Thursday, October 21, 2010


You know those times when you're reading a familiar passage of the Bible and all of a sudden you stop short and think, "Um . . . when did that get in there?" Something strikes you a different way, or you're reading a different translation so an aspect of what's written becomes more apparent or something?

Yeah, well, that happened to me yesterday.

Hebrews is a potentially confusing book of the Bible. Probably particularly to those of us who are not ethnically Hebrews. I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the Old Testament, and I think my "handle" on it is probably better than a decent number of Gentile Christians', but I'm still not Jewish, nor do I know many Jewish people, and I can't very well pretend I am or do.

However, I do have this Bible . . . the Complete Jewish Bible. It's part translation and part paraphrase and you can read about the philosophy behind it on the website, but I guess what I'm getting at right now is that, because it's been translated/paraphrased by a Jewish person, there are occasions where I have a minor epiphany that has more to do with a Jewish worldview peering through the words than simply the fact that the words are slightly differently ordered than the NIV/NRSV/KJV conglomeration of words I imbued as a child. Then again, surely I've read Hebrews in this version before . . .

Yesterday I was reading Hebrews 4 (all ensuing Biblical quotations will be from the CJB unless otherwise noted). "Therefore," it begins, "let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering his rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it."


The writer of Hebrews has just been using the account of God's "resting" on the seventh "day" after creation as a picture of His promise for all of us. Said writer is warning his (or her!) readers not to ignore God's voice if they hear it, and so miss out on His "rest," like the ancient Israelites did when they doubted Him in the desert. So now here's this injunction to be terrified in case you miss out. I'm going to be honest and tell you that the first, not very politically correct, thought that entered my head was, "Okay, so there are some verses in this book that make 'works theology' seem pretty biblical!" I guess what I meant is, this verse in this translation makes it sound an awful lot like you have to try to earn your own salvation.

Of course, this verse sounds a little different in, say, the NRSV: "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care than none of you should seem to have failed to reach it." Seem to have failed, huh? What does that even mean? That makes it sound like the whole thing is about appearances.

The next verses completely turn the "works theology" around, though: " . . . for the Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them. But the message they heard didn't do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust. For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest" (4.2-3). Ohhhhh.

This is one thing I really like about the CJB. It never uses the word faith, which I feel is one of those words which has been spiritualised to the point of being well-nigh meaningless. Any time another translation would say faith, the CJB says trust. So . . . those ancient Hebrews didn't "enter God's rest" because they didn't trust Him. They didn't trust He was going to get them through the wall of giants and . . . so He didn't. Not until the next generation, anyway.

The thing that really jumped at me yesterday, though, was verses 9-11: "So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God's people. For the one who has entered God's rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience."

"Rested from his own works." I've read this chapter so many times, and I think I've always thought, "Yeah, yeah . . . Sabbath rest, a Jewish concept . . . good symbol for Heaven . . . " I never until yesterday saw this passage as talking about the here and now. Because of Jesus, our great High Priest/Mediator between us and the Father (a concept which the Hebrews-author will talk about at length shortly), we can rest from our "works" as God rested from His. At most I saw it as an injunction to take time off every seven days. But this passage does exactly the opposite of defend a view of salvation in which we have to purchase our own by our own good works (including, maybe, taking time off every seven days? Which I still think is a valuable practice, regardless). It clearly says that the only thing we have to do is trust. Trusting implies resting. That resting trust is the keeping of the Sabbath that the writer is talking about here.

The disobedience that causes us to fall short is our own works. As any good born-again evangelical will tell you, you can't do enough good works to get to Heaven, or to get in good with God. If that's what we're trusting in, there will be no rest at all, and we will certainly fall short of the rest. That kind of lifestyle is completely opposed to rest--antithetical to it. It's not so much that God shuts us out of His promise, as that we shut ourselves out.

Why is it so hard just to trust Him and rest?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Personal History

Yesterday Grandma Madeira turned 90. Today we had a party. I was the only one of her direct progeny who was able to be there, far-flung family that I have, but her brother and most of his daughters, and her sister's kids, and another brother's granddaughter, and my Grandma Grosser and Auntie Jane from the other side of the family were all there. Also The Swedes, a couple of family friends who just love my grandmother and who more than deserved to be there.

We reserved a room in the retirement community where she lives, and we sat around a white-tableclothed table and ate cake and drank coffee and told her a little of what she meant to us and some of our favourite memories of her. There are certain family stories that get told over and over so many times that even though I may not have been born until 50 years after the event, I could probably tell you the story and make you think I had been there. Some of those got re-aired today. But there were also stories or things I hadn't known before. Or at least, I don't remember knowing them.

I didn't know that Grandma Madeira had been proposed to by two different men at pretty much the same time, and had to pick one. I didn't know that her Swedish immigrant parents had moved back to Sweden after emigrating to the States for a while, and that she was conceived there and her mother was carrying her in the womb when they returned to America on behalf of their children. I didn't know how much she and Grandpa Madeira had meant to their nieces and nephews.

I also don't think I knew that her father came to the US in the first place at age 16 because he didn't want to be drafted, because he didn't believe in fighting. You can tell me my great grandfather was a draft-dodger, but the thing is, I don't take that as an insult, and I'm proud he was a pacifist. It was subsequently pointed out that Grandpa Madeira's father was also a pacifist and conscientious objector, as a "plain person" from Lancaster County, PA. I guess I'm about 99% pacifist, and I guess I've mostly come to that perspective myself, but do you think there are pacifist genes? Because maybe I come by this naturally.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Blue Like Jazz

Look--my "Uncle Steve" is directing this project. I wanna help . . .

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Duck Tales

Apparently my life is for the birds right now, as that seems to be all I'm writing about (besides Jason). Today I was escorted down my street by an eider duck.

It is more or less pouring this morning. I had just set out for work when I noticed something with what appeared to be considerably more heft than a leaf, flapping about in the puddles in the street. As I approached, I could tell by its silhouette that it was a duck. There are mallards that sometimes live across the street from me; they moved out this summer when their pseudo-pond dried up, but it's probably back now, so maybe they are, too, though I though mallards flew south? Anyway, I assumed this guy was one of them as he spread his wings.

He seemed to be having a little trouble achieving lift-off, and also seemed to have an aversion to the side of the road, and so instead he flapped along, very close to the ground, right in front of my car, as if daring me to exceed the speed limit. As if I would ever exceed . . . oh never mind.

He landed a couple hundred yards down the street, and there the lighting was better and I could see that he was, in fact, an eider duck. I'm not sure I've seen one of those in the wild before. I was afraid, though, that he wasn't going to move and I was going to end up either thwarted in my commute, or seeing a dead eider duck in the wild. Or on the road, to be more precise.

He took off again and led me down the street a little further, and then finally flew a little higher and disappeared over a house. When I got to work, Office-Assistant-MaryAnn said, "Another day of duck-weather!" She had no idea . . .

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Birdfeeder of Horror

So the last time I filled the Birdfeeder? The Squirrel cleaned out the whole thing in a day. Apparently I have a pet squirrel. That I didn't ask for. When I manage to catch him on the thing, I leap out onto the deck and yell at him, and then Oscar runs up the stairs and hides under the bed, as if he thinks I'm yelling at him instead.

But that isn't the worst of it. Yesterday I stepped out onto the deck to bring the deck chairs inside, finally, and to fill the feeder again, maybe (although this Squirrel is making me feel very ambivalent about the whole thing), and I almost stepped on a dead tufted titmouse lying among some fallen leaves on the boards right outside the doors.

I can't figure out whether this bird had just gotten old and decided my back deck was a good place to die, or if, during some of the excessively windy days we've had lately, he somehow got blown into the door, or if the Squirrel mauled him. Or the Nuthatch. The Nuthatch has been bullying the titmice lately. Anyway, it was kind of horrifying, and even though I wanted that thing off my deck as soon as possible, I actually waited until the morning to take care of it, because I was just a little too grossed out to deal with it right away.

The birdfeeder's still empty. If Nuthatches and Squirrels are killing other birds, I'm not sure they deserve the food anyway. This may be one birthday present that goes the way of the Dodo.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Happy October!

The wind is blowing, the rain is spattering the exposed part of the air conditioner unit in the window . . . which hasn't been turned on in over a month. The leaves are falling, the acorns are trying their darnedest to smack holes in people's windshields--or heads--and the frogs are committing hari-kari (or something like it) by leaping into cars' undercarriages. Taking Oscar for a walk has become an exercise in dodging frog-guts.

Why do I like this season so much?