Archive for February, 2011

Yes, Catholics Are Christians

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by JEL

The subject of this post should be too silly to even consider, but the opening of this article by Father Dennis Faker documents something that’s happening a lot around the world these days. There is a growing crowd that says, “if you’re not exactly like me and believe and do what I do, then you are different/inferior.” Here’s that opening:

“Recently I’ve heard of some of our Catholic parishioners complaining about people coming up to them from other churches and telling them (our parishioners) that they (Catholics) are not Christians.”

Like I said, silly. Know your history. Open your mind. Reach out.

If you want to read Father Faker’s refutation, click here.

Reading the Gospels – Matthew, Chapters 1-4

Friday, February 25th, 2011 by JEL

I can almost see/hear Carl Weathers bursting through the screen, saying “Here we go!” Yes, we’re going to read the Four Gospels from start to finish, four chapters at a time.

I have no idea how this will work. Some of these posts will summarize the chapters. Others, depending upon the content, might ask questions, offer analysis or reaction. We’ll just have to dive in and see.

Matthew – Chapter 1

The first 16 verses list the genealogy of Christ, starting with Abraham. In the World English Bible, these generational steps are described in terms of “X became the father of Y” which I prefer over “X begat Y”. Seems like more of a lifetime commitment than a transaction.

1:17 talks about:

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the exile to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ, fourteen generations.

I counted all the generational steps in 1:1-16 and I got a sum of 39. Could someone explain the 39 vs. 14?

The rest of the chapter deals with the birth of Jesus. Mary is found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph is all prepared to hide her away to avoid public shame when an angel appears and tells him not to fear. The angel also tells him to name the child Jesus and that He will save people from their sins.

[Aside: In 1:8 we learn that "Asa became the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshapat became the father of Joram." Is this the origin of Jumpin' Jehosaphat?]

Chapter 2

Jesus is born in Bethlehem in the days of King Herod. Herod calls the wise men and tells them to go to Bethlehem and “search diligently for the young child.” So off they go. They see the star in the east and follow it until they find Mary and Jesus, whereupon they fall down and worship him and present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the visit, they don’t return to Herod as he commanded. Warned in a dream, they take another route home. Meanwhile, another angel appears to Joseph and tells him to flee with his family to Egypt to escape Herod.

Having been disobeyed by the wise men and without Jesus, Herod is angry. He commands that all male children 2 and under be killed in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

After Herod dies, an angel appears to Joseph telling him to take Jesus and Mary to Israel. He does, but when he hears that Herod’s son Archelaus is now ruling, he stops and is then warned in a dream to go to Nazareth in the region of Galilee.

Chapter 3

Here we first hear of John the Baptizer (John the Baptist). Wearing clothes of camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey, he travels the wilderness of Judea preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” People from all over come to him, confess their sins, and get baptized in the Jordan River. Many Pharisees and Sadducees also come for the baptism and John, though gritting his teeth, baptizes them but tells them, “he who comes after me is mightier than I…”

In 3:13, Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized. John thinks Jesus should baptize him, not the other way around, but Jesus convinces him that “this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is baptized and immediately rises out of the water. The heavens part and the Spirit of God descends as a dove. A voice from the heavens says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Chapter 4

The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to fast for forty days and nights…and to be tempted by the devil. The devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world “if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus declines with the famous “Get behind me, Satan!”

The devil leaves. Jesus hears that John has been “delivered up” and moves by the sea to Capernaum where he begins preaching “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Walking along he recruits Peter (Simon) and Andrew and James and John to drop their nets and become “fishers for men.” Jesus goes all over Galilee, teaching and preaching and healing “every disease and every sickness.” Word gets out fast, and soon “great multitudes” are following him.

Summary

We learn the family tree, Jesus is born and grows into a preacher in just four quick chapters (just 10 pages in What He Said). It’s fun to zip along through time that fast, but I would have appreciated more stories of Jesus as a toddler, growing boy, and troublesome teenager. What do you think?

Assignment for Next Week (3/4): Matthew, Chapters 5-8

WWJC?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 by JEL

The talk on Capitol Hill and around the nation is all about slashing budgets and getting some semblance of control over our deficits. Right now, Congress is evaluating a budget that cuts discretionary spending by 9% while simultaneously increasing military spending by 2%. Domestic programs for the poor fall under the former category.

What would Jesus cut? That’s the question being asked by the good people over at Sojourners. They’ve created a “Take Action” page where you can send a note to your elected officials regarding budget priorities.

Never-Betters vs. Better-Nevers

Monday, February 21st, 2011 by JEL

Given that we’re spending an increasing amount of our lives online, it seems important to me to take a step back once in a while and gain some perspective on our relationship to the Internet. Am I getting anything out of it? Is my attention span shortening? Are my interactions with others honest and healthy? What would Jesus say about my online behavior?

Adam Gopnik, in last week’s issue of The New Yorker, wrote an insightful piece called “The Information – How the Internet Gets Inside Us.” In it, he reviews a number of recent books looking at the kind of Internet questions I pose above. He breaks the books down into three categories:

  1. Never-Betters – The optimist’s view, these authors think the Internet is creating a new utopia with open access to information for everyone fueling all sorts of amazing advances.
  2. Better-Nevers – These authors wish the Internet had never happened. That the constant barrage of information (most of which is heavily distorted) is creating scattered shells of people who spend their days nose to screen and sniping anonymously at one another.
  3. Ever-Wasers – These are the pragmatists who say that at any point in history, some new technology threatened to take over our lives only to be replaced by the next thing. Think printing press, radio, television, etc. Chill out, they say, for this, too, will pass.

In his summation, Gopnik talks about how the Internet has exposed “the things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind.” All those things are now only a Google search and a click away. We used to keep these things to ourselves, but now we blast away without a governor to hold us back:

“Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting: it’s not newly unleashed anger but what we all think in the first order, and have always in the past socially restrained if only thanks to the look on the listener’s face—the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.”

Kind of chilling. Take a walk around the neighborhood and try to imagine all that “monstrous music” playing inside…

Read The Gospels With Us

Friday, February 18th, 2011 by JEL

I’ve been thinking. Lots of people have Bibles, but don’t read them. Some number less than “lots of people” now have What He Said. Maybe they’re not reading it, either! That would be a shame.

Want to read it together? It’s been a while since I went through the Gospels with a fine-toothed comb, and I’m ready. To keep things manageable, I propose that we read four chapters per week, and then discuss them on Fridays. I’ll put up a post and then everyone can chime in using the “comments.”

So get your copy of What He Said (off the shelf or from Amazon if you don’t already have it), and start reading.

Assignment for February 25: Matthew, chapters 1-4

Bible Complexity…And Lots of Angry People

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by JEL

Those of you who regularly read this blog know my despair concerning online discourse. Read the comments following any article on the Web, however innocuous, and you will see example after example of uninformed rage.

Along these lines, I took some solace in Timothy Beal’s latest column. Beal, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, is a Christian, a Sunday School teacher, and a college professor of biblical literature for over 20 years.

Anyway, he wrote an article for AskMen.com called “Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Bible.” One of them was that there are multiple creation stories in the Bible. In one Genesis story, God creates the world (light, water, land, vegetation, animals) and then adds humankind–both male and female–as the final touch. In the other Genesis story, God creates a single human first (not yet male or female) out of the dust of the earth and then breathes life into his nostrils.

Fascinating, right? Two completely different stories, right next to each other in the same book of the Bible! Beal, who can point out plenty of other contradictions and complexities in the Bible, intended the article to be a discussion starter and impetus to pull out the Bible and–gasp–to even think.

What he got was pure bile. He was called a “gay moron” and “fatass nerd editor” and one commenter wrote “the OP ["original poster," Beal] needs to actually check his facts. You would think one might actually read the books objectively before commenting on them. Seriously??? Differences in Gen 1&2??? Are you nuts!!!” And that was one of the nicer ones.

How hard would it have been for that commenter to take one of his many Bibles off the shelf and actually read Genesis to see that Beal had it right? I wish all of those who responded could read his article and see its conclusion:

“The Bible canonizes contradiction. It holds together a tense diversity of perspectives and voices, difference and argument — even and especially when it comes to the profoundest questions of faith, questions that inevitably outlive all their answers.

The Bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions. As such it opens up space for us to explore different voices and perspectives, to discuss, to disagree and, above all, to think. Too often, however, that’s not what happens.”

Valentine’s Day

Monday, February 14th, 2011 by JEL

Happy Valentine’s Day! May you all have a secret admirer sending you love notes and gifts of chocolate.

Each year I have to re-acquaint myself with the history surrounding this holiday. There are 2-3 different sources, but I like this one the best:

“Citing text found in a Roman catacomb, the Church holds that Valentine of Rome was a Roman priest who was executed on his namesake day, around 269 A.D.

At that time, the emperor Claudius, known as Claudius the Cruel, had difficulty recruiting soldiers for his unpopular military campaigns. Blaming the romantic bonds of matrimony and family life for the low enlistment, he abolished marriage.

Valentine had been caught by Claudius illegally marrying couples, and was arrested. Before being clubbed, stoned and decapitated, Valentine fell in love with a girl thought to be the daughter of his jailer.

The night before his grisly death, the priest sent his love a letter, signing it “From your Valentine.” According to some versions of the story, he miraculously healed his love of her blindness.

In death, Valentine, known as St. Valentine, is revered by Catholics.  He is the patron saint of young people, epilepsy, travelers, bee keepers, engaged couples and happy marriages.”

AOK Thursday: Small Steps

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by JEL

There’s a lot going on in the kindness world these days. USA Today is halfway through their Kindness Challenge, and I’m pretty sure next week is Random Acts of Kindness Week. I’m not sure exactly what the latter entails, but I’ll look into it.

Comedian Steve Harvey, one of the participants in the Kindness Challenge, has a foundation whose goal is to “share, teach and demonstrate the principles of manhood to young men, enabling them to achieve their dreams and become productive men who are balanced emotionally, politically and economically.” In 2011, he wants to expand the mentoring weekend program from LA and Dallas to New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.

When asked what advice he could give to other Challenge participants, Harvey answered:

“It’s great to have goals, of course, but there’s a saying, ‘Inch by inch, anything’s a cinch.’ Take one notch at a time. Then it’s not so daunting. You end up with a consistent feeling of accomplishment. So if your goal is to want to help 100 boys, help one first. Learn the process. Set the goal for that. Then help 5 boys. Then 20. And so forth.”

As Only Kurt Could Say

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by JEL

I rarely re-read books, but last summer I pulled Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle off the shelf and was blown away (again) by the story, the writing, and the expression of eyes-wide-open wisdom. I’ve always been a fan, which is why this article jumped out of the stream of bits and bytes and slapped me in the face this morning. It’s called “15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has or Will.”

I especially like #4 which comes from his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It’s part of a speech a character plans to give at the baptism of his neighbors’ twins:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Positive, Evolving Change

Monday, February 7th, 2011 by JEL

Brian McLaren was one of the first people who reviewed our book. I have always found him a voice of logic and reason in a spiritual world that is often lacking in those areas. This piece talks about his belief that Christians are in denial over the ongoing change of their faith. While he points out numerous areas where the Church has changed over the centuries, he still finds many clinging to the Old Testament and traditions mindlessly passed down through the generations.

“The call to be a Christian and a follower of God and of Jesus, that call is a call to the future and not a call to the past. My Christian identity is more about joining God in the healing, restoration and development and evolution of the world moving toward a brighter, richer and deeper future. Whereas the identity of joining the Christianity apart from an evolutionary understanding is joining the ranks and we’re holding the lines of something that is 2,000 years old.”