That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Quotations

Lenten Journal 2019 (1 April)

Lenten Journal, Day 26

This morning on Facebook I saw this sentiment laid out as an inspirational graphic claiming Celtic origins:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

It is not Celtic. I have also seen it cited to the Talmud. It is not Talmudic. I know this because I have used this epigram in sermons and I have researched its origins. I’ve not been able to find them and, because it is so widely disseminated now with the Talmudic claim, I think they are impossible to find.

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What Do You Suppose It Was Like? Sermon for Pentecost, May 20, 2018

What do you suppose it was like in Jerusalem on that Pentecost morning so long ago?

Did you watch the coverage of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle yesterday? Did you see the crowds along the streets of London as they took their post-nuptial carriage ride? The narrow streets of ancient Jerusalem would have been something like that. Shoulder to shoulder people moving through the streets and alleyways, past vendors’ stalls, moving toward the Temple to make their festival offerings.

Our Christian holiday of Pentecost takes its name from the Greek name of the Jewish festival called Shavuot. The Hebrew name means “festival of weeks” referring to the fact that it takes place seven weeks after the Passover. The Greek name comes from words meaning “fifty days” referring similarly to its being the fiftieth day after Passover. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt remembered at Passover. This is why our Christian feast of Pentecost occurs fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus which took place at Passover.

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Compartmentalization – From the Daily Office – April 2, 2014

From the First Letter to the Corinthians:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NRSV) – April 2, 2014.)

Compartmented BoxThe genius of Paul is his holistic approach to understanding the gifts of the Spirit, the talents and skills of human beings. Yes, he says, there are all sorts of talents and skills, but they all come from the same source – God the Spirit – and they are all to be used for the same purpose – building up the community. It is a genius that is lost in the modern world, I’m sorry to say.

I spend some time on social media sites such as Facebook and I see people posting the silliest of comments (including some surprisingly stupid quotations from some otherwise intelligent people) which lay down hard-and-fast, black-and-white assertions about things that are clearly false. For example, on Facebook recently the philosophy Bertrand Russell, famously an atheist, was quoted as saying, “So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.” I don’t know the accuracy or source of the quotation, but there it is. It’s a ridiculous statement on several levels, not the first of which is that it is clearly inaccurate.

Although Jesus or the gospel writers may never have specifically said or written, “Intelligence of good” or something of that nature, Jesus often praises those who understand his parables, or expresses frustration with those who don’t, which is a way of praising intelligence. Further, to limit the Christian message to the Gospels alone leaves out the greater part of the New Testament, including Paul who (as here) praises wisdom and knowledge as gifts of God.

In any event, the posting of that quotation led to a discussion in which one person asserted that “faith and reason are two entirely different things and have nothing to do with one another.” If the writer had been an atheist, I’d have chalked that up to polemic . . . . but the writer claimed to be a Christian! As a Christian, I would debate that proposition fully; faith and reason are neither different nor separate! I would not be alone, either. The late Pope John Paul II began one of his many encyclicals with these words:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. (Fides et Ratio, 14 Sept. 1998)

Another participant who self-identified as an American citizen asserted in the conversation that “religion has no place in public politics.” Coming from someone whose country’s foundational document, the Declaration of Independence, asserts “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” a clearly religious sentiment in a public political document, the participant’s argument was not only ridiculous, it could be considered hypocritical! Religion may have no place in government (the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment is based on that premise), but that is a different thing from saying it has no place in politics.

I tried to suggest that these black-and-white generalizations were inaccurate and did not help to further rational consideration of Bertrand Russell’s assertion, the quotation which had started the conversation. Unfortunately, the discussion became so heated and counterproductive (what at one time back in the days of email list-serves would have been called a “flame war”) that I discontinued participation. Eventually, the original poster closed the discussion and deleted the entire thread.

Finally, this morning, I read a news report in which the first paragraph asserted: “Religion has never fully accepted the LGBT community. It goes against their doctrine, which in and of itself is an issue.” That’s so broad a generalization as to be laughable. “Religion” encompasses every faith system ever adopted by human beings and there is no common “doctrine” amongst them! Furthermore, as an Episcopalian whose church has elected and ordained gay and lesbian bishops, who works regularly with LGBT colleagues both lay and ordained, and whose denomination has come down squarely in favor of marriage equality, I can point to at least one religion about which this generalization is false.

Would that people who write for publication, who produce “content” for the internet, and who take part in the “flame wars” that erupt in social media could adopt St. Paul’s more holistic approach! Instead, we see the tendency to compartmentalize and separate, to insist on a division of public from private, politics from religion, faith from reason, gay from straight, black from white, this from that, whatever from something else, and on and on and on.

The world, however, isn’t black and white; it’s all sorts of grays and other colors. The world isn’t compartmentalized and neither are human beings. The world and the people in it are a fascinating mix of talents, skills, gifts, abilities, positions, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions that cross our arbitrary lines and divisions, that spill from one compartment to the next. We Christians believe all of this flows from one source and all of it has one purpose, to build up community. When we try to compartmentalize and separate, community suffers.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Punctuation and Spirituality – From the Daily Office – January 29, 2014

From the Gospel of John:

[Jesus said:] “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 5:25-29 (NRSV) – January 29, 2014.)

Punctuation Saves LivesThere are times when I’m reading one or another of the Gospels and I am pulled up short; I just have stop and say, “Really? Jesus said that? Really?”

This is one of those times! Did Jesus really say (and I paraphrase), “We’re going to get people up out of their graves just so we can punish them.” That’s what verse 29 is saying with that weird turn of phrase “the resurrection of condemnation”; all the dead will be raised, some to life and some to condemnation. (Whether that means an eternity of punishment or simply annihilation is another issue I’ve dealt with before and won’t address again today.)

Maybe what Jesus said ended before this verse; maybe this is John interpreting what Jesus said. Perhaps the quotation from Jesus should end with the words “because he is the Son of Man” and the part that starts “Do not be astonished” is John’s commentary. Could be. It’s an issue that could be solved by judicious use of punctuation. Unfortunately, John didn’t use punctuation and where to insert quotation marks, periods, commas, etc. is left to the “best guess” of modern translators based on noun declensions, verb tenses, and a colloquial understanding of the original language.

You see, punctuation is a modern invention. So are spaces between the words, although they have been around longer than colons, semi-colons, and full stops. Spaces were the bright idea of Irish monks working in early medieval scriptoria about 1400 years ago; punctuation marks came along about a thousand years later. They weren’t even all that common when the translators of the Authorized (“King James”) version made their estimations of where to put them in the biblical text in 1611.

The lack or improper placement of punctuation can lead to interesting misunderstandings. A popular t-shirt design noting that “punctuation saves lives” demonstrates its point with two similarly worded but radically different sentences:

“Let’s eat Grandma.”

versus

“Let’s eat, Grandma.”

Scripture itself contains an example of a misunderstanding which punctuation might have cleared up. In Mark’s Gospel, the writer applies a prophecy of Isaiah to John the Baptizer saying that his is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” (Mk. 1:3) Isaiah, however, seems to have said something slightly different: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” (Isa. 40:3) Matthew and Luke, relying on Mark, repeat his slightly altered quotation — compare Matt. 3:3 and Luke 3:4. Is the voice crying out in the wilderness or is the way of the Lord in the wilderness? The gospellers and the prophet seem to have a disagreement.

So which is it in John’s Gospel? Should the quotation from Jesus be ended a sentence earlier and the bit about getting people out their graves only to condemn them be attributed to the writer instead? To do so would, I admit, fly in the face of centuries of understanding of Jesus’ words to the Jewish authorities when they confronted him in the Temple following the healing of the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, from which this text is taken. But it’s at least a possibility to consider, and it highlights how carefully one must read scripture.

Punctuation, as the t-shirt says, can save lives. It can also have a significant impact one’s spirituality!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Euripides on Friends and Relatives

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Euripides (c. 480 – 406 BC) was an Athenian playwright, a great dramatist known for tragedies with very unhappy endings. Some of his plays are so tragic that they have been described as “almost unbearable,” and Aristotle called him “the most tragic of poets.” Apparently, however, he had a comic side, as well.

Euripides on Friends and Relatives

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Personhood

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Something the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, once said about personhood.

Archbishop Tutu on Personhood

From Mark Twain

Just a word from Mark Twain . . . .

Mark Twain on Conservatism