28 October 2014

"...lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia..."

I told myself that I was not going to do any political posting this election cycle but, as George Orwell said: "In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia."
DMP and I voted early last week and since then two friends (one from the extreme right and one from the extreme left) sought my advice to vote "the down ballot." By that they meant the judicial races for Houston and Harris County. So I will make no comment about any of the offices at the top of the ballot other than to plead that no one should ever vote a straight ticket in the state of Texas. Our judges are elected by the people and it is our duty to be sure that the women and men we select to sit in judgement are well qualified and just. Since few voters bother with looking at each judicial candidate, those straight tickets throw out good judges and sometimes elect very bad ones. In elections that swing from red to blue or from blue to read, the wholesale scrambling of the courts leads to disruption and delay. 
So here are my ballot notes:
For the Texas Supreme Court, Justice, Place 7, I voted for Gina Benavides, an excellent , well- qualified judge whose proven voice and temperament will bring balance to the court. 

I follow the judiciary pretty closely and there are three incumbent Republicans who did not get my vote in the primary because they are, in my opinion, unjust and my vote is to remove them from the bench: 

  1. Jan Krocker in the 184th Judicial District where I voted for Mark Thering
  2. Charley Pinner in the 246th Judicial District where I voted for Sandra Peake
  3. and Jim Wallace in the 263rd Judicial District where I voted for Herb Ritchie. 

John F. Phillips is much worse than unjust; he is the dictionary definition of a bad judge and has been on the bench far too long. Despised by informed voters from both right and left through several election cycles, he has done untold damage to Texas children and their families. For Family Judge in the 314th Judicial District I voted for Natalia Oakes; any straight ticket Republican voter should at the very least scroll down and get rid Phillips, a blight on the face of justice.
They should also consider a vote for Sherri L. Cothrun for Family Judge in the 311th Judicial District because she is one of the most outstanding judges currently presiding.
Straight ticket voting Democrats should scroll down the ballot and choose Brent Gamble in the 270th Judicial District. I'd hire James Hippard, Jr. as my attorney but he lacks judicial temperament.

Texas is a very Republican state and that is reflected in the party affiliation of our judges e.g. most incumbent judges are Republicans and I voted for most of them. However there were a few races where I found the Democrat to be better qualified:  in the 280th Judicial District I voted for Barbara J Stalder because of her work with violence against women; and in County Criminal Court No. 5 my vote went to Linda Geffin in appreciation of her work to stop human trafficking although Larry Standley in that race is also well qualified. In County Criminal Court No. 14 I voted for David L. Singer.

While these Democrats did not get my vote, I am noting their names here because they are well qualified (just running against equally well qualified Republicans) and I'm hoping for an opportunity to put them into one of our courts in the future: Kay Morgan, Randy Roll, Greg Glass, Tanner Garth, Deryl Moore, Kathy Vossler, Kim Bohannon Hoesl, Josefina Rendon, and Jerry Simoneaux.

The other "down ballot" races relate to education, an issue near and dear to me. Since the Republicans offered no reasonable candidates, my vote went to Lawrence A. Allen State Board of Education District 4 and to Debra "Debbie" Kerner County School Trustee Postion 5 at large and to Melissa Noriega County School Trustee Position 7 at large. Noriega is such a good choice, she's another place that the straight ticket voter should be scrolling down to check.

I voted FOR Proposition 1.

If you read this entire post, you earned the right to know just how I split my vote:

  •  Rep. John Cronyn for the Senate. I like him. If the Senate goes Republican majority, it will be good to have Texas in a power position. Oh, how I miss you Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  
  • Dem. Al Green for my US Representative.
  • Rep. Greg Abbott (with a lot of reservations) for Governor. I seriously considered Wendy Davis and followed her campaign closely but...
  • Dem. Leticia Van de Putte for Lt. Gov. because of her proven ability to work across party lines and, as a Houstonian, I despise Dan Patrick. He will never have my vote for any office.
  • Dem. Sam Houston for Attorney General because I think Paxton is a crook and when the GOP screws up their primary I can and will vote for a qualified Democrat.
  • Dem. Mike Collier for Comptroller because we need competence and not politics managing our money.
  • Rep. George P Bush for Commissioner General Land Office.
  • Rep. Sid Miller for Commissioner of Agriculture. 
  • Rep. Ryan Sitton for Railroad Commissioner. This race is not about railroads; it's about oil.
  • with the exception of Gina Benavides, my Texas Supreme Court votes went to the Reps.
I have never voted a straight ticket but this is the first year I have considered myself an Independent. I am seriously disillusioned but I consider a vote to be a sacred duty. I did my best.
To quote Reinhold Niebuh:
"The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world."

24 October 2014

Hebrew Words for Christians: Blessed, “Walking in the Way,” and Sin

I'm going to start with my conclusion because I doubt that many people will care to read through the detailed word study.
Sin is a more complex concept than many Christians think. We often use "sin" to point fingers and pass judgment. We often speak about sin only in terms of rules and disobedience. We're fond of quoting Pauline letters although we do not study enough to fully understand what Paul was really saying. Remember, Paul was once Saul, a student of the great Gamaliel (Acts 22:3),  a Hebrew-speaking Jew of Hebrew-speaking parents. To understand the New Testament, a wise scholar spends some time with Hebrew scripture which informed the faith of the First Century church.
What did I learn from this word study:
  • to be "blessed" is to be walking "the way of the Lord." It is not an emotion or feeling; it is the direction of life's journey. It is living every moment being aware of the presence--even the far distant presence--of God.
  • "sin" is anything that is contrary to the nature of God.
  • "sin blemishes" or "distorts the image of God" that is present in all human life. It is even worse when you are blemishing or distorting others; the word there is "criminal and deserving punishment." [Because all creation results from God's speaking it into being and is, therefore, a revelation of God, sin also might be the abuse of the natural world. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19. That's why I am an environmentalist.] We are called to live "as God's dear children" to be like our parent. We are called to "walk as children of Light" not to stumble about in darkness. The quotes are Pauline but "the Light" is a Torah metaphor.
  • "sin" may result from an "unfortunate/unavoidable circumstance" which comes unexpectedly upon a person or a community and makes it hard to see and follow the way e.g. sin may be situation rather than choice. Such sin prompts God's mercy, compassion, and sheltering, redeeming, steadfast love. It should prompt the same response in Christians.
  • "sin" is sometimes not disobedience but "wandering." It may be a lack of attention or a great distraction or simply a lack of knowledge. The winding road may still be going generally in the right direction.
  • "sin" that intentionally hurts others people is deserving punishment--probably that image of God thing. It is also the sin that is clearly a violation of Torah and, hence, a rebellion--sin with a high hand--wicked willful revolt against just authority e.g. God.
  • "sin" results from becoming focused on something other than "the way" and may be the natural result of intoxication or infatuation or idolatry. Even if one staggers and falls it is possible to get back up and start walking in the way. "I don't know what came over me..." The only thing to do is to take the next step (or 12 steps) in the right direction. 
  • "sin" is concrete; it is an action or a continuing attitude that results in actions that lead away from the way.
  • Doubt is not sin. Doubt is in fact evidence that at least a mustard seed of faith is present to be nutured and to grow. Being unsure of your direction is not sin. Taking time to consider or reaching out to friends who have faith and walking along with them enables me to move back into the way. Just taking the next step in the right direction, or not running off in the wrong one, restores blessedness.
  • Acting unjustly, selfishly, unkindly is sin. Such actions say, "God does not see. God will not act." I read this to mean that such sin is as great a denial of God than the stated unbelief of the atheist or the agnostic who "does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly..."
  • Hebrew scripture does not teach that "all sin is equally bad." God is the only absolute in Hebrew scripture. 
The ancient rabbis planted a legalistic hedge around Torah. One of the points of contentions with Jesus was his overstepping the hedge and condemning legalism as a "burden" that the people could not carry. We must remember that Jesus said not one tiny squib of the Hebrew Torah would pass away; that he said he did not come to undo Torah but to make it complete. I think Christians have continued the ancient error of hedge planting rather than road building. When what we teach is more about condemnation than it is about love and forgiveness, when we are more eager to point out "bad choices" than we are to point out "the way",  we are offering neither biblical truth nor "good news" to the world.
One of my periodic projects is a detailed analysis of the meaning, structure, and poetics of the Psalms. Part of that study is learning a few Hebrew words.

Last Sunday I was invited to substitute for the Open Door class at my church. The class listed a number of  words on the board that "had to do with sin." We read Psalm 1. The class added more words and offered comments on the first group of words. Then we looked at the word study.

"Blessed!” אַשְׁרֵי        
ashar           אָשַׁר                pronounced:  aw-shar         Strong H0833 
                                    Used 2 times in Psalms 41:2; 72:17
                        to be straight, to be right, level (“upright”, “on the level”)
                        to go, to guide, to lead, to relieve
‘ashur           אֲשׁוּר               pronounced:  aw-shoor       Strong H0838
                                    Used 6 times in Psalms 17:5, 11; 37:31; 40:2; 44:18, 73:2
                                    Only appears in Writings: Job 23:11; 31:7, Prov. 14:15
                        in the sense of going:  a step
To be blessed is to be walking in the way of the Lord.
To be called blessed is to be taking a step, walking straight on level ground, walking the way of the Lord.

For Christians, “the Way” is synonymous with following Jesus.

“The Way”         The Hebrew word is
derek                        דְּרָכַ֫יִם              pronounced:  deh’-rek                    Strong H1870
                                    Used 759 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    70 times in Psalms
                        a road (as trodden); figuratively,
                        a course of life or a mode of action
                        conversation, custom, direction, journey, manner, pathway
Its primitive root:
“darak”        דָּרַך                 pronounced:  daw-rak’                    Strong H1869
                                    Used 64 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    10 times in Psalms 7:12; 11:2; 25:5, 9; 37:14; 58:7; 64:3;                                                   91:13; 107:7: 119:35
                        to tread, to walk
                        to string a bow by treading on it to bend it
                        to bend, to come, to draw, to go, to guide, to lead
                        to thresh by treading down the harvest

derek/darak are words frequently associated with torah/yarah and both include archery images. 
Torah Psalms include phrases like:  “teach us your way, lead us through, walk in your path, walk in the way, chart our course, along the way, by the wayside, lost the way, guide us back into the way, straight course as an arrow flies.”

Lord God, shoot us like arrows along your chosen course.
Let us fly straight and true as you direct us.
Let us hit the target. Let us not miss the mark.

“Sin” as it is defined in Hebrew scripture:

ra'               רָע                 pronounced:  rah                             Strong 7451
                                    Used more than 600 times in Hebrew scripture
                        adversity, bad, evil, contrary to God’s nature
                        Note: the oldest scriptures refer to Satan as Adversary
ra' a'                             רָעַע              pronounced:  raw-ah'                   Strong 7489
                        afflict, broken and unable to serve its intended function
                        blemished and unacceptable sacrifice for the altar of God
                        Note: the “image of God” broken to pieces in the sinful person
appears in Psalms 5:4; 7:4-9;  10:6,15; 15:3; 21:11; 23:4; 27:5; 28:3; 34:13,14,16,19,21; 35:12; 36:4; 37:19; 38:20; 41:1,5,7; 49:5; 52:3; 64:3; 90:15; 91:10; 94:13; 97:10; 101:4; 107:39; 109:5,20; 112:7; 119:104; 121:7; 140:1, 11; 141:4; 144:10

chatta'       חָטָא             pronounced:  khat-taw'                               Strong 2398
chatta'ah חַטָּאָה            pronounced:  khat-taw-aw'                        Strong 2403
                                    Used 300 times in Hebrew scripture
                        sin, offense, deserving  punishment, also the atoning sacrifice
appears in Psalms 4:4; 25:7,18; 32:5; 38:3; 39:1; 41:4; 51:2,3,4,7; 59:3,12; 78:17,32; 79:9; 85:2; 106:6; 109:14; 119:11

rasha         רָשָׁע              pronounced:  raw-shaw'                 Strong 7563
                                    Used 250 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wicked, evil, criminal, morally wrong, wickedly departed the way
The "sin" word used most frquently in Psalms, appearing in Psalm 1:1,4,5,6; 3:7; 9:5,16,17; 10:2,3,4,13,15; 11:2,5,6; 12:8; 17:9,13; 18:21; 28:3; 32:10; 34:21; 36:1,4; 37:10,12,14,16,17, 20, 21; 39:1; 50:16; 55:3; 58:3,10; 71:4; 73:3,12; 75:4,6,10; 82:2,4; 91:8; 92:7; 94:3,13; 96:10, 101:8; 104:35; 109:2,6; 112:10; 119:53,61,95,110,119,155; 129:4; 139:19; 140:4,8; 141:10; 145:20; 146:9; 147:6

avon           עָווֹן                 pronounced:  aw-vone'                   Strong 5771
                                    Used 231 times in Hebrew scripture
                        iniquity, guilty, perverse, crooked, twisted
                        makes the path crooked, distorts the image of God
appears in Psalm 18:23; 25:11; 31:10; 32:2,5: 36:2; 38:4,18; 39:11; 40:12; 51:2,5; 59:4; 65:3; 69:27; 78:38; 79:8; 85:2; 90:8; 103:3,10; 107:17; 109:14; 130:3,8

pesha         פֶּ֫שַׁע                    prounounced:  peh'-shah                Strong 6588
                                    Used 93 times in Hebrew scripture
                        transgression, rebellion, breach of trust
pasha        פָּשַׁע              pronounced:  paw-shah'                 Strong 6586
                                    Used 41 times in Hebrew scripture
                        rebel, revolt, transgress,break away from just authority, defy
                        apostasize, quarrel
appears in Psalm 5:10; 19:13; 25:7; 32:1,5; 36:1; 37:38; 39:8; 51:1,3,13; 59:3; 65:3; 89:32; 103:12; 107:17

asham       אָשַׁם              pronounced:  aw-sham'                  Strong 816     
                                    Used 35 times in Hebrew scripture
                        offense, transgression, guilty, condemned, utterly desolate
                       Note: this word is a recognition or consequence of sin.
appears in Psalm 5:10; 34:21-22

ta ah                     תָּעָה                pronounced:  taw-aw'                      Strong 8582
                                    Used 50 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wander, go astray, stray, err, vacillate, reel, stagger as a drunkard,
                        be out of the way
appears in Psalm 58:3; 91:10; 107:4,40; 119:110,176

shagah      שָׁגָה              pronounced:  shaw-gaw'                    Strong 7686
                                    Used 21 times in Hebrew scripture
                        swerve, meander, reel as intoxicated, be deceived/ravished                                         by a prostitute, wander through ignorance, err
appears in Psalm 11:10,21,118; Psalm 119:10

All these Psalms would be worthy of more close reading. If time had allowed, I had noted Psalms 34, 37, and 109 for class discussion.
But time was short. A good thing since the class was very vocal and involved in applying these Hebrew word meanings to the gospel of Luke which the class had studied immediately previously and to various other New Testament ideas.
I concluded the class by reading Psalm 1 again, this time from the Amplified Bible.
The class wanted to linger and talk more. Wow! a lesson on sin that offered hope.

My favorite on-line Hebrew/English translation tool includes both the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon and Strong’s concordance and lexicon.

This is a link to an article by Stephen Beale that includes some of the Hebrew words but also their translations into Greek and New Testament Greeks words.

08 October 2014

Apocalypse Now! Or, not...

Of late I am reading much apocalyptic literature. Not a subject in which I have much interest. So why am I reading it? The same reason I got trapped into reading Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s.
Ah, the hazards of joining a book club!

There is much buzz about the major motion picture coming in October starring Nicolas Cage based on the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. SEASONS, the women reading theology group at my church, is reading the first book of the series and plans to see the movie. They hope to be well prepared to discuss it with others.  I gave this book the librarian's look when it first appeared in bookstores in 1995. I looked at a couple of copies being read by family and friends. I read the Kindle sample. These books are badly, badly written and fraught with even worse theology. One reviewer called "eschatological porn." I refuse to read it!
I am reading End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar with an introduction by R. C. Sproul which addresses the theological errors in such books. I downloaded it as an e-book from Better World Books and, for those who have fascination with "the rapture" or "the Second Coming" or "the end of the world," I recommend DeMar's book.
Even better, read this sermon "Apocalyptic and the Beauty of God" by my favorite New Testament theologian, N. T. Wright.
Wright's book The Millennium Myth is also worthy exploring.

Reading--even reading about something in which I have so little interest--is never wasted time.  When I was asked to teach my Sunday School class on the last Sunday of August, I had ample background materials to apply to The Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus from Luke 21:4-36.

A close reading of this brief text from the words of Jesus as offered in Luke's gospel will perhaps lead to a better understanding of biblical apocalypse and allow us to leave behind the noise and distraction offered by LaHaye's fiction.

By definition, biblical apocalyptic literature reveals the transcendent reality beyond the world of historical events; it joins historical events with what is happening beyond history. Biblical apocalypse mediates the eschatological events of the end times and the new beginning which follows. Biblical apocalypse reveals the redemption of Israel and the "coming of the Son of Man with power and glory". It is always a call to expectation and righteous living and its intent is hopeful reassurance.

The other synoptic gospels treat similar material in Matthew 24:1-3 and Mark 13:1-4. In both of these accounts, Jesus speaks from the Mount of Olives to his disciples in Matthew and to four named disciples in Mark. In Luke's gospel Jesus is spending his nights at the Mount of Olives and teaching every day in the Temple. His audience includes not only his disciples but the surrounding crowd of people as well as Pharisees, Sadducees, leaders, scribes, and Herodians.

Our text begins with a prophetic oracle ("the day will come")  in verses 5-6 as Jesus looks at the Temple stones and "devoted things" (the later perhaps resonates with the "render unto Caesar" passage in the previous chapter) and says that they will be thrown down. The destruction of the Temple is a recurring topic in Luke's gospel. See also Luke 13:31-35, 19:28-44, and 23:26-31.
Jesus' apocalyptic discourse is a response to a pair of questions about when the Temple will be destroyed and what sign will mark the coming of the day. This historical event happened ten to twenty years before Luke took up his pen.
When the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in approximately 66-70 CE, Christians had heeded the words of Jesus and fled the city. Reading biblical text requires that one consider not only the time frame of the story--Jesus teaching at the Temple--but also the time frame of the text's original readers. The first readers of Luke's gospel, having survived the destruction of the Temple, an apocalypse of a sort,  are several decades later living in a time of persecution marked by rejection and ejection from their Jewish community and imprisonment and death at the hands of Roman governmental authority. In his telling of the story, Luke places Jesus and his followers in the midst of a crowd, a crowd that will soon demand a crucifixion, a crowd not unlike that surrounding the persecuted church.  What is Luke's primary message to his readers?

One way to read this text is to look closely at its structure.
My structure differs a bit from that offered by Charles H. Talbert: Reading Luke: a literary and theological commentary on the third gospel. (2002) I agree with Talbert's basic structure (ABCDB'C'A') but I preferred  to expand the central point (ABCDED'E'B'C'A') because the repetition makes clear the repetitive nature of history. The structure also supports my contention that the point of this discourse is not the political upheaval and the cosmic disturbances that mark the Apocalypse although LaHaye and other popular rapture writers focus on those things. Luke in this structure makes clear the cycle of history which continues indefinitely. Jesus was asked "when" and Jesus in Luke says "not yet."  In the writings of Luke, Jesus' Eschaton is the final event of earthly history and his readers are not to be misled about its timing. Rather, these readers live in a time of waiting, of readiness, of persecution, of betrayal, of testimony, and of witness.

The structure of Luke 21:8 - 28
  • A  21:8-9  Time, "Don't be led astray"
  • B  21:10       Political upheaval "wars and rumors of war" "Be not terrified"
  • C  21:11          Cosmic disturbance "fearful things..."
  • D  21:12              Persecution "for my name's sake"
  • E  21:13-15            Testimony "Settle in your hearts..."
  • D' 21:16-17         Persecution (betrayal) and death "because of my name..."
  • E' 21:18-19             Witness "in your patience, possess your souls..."
  • B' 21:20-24   Political upheaval "Jerusalem trodden down by the nations..."
  • C'  21:25-26      Cosmic disturbance
  • A'21:27-28   At that time, see "your redemption is near" "the kingdom of God is near"
Talbert concludes that this passage is all about persecution and perseverance.

In 21:29-36, Jesus concluded his discourse with a parable (a fig tree) which marks the passing of seasons. In all seasons, through Jesus' words, Luke urges his Christian readers to "Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down..."

Note: "Generation" in 21:32 has at least two meanings:
  1. a period of time of approximately 30 years. In this sense "generation" is tied to earthly history and is related to a fleshly life and human power
  2. an indefinite number of years characterized by a particular quality.
In the Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus, "generation" carries the second meaning; it is a period of time characterized by suffering and persecution,  testimony/witnessing, and expectant waiting. In this text, Luke has located his audience between the time of Jerusalem's destruction and "the day" when God judges the nations and redeems Israel in the "coming of the Son of Man". The counsel Jesus and Luke offer to their hearers applies equally to Christians today:
  • Don't be lead astray
  • Do not be terrified
  • Settle your hearts
  • In your patience possess your souls
  • Lift up your heads because your redemption comes near
  • Take heed to yourselves lest you lose heart with surfeiting and drunkenness and anxieties of life
  • Watch
  • Pray
  • Be worthy to stand before the Son of Man 

04 October 2014

Nota Bene: Hopkins

Reading a so-so book is suddenly worthwhile when one learns something new about one's favorite poet.

Kenny, Anthony: God and Two Poets. Arthur Hugh Clough and Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988. p. 93

"This poem {Barnfloor and Winepress} was one of the last written by Hopkins as an Anglican. The richness of its allusive use of the Authorized Version caused him some problems when he became a Roman Catholic, because of the Catholic prohibition on using vernacular versions of the Bible which had not been made from the Latin Vulgate. In January 1867 he promised to send a copy of the poem to his friend E.W. Urquhart. By 15 August he had still not sent it, and he explained in a letter:

"Such an absurd little hindrance prevents my sending you... there are quotations or quasi-quotations from the Bible and I must check them by the Douay before I can reproduce the verses, but a Douay I have not got." (L, III:41)

The result was that he thoroughly recast the poem, though he admitted in a later letter that as a version of the Bible the Douay was inferior to the Authorized Version.
The embarrassment of feeling obliged by ecclesiastical law to make use of an English version which he knew to be inferior may be one reason why, in Hopkins's Catholic poetry, allusions to the Bible are rarer, and less explicit, than they were in his Anglican poetry. Another reason... is that sacramental symbolism and liturgical language became for his, as vehicles for the expression of religious emotion, more important than the language of either the Old or the New Testaments."

This "later letter" is dated 21 August 1867 and appears on p. 28 of my copy of Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins... edited with notes and introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott. Oxford U. Press, 1938.

"About Barnfloor and W.--the Douay is of course an inferior version but the differences we. mostly likely be unimportant and I shd. like the thing to be correct. However I will bring it: I have thoroughly recast it."

I am, perhaps, too emotionally involved with GMH. It breaks my heart that he never got to read The Jerusalem Bible which is one of my favorite versions, especially for the Psalms and other poetic passages.

I am also well aware of the frustrations of working with a church who prefers what I consider and "inferior version." I really, really hate the NIV.