Wednesday, June 23, 2010

John 14 -- comings and goings

"Mommy, is it true that we were made from dust, and to dust we shall return?"
"Why yes, little Timmy."
"Come quick! Under the bed! Someone's either coming or going!"

This chapter discusses a number of comings and goings, as well as the way to get from Point A to Point B.

First, Jesus is returning to the Father to accomplish a specific task:
oh 14:2 Babam'ın evinde kalacak çok yer var. Öyle olmasa size söylerdim. Çünkü size yer hazırlamaya gidiyorum.
Joh 14:2 Babam'ın evinde kalacak çok yer var. Öyle olmasa size söylerdim. Çünkü size yer hazırlamaya gidiyorum.
My Father / in His house / will remain / many / places / there are. If that were not so, I would have told you. Because for you a place in order to prepare I go.

Thomas then feeds Jesus the perfect straight line:
Joh 14:5 Tomas, "Ya Rab, senin nereye gideceğini bilmiyoruz, yolu nasıl bilebiliriz?" dedi.
But / Lord, / your / where to / going / we do not know, / the road / how / are we able to know? (you can pack a lot into a Turkish verb! English verbs are rather puny by comparison, and need to be escorted with an entourage of "helping" words.)

And Jesus gets right to the bottom line:
Joh 14:6 İsa, "Yol, gerçek ve yaşam Ben'im" dedi. "Benim aracılığım olmadan Baba'ya kimse gelemez.
Jesus, / "The Way, / the truth / and / the life / I am," he said.

Jesus is the only way to get from Point A (where we are) to Point B (where we all, Christian or Muslim, aspire to be). Think about it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

John 13 -- a vivid tableau

This chapter presents the interactions between Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples. Let's look at the verses that set the stage:
Joh 13:1 Fısıh Bayramı'ndan* önceydi. İsa, bu dünyadan ayrılıp Baba'ya gideceği saatin geldiğini biliyordu. Dünyada kendisine ait olanları hep sevmişti; sonuna kadar da sevdi.
Joh 13:2 Akşam yemeği sırasında İblis, Simun İskariot'un oğlu Yahuda'nın yüreğine İsa'ya ihanet etme isteğini koymuştu bile.
Let's look at a few words:
  • Dünyada -- in the world
  • kendisine -- his personal stuff
  • ait olanları -- those who were his own
  • hep -- always
  • sevmişti -- he had loved. This is the "narrative / dubative" form of the verb.
  • sonuna -- to the end
  • sevdi -- he loved
On the other hand, İblis (Satan) had already put it in the heart of Yahuda (Judas) to betray Jesus. Judas knows it, Jesus knows it, but no one else is aware of this behind-the-scenes drama. Jesus begins by washing the feet of his disciples -- a menial service, one they were probably waiting for a menial servant to perform. This acted-out parable is even done for Judas. There is a moment of comic dialog between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus insists upon performing this service. "If you do not let me wash your feet, we have nothing to do with each other." "If that's the case, Jesus, wash my head and hands as well!"

Jesus hints at the coming breaking of the fellowship: You are not all clean. He then explains his reason for what he did:
Joh 13:13 "Siz beni Öğretmen ve Rab diye çağırıyorsunuz. Doğru söylüyorsunuz, öyleyim.
Joh 13:14 Ben Rab ve Öğretmen olduğum halde ayaklarınızı yıkadım; öyleyse, sizler de birbirinizin ayaklarını yıkamalısınız.
Joh 13:15 Size yaptığımın aynısını yapmanız için bir örnek gösterdim.
Joh 13:16 Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, köle efendisinden, elçi de kendisini gönderenden üstün değildir.
Joh 13:17 Bildiğiniz bu şeyleri yaparsanız, ne mutlu size!"
Thus (öyleyse), you all (birbirinizin ) one another's (birbirinizin ) feet (must wash (yıkamalısınız).

Jesus explains again that one of the people sitting at that table is about to betray him. Some immediately react -- "Are you talking about me?" Peter loudly asserts that he, for one, would never dream of doing such a thing -- and is informed that he will deny Jesus three times, before the rooster crows. His curiosity devours him, so Peter asks John, who is sitting a bit closer to Jesus, to find out who the betrayer is. Jesus discretely satisfies his curiosity, then dismisses Judas to hurry up, do what he planned to do, get it over with.

Finally, Jesus explains that, since he is about to exit the world, the disciples needed to take good care of each other:
Joh 13:35 Birbirinize sevginiz olursa, herkes bununla benim öğrencilerim olduğunuzu anlayacaktır."
Real people, having a real meal together, and interacting with each other.[1] The gospels, composed by people with first-hand knowledge of the events, or by those who could interview the actual participants, have that sense of reality about them that competing texts, such as the "gospel" of Judas, lack.


[1] As a contrast to this vividly described real-world, real-time event, consider this meditation on The Jesus of Nazareth vs. the Jesus of Neverland:

Jesus is considered a great prophet by Muslims, but one has to wonder why, seeing as he has almost nothing to do or say in the pages of the Koran. He only speaks on six or seven occasions and then, very briefly, and primarily to deny that he ever claimed to be God. ... Thus, whenever Jesus is mentioned in the Koran, it’s almost always for the purpose of whittling him down in size. ...

The Jesus of the Koran appears mainly in the role of a counter to the Jesus of the Gospels, but “appears” is really too strong a word. This Jesus doesn’t attend weddings, or go fishing with his disciples, or gather children around him. He has practically no human interactions, and what he has to say is formulaic and repetitive. He is more like a disembodied voice than a person. And, to put it bluntly, he lacks personality. The Jesus of the New Testament is a recognizable human being; the Jesus of the Koran is more like a phantom. When did he carry out his ministry? There’s not a hint. Where did he live? Again, there’s no indication. Where was he born? Under a palm tree.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

John 12 -- escape from autism

Someone who is wrapped up in himself is tied up in a very small package. A hero of mine, Dr. Kurt Asperger, coined the term autism (self-ism) a year before the dude who usually gets the credit. Dr. Asperger kept many of his young patients out of Hitler's gas chambers by pointing out to the Nazis that autism is a spectrum disorder, associated with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Kids with bizarre behavior problems might also have extraordinary intellectual and artistic gifts.[1]

Everybody has their own troubling weakness. A drunk achieves sobriety one day at a time, aware of the constant possibility of "hitting the skids," "falling off the wagon," and losing everything if he gives in to the ever-present temptation. A famous Protestant leader had a secret life, involving specialized massages from other men.

For someone wrestling with autistic-spectrum disorders, the ever-present temptation is the urge to pull the plug, disconnect from the people, the world, and the obligations around him, and hide out inside his own head. It's fun for a while, to suspend sanity and lose oneself in triviality. But the inside of your head is also a very scary place to get lost. Everyone has temptations. But a threshold can be crossed. When the temptation has you, it will "take you where you don't want to go. Keep you longer than you want to stay. Cost you more than you want to pay."

Archimedes said he could move the world if he had a long enough lever. What can offer the autistic Christian the "leverage" he needs to get out of his own head, and into the joys and challenges of real life? I think Jesus provides a key concept in this chapter:
Joh 12:24 "Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, buğday tanesi toprağa düşüp ölmedikçe yalnız kalır. Ama ölürse çok ürün verir.
Joh 12:25 Canını seven onu yitirir. Ama bu dünyada canını gözden çıkaran onu sonsuz yaşam için koruyacaktır.
Unless a grain of wheat surrenders its own identity, it remains barren, alone. But if it "gives it up," this same grain can bear much fruit (çok ürün verir - much production it gives).

His life / the one who loves / it / loses. (Canını seven onu yitirir.) But the one who writes off his life in this world (sonsuz yaşam için koruyacaktır. ) endless / life / thereby / he will gain.

The only way to overcome a passion is with a greater passion. The only way someone excessively in love with himself can become and act human is by loving something more than himself. Ultimately, only the love of God, and the expectation of an amazing and eternal reward, can motivate the autistic Christian to deny himself, quit piddling with trivia, and get on with his life and assignments.


[1] For further reading on this topic, see Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet and Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison. If your autistic child is approaching college age, you must download the free, compassionate, and very helpful handbook Towards Success in Tertiary Study: Asperger’s Syndrome published by the University of Melbourne.

Monday, June 14, 2010

John 11 -- Because He loved them, He neglected them

A friend of mine wrote an article about a 70's book with the intriguing title The Gospel According to Superman. You can click this link to read it. The human characters in the Superman story could always count on the Man of Steel to swoop in to their rescue when summoned. As the book's writer pointed out, however, none of these supporting characters demonstrated any personal growth over the decades of the saga.

Bryan Davis, a software engineer and home-schooling father of seven, launched into a new career as a young-adult fantasy novelist. He offers free writer's workshops around the country for fans and other aspiring wordsmiths. (yes, you can also buy copies of his books from a table in the back!) When you are writing a "hero's quest," Davis explained, the story starts with an aspiring hero, and a mentor. At some point, however, the mentor disappears from the scene. Obi Wan Kenobi dies. Gandalf fails to show up for his appointment. There is a reason for this standard feature: the hero needs to put what he has learned into practice, rather than continuously and thoughtlessly following the mentor's advice.

Bob Mumford, a wise teacher, gave the example of a baby learning to walk. He balances unsteadily on his two feet, looks at a parent holding out an encouraging hand, ponders his options ... then drops to all fours and crawls to the parent, big smile on face, anticipating approval. There are times when we need to grow up, do something new, accept a little more responsibility. Times when the familiar activities no longer suffice.

Sometimes in life, everything is working just as it should. All the pieces are falling into place. Time after time, in an uncanny way, providential encounters move the story along. Man, I could live like this forever!

Then, the sequence of adventures diverges from the anticipated script. The pollock is put in a round room and told to sit in the corner.[1] "Burnout," they say in "the helping professions," happens when prolonged and serious effort fails to bring about the anticipated result, the reward you were doing it all for. The aftermath of this bruising collision with reality can be profound depression -- and a renewed appreciation for John 11:
Joh 11:1 Meryem ile kızkardeşi Marta'nın köyü olan Beytanya'dan Lazar adında bir adam hastalanmıştı.
Joh 11:2 Meryem, Rab'be güzel kokulu yağ sürüp saçlarıyla O'nun ayaklarını silen kadındı. Hasta Lazar ise Meryem'in kardeşiydi.
Joh 11:3 İki kızkardeş İsa'ya, "Rab, sevdiğin kişi hasta" diye haber gönderdiler.
Joh 11:4 İsa bunu işitince, "Bu hastalık ölümle sonuçlanmayacak; Tanrı'nın yüceliğine, Tanrı Oğlu'nun yüceltilmesine hizmet edecek" dedi.
Joh 11:5 İsa Marta'yı, kızkardeşini ve Lazar'ı severdi.
Joh 11:6,7 Bu nedenle, Lazar'ın hasta olduğunu duyunca bulunduğu yerde iki gün daha kaldıktan sonra öğrencilere, "Yahudiye'ye dönelim" dedi.
Two sisters and a brother, probably orphans, were friends of Jesus. He and his entourage enjoyed the hospitality of this home from time to time. As it tells us in 11:5, İsa Marta'yı, kızkardeşini ve Lazar'ı severdi. (Jesus Martha, her sister, and Lazarus loved). For this reason (Bu nedenle,), two days more delay afterward to his disciples, "to Judea I return" he said.

The Turkish word kızkardeşini is interesting. kardeş means brother or sister. Prefix it with kız to indicate female sibling, add the possessive suffix in, and the direct object suffix i, and there it is!

While Jesus was out of the picture, Lazarus died. Those who had expected more of their friend were heartbroken, devastated. The sorrow of his friends was so intense that, when he arrived, İsa ağladı. Yet the end result of all this distress was a greater miracle than anyone expected.


[1] Half my genetics came from Slavic immigrants, so I can use a pollock joke! Actually, it's in the form of a riddle. The question is: "How do you drive a pollock crazy?"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

John 10 -- Baa, baa, His sheep

Sheep are strange animals. They can be affectionate and trusting towards their owners, and nervous around strangers. My mother used to lure the flock to the barn with an empty five-gallon plastic bucket. This bucket was sometimes used to carry sweet feed out to them, you see. Once she had them penned, however, she provided some of the sweet feed the sheep expected. Her conscience would not let her practice deceit, make false promises, even to trusting animals. So they continued to trust her, and come when called.

Sheep are not the brightest animals. Real shepherds hate Psalm 23, since it compares them to the stupid beasts they manage. Once, after the flock was shorn, a loud repeated banging noise came from the pasture. The two rams, who'd lived amicably together, no longer recognized each other without their wool, and were butting heads. One of the rams died soon after.

The Jewish people were descended from a tribe of vagabond herdsmen. They were frequently reminded that they, too, were the domestic cattle of the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel castigated the useless rulers of Israel, calling them bad shepherds, who fed themselves, rather than the flock. Jesus, who, like Ezekiel, called himself "the son of man," probably had this parable in mind. Jesus had just sought out the man he'd healed in chapter 9. This same man had been expelled from the worshiping community of Israel, the synagogue. Let's look at the text:
Joh 10:1 "Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, koyun ağılına kapıdan girmeyip başka yoldan giren kişi hırsız ve hayduttur.
Joh 10:2 Kapıdan giren ise koyunların çobanıdır.
Joh 10:3 Kapıyı bekleyen ona kapıyı açar. Koyunlar çobanın sesini işitirler, o da kendi koyunlarını adlarıyla çağırır ve onları dışarı götürür.
Joh 10:4 Kendi koyunlarının hepsini dışarı çıkarınca önlerinden gider, koyunlar da onu izler. Çünkü onun sesini tanırlar.
Joh 10:5 Bir yabancının peşinden gitmezler, ondan kaçarlar. Çünkü yabancıların sesini tanımazlar."
Joh 10:6 İsa onlara bu örneği anlattıysa da, ne demek istediğini anlamadılar.
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.
Joh 10:14 Ben iyi çobanım. Benimkileri tanırım. Baba beni tanıdığı, ben de Baba'yı tanıdığım gibi, benimkiler de beni tanır. Ben koyunlarımın uğruna canımı veririm.
Jesus is the good shepherd, Ben iyi çobanım. He calls his sheep by name, they recognize his voice, and follow him. A stranger after they will not follow, but from him flee (Bir yabancının peşinden gitmezler, ondan kaçarlar.) Somehow, Jesus was telling the corrupt leaders of Israel, the people could see through their mask of piety. Somehow, they lacked the credibility with the common people that he enjoyed.

It gets better. Not only were the Pharisees "strangers," they were all thieves and robbers (hepsi hırsız ve hayduttu). Unreliable mercenaries ( ücretli adam -- the key term here, ücret, means wages) who cut and ran, deserting flock in its moment of need.

A good shepherd gives his life for his flock. He also gives his flock life. This is in contrast to the parasitic leaders of Israel who, like their master the devil, came around only to steal, kill, and destroy (çalıp öldürmek ve yok etmek).

Some things never change. An American proverb / cliche asserts that the most terrifying thing you can hear a stranger say is, "Hello. I'm from The Government, and I'm here to help you!" Meanwhile, millions of grateful believers are not in the market for another savior, since they already have one who died for them, and lives among them today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

John 9 -- seeing and believing

One of the Marx brothers, famous comedians of 80 years ago, was caught in a compromising situation with a young lady. Said he to the enraged father, "Who are you going to believe? Me, or your lying eyes?"

A Nasreddin Hoca story has a similar punch line:[1] a neighbor wanted to borrow his donkey. Hoca claimed not to have said beast. The donkey brays, the neighbor asks, "If you have no donkey, what did I just hear?" Hoca replies -- "Who are you going to believe? Me, or some stupid animal?"

In John 9, Jesus heals a man who was born blind, to make several points. For example:
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.
Did the man sin in the womb? Or was it the sin of his parents that accounted for his blindness?[2]

"None of the above," Jesus replies. Not him, neither his mother / father evil did. It is not always wise to address a problem by looking for someone to blame. Many challenges in life exist to be fixed. See G K Chesterton's comic nightmare novel The Man Who Was Thursday. Or Johnny Cash's song A Boy Named Sue.

The man is healed, on the wrong day of the week. Thrown out of the fellowship of worshiping Israel. And embraced by Jesus as one of his own. Jesus then declares that the leaders of Israel had excommunicated the wrong party:
Joh 9:39 İsa, "Görmeyenler görsün, görenler kör olsun diye yargıçlık etmek üzere bu dünyaya geldim" dedi.
Joh 9:40 O'nun yanında bulunan bazı Ferisiler bu sözleri işitince, "Yoksa biz de mi körüz?" diye sordular.
Joh 9:41 İsa, "Kör olsaydınız günahınız olmazdı" dedi, "Ama şimdi, 'Görüyoruz' dediğiniz için günahınız duruyor."
"What you talkin' about?" the Pharisees demand. "You sayin' we're also blind?"

"If you were blind, you'd be innocent," Jesus replies. "But because you say, 'we see,' your sin remains."

It's the things we think we know, that ain't so, that get us in trouble!

[1] The "punch line" is the conclusion of a joke, the comic reversal or redirection that makes the story funny.

[2] Gonorrhea, a "social disease," accounts for many cases of blindness in the "third world." Parental sins affect offspring, sometimes in very tangible ways.

John 8 -- witness to truth

I learned something interesting the other day. Love is an important word in John's writings, occurring more than 90 times. However, so too is the word witness. It shows up more than 80 times. In this chapter, Jesus begins by refusing to participate in a kangaroo court[1] that's none of his business. He did not see the transgression, and had nothing to say about it. So, he called for the witness for the prosecution to step up to the plate,[2] and perform his legal obligation:
Joh 8:7 Durmadan aynı soruyu sormaları üzerine doğruldu ve, "İçinizde kim günahsızsa, ilk taşı o atsın!" dedi.
And, let's unpack some of these words:
  • İçinizde -- among you (iç -- inside. iniz -- your. de -- locative indicator)
  • kim -- who
  • günahsızsa -- sinless
  • ilk -- first
  • taşı -- stone
  • o -- he
  • atsın! -- show throw!
The legal problem here is, of course, that it's pretty hard to commit adultery by yourself. Those who had arranged to entrap the accused were parties to her crime. This is, by the way, the only time in the gospels when Jesus is shown to be writing something. An old story suggests that he wrote down, one by one, the sins of the crowd, looking at each sinner in turn. The final word -- "Adulterer" -- ended the event.


[1] Source of this metaphor unknown. Informal court, outside the bounds of the legitimate legal system.

[2] Baseball metaphor. The batter steps up to home plate to fulfill his duties.

Friday, June 4, 2010

John 7 -- it's not the lack of information ...

How do you transform an "is" into an "ought?" How to you go from the indicative (descriptive) mood in a statement to the imperative (command) mood? If you pile up enough facts, do you get wisdom? In one of his brilliant little fables compiled in The Cyberiad, Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem dealt with this question. An interstellar pirate wanted data. The two constructors gave him a machine that spewed an unending stream of random data, and quietly escaped.

Modern education, a wiser man than me once said, places all information in a single file drawer labeled Miscellaneous. [1]

Someone considering the claims of Christ can procrastinate, saying, "I'll make up my mind when I have all the facts." Ain't gonna happen. The issue is something quite different from lack of information:
Joh 7:17 "Eğer bir kimse Tanrı'nın isteğini yerine getirmek istiyorsa, bu öğretinin Tanrı'dan mı olduğunu, yoksa kendiliğimden mi konuştuğumu bilecektir.
The religious leaders of Israel pleaded "insufficient data." Jesus called them on that assertion. Those who wish to please the Father already have the means to evaluate the claims of the Son. There is no conflict, ultimately, between "the True" and "the Good." A love for the Good, for God and for His purposes, hones our instinct for distinguishing truth from its seductive counterfeits.


[1] Of course, there's also the hidden curriculum. It doesn't matter what kids study, as long as they learn the real lesson of public education: truth is what The State tells you, when The State tells it to you, in the place and time The State provides, and under the direction of a State employee.