31 March 2015

Praying with Icons

In class last night, our session was “Praying with Icons.” I’ve never done this before and wasn’t too sure what to think about it. But there was one thing I was sure of and that’s the idea of “communion with the saints.” That is, someone explained it to me like this — “Did you ask your Mom to prayer for you when she was in this world?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Then why wouldn’t you continue to ask her to pray for you now that she’s in the Otherworld?”

See, for me, it was about my belief in the resurrection. Do I really believe that my loved ones are alive?

Jesus was asked a similar question in Mark 12.18-27. There, he responded —

“As for the resurrection from the dead, haven’t you read in the scroll from Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how G‑d said to Moses, I am the G‑d of Abraham, the G‑d of Isaac, and the G‑d of Jacob? Yahweh isn’t the G‑d of the dead but of the living. You’re seriously mistaken.” (vv. 26-27; adapted).

So, what does this have to do with icons? As one person put it, “Icons represents someone who’s already praying. When one walks up to an icon to start praying, she’s joining prayer that’s already going on” (paraphrased). It would be as if I walked into the classroom late and my classmates were in a circle praying. I would walk up and join the circle. Praying with icons is the same thing. They represent people that are already praying and we join them in prayer.

In class, there were several icons placed throughout the space. I was drawn to this icon.

“The Transfiguration”

However, I honestly didn’t feel anything with it. Just observations:

I noticed an “eye” behind the Christ.

I noticed that the Christ seems to be holding a scroll in his left hand.

Moses and Elijah appear to be bowing at the waist in service to the Christ.

I noted smaller halos around Moses and Elijah.

There’s a shadow on Elijah, but not Moses.

The various positions of the disciples Peter, James, and John. One looks like he fell backwards. One looks like he’s bored because his head’s resting on his hand. The last look like he’s cowering behind a rock — he’s not, though. Upon closer inspection it appears to be his cloak. Two of the disciples, assumably James and John, are covering their eyes in reverence. The other disciple, Peter, seems to be saying his (in)famous speech, “It’s good we’re here! Let’s build three shrines for you guys!”

I noticed that the “glory” of the Christ was piercing the disciples — very pointed, like a laser.

The disciples are in shadow, in darkness. Their clothing even seems to be darker (in the print last night).

My take away from this icon is this: The Law and the Prophets (represented by Moses and Elijah) were to serve the Christ, to lead the Jews to the Messiah but then, as the Scriptures tells us, the disciples saw “no one except Jesus himself alone” (Matthew 17). Jesus is the goal of the Law (as Paul says in Romans 10). The transfiguration is not just for the Christ alone. As the laser beams of glory illustrate, it’s for people, too. After Jesus was glorified, that glorification transfigures all creation. And it’s not something that happens “later,” in “heaven.” No, as the icon shows, the transfiguration takes place “on earth.” Once more showing that the Realm of G‑d comes “on earth as in heaven.” It’s for transfiguring the whole world.

So, then the take away becomes a prayer:

“Loving G‑d, creator of all that is, seen or unseen. Through the Passion of your Child, Jesus the Christ, you have rescued creation and set in motion it’s transfiguration. Help us, your people, to be co-workers with you in restoring creation and implementing your Realm on earth as in heaven. Through Jesus the Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One G‑d, world without end. Amen.”

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

12 March 2015

Happy 150th Anniversary Peterson Pipes!

As many of you know, I smoke pipes. Not all the time, mind you; just occasionally. And when I say “occasionally,” I mean I think I smoked less than a dozen times all of last year. I started several years ago when a friend of mine threw away a pipe bag. He had left the sliding window of his truck open during a rain shower. The rain had soaked the interior of his truck and saturated his pipe bag. I dug through the bag and found a Dr. Grabow that wasn’t too badly damaged. In fact, it was virtually dry. I cleaned it up and went down to a local tobacconist.

“So,” I asked, “how do you smoke one of these things?” The guy behind the counter went to the back and returned with a few sheets of paper.

“Here,” he said, “read this. It’ll tell you everything you need to know.”

So, I bought some of their best selling tobacco, matches, and pipe cleaners then set off to learn how to smoke this strange instrument.

After a couple of years, and a couple of “cheap” pipes (the ones that range below $50 in a box or bin), I did some research on the “best” pipes within my budget. My search led me to Peterson of Dublin, manufacturers of smoking pipes since 1865.

Charles Peterson was hired by Fredrick Kapp in the Dublin shop around 1876. Fredrick died, however, in 1881, followed by his wife a year later. Charles Peterson managed the business and was the master craftsman of the pipes. When the Kapp’s children, Alfred and Christian, became old enough, Charles and Alfred bought out Christian’s share of the shop. The name was then changed to Kapp & Peterson.

In 1891, Charles patented his “system pipe.” An additional chamber was drilled in the shank to collect the moisture one generates while smoking. This enables the smoker to enjoy a cool, dry smoke. In 1898, he patented the “P-Lip” stem (regular pipe stems are sometimes called “fishtail” stems). The P-Lip stem has a hole out the top of the end. This allows the smoke to ascend to the roof of the mouth and prevents it from touching the tongue, thus eliminating “tongue bite”.

My first Peterson pipe was a System pipe — Rustic Standard 314. Since that time, I’ve purchased several Peterson pipes. My most prized Peterson pipe is a Mark Twain pipe I picked up at an antique store. This pipe was based a Peterson pipe that Twain owned.

If you’ve ever considered smoking a pipe, I don’t think you could ever go wrong with a Peterson’s. As the saying goes, “The thinking person smokes a Peterson.”

Check out the anniversary video below!


In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

01 March 2015

Misunderstood Scripture — 1 Corinthians 2.9

“No one has ever seen,
   no one has ever heard,
no one has ever imagined
   what Yahweh has prepared for those who love God.”

I’m sure you’ve seen this verse quoted many times. It’s on bumper stickers. Posters. Daily Bread blessing cards. Memory verse flashcards. And, most recently, one will find it on memes in social media. The idea is that God still has something hidden out there for you. God’s got a plan for you—bigger than anything you could ever imagine—hidden away and past finding out.

But that’s wrong.

This is one of those verses that’s continually quoted out of context. Maybe purposefully or maybe it just shows our lack of biblical understanding. Either way, it drives me a little mad (like in “as a hatter”).

So, the purpose of this post is to do some good ol’ fashioned exegesis of the verse. We’ll seek the context of the verse, the passage, and the letter as a whole. But, we’ll do all of this in reverse order.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians2

Many of us come to the Bible thinking that it speaks to us about things we’re going through. That “God” wrote it to us about our current situations. That’s the furthest from the truth. The Bible is a library of many different types of literature—poems, epic adventures, wisdom, letters, myths (in the classic sense of the word), biographies, genealogies, and, yes, even some history. This library was written by ancient peoples thousands of years in the past about their lives. It’s about their encounters with the Creator God. About their struggles. About their accomplishments. It’s about their pain and their suffering. It’s about their victories and successes. It’s about shame. It’s about hope.

But, in all of this, it’s first and foremost a library containing stories about someone else’s life with God. Through it we can see the understanding of this God evolve until it reaches its climax in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And then, everything else that came before—every understanding, every observation, every law—had to be rethought and re-examined in light of Jesus. That’s what a lot of the New Testament is about.

We must keep this in mind when we read the Bible. I know it’s hard, but that’s the reality of the situation. Furthermore, each of us will never be separated from our own story. That is, when we come to the Bible, we have our own lenses through which we read and interpret it. In other words, we’re biased. All of us are. But that’s okay as long as we recognize that.

The overall context of 1 Corinthians

This first letter to the Corinthians was written in the spring of 55CE or there abouts. And while some scholars have questioned the authorship of some of the other letters attributed to Paul, this letter falls into the “undisputed” category. Paul is widely accepted to be its author, even though he used a secretary to do the actual writing (see 16.213). However, some question the authenticity of 14.34-354.

In this letter, Paul set out to address many of the contentions and concerns of the followers of The Way of Jesus at Corinth—from their petty differences (which apostle one was following; 1.10-13), to down-right shocking (someone sleeping with his stepmother; 5.1), to drunken parties at Eucharist (11.17ff), to denying the resurrection of Jesus (15.12ff). Needless to say, Paul had his hands full!

But notice one thing in that previous paragraph—this letter was addressed to the followers of The Way of Jesus in Corinth in 55CE (1.2). The point is, as noted above, this letter was written to other people; it’s not “God’s love letter to us.” Like Paul wrote in chapter 10, “These things happened to them as examples for us” (10.11, emphasis added; this is a key passage that we’ll address anon).

In fact, that’s a huge point. Paul was addressing things that those people were going through. He wasn’t addressing us, our time, nor our issues. These were real people with real issues and the letters have to address them and their situations. What I’m trying to say is this; before we can even think about looking for ways of applying passages of the Bible to our situations, the job of the Bible student is to determine what the passage meant to the original audience. Then, if there’s a parallel, we can look for application in our time.

The context of the passage

So, what’s Paul’s point in the passage before us? What was the issue and the context of his comments?

In the first half or so of the letter, Paul was addressing the various places where the people had gotten trapped in falseness. To put it bluntly—there were some people who were living in a constant state of “sin,” of missing the mark. Paul addresses this at the very beginning of the letter:

Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? (1.10-13; adapted).

We see here that people were divided into cliques. And, as you can imagine, in those divisions people looked down on the others not in their group. And then there are those who place themselves above all of those petty differences and claim that they belong to Christ. Each group sees themselves as holding on to the purity of the gospel and they see the others as tainted or unclean. Each group sees themselves as better than the others; that they’re somehow more wise or more intelligent or, yes, even more holy than those people of the other groups. Those other people have let some heresy in.

But Paul counters that thinking in the following verses (18.ff). He claims that it’s not human intelligence but God’s wisdom that rescued humanity (verses 20-25). After giving this generalization about how God dealt with all people, Paul turns his attention to the Corinthians. He tells them that, according to human understanding, they’re foolish, weak, and low-class. But God chose them to shame the wise, the powerful, and the upper-class! It’s because of this that they shouldn’t look down on each other. They’ve been chosen for this specific purpose. Sure, they don’t have “worldly” credentials, but that’s the whole point. If they did, then, no big deal. It’s because of their limitations that makes the story so powerful. The Corinthians shouldn’t look down on each other, then, but, instead, see themselves as the beginning of something greater than even the brightest minds could ever dream of.

Paul then says, in rare form for him, that he was exactly the same when he came to them (2.1-5). Oh, he could have come with big words, deep theological insight, and the like, but, instead, he came only with “weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking” (verse 3). This was so that the Corinthians could see a pattern, not in the way of conventional wisdom, but in the power of God’s wisdom (verses 4-5). But what is that wisdom? And why hasn’t anyone ever noticed it before?

The context of the verse

Paul says, this wisdom had been “hidden as a secret” (verse 7). Paul says that,

“God determined this wisdom in advance, before time began, for our glory. It’s a wisdom that none of the present-day rulers have understood, because if they did understand it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory” (verses 7-8, emphasis added; adapted).

This is a key to the whole thing. I emphasised the parts that are crucial. Please notice that Paul stated that God hid this wisdom until Paul’s generation. It was for their glory. But not just anyone from that generation. The rulers of Paul’s day didn’t discover God’s wisdom because, if they would have, they wouldn’t have killed Jesus. In other words, all of history was mounting to that point in time. It was then “when the right time came” (Galatians 4.4, NLT5; cf., Mark 1.15; 1 Timothy 2.6), God chose to rescue creation through the death of Jesus. But that plan couldn’t be revealed. If it had been divulged beforehand, the rulers of Paul’s time wouldn’t have let it be carried out.

“But,” Paul says, “this is precisely what’s written” (verse 9) and then he quotes Isaiah 64.4:

“No one has ever seen,
   no one has ever heard,
no one has ever imagined
   what Yahweh has prepared for those who love God.”

“But wait!” Paul says. “There’s more.”

But God has shown us these things through the Spirit. The Spirit knows all things. The Spirit even knows the deep secrets of God” (verse 10, ERV; emphasis added).

In other words, the thing that God prepared, the thing that was hidden, the thing that “no one has ever seen or has ever heard or has ever even imagined” isn’t hidden any longer! It’s been revealed! That hidden thing, that mystery, was God planned to rescue creation through the death of Jesus!

Paul says that he knows this to be true because he’s been given God’s own Spirit. “It’s the Spirit,” Paul says, “that knows the deep secrets of God.” Just as a person’s spirit, the inner voice, knows her deep secrets, so God’s Spirit knows God’s secret. And that Spirit revealed God’s secret because that Spirit lives within Paul. That’s why Paul can’t use human logic or wisdom to explain God’s secret. “We use words taught to us by the Spirit,” he says (verse 13, ERV).

“We use the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. People who don’t have God’s Spirit don’t accept the things that come from the Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help” (verses 13-14, ERV; adapted).

This is why the leaders of Paul’s day couldn’t understand what was going on—they didn’t have God’s Spirit within them.

But the followers of The Way of Jesus in Corinth have God’s Spirit. That’s why there shouldn’t be cliques. God’s secret has been revealed to them. Even though they’re not the brightest or the most powerful or even the wealthiest, God used them to show the world what true wisdom and power and wealth really looks like. It’s the multi-talented, multicultural, multi-humanness of people who follow The Way of Jesus that make up the manifestation of God’s Realm in creation. It’s through them that God’s Realm would continue to grow throughout all of creation.

So, the next time you see 1 Corinthians 2.9 quoted out of context, remember 1 Corinthians 10.11—“Those things happened to them as examples for us.” God isn’t hiding another secret. There was only one secret and God already revealed it two thousand years ago—

God planned to rescue all of creation —
yes even you,
our families,
our friends,
our enemies—
through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
And it has been accomplished!
We’re God’s co-workers in revealing this to the world.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1. Scripture quotations marked (ERV) are from the Easy to Read Version. Copyright © 2006 by World Bible Translation Center.
2. Or is this the second letter? See 1 Corinthians 5.9.
3. Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible. Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible.
4. And with good reason, in my opinion. That passage seems forced and makes no sense in the immediate context (14.26-33). It also seems to contradict what Paul stated previously (see 11.5).
5. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.