This week as I recovered from cataract surgery, a memory from my childhood finally surfaced. In the late 1950’s in my hometown, I had met an artist who could barely see to paint anymore because of her vision loss due to cataracts. Doctors hadn’t yet invented the modern replacement lenses and use of small incisions for implantation. Complications back then were common, rather than rare. I can still remember my dad’s response to my desire for contact lens, “What? Put a foreign object in your eye? You’re asking for an infection!” Perhaps this was why I worried myself to exhaustion while waiting for my first surgery.
As it turns out, I can now see my television set without my glasses and I read my iPad with my untreated eye. I’ve always had my glasses within arm’s reach of my bed or my chair for over sixty years. It feels strange not to put them on first thing in the morning.
If there were things I could not see before, I could always feel them if I were still enough to notice their subtle movements. Most of the time I, as many others do, stress over what “might happen,” instead of being present to the moment in which the important stuff is actually happening.
After I worried myself into an exhausted heap on my couch, I woke up in a different mood. I realized I’d been going “from house to house” to borrow a cup of trouble for a cake I didn’t need to bake or eat. It was going to be a decadent cake with multiple layers and a. rich icing. If it were autumn, I’d probably get first prize in the cake competition at the state fair.
But no one needs a Trouble Cake. I saw all my ingredients were as nothing, for I had a great doctor, people who would care for me, and this was a new age in medicine. Moreover, the Spirit of God would sustain me in my recovery and remind me my wellbeing depends on following my doctor’s instructions. As we read in John 3:5-8 NRSV—
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Sometimes we need to feel the wind and not try to know from whence it comes or why it goes, but merely thank it for arriving to be with us in this present moment.
Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by.
Sometimes we need a fresh wind blowing through our hearts and minds to get a new outlook on life. We can’t be wedded to the past like the old farmer who said of the new fangled plow he saw at the farm supply store, “My daddy plowed with a two pronged plow, so a two pronged plow is good enough for me.” He never bought the new and improved three pronged plow.
Much like the church that can’t recognize the fresh movement of the Spirit moving through the world today, if we can’t feel that wind, maybe cataract surgery would help us see the movement in the leaves.
Joy and Peace,
NOTE: The Greek word for Spirit and wind are the same: πνεῦμά. Strong’s Greek Concordance 4151 pneúma – properly, spirit (Spirit), wind, or breath. The most frequent meaning (translation) of 4151 (pneúma) in the NT is “spirit” (“Spirit”). Only the context determines which sense(s) is meant. When used with Holy, the word is Holy Spirit, not holy breath!
Utagawa Hiroshige: Yokkaichi: Mie River (Yokkaichi, Miegawa), from the series “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi),” also known as the Hoeido Tokaido, wood block print, 1833-34, Art Institute of Chicago.
Luke Howard: Graph detailing prevailing wind directions, rain depth, and mean temperature over a period of eighteen years, 1815-1832, in London. The Royal Society.
Bernard Evans: Cannock Chase – ‘When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise’, circa 1885, watercolor. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia.
Unknown Artist: Inlay in the Form of an Eye, Glass and gypsum, Egypt, (9/16 × 1 13/16 × 3/8 in.), 1540–1070 BCE, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA.
Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963, National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
March is here and the wild hares of the rabbit clan have come to visit. I’m shivering on a cold, dreary, and rainy day, but I’m about to have a cup of steaming hot tea and put dinner on the stove. While I waited for the water to boil, I visited the open AI project out of curiosity. My old daddy used to say, “curiosity killed the cat,” but I think he was trying to keep me safe by not poking my nose into some dangerous places. Without curiosity, we never learn anything new or stretch our horizons. We’d live a sad, constricted life if we always stayed inside the lines and never pushed the boundaries.
The chat bot took my name and combined it with that of Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett, who painted the Florida Case Before the Electoral Commission, to describe the importance of “Cornelia DeLee, artist.” Also according to the chatbot, I am long dead, so I must be communicating from “yonder.” Fassett’s painting was about the contested presidential election of 1876.
In January, 1877, when the Electoral College met, 20 votes were contested, but neither side would concede the election. Congress passed a law empowering the Electoral Commission at the end of January. Ten days of deliberations passed before the 20 votes passed to the Republican candidate, an act which the Democrats protested until they received assurances federal soldiers would leave the Southern states. With Reconstruction at an end, Congress declared Rutherford B. Hayes the new President of the United States on March 2, only two days before his term began.
The Civil War and the Reconstruction years have marked our nation with an ongoing trauma, which has passed from generation to generation. At some point in time, we’ll have to heal, for continually pouring salt into that old wound will keep it festering and it won’t ever heal. Then we’ll pass it down to another generation once more. However, if scripture has any truth to teach us, humankind continues to reenact the sins of our ancestors, even when we know their stories and have the God given gifts of redemption from these shackles of death and shame. But now this rabbit is preaching, and some would say, “meddling once again.”
Update: Heather Cox Richardson, a noted writer of American history, reminds us once again how Southerners rewrite our history to make us more heroic and powerful. The Federal Army didn’t leave the south right away, but stayed in some states for awhile. See the note below.
I’ll change the subject. I’m not much on poetry, but I thought I’d ask ChatGPT to write a “Poem in Praise of March.” After all, World Poetry Day is March 21, so I thought I’d give the ChatAI a run for its money (it’s free right now, while in training stage). The Artificial Intelligence project was delighted to instantly produce the following example:
March, the month of windswept skies, A time when winter softly dies. The earth awakens from her sleep, As days grow long and nights grow deep.
The snows of winter start to thaw, And nature’s beauty starts to draw A tapestry of green and gold, As springtime’s treasures now unfold.
The birds return with joyful sound, Their melodies now all around. The trees bud out, the flowers bloom, And life returns to end the gloom.
March, the month of change and hope, A time to cast off winter’s scope. The promise of new life and growth, As nature’s beauty takes its oath.
So let us praise this month of light, For all the wonders it brings to sight. And may we cherish every day, As we welcome spring in every way.
I was so amazed the Artificial Intelligence ChatBot could spit this out so quickly, I typed in, “Thank you.”
It immediately answered, “You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. If you have any other questions or requests, feel free to ask!” I quickly closed the application before it became sentient and asked for my hand in marriage or social security number and tried to enroll me in a monthly cryptocurrency investment program. Yikes!
Speaking of poetry, even the folks at Bloomberg News are writing haikus about global food shortages:
Onion shortage looms. Prices rise, nutrition wanes, Governments take aim.
When I was a child, my brothers and I amused ourselves by lining up dominoes in artful patterns all morning long. After lunch and before our required afternoon nap, we’d touch the first domino in line, and have a wicked joy of watching our entire morning’s work fall one after another. A food shortage (or a toilet paper shortage) happens much the same way in our global economy. Onion prices are still soaring across the globe and fuelling inflation, so countries like Morocco, Turkey and Kazakhstan have taken action and secured supplies.
Because onion prices are going up due to scarce supply, the price of other fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and apples) also are rising and hampering their availability across the globe, according to the United Nations and the World Bank. In fact, prices have increased so much that onions briefly cost more than meat in the Philippines, and some flight attendants were caught smuggling them out of the Middle East.
This didn’t end well for either the attendants or the produce, since the food was sent out for destruction (it’s illegal to import food, except through proper customs) and the personnel got reprimands and retraining. Word to the wise: hoarding onions isn’t a good idea, since whole, raw onions will last two to three months when stored in a cool, dry place (between 45 and 55 degrees F). Places that provide these conditions may include your cellar, pantry, unheated basement, or garage. Usually, at room temperature, onions last only 2 to 3 weeks. Over the long term, the frugal shopper will buy some scarce items at a higher prices and other items at lower cost when the product is in season and at a surplus. The average price over a year will even out.
March is Women’s History Month. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Every president since then has recognized the gifts, graces, and achievements of America’s women by presidential proclamation. Other important women’s days in March we recognize are International Women’s Day (March 8), Harriet Tubman Day and National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10).
The Jewish celebration of Purim begins on March 6 at sundown and ends on the 7th at sundown. The festival recalls Queen Esther’s faithfulness to God and God’s saving providence for God’s marginalized people. We should always remember God’s grace is wider than ours, even if the faithful seemed to be “assimilating to the current culture.”
Daylight Savings Time begins March 12, with all of us rabbits settling our clocks forward one hour before we go to bed the night before. If you have difficulty remembering which direction, there’s a motto for this event: “Spring forward, and Fall back.” No one falls forward and springs back—silly rabbits maybe, but not the smart rabbits, who have the good sense to “Spring forward, and Fall back.”
The Ides of March 15 were bad luck for Julius Caesar, but originally the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing. Two years before his death at an assassin’s hand, Caesar himself had changed the Roman calendar so the Romans celebrated the new year in January. Some people really don’t like change at all. Plus they don’t like military dictatorships.
People celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 all over the world, whether they’re Irish or not. While the San Antonio River runs green downtown, Hot Springs National Park will have its First Ever 20th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 98 foot long Bridge Street, which is the world’s shortest street in everyday operational use.
Spring Equinox on March 20 can’t come soon enough for this rabbit. Just knowing the light will become stronger with each passing day is a medicine for my spirits. So what if the pollen follows soon after? Eventually, that too will be history and we bunnies will find something else to fuss about. After all, nothing is certain except for change. None of us can stop the circuit of the stars in the heavens above or cease the changing seasons.
We can adjust to these great cycles of change, just as we can grow in love for one another and learn to forgive both ourselves (for our falling short of perfection) and others for harming ourselves. If we rabbits wait till the last moment for our death bed reconciliations, we may not have the time or opportunity to make amends with the ones from whom we’ve estranged ourselves.
If you think you’ll be foolish doing this, I suggest you desensitize yourself and celebrate International Talk Like William Shatner Day on March 22. I asked ChatGPT for a haiku in the voice of William Shatner. On the third try, I got something I thought resembled his breathless cadence and broken phrase delivery. I could almost hear him emphatically delivering the words GO and MUST!
Ramadan starts during the evening of March 23 and lasts until sundown on Thursday, April 20. Muslims commemorate the gift of the Koran to Muhammad by fasting if physically able, declaring their faith, prayers, charity, and pilgrimage..
Remember, if March comes in as a lamb, it will go out as a lion, or so the ancient weather proverb goes. The saying may have its origin in the stars, for at this time of year, Leo is the rising sign; by April, it’s Aries. (“Kid” or “ram” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “lamb,” though.) Also, this is the season Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah. Both mean, weather-wise, a false spring.
To sum up, as I finish up this note on the last day of February, the high today will be near 80F and I’ll most likely turn my air conditioner back on before March comes to visit. Looking ahead to March, the Weather Channel outlook has only three days in the 70’s for my location, so Mr. Air Conditioner won’t get much of a work out. I only see one night in the 30’s, so even Mr. Heater will get light workouts in March. As one wag put it on their restaurant sign:
Until next month, I hope you have onions and potatoes in abundance, and you enjoy green eggs and ham, or green beer, or green tea.
Joy, Peace, and welcome to Springtime,
NOTE from Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, March 2, 2023—this corrects my research.
What did not happen in 1877, either before or after the inauguration, was the removal of troops from the South.
That legend came from a rewriting of the history of Reconstruction in 1890 by fourteen southern congressmen. In their book Why the Solid South? Or Reconstruction and Its Results, they argued that Black voting after the Civil War had allowed Black people to “dominate” white southerners and virtually bankrupt the region and that virtuous white southerners had pushed them from the ballot box and “redeemed” the South. Contemporaries had identified the end of Reconstruction as 1870, with the readmission of Georgia to the United States. But Why the Solid South identified the end of Reconstruction as the end of Republican rule in each state.
In 1906, former steel baron James Ford Rhodes gave a date to that process. In his famous seven-volume history of the United States, he said that in April 1877, Hayes had ended Reconstruction by returning all the southern states to “home rule.” In his era, that was a political term referring to the return of power in the southern states to Democrats, but over time that phrase got tangled up with what did happen in April 1877.
During the chaos after the election, President U.S. Grant had ordered troops to protect the Republican governors in the Louisiana and South Carolina statehouses. When he took office, Hayes told Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana that he could no longer let federal troops protect their possession of their statehouses when their Democratic rivals had won the popular vote.
Under orders from Hayes, the troops guarding those statehouses marched away from their posts around the statehouses and back to their home stations in April 1877. They did not leave the states, although a number of troops would be deployed from southern bases later that year both to fight wars against Indigenous Americans in the West and to put down the 1877 Great Railroad Strike. That mobilization cut even further the few troops in the region: in 1876, the Department of the South had only about 1,586 men including officers. Nonetheless, southerners fought bitter congressional battles to get the few remaining troops out of the South in 1878–1879, and they lost.
The troops did not leave the U.S. South in 1877 as part of a deal to end Reconstruction.
It matters that we misremember that history. Generations of Americans have accepted the racist southern lawmakers’ version of our past by honoring the date they claimed to have “redeemed” the South. The reality of Reconstruction was not one in which Black voters bankrupted the region by taking tax dollars from white taxpayers to fund roads and schools and white voters stepped in to save things; it was the story of an attempt to establish racial equality and the undermining of that attempt with the establishment of a one-party state that benefited a few white men at the expense of everyone else.
Clarence C. Clendenen, “President Hayes’ ‘Withdrawal’ of the Troops: An Enduring Myth,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 70 (October 1969): 240-250.
Aristotle said in his Poetics, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.”
He spoke mainly about poetry, which was the highest art of his age, but his words also apply to the fine arts. Today, many people are still mesmerized by artists who practice various styles of realism, but they overlook the artists who show us the realities of emotion and inner vision.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Some people use art as a cathartic exercise, and pour out their inner emotions on the canvas or their chosen media. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Van Gogh’s late works are good examples of emotional expression. We all know folks who have a project going in their garage. They go work on “that worthless piece of junk” to focus their attention and energy on fixing something on which they can make a difference, instead of getting tied up in knots about things they can’t change and must accept. Gardening and knitting are also good hobbies for focusing this energy.
We know our nervous system grows to the modes in which it has been exercised. This is what we call building a habit over time. Just as a child doesn’t walk straight out of the womb, they have preparatory skills that must be acquired by stages as they grow. Exercising their muscles by rolling over also helps to strengthen their necks to hold their heads up. Crawling leads to pulling up, and that leads to letting go to learn balance.
Each time a child repeats these movements, he or she will simplify the movements required to achieve the needed result, make them more accurate, and diminish fatigue. In this, they’re building habits that bring them closer to walking. Rushing them to achieve “early” walking actually puts them behind cognitively.
Not only are there twenty five body parts in a baby’s body that are used in the crawl movement, but crawling also strengthens the hip sockets, so the baby will have a strong platform on which to stand. Crawling helps the corpus callosum, which is a band of nerve fibers between the hemispheres of the brain. Criss-cross crawling on the knees and hands stimulates the corpus callosum to develop in a balanced way, facilitating the hemispheres of the brain to communicate. These cross lateral movements work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of the eyes, ears, hands, feet, and core muscles. This helps support cognitive function, problem solving, and ease of learning. Exploring the floor in a baby proofed home allows your baby to achieve his or her optimal potential.
“Practice makes perfect” is only as true as the practice is directed in a true direction. This is where a teacher, a parent, a coach, or a spiritual guide comes into play. Only one who’s been led well can lead others with grace. We don’t tear down the learner, but ask questions, give guidance, help them see alternative paths, and allow them a safe place to explore their choices.
Art class isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if the painting isn’t successful, and no one’s salvation is at risk if the painting doesn’t come out the way we hoped it might. Art class is a safe place to take risks, unlike jumping from a tall tower without a parachute. Learning to accept failure on our canvases and coming back next time to try again is a mark of resilience and courage. Every time we fail closer to our target, we realize we’re gaining on it! We never say I CAN’T in art class.
The sad reality is we can teach and expand the horizons of young people up til the age of 25 or 30. After that, they seem to lose energy and desire to learn more or to change. They “habitually” repeat their previous acts, for good or for ill. We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Those of us who are no longer young have sometimes been accused of being set in our ways. Some of us are afraid we won’t excel at a new challenge, for we’ve always been held to a high standard of achievement. Since none of us will be the next Georgia O’Keefe or Leonardo da Vinci, we can set that worry aside. They both had more years to practice than we have left in front of us. Instead, we should give our remaining time our most focused attention, so we can get the most from our experience.
My high school chemistry book had the same information in it which my daddy’s college chemistry book covered. He was amazed I was learning “advanced” ideas at my young age. In 1982 R. Buckminister Fuller introduced the idea of the “knowledge doubling curve.” Up until 1900, knowledge doubled every century. By 1945, knowledge doubled every 25 years and by 1982, it doubled every year. Some say it’s now doubling twice a day! The newest computer we buy off the shelf today is already obsolete.
We can’t train our students for the jobs of today because these jobs likely won’t exist tomorrow. We need to train people to be lifetime learners instead. Luckily, we don’t have to know all things, but we do need the skills to find the knowledge and sort through the best sources for the best possible information.
Today, knowledge we acquire in high school, college, graduate school, and our last job may already be obsolete. (I’m one who still grieves the loss of Pluto as a planet; it exists but is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt). This is especially true in fast moving fields like technology. As futurist Alvin Toffler wrote, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
This means all of us will need to become lifelong learners or we’ll risk losing touch with an ever evolving world. Maybe we think our brains can’t handle something new, for we’ve heard about the effect of aging. Cognitive process studies with older brains show learning, memory, and problem-solving in humans are often less efficient in these areas.
However, it has recently been established that dogs show many of the same kind of age related changes that humans do. A study in Vienna showed that older dogs learned new tasks just as well as younger dogs, although they took longer to do so and required more repetitive corrections. This aptitude is also known as “resilience training.”
I think it’s also important to know why we want to keep our brains agile as we move into our later years. John Wesley was fond of repeating William Law’s summary from the Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection,
“Do all the good you can, to all you can, by any means you can, as long as you can.”
Because Wesley was better known than William Law, this quote is now attributed to Wesley alone. We Methodists have made it our own, however, and have carried its banner around the globe in our world wide mission efforts made possible by our Connectional ministries. Wesley thought enough of Law’s writing to reprint 19 editions of his work.
My late mother, at the age of eighty, learned how to use a laptop computer. She was motivated because she wanted to see emailed photos of her grandchildren, but then she realized she also could find recipes. When a child in her hometown needed a Mercy Flight, she used her new skills to get him transportation to an out of state hospital for treatment. I occasionally had to reteach her on how to double click quickly on her icons, rather than slowly, but she finally caught on.
If we want to keep our brains agile throughout our middle, silver, and golden years, we always need to try new things. Doing art challenges makes our brain build new neural pathways. Every time we look at a still life or a landscape, we have to make multiple decisions: what shapes do I see—circles, squares, triangles, or rectangles; how do these shapes relate to one another on the plane of our canvas; what is most important; what colors will I use; what emotions do I want to express; and where will I begin?
Eventually, we will find our “style.” We don’t find a style by copying another’s work, but we create enough works until our hand becomes one with our spirit. Since God has placed a special spark of God’s own creative Spirit within each of us, eventually we’ll experience the joy of being one with God when we are in our painting moments. As Paul said to the Romans (8:16):
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Last Friday we had a simple still life as our inspiration. Half our class was out sick with spring pollen troubles, but it was good to see those who could come after a two week hiatus. After a brief show and tell to get us inspired by other artists’ takes on the subject for the day, we got started. I reminded everyone not to make the fruit too tiny, so it wouldn’t get lost on the canvas. I believe everyone succeeded with this goal!
Mike painted his whole canvas with one brush. This gave the fruit a certain texture with contrasting colors, and the background, which was in a close value, didn’t show much brush strokes or texture. I like the perspective he chose, which brings the viewer in close to these fruit.
Gail tried a larger canvas with bolder colors than she normally uses. It was more dramatic and stronger in contrast than usual, while she kept her smooth strokes of paint as usual. She also took a view from above.
I stuck to a traditional rendering of the still life, since I do many abstract paintings in my own studio. I’d call these two Day and Night, for the Apple is quite awake and the Pear seems to need a little nap. It’s a study in contrasts: red and green, blue violet and yellow orange—a color wheel study masquerading as a still life.
Next week we’re in the season of Lent. As Christ turns his face towards Jerusalem, we’ll begin a study on the icons. This will be accessible and interesting. You’ll end up with your own icon for your personal worship center also.
Valentine’s Day is all about love. Television advertisements push candies, dipped gold “eternal” roses, gaudy jewelry—a price for every pocketbook—and the dating apps have been in full swing since the new year.
“Everybody needs somebody to love,” the old song goes. The Blues Brothers sing this oldie before their mad escape from the Illinois Law Enforcement Community. Solomon Burkes treats it with his indigenous soul blues from his lived experience and The Rolling Stones give it their percussive upbeat treatment. Wilson Picket has a good cover, but I don’t recommend the explicit version of Rod Wave’s Sneaky Links. Fitz and the Tantrums was interesting. My “old person “ is probably showing about the edges here.
We all can love our friends or sweethearts, especially in mid February. After all, February is “for lovers.” The bigger question is, How do we love our enemies? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, A Gift of Love, writes:
“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. (The one) who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.”
Well, how can I forgive the person who hurt me, my child, my family, my tribe, or my community? We all want that person to come crawling to us and ask for forgiveness, but that’s not how radical love works. We want the wrong doer to show remorse and ask us for mercy and forgiveness. This puts them in a subordinate position and us in a position of power. But that’s not how radical love works. Radical love initiates forgiveness, even if the wrongdoer never shows contrition.
Dr. King goes on to say:
“It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.”
Why must the wronged take on the indignity of offering forgiveness to unrepentant wrongdoers? In this act, we become most like Christ on the cross, who in his final moments, forgave not only the thief who asked for forgiveness, but also all those who crucified him, who had no intention of repenting. Our problem is we enjoy being like the risen Christ, the one with the “name above all names,” but most of us don’t want to “pick up our cross and follow” Jesus, especially if it leads to an ignominious death on that very cross.
As Dr. King wrote,
“The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.”
The injured one, whose heart has been broken and wounded by someone else’s words or deeds, is the only one who can heal the broken rift between them. This is why the deepest lovers of Christ are most often the wounded ones who’ve been healed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The woman with the alabaster jar of ointment anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of the Pharisee, but the host had failed at the minimum hospitality for his guest, so Jesus reminded him (Luke 7:47):
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
If we would be healers in our broken and fragmented world, we need to first address our own woundedness. Each of us has a hidden pain or suffering, for this is the human condition. If we give this to God, our healing makes us into vessels where our cracks are filled with precious gold. We can offer more love, more forgiveness, and more hope to people who have been sitting in darkness and despair. People are waiting for joy and love to flow out in abundance from God’s heart into our hearts and into their world. Then we can be the light in the darkness for them, the holy fire that lights the embers of hope in their hearts, not just on St. Valentine’s Day, but every day.
Joy, Peace, and Love,
Excerpt from A Gift of Love | Penguin Random House Canada By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapter 5, Loving Your Enemies
Oscar Wilde famously said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” This is because the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression and art offers it certain beautiful forms, through which it may realize that energy. Yet most people who look at artworks judge them for the degree to which they represent “three dimensional reality,” in either two or three dimensions (painting, draw,or sculpture and assemblage).
Often I’ve been asked about my colorful landscapes, “Don’t you ever paint these in normal colors?”
My answer is usually, “How do we know the colors we see today are the original colors of Creation? After all, we now live in a fallen and broken world. Perhaps these bright colors were God’s original palette.” I’m not painting just what I see, but what was and what is yet to come. These are visions of a better world, where the leaves clap their hands for joy.
In art class, we not only struggle to master drawing shapes “as they are,” but also to challenge our minds to break free of our need to exactly reproduce the shapes before us. We always have the tension to make only a “copy of the image before us,” rather than to meet the image on a spiritual plane and portray an intimate portrait of its inner truth.
When we meet a stranger, we can hide behind our masks and keep our distance. Likewise, we can fail to become intimate with our painting’s subject matter. The resulting work is cold and dead, like a limp handshake. It’s a risky business to bare your heart to the canvas and paint. The brush will tell if your heart and soul is in it or not.
We get more comfortable with this risky business by practicing risk taking. It’s not like we’re facing tigers in a circus cage or jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. We can’t lose our salvation in Christ if we make a bad painting. We only have a new level from which to start afresh. All growth requires risk and failure. We discover what works, keep that, and eliminate the unuseful.
Willingness to learn is related to the “growth mind-set.” This is the belief your abilities aren’t fixed but can improve. This willingness is a belief not primarily about the self, but about the world. It’s a belief every class or learning experience offers something worthwhile, even if we don’t know in advance what that something is. Every teacher or parent worth their salt has to believe their students or children can learn and grow, or they need to give up their profession so another can grow. The first lesson even the most recalcitrant student needs to learn is to believe growth and progress is possible.
The Christian life has a parallel to the growth mindset. The whole of the Christian life is wrapped up in this faith: with God’s help, we can go on to perfection. This is a basic Methodist belief known as sanctification. We also call it going on to perfection in love of God and neighbor. Some of us think because we’re not able to change on our own, we don’t need to grow in our love. God has done all the work for us in Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to be a truthful guide:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)
Paul speaks of this truth in Philippians 3:20-21, when he reminds the people of their present state as sojourners in this world, while their citizenship is elsewhere:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our humble bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”
If life is a journey, the Christian life is even more of a pilgrimage. We all go through stages of faith if we seriously reflect and consider our beliefs when our life experiences intersect with our faith. Our earliest stage of faith begins with our parents or caregivers. Here we learn to trust or distrust, as we experience an embodied faith. The next stage is early childhood (age 3-7). Faith at this stage is experiential and develops through encounters with stories, images, the influence of others, a deeper intuitive sense of what is right and wrong, and innocent perceptions of how God causes the universe to function.
The next stage has been labeled “Mythic-Literal Faith” (Ages 7-12). Children at this stage have a belief in justice and fairness in religious matters, a sense of reciprocity in the workings of the universe (e.g. doing good will result in a good result, doing bad will cause a bad thing to happen) and an anthropomorphic image of God (e.g. a man with a long white beard who lives in the clouds). Religious metaphors are often taken literally, thus leading to misunderstandings. If God’s rewards or punishments don’t apply in proper retribution, in the believer’s mind, their faith in God’s system becomes fragile.
“The Conventional Faith” stage (12-adult) arises when individuals join a religious institution, belief system, or authority, and begin the growth of a personal religious or spiritual identity. Conflicts occur when one’s beliefs are challenged are often ignored because they represent too much of a threat to one’s faith-based identity.
Théodore Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa,”painted in 1818–19, is nearly 17 by 23 feet large. It commands its space as any proper historic painting of the past ever did. Rather than present a moral lesson from the past, the artist instead chose to paint an event from his present time: the rescue of the abandoned sailors and slaves from a wrecked ship. The French nation had sent the new governor of the Senegal colony, his family, and some other government officials and others on the Medusa. The government officials went to secure French possession of the colony and to assure the continuation of the covert slave trade, even though France had officially abolished the practice. Another group aboard the Medusa was composed of reformers and abolitionists who hoped to eliminate the practice of slavery in Senegal by engaging the local Senegalese and the French colonists in the development of an agricultural cooperative that would make the colony self-sustaining.
On the way, the ship ran aground and broke up. The officials and their families were put in lifeboats, but the 150 others on board got a makeshift raft, which was tied to the lifeboats. When the raft impeded the lifeboats, the officials cut the raft loose and all the lives with it. Only 15 were rescued after days at sea, and only ten lived to tell their tales. It was a scandal of the times. Géricault read all the newspapers, interviewed survivors, and made studies from ancient sculptures to inform his design. When younger artists saw his inspirational work in the Paris Salon, they knew a sea change had happened. Conservative critics and writers were appalled and accused Géricault of creating a disgusting, repulsive mistake. They were not yet ready to leave the past behind.
William Faulkner once said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” (The Mansion , 1959). When we meet that initial storm, our first thought is to bring our fragile bark into port. In life, we batten down the hatches and book it for a safe harbor. In art class, we want to fall back on what we’ve always done before, what we know we can do, and what we’ve been successful with in the past. This is our “safe harbor.”
“Individuative-Reflective Faith” (Mid-Twenties to Late Thirties). The individual takes personal responsibility for her beliefs or feelings, often by angst and struggle. Religious or spiritual beliefs can take on greater complexity and shades of nuance, and a greater sense of open-mindedness. These can also open up the individual to potential conflicts as the different beliefs or traditions collide.
To progress and grow in our art skills, or to move through the “dark night of the soul” when we question our formerly held spiritual truths, is a crucial time. Crucial is a word sharing the same root as crucifix. The crux of both of these situations results in a life and death situation. Not that the person quits breathing or their heart stops beating, but will their old life die and their faith be reborn anew? Also, will they trust a power greater than themselves to bring them back from the depths? Many of us aren’t willing to give up control to anyone, and certainly not to a God we can’t see. We’re two year olds in our spiritual lives too often, for “I can do it myself!” Is our answer to everything and everyone. (Test it out—how many of you read the directions after you start putting a project together?)
“Conjunctive” Faith (Mid-Life Crisis). A person at this stage acknowledges paradoxes and the mysteries attendant on transcendent values. This causes the person to move beyond the conventional religious traditions or beliefs he may have inherited from previous stages of development. A resolution of the conflicts of this stage occurs when the person is able to hold a multi-dimensional perspective that acknowledges ”truth’ as something that cannot be articulated through any particular statement of faith. This is where the Holy Awe begins to fill all the nooks and crannies from which it was once forbidden.
“Universalizing” Faith (or ”Enlightenment”). (Later Adulthood). This stage is only rarely achieved by individuals. A person at this stage is not hemmed in by differences in religious or spiritual beliefs among people in the world, but regards all beings as worthy of compassion and deep understanding. Here, individuals ”walk the talk” of the great religious traditions (e.g. ”the kingdom of God is within you”).
In 1999 Janet McKenzie’s painting “Jesus of the People” was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus by judge Sister Wendy Beckett, host of the PBS show “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” In the words of Sister Wendy, “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus—dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence. Over His white robe He draws the darkness of our lack of love, holding it to Himself, prepared to transform all sorrows if we will let Him.” The model was an African-American woman and the painting includes a yin-yang symbol of Eastern traditions and feather of Native American traditions. (Photo courtesy of Paul Smith)
Next week, we’ll still be working on order and chaos. We got started on this at our first meeting, and the concept is a challenge. I’ll write about our class work then. We’re always open to anyone joining us, for you come as you are and begin where you are. Our art group is a “one room schoolhouse” with all levels of students mixed together. We may all be doing the “same project,” but everyone does it at their own skill level. I give you special attention according to your needs.
Remember, “The only way you can be behind is if you never start.”
Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to 2023! This old bunny may not see the clock strike midnight, but I’m recovering from a bad cold. Rest is more important than ringing in the New Year. Every year has its own character.
Zeitgeist is a word that comes straight from German — zeit means “time” and geist means spirit, so the “spirit of the time” is what’s going on culturally, religiously, or intellectually during a certain period. When it comes to the turn of the New Year, we bunnies wonder if our new broom will sweep clean or if the old broom will leave the same mess as always in our cozy rabbit dens.
Are we filled with hope or with foreboding? Do these dark days and deep nights of winter fill us with a gloomy spirit? Or do the imperceptibly lengthening minutes of daytime give hope to the shadows the cold of winter has left in the depths of our souls? Or have the coastal grandmother bunnies among us learned to ignore all this stum and drang by blending their afternoon tea time into early evening wine tasting?
Everything a culture considers taboo, evil, or immoral typically ends up being proscribed or “consigned to the outer darkness.” From there it ends up inside us in what Carl Jung called “the Shadow,” or our inner “Satan,” as it were. Repressed and inhibited, it festers and rages in the darkness of our “unconscious.” Even in extreme cases, it takes on a quasi-autonomous existence of its own, occasionally intruding as the famous “voices in the head” or even as a multiple personality.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a famous light and dark shadow character from fiction, but too often in real life we rabbits point out our own dark shadows in the lives of those we so easily demonize. As my wise old granddaddy rabbit would reprimand me, “When you point out the faults of others, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”
I always find life more refreshing on the first day of the year, perhaps because I don’t over indulge in strong drink as I once did in my wayward bunny youth. We bunnies all have a wayward youth, for how else would we know what the immature among us are getting into? My old daddy rabbit believed, “Experience was the greatest teacher of all time, as well as its most costly tutor.” Indeed, we remember the costliest lessons best of all. The young ones today say, “Go big or go home.” My grannie would say, “If you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound.” After all, everyone who participated, either in a small or large way, would be held accountable.
As I look back on old 2022, grizzled and worn out by conflicts both at home and abroad, I can understand why the ancients thought of Janus, for whom January’s named, as a two faced god. One face, which looked backwards, was lined, bearded, and craggy featured, while the forward looking face of the new year was youthful, smooth, and clean shaven. Every new year is fresh and clean as a beardless youth’s face, as well as untroubled by any recollection of pains or past memories. Most of us bunnies also have short memories, for we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Rabbits have short term memories of around 4 minutes, but can remember bad experiences for longer periods, just as humans can.
In Ancient Rome, as the poets Ovid and Horace recount, Janus was the god of war and peace. They differ as to whether the Temple of Janus was a prison for peace or war, but they both agree the prison was meant to maintain PAX ROMANA, or the great Roman Peace. If peace were impounded, peace would be guaranteed to the nation. If war were imprisoned, it wouldn’t rampage about to destroy the countryside. Just as Janus had two faces, Roman religion was open to multiple interpretations and meanings. Perhaps today, they’d be known as “freethinkers,” as opposed to “literalists” or “strict constructionists” in their interpretation of their ancient stories.
Maybe in 2023 we bunnies might want to look at different ways of thinking, instead of one fixed way. There’s a difference between a straight and narrow path and a rut. On the path we can still see other twists and turns, which might change the outcome of our experience and existence. In a rut we’re stuck for life, with no where out, until it becomes our grave. If the world is changing more quickly than is comfortable for us, I give the example of my old granddaddy again. He pushed a button to turn on one of the first electric lights in his home town and lived to see men walk on the moon. Be resilient, be adaptable, and embrace change. After all, we’re always changing, so the option of never changing is death.
Romans would celebrate January 1 by giving offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. They believed their acts set the stage for the coming year, so it was a common practice to make a positive start to the year. Not only did they exchange well wishes and sweet gifts of figs and honey with one another, but according to the poet Ovid, most Romans also chose to work for at least part of New Year’s Day because they saw idleness as a bad omen for the rest of the year. If 1st century Romans were to drop into some of our 21st century celebrations by means of Dr. Who’s traveling blue Police Box, they would wonder how the barbarians, who sacked Rome in 455 CE, had managed to take over our modern New Year.
We toga wearing bunnies, who are long of tooth, know from experience the barbarians are always at the gate of our safe little gardens. Sometimes they’re even inside the gardens of delight, as Peter Rabbit and his Cottontail friends perpetually discover when Mr. McGregror chases them with a rake. If we cast a look back on 2022 with our rheumy eyes, we saw Russia attack Ukraine, an outrageous act which sent millions of people to emigrate from their the destroyed cities and ravaged countryside, with the hope of finding safe haven in another European country.
Across the pond, on our southern border, thousands of migrants have fled disaster and violence in their homelands, but even though the US economy is hurting for workers in our entry level jobs, they have difficulty getting in. Are these people actually “barbarians at the gate?” Or have we projected our Shadow Fears upon them because they are foreigners? We did this with the Japanese, who m we placed into Internment Camps in World War II, much to our disgrace. This bunny asks us to search our hearts in 2023 to see if our three fingers are pointing back at our own selves.
Think about how Woodstock symbolized the 1960s: Woodstock was part of the Zeitgeist of the 1960s. Whatever seems particular to or symbolic of a certain time is likely part of its Zeitgeist. I came home from college one Christmas wearing a necklace of tiny black and white seed beads, only to be greeted by my old fashioned daddy, “Are you a hippy now?” For him, any one thing represented the whole, for he grew up with the ancient bunny wisdom, “One bad apple spoils the bushel.” We were only reconciled when he realized I hadn’t lost my fondness for his beloved Cowboys football team.
If we can find one common interest in this strange and fraught world with those with whom we would be at war, then we might be able to come to peace with them. If we insist on all or nothing, no bunny will get anything. We all want to have endless days of peace and joy, but the life of a bunny also has days of struggle and sorrow.
Carl Jung, the great psychologist once said, “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
We also have this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13—
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Many of my southern bunny kinfolks will eat a variety of this New Year’s Day meal: black eyed peas, ham, greens, and cornbread. We think every pea consumed equals another day of good luck. Of course, we’re not the only superstitious clan.
Our cousins in Japan, celebrating Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, gather together to eat long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake, a sweet low alcohol drink, to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
I found some interesting New Year’s good luck traditions, which are practiced around the world. In Greece, folks hang onions outside on their front doors to ward off evil. On New Year’s Eve, Colombian households have a tradition, called agüero, of placing three potatoes under each family member’s bed—one peeled, one not, and the last one only partially. At midnight each person, with eyes closed, grabs for one. Depending on the potato they select, they can either expect a year of good fortune, financial struggle, or a mix of both.
In Ireland, people bang Christmas bread against the walls of their house for good luck. If any of you bunnies have a Christmas fruitcake still lying around, please choose another loaf to prevent damage to your walls. Good contractors are backed up and hard to find, especially around the holidays.
The Danes chunk plates at their friends’ doorsteps for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps all that darkness from the winter solstice makes my northern relatives harebrained, but we love them just the same. I suppose every bunny has some weird relatives.
Old bunny weather lore says, “The first 12 days of January foretell the weather for each month of the year.” Another way to forecast the weather for the coming year depends on the wind. The old bunnies are at odds as to when this poem should be recited, with some advocating for sunset on New Year’s Eve and others at the break of dawn on New Year’s Day. This bunny notes the poem mentions New Year’s Eve, and since none of our ancient bunnies had time traveling abilities, I’d think we are safe to practice this on the Eve at sunset, then go out to do our responsible reveling.
If New Year’s Eve the wind blows south It betokens warmth and growth. If west, much milk and fish in the sea. If north, cold and storms there will be. If east, the trees will bear much fruit. If north east, then flee it, man and brute. Then throw your new year wishes to the wind!
My New Year’s wish for 2023 is for each and every one of my bunny friends to have a better year than last year. And especially to know deep in your hearts, each of you are God’s own beloved children. Remember this good word from Romans 8:28—
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Welcome to December! While I was writing this blog, it was Black Friday in November, when many rabbit families were either shopping in person or online. I once did this with my dear rabbit mother, for she loved to shop. As a child of the Great Depression, the thrill of giving gifts, however small to all her friends, was a joy denied to her while growing up. Today we rabbits aren’t so much into giving gifts, but in sharing experiences. We’re making different choices. We aren’t rejecting our forebears’ decisions, but we have different values. As the writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds us, everything has its time:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
The holiday season begins earlier and earlier, or maybe I’m just an old rabbit having a fever dream. Last year the supply chain snafus were the Grinch that stole Christmas. Some of you rabbits may have been in a FIFA World Cup worthy soccer scrimmage last year at a big box discounter while trying to score one of the few PlayStations that managed to make its way from China to America on one of the large container ships that wasn’t lost at sea or stuck in the Suez Canal. The good news is the resulting logjam at the shipping docks has since been cleared and all the major retailers expect to get their holiday goods on time, compared to only 53% in 2021. We rabbits aren’t getting this news, however, so about half of us are pessimistic about being able to find our desired gifts in stock.
As a young rabbit, I learned about Murphy’s law from the “Rambling Wrecks from Georgia Tech, who were all one heck of an engineer.” If you’re not familiar with Murphy, his law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” and the corollary law is “It’ll go wrong at the worst possible time and cause the most damage possible.” One would think these engineers were all chronic pessimists who saw the proverbial water glass half empty, but they would claim they’re just realists. Murphy’s Law simply reflects the natural fact we can’t control outcomes or people. Since the results of future actions can’t be avoided, you always should prepare for the worst and rejoice if the best happens instead.
I’ve always been fond of Murphy’s Law, but never more so during the holidays. Holiday festivities always include people, activities done only once a year, and often larger, unsupervised groups (often including alcohol), which means Mr. Murphy is often an uninvited guest. How he manages to sneak in, I have no idea, but he’s shown up in my rabbit den or kitchen more than once. Maybe he has an affinity for my rabbit clan, or perhaps he’s drawn to chaos and confusion. I’m not saying my rabbit family is a rowdy bunch, but we’ve always been loud and active. There’s not much difference between a whirlwind, a tornado, and my two brothers.
I don’t remember Murphy appearing at my Grand Rabbits’ celebrations, but they were of the generation who believed “little rabbits should be seen and not heard.” I imagine they showed Murphy the door if he dropped by. Likewise, when my mother began hosting the holiday meals, the Murphy drama of “anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time” also never happened. My mom took on a drill sergeant’s precision when she produced the roast beast feast.
When I bought a little house, Murphy made himself welcome. I invited friends over to decorate the Christmas tree. We stepped back to toast our creation, but the tree crashed forward to the floor, as if it were taking a bow in response. Our toast interrupted, we set the tree upright, tied it to the window handle, and resumed our toast in peace. One day I’ll tell you about my experiences of raking the roof on that little house before the rainy season set in each fall.
Murphy wouldn’t leave me alone. I moved to Texas, bought another little house, and my dear mom and dad invited themselves and my brother’s family over for a holiday feast. She pushed all the potato peels into my starter home’s basic garbage disposal and turned it on. If “Anything can go wrong at the worst possible time and cause the worst damage possible,” my dear bunny mom discovered it.
“I don’t understand; my disposal at home will handle all this.” “Yes, mother. You have a real, custom house, not a starter home. This is a baby disposal.”
Then we got the wastebasket, the pliers, and I put on my plumber’s hat. We pulled out the clog, drained the water, and put it all back together again. Mom was traumatized. Mom kept apologizing, but I reminded her, “It’s no big deal. It won’t happen again. And we have food to eat. We’ll laugh about this one day!”
Murphy still visits me on occasion. But I’ve learned to prepare for him to limit his damages. This thanksgiving I had a friend for dinner. They made a bathroom visit before they left. When I went there, I found the faucet still running and I wasn’t able to turn it off. Water was all over the floor and inside the original cabinet from 1965. I turned off the water under the sink, thinking I was glad I’d asked my plumber to give me new shutoffs when I put the new faucet in. The old ones had froze shut. I’m now brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink, but that’s all right. I’ll probably have to replace this whole thing, all for the demise of a $5 faucet washer. This is Murphy’s Law in a nutshell. Santa will have to visit Lowes or Home Depot for my Christmas gift this year. I hope I’ve been a good rabbit, as the saying goes. And my stocking is extra big.
Christmas isn’t the only holiday of December, although an estimated $942.6 billion in holiday retail sales in the United States might cause us rabbits to think otherwise. One study found that 60% of workers were more distracted and less motivated as the Christmas holidays approached, with some workers even saying this feeling started as early as November. Likewise, during the holiday time many employees will take off to spend time with family or just to enjoy the holiday. That cuts into productivity as well. We have our own Mr. Scrooge in our rabbit towns too. I have any number of rabbit buddies who need time off to hunt and be alone in the woods for a bit. I begrudge them not, as long as their spouses can take care of holidays uninterrupted.
The coming darkness of the Winter Solstice causes people all around the world to light fires and burn candles to overcome the gloom. We’ve done this for ages and in many places. In fact, humans may have observed the winter solstice as early as Neolithic period—the last part of the Stone Age—beginning about 10,200 BCE. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice celebration dedicated to the Saturn, the god of agriculture, wealth, and time. While it began as a one-day celebration in early December, this pagan festival later expanded into a riotous weeklong party stretching from December 17 to 24.
The Temple of Saturn, the oldest temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia around 497 BCE on a site originally occupied by an altar to the god. Due to the link between Saturn and agriculture, the original source of Rome’s wealth, the temple was also the repository for the State Treasury, or the Aerarium Populi Romani, which was located beneath the stairs under the high podium. It also contained the bronze tablets on which Roman law was inscribed.
The woolen bonds, which fettered the feet of the ivory cult statue of Saturn within, were loosened on the festival day to symbolize the god’s liberation. On this festival day, after a sacrifice at the temple, the people held a public banquet attended by both slave and free persons. An image of the god was placed as if in attendance at this meal, or a lectisternium (reclining on a couch), a tradition which Livy says was introduced in 397 BCE. (Others date this to 399 BCE.) The practice was introduced as a specific emergency response to a natural crisis: extremes of temperature occurring in both summer and winter had given rise to a devastating plague that had proceeded to ravage the population. It was celebrated from December 17 to 23, ending on ending on the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.
Not only were public rites celebrated with all the splendour then available, but Livy goes on to describe the general tenor of the private celebration in the late 1st C BCE (around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ):
“They also celebrated the rites in their own homes. All through the city, it is said, doors stood wide open, all kinds of food were setout for universal consumption, all comers were welcomed, whether known or not, and men even exchanged kind and civil words with personal enemies; there was a truce to quarreling and legal action; even prisoners were released from their chains for those days, and they hesitated thereafter to imprison men whom the gods had befriended.”
This ritual meal was commonly shared by the worshippers, in contrast to normal sacrifice, which distinguished human from divine portions. In other words, in the Lectisternium the gods were not only present in spirit, but in form, and they shared in the ritual meal.
The question we have to ask is how did Saturnalia move from a feast of appeasement to reduce harm to the people, to the debauchery which most history books write about today? The powers that be tried over the years to limit the length and celebratory excesses of the season, whether they were civic or religious powers. I suppose they had no counselor rabbits to advise them of Murphy’s Law: “Very little work will get done in the holiday season, and what does manage to get done will most likely need redoing in the New Year.”
By the 1st CE, Pliny, the Roman historian, was holed up in his room during Saturnalia, while the rest of the family celebrated the feasts, hijinx, and tomfoolery. In the 4th CE, the Christian church decided Christ’s birthday should be celebrated in the winter near the solstice, instead of in the more likely time of spring. The first reference to December 25 as the Nativity of Jesus occurs in a section of the Chronography of AD 354 known as the Calendar of Philocalus, which, even by this late date, still identified December 17 as ludi Saturnalia. By this time, some of the traditions of Saturnalia had already transferred into the Christian era. These were the green decorations of holly, a plant sacred to Saturn, in people’s homes; the small gifts of affection for all comers; the feasts; and the welcoming of strangers with fruit treats and nuts. Upending social conventions for a while reminds us God has no favorites, unlike our stratified social structures of the past and present.
December 17 was recognized as the date of the Saturnalia as late as 448 CE, when the ecclesiastical calendar or laterculus (“list”) of Polemius Silvius noted it as feriae servorum (“festival of the slaves”), a festival now deprived of its pagan significance. By the eighth century CE, church authorities complained how even people in Rome were still celebrating the old pagan customs associated with the Saturnalia and other winter holidays. The Temple of Saturn was largely destroyed in the mid-fifteenth century, so all that remains today is six of its Ionic granite columns crowned with a frieze thought to date to approximately 30 BCE.
As we approach the solstice time and the season of the Lord’s birth, we give thanks along with the gospel writer of John 1:5—
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Along with all my bunny friends and family, I hope you all remember what my little daughter said about that “Luke guy, who had such a big part in the Christmas Eve service” the year she learned to read:
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” — Luke 1:78-79
One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved Mr. Peabody and Sherman, who would climb into the WABAC machine after setting the controls to a time and place of historical importance. That a bow tie wearing dog had adopted a human boy never crossed my mind as being strange. It was a cartoon, after all. In the 1960’s we didn’t take cartoons as real life. We knew they were fantasy.
In times of change we always want to hold on to traditions: our rituals, our places of worship, our routines. I think the newly minted Christians in the first century, who had friendships and business relationships tied up in the pagan temple sacrificial banquets, most likely had this problem too. The temples were where they ate food sacrificed to the pagan gods, drank to celebrate new deals or cement old relationships, and soon one thing would lead to another. It was the “another” that Paul had words about, for In sharing these meals, Christians were also indulging in the sexual activities that resulted from the feast. (1 Corinthians 8)
If Christians were to live a new life and their lifestyles were to reflect this newness, they needed to make an outward change to reflect the inward transformation of their hearts. We don’t keep the old but take on a newness of heart that transforms our outer life. Consider the caterpillar. It only knows how to be a caterpillar, but it has an inner drive to spin a cocoon. Once inside, it rests, reflects, and directs its energy to becoming a new creation. Then it breaks free to become what its new and true self is meant to be. If it remains bound in a cocoon, it won’t fulfill the wonderful design of God’s best hopes and dreams for its life.
We too have to reimagine and revision our spiritual lives. I’ve always based my vision for ministry on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection: “A heart so full of love for God and neighbor that nothing else can exist.” Like the lawyer in the parable, many of us ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus and Wesley say “Everybody is our neighbor.” I’d add, even those we’re most upset with, even if they’ve part of our family and we have disagreements with them.
Most of us have a Bible, but we don’t all read the same translation and we also have major disagreements on how to interpret this holy book. A particularly fraught scripture is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (NRSV)
Wesley wrote in his Notes on the New Testament on 1 Corinthians 6:9—
“Idolatry is here placed between fornication and adultery, because they generally accompanied it. Nor the effeminate—Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good-natured, harmless people are ranked with idolaters and sodomites! We may learn hence, that we are never secure from the greatest sins, till we guard against those which are thought the least; nor, indeed, till we think no sin is little, since every one is a step toward hell.”
In Wesley’s Notes on The Entire Bible, of which his Notes on the New Testament is part of our United Methodist Doctrinal standards, he also reminds us, “ Fornication—The original word implies criminal conversation of any kind whatever.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)
That was Wesley in 1754, or the mid 18th century, but most modern Wesleyans today would be shocked at that interpretation of this text. Interestingly, Wesley departed from the KJV in over 12,000 instances in his Notes on the NT. Wesley valued the Authorised Version of the Bible (KJV), but he always preferred to study the Scriptures in their original languages over any and all translations. If we’re traditionalists, we need to remember Wesley was a radical in his time. As Albert Outler was always keen to remind Methodists, Wesley looked better without his halo.
A later day hero was my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham. As his research assistant at Perkins, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn from his thought and appreciate the early church fathers and mothers. Through him I was privileged to meet and learn from Dr. Roberta Bondi, a noted expert on early church history. I learned from Billy about differing views of scriptural authority and from Roberta how a heart of love and mercy helps us live in community.
I decided I’d go with Wesley’s view: “The Bible contains everything necessary for salvation.” This meant I didn’t have to get into creationist arguments because that’s not going to interfere with anyone’s salvation. Of course, that was the big issue a quarter century ago. Even our disagreements change over time. I learned to pray from Dr. Bondi, “Help us to love one another as God loves us.”
When we read scripture in translation, we read from the vantage point of our times and our context. We don’t have a 1960’s Rocky and Bullwinkle WABAC machine to visit the historical people who wrote the Bible. (If only we could time travel!) Only by studying the life and times of that era can we read with a clearer mind what the original authors meant. Even then, we’re caught up in the translation, for we don’t have many full copies of the holy books from the earliest times. Our earliest complete New Testament dates from the 4th century, long after Christ and the first apostles walked these rocks and clods we call earth.
Then too, we have concepts today which ancient people hadn’t yet conceived. In Roman times, which is the time of the earliest New Testament writings, the day was divided into watches or hours. We think of those hours as having 60 minutes each, but they had no mechanical clocks for precision time keeping. The sundial kept the hour count, so a summer day had long watch hours, while a winter day had shorter ones. Since everyone was on the same system, everyone was on time, or they were late if they were my ancestors.
We all read the same Bible, but we have different translations in our hands. I choose the NRSV because it’s a modern translation that’s as literal as possible and as free as necessary, unlike the NIV, which is a dynamic translation or one that seeks to make the best readable sense of the text. Those translators have to make decisions on how to render rare words in the text. For instance, the word “arsenokoitai,” which shows up in two different verses in the bible, wasn’t translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946. It appears in the RSV, whereas in the KJV, the word gets translated as “nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (or to put it less delicately—trigger warning—masturbation).
How was the word translated previously? It referred to the common Greek practice of pederasty: adult male love for younger boys, which everyone today would be opposed to and disgusted by this cultural practice once common in Greek society. Abuse of youths by adults is something all of us can dislike because that experience isn’t a relationship of equals. One has too much power, authority, and dominance over the other. For the same reason we object to other unequal sexual relationships: clergy and laity, counselors and campers, teachers and students, bosses and employees, and so on.
This particular word shows up exactly two times in the whole Bible. It’s now translated as “sodomites.” This too is an unfortunate translation, since the sin of Sodom wasn’t homosexuality, but the townspeople’s failure to respect the laws of hospitality. When the visitors came under Lot’s protection in his home, the townies gathered outside his door and begged to have their sport with his guests. We’re horrified Lot would offer up his own daughters, but in that day and time, protecting the honor of the patriarch’s offer of hospitality to strangers was more important than anything that happened to the women of the household. We don’t have to like the culture as it was back then to get the lesson of “entertaining angels unawares.” This is an instance we’re glad fathers today have respect both for their guests and their daughters. Cultures change and we’re very glad for that.
The word “μαλακός” or Malakos refers to something soft and effeminate. It could refer to silk clothing or to an adult man who shaved his beard or grew long hair. In the Ancient Greek society, once a boy grew a beard, he was no longer subjected to pederastic abuse. Instead, he passed “the gift on” to the next generation. We’re well aware today how child abuse is generational. This is what Paul railed about in this text.
When the holidays crank up, the greedy, drunkards, and maybe a few adulterers and fornicators will go to town. The angry criticizers will probably be driving the bus and the swindlers (robbers: ἅρπαγες) will be grifting the unsuspecting flock as they barrel along. We don’t have any temples with male prostitutes as the ancient Greek cities once had. There were also women prostitutes serving at these temples, so everyone had their pick when visiting with a celebrant for an intercession with the gods. I’m really glad our current clergy orders don’t include this ritual as part of “pastoral care.” Culture changes. Maybe today’s clergy body is glad this duty isn’t added to their holiday activities.
It’s good the culture has changed from that of Rome and Athens of the first century. In fact, culture keeps on changing all the time. This is why Jesus spoke of “new wine in new wine skins.” We’re no longer a first century church, but some principles still apply. We can’t pour the new wine into an old skin, or the fermentation will burst open the weak old skin. This is why we are a new and changing church, for just as butterflies break out of their cocoons, we too have to break free from what has bound us in a past time. The Holy Spirit keeps refreshing and invigorating a living community, whether it worships in a tent, a rented room, or in a set place.
Now we look forward, to a new land, a new existence, and new possibilities. If we hear the voice of God, we hear the calling: “Go to the land I will show you.” God has always led God’s people in every place and in every time. God has brought God’s people through good times and bad, through war and peace, and in exile to the promised land. We can trust God to be faithful once again.
Joy, peace, and hope,
Drinking cup (kylix) depicting an erotic scene of Eros and a youth Signed by: Douris: clay, Greek, made in Attica, Athens, Late Archaic Period, about 490–485 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
Two-handled storage jar (pelike) depicting young athletes jumping Circle of Euthymides (Greek), Archaic Period, about 520–515 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
Drinking cup (kylix) depicting pentathletes Onesimos: Greek, Late Archaic Period, about 500–490 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.
STRONGS NT 3120: μαλακός μαλακός, μαλακή, μαλακον, soft; soft to the touch: ἱμάτια, Matthew 11:8 R G L brackets; Luke 7:25 (ἱματίων πολυτελῶν καί μαλακων, Artemidorus Daldianus, oneir. 1, 78; ἐσθής, Homer, Odyssey 23, 290; Artemidorus Daldianus, oneir. 2, 3; χιτών, Homer, Iliad 2, 42); and simply τά μαλακά, soft raiment (see λευκός, 1): Matthew 11:8 T Tr WH.
Like the Latin mollis, metaphorically, and in a bad sense: effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Corinthians 6:9 (Dionysius Halicarnassus, Antiquities 7, 2 under the end; ((Diogenes Laërtius 7, 173 at the end)).
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: effeminate, soft. Of uncertain affinity; soft, i.e. Fine (clothing); figuratively, a catamite — effeminate, soft.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, STRONGS NT 733: ἀρσενοκοίτης 733 arsenokoítēs (from 730 /árrhēn, “a male” and 2845 /koítē, “a mat, bed”) – properly, a man in bed with another man; a homosexual. ἀρσενοκοίτης, ἀρσενοκοιτου, ὁ (ἄρσην a male; κοίτη a bed), one who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite: 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10. (Anthol. 9, 686, 5; ecclesiastical writings.)
In my family, we didn’t break out the seasonal decorations or fashions until Thanksgiving Day. My mother put her knitting hobby to good use one year and made Christmas sweaters for all of us. She practiced on mine, so I got the baggy sleeves and an oversized middle. At least she got her stitch gauge down pat on my “ugly sweater.”
I wore it every Thanksgiving, while she still lived, just for her, for without my mother I wouldn’t be the person I am today. If there were a sweater made for her, it would be this one I found at my local Wally World: “Gonna Lay Under The Tree To Remind My Family I Am A Gift.”
We all have holiday traditions, whether these belong to Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Christmas. These bind us together, as a family and as a community. This year I decided to buy my holiday stamps with Kwanzaa illustrations on them. I admit, my cataracts are bad enough now I thought I was looking at a black Angel with lighted candles. I wondered why the postal clerk was questioning my choice. Why can’t I have Kwanzaa stamps? Maybe I need to go back in and buy the blue and silver stamps also.
This might be a year to make some new traditions, especially if during the past few years some of us have lost someone near and dear to us. Also, the economy has had a big impact, so focusing on togetherness rather than on materialism is a good choice. In the Great Depression, my dad asked only for a book for himself and his brother, and a fresh orange, if possible.
My mother, crafty lady that she was, made me this cross stitch one year for my birthday. All of us are gifted, even if not all of us have the same gifts or in the same amount. What we do with our gifts is the more important matter. A very gifted person who wastes their gift will benefit the world less than an average gifted person who works hard and has good people skills. Sometimes these are called under achievers and over achievers. As a former teacher, I don’t believe in the concept of “over achieving.” I do believe most of us underperform because we are afraid to fail.
Failing is how we discover what doesn’t work. Unless we’re playing with dynamite, failure won’t kill us. In sales, every time someone says NO to a presentation, the salesperson is another step closer to a YES. We think we’re too young, too old, or too something else to do what we really want to do in life. Sometimes the people around us tell us we can’t do the greater things we dream about. That was not my mother, or my dad. Daddy might have had reservations, but mother always said, “Honey, you should go for it.”
I drove alone to California last month without an advance plan for where I’d spend each night. I made reservations around lunchtime when I knew how far I’d journey that day. I have all the apps, just like the young people. I hiked in national parks, saw volcanoes, got caught in a snow storm, and paid through the nose for gasoline in the Nevada desert. I saw sea otters in the Pacific Ocean, hugged my grand kids, and learned I can do this. Yes, I wanted to go now, for driving nearly 7,000 miles is hard on the body. Full disclosure: I took a week to recuperate! Or maybe it was getting a month’s worth laundry done which finally did me in. I was glad to do it, and especially glad I didn’t let anyone talk me out of it.
I hope you choose to be a gift to others. If you don’t have a parent who encourages you to be more than others think you are, I offer my mother as a gift to you. I can share her with the world, for I keep sharing her wisdom here and there. Whatever you choose, l hope you choose to be a gift that gives to others.
Today marks one week since our most recent election. Many races have been decided, while some are due for an automatic recount due to the close vote. At least one senate race will have a runoff between the top two candidates (Georgia), as some races haven’t been decided at all, since the vote counters took Veteran’s Day and Sunday off. Then we have all the legal, but late arriving mail-in ballots from the military and overseas residents. These too need counting. We’ll know the final, final results sometime after December 6th, when Georgia results are in.
Pundits on the left and right can give you commentary ad nauseam for the duration with breaking news alerts or standing up for what’s right(wing). They’ll talk demographics, policies, and statistics, but you won’t get that commentary here. I’m more interested in the deep derivations of the arcana of the day. Arcana is that mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate —usually used in plural. The singular arcanus, is from the Latin, arca, chest. It was first used in the 15th century.
Of course, the conspiracy mongers among us are busy weaving tales of hanky panky. As an aside, my spell check wants to make this phrase “hanky pancakes.” I’ll check in with Cornie’s Kitchen to see if there’s any special ingredient for making hanky panky pancakes. Hanky pank once referred to any of the various carnival games in which contestants might win small prizes for the exercise of simple skills (such as dart throwing). State Fair enthusiasts who succumbed to the barkers of carnival games might, if they were lucky, grab a few of these prizes, but as in casino betting, the wise player remembers the house usually wins. It’s an old word, dating from the 1840’s, maybe related to Hokey Pokey. Both these words referred to trouble making bordering on the illegal, if not out right against the law.
This is why your parents warned you not to run away and join a traveling circus or side show, as “There’s hanky panky going on there, child, and you’ll come to no good!” Not that I ever tied a peanut butter sandwich up in a bandana and walked away from home, or at least I got as far as that sandwich took me, which was to the end of the city block. Hot summer days can change a child’s mind about running away from home.
Those trading in false tales were known as mongers, from which we get the word “costermongers,” or apple sellers. In the 1510s, “itinerant apple-seller” was formed from coster (a type of apple ) + monger (“to traffic in, deal in,” often implying a petty or disagreeable traffic, by 1897). The sense extended from “apple-seller” to “hawker of fruits and vegetables,” to any salesman who plied his wares from a street-cart. Contemptuous use is as old as Shakespeare: “Virtue is of so little regard in these coster-monger times, that true valour is turn’d bear-herd” (2 Henry IV), but the reason for it is unclear.
But I come not to bury America, but to praise her, especially the American democratic project, which so far has earned the distinction of having the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. It was written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and has been in operation since 1789. We’ve celebrated 233 years of our unique brand of representational democracy. We aren’t ruled by mobs/anarchy, nor by a wealthy few/oligarchy, or even by one/autocracy, but by all who vote/democracy. As Whitman writes, we must be careful to distinguish between the “chosen” and the “act of choosing.” It’s not the winning candidate which represents the “heart”of our democratic achievement, but rather the “quadriennial choosing” itself.
If you follow my musings, you’ve probably guessed Whitman is a favorite poet, and the varied landscape is a renewing and inspiring source of reconnecting with a creator God. I recently took a vacation to California and photographed some of our great national parks in the month I took off to see America. On my journey, I met generous, kind, and decent people everywhere I went. May God bless America and use her bounty and her people to bring peace and prosperity to the nations of the world. I hope my images do justice to Whitman’s words.
Election Day, November, 1884 By Walt Whitman
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show, ‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado, Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing, Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream: —This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day, (The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,) The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California, The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict, The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict, Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all, Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross: —Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—. while the heart pants, life glows: These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships, Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.