Random Rants

Posted: 2015/07/27 in Uncategorized

This is the first of the Random Rants series composed of various observations and opinions of a curmudgeonly nature

Ride a bicycle? Wear a helmet! no one wants to see what’s really inside your head.

Ride a bicycle with your children, making them wear helmets while you do not. They neither want to see what’s in your head nor need a bad example to follow. In fact, they need you to keep yourself healthy so you can do a great job raising them.

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people—I get that. However, people have a much tougher time killing other people without a gun.

Driving your silver car in a fog with your lights off? Please turn them on. I want to see you in time to avoid meeting you the hard way. (Get a clue—lights on in a fog is not so you can see the road but so we can see you.)

Michigan State government: Please get over yourselves and FIX THE ROADS!

Michigan voters: Please support our elected state government by not voting them out of office when they need to raise taxes to pay to FIX THE ROADS! 

Enough for now…

As a sermon illustration, a few weeks ago, I said that there had been less gun-control laws put in place during the Obama administration than the G. W. Bush administration, intending to make the point that there has been considerable unjustified paranoia about threats to gun ownership rights since Barack Obama became president.  Following the worship service, a parishioner disagreed with my assertion, which inspired me to check on what I had said.

I did err in my statement, but not because there is a panoply of regulation on the ownership of firearms. Indeed, with the lapse, during Obama’s first term, of the assault weapon ban enacted some years prior, it is easy to acquire a gun today.

The point of this mea culpa is not to profess my views of gun ownership or the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to The Constitution or to kick off a debate on gun ownership in America. The point is fess up to a lazy and careless piece of improvised preaching.

I try to get my facts in good order before using them in a sermon. It is always a tempting to apply a half-truth or small piece of a larger story when doing so reinforces a point that I am trying to make. But doing so is lazy, intellectually insincere, and misuses one of two basic sermon preparation techniques.

The two techniques I have in mind are (a) exegesis of the Bible and (b) exegesis of the world. Exegesis of the Bible is the process of interpreting the text of the Bible through critical analysis of the text, its content, linguistics, and literary style, the historical milieu within the narrative of the text, and the historical milieu of the writer. In other words, we dig around in the Bible and its world for information, and only then determine what it means. Similarly, to do an exegesis of the world is simply to get a well-rounded set of facts about something in the world of which we are a part, whether the rundown of a recent local news item, the description of a scientific discovery, the narrative of a historical event, of the particulars of a meatloaf recipe. The exegesis concludes with an answer to the question, “What does it mean?” A good sermon then explores the intersection between the Bible and world. To do this faithfully requires working through all the facts and narratives, rather than cherry-picking just those bits that fit a point being made.

My mistake in doing an ad-hoc, unplanned comparison between the gun control records of our two most recent presidents was to not have done the careful work of research to get all the facts. Instead, I took something I heard in a radio piece somewhere and inappropriately used it while trying to make a more important point.

Never again, I hope.

Avian Advocacy in Memes

Posted: 2015/07/10 in Uncategorized

No one asked for it . . . so here it is —

backyard puffin frontyard chicken interspecies skydiving_chicken

Lounging Through the Storm

Posted: 2014/03/12 in Odds & Ends
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Woke to a big-time snowstorm that has made driving much more exciting than it should be. It’s a good day to stay home. My cat has the right idea – riding out the storm lounging on the sofa . . .

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As I preached, last Sunday (3/9), the first in my Jazz Christianity series of sermons, I used the list found in Matthew 5:3-11 traditionally called “The Beatitudes.” I use the Common English Bible (CEB) translation and it presents 5:3 as follows:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

The NRSV, as well as a number of other translations render the same verse as follows:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Both translations present problems. The traditional “Blessed” is archaic enough that it is functionally meaningless. “Happy” just doesn’t sound right since we we tend to think of happy as the way one feels when having fun. So. . . how what did Jesus/Matthew intend to say?

The Greek word, makarioi, can be translated as either happy or blessed, yet neither quite fits. And “happy”, as it is used in our vernacular, misses the mark by a fair margin. Rather the word means something a bit more complex—a sense of joy and feeling of well-being.

It also helps to read 5:3-11 with a little care and sophistication. Let me explain using 5:3. . .
People are not or ever happy to be hopeless, nor can we say that the hopeless are blessed by their hopelessness. To read 5:3 this way is, in my opinion, ridiculous. Rather the joy or blessing comes from God’s response to our hopelessness (or, traditionally, being poor in spirit), which is the promise of a place in the kingdom of heaven, which is good news indeed! Thus the happiness/joy/sense of blessedness and well-being is only now in part, because it is just promise, but will eventually be experience in full as the promise is realized.

We can work our way down this list this way and it makes sense.

(In an interesting interpretation of 5:3, Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom contends that we are indeed blessed/happy to poor in spirit in terms of poverty of possessions and attachments such that the love of God can fill us. See “Beginning to Pray” pp.40-41)

It all sounds a bit like academic Biblical studies nitpicking, but it isn’t. The so-called Beatitudes have always been a little tough to interpret, especially the first one, and because of the difficulty strange errors can creep in. For example, one might read 5:4, “Happy are those who grieve, because they will be made glad,” and then oafishly tell someone grieving the loss of a loved one that they are truly blessed or should be happy.

Like any other form of communication, as the Bible speaks, we need to listen carefully.

After a career working with computers and lots of other high-tech and cutting-edge stuff, it’s ironic that I’m back into the vacuum tube biz. It’s been decades since Dad and I took lunch bags of suspicious tubes to the local drugstore to test them on their console tube tester. What goes around sometimes comes back.

EL84

Since I bought an Ampeg tube amp from a fellow guitarist, I’ve learned more about those finicky, fragile, lethally high-voltage tubes than I ever expected to know. Here’s my latest observation:

My amp has two EL84s in the power stage, is rated at 15 watts output, and is just plain loud. I toned it down a bit with a pair of EL844s (a lower output version of the EL84). They sound fine and breakup occurs just a bit sooner.

I tried to adjust the pre-amp stage as well by replacing the one 12AX7 with a 12AY7, a tube with a lower gain factor. This swap hasn’t gone as well as the EL844s. The 12AY7 makes the amp sound oddly soft in terms of response and overall sound (can’t think of a better way to describe it). Having gone back to the 12AX7, the amp sounds better.

Back to work (on tomorrow’s sermon) and maybe a little time later for some guitar . . .

I know what you’re thinking: “Wud ya mean ‘FRUITCAKE Sunday’? . . . It’s gonna be TRANSFIGURATION Sunday!” (Aren’t we all enthusiastically preparing for Transfiguration Sunday; ordering the spiral-sliced ham; cleaning and decorating; getting ready for a houseful of relatives, including weird uncle Ralph?)

If you aren’t familiar with the Transfiguration Event, here’s the short version:

  • Jesus, James, John, and Peter hike up to the top of a mountain.
  • Really strange stuff happens: Jesus appearance changes to something ethereal, Moses and Elijah pay a visit, and God speaks out of a cloud.
  • Jesus, James, John, and Peter hike back down the mountain.

It sounds simple enough, but it isn’t, and I think it might be more accessible and understandable if we first get rid of the unwieldy name “Transfiguration” and call it something just as descriptive — Fruitcake. I chose Fruitcake, not because what happens during the event is crazy (it is), but because it is theologically dense and packed with symbolism like a fruitcake is packed with candied fruit.

Consider the symbols packed into nine verses:

  • mountaintop – important things in the OT happen on mountains
  • (Jesus’) glowing face – remember Moses after he received the Law from God?
  • (Jesus’) brilliant white clothing – purity, holiness, the garb of the martyrs (Revelation)
  • Moses – God’s Law and covenant
  • Elijah – God’s prophets
  • cloud from which God’s voice is heard – theophany (manifestation of God)
  • two + one witnesses – the testimony of two witnesses were considered reliable

If that isn’t enough, the very number of symbols (if I’ve enumerated them correctly) is seven, the number symbolic of perfection in Jewish gematria.

As I said earlier, it’s a theological fruitcake, both dense and heavy.

I won’t unpack any of this here because I’m preaching it on Sunday. However, I want to share one observation. I had always taken it for granted that the meaning of Jesus’ transfiguration is right out front in his changed appearance coupled with the visit by Moses and Elijah. While there’s powerful message in these things is readily seen, there is more that isn’t so obvious but Matthew is careful to bring to our attention: the mountain, cloud, the repetition of three (Jesus/Moses/Elijah & James/John/Peter), Peter’s wanting to build shrines, what God says. All of this stuff baked together offers us a very rich theological treat indeed!

I may do more unpacking after I’ve preached the Fruitcake on Fruitcake Sunday.