I Shouldn’t Wine About this, But…

In the Christmas season, our office is full of gifts from vendors.  As expected, the Purchasing Department gets the most stuff, because, well, they buy the most stuff.  And most of it is food.  So if I visit that department enough, I don’t even need to buy lunch.

But sometimes even us engineers get a present.  Like this bottle of local wine a vendor sent me, as a token of appreciation for buying his equipment. It is called “Duct Tape Red”.  Unfortunately, this vendor is not from a place known for its wines, so our family of wine snobs did not give it the greatest reviews.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t write a blurb for it.  So here goes:

“Like its namesake, this red wine fixes everything, at least for a few hours, if used in large enough quantities.  With hints of its namesake, cranberries, and Gatorade, it is best enjoyed in a Red Solo cup, over ice, in large quantities, after a nasty break-up, the death of one’s favorite ‘Walking Dead’ character,” or despair over the results of the last election.”

I think it will be OK if we add some juices and make sangria out of it.

Why is Christmas on December 25?

Many people will say that December 25 (or January 6, if you are Eastern Orthodox) is a made-up date for Jesus’ birthday. They will say that Christians chose the day, not because it was Jesus birthday, but because it was the same time as Saturnalia. The idea is that Christians picked the date either to replace the pagan feast day, or to be able to celebrate something on that day in order to evade persecution. So, when was Jesus really born?

In Luke’s gospel, there are some hints at the real date of Jesus’ birth. Luke is the gospel writer who is most detail oriented, and the most likely to tie events to secular history. For example, in Luke 2:1-3, we know that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem as a result of a census. If we knew from Roman history when the census was, we would at least be able to place the date of Jesus’ birth within a season. Lacking this, however, we can begin to work backwards.

The people at that time believed that it took nine months (270 days) from conception to birth. This is not exactly right (at least these days), but it is fairly close.

Luke 1:26-38 records Gabriel’s message to Mary. There are two chronological clues here. One is that this event happened “in the sixth month” (v. 26). I have two commentaries (William Hendrickson and Matthew Henry) that say this is referring to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but it could also mean the sixth month of the year. The other clue is that Elizabeth is in her “sixth month” of pregnancy when Gabriel spoke to Mary. For this to work, we need to assume that Mary conceived very shortly after Gabriel appeared, it is sixth months from Elizabeth’s conception of John the Baptist to Mary’s conception of Jesus.

So we know that John the Baptist was conceived 15 months before Jesus was born.

If we continue backwards, we note that John the Baptist’s father was Zecharias, a priest of “the division of Abijah.” This means almost nothing to the modern reader, but for a reader in Luke’s time this meant a lot. There were many priests by this time, and they had to take turns ministering in the temple. If you knew which division a priest came from, you could figure out when he served at the Temple. It was believed that a priest ended his service in the Temple at the end of a Jewish calendar year.

There is another assumption at work here. The calculation assumes that Zecharias, shortly after his vision, went home, and that John the Baptist was conceived shortly thereafter. This is not a bad assumption.

So if we follow these dates, working backwards from December 25, we get:

Gabriel appears to Mary (March 25)

Angel appears to Zecharias (September 25 of previous year).

There is an ancient church document (“De Solstitiis”) which works with the assumption that Zecharias completed his term of service in the Temple on this date (which is also when the Jewish year changes over.)

Here are some notes from a lecture by Dr. Jack Kinneer (Origins of Christmas) that explain how and when Christmas originated, and how the dates were calculated. This focuses on how the date was derived using biblical data.

Here is another article (Calculating Christmas, by William J. Tighe) which looks at other ways that the date of Christmas was calculated.

In conclusion, the date of Christmas that we celebrate may not be right, but it was a good educated guess by teachers in the Ancient Church. It was not a date picked because of its association with a pagan holiday. (In fact, the reverse may be true.) To get this date, they used information from the Bible, plus knowledge of Jewish practices, plus some assumptions that were common at the time.

Sympathy for the Debbie (Wasserman Schultz, That Is)

Poor Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla). In a recent New York Times interview, she made a remark about younger women, who are apparently not so excited about Hillary:

Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide? Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.

For this comment, a number of conservatives are annoyed, but fragile young leftist women, feeling hurt by her comments, are now screaming for her head.   Sometimes the revolution eats its own.

Like most Floridians, she can sense when the sharks are in the water, so she quickly backtracked with a few tweets like this, where she tried to identify herself with this younger generation:

I want to be clear about this: Many in *my generation* got complacent after Roe, thinking the fight for safe, legal abortion was over. 1/6

What she said in the New York Times interview and what she said in her Tweet can only both be true if she is less than 43 years old.  Which she obviously isn’t.

As a conservative who is amused by her stumbles, and as a father of young ladies, I am happy to help explain this “complacency” among young women.  It is not so much “complacency” as it is a sharp division of opinion.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz is surely aware that children tend to be like their parents.  This may be why, in a moment when her Jewishness trumped her liberalism, she was caught on tape saying that intermarriage was “a problem” for Jewish people.  Children of interfaith marriages tend to leave Judaism because they were not fully raised in it.  She is right about this, though her thought is hardly original, and when confronted, she backtracked again.  Heck, Moses, Ezra, and Nehemiah said that it was a bad idea for Jews to marry non-Jews, unless they converted first.

Now, if children tend to grow up sharing the beliefs of their parents, then let’s apply this thought to the issue of beliefs about abortion.  If you attend a pro-life event, you will typically see a lot of young people and moms pushing strollers.  This is because, on average, pro-life people tend to have more babies (this is not just a Catholic phenomenon), who have a good chance of growing up to be pro-life.

In contrast, while some of the children of strongly pro-choice parents hold their parents’ views, many of the children of strongly pro-choice parents are not politically active at all.  In fact, they are not active at all, because they were never born.  And so there is evidence that the younger generation, despite being more liberal on most social issues, is more conservative on abortion than the generation before it.

So Debbie, lighten up.  The problem is not complacency, it is that your side is making yourselves extinct by putting your views into practice.  This is unfortunate, but you cannot say that we pro-lifers failed to warn you.

 

Gunshots in Mom’s Neighborhood, Again

How did you react to the title of this post?

Some of you had an immediate negative reaction.  Maybe you just don’t like guns.  But more likely, you formed an image in your head of where my mom lives.  If she lived in the city, like I do, gunshots would obviously be a very bad thing.

It is true that the last time we went to visit my mother, we heard the sound of gunshots in her neighborhood, again.

But my mom lives way out in the country.  She and my stepfather have 50 acres of land, with two farm ponds, 3 gardens, chickens (sometimes), some farmland, and some woods.  Their “backyard” borders state game lands, so in the fall there are hunters, and that includes family members.  On many Saturdays, some of the neighbors will be target shooting.  Perhaps my brother will be giving shooting lessons to my son.  And if a groundhog shows up near the garden, we have ways of discouraging it.

If you hear gunshots at their house, it is just a normal part of life, and it is not a sign that anyone is up to no good, or that anyone is in danger.

City life and country life are different, and thinking people have realized this ever since there have been cities.  It has always been the case that the people in the city make the laws, and the people in the country make the food.  Most of the time, the people who make the laws have been able to appreciate the difference between the lifestyles.

However, we currently have an increase in tensions between city and country, and gun laws are a symptom of that tension.  If you are from the country, you will think of guns in terms of their recreational and practical uses.  If you are from the city, you are more likely to associate guns with crime.  In at least two states (New York) and Colorado) the urban majority has passed gun laws that the rural areas are just plain ignoring.  Our urban-minded President’s latest executive orders, which may be harder to ignore, will still face court challenges for the remainder of his term, and they will be wildly unpopular in rural areas, where murder rates are low.

Ironically, despite his stated intentions, these orders will primarily affect law-abiding rural and middle class gun buyers while leaving urban criminals’ gun-buying habits untouched.

Resolutions for 2016

I have posted these in the past, and it has been somewhat helpful.

1. Write more, whether or not it is at this blog.

2. Set aside some money every month to spend on home improvement/maintenance, and then do the work. This worked in the year I tried it.

3. Be more intentional about charitable giving.

4.  And last, but not least.  Catch a steelhead in every stream in Erie County.

A Visit From the Jehovah’s Witnesses

It has been a while since my last visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They appear just like the Spanish Inquisition – when you least expect them.  They may have visited Jane in the last decade, but she just sends them away, and that is fine.  But I will talk to them when I get the chance.

So the two middle aged guys in suits (two there are always – a master and an apprentice) knocked on the door after I was working on the roof, and my clothing was rather dirty and extremely casual.  But hey, it was break time, and I needed an excuse to not go on to the next task.  And it was better for them to waste their time trying to convert me, not the neighbors.

Like the 19th century door to door salesmen that inspired their evangelistic methods, they quickly tried to find common ground where we agreed.  In this case, they wanted to assure me that they believe the Bible is the Word of God.  (Though, if you inquire enough, you will find that their authority is the Watchtower Society, and their own peculiar translation of the Bible, but they won’t tell you that up front.)  They showed me their copy of The Watchtower magazine, which was about the topic of anxiety.  Coincidentally we had just covered a similar topic in our Bible study group.

I told them that I had not spoken with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a few years, and asked if any of their beliefs had changed in the last decade or so.  They didn’t think anything major had changed.

So I mentioned that I knew of JW lady who had believed that Armageddon would happen in 1975, and had sold all her possessions to prepare for the event.  (The Watchtower strongly implied that Armageddon would happen in 1975.)  Did they now have another date that they thought would be the end?

They told me that the organization had decided that there would be no more predicting of the date when Jehovah returns in judgment.  They did this a few times in the 20th century because they believed that the 144,000 believers who were mentioned in Revelation were all gathered in by 1914, and that some of them would be alive on the earth when Jesus returned to earth.  So therefore the end had to be near, and they thought that certain years would be important.

This discussion led naturally to their idea that there are two classes of believers.  In their theology, the 144,000 are special believers who go to heaven, and other believers can only hope to “live forever in paradise on earth,” as their book of the same title promises.  I asked them if they still believed that the last of the “144,000” were all alive in 1914, as they used to believe, and if they still believed that Armageddon would happen  before this group had all died. Also, were there still only 144,000 of them, or if that number, which comes from Revelation, had been deemeed to be metaphorical.  They said that very recently, they had gained new understanding that some of the 144,000 were born after 1914, and were still alive.  They still hold to the idea that there are only 144,000 who will go to heaven when they die, and the rest of us can only hope to “live forever in Paradise on Earth.”  Neither of them expected to go to heaven, and they did not know anyone locally who did have that expectation.

Next I asked them about a very old copy of the Watchtower that I had seen (the quote, from 1904, is in this link), that said that in the New Earth, black people might lose their pigmentation and become white. They assured me that such a teaching was from a long time ago, and that they surely did not believe that now.  I assured them that I believed them when they said their organization had changed their minds about racial matters.

And then we switched to their idea of salvation.  I asked them if they still had the same approximate idea of how to be saved.  Basically, they think that Jesus’ sacrificial death is good enough to give people a second chance.  (In theological terms, this is the Pelagian heresy on steroids.)  If you are good enough, then you get resurrected after Armageddon ends the world as we currently know it.  (God will do an “Extreme Home Makeover” on the world at about that time.)  Then, you have a 1,000 year probation period where you are supposed to be instructed in righteousness, and become good enough to pass the final test.  Then, if you fail, you are annihilated, but if you pass, you “live forever in paradise on earth.”  Unless you were part of the 144,000, in which case, you go to heaven more or less directly, and you don’t seem to have to worry about failure.

I then asked them about what Paul said to the Ephesians.  For the JWs, salvation is something they hope to have in the future, by being obedient enough.  But Paul said to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  (Eph. 2:8-9.)  Now a lot of people would talk about faith vs. works here, and they probably expected that.  But we talked about how Paul could speak of salvation already having happened to us, but the JWs can only hope for salvation in the future, if they earn it.

Doug (the more talkative one) suggested that Paul was only writing to the 144,000 here.  I countered that Paul did not know all the Ephesians, so he could not have known his audience well enough to make that judgment.  He continued to insist that the Ephesians were all of the 144,000, but then I told him that if that was true, then the letter to the Ephesians was not for us, because it was telling us things that were not true for today’s believers, including him and me.  And that would mean that Scripture could not be clear to us.  He did get the point.

Their time was almost up, and I needed to get back to yardwork too, so I tried to leave them with the following thought.  We had seen that their idea of the end times had changed in the last few years, and we had seen that their ideas about race had changed in the last decades.

Therefore, I suggested to them, their ideas about salvation could very well change, and in fact they needed to change, so that they would be more in line with the Bible.

I will speak to them more if they come back, but I think that I may not see them for another decade.

The New York Times’ Unintentional Compliment to Catholics

Sometimes, someone pays you a compliment without intending to.

Niki Johnson has created a portrait of Pope (emeritus) Benedict, using multi-colored condoms as her medium, naming the portrait “Eggs Benedict.”  The New York Times decided to publish a picture of her work on Monday.  In the past, they have published other artwork offensive to Christians, including Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a painting of Christ’s mother “fashioned entirely out of feces and adorned with cutouts of genitalia from pornographic magazines.”  Lovely.

Meanwhile, they decided not to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons because these cartoon might offend someone.  Apparently, these cartoons are intentionally provocative, but “Eggs Benedict” is not.  Of course, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are more newsworthy, since they inspired an actual terrorist attack.

Now, we could complain about the obvious anti-Christian bigotry at the Times, and we might even have a point.  But we could also see it a different way.

The people at the New York Times, and the artist who created “Eggs Benedict”, are basically cowards.

Let’s suppose that Ms. Haley, inspired by the success of “Eggs Benedict”, decided to create a similar picture of Mohammed.  However, instead of using condoms, perhaps she could use bacon, cooked to various levels of crispness and darkness.  She could arrange these slices of bacon as a mosaic, and call the resulting piece of artwork “Bacon Mohammed.”  She could display it, and offer to donate it to a gallery, and the New York Times could run a story about it.  They would surely show the picture when reporting about the controversy, right?

Wrong.  Ms. Haley would have a fatwa pronounced against her, she would hire a bodyguard, and she would go into hiding for the rest of her miserable life.  The NYT would be afraid to publish a picture of the work, because they would not want to invite another Charlie Hebdo incident.

However, when it comes to running items offensive to Catholics, they know that if they insult the Roman Catholic Church, or a Pope, or Mary, or Jesus, the worst thing that will happen to them is that some Catholics will complain.  And that will be good for publicity.

If you are a Roman Catholic, you can take that as a compliment.  Basically, they trust that you will turn the other cheek.