Archive for March, 2013

GooglEaster

March 31, 2013

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

For billions of people around the world who follow the Christian faith, Easter is the highest and most holy of holidays.  It is the core of the Christian faith – the assertion that the man Jesus of Nazareth was also proved to be the Son of God, not by his teaching or miracle working, but by the fact that he predicted (and fulfilled!) his suffering and death and most importantly, his resurrection from the dead.  
Not that you’d know any of this from Google.
The Google Doodle for today helpfully reminds me that it is Cesar Chavez’s birthday.  Google is apparently willing to acknowledge, doodly, only holidays where the religious implications are sufficiently removed from the observance.  So it is that St. Patrick’s day can be doodlized, but not Easter.  
Further, a glance at the headlines in Google News would never indicate that Easter was an important day in the United States.  There’s absolutely no mention of it there.  Only one mention of it in the headlines for world news.  Imagine all the ink that calendar companies will save because they will eventually not even need to acknowledge Easter as a holiday.  They’ve already saved money by omitting Good Friday most of the time.  
Again, this isn’t surprising given the tone and direction of cultural discourse.  It’s just amazing to see how quickly it happens.  So enjoy your observance of Cesar Chavez’s birthday.  
Even though he’s dead.  And Jesus isn’t.  
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The Quiet Saturday

March 30, 2013

How quiet that first Holy Saturday must have been.  After the din of crowds and screams.  After the smell of blood and death and suffering.  After the wind pulling at their robes and ripping the tears out of their eyes and flinging them to the dirt where three outstretched shadows gave mute worship to the figure above.

To spend the day – the day of worship – mourning.  No joy in the traditional liturgies.  No comfort in the stories of freedom and release and a God saving with a might hand and outstretched arm.  Only an empty chair around the table.  
Good Friday is powerful enough.  It’s hard to imagine the grief and pathos of Good Friday extending for another day.  Waiting not for celebration, but for the bitter privilege of anointing a corpse.  No hope.  No joy.  The quietness is deafening.  The Light of the world lays in the cold, dark tomb. 

Perfect Timing

March 29, 2013

Just in time for your Easter celebrations – 10 new books of the Bible!

Well, not really.  But pretty close.
A group of “religious leaders and scholars” has released  A New New Testament this month.  This book alters and reorders the existing New Testament books and adds ten ‘new’ books to the canon.  These additions are works that the Church has known about for nearly 2000 years, and consistently rejected as authoritative (though some of them might be considered harmless).  So what is offered really isn’t a new New Testament, just a larger one with things added to it that generations of “religious leaders and scholars” have determined are either unnecessary or completely fraudulent and unhelpful.
As a brief review, the criteria for including books in the New Testament include:
  1. Apostolic authorship or approval – the work needed to be written by an Apostle of Jesus Christ and his ministry, or approved by an Apostle.  Thus, Matthew and John are both Apostles, while Mark and Luke were both approved in their authorship (Mark by Peter, and Luke by probably Peter and Paul).
  2. As such, the New Testament books all were authored in the first century.  The latest was The Revelation of St. John, and the earliest might have been some of Paul’s letters or Matthew or Mark.  Nearness to the events and issues was seen as a benefit.
  3. Harmoniousness in their presentation of the life, teachings, identity, and import of Jesus of Nazareth.  People have been writing their own ideas about Jesus for a very long time.  The Church has always maintained that speculation that falls outside the eye-witness accounts is inappropriate, even if it is sometimes thought-provoking.
  4. Not being redundant.  If something has already been said by a writing with Apostolic authorship or approval, then including another work that says essentially the same sort of things is unnecessary.  The Church was well aware of some early writings that were harmonious with the rest of Scripture, but seemed to add nothing of real substance to what had already been said.  These weren’t included.
In other words, the goal of the Church has never been to include as many possible texts related to Jesus Christ as possible.  Quite the contrary.  As any educator or parent knows, to convey something important requires a fairly focused presentation.  Otherwise, the thought is lost amidst a sea of alternative thoughts.  The more important the message, the tighter the focus.
What also needs to be recognized is that books of this type are not written and released about events or persons that we believe we can know about with any level of certainty.  The decision to release a new New Testament with additional material that has been rejected by the Church for close to 2000 years is itself a rejection of the New Testament as it has been maintained.  Yes, there have been arguments at times about which books are authoritative.  Yes, Martin Luther didn’t like certain books of the Bible, but in the end his personal feelings were subjected (rightly so) to a Church tradition that was already almost 1500 years older than he.  It is clear just from the quotes from the author on Amazon’s page for the book that there are agendas at play here.  I always find it ironic when someone with an agenda criticizes a different agenda than their own.  I’m quirky like that.
The author’s hope is that this book will prove helpful or inspiring to Christian communities seeking to better understand Scripture.  I’m pretty sure that by and large (except perhaps in communities that have already given up on the actual Bible) that won’t be the case.  I have little doubt that this book will rapidly fade into obscurity, nearly as quickly as it’s narcissistic arrival.  

Maunday Thursday Traditions

March 28, 2013

Down the hall in our church hall, there are people preparing for our annual Seder meal.  It’s a tradition that my wife and I brought to this congregation, and this is the third one we’ve had here.  We did it at our previous congregation as well, and I have participated in this tradition more years than not over the last 25 years.  It will forever be how I think of Maunday Thursday – participating in a meal with family and friends, hearing and seeing and tasting how the Last Supper might have gone with Jesus and his disciples 2000 years or so ago.

But it’s certainly not the only Maunday Thursday tradition out there.  Other congregations offer services that culminate in the stripping of the altar, a solemn ceremony where the altar in the church is cleared of all the items that normally appear there – candles, linens – everything removed in preparation for Good Friday service.
And one of the other traditional ways of observing Maunday Thursday is through a foot washing service.  Jesus washed his disciples feet as they arrived for that Last Supper together, an action that evoked strong responses and allowed Jesus to teach some pretty heavy things.  The Church has long remembered these teachings by having people wash one another’s feet.  The term Maunday itself derives from the Latin word for command used in John 13:34, shortly after the foot washing.
  For me, Maunday Thursday observed in one of these traditional ways extends the power of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  It adds another element to the week to anticipate and to meditate on both in spirit as well as action.  However you observe it, I pray that Maunday Thursday is a vital and powerful part of your Holy Week observance.  And next year, if you’re in the area, come join us for Maunday Thursday Seder dinner!

Most Equal

March 27, 2013

If you’re on Facebook, you may be seeing red.  This red:

As the Supreme Court begins to examine the push for a redefinition of marriage, many who support redefinition are posting this.  The idea is that what is desired is equality.  That homosexuals should have the exact same definition of marriage as heterosexuals, and that anything else is discrimination.
I prefer seeing this red:
Thanks to Gary for posting this on Facebook yesterday – not sure if he originated it or not.
The assertion here is the logical consequence of redefining marriage not around what it does, but rather around the arbitrary wishes of individuals.  If the logic is that marriage is defined only by providing maximum equality, then this same logic (if successful now) will be utilized – in relatively short order I predict to redefine marriage not only along the lines of gender but along the lines of numerics.  Two guys and a girl have the same right to be treated equally in the definition of marriage as one guy and a girl.  Two girls and a guy have the same right as one girl and a guy.
I’ve written about the importance of this issue before.  I am stunned by what I will charitably describe as the complete naivete of those who demand the redefinition of marriage while insisting that it will not change anything (other than allowing same sex marriages).  I trust that these same folks will be equally vigorous in their support of every other redefinition of marriage that must necessarily follow (logically, if not legally) from their support of the effort to redefine marriage to include same sex marriages.  
I don’t have much hope that marriage will escape legal redefinition.  If not this week, then eventually.  I just wish that people were more willing to engage in actually talking about the issue intelligently rather than relying on oversimplified graphics to settle the discussion.  (For the record, I would say the exact same thing about most Christian symbols that people stick on the bumpers of their cars.)

Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 26, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: March 31, 2013,
Easter Sunday

Texts:
Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 16; 1Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Contextual
Notes:
Easter Sunday. Although in Christian worship
every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, once a year we specifically
focus on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the
single-most important tenet of the Christian faith. Indeed, not to
overstate the issue too much, were it not for the resurrection, there
would be no Christian faith. Were it not for the resurrection, all
of the other teachings and miracles of Jesus would have to be
interpreted and understood differently. Without the resurrection
Jesus might become a great moral teacher or inspiration along the
lines of Gandhi or other major historical figures, but He would cease
to become the object of veneration and worship. The Old Testament
would continue to be a sacred text, but much if not all of the New
Testament would need to be thrown away. Either Jesus was resurrected
from the dead and vindicated in his identification of himself as the
Son of God, or He remains just another enigmatic dead person.

Isaiah 65:17-25: We tend
to take the promises of Scripture in a very personal sense. God the
Father through God the Son is going to save me, personally, by the
grace of God the Holy Spirit. But this passage reminds us that God
the Fathers’ intention is the redemption of all of creation,
including but not limited to you and I personally. Just as all of
creation has suffered the effects of sin, all of creation will
benefit from the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. For
those of us who sometimes worry whether or not this new creation will
be able to hold our attention and elicit joy, the Lord promises that
the former things we’ve known won’t even be thought about any more –
that’s how good the new stuff will be!

What sort of new, good stuff? Peace –
Jerusalem which has been a city of contention for thousands of years
will be a delight. Suffering and sorrow will be eliminated.
Lifespans will be lengthened – while the text hearkens back to the
long lives of the patriarchs in the early chapters of Genesis, we
understand that we will be immortal (John 3:16). Justice will be
established so that people will build and live in safety and peace.
God will be ever-present among his people, and even wildlife will be
restored to a state of perfect harmony.

Psalm 16: David begins
by stating that God is his refuge. What does this mean? It means
that David looks to the Lord for all good things, and nothing apart
from God can truly be held to be good. He will follow the example of
those who follow God, and will not pursue the false gods that others
may seek after. David acknowledges that he is already blessed
by God, he is not merely praying for some future blessing. David
will seek after the Lord’s wisdom, dwelling on it day and night and
trusting in his God, rather than his current situation. As such,
David can rejoice in the Lord who has blessed him and keeps him in
wise counsel. Moreover, David can rejoice that the Lord’s favor is
not a passing matter that will be ended at death. Rather, the Lord
will preserve David from power even of death. Rather, the future of
the one who loves the Lord is eternal joy in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26:
This section is preceded by Paul’s assertion regarding the doctrine
of the resurrection of the dead. He now applies this doctrine to the
Christian life, asserting that Christians have hope not just for this
life but for eternity in Jesus Christ. Paul then argues that Jesus
is both the anti-type of Adam, bringing life back to creation where
Adam brought death. But more than this, the resurrection of Jesus is
proof of what lies ahead for each of us. Christ is the firstfruits,
the first to experience and receive the resurrection from the dead
which we all will inherit and experience in due time by faith in him.
Victory is complete and assured in the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
but we will not experience the full benefit of this victory just yet.

Luke 24:1-12:
Jesus was crucified during the day on Friday, the last day of the
Jewish week. His body was taken down and laid in the tomb quickly
Friday before sundown, when the Sabbath would begin – the first day
of the Jewish week. The women only had time to note where Jesus was
buried and to rush out to get the necessary spices to anoint his body
for death properly. There was not time for them to actually apply
the spices though, before the Sabbath began Friday evening. So it is
that they wait until early on Sunday morning to apply the spices.
Jesus has therefore been in the tomb for the end of Friday, all day
Saturday, and the first part of Sunday. Luke mentioned in 23:55-56
that these women were the ones who came with Jesus from Galilee. It
seems evident to Luke that everyone would understand who these women
were, so well known were the events.

Tombs of the type described in the Gospel were hollowed out areas,
caves, really, in the soft rock of hillsides. A rock would be used
to cover the door so that animals would not disturb the bodies laid
within as they decomposed to a point where the bones could be
gathered together and stored in a smaller stone box (called an
ossuary). The women were surprised that the stone was already rolled
away, and undoubtedly disturbed by the fact that Jesus’ body was not
there. What new indignity was their master being submitted to now in
his death, even as he had submitted to indignities in life?

They are not left long to wonder. They are greeted by men in bright
white attire – hardly typical clothing. Furthermore, these men
know who these women are, because they know what Jesus has said in
their presence. They remind the women of Jesus’ words, so the women
know what to expect. And what they should expect is an empty tomb.

Luke now reiterates who these women were by name. While they were
undoubtedly well-known in Christian circles by the time Luke
assembled his writings, he makes it clear that these women were not
initially believed. The testimony of women was not treated on a par
with the testimony of men, and such was the case that first Easter
morning. The disciples assumed the women were confused or overcome
with grief. So a more reliable source had to be sent. John lets us
know that both he and Peter ran to the tomb, though Luke only
mentions Peter. Both John and Luke affirm that the men did not see
the angels, only the empty tomb and the strips of linen that would
have been hastily wrapped around Jesus’ body before setting it in the
tomb.

The angels’ words are important. Jesus’ resurrection is not supposed
to be a surprise! He told his followers what would happen to him and
where He would see them again afterwards (Matthew 26:32, Mark 14:28).
What happens to Jesus is part of a plan, a plan that Jesus is in on
because He is the Son of God. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ own
prophesy regarding his death and resurrection that demands – once
that prophecy is fulfilled – that we go back and receive all of his
words and actions as truth. Without the fulfillment of the
resurrection, we could not trust any of his words, regardless of how
nice or comforting they might seem on the surface.   

Ironic?

March 25, 2013

A colleague shared this article on Facebook today, asking for feedback.  

I was struck by the irony of it all.  The generation(s) that want to define themselves as more relational do so by interacting with fewer people on a less regular basis than any other generation before them.  I find that fascinating.  Thoughts?

Two Strange Ideas Equal…

March 22, 2013
…genius or insanity.  The line is dangerously thin at times.

Although I’m not going to leave my current vocation, I have to figure out a way to try this.  Two simple words:  Chess.  Boxing.  

Although I still prefer the more traditional method of imbibing alcohol, it’s nice to know that I have options for when I’m just too full for a nightcap.

This Week in Education…

March 22, 2013

A couple of education-related notes.

Firstly, for those of you considering your kids’ educational future, don’t forget that a four-year degree may not be the most appropriate route to go.  Depending on what your son or daughter wants to do, a community college education may actually be a better investment.  This is interesting not just from the anticipated earned income disparity, but because community colleges are significantly cheaper than most four-year institutions, even for an in-state four-year university.  Community colleges have done a wonderful job in the past several decades of aligning themselves to provide relevant and timely skills training for an amazing variety of careers.  While they aren’t a replacement for full degrees in all cases, it’s something to keep in mind.
Secondly, thanks to Becky for sending me this article from the Los Angeles Times.  An alternative sexuality student group has the ACLU threatening to sue a school district for not giving them adequate announcement time in the morning.
Many of us can remember announcement time in high school, a collection of inane and occasionally insane announcements about various student groups and goings on.  Literary clubs.  School spirit events.  Fundraising campaigns.  A variety of things.  I don’t remember anyone particularly enjoying them, but they were a few minutes less of a teacher lecturing or making you do work, so we couldn’t complain too much.
I’m pretty positive that anything sex-related was not allowed as an announcement.  Teachers and administrators were all-too-keen, I’m sure, to minimize talk of sex in any way, shape, or form.  They know their students are hormonal wrecking balls already.  The last thing desired would be to stir that up with morning announcements.
That’s what I find particularly ridiculous about this lawsuit threat.  I’d like to think somebody is going to laugh at the ACLU and dare them to take the school to court so a judge can kick the case out as being ridiculous.  I can’t imagine a morning announcement for a heterosexual support club: “Guys and girls, are you heterosexual?  Do you spend a lot of time thinking about this and wondering about what it all means?  Do you want to talk about it with other guys and girls?  How about getting together at lunch with other like-minded people to provide mutual support encouragement.”  It’s ridiculous even to consider it.  Yet just because it’s alternative sexuality oriented, there are people ready to sue over the necessity of broadcasting this topic in announcement time.  
Come on, people.  Really?  

When the Saints Go Marching In

March 20, 2013

How I long, to be in that number…

But as an introvert, I realize at times that this is the last thing I want.  I want some space when I go marching in.  A few family and friends.  Close, but not too close.  
So the reading for Palm Sunday’s Gospel is a little challenging in some ways, as Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem for the final time, accompanied by a crowd of other people.  Having just been to the Holy Land last year and walked down the Mount of Olives myself, I’m reminded of my distaste for crowds.  It’s a curious thing to remember.  Sobering in light of the fact that the crowds we encountered in mid-November are nothing like the crowds gathering in the Holy Land right now, preparing for Holy Week.  
This was, at one point, the extent of the crowds around us:
And I was still annoyed.  
There is still so much in this heart to be changed and softened.  I am grateful for the time of Lent to prepare me for Holy Week.  Hosanna!