Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sheep with 7 legs, the vain man, and the king

This morning at the Art Gallery, four young musicians of the Victoria Music Corner Ensemble did the world premiere of an adaptation of the story, Le Petit Prince, with action, costume, props, and serious chamber music for the 3 to 6 year old set. It was brilliant. Sheep with 7 legs, solo roses with leaves randomly applied by the children, and a cooperative circle laughing star dance, as well as some serious counting of stars (represented by the triangle) during the music. Delightful music for Trombone, violin, clarinette and percussion in a room full of about 40 parents and children made for a mini-opera about 40 minutes in length that never lost the kids' attention. The players and actors are all symphony players in their 20s. It was a real exposure to creation for all of us.

School systems and conservatories will all benefit from this kind of stimulus - as of course do us old folks who don't at the moment have 3 to 6 year olds running about the place, not to mention the potential inspriation for the children. The show was advertised by kids-in-victoria. Other performances are scheduled - see the web page.

Friday, June 29, 2007


What is this thing(y) called resurrection? Doug at Metacatholic suggests a change from a 'Pauline view' to a 'view involving eternity': "Resurrection seems to have a lot more to do with eternity, and with God beyond the world, than it did for Paul, and a simple restatement of Pauline theology may not be the right way to go."

I am curious to discover if some form of presentation of the resurrection can be made in this culture of Science. Wright's article has some good lines: "science in the strict sense can never be enough." And something happened to the disciples that left them with "a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen."

The footprints in the sand at the Johannine fish breakfast is a bit much for an image of "something really did happen" but likewise, if nothing has happened to me, why would I bother with your or anyone else's set of "beliefs"?

Another good line from Wright: "and there are those, of course, who by redefining the resurrection to make it simply a spiritual experience in the inner hearts and minds of the disciples." He is critical of this position I am glad to see. This is moving - easily - towards the 'beyond the world'. But so what?

Wrights approach to 'mutations' of Jewish hope is a more promising move. Mutation in what might be thought immutable is not a game of meme survival to use a Dawkins' term. It is much more a game of hide and seek or a reframing of a known hope into a known reality. I am reminded of course of the sequence with Martha at the resurrection of Lazarus. Martha has to reframe her literal beliefs about the last day.

(I promised some time ago to identify with women in the Gospels. The unnamed one who washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them with her hair would be tough for me now since I am no longer the hippy I was in my youth - but I would understand that story without the Monkish disdain evident in this portrait by Bouts the Elder.)

Wright lists 7 mutations. It is not their content particularly that impresses me, but the concept of reframing that is important. 'Collaborative eschatology' (mutation 5) is arguably the worst set of syllables one would want to attach to such a concept. Leave it to the theologians to dream up these words! The reframing comes most pointedly in Romans chapter 10 citing Deuteronomy 30 - the word is not far from you - you don't have to ascend to theological heaven to get it. Just confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead and you will be saved. The reframing cannot take place until after the piercing impact of confession and faith. It may well be collaborative eschatology but those words make me feel like a round man with all God's arrows glancing off target in tangential arcs instead of like the poor St Sebastian (Lorenzo Costa) who is struck through the heart.

Wright strikes home again with the note on Thomas who: "transcends the type of knowing he had intended to use, and passes into a higher and richer one." Yes - but one will ask of course, is it only his 'imagination'? Wright raises this question and answers it perhaps as well as I can imagine. The answer is still not 'enough' - the satisfaction that needs no modifier is in the tasting. Another great quote from this article: "the room has been disturbed, that it doesn’t look like it did last night, and that would-be ‘normal’ explanations for this won’t do."

To say one knows what may be in the world to come is speculation. But I do know that the room has been disturbed and for the better. Such disturbance I understand as being like the earnest of an inheritance both acceptable and greatly to be desired. The disturbance is like the resurrection of Lazarus, temporal, real, and a foretaste of what is to be. I trust I am learning to live with the furniture rearrangement of the new dispensation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I must explain these shorthand names which I found in the scriptorium affixed to the written records.

Matthew, called Levi, was in the tax office when Jesus called him. He himself recorded the Lord’s sayings as he had heard him. Barnabas and my father assisted Matthew with his first Greek translation. It is my task to translate these texts into Latin. I begin with the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. I render it as Liber generationis Iesu Christi filii David filii Abraham. You will understand that I did not want to call the work Genealogy or liber generationes, so I note the performer's title KATA MATTHEON.

After I have completed Matthew I will move to Dr. Loukas who wrote in Greek. A physician, this Luke was companion to Paul of Tarsus from whom my father and Gaius learned so much. There are many of Paul’s letters also in the scriptorium. Luke writes in a matter of fact way to Theophilus, high priest in the days of the emperor Gaius Caligula, ‘with diligence and in order’. That phrase I will render as Diligenter ex ordine tibi scribere optime Theophile.

He writes in order, but it is not temporal order and it is different from Matthew’s. He wrote two books in the years of Nero while James the brother of Jesus was in Jerusalem. He wanted Theophilus to have accurate information about the way so that all might see how consistent it is with Halakah, a word in Hebrew that itself means ‘to walk’. It is a rich word. If I wrote dictionaries, it would merit pages. Luke's purpose is partly to teach and partly political, to show how acceptable is the Halakah of the Anointed.


– Tertius, attend me in my study. It will be your task to deal with the accounts. We will use your skill in letters for the benefit of the estate.
– Immediately, master.
– The accounts must always be in order, Tertius. You are responsible for them. Your eyes verify them; it is your ministry for the estate. When anyone requires us to justify our way, I will call upon your accuracy to compile an account of the things we have accomplished and to prove the truth of our claims.
– It will be so, master.


Third before the public, but always first in my order, is my great uncle, John Mark. He was with us in Jerusalem just after my birth. At that time, he gave notes to Luke and Matthew privately, and then, last and least in terms of volume, he developed a performance of his announcement from their work removing much and adding little, but unique in structure and focus.

Uncle Mark points directly to the gospel: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus. It is not 'gospel' as if we did not know what he meant, but immediately, his favorite word, 'the gospel' as if we should know what he meant. As do the Romans, I have borrowed the Greek, evangel, the reward of good tidings, to translate gospel. I shall say more of this later. Mark’s performance is brief; the easiest to learn by heart. I have learned it. When I sound the words, everyone in the assembly looks at me. It is a strange feeling. I know what I am saying and I say what I see. I feel my words but I cannot hear them. When I come to the part about the deaf mute, their eyes are wide. Is it because I am deaf but not silent?

Mark by his own account ran away from the soldiers in the garden just before Jesus was killed. He was a man whose eyes opened slowly. A disappointment to Paul on his first mission, he saw very clearly at the end of his life. His mother, Mary, is the sister of Joses called Barnabas (of Cyprus), my mother’s brother.

Paul was a man of forceful argument not without influence on my thought. We will see the same influence on Mark. Cephas, like a father to him, was also his teacher, but the writing is in uncle Mark's own awkward style, a mixture of Latin and Aramaic sentence constructions in Greek, with almost every phrase beginning with 'And': and immediately this, and immediately that.

Finally John gives us the beginning of all things.

The human approaches God by Stoic wisdom as Epictetus teaches, or by the Law as the Jews follow, or by the idea and expression of the Logos, as Philo taught. And some seek hidden wisdom. John begins with a poem showing how God approaches the human. It is a very old poem, at least as old as I am. Tertius used to perform it for us when we were first here on the estate. I watched. The six-strophe structure of the Prologue, like the six days of creation in the first book of Moses, requires a final act to bring it to completion. Something more is still to come. This is something we need to see, and if you have ears, to hear, to touch, to speak to, to be heard by, and to be touched.


– In the beginning.
– In principio erat Verbum.
– Tertius will perform. I will eat his words through my ears. They will become part of my body. Then I will feed Secundus with my hands. He will know the Word by feel and sight.
– In the beginning was the Word.
– Slowly. Not in a hurry. Time for the signs.
– In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
– You have a nice voice. To whom was the Word present in the beginning? And how? Like me, by the ear? Or like Secundus?
– And the Word was God.
– God was the Word? The same, that Word?
– He was in the beginning with God.
– When was that time?
– Time was not, but there was power. Hear the poet express her knowledge. Hear the words of which we are made that reach into the depths of all things.


The beloved to be loved, gives a name to you, Beloved. The glory is not to be seen alongside of the flesh, or through the flesh as through a window. It is to be visible, and touched in the flesh. I see hearing, but I cannot hear. Yet John wrote of what I can know, a full life, nothing missing. It is sufficient. There is poetry, explanation, laughter, and pleasure. Do not think for a moment that pain alone makes memory.

Like an actor, he moved to the words, laying his two hands to one side to illustrate the creation and life, then to the front to show the witness of others to his light. Then he moved his hands, palms outstretched, to the other side to show the creator coming to his own creation. One-two-three, and he repeated this movement with greater emphasis on us. Four: he became part of creation for us. Five: our place before him who comes late but on time into creation. Six: the gifts he gives.


Verbum caro factus est et habitavit in nobis.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.


The word is the domain of poets. The Lord is a poet, not a philosopher. Some say the human is a philosopher, and poets are exiled. To save a judge, become a poet. There is joy in heaven over the repentance of one philosopher.


No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
–Father, you don’t have a bosom. Are you finished?
– I have scarcely begun, O my firstborn. Settle down. The best is still to come. Two and a half hours for the recitation. And stop interrupting. Remember so you can teach your brother.


The poem will be invisible for a thousand years if the parsimony of the scribes wins over a prodigality of space. We have begun a journey. It is not short. There are the four beginnings of the gospel.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The beginning of a story

– Everyone in his family is to be crucified. I will not have disobedient slaves on my estate. And take my wailing son away. The boy needs toughening up.
– What shall we do with the infant?
He laughed.
– Kill it. Why raise their last hope? No, wait. Find a wet nurse. It is not good to boil a kid in its mother’s milk. Call him Tertius. Perhaps the third time we will be lucky.

My name is Secundus. I grew up in Judea, Libya, and the Achaean peninsula, the child of a colonial Latin household in Corinth. Born in Jerusalem eight years before the destruction of the Temple, I am of the seed of Tertius the scribe, also named for his sequence. He was the only surviving son in the third generation of slaves at our estate. I follow the third and I follow the firstborn, my sister, Prima.

This is my second book. Prima helped in the flesh with my first. Together, we recounted the lives of my parents and their colleagues. It is in memory that she will help me today. I gave her body to the ground four years ago. She was my ears. From her, I learned to see words and form sounds. Having seen words formed, I strove to master every written language I found.

I inherited the estate and its business from my father who had it himself from Gaius whose only son was a victim of a Corinthian brawl. I began writing twenty years ago, a decade after my father’s death. Many words weary, I read in the book by the preacher. But still I write, emptiness expressing ecstasy.

I also inherited the scriptorium with all its letters, scrolls, and parchments. Included among these are four records of recitations under the names titles: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. KATA MATTHEON, KATA MARKON, KATA LOUKAN and KATA IWANNHN. If you want to see them, you can find written copies here at the estate in Corinth and in many other places. I am not the only one to have studied these things so you will not find it difficult to get further information if you need it.

Updated June 28: Next episode

Incarnational theology

James Tabor writes: "And the apostle Paul, a dedicated sexual ascetic himself, exhorts his followers: “For we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” He speaks of our “bodies of humiliation” and imagines life in a tranformed heavenly body, free of decay, and of course, of sensuality and especially sexuality."

I think it is very difficult for the 21st century to rescue Paul from the accusation of asexuality. I hope it is not impossible. I completely disagree with the connotations implied about Paul's attitudes above. I have to agree that this is what we were implicitly and explicitly taught about them over the years almost without exception to the present century. I do hope to try to change this reading of Paul because I think it is incomplete and wrong.

Tabor also notes: "The emphasis of the Torah on God’s creation declared as “very good,” with the first commandment or blessing upon humans being “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” created a real tension with Hellenistic forms of dualism and gnosticism, that devalued the world and sexuality."

Here I agree with Tabor but I think so would Paul. The tension cannot be resolved without recourse to additional extra-textual information. I propose to put it forward in a story. I will serialize the story once or twice a month in short segments. This location is as good a place as any. I expect the story to continue over several years. Debating a title, I was thinking: The Gospel according to Secundus. In the first post Secundus will introduce himself.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Reasonable Faith

Doug, at Metacatholic writes on a reasonable faith. I largely agree with his fourfold statement - read and ponder. I do not dare summarize such a carefully worded paragraph.

His thoughts resonate with my thinking over the turnings of my life these past 60+ years. Let me assure anyone who reads that I too do not wish to abandon the field of reason. In the NT reason is logos (1 Peter 3:15) and reasonable, logikos (Romans 12:1) so it would seem folly indeed to abandon the field of reason.

Paul has the most comprehensive argument in Romans: 55 questions in 10 sections. One might imagine for a moment that this is Paul responding to Peter's request for the reason for the hope that is in him. Paul's struggle is not a cool argumentation through which he proves his 'position' as if it would have been reasonable to know this proof without the assumed relationship to his Judaism and the risen Christ.

Paul does not prove that God is and that God is good. He argues reasonably and with anguish that God is good because of his relationship already established as a Jew and subsequently further understood through the risen Christ. No human reasoning operates without pre-suppositions. Paul's 'axioms' are stated in his opening, and only then does his personal response begin. Even when he describes his response for those who hold the truth in unrighteousness - he places them under wrath because God has already shown them the truth. In both cases, the confrontation is first, reasoning second.

Doug writes: we can affirm, in God, that the universe is indeed a rational one, and that an attitude of trust in that God is an act of reasonable faith. [my italics]

I agree. We see the reason after the apprehension of grace. So if someone says to me: I don't believe your God, or in God, I have no need for God, or I left the Church since there was no reason to stay, then there is no reason by which I can prove to that person that God is true. In fact, I expect I am sometimes a stumbing block to others - and it informs my perpetual prayer much as enemies inform the Psalmists' prayers.

I don't write, in fact, for the unbeliever. I write for the believer who in words appears to cut me off from the living God - to put me with their favorite sons of Korah and have the earth swallow me up. I write to undermine uncritiqued assumptions and too quickly formed conclusions. For God is good - much better than reasoned by many. And much better than supposed by some of the reasons put forward for correcting my 'beliefs' by those who are for example against the teaching of women, or historical-critical study, or love between persons who are oriented differently.

The problem with reason is that we can use it to shore up our positions and by doing so, dismiss the humanity and salvation of others.

But I, like Paul, have a serious problem. I believe in the efficacy of the death of Christ for all flesh, and that creates a barrier or potential barrier between me and others if only because of historical contingency and the errors of Christendom. Also like Paul, I believe in the first covenant and the efficacy of its primal word1. If my Lord is servant to the circumcision (Romans 15:8) - what must be my reasonable response?

There was a time, to return to Peter (and Hosea), when I knew the out side of mercy. I know the difference between knowing mercy and not. I know that to be matured in this secure position is not without rebuke. I note that one word for reason in TNK appears to be translated mostly as rebuke! Lord do not rebuke me in your wrath. ... Come, let us reason together ... (Psalm 6, Isaiah 1.) Such a rebuke is love. (Skip Eccl 7:25) Perhaps later I will know enough Hebrew to read a word study on 'reason' in TNK. Perhaps someone can point me to one.

So my thesis is that reason is a response to God. We are found here living, and we find that God also has allowed himself to be found. Responding is what relationship is about - and it is very good. (I suppose anything else is not reasonable.)

(1) See for example Hebrews 2:1-3 and the eccentric juxtaposition of word and salvation. It is in an image here. I also did a structural diagram of Romans - long jpg. Not in Greek.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


How lovely your dwellings, O LORD of Hosts

Errant means exactly what I said - It is directly supported from the Scripture of course.

Some seem to be having trouble understanding what I have written. I regret that I have written with words that cannot be understood. I do want to be understood. I am an ordinary man. Sometimes I cannot say what I mean. Sometimes I mistype a word like untimate - ultimate or intimate? Sometimes my impeccable grammar enshrines a doorless thought.

With respect to God and logic though, there is a simple rule. God cannot, by definition, be included in a logical statement that is subject to the usual constraints on objects in the world because God is not an object in the world. Corrolary: all things that are objects in the world including our favorite things like logic, canon, inerrant, sentences containing statements that we consider absolutes (except wodka of course - in deference to some of my Russian friends), are not God.

Foolishness aside, this rule with regard to logic applies equally well to the Law. God is not subject to Law. Neither is grace. Fairness is undecidable. But God allows himself to be found and the finding is poetry, music, and more. It is that word that seems to repeat in the Psalms: completion. It is that experience that is reflected in the perpetual sacrifice בְּתָמִים. This word is sometimes translated 'upright' but that does not reflect its purpose in life. If one word had to describe the NT it would be completion - tetelestai. It is the fait accompli - the work of God that had to be done, that created the worlds, and which says a complete word about our God.

This is the wind that is errant, that goes where it pleases, that saves gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, Jew or Gentile, male and female, the ultimate fare.

Of course, it is possible that I am in the ewilderness.


I am having trouble getting a comment to post at Metacatholic so I must post it here.

Doug writes as verse 2 of his hymn:

Searching for you in all you made,
in all my eye discerned,
I did not look within, afraid
to know what passion burned.

My simple comment has to do with scansion: 'In search' would scan better than 'Searching'. It has an additional alliterative result.

In search for you in all you made,
in all my eye discerned,
I did not look within, afraid
to know what passion burned.

Faith in faith - around the blog world

MetaCatholic gives us some content on Dawkins' public debates. Escaping the circle of impossible to prove things, whether logical or moral, I am thinking that belief needs to be seen more as engagement than 'rational' - and I think none of us is exempt or incompetent whether we are very smart or (as are two of my children) seriously brain damaged. Perhaps 'belief' is consciousness of such engagement with the fire of love and judgment. But such engagement - even marriage - is not a matter of sola cogitans. Morality follows from engagement with the ultimate non-user-of-power. It does not precede so it cannot be used as precondition in a logical proposition except to the extent that our consciousness of error is part of the engagement.

Michael Pahl- begins the completion of his notes on the gospel. His comments read more positively than the current notes around the blog world on inerrancy. They also give one of the primary reasons for canon - to testify to the Reality of God. The inclusiveness implied in his sequence of 'both-and' and 'not only-but also' repudiates a cerebral-only apprehension of the faith. It raises the question for me as to how we can define canon so as to note its referrent as the Living God. Just in the Psalms we have a double pointer from multiple cult locations.

Korah is considered rebellious by Judah - so we have a recording of the destruction of Korah's desire to minister at the altar. But the children of Korah, the vergers and choir boys, get the last word. They wrote Chronicles. Such divisions are included in the canon - not so that we can harmonize them and force them to speak to our own limited ideas of what God ought to have had recorded but so that we can see that the will to power is not salvation. Does this help us refine our narrowing of the wideness of God's work?

Addendum: I just noted Goulder's translation of Psalm 46:1 נִמְצָא מְאֹד He has made himself to be found indeed. All else is reaction.

What I say to you in secret

shout from the housetops.

Lord, even I could not be so outrageous.

Inerrancy - Believing your own judgment

The truth is errant, going to and fro, a random walk on the earth to see if there were any that seek after God, and to hide from them that know the answer in advance.

Michael Bird responds quickly: "If I have to choose between inerrancy and errancy, I will always choose inerrancy. Otherwise you are faced with the problem of why should I believe anything the Bible says about, for instance, homosexuality."

'I' have to chose why 'you' should believe something. Here is the power trip of all those who take power by knowledge. Belief morphs into judgment, exposing the secret fault.

Is the Bible clear or unclear - sometimes one, sometimes the other, if it can be said to speak or not. Is the whole Bible inerrant? Errant is not a binary decision. (I can hear the logic of those who believe everything - Can we ascribe to God error? What a slippery slope! Can I trust him? Who! - not Bird but God.) Let your judgment of God be dropped. She will not be moved for God is in the midst of her.

I am God's error - I am love. Mercy and truth met together. Judge me not lest you be judged. Enjoy the loving fire of judgment and the judging fire of love for God is love. Kiss the son. Find healing from your careless comments. Why am I so heavy, O my soul. God's heaviness is in me. Longing fills my heart for those who have nothing but words.

It's not that we can't read. It's that our reading gets in the way of our love. We do not need to choose between errant and inerrant. We do not need to use force to make our point. Not even the force of abomination.

Did I use force to save you, my love?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Who and What Is In?

I am not persuaded by theology. I am disturbed by it. There must be divisions among us, says Paul, so that we will know who is approved. I think about this in a world of x millions of Jews, y billion or so of Muslims, and z billions of Christians, and a few billion more. That's a lot of loving for God, not to mention all the cattle.

I am not easy with authority. The pastoral epistles and I meet in my memory, but I do not study them as I have studied Romans, or the Gospels, or Revelation. Those who call themselves Jews and are not... What do we call ourselves? John didn't say Christian.

I have trouble with adjectives like Christian and Jewish. Sometimes they seem so divisive - but sometimes it is just my own personal inner reaction. How can we react in the Spirit? To give the pastorals their due, it is a Spirit of power and self-control. We pray in the Spirit and as the temple of the Spirit. We have an Advocate, a builder of our temple. In our struggle, we are not dealing with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. And it is not in our own strength that we deal with these things.

So what do I make of this news story about the Anglican 'Priest' who has flirted with Islam? Some of my ancient teachers, especially those with background in Eastern countries, would have me respect the potential for common ground. I can have respect for the person in principle, but I have to ask how the Spirit is working here and around the world. It is a large and difficult thought if you will pardon my searching for a response. If I could find the right acupuncture point for the human body, it would be better than breaking a few legs.

My answer is couched in negatives:
1. it is not an improvement to go to five times a day prayer when you are invited to pray without ceasing.
2. It is not an improvement to be without the explicit knowledge of the Bridegroom.
3. It is not an improvement to be bound by rules and regulations.

Doug asked about the angels. You know the issues around women in 1 Corinthians change dramatically if you can figure out the tone of voice and which part of their letter Paul is quoting. I think the angels are jealous, desiring to look into these things. They don't get to worship the way we do - this treasure in earthen vessels.

Sometimes I wonder why we have authority structures - Overseers, Presidents, Servants. I find the 'priestly' terminology difficult. I can see the crevace in Hebrews by which the Church re-instated the glory of the cult, but though an Anglican (bells and smells at that - actually a long time singer, cantor, and liturgist, perhaps one of the children of Korah - and apparently the choir got the last word in Chronicles), I find the egalitarian process in my local synagogue very attractive at times. My vine-branch has tangled many times in its growth and has been suitably pruned, the ripening fruit misshapen as I noted in an early response to a theodicy thread.

4. It would definitely not be an improvement to be outside of the covenant dialogue of mercy and reproof, of tenderness and life, of the promised and fulfilled unity. Hear, O Israel...

The firstborn of many is one who has known me, making me one with him. How could I possibly remove myself from such fulness or flirt with another 'gospel'? And I am not just talking about words as if it was the canon that I worship.

I cannot see any positive potential for this move that the ordained person has made. As it has been in many of the churches, there are errors in the leadership. Will the people speak?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Future of Canon

I am reading Yitzhak Avishur, Studies in Hebrew and Ugaritic Psalms, Hebrew University Press 1994. In the early discussion of Psalm 29 (as being a hymn to Baal which the Israelites appropriated simply by changing the word Baal to YHWH) comes this paragraph under the heading of The Psalm and the Jubusite Cult, he notes that he follows Cassuto's view and cites him as follows: "We no longer assume deliberate imitation but only natural and spontaneous continuity, not assimilation but development, not the acceptance of foreign influence but the perpetuated use of methods of expression that were already employed in the language, both in religious and secular life."

Do we have here a hint as to possible beginnings of canon? And could we find here some hints on both the closed/open/fuzzy-edged and continuing nature of canon?

Some time ago Doug posted a lovely hymn - no less lovely for being derivative from Augustine. Herbert and Donne did such things too and not just because they were clever. Lovely because of love.

My song is love unknown
my saviour's love to me
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be (Samuel Crossman - another 17th century bloke)

What motivates the Caananite or the Hebrew to write? Why does it not continue? What is the nature of time that we are past or present in its fulness? (I could do with a collection of hymns of this quality - mais chaqu'un...)

Is it a problem if something now canonical seems to have come from a name (Caananite!) that is perhaps associated with a questionable history? It occurred to me that Dahood was over the top with respect to Ugaritic - but what do I know? and how defensive is the mood today about such origins? ("...development, not the acceptance of foreign influence...") My questions on this try to delve to the root of the experience and the origins of 'religion', a word I do not like at all. Did the original poet, whether Caananite or proto Hebrew say: "my, what a fine poem, I should keep this". Or was he simply gloating about some bloody military victory over Baal with Lebanon's cedars shattered, and a convulsed wilderness of Kadesh, and a forest ruined by fire, and hinds calving out of fear... and thieving a poem to prove his point? (Were they really so 'foreign' to each other?)

Who invented the concentric structure (and why did the world lose its knowledge of such a marvel)? A surfeit of questions. Good thing the canon is limited. Defensiveness is not a requirement. iyov notes the concept of a protective fence around Torah. Is the fence part of the canon? Is it needed?


Give us today our daily taste of tomorrow! With thanks to Mark Goodacre more than maridly. Google me immarid. It fits with the canon discussion too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

O all ye men of tender heart, bless ye the Lord

I am listening to Mary Jill Levine. Much of what she says I heartily agree with - and much I heartily disagree with. Thanks to Tim for giving me the opportunity and patience to listen. (Besides, she is engaging.) The last question and her answer are worth the whole 45 minutes.

The critical item she states that I disagree with is that men do not identify with the unnamed women in the Gospels. I then am not a man. For I do identify with women and with the feminine in the Spirit. There is so much that is incomplete in the statement: men do not identify with women (named or unnamed). I am not sure how I will respond. I may write some meditations on my identification with the unnamed and named women - why should I not identify with them? I am after all a member of his body and his bride.

She might explain the question away - but what does she do with Romans 7? I am among those who have died to the law through the body of Christ that I with them (we, you plural) might be married to another, even the one who has been raised from the dead.

Yesterday I was experimenting with Google docs - and I published something to this blog that never turned up - lucky for me - it was too long and almost too much of a groan. I will dump it with my earlier writings. It is a book review of Kurt Vonnegut's last book - addressed to Kurt after his death. Skip it if you don't like rambling book reviews. It has structure but like a dialogue.

I went off to the market for supper - what a strange arrangement, beggars on the sidewalk begging directly from restaurant patrons - I had nothing to drink and went vegetarian - good though - a beet salad with goat's cheese and gaspacho. Why don't I like having fun? As I walked back, I thought on Mary Jill's terrible use of metaphor in that talk. At least I hear it as terrible. God makes metaphor into flesh. Dan Brown may be better than I thought. Maybe I should read him. There's a copy in this lonesome apartment.

When we read the Song as allegory - it is not because we are senseless! Spiritual does not mean cerebral. And she has traditional assumptions about Paul's meaning in 1 Corinthians 7 - I wish that all men were as I am - but each has his own gift. Why, does that mean he is celibate? i.e. sexless? I once asked a Jewish friend of mine if God could have anything to do with sex. His instant reply was 'No! Impossible.' It's not a Jewish thing, or a Christian thing, or a Greek thing. Spurn the adjectives. It just isn't true. And the Scriptures do not need to be read that way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Jim West cites a certain Bullinger on praying in an unknown tongue: "Indeed he utters Godly words, but he does not know what he says".

Paul too is clear - one who prays in a tongue edifies himself... and Do not supress the gift of tongues.

Herein lies a form of love - giving up on the rational, the tongue discovers the pre-rational and it turns out to be super-rational. The giving up is a death to pretension. The pre-rational is the human perception of an unknown utterance. The super-rational is the unexpected resurrection accomplished in the usual way...

It is good to utter Godly words. And Bullinger and Paul agree (Paul I know, but who is Bullinger?)

Utter the words in an unknown tongue - say Avra-kadavra. Let the mind go! But God is hard of hearing and he hears אָבִי אֶרְחָמְךָ and forgets the rest and the tongue is loosed. The mind does not know but the Father, my Father, has heard 'My Father, I love you'. And little else need be said.

If one utter these words in a known tongue, it is better, but it is worse if one then thinks one is godly and the other not. The godly know not what they say or do - for the left hand and the right hand are in the hand of God. When God is between the two hands, he is in the heart and the Spirit groans with unutterable praise. Such praise builds the utterer into the restored temple. And the stone in the Temple groans with unutterable praise. This is the specific function of the builder who is the Spirit - the comforter - paracletos in the Greek, the one who sighs (נָּחֵם) over the built as he brooded over the waters.

My closed table brethren friends tried to convince me that the gift of tongues had come to an end with the completing of the canon. This is not the case, I assure you. I have heard the stammering tongue and I have heard the loosed tongue of the tone-deaf singing a perfect one-note song. There is no invitation that has been more lovingly prepared or more perfectly delivered. Equally, there is no sign or wonder that cannot be 'explained' or refused. A gift does not trump the need to engage with the Giver - and that on the Giver's own terms.

I have a dim feeling that I was not supposed to read Bullinger positively. Sorry, Jim. I am not a cessationist. Nor is there any need to be one. My tongue will cease when I know face to face even as I am known.

Necessity and Sufficiency

In the business of logic in programs, and the transference of control from one segment of a program to the next, it has been traditional to speak of necessary and sufficient conditions. This thought has sat in my draft pile for a few days. It seems to me to speak of canon without appealing to the authority word.

iyov writes about canon that the "later Jewish writings, even those down to this day (such as the continuing flow of responsa and the great Hassidic corpus) are careful to always state that they are in no way novel, but simply consequences of earlier writings." (Be sure to read his post on English gematria - it is delightful craft among all the others.)

What is that word 'novel'? Can there be nothing new? If so, canonical writing should have stopped with Ecclesiastes. And what of that word 'careful'? There seems to be here also a desire to be seen as a part of and in continuity with that great cloud of witnesses. Nonetheless, I feel a fear in me of isolation. I will need the new, not for its novelty, but for my uniqueness in the experience of life. I will need care for I trip easily, but I am told to 'be careful for nothing'.

John Hobbins takes the hard-edged canonizers to task by citing a poetic thought on wisdom from Ben Sira as a possible backdrop to the 'never thirst again' theme in the fourth gospel. Is Ben Sira necessary or does it over-contribute to the conditions for confirming experience with a word from the past?

This issue of necessity is of considerable importance. We need to know about sin - not that it is original but that it is pervasive and we are in it. So a failure of innocence, a covenant of blood, a means of escape, a need for discipline, a promise of completion, a satisfaction of cult, and transcendent example are all given to us. Did we need more? What then makes the cut and how can it be presented? Was what we thought we had sufficient? Or was it ever necessary to think so?

A cool thought experiment - touching authority

This note by Duane Smith is too cool to miss and my response a brief thought in the ongoing conversation on canon stimulated by John Hobbins.

I chuckled all the way through Duane's thought experiment - though if I analyse my chuckles any more, this response will not be brief. The point suggested to me is that the message of the canon is supposed to be Good News so why is it that we imagine other constructions? The issue perhaps is one of authority and the reaction 'programmed' into us. I remember another son of mine whose favorite word at age 5 or 6 was 'you are not the boss of me'.

In the early days of my zeal, my wife explained to me once that authority is related to the word author not to the word boss and that we should get more than bossiness from an author. We get insight - a maskil, as it were. So Psalm 89 and a few others are 'of insight'. How deep, I wonder. (There is insight in the last two verses before the doxology of Book 3- what did they mean to the Psalmist? My son was right, I am not his author, but like the anointed, I do 'bear in my body a multitude of peoples'.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Canonical Thinking

A question has occurred to me related to the canon issue: would I trust myself to a different set of texts?

The answer is that I do not trust to the texts but to the God they point to. So the question is wrong. It should be: would I trust to another God other than the one pointed to by the texts I happen to have been introduced to in the culture in which I grew up?

The answer to this is conditioned not only by what I have learned from these texts and what I chose to take from these texts as guidance in such a decision but also by the experience of relationship with that God.

Here is a conundrum of course: what if I had only read a few of these 'canonical' texts like Psalm 34: taste and see that the LORD is good and only later read the threats of excommunication if I did not 'obey' some other set of laws, propositions, etc in other parts of the canonical texts?

The key here is what? My selectivity? My ignorance? I have heard that some First Nations asked their preacher if they were now worse off than before once they had heard the Gospel. Parts of Hebrews are rather nasty on first reading - if you fall away now, you are toast!

Truth is not made of such rhetorical stuff. At first I simply ignored lots of these details. Later I was better at rationalizing them into someone else's problem, and later still, I realized they were part of a larger positive structure. Who would fall away after entry into the Holy of Holies?

My last note was somewhat incomplete - let me try to finish it: the man who phoned his father loved his life. God's loving kindness is better than life itself. We love our own life - [gap in explanatory expressivity - we know something of your loving kindness חַסְדְּךָ] - conclusion: God is good - this is not to be seen as a biblicist statement since maybe this is the only verse I know (very very small canon).

That man has missed his last few appointments - but he will probably pick up his welfare cheque tomorrow and he may pick up the phone number of an old friend who wants to see him and get him out of the drug-street culture he is now occupying. He has lots of people rooting for him but he must make the choices himself. Yesterday, I got an email from an author in Britain who wants to write him into the history of the Hudson's Bay Company. You see, he is a direct descendent of a Cree chief who married the daughter of a settler from the Orkney Island clearances of the 19th century. His life is much bigger than he imagines - but will he accept it?

The other day when I spilled his coffee he asked me how to overcome lust. Of course I told him about his baptism and how that made him new and how to obey it. Maybe this phone call and the email are part of the wider community that prays him into life.

This is why we have a canon - not (just) for doctine, not for systematics, (especially) not for idolatry, but for the strength of the Spirit in our lives.

How deep can the mystery we are a part of go to lift up the lost and fallen? Why were they lost and fallen to begin with? Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born with brain damage? Of course this post directly raises the questions of theodicy that Chris Heard raised several weeks ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Continuing canon

The questions raised on the canon(s) of scripture by John Hobbins will not go away quickly. The pluriform nature of canonical material will be disturbing if not to some present day believers, at least to the community of past saints - "What!", they say, "Were we wrong to think that 'that which is perfect' had arrived?" I refer to a memory of the closed-table brethren friends of mine who considered that the canon of Scripture met this requirement of perfection in 1 Corinthians 13:10.

The person of the Son of God was put into one-to-one relation to the canon, every detail of the life and character of the Son. How can anything be lacking? While I can appreciate the metaphorical gymnastics (and some of the wonder) required to put the Scriptures into such a raiment, verbal perfection is not confined to my friends. Some Jews and Muslims also hold to doctrines of inerrancy of a similar ilk. It can't be the Word of God if it has a 'mistake' in it. My blogging partner who writes on the Psalms (that's me, actually) just made a silly goof in a calculation - divide what you've done by what you haven't done to get a % complete! - and of course computers only do what you tell them, not what you meant. (Shades of Talpiot statistics).

My silly goof does not reflect on the love of God shown to me in teaching a leaky old brain a new language. So I will praise the LORD to the end of the age לְעֹלָם (that might be mine) וָעֶד and for ever. I have made it my life's work to understand silly goofs - we call them bugs in the programming trade and we counter them with growth in understanding, good problem definitions, peer reviews, testing, recognition that some problems are harder than others, prototypes, the 80-20 rule (let's get some benefit from the code, so do 80% of the job and let the remaining 20% emerge and evolve.)

One of the great strengths of the Jewish Christian canon is that is is not the product of one human or one school or one period or one culture or even one church. It has had testing, peer review, (maybe a bit short on problem definition - but these things were not understood in a day) and perhaps it is also a product of the 80-20 rule. (Perhaps it is more of a 20-80 rule in this case - but is the 20 sufficient?) So Paul was embroiled and distracted with the gulf produced by the circumcision issue - in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek - on which he wrote much of his response to questioning congregations. But he could scarcely touch on the slave-free and male-female divides. The germ for dealing with these power-imbalances and abuses is in the canon - both Old and New, but it is not fully worked out. (Just consider the recent posts on Better Bibles Blog by Suzanne McCarthy.)

But back to the letters of fire - what a lovely image of God giving the Torah to Moses. And it has been used well by the Rabbis over 2000+ years to move forward and frame joy, consternation, conflict in interpretation, faithfulness, and hope. They seem to know how to deal with a canon: show that you have to beat it. Find 77 ways to kosher a lizard. So every אֵת gives opportunity to say: God created more than you have figured out yet. That's partly how Rabbi Steven Greenberg deals with homosexuality in his book Wrestling with God and Men (see my 2005 review here if interested).

This morning we read Galatians 1:11. The gospel I preach did not come according to a human. I immediately thought of the issue of canon that John has raised. Paul puts himself out on a limb in Galatians - and I think they cut it off, but I enjoy going there with him. His message is I think more human than any other I have known and there was a time when I was not known by it. The words are not perfect. Paul is hard to fathom, and the translations are for better or worse. The circular reasoning that Chris Heard refers to is avoided but the avoidance is not within the canon - and I doubt that it should be. But the pattern is there.

If the canon were trying to be self-sufficient, it would have been like the grass, florishing in the morning and in the evening it is cut down and withered. May the pride, labour, and trouble flutter away (Psalm 90). The canon is testimonial - and like my software, it is buggy and misleading at times. It was not meant to be a substitute for God. But it won't flutter away, of course, because like a lot of things, the Spirit births and cherishes us through it in spite of our pride, labour, and trouble. God answers the prayer of Moses and turns to us - and sighs over us (וְהִנָּחֵם) through these words.

This works for us humans. These words are life. They are different from other words because they are covenant dialogue and they invite covenant dialogue. We don't need more of them in print, just the response that makes us commensurate with them. There is a certain terror in this for one asks: what am I missing? But what does the Psalmist say: your loving kindness is better than life itself. (Psalm 63 - not there yet) But we know we love life ... right?

This reminds me of a true story of a phone call from prison: I wrote on it here when starting this blog. A man called his father, whom he had never met. The only word he said to him was "I am glad you did not have me aborted". The man is on the street, a product of European colonialism in the 10th generation, mentally disabled by alcohol from his birth. These words of the call are the only ones the man has ever spoken to his biological father. What it shows me is that love of life is primal even for those with brain damage. He is missing a great deal but there is something fundamental that is still there.

There is a dialogue here on reasons for a canon - too late now for my further thought and I have to be in Ottawa for a few weeks so blogging may take a back seat to getting business. But I think some reasons for canon apart from authority are emerging: one of them is the experience of the transcendent. Such is outside the text, but the text is itself also a wonder of metaphor.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Canon - some personal thoughts

John Hobbins uses the online resources he speaks of in this essay on canon. Chris Heard recently made a stab at defining words for naming the 'traditional' canon of Old and New - whether one might agree or not. Both Chris Heard and Doug Chaplin of Droitwich Spa (C of E) have commented on John's first post.

What follows are some of my personal thoughts. First - as to a name for the traditional Christian canon: I like 'old'. Old is not a negative word. The old wine is good - and it is well known today in the praises in Synagogue on Shabbat. Secondly, these are not arbitrary titles. The New is defined in the Old (Jeremiah 31) and self-named in the New (Hebrews 8:13) implying an Old. So Old and New are not inventions of the medieval or the post modern world. But perhaps two is too small a number for managing complexity: so one could speak of the Law, the Prophets, the Writings and the New Testament. But where do those history and story books fit? - ah the former and the latter prophets of course. And what is a prophet, anyway? And then there is the division by historical sweep and there are the odd-ball prophets like Jonah (in the Writings) and the pseudipigraphal Daniel. And what do we do about the order of presentation: Jewish ending with my least favorite books, Chronicles, or Greek, ending with Malachi, and begging for more? And one has to be careful not to oversimplify Law - it is such a host of items, all of provocative interest. Just what parts of the Law are obsolete (Hebrews 8:7) ? Or allegorical (Acts 10-11)? Or which we have died to (Romans 7)? Or which are gnats and camels (Matthew 23:24)? Two maybe is not such a bad start after all.

I must admit I like the canon I think I have. And I am not sure I could define it. I have my favorites - Psalms, Leviticus, bits of Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, the Song, Jonah, large chunks of Isaiah, bits of Jeremiah, and in the NT - Romans, John, Hebrews. I am grateful that the forest is large and for a late starter, too large, but I am also grateful that it has a border. I am grateful that the trees are varied. In the time of Jesus and the 70 years following, people were happy to cite from Greek or Hebrew versions even if they had the parallels 'wrong' and the texts 'out of context'. Their 'versions' were significantly different from the differing versions of today. Differing translations today think they are 'versions' in English of the same 'original' texts. In Jesus' day, there were differing Hebrew versions of the same books - a longer Jeremiah, a Samaritan version, a Hebrew version underlying the Septuagint that is different from the 'received' text. In other words, if there was an 'original' text, it was already somewhat varied 2000 years ago. (Or we must redefine what we thought we meant by 'original'.)

I have of course met people who consider that because the 'Scriptures' (by this they mean the Protestant 66 books with the OT ending at Malachi) are 'God-breathed', therefore that there must have been an original perfect version (round about the 6th century CE or so - whenever Revelation 'made it' in). Why should 'God-breathed' mean anything of the sort? When God breathes the word into us, recrafting us, drawing us into his chamber, re-imaging us in his image, re-forming our holy stubborn power using a revealed pattern of gift, invitation, trouble, and hope, tribulation, tribunal, and transfiguration, we do not ask for any other holiness than the one that is reflected in our covenant dialogue. The germ of the dialogue is in the canon. The recorded dialogue and the testimony of the Chosen was and remains sufficient. I may disagree heartily with other hermenutics - even some canonical ones, especially if I can label them rigid, authoritarian, or cerebral in their demands, but these may be perfectly good starting points. After all, one needs something to be redeemed from. And then there's the work ahead...

I expect the germ is in other places too - in the works of the ancient Chinese, for instance. But I have one life and limited time and the calling is to this canon as exemplar, and my canon within the canon - walking by each tree as I am able, not another.

And I like the border, or to switch metaphors, the feel of the boat. The various apocrypha are not ballast, but the waves through which the boat passes. They help see the boat in its context, but they are not the boat. I don't know how I know this, but it has something to do with sufficiency and necessity. I don't find much new with Thomas, for example. It looks to me like copies of bits and pieces of what I already had. It does not appear to have the profound ballasted structure of the other pieces of the boat. The various other gospels and legends are cute and have some cute settings (Tchaikovsky - The Crown of Thorns) but they don't fill gaps. The New Testament is lacking in official Targums and canonized commentaries. I am not in favour of the open canon. And I am not in favour of systematic written understandings like confessions and definitional interpretations. There are too many crazy theories around, mid ocean shoals. And one person's confession or cult is another's prison. For freedom Christ has set you free, be stubborn then and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. There are some mists at sea - these are the various culturally biased translations - supporting slavery, or aparthied, or colonialism, or the subjugation of this and that, as if the authorities knew the rightness of the Law in advance. Stuff of life - we can all abuse power. Does a canon help or hinder?

Help - !