Friday, April 28, 2006

Blogger for Word Test

Blogger for word test


In honor of such a perfect warm Greensboro Spring day I give you a treasure, a celebration of Spring by one of the world’s greatest celebrants of such things, Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is one of his simplest, most accessible, and most beautiful poems, entitled, simply, “Spring.” Don’t just read it – hear it; feel it; savor it. It’s a present for you today.

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring --
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs have too far fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden – have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Writers Needed, II

In my earlier piece about soliciting writers for the new Back Porch site, which I hope and envision can be a basis for a future Greensboro or Guilford County based Wikipedia of sorts (now you have to admit, that would be cool), I left out music and move and book reviews in my list. And it would be especially cool to highlight such works by local writers and artists and poets, don’t you think? I also left our Greensboro architecture as a category, but that would make for a great category as well. I also didn’t mention bike riding – best mountain bike trails, road bike routes, etc. Shoot, I probably haven’t thought of the half of it.

Did I mention photos? Seriously, if any of you out there have digitized photos ((whether from a digital camera or scanned from a print), or even if you have appropriate prints I could scan, we are looking for good shots of life in Greensboro and Guilford County, (people, plants, and critters), as well as cool shots of buildings or landscapes. I’d love to include them. You can e-mail them or drop them by. If need be I can convert them to jpeg and to the right file size.

Ok, here is the deal. I can piss and moan about the problems here with our leadership and local politics ‘til the cows come home. I can jump in and try to help fix things politically, but I don’t think I’d be very good at that. This project is a positive thing I really want to do for our community, something good I can contribute. But I don’t know enough about enough things to do it myself. If you help me, I’ll help you back with links to your sites and bios and the like.

Fore those that missed the first installment of this appeal, here it is:

A while back I threw out the idea of developing a local Wikepedia. A few people thought it was a cool idea, but there was not quite enough interest to get traction. I’m still interested.

In the mean time, we are in the process of moving our Back Porch site to a different platform, using the open source web based software called Web Site Baker.

Starting this week and over the next week I will moving all the good content from the old Back Porch site over to the new one – it’s a document by document process, but it’s worth it.

As far as some future local Wikepedia project, this could form the foundation of it. I want this site to be a help and resource for people moving to Greensboro, for school children, for people who just want to know more about where they live.

So…if you like to write, and would like to put up some articles, you retain copyright, and links back to your web sites, etc. We are looking for writings about local history, geography, culture, arts, music festivals, plants and animals, places to hike and canoe near Guilford County, restaurant reviews, fun facts, tall tales, gardening, gardening calendars and stories, biographies of ordinary and famous and infamous individuals from here, etc. I am sure there are many categories I have not included in this list.

And another thing – pictures. Wow, could we ever use pictures of Greensboro and Guilford County. We would give all due credit again, and as much as possible provide links back to your sites.

If you’d like to see a first draft of what the new site will look like you can have a peek at This is just developmental. The URL will be simply once we move to the new server. This is a developmental URL only.

Any writers out there interested?


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Selah, The Ambassador

I was hanging at the office working on the web site and cleaning up a little, and my WMP was playing through, and played through the Library The Allman Brothers (Live at Fillmore East) and got to The Ambassadors, Christology in Layman’s Terms. Normally I am not a fan of rap and hip-hop (too much misogyny, thug-ism, and violence), but these guys, well, they preach it. And I even like the background music – keyboard heavy, cool atmospherics. I leave you today with Selah. Peace. Joel.

All rise Jesus the Christ still rules
King of kings, Mr. Runnin' things still cool
Calm, collective, objective truth slinger, the sword bringer
In fact I'm wrapped like a ring on His finger
While cops bust glocks and call cars from afar
God called the A-M-B-A, double-S, A-D-O-R
To grab mics and drop a bomb on ya
Well, Selah's the way I can drop some calm on ya buss it
Pause think about the infinite, omnipotent, magnificent
Mad significant God with an Immutable, immovable, unchangeable
Nature non-rearrangable, unattainable
Yet slain-able when He tabernacled
Among the sinful, unrepentful humans that were shackled
I'm baffled?what made the infinite become like finite
What made Him leave His throne home for a zone of twilight
And why might the rich switch becoming poor in history
Leaving the angelic holy x 3 antiphony
Becoming a kamikaze, check the way my God shocked the
Planet earth with the birth of His agape
Don't stop me now, I'm gettin' down, check His beatings
Didn't get mad but the Savior kept grieving
He created earth for His own reason
Yet we make theocracy a mockery when we leave Him
Double Selah all the bleedin'
Torn, whipped, thorn tips, flesh rips for the heathen
A purple rope, they slapped on Him
Psalm 22, the Father turn a holy back on Him

Selah, pause, think about that
Selah, pause calmly think about that
Selah, pause calmly think about that
Selah, pause calmly think about that

Long live the Heart and Mind Dissector, the Ressurector
Ruling with an iron scepter forever
And forever stops never so it's clever
To be down with the One who wears the crown
Perfecter of the faith, wait, is He great? Let me demonstrate, I'm able
To use my hands to hold the food He put on my table
On my way with a check to deposit
Outta here with the fly gear from the closet
And I get my needs met I know Jehovah Jireh
I'm fed daily bread like the ravens fed Elijah

Now mind ya, no need to rob I got a job to earn from
Street wise, girls, guys, men and woman to learn from
God's high power like a third rail, never fail
But prevails kickin' up the manna and the quail
Drug free, Spirit filled, broken willed and all that
I call that God's grace, uh, ain't it all that
All for the sins of men from begin to end
The cup of wrath was filled up to the rim with grim
Love from above all true whatcha gonna do
When you stand before the God-man who died for you


Selah, I love the way the Savior runs the ranch
He's the True Vine and I'm the William Branch
Still in the mood for soul food still chewin'
God's hand is on the Cross Movement we're doin'
The work of evangelical / fundamentalist
People, we get into this Jesus Christ the magnificent
And the incident at Golgotha?at Calvary
Christ paid the wages and sin got its salary
Yeshua blessed you the called, chosen, predestined
The foreknown, all up in the war zone with weapons
Of prayer, faith, biblical shots, praise, love and hope
Because it's dope swinging with Messiah like a rope
No joke the holy smoke's blazing
Check it y'all I'm breathing so tis the season to be praising
The Godhead?infinite flavor
Let everything that hath breath become a praiser of the Savior
He that hath an ear let him hear what I speak
But talk is cheap so peep what I repaint over beats
And you'll meet the Doer that does
The I Am that is, that said, "Let there be..." and there was


Selah, pause, think about that
Think about the man with a cross on His back
Check my rap at the cross that's where it's at
Selah, pause, calmy think about that
Think about the infinite, omnipotent, magnificent
Mad significant God with an Immutable, immovable, unchangeable
Nature, Jesus Christ the only Saviour check the flavor

Writers Needed

A while back I threw out the idea of developing a local Wikepedia. A few people thought it was a cool idea, but there was not quite enough interest to get traction. I’m still interested.

In the mean time, we are in the process of moving our Back Porch site to a different platform, using the open source web based software called Web Site Baker.

Starting this week and over the next week I will moving all the good content from the old Back Porch site over to the new one – it’s a document by document process, but it’s worth it.

As far as some future local Wikepedia project, this could form the foundation of it. I want this site to be a help and resource for people moving to Greensboro, for school children, for people who just want to know more about where they live.

So…if you like to write, and would like to put up some articles, you retain copyright, and links back to your web sites, etc. We are looking for writings about local history, geography, culture, arts, music festivals, plants and animals, places to hike and canoe near Guilford County, restaurant reviews, fun facts, tall tales, gardening, gardening calendars and stories, biographies of ordinary and famous and infamous individuals from here, etc. I am sure there are many categories I have not included in this list.

And another thing – pictures. Wow, could we ever use pictures of Greensboro and Guilford County. We would give all due credit again, and as much as possible provide links back to your sites.

If you’d like to see a first draft of what the new site will look like you can have a peek at This is just developmental. The URL will be simply once we move to the new server. This is a developmental URL only.

Any writers out there interested?


Desolation Row

I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited a lot this week, trying to figure it out. The guy definitely gets under my skin. My wife and daughters pretty much hate Bob Dylan, though Madeline, my nine year old, can wail the chorus of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll with wild abandon:

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain't the time for your tears.

But that’s another CD, for another day.

I can’t stop playing Desolation Row, though I don’t really have any idea what he’s talking about. Seems like it’s important. Seems like I ought to get it. Something tells me it has application to us today, right here, Greensboro, circa 2006, but then, as I said, I don’t really know what he’s talking about for sure. It’s more like a dream that I keep having whose meaning is just out of reach. I mean, I know it, sort of, but I can’t figure out how to put it. Listening to Desolation Row, I remind myself of the narrator in Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, who says:

I don’t know what happens when people die
Can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can’t sing
I can’t help listening

For me, with Desolation Row, it’s like:

I don’t know what he means in Desolation Row
Can’t seem to get it but I think I should know
It’s like a message that I hear that is just out of reach
I can’t quite grasp it
I can’t stop listening

Maybe some of you have the skinny on Desolation Row, by Bob Dylan.

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
"You Belong to Me I Believe"
And someone says," You're in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave"
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortunetelling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid

To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have Mercy on His Soul"
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They're spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words

And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get Outa Here If You Don't Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row"

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which Side Are You On?"
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the door knob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

Copyright © 1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

Husbands and Wives

In the spirit of seeing how successful I can be at irritating my neighbors (just kidding), I thought I would present the outline for my sermon this coming Sunday taken from the book of Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 22-33. This past Sunday I set up this coming week’s message by expositing the passage just before. We are in the middle of a mini-series on the seventh commandment (though shall not commit adultery) which itself is apart of a longer series on the ten commandments. This is a bunny trail, one of many. The message of this passage is a great offence to modern sensibilities, but backward bible believing folk do take it seriously. Thought I’d see if there were any constructive comments to be gained from you out there. Here it is:

Sermon Outline

The Seventh Commandment V b: Ephesians 5:22-33

Husbands and Wives: Christ and the Church

A. The Structure:

1. A word to wives: verses 22-24
2. A word to husbands verses 25-30
3. A closing summary: verses 31-33

B. The First Section: Verses 22-24: The Injunction to Wives

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

1. The verb “submit” is absent. It is carried over from verse 21. OK, what is meant by the word “submit”? Look to verse 24.
2. This submission is to be rendered to the woman’s own husband.
3. How is this submission a “Christian” act? It is done “as to the Lord” (see Ephesians 5:21, Colossians 3:18 and 3:23, and Romans 13:1).
4. What is the reason given for this submission to the husband? The husband is head of the wife. The basis of this headship is rooted in the story of creation, of the creation of Eve from Adam to be his suitable helper.
5. What is the deeper meaning of this headship? The husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church.
6. So what does this mean for the woman? As the church submits to Christ her head, so the woman submits to her husband, her head.
7. To what extent? In everything. What might not be included in “in everything”?

C. The Second Section: Verses 25-30: The Injunction to Husbands

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.

1. Husbands are to love their wives. How is this love a Christian act? Because they are to love, or agape, their wives, as Christ loved the church.
2. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself up for her. This is a reference to His self giving sacrificial death on the cross, a death which was followed by the resurrection and giving of the Spirit, and which had the Church’s full and complete salvation in view.
3. As Christ is the head of the church and loves the church, as his body, so husbands are to love their wives, as their own bodies.
4. Is Christ’s love for the Church a selfish love?
5. Is the husband’s love for his wife a selfish love?
6. In nourishing and cherishing His body, the church, Christ is bringing her back into the fullness of what she was meant and called to be, which makes her more beautiful in herself, and more beautiful as His bride.
7. In nourishing and cherishing his wife, the husband is encouraging her to be the fullness of what she was meant and called to be, which makes her more beautiful in herself, and more beautiful as His bride.

D. The Third Section: Verses 31-32: The Mystery

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

1. The “one flesh” of the physical union of the husband and wife is a picture of the “union” of Christ and the Church.
2. The mystery in Ephesians is the mystery of God’s saving purposes in Christ and how that history would culminate in the union of Christ and his people (both Jew and Gentile united together as “one man”) in a renewed earth.
3. Yet also there is a hint that the “two becoming one” is itself a mystery, and the manner in which this pictures the union of Christ and the church is a mystery.

E. The Summary: Verse 33

33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

1. The injunction to the husband is repeated in shorter form.
2. The injunction to the woman is changed from “submit” to “respect” (both/and).

F. A Few Thoughts

1. Wives, concentrate on what the Lord says to you; husbands concentrate on what the Lord says to you. Do not let your duty be contingent on the other.
2. Yet, it is easier for wives to submit to and respect their husbands when their husbands are loving them, and it is easier for husbands to love their wives when their wives are submitting to and respecting them.
3. Husbands tend either (or both) to be overly passive about their spiritual headship or selfishly insistent on their authority. Wives tend either (or both) to be overly touchy about submission or inadequately committed to the suitable helper role.
4. Yet, I think the best marriage relationships in our culture are egalitarian in practice and hierarchal in principle – good communication, shared decisions, mutual respect, love, and submission, but with a proper sense of headship under girding it all.
5. Good marriage relationships also practice gift-appropriate division of labor.
6. In good marriages each spouse’s gifts and interests and hobbies are encouraged.

Goodbye Pickler

Well, after the last two weeks I wasn’t surprised, but I hated to see Kelli Pickler leave last night. Yes, I even shed a tear. I have found her to be a breath of fresh air, not just of humble origins, but humble, and I wish for her a great future. She was just way out of her genre the last couple of weeks, and it showed. She’s not a BIG singer, but more of a Bonnie Raiit country rocker. I think she’ll find a home there.

I am continually astounded not only at my own interest in this year's American Idol phenomenon, but in the interest of so many people everywhere I go. I was leaving the doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago, and was at the check out window. There were maybe five or six ladies in the big room all processing info, some talking to people on the phone, some to patients. So I said in a loud voice, “So, who do you think is going off American Idol this week.” I mean their faces all lit up and they spun around and started talking at once – it was really fun, and even some of the other patients chimed in. It was really kind of cool. At the time the consensus was that it would end up being Chris and Mandisa, and that week Mandisa went off. Go figure.

I’ll miss Kellie. She was funny and spunky and not too self conscious. She lightened up the whole show. I wish her well. I’m pulling for Chris all the way now.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Yesterday I had to take one of our cats to the vet. We have four cats. Mohawk, Corduroy, Socks, and Boots. Mohawk is 13 or so years old, a solid-white female with a black stripe across the top of her head, hence the name. Corduroy is four years old. We got him, along with his adoptive brother Oxford, for my fifth daughter Madeline’s sixth birthday. They came from separate litters but were the same age, and they grew up as brothers, and as indoor/outdoor cats.

Corduroy always liked it more outside. Oxford was more of a people person....I mean a people cat. He always sat at Madeline’s desk while she did her school work, sat on the back of the couch while you watched TV, sat in the middle of any group of people sitting around talking. One normal day Oxford went outside as usual. He usually was only outside for a few minutes but we were all gone for a cross country meet that day, so he was outside for several hours. When I got home that afternoon a neighbor came up to our house to say that she thought our cat was in her back yard. I ran down, Madeline right behind me. Yes, it was Oxford; he had been hit, I think by a car, and had run as far as he could before he had fallen, dead. I wrapped him in a towel with his “good side” showing so that Madeline and my other daughter who was very fond of him could pet him and say goodbye, and so that Corduroy his brother could sniff him and also say goodbye. Then we buried him.

Madeline was heartbroken. Oxford had been such a great and loyal friend. We always thought he was kind of dense, the way he would chase the flashlight beam around the room and never seem to “get it.” Corduroy would pounce once or twice, and then look at us like, “what do think I am, a moron,” and then go have a snack or go outside. Sometimes we would make Oxford run in circles until he got dizzy and walked like a drunken sailor. I know, it sounds mean. But it was funny. And he was a gem of a friend to my little girl.

Two days into her heartbreak we thought we just had to do something, so my wife and Madeline and Anna went by the Cat Clinic, where they just happened to have a litter of kittens that had been abandoned along a road somewhere. So Susan and the girls committed to get one, and then decided it would need to have a friend, so they went back to claim another – Socks and Boots they were named. Socks is black with white feet and Boots is grey with white feet. They are both very fluffy with big furry tales, and both are very affectionate.

Anyway, Corduroy, a 13 pound male yellow tabby has a condition or disease called Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex. It’s an immune system problem where the immune system goes hyperactive in response to certain allergens or parasites, creating bloody looking wounds and sores. Corduroy gets these sores between the pads of her paws, or on her elbows and knees, or on her stomach. They can get infected and he can get quite sick. If not infected, usually a treatment of a steroid, and vigilant treatment against fleas will do the trick. This time they were not infected.

I really appreciate the folks at the Cat Clinic. They are very good with cats.

I often like to sit there and look at my cats and think about what they are thinking. It doesn’t take much in the observation department to notice that they don’t have much brain above their eye level. So calculus, well, I don’t think they can do that. But I like to imagine or think about what it is that they can do that’s just like what I can do, or what it is that I can do that’s just like what they can do. Or what do they feel that’s like what I feel? Generally I think we underestimate the feelings and the intelligence of animals.

Anyway, there are so many times that I am not “thinking,” I am just “doing.” I am digging. I am catching. I am weaving my way through traffic. How much of that is like what my cat or a dog experiences?

For example, when I am running down a fly ball (which physicists and brain experts say is a pretty complex brain/body action), I really am not “thinking” of anything. I am focused on the task. I make the catch. It is very pleasing. There is a brain chemistry thing that says "pleasure." I thrown the ball in. How much of this is just like what a dog experiences when he chases down a Frisbee, makes the catch, and returns it to its master? I wonder.

When I am sneaking up on a rabbit with my camera, how much of what I am feeling and experiencing is like what Corduroy is experiencing when he is sneaking up on a rabbit. It may well be different because the purpose is different, but what may be the same is that while I am doing that it is just me and the rabbit, and nothing else exists, and it is very very cool. I like to think life for Corduroy is very very cool sometimes too.

Corduroy knows the sound of my car. When I am half a block away he will walk out into the gutter of the road and lie down on his back, waiting for his ritual stomach rub. He does not do that with every car. He does not even do that with all of our cars. But I give him a tummy rub every day when I come home. “Good Corduroy” I say in a low soothing voice. I think he likes that.

American Idol, Husbands, and Wives

Last night after our weekly small group Bible Study a few of gathered to watch this week’s installment of American Idol.

I thought the judge’s were excessively harsh this week, though in the end I agreed with them that Elliot and Chris did the best job.

What was distracting was that the songs were way over produced, the band was too loud, and the music was too big. That was too bad for the singers without huge operatic voices.

Although Andrea Bocelli was really kind, I don’t think producer David Foster was very good for the contestants. In fact, it seems in retrospect that the contestants do best with those star-helpers who, instead of trying to push them into a mold, or make them sing songs their way, work with them to make music that will really work with the uniqueness of who they, the contestants, are as singers. Thus, Stevie Wonder, Queen, and David Foster didn’t work too well for the contestants, and Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart did. Except maybe for Elliott, for whom David Foster’s direction and discipline roped in his vocal ramblings.

And though it is easy to laugh and joke with Simon about what Paula has been drinking whenever she goes into her teary mode, I could understand her tears last night. Elliott, though he has always had a great voice, has been transformed from an awkward, uncomfortable stage presence into a real singer/performer. Last night he was just splendid. If you’re the least bit emotionally invested in one of these contestants, a performance like his last night would evoke tears of joy. I was touched by her tears.

I felt the same way the week Fantasia did Summertime, and even a little bit last week when Christ sang What a Wonderful World. I’ll grant that Elliott may have technically a better voice than Chris, but Chris’s voice speaks to me, gets to me. I have memories of listening with my dad to Louis Armstrong sing Wonderful World, and it’s a great song, and Chris did it his own unique way, which, again, Rod Stewart encouraged.

Well, our week night bible study has been working through the book of Ephesians, and last night we just so happened to be on that passage that so many people love to hate, the one about wives and husbands in Ephesians 5:22-33.

We were discussing the part where it talks about husbands loving their wives “as Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her…so that he might present the church to himself without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies.”

We struggled with the analogy. Christ loves the church and gives himself in utter selflessness for her, even unto death, but also, as it says in Hebrews, “for the joy set before him,” and “to bring many sons to glory.” There is anticipation of union and communion of God and His redeemed people. In that union and communion, there is anticipation of unfathomable joy. In Christ’s utterly selfless sacrifice bearing the sins of his people he anticipates their glory, a glory that he will share ,and they will share, with him, a glory they were made for, and meant for.

So, that work of renewal and transformation whereby His people progressively are made to be more holy and without spot and blemish (a work of moral and spiritual transformation) is a work that makes his people become all they were meant to become, and thus, in truth, more themselves, more beautiful in themselves, and more beautifully fitting for relationship to him.

Such will be a husband’s love for his wife. It will work, through self sacrifice, love, and encouragement, to help her become all she is meant to become, and, likewise, more fully herself, more beautiful in herself, and as a result more beautifully fitting for relationship to him.

So what does American Idol and Ephesians 5 have to do with each other?

Well, this…the good teachers, encouragers, and lovers of the contestants, the ones who have really wanted to help them from the starting point of who they are become all that they can become – they have produced generally the better performances over the many weeks. The better performances have made the contestants more lovely and attractive as singers and as persons, not because of slinky dresses or fancy duds, but because their personalities and the joy of their persons have shone through their music.

When they have been forced into a box (no, you have to sing it just THIS way), it just has not worked as well generally.

Maybe there is a lesson there for teachers, parents, friends……and for husbands.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Purple Princess

I was driving to see a member of our congregation last evening, and there it was hanging out over Old Battleground Road just north of Lake Brandt, that tree, that tree with the purple flowers I had seen last week along I-40 in Forsyth County and down near Chapel Hill. I had only been able to describe it in passing as I drove by on the interstate.

Anyway, this morning on the way to work I drove over to the corner of Lake Brandt and Old Battleground, parked my car in that gravel space by the Greenway, and walked down to check out the tree. The first thing I noticed was that I was wrong about the fruit. It was definitely NOT a legume. The hanging fruit clusters left from last season were nut-like shells, like partially opened pecans.

Secondly, on first glance, it really looked like a Catalpa. A week had gone by since I noticed the trees last time, and so the leaves were more developed, big heart shaped leaves. And the flower clusters seemed totally Catalpa-ish, except that they weren’t the right color exactly (though they did have a very Catalpa-ish yellow stripe inside the flower cup), and the petal cups weren’t exactly the right shape.

The bark on the tree that I looked at was grey and fairly smooth, and the tree was twenty five or so feet high, but was having to do some major leaning out over the road to compete for sun against all the other trees crowded against it.

I was stumped, so I grabbed a few fallen flowers and immature nuts off the ground and when I got to the office I got out my tree books.

I think our mystery tree is the “princess-tree,” Paulownia tomentosa, or some variety of it. Apparently it is an “invasive species.”

The National Park Service says of the tree on its web site, in its section on “alien plants,” the following:

"Princess tree was introduced into the U.S. as an ornamental and landscape tree around 1840. It was first imported to Europe in the 1830's by the Dutch East India Company and brought to North America a few years later. This tree has since become naturalized in the eastern U.S. and is also grown on the west coast. Princess tree is native to western and central China where historical records describe its medicinal, ornamental, and timber uses as early as the third century B.C. It was cultivated centuries ago in Japan where it is valued in many traditions. Recently it has also been grown in plantations and harvested for export to Japan where its wood is highly valued."

From I found out that the genus, Paulownia, "was named after Princess Anna Paulovna (1795–1865), Russian princess and queen of William II of the Netherlands. "

Well, about every body seems to think this oriental tree is an environmental pest, and I won’t argue with the experts. It still makes for a lovely site along a drab interstate on a mid Spring drive.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I Think It Is Worse

JW does not think it is as bad as I make it out to be.

I think it is worse.

I think decent people can be caught up in things that are twisted. I see it in extended families all the time. Try as they might, they cannot extricate themselves from their role and from the twistedness while they’re in the system. Step out of the system, and they are different people it seems.

What I described in Leadership Woes is something many people I know have observed and talked about for the 17 years I have been here. I would notice things and ask, “so what is with Greensboro’s leadership” and they would say, “I don’t know, some weird karma, something in the water, some old curse, something, I don’t know.” So, it’s not really about the personalities of the moment to me. They are just the moment’s expression of “whatever it is.”

My theory is that it has something to do with the history of the city, the combination of Quakerism, Scots-Irish Revolutionary fervor, slavery and reconstruction, and the semi-feudalism of the textile industry. But I don’t know. In the evangelical Protestant Church there is almost a total incapacity to attain even a semblance of cooperation and unity of purpose here. That is different than in many southern cities. But so is the constant soap operatic state of our County Commissioners, City Council, and so on.

It’s not that good people aren’t involved in the system. It’s that there is something about the system that seems to work against these good people achieving what they should be able to achieve.

It’s embarrassing, but that’s not really the point. So, for me, after all these years, I’ve concluded it’s bigger then us, more than we can fix by our cleverness and wit and work and wonkish plans. Somehow there will have to be a wave of humility, repentance, love, sorrow, friendship, trust. Somehow our tribalism and pride and greed will have to be crushed.

So, JW, I so wish you are right. I want to trust that you are. I think you are wiser than me. But from where I sit right now I am not there yet.

To me the whole is so far less than the sum of its parts that there is something bigger than us holding us back and keeping us down. The only thing I know to do when facing that is to pray to one that is bigger than that. I just don’t have much confidence in us.

But I’d love to know how your roses are doing JW.

Leadership Woes, Or, Down to the River to Pray

This is one of those posts where a reader can say to me, “if you can’t say nothin’ good don’t say nothin’ at all.” Well, so be it.

I’ve had one phone conversation, one e-mail conversation, and read one blog this weekend that has caused me to reflect on a long standing observation: there is something twisted, corrupt, and sick when it comes to leadership in Greensboro and Guilford County.

It didn’t take long after moving here in 1989 to notice this. It was, well, pretty obvious from reading the paper and watching the news. I didn’t realize that it even extended to leadership in many churches, this desire to circle the wagons and protect and keep truth from the light of day.

The sickness seems to involve an incapacity to accept responsibility; a lack of will to hold leaders accountable; and an almost conspiratorial refusal to bring truth before the light of day. Adding to this malaise and madness is the hyper partisanship of local papers and too many local bloggers who seem almost incapable of acknowledging the good in their political opponents and the faults in their political friends.

No, I don’t mean everybody, no I am not going to say who I mean and don’t mean, and no, I am not going to cite sources….

Despite it all, many good things in our city seem to happen due, ironically to me, to that special interest group I most love to hate – developers! I laugh.

There is a deep human yearning for justice, for things to be right. It is right for people to be angry and upset when human beings are mistreated. I know that we can’t beg off these issues.

But one is left thinking that something greater is needed. That Someone greater is needed. We seem almost, as it were, under bondage to something we cannot defeat. No, I don’t necessarily mean the devil. I don’t really know what I mean. Maybe it is bondage to generations of ill will, bad blood, evil practices. It’s been going on a long time here. Maybe something unique to our history is behind this – something not shared with other similar southern cities of similar size. I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that while many good people in the trenches fight the good fight, vainly perhaps I don’t know, many of us perhaps should re-devote ourselves to praying for our city. And though I am a Christian I would call people of all faiths to pray for our city.

Meantime, I hope Chewie will share about the animals in Battleground Park, and I hope there is a place for writing about things that don’t relate to these issues that seem never to resolve.

Because life goes on. We still work and garden and go to movies and listen to music and make love and dance and watch birds and see plays and do art and play with children and walk our dogs and cook (slowly) and pray and worship and fix our cars and another hundred things.

And we still need (whatever governmental polices we support), as individuals and groups of twos and threes and tens to help the homeless and reach out to the widow and fatherless and stand up for the helpless and reach across the line of race and creed and socio/economic class to love our neighbor as ourselves. We still need to work in the small places where we live to make our little corners of the world as beautiful and as good and as right as they can be. I hope there is still a place for that stuff in the blogging world too.

And meanwhile, facing the childish and brutish and covetous dysfunction of our local leadership and of the local “powers that be,” and overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, I hope that many – alone, in groups of two, or three, or maybe even more, will be called to quiet places, places where they can settle their anxious hearts, take in the beauty that remains, and go to work, praying that is, for our city. It needs our help. It needs more than our help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Does Anybody Really Know What Tree It Is (Does Anybody Really Care)

OK, so I was driving to Winston Salem and back on new I-40 yesterday and over the space of a few miles on either side of the Guilford/Forsyth County line were these small trees with very bright clusters of what seemed to be upright purple flowers. They were really quite eye popping. I was only able to glance at them as I drove by at 65 miles an hour, but I seemed to be able to discern, 1) that they were legumes – seems there were drooping seed pods hanging from last year, 2) that they were stout little buggers, 3) that they were maybe ten to twenty feet high max, 4) that the flower clusters were upright and not drooping (seemed that way from a distance), and 5) that the flowers were very bright purple, really quite stunningly pretty. I thought maybe wisteria at first but the stoutness of the stems and the uprightness of the clusters seemed to rule that out. Then I thought of black or honey locust, but I’ve never known of a purple locust – is there one? And locust clusters droop. These flowers looked more upright, like catalpa. But I’ve never heard of purple catalpa. So, I’m stumped. Any of you botanists or gardeners out there have a clue what these really delightful purple blooming trees might be?


Monday, April 17, 2006

Simply Christian

Every age and generation has its own quirks and challenges, its own nuance and personality. For those folks who are Christians today, speaking to and about Christianity to others, well, the world has changed a lot since twenty or thirty years ago. We’ve all moved together along this odd continuum from modernity to post modernity, and even if we don’t really know what that means, it effects how we think and feel and look at the world, and at truth, and at religion.

The American “evangelical” response to all this over the last couple of decades has not endeared many people to Christianity. Indeed, it has turned many away. The attempts to “reach” non Christians have gotten kookier and kookier by the day. But the gimmicks sell to just enough people to keep the trade going.

With the collapse of the assumptions of enlightenment materialism, "spirituality” has broken out all over. Not, mind you, Christian spirituality, but many other forms of spirituality. And though some of it is down right ugly (like the kind that would have you fly planes into buildings), there seems to be a growing and nagging sense that there is more to life than our modern technological materialist rationalistic narcissistic culture suggests.

For all of you lapsed Christians, remotely interested Christians, seekers who might consider Christianity, or anyone with spiritual yearnings but with no framework upon which to hang your hats, I want to recommend a book to you.

The book is called
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N. T. Wright.

It is not so much an argument as a description of what Christianity, at its core, is all about, and how that may resonate with your own longings and searchings.

N. T. Wright is not an American. He is British. He does not serve in an American church. He is Anglican. He is not really of the same stuff as what people tend to think of when they think of “evangelicals.”

More than almost any other present day theologian sympathetic to the canonical writings, he tries very hard to hear and open up the message of those writings in their own historical context, and from there to suggest how that message speaks to us today.

He might be the most important Christian writer of our era, and I can promise you, even if you don’t ultimately buy what he is saying, you will understand Christianity better -- simple, basic, real Christianity anyway.

He is also contemporary. The book is copyrighted 2006. That means he is writing post Nag Hammadi, post Gospel of Thomas, post Da Vinci Code etc. And Wright is an historian as much as a theologian. So, given these two facts, it’s not like the reader can say, “well, this is an old book and he just couldn’t have known what we were going to discover in those caves in 1946 and after.”

Wright as a man, a pastor, and a minister, is in tune with the deepest longings and aspirations of the human heart. He is culturally astute enough to see how these aspirations and longings work their way out in life and culture. There is a pastoral gentleness to his writing. It is welcoming and loving. There is a not a hard edge in the book.

I commend Simply Christian to you. I hope you will give it a read.

Peace. Joel.

Monday, April 10, 2006

No Resurrection, No Christianity, No Jesus

Well, it’s Easter Week, that week which many devout Christians call Holy Week, and that time of year again for the media to drag out their latest and greatest anti-Christian darlings, the newest and most delicious attempts to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and most other core aspects of historic Christianity. The fact The Da Vinci Code is about to be released does not help as regards the traditional Christianity feeding frenzy.

It’s about as predictable as the flowering of the dogwoods just outside my window, just not nearly so pretty. And people lap it up like bees drinking the nectar on my red bud tree.

Can you imagine the outcry if this were to happen every year before and during Muslim holy week?

Anyway, that aside, here basically is the deal. Almost everyone who is not an outright atheist believes in some sort of “spiritual” resurrection, some sort of continued existence after this life is over. There are many versions and varieties of spiritual resurrection. There are many types or kinds of spirituality centered around these versions of spiritual resurrection. There is a lot of personal autonomy in picking and choosing the kind of spirituality that goes with various versions of spiritual resurrection.

This has always been so. And it has always been so that forms and versions of spirituality that favor spiritual verses bodily resurrection, indeed which favor spiritual verses bodily existence, have co-opted the Christian message, and tried to make it into what it most definitely is not.

Thus the current rage for the Gnostics, and the “Gnostic Gospels” and the many and varied attempts to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus, to posit grand conspiracies (usually paternalistic, misogynist, homophobic, and power hungry) that worked in the early church to extinguish counter voices that allegedly got at the “real” Jesus more than the canonical Gospels and Epistles did, etc.

For the truth is, as goes the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so goes historic Christianity. Some would say that thereby a window opens to the “real” Jesus of history. That is utter rubbish. If the canonical Gospels/Acts/Epistles do not reveal a historic and real Jesus, there will be no historic and real Jesus to be revealed. Better just to be honest about it up front, quit trying to co-opt Jesus for whatever modern sensibility you’re trying to use Jesus to promote or establish, and just say there is nothing to that Jesus thing but a little blip on the screen of first century Jewish history.

The problem for everybody, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus is real and true, is that Jesus is real and alive today, that most likely the Gospels and Epistles are real and true accountings of His life, His death, and His resurrection, and that they are also real and true accountings of His expectations, His call to faith and repentance, His call to Himself as Lord, His call to embrace of His atoning death.

So, in truth, a lot is at stake.

It would be so much better I think just to say that Jesus died and stayed dead, that therefore he was not a great prophet but just another in a long line of would be messiahs who ended up on the wrong end of a Roman cross, and that Christianity is false and bogus from beginning to end. If someone would just say THAT it would be almost refreshing.

But if you’re going to say that with integrity today you’re going to have to deal with the
Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright, currently the most definitive historical work on the subject, one that that deals most completely with the movements prior to, contemporary with, and following the life of Jesus, and how they impacted, interacted, and often co-opted the message of Christianity as first presented by the early church.

If you are going to the trouble of reading all the other stuff on the market, particularly this time of year, then do the work, and read Wright’s book. Then decide what you think. If you haven’t read Wright’s book, or a book like it (and there just isn’t one thorough and current enough to suggest as an alternative), then you really cannot have a credible scholarly or historical opinion. You can have a personal opinion, just not a credible scholarly or historical one.

And if you’re going to get all ga ga about The Da Vinci Code, at least read a decent debunking by someone who doesn’t go for historical Christianity, say
Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, by our very own historic Christianity hater Bart Ehrman of UNC Chapel Hill, and after you’ve read Ehrman, then read Wright who will debunk Ehrman’s silliness in other respects.

The bottom line is this: no bodily resurrection, no Christianity. Let’s be honest enough to say so, and give up the hopeless and misguided attempts to find the “real” Jesus behind the smoke and mirrors of the canonical writings. He, whoever he was, is not to be found, if he is not to be found there.


Friday, April 07, 2006

American Aquarium Secret Code

My daughter just e-mailed me. If you’re going to the Greene Street Club (113 North Greene Street) to see American Aquarium, you can say the codeword “goldfish” at the door and get in for $10 rather than $15.

The Lord’s Supper and Passover

I was looking for something I had written a while back about Maundy Thursday, and though I did not come up with what I was looking for, I did find this newsletter piece which preceded the sermon from the Gospel of Mark on the “Last Supper.” Basically this writing gives the Jewish Passover background to the Christian Lord’s Supper. It is also relevant as we think about our upcoming Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday celebrations.

We turn in the sermon this week to the famous “Last Supper” which Jesus shared with his disciples before his passion. We will concentrate on verses 22-25:

(12) On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" (13) So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. (14) Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' (15) He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." (16) The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

(17) When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. (18) While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me." (19) They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" (20) "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. (21) The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

(22) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." (23) Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. (24) "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. (25) "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

(26) When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

As we know this last meal which Jesus shared with his disciples was in fact a Jewish Passover meal. During this meal Jesus instituted a new ritual meal to be shared by his followers. For followers of Jesus this new meal fulfilled and ultimately replaced the Passover, though its meaning would always be rooted in the Passover. We call this new meal of Jesus the “Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist” or “Communion.”

Much has been debated and written regarding the nature of Christ’s presence in the elements of communion, the issue of protecting the table, the question of self examination, the matter of children and when they should participate, the issue of how often the meal should be celebrated, etc. Obviously I cannot in one sermon address all the issues which have divided the church through the ages surrounding this meal, which ironically was and is supposed to be an expression of Christian unity! I will focus in the sermon on opening up the meaning of Jesus’ words as they were spoken in the context of a Passover celebration. In this letter I mainly hope to provide some helpful background.

The Jewish Passover was associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, in the spring, between mid-March and mid-April of each year, the first month of the “ecclesiastical” year in the Jewish calendar, and which lasted a week or so. Passover actually took place right at the front end of the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread. Both the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover remembered and celebrated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. I encourage you to read carefully Exodus chapter twelve which describes the very first “Passover.” It would be good to read this chapter to your children. This chapter is too long to paste into the letter, so I have included a section from Deuteronomy which speaks about the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover celebration.

Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste--so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning. You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. Roast it and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents. For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the LORD your God and do no work (Deuteronomy 16:1-8).

The month of Nissan began on the day of the new moon closest in time to the spring or vernal equinox. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th day of Nisan, or two weeks after the new moon, which meant that there was a full moon the night Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemene. Final preparations for the Passover sacrifices at the temple took place on the late afternoon of the 14th day of Nisan, the Passover meal itself taking place the evening after this afternoon sacrifice. Since the Jews reckoned the beginning of their day at sunset, the sacrifice took place on 14th of Nisan (before sunset) while the Passover meal on the 15th. (after sunset). For the year of Jesus’ death both the day of the 14th of Nisan and the evening of the 15th of Nisan were on what would now call a Thursday. This is why many Christians celebrate “Maundy Thursday.”

On the Thursday morning, before noon, Jesus sends two of his disciples, Peter and John, too see that they had everything needed for he Passover meal. Each Passover lamb sacrificed was to serve fir a “company” of people – a family, or in this case, for Jesus and his disciples. Peter and John would have purchased a lamb either on the mount of olives or in the city and taken it up to the temple to be sacrificed. There they would have joined in the festivities at the temple, being placed in organized divisions with others. At the right time At the right time – and it was all very well choreographed and organized -- they would have slain the lamb themselves, the blood of the lamb collected in a bowl and passed up to the fire where the priests would pour it out onto the fire, and all the while the company of people singing the Hallel psalms antiphonally with the Levites. The lamb’s body would then be passed along to be hung up and cleaned, the entrails and other wastes being also added to the sacrificial fire. Eventually Peter and John would take the lamb, hang it from a branch, carry it carefully through the city to the meeting room, and begin the process of cocking the lamb according to all the Levitical rules. The lamb was to be roasted on a spit of pomegranate wood. Even while cooking the lamb was to remain undefiled -- no part of the cooking lamb could be allowed to touch the oven; if it did, it was to be cut off. Water could not even be added to the roasting meat. Not a bone of lamb was to be broken during the preparation or eating. The unbrokenness of the lamb’s bones symbolized the unbrokenness of fellowship with YHWH. The entire lamb had to eaten by morning, and whatever was not eaten was to burned

The celebration had changed much between its first institution and in Jesus’ day. Rather than being dressed in clothes symbolizing readiness for flight, Passover celebrants were to be dressed in festive garments. Rather than eating while standing “in the manner of slaves,” the participants were to recline, or sit leaning,” as men having been delivered from bondage to freedom, with their left arm on the low table and their right hand free to eat and drink.

By Jesus’ day the use of wine had become a traditional part of the meal. This wine was to express Israel’s joy on this special night. Four times during the Passover meal when wine was shared and drunk by those present. These “four cups” had been well worked into the older Passover meal, the first and third cups being the most important, the third cup, called the “cup of blessing” or the “cup of redemption” the most important of all. When it says in Mark 14:23 that Jesus “took the cup,” this cup is the “third cup,” the cup of redemption, which represented the blood of the sacrificial lamb having been poured out and spread over the lentil piece. Jesus goes on to invest new meaning to this cup, which now will represent his own shed blood. Thus, Jesus’ taking of the cup must be understood in light of this part of the traditional Passover celebration. Interestingly, the fourth cup, which looked ahead to that further work of redemption which the Jews looked to God to accomplish, provided the context for Jesus to make his reference to not drinking until the he drinks it anew in the consummated messianic kingdom (Mark 14:25).

In addition, it had become customary over time to sing Psalms during the Passover meal. Over the course of time five Psalms in particular came to be associated with the celebration of the great festivals. These are called the “Hallel Psalms,” known together as the “Egyptian Hallel," Psalms commemorating deliverance – deliverance from Egypt and deliverance from God’s enemies in general. If you look up these Psalms you will see for the most part that they begin with “Praise the LORD,” which we have all learned by now translates the Hebrew “Hallelu Yah,” or “Praise YHWH.” Hence the name “Hallel Psalms.”

These Psalms came to be used as part of the corporate and family worship liturgy of the great festivals, and “served as a focus for the prayer, praise, and thanksgiving of every pious Jew.” At Passover, for example, Psalms 113 and 114 were commonly sung before the meal and Psalms 115-118 were sung after the meal.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26).

It is likely that this “hymn” (or song) consisted of Psalms 115-118, which means that Psalm 118 was probably the very last Psalm sung by the Lord Jesus.

We are probably mostly familiar with the basic elements of the Passover meal – the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, and the Passover lamb. St. Paul’s teacher, rabbi Gamaliel, said of these the following:

Whoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent upon him. These three things are; the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. The Passover lamb means that God passed over the blood-sprinkled place on the houses of our fathers in Egypt; the unleavened bread means that our fathers were delivered out of Egypt in haste; and the bitter herbs mean that the Egyptians made bitter the lives of our fathers in Egypt.

Typically the bitter herbs and bread were dipped or “sopped” into either salted water, or vinegar, or a mixture of dates and raisins in vinegar, called Charoseth. Over the course of time the exact procedure regarding the breaking and passing the bread changed, and it is hard to say whether in Jesus’ last supper the bread was passed once, twice, or three times. However many times the bread was passed, the unleavened loaf would be broken by the host and then passed to the guests. This is the “breaking” of the bread behind Jesus idea of Christ’s body being “broken” in our communion meal.

It is hard to say just what Passover pattern Jesus and the disciples followed exactly. We are fairly certain of some of the features, but there was not an absolute set pattern and always some manner of flexibility. In the chart below I have outlined a likely scenario for Jesus last meal with the disciples. On the right I have tried to show where the tidbits we have from the NT texts fit into the overall course of the meal. What is important is for us to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words in their context, which is what I will try to draw out in the sermon Sunday.

Toward the end of the day Jesus and the rest would have left Bethany to enter the city. As Jesus approached the city this would have been the last time he was to see the city in daylight. Jesus and the rest of the disciples would have entered the city, wound through the familiar streets until they found the place prepared for their meal, and there joined up with Peter and John who would have been roasting the lamb. At Sundown of this “Thursday” the Jewish day became the 15th of Nissan.

Typical 1st Century Passover “Seder” compared to Jesus’ Last Supper

Typical 1st Century Passover: Guests take their places
Jesus’ Last Supper: The seating arrangement provokes a dispute about who is the greatest (Luke 22:24-30).

Typical 1st Century Passover: Blessing and drinking of first cup of wine and the “thanksgiving”
Jesus’ Last Supper: After taking the cup, he gave thanks…(Luke 22:17)

Typical 1st Century Passover: Head of party washes hands
Jesus’ Last Supper: Jesus washes disciples feet (John 13:4-5)

Typical 1st Century Passover: Meal is brought in:
Unleavened bread
Bitter herbs
Stewed fruit
Roast Lamb
Herbs dipped in salt water or the “Caroseth,” and passed
The dishes are removed
Question of the youngest present
The host reviews Israel’s salvation history
The dishes returned
Explanation of each part of supper by host
First Part of Hallel Sung – Psalms 113 and 114
Drinking of the second cup
Hands washed again

Typical 1st Century Passover: Blessing, breaking and passing of unleavened cake with bitter herbs between them, which is dipped in the salt water or the “Caroseth”
Jesus’ Last Supper: Jesus is troubled in spirit (John 13:21).
John asks Jesus who is the one (John 13:25).
Jesus dips bread and gives to Judas (John 13:26).
Judas gets up and leaves (John 13:30).

Typical 1st Century Passover: Eating of roasted lamb.

Typical 1st Century Passover: Passing of piece of unleavened bread. Normally no food was eaten after the lamb. This was an innovation.
Jesus’ Last Supper: Jesus took bread gave thanks and broke it…”this is my body” (Mark 14:22).

Typical 1st Century Passover: Washing of hands

Typical 1st Century Passover: Blessing and Drinking of the third cup, the “cup of blessing” or “cup of redemption”
Jesus’ Last Supper: Paul’s “cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 11:24)
Then he took the cup, gave thanks…“this is my blood” (Mark 14:23).

Typical 1st Century Passover: Drinking of the fourth cup
Jesus’ Last Supper: “I tell you the truth…” (Mark 14:25)

Typical 1st Century Passover: Singing of second part of Hallel
Jesus’ Last Supper: When they had sung a hymn… (Mark 14:26)

I would like now to comment on the significance of Jesus’ words in Mark 14:22-25. First I will look at his words regarding the bread, then his words about the cup, and then his words about the consummation. First the bread:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."

As mentioned above, the passing and eating of the bread at this point in the meal was a variation from the normal Passover procedure, and would have been seen as such by the disciples. Normally no food was eaten after the Passover lamb. This innovation or variation itself would have made an impression upon the disciples. It also would have “upstaged” the lamb itself.

The “bread” was actually a loaf or cake of unleavened bread. Jesus took hold of this loaf and gave thanks – possibly saying something similar to the traditional Passover prayer -- “Blessed art thou, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” As you may know, the Greek word for “giving thanks” is eucharisto, from which we get one of the names of the Lord’s Supper – the “Eucharist.”

Jesus then broke the bread and likely gave a piece to each person rather than just passing the whole loaf around. The actual “breaking” of the bread would of course came to have more significance than being merely a way to get pieces of the loaf to each person. Rather, this act of breaking the bread would be associated with Jesus own atoning sacrifice and death.

Then Jesus spoke the words that have become surrounded with controversy, “Take, eat, this is my body.”

Nothing could have been further from Jesus’ mind than our debates about whether the resurrected Christ is present in or under or through or above or beside or around the bread, or whether the bread in some sense “becomes” Jesus physical body. These may indeed be interesting and important debates, but to try to recruit Jesus’ here as speaking to them is not really proper.

This word “is” in the statement has a large range of meaning and does not convey some strict literalistic sense that the piece of bread physically is or becomes Jesus’ physical body. Instead, the context of the Passover meal certainly provides the clue to how we should take these words. Just as aspects of the Passover meal represented, stood for, or called to mind central aspects of God’s saving work, so also the breaking of Jesus’ body brings to mind the ultimate soon-to-be-revealed aspect of God’s saving work – the atoning death of Jesus.

By eating the bread that so calls to mind and represents and symbolizes Jesus’ sacrificial death, the participant is identifying himself with Jesus and his work. He is laying claim to and celebrating the benefit of this atoning work.

Turning to the wine, we read that:

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

As mentioned above the cup which Jesus took would have been the “third cup,” or “cup of redemption,” or “cup of blessing.” Again, as with the bread, Jesus gave thanks. Perhaps he would have spoken one of the traditional words of blessing over the cup, “Blessed art thou O Lord our God King of the Universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.”

Jesus then passed the cup around and they all drank from it. The cup would have been a common cup, and the drinking together from this common cup would have given a greater sense that sharing in the cup was a corporate matter – a common sharing in that which the cup symbolized.

Before or during or after the passing and drinking of this cup, Jesus spoke the words:

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them

There is some evidence that the third cup of the Passover meal was cut or diluted with warm water to more accurately convey its association with the blood of the Passover lamb. Jesus springs from the connection between the wine of the cup of blessing and the blood of the sacrificial Passover lamb, and then changes the association. The wine now represents and calls to mind not the blood of the Passover lamb, but his own blood. Indeed, he now is the real Passover Lamb!

Again, the use of the word “is” should not be made to answer questions about the nature of Christ’s presence in the wine. Just what the cup represent? It is “my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.”

In these few words Jesus is alluding to three very important Old Testament Scriptures --
Exodus 24:8; Jeremiah 31:31; and Ezekiel 37:26.

The phrase “blood of the covenant” harkens back to Exodus 24:8:

Exodus 24:5-8 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

If you read the verses leading up to Exodus 24:8 you will see that this extremely important passage describes the ratification of the covenant between YHWH and the people of Israel. YHWH has rescued His people from Egypt. He has become their God, and they His people. He has bonded Himself to them. He is the covenant Lord, the covenant king. They, the people, are the subjects, the vassals. He the Covenant Lord makes promises to them, and they the people make pledges to Him. They agree to honor Him by living according to the stipulations of the law. As they walk faithfully before Him, He will protect and bless them; if they are disloyal and turn from Him, he will curse them. Now, by verse 5 of Exodus 24, the people have heard the stipulations of the covenant. It is time for them formally to pledge themselves to YHWH; and He has to them. Animals are sacrificed in a fellowship offering, an offering that celebrates that bond or relationship between the people and their God. The blood of the slain animals is collected in bowls. Moses then dips a hyssop branch into the blood and flings the blood onto the people. It splats onto their clothes, onto their bodies and onto their faces. By submitting to this rite the people are saying, “Yes, we commit ourselves to YHWH. We are His people. So be it done unto us (i.e., that we would be cut up and killed) if we are not faithful to the covenant!”

By alluding to Exodus 24:8 Jesus is saying that participating in the cup of communion is like being a part of a covenant ratification ceremony. This means that those who partake of his cup are saying “Yes” to the offer of God, to the work of God in Jesus, to that bond which He makes with his people through Jesus’ blood. Sharing in Jesus’ cup thus affirms our fellowship with God through Jesus and His work. But it also affirms of our commitment to Him. By participating in it we are taking upon ourselves the stipulations and responsibilities of knowing God as covenant Lord. By participating in it we are agreeing to walk in the way of Jesus, the exalted and sovereign Lamb upon the throne.

This cup representing Jesus’ blood is not splattered onto the people but ingested by them. The phrase “covenant in my blood” points us to the sacrifice of Jesus himself as that which makes possible the new covenant. Jesus’ atoning death is the basis for the relationship or bond between God and His people. This is what Jesus means by “poured out for many.” Jesus is the servant of Isaiah 53, offering his life for his people. Indeed all sacrifices, even the Passover sacrifice, have pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice all along. Jesus’ death provides the way to relationship to God. Jesus’ sacrifice opens up the veil. Jesus’ sacrifice opens up the way to life.

The covenant being spoken about is certainly the ”new” covenant. Other of the gospel accounts use the word “new” here. The newness of this covenant is certainly implied whether the word “new” is included or not. God had promised a time when he would make a new covenant with his people, when he would write the law upon their hearts, when he would be their God and they his people, when he would pour out his spirit upon them and turn their dead bones into living flesh. That time had now come. The way to this new state of affairs is through the sacrifice of Jesus.

The fourth cup is now passed, that cup which looks forward to YHWH’s future and final deliverance of his people:

"I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

Paul said that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lords’ death until He comes. Jesus and Paul are both looking ahead to that time when the kingdom is consummated, to the great messianic feast, the feast of the Lamb:

Revelation 19:7-9 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God."

Luke 22:29-30 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."

Jesus is anticipating that there will be a period of time between his resurrection and coming again. Yes, he is going away. Yes, it will be a while before he celebrates with them again in person, when he comes in his kingdom at the consummation. Everything ultimately looks ahead to this.

Then Jesus sings the last two Hallel psalms, gets up, and goes forth.

The Haw River and The Haw River State Park

After reading Viewfinder Blues article on his expedition into the deep wilderness of what soon will be our newest State park, the Haw River State Park, I thought I’d reprint an old writing about the Haw River and its tributaries in Guilford County. Click on the hyperlinks to find out about the Haw River State Park.

The Haw River and its Tributaries

The Haw River has a humble beginning near Bethel Church Road in eastern Forsyth County. From there it runs roughly to the northeast through the NW sector of Guilford County before taking a northerly turn into Rockingham County. On the way to Rockingham, the Haw River crosses under Highway 68 at the bridge near Harrell Road. From Highway 68 to Highway 220 the Haw River roughly forms the southern border of the incorporated limits of the town of Stokesdale.

The Haw crosses under Highway 220 at the bottom of the big hill on 220 between Scalesville Road and Highway 158. It then crosses under Lake Brandt Road at the bottomland between Scalesville and 158, and then under Witty Road just as Witty crosses into Rockingham County.

Much of the Haw River area in Guilford County remains undeveloped and contains some of the best remaining forest in our county, including the floodplain and adjacent bluffs and uplands. The state of North Carolina has made plans for the “
Haw River State Park,” out first state park in Guilford County.

North Buffalo Creek

North Buffalo Creek begins between Wendover and West Market west of Holden. It crosses Holden at its intersection with Wendover, then flows through Lindley Park, through the Greensboro Arboretum, along Wendover behind Wesley Long Hospital, after which it turns right to follow along the south side of Benjamin Parkway, then through Lake Daniel Park, crossing Battleground at the convergence of Benjamin and Battleground. The lovely city greenways that run through Lindley, Lake Daniel, and Latham parks all follow the course of North Buffalo Creek. From Benjamin and Battleground North Buffalo Creek flows through Latham Park, crossing under Wendover in the often-flooded bottom land between Wendover and Elm, crosses Elm street just north of Cone Hospital, then winds northwest just south of old Carolina Circle Mall. Soon thereafter it passes along the North Buffalo Wastewater treatment plant (the city’s treated wastewater empties into North Buffalo Creek there), and then follows a northwest course along the north side of the White Street Landfill. Eventually it empties into Reedy Creek fork in the northwest apart of Guilford County near the High Rock and Hicone road intersections.

The quality of what has become such an urbanized creek has until recent years been quite poor. But the City of Greensboro, encouraged and aided by various citizens groups, has begun a hopeful project of restoring streams throughout the city. Restoring such a prominent city stream as North Buffalo Creek has been a major goal. This restoration includes allowing the creeks to resume their natural more winding paths (thus slowing down stream flow) and encouraging natural stream side vegetation to grow up along the edges, thus reducing erosion and allowing for greater natural purifying processes to take place. This can be easily seen for example in Lake Daniel Park.

South Buffalo Creek

South Buffalo Creek begins its life along Big Tree Way between Guilford College Road and West Wendover. It runs all the way through Big Tree Park, and then roughly follows an eastward course just north of I-40, passing under Patterson, running through Hunter Hills Park, crossing under Holden just above I-40, then runs through Hillsdale Park along Meadowview near Four seasons Mall. The Hillsdale Park Greenway runs along South Buffalo Creek. South Buffalo Creek then winds back and forth along I-40, alongside the south side of Barber Park, before turning northeastward and cutting across Highway 70 near McLeansville, eventually emptying into North Buffalo Creek near McLeansville Road and Butler Road in the NE part of the county.

Horse Pen Creek

Horse Pen Creek begins very near the corner of West Friendly Avenue West and the little spur of Old Friendly Road near the airport. It flows generally to the northeest, running through Longview Country Club, crossing under Old Oak Ridge Road, Bryan Blvd., and Fleming Roads, and then crossing Horse Pen Creek Road in the marshy bottomland area near the Sullivan Lakes development. It crosses Battleground just north of Battleground Plaza (where the bridge crosses over this often wet bottomland area) and then crosses Old Battleground Road at the bottomland between Lake Brandt Road and Horse Pen Creek Road. It empties shortly thereafter into the south spur of Lake Brandt. The Nat Green Trail, accessible at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill on Old Battleground, follows along this last bit of Horse Pen Creek, eventually crossing the Lake Brandt Greenway.

Reedy Fork Creek

Reedy Fork Creek has its origin just west of the new Triad Park on the Guilford/Forsyth County lines, and runs through the middle of the new park. After that it proceeds on a general northeasterly course through northern Guilford County, eventually emptying into the Haw River in Northeast Alamance County. Reedy Fork Creek is the primary source of water for both Lake Brandt and Lake Townsend. Both Horse Pen Creek and North Buffalo Creek empty into Reedy Fork Creek, though the former confluence of Reedy Fork Creek and Horse Pen Creek lay under present day Lake Brandt.

On its way from Triad Park to Lake Brandt, Reedy Fork Creek forms the southern boundary of the town of Oak Ridge, crossing under Highway 68, Alcorn Road, and Bunch Road (twice – the lowland area on Bunch just south of Pleasant Ridge as well as just north of Northwest School Roads are both due to Reedy Fork Creek). Reedy Fork Creek enters into Lake Brandt just west of the bridge where 220 crosses the lake. The lowland marshy area to your left as you cross the bridge northbound is the entry point of Reedy Fork Creek into the lake. Reedy Fork Creek picks up again as a creek just to the east of the pumping station on Lake Brandt road, to your right as you cross over the bridge/spillway going north. It runs along somewhat backed up for a mile or two (depending on lake Townsend levels) before entering into the easternmost spur of Lake Townsend. After leaving Lake Townsend Reedy Fork Creek crosses Highway 29 and winds generally eastward, crossing through the new sight for Northeast Park (at the convergence of North Buffalo Creek and Reedy Park Creek), crossing under Highway 61 and then the Alamance County border before discharging into the Haw River.

Mears Fork

Mears Fork of the Haw River has its beginning right along highway 220N in Elmhurst Estates in Summerfield. From the it runs roughly northwesterly about half way between Scalesville Road and Highway 150 East, crossing first under Strawberry Road, and then Lake Brandt near where Witty Road runs into Lake Brandt. Mears Fork flows into the Haw River just at the Rockingham/Guilford County line, a good stones throw west from where Church Street crosses into Rockingham County.

Much of Mears Fork remains undeveloped, containing some of our finest remaining hardwood forest in Guilford County. Much of Mears Fork will form part of the
Haw River State Park, which will be centered near the convergence of Mears Fork and the Haw River along North Church Street.

Richland Creek

Many residents of Greensboro and Guilford Counties enjoy visiting both Country Park, which is owned by the city, and Battleground Park, which is owned and run by the National Park Service. Forming the major ponds of Country Park, and then running through the middle of the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, is Richland Creek. Leaving the park, Richland Creek then crosses Cottage Place, crosses under Lawndale Drive, and follows the south side of Regents Park drive until it forms Lake Jeanette. Much of the most intense fighting of the battle of Guilford Courthouse took place along Richland Creek, which would for a time have turned red from the blood on so many fallen British and American soldiers.

American Aquarium in Greensboro

The band in which my daughter Shannon plays bass, American Aquarium, will be playing in Greensboro tonight at Green Street Club, opening for a group called Cracker (I am not familiar with them). The show starts at about 9:00PM.

Check ‘em out.

If you’re interested I have several copies of their CD, which I purchased for $10.00 and will sell for $10.00. E-mail me and we can figure out payment and mailing.

If you’d like a preview of their music click on the American Aquarium link above.