Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"... and the madness of crowds.[0]" (Acts 14)

Ecclesiastical rivals can be persistent. Francis Asbury, the first American-born bishop of the Methodist Church, complained of the Baptists, "They follow us around like ghosts."[1] This, however, was a friendly rivalry when measured against the unremitting hostility the Jews held towards Paul's work.

Paul and Barnabas escaped Konya, barely ahead of the mobs with pitchforks and torches[2]. At Listra, their message was eagerly welcomed. Too eagerly. The villagers assumed they could fit the new thaumaturges[3] into the context of their existing paradigms. When Paul and Barnabas refused to serve as their pet deities, the mood turned surly, then ugly.
Act 14:19 Ne var ki, Antakya ve Konya'dan gelen bazı Yahudiler, halkı kendi taraflarına çekerek Pavlus'u taşladılar; onu ölmüş sanarak kentin dışına sürüklediler.
Act 14:20 Ama öğrenciler çevresinde toplanınca Pavlus ayağa kalkıp kente döndü. Ertesi gün Barnaba'yla birlikte Derbe'ye gitti.
Let's look at a few words:
  • Antakya ve Konya'dan -- Antakya and Konya from
  • gelen bazı Yahudiler -- came / some / Jews
  • onu ölmüş sanarak kentin dışına sürüklediler -- him / dead / supposing / the city / outside / they dragged.
It's interesting how much of the İncil was written in present-day Turkey, happened in that area, and involved people from there.


[0] Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a classical catalog of human lunacy, as expressed in such fads as the Tulip Mania and the Children's Crusade. Click the link to get your own Project Gutenberg free copy!

[1] When the American frontier opened and land-hungry millions headed west, they left behind the Anglican, Quaker, and Presbyterian churches. The Quakers lacked ambition, and the more formal denominations had lofty standards for their ordained ministers. The Methodists amortized their preachers over lengthy "circuits." One circuit rider on horseback oversaw dozens of churches. The Baptists simply lowered their standards for ministers. Any charismatic farmer could "receive the call" to preach. And find a pulpit, if a church recognized said call.

[2] Poetic license on my parts. Every since the silent horror movies of the 1920s, it's been assumed that peasant mobs equip themselves with pitchforks and torches!

[3] A fancy word that comes into the English language directly transliterated from Greek. It means miracle workers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What to do with the pet guru? (Acts 13)

This is a very rich chapter, with a lot going on. For example, we meet a mixed bag of leaders worshiping God, and fasting. One of them had grown up in a king's family. All we know about another, Simon, is that folks called him "the black guy." As these people are in God's presence, perhaps leading corporate and liturgical prayer, a word comes -- turn loose Saul and Barnabas for the task that's been on their minds for some time now.

The itinerary is fairly clear. "Barnabas, let's visit your home county first, then we'll visit mine." After a preaching tour that takes them the length of Copper Island,[1] they are invited to address the Roman governor of this province, a "prudent man." Let's open a window into the past, and look into this scene:
Act 13:6 Adayı baştan başa geçerek Baf'a geldiler. Orada büyücü ve sahte peygamber Baryeşu adında bir Yahudi'yle karşılaştılar.
Act 13:7,8 Baryeşu, Vali Sergius Pavlus'a yakın biriydi. Akıllı bir kişi olan vali, Barnaba'yla Saul'u çağırtıp Tanrı'nın sözünü dinlemek istedi. Ne var ki Baryeşu büyücü anlamına gelen öbür adıyla Elimas- onlara karşı koyarak valiyi iman etmekten caydırmaya çalıştı.
Act 13:9,10 Ama Kutsal Ruh'la dolan Saul, yani Pavlus, gözlerini Elimas'a dikerek, "Ey İblis'in oğlu!" dedi. "Yüreğin her türlü hile ve sahtekârlıkla dolu; doğru olan her şeyin düşmanısın. Rab'bin düz yollarını çarpıtmaktan vazgeçmeyecek misin?
Act 13:11 İşte şimdi Rab'bin eli sana karşı kalktı. Kör olacaksın, bir süre gün ışığını göremeyeceksin." O anda adamın üzerine bir sis, bir karanlık çöktü. Dört dönerek, elinden tutup kendisine yol gösterecek birilerini aramaya başladı.
Act 13:12 Olanları gören vali, Rab'le ilgili öğretiyi hayranlıkla karşıladı ve iman etti.
And, a few words are in order:
  • Orada büyücü ve sahte peygamber -- At that place / a great / and / false / prophet
  • Baryeşu adında -- bar Jesus (son of Jesus) / named
  • bir Yahudi'yle karşılaştılar. -- a / a Jew / they encountered.
  • "Ey İblis'in oğlu!" dedi. -- Hey / of Satan / the son! / he said.
  • "Yüreğin her türlü hile ve sahtekârlıkla dolu; -- Your heart / all / kinds / with wickedness / and / with deception / is filled;
  • doğru olan her şeyin düşmanısın. -- straight, honest, true / that is / every / thing / you are the enemy of.
So, how did a Jewish sorcerer end up on the staff of a Roman governor? The Romans, you remember, had conquored and occupied Israel. Well, they'd also conquored and occupied Greece -- then imported Greek culture and teachers into their world. Perhaps, this governor viewed Bar-Jesus as an exemplar of Jewish piety, a living representative of the worthy God of Israel? We have other examples of wandering Jewish wonder-workers in that era. Jesus warned that some who had no real connection to God would still work miracles in his name.

Apparently, Bar-Jesus regarded Saul, Barnabas, and the gospel they preached as threats to his sinecure.

I'm still wondering, though, how he got into that cushy position to start with. What does this tell us about the Romans, the Jews, and the complex relationships between them?


[1] One of these days, I'll spend a summer, or part thereof, teaching there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Automatic assistance (Acts 12)

A bitter aphorism in Israel during the first century held that "it is better to be Herod's pig than Herod's son." The two words (pig and son) look almost identical in Greek. This was not a happy family. One Herod encountered the Magi. His son confronted John the Baptist and Jesus. The grandson, James and Peter and worms. The great-grandson, so rumor has it, retired in disgrace to the peaceful Roman village of Pompey.

Today's chapter begins with another flare up of persecution. Herod was an Idumean set as a puppet ruler over the Jews. He noticed how his poll numbers went up when he arrested and executed James, and nabbed Peter in an effort to curry additional favor. Let's let the historical record speak for itself a bit:
Act 12:5 Bu nedenle Petrus hapiste tutuldu. Ama inanlılar topluluğu onun için Tanrı'ya hararetle dua ediyordu.
Act 12:6 Petrus, Hirodes'in kendisini yargılayacağı günden önceki gece, çift zincirle bağlı olarak iki askerin arasında uyuyordu. Kapıda duran nöbetçiler de zindanın güvenliğini sağlıyordu.
Act 12:7 Birdenbire Rab'bin bir meleği göründü ve hücrede bir ışık parladı. Melek, Petrus'un böğrüne dokunup onu uyandırdı. "Çabuk, kalk!" dedi. O anda zincirler Petrus'un bileklerinden düştü.
Act 12:8 Melek ona, "Kuşağını bağla, çarıklarını giy" dedi. Petrus da söyleneni yaptı. "Abanı giy, beni izle" dedi melek.
Act 12:9 Petrus onu izleyerek dışarı çıktı. Ama meleğin yaptığının gerçek olduğunu anlamıyor, bir görüm gördüğünü sanıyordu.
Act 12:10 Birinci ve ikinci nöbetçiyi geçerek kente açılan demir kapıya geldiler. Kapı, önlerinde kendiliğinden açıldı. Dışarı çıkıp bir sokak boyunca yürüdüler, sonra melek ansızın Petrus'un yanından ayrıldı.
Act 12:11 O zaman kendine gelen Petrus, "Rab'bin bana meleğini gönderdiğini şimdi gerçekten anlıyorum" dedi. "O beni Hirodes'in elinden ve Yahudi halkının uğrayacağımı umduğu bütün belalardan kurtardı."
And, a few sentences:
  • Birdenbire Rab'bin bir meleği göründü ve hücrede bir ışık parladı. -- Suddenly / of the Lord / an / angel / appeared / and / in the cell / a / light / shone forth.
  • Birinci ve ikinci nöbetçiyi geçerek kente açılan demir kapıya geldiler. -- First / and /second / watches / they pass / to the city / opening / iron / gate / was closed.
  • Kapı, önlerinde kendiliğinden açıldı. -- The gate / that was before them / on its own / opened.
  • melek -- angel. The k turns into the soft g if you attach a vowel to the word.
The gate, the final obstacle, opened by itself. The Greek word translated kendiliğinden should look familiar: αὐτομάτη . Yep -- automatic! If an angel wakes you up with good news, obstacles can melt away as you move forward. (So many of the barriers to our dreams are those we erect in our own minds.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Transmission bands (Acts 11)

Information, like an infection, travels most easily within close, and closed, populations. This chapter begins with the believers in Jerusalem taking Peter to task, for breaking taboo, crossing the picket line, getting "too close"[1] to the folks who "aren't our kind of people." Peter silenced the naysayers with his account of how these unexpected kindred spirits had received an experience of God's gracious presence, with some kind of visible evidence.

The believers in Jerusalem grudgingly bowed to the inevitable, but kept on living in their xenophobic traditions. However, a virus that jumps species boundaries acquires a whole new level of potency. GRID[2] does little harm to simian populations, but is lethal to humans. Swine flu[3] is a nuisance to pigs, but occasionally fatal to us. It was when the non-Jewish people in Antakya began to embrace the Messiah of Israel that this erstwhile subset of Judaism became a superset thereof. And it was in Antakya that the disciples were first called Mesihçiler -- those who pertain to the Messiah. Christians.
Act 11:17 Böylelikle Tanrı, Rab İsa Mesih'e inanmış olan bizlere verdiği armağanın aynısını onlara verdiyse, ben kimim ki Tanrı'ya karşı koyayım?"
Act 11:18 Bunları dinledikten sonra yatıştılar. Tanrı'yı yücelterek şöyle dediler: "Demek ki Tanrı, tövbe etme ve yaşama kavuşma fırsatını öteki uluslara da vermiştir."
Act 11:19 İstefanos'un öldürülmesiyle başlayan baskı sonucu dağılan imanlılar, Fenike, Kıbrıs ve Antakya'ya kadar gittiler. Tanrı sözünü sadece Yahudiler'e duyuruyorlardı.
Act 11:20 Ama içlerinden Kıbrıslı ve Kireneli olan bazı adamlar Antakya'ya gidip Grekler'le* de konuşmaya başladılar. Onlara Rab İsa'yla ilgili Müjde'yi bildirdiler.
Act 11:21 Onların arasında etkin olan Rab'bin gücü sayesinde çok sayıda kişi inanıp Rab'be döndü.
Act 11:22 Olup bitenlerin haberi, Yeruşalim'deki kiliseye* ulaştı. Bunun üzerine imanlılar Barnaba'yı Antakya'ya gönderdiler.
Act 11:23,24 Kutsal Ruh'la ve imanla dolu, iyi bir adam olan Barnaba, Antakya'ya varıp Tanrı lütfunun meyvelerini görünce sevindi. Herkesi, candan ve yürekten Rab'be bağlı kalmaya özendirdi. Sonuç olarak Rab'be daha birçok kişi kazanıldı.
Act 11:25 Sonra Barnaba, Saul'u aramak için Tarsus'a gitti. Onu bulunca da Antakya'ya getirdi. Böylece Barnaba'yla Saul bir yıl boyunca oradaki inanlılar topluluğuyla* bir araya gelerek büyük bir kitleyi eğittiler. Öğrencilere ilk kez Antakya'da Mesihçiler adı verildi.
And, a few words:

  • Demek ki Tanrı, -- It is plain / that / God
  • tövbe etme ve yaşama kavuşma -- repentance / to do / and / life / to recieve
  • fırsatını öteki uluslara da vermiştir -- opportunity / to other / nations / yet / was given.

[1] A somewhat bitter aphorism from the Black community about life in the United States: "In the North, they don't care how high you get, as long as you don't get too close. In the South, they don't care how close you get, as long as you don't get too high."

[2] GRIDS -- "Gay-Related Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome" is almost entirely found in the sodomite community, and evidently is "acquired" by violently perverted and repeated "crimes against nature." Although political correctness had re-named this plague that boasts legal protection as AIDS, even that acronym indicates that this disease is "acquired," rather than simply caught.

[3] An American idiom for an improbably event goes -- "That will happen when pigs fly." For example, "Americans will vote a non-citizen into their highest office when pigs fly." Well, swine flu ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A light, an angel, a pig. (Acts 10)

My wife loves detective stories. I occasionally indulge, if the story is set in an alien culture. The late Tony Hillerman used Navajo tribal lore as the framework for his novels. Harry Kellerman lets us see things from the Jewish perspective. The protagonist in Someday, the Rabbi Will Leave is a conservative, nearly orthodox, scholar who applies Talmudic reasoning to local crimes. There are not too many places where he can comfortably dine -- strictly observant Jewish families have separate utensils for milk and meat products. "The first time I saw a man in a restaurant cut his steak using the same knife he'd used to butter his bread, I nearly retched,"[1] Rabbi Small said.

Paul fell to the earth, overwhelmed by a vision of blinding light. Cornelius, a Roman officer and occupation soldier, had a vision of an angel who told him to send to Peter for advice on how to find secure favor with God. Peter's vision, however, while dramatic, and disturbing, took an earthier theme:
Act 10:10 Acıkınca da yemek istedi. Yemek hazırlanırken Petrus kendinden geçti.
Act 10:11 Göğün açıldığını ve büyük bir çarşafı andıran bir nesnenin dört köşesinden sarkıtılarak yeryüzüne indirildiğini gördü.
Act 10:12 Çarşafın içinde, yeryüzünde yaşayan her türden dört ayaklı hayvanlar, sürüngenler ve kuşlar vardı.
Act 10:13 Bir ses ona, "Kalk Petrus, kes ve ye!" dedi.
Act 10:14 "Asla olmaz, ya Rab!" dedi Petrus. "Hiçbir zaman bayağı ya da murdar* herhangi bir şey yemedim."
Act 10:15 Ses tekrar, ikinci kez duyuldu; Petrus'a, "Tanrı'nın temiz kıldıklarına sen bayağı deme" dedi.
Act 10:16 Bu, üç kez tekrarlandı. Sonra çarşafı andıran nesne hemen göğe alındı.
Act 10:17 Petrus şaşkınlık içindeydi.
And, a few words:
  • Bir ses ona, -- A / voice / to him
  • "Kalk Petrus, kes ve ye!" -- Rise / Peter / kill / and / eat. (To form the Turkish second person singular imperative, drop the -mek /-mak from the infinitive.)
  • dedi. -- it said.
  • "Asla olmaz, ya Rab!" dedi Petrus. -- Never / it will not happen / but / Lord! / said / Peter.
  • "Hiçbir zaman bayağı ya da murdar herhangi bir şey yemedim." -- Not one thing / at any time / foul / and / but / corrupt / no way / one / thing / I have never eaten. (Turkish lets you go crazy with negatives!)
Poor Peter. How little he knew -- God was about to demand that he do something even more repulsive than chowing down on pork chops with bacon gravy.


[1] English has a rich lexicon of synonyms and euphemisms for vomiting. This may go with having a partying subculture that glories in heavy drinking. To puke is the most common. To hurl is somewhat dated. Kneeling before the ceramic idol and (my favorite) talking on the big white telephone happen in the bathroom after a drinking bout that went to excess.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The mechanics of conversion (Acts 9)

Perhaps the most famous conversion story in all of history happens in this chapter. An angry young rabbi who is trying to stamp out this new Christian sect has an encounter that changes his life -- and ours -- forever.
Act 9:1,2 Saul ise Rab'bin öğrencilerine karşı hâlâ tehdit ve ölüm soluyordu. Başkâhine gitti, Şam'daki havralara verilmek üzere mektuplar yazmasını istedi. Orada İsa'nın yolunda yürüyen kadın erkek, kimi bulsa tutuklayıp Yeruşalim'e getirmek niyetindeydi.
Act 9:3 Yol alıp Şam'a yaklaştığı sırada, birdenbire gökten gelen bir ışık çevresini aydınlattı.
Act 9:4 Yere yıkılan Saul, bir sesin kendisine, "Saul, Saul, neden bana zulmediyorsun?" dediğini işitti.
Act 9:5 Saul, "Ey Efendim, sen kimsin?" dedi. "Ben senin zulmettiğin İsa'yım" diye yanıt geldi.
Act 9:6 "Haydi kalk ve kente gir, ne yapman gerektiği sana bildirilecek."
A few words:
  • birdenbire gökten gelen bir ışık çevresini aydınlattı. -- suddenly, in a moment / from heaven / coming / a / light / around / shone. (the lovely Turkish greeting Gün aydın! wishes you a bright and shining day.)
  • neden bana zulmediyorsun? -- for what reason, why / Me / are you (singular, intimate) persecuting?
  • Ey Efendim, sen kimsin? -- O / my Lord / you / are who?
  • Ben senin zulmettiğin İsa'yım -- I / who you / persecute / Jesus am.
In America, we've developed an efficient, mechanized process for mass-producing imitation conversions. A trained orator fiddles upon the raw, exposed emotions of a largely adolescent crowd, until their reserves break down, and they comply with the expected rituals. They "go forward" to the front of the church, recite, or are coached through, a brief liturgy, then are baptized. A few years later they disappear from the church, often feeling vague resentments towards those who played such "head games"[1] with them.

Real conversions, OTOH, tend to be unique events. Although people can be instantly gulled[2] into doing things against their better judgement[3], true transformation is a longer-term process. Quite often, those who are most desperately and insanely passionate about an issue have nagging doubts they are trying to shout down. We know that Saul "consented to" the murder of Stephen. The primary witness against an executed felon threw the first stone, then gaurded the coats of the others. The synagogue that started the case against Stephen contained men from Kilikya -- Saul's home town. They were frustrated because they could not win fair arguments with Stephen, and therefore resorted to force. Imagine a highly-trained rabbi of impeccable Jewish lineage, unable to counter the reasonings of this guy from out of town, with a Greek name.[4]

Stephen was dead, but his arguments lived on. The miraculous vision of Jesus catalyzed events already in process. Interestingly enough, Saul (who later became Paul) seems to have stepped into Stephen's shoes. A number of Stephen's issues (care for the poor, eloquent public proclamation, getting stoned) became Saul's issues.


[1] A bit of late 60's argot. So I'm a reformed hippy ...

[2] To gull means to deceive. The verb form of the far more common adjective gullible. Several characters in Shakespeare's plays are introduced as "gulled gent."

[3] A technique frequently used by unscrupulous sales people in the USA is to offer some kind of "free gift" to those who are willing to sit and listen to a sales pitch. You go, with larceny in your heart, planning to glom onto the gift and turn a deaf ear to the pitch. However, your own ethical compromise gives the skilled huckster the leverage he needs to talk you into something you never intended.

[4] Στέφανον is Greek for Crown.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Abraham's Other Children (Acts 8)

Population transfers get ugly. A new line is drawn on the map, and thousands of people who have lived in their hometowns for many generations are told they need to hie[1] to the other side of said imaginary line. After the Balkan Wars, and the Turkish War of Independence, hundreds of thousands of Turkish and Greek refugees hobbled past each other, heading in opposite directions, with whatever household goods they could carry. Literally millions of civilians died during the late 1940s as Hindu and Muslim citizens of British India titrated into the new nations of independent India and Pakistan. This is a bit of history that the survivors, and their descendents, still prefer not to talk about.

Many Palestinians are still angry about their forcible evictions from the homes and farms that had been in their families for centuries. European strangers showed up with wealth and machine guns.

Today's chapter deals with the Samaritans. The ancient empires of the middle east, Assyria and Babylon, frequently enforced population transfers in order to break down local allegiances and thereby strengthen the claims of the Empire. When the Jews were exiled from Israel, some of the lower class folks were left behind. Not worth the effort to relocate, since they had so little in the way of wealth or skills to contribute. Their numbers were augmented by strangers from other nations. Natural predators multiplied in the depopulated area. The newcomers decided they'd better call upon the God of that region for protection, and learned the rudaments of the Jewish faith. They intermarried with the "poor white trash"[2] who were left behind. The resulting population became known as "the Samartans."

When the Jewish exiles came "back home" after the Babylonian captivity, they had done pretty well for themselves. They had the official favor of the Babylonian empire, permission to take what they wanted for building materials, and considerable wealth. They rebuilt their temple, practiced ethnic cleansing, and held the Samaritans in contempt.

When persecution began in Israel, however, Philip escaped to Samaria, where his message was eagerly received. At some point two of the senior apostles, Peter and John, came up from Jerusalem to bless the newly converted Samaritans. This blessing evidently was accompanied by signal and visible results. Let's look at the story.
Act 8:8 Ve o kentte büyük sevinç oldu.
Act 8:9 Ne var ki, kentte bir süreden beri büyücülük yapan ve Samiriye halkını şaşkına çeviren Simun adlı biri vardı. Simun, büyük adam olduğunu iddia ediyordu.
Act 8:10 Küçük büyük, herkes onu dikkatle dinler, "Büyük Güç dedikleri Tanrı gücü işte budur" derlerdi.
Act 8:11 Uzun zamandan beri onları büyücülüğüyle şaşkına çevirdiği için onu dikkatle dinlerlerdi.
Act 8:12 Ama Tanrı'nın Egemenliği ve İsa Mesih adıyla ilgili Müjde'yi duyuran Filipus'un söylediklerine inandıkları zaman, erkekler de kadınlar da vaftiz* oldular.
Act 8:13 Simun'un kendisi de inanıp vaftiz oldu. Ondan sonra sürekli olarak Filipus'un yanında kaldı. Doğaüstü belirtileri ve yapılan büyük mucizeleri görünce şaşkına döndü.
Act 8:14 Yeruşalim'deki elçiler, Samiriye halkının, Tanrı'nın sözünü benimsediğini duyunca Petrus'la Yuhanna'yı onlara gönderdiler.
Act 8:15 Petrus'la Yuhanna oraya varınca, Samiriyeli imanlıların Kutsal Ruh'u almaları için dua ettiler.
Act 8:16 Çünkü Ruh daha hiçbirinin üzerine inmemişti. Rab İsa'nın adıyla vaftiz olmuşlardı, o kadar.
Act 8:17 Petrus'la Yuhanna onların üzerine ellerini koyunca, onlar da Kutsal Ruh'u aldılar.
Act 8:18,19 Elçilerin bu el koyma hareketiyle Kutsal Ruh'un verildiğini gören Simun onlara para teklif ederek, "Bana da bu yetkiyi verin, kimin üzerine ellerimi koysam Kutsal Ruh'u alsın" dedi.
Act 8:20 Petrus, "Paran da yok olsun, sen de!" dedi, "Çünkü Tanrı'nın armağanını parayla elde edebileceğini sandın.
Act 8:21 Senin bu işte bir payın, bir hakkın yok. Yüreğin, Tanrı'nın gözünde doğru değildir.
Act 8:22 Bu kötülüğünden tövbe et ve Rab'be yalvar, yüreğindeki bu düşünce belki bağışlanır.
Act 8:23 Senin kin dolu, kötülüğe tutsak biri olduğunu görüyorum."
Act 8:24 Simun, "Benim için Rab'be yalvarın da söylediklerinizden hiçbiri başıma gelmesin" diye karşılık verdi.
Let's look at a few words here:
  • Ve o kentte büyük sevinç oldu -- And / that / city at / great / joy / there was
  • Küçük büyük, herkes onu dikkatle dinler, -- Small / (and) large / all / to him / with care / listen
  • "Büyük Güç dedikleri Tanrı gücü işte budur" derlerdi. -- Great / Power / is called / God's / power / thus / this is
Simon the Sorcerer found a ready audience among the demoralized Samaritans. As his people began defecting to the Christian movement, he tried to get ahead of the mob.[3] And was willing to pay for the privelege of maintaining a privelged position.

Even if you win a rat race, you're still a rat.


[1] Hie is a somewhat archaic word meaning to quickly relocate oneself. The only contemporary use I know of for this word is in the Mormon hymn, based on a lovely, modal, folk tune If You Could Hie to Kolob. Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS) is a bizarre cult, birthed like so many others, in America. It has been called "the American Islam," since its key figure is a "prophet" who is said to have restored long-forgotten truths. Polygamy is part of official Mormon doctrine, and even extends to their version of God. Kolob, you see, is where the putative deity of Mormonism stashes his heavenly harem.

[2] "Poor white trash" is a derogative term, usually applied to Americans from the Appalachian mountain chain.

[3] Old American joke: "Which was is the mob going? I'm supposed to be its leader!"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In your face! (Acts 7)

"Never make excuses. Your friends don't need them, and your enemies won't believe them."

Beware of marginal people who want to break into the inner circle. The Austrian politician who comes to power in Germany. The Georgian thug who inherits the already-brutal Russian dictatorship. This chapter continues the confrontation between Stephen, a deacon named in the last chapter, and a synagogue of folks from the fringe (present-day Turkey and Egypt) who wanted to curry favor with the Jewish powers in Jerusalem. When the representatives of this marginal community were unable to contend with the force of Stephen's eloquence, they resorted to fraud and force. They dragged Stephen before a hostile court by means of false testimony. These were not ignorant men -- they knew that the penalty for bearing false witness was the same as the penalty they sought to impose upon their victim. Since they were seeking the death penalty, they each knew that, as far as God was concerned, they had earned the death penalty themselves. Many scholars believe that one of the enraged false witnesses was that most famous Jew from Kilikya, Saul of Tarsus.

Evidently, Stephen knew better than to expect justice, let alone mercy, from this high court. Rather than defending himself, he engages the listeners' attention with several long stories. Of Joseph, betrayed, humiliated, exiled, yet becoming the key to his nation's survival. Of Moses, betrayed, humiliated, exiled, yet becoming the key to his nation's survival.Then, he got to his point:
Act 7:51 "Ey dik kafalılar, yürekleri ve kulakları sünnet edilmemiş olanlar! Siz tıpkı atalarınıza benziyorsunuz, her zaman Kutsal Ruh'a karşı direniyorsunuz.
Act 7:52,53 Atalarınız peygamberlerin hangisine zulmetmediler ki? Adil Olan'ın geleceğini önceden bildirenleri de öldürdüler. Melekler aracılığıyla buyrulan Yasa'yı alıp da buna uymayan sizler, şimdi de Adil Olan'a ihanet edip O'nu katlettiniz!"
And, a few words:
  • Siz tıpkı atalarınıza benziyorsunuz -- You / just like, exactly like / your fathers / you are like.
  • her zaman Kutsal Ruh'a karşı direniyorsunuz -- every, all / time / the Holy / Spirit / against / you hold out, you resist
  • Atalarınız peygamberlerin hangisine zulmetmediler ki? -- Your fathers / the prophets / which / did they not persecute / hmmm?
When you hear a story, you tend to imagine yourself as the hero, and listen with intensified interest. The fate of the Soviet Union was sealed when bootleg copies of The Gulag Archipelago got back to Mother Russia, and the nomenclatura discovered that they were the villains, rather than the heros, of the story of their history. The messengers who bring this kind of news are rarely popular. Yet, their message takes root in some hearts, with results that outlive the messengers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It takes work .... (Acts 16)

I believe Muslims experience an eruption of nostalgia from time to time. A charismatic teacher arises, and seeks to lead the faithful back to the unspoiled, pristine, original faith.

This is also a regular occurrence in American Christian culture. A faith big enough to apply to all of life is redefined as a simple devotional hobby, something that can safely be re-invented in every generation. After all, as the cliche goes, "God has no grandchildren." And just look at the amazing story of the Early (Primal, primitive[1]) church, that had thousands of converts climbing on board day after day! If only we could be like them, we could enjoy the same kinds of miracles! The overflowing love, generosity, purity, and power.

Well, as this chapter indicates, it takes work to keep the community working. Even these people living within days of the Resurrection, filled afresh with God's heavenly Presence, still acted like -- people. They still found it easiest to associate with their own, and take care of their own.
Act 6:1 İsa'nın öğrencilerinin sayıca çoğaldığı o günlerde, Grekçe konuşan Yahudiler, günlük yardım dağıtımında kendi dullarına gereken ilginin gösterilmediğini ileri sürerek İbranice konuşan Yahudiler'den yakınmaya başladılar.
Act 6:2 Bunun üzerine Onikiler, bütün öğrencileri bir araya toplayıp şöyle dediler: "Tanrı'nın sözünü yayma işini bırakıp maddi işlerle uğraşmamız doğru olmaz.
Act 6:3 Bu nedenle, kardeşler, aranızdan Ruh'la ve bilgelikle dolu, yedi saygın kişi seçin. Onları bu iş için görevlendirelim.
Act 6:4 Biz ise kendimizi duaya ve Tanrı sözünü yaymaya adayalım."
Act 6:5 Bu öneri bütün topluluğu hoşnut etti. Böylece, iman ve Kutsal Ruh'la dolu biri olan İstefanos'un yanısıra Filipus, Prohoros, Nikanor, Timon, Parmenas ve Yahudiliğe dönen Antakyalı Nikolas'ı seçip elçilerin önüne çıkardılar. Elçiler de dua edip ellerini onların üzerine koydular.
Let's look at a few phrases:
  • Tanrı'nın sözünü yayma işini bırakıp -- Of God / the Word / to spread (this is a "light" infinitive. Sometimes, when using an infinitive as a noun, you can drop the k from the end.) / the work / to leave (the -ip ending and its kin are placeholders that can be used when a sentence contains a number of parallel verbs, so that you only need to hitch the full complex apparatus to the last verb.)
  • maddi işlerle uğraşmamız doğru olmaz -- physical, material / the work, the business / in order to apply ourselves to / right, true, correct / is not
  • Bu nedenle, kardeşler, aranızdan Ruh'la ve bilgelikle dolu, yedi saygın kişi seçin. -- This / therefore / brothers / from among you / with the Spirit / and / with wisdom / filled / seven / considered thus / folks / select
  • Onları bu iş için görevlendirelim. -- To them / this / work / in order to / they may be entrusted.
Already, issues arise that need specialized attention. Maintaining a community, and a sense of community, doesn't just happen, no matter how spirit-filled and "primitive" people are. It takes work. I attended a mosque service with a Turkish friend, and saw the full "spectrum" of humanity present, men from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the USA. The eloquent imam, whose English had no discernible accent, and whose singing voice is magnificent, spoke of how important it is for the umma to keep its act together, to avoid fitna. Muslims who toy with, indulge in, or encourage fitna by that action deny their faith, and are not really Muslims at all. Suleyman later explained that fitna means civil strife, unrest, insurrection. Wikipedia described fitna as the civil wars that split the Muslim community into its Sunni and Shia factions.

When Suleyman joined our family for church the Sunday after, the theme was repeated. It takes work to make community work. Especially if, as with our church, the community deliberately includes people from many different backgrounds. Sometimes, the white guy learns to clap on the off-beat. Or, the people selected to manage the church's charitable resources on behalf of the Greek widows -- are all from that community.

[1] Yes, there is an American denomination that glories in the name of Primitive Baptist Church. As Yaakov Smirnof would say, "What a country!"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Aiming too high (Acts 4, 5)

Nobel-prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk offered some unique insights about the great Russian novelists of the 19th century. Their work was, he said, flavored by their sense of exclusion. They were on the edge of Europe, but were not recognized as fully European. Not really members of the club. As a Turk, he understood this snub very well. Turks who are third-generation natives of Germany are still regarded as, and treated as, outsiders in a "Christian" nation that is mostly secular, post-Christian.

The envy towards the "in-group" can drive the "outsiders" to strange extremes. Today's entry is in two parts. We begin with a look at the communal spirit of the early Jerusalem church:
Act 4:34,35 Aralarında yoksul olan yoktu. Çünkü toprak ya da ev sahibi olanlar bunları satar, sattıklarının bedelini getirip elçilerin buyruğuna verirlerdi; bu da herkese ihtiyacına göre dağıtılırdı.
Act 4:36,37 Örneğin, Kıbrıs doğumlu bir Levili olan ve elçilerin Barnaba, yani Cesaret Verici diye adlandırdıkları Yusuf, sahip olduğu bir tarlayı sattı, parasını getirip elçilerin buyruğuna verdi.
And, let's look at a few phrases:
  • Aralarında yoksul olan yoktu -- Among them / having nothing / there was / none
  • Çünkü toprak ya da ev sahibi olanlar bunları satar -- Because / fields / and / or / houses / owning / they / those / sold
  • Barnaba, yani Cesaret Verici diye adlandırdıkları Yusuf -- Barnabas / that is to say / Courage / Giver / called / they named / Jospeh
I've lived in religious communes, and there is an undeniable thrill to sharing lives with a handful of exuberant, dedicated, fellow believers. The Christians in Jerusalem were facing an emergency. The city was overflowing with pilgrims who'd come for a brief stay, then got caught up in the Messianic excitement. They stayed to learn more about this Jesus of Nazareth who had overcome death, and now offered a Kingdom. But somebody had to pay the bills. A few generous souls put all they had into the project, cashed out their capital reserves, and received recognition for their generosity.

And we all yearn for recognition.
Act 5:1,2 Hananya adında bir adam, karısı Safira'nın onayıyla bir mülk sattı, paranın bir kısmını kendine saklayarak gerisini getirip elçilerin buyruğuna verdi. Karısının da olup bitenlerden haberi vardı.
Act 5:3 Petrus ona, "Hananya, nasıl oldu da Şeytan'a uydun, Kutsal Ruh'a yalan söyleyip tarlanın parasının bir kısmını kendine sakladın?" dedi.
Act 5:4 "Tarla satılmadan önce sana ait değil miydi? Sen onu sattıktan sonra da parayı dilediğin gibi kullanamaz mıydın? Neden yüreğinde böyle bir düzen kurdun? Sen insanlara değil, Tanrı'ya yalan söylemiş oldun."
Act 5:5 Hananya bu sözleri işitince yere yıkılıp can verdi. Olanları duyan herkesi büyük bir korku sardı.
Act 5:6 Gençler kalkıp Hananya'nın ölüsünü kefenlediler ve dışarı taşıyıp gömdüler.
Act 5:7 Bundan yaklaşık üç saat sonra Hananya'nın karısı, olanlardan habersiz içeri girdi.
Act 5:8 Petrus, "Söyle bana, tarlayı bu fiyata mı sattınız?" diye sordu. "Evet, bu fiyata" dedi Safira.
Act 5:9 Petrus ona şöyle dedi: "Rab'bin Ruhu'nu sınamak için nasıl oldu da sözbirliği ettiniz? İşte, kocanı gömenlerin ayak sesleri kapıda, seni de dışarı taşıyacaklar."
Act 5:10 Kadın o anda Petrus'un ayakları dibine yıkılıp can verdi. İçeri giren gençler onu ölmüş buldular, onu da dışarı taşıyarak kocasının yanına gömdüler.
This is a rather grim ending to a story of social climbing. When you over-sell yourself, you live with the ever-present fear of being found out. The 1973 Italian comedy Bread and Chocolate features a migrant worker, an Italian working in Switzerland, who dyes his hair and learns to "pass"[1] for a native. In the end, his masquerade fails when he spontaneously cheers for the Italian team in a soccer match. Quite often, when an embezzler is finally caught, his first reaction is relief. The long deceit is over, and he can be himself again.

[1] In the USA, blacks and whites have lived so long together that the racial boundaries blur. Some black people "can pass for white." Or, in the idiomatic shorthand, they "can pass."