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Nine Incredible Valentine’s Gifts you can buy on Amazon

12 Feb

Men, you know the drill: every year you have to search your brain for another valentine’s gift – one that is useful, thoughtful, and not too expensive. Preferably, it should also be something you can order online, since actually hitting the mall just drives you crazy.

Listed below are actual gifts you can order from Amazon.com for your wonderful wife.  I have tried hard to be creative in making this list.  This is for two reasons.  First, your wife knows that lingerie is really a gift to yourself and is tired of the candy and flowers.  Secondly, chances are good (REAL good) that you did not give her one of these gifts last year; this is important, because even if you don’t remember, she will.

With that in mind, here is my helpful resource to make her smile on that special day!

(by the way, if you click on the links to the Amazon pages, be sure to check out the comments on these)

 

Ninja Grappling Hook Every woman needs a hobby, preferably one that gets her out of the house for a while.  Why not encourage her nascent ninja-skillz with this baby?   Be sure to point out that it is  test rated for over 800 pounds.  You could also combine this gift with the Ninja Wrist Band & Death Spikes if you really want to go for “Husband of the Year”.

 

Squirrel Underpants Few things in life are more annoying than looking out your front window to see squirrels cavorting nekked as they day they were born! Well, no more! You can protect the innocent eyes of your wife and children with genuine whitey-tighties for the bushy-tailed folk.   Also available for female squirrels (though I’m not sure how to tell the difference).

 

A Quart of Wolf Urine. Lets face it: the quality of the wolf urine available at Walmart is a bit sketchy.  And milking the wolves yourself is so cumbersome. Your mate will love have  a quart of the genuine, top-shelf stuff all to herself. Not only delicious, this product acts as a “lure”, drawing any nearby wolves who might catch its scent.  Tired of the dog, cat, or neighborhood children?  Now you have nature’s answer.

 

Tank! What woman doesn’t want to not only keep up with-the Jones and their hulking suv, but completely obliterate them?  Her dream is your reality with this baby!  The seller promises to contact you soon after you place the order, so you can customize weaponry, armor, and stereo options.  Don’t let her leave home without it!

 

Farting Piggy Bank Let’s face it, guys.  Getting the wifey to save money instead of spending it can be a dicey proposition.  That’s why we need the Farting Piggy Bank.  Women just LOVE flatulence humor, and she won’t be able to resist popping the quarter between the cheeks to hear the bank rip one off.  In fact, she’ll probably save her change all week (instead of wasting it at Starbucks) just so she can have her friends over Friday night for a rip-roaring party.

 

One Pound of Replicated Fat.  Okay, so the old girl has put on a little weight.  And, despite the fact that a few extra pounds look good on you, you wouldn’t mind if she lost a bit.  But how to tell her? There is no better way than giving her an almost exactly replica of what a pound of her fat actually looks like.  What a motivator!  Better yet, you could buy one of these for every pound she is overweight, and line them up on the kitchen counter (and remove them as she sheds the weight).  Believe me, she will thank you for this one.

 

Woman With PMS” Police Tape Her admiration of  your thoughtfulness and taste will no know bounds when she opens this one up.  Now she can mark off her own “Do Not Disturb” area anywhere in the house.  Better yet, you can mark off whatever room she’s in whenever she gets crabby.

 

Uranium Ore Men, do you want your wife buying her radioactive metals from some wacko Libyans in the mall parking lot?  Do ya???  I didn’t think so.  Instead, pick it up right from Amazon, and soon she will be glowing with gratitude.

 

And, since it’s Amazon, we must end with a book:

Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! [Paperback]

Don’t let an ungrammatical title in all caps stop you from purchasing this pearl of wisdom for your wife.  It will remind her of what her true purpose in life is: creating as many priesthood-children as physically possible.

 
1 Comment

Posted in Humor

 

Are Humans Unique?

01 Jan

Below is an except from a short novel I am working on.

A bit of background: the novel is actually a debate between two college students.  Anna is a committed Christian, while Grant is a firm atheist.  A few other students contribute questions or comments occasionally, but the argument is carried between these two.  Here, they are discussing whether humans are unique.

 

Brenda: Okay, Anna.  How are humans unique?  Isn’t every species unique?

Anna: Well, my argument is that not only are humans unique, but that they are unique in ways that set them apart from all other living organisms, but puts them in a totally different class of organism.

Brenda: What do you mean?

Anna: Well, think of some mammal, like a tiger.  A tiger is unique from other mammals in certain ways.  A tiger has certain physical traits that, in combination at least, make it a tiger.  No other animal has the exact appearance of a tiger.  The tiger also has a certain combination of behavior traits that are associated with him, for example, the cubs are raised by the mom alone, and it eats meat.  These are not unique.  Other species do this also.

Grant: Okay, so far so good.  But what if you are talking about some animal that really does have a unique behavior trait?

Anna: Like what?

Grant: Whales make unique songs underwater.

Anna: Other marine mammals make sounds underwater, some of them with some degree of musical scale.

Grant: But aren’t the oceans full of creatures that have bizarre and one of a kind designs?

Anna: Physically, yes.  But behaviorally, they basically do the same things other species in their environment do: they work to find food and safety, and they reproduce.

Grant: Rather, they seek to find food and safety so that they can reproduce.  Darwin for the win!

Anna: Not yet, or at least not totally.  My point is that humans are unique in a different way than other species are unique from each other.

Grant: Such as.

Anna: Well, there are quite a few, and I am not sure I’ve got the best way to organize these.  So I will just start with a rather everyday example, and work from there showing why it is unique.

Grant: Okay, what is your example?

Anna:  We laugh at dirty jokes.

Grant: What?  That is all you’ve got?  Are you even going to tell us a dirty joke?

Marty: I will!

Anna: Actually, Marty, while I appreciate your willingness to contribute, I think we have enough experience to not need examples.

Marty: Just trying to help.

Grant: Well this should at least be interesting.  I will concede that we do indeed laugh at dirty jokes, or at least good ones.  Where are you going with this?

Anna: Well, actually I hope to mine quite a bit from this.  In the first place, to tell or understand any joke, we need language.

Grant: Other species communicate, and our ability is only a difference is degree, not kind.

Anna: I disagree.  Other species communicate with some combination of body language and sound, just like we could if for some reason our mouth could not form actual words.  We have something beyond that.  We can communicate not just in that way, but a totally different way.

Grant: I know the science is still being worked out, but haven’t we trained some apes and even certain birds to recognize words?

Anna: I haven’t seen any experiments that they could use language anything like the way we use it.  In fact, it seems the researchers are back-tracking on some earlier claims.  In any case, even if a  human could train an ape or bird to respond in a limited way to certain words, it would still be the result of human training more than that animal’s natural behavior.  It is the exception for the species.   For us, it is an exception, if not a tragedy, for a member of our species not to be able to communicate with words.

Grant:  Look, I know we could argue this point all morning.  What else you got.

Anna: Well, jokes imply not only the use of language, but also abstract humor and laughing.

Grant: Don’t hyenas laugh?  You always hear of a laughing hyena.

Anna: Just our projections on hyenas, I’m afraid.  I think I’ve seen chimps laugh, but it’s a little hard to make out if they find something funny or just exciting and unusual.  In any case, that is why I specified “abstract” humor, that is, humor based on words or concepts, as opposed to slapstick.  No animal, no matter how smart, is going to laugh at the joke you tell it.

Grant: That seems rather trivial.

Anna: I don’t think it is.  What makes something funny?

Grant: It depends.

Anna: But don’t jokes, and most humor in general, depend on some element either of surprise, or a sense that something is not what is expected?

Grant: What do you mean?

Anna: If a person trips and lands on their rear, would you think that funny?

Grant: Maybe a little.  Again, depends on whom.

Anna: If you fell, would you smile and make some humorous remark?

Grant: Probably.

Anna: And which would you find more amusing, a child of two tripping, or the Queen of England at some formal event.

Grant: The queen, obviously.

Anna: Because her falling on her bum would seem out of place with the formality?

Grant: Gloriously so.

Anna: Now, have you ever laughed at a joke about a crooked politician.

Grant: Of course.

Anna: Why are jokes about crooked politicians funny?

Grant: Oh, I see.  You’re saying they are funny because they trade on the fact that politicians are supposed to be honest?

Anna: Something like that.  My point is that the very fact of humor depends on something not being what it is supposed to be.

Grant: And what does this say about humanity?

Anna: That we, alone apparently, have a sense of how things are “supposed to be”.  We have an idea not only of what is, but what could be or should be. 

Grant: Is that really that important?

Anna: It is crucial.  It is almost as great as the difference between a rat and a rock.

Grant: Surely not!

Anna: Think about it.  A rock shares certain traits with a rat.  They both exist.  They are both made up of atoms and molecules.  They both take up space.  In fact, you could even, if you were very skillful, carve a rock to have the exact shape of a rat.  But even though they have some traits in common, they have one difference, and that difference puts them in two different classes of being.  One is a living organism.  The other is just matter.  One exists passively in  the universe, while the other is an active agent who moves and acts in the universe, and can understand some things about the universe.  In the same way, there is a class difference between a being who can act in the universe and understand it, and a being who can not only do those things, but can picture a different reality altogether, and makes his or her agency work towards that unseen reality.

Grant: But don’t some animals, at least, envision a future and act towards it?  Beavers build dams, robins build nests, etc.

Anna: Well, it is hard to ferret out (pardon the pun) how much of that is cognition, and how much is just instinct.  When my Australian Shepherd gave birth to a litter of pups a few years back, she immediately knew how to tear open their birth sack, and care for the pups, even though she was a first time mother.  Instinct is an amazing thing.  And this does seem to be the instinct of the species, rather than the will of the individual that is in play in, say, a robin building a nest.  That is why one robin’s nest will pretty much look like every other robin’s nest. And even if animals do have an idea of how something should be and work towards it (which I do not concede), all their work again centers around their own needs for food, safety, and reproduction, not toward a picture of how the world should work or other beings in the world should act.

Sylvia: So you are saying that the very fact that we have humor is some sort of sign that we think distinctly from the rest of the animals?  I see your point, but why talk about dirty jokes, as opposed to jokes or humor in general?

Marty: Yeah, especially if you’re not going to tell any.

Anna: What are dirty jokes about?

Sylvia: Sex.

Marty: Or bathroom humor.

Anna: But have you ever wondered why?  Why do we laugh at these things, and why should this kind of humor be in a special category?  Brenda, I heard you say you grew up on a farm.  Don’t humans and animals have very different ways of feeling about sex or bodily elimination?

Brenda: Of course.  I always thought it was gross to think see the animals copulating, but they never tried to hide it.

Anna: But we do. We want privacy in these things.  We would feel shame to do what every other creature under the sky does: appear without clothes in our day to day lives.

Marty: I’m all for it!

Anna: And we find transgressions or oddities in this area to be a great source of humor.

Grant: Come back to your point.

Anna: That we feel shame and humor and guilt about our bodies and our sexuality that is completely out of place as mere animals.

Grant: But this is just cultural conditioning.

Anna: Then why does it seem to be the rule for cultures across continents and across centuries?  Certainly some outer aspects of this vary by culture, but we react to Ovid’s dirty verses much the same as the Romans die two thousand years ago?

Grant: So sex is dirty?

Anna: You know that is not my point!  Our attitude towards sex is one area where we sense things are not as they should be.  No animal feels this.

Grant: So what you are saying is basically that we think in a different way than animals?

Anna: Not just a different way, but in completely different categories.  Because we see not only what is, but what should be, we are operating on a completely different level.  We are not only alone in speaking, but in seeing.  Our whole interaction with reality is different, unique.

Rick: Wait.  My dog shows guilt when I scold him.  Doesn’t that mean he feels guilt, and doesn’t that mean he sees how he should have acted, but didn’t?

Anna: Rick, glad you are still with us.  I thought you weren’t interested.  Actually, I don’t think dogs feel guilt.  They have the ability through body language to deflect aggression, and we project our human feelings of guilt onto their body language.

Rick: How do you know?  Are you a dog whisperer?

Anna: Easy.  I have dogs too.  They never display that cowering look except about the things they have come to expect a scolding or punishment about.  This isn’t an inborn sense of morality.  If you had never trained them to poop outside, they would happily do it in the living room with no remorse.

Brenda: So basically you’re arguing that only humans have a sense of morality.  Seems like a long road to get there.

Anna: Well, using jokes as my example, I was also able to show we are unique in our language.  But mainly I am also trying to show that a sense of morality implies a different way of interacting with reality.  We alone use our minds to imagine a reality more beautiful, good and just than the one we have now.  And we alone are able to use our mind and body and will to make that conceived reality an actual reality.  We live, we exist, in a fundamentally different way than animals do.

 

 
 

The Twelve Thank You Notes of Christmas

18 Dec

(Note: this is not original, but I do not know the author)

Dec 25

My dearest darling Edward,

What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you, and thank you.

Your deeply loving Emily

 

Dec 26

Beloved Edward,

The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing away in the pear-tree as I write. I’m so touched and grateful!

With undying love, as always, Emily

 

Dec 27

My darling Edward,

You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It’s a pity we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some. Anyway, thank you so much; they’re lovely.

Your devoted Emily

 

Dec 28

Dearest Edward,

What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly–they make telephoning almost impossible–but I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I’m very grateful, of course I am.

Love from Emily

 

Dec 29

Dearest Edward,

The mailman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A really lovely present! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants to use the rings to “wring” their necks. Mother has such a sense of humor. This time she’s only joking, I think, but I do know what she means. Still, I love the rings.

Bless you, Emily

 

Dec 30

Dear Edward,

Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying eggs all over the porch. Frankly, I rather hoped that you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them, and they’ve already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but let’s call a halt, shall we?

Love, Emily

 

Dec 31

Edward,

I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I’d rather not think what’s happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please, please, stop!

Your Emily

 

Jan 1

Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing.

Emily

 

Jan 2

Look here, Edward,

This has gone far enough. You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies. The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless viragos, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green, and it’s Mother and I who get the blame. If you value our friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this ridiculous behavior at once!

Emily

 

Jan 3

As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of them, I have just noticed, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbors are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

Emily

 

Jan 4

This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you’re satisfied.

 

Jan 5

Sir,

Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

G. Creep

Attorney at law

 
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Posted in Humor

 

A Dog, A Christmas Tree, and the Mystery of God

02 Dec

Yesterday we loaded the kids and dogs into the trusty minivan and headed to the Christmas tree farm.  It’s a family tradition, of course, and a good time was had by all. Especially the dogs.  They enjoyed running through the trees, meeting new people and sniffing other dog’s butts.  It’s what they do.

As we brought the tree into the house, I began to wonder if our dogs wondered.  Did they, I mean, find anything unusual in the whole state of affairs?  After all, think about it from their perspective:

Dog diary, 11/30/13.  Today my owners put us in the big white thing that they get into in the mornings. It’s like a small house in there.  After a while they opened the doors, and the whole world was changed.  Our house and yard were gone.  A field of trees had replaced them somehow.  And a lot of other people and dogs appeared.  The owner and the family looked and pointed at a bunch of the trees.  I think they were deciding which one would taste best.  Then the owner cut down the tree and threw it on top of the big white thing.  Then we all had to get back inside the big white thing again.  When we got out, the people and trees were gone.  I’ll never get used to that magic, by the way.  Our house and yard appeared again.  Then the owner took the tree inside the house.  That’s right: inside the house.  They put it in some kind of bowl with water in it.  Usually when they put something into a bowl of water they make the water hot somehow and then eat what was in the bowl.  So I guess that is what is going on here.  I still can’t figure out why they put a bunch of shiny things on it, though. I guess it makes it taste better.

Update: they still haven’t eaten the tree.  I’m so confused.

Our actions must seem confusing indeed to the dogs, at least if they ever stopped to think about such things.  Even if they could speak our language, how could we ever communicate ideas of beauty, religion, and tradition to them?  They simply have no categories to even think about such things.  Our ways and thoughts and actions are simply on a different plane than theirs

Why, then, do we think it so odd that we do not understand God’s ways?  Why do those of us who believe in God find it so maddening that He does not do things the way we would expect, or the way we would like?  Surely the gap between an infinite, eternal Creator and finite, time-bound creatures dwarfs any gap between any two creatures.  We stand with the animals on one side of the “infinite qualitative distinction”.  God alone stand upon the other.  This thought should give us great pause before we charge God with being unnecessarily hidden and mysterious in His ways.

This thought should also give pause to non-believers, at least to those too quick to argue that if there is a God He must make sense to us and our rationality.  In fact, if there is a God there is very good reason to expect that much about Him will be beyond our rationality.  That is not to say belief in Him is not rational; rather it is to recognize that human rationality is not coterminous with rationality itself.

I wish sometimes I could explain myself to the dogs.  I wonder if God feels the same way.

 

 

Church Wars

01 Dec

 
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Posted in Humor

 

The Name of God

02 Oct

I found a great video addressing how we the name of God (Yahweh) should be pronounced.  The issues are technical, but the teaching of the issues is about as clear as one can make them.

 

 
 

Against Military Action in Syria

06 Sep

This week the President expressed his desire for military intervention in Syria, subject to Congress’ approval.  Many have asked variations of the question, “is this a good idea?”; but the question that seems mostly unaddressed is more basic: “Is this idea just?”

The concept of “the just war” was developed by the church (and others) over a period of several centuries.  It acknowledges both the desire for peace and the reality of human aggression.  And it seeks to determine when it is right and just in engage in war, and when it is not.

But it is not only Christians who should ask this question.  Immoral societal actions corrupt and corrode that society.  And certainly most of us would not want our country engaged in killing (and perhaps being killed) if we were not convinced it was just.  To be civilized means more than seeking to uphold justice, but it cannot mean less.

The just war doctrine lists several criteria for evaluating a proposed war (and make no mistake, cruise missiles and strategic bombing are still acts of war).  For a war to be justified, it needs to follow all of these guidelines, to the extent mandated by common sense. They are these:

  1. War should be the last resort, after all other non-violent options are exhausted.
  2. The war can only be conducted by a proper authority; vigilante justice is a contradiction in terms.
  3. The war must be for a just cause.  This is usually defined as self-defense, or for the protection of other innocent lives. The damage the war seeks to prevent must be “lasting, grave and certain.” Material, financial and power gains are excluded.
  4. The war must have a probability of success. It is immoral to waste lives on a futile or hopeless cause.
  5. The war must be fought in order to establish peace; that is, the peace after the war must be better than whatever peace existed before the war.
  6. Related to the above, the use of war must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil it seeks to eliminate.
  7. The violence of the war must be proportional to injury it seeks to redress.
  8. The plans and weapons of war must discriminate between combatants and civilians. Civilians are never a permissible target of war, and every effort should be employed to avoid killing them.

In my opinion, the military action proposed in Syria does not, at this point, meet the criteria of a just war.  These are my reasons.

First, I don’t believe all non-military options have been exhausted.  We have not sought to work with the U. N. or with our allies to seek economic sanctions, technology sanctions, or other disincentives to chemical attacks.  I am not saying these would work. I am saying they have not been tried.

Second, related to the third criterion, I am not yet certain that the Syrian government is the perpetuator of the attack. I think it is probable, but has not yet been proven. The U. S. government cannot, after the last war, just say, “trust us.”

Third, I am not convinced the attacks would bring about a better peace, or avoid more evils than it eliminated.  If the action is strong enough to serve as a legitimate deterrent to further chemical warfare, it would also be strong enough to weaken the Assad regime and (relatively) strengthen the rebels who oppose it.  But some rather hard-core Islamic factions make up this rebellion.   As one of the writers at The Atlantic put it, “we would be serving as Al Qaeda’s air force”.  If the Assad regime is destroyed, there is a distinct possibility that the new Syria could become a sponsor of terrorism; the new government almost certainly be less tolerant of Syria’s Christian minority. In addition, military action forceful enough to make a difference also risks escalating the conflict to other countries.  The Assad regime has allies both in the middle east, as well as outside it (especially Russia). If we have learned anything over the past 50 years of U. S. intervention, it is that wars are much easier to plunge into than to pull out of.

For these reasons, military action at this time would be unjust.  This is why both the Pope and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East have asked the U. S. not to intervene at this time. The question about whether (apart from its justice) it would also be a good idea in a practical sense, I leave to others to argue.

 

 
 

The Ten Greatest American Orators

28 Aug

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I have a Dream”.  This set me to wondering where MLK sits in the Pantheon of American orators.  So here is my list.  It is only my opinion; as a public speaker and a student of rhetoric, it is based on more than simple personal preference, I hope, but should not be mistaken as the opinion of an expert.

I have selected those Americans who were not only eloquent, but great.  That is, they were not just word-smiths, but made a profound impact on American thought or culture, at least partly because of their words. Furthermore, in the spirit of America, I am going to adopt a sports metaphor: a basketball all-star team (with starters and reserves).

The reserves first:

  • Patrick Henry
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Jonathon Edwards
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Susan B. Anthony

 

The starters:

  • William Jennings Bryan
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Martin Luther King
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

Ranking the starters

In the fifth spot, I would put Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In the fourth spot, I would put Theodore Roosevelt.

Third spot goes to William Jennings Bryan

Runner up goes to Abraham Lincoln

Top prize to Martin Luther King

 

Rationale: 

TR and FDR both had some amazing speeches, and greatly influenced public policy through their rhetoric.  I put TR above FDR because his speeches were more authentically his, that is, I don’t think he used a speech-writer very much.  Bryan gets a nod above these two giants for three reasons: his mastery of the English language, his masterful use of metaphors (as in the cross of gold) and the fact that he had to influence by rhetoric alone, without the power and prestige of the presidency (which also affects my marks on MLK).  As to Lincoln, I wouldn’t have much to argue with someone who listed him as first.  He had the most difficult and delicate task, that of galvanizing union effort without demonizing the south.  And his Gettysburg address masterfully re-interpreted American history, even as it hallowed the dead.

But no speech I have seen compares to the absolute mastery of “I have a Dream”.  MLK is also faced with a delicate rhetorical challenge: to show the justice of the black cause, to rally the spirits of his supporters of this cause, and to call white Americans to join it.  He masterfully applies the allusions of the ancient Isaiah to the civil rights struggle, and skillfully weaves black oratorical style with the best forms of more traditional American oratory.  The speech is exactly as long as it should be.  This speech changed the country, and I regard it as the finest example of great oratory in our countries history.

You can see a video analysis of the speech here.

 

 
 

Graphical Analysis of the Greatest American Speech

28 Aug

 
 

Does John 6 Speak about the Lord’s Supper?

22 Aug

John 6: 25-59 is a fascinating exchange between Jesus and some of his Jewish interlocutors.  It is a magisterial and mysterious passage.   Some have suggested that Jesus’s words here are intended to convey an understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  That is, they believe, Jesus not only has the Eucharist in view, but also desires to teach about its meaning and interpretation in this passage.  This is called the sacramental interpretation of the passage (the Eucharist usually being listed as a sacrament).

I realize not one person in a thousand is probably interested in this.  Yet with the internet, even 1/100thof potential people is enough to make it worthwhile for me to post this.  So, for what it’s worth, here is my take on this question.

First, read the passage in question.

Arguments for a sacramental view.

  1. Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of heaven, and insists that eternal life comes from eating this bread.  The allusion would make sense of the Lord’s Supper, where we are told that we eat of bread that is the body of Christ.
  2. Jesus says in verse 51, “This bread is my flesh”. Similar to the words used his descriptions of the Lord’s Supper in the synoptic gospels.
  3. In verse 53, Jesus expands the idea to not only eating his flesh, but also drinking his blood. Here both elements of the Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) are brought together.
  4. Verse 54 seems to mirror the idea of a sacramental view of the Lord’s Supper: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”.
  5. In verse 55, Jesus insists that “my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink”.  These words can be interpreted as saying that the elements of the Lord’s Supper are transformed (in some way) into the literal body and blood of the Lord.
  6. From verse 54 on, the Greek verb which is translated “to eat” or “eating” is a different verb than in the previous section. In the early part of the chapter, the verb is esthio (or its aorist stem, phag–; after verse 54 it is trogo. The latter verb, some have argued, has a more literal or bodily dimension to it (think of the word “chewing” or “munching” as opposed to the more generic “eating”).

 

Arguments against a sacramental view:

1. Jesus does indeed speak of himself as the bread of heaven. But the context means that this is the fulfillment of the manna, and this context makes perfect sense of the metaphor without importing the idea of the Lord’s Supper.

2. Jesus says “this bread is my flesh [sarx]”, not “this bread is my body [soma]”.  This is not a minor difference, for the words have quite different uses in the New Testament.  In addition, all the references to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament use soma, and not sarx.  If John had desired to point us to the Eucharist here he would have chosen the word used at the Last Supper.

3. Verse 53 adds the idea of blood not to fill out the elements of the Eucharist, but to fill out the fullness of the work of Christ that we are to put our faith into.  Blood symbolizes not life, but violent death, and to readers familiar with John’s symbolic use of the Old Testament, this would immediately call to mind the idea of blood sacrifice for the sins of another.

4. Verse 54 is best interpreted in its literary context before we try to interpret it theologically. In this case, the interpretation is clear: It is a rather obvious parallel to verse 40.

6:40: …everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  

6:54: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

The only difference is that one verse speaks of believing in Jesus, while the other speaks of eating his flesh and blood. Both bring the same result: eternal life and resurrection.  The most obvious interpretation of the verse from the    context, then, is that verse 54 is a metaphorical way of talking about believing in the Son.

5. About verse 55, we note first that while the ancient manuscripts are divided between the use of the adjective alethes (“true” or “real”)  and the adverb alethos (“truly” or “really”),  in statements like these (with symbolic predicates) John never uses the adverb.  What does it mean, then,  to say that Jesus’ flesh is “true” or “real” food?  The sacramental view would interpret this as something like “actual” or “literal” as opposed to spiritually or metaphorically.  But an examination of the way John uses this word in similar sentences should make us wary of that interpretation:

  • 1:9: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
  • 1:47: Here [Nathaniel] is a true Israelite
  • 4:23: The true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth
  • 15:1: I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener
  • 17:1 That they may know You, the only true God

I believe these are the only other passages in John where this word in a similar way.  It is clear that the interpretation as “actual” or “literal” (as opposed to “spiritual” or “metaphorically”) would not work.  In fact, in several of these passages, the idea seems almost the opposite: Jesus is not literally glowing, but is light is a good metaphor or symbol of what his truth is.  He is not an actual, physical vine, but He is what the vine metaphor points to.  So it seems the adjective “true” in John is better understood to mean either “genuine” (as opposed to fake) or to “true” in the sense of being the archetype or the ideal, which the symbol or metaphor points to.  The last interpretation seems most clearly in line with the parallels in 1:9 and 15:1.  In either case, an interpretation as “actual” or “literal” (in opposition to “metaphorically”) seems unsustainable.

6. The change of verbs is a rather weak argument, since there are not parallels to these words carrying distinctive theological weight elsewhere. In any case, New Testament scholar D. A. Carson  notes, “It is far more likely that John injects no new meaning by selecting this verb, but prefers this verb when he opts for the Greek present tense (similarly in 13:18)”.

In addition, a non-sacramental understanding of John 6 is further seen by these points.

7. John, alone among the gospel writers, does not include an account of the Lord’s Supper, in spite of the fact that he devotes (by far) the most verses to discussing the dinner in which the Last Supper occurred (chapters 13-18). This would be odd if the sacraments were deeply involved in his thought. In fact, many scholars have suggested the omission must have been a deliberate attempt by John to de-emphasize the focus on the Lord’s Supper.

8. The whole context of the passage (and indeed, of the book) is that of the need to place belief in Jesus.  The word believe (or its cognates) occurs over 90 times in the book including 9 times in the last half of chapter 6.  Indeed, the whole discussion of “bread” begins as a response to the words of Jesus: “the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (verses 29-31).  As Augustine put it: Crede, et manducasti (“Believe, and you have eaten”) [In Johan. Tract.xxvi.1].

9. One of the first rules of the grammatical-historical interpretation of scripture is that we must limit our interpretations (or at least base them on) what the first hearers (the original audience) would have understood.  For the sacramental view to be valid, this would mean that we should reasonably expect the Jewish audience Jesus was addressing in John 6 to have enough background of the Lord’s Supper to understand Jesus’ words to be referring to that.  But I have never seen that established, and indeed, it would seem difficult or impossible to do so, for the Lord’s Supper was instituted after this discourse.

10. The sacramental view, lastly, not only neglects the context of the passage, but distorts the previously revealed truth in the passage.  As Carson writes: “Moreover, the language of 53-54 is so completely unqualified that if its primary reference is to the Eucharist, we must conclude that the one thing necessary for eternal life is participation in the Lord’s supper.  This interpretation of course actually contradicts the earlier parts of the discourse, not least verse 40.  The only reasonable alternative is to understand these verses as a repetition of the earlier truth, but now in metaphorical form.”  [Emphasis his].

Therefore, I do not think the passage is pointing to the Lord’s Supper.  Having said that, it is also true that the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper is foreshadowed in an indirect way.  That is, the words of Jesus here point toward and find fulfillment in the future act of the Cross and the communion with Jesus which the cross brings.  When we participate in Holy Communion, it points toward and finds fulfillment in the past action of the Cross and our continuing communion with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.   They use the same imagery because they point toward the same truth.

“Believe, and you have eaten” indeed.

 
 

Top Eleven Reasons to be scared of your New Roommate

13 Aug

Just in time for the new college year: Top eleven reasons to be scared of your new roommate

11. He keeps asking where you would like to be buried “just out of curiosity”

10. Instead of spare change, you find bullets between the sofa cushions

9. O. J Simpson has a restraining order against him

8. Even his “be back soon” notes are made from cut-up magazine letters

7. Some people from the FBI anti-terrorist unit just called to ask if you’ve seen him

6. He keeps telling you to “try this, it tastes like chicken”

5. Keeps hiding the remote every time “Americas most wanted” comes on

4. All time favorite comedy: “Silence of the Lambs”

3. Keeps drawing Hitler mustaches on your family portraits

2. He not only talks to the plants, he screams threats at them

1. Because he told you to be in a note made from your cat’s blood

 
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Posted in Humor

 

The Gray Bird’s Bliss

06 Aug

At 30 I envied

As I saw the glitterati

And all the winners of the chase.

And I strove, vainly, to be like them

At least in this little corner

I marked off as the arena

To run my race.

 

At 40 I despaired

I was not of the elect

But only a nameless face.

A blade of green in an endless field,

A gray bird in a gray tree

Looking sadly at the bright ones

Soaring in space.

 

At 50 I gave thanks

For my ordinary life

And my plainness I now embrace.

For those whose plumage is the brightest

Will never know the bliss

Of being loved for no reason

Other than grace.

 

DJ

 
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Posted in Poetry

 

Israel’s Temple and the Structure of the Cosmos

26 Jul

Last year, I wrote a post on how Genesis chapter 1 is best understood as making a theological point: that creation itself is God’s temple.

As I was revisiting some of that today, I decided to re-make a graphic I had used.  It shows how the structure and furnishings of the temple correspond to the ancient view of the structure of reality.  Here is the revised graphic, followed by a explanatory quote from Old Testament scholar John Walton. Click on the graphic for a better view.

In the biblical text the description of the tabernacle and temple contain many transparent connections to the cosmos.  This connection was explicitly recognized as early as the second century A.D. in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, who says of the tabernacle: “every one of these objects is intended to recall and represent the universe”.  In the outer courtyard were various representations of cosmic geography.  Most important are the water basin, which I Kings 7:23-26 designates “sea”, and the bronze pillars, described in 1 Kings 7:15-22, which perhaps represented the pillars of the earth.  The horizontal axis in the temple was arranged in the same order as the vertical axis in the cosmos.  From the courtyard, which contained the elements outside the organized cosmos (cosmic waters and the pillars of the earth), on would move into the organized cosmos as he entered the antechamber.  Here were the Menorah (lampstand), the Table of Bread, and the incense altar.  In the Pentateuch’s description of the tabernacle, the lamp and its olive oil are provided for “light” (especially Ex. 25:6, 35:14; Num. 4:9). This word for light is the same word used to describe the celestial bodies in day four (rather than calling them the sun and moon).  As the menorah represented the light provided by God, the “Bread of the Presence” (Ex. 25:30) represented food provided by God. The altar of incense provided a sweet-smelling cloud across the face of the veil that separated the two chambers.  If we transpose from the horizontal axis to the vertical, the veil separated the earthly sphere, with its functions, from the heavenly sphere, where God dwells.  This latter was represented in the holy of holies, where the footstool of the throne of God (the ark) was placed.

 
 

The Bible Story: God’s Response to Evil

23 Jul

Often when we see the evil and suffering in this life, the first question that comes to mind is, “Why does God allow such evil to exist?”  I think there are some good ways to answer that question, but I notice the Bible takes a rather different approach.  Even when the question is directly asked (as in the book of Job), it is not directly answered.  Perhaps this is because the answer is “above our pay grade”, that is, we do not need to know the answer in order to fulfill our purpose.  Or perhaps it is beyond our understanding, just as most of the things I do are above the understanding of my dog.

No, instead of answering the question, the scriptures answer a different question: what is God doing about evil?  The answer to that question forms the core of the Bible message. In fact, one could almost trace the major themes and events of the scriptures as stages in the answer to this question.

So what is God doing about evil? N. T. Wright suggests you can summarize it in three words.  First, he restrains evil.  Second, he judges evil. Third, he overcomes evil.  He restrains evil out of love for man; evil is like a great cancer—if left unchecked it soon destroys everything.  God allows evil to exist for a time, though he did not author evil, but he actively works to make sure the evil does not spread so deeply that good cannot also thrive.  He judges evil because He is a moral being and the judge of the universe.  Evil exists in a moral universe, and so must be judged, or the very notion of morality is mocked.  And he overcomes evil also because of his love, in particular the form of love known as grace.  God’s plan is not defeated by evil; it gives an escape from the judgment upon evil, and even uses evil for good.  Because love, not evil, will always have the last word in God’s universe.

I developed the following chart to help picture this.  It is imperfect, but some may find it helpful. Click on it for a better view.

 
 

Made Like Him (by John Oxenham)

26 Jun

We drop a seed into the ground,
A tiny, shapeless thing, shriveled and dry,
And, in the fullness of its time, is seen
A form of peerless beauty, robed and crowned.

Beyond the pride of any earthly queen,
Instinct with loveliness, and sweet and rare,
The perfect emblem of its Maker’s care.
This from a shriveled seed?—
—Then may man hope indeed!

For man is but the seed of what he shall be,
When, in the fullness of his perfecting,
He drops the husk and cleaves his upward way,
Through earth’s retardings and clinging clay,
Into the sunshine of God’s perfect day.

No fetters then! No bonds of time or space!
But powers as ample as the boundless grace
That suffered man, and death, and yet in tenderness,
Set wide the door, and passed Himself before—
As He had promised—to prepare a place.

We know not what we shall be—only this—
That we shall be made like Him—as He is.

John Oxenham

 
 
 
Random thoughts on life, the universe and everything