Monthly Archives: June 2015

On Peter, Paul – and other “relics”

“Saints Peter and Paul,” by El Greco


June 29 is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.  It honors “the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul” (seen above).  It’s an ancient celebration, and the date is “the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics.”

There’s more on translating relics below, but first:  On January 18 we celebrate the Confession of Peter: “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.”  A week later on January 25 we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.  Then comes June 29, when we celebrate both men:

On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles.  The date is the anniversary of a day around 258, under the Valerian Persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.

See St. Peter & St. Paul.  (A link from the Daily Office Lectionary,

So on June 29 we commemorate the fact that both men were martyred at about the same time, in Rome, and that the bodily remains of both men were “removed” at about the same time, to keep those bodily remains – “relics” – from being desecrated by unbelievers.

The Peter & Paul article noted that the Bible doesn’t mention the deaths of Peter or Paul, “or indeed any of the Apostles except for James the son of Zebedee.”  (See Acts 12:2.)  But early tradition said they were martyred at Rome at the command of an Emperor, and buried there:

As a Roman citizen, Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword.  It is said of Peter that he was crucified head downward [as shown below left.  And thus as St. Augustine wrote,]  “even though they suffered on different days, they were as one.  Peter went first, and Paul followed.  And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood…”

The Crucifixion of St. Peter, by CaravaggioWhich brings us back to the “translation of relics.”  (Here, “the remains of the two apostles … moved temporarily.”)  The term relics came to include the body parts of people considered especially holy.  The translation of those relics – again – meant moving those body parts from where they were originally buried.  (To a new place, and usually for a “holy purpose.”)  See also Why do we venerate relics: “Relics include the physical remains of a saint (or of a person who is considered holy but not yet officially canonized) as well as other objects which have been ‘sanctified’ by being touched,” by the saint in question.

Thus translating relics is the practice of moving “holy objects from one locality to another (usually a higher status location)…   Translations could be accompanied by many acts, including all-night vigils and processions.”  As Wikipedia also noted, in the really-early church the body parts of saints like Peter and Paul remained undisturbed, where they were originally buried.

Then came the persecutions under Roman emperors…

But it wasn’t until the 8th century – the 700s – that such relics really began to be spread “all over Europe.”  (The image at right shows “St. Corbinian’s relics being moved to Freising from Merano.”)  One big reason was that after the year 787, all new Christian churches “had to possess a relic before they could be properly consecrated.”  See Wikipedia:

New churches, situated in areas newly converted to Christianity, needed relics and this encouraged the translation of relics to far-off places.  Relics became collectible items, and owning them became a symbol of prestige…

So as the Christian Church spread as an institution, more and more such “relics” had to be found.  (Or more precisely, “unearthed.”)  Unfortunately the need for such relics led to abuse.

The situation got so bad that Protestant church leaders came to totally reject this and other “Romish” practices.  That skepticism vis-a-vis such relics continues “even to this day:”

Pope Gregory I [shown below] forbade the selling of relics and the disruption of tombs in the catacombs.  Unfortunately, the popes or other religious authorities were powerless in trying to control the translation of relics or prevent forgeries [and] the abuses and the negative reaction surrounding relics has led many people to this day to be skeptical about relics.

Gregory I - Antiphonary of Hartker of Sankt Gallen.jpg

(See Why venerate relics?)    But we digress!   

We were talking about June 29 as “the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.”  That article includes a link to and discussion of the Incident at Antioch, involving these two Founding Fathers of the Church.  That dispute also continues “even to this day.”

The dispute ostensibly involved circumcision, as a prerequisite for admission to the new Christian church.  But more precisely, the dispute involved whether all new non-Jewish converts – “Gentile Christians” – had to follow all the laws, rules and regulations of the Jewish faith in order to be a real Christian. (Or put another way, “legalism” versus “grace.”)  And as was noted in the article, Incident at Antioch:

[T]he issue of Biblical law in Christianity remains disputed to this day.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states:  “St. Paul’s account of the incident leaves no doubt that St. Peter saw the justice of the rebuke…”   In contrast, L. Michael White‘s From Jesus to Christianity states:  “The blowup with Peter was a total failure of political bravado, and Paul soon left Antioch as persona non grata, never again to return.”

Wikipedia added,  “The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain resulting in several Christian views of the Old Covenant to this day.”

Put simply:  There’s an ongoing debate on how much of the Old Testament Christians have to follow.  Some think only parts of the Old Testament apply to them.  Others believe that none of the Old Testament rules apply to them.  Then there are “dual-covenant theologians,” who think Old Testament rules are binding only on Jewish people.  And then there are those who believe “all are still applicable to believers in Jesus and the New Covenant.”

Be that as it may, the other dispute at issue here is whether Peter and Paul remained at odds with each other.  Tradition has it that “Peter and Paul taught together in Rome and founded Christianity in that city…  ‘They taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.'”  Or as another blogger said, the Incident at Antioch was a case of Peter and Paul resolv[ing] a problem, although some critics act “as if Peter were cowardly before the onslaught of Judaisers and Paul was arrogant in tackling a senior Apostle!”

Then there’s the view of Garry Wills, who referred to the incident as “the Blowup at Antioch.”

Wills noted first that Paul wrote his version of events some 30 years before Luke described the Council at Jerusalem, in Acts 15.  (And thus was presumably more reliable than Luke’s version).  He then noted that Paul’s account of the Jerusalem Council – in Galatians 2 – “could not be more different.  There, Paul is neither summoned by Jerusalem nor sent by Antioch.  He goes there as a result of a vision urging him to go.” (81-82)

Then came Galatians 2 , verses 11-15, where “Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch:”

When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;  for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.  And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy…

As noted below, Paul basically got mad at Peter for being two-faced about the Lord’s Supper.  To Paul, the effect was to “dismember the mystical body of Christ.”

And there’s another aspect of the dispute:  Whether you are “saved” by following a set of rules and regulations, or by faith in Jesus alone.  See The Controversy Over Faith And Works Continues.  While some Christians indicate that you are “saved” by following a set of rules, Paul clearly came down on the side of faith.  See Galatians 2:16:  “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”

But getting back to Garry Wills (seen at right)…  Wills wrote that Paul was furious with Peter because “the Lord’s Meal was the symbol of unity for all the Brothers, Jew or Gentile.”  He added that many later Church Fathers were shocked at the idea that Peter and Paul would “squabble” like that, “unable to accept the fact that great men could differ.”

But for Paul the debate was serious:  Peter’s “backpedaling on Jewish observance” was a denial that the “risen Christ in Antioch in all those baptized into His mystical body.” (Emphasis added.)  To Paul, it was the equivalent of “dismembering the body of Christ.”

Wills went on to say that Paul wrote at great length on the matter in his Letter to the Galatians.  He did so because the members of that later church were “acting as if the matter of food laws were not settled.”  (Emphasis in original.)  More to the point here, Wills said “Paul’s last reported dealings with Peter” were not at Antioch, but rather with a “handshake of peace:”

Peter continued to be an emissary in the Diaspora and ended with Paul in Rome, where they died together as victims of Nero’s mad reaction to the fire that destroyed the city.  The treatment of them as ultimately partners … would thus be justified.  The two great leaders ended up on the same side. (E.A.)

The point being this:  Some Christians seem to think they have to be all “nicey-nicey,” all the &%#$ time, with each other and with non-Christians.  But the Feast of Peter and Paul goes to show it’s okay to have differences of opinion, or even “squabble” from time to time.

(For that matter, it’s okay to argue with God too…)

“Scholars Disputing (Peter and Paul)” – but they still worked together… 


The upper image is courtesy of Saints Peter and Paul by GRECO, El – Web Gallery of Art:

The two saints[,] the most influential leaders of the early Church[, are shown here] engaged in an animated discussion.  The older, white-haired Peter … inclines his head thoughtfully to one side as he looks towards the text being expounded.  In his left hand he holds his attribute, the key to the kingdom of Heaven.  His right hand is cupped as if weighing up an idea.  Paul presses his left hand down firmly on the open volume on the table, his right hand raised in a gesture of explanation as he looks directly at the viewer.

The article noted El Greco painted the two together several times “with remarkable consistency.”  Peter always has white hair and a beard, while “Paul is always shown slightly balding, with dark hair and beard, wearing a red mantle…”  See also Feast of Peter and Paul – Wikipedia, with caption:  “Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Oil on canvas by El Greco. circa 16th-century. Hermitage Museum, Russia.”

Re: the definition of “saint.”  As one website said, “the ‘saints’ are the body of Christ, Christians, the church.  All Christians are considered saints.  All Christian are saints – and at the same time are called to be saints.”  (Citing 1st Corinthians 1:2.)  See What are Christian saints according to the Bible?

The “Corbinian” image is courtesy of Translation (relic) – Wikipedia, with caption:  “St. Corbinian’s relics being moved to Freising from Merano.  From a panel in the crypt of Freising Cathedral.”

The article Why do we venerate relics added that they are “divided into two classes.  First class or real relics include the physical body parts, clothing and instruments connected with a martyr’s imprisonment, torture and execution.  Second class or representative relics are those which the faithful have touched to the physical body parts or grave of the saint.”

Re: relics becoming “collectibles.”  See Wikipedia, which added:  “According to one legend concerning Saint Paternian, the inhabitants of Fano [a city in northeastern Italy] competed with those of Cervia for possession of his relics.  Cervia [some 60 miles up the coast] would be left with a finger, while Fano would possess the rest of the saint’s relics [aka body parts].

The Pope Gregory image is courtesy of Pope Gregory I – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaNote that he was the pope who originated Gregorian chant, “the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song of the western Roman Catholic Church.  Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries…”

As to the skepticism surrounding the value of such relics (“then and now”), see Wikipedia:

With various barbarian invasions, the conquests of the Crusades, the lack of means for verifying all relics and less than reputable individuals who in their greed preyed on the ignorant and the superstitious, abuses did occur.  St. Augustine denounced impostors who dressed as monks selling spurious relics of saints…   [T]he abuses and the negative reaction surrounding relics has led many people to this day to be skeptical about relics.

Re:  the emporer at the time of the death of Peter and Paul.  There is some debate whether it was Nero or Valerian (emperor) See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The full quote from Galatians 2 , verses 11-15, where “Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch:”

When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;  for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.  And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy … so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

The Garry Wills quotes are from his book, What Paul MeantSpecifically, from the 2007 Penguin Books edition, at pages 79-88, in Chapter 4, “Paul and Peter.”

Re: Faith and works.  See also Sola fide – WikipediaOr just Google “faith works controversy.”

Re: early church fathers “shocked at the idea that Peter and Paul would ‘squabble.'”  Wills noted that according to St. Jerome , the whole incident at Antioch was a “kind of didactic charade,” a way of “dramatizing the truth that external rites are unimportant.”

The Garry Wills image is courtesy of Garry Wills – Department of History – Northwestern University.

The lower image is courtesy of  See also Two Scholars Disputing by REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn.

On the Nativity of John the Baptist – 2015

Bucking tradition, the prophet Zechariah writes, “My son’s name is John…”

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June 24 is the Feast Day for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

One valuable lesson from his Bible readings is that sometimes you have to bite the bullet

The feast day celebrates the birth of John the Baptist, “a prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus, whom he later baptised.” The Bible readings are Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85, Acts 13:14b-26, and Luke 1:57-80. Luke tells how Elizabeth – cousin of Mary (mother of Jesus) – came to be a mother, and how her husband got  struck dumb.

The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced…  [T]hey were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.”  They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.”  Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.  He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John…”

The story of Zechariah getting struck dumb started at Luke 1, verses 5-7.  He was a member of the “priestly order of Abijah,” and he and Elizabeth were righteous before God but also old and childless.   Then God sent an angel to tell Zechariah he was about to become a father.  He got struck dumb because he doubted the angel.  (That’s where biting the bullet came in.  Zechariah should have accepted on faith what was, to him, counterintuitive.) is, nine months earlier – as Zechariah was doing his priestly duties in the inner sanctuary – the angel Gabriel (at left) appeared and told him Elizabeth would bear a son.  But he doubted:  “How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.  And that was why he was struck dumb.  As Gabriel told him, “Since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” Luke 1:20.

That came right after Zechariah wrote out, “His name is John.”  See Luke 1:64, saying that right after Zechariah wrote his son’s name, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.”  Then – right after that – came the Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), “the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist” (and – no doubt – his being able to speak again):

The second part … is an address by Zechariah to [his son John], who was to take so important a part in the scheme of the Redemption; for he was to be a prophet, and to preach the remission of sins before the coming or the Dawn from on high.  The prophecy that he was to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways…”  [See Luke 1:76,] an allusion to the well-known words of Isaiah 40:3 which John himself afterwards applied to his own mission (John 1:23), and which all three Synoptic Gospels adopt (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4).

The reading ends with Luke 1:80; the child John “grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Note that Isaiah 40:3 is included in the Old Testament reading for the day, Isaiah 40:1-11.  Isaiah 40:3 says (in one translation):  “A voice cries out in the desert:  ‘Clear a way for the LORD.  Make a straight highway in the wilderness for our God.'”  Thus John the Baptist became that voice crying in the wilderness, as noted in Matthew 3:3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’

Which is another way of saying that  John the Baptist served as a precursor, forerunner or advance man for Jesus. (As in, “News Flash:  Jesus is on the way!“) Or as it says in the Collect: “your servant John the Baptist … sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior.”

The Collect adds that we too should follow John’s example, and so to “constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake.”  (See Nativity of St. John.)

For more on how John “grew and became strong in spirit,” see John the Baptist – Wikipedia:

John’s knowledge of Jesus varies…  In the Gospel of Mark, John preaches of a coming leader, but shows no signs of recognizing that Jesus is this leader.  In Matthew, however, John immediately recognizes Jesus and John questions his own worthiness to baptize Jesus.  In both Matthew and Luke, John later dispatches disciples to question Jesus about his status, asking “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  In Luke, John is a familial relative of Jesus whose birth was foretold by Gabriel.  In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist himself sees the spirit descend like a dove and he explicitly preaches that Jesus is the Son of God.

See also Who Was John the Baptist? : Christian Courier, which noted that his name derived from “a Hebrew term signifying ‘Jehovah is gracious.'”  The article also noted that “John, therefore, was a key figure in the preparation of the Messiah’s work.”

Unfortunately, that “advance work for Jesus” included a gruesome death by beheading, as told in Mark 6:14–29:  “the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.  He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to [Salome]…   When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

So this June 24th we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, who in his lifetime performed an invaluable service as forerunner and advance man for Jesus.  His life and especially his gruesome death serves as a reminder that, as one “Christian mystic” said: 

It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.”

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“Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist…”

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The upper image is courtesy of the link – Benedictus (Song of Zechariah) – in the Wikipedia article, Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  The caption:  “Detail of Zechariah writing down the name of his son (Domenico Ghirlandaio, 15th century, Tornabuoni Chapel, Italy).”

The “Gabriel” image is courtesy of  “The Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the son of God (Luke 1: 26-8).  His words, ‘Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord be with you,’ appear in abbreviated form in Latin on the scroll.”   Thus Gabriel appeared to both Elizabeth and Mary.

The “Salome” image is courtesy of  “The subject is from the New Testament [Mark 6, verses 14-29].  Salome had danced so well for King Herod that he swore he would grant her any request.  Her mother, Herodias, who sought revenge on John the Baptist, persuaded Salome to ask for his head.  The old woman behind Salome may be Herodias.”

The “vigor-comfort” quote is from Practical Mysticism, with advice for the “new Christian:”

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 vigor rather than comfort that you are called.  (E.A.)

Evelyn Underhill, Ariel Press (1914), at page 177.  See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

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On St. Barnabus’ Day, 2015




Barnabas curing the sick by Paolo Veronese, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.

Thursday June 11, 2015, is the Feast Day for Saint Barnabas.

For a more-complete rundown, see last year’s post, On St. Barnabas.

But first, there’s a reader comment to address.  It had to do with The DORs for June 6, 2015.  As edited for content, the comment was:  “A really good post … BUT … Why 2 separate & unrelated subjects??   Giving joyfully & D-day … but good content.”

Here’s the answer:  The trick I tried to pull off was blending two disparate subjects.  Such dichotomies are common in both Western thought and Western literature especially.  See How can we define and explain “dichotomy” in literature:  “dichotomy is a useful literary device which creates drama, causes conflict and adds depth to characters and situations.”  See also Dichotomy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Perceived Dichotomies are common in Western thought.  C. P. Snow believes that Western society has become an argument culture (The Two Cultures).  In The Argument Culture (1998), Deborah Tannen suggests that the dialogue of Western culture is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side has truth (like a trophy).  Such a dialogue virtually ignores the middle alternatives.  (Emphasis added.)

In the case of June 6, 2015, the theme was supposed to be:  “We kicked Nazi butt in World War II because of American ingenuity.  Because we’re inherently creative and because we constantly ‘ask questions.'”  This was as opposed to certain Bible-thumpers of today who – in the realm of Bible reading – are “trying to create a culture that rewards conformism and stifles creativity.”  That was the dichotomy:  Applying a principle from World War II to Bible Study.

Again, the point was supposed to be that the question-asking, probing method of Bible study is far better for both the individual reader and for American society as a whole.  It’s far better than just saying, “Oh, I’ll take everything that slick-haired televangelist says at face value!

Of course I confess – I do not deny, but confess –  that I may have been a bit too subtle.

So anyway, back to Barnabus.  According to, Barnabus came “as close as anyone outside the Twelve to being a full-fledged apostle.  He was closely associated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between the former persecutor and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.” 

See also Barnabas – Wikipedia, and ST. BARNABAS, APOSTLE : Catholic News Agency:

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

Note that 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 and his willingness to give Paul a second chance – a second chance for 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.”

See also On St. Barnabas, from last year.  That post noted that not only did Barnabus give Paul a second chance, he did the same thing with Mark.  Mark in turn “responded well to the trust given him by the ‘son of encouragement,’ since we find that Paul later speaks of him as a valuable assistant (2 Tim 4:11; see also Col 4:10 and Phil 24).”


“So we might just call Barnabas ‘the Apostle of Second Chances.’”


 If it wasn’t for Barnabus, Paul’s Damascus Road experience might have gone for naught


The upper image was borrowed from last year’s post, On St. Barnabas.  In turn it’s courtesy of Barnabas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Conversion of Saint Paul, a 1600 painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio.”  See also What happened on the road to Damascus?  That site noted:  “The events that happened on the road to Damascus relate not only to the apostle Paul, whose dramatic conversion occurred there, but they also provide a clear picture of the conversion of all people.”  (E.A.)

Re: Televangelists.  See also Why are there so many televangelist scandals? – GotQuestions, Televangelists – Huffington Post (a list of articles on the subject), and Televangelist – RationalWiki.

Re: “argument culture.”  The full title of Deborah Tannen‘s book is The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words.  Tannen wrote an earlier book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990).  According to Amazon, in that earlier book “Tannen showed why talking to someone of the opposite sex can be like talking to someone from another world.”

On the DORs for June 6, 2015

Description of  Planes from the 344th Bomb Group, which led the IX Bomber Command formations on D-Day on June 6, 2014. Operations started in March 1944 with attacks on targets in German-occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After the beginning of the Normandy invasion, the Group was active at Cotentin Peninsula, Caen, Saint-Lo and the Falaise Gap.  (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

“Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”
                                                                           – Winston Churchill to his wife, on the night before D-Day

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Saturday, June 6, 2015 is a red letter day, and not just because it’s been 71 years since the best-known D-Day.  (Though that’s certainly enough…)   It also has special significance based on the timely and instructive Daily Office Readings for today.

Those readings include Psalm 55, 138, and 139:1-17(18-23).  The Old Testament reading is Deuteronomy 29:2-15, the New Testament reading is 2d Corinthians 9:1-15, and the Gospel is Luke 18:15-30.   We’ll look at the three psalms for today further below.

Deuteronomy 29:2-15 is part of “concluding discourse” of Moses, on renewing the covenant between God and the Hebrews.  See Deuteronomy – Wikipedia, which said the book has “three sermons or speeches delivered to the Israelites by Moses on the plains of Moab, shortly before they enter the Promised Land.”  (It included the image at left, “Moses viewing the Promised Land.”)    Deuteronomy 29 is also known for commemorating the ancient Hebrews’ years of wandering in the wilderness:

I have led you for forty years in the wilderness.  The clothes on your back have not worn out, and the sandals on your feet have not worn out; you have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink…

In other words you could say these Children of Israel went through a kind of “boot camp” or recruit training.  (Designed to toughen them up and make them worthy of the high honor bestowed on them.  See also Spiritual boot camp, from April 2014.)

That in turn could remind us to expect some of the same “toughening up” in our lives.

The New Testament reading – 2d Corinthians 9:1-15 – was part of Paul’s “instructions for the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church.”  (See Second Epistle to the Corinthians.)  Or as the IBC put it, “Paul was organizing a collection from his Gentile churches for the poor in Jerusalem.”  As part of the discussion, Paul set out “the principles of Christian giving.” (1403)   Specifically, 2d Corinthians 9 included this, from verses 6 and 7:

The point is this:  the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Which is just common sense.  If you are “miserly” in sowing your seed, the resulting “crop” that you get will be nothing to write home about.

But the point in turn is this:  Every Sunday at my church, the priest includes 2d Corinthians 9:6-7 in what he calls the “interactive portion” of the service.  (At “half-time,” after the exchange of the peace and announcements, and before the Liturgy of the Table.  See also The Holy Eucharist:  Rite Two, at the end of page 360.)   At the end of the verse 7 part the Good Father says “for God loves…”  At that point the congregation responds en masse, “…a cheerful giver!”

The Gospel – Luke 18:15-30 – began with people bringing children for Jesus to bless.  The disciples tried to stop it, but:

 Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

The point of this Gospel passage is that children never stop asking questions!  In fact, they can be quite a pain about it.  See for example Children’s questions: a mechanism for cognitive development, and also Why do kids ask so many questions—and why do they stop?

As to why our kids stop asking questions, the second post above said this:

In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question…   Which may explain why kids – who start off asking endless “why” and “what if” questions – gradually ask fewer and fewer of them…   Preschool kids ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day.  By middle school, they’ve basically stopped [and at] this time … student motivation and engagement plummets.

Thus the question:  Do kids stop asking questions because they’ve lost interest?  Or “because the rote answers-driven school system doesn’t allow them to ask enough questions?” I think it’s the “rote answer.”

More than that, I think the same thing applies to the Bible-approach that emphasizes literalism or fundamentalism.  It seems to me that such an approach can comfort some people, like those “creatively challenged.”  But more often it just stifles the very creativity that is such a big part of interacting with God.  (See – the source of the image at left – and also Holy Spirit as God’s Creative Power.)

All of which brings us back to why we were able to win World War II.  In large part it was based on the creativity – the individual initiative – shown by American fighters:

During World War II, German generals often complained that U.S. forces were unpredictable…  After the Normandy invasion in 1944, American troops found that their movements were constrained by the thick hedgerows…   In response, “Army soldiers invented a mechanism on the fly that they welded onto the front of a tank to cut through hedgerows…”   American troops are famous for this kind of individual initiative.  It’s a point of pride among officers that the American way of war emphasizes independent judgment in the fog and friction of battle, rather than obedience and rules.  (E.A.)

See Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving, which noted that – sadly – the current military establishment is “creating a command structure that rewards conformism and ignores merit.  As a result, it’s losing its vaunted ability to cultivate entrepreneurs in uniform.”

Which means it’s not just “Bible-thumpers” who are now trying to create a culture that rewards conformism and stifles creativity.  It’s happening in other walks of American life as well.

But  finally, this is a day to remember when “independent judgment” – not rigid obedience to a pre-formed set of “rules” – was the order of the day, and not the exception.

Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit.jpgIn other words, this June 6th calls for us to remember the sacrifices of those brave members of the armed services 71 years ago, as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

For one such remembrance, see On D-Day and confession.  That post talked about World War II, when up to and beyond D-Day, “our fathers, uncles and other relatives flew in bombers” from England, “with targets in Germany and other European countries.”  It talked about the importance of debriefing after those missions; basically a process of asking really aggravating questions.  (Not unlike the way children do, as noted above.)   The post then noted:

Maybe that’s what the … concepts of sin and confession are all about.  (Or should be 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…

In turn it said the concepts of sin, repentance and confession should be viewed as “tools to help us get closer to the target.”  In other words, they help us grow and develop, and are not to be used as a means of social control, as it sometimes seems.

Note also that the “Biblical Greek term for sin [amartia], means ‘missing the mark,'” and implies that “one’s aim is out and that one has not reached the goal, one’s fullest potential.”

So in the end, hitting the mark is what it’s all about.  And that’s true whether you’re reading the Bible, trying to liberate a people from tyranny, or just trying to “be all that you can be.”  In turn, to “be all you can be” you need to explore “the mystical side of Bible reading.”

And that is just another way of saying that by reading the Bible with an open mind, you’ll be on your way to the creative judgment that overcomes “the fog and friction” of everyday life.

*   *   *   *

The upper image – borrowed from On D-Day and confession – is courtesy of the Denver Post “Plog,” D-Day in Color, Photographs from the Normandy Invasion.   The caption reads:  “Planes from the 344th Bomb Group, which led the IX Bomber Command formations on D-Day on June 6, 2014. Operations started in March 1944 with attacks on targets in German-occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After the beginning of the Normandy invasion, the Group was active at Cotentin Peninsula, Caen, Saint-Lo and the Falaise Gap. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images) #.”

The Churchill quote is courtesy of The Bombing Offensive |

The “D-Day” image is courtesy of Normandy landings – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “US Army troops wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944.”

Other notes from the original post:

The painting of Jesus blessing the children is courtesy of Christ Blessing the Children by MAES, Nicolaes, which noted it was “loosely based on Rembrandt’s famous Hundred Guilder Print.”

Re: “nothing to write home about.”  I was originally going to say “If you are niggardly in your ‘sowing…'”  But there is some controversy about that word – see controversies about the word “niggardly” – which might lead some to say there’s no such thing as too much education.  But that in turn would have required a citation to “Another brick in the wall,” and for me to eventually write, “We digress greatly!”   As the saying goes, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

Re: “sin.”  See Eastern Orthodox view of sin – Wikipedia.

Re: “D-Day.”  As I worked on this post, Mi Dulce emailed one of those aggravating questions.  (You know, the kind kids ask, as noted above?)   The question: “What does the ‘D’ in ‘D-Day’ stand for?”

As it turns out, this is a “most frequently asked question” and one on which “disagreements abound.”  See What does the “D” in D-Day mean – The National WWII Museum.  The article noted that in the simplest sense, “the D in D-Day merely stands for Day.”  In a second sense it is “simply an alliteration, as in H-Hour.”   Other explanations: The D means disembarkation, or debarkation, while “the more poetic insist D-Day is short for ‘day of decision.’”  In 1964 someone asked General Eisenhower – who by then was a retired President of the United States – and his assistant wrote back:  “Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.” 

The most logical answer came from What Does the “D” in “D-Day” Stand For? – Today I Found Out:

[T]he “D” is just a placeholder or variable for the actual date, and probably originally was meant to stand for “date” or “day” (if anything), if the associated “H-hour” is any indication. The use of D-day allows military personnel to easily plan for a combat mission ahead of time without knowing the exact date that it will occur.  (E.A.)

In other words, “D-Day” was short for “the day when we invade this particular place or beach, but at a date and time we don’t know for sure yet.”  The latter site noted the term was first used in September 1918 – 26 years before the best-known “D-Day” – in an Army Field Order:  “The order stated that ‘The First Army will attack at H hour on D day with the object of forcing the evacuation of the St. Mihiel Salient.'”  And finally, the National WWII site also noted that the “invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 was not the only D-Day of World War II.  Every amphibious assault – including those in the Pacific, in North Africa, and in Sicily and Italy – had its own D-Day.”

Re: the rest of the June 6 Gospel-reading, Luke 18:15-30.  It recites the lesson of the eye of a needle, to wit:  that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  (The image at left is courtesy of

And finally, a note about the psalms for this June 6th.  Psalm 55:24 reads – in the Book of Common Prayer –  “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you.”  And Psalm 138:9 reads – in the BCP – “The Lord will make good his purpose for me.”  That in turn is also pretty much what this blog is all about:  Helping us both figure out what precise purpose God has for us.

(Note that psalm-passages in the Prayer Book are occasionally different from those given in other translations.  See Psalm 55:22, “Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you.  He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”  And see also Psalm 138:8.)

On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel”

An earlier version of the “Hell’s Angels” – and a possible prototype…



Remember the parable of the “Blind men and the elephant?”  The moral of the story was that each man ended up with a pretty good idea of what part of the elephant was like.  But then each man went on to “err greatly,” as Jesus might say.

Each man mistakenly assumed his was the only accurate picture of the whole elephant.

(As Wikipedia said, “the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.”)

On that note see Reading the Bible, which included a discussion of the same parable.  One conclusion:  If those six blind men had only gotten together and compared notes, they would have had a much better idea of what the elephant was really like…

Also on that note:

In the week leading up to May 9, I was finishing “Job the not patient” – REDUX.  (About the Book of Job and how hard it is to understand.)  The post explored things like “why bad things happen to good people.”  One conclusion borrowed from Professor Timothy Shutt was that in the final analysis, 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.

The strange thing is that Shutt’s analysis recalled a passage from a book I’d read years before.  That book was Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

Hells Angels logo.jpgIt took me awhile to find my copy and run down the passage.  You can find it on page 182 of the Ballantine Trade Edition, published in 1996.  It’s in Chapter 16, as part of Thompson’s account of the “Hoodlum Circus and The Statutory Rape of Bass Lake.”   (An FYI:  That section-title was an example of pure journalistic hyperbole.)

The passage in question concerns an Angel, “Magoo,” a 26-year-old teamster from Oakland:

One night in Oakland, Magoo and I got into a long conversation about guns.  I expected the usual [talk about] “shoot-outs” and “cooling guys with a rod,” but Magoo talked more like a candidate for the Olympic pistol team.  When I casually mentioned man-sized targets, he snapped, “Don’t tell me about shooting at people.  I’m talking about match sticks.”  And he was.  He shoots a Ruger .22 revolver, an expensive, long-barreled, precision-made gun that no hood would ever consider.  And on days when he isn’t working, he goes out to the dump and tries to shoot the heads off match sticks.  “It’s hard as hell,” he said.  “But now and then I’ll do it just right, and light one.”  (E.A.)

But now for the really strange thing.  The really strange thing is that way too many people think that getting good stuff from God – the Force that Created the Universe – is somehow easier than trying to shoot the head off a match stick…

All of which is another way of saying that in his pursuit, Magoo didn’t have ulterior motives.

He wasn’t trying to weasel something good out of someone.  And he wasn’t trying to keep something bad from happening.  He was just trying something extremely difficult  – if not impossible – on the off chance that every once in a long while he’d “do it just right…”

That in turn reminded me of what a female Muslim mystic once said:

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of hell, burn me in hell;  if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise;  but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold not Thine everlasting beauty.

(See Three suitors (a parable), with the image at right.)  In other words, in trying to shoot the head off a match stick – and on rare occasions even lighting one – Magoo wasn’t going for a prize.  (A bribe, if you will.)

He was doing it “for it’s own sake,”  He was doing it for the sheer joy.  And he wasn’t expecting anything in return.

My point is that maybe we practicing Christians would be better off trying to approach God in the same way.  (That is, with a little more respect and a lot less greed.)

Maybe we should not expect God to cater to our every whim.  Maybe we shouldn’t get so angry when things don’t turn out exactly the way we want.  Maybe we should take a pure simple joy in the off chance that the Force That Created the Universe even knows we exist.

All of which brings us back to “why bad things happen to good people.”

The plain and simple fact is that sometimes – if not many times – bad things do happen to good people.  Which brings up the fact that many Christians seem to think that when they lead a good life, bad things shouldn’t happen to them.  “God owes me!”  They seem to think the very fact that they are practicing Christians means nothing bad should ever happen to them.

But real life just isn’t like that.  And that brings us back to Professor Shutt.

I was listening to Lecture 11 – on Virgil – in Shutt’s course-on-CD: Hebrews, Greeks and Romans:  Foundations of Western Civilization.  He said it was hard to know what “religion” Virgil followed, but the Roman was “clearly a man of deep religious sensibility, an anima naturaliter Christiania or ‘naturally Christian soul’ as the thinkers of the Middle Ages would have it.”

Virgil’s fundamental view of the world was of a “divine order at work in the world, with real but limited control of things.”

Shutt said this was a “peculiar way of looking at things,” in that most people – today and throughout history – see religious matters in terms of black or white:  “our attitude toward the possibility of divine control of things tends to be all or nothing.”

That is, most people say 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.”)  But Shutt said Virgil crystallized his spiritual “sense of things” in the Aeneid‘s 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.  That is the way that things often appear to be working – some of what happens seems to make sense[,] and some of what happens seems to make pretty much no sense…  There is, in other words, an 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…

All of which brings up another, possibly healthier way of approaching God.

LukeObiWanDagobahFor one thing, you might want to realize that you are trying to deal with The Force that Created the Universe.  You might also want to realize that “He” (anthropomorphism) doesn’t owe you a thing.  Or as Jesus Himself put it in the Daily Office Gospel reading for Monday, June 1:

 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?  Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?   Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

That’s Luke 17, verses 1-10, which serves as a reminder that Magoo-from-Frisco, Rabia Basri and the Roman poet Virgil all have some good thoughts on issue under consideration.

From Magoo we can learn that maybe we shouldn’t expect God to cater to our every whim, like some glorified butler.  Maybe we should start saying, “It’s hard as hell, but now and then I’ll do it just right…”  From Rabia Basri we can maybe learn to start worshiping not to get anything, but rather “asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.”

And finally, from Professor Shutt we might possibly realize that God is not “black or white, all or nothing.”  We can realize that while there does seem to be an “overarching order at work in the world,” much of it remains out of human reach, far beyond our mere-human understanding.

And maybe – just maybe – we can realize that “cats just aren’t wired to study calculus.”


File:Virgil Reading the Aeneid.jpg

The poet Virgil, reading the Aeneid to a “royal” audience…


The upper image and Hell’s Angel Motorcycle Club insignia are courtesy of Hells Angels – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption for the top image:  “This B-17F, tail number 41-24577, was named Hell’s Angels after the 1930 Howard Hughes movie about World War I fighter pilots.”

Re: Professor Shutt.  See also “Job REDUX,” which noted that in his lecture on the Hebrew Bible, “Shutt gave the best analysis of the Book of Job I’ve ever heard.'”

The lower image is courtesy of File: Virgil Reading the Aeneid.jpg – Wikimedia Commons.  See also Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia – National Gallery, of the same subject by a different painter, with this notation:  “The poet Virgil reads to the Emperor Augustus and his sister Octavia a passage from the ‘Aeneid’ (Book VI), in praise of Octavia’s dead son Marcellus.  She swoons with grief.  The subject is from the ‘Life of Virgil’ by Donatus.”

Re:  “Hell’s Angels.”  See also the Wikipedia article, Hells Angels.  On that note see also On spam and “angels unaware.”  That post included a citation of Hebrews 13:2:  “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.”  (I noted that the more-familiar “angels unaware” language came “from the King James Bible, the one God uses.”)

Re: the female Muslim mystic.  See Rabia Basri – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: “God owes me.”  See Does God owe us anything? | Yahoo Answers, or just google “God owes me.”

The notes from Professor Shutt’s Lecture 11 were gleaned from pages 86 and 87 of the Course Guide for Hebrews, Greeks and Romans:  Foundations of Western Civilization.  

Re:anima naturaliter Christiania.”  See Anima Naturaliter Christiana –, and Tertullian : De testimonio animae.

Re: Shutt on Virgil crystallizing his “sense of things,” from Book III of the Aeneid.  Emphasis was added to the passage “some of what happens seems to make pretty much no sense.”  Shutt went on to say that in some sense, our efforts to come to know that “overarching order” tend to make things worse rather than better, evoking “something like the modern concept of ‘entropy,’ that is, the universal tendency for disorder to increase.”  See also Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said the term entropy referred to “a measure of the number of specific ways in which a thermodynamic system may be arranged, commonly understood as a measure of disorder.”

The image at right of the paragraph with “The Force that Created the Universe” is courtesy of that website, “The Star Wars Wiki.”  The caption:  “Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks to Luke Skywalker after the death of his body.”  

Re:  “asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.”  That’s a prayer in the Anglican Catechism. See Online Book of Common Prayer, at Outline of the Faith, page 857, under “Prayer and Worship…”