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The Christian History of a Thing Called a “Book”

December 5, 2015
'Book of Books' Exhibition Opens In Jerusalem

An original handwritten Facsimilia of Khabouris Codex complete New Testament in Syriac from the 11th century (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

I take delight in books. I even married a librarian. If we ever move I think the foundation of our house will rise when we box up the books. This format, where leafs (or pages) are bound on one side, was propagated by early Christians. Prior to that scrolls were the common choice for documents. Sacred texts like the Old Testament were a collection of scrolls kept in urns. The Jewish community continued using scrolls. And even to this day they are used in the synagogue liturgical readings. But the codex (the early concept of what we call books) was an innovation used extensively by the early church and became so popular that the use of scrolls in the secular world followed suit.

muse_reading_louvre_ca2220_cropped1One question we should have with the above information is, “Why?” I mean the Romans used scrolls. So did the Greeks, the Arabs, and the Jews. All religious writings in Europe, Western Asia, and the Middle East used scrolls excluding the Early Church. This made us very unique, “people of the book.” One prominent reason was the study of the Old Testament.

The Advent Season reminds us that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts all cite the Hebrew Bible concerning the Messiah. The Gospel was foretold throughout the Old Testament. These scriptures are the foundation of the New Testament and its theology. Just think, 1,071 verses of Matthew are quotes and passing references to the Old Testament. 1 Peter, Jude, and Hebrews individually are about 69% from the Hebrew Bible. Roughly 2,600 of the 8,000 verses of the NT are from the OT with 343 direct quotes of passages and 2,309 paraphrases.

In order to facilitate the reading and understanding of the Gospels and Letters of the New Testament it was helpful to place the pages in a stack so one could flip back and forth to the Old Testament references in the same binding. Often the allusion or quote was meant to express a larger context than just the verse mentioned. IMG_1992.JPGA scroll was cumbersome to unravel in order to find a passage and had no easy way to save your place as you rolled over the original passage. Thus, a book was created so Jews (who knew their Scriptures could then verify the Gospel), and Gentiles (who were not so familiar) could keep their finger in the New and look up the source in the Old.

Every time I look at a book I think of the ingenuity of the Early Church creating an easier way to get the most from one’s devotionals. 004580_w185I’m also reminded that our faith is a reasoned one based on thousands of years of prophetic literature. The Old is important in amplifying the New. Paul used a “Soul-Winner’s Old Testament” to evangelize; could we? Let us embrace the Christian history behind “the book.” And let us use it as intended by Paul who exhorts us to read, “The full councel of God.”

Don’t Just Let the Rocks Cry Out

October 10, 2015

Recently two public displays of the Ten Commandments have been removed from the public square. One located in Connellsville, PA, the other in Oklahoma. Both were removed because the defendants would not justify the cost of the lawsuit, acquiescing to the better-funded minority voice. These are part of a larger trend to distance Judeo-Christian ethical influences on society.

The Decalogue expresses the central tenets of civility. It identifies the universal truths of the selfishness of mankind and provides the guidelines for a better society. The world needs to be reminded of dignity, courtesy, honor, and respect for all life.

The Commandments are not laws but they are the principle themes from which law is derived. Let me enumerate briefly the base values of civil law from a non-religious reading of these stones.

It begins with the principle of deference. Each person must not be self-serving. We must submit to an ideal beyond ourselves (for Christians that is the Trinitarian God). Where Maslow says our greatest need is self-actualization, we say a just society begins with self-sacrifice.

Idols are forbidden which speaks to the heart of how we bond in our society. We have a need to set up false securities, create propaganda, and feel the illusion of control. Idols are used to manipulate powers to work on our behalf. We must accept that we cannot control as much as we desire.

The overuse of the divine name causes devaluation. The proliferation of anything causes desensitization. Desensitizing increases apathy. The more we see the less it impacts us for change. Just take the 24-hour news cycle, or violent shows and games for examples.

Sabbath demands we value all our resources. It speaks of earthly ecology humane treatment of organisms and dignity towards all persons. It expects us to work, to be compensated and to not be enslaved.

Honor and respect of parents, elders, and leaders (who are most likely appointed over us rather than chosen by us) is another central tenet in need of reinforcement by our society.

The preservation of life in any known stage of development or regression is expressed in the term murder. It is the proactive stance to aid, sustain, and nourish persons whether family, friend, or foe.

Adultery and stealing cover the rights of an individual and their property from physical or psychological abuses.

Lying sets the fundamental principle of truth. And coveting says our problems are primarily internal mindsets over external actions. Greed allows us to read the facts in our own way and use a version of the truth to expedite our own agenda.

But now we cannot rely on these stones to persuade society. The stones have been rolled away. Good. Instead of relying on silent stones the Church must enter the public forums and proclaim them loudly by our belief in action. It is our responsibility. Don’t let the rocks cry out for us. Be the Church acting out our faith in the public forum to change, challenge, and christen the culture.

God’s Use of Limitations

September 30, 2014

I’m in the middle on a horticultural experiment at my home. It might be more rightly called a lackadaisical attitude concerning gardening. I like plants; I don’t like tending them. I’m not sure I’d even dust silk ones. If an inventor created affordable, authentic looking, dust repelling, fade resisting plant replicas then I would probably buy them. But I digress. Outside my back porch railing is a wild rose bush. I allow it to grow, wildly that is. The growth of this rosy beast is impressive as it weaves onto the lattice of my porch railing. One of the great stalks has split into a beautiful three headed green dragon-esque shoot worthy of being cast in the next DreamWorks animation. The weather has been great for growing these mighty tendrils. However, these leafy verdantly vibrant vines are missing a critical element: rose buds. In its effort to reach the second story of our porch it exhausted its resources on infrastructure having nothing left for the beautification. And therein lies my proverb, “limitation allows one to flourish.” The not-so-secret art of rose tending is to prune. I think the not-so-secret art of life is quite similar. we speak of God and his attributes we undoubtedly begin with his immeasurable qualities: omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal. But in the Bible God often reveals himself through his work of limitation and boundaries. The creation fiat is basically God’s imposition of limits. Eternity now includes time. Time is measured by day and night. The earth is the epitome of boundaries with firmament, land and sea. Before the creation of the things populating the earth God begins with the rules and the boundaries. In order for all things to flourish in symbiosis boundaries and limits must be imposed.

And God continues to use limit as a way of expression for himself and of his followers. God often appears veiled in clouds. The ultimate appearing of the all-powerful deity is within the limitations of our human frailty as Jesus. And for us his followers the imposition of limitation is the very gateway to our destination in a closer walk with God. Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge. Don’t work every day. Live within moral, ethical, and spiritual boundaries. The very word “holy” simply means “to set apart” or more directly, “be different” and God declares, “be holy as I am holy.”

Have you ever thought of the power of limits in one’s ability to flourish? Procrastination reminds us we have a deadline. The patient given terminal news makes the most of the days left. God asks us to prune in order that we flourish. The farmer limits a field to one crop for a better harvest. My neighbors do not admire my thorny bud-less vines. So maybe it’s time to recognize the God who beautifies within boundaries. Monogamy, work/Sabbath, extracurricular activities, media, clutter, etc. Live vibrantly in moderation. So then, where is God asking you to prune and in so doing find yourself full?

Insight from a Pastor’s Installation

March 24, 2014

A very close friend of mine with a great deal of pastoral experience has recently come out of retirement. I am delighted for him and the congregation he has been called to serve in Christ. May they all be blessed in our Lord’s grace and mercy. I am also glad to see him back in the role of Pastor, for I know he is like me and will not “really” retire because this is a vocation, not a job in the strictest sense.

Rev. Truffin's Installation Service

Rev. Truffin’s Installation Service

He took a picture at his installation service (which I am using without permission! Ha – love Facebook) of the communion table decorated for the occasion. Now, usually I am not one for a decorated communion – I don’t want to detract from the meaning of the table or confuse people with the words underneath the decorations, but on this day I make an exception. I feel that this table is a great representation of the pastoral calling. And so I dedicate this post to my dear friend, Rev. Terry, since I could not attend the installation service.

The table with the words “This Do In Remembrance Of Me” contains the symbols of our high calling in Christ Jesus. (more…)

Illuminated or Informational Word?

February 16, 2014

Today my 6 year old daughter and I spent some time drawing. For inspiration I pulled out a book on illuminated manuscripts. We looked through pictures of Celtic knot borders, crazy twisted animals, and robed angels. It occurred to me as I flipped through the carpet pages and the various designs embedded and surrounding the text that there is something missing in modern Bibles.

Book of Kells

Book of Kells

There is a lost design element in our modern view of the Scriptures. Whereas the interpretations of the Scripture in previous hand lettered medieval manuscripts were done through color and image, a flare for mystery and highlighting the other worldliness of the Bible, our modern Bibles fill the margins with simply more words. In our thirst for knowledge we are more concerned with useful additional information and only find beauty in typesetting and page layout.

[Even the Genealogy of Christ was worth adding a full page flourish]
— Book of Kells —

Bibles are marketed by the number of notations and study helps or by the scholars behind said study guides. We name the Bibles after the name of the major note-maker (Scofield, Ryrie, Jeremiah, Dake, etc) or the theological mindset behind the features (Orthodox, Wesleyan, Reformation, Charismatic, etc.). We might even market it to a specific sect of believers (Singles, Women, African Americans, Recovering Addicts, etc.).

I love the old manuscripts because monks poured over these words with a different mindset. Their time to hand write each page, to use their talent to accentuate the text anonymously is evident. The biblical words were enough; their joy was to merely highlight it. Their pictures are not historically accurate and sometimes leave more questions than answers. They enveloped the text in mystery and mysterious contorted creatures keeping watch over the God-spell. They adored the word and simply adorned it.

One day I would like to work on a modern illuminated manuscript. I must begin first with the desire to learn to love the text just for what it is. We scholarly types have lowered adornment for a more educational, useful approach to crowding the text with more insight rather than highlight. I think the church today could use a little influx of more text and less opinion; of more embracing mystery and passively receiving the beauty therein. May we all learn in our busy and need-to-know lifestyle to stop and savor the story of our salvation. That is my desire, to see the vivid words of life anew, illuminated, adorned in beauty just as it is.

Jesus, Relatives & Christmas Dinner

December 14, 2013

Everybody Loves Raymond‘Tis the season for families to gather together at the table. We gather for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or a Christmas dinner to connect with our extended families including our eccentric relatives and that one crazy uncle. These family gatherings can be rather peculiar, as most of us do not live in a Norman Rockwell painting.

This is also the time of year we set up our nativity displays. They are idyllic and sanitized representations. Mary is sitting up, composed and tranquil after giving birth without an epidural. The dirty rags and straw have been removed. Jesus lies clean and happy in a feeding trough that looks like it was just bought on Black Friday and never used. The whole scene looks like a Febreze meets Purell commercial. As we gather with goofy grandpa and silly sister we look nothing like the Holy Family and thus feel disconnected from them. This sanitized view of that first Christmas does us a disservice (though I am not advocating we set up a realistic church crèche with all the smells, mind you). It distances us from the very child sent to be “God with us.”

Jesus is supposed to be relatable to us. His favorite title for himself was Son of Man, meaning he wanted to be recognized as one of us, for us, and with us. Let us ponder this family for a minute and see if we can relate.

Think of that year’s Hanukkah dinner. Mary is there; she’s the quiet teenager pregnant out of wedlock.  There is the fiancé Joseph, the hardworking blue-collar step-dad with hardly a hint of his royal lineage left. Across from him is Mary’s crazy uncle Zach who saw a vision of the angel of the Lord and is now dumbstruck seated next to his elderly expecting wife; they are having that “surprise” baby anytime soon.

You can imagine a few years later at a similar dinner with a teenage Jesus. His cousin John’s is the religious extremist with peculiar clothing. He’s also a picky eater (he prefers organic honey-dipped locusts). Jesus’ brothers are there also. I can only imagine his grandma scolding them for not washing their feet before coming to the table saying, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus.”

I hope you forgive me the indulgence of my imagination, but what I am simply trying to say is that Jesus was from a typical home. It’s a blended family with a stepfather and has all the peculiarities that yours does. That’s the point. When you hang out with your family this year remember you have a Savior who can relate. Teenage pregnancy, mid-life changes, blended family? Maybe you have a child that is labeled “special” or “gifted.” Mary and Elizabeth understand all too well. This Christmas remember that God entered a messy and inglorious ordinary world. And he has entered yours as well. Jesus wants to be part of your Christmas, not matter how crazy it is. He doesn’t mind. He can relate.

Advent: The Unexpected Appearing

December 1, 2013

no-vacancy1Today we begin the celebration of the Season of Advent. This is that splendid time of year punctuated on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The word Advent comes from the idea of a personal visitation, of the coming of Christ. Advent comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term, parousia. This word, parousia, is often found in the study of the last things (eschatology) concerning the Second Coming. At Advent we celebrate the first coming of Christ, born of the virgin Mary and we also look forward to the Second Coming.

Just as Christ’s first advent seemed unexpected so too is his second advent. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). The Christ child came in a crowded town bustling with visitors for the royal census. Joseph brings Mary to his hometown and finds no accommodations until someone graciously allows them the use of their currently unoccupied basement (which is a seasonal pen for their livestock). This is no place for the king’s mother to give birth.

The real question is that if at the second coming of Christ, after his long hiatus, whether we will have room for him in our schedules as well. Jesus is returning and Advent is just at the right time of year.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the busiest time of year as we fulfill familial obligations of gatherings and worry about the proper gift etiquette for coworkers and neighbors. Its time we worry about meeting estranged family at formal gathering. Its the time filled with gluttony and greed, of commercialism and community. Its a time of hustle and bustle to make things look prim and proper and decking the halls. What a perfect time to test our loyalty the keep our eyes on the Kingdom of God amidst the consumerism of modern life.

We are awaiting the unexpected Jesus. Will there be room for him at our crowded table of to-dos? Are we bustling about our Father’s business amongst the mores of modernity? Advent reminds us to keep our priorities in line. Yes, eat and drink and be merry. Enjoy the lives God has given us but watch lest we become so comfortable we forget that we are here with a mission, to witness to the work of the heavenly Christ and prepare the way for the return of the King.

Go & Do The Golden Rule

November 11, 2013

Having just celebrated Reformation Sunday I imagine Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” found voice in many congregations. One of the lines concerns the battle against evil and the archenemy, “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him… one little word shall fell him.” One little word. It is amazing how one word has the potential to change so much.

Take for instance the slight wording change between the moral standard of Rabbi Hillel and his contemporary, Jesus Christ. Whereas Hillel says, “Do not do unto others…” Jesus says, “Do unto others.” Well, more precisely Hillel states, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary. go and learn it.” The fundamental difference between the two is the act of doing. Hillel’s rule is the very backbone for that oft quoted piece of advice, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is not the moral way of Christ. At a time when good manners, honor, and chivalry are fleeting we must reinvigorate the standard of simply doing good.

These “Golden Rules” are not equal. If Hillel says to refrain from doing something to someone else you might not like then you begin by thinking solely about what not to do. Then you might take it further and, with tolerant consideration of your neighbor, you also curb your behavior lest you do something unappreciated. After awhile you are paralyzed in a circle of trying to make people happy without doing anything for fear it is offensive! Think of the teen who was told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and consider if you rarely hear them speak again.

Jesus in contrast calls the Church to be of action. Interestingly the Hebrew for “word” means both word and deed. Words and actions are intrinsically linked. Even the creation is described as spoken words that came to life. The Church is called to be creative, active and have a voice. James 1:22 instructs us, “to be doers of the word and not just hearers only.” The very Reformation was due to Luther’s words and actions. We are to speak, to act, and to be involved.

We should never be remiss to speak or act on the behalf of others with honor and chivalry. If we want to overcome the prince of darkness or even a grumpy neighbor, “a little word will fell him.” Speak life, do kindness, and spark a revolution of caring. Change the world for the good by doing good rather than hope that peace will emerge from our silent tolerance. We should do good and speak honorably without fear of the darkness. The world did not have light without God’s word nor will they see his love without our actions. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Wisdom from Wrongness

August 31, 2013

My kids love the TV show “The Magic School Bus.” I can still hear Ms. Frizzle in my head saying, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” The freedom to learn (and thereby succeed) is often found first in failure. So, in honor of the first completed week of school, I have two subjects on my mind: wisdom and wrongness. At first glance they may seem polar opposites but Ms. Frizzle taught me that they are reciprocally interconnected.

Plutarch was correct in suggesting that, “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” I am proud of our teachers that encourage creativity and stimulate their students. In a time period where standardized testing might persuade some to “teach to the test,” I am honored to know those who continue to believe learning includes both knowing facts and how to find the answers. I applaud the teachers reminding our youth that while they may fall short in some areas they may excel in others. The geniuses are not just in “reading, writing, and arithmetic” they are also in the arts and the trades. These teachers embody the Hebrew senses of the words wrongness and wisdom.

Sin in Hebrew derives from archery. It means, “to miss the mark.” We are fallible. Saint Augustine stated, “si fallor, sum” (If I am mistaken, I am). What he means is that being human encompasses being mistaken. We must be careful to ensure that we do not teach our youth that getting something wrong is equivalent to having something wrong with us. We must encourage our children to make meaningful mistakes from which to learn. Standardized tests taint our understanding that we can learn from failure. To fail does not mean one did not learn nor that one is not talented elsewhere. The Catch-22 is that though we are inevitably sinful we must not define ourselves by our underachievement. We do not need to be perfect; that’s what Jesus is for! He is substitutionally perfect. Additionally, He is the one who gifts us with the Spirit of Wisdom.

That is why wrongness correlates with wisdom. Acknowledging our shortcoming allows us to be empowered by God’s grace of wisdom. The interesting thing is that wisdom in Hebrew can also be translated as skill. Wisdom is not just about “book-smarts.” In actuality some of the first people empowered with wisdom in the Bible were craftsmen that beautified and built the Tabernacle.

So, whether you are an educator or a student, embody the truths that missing the mark doesn’t make one a failure and that wisdom comes in various personae. As we fuel Plutarch’s flame of learning, correlating wisdom and wrongness, consider the lyrics  from “Try” by Pink which says, “Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame; where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned. But just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die; you’ve gotta get up and try, try, try.”

End-of-Life Care Over Cure

June 22, 2013

Ultimately we all are going to die as long as Jesus tarries. Dying is an inevitability, not a choice. But there are choices concerning how we die. When I heard of the advanced directive for end-of-life called Allow Natural Death my first thought was, “Death is allowed?” I mean we really do not want to see our loved ones die. Even God at creation did not desire death and He considers death our last enemy to be conquered at his return. In this newer ethical directive we allow an honorable natural passing of our loved ones. We must be willing to let go and be joyful in hope that as Christians we will be reunited with them in the age to come. A natural death, then, we need to allow without fear.

The care that we give to our dying must be couched in our faith, that death is not the end but the beginning of eternal life in peace and wholeness for those in Christ our Lord. To allow them to exit their body graciously is to allow them a cure for their souls awaiting in heaven.

What is Allow Natural Death (AND)? AND is neither Euthanasia nor Assisted Suicide. AND is only for the terminally ill or where advanced aging has begun shutting down their systems. It is not a directive for emergencies; we should us all means to save the perishing. AND is coming to the reality that someone is nearing the end of this life; ushering them with honor, dignity, and our full support to pass into eternity with God. AND does not take away care; it stops fighting for a cure.

With the advancement of modern medicine comes the issue of sustaining the body indefinitely. We are confronted with the medical worldview of cure rather than care. We feel compelled to do all things possible for the dying to sustain their vital signs lest we are charged with their death. The medical professionals give us the options of aggressive therapies or the feeling of abandonment (e.g. DNR). We feel guilt to do all we can. Where is the balance between callous passivity and allowing a dignified death? If death is inevitable, it should not be a struggle but a release into the everlasting arms of God.

We must balance the cure of the body and the care for the soul. The Hippocratic Oath says, “Do No Harm.” Is there harm in allowing one to die when clearly they are at the end-of-life? The heroics of CPR, resuscitation, and intubation can weary a soul trapped in a dying body and their family. To play tug of war with the gates of heaven may seem a harmful act to the dying. Consider your faith and your ultimate fate to prepare yourself and your loved ones on how you want to enter eternity. Talk openly with your doctors, pastor, and family about the need for care as much as a cure.

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