The Four Phases of My Hebrew Study

by Glenn on April 6, 2022

I am entering a fourth phase of Hebrew Study.

Phase 1 was the Dabbling phase. I was interested in Biblical Hebrew and someone who teaches the subject recommended Udemy to me. I took a couple of courses and purchased several others that I’ve never done anything with.

One course I took was called “Learn Hebrew with Legos,” which was really interesting. It gave me a sense of how the Hebrew language worked, using Psalm 23. The building block concept is a helpful one. Hebrew is compressed. It’s the condensed orange juice of languages. So for example, we say, “The LORD is my shepherd.” But in Hebrew it’s just two words:
יְהוָה רֹעִי

I also took a course titled, “Meet the Hebrew Alphabet.” My memory of that is that it moves quite slowly. It’s a very gentle introduction, like dipping your toe in the pool. I think it insulated me from the enormity of the subject. At some point you have to jump in.

In this phase I learned something about Hebrew, but I didn’t go very far into it. I didn’t learn to read. I couldn’t say anything in Hebrew. It was sort of like studying a forest by walking along its edge. You discover something about the trees on the edge, but you really have no understanding of how vast the forest is. You aren’t immersed in it. You understand a small part of the forest, but in no way are you actually in the forest.

Phase 2 was the Delusional phase. This phase started with the onset of Covid. I remember having two distinct thoughts back then. The first was, “I could die.” I didn’t have heavy anxiety, but enough to wonder if this could be the end as it turned out to be for so many. (Note: I had Covid twice. Once with the vaccine and once without. My experience was that it was much better—read less worse—with the vaccine.)

The other thought I had was, “Maybe I could do something with this time.” I had just started a program at Northeastern Seminary and while we were locked down I thought I would learn Biblical Hebrew on the side.

I found a tutor through Varsity Tutors and we worked through a textbook called Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar. The tutor was great. He was a seminary student with an interest and experience in the Biblical languages. The text was good too. I ordered the DVD’s to watch, although I see you can watch them through a site on Zondervan.

The delusion was in me. Somehow I thought that by merely reading through the material I would absorb it. I suppose it’s the same delusion of thinking you can learn a musical instrument by going to a music lesson every week. If you want to become proficient with the instrument you’re going to have to practice between lessons.

And so this Delusional Phase was characterized by the fact that I was putting in some time, but not consistent time. And I didn’t have anything like a study plan. I think I was hoping I would learn by osmosis. (By the way,  this sort of “learn Hebrew while you sleep” video doesn’t work. That is not a method. The one good thing about that kind of video is it does give you some vocabulary to learn, but you can’t go to sleep and wake up speaking Hebrew, although I tried.)

I also watched a fair amount of Hebrew television and movies, which I will describe at another time. My sense is that these aren’t the greatest way to learn Hebrew, but they are good markers for seeing how much you’ve learned. Some day it would be great to watch without subtitles and understand what’s going on.

I did learn some things in this phase. The most important thing was learning the Hebrew Alphabet (אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי) cold. But the reading was difficult because I didn’t practice regularly and systematically. As far as learning the Hebrew Aleph Bet, I consider two sources invaluable. The first was this lecture by Miles Van Pelt:

The other was a song:

(If this goes by too fast, there is a slower version.)

One thing I learned during this phase is that there is a difference between Biblical and Modern Hebrew. There aren’t dramatic, worlds-apart differences between the two, but they are there. So, for example, there are different approaches to pronunciation, the most striking being how to pronounce the Hebrew letter ו. In Modern Hebrew it’s pronounced “vahv” and those who want an older/classical approach say it’s “wow.” It makes a difference. Is David pronounced “dah-VEED” or “dah-WEETH”?

Miles Van Pelt (and my tutor) learned and favored the older pronunciation, which sounded funny to my ears. It felt very American, but I think it was just that the people I heard speaking it sounded so very American. I wasn’t hearing the language in a way that modern people speak the Hebrew language. It wasn’t that I had that much exposure to the sound of Modern Hebrew. But I often struggled with pronunciation because I didn’t feel I had an accurate sound in my ears and was trying to make a choice in the moment over which pronunciation.

Perhaps I didn’t know which one was correct, either. Turns out you just have to decide, although there are people who insist on preferring the older pronunciation. My thinking is that Hebrew is confusing enough without trying to learn the two different pronunciations for the four letters that are pronounced differently in the classical version. If I was going to read or say something in Hebrew, I didn’t want to first decide whether it was the Bible or not, to determine how I would pronounce the words.

During this Delusional Phase I also did some dabbling with learning systems like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. The problem you come to is that there are so many systems and only so much time. To follow multiple systems is an investment of time I don’t have on a daily basis.

I spent about a year in this phase. The main lesson was to learn about the enormity of the project. I think I saw the size of the mountain I wanted to climb. It was a little overwhelming to see how much there was to learn and how little I had actually learned. Hebrew is not an easy language. It’s not the hardest either, but there is plenty of challenge there for an English speaker.

There was also a great cautionary note from the tutor who said not to start infusing sermons with Hebrew. That’s a good word. I haven’t strictly followed the rule, but I am trying to be careful about when I refer to the Hebrew behind an English translation of the Bible.

Along the way I think I decided I wanted to speak better with correct diction. So I made the decision I would speak Biblical Hebrew using Modern Hebrew pronunciation. And that led me to looking for a different Hebrew tutor.

Phase 3, begun roughly a year ago, was the Decision phase. The decision was to get more serious about my studies. I found a tutor in Tel Aviv (she has since moved) whose name is Noya Einhorn, who I discovered through a video she made that teaches English speakers how to make the sound of the Hebrew ר. It’s an “r,” but the way they say it in Hebrew is not how we say it in the U.S. She gets it and teaches it well.

This was a really helpful video, as are the rest she has made. (In addition to tutoring, Noya is a skilled singer/songwriter.) After an interview, she took me on as a student and I have been working with her for the past year. The time difference was the main hurdle for studying with her—my early morning is Noya’s late afternoon. That has seemed to work well.

The decision to get more serious meant not only learning learning a language, but learning how to learn a language. There are some helpful books on the subject:

Benny Lewis. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

Gabriel Wyner. Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. New York: Harmony Books, 2014.

YouTube is also a good spot for this sort of “meta” thinking on language acquisition. The danger here of course is obsessing with learning to learn and avoiding the actual learning of Hebrew. The most important thing I think I’ve picked up from from YouTube is the value of regular, systematic practice and the invaluable nature of “comprehensible input.”

I’ve had to come to terms with some things:

1. I am a little older than I used to be and things don’t come as easy as they did. If they ever did. It could be that I have never actually pushed myself this hard to learn something so complicated. You have to be patient. In fact, the more anxious you are about learning, the harder it is to learn. There’s been a fair amount of sadness to this study. It doesn’t come easy and then any time I watch or listen to something in Hebrew, I realize I only catch a word here and there and most of it goes right over my head. It’s like as far as you’ve come you see there is farther to go.

2. I don’t think I ever learned to study in a way to retain things over the long term. I learned to take tests rather than absorb knowledge. Language study means starting sooner and staying with it longer. It’s about regular systematic study, not a cram session. Anki has become my most important study tool. The principle behind Anki is spaced repetition.

3. Language study means you are on a journey for a while. I remember learning to juggle in early 2021. It took just a few days with the assistance of  this YouTube instructor. You can learn to juggle in a few days. You cannot learn a language in a short time like that. Part of the decision phase has been to decide to stay with Hebrew. There are other things I could learn, but those are on hold as I would like to be able to read the Bible and converse in Hebrew.

4. A little focus goes a long way. There are so many apps and programs for learning. I’ve looked at and tested out a number of Apps. The problem is that these can be a distraction from your teacher’s lessons. There isn’t a perfect way to learn Hebrew. If you have a good teacher—as I do—then it makes sense to learn what they are teaching and not get side-tracked on other things.

5. I need a system for learning. This has been a long time coming, but I think I’m almost there. My minimum daily practice includes using three Anki decks for Hebrew. One is a “listen and respond” deck where I’ve taken audio clips and split them into English and Hebrew. I listen to words and phrases in either English or Hebrew and translate. Second is a read and recite deck, again translating either from or into Hebrew. The third deck is a recall and write deck, where I practice spelling my vocabulary words. I’m experimenting with Apple’s Keynote program as a way to study. That is a relatively new tool, but it appears promising as it’s easy to bring new words and concepts into the system. You need a system robust enough to incorporate all that you are learning, but not so complicated that you avoid bringing new words and concepts into the system.

During this third phase I took the first semester of a Biblical Hebrew course through Northeastern Seminary. It went pretty well. The nice thing was that the professor for this Biblical Hebrew course used modern pronunciation. I would like to take the second semester of the course when it comes around again. He also has a Hebrew Club which I am part of. It’s easily the dorkiest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s a lot of fun. We are working verse by verse through 1 Kings—reading and translating. I’m feeling pretty good about my reading and see I have a long way to go with my translating.

I memorized some things in Hebrew and decided to record them as a way to remember where I am right now. Over the next year I hope to learn more things and improve my pronunciation. This is a video snapshot of where I am right now.

(I noticed I mixed up some of my ה‘s with my ח‘s, but we were going for where things are and, apparently, I mix those things up.)

Phase 4 I am calling the Deliberate Phase, which I am beginning as I enter my third year of serious study. If the first year of study was to find out what I had to learn and last year was learning how to learn, my hope for this next phase is simply to learn. I am committed to learning Hebrew. There are other things I could pay attention to, but I am liking the challenge of seeing how far I can get with this. Now that I have a system for learning it, I am merely tweaking that system rather than obsessing over what it should be.

For this new phase, my main focus is my lessons with Noya. My goal is to have all the vocabulary memorized and to become more verbal using that vocabulary. Practice means going through the Anki cards and using the vocabulary I’ve learned. I’ve done pretty well with the inputs to language study (reading and listening), and now I need to turn more to the outputs, speaking and writing.

I will continue to listen to the Pimsleur Hebrew course when I am driving or on a walk as well as a podcast or two. I don’t think they take away from my lessons.

When I have time, I will continue to work through my Biblical Hebrew textbook from Northeastern Seminary. It’s:

Ethelyn Simon, Irene Resnikoff, and Linda Motzkin. The First Hebrew Primer: The Adult Beginner’s Path to Biblical Hebrew, Third Edition, Revised with New Explanatory Notes. Berkely, California: EKS Publishing Co., 2005.

I am revisiting the lessons from last semester and then will see what forward progress I can make.

John 9

by Glenn on January 21, 2022

This past Wednesday night we read John 9 in our Bible study. There are a number of remarkable things about this passage. I’m still thinking about it (John 9) and them (the remarkable things), so I thought I would write about them this morning.

First, Jesus addresses a major theological issue found in the first two verses: “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (9:1–2)

Inside this question is an assumption about those who suffer, in this case a person who had been born blind. The question the disciples ask amounts to “Who can we blame for this? What is the source of this man’s suffering? Is it something he did and is responsible for or something his parents did for which this person is now paying a price?”

And so the theological issue is the source of human suffering. All of us walk around with assumptions about why people suffer. What are our assumptions about our suffering or the sufferings of others?

Later in the passage, a group of religious leaders will admit their own belief that it was the fault of the guy born blind. They will say to him, “You were steeped in sin at birth.” (9:34)

We spent quite a while wrestling with this issue on Wednesday night. All of us suffer in some ways and what are we to conclude about that suffering? Is it someone’s fault? Can I blame someone? Am I to blame? Or we see someone suffering and wonder “Who did what so that this person deserves this?”

There is something else in that question—“Who sinned?”—that I’ve been thinking about. It’s that tendency to hold ourselves superior to others whenever possible. We think “There are good people and sinners. Those who are suffering are clearly among the sinners.” It’s as though the disciples are above this man born blind, looking down on him.

How does Jesus answer the question? He doesn’t. It’s in verse 3 where Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” In other words, “There is a problem with your question.” Jesus is telling his disciples their assumptions are all wrong. But Jesus doesn’t leave the answer there. He announces, “But this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Spoiler alert: Jesus will heal the man.

A second thing I love about this passage is something I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before. It’s something about how the story is written that speaks to me. Almost everyone in the passage is a flat character. What I mean by that is everyone in the story basically is who they are all along. Jesus is Jesus. The disciples are the disciples. The Pharisees are the Pharisees. And when we meet the parents of the man born blind, they are who they are. None of them really change.

Only one person really changes in this story. It’s the man born blind. The way this story is told we can’t miss it. And what a transformation. Look at the evolution of his thinking about Jesus:
—The first time he speaks of Jesus he describes him as “the man they call Jesus.” (9:11)

—The second time he speaks of Jesus it follows an argument among the Pharisees. They accuse Jesus of being a sinner but they wonder “How can a sinner perform such signs?” (9:16) And so they ask the man born blind about Jesus and he replies, “He is a prophet.” (9:17)

—The third time he speaks of Jesus is after he has been brought back to the Pharisees. There is a fairly intense argument at the end of which the man concludes, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (9:33)

—The last time we hear from the man born blind is after Jesus has circled around and met up with him. Now at the end of the story Jesus asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (9:35) The man born blind had never seen Jesus. Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes and told him to wash in a certain pool. This act of trust and obedience resulted in his healing. And now that he sees Jesus, he declares, “Lord, I believe” and the text says “he worshiped him.” (9:38)

What an evolution. From Jesus is a man to Jesus is a prophet to Jesus is from God to I believe in and worship Jesus.

The purpose of the gospel of John is so that we may believe Jesus is who he says he is. Whatever else is going on, this is the heart of it all.

It’s amazing to me how this story shifts. We begin with a physical healing. A man born blind receives physical sight. But there is also this question of who has and does not have spiritual sight. Jesus came to bring sight to the blind. The key to receiving spiritual sight is admitting our blindness.

Those who admit their need receive from God.

Back to that issue of suffering and the response of Jesus. One commentator made this connection. Genesis 1:1, of course, says God created the heavens and the earth. Then Genesis 1:2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep . . .” There was darkness in creation and that is the moment God said, “Let there be light.”

In other words, it is the nature of God to enter darkness and chaos and bring light.

There are new headlines these days beyond COVID and the normal and abnormal political machinations going on. There are “rumors of war” in Eastern Europe. My prayer this morning is that God would enter the darkness and chaos of our world and bring light.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | 2 The Vanishing Glass

by Glenn on January 12, 2022

Chapter 2 “The Vanishing Glass” in which we learn a now 10-year-old Harry has special powers. Things happen that are hard to explain, like his hair always being a mess, even after someone tries to cut it or Harry having special abilities to escape trouble. At a zoo, Harry (we assume though it isn’t stated explicitly—but assumed implicitly by Harry’s uncle) causes a protective glass to disappear in front of a snake cage. 

*   *   *

It’s ten years later. Privet Drive hasn’t changed. But based on the photos on the mantelpiece, we know time has passed. Dudley has grown into a big boy. There is this telling line: “The [living] room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.” [18]

The scene opens with Aunt Petunia yelling at Harry to get up. Harry sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs. There are spiders, but Harry is used to them. Harry is trying to remember a dream of a flying motorcycle, connecting this chapter with the last (and first). It’s Dudley’s birthday and Harry is supposed to help with the cooking to make it “perfect.” [19]

Harry is a counterpoint to Dudley. Where Dudley is fat and hated exercise, Harry is skinny, small, and very fast. In fact, he needs to be fast to escape from Dudley.

Harry also has a scar on his forehead. The first question Harry can remember asking his Aunt Petunia is how he had gotten the scar. Aunt Petunia said it was in a car crash, where Harry’s parents died. We don’t know the full truth at this point about what happened to Harry’s parents, but we know there is a contradiction between how things are and how they are spoken of.

Like in the first chapter, there is a friendly and funny comment from our narrator: “Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel—Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.” [21]

Dudley is totally spoiled. He’s being given 36 presents for his birthday, but that is a problem because this is two less than he was given the previous year. But there is a present from Aunt Marge unaccounted for and Aunt Petunia explains she will buy two more presents. He’ll have one more than he did last year. It feels like the Dursleys are living with a bit of a terrorist.

Aside: The mention of Aunt Marge is great. We won’t (if I recall correctly) meet her until the next book, but it’s clear that J.K. Rowling has thought through this world.

A tradition in the Dursley household is that on Dudley’s birthday, the family goes out for the day. In the past, they left Harry with a neighbor, Mrs. Figg, but Mrs. Figg called to say she had a broken leg and couldn’t take care of Harry, which was good news for Harry who didn’t like being at her house. (A bit of a cat lady.) Harry thought this might mean a day in control of the television remote but Mr. Dursley doesn’t trust Harry at home by himself.

The Dursley home is a sad one for Harry who often spoke of him “as though he wasn’t there or rather, as though he was something very nasty that couldn’t understand them, like a slug.” [22] It turned out to be Harry’s lucky day. He got to go to the zoo with the Dursleys and Dudley’s friend Piers Polkiss. The Dursley’s didn’t know what else to do with Harry.

Uncle Vernon pulled Harry aside to warn him about “any funny business,” with the threat of having to stay “in that cupboard from now until Christmas.” [24] Harry insisted that he wouldn’t do anything “But Uncle Vernon didn’t believe him. No one ever did.” [24] Why not? The narrator explains, “The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was just no good telling the Dursleys he didn’t make them happen.” [24]

Unexplained things do happen around Harry. And they would again at the zoo.

On the way to the zoo, Harry brings up this dream he had had the previous night about a flying motorcycle and which earned him an angry rebuke from his uncle who yelled, “MOTORCYCLES DON’T FLY!” [25]

Things go well at first. It’s a great day for Harry. But then they all went to the reptile house. Dudley asks his father to try to make a python move. Dudley pounds on the glass. Then he gets bored and moves away. Harry goes up to the glass and the snake winks at Harry. Then Harry has a conversation with the snake. Dudley sees this, comes over, pushes Harry to the floor. Suddenly the glass disappears and the snake slithered away, thanking Harry. Note: this scene is handled really well in the film, perhaps the one scene that is actually better on screen than the page.

There’s a key and beautifully done paragraph beginning on page 29:

“[Harry]’d lived with the Dursleys almost ten years, ten miserable years, as long as he could remember, ever since he’d been a baby and his parents had died in that car crash. [This is a great bit of narrating because we get Harry’s understanding even though we as the reader know there’s more than this going on. We know Harry has been told and believes a lie.] He couldn’t remember being in the car when his parents had died. [Harry is questioning the truth of what he has been told.] Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead. This, he supposed, was the crash, though he couldn’t imagine where all the green light came from. [And then just to establish how difficult all of this is for Harry . . .] He / couldn’t remember his parents at all. His aunt and uncle never spoke about them, and of course he was forbidden to ask questions. There were no photographs of them in the house.” [29–30]

The chapter finishes with some other thoughts Harry has. He has a dream of being taken away by an unknown relation. Foreshadowing, although it won’t be a relation. It will be by someone who loves him dearly. Harry also has this idea “that strangers in the street seemed to know him.” [30] The strangers either disappear or his Aunt Petunia hustles him away before he can ask questions. Things are pretty bleak.

What We’re Up Against

by Glenn on January 12, 2022

This is not a political rant. I’m not trying to take a side, here, but this is what’s going on. This is what we’re up against.

By “we” I mean people who want to think independently and thoughtfully and are interested in the truth of things. This is a hard time to be one of those sorts of people.

This past Sunday, a United States Senator named Mike Rounds (SD) went on ABC News’ This Week. The host, George Stephanopulos, asked him about his thoughts about January 6, 2021. Here is the answer Senator Rounds gave:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states. While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state.

“The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency. And moving forward — and that’s the way we want to look at this — moving forward, we have to refocus once again on what it’s going to take to win the presidency.

“And if we simply look back and tell our people don’t vote because there’s cheating going on, then we’re going to put ourselves in a huge disadvantage. So, moving forward, let’s focus on what it takes to win those elections. We can do that. But we have to let people know that they can — they can believe and they can have confidence that those elections are fair. And that is in every single state that we looked at.”

Senator Rounds appears to have some political independence as a Republican, but was largely  supportive of the President. According to one news source [1] Rounds “is neither a Never Trumper not a MAGA devotee. He broke with the former president on policy grounds a handful of times—on a bipartisan immigration deal in 2018, on Trump’s trade war with China in 2019—but voted in line with Trump’s position 90 percent of the time, generally did his best to avoid weighing in on the various scandals of the past five years, voted against conviction in both impeachment trials, and said on January 5, 2021 that he was going into the next day’s proceedings with an open mind. (He ultimately decided against objecting to the Electoral College vote counts.)”

Here is how former President Donald Trump responded:

“‘Senator’ Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020. He made a statement this weekend on ABC Fake News, that despite massive evidence to the contrary, including much of it pouring in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states, he found the election to be ok—just fine. Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive. The only reason he did this is because he got my endorsement and easily won his state in 2020, so now he thinks he has time, and those are the only ones, the weak, who will break away. Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.

“It’s RINOs like this that are allowing the Democrats to destroy our Nation! Our Borders, our Military, our Economy, Inflation, the horrible handling of the China Virus and Afghanistan, and rampant crime throughout our Democrat-run cities are ripping our Country apart. We are a laughingstock throughout the world when we were respected and even feared just 1 year ago. There were no thoughts of Russia with Ukraine, China with Taiwan, Iran with nuclear weapons, or North Korea with nasty statements.

“The Radical Left Democrats and RINOS, like ‘Senator’ Mike Rounds, do not make it easy for our Country to succeed. He is a weak and ineffective leader, and I hereby firmly pledge that he will never receive my Endorsement again!”

Not sure what the scare quotes are about. Senator Rounds is a senator and not a “senator.” But leaving that aside, here is the problem: Two prominent politicians give two completely different accounts of the 2020 election.

Again, not taking a side at this point. Just pointing out there is a major discrepancy in views.

I am going to say that a thing cannot both be and not be. If there is such a thing as a principle of non-contradiction and assuming I understand that principle and that it should be in operation in the world, then what are we to do? How do we make sense of all of this?

It could be that one party is misinformed. Both parties are telling the truth as they understand it, but one party is not in complete possession of the facts.

It could be that one of the parties is lying. (This goes along a spectrum from, say, a spin on the one end to something darker on the other—delusion or worse.)

I suppose there is a third alternative—they are both misinformed or both lying.

Is there another possibility?

It’s clear both parties understand the truth of the situation very differently. For Senator Rounds there were “some irregularities,” but none which would have changed any outcomes. For Mr. Trump, the election was not only fraudulent but it was “the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020” (like the chapter of a book) and there is “massive” contradictory evidence.

What is remarkable to me is the way the two parties respond to each other. Let’s assume that Senator Rounds is not in command of the truth of the situation. But let’s call it ignorance and not a lie. Senator Rounds is not in command of the facts. That can happen. What should be the response of the other side?

I guess I would want the other side to explain what was wrong and to give correct facts. Here there is no correction. Instead it’s ridicule.

The tone of the two statements is so different. Mr. Trump has insults:
“ABC Fake News”
He says what Senator Rounds has done makes him “crazy or just stupid.” Are those the only two choices?
Senator rounds is a “jerk.”
“He is a weak and ineffective leader.”

Senator Rounds issued a response to the President’s response. He said,

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by the former president’s reaction. However, the facts remain the same. I stand by my statement. The former president lost the 2020 election.”

Can we believe either of these men? Is one of them correct and the other not?

Beyond this dispute, there is the efficacy of masks and masking requirements, there are vaccines—recommendations and mandates. There is so much that is contradictory.

How do we know what is true? How do we live in the truth?

This is what we’re up against.

_________________________

[1] The Dispatch: January 11, 2022.

A Post to my Congregation on January 12, 2022

by Glenn on January 12, 2022

I love it when people come up with words that make sense of my experience of the world. This is a real gift, I think. It’s a delight when you read or listen to someone and find yourself saying, “I had never thought about it like that before” or “I never had the words to explain myself” or “That’s exactly right.”

I had that experience last week. I listened to a favorite podcast—Econtalk. On a recent episode the Jewish-American moderator Russ Roberts and his Irish-American guest, the journalist Megan McArdle, sat down for a conversation. Which sounds like a joke. But it wasn’t.

The subject was “the idea of home and the role of national identity.” It was a discussion of a book, Where We Are, written by the late British conservative, Roger Scruton, who explored the meaning of the Brexit vote for the British people. Not sure I will read the book, but this conversation around the book was rich.

Early in the discussion the guest, Megan McArdle, said a couple of things that were really interesting. First, she believes that “we are always in the end kind of bound by extremely particular attachments to a particular place, a particular home, a particular people, and a particular kind of way of life.”

Second, she mentioned that there are two kinds of people—the “Somewheres” and the “Anywheres.” These are “the people who live in one place and stay there versus the people who are constantly mobile and can go anywhere.” She suggested the Anywhere sort of people had the hardest time with the Coronavirus because they had to become Someplace sort of people.

I resonated with these two terms because it describes my experience here in Aims. I don’t ever remember living around so many Someplace sort of people.

And we definitely live someplace. It’s a place where many drive around with a chainsaw in the back of their vehicle—“rig” or “truck” I imagine is what they would call it—because you never know when you’ll need it to clear the way home.

It’s a place where, when it’s windy, it’s not just possible but quite likely that the power is going off. (It was windy last Friday when I was going to send this. The power came on and off three times before it finally died. The nice thing about the power finally going off is that you’re no longer worried about the power going off.)

It’s a place in the forest, among the trees. It’s quiet. And peaceful. Particularly in these dark, winter months. The loudest sound outside this morning is the creek behind the church building, which is so full that it sounds a bit like the wind today.

And it’s a place where many have lived all their lives with no interest in living anywhere else.

And yet our identity is not simply this place we live. As we’re beginning to learn in our series on the Seven Churches of Revelation, every congregation lives someplace—there are real circumstances that come with living in a particular place—but ultimately, the identity of every congregation is not found exclusively in a place but in Jesus, who is among the churches and holds the churches in his hand.

*   *   *

There was a second part of the podcast that I resonated with. The host, Russ Roberts, spoke of national identity. He mentioned how the United States has a problem right now related to how we think of ourselves as a nation. Here’s how he framed the issue: “our conception of who we are as a nation is a half-full and half-empty–or at best half-full, half-empty–that there’s this proud part of us. And, then there’s this ashamed part. And, many people have decided to only choose one.”

I loved this part of the podcast because it put into words feelings I’ve had for the last eighteen months or so. How am I to think about this country in which we live? I’ve noticed there are people who want to tell a grand story about who we are as a country and leave out uncomfortable things like slavery and its effects. And then there are people who want to tell a story about how bad this country is.

These stories feel exclusive. And to add nuance or a corrective to either narrative is to invite trouble.

The guest, McArdle believes both tendencies are wrong. She says that “it is unhealthy if a nation is unwilling to admit the bad things that it has done . . . But, is there something really disturbing about the sight of a nation that has decided to only focus on the bad things it did?”

This rang true for me as I think about our country. I believe it is true of us as people as well.

As believers we can’t be solely proud of who we are because God isn’t finished with us, yet. Humility recognizes that we are works in progress and there are areas to grow. We are not all that we can be in Jesus. “Look how far we’ve come” is always balanced by “Look how far we have to go.”

On the other hand, we can’t simply live in shame. Among the sad things in life is watching someone whose only idea of themself is shame. This denies the very thing Jesus came to do—“he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

This morning we find ourselves someplace. May we experience joy in that place.

And we are in the process of becoming. May we forget “what is behind” and strain “for what is ahead,” pressing on “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | 1 The Boy Who Lived

by Glenn on January 3, 2022

How is it possible that twenty years have gone by since that first Harry Potter film was released? I’ve read through all the books at least three times and listened to them a couple more. The narration by Jim Dale is phenomenal and was pretty key to helping me with some pronunciation.

Perhaps I’ve got one more round in me. We’ll see. I thought I would try and read and write my way through the series one more time, but I have way more projects than I have time for. But if I can keep track of projects better, perhaps I can add this one in.

*   *   *

Chapter 1 “The Boy Who Lived” in which we meet a baby named Harry Potter who has been orphaned in an unusual event—his parents, Lily and James, were killed by someone named Voldemort who tried for whatever reason to kill Harry as well and disappeared in the process. There is a mark on Harry—a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.

In this opening chapter we meet a family, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four Privet Drive. They have a toddler named Dudley. They pride themselves on being thoroughly normal, unlike Mrs. Dursley’s sister and family.

As a typical day begins for this family we understand that somehow this is not a typical day in the world. On his way to work, Mr. Dursley “couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks.” [3] We’re told Mr. Dursley didn’t like strangely-dressed people.

There are other things going on—owls flying everywhere—and what looks like shooting stars everywhere. And a mysterious cat is watching the Dursley home.

At lunch, Mr. Dursley bumps into one of these strangely-dressed people. The man is not troubled, though. He’s in good spirits and tells Mr. Dursley, “Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!” [5]

It’s hard to approach this novel as though it was the first time. We can’t un-remember everything even as I suspect there are things I have forgotten. But we have some mysteries as this story opens. There are two kinds of people—the normal and the oddly-dressed. We’re not told what the difference is at this point. Mr. Dursley seems to have some awareness that there are two kinds of people. In fact, Mr. Dursley’s wife, Petunia has a sister. He refers to “her crowd.” [7] And he wants nothing to do with that crowd.

And there is this “You-Know-Who” person who apparently has gone, which is a cause for celebration.

Mr. Dursley has a moment of panic. He overhears the name Harry Potter spoken by some strangely-dressed people and there is a glimmer of recognition. When he gets home he approaches the subject with his wife, Petunia. Mrs. Dursley hasn’t seen her sister for quite some time. But she is married to someone with the surname Potter and they have a son named Harry who is about the same age as Dudley. Is there a connection?

That night, one of these strangely-dressed people appears on Privet Drive. His name is Albus Dumbledore. The narrator has an insider’s tone and tells us, “Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive.” [8]With a device he carries in his robes he puts out twelve neighborhood streetlights. The cat, seen earlier, that has been sitting there all day, changes into a person—Professor McGonagall. Albus Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall have some sort of familiarity with each other.

Professor McGonagall has a question: “Is You-Know-Who gone?” [8] She apparently doesn’t want to say a name. Dumbledore doesn’t answer the question right away. First he reacts to the fear and says , “I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort’s name.” He has been trying to convince people to use the name for eleven years. Apparently this is a name that causes fear. It’s interesting how Professor McGonagall responds to Dumbledore. She says, “Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.” [11]

Dumbledore replies, “You flatter me. Voldemort had powers I will never have.” [11] Professor McGonagall explains why. It’s “Only because you’re too—well—noble to use them.” Dumbledore doesn’t disagree. Just a few pages into this book we become aware of good and evil. Evil involves using powers that good will not. Is this a one-sided battle? Evil wins because it uses powers that are stronger than those who are good? It appears so. Lily and James Potter have been killed by Voldemort.

This book opens with dark powers and the darkness of death. We already know where this story is going, but this tells us this story is about death. There’s a mystery in the death of Lily and James Potter. They were killed by Voldemort, but their baby, Harry was not, although he was left with a scar on his forehead. Professor McGonagall tells us about rumors that say “when he couldn’t kill Harry Potter, Voldemort’s power somehow broke—and that’s why he’s gone.” (Notice that Professor M doesn’t hesitate to use the name Voldemort, now.) Harry is “The Boy Who Lived” when so many people have died.

Dumbledore doesn’t know why this happened. He says, “We can only guess. We may never know.” This is a kind of false foreshadowing. One of the themes of this story is that Dumbledore is going to be working very hard to understand what happened. He will eventually figure it out.

There’s a line in this chapter that I really love. It’s got a “meta” quality to it. Professor M says, regarding Harry Potter, “He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!” [15] No hyperbole there.

Dumbledore sees this fame as a problem. Harry will be “Famous for something he won’t even remember!” [15] He tells Professor M about a plan for the baby to grow up with the Dursleys. Professor M thinks this is a terrible idea because they are such a bad family, but this is the plan, mostly because this is the only family Harry has.

Dumbledore explains that someone named Hagrid will be bringing Harry. Professor M wonders if this is a good idea but Dumbledore says, “I would trust Hagrid with my life.” Hagrid arrives with the baby, Harry, on a flying motorcycle he borrowed from someone named Sirius Black. The tone of the narrator is fun again, here. While trying to explain how large a man Hagrid is, she explains “He looked simply too bit to be allowed.”

After good-byes are made, Harry is left on the porch with a note of explanation. Dumbledore puts the lights back on. Dumbledore and Professor M go off to celebrate. In the morning, Petunia finds the baby and screams. At the same time people around the country are quietly toasting Harry. Bad things have happened, but because of Harry, people are breathing a sigh of relief—though they are expressing that relief quietly.

Character List

Mr. Dursley
Mrs. Petunia Dursley
Dudley Dursley

James Potter
Lily Potter
Harry Potter

Albus Dumbledore
Professor McGonagall
Hagrid

Two other characters are mentioned, although they are not part of the action:
Dedalus Diggle
Sirius Black

Should we read into this fact that there are three groups of three’s. Does this mean anything? It is a nice balance. A trinity of three trinities.

 

Norm Macdonald

by Glenn on October 1, 2021

There’s something about the passing of Norm Macdonald at the age of 61 from a ten-year battle with cancer that has me thinking about a number of things.

First, there’s the way he lived with the cancer. To my knowledge, he never disclosed his illness in public. He did a bit in a stand-up act that took on the idea of “battling” cancer. He said, “I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure if you die, the cancer dies at the same time. That’s not a loss. That’s a draw.” Somewhere else—Is it in his memoir?—he mentioned severe abdominal pain as part of a bit, but he never let on that he knew anything about that personally. It was with a remarkable dignity that he lived life with this awful disease of cancer.

I suspect the way Macdonald lived with cancer had something to do with his Christian faith. You don’t normally hear about the Christian faith of a comedian, but he was one who had one. It doesn’t mean I can listen to every joke he told. He often said things I wouldn’t say. But he seemed to have his identity settled in Christ.

In an interview he once said this:
“Some people believe that man is divine, like kind of a hippie idea. I can’t believe that because I know my own heart, and I know that’s not true. Other people believe that we’re wretched like the cynics or the atheists would believe we’re all just wretched nothingness, just animals, just creatures. I can’t believe that. It doesn’t make any sense, that we’re just beasts. I will say that Christianity has this interesting compromise where we’re both divine and wretched, and there’s this Middle Man that’s the Savior, that through Him we can become divine, but we’re born wretched. I kind of like that one, because it sort of makes sense.”

In an interview with Larry King, Macdonald declared, “I’m a Christian. It’s not stylish to say that now.”

King replied, “Are you devout? … You believe in the Lord?”

“Yes, I do,” Macdonald said.

I don’t think King was aware that Macdonald was dying from cancer at the time of the interview. He asked, “You think that you’re going somewhere when (life) ends?”

“Well, I don’t believe it. What people don’t understand about faith is that you have to choose. You know what I mean? They think that you believe it – but you have to choose.”

On Reformation Day (November 1) years ago he sent out this message on Twitter: “Scripture. Faith. Grace. Christ, Glory of God. Smart men say nothing is a miracle. I say everything is.”

Macdonald was listing the “Five Sola’s.” Sola is Latin for “alone,” so it’s “Scripture Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone. Christ Alone. And To God Alone Be The Glory.” That’s a pretty good foundation to build your life.

In 2018 he told his Twitter audience this: “At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter. How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.”

There’s a rather famous (infamous?) interchange Macdonald had with a comedian when he was a judge on Last Comic Standing, where he makes a defense of Christianity. It’s worth watching. One of the other judges said they thought a joke was brave. Here you can hear the joke and Macdonald’s reaction to both it and the reaction of the other judge:

You can hear the audience (and a fellow judge) not know quite how to respond. On a show about laughter, Macdonald is deadly serious about things that mattered to him.

This week, I’ve gotten a lot of joy of out Macdonald’s moth joke. It’s probably the reason that he is in my thoughts today.

I just heard the backstory to this joke. Macdonald did a segment on Conan’s show. Just before the commercial break Conan said, “We’ll be right back with Norm Macdonald.” The problem was that He didn’t have any material for a second segment. He was totally unprepared. So what we hear is Macdonald just making up things as he goes. He takes a 20″ joke and stretches it out for several minutes.

A writer, Jon Gabriel, said this: “The smartest comedians portray themselves as the dumbest; Norm Macdonald was the best at this sleight of hand. He graduated high school at 14, read Russian literature in his downtime and had long philosophical discussions with clergy. … Macdonald was a student of human nature first, comedy second.”

Norm Macdonald was a disarming comic. He kept his intelligence and his reading a secret. And he offers a challenge to me.

Eric Sorensen reflected on a interview he had heard Macdonald give. In the interview, Macdonald says, “I have a Rabbi who I talk to a lot… he’s a real scholar. My pastor doesn’t know anything-I mean anything…. he’s just a pleasant guy. If you ask him a direct question, he’ll go: ‘What? Didn’t you hear my sermon?’ But his sermon’s always like ‘How to be a nice fella’ or some nonsense.”

And there’s the challenge: How do you be more than pleasant? How can you be a scholar that knows something? But, then, how do you own that knowledge in a way that isn’t off-putting. How can you relate Christianity to others the way Macdonald tells a joke?

Pimsleur Hebrew | Level One | Lesson 2

by Glenn on August 12, 2021

Vocabulary

Hello | שָׁלוֹם

How are you? Lit. “What’s your peace?” (to a male) | ? מַה שׁלוֹמךָ

How are you? Lit. “What’s your peace? (to a female) | ? מַה שְׁלוֹמֵךְ

What? | ? מַה

Fine | טוֹב

Thanks | תוֹדָה

Fine, thanks. |  טוֹב תוֹדָה

So | כֹּל כָּך

Not so well | לֹא כֹּל כָּך טוֹב

Very | מְאוֹד

Very well. Lit. “well very” | טוֹב מְאוֹד

See you later. | לְהִתְרָאוֹת

 

Practice

(These are some of the things you should be able to say following this lesson.)

You are an American. (to a male)

Yes, you are an American. (to a male)

Yes, I am an American. (male)

You understand Hebrew/English. (male/female)

You understand Hebrew/English very well. (male/female)

Hello.

How are you? Lit. “What’s your peace?” (to a male or female)

Fine, thanks.

Goodbye.

Goodbye, see you later.

Pimsleur Hebrew | Level One | Lesson 1

by Glenn on August 11, 2021

I’ve taken on a pandemic project of learning Hebrew. It started with wanting to read biblical Hebrew, but has expanded into the desire to learn the Hebrew language. Among other things, I’m slowly but surely working through the Pimsleur Hebrew audio course. I really like it, although it’s a little stressful trying to learn and remember things. I especially enjoy hearing native Israelis speak the language. I’ve heard some native English speakers read the Biblical text and it’s not the same.

One problem: Pimsleur is a completely aural experience. At least I haven’t been able to find any study guides. And I would like a more complete understanding of Hebrew that includes both the written and spoken Hebrew.

Further, it would be nice to be able to practice without having to commit to the 30 minutes.

So this is my study guide to go along with the Pimsleur Hebrew course. I have left off transliterations as I need to practice my reading.

Level One | Lesson 1

 

Vocabulary

Excuse me | סְלִיחָה

Understand (male) | מֵבִין

Understand (female) | מְבִינָה

I, me | אֲנַי

You (male) | אַתָּה

You (female) |אַתְּ

No | לֹא

Yes | כֵּן

Hebrew (the language) | עִברִית 

English (the language) | אַנגְלִית

a little | קְצָת

American (male) | אֲמֶרִיקָאִי

 

Practice

(These are some of the things you should be able to say following Lesson 1.)

Excuse me

English

Hebrew

Understand (both male and female)

I

You (male and female)

Yes

No

You understand. (male and female)

Do you understand? (male and female)

Do you understand (male and female) Hebrew?

Do you understand (male and female) English?

I understand (male and female) a little.

I understand (male and female) English.

I understand (male and female) Hebrew.

I understand (male and female) a little English.

I understand (male and female) a little Hebrew.

American (male)

Are you (an) American? (to a man)

 

Ruth 1—Questions and Observations

by Glenn on July 1, 2021

The next step in my process of trying to understand the book of Ruth better is to formulate questions and make observations as I read the text and compare two different translations. I will be using the New Revised Standard Version and the New Living Translation. At this point I am not using commentaries, just trying to see what I notice.

Before we get to the story we have to comment on the name of the book—Ruth. Here within the larger story of God’s dealing with the ancient Hebrew people—God’s people—is this story of someone who is not one of those people, at least not at the beginning. Ruth is an outsider who will become an insider who will give birth to the ancestor of David the king.

Ruth Chapter One

New Revised Standard Version

New Living Translation

Verses 1–2

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.

Interesting that the NLT wants to make it clear we are in Israel. I assume that’s not in the original. Also the NLT wants to note that it is a “severe” famine. Is the NRSV leaving something out or is the NLT putting something in?

There is irony here. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and there is no bread in the house of bread. The promised land is lacking in what had been promised. A person who is part of the nation to whom God has made promises decides he needs to live outside the land of promise and away from that nation to stay alive.

Hebrew names are often full of meaning. I need to learn what all these names mean. I think Elimelek means God is king, but I can’t remember what Mahlon and Kilion mean. I know they have rather sad meanings.

I have heard sermons where Elimelek is criticized severely for leaving the promised land and going to Moab. The text here is merely descriptive. It says what happened but doesn’t make judgments about that. It’s not in my head, but I know there is significance to the country of Moab as it relates to the Israelites. There is a back story there that could be part of this story. I need to get that clear. I suspect to talk about the book of Ruth, you need to understand the relationship of the Jewish people to the Moabite people.

I wonder what we should associate with “In the days when the judges ruled . . .”? Is that simply context? Something we know of that time was that “everyone did what was right in their eyes.” Is that set a tone for what follows? Is it something like, “In the time when everyone did what was right in their eyes, here is a story of three people who are acting in the best interests of others and working against their own self-interest.”

Verses 3–5

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.

In messages I’ve heard, there are those who want to make much of the death of Elimelek. They consider his death divine judgment, but again, that is something you have to read into the text. The story itself is rather factual at this point. And the timeline is super-compressed and super-tragic. In three years we have three deaths. And all the deaths are of the men in the story.

I think it is safe to say that the culture of ancient Israel was a patriarchy and here is a story about women. What does it mean to be an Israelite widow?

Related to the patriarchy is the description of marriage as presented in Genesis 2:24, where “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” (NRSV) But in this story, women have left their homes to be with the men. Is there something significant about that, or something that should be made about that at this point?

Verses 6–10

When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.


Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.

But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.

10 “No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”

I think we can assume this famine went on for a while, but finally the word gets out that it has ended. How have things gone for Naomi in Moab financially? We don’t really get any sort of description of how Naomi and her two daughters have done. Ahead of them lies poverty. Will that be a step up or a step down?

You wonder why Naomi tells the girls to go home after they have started the journey. Why not figure this out before she leaves? Is there something to making this decision along the way?

Naomi seems to want the best for her daughters-in-law. It seems to me the words of verse 8 could be taken formally—this is something one says—or this is an honest expression of Naomi of her feelings toward her daughters-in-law. In other words, is Naomi being polite or is this how she feels? Regardless, verse 9 feels real. It seems like that has to be taken as a sincere hope as evidenced by the weeping. It must be something they all feel toward each other.

The LORD is among the characters in this story, although it is a non-speaking role, if I recall correctly. The LORD will be referred to and people will act in his name, but the LORD won’t actually do anything in this story. Yet because of the LORD, characters will act in a certain way.

It’s interesting to me that English translations use this title and not the actual name of God. In fairness, we don’t actually know exactly how to say that name. And so maybe this is the safe play. But it feels like something gets lost when as here, someone refers to God by name, but this isn’t reflected in the translation.

Verses 11–13

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? 12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”

This is the second attempt Naomi makes to send the girls away. There’s something about this line of reasoning Naomi offers that I wonder about. I guess it’s the idea that Naomi believes the girls are connected to her because of her sons and the only way they can be connected to each other going forward would be if she had more sons, which she says will not (cannot) happen. And then how Naomi thinks this all out to its logical conclusion, noting that the girls would have to wait until her sons grew up and that they will not want to do that. Is this a polite way of saying, “You girls will be too old.”

Verses 14–18

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”


16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. 15 “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.

Both Orpah and Ruth express deep emotions toward Naomi, but with Ruth there is this added physical element of Ruth clinging to Naomi.

Ruth has a conversion experience, although we are not told how this came about. Naomi has stressed that her two daughters-in-law should go back to their gods. And she has pointed out to Ruth that Orpah has gone back to her gods. Naomi seems against trying to convert Ruth outright. There is no reaction from Naomi about this conversion, either. But Ruth’s commitment is total and to the death.

Verses 19–22

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”

22 So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest

A lot of time has passed since Naomi left. She left with a husband and two sons and returns with a daughter-in-law. The NRSV says Bethlehem was “stirred,” while the NLT says it was “excited.” Clearly it caused a reaction. I feel like these words are different, but I don’t know if it is a difference that matters. Were people stirred up or were they excited to see Naomi.

Regardless, when Naomi is addressed by her name, she wants nothing to do with her name. She wants to be called Mara, bitter. Fascinating to think about Ruth’s commitment to Naomi in light of Naomi’s emotional state right now. Is she regretting her decision?

Naomi attributes her state to God’s doing. To what extent is she right? Has God afflicted her? Is he to be blamed for her circumstances? Again, God is referenced. Naomi is confident in her assertion, but God neither confirms nor denies her accusation.

One difference in the translation is that the NLT establishes when the Barley harvest begins—”late spring.” I assume this is not in the original but the translators wanted to make it clear where this harvest figures in terms of the seasons.

Truth and the Bible

by Glenn on June 11, 2021

There’s an old joke about the three baseball umpires as described by Walter Truett Anderson. [1] Perhaps I am even beginning to understand the metaphor/allegory in a way I can explain it. Over a beer after a game,

“One [umpire] says, ‘There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call ‘em the way they are.’ Another responds, ‘There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.’  The third says, ‘There’s balls and there’s strikes and they ain’t nothin’ until I call ‘em.’”

And there we have three approaches to truth we find today. A simplistic approach to this story sums it up this way: Umpire One says there is objective truth; Umpire Two says truth is relative; and Umpire Three says truth is whatever anyone says is true.

But it’s more complicated than that.

It’s as easy to reject the third umpire’s view as it is frustrating to experience this view of truth in daily life. There must be something there even if we might disagree on how to describe it. So we neither throw our hands up in despair (“What do we know?”) or say nothing can actually be known because everything is a power struggle to decide what the truth is.

I used to think the first umpire was the exemplar for what it means to be a Christian living in the truth. Much of the talk I’ve heard over the years on the subject of Christian apologetics seems to hearken to this idea of an exclusive truth that we can discover, understand completely, and then hold proudly and proclaim loudly.

The problem, of course, is that as soon as we announce we have the exclusive truth we find ourselves with the exhausting task of trying to make sense of the contradictions we have with the guy next door who says something completely different but has a similar claim to know the truth in an exclusive way.

This view of truth means you must assume you are right and the rest of the world is wrong or ignore these contradictions. Further, it means you can’t do the important work of taking a look at your own internal contradictions or the way life often goes against what “we know.” As a Christian it means you can’t let the Bible be the story it is. You need to impose order on it and explain why, for example, it has no contradictions. [2]

So both the first and third umpires live in an untenable place. The first umpire is naive (though he certainly wouldn’t consider himself that), thinking he knows perfectly. Perhaps he knows his Bible well but hasn’t taken time to consider how the Bible relates to, say, natural history. Meanwhile the third umpire says nothing can be known. That’s a tough way to live life.

Initially, the second umpire appears weak. He makes truth sound subjective. He looks squishy. But this is reality. The fundamental misunderstanding I’ve lived with for some years [3] is to mistake the thing that is actually relative, which is not truth, but me. As has been said rather elegantly, “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” [4]

This makes coming to the truth a matter of relationship, which means it’s messy. We take the truth seriously, but ourselves less so. There “are ways of seeing” [5] that need to be factored in. And we need new ways of seeing. The fundamental change I’m learning to make is to recognize that there is something objective out there, but that I am subjective in here. Investigate both seriously and carefully.

All of this matters in how we approach the Bible. First umpire readers (I was one and I hope I am learning how not to be one) take themselves too seriously. They say, in effect, “I see the truth clearly and it’s a shame you don’t” on all sorts of matters—women in ministry, American exceptionalism, the importance of this or that presidential candidate, etc. Third umpire readers don’t take the Bible seriously enough. “It’s just one of many texts. We can’t privilege one over another.”

Second umpire readers take the Bible seriously, but themselves less so. They understand there’s a there there. Not everything is a social construction. But it’s only through dialogue with ourselves and others that we come to know the truth or, better, come to embody the truth in a better way.

I was both heartened and disheartened some years ago listening to Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006). People who took the Bible very seriously—word for “literal” word—saw nothing wrong with promoting and maintaining chattel slavery. In fact, it was a cause worth dying for. They defended slavery using the Bible. They took themselves too seriously and neither the Bible nor the plight of others seriously enough. That was wrong.

We shouldn’t approach the Bible in either a first or third umpire sense. Which means we approach the scriptures as they and we are and allow the scriptures to change us as we live in dialogue with God through his word and with others in the community of faith as they, too, interact with God and his word. We don’t read the Bible, we let it read us. We don’t impose order on the Bible, we let the Bible order us.

 

_________________________

[1] See p. 31 and chapter 7 of J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh’s Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

[2] Ignoring absolutely self-evident evidence to the contrary, beginning with simple things like Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly . . .” (NIV) and Proverbs 26:5, “Answer a fool according to his folly . . .” (NIV), and continuing to the fundamental contradictions in the book of Job where Job’s three friends (and then a fourth guy) do not see that their understanding of the world (bad things only happen to bad people) is not in operation. The ones who think they know the truth don’t, and Job, the one who understands the truth, never really gets an answer for why his life became an exception to the rule.

[3] I don’t think some of our Christian apologists have really helped. The discovery of John Stackhouse recently has been a gift. He doesn’t have the ubiquitous presence that Ravi Zacharias had before his tragic denouement, but he’s got a more satisfying way of describing the way Christians should relate to the truth and other people. He appears to be more deeply grounded in philosophy.

[4] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/03/09/as-we-are/

[5] Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1985), p. 17.

Touches With History

by Glenn on June 11, 2021

I had three touches with history over the Memorial Day weekend. I wasn’t looking for them, but there they were anyway.

–1–

The first was a book I read over the weekend called The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2021).

The Bomber Mafia is not a long book and I could hardly put it down. I finished it in two days. Confession: I don’t really like to read. I like having read. I need to read. Everything in life is easier for me when I am reading, so I read. This was an easy book to read and it was absolutely fascinating.

The book is about the U.S. Air Force in World War 2, in particular two generals named Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay and their approaches to waging warfare. Both were interested in ending the war early, but they had very different approaches. One was interested in precision-bombing, taking away the means of the enemy waging war. The other was committed to wholesale destruction.

But this book is more than that. It’s about the technology of waging war.

Do you know the three most expensive undertakings of World War 2? The first was the B-29 Bomber, known as the Superfortress. The second was the Manhattan Project, the development of the first atomic bomb. The third was, as Gladwell explains, “Not a bomb, not a plane, not a tank, not a gun, not a ship. It was the Norden bombsight.” This was a “fifty-five pount analog computer” designed to, according to legend, “drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from six miles up.”

I don’t want to give anything away. But two things struck me as I read. The first was the staggering amount of losses in the Eighth Air Force based in England. In 1943 B-17s flew to Schweinfurt to attack a ball bearing factory. They were unsuccessful but lost sixty planes and 552 airmen were either captured or killed.

Then they tried again in the Fall of 1943, this time with a diversion. The diversion didn’t work for reasons that are part of the story Gladwell is telling. This second attack on Schweinfurt was only marginally more successful, but in the process, “Nearly a quarter of the crews on that mission did not come home.”

So then you start figuring out your odds of survival. Not every mission was like that one, but if on every mission there are 25% casualties, you won’t long have air crews or planes.

How do you process those kind of losses? And as we come up to the anniversary of D-Day this Sunday, you think about the 4,900 Allied troops killed, missing, and wounded to take the beaches of Normandy. The more I understand about World War 2, the harder it is to comprehend the level of commitment.

The second thing that comes out in the book is the story of the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan were not the only allied air attacks on Japan. Before, during, and even after the dropping of those two atomic bombs, U.S. forces were using a newly developed weapon on the cities of Japan. Napalm. Many more people died from firebombs than the two nuclear weapons.

Gladwell has a strong moral sense but he’s not telling a morality tale. He is offering a compelling story that makes you think. I can’t recommend this book enough and if you want my copy, just ask.

War is awful, as those who were part of one must know only too well. This book was a good choice to read on Memorial Day weekend.

As a Christian you struggle to make sense of war. At the same time you are not overwhelmed by it. The story Gladwell tells is not an easy one to consider, but it’s not the end of The Story:

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4, NIV)

Gladwell is a gifted writer and makes connections between things that you didn’t realize were there and tells such a captivating story that you almost can’t help yourself following along, even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject.

–2–

I get a newsletter on Sunday mornings written by a man named David French. He is a Harvard Law graduate and a committed Christian. His politics are on the conservative side, but he doesn’t push forward Republican talking points. He is an independent thinker and I frequently often myself challenged by the things he says. At the very least, I enjoy reading how he thinks.

During the week he writes for an online magazine called The Dispatch. But on Sunday mornings he writes specifically to his Christian audience and, I suppose, anyone else who is interested in listening in.

This past Sunday he opened with this question: “How old were you the first time you heard about the Tulsa Race Massacre?” He followed this with a confession: “I’m ashamed to say that I was in my forties.”

So here is my confession: Sunday was the first time I had heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre. I’m 57. Am I the only one who has lived in such ignorance?

May 31 was the 100th anniversary of this low point in the history of how white and black people relate to each other. If you are interested in reading his account (and his words directed specifically to Christians) click here. This particular article is not hidden behind a pay wall. He makes an poignant comparison to D-Day and Memorial Day.

French has a unique perspective on race relations. He and his wife are white. Years ago they adopted a baby girl from Africa. He has told some uncomfortable stories of what that’s been like and the events of the last year have not made that any easier.

–3–

I listened to a podcast on Econtalk featuring Julia Galef. She and host, Russ Roberts, talked about her book, The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t. I was drawn to the discussion and the book primarily because of the events of this last year. How do you think about things when there are such polarized views about, well, everything?

Galef says there are two ways of thinking—the soldier mindset and the scout mindset. The soldier mindset is intent on defending what you believe. The scout mindset seeks to discover what you can learn about the world. It was a helpful discussion.

In the book Galef tells a story about Abraham Lincoln I had never heard before. As the Union armies sought to defeat the Confederacy, the town of Vicksburg became an important target. It would give the Union control of the Mississippi River and split the South in two. Even the Confederate president Jefferson Davis recognized, “Vicksburg is the nailhead that holds the South’s two halves together.”

But how to attack Vicksburg? Lincoln and his general, Ulysses S. Grant, had very different views about how to accomplish this. Grant had been trying unsuccessfully for months. And, then, as Galef tells the story, “Finally, in May 1863, he settled on a daring plan to approach the city from an unexpected direction, while using subterfuge to hide his troops’ progress from the Confederates.”

Galef says Lincoln thought the plan was “far too risky.” He had other ideas about how to accomplish this. “But two months later, on Independence Day, Grant’s army stood victorious in the center of Vicksburg.”

It’s the end of this story that is so remarkable. Lincoln sent a letter to Grant congratulating him on his victory.

“I wish to say a word further. . . . I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.”

“You were right, and I was wrong.” Wow. It seems like we are more interested in saying the opposite: “I was right. You were wrong.”

Historians say this admission of Lincoln’s was true to his character.