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.

Where Jesus Came From – Notes From Matthew 1

A few months ago I taught a few Sunday School lessons from Matthew’s gospel.  I intended to publish some of my observations from preparing these lessons, but I have been busy procrastinating.  Anyhow, here are some notes from Chapter 1, which contains the genealogy of Jesus.

The gospel writers each have a personality, and Matthew’s is perhaps the most interesting of all.  In my college New Testament class, ages ago, they taught me that Matthew was the most “Hebrew” of the gospels.  Matthew quotes the Old Testament regularly, with the familiarity of one who has learned it from his youth.  And yet, Matthew was a tax collector before being called to be a disciple.  (Mt. 9:9.) Where does he come by this intimate knowledge of the Old Testament?  How did he ever fall into tax collecting?  I suspect there is an interesting back story here.

Another thing that you notice in Matthew’s gospel is that while he aims his gospel at an audience that is familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, he has a certain attitude toward that audience, or at least the part of that audience that does not accept Christianity. His gospel will frequently challenge, or even shock, a Jewish audience.  Even the genealogy is arranged in a way that they may find shocking.

Both Matthew and Luke have genealogies.  Luke’s works backwards from Jesus to Adam, and includes only men.  Matthew’s works forward from Abraham, consistent with his message to his Jewish audience.  Notably, he includes five women:

1.  Tamar, who begot Perez by a desperate act of prostitution.

2.  Rahab, described in the Bible as a harlot, who spied for Israel against Jericho.  She was saved from the destruction of Jericho and married an Israelite named Salmon, and they had a son named Boaz.

3.  Ruth, a foreigner who came to Israel, married Boaz, and had a book of the Bible named after her.  When you think about it, it is amazing that a story about King David’s great-grandmother got preserved.  Why is this poor widow’s story preserved, only to have her name pop up over 1,000 years later?

4.  Bathsheba, the wife of a foreigner (and possibly a foreigner herself), who committed adultery with David.

5.  Mary.

The inclusion of foreign women in the genealogy is meant to humble the Jewish audience, who are prone to trust in their ancestry and status as “God’s chosen people.” In fact, Matthew observes, “pure blood” apparently does not count for much, and foreigners participated in the Messianic line, and will be blessed by the resulting Savior.

Insomnia…

[Note:  The following post represents the actual thinking of me during an episode of insomnia, slightly edited.  Insomnia affects millions of Americans, and you should contribute to Insomnia Awareness by worrying about it at 3 a.m. tomorrow morning. No, just kidding about that, and you should probably not finish that 20 oz. cup of coffee if it is past noon.]

Maybe it was the Rum and Coke. Jane, who appears to be sleeping peacefully, has a theory that the Rum cancels out the Coke, so there is no net effect on one’s ability to sleep. That seems to be working for her, but…

I am bigger than her (and that is good, and I REALLY don’t want that to change), but that means my liver is bigger than hers, and that means the Rum is gone (“Why is the Rum gone?”) from my system faster, leaving only the caffeine in the Coke to keep me awake.   Maybe I need twice as much rum to make the formula work.  Of course that has other problems, like turning me into a complete scoundrel.  Why oh why do I need to have a scientific explanation for this? Maybe that’s my real problem.

I finally get relaxed. Well, almost relaxed. It’s 1 a.m., and I just noticed that the bed is creaking. I bet I could fix this in the afternoon, and I am sure I won’t remember it then, or it won’t seem important. I never noticed it before, but it seems like my breathing, Jane’s breathing, and Atticus (the cat) in a certain place sets up some sort of weird harmonic, and the bed is creaking softly.   There, the scientific explanation again. I wish I was either better or worse at science. Then maybe I could move the cat to a spot that would damp out the vibrations, or I would just stop thinking about the problem and realize that Atticus the cat won’t stay anywhere.  He’s a cat, not a counterweight.

It is just a bit too warm to sleep. Why is it 55 in January anyhow? Maybe I should wear a bit less sleepwear. I take off my sweatshirt. Now I am cold. I snuggle up to Jane. Now she wiggles and turns. She stops wiggling and I relax. I feel consciousness slipping away. Now my nose itches and I have to unsnuggle (is that a word?) to scratch the itch. I don’t want to ruin her sleep so I roll to the other side of the bed. I bump into Atticus. Now I am too warm again. Do men my age get hot flashes?

Did I mention worries? I have a few, and when you are half asleep, it is easy to make new ones. They don’t even need to make sense. Just take two completely innocuous facts, string them together, and come to a dire conclusion. The closer you are to being asleep, the better your worry generator works.  If it gets really good, you can even worry about the lives of fictional characters.  Will Hercule Poirot be able to clear Mr. Bates of the suspicious death of Mr. Green?

Since I am not sleeping, let’s try praying. This seems like a plan. There is enough to pray about, for sure, and as the Psalmist says, “The Lord gives His beloved sleep.” (Just not tonight.) Also, the Devil might not want me praying, so maybe he will try to put me to sleep to distract me from praying. Either way, I win.  At 1:30 a.m., this seems like sound theological reasoning.

Alas, old Scratch must be thinking a few moves ahead.  There are other ways to distract me. One of these is sending his minion, the cat, walking on top of me. Usually Atticus takes a few steps on me before using my pillow as a springboard to get on to the window sill. Our (step) Father (step), who (step)… never mind.

I am sorry, I should not have said that mean thing about Atticus.  He is a Loki-worshiper.

Maybe I need a snack to get me sleepy, even though I don’t feel hungry.  And I can check on the status of the kitchen ceiling repair while I am up there. Did the plaster patch really stay up in the ceiling, or did it collapse under the force of gravity? Watching plaster dry might even be soporific. Maybe I can sleep on the sofa. It won’t be good for my back, but then again, the snack won’t be so good for my waist. Oh wait, the cat has moved to the sofa.  So much for that idea. Let’s try the bed again…

It’s 2:30 a.m., and I crawl into bed…

World War D (A Fishing Misadventure)

So Christopher and I decided to go fishing on Saturday morning.  There is a fish called a Burbot, which is like a freshwater cod, and they are supposed to be best to catch off of North and South Piers at this time of year.  They like the cold water, and they like to be in the deeper waters at the end of the channel at the tip of Presque Isle.

They are also supposed to feed at dawn and dusk, so we got up before 6:00 to get some bait and be on the pier before sunrise.  We stopped at Presque Isle Angler to get a dozen minnows.  I guess the guy thought business would be slow, and he needed to move his stock, so he must have put 5 dozen minnows in the bucket.  (If Krispy Kreme were so generous, we would all weigh 400 pounds.)  Then we proceeded to South Pier (see the map on page 3 of this link if you want to know where we were), ready to freeze our butts off to catch a few of these critters.

The parking lot was empty, and we were a bit scared of going out on the pier alone in the dark.  Especially since I have just finished two P.D. James novels recently.  But we got our gear and walked out on the pier as day was beginning to break.  They say that you are supposed to be near the end of the pier for best results, and that is about a quarter mile walk, so we trudged out in the cold, darkness, and wind.

We were just about to bait our hooks when IT happened.  We had forgotten that it was still deer season, and Presque Isle State Park was having their annual deer hunt.  They have a special 3 day hunt every year to keep the herd at a reasonable level, so the deer don’t defoliate the park and then starve.  The hunt is special because since the city is nearby, they have to use only short range weapons.  We did not remember this at the time, because our brains were frozen.

At 7:30, it was apparently light enough for the hunt to start, and we heard about 10 shots go off within a few seconds.  BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!  Just like the hunting scene in Bambi.  The shots were probably a mile away, but the sound carried very well across the bay, and then echoed off the shore, so each shot sounded like two shots and it also sounded like a gun battle was starting on the Lower East Side too.

Since we felt surrounded, and one point of fishing is to be somewhere peaceful and quiet, we skedaddled back off the pier, like soldiers running across an open field between trenches in WWI, though we were really in no danger at all.  We tried fishing in another spot, but it was not the same, so we came home for second breakfast shortly thereafter.

Unspoiling “Death Comes to Pemberley”

It is a good thing that I am a lapsed football fan.  Last night, I could have watched the Steelers put a whupping on the Ravens.  But instead, I yielded to the female side of the household and watched the BBC adaptation of P.D. James’ novel “Death Comes to Pemberley. ”

In case you are tempted to watch this mini-series, I humbly offer you this review.  If you are a Jane Austen fan, or a P.D. James fan, or both, I strongly caution you to have several drinks before watching this.  Then you may find it humorous.

Warning:  This review contains spoilers of the mini-series, but not of the book.

P.D. James’ novel is a fictional account of the world of “Pride and Prejudice”, set about 6 years in the future.  Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have married, and they are settled at Pemberley, living happily ever after.  But since this is a P.D. James novel, at least one murder must occur, and it happens on the grounds of Pemberley.  Many of the old characters from Pride and Prejudice make an appearance here as the local magistrate attempts to solve the crime, and the residents of Pemberley undergo a severe crisis.

Jane Austen fans will have their opinions about how well P.D. James does at portraying Jane Austen’s characters at this later stage in their lives.  However, there is no doubt that the BBC adaptation does violence both to P.D. James’s novel and to Jane Austen’s characters that the novel is based on.

Here are just a few of the problems with this mini-series, where it varies from the novel in a bad way:

1.  First, the minor stuff.  Elizabeth Darcy is not pretty enough.  Mr. Darcy fell in love with a woman of much lower social standing than himself because he noticed her, and he noticed her because of her fine eyes, among other things.  Mr. Darcy might have fallen in love with this Elizabeth, but first he would have to notice her, and he would not have noticed her because of the social barriers between them.

I contrast, Lydia Wickham looked too well.  I understand that Mrs. Wickham would be one to spend too much money on fancy clothing, but the fact is that after living in relative poverty with Mr. Wickham for 6 years, she should look a bit more careworn.

The married women in this adaptation do not wear bonnets.  Come on, BBC, you know how women dressed during this period.  But now on to the more serious stuff.

2.  In the novel, Elizabeth does not become “the detective.”  She is a much more of a “supportive wife” throughout the book, not Nancy Drew. Oh, and she and Mr. Darcy’s relationship is not strained by this event.

3.  In the novel, Mr. Darcy does not push Georgiana into an engagement with someone she does not love, even though she loves someone else who is quite respectable.  Nor does he reverse himself shortly thereafter,  causing the engagement to be broken.  That is just not something Mr. Darcy would do.

4.  In the novel, there is a minister at the prison who plays an important role in solving the mystery.  He is completely cut out of the mini-series.  Without this character, Elizabeth has to resort to being Nancy Drew.

5.  In the novel, no cravats were loosened, no bodices were ripped (ok, I am exaggerating a bit here, but not much), and there was no pillow talk between a shirtless Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.  Ewww!

6.  In the novel, the chief suspect’s neck was not literally in the noose when Elizabeth runs up to the gallows with the signed confession, saving an innocent man from a hanging.  This is not an American Girls’ novel, and Elizabeth does not save the day.

Now, do not say that I have not warned you.

When Thor was a Woman

I hear rumors that Marvel Comics is making Thor into a girl.  Details are scarce, but apparently, all of Thor’s powers are contained in Thor’s hammer.  If you pick up the hammer and are worthy, you become Thor.  And that masculine pronoun (“HE who is worthy…”) inscribed on the hammer?  Well, that is just the way people talked in the dark days before feminists starting trying to neutralize the language.

I polled my kids on the subject, and they are in agreement that this is just wrong.  We don’t have a problem with women wielding hammers, but Thor is a dude.  Besides, a change like this, if it moves from the comic books into the movies, could deprive Chris Hemsworth of several million dollars, and I shudder to think of where it leaves Natalie Portman.

But, as I tell my kids, when I was their age, Thor did engage in a bit of gender bending.  Here is something he did that found its way into  Bullfinch’s Mythology:

Once upon a time it happened that Thor’s hammer fell into the possession of the giant Thrym, who buried it eight fathoms deep under the rocks of Jotunheim.  Thor sent Loki to negotiate with Thrym, but he could only prevail so far as to get the giant’s promise to restore the weapon if Freya would consent to be his bride.  Loki returned and reported the result of his mission, but the goddess of love was quite horrified at the idea of bestowing her charms on the king of the Frost giants.

In this emergency Loki persuaded Thor to dress himself in Freya’s clothes and accompany him to Jotunheim.  Thrym received his veiled bride with due courtesy, but was greatly surprised at seeing her eat for her supper eight salmons and a full grown ox, besides other delicacies, washing the whole down with three tuns of mead.  Loki, however, assured him that she had not tasted anything for eight long nights, so great was her desire to see her lover, the renowned ruler of Jotunheim.  Thrym had at length the curiosity to peep under his bride’s veil, but started back in affright and demanded why Freya’s eyeballs glistened with fire.   Loki repeated the same excuse and the giant was satisfied.  He ordered the hammer to be brought in and laid on the maiden’s lap.  Thereupon Thor threw off his disguise, grasped his redoubted weapon, and slaughtered Thrym and all his followers.

I doubt that you could make this story into a 2 hour movie, but it could be entertaining, and Loki would have a chance to be the “good guy.”