Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bible Road Trips: The Traveling Magi

My last post for 2016 is another "road trip": the story of the Magi who traveled to visit the young
Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). The lovely story is usually an Epiphany story.

The Magi possibly came several hundred miles, "following yonder star." They weren't "kings," as the old hymn names them, but probably Persian or Babylonian astrologers and dream interpreters of the priestly class. The Bible doesn't actually say how many there were, nor their names. An old joke goes that if the wise men had been wise women, they would've asked for directions, helped deliver the baby, and brought more practical gifts!

The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to pay homage to Jesus. We miss the significance of God's blessing of the Gentiles because we're all Gentiles and we already know that the God of the Hebrews has touched our lives. But if you read Acts and Paul's letters, you can feel a palpable joy at the blessing and generosity of God in showing his love and help for all people.

The story of the Wise Men has given us some very important traditions and theological elements to the church. Let me just highlight four.

The first aspect of the Wise Men: thanks to them, one of the most significant Christmas traditions, coming from Matthew's story, is gift giving. The wise men brought Jesus fine gifts (Matthew 2:11). Thanks to the Wise Men, the church has always had a very strong Christmastime tradition of sharing gifts with those less fortunate. Boxing Day, which is the first weekday after Christmas, is celebrated in some countries: for instance, public workers like mail deliverers received appreciative gifts and workers received food and supplies from employers.

The second aspect is that the nature of their gifts gives us a subtle unifier of what Jesus was about. The Scottish Bible scholar William Barclay notes that gold is the gift of a King, which Jesus certainly is. Frankincense is the gift of a priest. We don't always appreciate the "priestly" role of Jesus, but read Hebrews 4:14-16: "Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Finally the gift of myrrh implies death, because that substance was valued for its fragrance but was also used in embalming. Without realizing the symbolic significance of their gifts, the Wise Men "preached Christ" as king, priest, and crucified savior.

In my 2009 Advent study book, I remarked that we tend to separate in our imaginations the birth of Jesus from the death and resurrection of Jesus, and I wondered if perhaps we should display both poinsettias and Easter lilies together in our churches. I doubt that will ever be done, but we do well to keep other both Christmas and Easter in our minds. Jesus was born for our salvation, which was eventually achieved by his atoning work on the cross and his resurrection from the death. These aspects of Jesus belong together, because they are all part of God's work of salvation.

The third aspect of the Wise Men is how they highlight God's way of doing things. Matthew and Luke's gospels give a place of honor to the lowly. Luke's gospel in particular continues the strong Old Testament theme that the poor and needy must be provided for, and that God takes the side of the poor. In telling the story of Jesus, Matthew echoes the story of Moses' birth (the threatened ruler, the killing of children, the secret rescue of the child, the location of Egypt) in order to proclaim Jesus as a liberator for his distressed. The modest circumstances of Jesus' birth shows him to be a different kind of king than Caesar or anyone else holding political power. God chose to be born in circumstances mirroring the unfairness, oppression and injustice that we see in the world.

The fourth aspect is related to the third. Pastor Richard Fairchild on the Spirit Network website notes that the Wise Men were open to and recognized King Jesus in spite of the modesty of his circumstances. They came to visit a king, but Jesus lived in a carpenter's simple home. The Wise Men could've assumed they were in the wrong place and kept looking, or given up. Fairchild writes, "So many of us have a hard time accepting what God has given in the form that he gives it. Because we are waiting for a gift from God - we look for great miracles, instant healings, signs and wonders, trumpet calls and 21 gun salutes. We may pray to God for a special blessing - and then turn away at our door a pan-handler who is looking for a meal, or a neighbor who is dropping by unannounced, or a client who shows up just when we are preparing to leave work for the day."

That last point is a good one for us to keep in mind as we prepare for a new calendar year. If you're like me, you hope to grow spiritually and are keenly aware of ways that we fall short. At the same time, we often don't give God credit for doing things differently than our expectations. The great thing is that God is always way ahead of us and seeks to help and guide us along our own journeys. One of the ways in which we grow spiritually is in discernment of God's works in the world. Some of them we miss, because God does things contrary to our expectations. Some of them we see, however. The Wise Men provided wonderful traditions for us, but the example of wisdom about God's purposes is a particularly fine tradition as we look to the Lord for guidance and help for the upcoming year.

(from a 2011 sermon)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Women Composers: Beth Anderson

Starting with my August 23rd post, I'm exploring (to me) unfamiliar music by women composers. I'm  beginning with the composers whom Barbara Harbach mentioned there.

Beth Anderson is a Kentucky native, a student of John Cage, Terry Riley, Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, and others, according to good ol' Wikipedia, which states, "[She] is best known in her field for her swales, a musical form she invented based on collages and samples of newly composed music rather than existing music. She told a reporter for the New York Times in 1995 she named the form based on this definition of the word: 'A swale is a meadow or marsh where a lot of wild things go together.'"

Here is her website: http://www.beand.com.  And here are two of her pieces that I found on YouTube, including photographs by James Archambault. (He is a favorite photographer: my wife Beth was given one of Archambeault's photographs during a leadership conference she attended in Kentucky.) Beautiful music!   

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"Identity Politics"

Here are two articles that I want to return to and reread this week. The first argues that "The Left’s obsession with identity politics has brought us Trumpism."

On the other hand, commentator Samantha Bee argues that it's "bullshit" that the Democrats lost the election on identity politics, and “Identity politics is the dismissive term for what we used to call ‘civil rights’ and ‘equality.’”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Enormous Bibles

A few months ago, as I browsed used book sites on line, I fell in love with a two-volume Bible commentary written by Thomas Scott (1747–1821), later edited with new material by William Symington. The bookseller, Peter Harrington in London, accurately described the books as 240 cm by 310 cm in dimension, so I knew they were very large. This edition, one of several different editions that one can find at online sites and old bookstores, was published in Glasgow in 1834. The red covers depict a decorative cross and also St. Paul's Cathedral, which I visited or the first time last week during my wife Beth's business trip to England. So now these enormous Bibles, which I photographed next to a more portable Good News for Modern Man---my long-ago youth group Bible---for comparison, are part of my library of Bible-related books.  

Good ol' Wikipedia's article on Scott indicates that he was an influential author and preacher, born in Lincolnshire. He came from a farming family but left home to become an Anglican priest, though he deepened his faith only later when he met the hymn writer John Newton, famous for "Amazing Grace." Scott served as a hospital chaplain and preacher, and began publishing his commentary on the Bible in weekly installments, beginning in 1788. His work was very popular and sold £200,000 worth of copies in England and America by the time of Scott's death. Unfortunately, Scott sold the copyright in about 1810, so he made about £1,000 profit. "John Henry Newman wrote: 'They [Scott's works] show him to be a true Englishman, and I deeply felt his influence; and for years I used almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine, "Holiness before peace," and "Growth is the only evidence of life."'" 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures.

This story is so familiar:

"In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:1-7, NRSV).

Just prior to his birth, Jesus' parents had to make a road trip of about eighty miles. Most of us have likely added details to the story in our imaginations. I tend to picture Mary riding on a donkey, for instance, but the text doesn't specify the way they traveled. I also think of the circumstances as harsh and heartless, as if they tried to check into a modern motel but, with no vacancy there, they were turned away and found refuge in the groundkeeper's shed. At the time, the stables would have been a reasonable overflow space. Nevertheless, Jesus was a longed-for king, but the place of his birth was very humble and unassuming.

A few years ago, I read a Catholic author who made a Eucharistic connection that I found interesting: Jesus was laid into a manger (a trough from which the animals were fed) as a precursor to the time when we would share his body and blood in the mass. Protestants don't believe in transubstantiation but instead believe (with nuances among denominations) in the spiritual presence of Jesus in sharing of the Lord's Supper. Still, it was a meaningful insight, and we're liable to emphasize the humility of Jesus' birth and miss the subtle implication (perhaps not even realized by the gospel authors) of his first bed, a feeding trough. "Take, eat, this is my body, this is my blood..."

There are scholarly questions about the historicity of the story's Roman census: whether it happened, and if so, whether it happened at the time of Jesus' birth. But it is a wonderful story that explains the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem (necessary, according to the prophecy of Micah 5:2) when his parents were actually from Nazareth. Recently I enjoyed a Howard Zinn essay about the human history and the possibility of optimism (https://www.thenation.com/article/optimism-uncertainty/). Even if we don't think about God's providence, history has an unpredictability that gives us reason for hope amid difficult times. In our story, an event authorized by the politically powerful of the world becomes the unpredicted way a 700-year-old prophecy came to pass, forcing Jesus' parents to make an 80-mile trip they otherwise would not have made.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Mary Visits Elizabeth

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
Luke 1:26-56

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and a few Scriptures can take us through the Advent season as stories of biblical roads.

In our lesson today from Luke's Gospel, Gabriel visits Mary and announces that she would be mother of "the Son of the Most High" (vss. 26-38). The text continues that "In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (vss. 39-40).

Let's call this Mary's road trip. To paraphrase that On the Town song "New York New York," Nazareth is up and Judea is down--quite a way down, over eighty miles. One wonders if Mary traveled with a caravan or by herself. A map that I found online shows a possible route from Nazareth over to the River Jordan, then down the river banks to the Jericho area, then over to Jerusalem which is just north of the Judean hill country.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (vss. 41-45).

Several things we can gain from this story, including the lovely words of the Ave Maria, Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When I wrote about this passage elsewhere on this blog, I wrote about Elizabeth's gift of the Spirit. In those days before the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered only certain people to prophesy, and when Elizabeth heard Mary coming, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). By the Spirit’s power, Elizabeth preached the Gospel of Jesus before his birth! She recognized Mary as Jesus’ blessed mother. She interpreted her own physical discomfort as God’s sign.

In other words, Elizabeth was a prophet, in a long line of Hebrew prophets which, most believed, had ended centuries before. One wonders: if the Spirit came to a person who previously had been perceived as disfavored by God (as childlessness was then believed to be), doesn’t the Spirit now comes to all kinds of persons, whether favored or disfavored in society? What might the Spirit be up to in our present, distressing world that might startle us and give us hope?

Our lesson also includes the famous Magnificat, set to music by so many composers.

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever."

According to the text, Mary went back home, and the first "road trip" of the Gospel provide us with this beautiful passage.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bible Road Trips: The King's Highway

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures.

The King’s Highway
Isaiah 35:8, 40:3-4, Col. 1:12-20

A highway shall be there,
   and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
   but it shall be for God’s people;
   no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray (Isa. 35:8)

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain (Isa. 40:3-4).

The name "king's highway" isn’t uncommon. A large portion of the modern U.S. 1 along the eastern seaboard was the colonial King’s Highway from Charleston to Boston. In St. Louis, where I live, a major street called Kingshighway was part of old French road of the same name, Rue de Roi, renamed El Camino Real when the Spanish took over the region. This street was also once part of the larger routes U.S. 66 and later U.S. 67.

The King’s Highway in the Bible was a major route from Memphis in Egypt, across Sinai and into Moab, then north on the east side of the Jordan through Damascus and finally to Resafa on the upper Euphrates. The name is Hebrew is derech haMelech ("highway of the king") and is referred to Numbers 20:17 and 21:22. A derech was a built-up road, compared to a path worn by use; this famous passage from Isaiah 40 refers metaphorically to a road that has been created with effort. The idea of a "royal highway" is, in Isaiah, a lovely, eschatological image of God's victory.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, a day created fairly recently (1925) in the Roman Catholic Church, and moved to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time (that is, the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent), in 1970. Several Protestant Churches have adopted it. The two scriptures from Isaiah connect to Jesus' kingly office and also to our upcoming Advent season of expectation for the Lord's birth. Christ himself becomes a royal "way" by which we walk and live (Matt. 7:13, John 14:6, Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 22:4, 24:14, 24:22).

It’s a Christian truism to say that Jews expected a king like David but that Jesus is a different kind of king. The history of the Israelite and Judahite monarchies is interesting if you want to do (as one friend puts it) Bible study on steroids. When Solomon died, the kingdom split into the northern (Israel, or Ephraim) and the southern (Judah). The northern kingdom was more susceptible to idolatry because of its location among other kingdoms, and only lasted two hundred years before the Assyrians took over and assimilated those Israelite tribes. Judah lasted until 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered the kingdom, destroyed Jerusalem, and brought the people into exile rather than assimilating them. During this history, we read of a dual line of kings, most of whom led the people astray, and the major line of Davidic monarch ended. Another Davidic monarch, Zerubbabel, was much heralded during the post-exilic period but did not finally reestablish a monarchy. And so a Davidic king became a hoped-for idea, someone who would restore the people to the land but also bring lasting peace. That’s not something to snicker at!

Jesus’ followers realized that his kingship encompassed impossible things, like sin and death and all of creation. Among the lectionary readings for today were Luke 22:14-23:56, which is the story of Jesus' betrayal, suffering, and death, and also Colossians 1:11-20, the great affirmation of Christ as the purpose and authority of all creation.

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (vss. 18-20).

Normally, if a king (or any other authority) bleeds and dies, that authority defeated (even if heroically) and replaced by someone else. Jesus' death, on the other hand, confirms and extends his authority and brings reconciliation with God, so that there is no more unclean upon the Holy Way, and God's love is poured out for the wise and foolish alike. 

What a wonderful message for uncertain times such as these, giving us strength and confidence as we seek to do Christ's will among the poor and suffering of the world, and to proclaim Christ's good news. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Landscape: Ginner

Charles Isaac Ginner (1878–1952), "Hampstead Heath, Spring" (1932).

Copied under fair use principles. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Out and East of Eden

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures.

Out and East of Eden
Read Genesis 2:5-4:17, Romans 5:15-17

Do you sometimes feel that you’ve lost your way in life, that something happened and you can’t regain a sense of purpose?

We all know the stories of Adam and Eve and their sons. The beautiful story of creation, created good in all its vastness and variety, becomes despondent, tragic when humans are on the scene. How long were Adam and Eve in the garden before they made their fateful, foolish choice? A few minutes? Several years?

In my imagination, I picture a road or path from the garden, that Adam and Eve took when God sent them out of Eden. How far on the path of banishment did the couple go? Where did they find land fertile for farming? Filling out biblical details, I think they could have worked a farm only a short distance from the garden, in sight though blocked from further access, the light of the angel shining on their work in the twilight hours. But they may have gone farther, out of sight, and the journey was more painful.

There was a more painful road yet. Their son Cain leaves the crime scene of his hurt and jealousy and takes the road of escape, the way east of Eden. There, Cain travels the land of wandering, where he builds a city. It’s a deep oxymoron: cities are stationary, but this one is in the land of no rest, no “roots,” though he tries to find roots by naming the city for his son.

Many writers and artists realize (and develop in their art) a key point in these stories: Cain in his wrongdoing is traveling the way of his parents. He did not escape their guilt and wrongdoing but he takes it to a different place.

Of course, we know what that is like. The Hebrew word “adam” means “human,” and this is one of the most human stories: the mistakes of our parents become our mistakes, too. We try so hard not to repeat our parents’ heartache but do so, anyway. Nature and nurture shape our personalities, character, and journeys of life. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus puts it, character is destiny.

But thank God we are not helpless in the face of destiny; God is always at work in our lives, guiding and leading, nudging us, holding us by the scruff of our necks, filling us with the Spirit that convicts, reminds, and creates opportunities.

Turn the pages of your Bible from Adam and Eve’s story, across hundreds of pages to the book of Romans, chapter 5, where Paul connects Adam theologically with Jesus and thus promises the grace of Christ, greater than human sin.

For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-17).

Bold words, considering the enormity of human sin! Read all of Romans 5:12-21, where Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus. These words are hard to believe, considering the horrors we read each day in the news, considering the fears we have about the future.

But God has sent his son Jesus to provide us the abundant grace and help that brings us back from whatever far country we’re lost. That gift is free!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Charles Lyell and Principles of Geology

Charles Lyell in 1840
I love antique books, and this past year I decided to collect a few notable science books from the nineteenth century. Over these autumn weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

I was one of those little kids who loved rocks and geology. I used to know the different types of rocks by sight, and working on poems for my upcoming poetry book, I studied articles from the Illinois State Geological Survey to learn about the geological history of south-central Illinois. It's a fascinating field! And Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and his wife Mary (1808-1873) left us a tremendous legacy.

In my earlier posts about Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, Lyell's name came up. As this site puts it, the "Scottish geologist largely responsible for the general acceptance of the view that all features of the Earth’s surface are produced by physical, chemical, and biological processes through long periods of geological time. The concept was called uniformitarianism (initially set forth by James Hutton). Lyell’s achievements laid the foundations for evolutionary biology as well as for an understanding of the Earth’s development."

"Moses and Geology"
by Samuel Kinns (1882) was
a popular book of its time. 
The following mostly derives from that Brittanica.com article. Lyell enjoyed science as a child and at Oxford he grew in his fascination for geology. One of his professors, William Buckland, sought to demonstrate Noah's flood on the basic of cave fossils. Lyell went on to study law and was admitted to the bar, but he continued to pursue his geological interests. During these early years he traveled to North America, France, and back to Scotland on naturalist studies. As this same site indicates, "Lyell was rapidly developing new principles of reasoning in geology and began to plan a book which would stress that there are natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanations for all geologic phenomena, that the ordinary natural processes of today and their products do not differ in kind or magnitude from those of the past, and that the Earth must therefore be very ancient because these everyday processes work so slowly."

Thus "uniformitarianism," contrasted with "catastrophism" that described geological phenomena in terms of catastrophes that altered the planet. Catastrophism was complementary with biblical accounts like the Flood, but the Bible had no information about ancient species and geological data that was becoming known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As this site puts it, "Lyell emphasized natural law. It makes sense, he said, to assume that geological processes acting in the past were much the same as those we see today — forces such as sedimentation in rivers, erosion by wind, or deposition of ash and lava by volcanic eruptions. This is the principle of uniformitarianism, the reasonable assumption that the forces that acted in the past are of the same sort as those we see acting today."

An 1847 printing, with the
Temple of Serapis on the front cover.
Lyell's book published the first volume of his groundbreaking work, Principles of Geology, in 1830, with exhaustive data to illustrate the new uniformitarian principles that he was developing. Volumes 2 and 3 appeared in 1831 and 1833. Importantly, too, the young Charles Darwin was thrilled with this book, took it with him on his five-year Beagle voyage, and used Lyell's ideas to help him conceptualize his own ideas of the origin and development of species. Darwin also dedicated his journal of his voyage to Lyell, who in turn gave him much advice and help.

Lyell married Mary Horner in 1832, and she also had interests in geology and participated in Lyell's studies, joining conversations with other scientists like Darwin. Lyell became a recognized authority, revising his Principles and also publishing another very popular book, Elements of Geology, that went also went through several revisions and additions. He also wrote two travel accounts of his 1840s visits to North America, and they became classic descriptions of the continent. He was knighted and received other high honors, while continuing his geological work. As the Britannica author writes, "Expanding reputation and responsibilities brought no letup in his geological explorations. With Mary, he travelled in Europe or Britain practically every summer, visiting Madeira in the winter of 1854 to study the origin of the island itself and of its curious fauna and flora. Lyell especially liked to visit young geologists, from whom he felt “old stagers” had much to learn. After exhaustive restudy carried out on muleback in 1858, he proved conclusively that Mt. Etna had been built up by repeated small eruptions rather than by a cataclysmic upheaval as some geologists still insisted. He wrote Mary that 'a good mule is like presenting an old geologist with a young pair of legs.'"
Lyell condensed his large book
"Elements of Geology" into a shorter guide in 1874.

In my previous post about Alfred Russel Wallace, I learned about how Wallace sent Lyell an essay about his work in the Malay islands, which led Lyell to share Wallace's work with Darwin and then to publish Wallace's and Darwin's essays together. The Britannica author: "In 1859 publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species gave new impetus to Lyell’s work. Although Darwin drew heavily on Lyell’s Principles of Geology both for style and content, Lyell had never shared his protégé’s belief in evolution. But reading the Origin of Species triggered studies that culminated in publication of The Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man in 1863, in which Lyell tentatively accepted evolution by natural selection. Only during completion of a major revision of the Principles of Geology in 1865 did he fully adopt Darwin's conclusions,
The dark green cover featured a flint ax and
mammoth molar
that had been found at the same level. 
however, adding powerful arguments of his own that won new adherents to Darwin’s theory. Why Lyell was hesitant in accepting Darwinism is best explained by Darwin himself: 'Considering his age, his former views, and position in society, I think his action has been heroic.'”

Mary Horner Lyell (c. 1870)
was a skilled geologist
in her own right and contributed
greatly to Charles' work. 
Sadly, Mary died in 1873, and Lyell survived her only two years. Again, that author summarizes: "Lyell typified his times in beginning as an amateur geologist and becoming a professional by study and experience. Unlike most geologists then and now, however, he never considered observations and collections as ends in themselves but used them to build and test theories. The Principles of Geology opened up new vistas of time and change for the younger group of scientists around Darwin. Only after they were gone did Lyell’s reputation begin to diminish, largely at the hands of critics who had not read the Principles of Geology as carefully as had Darwin and attributed to Darwin things he had learned from Lyell. Lyell is still underestimated by some geologists who fail to see that the methods and principles they use every day actually originated with Lyell and were revolutionary in his era. The lasting value of Lyell’s work and its importance for the modern reader are clear in Darwin’s assessment: 'The great merit of the Principles was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind, and therefore that, when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes.'"

Here is another interesting article: about the way Lyell disseminated knowledge of hominid fossils: https://fossilhistory.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/lyell-the-first-neanderthal/

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Landscape: Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough, "Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews," c. 1750.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Out of Control GOP

Here's a good recent article from the Washington Post. I've tried to be sparing with posting political things on Facebook, where myself and several friends are posting things. But among the concerning things about this election is, while folks are genuinely concerned about rising insurance premiums, etc. we may start seeing problems in the stock market with our retirement funds, etc., in the future---because GOP leaders have been showing for years that they don't give a damn about traditional and proper workings of our democracy if they can't get their way. I don't know how Republican voters can hold their leaders accountable for ruining what once was the Grand Old Party. We can only hope and pray that a leader or leaders with moral integrity and a love of democracy can arise from the party and turn around its 25-year destructive trend.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Women Composers: Emma Lou Diemer

In my August 23rd post about the composer Barbara Harbach, I quoted an online interview of her, where she listed the names of several other women composers whom she appreciates. I'm no expert in music; nevertheless, I was chagrined that I knew only one name she mentioned, Jennifer Higdon. Serendipitously, the latest issue of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society Journal (issue 67, October 2016) had a list of women composers---and among those, I was familiar with only a few. Yet, as that same article indicates, Aaron Cohen's International Encyclopaedia of Women Composers has over 6000 entries.

I love to explore music, so I thought I'd teach myself about women composers and do an occasional blog series, starting with those whom Dr. Harbach named. Emma Lou Diemer (born 1927) taught for many years (and is emeritus professor) at UCSB. According to good ol' Wikipedia, she is a keyboard performer and has written numerous works for keyboard, orchestra, chorus, and others.  Here is her website: http://www.emmaloudiemermusic.com/page/page/6385943.htm

Here is her "Toccata": 

Here is the lovely "Three Madrigals": 

And here is "A Summer Day":

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wallace and Darwin

I love antique books, and a few months ago I decided to collect a few notable science books from the nineteenth century. Over the next several weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

Are you familiar with Alfred Russel Wallace?

The website devoted to his life and work has a good biographical summary. Wallace was born in Monmouthshire, in what is now Wales, in 1823. His father may have been descended from the Scottish hero William Wallace. As a child, the family moved to his mother's native Hertford.  He received some schooling there, and later worked with his older brother in land surveying. Engaged in that work, he learned to identify plants and began to collect specimen plants. In the early 1840s, when he lived in Leicester, he continued to learn on his own about natural history and met Henry Walter Bates, a naturalist who introduced Wallace to varieties of beetles and insects.

During the 1840s, Wallace read an anonymously published book by Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, in which the author argued for "transmutation" of species---what later scientists would call evolution. Wallace got the chance to travel to the Amazon region during the 1840s, during which he hoped to explore the idea of species transmutation. He also was able to survey the Amazon and create a map that was a long-time standard. Unfortunately, on the return trip to Britain the ship caught fire and destroyed his notes and specimens and set him and his companions to sea on lifeboats, where they were discovered after over a week.

After that, I would never have gone to sea again! But Wallace regrouped and embarked on another long adventure, to the enormous region of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and East Timor, known as the Malay Archipelago. Wallace and his assistant spent eight years there, collecting many thousands of samples---plants, insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. As the Wallace website author indicates, Wallace discovered thousands of species previously unknown to science. The book that he later wrote, The Malay Archipelago, is a classic of nineteenth century travel and scientific writing, containing a wealth of information.

During this long journey, Wallace developed more of his ideas on evolutionary change and wrote a paper on the subject. He said that the idea of natural selection came to him as a flash of inspiration while he was very sick. His paper came to the attention of noted geologist Charles Lyell, who in turn shared it with his (Lyell's) friend Charles Darwin in 1856.
Wallace in 1862. (This photo
and the other are from

Darwin, meanwhile, had made his own epic scientific journey in 1831-1836 and was sketching out his own hypotheses about natural selection, but he'd lately been more occupied with studying marine invertebrates. Darwin was startled by the news of Wallace's work and began to write down his own ideas for publication. Soon, Lyell arranged to have Wallace's article published (without Wallace's permission and thus without his ability to make corrections) alongside Darwin's writings about natural selection, at the Linnean Society of London meeting during the summer of 1858. Both Darwin and Wallace were suffering at the time, Wallace with illness, and Darwin from the death of one of his children. Darwin did not write a large book that he had planned but, instead, published his basic ideas in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species and presented more data in his subsequent books.

Needless to say, Origin of Species made an impression, becoming one of the most important scientific books ever written. Wallace does not seem to have been chagrined by all this, evidenced by the fact that Wallace dedicated The Malay Archipelago to Darwin. Darwin had already been at work on natural selection and by no means stole Wallace's ideas, but Wallace's paper did prod Darwin to set out his own researches for publication.

A few of Wallace's books
that I found online.
Darwin was of the aristocracy while Wallace's background was working-class, which gave Darwin certain advantages.  The magnanimous Wallace was not eclipsed, however; during his lifetime (he died in 1913), he was famous as a great authority and received honored in fields of biology, geography, and others. He wrote over a thousand articles and nearly two dozen books, including called Darwinism, which are essays on natural selection. In Island Life, he explored topics in biology and geography. In other books, Wallace continued his work in the natural sciences but also looked into subjects that empirical scientists disdained, like miracles and spiritualism.

Another legacy of Wallace, is that he was very forward thinking in his social ideas. He supported women's suffrage, analyzed the root causes of poverty, criticized militarism, addressed the environmental destruction caused by colonialism and capitalism, and other issues.

Evolutionary theory fell out of some favor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and, when it regained traction and gained wide scientific acceptance, Wallace's name became less familiar than Darwin's.

But if you regret Wallace's loss of prominence, remember that Darwin "takes the heat" in circles that (wrongly) reject or disparage evolutionary theory--and Wallace won't be caricatured as Darwin has been, as in this cartoon from the time. Nor will we speak with dark humor of "Wallace awards" when someone does something foolish and fatal. Wallace's position in the history of science is less well known but secure.

Much of all this this information comes from The Alfred Russel Wallace Website; please read the several wonderful articles and browse the information there! Among other topics, the site's author delves into key differences between Darwin's and Wallace's theories of natural selection.

Here are some quotations from Wallace's books: http://www.iol.ie/~spice/quotes.htm  And here is a review of one of several recent books about Wallace: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/498796?journalCode=isis

Folding map of the Malay islands, photo bombed by cat

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Promise to Abram

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Promise to Abram
Read Genesis 12-13

This post is about the kind of travel that involves a new beginning. When my family and I move to another community with new jobs, we try to start strong in that place and explore opportunities for service. It isn’t always easy: new employment, a new role, may have pitfalls that you didn’t initially see. Some opportunities have to be pursued with diligence and competition. In life’s journey, many of us deal with new beginnings and the accompanying challenges.

When I’ve tried to read the Bible from the beginning, Genesis 10-11 is an easy place to get bogged down: all those names and places, as the generations following Noah fan out and occupy the Ancient Near East. Only the Tower of Babel provides a bit of excitement.

But within these chapters is a process of focusing. The genealogies move us from the generations and geographies toward a seemingly insignificant family of Ur: that of Terah, the father of Abram. Abram’s brother Nahor dies, the family takes up the care of Nahor's son Lot, and they all settle in Haran in Asia Minor until Terah dies (Gen. 11:24-32).

Something monumental happens next: God calls Abram and his family to set out toward the land of Canaan, and God would make from their descendants a great nation. This is curious, for Abram and Sarai are old and have no children. But Abram responds affirmatively—-and this is the real beginning of the Bible’s story. You might subtitle the Bible, “how God worked through the faith of Abram to change the world.”

As you read Genesis 12 and 13, you follow Abram and his family from Haran into Canaan, with a side trip to Egypt and back. I’ve heard sermons about Abraham (as he is eventually renamed), to the effect that we should be ready to go if God calls us to go. But don’t forget that Abraham was a nomad; he had no fixed home to start with, and his life was closely tied to the availability of land for his sizable holdings in livestock. His sojourn in Egypt, where he is caught in a well-intentioned lie, seems to have been a time when his holdings were built up.

As the story continues, contention builds between Abram’s people and Lot’s. Some arrangement of land usage needs to be worked out, and Abram allows his nephew the first choice. Lot chooses the area of Sodom. If this were a movie, we might hear ominous, foreshadowing music at this point, but the region of Sodom seemed to Lot a positive choice.

If you had been in a similar situation, would you have relinquished the ability to make the first choice? Perhaps you remember a time you were in competition for a choice job, or a good home. Maybe you had to be aggressive and seize the opportunity when it presented itself.

Abram certainly displayed that kind of initiative in Genesis 14, when he was called upon to rescue Lot during a time of tribal warfare. But it’s also true that his peaceful and generous nature is frequently praised in Scripture. Abram reflects a quality of God’s own character, for God is a God of peace.

At this point, God speaks again to Abram. God had not previously told Abram what land he would be given; now, God tells him to look all around. This land of the Canaanites would be the land of Abram’s descendants. In a pattern we also find elsewhere in Scripture, God reiterates his promises as a pledge of God's trustworthiness.

I don’t want to minimize Abraham by making him simply an example of faithful living. He is THE example of faith, the first who answered God in fully faithful obedience, revered as such by three major religions (appropriately called the Abrahamic religions). But looking at the life of Abraham, we can take his example for our own, far smaller struggles. In our own journeys, how do we adjudicate the sometimes difficult choices that we have to make, in our business decisions, our need to relocate, our concern for faithfulness to God’s guidance?

For All the Saints: John Wycliffe, and Hallowmas

On the Episcopal calendar, John Wycliffe (c. 1320-1384) is honored today. He was an Oxford professor, scholastic philosopher, theologian, and noted Bible translator who is still well known in the church. Over a century before Luther, he addressed and criticized what he considered abuses in the Roman Catholic church. He translated the Bible into Middle English by the year 1382, undertaking much and perhaps all of the New Testament with his helpers working on the Old Testament. For him, the Bible should be the church's central authority and thus he criticized the papacy and doctrines that he considered unscriptural.

Although the Czech reformer Jan Hus was executed for his teachings (several years later, in 1415), and although Wycliffe's followers were persecuted, Wycliffe himself died of natural causes. Nevertheless, Wycliffe's remains were exhumed, burned, and scattered; he had been posthumously declared a heretic whose books as well as remains should be destroyed.

With Wycliffe, I conclude my year-long posts about different saints of the church, which I began here. I posted 140 altogether. This has been a personal way that I disciplined myself to think about matters of the Spirit as the days and weeks went by, and I learned a lot in the process! There were many, many interesting and faithful persons---honored on Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox calendars---whom I missed, so I'll probably return to this informal study in the future.

From the Facebook page of St Paul Lutheran
Church, Dog Leg Road, Dayton OH
Tomorrow is Reformation Day, the anniversary of Luther's posting of 95 theses (propositions for debate) upon the door of Wittenberg Church. He did not intend to break with the Roman Catholic Church, only to debate and clarify aspects of church teaching. The statement led eventually to the Protestant Reformation--and certainly, the efforts of Wycliffe and his followers was Luther's forerunner.

Tomorrow is also All Hallows' Evening, or the evening before All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day (or Hallowmas). Of course, All Hallows' Evening is usually contracted to All Hallows' Eve or just Halloween. It begins the time of Allhallowtide when the dead, including the saints (hallows) and martyrs are remembered and honored. The day may have roots in the Gaelic festival Samhain, but the setting of Hallowmas may date from the 8th century papacy of Gregory III.

And Tuesday is All Saints' Day. It is the middle day of Hallowmas, the three-day festival commemorating those saints, known and unknown, who have died (in Catholic theology: those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven). Many churches have a recitation of the names of members of that congregation who have died during the previous year. According to the informal research that I did last year, the feast was mentioned in a sermon as early as 373 AD, and the date of November 1 was instituted by the 8th century Pope Gregory III, while the 9th century Pope Gregory IV made it a feast for the whole church.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For All the Saints: Crispin and Crispinian

I've been away from my laptop for a few days while on a trip, so I'm a day late for the October 25th feast day of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, believed to be Roman brothers who pursued missionary work in Gaul. To support themselves, they made shoes and gave some of their earnings to the poor. They were arrested during the Diocletian persecution, tortured, and thrown into a river, and when they survived that, they were beheaded. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04491a.htm

Doing these posts for several months, I realize how many legends and stories of the earlier saints have a similarity: some of these men and women were hard to kill! They endured torture and even fatal encounters yet hung on, and only beheading finally "worked." But at least one saint on the Orthodox calendar miraculously carried his own severed head for a while. I don't mean this as a flippant observation, but the stories do emphasize these kinds of heroism and witness.

St. Crispin is remembered in two notable ways in the arts. In the third act of Richard Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger, the shoemakers' guild sing a song of praise to the saint who made shoes. More famously, perhaps, Shakespeare has Henry V make an inspiring "band of brothers" speech at the beginning of the Battle of Agincourt:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Here's Kenneth Branagh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRj01LShXN8

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Darwin the Botanist

I love antique books, and a few months ago I decided to collect a few notable science books from the nineteenth century. Over the next several weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog, teaching myself many new things in the process.

My two previous posts on this theme concerned Charles Darwin. Did you know that he was a notable botanist? I didn't, but several of his books have to do with plants. Here are eight of his twenty-five books, of which six are specifically focused upon plants and the other two are related topics. Like Darwin's books on natural selection, fossils, and geology, these are treasurable antiquarian books in their early editions by John Murray of London. (His American publisher was D. Appleton, New York).

Fertilisation of Orchids (1862)

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants (published as an essay in 1865, and as a book in 1875)

The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868)

Insectivorous Plants (1875)

The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876)

The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species (1877)

The Power of Movement in Plants (1880)

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms (1881)

I found this site which discusses Darwin's interest in plants: https://ncse.com/library-resource/charles-darwin-botanist The author writes:

An 1891 printing
"Darwin’s botanical interests were broad and eclectic. ... In addition to [his six books devoted solely to botanical subjects] Darwin also published botanical work in journals, was in regular correspondence with many of the outstanding botanists of the time (for example, Joseph Hooker and Asa Gray), and, in later life, worked with his son Francis on botanical research.

"Darwin’s love of plants appears to have been deeply rooted in his childhood. His parents were both interested in gardening and maintained a varied collection of plants in their conservatory and gardens in Shrewsbury, where Darwin grew up. Indeed, one of the few images of Darwin as a child (age 6) show him kneeling with a potted plant on his thigh. In his autobiographical chapter, Darwin (1887) mentions that '…apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants!' A schoolfellow remembers Darwin’s bringing a flower to school and saying that his mother had taught him how to identify the plant by studying the flower."

Another site, http://www.bgci.org/education/article/0659/, is a discussion of Darwin's botanical work. Both of these articles are worth reading as a whole. This author notes:

"Darwin wrote six botanical books, over 75 articles, and well-articulated and rigorously executed studies. He titled his last plant book The power of movement in plants (1880). Fascination with the ways that plants move entered the early botanical literature in conjunction with a difficult question: Are plants alive? Although they don’t have evident nervous systems, they can respond to irritation in some cases. This was taken as a sign of life. At the bottom is the even more difficult question, ‘What is life?’ For Darwin, the traditional ‘What is life?’ question was transformed into an effort to demonstrate the unity of all life and hence, by implication, the common descent of all branches of the evolutionary tree. This is the unspoken thesis of Power of Movement. Darwin was once again universalising. By showing that plants have a power of movement and given that mobility and the capacity for movement are animal-like characteristics, he is supporting the unity of common descent, which in turn is an underlying assumption or implication (depending on how the argument is phrased) of evolution...

"As we have seen, Darwin not only contributed to botany, he actually changed the discipline by his very contributions. Since all of his botanical researches were conducted as applications of the theory of evolution, replete with well-worked examples often treated as evidence for natural selection, he was using botany to defend his theory. But simultaneously he was also providing botanists with a model for how to think about their own observations in evolutionary terms....Darwin was so invested in his plant research that he himself built the bridge directly from the Origin to fundamental problems in botanical science. Thus did Darwin assist at the birth of evolutionary botany. This dual role as both founder of evolution by natural selection and exponent of how the theory could be applied in botany is quite remarkable. Later generations of Darwinian botanists would complete the transformation of botany into evolutionary science. But Darwin went a long way in providing a model for that transformation."

(Among his other, varied investigations, Darwin was also interested in marine invertebrates, and wrote articles and books on the subject, particularly barnacles, during the years prior to On the Origin of Species. Here is an article that discusses his research: http://darwin-online.org.uk/EditorialIntroductions/Richmond_cirripedia.html )

A friend recommends Janet Browne's biography of Darwin.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

For All the Saints: Elizabeth of the Trinity

Mother Teresa was canonized recently, and today Pope Francis canonizes another saint: Élisabeth Catez (1880-1906), Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D. I learned about her thanks to a former student who is a Byzantine Catholic nun, who wrote on her Facebook page about Elizabeth, who entered the Discalced Carmelite order in 1901, took her solemn vows in 1903, and died of Addison's disease three years later. But the depths of her devotion and her writings have left a significant legacy. Here, for instance, is her prayer to the Trinity (from this site):

"The prayer to the Trinity
"O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth f from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.
"O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour.
"O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
"O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.
And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased
"O my `Three', my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendour!"

The Carmelite site gives more information about her: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/elizabeth-trinity

Here are news stories about her canonization: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/who-was-elizabeth-of-the-trinity-the-story-behind-a-new-saint-86118/


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bible Road Trips: The Road to Exile

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

The Road to Exile
2 Kings 23:21-25:30, Psalm 137

I’m thinking about the biblical exile—-thinking about the people of God as refugees forced out of the land and into Babylon, following the destruction of Jerusalem. Here is a map(1) of the way the people traveled. Among the biblical accounts of roads and travel, this is a particularly tragic one.

By the rivers of Babylon—
   there we sat down and there we wept
   when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
   we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
   asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
   ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)

If you’re familiar with biblical history, you know that the exile is a milestone of a very long story of God’s promise of land to his people, extending about 1500 years from Genesis 12 till the end of 2 Kings. It was the end of the Davidic monarchy (conventionally conceived) that had lasted about four hundred years, and it was a second experience of wilderness for God’s people, perhaps more profound than the forty years of Moses’ leadership. God’s punishment for the people’s covenant-breaking, which is how the exile was theologically understood, is the subject of many of the prophets—and so a great deal of the biblical text is in one way or another related to the exile.

James Tissot, "The Flight of the Prisoners",
Jewish Museum, New York
You can read the account of the disaster itself in 2 Kings 23:21-25:30 and Jeremiah chapter 52. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had already besieged Jerusalem in 605 BCE, resulting in tribute paid to the king by the king of Judah, Jehoiakim. But Jehoiakim eventually refused to pay tribute, leading to another siege, the death of Jehoiakim, and the exile of subsequent King Jeconiah and his court. Further deportations happened during the reign of Zedekiah. The dates of the deportation are often cited as about 598 and another in 586 (when Jerusalem was destroyed, along with Solomon’s Temple), and the last in about 582/581. Scholars debate the number of Jews who were deported, and how many stayed in the land, as well as the total number of deportations. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were the major prophets of this period; in fact, Ezekiel continued to minister to the people and communicated prophecies of hope.

The exile ended in about 538, when the Persian leader Cyrus allowed Jews to return to the land, and the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt in the 510s and after. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah cover this history, which concludes the period of biblical history.

As I said above, this is a profound event in the biblical history, but also far beyond. The exile shaped the subsequent history of Jews and Judaism. The Hebrew language was developed during this time. The Torah was likely compiled and edited during this time, becoming the sacred text for a people.(2) Many Jews did not return to the land, and so the Torah, along with synagogues and teacher-sages and mitzvot-oriented observance, became crucial aspects of Jewish religious and ethnic identity. Expectation of the return of the Davidic monarchy became important for many Jews. Such expectation was also crucial for the first century CE group of Jews who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Thus the experiences of exile, return, and expectation were also formative for the beginning of Christianity.

I write about this in more (informal) detail at this site. Here, I want to say: when you hold your Bible in your hand and read it, the whole book is can be understood as a story of exile, the trauma of refugees, and the hope that keeps them going.

If we need any “inspiration” to contribute toward the well-being of refugee people in our own time, we could certainly start with the experience of Bible people as refugees and exiles who long for their home as reflected in the 137th Psalm. With news of Syria and Appello as on-going news stories, I refreshed my memory about the plights of refugees and exiles in the world. Turning to the UNHCR website (The UN Refugee Agency, http://www.unrefugees.org/what-we-do/who-we-help/), I learned that there are currently 21.3 millions refugees in the world, over 50% of whom are children. Over 40.8 million are “internally displaced people” (IDPs), who have no home but have not crossed a border to safety. In 2014, 11 million were newly displaced. Colombia, Iraq, and South Sudan are countries with a high populations of IDPs. Ten million people are “stateless’; they’re minority people who have no citizenship status anywhere. About 3.2 million people are asylum seekers, seeking the right to receive legal protection and material assistance by being recognized as refugees.

Day by day I worry about my own small problems, in my own nice home, while these millions of people are in crisis.

You can find articles about specific refugee situations: for instance, I found this recent piece about IDPs in Serbia and Kosovo. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54940#.V-p6FDKZM9c

Here is another article concerning Syrian refugees, about whom American politicians have misinformed the public in key ways. http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/facts-about-the-syrian-refugees/

Don’t be distracted from politically motivated misinformation about refugees: find out more for yourself, from nonpartisan and reputable sources.

Here is the site of the Catholic Relief Service, for instance, that contains several ideas for helping:

Here is another site that I found, “welcoming refugees,” http://www.welcomingrefugees.org/about-project

Do a Bible study: http://www.ucc.org/justice_immigration_worship_biblical-references-to

Writing this post has inspired me, too, to contribute to some of these ministries and to be more informed.


1. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/babyloniamap.html

2.  The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemnan writes, “It may be that the final form of the Torah was not reached in the brief period of the Babylonian displacement, but rather in the subsequent Persian period during which there continued to be communities of passionate Jews far from Jerusalem. Either way, after the disruption of 587, under Babylonian or Persian aegis, Jews understood themselves to be exposed, vulnerable, not at risk without the visible supports of a stable homeland. For our purposes it does not matter greatly if the exile is ‘historical’ as given us in the Bible (as we are inclined to think), or if it is an ideological self-characterization. Either way, displaced people needed a place from which to validate a theologically informed, peculiar sense of identity and practice of life. The traditioning (sic) process that produced the Torah thus strikes us as a remarkable match for displacement, so that we may understand ‘the Torah of Moses’ as a script for displaced community [my emphasis]. This connection greatly illuminates the fact, as noted above, that the ‘Torah of Moses’ concludes in Deuteronomy 34 with the death of Moses (thus the end of the normative period) and Israel posed to enter the land of promise but still landless. We may believe that this now normative tradition was powerfully and peculiarly germane to a community that understood itself as exiles, poised to reenter the land but still landless. Thus the Torah came to have durable validity for subsequent generations in the community as canon….” (An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, p. 42).

For All the Saints: Teresa of Ávila

Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) was baptized Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada. She is well known Spanish mystic, Carmelite nun, and theologian. She was canonized in 1622 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1970. Her works include the The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. This site has a good summary of her eventful life and spiritual pilgrimage:


Friday, October 14, 2016

Poverty as a Campaign Issue

Not long ago, a colleague commented on Facebook that the candidates seldom if ever talk about hunger. Then this morning I saw this good essay, "the main issue that faith based voters should be asking tougher questions about": http://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2016/10/the-main-issue-that-faith-based-voters-should-be-asking-tougher-questions-about/ The author writes:

"While conservative and progressive Christians may hold differing views on the most important issues of this election cycle, there is one issue that should take top-billing for ALL people of faith, no matter which side of the aisle or what their language for God. It’s the one issue that could bridge the divides over social issues, and it’s the one issue that none of us have been talking about enough:

"This is a non-partisan critique. Neither candidate has given proper attention to the issue of poverty in this election. And that’s because we, the voting population, have not been asking enough hard questions about their plans to address it. Candidates are always going to spend the majority of their mic time covering the issues that they think will get them elected. So if we aren’t good and loud about what we care about, we aren’t going to hear about it." The author goes on to say that concerns about abortion, jobs, etc., could be addressed via the issue of poverty.

That essay linked to this recent piece in the New York Times, which similarly raises the issue of poverty and whether the candidates' ideas address poverty, if peripherally: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/12/us/politics/trump-clinton-poverty.html?_r=0

Good pieces to read and consider!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Landscape: Hans Heysen

Hans Heysen (1877-1968), "Red Gold" (1913). From: http://tlf.dlr.det.nsw.edu.au/learningobjects/Content/R3745/object/

Copied under fair use principles.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bible Road Trips: The Raising of Lazarus

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

The Raising of Lazarus
Read: John 11:1-44

A journey that many of us have made is the journey of sickness or grief: a loved one is gravely ill, a loved one has died. We must suspend everything we’re doing and go to the place. These are terrible trips.

In the famous story of Jesus and Lazarus, Jesus is called to his friends’ home in Bethany because he is sick. Someone had to travel and to locate Jesus, increasing the likelihood that Lazarus would die before Jesus arrived. But Jesus waited an extra two days before he set out with his disciples to Judea. On the way, he knew that Lazarus had died (vss. 11-15), but he tells them that the delay would help their belief later. The reason is that Lazarus would not only be dead but four days dead. His disciples, including Mary and Martha, try as best as they can to give him the benefit of the doubt, but his delay seems to them distressing.

The Bible contains seven miracles of persons raised from the dead, three by Jesus (Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44), and four by others (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:32-37, Acts 9:36-40, Acts 20:7-12). Don’t forget Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones Ezekiel (37:1-14); those people were beyond decomposition, yet in the prophetic vision, God restored their life. There are also stories of God’s power over natural forces, including destruction and death: for instance, Jesus’ calmed of the storm (Luke 8:22-24), Jesus walked across the churning sea (Matt. 14:22-36), and much earlier in the Bible, God splits the sea (Exodus 14:15-31).

I think of all these stories as part of the larger story: the forces of life and death, creation and destruction, are all somehow, in ways we do not understand, within the power and life of God, and therefore of Christ.

“In him we live and move and have our being,” were the words of Greek philosopher Epimenides that Paul approvingly quoted as he preached before the Areopagus (Acts 17:28). Our physical lives, though not the same as God’s life, are within God’s being and cared for by God. Of course, we also believe that our spiritual identities are preserved by God: that is, God saves our souls for Heaven, to use traditional language that affirms God’s power to preserve our lives.

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is Colossians 3:3, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We have “died” in the sense that God gives us God’s life that continues although our own lives will end. We’ve also “died” in the sense that we are no longer condemned by God through Christ. No matter what kind of people we are, we are surrounded by and included in God’s life. This is slightly different from religions that teach that we are part of God because all reality is ultimately God. The Christian idea personalizes the life of God, so to speak. To say, “my life is included in God’s life” means that we are included in the life of a living person and living reality.

Furthermore, being included (“hidden”) in Christ’s life is unfathomably wonderful, because the New Testament also teaches the tenderness of Christ toward struggling people, his identification with those who are struggling materially and spiritually, the attention he gives to the emotionally downcast, his willingness to intercede and intervene for people when they are weak and faltering. Eventually, Jesus’ death—which he was fast approaching the day he raised Lazarus—opened infinite Spirit-power that rescues us from the nothingness and misery of death.

During times of sad travel, as you struggle with the decline and death of a loved one, look to the story of story of Lazarus to remember the ways God safeguards us in this life and beyond.