05 November 2014


Photo by Linda Rucker Woodall. 2014
Today there are news stories about the 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" by Paul Cummins.  I showed the photos to my mother and was not at all surprised when she recited the John McCrae's poem.
I was surprised by an interesting variation in the wording. She replaced the line "to you from failing hands..." with "to you from foreign lands..."
Mother says she first read this poem sometime before she was nine years e.g. prior to 1936 in a booklet prepared to honor U.S. military from Leon County who had served in WWI,
She is unsure when she memorized the poem.
McCrae was a Canadian and his poem was used in both Canada and the USA to inspire enlistment in the military during WWII.
Was "foreign lands" a mere slip of her tongue or memory?
Or, was the poem slightly altered in the version she saw as a child or in versions she may have seen later as part of a campaign against American isolationism?

Link to several photos. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2822135/Don-t-away-incredible-Tower-London-poppies-people-chance-says-Boris-Johnson-plea-not-dismantle-display-week.html

28 October 2014

"...lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia..."

I told myself that I was not going to do any political posting this election cycle but, as George Orwell said: "In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia."
DMP and I voted early last week and since then two friends (one from the extreme right and one from the extreme left) sought my advice to vote "the down ballot." By that they meant the judicial races for Houston and Harris County. So I will make no comment about any of the offices at the top of the ballot other than to plead that no one should ever vote a straight ticket in the state of Texas. Our judges are elected by the people and it is our duty to be sure that the women and men we select to sit in judgement are well qualified and just. Since few voters bother with looking at each judicial candidate, those straight tickets throw out good judges and sometimes elect very bad ones. In elections that swing from red to blue or from blue to read, the wholesale scrambling of the courts leads to disruption and delay. 
So here are my ballot notes:
For the Texas Supreme Court, Justice, Place 7, I voted for Gina Benavides, an excellent , well- qualified judge whose proven voice and temperament will bring balance to the court. 

I follow the judiciary pretty closely and there are three incumbent Republicans who did not get my vote in the primary because they are, in my opinion, unjust and my vote is to remove them from the bench: 

  1. Jan Krocker in the 184th Judicial District where I voted for Mark Thering
  2. Charley Pinner in the 246th Judicial District where I voted for Sandra Peake
  3. and Jim Wallace in the 263rd Judicial District where I voted for Herb Ritchie. 

John F. Phillips is much worse than unjust; he is the dictionary definition of a bad judge and has been on the bench far too long. Despised by informed voters from both right and left through several election cycles, he has done untold damage to Texas children and their families. For Family Judge in the 314th Judicial District I voted for Natalia Oakes; any straight ticket Republican voter should at the very least scroll down and get rid Phillips, a blight on the face of justice.
They should also consider a vote for Sherri L. Cothrun for Family Judge in the 311th Judicial District because she is one of the most outstanding judges currently presiding.
Straight ticket voting Democrats should scroll down the ballot and choose Brent Gamble in the 270th Judicial District. I'd hire James Hippard, Jr. as my attorney but he lacks judicial temperament.

Texas is a very Republican state and that is reflected in the party affiliation of our judges e.g. most incumbent judges are Republicans and I voted for most of them. However there were a few races where I found the Democrat to be better qualified:  in the 280th Judicial District I voted for Barbara J Stalder because of her work with violence against women; and in County Criminal Court No. 5 my vote went to Linda Geffin in appreciation of her work to stop human trafficking although Larry Standley in that race is also well qualified. In County Criminal Court No. 14 I voted for David L. Singer.

While these Democrats did not get my vote, I am noting their names here because they are well qualified (just running against equally well qualified Republicans) and I'm hoping for an opportunity to put them into one of our courts in the future: Kay Morgan, Randy Roll, Greg Glass, Tanner Garth, Deryl Moore, Kathy Vossler, Kim Bohannon Hoesl, Josefina Rendon, and Jerry Simoneaux.

The other "down ballot" races relate to education, an issue near and dear to me. Since the Republicans offered no reasonable candidates, my vote went to Lawrence A. Allen State Board of Education District 4 and to Debra "Debbie" Kerner County School Trustee Postion 5 at large and to Melissa Noriega County School Trustee Position 7 at large. Noriega is such a good choice, she's another place that the straight ticket voter should be scrolling down to check.

I voted FOR Proposition 1.

If you read this entire post, you earned the right to know just how I split my vote:

  •  Rep. John Cronyn for the Senate. I like him. If the Senate goes Republican majority, it will be good to have Texas in a power position. Oh, how I miss you Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  
  • Dem. Al Green for my US Representative.
  • Rep. Greg Abbott (with a lot of reservations) for Governor. I seriously considered Wendy Davis and followed her campaign closely but...
  • Dem. Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Gov. because of her proven ability to work across party lines and, as a Houstonian, I despise Dan Patrick. He will never have my vote for any office.
  • Dem. Sam Houston for Attorney General because I think Paxton is a crook and when the GOP screws up their primary I can and will vote for a qualified Democrat.
  • Dem. Mike Collier for Comptroller because we need competence and not politics managing our money.
  • Rep. George P Bush for Commissioner General Land Office.
  • Rep. Sid Miller for Commissioner of Agriculture. 
  • Rep. Ryan Sitton for Railroad Commissioner. This race is not about railroads; it's about oil.
  • with the exception of Gina Benavides, my Texas Supreme Court votes went to the Reps.
I have never voted a straight ticket but this is the first year I have considered myself an Independent. I am seriously disillusioned but I consider a vote to be a sacred duty. I did my best.
To quote Reinhold Niebuh:
"The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world."

24 October 2014

Hebrew Words for Christians: Blessed, “Walking in the Way,” and Sin

I'm going to start with my conclusion because I doubt that many people will care to read through the detailed word study.
Sin is a more complex concept than many Christians think. We often use "sin" to point fingers and pass judgment. We often speak about sin only in terms of rules and disobedience. We're fond of quoting Pauline letters although we do not study enough to fully understand what Paul was really saying. Remember, Paul was once Saul, a student of the great Gamaliel (Acts 22:3),  a Hebrew-speaking Jew of Hebrew-speaking parents. To understand the New Testament, a wise scholar spends some time with Hebrew scripture which informed the faith of the First Century church.
What did I learn from this word study:
  • to be "blessed" is to be walking "the way of the Lord." It is not an emotion or feeling; it is the direction of life's journey. It is living every moment being aware of the presence--even the far distant presence--of God.
  • "sin" is anything that is contrary to the nature of God.
  • "sin blemishes" or "distorts the image of God" that is present in all human life. It is even worse when you are blemishing or distorting others; the word there is "criminal and deserving punishment." [Because all creation results from God's speaking it into being and is, therefore, a revelation of God, sin also might be the abuse of the natural world. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19. That's why I am an environmentalist.] We are called to live "as God's dear children" to be like our parent. We are called to "walk as children of Light" not to stumble about in darkness. The quotes are Pauline but "the Light" is a Torah metaphor.
  • "sin" may result from an "unfortunate/unavoidable circumstance" which comes unexpectedly upon a person or a community and makes it hard to see and follow the way e.g. sin may be situation rather than choice. Such sin prompts God's mercy, compassion, and sheltering, redeeming, steadfast love. It should prompt the same response in Christians.
  • "sin" is sometimes not disobedience but "wandering." It may be a lack of attention or a great distraction or simply a lack of knowledge. The winding road may still be going generally in the right direction.
  • "sin" that intentionally hurts others people is deserving punishment--probably that image of God thing. It is also the sin that is clearly a violation of Torah and, hence, a rebellion--sin with a high hand--wicked willful revolt against just authority e.g. God.
  • "sin" results from becoming focused on something other than "the way" and may be the natural result of intoxication or infatuation or idolatry. Even if one staggers and falls it is possible to get back up and start walking in the way. "I don't know what came over me..." The only thing to do is to take the next step (or 12 steps) in the right direction. 
  • "sin" is concrete; it is an action or a continuing attitude that results in actions that lead away from the way.
  • Doubt is not sin. Doubt is in fact evidence that at least a mustard seed of faith is present to be nutured and to grow. Being unsure of your direction is not sin. Taking time to consider or reaching out to friends who have faith and walking along with them enables me to move back into the way. Just taking the next step in the right direction, or not running off in the wrong one, restores blessedness.
  • Acting unjustly, selfishly, unkindly is sin. Such actions say, "God does not see. God will not act." I read this to mean that such sin is as great a denial of God than the stated unbelief of the atheist or the agnostic who "does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly..."
  • Hebrew scripture does not teach that "all sin is equally bad." God is the only absolute in Hebrew scripture. 
The ancient rabbis planted a legalistic hedge around Torah. One of the points of contentions with Jesus was his overstepping the hedge and condemning legalism as a "burden" that the people could not carry. We must remember that Jesus said not one tiny squib of the Hebrew Torah would pass away; that he said he did not come to undo Torah but to make it complete. I think Christians have continued the ancient error of hedge planting rather than road building. When what we teach is more about condemnation than it is about love and forgiveness, when we are more eager to point out "bad choices" than we are to point out "the way",  we are offering neither biblical truth nor "good news" to the world.
One of my periodic projects is a detailed analysis of the meaning, structure, and poetics of the Psalms. Part of that study is learning a few Hebrew words.

Last Sunday I was invited to substitute for the Open Door class at my church. The class listed a number of  words on the board that "had to do with sin." We read Psalm 1. The class added more words and offered comments on the first group of words. Then we looked at the word study.

"Blessed!” אַשְׁרֵי        
ashar           אָשַׁר                pronounced:  aw-shar         Strong H0833 
                                    Used 2 times in Psalms 41:2; 72:17
                        to be straight, to be right, level (“upright”, “on the level”)
                        to go, to guide, to lead, to relieve
‘ashur           אֲשׁוּר               pronounced:  aw-shoor       Strong H0838
                                    Used 6 times in Psalms 17:5, 11; 37:31; 40:2; 44:18, 73:2
                                    Only appears in Writings: Job 23:11; 31:7, Prov. 14:15
                        in the sense of going:  a step
To be blessed is to be walking in the way of the Lord.
To be called blessed is to be taking a step, walking straight on level ground, walking the way of the Lord.

For Christians, “the Way” is synonymous with following Jesus.

“The Way”         The Hebrew word is
derek                        דְּרָכַ֫יִם              pronounced:  deh’-rek                    Strong H1870
                                    Used 759 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    70 times in Psalms
                        a road (as trodden); figuratively,
                        a course of life or a mode of action
                        conversation, custom, direction, journey, manner, pathway
Its primitive root:
“darak”        דָּרַך                 pronounced:  daw-rak’                    Strong H1869
                                    Used 64 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    10 times in Psalms 7:12; 11:2; 25:5, 9; 37:14; 58:7; 64:3;                                                   91:13; 107:7: 119:35
                        to tread, to walk
                        to string a bow by treading on it to bend it
                        to bend, to come, to draw, to go, to guide, to lead
                        to thresh by treading down the harvest

derek/darak are words frequently associated with torah/yarah and both include archery images. 
Torah Psalms include phrases like:  “teach us your way, lead us through, walk in your path, walk in the way, chart our course, along the way, by the wayside, lost the way, guide us back into the way, straight course as an arrow flies.”

Lord God, shoot us like arrows along your chosen course.
Let us fly straight and true as you direct us.
Let us hit the target. Let us not miss the mark.

“Sin” as it is defined in Hebrew scripture:

ra'               רָע                 pronounced:  rah                             Strong 7451
                                    Used more than 600 times in Hebrew scripture
                        adversity, bad, evil, contrary to God’s nature
                        Note: the oldest scriptures refer to Satan as Adversary
ra' a'                             רָעַע              pronounced:  raw-ah'                   Strong 7489
                        afflict, broken and unable to serve its intended function
                        blemished and unacceptable sacrifice for the altar of God
                        Note: the “image of God” broken to pieces in the sinful person
appears in Psalms 5:4; 7:4-9;  10:6,15; 15:3; 21:11; 23:4; 27:5; 28:3; 34:13,14,16,19,21; 35:12; 36:4; 37:19; 38:20; 41:1,5,7; 49:5; 52:3; 64:3; 90:15; 91:10; 94:13; 97:10; 101:4; 107:39; 109:5,20; 112:7; 119:104; 121:7; 140:1, 11; 141:4; 144:10

chatta'       חָטָא             pronounced:  khat-taw'                               Strong 2398
chatta'ah חַטָּאָה            pronounced:  khat-taw-aw'                        Strong 2403
                                    Used 300 times in Hebrew scripture
                        sin, offense, deserving  punishment, also the atoning sacrifice
appears in Psalms 4:4; 25:7,18; 32:5; 38:3; 39:1; 41:4; 51:2,3,4,7; 59:3,12; 78:17,32; 79:9; 85:2; 106:6; 109:14; 119:11

rasha         רָשָׁע              pronounced:  raw-shaw'                 Strong 7563
                                    Used 250 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wicked, evil, criminal, morally wrong, wickedly departed the way
The "sin" word used most frquently in Psalms, appearing in Psalm 1:1,4,5,6; 3:7; 9:5,16,17; 10:2,3,4,13,15; 11:2,5,6; 12:8; 17:9,13; 18:21; 28:3; 32:10; 34:21; 36:1,4; 37:10,12,14,16,17, 20, 21; 39:1; 50:16; 55:3; 58:3,10; 71:4; 73:3,12; 75:4,6,10; 82:2,4; 91:8; 92:7; 94:3,13; 96:10, 101:8; 104:35; 109:2,6; 112:10; 119:53,61,95,110,119,155; 129:4; 139:19; 140:4,8; 141:10; 145:20; 146:9; 147:6

avon           עָווֹן                 pronounced:  aw-vone'                   Strong 5771
                                    Used 231 times in Hebrew scripture
                        iniquity, guilty, perverse, crooked, twisted
                        makes the path crooked, distorts the image of God
appears in Psalm 18:23; 25:11; 31:10; 32:2,5: 36:2; 38:4,18; 39:11; 40:12; 51:2,5; 59:4; 65:3; 69:27; 78:38; 79:8; 85:2; 90:8; 103:3,10; 107:17; 109:14; 130:3,8

pesha         פֶּ֫שַׁע                    prounounced:  peh'-shah                Strong 6588
                                    Used 93 times in Hebrew scripture
                        transgression, rebellion, breach of trust
pasha        פָּשַׁע              pronounced:  paw-shah'                 Strong 6586
                                    Used 41 times in Hebrew scripture
                        rebel, revolt, transgress,break away from just authority, defy
                        apostasize, quarrel
appears in Psalm 5:10; 19:13; 25:7; 32:1,5; 36:1; 37:38; 39:8; 51:1,3,13; 59:3; 65:3; 89:32; 103:12; 107:17

asham       אָשַׁם              pronounced:  aw-sham'                  Strong 816     
                                    Used 35 times in Hebrew scripture
                        offense, transgression, guilty, condemned, utterly desolate
                       Note: this word is a recognition or consequence of sin.
appears in Psalm 5:10; 34:21-22

ta ah                     תָּעָה                pronounced:  taw-aw'                      Strong 8582
                                    Used 50 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wander, go astray, stray, err, vacillate, reel, stagger as a drunkard,
                        be out of the way
appears in Psalm 58:3; 91:10; 107:4,40; 119:110,176

shagah      שָׁגָה              pronounced:  shaw-gaw'                    Strong 7686
                                    Used 21 times in Hebrew scripture
                        swerve, meander, reel as intoxicated, be deceived/ravished                                         by a prostitute, wander through ignorance, err
appears in Psalm 11:10,21,118; Psalm 119:10

All these Psalms would be worthy of more close reading. If time had allowed, I had noted Psalms 34, 37, and 109 for class discussion.
But time was short. A good thing since the class was very vocal and involved in applying these Hebrew word meanings to the gospel of Luke which the class had studied immediately previously and to various other New Testament ideas.
I concluded the class by reading Psalm 1 again, this time from the Amplified Bible.
The class wanted to linger and talk more. Wow! a lesson on sin that offered hope.

My favorite on-line Hebrew/English translation tool includes both the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon and Strong’s concordance and lexicon.

This is a link to an article by Stephen Beale that includes some of the Hebrew words but also their translations into Greek and New Testament Greeks words.

08 October 2014

Apocalypse Now! Or, not...

Of late I am reading much apocalyptic literature. Not a subject in which I have much interest. So why am I reading it? The same reason I got trapped into reading Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s.
Ah, the hazards of joining a book club!

There is much buzz about the major motion picture coming in October starring Nicolas Cage based on the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. SEASONS, the women reading theology group at my church, is reading the first book of the series and plans to see the movie. They hope to be well prepared to discuss it with others.  I gave this book the librarian's look when it first appeared in bookstores in 1995. I looked at a couple of copies being read by family and friends. I read the Kindle sample. These books are badly, badly written and fraught with even worse theology. One reviewer called "eschatological porn." I refuse to read it!
I am reading End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar with an introduction by R. C. Sproul which addresses the theological errors in such books. I downloaded it as an e-book from Better World Books and, for those who have fascination with "the rapture" or "the Second Coming" or "the end of the world," I recommend DeMar's book.
Even better, read this sermon "Apocalyptic and the Beauty of God" by my favorite New Testament theologian, N. T. Wright.
Wright's book The Millennium Myth is also worthy exploring.

Reading--even reading about something in which I have so little interest--is never wasted time.  When I was asked to teach my Sunday School class on the last Sunday of August, I had ample background materials to apply to The Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus from Luke 21:4-36.

A close reading of this brief text from the words of Jesus as offered in Luke's gospel will perhaps lead to a better understanding of biblical apocalypse and allow us to leave behind the noise and distraction offered by LaHaye's fiction.

By definition, biblical apocalyptic literature reveals the transcendent reality beyond the world of historical events; it joins historical events with what is happening beyond history. Biblical apocalypse mediates the eschatological events of the end times and the new beginning which follows. Biblical apocalypse reveals the redemption of Israel and the "coming of the Son of Man with power and glory". It is always a call to expectation and righteous living and its intent is hopeful reassurance.

The other synoptic gospels treat similar material in Matthew 24:1-3 and Mark 13:1-4. In both of these accounts, Jesus speaks from the Mount of Olives to his disciples in Matthew and to four named disciples in Mark. In Luke's gospel Jesus is spending his nights at the Mount of Olives and teaching every day in the Temple. His audience includes not only his disciples but the surrounding crowd of people as well as Pharisees, Sadducees, leaders, scribes, and Herodians.

Our text begins with a prophetic oracle ("the day will come")  in verses 5-6 as Jesus looks at the Temple stones and "devoted things" (the later perhaps resonates with the "render unto Caesar" passage in the previous chapter) and says that they will be thrown down. The destruction of the Temple is a recurring topic in Luke's gospel. See also Luke 13:31-35, 19:28-44, and 23:26-31.
Jesus' apocalyptic discourse is a response to a pair of questions about when the Temple will be destroyed and what sign will mark the coming of the day. This historical event happened ten to twenty years before Luke took up his pen.
When the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in approximately 66-70 CE, Christians had heeded the words of Jesus and fled the city. Reading biblical text requires that one consider not only the time frame of the story--Jesus teaching at the Temple--but also the time frame of the text's original readers. The first readers of Luke's gospel, having survived the destruction of the Temple, an apocalypse of a sort,  are several decades later living in a time of persecution marked by rejection and ejection from their Jewish community and imprisonment and death at the hands of Roman governmental authority. In his telling of the story, Luke places Jesus and his followers in the midst of a crowd, a crowd that will soon demand a crucifixion, a crowd not unlike that surrounding the persecuted church.  What is Luke's primary message to his readers?

One way to read this text is to look closely at its structure.
My structure differs a bit from that offered by Charles H. Talbert: Reading Luke: a literary and theological commentary on the third gospel. (2002) I agree with Talbert's basic structure (ABCDB'C'A') but I preferred  to expand the central point (ABCDED'E'B'C'A') because the repetition makes clear the repetitive nature of history. The structure also supports my contention that the point of this discourse is not the political upheaval and the cosmic disturbances that mark the Apocalypse although LaHaye and other popular rapture writers focus on those things. Luke in this structure makes clear the cycle of history which continues indefinitely. Jesus was asked "when" and Jesus in Luke says "not yet."  In the writings of Luke, Jesus' Eschaton is the final event of earthly history and his readers are not to be misled about its timing. Rather, these readers live in a time of waiting, of readiness, of persecution, of betrayal, of testimony, and of witness.

The structure of Luke 21:8 - 28
  • A  21:8-9  Time, "Don't be led astray"
  • B  21:10       Political upheaval "wars and rumors of war" "Be not terrified"
  • C  21:11          Cosmic disturbance "fearful things..."
  • D  21:12              Persecution "for my name's sake"
  • E  21:13-15            Testimony "Settle in your hearts..."
  • D' 21:16-17         Persecution (betrayal) and death "because of my name..."
  • E' 21:18-19             Witness "in your patience, possess your souls..."
  • B' 21:20-24   Political upheaval "Jerusalem trodden down by the nations..."
  • C'  21:25-26      Cosmic disturbance
  • A'21:27-28   At that time, see "your redemption is near" "the kingdom of God is near"
Talbert concludes that this passage is all about persecution and perseverance.

In 21:29-36, Jesus concluded his discourse with a parable (a fig tree) which marks the passing of seasons. In all seasons, through Jesus' words, Luke urges his Christian readers to "Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down..."

Note: "Generation" in 21:32 has at least two meanings:
  1. a period of time of approximately 30 years. In this sense "generation" is tied to earthly history and is related to a fleshly life and human power
  2. an indefinite number of years characterized by a particular quality.
In the Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus, "generation" carries the second meaning; it is a period of time characterized by suffering and persecution,  testimony/witnessing, and expectant waiting. In this text, Luke has located his audience between the time of Jerusalem's destruction and "the day" when God judges the nations and redeems Israel in the "coming of the Son of Man". The counsel Jesus and Luke offer to their hearers applies equally to Christians today:
  • Don't be lead astray
  • Do not be terrified
  • Settle your hearts
  • In your patience possess your souls
  • Lift up your heads because your redemption comes near
  • Take heed to yourselves lest you lose heart with surfeiting and drunkenness and anxieties of life
  • Watch
  • Pray
  • Be worthy to stand before the Son of Man 

04 October 2014

Nota Bene: Hopkins

Reading a so-so book is suddenly worthwhile when one learns something new about one's favorite poet.

Kenny, Anthony: God and Two Poets. Arthur Hugh Clough and Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988. p. 93

"This poem {Barnfloor and Winepress} was one of the last written by Hopkins as an Anglican. The richness of its allusive use of the Authorized Version caused him some problems when he became a Roman Catholic, because of the Catholic prohibition on using vernacular versions of the Bible which had not been made from the Latin Vulgate. In January 1867 he promised to send a copy of the poem to his friend E.W. Urquhart. By 15 August he had still not sent it, and he explained in a letter:

"Such an absurd little hindrance prevents my sending you... there are quotations or quasi-quotations from the Bible and I must check them by the Douay before I can reproduce the verses, but a Douay I have not got." (L, III:41)

The result was that he thoroughly recast the poem, though he admitted in a later letter that as a version of the Bible the Douay was inferior to the Authorized Version.
The embarrassment of feeling obliged by ecclesiastical law to make use of an English version which he knew to be inferior may be one reason why, in Hopkins's Catholic poetry, allusions to the Bible are rarer, and less explicit, than they were in his Anglican poetry. Another reason... is that sacramental symbolism and liturgical language became for his, as vehicles for the expression of religious emotion, more important than the language of either the Old or the New Testaments."

This "later letter" is dated 21 August 1867 and appears on p. 28 of my copy of Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins... edited with notes and introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott. Oxford U. Press, 1938.

"About Barnfloor and W.--the Douay is of course an inferior version but the differences we. mostly likely be unimportant and I shd. like the thing to be correct. However I will bring it: I have thoroughly recast it."

I am, perhaps, too emotionally involved with GMH. It breaks my heart that he never got to read The Jerusalem Bible which is one of my favorite versions, especially for the Psalms and other poetic passages.

I am also well aware of the frustrations of working with a church who prefers what I consider and "inferior version." I really, really hate the NIV.

17 June 2014

How do I mourn? I garden and read...

My newly planted roses and gardenias which are thriving.
For the past couple of months before the weather heated up and forced me indoors, I have been focused on my backyard, designing a landscape plan, digging in the dirt, planting,  remembering my farmer Daddy and thinking of the quote my friend and spiritual mentor sent me while I sat at his bedside and which we used at his funeral: "...never let us forget how soul-filling the feel of warm earth trickling through our fingers can be--how sacred it is to be a child of the land."  I have been filling my hands with dirt to fill an empty place, knowing all the time that the work was less about "planting potatoes" and more trying about spinning "a thread... strong enough to hang a bridge on"  as Marge Piercy describes in a poem sent to me by another friend. http://www.tear.com/poems/piercy/bridging.html
Another friend sends me his sermon on comfort, the Hebrew word nechamah  נֶחָמַת, and the older meanings of the English word "comfort" to cheer and strengthen me.

Poetry, words, reading are now, as they always have been, a comfort and strength to me.

I came across a second copy of this book going through books that David's mother was discarding. Rereading several sections were a great comfort to me. I passed the second copy to my sister, grateful for her presence through this journey.  Kathleen Fischer: Autumn Gospel. Women in the Second Half of Life.  Paulist Press, 1995. I read this book several years ago, probably a decade or more ago, when I could still claim to be middle aged. Fischer associates the "spirituality" of the aging woman with  "a renewed sense of the power of the imagination, a focus on community and connectedness, increased awareness of our embeddedness in the rest of natural world, the recovery of female symbols for the sacred, and of biblical and traditional stories of women." Many highlights and annotations remind me that this book was important to me in my midlife transition--I think I was approx. 49 years old when I first read it; I'm 65 now.
I often plan to reread a book but this rereading was coincidental--it happened that my mother-in-law was discarding a pristine copy--and I checked my library to see if I had one on my shelves. I did! I noted several highlights which seemed to be relevant to this current season of grief: "Gardening is a contemplative path through which we enter into the rhythms of death and rebirth..." page 92 explains the focus and energy I have expended in my landscaping. So I brewed a cup of tea and started to read and was comforted:
"When we have done all that we can to resist such suffering, when we find that the disease is incurable, the situation hopeless, practical efforts useless, then we can still do all in our power to prevent the circumstances from destroying or degrading our humanity and that of others. We do this by offering all the comfort, all the empowerment, and support possible in the given circumstances. This is the meaning of incarnation.
"It is incarnation that sustains us, the sacrament of God's loved found in the love and support of others....
"One source of comfort is the knowledge that a compassionate God is with us in the suffering, that God does not send it to us, but struggles with us against it and works with us to bring all possible good out of tragedy."
"Faith is a deep wellspring... deeper than the darkness of evil there is a vision of the compassion of God... Finally, we leave to God all that we can do nothing about." p. 112 - 113
I think the first reading was the source of part of the wisdom that has led me through a decade or more of difficult decisions as my parents' age and now Daddy's death. I know the second reading offered solace.

Recently, I have read Madeleine L'Engle's Two-Part Invention. The Story of a Marriage. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1988. This book is currently in print as book 4 of The Crosswicks Journals.  L'Engle would make the short list of my favorite authors and would also make the short list of my favorite theologians. I ordered a couple of her books from Better World Books. Good prices on wonderful books with profits going to a good cause, literacy, and thus my new library bookshelves are already starting to overflow. A few quotations: "...living far too much in an interior dream world. But that interior dream world has stood me in good stead many times when the exterior world seemed to be collapsing around me." p.5 "I had neither the money nor the inclination to meet friends at nightclubs or bars, and spend hours in what seemed a terrible waste of time." p. 31  "...life is a mixture of mutually contradictory feelings." p. 37 " Bach is for me the composer of my heart. The structure of a fugue is far more nourishing to me than the emotionalism of the romantics, but Tchaikovsky..." p.49 "I do not want to be indifferent to the joys and beauties of this life. For through these, as through pain, we are enabled to see purpose in randomness, pattern in chaos. We do not have to understand in order to believe that behind the mystery and the fascination there is love. In the midst of what we are going through this summer I have to hold on to this, to return to the eternal questions without demanding an answer. The questions worth asking are not answerable." p. 125 "I have slowly learned a lot about grief, and the right and proper expression of it. Wearing mourning in the old days was not such a bad idea, because it took into visible account the fact of death, which we now try to hide, so that it won't embarrass others.... We pull ourselves together when we need to. We do the things that have to be done. But we need to give ourselves times and places in which to mourn. This is strength, not weakness." p. 184  "...my own rootedness must be expressed in and through symbol and sacrament or it is not rootedness at all." p. 203

My gardenias have begun the scattered rebloom and will breathe fragrance into the fall. My roses are setting their third set of blossoms. The magnolia tree is growing and claiming her position as queen of the back yard. Figs will ripen in a few weeks.  The hollies are setting the berries that will feed the birds that winter in my garden.  I try to "leave comfort root- room."  (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Still, I find my "reality... takes leave" and  "my soul... dependent upon [his] nurture now shrink[s]... reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves."

Gardening, reading, and hoping
".... after a period peace blooms, slowly and always  irregularly.Maya Angelou from her poem When Great Trees Die.

14 May 2014

Teaching Luke: "Do not be afraid, little flock..."

Last Sunday I filled in as leader for the Discussion Class (Luke Part 2) at Southwest Central Church, Houston, since Michael and Brent were both out of town. Yes, me! At church and teaching on Mother's Day and only a little bit weepy. How I rejoice in this evidence of healing and spiritual growth!  I don't think I was ever privileged to teach a class that was a better fit with the morning's worship service. Our passage from Luke melded perfectly with the reading from Acts 2 from our "Peter Speaks to You" series which informed our worship last Sunday.

In its detailed discussion of Luke, the class had reached Chapter 12 but I began with a reminder of the last verses of Chapter 11:
53 When he went out from there, the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to oppose him bitterly, and to ask him hostile questions about many things, 54 plotting against him, to catch him in something he might say.
Everything in the next section (Luke 12:1 - Luke 13:21) happens in this context of opposition, hostile questions, and plotting "to catch" Jesus which gives an urgency to his words. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, the experts in the law say, "Gotcha!" but the section concludes:
 13:7 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

The setting is one that Luke has used before, most notably in Luke 6, Jesus' Sermon on the Plain--Jesus teaching his disciples in the midst of a crowd. And, oh! what a crowd, "so many that they trampled on each other." This emphasis on the size of the crowd introduces one of the major Lukan themes: "the world turned upside down." What seems big or valuable is really of no value; what seems small and of little value is really a great treasure.
Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by hostility, a hostility that is moving toward Jerusalem and a cross, just as the original readers of Luke's gospel, the early Christian church, are faced with persecution and the very real possibility of martyrdom. As Craddock writes,  "...these words are more fitted to the church after Jesus' resurrection than to his immediate disciples, because these sayings both imply and openly state the gift of the Holy Spirit." In the face of this hostility, Jesus repeatedly assures his disciples that God cares, that God provides, that the unfruitful fig tree will be cut down, that the faithful servant will be rewarded, and that the Kingdom of God will grow from the small mustard seed which he is sowing into a "tree" where birds may nest in safety and provision.

(Note: in both Jewish and Buddhist traditions and early writings, the mustard seed is an image of creation, an expanding universe, eternity. Its appearance here--particularly with the mention of "garden"--may be evocative of similar ideas.)

The section, Luke 11:53 - Luke 13: 22, is marked by
  1. movement 53 "Then he went out from there" and 22 "Then Jesus traveled"
  2. and the use of "leaven" and birds
Although none of the commentaries I looked at mentioned it, in my reading I noted a chiastic structure:

A     LEAVEN of the Pharisees,  that is hypocrisy
B           Birds e.g. sparrows for whom God cares.
             NO FEAR you are worth more than sparrows     
C             A Question from the crowd re. inheritance
                 Jesus answers with a question:
                 "Who made me the judge?" DIVISION of property
D                   A parable: rich man building barns ("eat, drink, be merry")
                     Not ready for his death and headed to "Gehenna"
E                     DO NOT WORRY
                        Birds e.g. Ravens do not build barns, God provides
                        Lilies, grass withers and is burnt, God provides
                        32 “DO NOT BE AFRAID, little flock,
                              for your Father is well pleased to give you
                              the kingdom.
                                33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
                            Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—
                            a treasure in heaven that never decreases,
                           where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
                      34 For where your treasure is,
                         there your heart will be also."
  D'                  A Parable: servants waiting for their masters' return
                       Ready with loins already girded and lamps continually burning
 C'              A Question from the Disciples (Peter)
                  Jesus answers with a question:
                 "Who is the trustworthy steward?" DIVISION of households
                 "You hypocrites!"
                 "Judge for yourself what is right!"
B'        Wild birds that nest in the mustard tree
A'    LEAVEN of the Kingdom of God

In this text Jesus seeks to reassure his small group of followers in the midst of a much more numerous crowd that the Kingdom of God will grow, that God will provide everything his "little flock" needs just as he provides for birds.
Major teaching themes include:
  • hypocrisy
  • "my" possessions vs. God's provision
  • "riches" vs. "treasure"
  • being prepared for persecution, for death, for judgment
Of the repeated themes which this class has been noticing we see:
  • angels,
  • Holy Spirit
  • the world turned upside down
  • the poor
  • the Kingdom
  • clean/unclean (I'm not sure this item is on the list on the blackboard)
  • and numerous pairs
We have a pair of fears: the one who can destroy the body vs. the one who can destroy the soul.
We have a pair of brothers--as we had a pair of sisters in Chapter 10:38-42--where one asks for judgment against the other.
We have not a pair but a triplet of birds: sparrows, ravens (an "unclean" bird), and wild birds. The appearance of the third reinforces the chiastic emphasis on E Luke 12:22-34 as the key section of this text.
We have a pair of questions; one from the crowd and one from the disciples represented by Peter.
We have a pair of parables both speaking to being prepared for judgment.
We have a pair of trees: an unfruitful fig tree and the tree that grows from the mustard seed.
We have a pair of "divisions" of an inheritance and of households.

Does Chapter 12 51 "Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 For from now on there will be five in one household divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
relate to Chapter 11 16 Others, to test him, began asking for a sign from heaven. 17 But Jesus, realizing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and a divided household falls. 18 So if Satan too is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?"

And, perhaps, there is a pairing of baptism and fire in 13:49-50 which looks forward to the second chapter of Acts, also written by Luke.
Part of that passage was the key text to our worship service on Sunday:

Acts 2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.

In Luke/Acts, as Talbert suggests, the purpose of wealth is to share with the poor, with one another. Much of our class discussion centered around the difficulty of putting this teaching into practice.

I read and made use of the discussion of this section in these books:

Craddok, Fred B.: Luke: Interpretation for Teaching and Preaching. 1990

Talbert, Charles H.: Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary. 1982

Brent and Michael gave me a third book with these which I read but from which I made no notes so I doubt that it contributed to my understanding of the passage.
Scripture quotations from the NET Bible via Biblegateway.

07 May 2014

Memoir: Daddy on a summer morning...

I've been putting in a new yard. When I started removing grass to prepare a new bed, I noticed that my hoe was dull. I remembered the countless mornings from the time school turned out in May until School started in September--yes, we pretty much kept to those dates because in a rural farming community children are labor--that began with "iron sharpening iron" as Daddy filed our hoes and the rising sun colored the eastern sky and tinted the land rose gold.
I could not find my file so I asked DMP to pick one up on the way home. He did and when I opened the package in the morning light to begin a day's work, I finally got the joke.
Daddy had brought home a new file and laid it carefully on the edge of front stoop as he began using the old file on our hoes. Mother came out and sat on the stoop with her coffee cup watching him. Hiding his smile under the wide brim of his hat, he said, "Dot, hand me that S.O.B."
She shot him a look of both shock and anger.
His blue eyes sparkled and he looked directly at her and said, "That's what it is; read the label."
She did; they laughed. She blew him a kiss and tossed him the file and we got on with our day.
Even at the time, I knew they had shared a joke, a private joke, one of the countless little ways they affirmed their love day in and day out.
My new file is a Nicholson 10" Black Diamond Single Cut Bastard.
"Single Cut Bastard." What a wonderful phrase!
It would make a good line for a poem or a title for a novel.

04 May 2014

Chiaroscuro: Playing with light and shadow

I've had a week of experiencing light and shadows.
Making the most of Houston's last cool weather before the summer blast, I spent lots of time working in my yard. While working in the hot afternoons, I often longed for some rest in a patch of shade. The patio table umbrella was nice; the natural shade from my neighbor's trees was nicer. For me, those shadows became a place of shelter, a resting place.
Gregory Gibbs, 2014, used by permission.
One day last week a young friend posted a "selfie" that I found quite intriguing. I lingered over the photo and returned to it several times in the week. Something in the photograph reminded me of a Rembrandt painting that had first fascinated me in childhood when I found  it in the World Book Encyclopedia. Rembrandt's single candle lighting is called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro was not original to Rembrandt. Several of my other favorite 17th and 18th Century painters--Leonardo Da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio--made use of the technique. Chiaroscuro lends a painting "dramatic intensity, rhythmic visual harmony, and psychological depth." {I would very much like to properly cite this phrase but am not certain where it originates. Two sources that I found interesting are:  Jeffrey A. Netto's 1999 article for his English course: Writing in the World of Painting   and a really fun power point from teacher web "Outside the Lines." }

All this to say that I had already been thinking some about light and shadow when I arrived at The Cenacle Retreat House on Saturday morning for the "spiritual spa day." 

My friends, Amy, Chelsie, Brandy, Michal, Luci, Elana, and me
on the patio of the Cenacle in light and shadow.
I was very much looking forward to a massage to  ease the aches and pains of the week's hard labor in the yard, to being indulged with some delicious lunch and a high tea, and to spending some quality time with friends. It was a truly wonderful day. Walking the beautiful gardens and woodlands allowed me to experience more light and shadow.
One of the two sessions I attended was Connie Longsworth's Musica Divina, a meditation technique similar to Lectio Divina using music rather than text. Connie suggested that we could use this technique not only intentionally but any time when we were trapped listening to music in a car, on hold, shopping. We could use it for any genre of music, as a way of encountering God in everything.

I did not care for either of Connie's selections: Captivate Us by Watermark and Cyndi Lauper's True Colors. I found the music uninteresting; I found the poetry, particularly True Colors, dreadful. Nonetheless, as I reflected on the words and the relationship of those two pieces to each other, I noted that both songs were very sensory, extremely visual, and that both relied on motifs of light and shadow.
"like the stars..." "radiant bright... in your breath and shadow..." "let everything be lost in the shadows of the light of your face..." from Captivate Us
"You can lose sight of it all and the darkness inside you..." "I see your true colors shining through..." "Like a rainbow..."
from True Colors
My journal notes:
by K Cummings Pipes 2 May 2014
Light by its very nature creates shadow.
Shadows are not the same as darkness.
Darkness is an absence of light.
Shadows are the result of light's presence;
they are part of the light's revelation.
For example:
I do not, I cannot doubt unless I first have faith.
Indeed, doubt is not the absence of faith;
doubt is a shadowed faith.
The presence of the Light reveals shadows.
Shadows change with the movement of light
or with the movement of the object that casts the shadow.
Remove the object and the shadow is gone.
Such removal may be necessary
when the shadow is the result of some hindrance or sin in my life.
Not all objects can be moved;
they are not sin but circumstance.
These objects are to be walked around, not stumbled over.
Sometimes a shadow object can become a candlestick,
lifting the light higher and increasing illumination.
Looking at a shadow from different angles,
seeing how the shadow changes in time and space,
may create a fresh perspective or open a new path.
If there are no shadows, there is no Light.
The play of the Light and shadows bring
"dramatic intensity, rhythmic...  harmony,
and psychological depth" to my life
and are indeed a shelter and a resting place.