Tag Archive: Bible

Elizabeth and Zechariah

I was going to call this poem a “sonnette” because my original intention was to write a sonnet. However, I was too impatient to shape my ideas into a sonnet form yet I did want it to resemble one. “A little sonnet” or a “sonnette” seem a bit too pretentious for what is really just a run-of-the-mill poem made from lines thrown together in the midst of some Bible study. It is a snap-shot of my thinking process: half-baked, you might say, but then again, some people enjoy the sauce that comes with the not-quite-baked sponge pudding.

The occasion is when Elizabeth and Zechariah, who are both too old to have any children, are both told that they will have a son – the person we have come to know as John the Baptist. He was born some six months before Jesus; Elizabeth was Mary’s sister, thus making Jesus and John cousins. The miracle of John’s conception forms part of the overall story of God coming to us as a human being, the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas.

Elizabeth and Zechariah

Two loyal servants of God, long in years
who wrestle with blessing and prophecy
in the house of the divine and in the prose of humanity;
Hidden in her womb, a miracle, a blessing;
knowledge of another soon to follow
He serves faithfully yet doubts the angel’s message
a word that leaves him dumbfounded
– astonishment will evolve into confidence and joy
for now makes him speechless
There is wonder-ing and then there is questioning
There is keeping one’s counsel and there is being lost for words.

There are Zechariah and Elizabeth – good and faithful
There is what they believe: Zechariah doubts; Elizabeth trusts
There is what they are told about their son:
There is what will happen next:

Faithfulness will be vindicated in the end

Second Sunday of Advent 2013

What is in a word?

I thought that was going to be an easy question to answer. Take the sentence “The red bus was going along the road”, for example. A word like “bus” refers to an object, in this case a particular type of vehicle. “Red” tells us the colour we see. “Going” tells us what it was doing; “along” tells us how; and “the road” tells us where. It is a bit more complicated when you have to explain what “the” means – I know it is a “definite article” but that only requires more explanation. Then there are feelings like “travel-sick” or “love” which you can’t see. To cap it all there are words which have more than one meaning. “Love” is a good example because it can mean “romantic love shared between two people” it can mean “the bond between parents and children” and it can mean a strong liking for some object as in “I love chocolate”. Or there are words which change according to context such as the word “perfect”.

To perfect something is to take something that is not perfect and by some process make it so. To be perfect is to already be just right. Used as a verb it suggests an aspiration; as an adjective it suggests you have already achieved it.

Words can be used to describe objects we can see and touch; or feelings we experience; or to try to communicate ideas and ideals we strive for. Generally speaking we use words to try to make sense of what we see and know so that other people can also see and know what we do. It gets more complicated with poetry, jokes and puns but these also have in common the possibility of being shared with other people.

Christians sometimes refer to “the Word of God” which turns out to be both specific and ambiguous. It is specific because it refers to God communicating with the world. It is an expression of God’s truth and the intention is that human beings can and will share that.

It is ambiguous because sometimes it is taken to refer to the Bible – a book full of words and the source of inspiration for Christians of all ages – and sometimes it refers to Jesus Christ, who is the best expression of who and what God is.  I get the feeling that sometimes Christians forget what the Bible is for: it is a God-given gift intended to point us to Jesus.

So it is appropriate during Advent to thank God for the Bible, while remembering that its duty (and our reading of it) is to lead to Jesus.

A prayer for the second Sunday of Advent

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning; help us to hear them, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Common Worship)

The Bible on Channel five

A number of people have commentated that this might be worth watching. Although there are some details I might quibble over (see Wikipedia article) it will be interesting to see if it captures the imagination as it did in America earlier this year. More info here.

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I remember hard toilet tissue and soft toilet tissue. The soft variety was expensive and when I was very young it did not feature in our household. It was much more comfortable when my “elders and betters” decided we could afford soft toilet tissue – and we haven’t looked back since, so to speak.

Paper became cheap – that is convenient. Paper became more plentiful – and we started to get wasteful. Such a pity. Perhaps there is a more environmental alternative out there; I don’t know. In the meantime I still read books and the occasional newspaper or magazine. Yes, there are electronic devices such as the one I am tying on just now – and I am not complaining – but you can’t wrap up a birthday present with a computer. And wallpaper that goes on real walls has to be, well, paper.

It was paper that meant that ideas could be spread round as many people as could read. It was paper that has meant that the Bible became available to millions. I don’t think paper has had its day – I still like to paint and draw when I may – but even if its time is coming to an end, I am grateful for many of the pictures, words, and the Word, that it has brought my way.

Third Sunday of Lent 2013

lent 2013 001bTry to learn what pleases the Lord.

(Ephesians chapter 5 verse 10, GNB)

It might seem obvious to a committed Christian that pleasing the Lord, pleasing Jesus, doing what God wants, is precisely what we should be doing all the time. But how do we know? Yes, read the Bible, of course, but that still has to be interpreted. Yes, following the prompting of the Holy Spirit – but those promptings have to be tested to make sure they are from God and not from an overactive imagination.

I think what I have learnt is that learning what pleases the Lord is not something we can do very well on our own. That means listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to those who are also willing to learn what pleases Him – and actually to put it into practice. So when I read the Bible I might also read a commentary, or I listen to what is preached on Sunday, or have a conversation at dinner. There are times when I get hold of something better after a good discussion; or rather, I know what I believe after an argument with someone who disagrees with me. That might not be what family meal time is intended for, but it does help that the people who answer back are not trying to flatter you!

I was stopped the other day by someone who wanted to convert me to Christianity. It was a difficult conversation because they seemed to think that if I was wearing a clerical collar it meant that I needed saving. I tried to explain that just because I went to a different church to his and used a liturgy, it did not mean I was prevented from loving our Lord and Saviour; in fact I had said ‘yes’ to Him, had accepted his grace and was doing my best to follow Jesus (albeit imperfectly). Well, we swapped Bible verses a few times but it was not a proper conversation. He kept telling that I should do such and such – and I would tell him I already did. Or he would say something like “You can’t earn a place in heaven; all your rituals and good works don’t mean you’re going to heaven.” and I would confuse him by agreeing with him. I’m sorry to say I ended up just wishing the dialogue would end.

I don’t always know if I have pleased the Lord, but I am willing to try to learn.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

Eternal God, give us insight to discern your will for us, to give up what harms us, and to seek the perfection we are promised in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect, Lent 3)

A poem by someone who used to make speeches

There is a time and a place for everything that happens in this world.

A time to begin and a time to end.

A time for planting seeds and a time for pulling up weeds.

There is a time to cry, to laugh, to be sad and a time to dance.

There is a time to collect things together and a time to spread them out.

There is a time to share a hug and a time to hold back.

There is a time for finding and for losing; a time to keep things and a time to give them away.

There is a time for tearing and a time for mending; a time of speaking and a time of silence.

There is a time for love, and hate, and war and peace.

(based loosely on Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verses 1 to 8)

Nothing lasts for ever – not good things, nor bad things. When the good things happen, enjoy them. When the bad things happen remember that they won’t last for ever and look for the next good things.

Bible chocolate

A little while ago I mentioned the idea that the Bible might be like chocolate (see Chocolate Bible) . It wasn’t entirely tongue-in-cheek but a way of recognising that the Bible is made up of different kinds of writing and that people may prefer different parts of the Bible even though it all needs to be taken together if we are to make the most of it.

Having described the Bible as a multi-chocolate bar, I decided on having a go at making one. The idea was that I would take some different sorts of chocolate, melt them down one by one, add a few extra bits and pieces and leave the resulting mega bar to set.

Things did not turn out as straightforward as I had hoped.

For a start getting workable Fair Trade white chocolate is nigh on impossible. There is some nice stuff out there and it is rather tasty but I’ve yet to find any that melts well without turning dry and grainy. Even the supermarket stuff I compromised with wasn’t much of an improvement.

A year or so ago we went to “Cadbury World” (about the time the company was being sold to another one) and there I purchased a special chocolate melting machine. It works a treat except that the pan is about the size of a cup and what I planned needed to be a little bit bigger. Despite never being quite sure of the timings, I used a microwave to melt the chocolate with. At least I followed the expert advice of a friend of mine by remembering to put just a table spoon of water in with the chocolate (I’m afraid I hedged my bets and added a knob of butter too). Then I stirred the chocolate and put dollops of it on a piece of non-stick (the stuff I’ve got really is) baking paper. I repeated the process with Fair Trade milk chocolate (less grainy) a mixture of FT milk and plain chocolate (OK) and finally plain FT chocolate (melts rather well). With the plain chocolate I added a few sultanas which had been soaked in vanilla essence and cold tea. Yes, cold tea. It works quite well in plumping up dried fruit like sultanas provided the tea is not too strong and you use just a spoonful or two. When I added the sultanas there was too much liquid mixed in with the chocolate so I left as much of it behind as possible when I spooned out the choc and sultana mix on to the sheet. I then put the rest of the bar of plain chocolate in, melted it with that liquid and added some cerealy bits before adding that to the growing mess that was supposed to resemble a marbled bar of chocolate. In fact it looked more like someone had been fly-tipping  on the kitchen work surface.

I should perhaps explain that the “cerealy bits” are the crumbs you get at the end of a box of cereal which can clog up the bottom of the cereal bowl. As we get to the end of the packet we put those little bits into a separate container to be used as an ingredient in cooking later.

Altogether I used two bars of milk chocolate, one of plain and most of one of white chocolate, also a handful of sultanas and about half a dozen roast hazel nuts pressed into the still soft white chocolate.

The result looks like an awful mess and I’m glad it’s chocolate I’ve been reworking rather than the Bible!

However, the recipe has passed the bowl test. That is to say, licking the spoon and the bowl of the last little bits of chocolate rather suggest that the “Bible chocolate” will taste OK. The bowl will not need much washing up!

Howsoever it turns out, I don’t plan on making our own Easter Eggs. At least we managed to get a “Real Easter Egg” today.

Chocolate Bible

There was a TV programme last December where an esteemed scientist invited his audience to join in an experiment using chocolate. Yes, folks, you can try this one at home (unless you’re allergic to chocolate). The point was to demonstrate how the different ingredients worked. You place a piece of chocolate (any sort according to taste, milk or plain) on your tongue and leave it there. Try to resist the urge to lick or swallow it for a little while.

Firstly, the chocolate begins to melt. That’s the cocoa butter and other fats which melt at body temperature. As the chocolate melts on your tongue it cools it slightly in a pleasant manner. Exactly how this feels will depend on the blend of fats and whether it is milk or plain chocolate. Next you might notice the sweetness on your taste buds. Eating the chocolate this way allows you to notice each sensation as it develops. Then the aromas are released, you might notice vanilla amongst them, and you have the smell of the chocolate too. And finally there is the texture of the chocolate itself, the cocoa solids, which also varies according to the qualities of the ingredients.

Although it was hard to do, maybe half a minute or so, the point was well made – at least among those who were able to resist eating the piece of chocolate straight away. I did try joining in but it doesn’t really work with a Malteser.

Please bear with me, but I think you can liken the Bible to chocolate. There is an ancient tradition, called Lectio Divina, which is a way of reading the Bible. In this you’re not reading it for information, you’re not studying it – not looking up a favourite verse. Nor are you listening to it in a service. What you do is to read a particular passage slowly, taking time over it, savouring it if you like. It means taking time enough to allow God’s word to do its work. A bit like that experiment with the chocolate (Gerard Hughes compares it to sucking a boiled sweet) or taking a throat lozenge. In both cases we get more out of it the more time we take over it. With reading the Bible this way it is best not to try to read too much – maybe just a few verses.

And if the Bible is like chocolate, then it is made up of more than one sort of chocolate: some of it is sweet and mild like milk chocolate, some of it is dark, it also has some fruit in it and even the occasional nut. It is not something that can be easily consumed all in one go. Too much too quickly of any good thing is liable to give you indigestion.

Joking aside, another way of ‘reading’ the Bible comes from the Bible Society, who have produced an audio series of the New Testament called “You’ve got the time”. The idea being that during Lent you can hear the New Testament read over the course of 40 days. Each episode lasts about half an hour which hopefully means that most people can find the time to listen to them if they want to. Whether or not you’ve decided to give up eating chocolate for Lent, you may wish to give “Bible chocolate” a go in either of the ways suggested here.

1611 – The Authorised Version

The Bible – I’m not going to argue the point about how to interpret these special ancient texts. For me the point is that, through a variety of literature written in different eras and situations, somehow God still manages to speak to us today. The Bible does contradict itself and has its unpleasant passages but to me that suggests that the Bible is true to life – God is not inconsistent, we are. For Christians the whole point of the Bible is to point us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and it is uniquely important for that.

2011 sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible (aka the King James’ Version). For more information about the celebrations try the Church of England webpage. Alternatively there is the King James Bible Trust you might like to take a look at. The Authorised Version is a major achievement and has had a profound influence on the spiritual, social and political life of this and other countries. Its language has infiltrated our everyday speech and it is right to celebrate it. However, there is also a cautionary note from the Ship of Fools, although the author does salute the KJV

However, in my prayer time and Bible study my experience is that more modern (and more accurate) translations are considerably more helpful. The language of the 21st century grows out of the 17th century but they are not the same – I don’t want to keep referring to an English dictionary as well as a Bible commentary if I am preparing for a sermon, for example.

While I have found it helpful to learn my way round the Bible and can even quote the odd verse or two, it is hazardous, to say the least, to quote verses out of context. Moreover, the different wording in other translations reminds us that a straight forward translation from one language (Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek in the Bible’s case) to another, such as English, is not always possible. However, they can at least make us think more deeply about the Bible’s precise meaning.   Sometimes it is better not to lean too heavily on one particular translation. Meanwhile, for the record, here are some of my favourite verses which come from more than one translation. NB some are chosen for their obvious theological content but others just because they make me smile! (The references are in the tags section of this post)

Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise. (AV)

You might as well curse your friend as wake him up early in the morning with a loud greeting. (GNB)

I will make it a possession of the hedgehog. (NRSV)

Attack them tomorrow as they come up the pass at Ziz. (GNB)

God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding people’s misdeeds against them, and has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. (REB)

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. (AV)

[GNB = Good News Bible, NRSV = New Revised Standard Version, REB = Revised English Bible, AV = Authorised Version]

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