Apr 19, 2013

The Eighteenth Camel

An old Arab died and left 17 camels to his three sons. The terms of his will were explicit. One-half of the camels were to be given to the eldest son, one-third to the middle son, and one-ninth to the youngest son. The sons were greatly perplexed, since seventeen cannot be divided equally by two, three, or nine.

As they were pondering how they might appropriately divide up their inheritance without spilling either their own blood or that of their camels, a neighbor came to their aid.

“I will lend you my camel,” he said. There were now eighteen camels.

The eldest son took one-half (nine camels); the middle son took one-third (six camels); and the youngest son took one-ninth (two camels). Nine plus six plus two totaled seventeen (9+6+2=17), and the neighbor took back his eighteenth camel.





Apr 12, 2013

Surfing Alone

Thomas Friedman once wrote an editorial for The New York Times entitled, “Surfing Alone.” In this editorial he writes: “I just completed a book-related tour around the U. S., which left me feeling that a backlash may be brewing against all the technology hype now dominating our lives. If 1998 was the year of Internet hope, and 1999 the year of Internet hype, maybe 2000 will be the year of Internet reality.”

Friedman goes on to recount a variety of experiences he had that made the personal connection among people, something that seems to be missing in today’s fast-paced living. Like the bar Cheers of the late, great television program, Las Vegas seems a little likely place to demonstrate human solidarity. Yet this is exactly what Friedman finds and records in his diary:
Walking through the casino in Las Vegas I was struck by all the shouting around the craps tables—strangers high-fiving each other in victory and consoling each other in defeat. You can’t do that gambling online alone in your basement. Las Vegas is thriving today precisely because it is such a tactile place, so full of people rubbing against people—at shows, in casinos, in fantasy hotels and in giant swimming pools. Las Vegas is the future because it’s the past (Thomas L. Friedman, “Surfing Alone,” The New York Times, May 30, 2000).
As church folks it is good to know that if people want to connect with other human beings, then we as a congregation are still here for good.





Apr 5, 2013

Revisiting a Palm Sunday Question

Recently an astute and committed Bible student asked me the following question:

Should we have palms in the service on Palm Sunday?—By all means! But they should be the symbol of false adulation by ignorant and willful people who chose not to believe Christ’s teachings. All they wanted was an excuse for a party. By teaching our kids that waving palms is a fun thing to do in church, the church is sending the wrong message & omitting the true meaning of scripture describing the event. Hence my question . . . why does the church do this?

I must say that these are good questions—and there were a litany of them, by the way. One classic interpretation of the Palm Sunday morphing into Good Friday reveals the contrast that the crowd “turned.” That is, they were completely sincere (or, as sincere as humans beings ever are) when they shouted in the Palm procession, but that their disillusionment caused them to change their allegiance. Of course, we can understand the palm processional in this way—and be main-stream about it and do so with theological integrity. Indeed, sometimes our understanding of God has to move through disillusionment to death, before a better faith emerges/rises.

Yet we could entertain another explanation. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe that Gospel reading of the Palm Sunday text (see: Luke 19:28-40) in The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem. On the first few pages, these authors describe two processions, an imperial procession involving Pilate on his way into Jerusalem to stand guard during the often politically tense atmosphere of the Passover, and a second “peasant procession” involving Jesus, as prophetic sign of the reign of God, not of the Roman Empire. 

This reading, of course, reflects the post-colonial reading and theology of Borg and Crossan. That particular way of reading that Borg and Crossan advocate addresses the political-religious tensions that led to the crucifixion. Nonetheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean that persons could not be in both crowds—everyone likes parades and the more the merrier.

Thus this circumstance of the Palm Parade is similar to the contrast in John’s Gospel when Jesus is called “King of the Jews,” but called so in derision. Yet if we read the text we see that no matter what the deriders believed, they unwittingly paid homage to the King of the Jews—and in three languages. See for yourself.

19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written" (John 19:19-22).

The Bible has a funny way of telling the truth, but slant as Emily Dickinson in a wonderful little poem reminds us all.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —





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