November 30, 2006

Demons and Lepers

I was recently ambushed by a Nadine Gordimer quote: "The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms."

Roman-afflicted Israel was, and modern "America" is, in such a time. If Paul Goodman, writing in the early 1960's, described us as suffering from "unfinished business," what can we say for our current selves, except that we are heirs of all he meant and more?

As the gains of the 60's were rolled back, the long onset of the BGH Economy (Say "Moo!") began. When our rulers began talking of a "kinder, gentler" world, it was a timely reminder of the crueler, harsher (and infinitely pettier!) world they had in fact been imposing for one very long time.

Playing musical chairs for jobs--no longer hoping much for the advertised
'rewarding' careers, gradually settling for bait-&-switch at best--has psychologically deformed most all of us. For people who once hoped only for honest work and a tough-but-endurable life, the concept of what Buddhists call "right livelihood" has become an unimaginable, inaffordable luxury.

Self-images warp and shatter. Mania and depression are the twin sides of this coin. And for that lucky class of people in (more or less) beautiful cliffside homes... the many faces of denial.

The lepers are on your corners. They're a scurvy lot; I don't recommend kissing them. But you can't truly say they aren't your brothers and sisters.

An old, alcoholic friend has just gone over the edge; her little booze-devil isn't cute anymore, has started to tell her who's in charge and what she "has" to do. She doesn't want to hear how big it's gotten, how it will eat her if she doesn't put it down.

Pray for her? What does that mean? Pray God to make her do something she doesn't want to do? How many friends of alcoholics have prayed that futile prayer?--and what is the prayer we should pray instead?

A booze-devil is individual-size, obvious to everyone except the one afflicted. What other, larger, unrecognized devils leer out from kindly, oblivious eyes?

What is a devil? A conscious, malicious being? Or an angel twisted by our desires?

Does it order us to act like zombies? Or do we lull ourselves by dreams of mechanical efficacy?

The other night I was remembering my youth, how I'd done ever so many foolish things only to keep from clearly looking at myself. Last night I told some friends; they said, "Isn't that how everybody's youth goes?" Lucky if we've gotten past that, at all. Shouldn't we have compassion, for everyone with their heads still stuck in dark places?

We made it (to those dubious heights we now inhabit); there's hope for us all. Unlikely as it looks...

gospel according mark 1:40-45

Jesus cures leprosy

1:40 Then a leper came to Jesus, knelt in front of him and appealed to him, "If you want to, you can make me clean."

1:41 Jesus was filled with pity for him, and stretched out his hand and placed it on the leper, saying, "Of course I want to - be clean!"

1:42-44 At once the leprosy left him and he was quite clean. Jesus sent him away there and then with the strict injunction, "Mind you say nothing at all to anybody. Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed, as public proof of your recovery."

1:45 But he went off and began to talk a great deal about it in public, spreading his story far and wide. Consequently, it became impossible for Jesus to show his face in the towns and he had to stay outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from all quarters.

November 28, 2006

in the grip of an evil spirit

The significance of this figure to me is as a type of me (and perhaps you) or of the nation to which I (we) belong.

Theologically we serve God-- or the devil (there's certainly a grey area, on the fence, indeterminte, some good, some bad). But what I (we) do less than God is readily seen as an evil spirit.

I am many- Legion. Or more properly Legion is within me. It causes me to cut myself on the stones: the law, preconceived notions of what is good for us (but not for them). Separating ourselves from the rest of the world like all those with evil spirits do.

Thankfully we, too may be blessed with the healing seen in this story. I have been so blessed, am being blessed, and will be blessed. Hurrah!

gospel according to mark 1:35-39

He retires for private prayer

1:35-37 Then, in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Simon and his companions went in search of him, and when they found him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you."

1:38 "Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighbouring towns," he replied, "so that I may give my message there too - that is why I have come."

1:39 So he continued preaching in their synagogues and expelling evil spirits throughout the whole of Galilee.

November 26, 2006

teaching with authority/david

Why he even gives his orders to evil spirits and they obey him!

I notice a parallel with my favourite passage in Mark. The calming the sea miracle recorded in 4:35-41 -- which opened my kwakersaur blog 2 years ago -- ends with Jesus' very disciples saying:
Who ever can he be? - even the wind and the waves do what he tells them!

Now that I've read Berkhof and Stringfellow as well as Wink I can see clearly that evil spirits and forces of nature were not seen as significantly different kinds of critter to Jesus' contemporaries. These were the powers and principalities, the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil (Ephesians 6).

But that just nuances the core issue for me. The crowds (and later is very disciples) just don't get it. They accept him as a teacher, they are amazed at his miracles, they don't get that he has authority over the forces which oppress their lives.

Authority is important here. It maps to my earlier discussion with crystal on omnipotence. In these stories (unlike for example the story of the woman healed of a blood issue, Mark 5:24-34) it is not some supernatural power that Jesus has that allows him to work miracles but a superhuman authority. He doesn't impose his will in some psychic power kind of way. He speaks, and the forces of destruction submit.

I know I sometimes split hairs in these scripture studies but I think this time the distinction is important. Its important in a political way. Judea is occupied by two Roman legions; it has become a province of a world empire whose emperor demands worship as the incarnation of a god. Jesus' power is not the power of an individual centurion with simply a bigger nastier sword. It is the authority of a world emperor, who commands and the individual centurions obey. Indeed, he commands even those in rebellion against him, and they obey.

It is significant in another way. One I have not integrated into my spirituality as yet. It is implicit in Mark's second prologue:
These signs will follow those who do believe: they will drive out evil spirits in my name; they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous it will do them no harm; they will lay their hands upon the sick and they will recover.

It is explicit in the gospel of John:
I assure you that the man who believes in me will do the same things that I have done, yes, and he will do even greater things than these, for I am going away to the Father. Whatever you ask the Father in my name, I will do - that the Son may bring glory to the Father. And if you ask me anything in my name, I will grant it.

You will find trouble in the world - but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!

Since Jesus' power is an authority over the forces that oppress us, then we too as his followers have such authority. I have not figured out how to exercise that authority. And I have not figured out how to integrate it into my basic spirituality, which is one of consecration and kenosis: not my will, but thy will be done.

November 25, 2006

gospel according to mark 1:21-34

Jesus begins healing the sick

1:21-24 They arrived at Capernaum, and on the Sabbath day Jesus walked straight into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at his way of teaching, for he taught with the ring of authority - quite unlike the scribes. All at once, a man in the grip of an evil spirit appeared in the synagogue shouting out, "What have you got to do with us, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to kill us? I know who you are - you're God's holy one!"

1:25 But Jesus cut him short and spoke sharply, "Hold your tongue and get out of him!"

1:26-27 At this the evil spirit convulsed the man, let out a loud scream and left him. Everyone present was so astounded that people kept saying to each other, "What on earth has happened? This new teaching has authority behind it. Why he even gives his orders to evil spirits and they obey him!"

1:28 And his reputation spread like wild-fire through the whole Galilean district.

1:29-31 Then he got up and went straight from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a high fever, and they lost no time in telling Jesus about her. He went up to her, took her hand and helped her to her feet. The fever left her, and she began to see to their needs.

1:32-34 Late that evening, after sunset, they kept bringing to him all who were sick or troubled by evil spirits. The whole population of the town gathered round the doorway. And he healed great numbers of people who were suffering from various forms of disease. In many cases he expelled evil spirits; but he would not allow them to say a word, for they knew perfectly well who he was.

christology/scripture (david)

I cast down the gauntlet so to speak. So here goes.

I became a Christian in November of 1982. At the time and for some time following I found it very important to direct my prayer toward the God of Jesus. I remained agnostic on Christ's divinity -- not because I doubted but because I felt my call clearly to be to the God Jesus revealed and to Christ as his revealer. Overtime I have become more explicitly Trinitarian (Tri-unitarian) mostly by osmosis. I'm mean Trinitarian is the default position of Christianity and without strong reasons/incentives otherwise that's where a Christian ends up.

Then I ran into ran into Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Instead of trying to reason his way into faith through what is called Natural Theology or Philosophical Theology he starts with the core fact God's self-revelation in Christ Jesus. His Christology is logically prior to his doctrine of reconciliation. You have to have studied Protestant theology to know how truly radical that move is. He starts with revelation qua revelation even before the content of that revelation. And suddenly this troublesome notion of God, three persons in one Godhead which I sort of embraced knowing full well that it was utterly incoherent -- suddenly it made sense to me.


What I have is a Quaker peculiarity. I hold to what church types call a "high christology". As Barth would say, Christ Jesus was fully human, fully God, and fully God-man. Now my friend Larry is squirming in his boots. Because everytime I affirm the divinity of Christ he feels a need to qualify it. Yes Jesus is divine, but so are we all. They taught us at AVP everything before a "but" is a lie.

Like Larry I affirm that doctrine all but lost to Protestantism, theosis. We're all on the God-track. Salvation doesn't just mean escaping the horny guys with pitchforks -- it means becoming divine. And that offer that opportunity and that reality is available to all of us. So we both affirm universal theosis. And maybe just maybe this theosis extends to the universe itself and not just everybody in it.

But in the meantime, I know I'm not quite there yet. I'm not even fully human let alone fully divine. And that goes for anyone I know or have heard of including those I love most in this world. So while we're all human and divine, Christ Jesus is human and divine in a different way I cannot fully articulate -- only that this difference remains important for me to affirm.
I'm going through a time of foment right now. Not sure where its taking me. The name(s) I call God in prayer and in public suddenly aren't working for me any longer.
Time will tell where it takes me. Maybe I'll pack it all in and become a cyber-Daoist.


If my christology is high my doctrine of scripture is low. The bible is a collection of ANETs: Ancient Near Eastern Texts. What marks it a different from other ANETs is simply that it is held to be scripture by a fluid cluster of interrelated sects calling themselves Christian.

I do not deny the spiritual validity or utility of other scriptures -- Daodejing, Quran, Torah, Analects. But I also note these are not my scriptures. I come to them as an outsider. I'm presently a practitioner of the Christian path and I can only read other people's scriptures in light of that practice. Reading is always done form within a tradition or set of (often conflicting) traditions.

I also affirm with Karl Barth (and early Quakers), that our scriptures, are faithful witnesses to the Word of God. I also affirm with Karl Barth, that when reading them in faith, seeking the Word they bear witness to, they become the word of God to/for us. I have experienced it. But for me it is not the Bible but the Word that has the authority and power. And faith has to be there prior to the reading.

November 24, 2006

David's Questions: Our personal notions of scripture and Christ

I don't think I can talk about the nature of scriptures without talking about revelation.

And I can't talk about Christology without talking about what it means to be "a human being."

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of it, how does Creation happen? Much as poems are "written," or plants grow. We live in our dream.

What is there to dream us?

Given the miracle that anything exists at all--that there is spirit to live this story--I'm inclined to believe the notion that God intrinsically exists. If it were possible for God not to exist, there would not be any existence, any being to experience the nothingness that wouldn't be anywhere--but my experience contradicts that alternative (and so does yours!)

God "became" us because that was the only way we could have any reality whatsoever.

The Whole Thing is within us, within each of us, and so is whatever we call "the outside world." But is not limited to that.

We experience our moment-to-moment existence. This could be, as in a dream, a succession of (seemingly) unrelated images, but instead we have continuity, the past morphing into the future--So something holds it all together, and whatever that is--is beyond our conscious self. Whatever that is, it is not some brute unreasoning "subconscious," not a mental working that's less conscious than we are but obviously something conscious of much more. I can imagine no limit to it.

And yet it has "peopled" itself into this universe. It is not possible to exist without being, intrinsically, It itself. And thus it loves us "as we love ourselves." If we are hungry to know the truth, it feeds us. But it's such a bewildering truth, and we're so little.

Scripture is our baby food.

Is it "the Truth"? How can words or letters be true or false, except as we translate them into our minds? Scriptures nourish the truth growing in us, if we chew them and digest them properly. Like what we might tell a child who wants to know, "Why is the sky blue?"

"Inspiration is not dictation." We can read scripture (like anything in this world, but particularly scriptures) as containing messages addressed to us. The passage we need (like anything else in this world) is likely to come to our attention at the appropriate moment, when it will be most helpful. At best, scripture is written by people in a state of communion with God, but it is not written by infallible people, nor can it make us infallible. It is merely one form that our mental/spiritual "daily bread" can take.

Is Jesus "just another human being," then? Yes. But what is a human being?

Is Jesus sent by God to let us know what God is like? Yes.

Is God like Jesus in character and personality, then? That appears to be the message.

November 23, 2006

son of God?

Often it's illuminating to look for the original meaning of a religious phrase. Often you find that it's been distorted beyond recognition--but then you also find that the new meanings it's taken on have an illuminating power of their own.

So. The "Son of God" once meant simply the "King of Israel," period. Like "the Son of Heaven" was ruler of China.

To call someone a "son of" anything can merely mean that he somehow resembles whatever he is "son of." Like the "Sons of Thunder." But there's also that metaphorical family relationship.

Jesus led us to understand ourselves as "God's children." Outside of John, he doesn't go around sounding like: "I'm the Son of God and you're not." He tells us to look on God as a good father to us, to trust God, depend on God, love and obey God, not as a ruler or a boss but as one truly akin to us.

Ursula Le Guin in _The Lathe of Heaven_ quotes from Chuange Tse XXIII:

"Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn it by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason..."

The good news for us is that we are all God's children in this sense.

But if we don't believe this... then we don't believe it.

It's hard to help someone who's too busy struggling, dispairing, or frantically maintaining denial of imagined horrors. And for the "wicked," mercy can look a lot like wrath.

{A friend of mine, counselling men whom courts had referred in cases of wife-beating, found many of them utterly unrepentant, sure that what they'd done was entirely right and proper. All he could do for some was to pray. At the moment he was praying for one particularly bad example, the man was on his way to his wife's with every intention of killing her. The police caught him on the way, and he ended up spending a long time in jail, time enough to think things over and sort them out differently. Our jails and prisons are a scandal, an accustomed atrocity, institutions that should be abolished. But the effect, this time, was good.}

Theological types have gotten fond of calling God "wholly other." This is valid in the sense of "wholly unlike our habitual selves"--even when our habits are good ones. But we can understand God better as "wholly akin." Wholly akin to what is deepest in us, most alive, most creative and unexpected.

November 22, 2006

gospel according to mark 1:14-20

Jesus begins to preach the gospel, and to call men to follow him

1:14-15 - It was after John's arrest that Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying, "The time has come at last - the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news."

1:16-17 - As he walked along the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the water. "Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!" he cried.

1:18 - At once they dropped their nets, and followed him.

1:19-20 - Then he went a little further along the shore and saw James the son of Zebedee, aboard a boat with his brother John, overhauling their nets. At once he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went off after him.

November 21, 2006


Mark's tradition doesn't specify the temptations. We just don't know. The traditions that do specify can for the present purpose be taken to be an alternate Christology.

Mark presents Jesus encountering the Holy Spirit in an ecstatic experience of the heavens being sundered and a voice claiming you are my dearly-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!

This is a secret event. Jesus hears and sees. No one else does. This troubles the author of John's gospel who transfers the vision to the Baptist so an outside source can witness to Jesus' sonship to Heaven.

For Mark the immediate effect of the immediate result of the descent of the Holy spirit, the sundering of the heavens, the adoption of Jesus by God -- is for the Holy Spirit to drive Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the satan.

The Holy Spirit does this. And during this time no one was with him but wild animals, and only the angels were there to care for him.

Such is the inward life of the Christ. Sent into harm's way by the Holy Spirit. To be tested by the Evil One. This is what it means to be a son of God. This is what it means to be led by the spirit.

November 20, 2006

What's Jesus Doing In the Wilderness?

1:12-13 Then the Spirit sent him out at once into the desert, and there he remained for forty days while Satan tempted him. During this time no one was with him but wild animals, and only the angels were there to care for him."

"Forty days," of course, is one of those phrases that sounds more specific than it is. "Somewhere between a couple weeks and a couple months," then. But this is more or less parallel to forty years of Exodus; Jesus has just been given title to the Promised Land, but he needs to spend some time wandering in the wilderness on the way. Since the Jews under Moses got uppity, kvetched and came close to mutiny, Jesus gets tempted by Satan.

Since Jesus has just been awarded a potential death sentence, he's got very practical reasons for leaving civilization awhile. We don't know how conspicuous his anointing was. There's the example in 2 Kings 9: "Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him: 'Gird up your loins, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Tamoth-gilead. And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi, and go in and bid him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. Then take the flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say: "Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel." Then open the door and flee; do not tarry.' " This happens; Jehu then dashes out to massacre the former king and his family and all available supporters. Although Jehu's situation and response were quite different, Jesus too could have been anointed secretly, even in private.

There is no specific list of temptations in this (probably) first gospel. Perhaps Jesus recounted the experience in the course of his ethical teachings, to be eventually incorporated into "Q", and hence into Matthew and Luke. Since he is not shown explicitly fasting here, but like Moses depending on God for his sustenance, this would fit with what he says in Matthew, to not be concerned about what we'll have to eat, drink, or wear, and how.

Perhaps not. There are plenty of literary and theological explications, of why Satan would choose these particular temptations; we can't assume however that they are any more authentic than the appropriate speeches that historians customarily composed for prominent figures. Napoleon's General Cambrone was asked to surrender at Waterloo, for example, and was quoted as saying, "The Old Guard dies but never surrenders," while according to Hemingway he answered simply, "Merde!" (Known at "le mot de Cambrone" among polite Frenchmen of Hemingway's day.)

John Yoder in _The Politics of Jesus_ said: "All the options laid before Jesus by the tempter are ways of being king." But Yoder was assuming that Jesus shared in God's omnipotence, and could feed multitudes as often as and whenever he chose. Becoming a wholesale dispensor of manna would have brought Jesus a following, but not one of much use against Roman soldiers. It would put him into an awkward intellectual position: preaching "Food, drink, and clothing are of little importance," to an audience hanging around waiting to be fed. To a modern Christian, it suggests some stereotypical secular charity, meeting people's physical needs while offering nothing whatsoever for their presumed spiritual hungers. It makes a nice religious-sounding criticism of the so-called "Welfare State" ideal (which was certainly more Christian than the current system of malign neglect.) Mainly, it does not seem to have been what God ordered.

The other two alternatives seem like opposites. One would have involved a foolhardy form of "trust," going immediately to the Temple in Jerusalem to claim his kingship directly ("cast himself down from the top"), trusting God to save him from the consequences. But this was not what Jesus was led to do. That would have been acting on the idea of "Trust in God"--but without consulting God about it, which would have constituted "testing God" rather than acknowledging God as a living reality with ideas of his own.

The other would have been to accept Satan's help. This could mean any of several things.

One, to "work within the system" by seeking Roman approval. Could the Romans have accepted a new client king? Probably yes; the Herodians were not Jewish, which made their rule illegitimate in many people's eyes. The trouble was, there was an inherent conflict between Roman interests and those of the local population. And the Roman commercial economy was incompatible with the demands of the Torah. So "working with" both God and Caesar was out of the question.

Two, to use "Satan's methods." It may not technically violate the Golden Rule for warriors to kill each another, both sides willing to fight--but it is not love by any plausible definition. God's rule allows for war, even uses war, but can't be based on war. Previous rulers of Israel had swords and soldiers; David had been "a man of blood," an effective one at that. But while David would ask the Lord, "Should I go up?" to a fight, his successors would count the swords on either side and make their own decisions. Dependence on military force leads inexorably towards worship of military force.

Three, then, would be any effort to rule by "one's own power"--not just by military calculation, but by putting faith in any use of personal cunning or wisdom (of which Jesus had an abundance!)

Jesus could not rule by a heedless "faith" in God, nor by faith in his personal powers, nor by any "balance" between the two. He would need to use all the powers he'd been given and to also depend utterly upon God; only God could make this either possible or worthwhile.

November 18, 2006

Mark 1:12-13


CHRIST of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.
He heard the bitterns call
From the ruined palace-wall,
Answered them brotherly.
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety.
Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed slings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great rats on leather wings,
And poor blind broken things,
Foul in their miseries.
And ever with Him went,
Of all His wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs--poor innocent--
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless old scape-goat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behing Him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.

- Robert Graves

NT parallels for Jesus' testing/david

Of the four gospels only Matthew and Luke agrees with Mark that Jesus was tested in the desert, and then Matthew, expands the account to provide details of that testing. We also have confirmation in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Both are provided here for your consideration. The translation is JB Phillips.

Gospel According to Matthew

4:1-2 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit up into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. After a fast of forty days and nights he was very hungry.

4:3 "If you really are the Son of God," said the tempter, coming to him, "tell these stones to turn into loaves."

4:4 Jesus answered, "The scripture says 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'."

4:5-6 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the highest ledge of the Temple. "If you really are the Son of God," he said, "Throw yourself down. For the scripture says - 'He shall give his angels charge concerning you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'."

4:7 "Yes," retorted Jesus, "and the scripture also says 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God'."

4:8-9 Once again the devil took him to a very high mountain, and from there showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their magnificence. "Everything there I will give you," he said to him, "if you will fall down and worship me."

4:10 "Away with you, Satan!" replied Jesus, "the scripture says, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve'."

4:11 Then the devil let him alone, and the angels came to him and took care of him.

Gospel According to Luke

4:1-2 Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and he was led by the Spirit to spend forty days in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during that time and afterwards he felt very hungry.

4:3 "If you really are the Son of God," the devil said to him, "tell this stone to turn into a loaf."

4:4 Jesus answered, "The scripture says, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God' ."

4:5-7 Then the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of mankind in a sudden vision, and said to him, "I will give you all this power and magnificence, for it belongs to me and I can give it to anyone I please. It shall all be yours if you will fall down and worship me."

4:8 To this Jesus replied, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve'."

4:9-11 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest ledge of the Temple. "If you really are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here, for the scripture says, 'He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you', and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'."

4:12 To which Jesus replied, "It is also said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God'."

4:13 And when he had exhausted every kind of temptation, the devil withdrew until his next opportunity.

Epistle to the Hebrews

4:14-15 Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible - he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned.

4:16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.

gospel parallels for Jesus' baptism/david

The baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels with considerable agreement of details. These are posted for your consideration. The translation in JB Phillips.

Gospel According to Matthew

3:13-15. Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to prevent him. "I need you to baptize me", he said. "Surely you do not come to me?" But Jesus replied, "It is right for us to meet all the Law's demands - let it be so now."

3:16-17. Then John agreed to his baptism. Jesus came straight out of the water afterwards, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting upon him. And a voice came out of Heaven saying, "This is my dearly-loved son, in whom I am well pleased."

Gospel According to Luke

3:21-22 When all the people had been baptized, and Jesus was praying after his own baptism, Heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in the bodily form of a dove. Then there came a voice from Heaven, saying, "You are my dearly-loved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

3:23a Jesus himself was about thirty years old at this time when he began his work

Gospel According to John

1:29-31 On the following day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, "Look, there is the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world! This is the man I meant when I said, 'A man comes after me who is always in front of me, for he existed before I was born!' It is true I have not known him, yet it was to make him known to the people of Israel that I came and baptized people with water."

1:32-34 Then John gave this testimony, "I have seen the Spirit come down like a dove from Heaven and rest upon him. Indeed, it is true that I did not recognize him by myself, but he who sent me to baptize with water told me this: 'The one on whom you will see the Spirit coming down and resting is the man who baptizes with the Holy Spirit!' Now I have seen this happen and I declare publicly before you all that he is the Son of God.!"

gospel according to mark 1:9-13

The arrival of Jesus

1:9-11 It was in those days that Jesus arrived from the Galilean village of Nazareth and was baptised by John in the Jordan. All at once, as he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open, and the Spirit coming down upon him like a dove. A voice came out of Heaven, saying, "You are my dearly-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!"

1:12-13 Then the Spirit sent him out at once into the desert, and there he remained for forty days while Satan tempted him. During this time no one was with him but wild animals, and only the angels were there to care for him.

November 16, 2006


For those who like pictures with their stories, there's a graphic novel of the gospel of Mark ... Marked. Mark Goodacre had a post about it on his NT Gateway Weblog some time ago :-)

history with an edge/david

Forrest points out that "gospel" was in the ancient world a technical term with a different sense than we use it today:
Specifically, a gospel was the announcement that a new Roman Emperor, a new "savior", had agreed to govern the world in exchange for whatever wasn't actually nailed down.

"Gospel" then is being used ironically. It is also being used to proclaim a different kind of gospel with a different kind of good news and thus a different kind of world empire. And a part of what we face, if we can see it, is that Mark confronts us with the fact that this game of world empire hasn't changed all that much in 2000 years -- even when played by folks who own the name "Christian" who say their prayers at night, when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is full and bright.

What this points out is that even Mark, the apparently simplest and most straight forward of the gospels is not simply chronology: it is history with an edge. It has an agenda. One of the advantages of reading, say Revelation, is that the agenda is pretty much naked at the party. Mark is more like that country bumpkin lawyer who seems to be stumbling in his homespun ways meanwhile leading the witness and the courtroom into a cul de sac.

One such agenda item seems to be the status of John the Baptist. Mark sets him up as the last of the old style prophets, a fulfillment of HaShem's promise through Isaiah, one who called the Roman subject state of Judea to cleansing and righteousness. Mark then places on John's lips:
There is someone coming after me who is stronger than I - indeed I am not good enough to kneel down and undo his shoes. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

It seems likely therefore, that one of the target audiences of this gospel is the followers of John the Baptist who have not yet joined The Cause: who have not yet become disciples of the disciples of Jesus.

As the old maps used to say: here there be dragons

November 14, 2006

gospel according to mark 1:1-8

1:1 - The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God .....

1:2-3 - ... begins with the fulfilment of this prophecy of Isaiah - 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you'. 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight' .

1:4-5 - For John came and began to baptise men in the desert, proclaiming baptism as the mark of a complete change of heart and of the forgiveness of sins. All the people of the Judean countryside and everyone in Jerusalem went out to him in the desert and received his baptism in the river Jordan, publicly confessing their sins.

1:6-8 - John himself was dressed in camel-hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. The burden of his preaching was, "There is someone coming after me who is stronger than I - indeed I am not good enough to kneel down and undo his shoes. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit."

JB Phillips translation

November 13, 2006

Retreating From Revelation

Okay, we're moving on. We weren't quite ripe for Revelation; we leaped ahead to the happy ending before we left, with a lot of questions unsettled. I still hope we come back to this someday.

There's one of those scholarly ‘consensus'-es that Revelation was written as merely a religious pep talk for early Christians facing persecution. There is that element; the threat of persecution was obviously on the author's mind, and a key refrain here is that those who keep the faith get richly rewarded, while bad stuff happens to those who don't. That reading makes the whole book pretty trivial, not much to say about it–and so we've treated it.

The happy ending came along, and that should make everybody there celebrating happy enough, but it isn't at all clear how they arrived and why we haven't yet.

Unsettled questions, probably unraised questions. If we're Christians, and Christianity is based on Judaism, what do we make of the prophets' understanding of history? The Apocalypse is the one book of Christian scripture that applies something remotely like the prophets' tacit view of things. We can treat the book as "inspirational," in which case we find most of it more disturbing than inspiring. We can use it to point fingers, as people have been doing ever since "666" became a numerical word-game. If we imagine "prophecy" means merely "prediction," we can mine it for hints of how God plans to whup us next year.

Or if we're looking for that, we can seek ways to better understand God and our own collective situation. The "meaning of human history," as people generally interpret that scroll with all the seals.

Is "Stuff happens" the governing mechanism of the world? Can we rely on?–or must we settle for?–human progress, techniques of political lobbying or grass-roots organizing, framing of issues, creative nonviolent actions like the ones we did last war, some other notion or gimmick to make the world come out better rather than worse? One strong message of this book–one of the things that makes it so very unpopular–is that we can't do that. Whatever your saving gimmick, it isn't the rock and you can't build there.

People keep trying to build Jerusalem and ending up in Egypt, until God finally pulls the rabbit out of the hat. I still don't understand: Why that rabbit, that hat, that time?–rather than sooner or later?

If the message is to "Just trust God," why is God shown teaching it by wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes? What makes The Beast seem the most interesting character here, the Whore the one seemingly most fun to party with?

If we don't like scarey, violent stories full of bad people and disasters–why do people choose the news and entertainment they generally do watch or read?

We don't like to think of God as responsible for the yucky bits–but monotheism demands that God must be. This, however, is hard to square with our knowledge of God's goodness–which is not a matter of intellectual interest alone, but tied to our whole orientation toward life. Do we get to honestly consider it a good thing?

I understand this aspect of Revelation as stemming from the truth of Buddha's statement--that life (as an ego) is suffering.

Without a felt mystical connection to God, life is inescapably tragic.

But then God–from the very depths of our souls-- rains plagues on us, to bring us out of Egypt, that "narrow place" of slavery we imagine to be our only possible home.

November 11, 2006

2007 Annual Events - Spiritual Directors International

Forgive me for what amounts to shameless self-promotion (but else is a blog for anyway?)

In April of 2007 an international conference will be held in Richmond British Columbia (that's in Canada). The conference is for Spiritual Directors International. I've been a member since 2003 (4?) though I am not a practising Spiritual Director myself. I attended one of their conferences in the past (when it came to Toronto) and while I enjoyed it -- I was also the lone Quaker.

I'm delivering a workshop entitled "Money Work and Identity". It will not be so much on offering spiritual counsel as understanding the dynamics of people in financial crisis and how that may relate to offering them spiritual counsel. I credit this participation in part to a Friend. A number of years ago she recommended my name to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as someone who might write an article on rendering pastoral care to folks in financial crisis. This workshop will take that article and expand it to include issues of unemployment.

Here is a link to the brochure with the list of workshop offerings: SDI 2007 (pdf file -- Adobe Acrobat Reader required).

I'll be planning and prepping the next few months. Keep me in your prayers.

November 10, 2006

A New Heavens and a New Earth

The consensus seems to have moved to the Gospel According to Mark. So I will begin posting passages from that gospel in a more or less regular rate starting next week. I thought it sad somehow to leave off this book in the muddle of plagues and disasters, before the decisive battle, kind off like getting all the way to Frodo in Shelob's lair in LOTR and laying the books aside. So here, for weal or ill, is the Revelation 21:1-22:5.

Revelation 21
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and lying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, See, I am making all things new. Also he said, Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.

Then he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 22:1-5
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

November 08, 2006


Okay, though Quakes go by sense of the meeting and not by vote we still have a tally. Larry votes we bail and move on to the Gospel of Mark. Forrest wants to stick it out with Revelation but will bail if Revelation means he'll be the only one posting.

I can't guarantee Forrest won't be the only one posting. I've abstained thus far and Crystal hasn't said anything. Yet.

I'm heading back into Revelation unless I get an overwhelming response otherwise. I won't get a chance to post before the weekend likely.

I don't feel as strongly as Larry that this text is devoid of wisdom. Luther felt the same way about James, James is my fav biblical tome, James started this blog in the first place.

At the same time -- I'm really not finding a lot to say. And even Forrest, who does find stuff to say, does so by posting long tracts from commentaries (mostly Ellul) which means those who've found the Apocalypse enlightening are is some ways more enlightening than the Apocalypse.

The point however -- we're coming into the pay off. Reading to this point is kinda like buying tickets to an all-you-can-eat rib-fest and ordering a garden salad and leaving.

November 06, 2006


From one of my poems on another site...

"...Don't demand peace
or call loudly for justice.
Beg mercy; our nation's trial
is now in the sentencing phase..."

This has been on my mind for a very long time. It's a cliche when people say they don't want some particular American atrocity "done in my name." It's a cliche because it happens and happens over and over again.

There's a crash coming. We've worked hard for it; we deserve it; and unless all the signs of our times have just been kidding, we're going to get it.

I don't want to carry this discussion all by myself; I didn't join up here to be a blog of my own. But we can't quit now; Babylon ain't even fallen yet.

This book takes the justice of the Hebrew prophets and ups the ante. Yahweh was just angry because he loved his people and they weren't giving him the attention he wanted. That's a very human thing. What we've been getting here is more like Yahweh vs Pharoah. ~'Plagues coming, armoured locusts tomorrow followed by occasional fire-breathing horses, clearing by sometime next year.' The specific details may have been symbolic of something in our condition, but mostly we get this impression that God doesn't like us. And that puts people off; I can't blame them for that.

Jacques Ellul keeps finding love, hope, and good stuff in all this.

In my own life, so far as I feel myself part of this world, I find a continuing tension between love and hope vs the vast public spectacle of corruption triumphant.

Jacques considers the powers beaten, from the moment of Incarnation... "But they still have a considerable force among men. They can cause men to perish; upon the earth they can accuse and destroy.

"Why then this delay?... Why is there not an immediate and total victory of God? ... First of all, if there were a total victory, this would be once more the expression of the absolute, unlimited power of God. Once more there would be a competition of powers. Now this explosion of power is exactly what the Tempter proposes. He continually provokes God to combat. But if this takes place, God is no longer love.

"The way decided by God in the Incarnation is the triumph of love; but precisely this love which gives itself, abandons itself, delivers itself up, is not that which kills....

"But the other aspect of this delay... is the time of testing for humanity; the time of the desert... In other words, the issue here is knowing if man is going to follow Jesus, is going to enter into the plan of God, is going to accept this unity with God.... The time of the desert is the time when man is deprived of all his natural resources, the possibilities and protection of civilization, when he is truly 'unchained', but with all the risks that that involves. The time of the desert is that when man has strictly no other support, no other assurance than the grace of God."

Maybe you don't feel yourself in that position yet?

Certainly, as I've been trying to say elsewhere, this is not testing us "to see if we make the cut" to get into the best neighborhood in the Afterlife. Perhaps the attempt to pass ourselves through such a test may help us see the absurdity of the very idea.

This is a spot quiz, not for the grade but for learning. Are we in unity with God yet? Not entirely? Why not?

This reminds me a little of my first notion of Friends, many years ago, that we all would march around obeying our consciences in perfectly idolatrous, triumphant integrity. I went to the nearest worship group, sat there a few minutes, felt a presence standing by the door, asking: "Forrest! What are you doing, trying to hide with the good people?"

I think I have learned to know God much better, since then. And it has never gone quite as I've expected.

How can we be under Judgement?--as I feel we must be--and yet be loved, held safe, protected even from our own inadequacies? Because we've bribed the Judge. Because the Judge is (among other things) the Defendents. Because the object of this trial is not to punish us, but to lead us toward doing that one right thing, to put our trust in God at work in and around us, at this and every moment.

still much for discussion--if we're up to it (?)

While we're still here...

You left out verse #14: "The second woe has now passed. But the third is yet to come."

It's rather difficult to pinpoint what that third woe is. Jacques Ellul thinks it's the Incarnation. God becomes a mere human, thereby resigns his absolute power over the universe.

I don't think this Greek distortion of a Hindu notion had entered the author's essentially Jewish mind. For him, as for Paul, I think Jesus is still up there "at the right hand of God," in the royal favor and enjoying ultimate authority, but still distinct from God. But Jacques Ellul, thousands of years later, finds the doctrine there, and who can say that God is only active in the writing?--and not in our later misunderstandings...?

"To the exact degree that the man Jesus is in perfect and constant accord with the will of the Father, that it is not a matter of servile obedience to the law but of perfect response of love to love, to the degree that Jesus is constantly free to be other than God and never-the-less is constantly the voluntarily expression of the will of God, then there is no longer any possible role for [the] powers...
There can no longer be accusation of men before God or separation of men from God (and that is why Jesus is designated the Savior.)

"But these powers are not abolished. They have only lost their decisive power, their power to prevail and to establish definitively chaos or rupture. For a rupture on the part of God--meaning that God would reject humanity--would end in him condemning himself and would be a victory of the powers.

"When there is talk, somewhat thoughtlessly, of the judgement of God, with condemnation and damnation for certain men (and for some theologians, the immense majority of men) it is completely forgotten that this would be not the expression of the justice of God but, rather, the success of the infernal powers. If God condemns, he does what Satan suggests. If he delivers the creation to destruction, the Devil has finally succeeded in his work of breaking decisively the relation between the Creator and the creation. Thus the 'apocalyptic' judgement, which is too often depicted, is not at all the realization of the justice of God but of the victory of the infernal powers.

"And we note in passing that the justice, which (it is declared) demands the judgement of God, is in reality a juridicial concept issuing from the interpretation of the Roman law. That has nothing to do with what the Old Testament calls justice, nor with what Jesus shows us as being the justice of the Father (by example, the workers of the eleventh hour or the parable of the talents.)"

November 01, 2006

The Time Has Come

the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings."

We have come to a point in our original agenda, where we would reconnoitre the lay of the land so to speak and determine whether or nay we might continue in this project. Methinks energies have dropped off -- though blogger has been on the fritz on and off for about a week and commenting may have been difficult. So maybe I misread the circumstances.

Kindly check in with how we be with Revelation. And if some other tome would move you -- suggest it.