Bibliotheca, Volume 5, The New Testament, A Review

This is first and foremost a book review but before I begin to talk about this particular translation of The Bible a little history is necessary.

The Bible as we know it has a long history.  The book itself is made up of 66 separate books with a total of 40 authors written over 1500 years.  It begins with the first five books of the law which were written by Moses and ends with The Book of Revelations written by the apostle John the disciple Jesus loved.  It contains books of history, law, prophesy, wisdom, poetry, and even drama.

The Bible is a book of faith for two separate religions.  The Jewish people follow The Old Testament and Christians follow the old and New Testaments. Each book of any modern Bible whether it is being used by Jews or Christians has been broken up into chapters and verses.  This was not always so.

First, the books of the Bible were all separate entities.  It was at The Council of Hippo held in North Africa in AD 393 that a group of Christian church leaders put together a list of books that they believed were true scripture or the inspired Word of God.  A few years later at The Council of Carthage, that list was affirmed.

These books did not have chapters and verses that most of our Bibles have today.  The Chapters were added to all the books in 1227 by Stephen Langton Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Old Testament verses were added by Rabbi Nathan in 1448.  In 1555 Robert Estiene divided The New Testament into verses.  The whole book came together in The Geneva Bible published in 1560.

Now you may be scratching your head and asking why all of this information is necessary for a book review?  I’ll tell you.  First, it’s fun.  It’s good to know where things came from.  The second reason is, that it gives a foundation for what I find best in this Bible.

The Bibliotheca is according to its publisher “a gently updated edition of the 1901 American Standard Version” of The Bible.  It was worked on by some “heavy-hitting” scholars so that the language and meaning are clear.  That’s the technical part.  Here’s what I like about this Bible.

The Bibliotheca is amazing because it took out all the chapters and verses and reads as a book should read.  The language is beautiful and well thought out. My experience of reading it was like meeting an old friend who had lost a lot of weight and you are seeing them again for the first time.  All the good parts are still there but they are refreshing and new.

Removing the chapters and verses gives you a feeling of freedom to read as much or as little as you like in one sitting.  I found myself gliding through The Sermon on the Mount normally known as Matthew Chapters 5, 6, and 7 as if it was the most natural thing in the world for there was nothing to tell me to stop.  The Sermon in particular was fascinating to read as a whole like I was taking in a breath of fresh air.

The Bibliotheca is not printed in two columns like most Bibles are but as a regular full page.  It was easier to read that way.  I also cannot believe how much the chapters and verses get in the way.  I’m not saying chapters and verses are bad.  They have a purpose and help us all to find certain parts of the Bible we like or want to remember.  They also help priests, pastors and rabbis prepare their sermons but they don’t as a whole lend to readability which The Bibliotheca certainly does. 

I think that the greatest praise I can give this Bible is that it makes me want to read more.

I Am A Christian

I am a Christian.  I want to get this out of the way because there seems to be some confusion about what a Christian is and what a Christian isn’t.  This blog is my unschooled attempt to explain that.  I hope you read it and share it because I believe what I have to say is important.

First what a Christian is.  A Christian is someone who has come to believe in their heart that Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth in what we now call Israel, died for the forgiveness of our sins and was raised from the dead so that we too could share eternal life with him.

That’s it.  That is all of it.  It’s pretty easy and it is offered to every man woman and child on the planet.

Now let’s deal with some basics.  First Jesus was real.  The Bible which tells his story and many others has been proven time and time again to be historically accurate.  Several years ago a man named Lee Strobel was totally ticked off that his wife became a Christian.  He was an investigative reporter for The Chicago Tribune and had won awards for his work.  He was also a die-hard atheist. He decided to prove to his wife that Christianity was false and launched an all out investigation to prove his thoughts and to get those Crazy Christians out of his life.  Bottom line, he couldn’t do it.  He only found the historical accuracy of Jesus to be beyond dispute. He also found that Jesus was indeed one with God.  Ultimately he became a believer and wrote a book about his experience called The Case For Christ.  Read the book.  I am not here to do all the work for you.

Now you could tell me sure, “I know Jesus existed.  He was a great teacher and we should follow all that he said but he wasn’t one with God.”  This my dear friend is a faulty argument.  Here’s why.  I am going to quote a man named CS Lewis.  He was a Christian writer in the 1940s and 1950s.  He too was an atheist.  It was his friend JRR Tolkien who was a devout Catholic who presented to him an argument that he could not disprove.  After his conversion, he became one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th century.  You may be aware of his fantasy stories which are called The Chronicles of Nania.  He also has a  sci-fi series and a few other novels but his greatest works were the explanation of faith the greatest of these is Mere Christianity.  You can watch a great film on his conversion titled, The Most Reluctant Convert.  Did I telll you Lewis was also an Oxford professor?  This man was seriously smart.   Here is the quote it is from the book Mere Christianity.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

–C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I can’t put it better.  Either Jesus was who he said he was or he wasn’t.  If he wasn’t, ignore the Bible completely because it is just words on paper.  If he was I suggest you read every line.  So far I have shown you that Jesus can be proven historically real and that you have a choice to make about what to do with him.

Let’s talk about sin.  The word sin is an archery term.  It simply means missing the mark.  Or not hitting the bullseye if you will.  As we come to know God we learn that He is perfect and nothing imperfect can stand in his presence.  God created us to be perfect too and we would have been if not for the fall of man by his being disobedient to God.  In order to restore us to perfection God first set up moral laws for us to follow.  This is what Christians call The Old Testament.  Those laws can be found in the first five books of the Old Testament.  He also set up ways to atone for all the times man didn’t meet those laws.  Those were the animal sacrifices of The Old Testament.  But all through the Old Testament God makes promises that one would come that would change everything.  Those promises are called prophecies and those prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  You can read this for yourself by reading Psalm 22 in the Old Testament and then read the last few chapters of The Gospels which are titled, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament.  The comparison should amaze you considering those words were written about 2000 years apart.  Psalms first and Gospels afterward, just to be clear.

Now let’s get back to sin.  No one on this Earth except for Jesus has ever been perfect we all sin, or we all don’t hit the bullseye on a regular basis.  Committing murder is a sin.  But most of us haven’t done that.  Telling a lie is a sin and all of us have done that.  Jesus came to make us perfect in the eyes of God.  He came to take away the sins of the world.  Those sins are all forgiven, past present, and future when we accept in our hearts what Jesus did for us.  This takes faith first and foremost.  No one can pay for salvation.  It is one hundred percent free.  It’s a gift from a God who loves each and every one of us because he created and formed each and every one of us.  All artists understand this anyone who has any creative juice in them at all understands this.  When we create something, a mom who makes a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner is pleased with what she did.  A Mechanic who fixes tunes up, and details a car can probably say he loves the work that he did, what we create, what we work on we feel good about it when it comes out right.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  God made each of us and none of us is a mistake.  All of us at birth are beautiful in His sight.  But then God did something radical.  He wanted His creation to love Him and love cannot be forced on someone.  Love is a choice.  God gave us all free will to choose to love Him or to go our own way.  When we choose to seek God and love Him we will find Jesus Christ.  God is love.  If we go to the New Testament and look up the famous love definition in the Bible in First Corinthians chapter 13 we can change the word love to God and get a full picture of how much He loves us.

This is what Christianity is all about.  It’s about a God who loves us, a God who loves you my dear reader, who did all he could and gave all he had to bring his creation back to himself.  Now it’s up to us to choose.

Now here is what a Christian is not.  No Christain is to stand in judgment on any other human being.  Are there Christians that do that?  Yes!!! And they are far from God.  Many people say they do things in God’s name.  Evil things, things that make me extemely angry.  People who call themselves Christians and approve of the bombing of abortion clinics.  That’s not love.  People who go to the funerals of gay men and women to tell the family that their loved one is burning in hell.  That’s not love and that’s not the God of Christianity.  The God of Christianity tells us to do everything in love as outlined in First Corinthians 13.  I was going to make you look that up, but no.  Here is the what love is and what God is.

First Corinthians 13

 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Charles Dickens wrote the best explanation of the people who do evil things in the name of God or Jesus in his book A Christmas Carol.  This is The Ghost of Christmas Present speaking but in some ways, he is, to me, The Christ figure in the book.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

You can change the words “us” and “our” to “God” and “God’s” and you’ll see what I mean.

Here let me do it for you.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know God, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in God’s name, who are as strange to God and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not God.”

Christians are truly a mixed bag of people.  We come in all colors.  We all are different.  Some of us smoke and drink.  Some us are straight and some of us are gay.  Some of us can cuss up a storm and some of us dance and sing and play cards.  Some of us are overweight, and yes I’m working on that and some of us are recovering addicts. Some of us are addicts, caught in a web we are looking to break free from.  We are all as different as different can be.  We are all flawed. We simply have this in common.  We found a God who loves us, we believed in Jesus who saved us and we want nothing more for those we know to come to know that same love.

Being a true Christian is all about love.

Holy Week and Health

I have written extensively on Holy Week elsewhere.  I have, however, never taken the time to introduce the life-changing possibilities that are given to us because of this week.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday.  I wrote a little about Palm Sunday in my article on Lent.  Palm Sunday is the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is praised and palm branches are spread on the road before him and waived in the air around him.  This is a King’s entrance into a city even if that king is riding on the back of a donkey.

We know from scripture that many things occur during this week.  Jesus cleanses the temple from money changers and teaches openly in the temple.  We know that the Jewish leaders form their plot against Jesus and we know that Judas Iscariot agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With that background, we come to Holy Thursday.

Holy Thursday has two significant events.  Or maybe three, the last supper, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, and then his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

The Last Supper is the time that Jesus is the most intimate with his disciples and gives them his last instructions.  Hel also gives instructions for those who would believe in him because of the disciple’s word.  He wants his church to be one.

The Church being one is something Christians have struggled with since the reformation 500 years ago.  The Church is not one.  It is splintered into denominations and sub denominations all believing that they have the correct view of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of The New Testament.  This is much to our shame.  We all live in the same house but we divide ourselves into separate rooms rarely venturing into the other rooms.  It will be a great day when Jesus comes back and reunites us all again.

Holy Communion is established during The Last Supper.  Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat this is my body,”  He then took a cup of wine and blessed it and sent it around to his disciples and said, “this is my blood.”  This was to begin to make the disciples understand what was about to happen.  Jesus’ betrayal, an unjust trial, a whipping or a scrouging, and his death on the cross.  Holy Communion is a reminder of all those things to all Christians no matter their denomination.

After the supper is over Jesus takes his disciples to a garden on  the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem it is there that he prays to God that the events that are about to unfold could be passed on but he ends with “Thy will not mine be done.”  Judas then arrives with other men to arrest Jesus.  He betrays Jesus with a kiss and Jesus is led away.  Hid disciples scatter.

The illegal trial l being held in the dead of night is slow going.  No witnesses can agree.  Caiphas, The High Priest, eventually asks Jesus if He, Jesus, is the son of God, Jesus responds “I am.” This is all the disbelieving religious rulers of Jersusalem need to hear.  Caiphas proclaims blasphemy and hopes for Jesus’ death but that decision is not his to make.  Israel is held by the Roman Empire and only the Roman Governor can sentence anyone to death.  So Jesus now Jesus is brought to the Roman Quarters to find his fate which would be decided by Pontius Pilate.

Pilate can find nothing legally wrong with Jesus.  Not by Roman law.  Hoping to appease the Jews Pilate has him scrouged.  This is a whipping but the whip is made up of several leather cords.  Each cord has bits of metal and bone tied into it.  With every lash pieces of Jesus’ back start to rip off slowly exposing the muscles as his skin is shredded.  There is a belief that Jesus received only 49 lashes as Jewish law permitted fifty and the Jews stopped at 49 to not break the law.  This beating, however, was done by Romans who had no reason to obey Jewish law.  The number of lashes could have been less or more.

Jesus then appears before Pilate again and Pilate offers to set Jesus free but the Jews would have none of it shouting at the governor to crucify Jesus.  Usually a scrouging was enough.  But these people wanted blood.  When the Jews brought Caesar’s name into it saying that if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified he would be no friend to Ceasar.  Pilate had no choice it was between this man and being reported to the emperor.  Pilate washed his hands to show he had no desire to kill Jesus.  He then sent him to be crucified.

Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.  First Jesus was forced to carry the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion.  He was too weak to do this by himself due to the loss of blood and Simon was forced to help him.  When they got to the destination the beam was flung to the ground.  Jesus was roughly pushed to the ground as well and his hands were stretched out across the wooden beam and then his wrists were attached to the cross with large nails.  The beam with Jesus attached was then raised to fit into the vertical beam of the cross.  This had to be excruciating.  At this point one nail was driven through both of Jsus’ feet, which were placed one on top of the other, securing them to the cross.  The knees were left bent a little.

This happened at about the noon hour.  For three hours Jesus would hang from that cross.  In the position that he was in he couldn’t breathe and to get air into his lungs, he had to push up against the nail in his feet which hurt tremendously.  He would grab a breath and speak.  These were the seven times he spoke.  His last words were, “It is finished, Fathe into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And Jesus died.  This is Good Friday.

The Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side to prove he was dead and water and blood came out.  This indicated that Jesus died of a heart attack brought on by suffocation.  His body was released to Joseph of Arimathea and was placed in Joseph’s tomb in a garden not far away.  The tomb was then sealed with a huge stone and a Roman guard was posted to guard it.  Many would think this is the end of the story but it isn’t.  Jesus, on the third day in the tomb, rose from the dead.  The stone was rolled away and Jesus left the tomb and death behind him.  This is Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s plan to reunite the world to himself after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  All men sin and “fall short of the glory of God.”  God required a sacrifice to take on all of the wrath of God against sinful people.  He chose his son to make that sacrifice and in so doing set us free.  “Whoever believes in the son of God have the right to claim themselves to be children of God.”.

What to do with this.  First, you can’t dismiss it once you know it.  Jesus is either the risen son of God or a total fraud.  You can’t say he was a great teacher because of the many things he taught the central fact was he claimed to be the son of God.  He predicted he would be killed and that he would rise again.  Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament.  Bearing that in mind Jesus is either who he claims or he is insane but you can’t say he was a great teacher.

So the next thing to do is to decide what you will do with Jesus.  If you believe him a whole new life awaits you.  If you dismiss him you may find yourself in a place you do not want to be for all of eternity.

What does all of this have to with health and weight loss?  Quite a bit.  You see Jesus wants me to live my best life possible.  And part of that is living a healthy life. I have fallen into many bad habits that destroyed my health in many ways.  But Jesus not only saved us from our sins but he offers the inner strength to do the impossible because ‘Nothing is impossible with God.”  And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead for me to be the best me.  He allowed himself to die so that I could live a good and happy life.  That life includes good health and a servant’s attitude.  Being healthy and also being able to say, whenever the opportunity arises, “How can I help?” to anyone who may need help.

My health journey continues.  I have been in physical therapy for the last six weeks at Advanced Physical Therapy and Aquatics.  I am being well taken care of by Josh and Steve and the rest of the staff.  They have developed a program for me to follow that has helped me gain strength and stability in my body.  I was evaluated on the first day I was there and reevaluated yesterday.  The reevaluation showed marked improvement from where I started.  I thank God for leading me to this place and for the expert guidance of the staff.  If you live in or around the Springfield Delaware County area of Pennsylvania and you need P.T. this is the place to go.

I went to see my primary care physician today and found that I have lost two more pounds.  At first, I was disappointed, but the nurse and the doctor pointed out that it was better than nothing which is another way of saying I took two steps forward and no steps back.

Easter is a time to rejoice and there are so many things to rejoice about.  You know God in one way or another tells over 800 times in The Bible to rejoice, to be glad to be happy.  In the book of Proverbs, it says that “A merry heart is good like a medicine and a downcast spirit dries up the bones.  I think this idea has been distilled down to “Laughter is the best medicine.”  And it is!  We all go through rough times.  Times that we think we will never laugh again, that joy is impossible.  But those times don’t have to last.  You can find joy again by turning to God and turning to others.  I have found this to be the truest thing in life.  Happy Easter and may God bless us, every one.  (This applies even more at Easter than Christmas)

Setbacks

Life is full of twists and turns.  It has surprises-both good and bad and can take you on roads you never meant to travel.  Hans Christian Anderson said Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by the finger of God.”  GK Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  I think as adults we forget about the lessons of fairy tales.  Not the sanitized versions of fairy tales that Disney has given us.  (I do love those but they aren’t accurate)  The true fairy tales that were collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany or the romantic French fairy tales or the stories written by Hans Christian Anderson and the ancient fables of Aesop are long forgotten as we enter adulthood and yet we need those lessons even more at this time in life.  CS Lewis said, “One day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.”  For me, that time has come.

The last two weeks have been a heavy time for me.  Emotionally I fell into a deep depression that made me unable to write this blog.  My heart was so heavy with sorrow that I wasn’t sure I would ever write again.  When I disclosed this depression to my friend Richard he told me to write when I was ready and not before.  I took that advice and I stayed away from my keyboard secretly wondering if I would ever write again.  While in this depressed state I woke up one morning and got out of bed and when my feet hit the floor something happened to my left foot.  I could just barely walk.  There was a stabbing pain every time I took a step.  This was a Sunday morning and I dreaded going to the emergency room of any of our local hospitals so I stayed in bed and waited until the next day to call my foot doctor.

I felt very alone and abandoned during this time.  The depression hadn’t gone away and my injury of, whatever this was, just made things go darker.  Because of all of this and being afraid of falling I canceled a trip to NYC to see Hugh Jackman in The Music Man.  I had the tickets for three years.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but I had to let it go.  Doing this, though correct, made things much worse.

I went to the foot doctor the following day and he did X-rays right there in the office.  My foot got a whole round of pictures taken.  I think to this day there are more pictures of my feet than my head.  The X-rays showed that there were no broken bones but a swelling of the bone occurred.  It was a flair-up of arthritis in my foot which is severe in both feet, but the left foot seems to take the brunt of everything.

I was told to go home and stay off of it as much as possible.  To ice it and cancel my physical therapy until the next week.  I was told it would take anywhere from 3 days to 21 days to heal.  So I stopped at the market loaded up on provisions and went home.

I was severely depressed, I was confined to my home, I had to cancel a trip that I had waited three years for, and I felt I had no hope.  What do you do when you feel you’ve lost everything that matters.  First, you eat.

I, without a doubt, have a comfort food addiction and I allowed that addiction to have full control.  I bought vanilla icing and spread it on Pop-Tarts.  I was eating ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I went to McDonald’s for the first time in 4 months.  I was binging eating and it was to make the pain I felt go away.  It didn’t do that.  It just made me feel worse.

This behavior only lasted a couple of days.  One morning I woke up and was reading my daily devotionals.  I receive, every morning, in my email, a paragraph or two by Henri Nouwen.  That morning’s writing was talking about entering the gate thru the narrow road.  And as we get to know Jesus through that narrow gate it can be painful.  But the pain is good because it helps purify us and changes us into the men and women God created us to be.  In other words, it molds us like a sculptor shapes a piece of stone into something beautiful.  In other words, God is like Michelangelo as he carved out David.

The email also talked about the Eucharist.  How we need communion for strength to get through the journey of our lives.  I thought about that.  I don’t believe, as the Catholics do, that The Eucharist is the actual blood and body of Jesus.  I do believe that something very important takes place when you receive communion.  I think God blesses you and his face shines on you and a divine something happens in that moment and a spark of who Jesus is, enters you.

With those thoughts, a peace that I have not felt in a very long time came down on me.  The peace that the Bible describes as being beyond our understanding.  I felt that everything was going to be alright and though both the road and the gate were narrow I could make it through despite the pain.  I began to follow my new diet regime again.  I threw out what was left of the Pop-Tarts and frosting.  I don’t think there was much more to get rid of.  My soul and my house had been cleansed.  I felt better.

I am back in physical therapy as of yesterday.  The pain in my foot remains but is not as severe.  I’m making good food choices and I feel emotionally well.  I am glad that I gave in but I didn’t give up.

I read a quote recently that I hope inspires you as much as it inspires me.  Life is full of hurdles that seem to be too high to jump and chasms that seem too wide and deep to cross, but we were made for these challenges. We were created to be in this world and to become our best selves despite adversity.  The quote comes from a book my friend Beaj recommended to me.  The book is called The Gap and the Gain and the quote is “The rule is simple: the person who fails the most will win.  If I fail more than you do, I will win.  Because in order to keep failing you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.”  The Gap and the Gain is by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy.

I began this blog by talking about fairy tales and dragons. I am on a fairy tale adventure right now. The stories of Hansel and Gretel, Price Phillip slaying the dragon in Sleeping Beauty, and Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom will inspire me to travel on the road I’m on and to stay with it. I will destroy the dragon of depression and will kill the witch of being overweight. That is my quest and my destiny.

Next week my new weigh-in results and Holy Week.

It Takes Courage To Change

It was in the late 4th century that a boy was kidnapped off the coast of what we now call England.  He was about 14 years old and he was kidnapped by Irishmen who took him to Ireland and sold him into slavery.  At the time this was common practice.  England was part of the Roman Empire and its citizens were Romans.  The boy was of noble birth and lived on a coastal estate.  His parents were staying in a nearby town at the time and not only the boy was taken, but also all the servants.

Rome was beginning to fall apart at this time and much of its military strength was brought back to Rome.  This left England ripe for the picking by the Irish Marauders that would cross the sea to capture what they could from England’s coast.

That boy would remain a slave in Ireland for six years.  During that time he was made a shepherd and tended the sheep of his captors.  For long periods he would remain alone his only company the animals he tended.  It was then that God spoke to this boy.  He told him it was time to escape and how to go about it.  The boy followed the instructions and escaped back home.  That boy’s name was Patrick.

Patrick returned home and became a priest.  He then did what not many men would do.  He returned to the land of his captors to minister to them and to bring the good news of The Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Irish people.

If there are heroes in this world Patrick ranks as one of the foremost of all time.  To go back to a land that enslaved you, that mistreated you, that abducted you from your home took more compassion and mercy than many of us ever show.  To embrace those who hated you with love is both courageous and heroic.

Everything that we know about Patrick’s life was left to us by him.  There are two letters.  The first, A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus and Confessions.  The first is a lettter to a slave-raidng king and his mercenaries and the second is a defense of his work that was made necessary because of accusations made by other churchmen.  It is believed that the churchmen were jealous of Patrick’s success in Ireland.  Remarkably, these documents are available online to read.  They dispel all the rumors and myths about Patrick and show him for the simple man he was.  Simple but full of courage.  Patrick’s courage took him to face his enemies and serve them in love.  He could have stayed safely at home but instead, changed a nation of heathen into believers in Jesus Christ.

It takes courage to make changes.  Patrick had to have a store of courage to believe that God had spoken to him and to initiate the plane God had given him to escape.  Once he was free it took tremendous courage to return to the land of his captors and serve them.  All change for the good of our lives or the good of others takes courage.

Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”  Note that courage doesn’t mean that you are fearless.  That actually would make change easy.  Courage is when you find the strength to do something even though you may fear that something.  Most people dislike and fear change and that is why change takes courage.  Adapting to a new and healthier lifestyle takes courage.

It has been since December 6th that I began my life-changing adventure.  At the outset, I was frightened.  I didn’t believe I could do it and neither did I want to.  Along with the need to change came the knowledge that if I did not change I was going to die.  My weight was extremely high.  As I have said in the blog more than once there are no old fat people.  Overweight people inevitably die before their time.

I am now at the beginning of what many would call old age.  I am in my early sixties my birthday is Saint Patrick’s Day.  Being born on that day made me hungry for the knowledge of this great man and he has become one of my greatest heroes of the faith.  The others two being Saint Francis and Saint Nicholas.  Saint Francis though rich and entitled made himself poor in order to serve those around him.  Courage!  Saint Nicholas at the council of Nicea went up to a man who was preaching heresy and slapped him in the face.  Courage!  Saint Nick is a lot more complex than an old man who brings toys to children.

Courage is found in unlikely places but it can always be found if you want something badly enough.  I have had to find courage throughout my lifestyle change.  I continue to need courage because the old habits want to come back.  I still crave McDonald’s and Burger King.  I occasionally slip and have some pie or cake but I keep that to a minimum.  I still crave juices but those are very rare and I am finding real delight in cold water.  In fact, I find myself craving water which is new for me.

This courage had born results.  I saw the doctor last week and was weighed.  I lost 7 pounds during the month of February.  That makes a total of 32 pounds since starting this journey.  I am grateful to God for his grace, to my doctors for their help and to my friends and family for their support.  No one ever makes changes that will last be themselves.  It takes a community of people and the grace of the mighty God to make these occur.

God Bless you all and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

PostScript. It is a myth that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland. It is too cold in Ireland to have snakes. It is also a myth that Patrick used the three-leaf clover in order to explain the three in one trinity that is the Christian God. For those who are unchurched God consists of The Father, The Son (Jesus) and The Holy Spirit. These are myths but they are also delightful.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Picture, in your mind, a beautiful ballroom.  Men in tuxedos and women in gowns.  An orchestra is playing beautiful music while the men and women dance the waltz and other folk dances.  There is a sumptuous buffet laid out with every kind of delicacy and delicious pastry that the mind of a master chef can conjure.  People are dancing and eating and talking and laughing.  Suddenly the bell in the high tower begins to chime midnight.  The orchestra stops playing.  The dancers standstill, the chattering stops, and forks and plates are placed on the nearest tables.  The last bell of midnight rings and the people with one voice recites, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever amen.  The people all silently leave the ballroom.  Mardi Gras is over, and the Holy Season of Lent has begun.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent.  It is called Ash Wednesday because Catholic and Orthodox and some protestant denomination Christians receive ashes on their foreheads.

The origin of Ash Wednesday and Lent are not clear, but it is believed to have begun during the time of the Apostles but recognized officially at The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

Since that time Christians have received ashes on their foreheads as an act of repentance from sin.  Ashes themselves have been used to express sorrow for sin for centuries.  The old testament records in The Book of Job, Job saying to God “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.  The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance saying O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth and roll in ashes.  Jesus in the New Testament refers to the use of ashes for repentance when he says in Luke 10:13 “Woe to you Chorazin!  Woe to you Bethsaida!  For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

The ashes received on Ash Wednesday are not any ash.  In many churches, the ashes come from the burning of the palm leaves harvested for the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

The receiving of ashes is a simple ceremony, although a whole service is usually wrapped around the tradition.  When it becomes time to receive the ashes the repentant person comes forward and the ashes are placed by the priest or minister in the form of the cross.  One of two lines are said by the celebrant while placing the ashes.  “Remember oh man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” or “Repent and believe the Gospel.”  With either thought, the participant is made ready to enter the Lenten Season.

The season of Lent is the forty-day before Holy Thursday for the Catholic faith or the Forty days before Easter Sunday for some protestant faiths.  Either way, Sundays are not included in the forty-day count as they are considered “Little Easters” and the fasting and other observances are suspended on Sundays.

Lent is a time of fasting and prayer as well as a time for the giving up of certain luxuries like desserts, the movies, television, or other things that may distract us from our pursuit of coming to know God more deeply.  Ultimately, knowing God better is the pursuit of Lent.

The forty-day time of Lent comes from the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry.  This event is recorded in The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  During those forty days, Jesus fasted and prayed, and in our following Him in this way we come to know Him better.

The celebration of Lent has become pretty simple for Catholics since the Second Vatican council.  Fasting has become a simple no meat on Fridays, though more rigorous fasts are not discouraged.  Prayer and attendance at mass and special services are still requested but not so much required.  This was very different in the past. 

According to Maria Von Trapp in her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family singers, Lent used to be quite the rigorous time.  Fasting was strictly observed and that meant no animal products at all.  No meat no fish, no cheese milk, or eggs, and not just on Fridays but for the full forty days.  The time spent on eating was used for prayer and the money spent on the food you would normally have had was given to the poor.

Mortifications or the giving up of certain items is a way of dying to yourself.  The scriptures say when we die to ourselves, we are raised up with Jesus and Lent is a time to put those ideas into action.  Many people use Lent as a time to give up things that they struggle with that are ultimately harmful.  Some folks stop smoking and this a real dying to the self.  In giving this up for Lent, it may, in turn, be given up for good.  The drinking of alcohol may also be stopped during this time and for those who have a problem with alcohol this could be life altering.  The same could be said for gambling or the consumption of fast food or unhealthy food that we have begun to rely on for self-soothing.  In giving up these things, which can be so hard, we truly die to ourselves and thus the term mortifications.

Some folks add practices during the time of Lent.  There are Lenten devotionals that will take a person on the forty-day journey by providing a Biblical reading and then thoughts and prayers as well as ideas for actions to be taken.  Many people who don’t regularly read their Bibles will make time to study the scriptures daily.  Those that do read their Bibles daily may take the time to read the Gospels and study the life of Jesus more closely.  There is a new idea for Lent that challenges us to go to our closets on each of the 40 days and look for a piece of clothing that is still in good condition, but that we no longer wear, and place that shirt, or pair of pants or dress into a bag.  At the end of the season, there will be forty pieces of clothing ready to donate to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.  This is also another dying of self.  Letting go of the things that we don’t need is a way of putting the things we own into proper perspective.

Lent is also a time of cleaning.  We don’t just get our hearts ready for the resurrection of Jesus but our homes too.  Spring Cleaning may come from the old Jewish custom of cleaning the house thoroughly so that not a speck of yeast could be found.  This was to make the house ready to celebrate Passover and the instructions to do this are found in the Old Testament.  We now clean our homes thoroughly in preparation for Easter.

This is the time of year when Spring is arriving.  Since Lent can begin as early as February it may take a little longer from year to year for the snow to melt and the weather to get a bit warmer.  But the weather does get warmer the days get longer, it is believed that the term Lent is shortened from the word length referring to the days becoming longer and the beginning of Spring, and we begin to open the windows and bring in the fresh air and get rid of the dirt that grime that accumulated during the cold months.

For some Spring cleaning is a week-long event.  Every drawer and cabinet and shelf get emptied and dusted.  This is another time that things that are no longer used can be gathered up and given away.  Toys, books, dishes, electronic devices, cooking utensils, and paraphernalia can all be given to those that don’t have what they may need.  The mattresses on the beds get turned.  The light fixtures get taken down and cleaned.  Every aspect of the house gets a good going over.

For those with lawns or gardens to care for, the outside gets as good as the inside.  The grass gets raked so the winter debris can be removed, and the new green grass can come alive.  Bulbs get planted as well as other flowers and shrubs.  Bushes and trees get trimmed and the outside of the house is made as clean and neat as the inside.  All of this is in preparation for Easter.

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday the people of Jerusalem lined the way into the city laying palm branches on the ground for the donkey Jesus rode to walk on.

Palm Sunday Mass or Service is celebrated by the reading of The Gospel story of the event and in many churches, the celebration ends with the giving of palm leaves to the congregation to take home.  These palm leaves are then brought home and placed somewhere special in the house for the year.  Some people make decorative crosses from the palm and these crosses are placed throughout the house.  It reminds the occupants that though Palm Sunday was glorious it would lead to Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

Again, according to Maria Von Trapp, Palm Sunday was also a day when palmbuschn were brought to the church.  These were bouquets of pussy willows along with box wood and fir branches decorated with dyed colored wood shavings and fastened to a stick about three feet long.  On the stick was tied a small bottle of Holy Water and these bouquets were blessed by the priest during Mass.  After Mass, the bouquets were brought into the field and the woods each area of land getting its own thus the blessing of the church would come to the natural world so it could be protected from a flood, hail, and fire.

The customs of Ash Wednesday and Lent are thousands of years old.  They are as diverse and original as every area of the world that Christianity has made its way into.  But they continue to be celebrated because deep in our hearts we long to know God and to be known by Him.

Next Week:  The Batman

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.

To Everything, There is a Season

Solomon says in the Book of Ecclesiastes “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven.  Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”  Stephen Sondheim wrote in Merrily We Roll Along, “It’s our time breathe it in worlds to change and worlds to win.”  And I am writing today it is my time.

After writing last week’s blog about letting go of people in my life who had become toxic for me I felt a new freedom.  The freedom to relax and be me but also to get on with life.  It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  While I was feeling the need to constantly ask forgiveness from three people that had stopped caring about me, I was examining my life through their lens.  Seeing me as I thought they were seeing me trying to live up to something that didn’t exist.  After breaking free of that bondage, and bondage it was, I was able to see myself more clearly with a better lens and make the corrections in my life that needed attention.

And I did that.  I started going back to meetings that I had been neglecting.  I made phone calls to people whom I hadn’t been talking to but should have.  These folks encourage me and I can encourage them.  It becomes a give and receive, relationship as all relationships should be.  If you are in a relationship where you are always giving or are always receiving it’s probably an unhealthy relationship.

I have had a more peaceful life.  It’s amazing how much you calm down when you stop worrying about what someone else is thinking about you.  It’s good to feel calm.  I have also been able to read and concentrate on my reading.  Reading has become joyful again.  My spirit is lighter and I am smiling more.  I am in a much better place than I have been.

That’s not to say that I don’t have issues that need to be dealt with.  I saw my doctor today and he is sending me to another specialist to deal with my foot.  I fractured several of the bones in my foot back in April and though the bones healed the pain and swelling have not gone down.  It’s very difficult to walk but I do what I can.  Going to the market has been an achievement but I do it when I have to do. 

The saga with my ears continues and I need to see two doctors about that.  An ear doctor and neurologist.  All of the appointments are made.  I don’t know if I have written about my ear in this blog.  Let me get you up to date.  My ear has been leaking fluid for about four years.  The big question is what the fluid is.  The infectious disease doctor thought it was an ear infection and what was leaking out was a byproduct of the infection.  A doctor whose title I can’t spell but we’ll call him a super Ear Nose and Throat doctor thinks that what’s coming out of my ear is spinal fluid.  This guy tested the fluid in my ear and the test came back inconclusive.  He wants to do a radical surgery on me where he will cut a hole in my skull and dig down to where he believes there is a crack in my skull and patch the crack up.  Needless to say with a test that has come back inconclusive I do not want this surgery done.  I have been dodging seeing him until I can get another doctor to run the test on the fluid.

So as you can see life isn’t easy but it does have its moments of joy.  These come from friends that visit me or unexpected phone calls.  These come from the things that delight me like the latest Spiderman movie which was awesome or finding some of my favorite TV shows from the past are available to watch for free on YouTube.  These shows include Here Comes the Brides and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Joy comes unexpectedly and it really should.  If we were full of joy all the time how could we possibly know what Joy is?  There will always be sorrow and sadness in our lives.  It’s been that way since Adam and Eve left The Garden, but if any of us only experience sorrow and sadness we will go mad.  We’d have to.  Or we would become angry and bitter a true Scrooge as Dickens describes him at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

So when joy comes we take it to heart and remember it.  Our joy whatever it is will get us through the tough times if we remember it.  So write down what brings joy to you.  Journal your joy moments so when things do get black you can look back and maybe smile through the hardship.  Auntie Mame says, “Life is Banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Eat the banquet that is in front of you.  Auntie Mame echoes Jesus who said, “A thief is only there to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message Version)

And now an announcement that I was to make last week but had to put off because my doctor had to cancel my appointment due to Covid in his office.  I can make it now.  Since starting my new eating regimen on December 6, 2021, I have lost, drum roll please, 22 pounds.  What I am doing is indeed working and I intend to stick with the program.  A big thank you to everyone who has encouraged me.

Until next time may God bless you all.

Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January sixth.  This celebration marks the visit of the magi to see Jesus and worship him as the newborn King of the Jews.  It is the end of the Christmas holidays as they used to be celebrated and in my own opinion should still be celebrated.  Put the tree up later bake some treats after Christmas, maybe even save some gifts for this particular feast.  Remember this celebrates the first people outside of Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds who knew who Jesus was.

I often wondered what the word epiphany means.  I had never really heard the word used outside the context of the holy day.  Epiphany means a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.  In this case, the birth of Christ is revealed to the whole world the Jewish people being represented by the Shepherds and the gentile world is represented by the magi.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that tells of the visit of the kings and you can read it there.  Time and tradition have embellished the story what we do know for sure is the Magi came from the east following a star.  The star disappeared as they approached Jerusalem and they went to King Herod who ascertained from the scriptures where the child would be born and sent the magi on their way telling them to come back and report to him when they had found the child so that he could worship him as well.  Herod was deceiving the Magi as he desired to kill the child.  As the Magi left Jerusalem the star reappeared and led them to a house where they found the baby and his mother Mary and presented gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and returned to their homes using a different route.

That’s what we know.  Here is what we have embellished.  It was at some time decided that there were three of them.  That they were not only Magi but Kings and that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Belshazzar.  Also, that each was of a different race.  One white, one Asian, and One Black.

The Feast of Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas as you may remember from the song the gift was twelve drummers drumming.  These twelve drummers are meant to represent points of belief in The Apostles Creed.

The Feast of the Epiphany is also known as 12th Night and it is the last day of Christmas.  There used to be 12th Night parties where games like Snapdragon were played.  I have always wanted to try to play Snapdragon.  The game is mentioned in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and also in Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.  The game is pretty simple.  You get a big plate full of raisins you douse the raisins with plenty of brandy and light it on fire.  You then try to pick raisins out of the blazing plate without getting burned.  And yes this was a children’s game.

There is also a 12the Night Cake.  It is made from Puff Pastry and filled with almond crème.  In the cake is placed a ring or a tiny baby representing Jesus.  Whoever gets the slice of cake with the ring or the baby gets declared King of the Feast and is given a crown to wear.

Of course, all of this is gone now.  The Catholic Church has moved the Feast of Epiphany to the Sunday after Christmas and not many protestant churches recognize it at all, at least not in the United States.  And yet we sing about it.  We Three Kings is the song of the magi.  It’s not a Christmas Carol but a 12th night song.  And The Little Drummer boy which is completely fictitious is also a staple throughout the Christmas season but is never heard after Christmas as it should be.

Some biblical historians believe that the magi arrived about two years after Jesus’ birth.  There is some logic behind this.  The scriptures tell us that the Magi found the child in a house which means they had moved out of the stable where Jesus was born.  Herod asked the Magi when the star appeared and when he realized that the Magi were not coming back to him had all the babies two years and younger killed in Bethlehem.  This is known as The Slaughter of the Innocents and is the basis for another Christmas carol The Coventry Carol.  It is thought that the star appeared on the night of Jesus’ birth and it took two years for the Magi to reach him.

I am of the school of thought that says we go back to the old ways.  Let’s celebrate all 12 days of Christmas.  Let’s not set up our trees right after Thanksgiving but just a day or two before December 25th.  Let’s have parties and gatherings straight through until  January the sixth and have one last fling that night before we enter into our dull winter routines.  Christmas could be more fun that way and maybe even less stressful.  We could have dinner parties for twelve nights straight and see all of our family members.  Those twelve days, if observed could bring a whole new dimension to Christmas.

On January the sixth let’s take a moment to remember what the word epiphany means. >The manifestation of a divine being”.  It is acknowledging to the world that we believe Jesus was fully God and fully man as the scriptures attest to.  In many ways, it is an act of faith to celebrate this day and one I believe we can all profit from.

It is said that two groups of people were allowed to see the baby Jesus those who knew they knew nothing, the shepherds and those who knew they didn’t know everything, the magi.

Christmas 2021

I am not a poet.  As I assume all writers do I dabbled in poetry.  I went into fields and climbed trees and looked for inspiration in all the usual places I imagined poets would
go to find their muse.  I never found mine except once.

It was 1979 not long before Christmas when I realized I had no money to give my folks a Christmas gift that year.  It was my first semester in college and as all college students are, I was broke.  I thought and thought and slowly an idea came to mind.  I would write a poem.  Initially I must have thought it would be a Christmas poem, but it turned into something slightly more elaborate.  I wrote the poem, bought some poster board and hand printed it out with some small amount of artwork for the borders.  I was no great poet, but I was and am an even worse artist.  Still, it was a heartfelt gift and I present it to you now as I presented it to my parents as a Christmas gift.

Jesus

They say he was born in Beth’lem town,

And on that night there was the sound,

Of trumpets from the heavenly host,

And in all this the saints would boast.

He grew up alongside men,

Who in their sight he would begin,

A ministry of peace and light,

And leading people toward the right.

For three short years he labored strong,

And taught the people to go along,

A path of wisdom both just and bright,

To walk not in darkness but in light.

The leaders feared what this man taught,

And in their fear a man they bought,

A follower to betray the lord,

For they knew he feared no earthly sword.

They hung him on a wooden cross,

And men believed that they had lost,

A friend much closer than a brother,

Their only friend man had no other.

He died upon that cross so high,

And they placed him in a tomb nearby,

They placed him there while women moaned,

Then covered the entrance with a stone.

For three long days he lay there dead,

The world lost hope and all men said,

That he was good and just and wise,

But like all men he had to die.

But on the third day God shook the earth,

And when the stone rolled from its berth,

He rose again then into life,

And took away all pain and strife.

The world for long awaited this,

For this man he brought a gift,

Of everlasting life for us,

If in Him we put our trust.

As I have stated in other places you can’t have Christmas without Easter.  If Easter did not happen then there would be no reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We would still be partying in one way or another.  After all, Christmas did replace the roman feast of Saturnalia.  And that feast had parties and bringing in the green form outside, as well as gift giving.  But the church, as her job, redeemed the pagan holiday and its customs and turned it into one of the most beautiful times of the year. It makes us know that we are loved and somehow instils in us the need to love and help others.  As Dickens wrote it is “a time when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”

Dickens further writes in A Christmas Carol.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, apart from it’s sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it could be apart from that, as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.  The only time in the whole calendar of the year when and women, seem by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creature bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good and will do me good and so I say God Bless it.”

This was speech given to Scrooge by his nephew in A Christmas Carol.  Very few stage or screen productions ever let the actor have the whole speech but in those words is the true meaning and heart of Christmas.

Earlier this week a fellow Christmas Carol fan, Michael Castellano wrote a poem that embodies the whole story of A Christmas Carol.  He did this all-in-one day and I think it’s pure genius.  With his permission I present it to you now.

My Carol

A chill to my Christmas

with harsh blowing winds,

I’m mean and I’m ornery

when my story begins.

My hearts made of stone

I may never reform,

and to be quite honest

I should have never been born.

Money and power is all that I crave

and my earthly delights,

will end soon

at the grave.

Bah Humbug to Christmas

with its tinsels and lights,

my hatred is strong

where others delight.

my partner in life

has returned from the grave,

“I’ve come here to assist you

your soul I’ll help save.”

You’ll be visited by three spirits

you’ve nothing to dread

they’ll take you on journeys

from the foot of your bed.

The first spirit came

with a bright shining light,

to show me my past

on this cold winters night.

We visited scenes

from my boyhood at school,

where I sat all alone

with a spoon and some gruel.

Then on to the Fezzywigs’

with their great Christmas fete,

with plenty to drink

and abundance to eat.

The love of my life

my very own Belle,

she had me entranced

I fell under her spell.

But greed overtook me

I lost at loves game,

now everything’s different

and nothings the same.

The spirit soon left me

as the city clock struck two,

where I met a gentle giant

who sipped a strange brew.

” Come know me better!”

he said with a laugh,

a crown of live holly

adorned his large staff.

with a touch of his robe

such a soft gentle touch,

we flew over mountains

to a boy with a crutch.

He showed me my life

and my cold frozen heart,

although I saw much

it was only a start.

The giant soon left me

at the end of his haunt,

but inside his robe

I saw ignorance and want.

The last of the spirits

appeared from the mist

a silent spirit

my life to assist.

He showed me my future

my life at its end,

he scared me this spirit

but he was truly a friend.

My name on the grave

I was truly alone,

“I’ll change” I cried

please don;t leave me alone.

Now I’m a new man

the old man is dead,

I’ll help Mr Cratchit

and a visit to Fred.

I’ve finished my story

I’m finally done,

so Merry Christmas to all

and God Bless Us Everyone.

If you have no time to read A Christmas Carol or watch one of the film adaptations, you at least have this poem.

One more note about A Christmas Carol.  I have a tradition of reading the book every year.  I start at night on the 21st reading the First Stave Dickens uses the word Stave instead of Chapter in his book as it is a musical term meaning the verse of a song.  For the next three nights, I read a single Stave usually right before bed.  On the 25th Christmas morning I read The Final Stave entitled The End of It and live with Scrooge all the joy he found that Christmas morning.  For me, it’s a meaningful and touching way to read the classic.  It’s also something a family could do together.

One last thought before leaving you.  Several years ago I was working in dialysis at a local hospital and one of the docs gave me and the rest of the unit employees a little card with a free verse poem on it.  It was beautiful and very timely, and it is a reminder that the celebration of Christmas is only the beginning.  That little card did not have the author’s name, but I found that out recently and I present the poem to you as a last gift of Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the star is the sky is gone,

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas Begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman