Sunday, May 31, 2009

A state of denial (Acts 4)

Puppet rulers are not usually known for their courage or piety. The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, for example, was willing to surrender most of his country to foreigners, as long as his own palaces were untouched. The political rulers of Israel during this period were mostly Sadducees, a people who denied such things as the resurrection of the dead, and angels.[1] Let's look again into that ancient era, through the open window of İncil.
Act 4:1 Kâhinler, tapınak koruyucularının komutanı ve Sadukiler, halka seslenmekte olan Petrus'la Yuhanna'nın üzerine yürüdüler.
Act 4:2 Çünkü onların halka öğretmelerine ve İsa'yı örnek göstererek ölülerin dirileceğini söylemelerine çok kızmışlardı.
The chapter begins with the rulers in an uproar. Verse 2 shows why:
  • Çünkü onların halka öğretmelerine -- Because / they / to the people / taught
  • ve İsa'yı örnek göstererek ölülerin dirileceğini söylemelerine -- and / with Jesus / case / demonstration / from the dead / resurrection / they were telling
  • çok kızmışlardı -- very / angry they are said to have been. (-mış-, you'll recall, indicates that the action is reported, rather than personally seen.)
The resurrection had obviously happened. The rulers had earlier bribed the gaurds at the garden tomb to say that they'd fallen asleep. Miracles were now being done in the Name of the Resurrected One. Yet, people who know that they do not occupy their positions on the basis of their own merits have a strong talent for denying the obvious. No one wants to admit that he's a puppet, a quisling.[2] An affirmative-action hire.

Yet all of us inherit the efforts of those who have gone before us. All of us are prone to self-delusion. I pray we may have mercy to live gratefully, and leave more behind us than we took out of life.


[1] That is why they were "sad, you see!"

[2] A Mr. Quisling was the puppet ruler of Norway during that nation's time of occupation by the Nazis. His name has become a noun

Friday, May 29, 2009

One bright day in the middle of the night (Acts 3)

The Hellenistic mind writhed in misery when confronted with paradoxes. Lovers of this kind of rationalism have a great deal of trouble with religious realities. That "enlightenment" thinker Thomas Jefferson wrote about
... the flames in which their oracle ... consumed the poor Servetus, because he could not find in his Euclid the proposition which has demonstrated that three are one, and one is three ...
Yet something in us enjoys paradoxes. The world is too big, too amazing, too unruly, to cram into the confines of our paradigms. Pi does not equal 3.0. Paradoxes often form the heart of jokes and humor, those virtues that make life in a tragic world a delight. For example:
One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came and caught the two dead boys.
If you don't believe this lie is true,
Then ask the blind man, he saw it too!
In Acts 3, we see a time in the life of our people when they had the leisure to walk to the temple day after day at 3:00 for the time of formal prayer. In medieval Europe, people would stop what they were doing and pray where they were when the bells rang. Muslims have a "window" of time during which they find a quiet room, face Mecca, and recite the set prayers for the hour. They do this five times a day. Somehow, though, the apostles, at least Peter and John, don't have jobs to go to. As they walk into the temple, they heal a beggar, and preach a sermon to the astonished onlookers.

A sermon loaded with paradoxes.
Act 3:12 Bunu gören Petrus halka şöyle seslendi: "Ey İsrailliler, buna neden şaştınız? Neden gözlerinizi dikmiş bize bakıyorsunuz? Kendi gücümüz ya da dindarlığımızla bu adamın yürümesini sağlamışız gibi...!
Act 3:13 İbrahim'in, İshak'ın ve Yakup'un Tanrısı, atalarımızın Tanrısı, Kulu İsa'yı yüceltti. Siz O'nu ele verdiniz. Pilatus O'nu serbest bırakmaya karar verdiği halde, siz O'nu Pilatus'un önünde reddettiniz.
Act 3:14 Kutsal ve adil Olan'ı reddedip bir katilin salıverilmesini istediniz.
Act 3:15 Siz Yaşam Önderi'ni öldürdünüz, ama Tanrı O'nu ölümden diriltti. Biz bunun tanıklarıyız.
Act 3:16 Gördüğünüz ve tanıdığınız bu adam, İsa'nın adı sayesinde, O'nun adına olan imanla sapasağlam oldu. Hepinizin gözü önünde onu tam sağlığa kavuşturan, İsa'nın aracılığıyla etkin olan imandır.
And, a few words:
  • buna neden şaştınız? -- at this / why / you are astonished ?
  • Neden gözlerinizi dikmiş bize bakıyorsunuz? -- Why / your eyes / fixed / on us / you are staring?
  • Kutsal ve adil Olan'ı reddedip bir katilin salıverilmesini istediniz. -- The holy / and / the just / One / you betraied / a / villain / to be delivered / you wanted.
  • Siz Yaşam Önderi'ni öldürdünüz, ama Tanrı O'nu ölümden diriltti. -- You / of Life / the Lord / you killed, / but / God / Him / from the dead / raised.
If Jesus was indeed the Lord of Life, the Ambassador from heaven, then ignoring him is the dealiest mistake any man, or nation, can make. Israel did not get away with this faux pas. I rather doubt we will, either (speaking as a US citizen).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The King and His Law (Acts 2)

We are approaching the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the day when God gave the ten commandments to the world -- and to us. For a chuckle, follow this link.

The King has the right to lay down the law for his subjects. His Kingdom is one where the lives, properties, families, and reputations of His people are valued, and deemed worthy of protection.

Several times in sacred writ, when God assumes His earthly throne, it's amid flames. When Moses erected the tabernacle, for example, fire fell from heaven to defend the honor of the throne. When Solomon consecrated the temple, again, heavenly fire appeared.

As Peter told the astonished crowd on the day of Pentecost,
Act 2:32 Tanrı, İsa'yı ölümden diriltti ve biz hepimiz bunun tanıklarıyız.
Act 2:33 O, Tanrı'nın sağına yüceltilmiş, vaat edilen Kutsal Ruh'u Baba'dan almış ve şimdi gördüğünüz ve işittiğiniz gibi, bu Ruh'u üzerimize dökmüştür.
Jesus, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sitting enthroned. Taking up residence among His people. Reversing the effect of the Tower of Babel, by empowering his people to make their message clear to all those around them, despite barriers of language or nationality.

Charles Wesley had an experience with divine regenerating grace on Pentecost Sunday, and wrote a Pentecost Carol to commemorate the day, and his experience. Every Methodist reader will recognize it!
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread thro' all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease.
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life and health, and peace.

He breaks the pow'r of canceled sin,
He sets the pris'ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.

Hear him ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind behold your Savior come;
And leap, ye lame, for joy.
Here's a youtube performance.

Oh, for a thousand Turks to sing ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The stupidest question in the Bible. (Acts 1:6)

John Calvin said that this question had more theological errors in it than words:
Act 1:6 Elçiler bir araya geldiklerinde İsa'ya şunu sordular: "Ya Rab, İsrail'e egemenliği şimdi mi geri vereceksin?"
A few words:
  • Ya Rab -- O, Lord? [1]
  • İsrail'e egemenliği -- to Israel / the kingdom (think hegemony -- both derived from Greek)
  • şimdi -- now
  • mi geri vereceksin -- question mark / restoration / you will give
Let me insert an essay I wrote some 11 years ago!

The Stupidest Question in the Bible

It is hard to imagine a death more cruel than crucifixion. In order to breathe, the victim pulls himself up on spiked wrists, freeing his diaphram for the moment it takes to exhale, then sags back down again until the need for oxygen overcomes the excruciating pain of movement.

It is hard to imagine a regime more vicious than that of Rome, where the emperor fed his pet fish the flesh of costly educated slaves, where human beings slaughtered one another in arenas for the amusement of crowds, where madmen were adored as gods, as saviors.

It is hard to imagine a repudiation more total than that of the mobs in Jerusalem who begged the Romans to execute their messiah, screaming "Crucify! Crucify!"

It is hard to imagine a pledge of allegiance more clear than that of the same people crying out "We have no king but Caeser."

It is hard to imagine a prophecy less ambiguous than the verdict Jesus delivered, saying, "The kingdom shall be taken from you, and given to a nation that brings forth the fruits thereof."

It is hard to imagine a question more stupid than the one a mercifully anonymous disciple asked in Acts 1:6: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" Go figure. Asking the King who had just been repudiated and crucified if He would, as a fitting recompense, now make the repudiating and crucifying apostates the top dogs of the world. Do I detect a disconnect? A lapse of sanity? Or, just the power of presuppositions to shape our thinking despite the evidence?

It is hard to imagine a response more gracious than the one Jesus gave: "It is not for you, O men of Galilee, to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath in His sole disposition; but ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."

Only the man who was also God could turn the stupidest, most insolent question in the Bible into words of empowerment; "Folks, what happens to people X, Y, or Z is none of your business; but do I ever have a job for YOU!"

Consider a parallel example. In John 22, Peter asked Jesus, "What shall this man do?" Retorted Jesus, "If I want him to hang around until I come back, what business is that of yours? YOU follow me!" Jesus then told Peter more than he'd asked for about his own personal future -- being bound and led to execution.

Savor the pun used by that lover of words and word play, Paul. In I Tim., Paul explained that younger widows should not retire at church expense, because they often stopped being busy, and became busybodies. (In my own life, I tend to be most upset about what others are doing when I am least faithful and diligent in my own calling!)

When we put all this together, what conclusions can we come to? Perhaps, worrying about the future of an anti-Christian socialist state in the middle east is a waste of time. Perhaps, worrying about imaginary conspiracies is even worse. Assuming that the devil's people have the world by the tail provides an excuse for personal mediocrity. Fascination with conspiracies does not, however, glorify the sovereign God, who considers nations to be drops in the bucket, small dust on the scales.

The experience of God's people over the last three generations will provide amusement to future generations, when they are not grieving the patrimony we wasted. In the name of "prophecy teaching," fundamentalists gave up prophetic teaching. In 1973, while the people at Grace, Talbot, and Dallas Theological Seminary were refining and re-drawing their multi-colored maps of the future, and playing the latest game of "name the antichrist," the Supreme Court of the United States legalized human sacrifice. The silence of the Christian response was deafening -- until God used the Catholic part of His family to prophetically denounce the abortion holocaust.

Is the Word of God a tool of divination? A sanctified ouija board? A source for speculation about safely remote events? Or, does it have something to tell each of us about our own personal destinies? A wise man said, "God will never whisper the meaning of your life into another man's ear." Could the aspirations we cherish in our secret hearts point to our predestined assignments? The spheres of action where we can hope to "do exploits?"

Suppose God's word equips us for excellence in myriad personal callings? If that is the case, then a technical writer would learn from Leviticus to use redundant explanations, to spell out each step each time, in order to minimize page turning. He would read Numbers as a military commander's database, and learn how to format information for maximum usefulness. His technical manuals would have a reference section, and a case study/tutorial; an "Old Testament" containing the principles, and a "New Testament" showing how they are lived out.

A geologist could learn from Genesis that geological processes are far faster than he'd been taught. Although the great god Chaos might need billions of years to create an ordered universe by accident, the purposeful God of the Bible could do it all in six enumerated 24 hour days. And then, re-arrange the face of the earth with a global flood. Given this information, the godly geologist would not be surprised by confirming events at Mount Saint Helens.

What other vocations is God interested in? Let me put it this way: what has God called YOU to do? Will you turn to His word for information on how to do it better? Or for hallucinatory thrill rides through an imaginary future?

O Lord, show me how to make my life count for You!


[1] O is vocative. Use it when trying to attract the attention of the party you are speaking to. When Winston Churchill was asked to provide the vocative case Latin noun for table ("O Table!"), he realized that he would never be an educated man! Oh is an intensifier, providing additional emphasis to the following word. Oh, no. Too much information!

Monday, May 25, 2009

second and third chances (John 21)

In one of the most humiliating moments of his life, Peter found himself inside the courtyard of the temple. After violently resisting[1] the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed the mob at a discrete distance. At the courtyard, a disciple "who was known to the High Priest"[2] spoke to the gatekeeper and secured admission for Peter. He's inside, it's a chilly night, folks are jostling one another around a charcoal fire -- and someone recognizes the interloper as one of the condemned man's associates. Three times, Peter denies the association. Then, three things happened:
  • The cock crows
  • Jesus looks at Peter
  • Peter remembers our Lord's prophecy that Peter would deny him three times.
Peter gives up whatever hare-brained schemes he'd been entertaining, flees the premises, and weeps bitterly.

In today's reading, for some reason Peter and company have gone back to their hometown, and their earlier occupation. Once again, they see the risen Jesus Christ on the shore in the light of early dawn. Jesus is catering breakfast for these men who have been working all night. After the meal, Peter and Jesus have an interesting conversation:
Joh 21:15 Yemekten sonra İsa, Simun Petrus'a, "Yuhanna oğlu Simun, beni bunlardan daha çok seviyor musun?" diye sordu. Petrus, "Evet, ya Rab" dedi, "Seni sevdiğimi bilirsin." İsa ona, "Kuzularımı otlat" dedi.
Joh 21:16 İkinci kez yine ona, "Yuhanna oğlu Simun, beni seviyor musun?" diye sordu. O da, "Evet, ya Rab, seni sevdiğimi bilirsin" dedi. İsa ona, "Koyunlarımı güt" dedi.
Joh 21:17 Üçüncü kez ona, "Yuhanna oğlu Simun, beni seviyor musun?" diye sordu. Petrus kendisine üçüncü kez, "Beni seviyor musun?" diye sormasına üzüldü. "Ya Rab, sen her şeyi bilirsin, seni sevdiğimi de bilirsin" dedi. İsa ona, "Koyunlarımı otlat" dedi.
Let's look at a few words:
  • Yemekten sonra -- Than eating / after. Turkish frequently tacks the "ablative" (away from) ending onto an infinitive verb, in this case yemek (to eat), to describe relationships.
  • beni bunlardan daha çok seviyor musun -- me / than these / more / much / loving / do you?
  • Kuzularımı otlat -- my lambs / feed
Turkish, like English, uses the same verb for love in all three questions. In the Greek, however, the conversation goes more like this:
Peter, do you love me? ( ἀγαπᾷς με; )
Lord, you know I'm your friend. (φιλῶ σε )
Peter, do you love me?
Lord, you know I'm your friend.
Peter, are you my friend?
Lord, you know all things, you know I'm your friend.
After three denials, Peter had the opportunity to make three affirmations. Thank God for second chances.


[1] Since Peter sliced off the servant's right ear, he was evidently a left-handed man trying to whack off the guy's head. A few years ago, when Peter's alleged tomb in Rome was investigated by archeologists, the skeleton they examined was that of a strongly-built left-handed man.

[2] There is some evidence in his writings that John was of a priestly family, and was thoroughly acquainted with the rituals and the routines of the Temple. OTOH, the only disciple who we are told in scripture had personal dealings with the High Priest was -- Judas. Who did, we know, make at least one return visit to return the blood money.

Behind locked doors (John 20)

Japan chased the Christian missionaries out of the country in the 17th century. The local Christians developed a three-man cell structure that included the candidate for baptism, his sponsor, and the baptizer. They endured for four centuries, until two America planes, manned by Christian crews, obliterated the two major Christian strongholds in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In seconds, our team was able to do more than the massed political opposition of the Japanese warlords had achieved in centuries. Not one of our prouder moments.

China chased the Christian missionaries out of the country in 1945. At that time, there were a few tens of thousands of Chinese Christians. Against all expectations, however, the persecuted church multiplied, quietly, under the radar, and vigorously. Some estimates assert that more than 100 million Chinese now follow Jesus of Nazareth rather than Karl of Marx. Christians leaders meet behind closed doors for worship, prayer, and training. Dozens may rent an apartment, hire a cook, and spend a month indoors absorbing intensified instruction.

After our Lord's crucifixion, his disciples had reasons for being nervous. They were still waiting "for the other shoe to drop," for word from the One who was dead, but had risen from the dead. They hid out behind locked doors for a week.
Joh 20:19 Haftanın o ilk günü akşam olunca, öğrencilerin Yahudi yetkililerden korkusu nedeniyle bulundukları yerin kapıları kapalıyken İsa geldi, ortalarında durup, "Size esenlik olsun!" dedi.
Joh 20:20 Bunu söyledikten sonra onlara ellerini ve böğrünü gösterdi. Öğrenciler Rab'bi görünce sevindiler.
Joh 20:21 İsa yine onlara, "Size esenlik olsun!" dedi. "Baba beni gönderdiği gibi, ben de sizi gönderiyorum."
Joh 20:22 Bunu söyledikten sonra onların üzerine üfleyerek, "Kutsal Ruh'u alın!" dedi.
Joh 20:23 "Kimin günahlarını bağışlarsanız, bağışlanmış olur; kimin günahlarını bağışlamazsanız, bağışlanmamış kalır."
Let's look at one sentence:
  • Size esenlik olsun! -- To you / peace, wholeness, health / may be!
  • Baba beni gönderdiği gibi, ben de sizi gönderiyorum. -- The Father / me / sent / as, / I / also / you / am sending.
The Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki that was used as an aiming point by the American bombing crew has been rebuilt from its ruins. Chinese rulers "look the other way" when local Christians demonstrate ethical business practices and help their neighbors to prosper. The frightened, hiding, demoralized disciples launched a movement that has transformed the world.

The One who appeared among the barricaded disciples is stil the One who has the last laugh[1] when hostile rulers run amuck.[2]


[1] "He who laughs last, laughs best" is an old English proverb, about the how easily temporary humiliation can be reversed. Or, as a more recent wit explained, "He who laughts last, didn't get the joke."

[2] amuck / amok is one of the very few Malay words that entered the English vernacular. It's always used with the English verb "to run."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Who's in charge, here? (John 19)

Reza Aslan, American Iranian Muslim and thoughtful writer, knows where the bodies are buried. His book How to Win A Cosmic War has unkind things to say about 20th century Jihadis, 11th century Crusaders, and first century Zeolots. The Zealots were a particularly nasty and thuggish group, who felt they had carte blanche[1] to assassinate anyone they viewed as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers.[2] The folks in power in Palestine were determined to maintain civil order, no matter who they had to throw under the bus[3]. The Zealots were just as passionately committed to civil disorder, since they viewed the rulers as idols for destruction. Then, there's the guy who's trying to stay on top of the situation, trick-riding on several wild horses, Pontius Pilate. Let's look into the trial of Jesus again:
Joh 19:10 Pilatus, "Benimle konuşmayacak mısın?" dedi. "Seni salıvermeye de, çarmıha germeye de yetkim olduğunu bilmiyor musun?"
Joh 19:11 İsa, "Sana gökten verilmeseydi, benim üzerimde hiçbir yetkin olmazdı" diye karşılık verdi. "Bu nedenle beni sana teslim edenin günahı daha büyüktür."
Joh 19:12 Bunun üzerine Pilatus İsa'yı salıvermek istedi. Ama Yahudiler, "Bu adamı salıverirsen, Sezar'ın dostu değilsin!" diye bağrıştılar. "Kral olduğunu ileri süren herkes Sezar'a karşı gelmiş olur."
Joh 19:13 Pilatus bu sözleri işitince İsa'yı dışarı çıkardı. Taş Döşeme İbranice'de* Gabbata denilen yerde yargı kürsüsüne oturdu.
Joh 19:14 Fısıh Bayramı'na* Hazırlık Günü'ydü. Saat on iki sularıydı. Pilatus Yahudiler'e, "İşte, sizin Kralınız!" dedi.
Joh 19:15 Onlar, "Yok et O'nu! Yok et, çarmıha ger!" diye bağrıştılar. Pilatus, "Kralınızı mı çarmıha gereyim?" diye sordu. Başkâhinler, "Sezar'dan başka kralımız yok!" karşılığını verdiler.
Let's look at two sentences:
  • Bu adamı salıverirsen, Sezar'ın dostu değilsin! -- This / man / if you release, / of Caesar / a friend / you are not!
  • Sezar'dan başka kralımız yok! -- than Caesar / other / our king / there is not!
The rulers of Israel knew which side their bread was buttered on. [4] Canadians describe their relationship with the United States as "being in bed with an elephant." Superpower problems tend to become everyone else's problems. "If the US sneezes, the world catches pneumonia." Rome was the power in power, and, as the rulers of Israel hastened to remind Pilate, power trumps justice.


[1] Carte blanche (French: white paper) refers to the idea that one has permission to do anything necessary to achieve a stated goal.

[2] Our Lord's twelve disciples included one named Philip, after the fther of the Greek guy who'd subjugated Israel several centuries earlier, and imposed Hellenic culture upon them. Another, Simon, was a Zealot. One who was apparenty at home in the pagan culture, and one who was its sworn enemy.

[3] American version of the Russian idiom "to throw to the wolves."

[4] Idiomatic expression -- cynical assertion that the party described knows how to further his own interests, regardless of personal honor or other loyalties.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why are you picking on me? (John 18)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel The First Circle has several interlocking plots. A young Jewish scientist, Roitmann, takes the risk of warning a beloved mentor to run for his life. The call is tapped[1] and recorded. Convict scientific laborers are given a list of five suspects, and asked to identify the caller using electronic voice analysis. They eliminate three possibilities, so the Soviet Secret Police arrest the two remaining suspects. When one of the convicts objects that one of the two warrants is for an innocent man, the thug in uniform retorts contemptuously, "What? You think that he never did anything? Don't worry, we'll sort him out." Roitmann's story end with him in a cell, suddenly realizing that there is, after all, a difference between good and evil. He is apprehensive about the interrogation coming up, but knows exactly why he was arrested.

His mental condition is far better than the blind terror of the other suspect, who was arrested, and has no idea why he suddenly attracted the feared attention of the police.

The words of Jesus echo the stunned disbelief of every guy who's walking innocently along, minding his own business, and is suddenly ordered to produce his internal passport.
Joh 18:19 Başkâhin İsa'ya, öğrencileri ve öğretisiyle ilgili sorular sordu.
Joh 18:20 İsa onu şöyle yanıtladı: "Ben söylediklerimi dünyaya ıkça söyledim. Her zaman bütün Yahudiler'in toplandıkları havralarda ve tapınakta öğrettim. Gizli hiçbir şey söylemedim.
Joh 18:21 Beni neden sorguya çekiyorsun? Konuştuklarımı işitenlerden sor. Onlar ne söylediğimi biliyorlar."
Joh 18:22 İsa bunları söyleyince, yanında duran görevlilerden biri, "Başkâhine nasıl böyle karşılık verirsin?" diyerek O'na bir tokat attı.
Joh 18:23 İsa ona, "Eğer yanlış bir şey söyledimse, yanlışımı göster!" diye yanıtladı. "Ama söylediklerim doğruysa, niçin bana vuruyorsun?"
And, a few words:
  • Eğer yanlış bir şey söyledimse -- If / evil / some thing / I have said
  • yanlışımı göster -- to my side / show (it)
  • Ama söylediklerim doğruysa -- but / those things I have said / if they are straight, correct, honest
  • niçin bana vuruyorsun -- why / me / do you beat?
The issue, of course, had nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the accused. Political considerations were in the driver's seat.[2] The formal niceties were observed. Even though the leaders of Israel were determined to destroy this upstart, they harangued the Roman governor from outside of his palace. Stepping into that building would have made them ceremonially unfit to eat the passover religious meal later on that day. It's OK to railroad an innocent man to his painful and humiliating death -- but ceremonial rituals must be maintained.


[1] Another English idiom. To "tap" an phone message means to allow someone other than the party being called to listen in on it.

[2] Yes, America has a car culture. To say that something is "in the driver's seat" is to identify the issue or person in control of a situation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shirk bad associations ! (John 17)

Well, I'm about 25% of the way through an English translation of the Koran. After all, since this book is venerated by more than a billion of the people I share these hours of life with, continuing ignorance on my part is not reasonable. I imagine, like any book, it has probably lost something in translation.[1]

Still, a message that comes through, time after time, is the heinous evil of "associating" anything with Allah. As a dear Muslim friend explained, this sin, in Arabic shirk, also means idolatry in general. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

Mohammed, a travelling merchant, got around. He also paid attention. Apparently, he spent some time with Christians who belonged to an "adoptionist" sect. This heresy asserts that the man Jesus of Nazareth got promoted to some kind of associate deity -- and maybe, if I work at it hard enough, I can get promoted, too! Mohammed was sharp enough to recognize this notion as the arrant nonsense that it is -- although it does mesh with our tendency towards wishful thinking and self-deception.

But what did Jesus say about himself?
Joh 17:1 İsa bunları söyledikten sonra, gözlerini gökyüzüne kaldırıp şöyle dedi: "Baba, saat geldi. Oğlun'u yücelt ki, Oğul da seni yüceltsin.
Joh 17:2 Çünkü sen O'na bütün insanlık üzerinde yetki verdin. Öyle ki, O'na verdiklerinin hepsine sonsuz yaşam versin.
Joh 17:3 Sonsuz yaşam, tek gerçek Tanrı olan seni ve gönderdiğin İsa Mesih'i tanımalarıdır.
Joh 17:4 Yapmam için bana verdiğin işi tamamlamakla seni yeryüzünde yücelttim.
Joh 17:5 Baba, dünya var olmadan önce ben senin yanındayken sahip olduğum yücelikle şimdi beni yanında yücelt.
And, a few words:
  • Sonsuz yaşam, -- (this is) endless / life. son = end, sonsuz = endless.
  • tek gerçek Tanrı olan seni -- (the) only / true / God / to be / you
  • ve gönderdiğin İsa Mesih'i -- and / the one who was sent / Jesus Christ
  • tanımalarıdır -- that they must recognize
Christians understand that the Jesus of Nazareth actually existed before the world was created. That He can be regarded as a self-aware extension/projection/avatar of the Creator into the created universe. The doctrine of the Trinity asserts, paradoxically, that God is simultaneously One and Three. The One and the Many aspects of the created order have equal validity, equal weight. A choir singing Handel's Messiah is Trinitarian faith in action -- the different voices sing different parts, but there is harmony, not confusion.

As G. K. Chesterton said, if we can embrace one paradox, the whole universe falls into place and makes sense. This is of more than theoretical interest -- true life consists of knowing the Creator, and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. The One who came -- from somewhere esle -- is the One who returned -- to that other place -- and the One who is even now waiting to greet us at the hour of our exit from this life.

Yet this One also lives among us now.


[1] Another English idiom. When we say "It lost something in translation," we refer to the noise, the static, that gets into a message as it goes from person to person. The Turks have a neat way of dealing with this ambiguity, the -muş- (or -müş-, -mış-, -miş-) syllable variously knows as the dubitative or narrative past tense. Tuck that syllable into your verb to describe things you have no personal knowledge of. To translate it into English, use a construction like "I've heard..." or "They say ... " or "Rumor has it."

Monday, May 18, 2009

A quick heads-up (John 16)

The idiomatic English expression "heads-up" means warning. "Let me give you a quick heads-up ..." means "Be alert. This could harm you." As Jesus faced his own political execution, he warned his remaining disciples that they could expect the same kind of intimidation, harassment, and even death.
Joh 16:1 "Bunları size, sendeleyip düşmeyesiniz diye söyledim.
Joh 16:2 Sizi havra dışı edecekler. Evet, öyle bir saat geliyor ki, sizi öldüren herkes Tanrı'ya hizmet ettiğini sanacak.
Joh 16:3 Bunları, Baba'yı ve beni tanımadıkları için yapacaklar.
Let's dissect a few sentences:
  • Bunları size, sendeleyip düşmeyesiniz diye söyledim -- These things / to you / scandal, shame, embarrassment / that you may not fall into / therefore / I have told you.
  • Sizi havra dışı edecekler -- You / synagogue / out of / they will throw.
  • Evet, öyle bir saat geliyor ki -- Yes, / thus / an / hour / will come / that
  • sizi öldüren herkes Tanrı'ya hizmet ettiğini sanacak -- you / who kills / everyone / to God / service / done / will suppose
  • Bunları, Baba'yı ve beni tanımadıkları için yapacaklar -- These things / the Father / and / me / they have not known / because / they will do.
"Listen up, folks. Hard times coming. I'm warning you now, so that you won't be shocked when stuff happens." To be thrown out of the synagogue meant to be denied access to the religious life they'd grown up with, the rituals, the fellowship, the sense of common transcendent purpose they shared with their neighbors. And it gets even better! Those who you once worshipped with, will soon add a new sacrament to their religious menu: hounding you to death!

However, Jesus goes on to promise his followers that these trials are insignificant, compared to the good things in store for them. They are, he assures them, like a woman's labor pains, painful at the moment, but forgotten in the joy of bringing forth a son into the world. There are better things to come, a happy ending to the story.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sons and servants (John 15)

One of the most important source documents for 18th century English history is The Journal of John Wesley. One edition of this work takes up nearly two meters of shelf space. Mr. Wesley, you see, was careful to write down and evaluate everything that happened to him every day. The private, encrypted version of his published journal divided each day into 15-minute segments, assigned an activity code to each segment, and graded his performance on each activity, using a seven-point scale ranging from torpid to fervent.

As Mr. Wesley revised and republished his journal, it got bigger. This was the era before copyrights, so Wesley incorporated material other writers created that he felt would be helpful to his readers -- grammars, folk remedies, etc. He also inserted footnotes to rectify, or clarify, comments made at earlier times in his own life.

As a young, newly-ordained Anglican pastor, Wesley traveled to the American colony of Georgia to serve as a missionary. During an intense Atlantic storm, he panicked, questioned his own salvation, and envied the faith of Moravian Christians on board who met the frightening weather with hymns of praise. A few decades later, in a footnote, Wesley said, "I had the faith of a servant, not that of a son." Today's reading clarifies the source of that paradigm:
Joh 15:15 Artık size kul demiyorum. Çünkü kul efendisinin ne yaptığını bilmez. Size dost dedim. Çünkü Babam'dan bütün işittiklerimi size bildirdim.
Let's look at a few words:
  • Artık size kul demiyorum -- From now on, as of this point / you / slaves / I do not call.
  • Çünkü kul efendisinin ne yaptığını bilmez -- Because / a slave / his master / what / does / he does not know.
  • Size dost dedim -- You / friends / I have called. (note: in Turkish, there's no need to waste plural endings. Since size is already plural, dost can be singular. We already know we're talking about more than one!)
  • Çünkü Babam'dan bütün işittiklerimi size bildirdim -- Because / from my Father / everything / that I have heard / to you / I have made known.
Take some time to get to know the Muslims around you. You may be surprised at how intensely they yearn to serve Allah. In fact the popular name Abdullah means -- the slave of Allah.Yet there is something even more wonderful than being a servant. As Christians, we believe God is eager to adopt men into his household. Hired people can help maintain the property. Sons get to consult with the Father about how to develop it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yüreğiniz sıkılmasın (John 14)

An old English aphorism explains, "It clarifies a man's mind wondrously to know that he shall be hanged in a fortnight." When you know your for-real deadline, you can make final arrangements. Update your will. Make sure your next of kin know what to do. Let's look again at the Last Supper discourse John reports to us:
Joh 14:25 "Ben daha aranızdayken size bunları söyledim.
Joh 14:26 Ama Baba'nın benim adımla göndereceği Yardımcı, Kutsal Ruh, size her şeyi öğretecek, bütün söylediklerimi size hatırlatacak.
Joh 14:27 Size esenlik bırakıyorum, size kendi esenliğimi veriyorum. Ben size dünyanın verdiği gibi vermiyorum. Yüreğiniz sıkılmasın ve korkmasın.
A few words:
  • Ben daha aranızdayken size bunları söyledim -- I / more / while I am with you / to you / these things / I say.
  • Ama Baba'nın benim adımla göndereceği Yardımcı -- But / your Father / my / in my name / will send / the Helper
  • Kutsal Ruh, size her şeyi öğretecek, bütün söylediklerimi size hatırlatacak. -- the Holy / Spirit / to you / all / things / will teach / everything / I have said / to you / will bring to remembrance.
  • Size esenlik bırakıyorum, size kendi esenliğimi veriyorum. -- To you / peace / I am leaving, / to you / my own / peace / I am giving.
  • Yüreğiniz sıkılmasın ve korkmasın. -- Your (plural) hearts / let not be troubled / and / do not be afraid.
The disciples were left a legacy of peace, and told to expect supernatural help after Jesus departed the scene. The Holy Spirit serves, it seems, as the executor of the will, the One who places its provisions into effect.

Folks, learn Turkish. It's the most regular natural language on earth. The components snap together like Lego blocks in a beautifully consistent pattern. A single word can carry a lot of freight. And, unlike Greek or Latin, the suffices are regular.

Get to know some Turkish people. It's a hospitable and courtly culture. And they know how to cook!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yıkamazsam (John 13)

We want to do extravagant things for the people we love. A young man purchased costly emerald earrings for the woman he intended to marry. He was invited to have lunch with her family. The woman met him in the parking lot, handed back the earrings, and demanded that he sell them and apply the money to reducing his student loan debts.

There was no point in going into the restaurant at that point.

As his father later explained, we want to do extravagant things for the people we love. A man should seek to adorn the woman he loves, for example. Someone who repudiates the offering is unworthy of further attention.

Let's look at today's reading:
Joh 13:3 İsa, Baba'nın her şeyi kendisine teslim ettiğini, kendisinin Tanrı'dan çıkıp geldiğini ve Tanrı'ya döneceğini biliyordu.
Joh 13:4 Yemekten kalktı, üstlüğünü bir yana koydu, bir havlu alıp beline doladı.
Joh 13:5 Sonra bir leğene su doldurup öğrencilerin ayaklarını yıkamaya ve beline doladığı havluyla kurulamaya başladı.
Joh 13:6 İsa, Simun Petrus'a geldi. Simun, "Ya Rab, ayaklarımı sen mi yıkayacaksın?" dedi.
Joh 13:7 İsa ona şu yanıtı verdi: "Ne yaptığımı şimdi anlayamazsın, ama sonra anlayacaksın."
Joh 13:8 Petrus, "Benim ayaklarımı asla yıkamayacaksın!" dedi. İsa, "Yıkamazsam yanımda yerin olmaz" diye yanıtladı.
Joh 13:33 Çocuklar! Kısa bir süre daha sizinleyim. Beni arayacaksınız, ama Yahudiler'e söylediğim gibi, şimdi size de söylüyorum, benim gideceğim yere siz gelemezsiniz.
Joh 13:34 Size yeni bir buyruk veriyorum: Birbirinizi sevin. Sizi sevdiğim gibi siz de birbirinizi sevin.
Joh 13:35 Birbirinize sevginiz olursa, herkes bununla benim öğrencilerim olduğunuzu anlayacaktır."
And, a few words:
  • Yıkamazsam yanımda yerin olmaz -- If I do not wash / by my side / your place / you do not have (the -maz- syllable indicates that this is a conditional verb)
  • Çocuklar! Kısa bir süre daha sizinleyim -- Children! / Short / a / time / more / I am with you.
  • Size yeni bir buyruk veriyorum -- To you / new / a/ commandment / I give
  • Birbirinizi sevin -- to one another of you / love
  • Sizi sevdiğim gibi siz de -- To you / I have loved / as / you / even so
Most religions in the world focus on what we can do for God. The focus of Christianity is on the God who has done wonderful things for us -- and invites us to act in like gracious manner to those around us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thieve's reasons (John 12)

During the early days of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," one of the newly-minted apprentice messiahs was touring Appalachia. He sat at a gas station rolling the powered windows on his expensive car up and down. A local yokel came up and asked his business. "I'm with the war on poverty," the parasite explained. "Looks like you're winning," the hillbilly replied.

Yes, folks, the war on poverty has been won -- by the poverty warriors -- who have managed to talk the rest of us into bankrolling their comfortable lives in the name of "the poor." In the course of consuming more than 90% of all the funds allocated for "poor relief," these geniuses have found ways to safeguard their incomes. Ways to make sure that the poor stay poor, and raise their children with the same aspiration to suckle from the government tit.

Thieves normally justify their confiscation of other folks' productivity with some kind of rationale. Let's look at today's selection:
Joh 12:3 Meryem, çok değerli saf hintsümbülü yağından yarım litre kadar getirerek İsa'nın ayaklarına sürdü ve saçlarıyla ayaklarını sildi. Ev yağın güzel kokusuyla doldu.
Joh 12:4,5 Ama öğrencilerinden biri, İsa'ya sonradan ihanet eden Yahuda İskariot, "Bu yağ neden üç yüz dinara satılıp parası yoksullara verilmedi?" dedi.
Joh 12:6 Bunu, yoksullarla ilgilendiği için değil, hırsız olduğu için söylüyordu. Ortak para kutusu ondaydı ve kutuya konulandan aşırıyordu.
Joh 12:7 İsa, "Kadını rahat bırak" dedi. "Bunu benim gömüleceğim gün için saklasın.
Joh 12:8 Yoksullar her zaman aranızdadır, ama ben her zaman aranızda olmayacağım."
Let's look at a few words:
  • Ama öğrencilerinden biri -- but / from among the disciples / one
  • İsa'ya sonradan ihanet eden Yahuda İskariot -- to Jesus / afterward / traitor / became / Judas Iscariot
  • parası yoksullara verilmedi -- money / to the poor / could be given
  • Yoksullar her zaman aranızdadır -- the poor / every, all / time / in the midst of, among, you there is
  • ama ben her zaman aranızda olmayacağım -- but / I / every, all / time / in the midst of, among, you/ I will not be.
Jesus had raised Meryem's brother Lazarus from the dead in the last chapter. For this reason, as well as out of adoration for the person of Jesus and the God revealed through his life, teachings, and character, she poured upon his feet her most valuable posession, a liter or so of precious oil. The thief saw resources wasted that should have been in his keeping. Congress critters today sometimes mumble about "tax expenditures" when discussing charitable contributions. Money given to private agencies, and churches, represents funds that they can't handle.

Pragmatic people, secular people, people who cannot see beyond this life to the next, will always begrudge sacrifices made by believers to honor their God. Yet, in the big picture, as Jesus told the devil, "Man does not live by bread alone." We need to have a transcendent meaning to our lives, a way of positioning ourselves in a larger story, or we are no different than beasts. Or, in some cases, far worse. Consistent socialism depends on terror and labor camps.

If only ... (John 11)

A friend and co-worker of mine checked out early a few years ago. He introduced me to the sport of century riding,[1] and helped me work through problems with my bicycle, or the bizarre software we used to create technical manuals. Then, nearly a year after I'd moved on from that job, we saw his face and name in the obituary column. The fact that no one wanted to talk about the cause of death pretty well confirmed the cause of death. He'd been depressed for a long time, laid off from his job, and apparently could not recover his equilibrium.

People who commit suicide, according to a study I read about many years ago, often have a recursive perspective on time. Rather than looking ahead, they obsessively loop back to some landmark moment, usually painful, in their lives. "If only ..." is a lethal phrase that can crash your mental and emotional programming. Yet, Jesus heard it, too.
Joh 11:32 Meryem İsa'nın bulunduğu yere vardı. O'nu görünce ayaklarına kapanarak, "Ya Rab" dedi, "Burada olsaydın, kardeşim ölmezdi."
Joh 11:33 Meryem'in ve onunla gelen Yahudiler'in ağladığını gören İsa'nın ruhunu hüzün kapladı, yüreğizladı.
Joh 11:34 "Onu nereye koydunuz?" diye sordu. O'na, "Ya Rab, gel gör" dediler.
Joh 11:35 İsa ağladı.
Joh 11:36 Yahudiler, "Bakın, onu ne kadar seviyormuş!" dediler.
Joh 11:37 Ama içlerinden bazıları, "Körün gözlerini açan bu kişi, Lazar'ın ölümünü de önleyemez miydi?" dediler.
And, let's look at a few phrases:
  • Burada olsaydın, kardeşim ölmezdi -- At here / if you had been / my brother / would not have died. (interesting how it takes English speakers four words and four syllables to convey a thought a Turk can package in a single three-syllable word.)
  • İsa ağladı. -- Shortest verse in the Bible.
  • Bakın, onu ne kadar seviyormuş! -- Behold / him / how much / he (apparently, seems to have) loved. The syllable muş refers to things the speaker does not know first-hand. It's called the "dubitative" or "narrative" marker.
  • Körün gözlerini açan bu kişi, Lazar'ın ölümünü de önleyemez miydi? -- The blind person's / eyes / opened / this one / Lazarus's / death / but / could he not have prevented?
It is unfair to judge past selves by present insights. We, and those we love, did the best we could at the time with the level of maturity and insight we had at that point. In a world fraught with ignorance, operating personalities which each have their own blind spots, we are going to blunder, sometimes catastrophically. It is comforting to note that God grieves with us over our losses -- but also goes on to offer miraculous redemption.

We will need to wait for the next life to see how God will resolve some of the conundrums in our lives. Meanwhile, knowing that His character is made visible through the life, words, and deeds of Jesus makes it easier to walk in faith. To look ahead. To avoid the death spiral of looping[2] thinking.

[1] A few hundred happy people, most in sleek spandex outfits, get on bicycles and ride for 100 km (63.n miles -- a metric century) or 100 miles (English century). Usually, some charitable organization sponsors the ride as a fund raising event. Every 15 or 20 miles, the riders can stop for snacks, Gator Ade, and to visit the portapotty. A "sag wagon" follows the cyclists, offering repairs as needed, or rides to the finish line for those who "hit the wall."

[2] "Structured programming" was a philosophy of software design that eschewed loops. Real programmers often sneered at BASIC (Beginner's All-Purpose Simplified Instructional Code) because it include the GO TO command, and at PASCAL, since it made loops impossible. Grace Hopper, "The world's second programmer on the world's first electronic computer," referred to PASCAL as "an 'elegant' language," and made it plain that, in this context, "elegant" was a pejorative. PASCAL was designed for academic, not for real-world, use.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sedition, Sedition! (John 10)

A new order begins to emerge, even as the older order holds on to shreds of its power and prestige with increasing desperation. In 1918, The Ottoman Empire faced the price of loyal service to the losing side in someone else's war. The victorious allies began carving up "the sick man of Europe" in accordance with secret agreements made ahead of time -- the Picot-Sykes understanding, and the Treaty of Severs. British, French, Italian, and Greek authorities got out their maps, and mapped out their capitulations,[1] the zones of territorial and economic power they intended to exploit. Egged on by the British, the Greeks landed an army of nearly half a million kilted soldiers[2] near Smyrna, and began an invasion of the Anatolian heartland.

Meanwhile, back at the Sublime Porte, the degenerate occupant of the office of Sultan / Caliph meekly assented to all of the Allied demands. He surrendered most of his nation to foreign rule, in exchange for maintaining his own comfort, his own hereditary titles.

The next few years, however, revealed who the true leaders of the Turkish people were, who could be trusted, who was willing to hazard their "lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor" on behalf of the people.
Joh 10:7 Bunun için İsa yine, "Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim" dedi, "Ben koyunların kapısıyım.
Joh 10:8 Benden önce gelenlerin hepsi hırsız ve hayduttu, ama koyunlar onları dinlemedi.
Joh 10:9 Kapı Ben'im. Bir kimse benim aracılığımla içeri girerse kurtulur. Girer, çıkar ve otlak bulur.
Joh 10:10 Hırsız ancak çalıp öldürmek ve yok etmek için gelir. Bense insanlar yaşama, bol yaşama sahip olsunlar diye geldim.
Joh 10:11 Ben iyi çobanım. İyi çoban koyunları uğruna canını verir.
Joh 10:12 Koyunların çobanı ve sahibi olmayan ücretli adam, kurdun geldiğini görünce koyunları bırakıp kaçar. Kurt da onları kapar ve dağıtır.
Joh 10:13 Adam kaçar. Çünkü ücretlidir ve koyunlar için kaygı duymaz.
And, let's look at a few words:
  • Hırsız -- robber
  • çalmak -- to knock, ring, or steal
  • öldürmek -- to steal
  • yok etmek -- to destroy (nothing / to make)
  • yaşama -- life
  • bol -- rich, overflowing, lavish, abundant
  • çoban -- shepherd
  • koyun -- sheep [3]
  • ücretli -- hireling, one who works for ücret -- wages.
  • Kurt -- wolf
Of course, those who led the Turkish War of Independence were accused of sedition by the Sultan and his coterie. Nearly a century later, however, the people remember who was willing to speak up for, and stand up for them. You can still silence political innovators in public debate by demanding to know -- "Do you love Ataturk?"


[1] When Hong Kong returned to Chinese control, banners showed up all over the mainland proclaiming, "A century of shame has ended."

[2] An American writer drove an ambulance for the event, and described its consequences in his short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro:
That was the day he'd first seen dead men wearing white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pompoms on them. The Turks had come steadily and lumpily and he had seen the skirted men running and the officers shooting into them and running then themselves...
[3] The plural of sheep is sheep. The plural of deer is deer. Go figure!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Who's to blame? (John 9)

There's an old Pollock[1] joke: "How do you drive a Pollock crazy? Put him in a round room, and tell him to sit in the corner." In an ideal world, pi would be exactly equal to three. It is the discrepancies in life that can drive a thinking man crazy. Those things that just don't add up.

And not just people. B. F. Skinner discovered how to induce superstitions in pigeons. After training his birds to peck at a button in order to acquire a food pellet, he started dropping pellets in at random intervals. The pigeons would rejoice, then reflect. What were they doing at the moment the pellet dropped in? Could they get another pellet by repeating that action? After a while, each pigeon would be performing some random act -- looking to one side, perhaps, or standing on one foot -- from time to time, in the hope of manipulating inscrutable providence. To quote Olaf Stapledon's memorable phrase,
But their passion for order and for a systematic reality behind the disorderly appearances, rendered their reasoning all too often biased. Upon shifty foundations they balanced ingenious ladders to reach the stars.
Thornton Wilder's book The Bridge of San Luis Rey described one monk's effort to turn theology into an exact science, by assigning numeric weights to the lives of a group of people who died when a bridge collapsed.

For us humans, the hardest pill to swallow is the mystery of suffering. What caused this disaster to happen to that person? What can I do to avoid his fate? As an American rabbi Harold Kushner asked in a book of that title, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? The Book of Job (Ayub) is, perhaps, the oldest book in the Bible. A righteous man loses everything. Three friends show up to commiserate[2] with him -- but then start a game of "pin the blame on the victim."

Consider the reflexive question asked by our Lord's disciples, and his completely unexpected answer:
Joh 9:1 İsa yolda giderken doğuştan kör bir adam gördü. Joh 9:2 Öğrencileri İsa'ya, "Rabbî, kim günah işledi de bu adam kör doğdu? Kendisi mi, yoksa annesi babası mı?" diye sordular. Joh 9:3 İsa şu yanıtı verdi: "Ne kendisi, ne de annesi babası günah işledi. Tanrı'nın işleri onun yaşamında görülsün diye kör doğdu. Joh 9:4 Beni gönderenin işlerini vakit daha gündüzken yapmalıyız. Gece geliyor, o zaman kimse çalışamaz.
Jesus refused to play the "blame game," and instead used this gentleman's plight as an opportunity to take charge and make a difference. By the end of the chapter, the blind man saw, his parents were terrified, the religious leaders were made to look life fools, and the one whose eyes were opened had been expelled from the religious life of Israel. You might say he had a busy day!


[1] During the first part of the 20th century, America absorbed a massive number of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe, including my Ukrainian grandparents. IQ tests were invented to screen these immigrants. One way local folks deal with newcomers is to make jokes about them. In today's humorless America, as a shameful badge of our intimidation by internal would-be tyrants, these jokes have disappeared. So, have another Pollock joke:
One day, the Pollocks and the Dagos decided to have a baseball game, just to settle who could be the butt of all the future ethnic jokes.
The game got underway.
When the noon whistle blew, the Dagos knocked off for lunch.
Three innings later, the Pollocks won.
Or, here's a real story. A Hungarian steelworker would sometimes blow his whole paycheck buying drinks for everyone at the local tavern. His wife would make him sleep in the barn those weekends. He showed up for work one Monday reeking, stinking to high heaven. When his coworkers pointed that out, he scowled as said, "What kinda kitty cats you people got in this country anyhow?" Another European had just discovered the American skunk.
[2] As I explained to Natasha in 1992, you sympathize with someone, not to someone. The first syllable, sym-, is from the Greek preposition meaning with, even as a symphony is a collection of voices singing together. The Latinate equivalent of sympathize, commisterate, begins with com -- the Latin preposition meaning with.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Your sins / within / you will die (John 8)

I am honored to number Turkish people among my friends. They are heirs of a long and fascinating culture. Those who interact with people from this country notice a winsome courtliness and generosity. Then, we bump into the question of who Jesus is. From the Muslim perspective, İsa is one of a series of prophets, a man to honor as the virgin-born bearer of God's Word to the people of his day. Christians agree with much of that. Then, however, we go on to suggest that Jesus is more than a prophet. Let's hear what İsa has to say about Himself:
Joh 8:19 O zaman O'na, "Baban nerede?" diye sordular. İsa şu karşılığı verdi: "Siz ne beni tanırsınız, ne de Babam'ı. Beni tanısaydınız, Babam'ı da tanırdınız."
Joh 8:20 İsa bu sözleri tapınakta öğretirken, bağış toplanan yerde söyledi. Kimse O'nu yakalamadı. Çünkü saati henüz gelmemişti.
Joh 8:21 İsa yine onlara, "Ben gidiyorum. Beni arayacaksınız ve günahınızın içinde öleceksiniz. Benim gideceğim yere siz gelemezsiniz" dedi.
Joh 8:22 Yahudi yetkililer, "Yoksa kendini mi öldürecek?" dediler. "Çünkü, 'Benim gideceğim yere siz gelemezsiniz' diyor."
Joh 8:23 İsa onlara, "Siz aşağıdansınız, ben yukarıdanım" dedi. "Siz bu dünyadansınız, ben bu dünyadan değilim.
Joh 8:24 İşte bu nedenle size, 'Günahlarınızın içinde öleceksiniz' dedim. Benim O olduğuma iman etmezseniz, günahlarınızın içinde öleceksiniz."
Joh 8:25 O'na, "Sen kimsin?" diye sordular. İsa, "Başlangıçtan beri size ne söyledimse, O'yum" dedi.
And, a few words:
  • Baban nerede -- Where is the Father?
  • Beni tanısaydınız, Babam'ı da tanırdınız. -- me / if you recognize / my Father / also / you know
  • Ben gidiyorum. -- I / am going.
  • Beni arayacaksınız ve günahınızın içinde öleceksiniz -- Me / you will seek / and / your sins / within / you will die.
  • Siz aşağıdansınız, ben yukarıdanım -- You / from below are, / I / from above am.
  • Siz bu dünyadansınız, -- You / this / world are from
  • ben bu dünyadan değilim. -- I / this / world from / am not.
To understand the God who Christians call "Abba, Father," you need to understand the life, character, and teachings of Jesus. Get to know Jesus, and you get a pretty good handle on what God is like.

When we call Jesus "the Son of God," we do not suggest that the Christian deity had indecent relations with Mary. It's a powerful metaphor, even as the arabic term "son of a table" describes a merchant by his place of business. Somehow, in a way we'll never fully understand, God projected Himself, His character, His personality, into the realm of creation.

This is important. Eternally important. My Muslim friends and I agree on one thing -- we would each like to see the other in the next life. I yearn, by posting this blog, to help make that happen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

When the people start to whisper ... (John 7)

This chapter deals with publicity, and public perceptions. Secret journeys, and open disclosures. The career of the Prophet from Galilee has suffered setbacks. Many of his followers have turned their backs on him, disappointed that he refused to perform tricks on cue, like a trained monkey. His own half-brothers mock him -- "Hey, if you really want publicity, what are you doing here in the boondocks?[1] Take your dog and pony show[2] to Jerusalem."

John then gives us a vivid picture of the simmering curiosity and unrest in Jerusalem at that time:
Joh 7:11 Yahudi yetkililer O'nu bayram sırasında arıyor, "O nerede?" diye soruyorlardı.
Joh 7:12 Kalabalık arasında O'nunla ilgili bir sürü laf fısıldanıyordu. Bazıları, "İyi adamdır", bazıları da, "Hayır, tam tersine, halkı saptırıyor" diyorlardı.
Joh 7:13 Bununla birlikte yetkililerden korktukları için, hiç kimse O'ndan açıkça söz etmiyordu.
Let's look at a few words:
  • yetkililer -- the authorities
  • Kalabalık arasında -- The crowds / among
  • laf -- word, chatter, talk, gossip, etc.
  • fısıltı -- whisper (noun)
  • fısıldamak -- to whisper (verb)
  • yetkililerden korktukları için -- of the authorities / their fear / because of
  • O'ndan açıkça söz etmiyordu-- of Him / openly / word / they did not utter
There's a quiet buzz going on, an ominous undertone to the noise of the festive crowds. As the old movie cliche goes, "the natives are restless tonight." They dare not speak openly,[3] but they are talking about subjects the rulers wish would go away.

The doom of the Soviet Union was sealed in the 1970s when bootleg copies of The Gulag Archipelago found their way back to Moscow. American children remember the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, by Hans Christian Anderson. Until a naive little boy pointed out the emperor's nakedness, everyone pretended to see him clad in gorgeous apparel. The Chinese had the expression, "the mandate of heaven" that explained the right of the emperor to rule. Those who lost the allegiance of the people, their "face," their public crediblilty, no longer had a divine mandate. The greek-derived word tyrant originally meant one who ruled on the basis of brute force, rather than from a divine mandate. A Turkish naval officer once explained to me that, in Anglo-American tradition, armed insurrection was called "an appeal to heaven."

The authorities were worried. They imposed censorship, their version of the "fairness doctrine." Yet they could not silence the original internet, the grapevine.[4]


[1] "Boondocks" is a Tagalog word that has entered the English vernacular. It refers to an area of uncivilized wilderness.

[2] A "dog and pony show" is a contemptuous term that denigrates a public performance that seeks an audience.

[3] Oscar Wilde once wrote about "a love that dares not speak its name." Today, a powerful American lobby makes our ears ring with propaganda for "a love that will not shut up."

[4] "The grapevine" refers to informal channels of communication -- water-cooler gossip,[5] the rumor mill, etc. One of the most famous American rock songs is Marvin Gaye's I Heard it on the Grapevine.

[5] In the America of 50 years ago, corporations provided water coolers for employees. Thirsty people congregated briefly there, exchanging a few words with co-workers. Today, the water-cooler is a metaphor for socializing in the office, on company time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Not a tame lion (John 6)

All of the gospels report how Jesus, moved with compassion, multiplied loaves and fishes in order to feed thousands of people.[1] John's gospel, however, discusses the aftermath of the miracle. Let's look at part of the ensuing discussion:

    Joh 6:22 Ertesi gün, gölün karşı yakasında kalan halk, önceden orada sadece bir tek tekne bulunduğunu, İsa'nın kendi öğrencileriyle birlikte bu tekneye binmediğini, öğrencilerinin yalnız gittiklerini anladı.
    Joh 6:23 Rab'bin şükretmesinden sonra halkın ekmek yediği yerin yakınına Taberiye'den başka tekneler geldi.
    Joh 6:24 Halk, İsa'nın ve öğrencilerinin orada olmadığını görünce teknelere binerek Kefarnahum'a, İsa'yı aramaya gitti.
    Joh 6:25 O'nu gölün karşı yakasında buldukları zaman, "Rabbî, buraya ne zaman geldin?" diye sordular.
    Joh 6:26 İsa şöyle yanıt verdi: "Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, doğaüstü belirtiler gördüğünüz için değil, ekmeklerden yiyip doyduğunuz için beni arıyorsunuz.
    Joh 6:27 Geçici yiyecek için değil, sonsuz yaşam boyunca kalıcı yiyecek için çalışın. Bunu size İnsanoğlu verecek. Çünkü Baba Tanrı O'na bu onayı vermiştir."
    Joh 6:28 Onlar da şunu sordular: "Tanrı'nın istediği işleri yapmak için ne yapmalıyız?"
    Joh 6:29 İsa, "Tanrı'nın işi O'nun gönderdiği kişiye iman etmenizdir" diye yanıt verdi.
    Joh 6:30 Bunun üzerine, "Görüp sana iman etmemiz için nasıl bir belirti gerçekleştireceksin? Ne yapacaksın?" dediler.
    Joh 6:31 "Atalarımız çölde man* yediler. Yazılmış olduğu gibi, 'Yemeleri için onlara gökten ekmek verdi.'"
    Joh 6:32 İsa onlara dedi ki, "Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, gökten ekmeği size Musa vermedi, gökten size gerçek ekmeği Babam verir.
    Joh 6:33 Çünkü Tanrı'nın ekmeği, gökten inen ve dünyaya yaşam verendir."
    Joh 6:34 Onlar da, "Efendimiz, bizlere her zaman bu ekmeği ver!" dediler.

    Joh 6:35 İsa, "Yaşam ekmeği Ben'im. Bana gelen asla acıkmaz, bana iman eden hiçbir zaman susamaz" dedi.

Let's look at a few key words:

    • sonsuz --  endless. son (end) + suz (negating syllable)
    • yaşam -- life
    • ekmek --bread

Jesus offered those who heard and heeded him eternal life. His ongoing presence is true sustenance, indeed. The people who heard Him, however, remembered eating their fill the day before, in  a culture where most people were somewhat hungry all the time. So, they tried to manipulate Jesus to serve as their heavenly vending machine, churning out specified miracles on cue. 

Prayer allows us to enter the divine Presence. We'd better get used to counting that as the primary benefit, since the answers to our prayers rarely resemble what we'd expected. God is God, we play this game by His rules, and the rewards come in the times, ways, and forms that comport best with His glory, and our ultimte good. 


[1]  In the Australian horror movie The Last Wave, the protagonist confronts his father, an Anglican pastor. "Why didn't you tell me there were mysteries?" the young man demanded. "Son, I preach mysteries every Sunday," said the pastor. "You don't preach them, you explain them away!" the son retorted.

A century ago, in a vain attempt to curry favor with the new deity, "science," some allegedly Christian teachers began trying to "explain away" all the miracles of the Bible. In this case, they offered the "hidden biscuit" theory. When the people saw the generosity of Jesus, they were shamed into producing, and sharing, the hidden food they already had.