Archive for December, 2014

Rice Paper

December 31, 2014

I first encountered rice paper in eating Vietnamese spring rolls at my favorite little dive in Mesa, AZ.  I first bought them to try and replicate these spring rolls at home.  My understanding is that they were made with bamboo presses, accounting for the hatchmark design on them.

This video shows an alternative method that is no less fascinating!

Dreading the Future

December 30, 2014

At least this aspect of it – self-driving automobiles.  California and Nevada are – at last count – the only two states to approve driver-less vehicles, even though they are still very limited prototypes.

I dislike the cuteness of this car.  And I echo Wire’s lack of enthusiasm for Google’s lack of imagination and creativity.  Is this really the best way to sell the public on the idea of self-driving vehicles?

Then again, I suppose that it likely isn’t going to be a matter of selling the public at all.  I imagine that at some point it will simply be a law that nobody can drive their own vehicles anymore.  I don’t look forward to that sort of future, no matter how efficient they promise me it will be.

Archaeology Tidbit

December 29, 2014

More archaeological fun in the Holy Land.  An additional part of Herod the Great’s complex has been discovered in Herodium, about seven miles south of Jerusalem.  As impressive as it is, it’s also a reminder of our limitations.  It never really saw use as Herod envisioned, but rather was simply filled in when Herod died and was buried there.

Reading Ramblings – January 4, 2015

December 28, 2014

Date:  Second Sunday of Christmas —January 4, 2015

Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52


Context:  This is the final Sunday of the Christmas season.  Next Sunday will be in the season of Epiphany.  These two seasons reflect on the two natures of Christ.  Christmas emphasizing his humanity, and Epiphany emphasizing his divinity.  The twelve days of Christmas refer to the season of Christmas, from December 25 to January 6.  The readings today emphasize wisdom and the source of that wisdom in God the Father.  As we conclude the season of Christmas, we must affirm that God the Son incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth was just as dependent on wisdom from his heavenly Father as we are.  While we cannot plumb the depths of the two natures of Christ (human and divine) fully, we must assert that if He is fully human, than He is reliant on his Father’s wisdom.  This does not contradict his divine nature, but harmonizes it perfectly.  The Son who is perfectly obedient to his Father must trust perfectly in his Father’s wisdom rather than his own. 


1 Kings 3:4-15 — Solomon recognize his own inability to the task of ruling God’s people.  It isn’t that he hasn’t been prepared for it—he is 40 years old or so when he assumes his father David’s throne.  However, despite his royal preparation, he understands in a way that Saul certainly didn’t, that the king is to rely on God, as the king is truly only God’s human agent to oversee the people of God.  God answers Solomon’s humility in typical fashion—abundantly.


Psalm 119:97-104 — This is the longest of the psalms—an acrostic where each eight-line section is represented by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and emphasizes the centrality of the Word of God.  This section emphasizes that the Word of God is the worthy subject of study and ingestion, and that in doing so, one gains wisdom that those who reject God cannot hope to have.  This passage is not a flaunting of teachers, or experience (the aged), but rather affirms that one with the wisdom of God is necessarily wiser than any other source of knowledge and wisdom of purely human origin.


Ephesians 1:3-14 — Paul also speaks of God’s wisdom, the wisdom which plans salvation and then offers to humanity the gifts necessary to receive this gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.  We do not find Jesus, God reveals himself to us through Jesus Christ by the efforts of the Holy Spirit.  As with creation, salvation is entirely a gift of God.  We do not congratulate ourselves for being clever enough to believe in Jesus.  There is no grounds for boasting in our faith because our faith itself is a gift from God!  This faith is further ensured and protected by the Holy Spirit of God at work within us.


Luke 2:40-25— We know very little of Jesus’ childhood.  Most of what little we do know is in this brief passage from Luke.  While we are accustomed to modern ideas of biography, ancient biographies are very different.  Today, we expect a lengthy discourse on the extended family history and pedigree of the subject.  Not just parents and siblings but grandparents and distant family—anyone who might have an impact on the subject, because we assume that we are only the compilation of our influences and experiences.  To explain someone in modern terms, we must know their background.

For the Gospel writers, what matters most in their account of Jesus is what they heard and experienced personally.  His teaching and miracle-working is the emphasis of the Gospels because it is in these things that Jesus’ identity is to be seen.  Culminating his ministry and the most important element of it is of course his last week of life, his betrayal, arrest, conviction, execution, and resurrection.

What we know of Jesus is that He is apparently raised by Mary and Joseph, although some passages lead us to suspect that perhaps Joseph is dead by the time Jesus begins his ministry.  As the son of a modest (if not poor) carpenter, Jesus would not likely have had the opportunity for advanced formal education.  He would have learned Aramaic (the everyday language of the people), Hebrew (to read the Torah, which Jesus is able to do), and at best a little Greek (the large city of Tiberias was being expanded during Jesus’ life and He may have found work here, where learning a bit of Greek might come in handy.

This particular account in Luke raises interesting questions.  Is Jesus being disobedient?  It seems clear that Jesus doesn’t see it this way—and perhaps his parents don’t either.  He sees his actions as consistent with his identity.  His parents are mistaken in expecting that He should be just like any other twelve-year old boy.    They don’t necessarily understand the reason that their expectations are incorrect, but Mary at the very least may have some inkling that even in this confusion, the nature and future of her son are being glimpsed.

Luke makes it clear that Jesus is obedient to his parents.  His divine nature—to whatever extent He is or is not aware of it—is not an excuse to disregard the respect and love due his parents as part of the Fourth Commandment, which is just an extension of appropriate family dynamics.  Jesus is submissive, implying that it might be expected that He would not be—or that it at least might be possible that He would not be.

The net result though is that Jesus grows.  He moves through childhood as any of us might, and as all of us should.  His maturation is a cause for respect and admiration of all people—and unlike us, also the admiration and approval of God the Father, something only possible to the Incarnate Son of God who can obey his heavenly Father perfectly.


Saving the Date

December 27, 2014

It sits on my desk, a nice photograph on glossy, heavy stock paper.  It’s a save the date card, but not for a wedding or an anniversary or a birthday celebration.  Rather, it’s a save the date card for the last day that a local congregation will exist.

Another Lutheran congregation in town (not the same synod as mine) has been struggling for years with shrinking membership, and has finally decided to close down the congregation.  It’s ironic, because they sit on millions and millions of dollars of property.  They ought to have all the resources in the world to reinvent themselves and do something different.

They’re opting instead to end the congregation and create low income senior housing on the property they occupy.  It’s a legacy to be sure.  It’s a valid decision that a congregation is always free to make (depending on denominational polity and rules).  There is no shame in making this decision, but it’s painful to watch.  The card says that the congregation is over 100 years old.

We recently sent out save the date cards as well, for our centennial anniversary as a congregation.  A long history is no guarantee of a long future.


December 26, 2014

I know lots of people who have had chemotherapy.  I’ve prayed with them.  Celebrated with them when the chemo works and they experience remission or even the disappearance of cancer.  I’ve buried some of them when it didn’t work.

But until today, I’ve never seen chemo happen.  Never watched it begin.  Never been with a person when, for the first time, the orange liquid begins flowing down the long, long bendy-clear tube and into their arm.  I’ve never been with someone as they received chemo until today.

I’m not sure what I expected, but there was something breathtaking to the process all the same.  Realizing that as that liquid enters that person’s body for the first time, it will set about the destruction of targeted parts of their body.  Destroying in hopes that the body will regenerate in a healthy way.

Ironic.  The nurse cautioned the patient that should they feel any wetness, any sign of leaking with their intravenous setup, to let her know right away and not to touch it, not to rub it into their skin.  The chemicals inside that bag are so dangerous that you don’t want to touch them.  But we’re going to shoot them inside your body.  Because if we don’t, the unstated words hover,  you’ll probably die a lot sooner than if we do.  Not necessarily.  But probably.  

I’ve often wondered with my wife about what we would do if we were diagnosed with cancer.  Would we opt for chemo?  Would we try some naturopathic alternative, knowing that we might be gambling with our life?  So many variables to sift through, and in the end you can’t really know what you would do if and when it’s you lying in that hospital bed, hearing the doctors pronounce diagnosis.

As I have for every other person I’ve known with cancer, I’m praying those chemicals work.  Praying it does what the doctors hope that it will do.  Praying that God will work through this or around this to provide healing and remission and life.  But those prayers are a little different now.  Now that I’ve seen it begin.  Watched it happen.  Now that it’s another bit realer.  I can see that liquid moving from the protective bag that required two nurses to sign and authorize, down that long tube and into an arm.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to un-see it, and so I’ll see it every time I say a prayer for someone with cancer.  The slow, steady, silent drip drip drip when we poison someone in the hopes of giving them life.

Hobbit Background

December 24, 2014

For those of you who, like me, will go to see the third and final installment of Peter Jackson’s destruction of The Hobbit.

This four minute video explains some of the basic mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Most of this isn’t too pertinent to understanding The Hobbit, but some of it can be more helpful in understanding The Lord of the Rings.  Merry Christmas Eve!

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

December 24, 2014

You may have heard the story.  The beautiful, heartwarming story of people in the midst of tragedy that are able to find a commonality in the season of Christmas.  In World War I, on Christmas Eve, English and German soldiers shared a few moments of Christmas joy together, between trying to kill one another from their respective trenches.  Beautiful.  Transcendent.

But the story doesn’t end with the return to hostilities.  It doesn’t end with Generals so infuriated and threatened by this impromptu event that they expressly forbid any other such events.  It doesn’t end a year later, when another request for a truce is made by the Germans – and denied because of these orders.  It doesn’t end when, instead of general merriment, a 45-minute truce is agreed upon so that the dead can be buried.

It ends when the English soldier who agrees to this travesty of war is actually court-martialed.  Tried for disobeying orders.  Convicted, in fact, of disobeying orders.  But sentenced only to a verbal reprimand.

I suppose it is a human desire to see enshrined in our cultural institutions, our governments and other leaderships, divine approbation.  We like to think that God is on our side, and that God is more specifically guiding and inspiring our leaders.  Even in this age of cynicism, we presume that while there are plenty of bad apples, the barrel they are collected in is overall of divine design, certainly superior almost inherently to any other possible barrel.  Particularly in moments of stress and uncertainty and trauma we want to see our leadership as men and women seeking their best to follow God’s directives.

This is dangerous.  This is wrong.

The Christ child comes into our world precisely to create moments such as along the Flanders front in 1914.  Moments that transcend the evil which so often dictates human course.  Moments that shirk off the assumed burdens and duties placed upon us by people with other motivations than peace and goodwill on earth towards men, as the old song goes.  Not merely to create moments, either, but to completely and permanently displace the kingdom of evil that still holds sway with the very kingdom of God.

This is a terrifying prospect to anyone and everyone charged with maintaining a status quo, with trading and dealing in the wares of the world on the terms of the world.  And while individuals can sometimes see their way through these terms, see them for the shallowness and selfishness they are invariably drenched in, institutions – by definition – cannot.  It is not their job and it is not in their best interest or the interest of their shareholders, whether civil or financial.  Institutions by definition are first and foremost concerned with survival, secondarily with expansion.

We should expect that when we as individual Christians take seriously the notion that the kingdom of God has already defeated the power of evil in our world, that it is currently displacing this power in unexpected places and unforeseen ways, there will be resistance.  Even from the good guys. Our own team.  Those we look up to.

Sometimes, even from the Church.

There is forgiveness when this happens, but it does happen, we should expect it to happen, and we should be careful never to usurp our true hope for peace and joy and goodwill with shallow or sham alternatives.  We must be careful to realize that even our most beloved icons and leaders and figures are broken and sinful, and that we ourselves with our vaunted self-determinism are often misled and misused without ever knowing it.

It is Christmas again.  A century has passed since that glowing evening shared between men instructed to kill each other.  The trenches in our lives and world are not always so well-defined, the hostilities not nearly as often neatly defined and codified.  But in the midst of our battles both public and existential, the Christ child comes and places himself, offering us the only true, radical alternative to our self-imposed or self-endured suffering.  Following His alternative is always the right choice.

How unfortunate that it will also often cause us even more suffering.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  Mark 13:9-13

Expanding Humanity?

December 23, 2014

An Argentinian court just declared that an orangutan is a “non-human person” and has legal rights.  The orangutan, Sandra, has been in captivity for her entire life.  The last twenty years of her life have been spent in an Argentine zoo, and this court case rules that she has been deprived of her liberty and must be set free.  Since she can’t be released to the wild, Sandra may be turned over to an animal sanctuary in Brazil.

What if Sandra likes where she’s living?  What if Sandra is terrified by her new environs, and the very actions intended to ease her (perceived) suffering instead make it worse?  In reality, Sandra will probably not benefit terribly much from this ruling precisely for such intangible reasons.  But many other animals may be profoundly impacted.

And of course, humans will be impacted as well, if such cases essentially make zoos illegal.

Summer Vacation Planning?

December 22, 2014

Thinking about your family vacation this summer?  Here are a few curiosities scattered around the country that might be of interest to you if you like archaeological mysteries.  Or if you just need to get away from the relatives for a few days/hours.