Wednesday, December 30, 2009

He read aloud the bulk of chapter 11, the raising of Lazarus, then followed immediately with the apropos segment from le film du jour. Last time, someone had got hung up on "Jesus" being the guy from Lost. You can bet that "someone" wasn't I. And, no, I didn't recognize Christopher Plummer's voice.

He said it's a nice story with only a couple of oddities, like how Lazarus manages to come out when still being bound (Jn. 11:44).1 Or that Mary's identification is in reference to an event that has yet to be narrated in the Gospel: anointing of the Lord's feet in Jn. 12:3. And the usual, "why is this powerful story not in the Synoptics?"2

So what's unique, then, about Easter? He said Lazarus et al. die again.3

⇒⇒Return to "Sunday Snippets - a Catholic carnival."

1 and that the verb used for "loosen" is the same as found in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, a very regular verb.

2 I read in Kostenberger that (1) Peter - the eyewitness for Mark (and, indirectly Matthew) is presumably absent from after his confession in 6:69 until chapter 13 and (2) the Synoptics avoid events set around Jerusalem until the final week.

3 Hebrews 9:27

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asha sent out an email announcing a "new members" class on Thursday mornings with some materials by John MacArthur. She said the church website would have more information. I checked and found nothing, so I followed a link announcing a church plant in Hamilton.

Their "preview" service last Sunday was snowed out by the blizzard - was it only last Sunday? - and rescheduled for this morning. A friend of mine from high school is the secretary of a church that meets in an abandoned theater. As far as I know, she's done that her entire professional career. So the idea isn't anything new. Except, in this case, the other screens are still in operation: the parking lot was jammed but not everyone was heading to church. Movies on Sunday morning?! I can't say I've ever considered that. If I had nowhere to go on Sunday morning, I'd stay in bed.1

Their location was a good choice, very public and visible. I stuffed my NLT Catholic edition inside my coat, made sure to lock my car, and tried to act as if I do this every Sunday. Ushers associated with the church wore distinctive T-shirts and I was guided past the concessions into the theater. I haven't been inside a theater in probably ten years but nothing much has changed. There were about ten rows in an orchestra section down front, but I was shown a seat at the end of a full row in the middle, next to a preteen boy there with his mother and sister. The preteen had a cup in his cup holder and I hope it was hot chocolate. I was uncomfortable sitting next to a young boy 'though I wasn't supposed to be. The song leader told us to be at ease in the cushioned theater seats and not be uptight as if we were at church. But we were forbidden to fall asleep. The countdown on the screen showed :41 seconds, so I was just in time.

We were ordered to stand and sing along if we could as the band played four songs, of which I can remember the last three: "Hosanna (In the Highest)", "The Stand" and "Revelation Song".2 The rock music was loud but very well done. The guitarist was very good. After the second song, I grew tired of standing and wondered why I should let my cushy theater seat go to waste. Weren't comfy seats the venue's main selling point? I sat down, feeling like a rebel whenever a usher went by to seat a latecomer. Ironically, the next song was all about standing!

As the message started, we were told to be seated. But then, almost immediately, the preacher asked those with physical or emotional ailments to stand. Well, my ailment made standing uncomfortable so I stayed seated. The young boy next to me stood. Then the preacher asked us to stand and pray over or with anyone next to us who stood. So there was no avoiding it. I lugged myself to my feet and prayed for the young boy to my right: Please, God, get this boy and his family out of this church, in your mercy. Or something very like that. When I was done, I sat down and the message continued a bit more.

The Scriptural text was Eph. 1:4-14 and I've said before that the metaphor of adoption works better for me, theologically, than language about being born again. Unfortunately, we were assured that our mere presence at the preview service constituted our adoption into the family of God. Then, we were shown a video interview with a couple who adopted a girl and then were blessed with five biological daughters afterwards. The couple featured in the video were present in the orchestra section and I had recognized them from seeing them enter at the start of the service and be seated. They acted like "somebody" as they took their seats, and I began to suspect that the orchestra section was reserved seating.

To wrap things up, Josh invited people to accept Jesus. The next move was very familiar from my Campus Crusade days: bow your heads and close your eyes and if you accepted Christ, please make eye contact with me up here so I know. He acknowledged a few people's signals, genuinely, I hope. And while our eyes were closed, lo!, the band had returned to the stage for a final song: "O Holy Night" which I know only from the Home Alone movie.

In our packet - everything was branded with last Sunday's date - along with sermon notes, was a business reply card for contact information. I expected this and had no qualms about filling it out. I just wasn't sure about dropping it in the collection basket because I had no money to give. So I held onto it until way too late. We were invited to (Pizzeria) "Uno" for lunch, at our own expense, of course. And as much as I would have liked to, I had to get home. The neighborhood was familiar from two years ago when we ate brunch after Bible study at the Bob Evans. That establishment is now out of business.

Not knowing anyone, I had no reason to linger and socialize. The staff handed out free Christmas tree ornaments and I couldn't help but take one. I suspected it would advertise the church and, yup, it does. It's an image of their trailer.

First Preview Service from 217church on Vimeo.

I greeted the preacher on my way out and said, "A nice message," and he saw that I was still holding the business reply card and could he have it? So, sure. He says in January, he'll be reading through Proverbs, one per day, and will email out reflections. Oh, yes, the New Year, time for "reading through the Bible in a year" schedules, etc. Actually, Janet's has been going along pretty faithfully.3

And as I walked to the car, my legs felt unusually good. Josh had requested that anyone who receives healing, either at the service or in the following week, be sure to let him know. And I wondered to myself whether this was a church plant ... or a church split. How many church splits are disguised? It wasn't full-blown Pentecostal but healing and wholeness was emphasized, along with "things that unite us." Josh promised that he could probably sit down on any of our couches and talk for hours and neither offend nor be offended. Maybe, but I'm somewhat theologically beyond the Protestant pale. In short, the church is about service and not doctrine. It's better than not going to church at all, but I'd guess that between half to three-quarters of the people come from other churches. I wondered whether they would ever hold holy communion.

1 my husband said he'd gladly go to the movies on Sunday morning.
2 Maybe the first song was "Hungry (Falling on My Knees)".
3 I've tried following along but I just don't understand the point of her questions.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Maybe it was the unusual presence of snow on the ground that added stillness to tonight's clear night. Or that houses seem more decorated this year than in previous years. But driving down Windsor Rd. just a little while ago, I got a sense that people were keeping vigil, with their lights on, waiting. A really hopeful, quiet and peaceful expectation.

I tuned out the beautiful choir to say a rosary for a special intention. Jeff said Christmas comes once a year so I must go out again, alone to pray. I finished the rosary and the choir began Silent Night. Since I had arrived twenty minutes before midnight, I knew this was their final prelude and I allowed myself to listen to it.

A cantor greeted us with "Good morning," which after a moment's thought made perfect sense and we welcomed his greeting. Someone, I don't know who, sang the entire reading from Matthew and since it hadn't been read at the earlier service I attended, I was glad to hear it. It was well-done. But were some people around me snickering?

Just after the quotation from Isaiah but before the conclusion of the reading, the fire alarm went off. Very loud and very bright. No one moved but some people looked around. The woman next to me insisted someone turn it off, but her companion cautioned the fire department would arrive shortly. The alarm was silenced within a few moments without any further interruption.

The celebrant processed in wearing a chasuble. His stole was, I believe, propped up in his chair. He censed the altar and the creche. Then he slipped out of his chasuble and donned his stole, fumbling with the microphone while the transitional deacon intoned the Kyrie. The Gloria was like I'd heard at the earlier service, with a refrain of Gloria in excelsis Deo. I had translated it earlier for Kenny but this time I tried to sing it to God instead of the choir director. Being in a larger church, with a huge choir and a choice instrumental ensemble removed the self-consciousness I usually feel about singing.

The readings were the appointed ones. The transitional deacon processed around the church with the book of the Gospels behind the censor. The celebrant followed him actively with his eyes, looking expectant. The homily was about welcoming people who maybe haven't been to church since Easter. Father said he'd only been there since June himself so now would be a good time to sneak back in because he doesn't know everyone yet. "I'm new, so I haven't missed you." I wasn't aware of how new he was. I liked the previous pastor(s) fine.

He recited the Creed facing the altar, and we all genuflected at the appropriate time. The incense was brought out again when the gifts were presented. I can't say I've ever seen people incensed until tonight: everyone got it directed at them. The monsignor gave me communion. I wonder what he thinks of the new pastor's trends.

The choir was so good that there was spontaneous applause after the communion hymn. Previous pastors have invited the congregation to show their appreciation for the choir towards the end of the service, so it seemed unusual to me that this one hadn't.

The prayers that really made an impression on me:
By our communion with God made man may we become more like him who joins our lives to yours ... May we share his life completely by living as he has taught ...
And from the earlier service:
as we keep tonight the vigil of Christmas, may we celebrate this eucharist with greater joy than ever since it marks the beginning of our redemption
And both services used "Christmas I":
In the wonder of the incarnation your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.
And the first Eucharistic Prayer which will be the last one standing and that's alright with me:
Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.
Even though we sang three verses of O, Come All Ye Faithful, we did not sing the final verse printed in Latin. With all the traditional moves the new pastor is making, the choir director may, unfortunately, be laying off the Latin.

After the final blessing, I made my way to the alcove of candles. I didn't have any money so I didn't light a candle for my intention. Instead, I waited for a spot on a prie-dieu to free up and I knelt down on it in front of a picture (not an icon) of Theotokos of the Passion. And I did something I never do, I asked for OLPH's intercession for this intention. I didn't get an answer and am not at the point where I'm looking for one. I'm still just waiting.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday's performance was sold out, so I got tickets for after Saturday morning's tennis lessons.

Chris skipped tennis to attend a birthday party and Jeff also took Ella. Tim may as well have skipped tennis as he didn't want to play. And I was too tired/too sick to insist. I spent the time sleeping in the car.

My memory was bad for getting from tennis in Manasquan to the former Grist Mill restaurant in Tinton Falls. I knew I wanted to take 34 instead of the Parkway. But how to get from 34 to Tinton Falls without going through Colts Neck? Well, I thought of 547 (Shafto Rd.) which I was able to get to from 33. And then from there, after showing the kids where we used to live, I took Wayside through Tinton Falls to the restaurant on Sycamore. It was perfect, but I barely remember the way.

The restaurant is now called The Falls. We were the only ones in it the entire noon hour. We picked the best seat, then. The lobster bisque was very good. When the waiter accidentally brought a cup for Tim, I almost suggested he leave it. Then, when I noted the price of it on the bill, I was glad he didn't. $4 a cup.

Kenny got crab cakes; Tim, a hotdog and I, a Reuben. The menu was very limited and consisted mostly of fancy hamburgers. I let the boys get dessert and Tim made a good choice of a chocolate chip pie. The bill was something else. I don't eat out often but I can't imagine three small scoops of vanilla ice cream running us $6. I know desserts and drinks are usually expensive and obviously the place is struggling. And instead of pricing Kenny's crab cakes from the kids' menu ($9), he charged us the appetizer price ($11). Now, I'm sure I could have said something and got it changed but I'm not really that concerned about a couple of bucks. It's just the idea of it, like we wouldn't notice.

And when I gave him 20%, he was strangely grateful. Well, why not? The food was good as was the service. I'm not complaining; this restaurant was purely my choice. We could have eaten elsewhere for less. $17 per person was just a bit beyond what I was willing to play for kids, for lunch. But it gives, I think, a clear picture of where the local economy is, even in rather well-to-do Monmouth County. I remember a time when it was necessary to park in the overflow lot at lunchtime, or just about anytime.

Then we drove over to the university and walked around campus a bit. The mansion wasn't open but we peered through the windows and saw the Christmas decorations. The show itself was very good. Our seats were decent. During the intermission, we did the usual thing of walking down the hall and peering into the darkened computer lab to watch the lights flicker. It wasn't much different from peering into the mansion.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The perennial Catholic gag, "What time is Midnight mass?"

This year, in Rome, it's at 10:
Papal 'midnight' Mass to begin at 10 p.m. - CNS blog, 12/08/09

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New Advent's Bible, in Greek, English and Latin.

Via matt@Absolutely No Spin.
Last week we did John 6. Nothing magical. Jim says transubstantiation can't be found in it.

I had Brown's "revised" Intro to the Gospel of John, published, well, posthumously, with me on Saturday morning, so I read through its many introductions. And this quote struck me:
sincere confessional commitment to a theological position is perfectly consonant with a stubborn refusal to make a biblical text say more than its author meant it to say.
Right. This is quoted in a tribute book by Donahue (which I think I have on my Amazon Wish List) as well as in a book by M. Eugene Boring on how the Disciples (of Christ) interpret the Bible. And I think this was where Dr. Hutton may have been coming from too.

I don't have Brown's original Anchor Bible volume so I can't compare the revisions. I imagine it's mostly Fr. Moloney putting down what he thinks Brown would say thirty-five years after the original.

But just now, as the kids were on the playground (yes, it was 60 degrees and sunny this afternoon, global warming), I read Barclay which Jim recommended and I don't disdain. And I was surprised to see Barclay trot out that tired Jesuit explain-away interpretation of John 6:1-13:
(c) There may be another and very lovely explanation. It is scarcely to be thought that the crowd left on a nine-mile expedition without making any preparations at all. If there were pilgrims with them, they would certainly possess supplies for the way. But it may be that they would not produce what they had, for they selfishly - and very humanly - wished to keep it all for themselves. It may then be that Jesus, with that rare smile of his, produced the little store that he and his disciples had; with sunny faith he thanked God for it and shared it out. Moved by his example, everyone who had anything did the same; and in the end there was enough, and more than enough, for all.
Kind of the Stone Soup version. Yeah, ok, if rationalism demands it. But I did like Barclay's second alternative:
(b) It may be that this was really a sacramental meal. In the rest of the chapter, the language of Jesus is exactly that of the Last Supper, when he speaks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It could be that at this meal it was but a morsel, like the sacrament, that each person received; and that the thrill and wonder of the presence of Jesus and the reality of God turned the sacramental crumb into something which richly nourished their hearts and souls - as happens at every communion service to this day.
I suppose after such a confession as that, Barclay had to completely backpedal. Take away with the left what is given with the right.

We meet every week in December, except Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. So he hopes to get to through Lazarus, halfway.

Oh, a couple more things from Barclay:
Ameth is spelt with three Hebrew letters - aleph, which is the first letter of the alphabet, min the middle letter, and tau the last. The truth of God is the beginning, the middle and the end of life.
And this curious anecdote:
There is a tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was: "You never know what one of these boys may some day become." He was right - one of them was the founder of the Reformation, Martin Luther.
We didn't do the Railroaders' Weekend this past October. I don't know why not. Too many birthday parties, probably.

But I was able to combine a train ride with the Christmas at the Historic Village at Allaire this past Sunday. I attended an early mass but still had to scramble to get the kids ready and together. The train rides began at 11 and I wanted to have them on the first one, but we arrived at 11:30 and found out rides were sold out until 2:30.

So I took them to the playground. The sun was warm but it was cold otherwise. I knew by mid-afternoon it would be even colder but I figured we could sit in the car if necessary. I saw some people doing that, people with little, little children.

I couldn't talk them into a horse & carriage ride. That would have killed some time. But probably been too cold, especially for me who had forgotten a coat.

I dragged them to the 12:30 chapel service. I knew the later ones would be SRO. We had a pew to ourselves which became a problem when it came time to sing The Twelve Days of Christmas. Our row and the row behind us were to sing "8 maids a'milkin'" but my kids don't sing (or won't) and the lady behind me seemed shy. Wouldn't you know, about six people came in the church, to get warm, just as we were starting and they sat in our two rows and sang along! Very strange and very convenient. After the song was over, they left. But the service was almost over anyway.

Not a particularly religious service. No "presentation of the gospel" or anything so evangelical. Just a performance of some Christmas music. I was surprised at how many adults did not sing along at the appropriate times. It seemed principled. But I'm just very used to singing in public. I mean, I sing along with the grocery store tunes.

I rewarded their patience in the chapel with cookies from the bakery. Chris was interested in the noises coming from the smithy, so I walked him over there. Photos weren't allowed but it was a working forge with a couple of guys banging out some metal. Looked like very difficult labor.

The train ran behind schedule by about 10 or 15 minutes. We got in line at 2:10, just as the 2 o'clock train departed. We were pretty close to the head of the line but it was a tough wait for the boys. I thought the train would go around only twice like usual but the Christmas train must need more time for Santa to make his way through and greet each child, so the train took three laps.

But our long wait in line was rewarded with a seat in the coveted cupola in the caboose. Unfortunately, all the "trainees" also hang out in the caboose because that's where the stove is. So I had to put up with old wannabes talkin' shop; men that were born 100 years too late to catch the railway boom. If nothing else, it was difficult to take pictures because these guys with their steady sea legs never took a seat.

But we survived and the boys were so ready to get home that I didn't have to deliver on my promised trip to McDonald's, the one with the indoor playroom. Good deal.
Saturday night, first snow. Tim at a classmate's ice skating party, Mercer County Skating Center off Old Trenton Road.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Just for me, because I hadn't read this before. Some of it has me reeling; most of it has me nodding.
We Protestants automatically assume that the Pharisees are the Catholics. ... What an odd irony that the Reformation made such readings possible.

to distinguish ourselves from Catholics who allegedly believe in works-righteousness. Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. Christian salvation consists in works.

As I oftentimes point out, it is extraordinary that Catholicism is able to keep the Irish and the Italians in the same church. What an achievement!

In contrast, Protestants don’t even know we’re being judged for our disunity.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I just read Fr. Dietzen's column in the paper.

Here's the reader's question:
I recently received a New International Version New Testament Bible as a gift. When I stopped at a bookstore to exchange it for a Catholic Bible, I was assured this is a “universal” Bible. The clerk said there is no longer a difference in the New Testament, only in the Old.

I was not aware there is a Bible approved by Catholics and Protestants. Please clarify this. I know there is a Catholic version of the NIV. Doesn’t it differ from the Protestant translation? (Nebraska)
I wasn't aware of a difference in the New Testament unless one argues parts of books? (Mk. 16:9-20; Lk. 22:43-44; John 7:53-8:11. Catholic Encyc.)

Neither was I aware of a Catholic version of the NIV, but this preacher is certain that the NIV is Catholic. I haven't viewed the entire clip, so caveat lector.

I found The Psalms but nothing else. An NIV translation of the deuterocanonicals doesn't appear to be available, although someone here says there is "a Catholic version of the NIV NT only." I haven't found one.

Clearly, Fr. Dietzen has a different translation in mind, maybe the REB, but the rest of his answer is worth reading.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Recently, I found an old video camera in the basement, a Canon Optura 300 and, more essentially, its power adapter and firewire computer interface cable.

So I had a quiet moment today with Ella, eating and then sorting mixed nuts.

I'm still learning with iMovie.

I heard this song on the way to church this morning:

And what you don't know is that my older sister put together a live production based on this song when we were in high school. Well, I was in junior high school. But I was allowed to be an extra. I probably died in battle. Martyred. Yeah, that sounds right.

My weekday missal let me down because the readings weren't included. Too many options to choose from. I should have printed out the bishops' site. The Gospel reading actually fits the holiday pretty well (Luke 17:11-19).

Lots of families together this morning. I couldn't get any of my kids to come along. A former classmate of Kenny's was serving. The songs were Table of Plenty, For the Beauty of the Earth, which I know only because of Little Women, Servant Song (note: Buddy Christ Bobble-head across the keys) and I Sing the Mighty Power of God. No Gloria, no Creed. A typical weekday.

The Preface set very well with me, so I searched for it online and found it here, with commentary. Not everyone cares for it:
it is easy to understand how worshipers could mistake the People whom the Lord delivered from bondage (¶2) for the Pilgrims.
Not at all. Maybe I'm just too steeped in Genesis at the moment, but I had no question of the promise to Abraham, that all people would be blessed through him.

The homily flirted with proclaiming the gospel. He touched on the Incarnation as a manifestation of God's love but nothing of Christ's death. With such a possibility of "guests," I think he should have revealed a bit more of the mystery, especially because we didn't profess the Creed.

And the great thing about being Catholic are all the Italian restaurant owners who treat the Church on such occasions: brought home a loaf of Italian bread from Vesuvio's.

So, in general, I felt as if I was wasting my time this morning. But as the day wore on, I found that I was able to enjoy it more than in years past. And the meal turned out very well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Plainsboro study enjoyed a week off for some parish-wide "Living Faith" event that it seems japhy lectured at. But it isn't my parish, so I didn't attend. Instead, with the week off, I went over to Janet's study of Esther.

I had kept up, despite some cramming at the last minute, even though I wasn't attending weekly. She'd given me the book free of charge, so the least I could do was make good use of it. I was unaware of some of the themes she was promoting due to my general absence. But I wasn't dense: when she made me aware of them, I could readily agree with them. And the big theme is that God is with them in the Exile. He isn't just Israel's god. He is the only God and he isn't trapped in the Temple which, anyway, is destroyed.

The question that got me into trouble with everyone was #6. It'd be easy to just type it in here because I'm looking at it in the book. But I'll paraphrase. Mordecai's decree is tit-for-tat of Haman's decree but Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [Mt. 5:44]. Luke goes further with "do good to them."

On my own I thought of some others:1
  • Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good
  • Do not repay evil with evil
  • Feed your hungry enemy, in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head
  • Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else
  • Do not repay evil but with blessing, for to this you were called, that you may inherit a blessing
So the point of the study guide's question was whether God's message has changed. Someone said, "Yes" without hesitation.

And I saw this more clearly then than maybe I do now, at this moment. But the next question took us to Deut. 9:4-5 in which God promises to fight on Israel's behalf and assure the victory against those wicked nations in the Promised Land. So I said that God's message hasn't changed, that he fights our battles for us. We don't have to go on the offensive ... or the defensive. And, of course, the study leader's point was that God does that because the people aren't capable of doing it for themselves. OK, whatever.

Since they finished the study last week, I don't know what they are planning in the spring. Janet likes to use her own study guides, maybe to field test them a bit. However, she also likes to bounce back and forth between the Testaments but we already did Hebrews. I don't think she has any other NT guides, except Revelation. I don't even know what she's working on right now. Oh, well, my commitment at Plainsboro takes me through May with only a couple of weeks off for the "Living Faith" programs.

Someone mentioned a book that they had recently read. I just read the preview pages at Amazon. It seems like a dreadful book. The author has written a number of books for Moody so he must be alright. Well, anyway, I'm not a Baptist.

In preparation, I attended the early service there the Sunday before. I hadn't been there since Easter Sunday, quite a while ago. He talked about "separation:" how religious leaders criticized Jesus for not practicing it. And that we need to be approachable. "Jesus is the most tender with the people who are the most lost." I don't think I am.

1 Scripture references
Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a weekly meme hosted by RAnn at This That and the Other Thing.

You can find out more about this meme at the link above.

Sunday Snippets gives bloggers the chance to share some of their favorite posts with others.

This week I would like to share this post:
Two well-said things, here and here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

For the past week, the conversation has been that Chris wanted to attend church with us in order to visit Dunkin' Donuts afterwards.

As we drove past the former church building, in demolished rubble, Chris reasoned aloud that the building was torn down because "church is so bad."

Apparently the last acceptable prejudice is innate.

Kenny asked whether the old cemetery would be moved and I said it would be quite an undertaking to do it right. That comment took us intentionally to Spielberg's Poltergeist for an instance where relocating a cemetery was done wrong.

We happened to arrive at the active church building at same time as a classmate of Chris's, another kindergartner. I think he found that interesting. On the way into the building, my first communion candidate cautioned Chris about the service: "It's a little weird at first but you'll get used to it."

My boys have no qualms about weaving in and out of crowds so I'm quickly left behind. Kenny even maneuvered around two girls with their mother in order to get ahead of them to hold the door for them. He wasn't even aware of how he got in front of them.

During the singing, Chris followed along in the hymnal. He may find musical notation interesting or simply likes singing.

The Gospel reading was Mark's mini-apocalypse1, so the homilist said "hell" a number of times. My first communion candidate was scandalized and objected to me on the priest's use of "bad words." As this was a children's mass, the younger kids had been ushered out before the readings to the church basement for, presumably activities on the readings suited for children. I reminded Tim that he could have gone downstairs with them if he wanted an easier time of it but that perhaps Father presumed only adults remained in the sanctuary. There was one other time I remember the homily digressing into violent descriptions of crime but, then again, the children were supposedly all downstairs.

I tend to look out the windows during the sermon and saw a large group of well-dressed people entering with an infant in a carrier. I didn't expect them to join us upstairs but they did, even though there were seats downstairs. And it happened that they made for a pew that appeared vacant only to discover two small boys ducked down, sitting on the kneelers. The group of them entered the pew from both ends and my two boys had no way to escape. I was pretty embarrassed but it was also very funny. You think they learned their lesson?

So, in order to accommodate everyone, Kenny had to scooch out of our pew into another pew by himself with another family. He wasn't too happy about that but I told him to make room for the other people.

And then during communion there was quite a bottleneck on the stairs from so many people. I found myself saying in response to my kids' complaints about the crowd: You should be happy church is so packed. But it wasn't very convincing, even to me.

1 cf. iMonk's sermon on Mark 13, via.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

His talk cracks me up. Eatontown was my church, then. And my theater.

No, I don't recognize any protesters.

via View Askew

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mom: Kenny, what are you guys doing?

Kenny: Riding.

Dad: What day is it?

Kenny: It's a beautiful day.

Mom: It is a beautiful day. It's gonna be a nice night.

Dad: Is it a holiday?

Kenny: Um-hum.

Dad: Is it a kids' holiday?

Kenny: Um-hum. It's Halloween? It's Halloween now?

Mom: Is it? Um-hum. So what are you doing?

Kenny: Riding.

Dad: What do you do on Halloween?

Kenny: Get candy.

Dad: What do you say when you go up to the door?

Kenny: 'Trick or treat' and I push the ding-dong bell.

Mom: And then after they give you the candy, what do you say?

Kenny: 'Trick or treat' and 'Thank you.'

Mom: What are you?

Kenny: A dinosaur.

Mom: Are you a friendly or a scary dinosaur?

Kenny: Friendly.

Mom: Uh-huh. What's your brother?

Kenny: A hunny pot.

Mom: That's sweet, isn't it?

Dad: What's a friendly dinosaur say?

Kenny: Roar.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I made up this week's homework with a vengeance. First off, the Sunday Gospel was from the chapter so I distributed Dr. Koch's reflection to everyone during lunch. The first question in the homework was to look up "blessed" in a dictionary. So I made copies of Kittel for everyone, because I'm a geek with too much time on my hands. Sometimes. And they actually showed interest in reading it. God bless them.

The next homework question went something like this: "What did Jesus base our blessedness on?" And the first two answers given by ladies in the small group were along the lines of "upon the good things we do, upon our righteousness." I wanted to curl up and die, because my answer was the exact opposite: our emptiness. Not only that, but in response to posting a link to Dr. Koch's reflection on Facebook (because it mentions "virtue"), my friend, Rev. Searl, said the article "smacks of works-righteousness." Um-hum.

The first part of the video, I'd have to say, Cavins struck me as "anointed." It's hard for me to say that about anybody. But that was my impression. "Anointed" or not, it was at least clear to me that Cavins is passionate about the Beatitudes.

During lunch, I was very uncomfortable, of course. This isn't my parish ... or even my diocese. I was looking at my watch constantly because the kids had a half day. But the single fella in the group was asked about his Bible knowledge and he said he's been studying the Bible for a few years now and just started reading Revelation. I was interested in hearing him say more about that but the leader used that as a way to ask me about my studying. She knows I study at Princeton Alliance, so she asked me about their approach to the Bible. I demurred talking about them. But she persisted, "They are fundamentalists, aren't they?" and I said, "Sure. Sure, they are."

It was an unfair question, a loaded question and especially ironic because fundamentalism is a matter of degree. I almost reminded her of that. What she couldn't know is that, while I consider just about everyone a biblical fundamentalist, there's nothing pejorative 'bout it.

Alright, I should dig out Fr. Witherup's book and read it again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The one year that I taught confirmation candidates, I wrote up worksheets for them to use for the readings at Sunday mass. Only a couple of students ever turned in the work. I used to reissue the worksheets to the ones that didn't with the Sunday Gospel reading reference scrawled across the top of the page for them to at least look up on their own after the service. Very few did.

So when a teenager arrived late to mass this morning with paperwork and during the sermon picked up a missal to fill it out, I had an idea of his task. But he hadn't mastered missals so I handed him mine, open at the ribbon marker and pointed out the readings on the page. He took it and worked from it. Then as the children took their envelopes downstairs - we were in the choir loft - he saw his graceful exit and left.

Kenny was fiddling with one of my rosaries during the homily and, as he has many times, he asked me what the initials stand for. So I told him. Then I picked up my missal and turned to the Palm Sunday Gospel readings, but none of them reported the complete expression. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't you know, we've taken the minority report and made it the norm." So I turned to the Good Friday liturgy and found the full expression in the Fourth Gospel:
Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews."
The thing you're looking for is always in the last place you look.

And the NAB footnotes John 19:19 as follows:
The inscription differs with slightly different words in each of the four gospels. John's form is fullest and gives the equivalent of the Latin INRI = Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. Only John mentions its polyglot character (John 19:20) and Pilate's role in keeping the title unchanged (John 19:21-22).
Did I catch much of the homily? Yeah, it was about love. God loving us enough to want us to be saints and us loving God enough to want to be what he made us to be. I guess it came from the second reading. In the first reading, I pointed out to Kenny that the heavenly worship of God has these seven attributes: "Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might."
I was doing my Precepts homework at the tennis center while the boys took their lesson. A woman I know from the boys' old school asked what I was reading and I told her Genesis. She puzzled so I clarified, "Genesis, from the Bible." She asked me whether I'd considered parochial school for the boys and I confessed, "Several times but the nearest schools are still too far." Her children attend one but her dilemma this year is that it's a sacrament year. "We aren't Catholic. Well, not practicing. We attend a non-denominational church." But her child is feeling left out and she wants to petition the school to allow the child to participate in the rite.

After I got over the initial shock of a non-Catholic wanting to make their First Holy Communion, I thought about the matter. As a mother, I understand the emotions involved. It may not matter much that other children in the grade are likewise affected. It's probably a moot point because the school has its policies. The mother is willing to re-baptize her children Catholic in order to qualify them for the sacrament. I wouldn't think their Christian baptism a hinderance.

I admit that if the shoe was on the other foot and I had my kids in, say, a Methodist day school, I would want them to participate in whatever rites the school observed. Most schools make families sign agreements saying they support the school's policies. But even so, it's inevitable that a family has little choice than to send their children to a school with which they aren't in complete agreement. And, as this mother said, the school accepted her non-Catholic children into the academic program and they receive religious instruction.

Well, I can't imagine she'll prevail. But I think I'll ask around and see what the outcome might be.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I've been sick for two solid weeks from this H1N1 FluMist vaccine. On Monday my ears unplugged and I could hear again for the first time in a week. That was very helpful. But my brain still feels groggy. I've been frustrated in my reading because I haven't gotten as many insights as usual. I blame my groggy brain but I'm not giving up. Yet.

Last week, the kids had half days on Tuesday and Thursday. So I skipped the afternoon at Queenship of Mary which was too bad because I had things to say about the pericope, Genesis 12-24. I have a few commentaries for Genesis because I studied it two years ago at the Presbyterian church but I've had to settle on one for the sake of convenience. So I picked Sarna which uses the JPS translation. I received the next volume yesterday. And I appreciate that the JPS isn't beholden to a new testament. So Genesis 15:6 reads, "And because he put his trust in the LORD, He reckoned it to his merit."

Sarna's note on the verse has this:
Hebrew tsedakah, usually "righteousness," sometimes bears the sense of "merit." The idea is that Abram's act of faith made him worthy of God's reward, which is secured through a covenant. This interpretation is supported by Nehemiah 9:7-8 ... The alternative possibility that Abram regarded "it," - that is, the promise of posterity - as an expression of God's righteousness and grace seems less likely.
The study questions for Genesis 22, which contrasted Abraham's testing with the testing of Adam and Eve in the Garden, prompted a new question in my mind: had Abraham failed God's test, failed to offer Isaac, what would have happened different? Nothing. Whereas, if Adam and Eve had passed God's test, everything would be different. In any event, I missed this session, didn't pose my ideas and questions and realized only later that I could have made up the session in the evening. Maybe I'll do that next week when the kids have a half day for Election Day.

Now, since I usually do the following week's Matthew homework in the hour between morning and afternoon sessions, I got behind because I didn't have that free hour due to the early school pick-up. And I intended to do the work anyway even though I was planning to miss the session because of Tim's field trip to a farm. But I got too tired. And then rain delayed the field trip, so I ended up attending the study session without my Matthew homework, chapter 4, completed. Believe me, I'm as shocked as you. So I mostly kept my mouth shut especially because those typical insights have been so far and few between. But the woman next to me said, I think, that the temptation in the wilderness is nothing in comparison to the suffering on the cross. Maybe she's seen Scorsese's film, but as everyone jumped on her, I couldn't help but take her side and reaffirm her point. "Why do we need this story when we have Calvary?"

Now, I think Jesus is showing his kingship in quoting Deuteronomy at the devil because the king, you know, was supposed to write out the Law when he took the throne. But, of course, Jesus knew the Law for the obvious reason (but I think the close identification gets messy in the Sermon on the Mount). And I hadn't seen the video yet in which Jeff shows the three failures in Exodus of the People of God in the wilderness and how Jesus passes those tests. Matthew's Jesus is saying, "Your ancestors failed in this way, don't be like them." It made good sense at the time but as I look over my notes on it now, it seems superficial and not particularly compelling.

The intriguing thing about Cavins is his affect on the women in the program. They all seem to have a crush on him. And some of them went up to Somerset to see him in person earlier in the month. (I was in Willow Grove that weekend, believing I'd chosen the better part). My small group leader is reading his conversion story. I listened to it at Catholic Answers (The Journey Home). I've warmed up to Cavins over the weeks. He's terribly likable and winsome. I find myself saying, "I'm no fan of those evangelical pastors who turned Catholic, except for ...." and the list grows longer with each individual experience. I do wonder whether Cavins is still a charismatic.

So after that, the afternoon's pericope was the rest of Genesis, 25-50. A huge chunk. And as much as I wanted to read it all plus Sarna's commentary, I found that I had to focus on those chapters addressed by the study questions. I kept telling myself that I studied this all only two years ago and, in fact, the Princeton Alliance study has also focused on Genesis; we begin a close look at Joseph this month.

But I didn't care for the "leading" tone to the questions. Take this one from page 18:
b. In choosing which son of Isaac to bless, God goes against ancient laws that gave the eldest son leadership in the family. Does God choose Jacob because of his own merit? How do you know?
The presumed answer, of course, is based on Genesis 25:23 in which the LORD tells Rebekah that "the older will serve the younger," as well as Romans 9:10-13, our "divinely inspired commentary on the Old Testament" - I've heard that more times lately than I care to - that God chose Jacob in the womb before he'd done anything meritorious. So I shared with the group that it's a difficult thing distinguishing grace from merit. God knows the future and knew how Jacob would turn out. (In fact, the author of Genesis knew how Jacob would turn out). So the prognostication of Genesis 25:23 is ambiguous on motive. The Catechism is also referenced in the study questions and says this [Paragraph 218]:
a single motive for choosing them from among all peoples as his special possession: his sheer gratuitous love. And thanks to the prophets Israel understood that it was again out of love that God never stopped saving them and pardoning their unfaithfulness and sins. (Cf. Deut 4:37; 7:8; 10:15; Isa 43:1-7; Hos 2)
I'm counting on that same divine benevolence myself.

The final question in the lesson, the "application," read like this: "Do circumstances in your life threaten to pull your eyes off of God and away from His promises?" I just rolled my eyes because Catholics don't talk that way. But then I was finishing up the rosary the following day ... "that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ" ... and I got it. Oh, those promises. Right. I'm definitely onboard with that.
I walked in about ten minutes late, just as Jim was announcing, "You must be born again." Maybe it's to my credit that I didn't do an about-face and walk out. Rather, if I'd had my wits about me, I would have taken at least a few steps backwards and teased, "Is this a Catholic Bible study?"

So participants were trying to get at what being born again means. Jim recited a version of the popular sinner's prayer which isn't gospel to alot of Christians. He said that he instructs Catholics bothered by the question whether they are born again to just answer "yes" and move on. I'm not sure that's good advice but I wasn't about to take it up with him then and there.

I was interested in knowing whether he thinks born again is a point in time or a progressive thing. I suppose my own experience is a little of both: I can point to moment(s) - yes, plural - when teachings made more sense but also more gradual awareness of the work of the Spirit. Anyway, I didn't ask because it was clear that he really wanted to talk about the sectarianism in John 3 which is amplified in the Letters. And how until VCII, the Catholic Church was pretty sectarian, too, on who was in and who was out. He said now we aren't so unequivocal that only Christians go to heaven and so Catholicism has departed from the Scripture, at least these verses of the Fourth Gospel. He didn't say how he feels about that, whether he approves or disapproves and I couldn't tell. If I had to guess, I'd say he disapproves which I would find terribly surprising.

Now someone said during the break that if one didn't have to be Christian to go to heaven, she'd just as soon be something else. Something "easier." I suppose that would be the expected reaction to such concessions but that option didn't pop so naturally into my head. I see this religion as my calling and I wouldn't think I ought to abandon it.

After the break, we moved into John 4 and Jim pointed out that the NAB is the only English version that consistently translates ἐπίστευσαν (aorist, indicative, active) "imperfectly" as "began to believe." Someone had an older NAB, presumably without the revised New Testament, which read "believed." So Jim said they had it right in 1970 then and made it wrong in the '86 revision. And, of course, there isn't a variant. The NAB NT doesn't take variants anyway. But I was disappointed because this is a case of the NAB NT not being accurate and I don't know whether there's a theological consideration going on: that belief couldn't be complete until the resurrection or Pentecost or something like that. I think if that were the case, Jim would have told us.

Then almost immediately after, I was distracted - using this tool - by the repetition of my name in the text, towards the end: θερισμός [13 occurrences in the KJV] and θερίζω [ 21 occurrences ]. cf. John 4:35-38 [WHNT]. I do take that name seriously, like a vocation, and so I am not terribly willing to let sleeping Catholics lie.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Earlier in the week, Jeff asked whether I would be interested in hearing The Wall at NJPAC. I said why not. So he got to work ordering the tickets online and I arranged for a babysitter. Complicated? Not really, just one more thing to do.

So we drove up there last night and Route 21 is stop-n-go. Jeff says it always is; it's his commute. Just as we turned into the NJPAC plaza, I could see his building, the 550 building. Parking was convenient and we crossed only one street to enter the venue. There was also a hockey game going on. Our seats were second mezzanine, I think. The hall filled slowly as most people were gathered in the lobby. I saw only one Pink Floyd t-shirt, from The Dark Side of the Moon. There were modestly more men in attendance than women, perhaps 3-to-2. And a number of children, pre-teens. I saw no harm in that.

When the band walked on, the audience erupted and I thought, "Easy crowd." But I discovered rather quickly the applause was warranted. They warmed up a bit but the audience was impatient for the show to begin. I was trying to recall how the album begins but when they played the quiet melody that is also heard at the end, I remembered and the first two sides flowed from memory very well. When I saw the female soloist, I thought to myself, "Oh, wouldn't she be perfect for "Great Gig in the Sky," and, in fact, she performed that in the first encore. It was exactly perfect. Note for note, as the playbill says.

A school choir of about 15 children walked out for "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" to shout the protest. You could see they just loved it. They were sassy and I hoped they understood what they were saying. Not likely.

Side Two is the sleeper side, in my opinion. It doesn't contain any significant hit singles, except for maybe "Young Lust." And, in general, if I didn't happen to know the lyrics, I don't think I would have understood what they were saying. Except, in a few instances, phrases that I've never been able to make out, like someone shouting "Don't do't again," I heard clearly for the first time. The woman who later performed "Great Gig" did the operator's part at the end of "Young Lust" but she didn't quite hit it right. And if you didn't happen to know who was calling whom, you'd have missed it. But another vocalist did the groupie that introduces the next song, which I can't help but see as Bob Geldof from the movie. And maybe because it's the sleeper side, it is my favorite side.

During the intermission, men checked the score of the Yankees game. The entire hall light up with the glow of handheld screens. Jeff got me a soda because I'd received the initial dose of the H1N1 vaccine in nasal mist form earlier in the day and I was beginning to suffer some symptoms. Mostly sneezing and nasal congestion with a sore, swollen throat. It didn't really bother my enjoyment of the show and I was trying to remember how Side Three begins. Everyone was calling for "Comfortably Numb" so I began to think it started the side. But, in fact, it closes the side and "Hey You" starts the side. I do remember that Vera Lynn was in the news recently, significantly to me. And "Comfortably Numb" which everyone was so clearly waiting for, brought down the house. I had heard "Comfortably Numb" on the radio recently and was reminded of how much Gilmour guitar it features. This band had someone of whom Gilmour should have been worried, both in his playing and his singing.

It seemed to me that they played a couple extra introductory measures to "In the Flesh" and I began to fear that they were going to censor the bigoted slurs that make up much of the lyrics. But I just wasn't remembering it correctly. For the record, no one was smoking a joint in the hall but Jeff said he smelled it outside. This is a clip from the movie with Geldof performing.

I like "Run Like Hell," always have, but I sensed that a few people in my vicinity were done listening. They'd heard the song they wanted and it was good. They were going to bide their time until the promised encore and call out for "Money." I believe some special effects were fed in, like background sounds from old movies. There was a man, stage left, who sang some parts (mostly Roger Waters parts) but was also something of a foley artist on sound effects. Breaking glass, heard often enough, that sort of thing.

But as "Run Like Hell" began, I didn't see anyone playing their guitars and I came close to suspecting that that winding guitar sound was also piped in. Jeff thought, on the contrary, someone was performing that sound. I don't know. He's usually right about those things.

And the foley artist used a megaphone to sing "Waiting for the Worms", so I still have no idea what is said after the published lyrics run out (includes an attempt at deciphering the inaudible).

For "The Trial" scene, one almost needs to know the movie scenes to understand who's talking. The Gilmour impersonator did all the voices, even the Judge. Very good. I've never heard this song on the radio, that I can remember. And I got a sense of how rushed the ending is and how the entire album doesn't really hold together very well. Jeff and I had already discussed during the intermission that we can listen to this album but it isn't our favorite Pink Floyd album by any stretch. It's probably our least favorite but it still ranks above many other albums. We also speculated what other albums this group might perform. We came up with some Zeppelin and Jeff offered "Yes," to which we both shuddered. We looked at their web site and they're going to do The White Album in April, so even though Jeff isn't a huge Beatles fan, he said he'd take me.

And I had to admit that the ending lyrics are very corny but I like them:

Outside the Wall (Waters)

All alone, or in two's,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall.

"Isn't this where...."
Their encore, I alluded to above: "Great Gig in the Sky" and "Have a Cigar." Then a second encore of "Wish You Were Here" (yeah, he cleared his throat, on cue). These are all favorites and I knew it didn't do any good to shout out "Money" - that's like shouting "Free Bird" to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Jeff said he doesn't really like "Money" except for the bass line. I knew their encore was already set and practiced and it was what it was. But those songs are all favorites. Jeff would have liked to hear "Welcome to the Machine," but that warbling sound at the beginning is probably difficult to produce live. It's even darker than their other music.

And, well, the babysitter was asleep when we got home at 11:30 but so were all the kids, soundly, so that's ok.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The second of my "Tuesdays," but the first "regular" one: full discussion time and video. I'd been looking forward to today all week but I refuse to get swept up. Despite my commitment, I must keep evaluating.

The morning: after a prayer from Our Daily Bread, I was assigned to a group that met in another room for the first hour's homework review. Our discussion went remarkably smoothly with no awkward questions. In fact, answers were fairly unanimous. Was this merely expediency? Were the troublemakers routed out last year? Where were the warts?

It leaned Stepford: just about everyone had thumb tabs on their Bibles, all were comfortable with the concept of Jesus as savior, nobody questioned whether chapter 1 had actually happened. The brave soul next to me admitted to not having her Catechism; I passed mine between us and let her look on. Entre nous, I believe several are volunteer catechists, the way they talked. But I'll say this: as everyone read from their RSV-CE2's, I followed along in the ESV. Very few differences. Makes perfect sense.

We reunited afterwards for the video. I can't say I remember much. Maybe if they didn't dim the lights so much ... The promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 was familiar from the weekend. I guess he talked about the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, also familiar from the weekend. He explained gematria and related it to Kabbalah, which I don't believe is always necessarily the case. And that Jesus is the "seventh seven," coming after Matthew's six sevens in the genealogy, i.e., three fourteens. He made a fleeting mention of Daniel 9 when talking about the "deportation" to Babylon, saying 70 years wouldn't be enough; it would be "seventy times seven" (I think that's what he said, sounds more like Jesus in the Gospels. Just "coming attractions?") or 490 years (NAB footnote on Daniel 9:24). I got no indication that anyone knew the reference or the significance.

His big point is that, even though many Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in 537, it was centuries later before they returned spiritually. And while I'm familiar with the pertinent passages in Haggai, it's still rather presumptuous to say.

His lecture was Christ-centric; no Hail Mary this week but time was spent articulating Mary's designation as "ever-virgin". Only on this point did my Stepford Wives show their cracks and falter. Gosh, that's the easy one for me. All saying things like, "It's not technically necessary." I couldn't disagree more.

I was distracted by a participant seated catty-corner to me: she jotted down not a single note from the video lecture. She stood out for that.

I stayed in the room over the lunch break and completed next week's homework. Just barely. And I had wanted to preserve some time, to steal a few minutes upstairs in the sanctuary. It doesn't seem possible without sacrificing some of the homework time.

The afternoon: after the same prayer from Our Daily Bread, I was again assigned to a group that met in another room. These were the unwashed ones and Sister was left to deal with us. Almost from the get-go, the awkward questions: why two creation accounts in Genesis? "I'm Catholic 46 years, graduated Catholic school, I didn't know there were two creation accounts!" There are four Gospels too, btw. I wondered whether she had read the Introduction. Ultimately, though, I think we ended on a high note.

Now, on this one, he's more uneven. When he reads from Scripture or Church documents, I'm in agreement. But when he puts what he's just read into his own words, I quibble. How did you draw that out of what you just read? He says Genesis isn't scientific, then five minutes later announces he's a direct descendent of Noah. (And, so, why do Adam and Eve matter exactly? God started over with Noah.) I was offered the audio CD to take with me and maybe I will and have a closer listen. Because I also think he said that Jesus is the Creator. I've heard that assertion from conservative Christians quite a bit lately. I asked Jim about it Thursday during our discussion of the Prologue. It just doesn't sound right and he agreed it could be a little off, depending on what they mean.

But then I'm thinking of that hymn to the Holy Spirit: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, ...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Women in the Word: A Workshop (plenary sessions audio)

(PS: my favorite from last year: Jayne Clark, "Bringing the Bible to Life: the Heart of Interpretation")

It was expected to see fewer cars in the lot than last year. I registered and slipped into the plenary session, Dr. Erika Moore's first of three four.

She spoke about the prophets as being successors to Moses (Deut 18:18), guardians of the theocracy, witnesses to God's sovereign rule over history, intercessors (Genesis 20) and covenant prosecutors (Hosea 4:1). She categorized the prophets according to when they wrote, so-called "pre-classical," those who ministered during the early years of the monarchy and who aren't really remembered for what they said as much as for what they did, of which all we know are the stories recorded in Kings and Samuel.

Then the "classical" ones from the 8th and 7th century whose oracles cluster around two great dates, 722 and 586: Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah and Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Then the so-called "exilic" prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. And the post-exilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. She admitted to not knowing where to place Joel but finds herself dating it later than she used to. And she reminded us that Daniel is among the Ketuvim in the Jewish Bible and not considered a prophetic book. She didn't mention Jonah or Obadiah at all. Incidentally, I didn't bring a Jewish Bible with me because I figured the four that I brought was enough.

Next, we broke into our smaller study groups. One person from our group was a no-show and another was a last minute substitution. We briefly introduced ourselves. The woman next to me almost immediately went into an explanation for why she's such a Johnny-come-lately to Bible study: she was married to a Catholic for twenty years. The ad hoc thumb tabs on her Bible were proof positive. And she let us know that the Catholic Church is selective in which scriptures it reads aloud on Sunday morning. That means that Catholics don't read the whole, entire Bible. Somehow I thought that once she got this off her chest, we'd hear no more about it.

Then we got into our work. The best presentation was that one given that first afternoon, on Ruth 1. And without anyone else present scheduled to lecture that day, we goofed off the rest of the time before dinner, talking about the book's setting and possible themes.

At meals, it's always the choice whether to sit with your friends or your group. And I could go either way on that. But I sat with someone from my group and our table filled pretty quickly with her friends. My name-tag displayed my church as well. I had identified as "Roman Catholic" on the registration because they'd call me that anyway. And when I answered a polite question about the size of my church, in declaring it "small" by Jersey standards with 2,000 families, jaws dropped in disbelief like a wave around the table. Their churches had between 50 and 200 families. But they told me, "Welcome." I overlooked how strained it sounded.

The second plenary session began after dinner and wrapped up that first night. Dr. Moore talked about how the exiles considered Jerusalem "inviolate" because of promises in 2 Sam. 7 and Ps. 89:3-4, 35-37, the lesson from history (Is. 37) and the current political situation (secular, extra-biblical documents indicate there was a coup in the Babylonian army around 594, a couple of years before Ezekiel 8ff). And Ezekiel is telling them they aren't going home for a while because God is going to destroy Jerusalem.

She talked about the glory of the LORD leaving the Temple in stages because of the idolatry. And that the glory never returned after the second temple was built because the temple would be the believer's body. Very basic stuff. I wasn't lost at all. But she rattled off a bunch of scriptures to substantiate her remarks without taking the time to read them. But I don't disagree with her, even if I think the glory isn't restricted to the believer's body: God's glory is still found in creation, etc., like before. There are other manifestations of God's glory outside the believer's body.

I arrived early the next morning because my presentation was scheduled for 9am. Somehow, overnight, the group member who had disparaged the selectiveness of the Catholic Sunday lectionary learned I'm Catholic. She asked me to confirm and I did. Then she gave her impression of Catholic preaching as compared with expository preaching. As before, I could only concede the point to her. She concluded with the example of her daughter who left the Catholic Church on the advice of her fiance when the priest's homily failed to follow the trajectory they thought it should, to unequivocally proclaim the Bible the Word of God. "She left and never went back." I supposed there was an intentional lesson in her story, but if I had a nickel for every time ...

Of course I thought my presentation on Ruth 2 went well. I posted what I said in a previous post here, just scroll down. The evaluations were a little soft. Nobody wanted to come down too hard on anyone. That undermines the usefulness of the workshop but we're all trying to be good Christians. After my presentation, I was struck with one of those incredible headaches that I can get but still managed to listen to another woman's lecture on Ruth 3. I was so glad for the chapter that I had. I would not have wanted to teach Ruth 3. The participant chose as her intended audience junior high youth group kids, "churched," she considered them. And my criticism of her presentation - which I didn't actually offer because I can find a reason for her to structure her talk as she did given her audience - was that she completely abandoned the text at hand and took her hearers on a New Testament tour of appropriating Jesus' death for their sins. I don't work with teens so maybe this evangelistic repetition is necessary but heck, she should have signed up for the small group on First Corinthians or something.

We broke for lunch and my headache affected my appetite. But the hotel continental breakfast had been subpar and I wouldn't eat again until I got home so I tried to eat something. By this point, I had a few "regulars" who were willing to eat with me. (I never know how seriously Bible believers take 1 Cor. 5:11.) I asked one of them for a couple of tablets for my headache. Women are great - they're always packin' meds. I guess I'd better realize that these headaches aren't going to go away and start carrying my own supply. Anyway, one of them asked me as politely as possible how I thought I'd apply the techniques I'd seen modeled at the workshop. And I said that I do not see myself ever leading a Bible study, but that maybe as I participate in them, I can offer some things here and there. I took her question at face value, as a recognition that Catholics also study the Bible. But later I began to wonder whether she thought I was wasting my time. I have to put that suspicion out of my mind.

My headache didn't go away and as our final presenter began her poorly prepared lecture, I dashed out to the ladies' room with the hopes of getting right. I retrieved ice-cold bottled water from the meal hall and held it to the side of my head. I must have been a sight. I'd much rather be invisible, you have no idea. And I called to mind how an Orthodox coworker from years ago used to boast that Christmas carols made his wife physically ill. I did not want to suspect any spiritual cause for my extreme illness. Another thing to put out of my mind.

The third plenary session from Dr. Moore was an apologetic against dispensationalism. She grew up in a dispensational church and didn't realize good Christians believed otherwise until she got to Wheaton where, I suppose, she was shown out of it. The mistake she made about dispensationalists, and I wanted to take her aside afterwards to explain but I didn't, is to assume they don't acknowledge literary genre in the Bible. They do. But it's a matter of degree, not kind. And Catholics go even farther in that regard - in being sensitive to genre - than the Reformed. Still, I guess, it's a plague and she feels she's got to speak against it, as she also spoke against health & wealth. It was interesting but neither of these systems are temptations for me.

Our final small group session was spent on Ruth 4. We were fairly brain dead at this point. But, thankfully, my headache had gone. I was already thinking about the drive home, not wishing to make it with a debilitating headache. As I said above, I had four Bibles with me but the chunky ESVSB stayed in my suitcase all weekend. I used the SRSB/NIV before my presentation, Sproul's ESV for my presentation (A great review of both here. Also be sure to follow this playful discussion on the differences until WCF 1.7 is invoked.) and the ESV w/A when we worked on Ruth 4 so as to handicap myself against ready footnotes and cross-references. Someone even asked me about Sproul's: Is that like the Geneva Bible? And I was able to answer that the notes are but the text is the ESV. In fact, I found myself following conversations about evangelical personalities and even managing to drop a few Reformed names and help people remember book titles and authors. But then, it's a small world, especially around Philadelphia. Yet, I've already added all the books mentioned this weekend to my WTSBooks wish list!

I think my intention is to encourage them to discover and appropriate their heritage but with a small hope that some might be left dissatisfied even after all that and will keep looking. Dr. Moore teaches at an evangelical Anglican school and the way she described her relationship with the faculty, especially the women priests, made me think that their self-understanding as "via media" is a little bit credible. More so than I thought.

God willing, I'll be there again next year.
Here's my five-minute presentation on Ruth 2 from this morning ... it's very terrible:
This chapter takes place in a pocket of civility in the land of Israel. Whether or not the word is used in this chapter, it's a picture of shalom. In verse 4, Boaz greets his workers in the LORD's name and his greeting is returned in kind. There's an integrity, a sincerity, a recognition of the LORD. It's fitting that Boaz is described in verse 1 as a "worthy" man or as a "man of substance" because of his wealth, yes, but also because of his position in life. He can afford to be magnanimous.

In chapter 1, Ruth is determined and a little forceful in her resolve to remain loyal to Naomi. Even in this chapter, Ruth shows initiative to provide for them both, not really asking Naomi's permission to go out and glean in verse 2 but only telling of her intention. And her wish that she may encounter someone in whose sight she may find favor.

Christian women and men alike are well familiar with the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31, verses 10 and following. To do good to our husbands. To work with willing hands. To provide food for the household. Ruth is the embodiment of this ideal.

With regards to Boaz, however, Ruth is deferential almost to a fault. She asks permission to glean, as the foreman relates to Boaz in verse 7. But it is her identity as a foreigner who returned with Naomi that prompts Boaz to care for her, protect her and call down God's blessing upon her in verse 12, a blessing which Boaz himself plays a significant part in effecting in verses 14, at meal time, and in verse 16 in allowing her to glean from the sheaves. This is clearly above and beyond. My commentary called it the "plus" factor.

So, of course, it isn't by chance that Ruth comes to Boaz' field. Perhaps his land holdings were so extensive or so attractive that she could hardly do otherwise. Although there is an indication in verse 8 that other fields lay nearby. I don't know whether any of you have ever worked as a farm laborer. I did one summer during college. Being young and the only woman, an elderly supervisor took notice of me and looked out for me against the migrant workers. In hindsight, I've come to be grateful to him as I recall his kindness. And I can cite a few occasions of God's clear and special providence in the jobs I've had. I hope we all can.

Now since studying this passage, I've come to recognize people in my life who exhibit great kindness. These are almost always older people who are established, mature, secure with nothing to lose. The believers among them especially are reflecting God's hesed, his lovingkindness just as Boaz does in this story. How appropriate that Ruth falls on her face and bows down in verse 10 and calls Boaz "my lord" in verse 13.

Boaz' words in verse 12 are really a prayer, a petition, not a statement of doctrine. In the Old Testament covenant formulations, God first favors his people on his own initiative, then requires that they live in accord with their status as his people, and then responds with blessing or curse to their obedience or disobedience. Human acts do not incur God's favor, they live out God's favor. God's people do acts of hesed not in order to deserve God's grace but in order to respond to God's grace.

In verse 17 at the end of the day, Ruth returns home with her 3/5ths of a bushel and tells Naomi about Boaz. In verse 20, Naomi invokes a rather ambiguous blessing upon Boaz in the LORD's name. Whose kindness is in view? The LORD's or Boaz' or, maybe, both? And the rest of the chapter sets up for chapter 3.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kenny's school doesn't run buses so I volunteered to drive on his class field trip yesterday. It was all day, 8:30 to 2:30, so Jeff had to take the younger two to school and pick them up at the end of the day.

I took Kenny and three classmates with two other carloads to the Stony Brook - Millstone Watershed in Pennington. If I had made it to that final lecture in Ringoes in late August, the drive to Pennington would have been more familiar. It was probably about fifteen years ago when I attended some RCIA training-type thing at St. James. And my preference would have been to detour a bit and take the scenic route down 29. Anyway. I'll get Kenny over to the Delaware one of these days.1

We left town via the Assunpink, some very rural roads. Reminded me of Iroquois, actually. And I suppose it is the same sort of thing, but state rather than federal.

I couldn't set my GPS to a proper destination no matter what, so I had to stay close to the other cars. And getting there was no problem. It was unbelievably humid. We ate snack as soon as we arrived. Then they put lunches in the fridge and our guide talked with us about insects. I was embarrassed with how much my kid wanted to monopolize the conversation as if it was only him and the guide. Looking over the pictures I took, I noticed in all of them he is always right next to whomever is talking.

She asked them which insect was their favorite and Kenny said that if the giant millipede were an insect it would be his favorite. Then he said that one night after Vacation Bible School this summer, he saw a stag beetle. I do remember a creepy bug on the sidewalk one night but mostly I remember Ella screaming her head off at the sight of it. It was hard to be interested in it with her doing that. And Kenny said that he removed a walking stick from the tennis court on Saturday morning to outside the field house. We watched it move towards and disappear into a nearby shrub. Ella was not scared of this one.

So then another kid tried to describe his favorite insect and he said, "I don't know the name ... Kenny would know it." And then Kenny said, "Rhinoceros beetle" and the kid said, "Yeah."2

The guide distributed butterfly nets and, with a class this small, she had enough for everyone. She explained how to sweep for bugs then turned them loose in a nearby open field. Kenny's science teacher announced that she wasn't going to enter the field. The other two moms made it clear that they were principally chauffeurs. One boy caught a butterfly straight away which got all the girls set on also catching butterflies. The yellow ones were the easiest to see against the green grass but they were also rare. The blue ones were more numerous but harder to see. You had to walk slowly through the grass to stir them up. The girls caught them and I helped them bottle them. Meanwhile, Kenny was catching grasshoppers with his bare hands.

We spent too long in the open field so we couldn't do the planned walk through the woods. That was alright with me, actually. But we caught plenty of bugs and after lunch we released the butterflies into the butterfly house. Kenny was only three when we went to the Bronx Zoo and walked through their butterfly garden. I forgot to remind him but I should.

The note sent home reminded people to bring extra water. Well, so I did and it's a good thing because half the kids either didn't or went through what they had brought. It was very humid.

The final 20 or 30 minutes of the field trip were spent in the gift shop. Now, I suppose gift shop purchases are a form of donation to the facility. At least I hope so. And I was prepared to dump whatever I had in my pockets into a plastic bowl marked "Donations" when we were all done. But then the teacher said something about ice cream before returning to the school and I thought I'd better hold onto my money, just in case.

No one helped the kids shop. And it seemed to me it could have been a good occasion to teach some life skills. One boy with $11 tried to buy $30 worth of stuff. The cashier had to help him pare it back, embarrassing him, making her uncomfortable and causing the check-out line to build up. Another girl warned before we left school that she didn't have any money to buy a souvenir. She was promised that she'd be taken care of. I saw her wandering around the store, muttering, "What can I buy with a dollar?" Her teacher had given her a dollar. I picked out a scarf with wildflowers on it and gave her a ten and suggested she buy it. I wasn't expecting her to pay me back but she did today. The teacher and her friend bought some nature books.

Look, I'm not a teacher. I don't know these kids. I understand that if the teacher helps one kid, she's got to help them all. Maybe. So she helps no one. I've helped out at many school book fairs and holiday boutiques. I handle my own kids differently because I know them. For instance, I wouldn't let Kenny buy these wooden snakes for his younger brothers because I knew they would break right away. I was happy with what he bought, actually. He made a good choice. And, of course, it's possible kids can take advantage but given the option between pleasant memories of a field trip and rotten memories, what's a few dollars?

The kids seem to have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and have to endure some hard knocks. I remember never wanting any breaks when I was young. I'm not saying I was stupid then, I just now think everyone needs a break now and then.

Our first choice for ice cream, along 31 South, was closed for the season. I searched on "dairy queen" in my GPS but didn't find anything reasonable. I suggested the one by Six Flags even though it was the exit after ours and the teacher went with it. I guess they should have let me lead because they got off at the wrong exit and had to turn around. But it wasn't a major blunder. I told the kids I knew a shortcut, words that didn't convince any of them except my own. By the time I got my Blizzard and sat down, the boys at Kenny's table were questioning him about which level he'd attained in Gears of War.

1 He was excited enough to see the Trenton factory visible from 295. A flying pink pig would have made me excited.

2 Kenny had taken an insect book to school last week and showed it. He had taken it to camp too, I remember. So this was all a recent discussion for the kids.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jim wants us to read all of Mark and then the first two chapters of John. He wants us to see all the stuff about Jesus John doesn't include. I think that Mark is Jim's favorite. It's many people's favorite. I have no idea why. Maybe reading it will give me a clue.

Nearly all of his handouts were from Brown's books, like Introduction to the New Testament. He'll probably have something from The Community of the Beloved Disciple next time. But he handed out a paper that appeared in Review & Expositor in 1965 by a Raymond Brown. He was prepared to use it as an example of how accepted and accepting Fr. Brown was within the larger community of Christian scholarship. But it immediately struck me as odd for that journal to publish anything by a Catholic. In '65 or ever.

As he talked, I checked the footnotes of the paper and looked for a blurb about the author. The author cites Dodd and Bultmann, Lightfoot and Jeremias ... all man Fr. Brown might cite and has cited. But then also Calvin. Really, though, I needn't have looked beyond the byline because this paper was published by Raymond Bryan Brown, not Raymond Edward Brown. I said,
This isn't by Fr. Brown. His middle initial is "E."
Jim thought a minute and said, "You're right." He hardly ever says that to me so I relished hearing it. Regardless, it should be interesting to read the article and see whether the Baptist slips in any reference to the pope being antichrist.

We were studying Matthew when Michele began seminary and I gave her a copy of a short paper from Brown's New Testament Essays. I've since bought the book from Amazon's Used Books but at the time it was a copy that I'd received in grad school, though I can't remember which class. It's an exegesis on the Lord's Prayer from Matthew with a little comparison to the prayer as preserved in Luke. I thought, if nothing else, the paper would give her some idea of how to prepare an exegetical paper for seminary, even if she didn't happen to agree with Fr. Brown's conclusions. I remember never being told how to do an exegetical paper except to look at published examples and imitate them.

So then, shortly after beginning seminary, she told me that they were reading a Raymond Brown in her class on the Gospels. I was delighted to hear that his work had finally been received even in conservative circles. But then she wasn't sure whether it was the same Raymond Brown and I became aware of another Raymond Brown.1

And now that I have Kostenberger's commentary on the Gospel of John, I can see that even though Michele may have been instructed to read Fr. Brown, it was only for the sake of seeing his supposed faults:
Popularized by J. Louis Martyn and his colleague Raymond E. Brown, this view holds that the Fourth Gospel was actually authored by a group that traced its origins to John the apostle and that used the gospel story to work through conflicts it experienced in its own day. It was conjectured that the members of this "Johannine community" had been expelled from their Jewish mother synagogue in the aftermath of the curses on the Christians allegedly imposed on Christians around A.D. 90 and that the Fourth Gospel represents an attempt either to recover from this traumatic event or to evangelize some of the members of this mother synagogue. For a while this view, though virtually unsupported by direct evidence, rose to astonishing prominence, achieving almost paradigmatic status. But recently scholars such as Martin Hengel and Richard Bauckham have decisively shown that there is no historic evidence even for the existence of such a "Johannine community" and that John's Gospel represents, not a sectarian document, but rather an apostolic Gospel aimed at a universal readership. Encountering John, Kostenberger, 212-213.
As this book is written for a popular audience, there aren't any arguments given and the interested reader is directed to other books for more detail.

Two things bother me about this. First, Scripture typically served the purpose of a smaller group before it was adapted to have a broader appeal. Why should the Fourth Gospel be any different? Second, when someone steeped in Brown's paradigm presents at a Bible study, Kostenberger's words essentially shut her down. She gets pigeonholed as a heretic from the get-go. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything.

I suppose I could be pigeonholed as a heretic whether anyone has read Kostenberger or not.

1 I think there is even another Raymond E. Brown but Fr. Brown is so prolific it's hard to google anyone else.