Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Run, Rabbit Run

Sorry for disappearing for ten days. I have been extremely busy preparing for teaching a new term of math classes, and writing the liturgy for the congregation to use during High Holy Days.

I thought I would have more free time this week, but I have been attending many optional meetings at LCC. The college is in the middle of discussing and implimenting redesign issues, and as an adjunct instructor I am not required to participate but it is helpful to know what is going on. (Also, I dropped my PDA last week and broke it, and attending these meetings helps cover the cost of the replacement.)

By dinnertime tonight I should be done with all these preparations. Tomorrow there is a local pastors' prayer meeting to attend. Friday is one last important LCC meeting. I should finally have time to blog and garden and watch Firefly episodes.

UPDATE: The last meeting of the day was an introduction to the new Hitachi Starboard system that has been installed in most of the math classrooms. It's quite nifty!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 18

When the great Way is abandoned people talk about "charity" and "justice".
When cleverness and knowledge appear, people talk about "hypocrisy".
When the six family relationships lack harmony, people talk about "devoted children".
When a kingdom falls into disorder, people talk about "loyal ministers".

If everyone followed Yeshua,
there would be no need to speak of virtues.
The more that virtues are discussed,
the more evil the world must be.

Firefly: Captain and Crew

Two days ago I mentioned the show Firefly in passing. As part of my relaxing before dinner I'll share one thing I found interesting about its first three episodes.

The captain, Malcolm, has lived through a lot and now a complex and many-faceted personality. Each of his crew members reflects one part of his own character.

As a former soldier he understands that endurance is paramount (Zoe) and sometimes aggression is necessary (Jayne). These are the crew members whom he empathizes with and and relies on the most, but does not always want to be around.

Now the war is over and he is trying to find a new identity. But he is held back by his wartime record. He has noble ideals but is as a societal outcast (Inara, in his view). He wants to be happy (Kaylee) but the only thing he really wants is to fly his ship (Wash). These are the crew members he is fond of but has trouble relating to.

As he recovers from wartime emotional baggage two issues frighten him. To counter his soldier's past he desires, in some sense, to be a healer (Simon). To deal with all the death he has seen and caused he vaguely desires more spirituality (Book). These crew members are new. Malcolm is forced to deal with and even need them. But he keeps emotionally distant and is uncharacteristically rude to them.

Since I have only seen three episodes I have no idea if Firefly continues this theme, in which the crew are not only individuals but also reflections of the captain's troubled personality. If so then the series will have much more rewatchability.

I cannot think of another story with this theme. I doubt Joss Whedon invented it, but he may be the first to introduce it to prime-time television. (Not being a big television watcher, I expect someone will correct me.)

It makes me wonder what characters would represent my own personality issues.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Love and Lust in First Corinthians 13:4-7

I was referred to a new blog today. In replying to one post I mentioned something about First Corinthians 13:4-7 that I was shown long ago by Aaron Jones.

First consider:
Love is patient. Love is kind
Love is not jealous, not bostful, not proud, rude, or selfish,
not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people's sins but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things, always trusts, always hopes, always endures.
We can replace "love" with "lust" and reverse the occurrences of "is" and "is not":
Lust is not patient. Lust is not kind
Lust is jealous, bostful, proud, rude, and selfish,
easily angered and keeps a record of wrongs.
Lust gloats over other people's sins and does not rejoice in the truth.
Lust bears little, never trusts, never hopes, never endures.
This works because in many ways love and lust are opposites.

One tricky thing is how secular society blurs together love and lust. Followers of Yeshua must understand and live out the difference.

A second, even trickier thing is that "lust" as embodied in the modifed verses above is part of our evil inclination, but physical attraction can be part of the good inclination. It is good to consider your spouse attractive.

When I am as close to God as I should be, Yeshua's work and God's Spirit within me allows me to be free of the evil inclination. In regard to lust, when I see an attractive woman I find I either pay attention to her face (or, rather, her temperment showing through her face) or I might briefly notice the rest of her and think something like, "She is attractive, may she make someone very happy."

I don't think that noticing someone is attractive ever stops (although when I am close to God I notice nature's beauty a lot more and thus spend less time looking at people). But the desire to possess or be possessed stops. The inclination to fantasize stops.

Actually, it's more than that. The desire to possibly interact stops. I stop caring what I think about that person or what they might think about me. That seems the true root of the earlier two things that stop.

As an example about love being different from lust, I'll share about Wednesday nights when my wife and I go swing dancing with friends.

My role as a lead is to make this space in front of me welcoming.
It does not matter if I do fancy moves or not. Neither does it matter if I have musicality or simply dance to generic eight-beat measures. Besides conversation (it is a social dance, after all) the important thing is for me to pay attention to the follow's center of gravity rather than my own. Then the dancing has balance and smoothness, and the follow looks good and has freedom to do styling.

In other words, through a kind of communication by touch I am letting someone know I value their comfort more than my showiness, and their company more than their talent. It works because people like simply being valued and supported and doing something cooperative--and knowing that's what is happening for about three minutes until the song ends.

That's what swing dancing is about (well, except in Portland). And it's something for which society does not provide many opportunities.

I'm not sure Yeshua's followers need to literally copy John 13 regularly and wash each other's feet. But on occasion I've given a (male) congregant a foot rub.

How It Should Have Ended

Weekend entertainment...

A long time ago a friend showed me the website "How it Should Have Ended" because their parody of the Lord of the Rings movie was silly. They just released a Superman movie parody that is truly classic.

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 17

Optimally, people do not even know they are under authority.
Next best is to love and praise the rulers.
Next best is to fear them.
Worst is to despise them.
If those in authority do not trust the people to act correctly, then the people will not believe that those in authority are acting correctly.
Thus wise rulers think more than they speak, and value their words. And the work went smoothly, was completed, and the people all thought: "We have done it ourselves!"

When in a position of authority,
when possible act as Adonai does.
He rules all, but may be ignored.
He is worthy of love and praise,
but willing to let people take credit for his work.
He gives people too much freedom,
knowing the only other option is being a tyrant.
Make few rules,
and let people decide how to do the work you want done.


During the last few days I have had to politely deal with someone who calls the congregation to talk about conspiracy theories, especially ones regarding him personally. People are bugging his phones, poised to come into his room through the attic access panel, and making him tired with low doses of poison in the air or food.

Sadly, such folks cause me to have no patience in dealing with even mostly-true conspiracy stories. Reform Judaism magazine recently featured an article about the oil industry's history which I have not read. I've long put off reading about gun control's Nazi roots. I should know more about the Nazi roots of Islamofascism than I do. (If the last topic is new to you, start with this video.)

My lack of interest could potentially lead to problems.

For example, I recently skipped over Barry Chamish's websites when someone recommended I read them. Does Chamish know what he is talking about? Would investigating his theories help me be better supportive of Israel? Is there any hope that Porkbusters can get more U.S. elected representatives to care about representing their people?

I probably will never know, since I'm so turned off by the whole genre and thus far have not seen any practical applications. My devotion to love God and love my neighbor seems unaffected by who is manipulating big policies or big money.

Yeshua had no interest reforming human governments. He dealt with them. He will return to overwhelm them. Until then his focus and his disciple's focus is the health of local communities and individuals.

UPDATE: Over the weekend I was introduced to two more conspiracy theories. One of them, from what I can find, seems quite established as true and is nicely written up by Ben Hecht in his book Perfidy. The other, The Book of J, seems nonsense, since Umberto Cassuto debunked the Documentary Hypothesis years ago.

UPDATE: A rebuttal to the link between gun control and the rise of Nazi power is here.

Community Confirmation of Divine Guidance

Heh. Stuart Dauermann can be cute when fed up.

As the saying goes, "Why don't ministers work out? They already get exhaustion, colleagues complaining about how little they can do, and possible injury."

Of course, that saying was from the same rack of greeting cards that also had "There is too much blood in my caffine system", "Having kids is like being pecked to death by a duck", and "The problem with Italian food is 3 or 4 days later you're hungry again."

Free Software That's New to Me

I've come across three pieces of free software.

Since I probably won't have time to try them out for quite a while, I'll ask if anyone has had good or bad experiences with them...
Supposedly Audacity is the best free MP3 editor; my only use would be trimming the beginnings or ends off song files. Avast! received high marks from Consumer Reports, and might replace my current antivirus software when its annual subscription runs out. Foxit reportedly loads much, much faster than Acrobat or Acrobat Reader.

The Shofar and Shabbat

There is a rabbinic rule that the shofar is not blown on Shabbat. From what I can find, this is based solely on the Talmudic passage Rosh Hashanah 29b. The concern is that using the shofar on Shabbat would involve carrying it a long enough distance to be considered work.

Many Messianic Jewish congregations use the shofar regularly. There are scriptural reasons to do so: God's people are assembling, and announcing the imminent arrival of their Lord.

Does anyone have more information about why Rabbinic Jews do not use the shofar more regularly?

This Week, Matrix Movies

This week I returned from a cousin's wedding and got ready for a special congregational event this weekend.

Next week I plan for my Fall term math teaching. Teaching math at a community college is a wonderful side job for which I am very thankful.

This week I have time to start a very interesting but rather long book about the early development of Judaism and Christianity. Last week I read a shorter book: Paul by E.P. Sanders. Both books are useful for prompting me to think about worthwhile issues, in particular how much Protestant theology has watered down Paul's expectation that followers of Yeshua would stop sinning.

My wife is away in Seattle, on a business trip until late Sunday night. She does not like watching movies much, so I took advantage of her absence by finally renting the second and third Matrix movies. Sadly, this turned out to be a waste of time. The DVD of the third movie was broken and only would show the first half of that film--and I found I did not mind. I later found commentary on the movies that was more intriguing than either movie.

I liked the first Matrix movie. It focused on real human religious issues: unnoticed enslavement, escape to freedom, receiving gifts that are confusing to use, and how the power to resist evil is an inferior substitute to the authority to judge evil. I had neat conversations with friends after that movie, in which we figured out why the heroes could have fancy guns but not superpowers (they had FTP access but no "write" file privilege).

The latter two movies just seemed a convoluted science fiction story that unraveled a puzzle about powerful AI "fake people" who were all manipulating the protagonist to advance their own agendas. This could have been done well, but except for the special effects it was nothing special.

While on vacation I was introduced to Firefly by relatives. That was something special. I spent some birthday gift money at Amazon. The DVDs should arrive soon.

Mundane, Potent, and Holy

The blog Out of Ur recently had an interesting article about a generation gap. I'll reply to one particular bit:
Boomer Christians tend to divide the world into three categories: the holy, the secular, and the downright sinful...The new generation of Christians, however, tends to see only two categories: the holy and the sinful. This means things that previously fell into the "secular" category are now open for consumption and experimentation without judgment. Take, for example, tattoos.
If Christians studied Hebrew a little more then this argument would disappear. In Biblical Hebrew words for "ritually potent" and "ritually impotent" are tahor and tamay. Something tahor may be set apart for God. Something tamay may not.

In other words, God created some things with the intention that they were simply mundane. Other things could be devoted to him, but might not be until the Messiah's reign (Zechariah 14:20-21).

The word for "set apart" is kadosh. Most English translations have "holy" or "sanctified", which sounds overly abstract. If I own a pair of candlesticks and decide that from now on I will only use them for Shabbat, I have set them apart. It's not complicated.

Most English translations render the words tahor and tamay "clean" and "unclean", which totally misses the point and sounds like God is talking about cooties.

In Greek the parallel words are akatharton and ekathaizen. This clears up Acts 10:14-15,28 and Mark 7. People cannot be ritually impotent. Vices, not dirt, make us distanced from God. (So all food is ritually potent, as Leviticus 11 taught. This is totally different from a common Christian misunderstanding of Mark 7 that claims Yeshua was trying to teach Jews that for them "all things are food".)

I know some readers will not let me end this without commenting on tattoos. I'll simply cite what I've written to two young Christians who had e-mailed the congregation wanting to know about Hebrew words for a tattoo they wanted. After providing them with the Hebrew they requested, I said:
If you Google "Leviticus 19:28 tattoo" you can get some information about a big debate. That verse literally says, "And cuttings for the dead do not make in your flesh, and letters of incision not put on you; I am the Lord." The problem is that the word translated "incision" (see Strong's H7085) only appears that once in the Old Testament -- it is thus somewhat guesswork about what that word really means, and whether this verse only prohibits cutting the flesh, or if any marking of the flesh (including tattoos) is contrary to God's intentions. Doing a search on the internet will show you a plethora of different opinions, many with conflicting scholarly support. I'll recommend prayer above scholarly consensus on this ambiguous issue.