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Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 45 (American Idiom)

[Reaction to One Year Bible's May 16-18 readings]

Today's readings included a couple of phrases that have become American idioms. From the second half of John 8:32, "the truth will set you free" and from the second half of John 9:25, "I was blind but now I see!"

A search a couple of idiom sites reveals that perhaps these are better characterized as expressions or often quoted scriptures. (Nonetheless, I am not ashamed to reveal my love of pop music with American Idiom and Passion Nugget as post titles.) To put them in slightly more context the full verses are: (8:32) "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." and (9:25) "[The blind man] replied, 'Whether [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'"

I think the latter is used in everyday conversation pretty true to its source. That is, to express sudden understanding, or a dramatic transformation. The former, on the other hand, not so much. I most associate it with urging someone to tell the truth so that the person will be unburdened, whereas, in context it means knowing the truth will free you. Although, perhaps it is used that way, too. Full context: truth, sight.

Has anyone else heard people use these phrases in conversation?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 44 (Sympathy for Saul)

[My reaction to the One Year Bible's May 13-15 readings]

Saul, Israel's first king, is a pretty tragic character. I feel for him. He doesn't have the ear of God the way Moses and Joshua did. He doesn't resist the mantle of kingship, but he wasn't looking for it either. And it seems that Samuel never gets over the fact that Israel demanded a king, something Samuel takes personally.

Saul's problems are also regular people problems. He is impatient, he makes rash promises, he stretches orders and he is vain. But of course, he also wins all kinds of battles and he motivates his troops. And, like I said, it's not like he asked for the job.

Saul seems to be a moderately competent leader who had the decks stacked against him. Also, a meta-note, it intrigues me to read characters that are so subtly drawn.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 43 (Jesus, is that You?)

[Reaction to May 10-12 readings in the One Year Bible]

I knew that John's gospel differed from the synoptic gospels in its layout. I didn't realize that Jesus' personality would come across so differently. In John, Jesus makes frequent declarations of who he is. Consider this passage:
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
So, first off, John is jarring because the bad guys are not the Pharisees or teachers of the law, but "the Jews." Next, what a gruesome defense of communion. It is not surprising that he lost some followers.

In the synoptics, its seems to me that this ministry is thrust upon Jesus. He has the truth and has to let it out. There is a journey of the country prophet who realizes what he has is too big to keep to himself. Not so in John. Here Jesus is angrier than before. He is more direct than before. His theology is fully formed.

I wonder if others notice this. It all makes this Gospel's popularity among Christian fundamentalists easy to understand.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 42 (True Story)

[My reaction to May 7-9 readings in the One Year Bible.]

Consider the following stories. Jack and the Beanstock, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, George Washington and the Cherry Tree, Woodstock, Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner," Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

On the one hand, none of these is entirely devoid of myth. They all are cultural stories with morals. They all stand for a larger truth, or perhaps an arguable truth. On the other hand, it is undeniable that the factual basis of these stories varies. Although there would be some disagreement, in general we know which parts of these are factual.

What would be more difficult is to know where the stories of the Trojan Horse or Greek Fire go in this list. I am similarly confused about where to put the story of the birth of Samuel. Link.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Days 40-41 (Non-synoptic)

[My reaction to the May 1-6 NT readings from the One Year Bible]

Wikipedia provides a pretty neat summary of the shared material in the synoptic Gospels. John, on the other hand is a completely different beast. It is thick, thick, thick with theology. It establishes in Chapter 1 that Jesus was the Christ and existed for all time. In Chapter 2, we get wedding miracle, then right off the bat, he's clearing the tables. It establishes in Chapter 3, that faith in Christ provides access to eternal life. It establishes in Chapter 4 that this offer extends to people other than the children of his religion.

Very different.

Days 40-41 (Heroes aint Kings)

[Reaction to OT May 1-6 readings from One Year Bible]

I have now finished the books of Judges & Ruth. The book of Judges includes the stories of Ehud; Deborah; Gideon; Jephthah; and Samson. For the most part, these are stories of the independent tribes fighting various enemies. In these, the judge, or hero, is obvious, as is the enemy. God helps the hero liberate Isreal, Israel sins again, God lets the enemies take over, they need another hero. I'd read a book about the role of women in these Hebrew folktales as compared to their role in Greek or Egyptian fables.

Anyway, toward the end of Judges you get the real point: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." E.g., Judges 17:6. The book concludes with one ambiguous story (that of Micah's Levite) and one unambiguously wicked and gruesome one (the Levite's concubine). Ugly Biblical Stories.

Since the book of Joshua, I've notice the occasional phrase such as "and that's why ____ is that way/is there today." It seems that the story of the Levite's concubine has some of that quality. But primarily, it advocates--strongly--for an Isrealite king. As I read on, I believe I will find authors arguing strongly against the proposal for centralized government.

Also, here is the story of Ruth. Like the stories of the judges, it is fairly self-contained, except it establishes that David is 1/8th not Israelite.

Days 40-41 (To Be Human)

[Reaction to Psalms from May 1-6 readings in One Day Bible]

I've found the psalms most effective when I read them aloud. I particularly find it therapeutic to do so with the laments like Psalm 102. Perhaps because the feeling of being forsaken is more universally expressed than the feeling of victory, I find victory psalms less moving. But I think Psalm 104 is a nice example. "Praise the Lord, O my soul," does strike a chord though. Finally, I did the occasional ancient Hebrew version of School House Rock found at Psalm 105.

Perhaps with the exception of the School House Rock, the range of emotion expressed in the psalms speaks to human nature.