Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nice essay on Christos in Galatians - NTW

"Paul has given that single Abrahamic family a name: Christos."

This works well - finally a clear rebuttal of Christ as a second name for Jesus. Anointing, Messiah, and Christ are all the same word. Participation in Christ is key, critical, and provides identity that contains both suffering and glory. This is the work of God who in all creation is one who bears with and suffers the consequences of the behaviour of the created order of birthed children in this world we inhabit. (For God as suffering, see The Suffering of God by Terrence Fretheim, a book I should pay more attention to and report on.)

NT Wright's whole essay is here - worth the read. So also is AKM Adam's series on language, particularly the one I tweeted a bit about today. So let's not think we know automatically what Christ means - let's just be the glass of water, the visitor in sickness, the comfort that is needed wherever we can be present to another as God is present to us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Out of the Hospital

The 9 days of my hospitalization were remarkable for the care shown by the staff and the competency by those who conducted care and the operation I required to keep on going. I am now home. The link will tell you more than you might need to know about the human body.

I was moved by the experience but I don't know if I can write about it. Nonetheless, my disabled son asked me if I was in touch with God during the operation and I said yes. Coming out of the anesthetic and being under the influence of morphine is quite psychedelic. But my Hebrew improved during this period and there were remarkable visions. I said something in Latin too but right now I cannot remember it. The Hebrew was all from the psalms - all about refuge and hope. During the entire 9 days I had the Brahms Requiem in my head - these words with their music: Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. (Isaiah 40:6).

God has words for our falling apart also. Fear not little flock...

Thank you readers for all the prayers. I will continue my recovery at home and gradually get back to work - but no heavy lifting for several weeks. And so many more appointments! (I will spare you the details - but I hope to get my cataracts removed soon.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Maturing - is it possible?

What constitutes maturing of the human race? I really wonder if I can write this last essay of the series. So much is not about 'me' but about social maturing. Yet so much is wrong, and there are so many setbacks and returns to primal violence whether religious or personal that one despairs of anything in the way of the appearance of completeness in the human condition.

The surprise is that maturing is possible but the individual brings it about by what is not, and by what is indirect. The direct process is the obedience to a command. But what command? and what kind of obedience? Yesterday I thought I could express this. Today I find the words elude me.

I could come straight to the point: Jesus found the means to the end of completeness through his own self-giving. We can also find this but it is by no means obvious. Paul makes the point directly in his conditional phrase: if you by the Spirit do put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. How does one mortify deeds? And how did Jesus know this would work? He knew through the psalms - not for their violence, but for their recognition of the character of God as compassionate and not violent. (E.g. Psalm 86).

Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered - (Psalm 68) - indeed - but how? Is it just another local battle? Just another pile of spoils? Just another pile of bodies? No. The answer comes in the form of Psalm 69 - the waters are up to my neck, do not let me slip in the mud, do not leave me in the pit. The enemies that are destroyed are our own inner enemies. Sounds far-fetched, doesn't it? When the wolf is at the door, you kill the wolf, you do not give yourself to it.

I may not finish this task. I am writing on a borrowed hotspot, my wife's phone. My own perished this morning, an ear torn off by a renegade sword, a broken sim-card no longer able to find its network. My wife provided the healed ear and so I write. (See Larry's posts on the ear here). I am writing as I wait fasting for the third day to get into the operation I need to keep on living for a while... probably tonight...

Anyway - it is God who matures and he does it in response to faith - whatever that is. Read Psalms 1, 15, 26, 101, and so on to know the ways in which the human is invited to respond to the character of God. It is not with violence.

I will keep writing on this - if possible. It has a lot to do with what others write about in these difficult times. It begins with giving up the dominance, the me-first, and it begins and continues with care for those who are devastated by those of us who refuse the path of self-giving.

Here's Psalm 116 - I can't escape from the fact that I think it is in the Psalms that Jesus recognizes what must happen to overcome the sin of the world.

116 - now please

כִּי יִשְׁמַע יְהוָה
אֶת קוֹלִי תַּחֲנוּנָי
1I love
for יְהוָה heard
the voice of my supplication
כִּי הִטָּה אָזְנוֹ לִי
וּבְיָמַי אֶקְרָא
2for he bent his ear to me
and in my days I will call

אֲפָפוּנִי חֶבְלֵי מָוֶת
וּמְצָרֵי שְׁאוֹל מְצָאוּנִי
צָרָה וְיָגוֹן אֶמְצָא
3the pangs of death enveloped me
and anguish of Sheol found me
trouble and sadness I find
וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא
אָנָּה יְהוָה מַלְּטָה נַפְשִׁי
4so in the name of יְהוָה I will call
beseeching, יְהוָה, make an escape for my being

חַנּוּן יְהוָה וְצַדִּיק
וֵאלֹהֵינוּ מְרַחֵם
5Gracious is יְהוָה and righteous
and our God is compassionate
שֹׁמֵר פְּתָאיִם יְהוָה
דַּלֹּתִי וְלִי יְהוֹשִׁיעַ
6יְהוָה keeps the simple
I was brought low and me he saves

שׁוּבִי נַפְשִׁי לִמְנוּחָיְכִי
כִּי יְהוָה גָּמַל עָלָיְכִי
7Return O my being to your rest
for יְהוָה has matured you
כִּי חִלַּצְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִמָּוֶת
אֶת עֵינִי מִן דִּמְעָה
אֶת רַגְלִי מִדֶּחִי
8for he rescued my being from death
my eyes from tears
my foot from tripping

אֶתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה
בְּאַרְצוֹת הַחַיִּים
9I will walk in the presence of יְהוָה
in the lands of the living
הֶאֱמַנְתִּי כִּי אֲדַבֵּר
אֲנִי עָנִיתִי מְאֹד
10I believed so I spoke
I myself was much afflicted

אֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי בְחָפְזִי
כָּל הָאָדָם כֹּזֵב
11I myself said in my haste
every human lies
מָה אָשִׁיב לַיהוָה
כָּל תַּגְמוּלוֹהִי עָלָי
12what will I return to יְהוָה
for all his benefits to me?
כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא

וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא
13the cup of salvation I will bear

so in the name of יְהוָה I will call
נְדָרַי לַיהוָה אֲשַׁלֵּם
נֶגְדָה נָּא לְכָל עַמּוֹ
14my vows to יְהוָה I will pay
may it be before all his people

יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה
הַמָּוְתָה לַחֲסִידָיו
15Precious in the eyes of יְהוָה
is the death of those under his mercy
אָנָּה יְהוָה כִּי אֲנִי עַבְדֶּךָ
אֲנִי עַבְדְּךָ בֶּן אֲמָתֶךָ
פִּתַּחְתָּ לְמוֹסֵרָי
16יְהוָה beseeching, for I myself am your servant
I myself your servant and child of your maidservant
you have loosed my bonds
לְךָ אֶזְבַּח זֶבַח תּוֹדָה

וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא
17to you I will offer the offering of thanksgiving

so in the name of יְהוָה I will call
נְדָרַי לַיהוָה אֲשַׁלֵּם
נֶגְדָה נָּא לְכָל עַמּוֹ
18my vows to יְהוָה I will pay
may it be before all his people
בְּחַצְרוֹת בֵּית יְהוָה
בְּתוֹכֵכִי יְרוּשָׁלִָם
הַלְלוּ יָהּ
19in the courts of the house of יְהוָה
in your centre O Jerusalem
Hallelu Yah

Friday, August 8, 2014

Morning, Lord, Morning I will arrange for you.

one hand typing - intravenous feed is for hydration.
It is 5:00 am. My eyes open in a hospital cubicle. I am attached via catheter to a bag filling with pink liquid. 24 hours ago it was red, the consequences of a distended bladder which for 8 weeks has been giving pain to the normal processes of life. I have slept now for 8 hours. Probably the first uninterrupted sleep in 15 years. But not unaided. A morphine suppository manages the pain and atavan controls the bladder spasms.

It is difficult to type in bed - not to mention when tired and drugged. But after more than a year of recovering from cancer treatment, I want to continue the saga of the difficulties that get in the way of recovery.  In some ways I had put up with the conflicting pains of rebuilding the lower bowel after radiation (see this post on treatment and my prior posts under the label cancer).

For convenience I even brought a wireless mouse. And though I can barely see the screen because of my cataracts, the little red lines tell me when the keyboard has shifted on my lap so I can correct the spelling. There is no WIFI here so I have hooked up my Blackberry as a hotspot. Works beautifully. I even have access to my office computer.

The nurse, whose grandfather at age 99 has just finished his memoirs,  has just taken my vital signs - blood-pressure, temperature, etc, and has brought me some apple juice. I have leftover raisins and a banana also to keep me going till breakfast. I am impressed with the hospital bed, the comfortable slippers (but I am not moving much) and the ultra-sheer briefs that assist with both privacy and ease of holding the catheter

So what happened? How did you get here when two nights ago you were watching tennis on TV and playing with an active 9-month-old. What got me was plummeting kidney function. Blood-work over the last 3 months has showed that the kidneys were failing. I think it should have been acted on with greater promptness. Apart from the painful lack of sleep, I had little in the way of symptoms. Eventually a nephrologist saw the ultrasound and phoned me with an order to get to emergency. She recognized the urgency of the situation.

Medical communications were not well managed until this last minute. I was blaming the increased difficulty of having to wake up every 2 hours or less on the original radiation treatment. My inferences should have been corrected. That's a long story. When one is ignorant, one does not want to listen to someone else's explanation of the 'facts'.  Time to pay attention and perhaps insist that others who are qualified should act as well as measure and coordinate.

And here I am. The triggering problem may have been inflammation in the prostate. We shall see. For now, a certain stability has been reached. Or so I hope.

Blessings to all - learn to listen to your body - and may the medical protocols work for you.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recognizing connections

Well, I did not succeed in presenting my third petal without a bunch of Biblical terms. That's because I wanted to couch the expression in historical categories - like those intuited by the human animal as words were invented for them: so perfection, completeness, holiness, purity - why am I not pure? holy? complete? or perfect? For I am definitely not. Note I do not concur with the phrase 'total depravity' or the like. I make no appeal to 'original sin' - rather I would suggest original responsibility and a true but limited depravity that is a result of misunderstanding what is good. It cannot be 'total' or there is no appeal to responsibility. God cannot be unknown or the human bootstrap program will fail.

Now to the fourth petal. Discerning the other. Do I dare listen to those who are different from me, even those who in some measure might be seen as beyond the pale?

I am not sufficient unto myself. I exist only in community. Nothing that I am is knowable except as it is related to others. This includes my language, my culture, my biases and my beliefs. Even the relationships that I am found in are only known in relationship to other groups that I am not in. There is no escaping relations.

Nothing that I can say can be said without the contextual assumptions that are within my culture. Yet if I stick only with such parochial views, I am still stuck in a failure to see that which is truly other than me, my group, my cultural assumptions and so on. Not, mind you, that I accept or condone some other aspects of the other, whether within my own group or outside of it.

Nonetheless, I am connected, whether I am in or whether I am out. Even my being out is defined by relationship.

I am also connections. I am an assembly of microbes, all of which are essential to my life: there are 100 trillion bacterial cells living on and within our bodies, 10 times the number of human cells that comprise ‘us’. How can I think of myself as if I were an individual? Can you imagine yourself as so dependent on microbes? A full-blown ecosystem, run by domesticated bacteria called mitochondria?

Why then should we love our neighbour as ourselves? Why should we love our enemy and do good to those who hate us? Who is this neighbour who along with us is ruining the very space we are together inhabiting? Who is this enemy who stands against all we hold dear? All that we value?

On the micro level, if our own members war within us, we get sick and die? On the macro scale, we labour to eliminate our enemies and control our environment for our own sakes.

Think of some examples.

Do I blame / do I relate to an industrial catastrophe? Like the pesticide spill in Bophal, India? It is not hard to imagine my inadvertent complicity in the industry that supports my own desire for a pest-free garden? But having learned of such things, do I approve - e.g. more recently, of the awful working conditions in sweat shops for clothing around the world? I visited such a sweat shop in the 1970s in Toronto! I could see right away that there was no trust between worker and management - only dependency and exploitation.

The problems were not far away and I was in the middle of them. In those days, the exploited were refugees from Czechoslovakia.

What about kleptocrats and Russian gangsters today?  I do not approve of course, but I question whether economic factors alone can fix such a situation as we find in Ukraine today. They will change it, but not fix it. How does a bad relationship get fixed? And of course this one is beyond my immediate power or influence.

Here are some less bad examples - even good ones: Johnson Thomaskutty is an Indian preacher who is part of this conference in Pakistan,
The 2014 Church of God [its international headquarters in Anderson, Indiana, USA] Convention held at The Church of God Mission Compound, Lalmanirhat, Bangladesh, was a rich experience for the organizers and the participants alike. The convention was inaugurated by The Honorable District Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Habibur Rahman. A Muslim by birth and practice, the District Deputy Commissioner keeps a solemn relationship with the Church of God Missions in Bangladesh. The festival was convened from 24 to 26 April 2014. There were about 700 delegates (including children), mostly from sixty-eight rural Bangladeshi churches, gathered during this great event. The meetings were blessed by the presence of youths and office staff from Dhaka (Senpara), Lalmanirhat, Kaunia, and Kakina. The general theme of the conference was “Let Your Light Shine!” based on Matthew 5:16.  
This conference focused on "Love Your God, Love Your Church, Love to Give, and Love Your Family". There are several groups in this example, circles within circles, places to learn love. Love, of course, the ultimate connector, cannot be used to promote disaster. Ultimately it will call greed to account, even if it takes a lot of time.

Or consider the space between. I will do my own translation of this phrase: Deuteronomy 1:16
שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙
וּשְׁפַטְתֶ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו
וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרוֹ
Hear between your kin
and judge rightly between anyone and your kin
and between anyone and the other among you.

You may begin with family, but must not neglect responsibility for right judgment with anyone including the foreigner (guest, sojourner) which I have rendered 'the other'. The white fire is as critical as the black fire. We never learned this easily. I recall the bullies I sensed when I was 50 years younger. Avoidance was my technique, not resolution. And the abuser? There was no escape for a child. And I might add, there was no good advice either and a lot of poor training in strength. The word 'sinner' was not applied to the ones who held the reins of power.

One could multiply examples, but it is not for our own understanding or abstraction. What is first of all important is how we act or not with the situations we find ourselves in. How do we learn to respond in love to what may be hateful to us, to inferred motivations, that we might learn to see responsibility in others, and our interconnectedness?

With David, however, I will not allow myself to take responsibility for actions that are not my doing. See Psalm 7:5-6. But I will admit my fault when it is required. Consider Psalm 6.

Why does consideration of 'the other' ultimately lead me back to responsibility for the brokenness of relationship that I see in the world? I am clearly not coming up with a simple answer to my questions. Perhaps the fifth and final in this series, maturing, will help. Perhaps the clue will be both in a corporate and an individual maturing, a coming to the fullness of humanity that we are called to.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Working towards completeness

At last, the third thought-petal of my five which I first listed here with elaborations herehere and here. But this is more than a petal. It is the stamen itself.

Completeness indicates the end of the story. Completeness is another synonym for the whole. The word for complete in Hebrew has the three-letter root taf-mem-mem תמם. And it appears at the end of the movie, thus: תם, tam, meaning 'THE END'.

This word is used quite frequently in the Psalms. As in English, it can mean ended as in finished, wiped out. And it can mean completed in the sense of filled full. So it belongs in the domain of finishing, consuming, and satisfaction. Some of these words overlap with the semantic domain of destruction. In my very terse analysis of the Psalms by semantic domain here, I list this word as one of 11 under the idea of wholeness. The full list is long winded and full of fuzzy decisions.
אחד once, one, single 
גמל grow, benefit, mature, pay back, nursing child, reward
חסד loving-kindness, covenant mercy, mercy, reproof, show kind, and חסִִיד

these I treated as separate roots though they are really the same. I gloss them as loving-kindness or some variation on kind or mercy. The noun is merciful one, or in the plural, those under mercy, and also stork. Traditional glosses for the plural include saints, or holy ones, and for the singular, godly, all a bit misleading in my opinion.
יחד together, altogether, one, unique, solitary
כל all, every
כלל כלל, glossed as perfection, occurs only once in the Psalms, in Psalm 50. from Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. It is a strange verse for today, when perfection is not exactly what we could associate with trouble in the land.
צמד couple, see Psalm 106:28 for example.
רפא heal, also its homonym, used as shades in Psalm 88.
שׁלםשׁלם is perhaps the most obvious of the group, glossed as peace, make whole, but also pay and payback. It is part of the name Salem and Absalom.
תמםcomplete, and once as filled full. Psalm 73 
How in a moment they are desolated
floundering, filled full from frights.

According to that psalm, this is the sudden 'end' תם of the wicked.

What constitutes my end - is it complete or not? Is such completion desirable? Can I know it before the end? Do I know in advance what is complete for me? or for others? or with others? The word perfect is often the gloss used for תם. So God says to Abram (before his name change to Abraham), Walk before me and be complete. Or as in the King James Version, be perfect. It is Yahweh, appearing to Abram as the mysterious El Shaddai, saying

Walk in my presence and be complete. אֲנִי־אֵל שַׁדַּי הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִֽים׃

These are hard questions, and do not admit of an easy theoretical answer. The answer comes through error, struggle, and destruction of barriers to the wholeness that is sought. Perhaps that is why Jerusalem is such an image of conflict in its whole history. The place of peace cannot find its achievement. The Holy is elusive.

The question then is focused: by what means did Abram find this walk? And how shall we? Let's leave the question there for the moment. Perhaps by the time we get to the fifth petal, the form of the stamen will be more in evidence.

Hint: death is proleptic.

Ponder the mystery in that inimitable poem by T. S. Eliot. A proleptic Death is equally available in the faith of Abram as it is in the faith of Abraham or of the NT through the circumcision of the Anointed.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down 
This set down 
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? 
There was a Birth, certainly 
We had evidence and no doubt. 
I had seen birth and death, 
But had thought they were different; this Birth was 
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. 
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, 
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, 
With an alien people clutching their gods. 
I should be glad of another death.