expression of the idea that the people’s sins and their evil consequences were to be sent back to the spirit of desolation and ruin, the source of all impurity. The very fact that the two goats were presented before God, before the one was sacrificed and the other sent into the wilderness, was proof that Azazel was not ranked alongside God, but regarded simply as the personification of wickedness. . .

(See Azazel – Wikipedia.)  And by the way, in keeping with the theory that there is “nothing new under the sun,” Azazel these days has become a “comic book supervillain.”

That is, these days he appears in comic books published by Marvel, and in particular those featuring the X-Men. A mutant with the power of teleportation, he is the father of the X-Man Nightcrawler.”  See Azazel (Marvel Comics) – Wikipedia.

As to the reappearance of Azazel – albeit as a comic figure – see Ecclesiastes 1:9:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.



The upper image is courtesy of “”

The full text of the “scapegoat” passages:

11 Aaron shall present the bull as a sin-offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall slaughter the bull as a sin-offering for himself. 12He shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain 13and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, so that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat* that is upon the covenant,* or he will die. 14He shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy-seat,* and before the mercy-seat* he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.

15 He shall slaughter the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the curtain, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy-seat* and before the mercy-seat.* 16Thus he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins;


There is also a physical Mount Azazel, located in the “Judean Desert 14 km southeast of Jerusalem.” See Let us tour Eretz Yisroel: Mount Azazel:  “A road through the desert connects Jerusalem with Mount Azazel or Jabel Muntar. . .     Most likely, this very road was used to march the scapegoat to its death on the high place of Mount Azazel.”

“As Isaac Asimov explained…”  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 157 (on Leviticus).

On the idea of becoming “one with The Force That Created the Universe” (and even your most obnoxious neighbor), see Some Bible basics from Vince Lombardi and Charlie Chan:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

As to the modern-day “comic book” version:  “Azazel claims that many years ago an ancient horde of demonic humanoid mutants from biblical times called the Neyaphem were in an epic battle with a group of angelic xenophobic mutants. . .   The Neyaphem’s leader, Azazel, was the only one who was able to breach the dimensional void for brief periods of time due to his teleportation powers. His only hope to return to Earth was by impregnating women because his children are linked to his dimension.”   (Which also sounds patently familiar.)


On “nothing new under the sun,” see also Ecclesiastes – Wikipedia:

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature: American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote:   “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth.  I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”


On “expressio unius”

Re: “Latin scholar. . .”


From the Scribe:

There’s a sign at my bank, taped to the window next to the front door.  It has words saying in effect, “When entering, please remove your hat and/or sunglasses,” etc.

So being a former lawyer, I do exactly that.  “When entering,” I remove my hat.  Then, once I get inside I put my hat back on.  I do that because in law school I learned the maxim, expressio unius est exclusio alterius.  That translates to “the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.”

Among other things, this is called gaming the system, about which more later.

It also brings up the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

The spirit of the bank’s request seems pretty clear:  Remove your hat and/or sunglasses, so in case you turn out to be a bank robber we’ll be able to have clear surveillance photos of your sorry “self” and will be able to send you to jail.   On the other hand, by focusing exclusively on the letter of that bank-request, you can pretty much rob it of its intended effect.

(A BTW:  That’s the whole theory behind this Blog.  And just in case I’m being too subtle, let me spell it out.  Those “fundamental” people who focus exclusively on the “letter” of the Bible – limiting it to a strict “literalism” – pretty much likewise rob it of its intended effect.)

That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Second Corinthians 3:6, that God “has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.”  (That’s the Holman Christian Standard Bible, emphasis added.)

That’s also arguably why Jesus Himself said, “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  (The Living Bible, emphasis added.)  In other words, these passages show that God does not want Good Christians to limit their reading, interpreting and living according to the Bible to a spirit-killing literalism.  (A sentiment that can easily get you a busted nose in these parts, like the “scholar” portrayed above.)

So based on expressio unius, here’s how a sleazy lawyer and/or “literalist” would interpret the bank’s request.  “If they wanted me to keep my hat and/or sunglasses off the whole time I was in the bank, they would have said so clearly and plainly.  Instead they just told me to take off my hat and/or sunglasses ‘when entering.'”  On the other hand, maybe the bank didn’t think it needed to either “waste the space” or spell out something that should be perfectly clear by a reasonable person using good old common sense.

Which brings up Gaming the system.  Such a practice is also known as “gaming the rules, bending the rules, abusing the system, milking the system, playing the system, or working the system,” and can further be defined as using the rules and procedures “to manipulate the system for a desired outcome.”

See also, Wikipedia: Gaming the system, which notes, “Gaming the system means deliberately using Wikipedia policies and guidelines in bad faith to thwart the aims of Wikipedia.”  That could easily be interpolated into, “Gaming the system includes deliberately using those policies and guidelines set out in the Bible, in bad faith, either to thwart the aims of the people and/or entities who took part in writing the Bible.”

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t many good Christians who take the Bible “literally,” but in a whole and entire “good faith.”  I’m simply saying – again – that taking the Bible too literally can both rob it of its intended effect, and give rise to a temptation to manipulate the Bible for a desired outcome, as for example some “charismatic personality who infuses biblical passages and fervor into his pitches as a way to ease and collect money.”

Forewarned is forearmed.  That’s all I’m saying (even though it may get me a busted nose.).



The upper image is “at:,” with the caption:  “Bust of Homer, the ancient Greek epic poet.”  (Latin, Greek, whatever. . .)

See also Expressio unius est exclusio alterius legal definition of ….

The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia, Elmer Gantry – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Elmer Gantry (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

On publication in 1927, Elmer Gantry created a public furor.  The book was banned in Boston and other cities and denounced from pulpits across the USA.  One cleric suggested that Lewis should be imprisoned for five years, and there were also threats of physical violence against the author.  The famous evangelist Billy Sunday called [author Sinclair] Lewis “Satan‘s cohort.”   [But] Elmer Gantry ranked as the number one fiction bestseller of 1927, according to “Publisher’s Weekly.”

See also, The lady doth protest too much, methinks – Wikipedia, referring to a line from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, which line is “used as a figure of speech . . . to indicate that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive.”

And finally, see Forewarned is forearmed – Idioms and phrases, and Praemonitus praemunitus – Wikipedia, for our second Latin lesson for the day.

Abraham and Isaac – Where God CHANGED some “traditional values and attitudes…”

“The ‘Sacrifice of Isaac,’ where God finally said “Stop!  Let’s change some ‘traditional values…'”

*   *   *   *

The readings for June 29, 2014, are Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, and Matthew 10:40-42.  The Genesis story tells of God apparently asking Abraham to kill his son.

That is, In Genesis 22:1-14, “God tested Abraham,” by appearing to ask him to kill his first-born son Isaac.  That was the son – Isaac – that Abraham and his wife Sarah had been waiting and praying for “lo these many years.”   (As noted in On “Call me Ishmael” – June 22 Part I, “Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah was past 90” when Isaac was born.)

The story bothers a lot of people.  That’s because it apparently shows God ordering a father to kill his own son.  And that’s the view you would take if you took the lesson literally.   

But if you look at some other “prevailing wisdom,” you might get a wholly different take.  (See On “originalism,” noting that originalism is the view that interpretation “should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time . . . would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.”)  In that view you would ask:  What would a reasonable man – under the “community standards” at the time – have thought of Abraham killing his son as a “sacrifice?”

Apparently it wouldn’t have bothered that “reasonable man” at all.  That’s because at that time and place, child sacrifice was quite common.  See Binding of Isaac – Wikipedia – illustrated at right – and citing “Hertz:”

[C]hild sacrifice was actually “rife among the Semitic peoples. . .  [I]n that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.”  Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent.

A note:  Akedah is Hebrew short-hand for the Abraham-Isaac story, and translates “The Binding.”  So to a reasonable Semite at the time – when the story occurred, or when Moses wrote it down, if not both – a father offering his son as a “sacrifice to the gods” was so common that the Akedah proved the noteworthy exception.

So at the time of Abraham, routine child sacrifice was a prevailing “traditional value.”

Which means this story would  be something like today’s “man bites dog” journalism.  That is, a story about “an unusual, infrequent event is more likely to be reported as news than an ordinary, everyday occurrence.”  See Man bites dog (journalism) – Wikipedia.

(Did the Scribe mention that he got a Master’s Degree in Journalism?)

So the Good News is not that God is as cruel as a literal reading of the story would indicate.  (I.e., from from a “plain reading.”)  The point God wanted to make was just the opposite of what a plain or “literal reading” would show.  God wanted to change some of the “prevailing practices” at the time.  On that note, the general definition of conservative is of a “person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes.”

But in this case, God felt a prevailing practice needed to be changed.

*   *   *   *

Moving on, in Psalm 13, the writer first asked, “How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me for ever?”  But he ended on a note of hope, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.”  (Maybe because God didn’t require child sacrifice.)

In Romans 6:12-23, Paul wrote about the wages of sin; “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And the post D-Day and confession addressed this whole business of sin, a “business” that seems to turn off a whole lot of non-Christians.  (For example, the search “Christians hung up on sin” led to offerings including Advocatus Atheist: Why are Christians Hung Up on Sin?)  Anyway, here’s what  “D-Day” said:

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, as some seem to imply.

Note also Paul’s saying, in Romans 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.”  In other words Paul – like Moses and indeed God Himself – is not limited by his (or His) ability to teach, but only by our ability to comprehend.

So Moses couldn’t tell “the truth” about such things as the earth revolving around the sun, because he had to tell the story of Creation “using language and concepts that his relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience could understand.” See On the readings for June 15 – Part I.  So also Paul – like God – had to keep in mind the “natural limitations” of his (His) audience.

And finally, in Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus spoke of the “reward of the righteous.”  That especially concerned the children who used to be so routinely offered as a sacrifice to the “old gods” in the time of Abraham.  As Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Note the difference – and the improvement – over some “traditional values and attitudes.”

*   *   *   *

“Christ with children by Carl Heinrich Bloch.”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Binding of Isaac – Wikipedia.  The full caption reads: “‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’ by Caravaggio, in the Baroque tenebrist manner.”  As to the wording of the caption, see “Or words to that effect” – Wiktionary, and also “Or Words to that Effect” – Adoremus Bulletin, quoting the character Richard Rich in the plan “A Man for All Seasons.”

Re:  Abraham – Wikipedia.  The caption for the image to the left of the lead paragraph is captioned:  “Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac. From a 14th-century missal.”

Note also this post was originally published on June 23, 2014, titled, “On the readings for June 29.”  I upgraded it, changed the title, added some images and otherwise upgraded it on October 16, 2018.

As to reasonable, see Reasonable person – Wikipedia:  “The reasonable person (historically reasonable man) is one of many tools for explaining the law to a jury.”

As to the Hertz reference, “Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz, CH (September 25, 1872 – January 14, 1946) was a Jewish Hungarian-born rabbi and Bible scholar. He is most notable for holding the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1913 until his death in 1946, in a period encompassing both world wars and the Holocaust.”

The lower image – and note the contrast between the upper and lower images – is courtesy of The Little Children – Wikipedia.

On “holier than thou”

*   *   *   *

Try this. Type “holier” in your search engine. “Holier than thou” will automatically pop up, and there’s probably some kind of object lesson there.  (“An example from real life that teaches a lesson or explains something.”)

Then too, an Internet “holier than thou” search will lead to the self-righteousness article in Wikipedia. It defines self-righteousness and/or a holier than thou attitude as a “feeling or display” – usually smug – “of moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. Self-righteous individuals are often intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others.”

Wikipedia also noted that the term is often considered derogatory:

…particularly because self-righteous individuals are often thought to exhibit hypocrisy due to the belief that humans are imperfect and can therefore never be infallible, an idea similar to that of the Freudian defense mechanism of reaction formation. The connection between self-righteousness and hypocrisy predates Freud‘s views, however, as evidenced by the 1899 book Good Mrs. Hypocrite: A Study in Self-Righteousness, by the pseudonymous author “Rita.”

In other words, the attitude has been around for a lot longer than 1899.   In fact it was around when Jesus walked the shores of Lake Galilee, which leads to another interesting note. The Wikipedia article on self-righteousness includes a link to The Mote and the Beam, the parable of Jesus illustrated in the painting above.  (There’s probably some kind of object lesson there too.) If you missed it, here’s Wikipedia on the story:

The Mote and the Beam (also called discourse on judgmentalism) is a proverbial saying of Jesus given in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1 to 5. The discourse is fairly brief, and begins by telling his disciples not to judge others, arguing that they too would be judged by the same standard.

Specifically, Jesus said, “Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?   How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  (This was right before Jesus told about “casting pearls before swine.”)

So how do you know if you’re self-righteous???  That’s the problem, you don’t.  If you’re self-righteous or have a “holier than thou” attitude, you won’t realize it.  That’s because – being self-righteous – you simply can’t admit the possibility that you are wrong.  You simply can’t be wrong on your take on the Bible, and more to the point, you simply can’t be wrong in telling people that you’re going to heaven and they aren’t.  (“Bleah!”)

(That’s where the “prevailing quacks” come in. See the Mencken note below.)

Or maybe it’s like what a former mentor, Father Watson, said about the Unforgiveable Sin.  He said if you’re worried that you may have committed the Unforgiveable Sin (or the Eternal Sin), you probably haven’t.  In other words, just by being aware you may have committed the Unforgiveable Sin can assure you that you haven’t.

In the same way, just being aware that you may be self-righteous – or may have a “holier than thou” attitude – is a strong indication that you probably don’t have either problem.

Of course I could be wrong!


The upper image is courtesy of the “Mote and beam” Wikipedia article.   The full caption: “A [circa] 1619 painting by Domenico Fetti entitled The Parable of the Mote and the Beam.”

“Object lesson.”  See Object lesson – Merriam-Webster Online, and also object lesson – Wiktionary.

As to Father Watson’s take, see also What is the “unforgivable sin … Power to Change: “Thus, if you are worried that you have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you could not possibly have done it.”  (Emphasis in the original.)

As to what God really wants – rather than being self-righteous or “holier than thou” – see the end of On the June 22 readings – Part II: from Micah 6:8 (in the Living Bible); God “has told you what he wants, and this is all it is: to be fair, just, merciful, and to walk humbly with your God.”

The lower image is courtesy of “”   The image refers H. L. Mencken’s quote indicating the job of both journalists and Christians is to “challenge the prevailing quacks,” as noted in his Minority Report:

The only way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks.   No such class has ever appeared in strength in the United States.  Thus, the business of harassing the quacks devolves upon the newspapers.  When they fail in their duty, which is usually, we are at the quacks’ mercy.

Did the Scribe mention that he has a Master’s Degree in journalism??

On sharing the “Keys to the Kingdom”


Roman Catholics like to claim theirs is the one-and-only true church, based on Matthew 16:13-19, where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The guesses included John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets of old.  Then Jesus said, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. . .   I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (E.A.)

So far so good.  Jesus gave Peter the “keys to the kingdom,” as shown in the painting-detail above.  (Actually a fresco in the Sistine Chapel.)  And so – Jesus told Peter – “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (See Power of the Keys – Wikipedia, and CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Power of the Keys – New Advent.)

But note what happened a couple chapters later, in Matthew 18.  That chapter began with the  disciples – all 12 of them – coming to Jesus and asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  That’s when Jesus called a child and “put him in the midst of them” – all 12 of them – and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus spoke on sin and “woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!”  He added the metaphor – not to be taken literally – about plucking your eye out if it caused you to sin, because “it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”  Later He added this, speaking to all 12 disciples:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Wait.  What?  Weren’t those the same words that Jesus spoke to only Peter, a chapter or two before?  And wasn’t that the same power that Jesus had given only to Peter?

What happened?

One thing that happened came just a few verses later in Matthew 16, beginning at verse 21.  That’s where Jesus started to tell His disciples He had to go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of “the elders and chief priests and scribes,” and be killed, and on the third day be raised:

And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (E.A.)

(In the words of the King James Bible – the one God uses – the phrase was “Get thee behind me, Satan.”)  As to why Jesus said that, consider Why did Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me Satan”?   But the fact remains that Jesus did say that, and so – not long after saying that – He took the exclusive power He’d given to Peter and made it the power of all 12 disciples.

As to the effect of that change, see for example A Natural Law Manifesto – Right Reason, which indicated in pertinent part that “the statute passed later is presumed to have superseded the law enacted earlier.”  See also 7 Modification of Contracts – Shefsky & Froelich, which indicated that an “agreement that is complete on its face supersedes all prior agreements on the same
subject matter.”  (Did the Scribe mention that he was a lawyer in his prior life?)

So, in Matthew 16:16 Jesus gave Peter the exclusive power of the “keys to the kingdom.”  Then a few verses later Jesus sternly rebuked Peter for becoming “an unwitting spokesperson for Satan.” (See the “Why did” site above.)  Later still Jesus either effectively modified His “statute” or His “contract” and – using the same language – changed the power of “binding and loosing” by giving it to all 12 disciples instead of just Peter alone.

The effect of all this is to nullify the strong implication – promoted by the whole “St. Peter and the Keys” thing – that only Roman Catholics will get into heaven.  Of course Southern Baptists say pretty much the same thing, on the theory that infant baptism has no practical effect and that in order to get into heaven you have to be baptized as an adult. (See Baptists – Wikipedia.)

But what does the Bible say?  For one thing the Apostle Paul said, in Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  Which is of course perfectly consistent with what he said much earlier, in Romans 10:9, “If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved.”  (Emphases added.)

Maybe that’s why they call it “Good News. . .”

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

As to the keys to the kingdom, see also Delivery of the Keys (Perugino) – Wikipedia, the …, describing a fresco in the Sistine Chapel, in Rome.  The image at the top of this post is a detail of that fresco.

As to “Roman Catholics.”  Here’s the distinction.  “Small-c” catholic means universal or comprehensive; “especially :  broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests <a catholic taste in music>”.  See Catholic – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster.  A more earthy example might be:  “That guy certainly has catholic tastes in women.  He’ll do anybody.”

But see also Cafeteria Catholicism – Wikipedia, which noted in part:

The term cafeteria Catholicism is applied to those who assert their Catholic identity yet dissent from Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching or who are viewed as dissenting by those using the term.  Examples include Catholics who are accused of dissenting from Church teachings on human sexuality (the so-called “pelvic issues”). . .

The site also noted that the term “is most often used by conservative Catholics critical of progressive Catholics.”  On that note see About this Blog, which said “those who read the Bible strictly, narrowly and/or ‘fundamentally'” – or you could read in conservatively – “are not only cheating themselves, they’re also driving other people away from the Faith of the Bible in droves.”

As to good news and gospel:  “The word gospel derives from the Old English gōd-spell [5] (rarely godspel), meaning ‘good news’ or ‘glad tidings.’   The word comes from the Greek euangelion, or ‘good news.’   The gospel was considered the ‘good news’ of the coming Kingdom of Messiah, and of redemption through the life and death of Jesus, the central Christian message.” Gospel – WikipediaThe lower image is courtesy of that article, which featured the caption, “The first page of the Gospel of Mark in Armenian, by Sargis Pitsak, 14th century.”

On “what a drag it is…”

As in, “What a drag it is getting o-o-o-o-o-o-ld!”  (With apologies to the Rolling Stones.)


From The Scribe. . .


Keeping in mind that a true Blog is “like a traditional diary, right down to the informal style of writing that characterizes personal communication,” this is my first diary-like blog post.

I graduated from high school in 1969.  After graduation I went my way – like so many of that generation – in search of the Good Life of the 1970s.  (That usually included the proverbial sex, drugs and/or rock and roll.)   One thing that ongoing search did not include was staying in the “Established” or “Establishment Church” that I grew up in.

On the other hand, now that I’m “old and full of years” – I’m 62 – I can clearly see that “getting o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ld” beats the heck out of the alternative.

Getting back to those rockin’ 1970s, Transcendental Meditation was a Big Trend on Campus, and it seemed to offer one road to the Good Life and/or Promised Land.   But those people wanted to charge a whole lot more money than I could afford.

So I ended up trying self-hypnosis, Alpha Thinking, yoga, and a host of other Eastern ways of dealing with life’s unpleasantries, my own shortcomings, and the unremitting evil and suffering I saw each day on TV and the news.   I read books on karate, aikido, tai chi and other eastern disciplines; books like Zen in the Art of Archery.

I learned about prana, chi, ki, and “the force,” as in “the force be with you.”  I was still entranced by Transcendental Meditation – and how easy “they” said it was – but as noted, I balked at the price.  (At the time, it was supposed to run a week’s salary, which included a personalized Sanskrit mantra, “all my very own.”)  But I couldn’t afford a week’s salary, being the poor, bearded, unemployed and largely unemployable college student that I was.  So I kept looking, and the quest seemed to end when I found a book, How to Meditate, by Lawrence LeShan.

LeShan’s book offered all the meditational techniques anyone could ever need, in a book that cost a fraction of the price TMers wanted, for that instruction and my personal Sanskrit mantra.

But eventually – “in the fullness of time,” as a Bible writer might say – I came to see the Christian Faith itself as a kind of Ongoing “Transcendental” Meditation.   In other words, like some other people who wrote about the Bible, the Faith and prayer – guys like Thomas Merton – I came to see similarities in those exotic Eastern disciplines I studied in my youth, and the daily practice of Bible-reading.   (See DOR Scribe, above.)

To make a long story short, the essence of a mantra meditation is simply repeating a word or phrase, over and over, for a pre-established period of time.  (The usual period is 10-20 minutes.) It sounds pretty fruitless, but consider the “Cliff’s-Note” summary given by Jesus:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Those “two great commandments” are in the Book of Common Prayer at page 324, and as with most of the Prayer Book, they come directly from the Bible, Matthew 22:37-40.

Then consider a standard confession that some church-goers repeat every week: “We have not loved you [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

The point is this:  Like any meditation the quest to “love God with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves” is literally impossible.   On the other hand, the process of meditating – trying “to do the impossible” – usually ends up with you becoming a better person.  By taking part in Bible reading on a regular basis – and by trying to love God with all your heart and your neighbors as yourself – you can also develop a zest for living, an ability to cope with everyday frustration, and a soothing sense of serenity that comes from being “one with All.”

Of course there’s a whole lot more to it than that, and that “that” is what this Blog is all about.  (In other words, “that ‘that'” will be the subject of a host of future posts.)

In the meantime (like the man said in the 1970s TV ad), the message is: “Try it, you’ll like it!”

The top image is courtesy of The Rolling Stones – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption reads: “The Rolling Stones 1965.”  See also, Mother’s Little Helper – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the opening line, “What a drag it is getting old!”  The “Little Helper” site added, “The song deals with the sudden popularity of Valium (diazepam), a mild tranquilizer, among housewives and the ease of obtaining it from their GPs.”

The lower image is courtesy of  See also 11 Advertising Slogans That Became Catch-Phrases:  “This 1971 Alka-Seltzer was one of the first created by the then-new Wells, Rich, Greene advertising agency.  The tag phrase soon took on a life of its own (how many mothers used it to convince their picky eaters to eat their broccoli?) and helped to get the commercial elected to the Clio Awards Classic Hall of Fame.”

As to the first “diary-like blog post,” the reference is Blogging for Dummies, 4th Edition, Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ (2012), at page 9:  “At its most basic level, a blog is a chronologically ordered ordered series of website updates, written and organized much like a traditional diary, right down to the informal style of writing that characterizes personal communication.”  (Emphasis added.)

As to “rock and roll,” see Rock and roll – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

As to Transcendental Meditation as a “Big Trend on Campus.”  Transcendental Meditation (sometimes shortened to “TM”) is a form of mantra meditation, in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over for 20 minutes or so at a time, to discipline the mind and not think “other thoughts.”  Mantra meditation is discussed at length in LeShan’s book.  As to the fee, in the U.S. in the 1960s, the “usual fee was one-week’s salary or $35 for a student.”  (I didn’t know about that “mere $35 fee,” but it didn’t matter; I couldn’t have afforded the $35 anyway.)  In the 1970s the fee was fixed at $125, with discounts for students and families. By 2003, the fee in the U.S. was set at $2,500, and has “since” been reduced to $1,500. See Transcendental Meditation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As to ” How to Meditate, by Lawrence LeShan.”  My copy was published by Bantam Books in 1975.

As to “essence of a mantra,” see How to Meditate using a mantra, by Professor Michael Olpin of Weber State University, Ogden, UT.  (See also Michael OlpinWeber State University.) 

And a BTW:  Thomas Merton – about which much more in future posts – was a Catholic (Trappist) monk (1915-1968) who “pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and authored books on Zen Buddhism and Taoism.” See Thomas Merton – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and also the Thomas Merton Center.  His books included (but were not limited to) Praying the Psalms, Mystics and Zen Masters, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

On the June 22 readings – Part II

King David in Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber (c. 1640). . .


“June 22 – Part I” covered Genesis 21, where Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael out in the desert to die.  Turning to Psalm 86, the International Bible Commentary (IBC) said the writer kept imploring God “to hear him in his need” in verses 1-10, but with each new plea slowly moved from “self-orientation towards a focus on God Himself.”  (Which is usually the way it works. . .)

Another commentator indicated, based on Psalm 86, that the people who wrote the Bible were indeed just like us, which could mean it’s our duty to continue the ongoing story of the Bible “even to this day,” and beyond into the future. . .     But we digress. . .

Which makes this as good a time as any to mention the importance of David, shown above in prayer when he was “old and full of years.”   Traditionally David is given credit for writing half the 150 psalms listed in the Bible, though he was far from faultless:

He is depicted as a righteous king, although not without faults, as well as an acclaimed warrior, musician, and poet, traditionally credited for composing many of the psalms contained in the Book of Psalms. . .   David is an important figure to members of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. Biblical tradition maintains the Messiah‘s direct descent from the line of David. In Islam, he is considered a prophet.

See David – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Turning again to this Sunday’s Psalm 86, verse 16 has a note of irony:  “Turn to me and have mercy upon me; give your strength to your servant; and save the child of your handmaid.”  (Which is what God did in the Genesis 21 story, save the child of Abraham-and-Sarah’s “handmaid.”)

In the run-up to Romans 6:1b-11, the IBC said Paul “personified” sin as – for example – a king or a slaveholder, “an external power alien to man’s true nature as God intended it,” an enemy that has invaded man and “occupied his ‘flesh.'”   However, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Which is another way of saying that Jesus wants us: 1) to come to Him, 2) to live a life of abundance, and 3) to perform even greater miracles than He did.  (See About this Blog.)

In Matthew 10:24-39, Jesus predicted future persecution for the twelve disciples, and said while they needed to “guard against men,” they were (and are) secure in their faith; “So have no fear of them. . .  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Jesus also warned of disunity produced by the Gospel, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Of this one commentator said:

This is taken from Micah 7:6.  Christ did not here mean to say that the object of his coming was to produce discord and contention, for he was the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 11:6; Luke 2:14; but he means to say that such would be one of the effects of his coming.

See Matthew 10:34 Commentaries: “Do not think that I came to … (emphasis added).

Micah was a Hebrew prophet of the 8th century “before Jesus,” whose book “reproaches unjust leaders, defends the rights of the poor against the rich and powerful, and preaches social justice; while looking forward to a world at peace. . .”   (We’re still working on those.)   Note also, Micah used the idea a “covenant lawsuit,” with God suing the Hebrews for breach of contract, in Chapter 6:1-8.  (Did I mention that I was a lawyer in my former life?)

In Chapter 7, verse 6, Micah noted the results of such a contractual “breach:”

The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts his brother with a net. . .   The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. . .  Put no trust in a neighbor, have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

So what’s the solution?  One answer comes in Micah 6:8 (in the Living Bible), that God “has told you what he wants, and this is all it is: to be fair, just, merciful, and to walk humbly with your God.”


– The Scribe


The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The “seek justice” image is courtesy of


As always, to see the full readings for the upcoming Sunday, see The Lectionary Page.

As to “Another commentator wrote.”  What the commentator wrote was, “We may learn from the present psalm [86] that the great saints of old were accustomed to pray very much in the same fashion as we do.” Treasury of David—Psalm 86 – The Spurgeon Archive. , emphasis added.  Which again is a reminder that those who lived in Bible times – and indeed took part in writing the Bible – may not have been that different from us, or “special.”  

As to Micah 6:8, Cliff’s Notes on the Old Testament (1965 copyright, 1988 printing) called it “a clear statement of the prophetic religion at its best.”   It further noted that Micah understood “that Yahweh desires moral qualities on the part of his worshipers [sic] rather than sacrifices and burnt offerings,” and that he – Micah – had captured “the nature of true religion and the moral qualities it is designed to promote.”    (In other words it’s always easier to follow the letter of the law, rather than trying to live that darned-hard-to-implement spirit of the law.  See 2d Corinthians 3:6.)

See also What does it mean to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly …:

One of the most popular verses among both Jews and Christians promoting social justice is Micah 6:8. . .    The message of Micah is still pertinent today.  Religious rites, no matter how extravagant, can never compensate for a lack of love (1 Corinthians 13:3).  External compliance to rules is not as valuable in God’s eyes as a humble heart that simply does what is right. God’s people today will continue to desire justice, mercy, and humility before the Lord.

Which is pretty much what The Scribe is trying to say. . .

On “Call me Ishmael” – June 22 (Part I)

 “A depiction of Hagar and Ishmael. . .”


The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) has two choices for the first reading and the psalm for June 22, 2014.  (See The Lectionary Page.)  The second reading and Gospel are “set.”

The readings to be used in The Scribe’s church include Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Page 709-10 BCP), Romans 6:1b-11, and Matthew 10:24-39.

Genesis 21:8-21 tells more about the birth of Isaac (begun in Genesis 21:1), to Abraham and Sarah, when they were “well past their prime.”  (As Wikipedia said, “Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah was past 90.”  Isaac – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

But this Sunday’s reading is more about Hagar, and Abraham’s other son Ishmael:

Hagar . . . was an Egyptian handmaid of Sarai (Sarah), who gave her to Abram (Abraham) to bear a child. Thus came the firstborn, Ishmael, the patriarch of the Ishmaelites. . .    She is revered in the Islamic faith and acknowledged in all Abrahamic faiths. In mainstream Christianity, she is considered a concubine to Abram.

See Hagar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  In other words, for the longest time Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t give him a son (to carry on the patriarchal line), so way back in Genesis 16, Sarah “gave” Abraham her slave woman, Hagar.  Sarah did this so that her husband wouldn’t be childless (or more accurately, “sonless”).

That is, in Genesis 16:2, Sarah said “go in to my maid,” and Abraham – like a good husband – said, “Okay!”  (In the language of the Bible, he “hearkened to the voice of Sarah.”  Ah, the good ol’ days.)   But when Hagar got pregnant she “looked with contempt” upon Sarah, her boss, which wasn’t very smart.  So Sarah kicked Hagar out into the wilderness, but in Genesis 16:7-16 she had a talk with God and decided to return to Abraham.

Then came the story told in this Sunday’s reading, in which Hagar and her son get kicked out again, at the “behest” of Sarah.  Sarah saw Hagar’s son Ishmael – who was apparently about 13 at the time – either playing with or mocking the infant Isaac (depending on the translation).  So Sarah – who apparently had a pretty short fuse where her competition was concerned – told Abraham to kick out Hagar and her son again.  Abraham was “distressed,” but had a talk with God, and God told him it was okay to do what his wife wanted:

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.  And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. . .   When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.

In other words, Abraham sent Hagar and his son Ishmael out into the wilderness to die,* and when she thought that they were both going to die, she threw her son under a bush then went away, “about the distance of a bowshot,” so that she wouldn’t have to watch her son die.

But then magically God heard Ishmael crying, and provided a well for them to drink from so they survived.  He then fulfilled His promise to “make a great nation” of Ishmael; later on he married a woman from Egypt, and so became the “father of the Ishmaelites.”

As to who these Ishmaelite “wild men” are or have been, answers vary.   The Jewish Virtual Library said they were a group of nomadic tribes, “Bedouin who live in the desert,” who were also “desert robbers (cf. Gen. 16:12),” who periodically overran and/or plundered permanent settlements “(Ps. 83:7; Judg. 8:24).” See Ishmaelites – Jewish Virtual Library.

Later on the Bible mentions certain Ishmaelites (or Midianites) who purchased and/or sold Joseph as a slave to Potiphar, “an Egyptian officer of Pharoah.”  See Who purchased Joseph, the Ishmaelites or the Midianites , which noted:  “The Midianites were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2).”

At this point the reader may want to type into his or her search engine, “Just how many dang children (or sons) did Abraham have, with his wife Sarah, or his wife’s Sarah’s slave(s), or his concubines?”  For one answer, see Why Did the Lord Allow Men to Have Concubines? – UK Apologetics, but at this point we are digressing greatly…

The point could be this:  Just as Jacob-turned-into-Israel could be a prototype for anyone who “struggles with the idea of God,” so this Ishmael could be a prototype for anyone among us who has been cast out from “decent society” and still managed to survive, with God’s help (as in – for example – having your ship sunk by a “monstrous big whale”).



The upper image is courtesy of Ishmael – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “A depiction of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert by François-Joseph Navez.”

The image just above is courtesy of Moby Dick (1956 film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which added:  “Ishmael is a fictional character in Herman Melville‘s Moby-Dick (1851).”  Seen as a minor character when the book was first published, later literary criticism “served to establish Ishmael as a central force in the book.   By contrast with his namesake Ishmael from Genesis, who is banished into the desert, Ishmael is wandering upon the sea.   Each Ishmael, however, experiences a miraculous rescue; one from thirst, the other as the lone surviving crewmember.”  (Emphasis added.)  “The opening line, ‘Call me Ishmael,’ is one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature.”


*   As to Abraham sending Hagar and her (and Abraham’s) son out into the wilderness to die, that practice is arguably not unlike the tale of Eskimos sending or leaving their old folk “out to die.”  See Senicide – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  For another point of view see The Straight Dope: Did Eskimos put their elderly on ice floes …, where – in response to a question whether Eskimos “still did that” – the writer responded (somewhat snippily):

Do Europeans cause rat-borne plagues by killing cats because cats are demon spawn?   Sorry for the iciness, but it bugs me when questions about strange Eskimo customs are phrased in the present tense, as if nothing could have changed since the eighteenth century.  But yes, in the past some Eskimos did kill old people when circumstances were sufficiently desperate. . .   [W]hen food did run short, the old and sick were looked upon as drains on the community’s resources. Sometimes they were killed – thrown into the sea, buried alive, locked out in the cold, or starved to death. Far more commonly they were simply abandoned to die.  The victim might be taken out in the wilderness and left there, or the whole village might pick up and move away while the old person slept.

Which may explain why Abraham wasn’t averse to Sarah’s command.  Apparently such practices were just not that unusual at that time and place.  Which leads to a logical conclusion that God didn’t particularly like that practice, but had to work with the resources available.  That is, He – and His spokesman Moses, who had to write down all this stuff – had to speak to His Chosen People using “language and concepts that his relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience could understand,” as noted in On the readings for June 15 – Part I.


Just as Jacob-turned-into-Israel could be a prototype. . .   See On arguing with God.


On the Christian repertoire

“The Dalai Lama with US President Barack Obama at the White House. . .”


According to Wikipedia, “Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the United States behind Christianity, Judaism and nonreligious.”    (A BTW:  The latter category raises a whole ‘nother set of issues and possibly a future blog-post or two.)

In 2012, the U-T San Diego  – a daily paper published in San Diego, California with a circulation of some 250,000 on weekdays and over 400,000 on Sundays – estimated the  number of Buddhists in America at some “1.2 million people, of whom 40% are living in Southern California.”

(Which explains a lot.  See for example Urban Dictionary: Land of Fruits and Nuts.)

Anyway, Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama – “commonly known as the Buddha” – who lived and taught in the “eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE” [using the pointy-headed liberal alternative to “BC,” so as not to offend].   Here’s one thing the Buddha once said that may be of interest here:

Do not believe on the strength of traditions even if they have been held in honor for many generations. . .     Believe nothing which depends only on the authority of your masters or of priests.  After investigation, believe that which you yourself have tested and found reasonable, and which is good for your good and that of others.

But the Apostle Paul said pretty much the same thing in First Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”   See also First John 4:1, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.”  And see also Philippians 2:12, where Paul added, “Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.”

That part about “fear and trembling” might strike some nonreligious as the kind of “negative vibe” that is such a turn off about religion in general, and especially Christianity.  But if you think about it, such “fear and trembling” makes sense.  Consider the stakes; after you die, will you be eternally happy or eternal maggot food?   Accordingly, what rational person wouldn’t work toward a possible afterlife with a certain amount of due diligence?

Getting back to the Christian repertoire, consider what Chief Crowfoot once said, “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is as the little shadow that runs across the prairie and loses itself in the sunset.”  But again, in the Bible, “James the Just” said pretty much the same thing: “For what is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away.”  James 4:14, in the King James Version (the one God uses.)

The point of all this is pretty simple: there’s nothing in the vast panoply of religious and/or spiritual choices in America and beyond that isn’t already in the the Christian repertoire.

And speaking of Baby-boomers – those of us who came of age in the 1970s when we first started hearing about a host of exotic Eastern alternatives – consider one of the best-selling “me” books in the “me generation,” How to be Your Own Best Friend.

Considered groundbreaking at the time, there’s also nothing in it that isn’t in the “Christian repertoire.”   For example, page 22 of The Scribe’s copy said that in trying to find happiness, most people look in the wrong place; “The source is not outside us; it is within.”  And later, “We must realize that the kingdom is in us; we already have the key.”  But that too was already in the Bible, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

Moving right along, one of the primary objectives of yoga, Zen, and those other Eastern disciplines seems first to “kill the ego.”   See for example the book How to Meditate, noted previously in Spiritual boot camp.   See too How to Meditate at page 55:  “I will teach you the best way to say Torah.  You must be nothing but an ear which hears what the universe of the word is saying in you.  The moment you hear what you yourself are saying, you must stop.”

So maybe reading and studying the Bible “in the proper manner” means pretty much the same thing; losing of your “self” in study.  In turn, the goal there is to become “one” with the Original Source, the Universal Mind, or what we Westerners call “God.”   That seems to be what Jesus was referring to as He prayed in John 17:20-23, in the Upper Room on the evening before He was crucified, asking God’s help for those who would believe in Him:

“I ask . . . on behalf of those who will believe in me . . . that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are oneI in them and you in me, that they may become completely one. . .”

And finally, that also seems to be just what one “Common Prayer” meant when it said that Christians – through the sacrament of sharing Holy Communion – are in the process of becoming “very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son.”


So who says Christianity can’t be “mystical?”


The Appearance of the Holy Spirit before Saint Teresa. . .”



Buddhism in the United States – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Buddhism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Epistle of James – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Due diligence – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The full cite for How to be Your Own Best Friend, by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz, “with Jean Owen,” Ballantine Books (1971).

Me generation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

As to the “kill the ego” and “becoming ‘one’” quotes, see Richard Hittleman’s Guide to Yoga Meditation, Bantam Books (1969), at pages 38 et seq.

Re: “becoming one.”  See especially John 17:21, John 17:22, John 17:23, and John 17:26.

As to “members incorporate in the mystical body…”  See the Book of Common Prayer, at page 339.

The St. Teresa image is courtesy of the article, Mysticism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption reads:  “The Appearance of the Holy Spirit before Saint Teresa of Ávila, Peter Paul Rubens.”  As noted in some previous posts, the terms “mystic” or “mysticism” seem to throw Southern Baptists and other conservative Christians into apoplexy.  (“Try it sometime!!!”)  But seriously, the term mysticism originally “referred to the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative dimensions in early and medieval Christianity.”  (Talk about “original intent. . .”)   Further, an internet search will lead to the definition of “mystic” as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute. . .”

See also Teresa of Ávila – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted in pertinent part, “Teresa’s writings, produced for didactic purposes, stand among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church.”  And that’s not to mention Thomas Merton – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the “American Catholic writer and mystic” who “authored books on Zen Buddhism and Taoism” such as Zen and the Birds of Appetite.