A Poem of Thanks

I discovered this poem and it reminded me of a friend, who left us when way too young for that. He comes often to my mind.  His birthday is coming up soon.

Happy Birthday Nic –
this bright morning,
mourning that
we cannot offer you presents
for your presence is
the one thing we would give
anything for.
You are absent, yet
here is our present:
our future each year
from now,
to take the past
and shake from its
laden branches
all the gifts you once gave
which lie, wrapped in memories
waiting again and again
for their joyful opening,
and our enduring thanks.

By Kester Brewin (http://www.kesterbrewin.com/2012/11/22/happy-birthday-nic-a-poem-of-thanks/)

Love Wins

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Joy to the World?

Yesterday I heard on the radio that a recent poll shows that nearly 50% of Americans would prefer that Christmas not exist, because of the stress and financial pressure the holidays cause.

Every year, it seems,  I hear something similar and every year it saddens, hurts and sometimes angers me.

I’ve put up some mighty rants in the past against how we celebrate the consumerist frenzy that we call Christmas (for example, HERE and HERE and HERE).  I won’t repeat everything I’ve said in them, mostly because it usually seems that the only folks who will agree with me already have those opinions, and the reaction of those who don’t agree will be that I’m advocating taking away their fun.

But I can’t resist one observation.  This is also the time of year we see repeated demands from people to “keep Christ in Christmas,” “remember the reason for the season” and the like.  On the surface it would appear that those folks are resisting the commercialism and appreciate Christmas for its religious significance, not because it means they get to buy and receive a lot of stuff.  But honestly I usually see no difference in how most of them behave and how an average irreligious consumer behaves.  They might put a little manger scene in among their other decorations, but they don’t seem to buy and receive any less than anyone else.  Often their insistence to “keep Christ in Christmas” just means they want store clerks to greet them with “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.”  Of course there a few sincere resistors out there, and I admire them.  It isn’t easy to say no.  It gets you branded as a scrooge, grinch and cheapskate–by Christians and non-Christians alike.  I should know.

But back to the poll that motivated this post.

As we enjoy our spending sprees this season, I hope we’ll reflect for a moment or two on how much pain this season causes people who are financially unable to meet the expectations society places on them at Christmas.

Maybe we should also ponder for a moment the image of a poor unwed teenage girl, giving birth in a stable to a child who would change the world.  Should the celebration of an event like that create so much financial pressure that half of society would wish it didn’t even happen?

Love Wins

Nellie

Nellie has been with us for five years.  She was one of the our first goats.  A friend gave her to us when she was a kid, telling us she hadn’t been bred.  He was wrong about that.  She kidded unexpectedly in February 2008, with twins.  We had 3 goats at the time.  Now we have over 70.

Nellie just kidded again.  It was her seventh time kidding.  She now has two cute bucklings trailing around behind her.

Nellie was terrified of us when she came here.  It took a long time before she warmed up to us.  Now she is one of our tamest, friendliest goats.

I don’t know how many more times she’ll kid.  We’ve already retired Maggie, the goat who arrived with her.   We’ve already retired Juliette, who was Nellie’s first kid, and now we have to retire Sara, who was born the second time Nellie kidded in 2008.  Nellie has certainly done her motherly duties and we’ll retire her just as soon as she seems to be past that stage of life.  But for now she’s healthy and happy.  She’s Johnny’s favorite.  I’m hoping she’ll give us plenty more kids.

Love Wins

Mere Consumers

The specialization of production induces specialization of consumption. Patrons of the entertainment industry, for example, entertain themselves less and less and have become more and more passively dependent on commercial suppliers. This is certainly true also of patrons of the food industry, who have tended more and more to be mere consumers — passive, uncritical, and dependent. Indeed, this sort of consumption may be said to be one of the chief goals of industrial production. The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into our mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so. We may rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way. The ideal industrial food consumer would be strapped to a table with a tube running from the food factory directly into his or her stomach.

Wendell Berry, from “The Pleasures of Eating” (1989)

Love Wins

IBS

Every degree track at my seminary requires completion of at least one course in Inductive Bible Study.  Students often joke that it is no surprise that IBS shares its acronym with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  I’ve dreaded the class and put it off until the very end in the hope that the degree requirements would change, eliminating the requirement.

Alas, that never happened.  So here I sit, taking my last class and it is an inductive study of Mark.

But I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find that I’m enjoying the class.  It is a lot of work, but I’m continually amazed at the richness of this text and how much there is to learn once we remove our blinders.  This really is a radical and revolutionary document.  It says much more than most of us realize (and often much less).

I’m tempted to share one of my paragraph or segment analyses, to show what it’s like.  But I’ll spare y’all that (for now).  I will share a couple of tips though for how best to appreciate this text, in my humble opinion.

First of all, try to find a Bible that doesn’t have the text broken into chapters and verses.  These numbers were all added much later and were not intended by the authors.  They contribute to our tendency to fragment the text and remove sentences and paragraphs from their context, often at the cost of the intended meaning.  The headings that modern Bible editors have added to the text also are distracting and often impart doctrinal and theological spins that may not be justified in your own careful reading.

Take Mark (for example) and try to read it through in one sitting, without the “numbers” and headings.  It is a narrative.  Read it like one and you may be surprised at how you react to it.  I was.

Try reading the text objectively.  Try not to impose on it any pre-existing biases or constructs.  Try not to fold into it things you’ve read elsewhere in the Bible.  This is extremely difficult and will take some effort, but the reward will be worth it.  Try to imagine as you read it that you’re hearing this story for the first time.  Allow yourself to be shocked by things that would have been shocking to those who heard it for the first time.  Allow yourself to be puzzled and confused, if that is natural to a natural reading.

If doing these things gives you a desire to dig deeper, then take a segment of the text (a section or a paragraph–as determined by your own reading, not by Bible editors) and drill down into it.  While always keeping the segment in context with the rest of the text, look at the words carefully.  Compare other English translations.  Wonder why there are differences among translations and why those differences sometimes seem to affect our interpretations.  Finally, if you’re feeling geeky enough, have a look at the words in their original language.   I recommend Bible Suite (http://bible.cc/).  You can search a verse and the site will give you lots of resources, such as parallel translations.  Click the tab titled “Greek” at the top and you’ll see the original Greek with a literal English translation.  Click on a specific word (such as one whose meaning is unclear to you) and it will show all other uses of that word in the Bible.  Often the familiar translations of the same word are quite different in different places.

After you’ve done all this, if you’re still interested in pursuing further, have a look at a scholarly commentary or two (not a devotional), to learn more about the history and context of the passage.  I can just about guarantee you that this process will give you fresh insight (perhaps in some radical ways) to the Scripture.

A couple of final thoughts on Mark.  Keep in mind that it was written before Matthew and Luke.  The authors of Luke and Matthew had Mark to draw upon (and they copied much of it, editing it to suit their purposes), as well as a now-lost collection of the sayings of Jesus which we call “Q.”  Matthew and Luke essentially combined Mark and Q, editing them with their own audiences and purposes in mind.  But the author of Mark didn’t have those advantages.  The author may have had other texts as resources, but that is unknown.  The point is, I suggest trying to read Mark without Matthew and Luke in mind.  Mark should stand alone and has a materially different perspective at times than what appears in the other synoptic gospels.

Lastly, if you have an older Bible (or are using an older translation), keep in mind that the material found in Mark 16:9-20 was not part of the original document.  It was added much later.  It is not part of the story the author of Mark was telling.  Either the author intended the abrupt and strange ending, or the original ending has been lost.

For any who try this, I hope you enjoy it.

Love Wins

In Palestine and Israel…

Someone painted this on the wall that separates Israel and Palestine (for more on that, look HERE).  Maybe it’s something of an act of defiance against hatred and meanness.  Maybe it was intended to be a plea.

But I think it’s best understood as a propositional fact, insofar as there can be one.

As those fuelled by anger, bitterness and hate try to defeat each other with violence, everyone loses.  Violence begets violence.  Revenge begets revenge.

No one will win with bombs, rockets and walls.  Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

The answer is easy to say, however difficult it may be achieve.

Love Wins

Visiting Mama

As I type this I just got back from visiting my Mama.  I took her some broccoli and sat and talked with her a while.  It’s no big deal.  She just lives about a half mile from me.

But I don’t do that nearly often enough.

This morning I was looking at my “to do” list.  It has 92 items on it.  One of them is “visit Mama.”

I thought some about that.  Visiting your Mama is just one of 92 “action items” on the farm?  Shouldn’t that one be in a category by itself?

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the stuff that needs doing around here and find that my priorities are getting messed up.  Fortunately that happens a lot less than it did when I lived the industrial life and work was my only priority.  These days I see my mother frequently and I’m pleased to know that almost everything I do is something that not only needs doing, but is something that should produce goodness in some form.

Still, even here, there are things that are important and there are things that are real important.

I need to make sure I don’t let the real important things become less important than they really are.

Love Wins