1 Samuel 14:36-45

Oy. Here we go again.

The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday include 1 Samuel 14:35-45, the story of Saul, a man so obsessed with purity that he would kill his own son for a minor offense: licking a bit of honey off the tip of a staff in his hand.


And, yes, this son is Jonathan, whom David would later mourn, saying “Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!”


So is Jonathan’s offense in this story really about sexual purity, or is that lick of honey off the staff in his hand truly just innocent bee vomit? I don’t know. But Saul seems determined to turn it into an honor killing. Fortunately, his soldiers rebel against him briefly and rescue Jonathan.

But then in the following chapter, when Saul receives orders from God to slaughter every living thing in the next valley, he captures the king alive. Saul is more eager to kill his own kid than he is to kill an enemy leader, and Samuel chews him out for it. Oh, not for being willing to kill his son… Samuel tears him a new one for failing to kill the livestock and the king of Amalek. Saul wasn’t bloodthirsty enough.

At this point, I don’t think Samuel was speaking for God. I think Samuel was very personally offended that Saul hadn’t done exactly as he was told. This is probably not an orthodox belief—but it’s the best I can believe of Samuel.

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Are churches partnering with libraries?

I think there’s fertile ground for churches collaborating with public libraries. Both are in the business of serving people, improving lives, acting as a community center, and doing it on a tight budget. How have libraries helped your church? How has your church helped the local public library?

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On “thou” and “ye” in the Lord’s Prayer in the KJV Bible

My friend Marthame said in a recent sermon that art, as in “who art in Heaven”, is an informal or familiar version of “are”. That is, he said, the translators of the King James Version of the Bible were picking that verb form specifically to instruct us to pray to God as we would speak to a member of our own family.

I’m skeptical about “who art” being an informal/familiar form of “who is”. Booth (1831) quotes Jonson (1640) as saying “I am / Thou art / He is / We are / Ye are / They are”.

In other words, in the English spoken in London in the early 1600s—roughly the time of the KJV—the plural form was “are” and the singular was “am / art / is”.

As for 20th-century Quakers using archaic verbs, a letter to the Saturday Review of Literature (1928) says: “One never hears ‘Dost thou?’ or ‘Wilt thou?’ or ‘Thou shalt not’ but, instead, ‘Does thee?’ ‘Will thee?’ and ‘Thee shall not.’ (http://goo.gl/N7kSt)

It’s true that the KJV has two words that modern standard English would render as “you”, but the distinction seems to be grammatical number. εσύ is “thou” (“you”) and εσείς is “ye” (“y’all”).

An excellent example of this is available in Matthew 21:16:

And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Him is singular, so the priests and scribes said “Hearest THOU?”. Jesus was answering them (plural), so He said “Have YE never read…?”.

All of which is to say: The KJV translators depicted Jesus as instructing us to pray in an ordinary, simple way, not an ornate or affected way. These days, saying “who art in Heaven” is precisely the formulaic, affected sort of speech Jesus wanted us to avoid—and we repeat it in front of each other, when just a few breaths ago Jesus had said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet” [in private, not standing in the synagogues] and “use not vain repetitions”.

Our bad, Dude.

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A joke about original sin

I first heard this in another form in Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, a book I love so much that I had worn out my first copy before I graduated from high school. While pondering it last night, it occurred to me that it could just as easily be about the Christian concept of original sin. (The printed version was about common sense as part of rabbinic wisdom.)

A Sunday school teacher was talking about how foolish it is to see other people’s faults and how wise it is to see one’s own faults. She told a story about two burglars who climbed down a soot-filled chimney. One burglar’s face was covered with soot and the other’s face was clean, but there was no mirror in the house.

“Which burglar do you think washed his face?” the teacher asked.

“The one with the dirty face,” said one student.

“Maybe. But I think it was the burglar with the clean face,” said the teacher, “because he saw the other burglar’s face was dirty, so he thought his was dirty too. But the burglar with the dirty face saw that the other burglar’s face was clean, so he thought his face was clean too.”

Another student raised her hand and said, “I don’t get it. How could one of them have a dirty face and the other one have a clean face? They both came in through the same chimney!”

And so did we all.

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New patter verses for “Awesome God”

My friend and fellow WordPressite Marthame was looking for better lyrics for the verses of “Awesome God”. Since his theme for the week will be “Hallowed be Thy Name”, I came up with these:

Verse 1:

Allah, Jehovah, Adonai, who heals the sick and lame,
(Our God is an awesome God)
Lord of Lords and King of Kings, hallowed be thy name!
(Our God is an awesome God)

Verse 2:

Creator, Yahweh, El Shaddai, The words are different, You’re the same
(Our God is an awesome God)
In every tongue, in every heart, hallowed be thy name!
(Our God is an awesome God)

So if anyone else wants to use these, feel free. Creative Commons Attribution License (also known as “Give credit and nothing else is due”).

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On #opencts and housing at Columbia Theological Seminary

The preliminaries: Alumni/ae of Columbia Theological Seminary have led worship I’ve attended and have officiated at my wedding, but I’m not otherwise affiliated. The PCUSA seminary currently offers student housing in two forms: “married” housing and “single” housing. Its current policy is that only heterosexual married couples may live in “married” housing offered by the seminary. [Edited to say: Please see the comments below for more accurate information on the current policy.] Concerned alums and other Presbyterians, using the Twitter hashtag #opencts, have urged changing the policy to allow other families an equal chance to benefit from “married” housing.

My thoughts: Since most people think in words, it is of great importance that we must choose our words carefully. What we’re talking about, in this case, is housing which is suitable for several people to share.

People want to share housing for many reasons:

  • A single parent wants to share housing with their children.
  • A student with a physical disability may want to share housing with a caregiver.
  • People in a committed relationship often (but not always) want to share housing with each other.
  • Good friends who have no romantic or sexual interest in each other might want to share housing.
  • Single people may want to share housing for the purpose of living as part of a household community.

Columbia Theological Seminary has a finite number of homes available which are suitable for sharing. It is reasonable, in my opinion, for CTS to establish a hierarchy of priorities. (For example, a student whose disability requires an in-home caregiver should probably get higher priority than a student who wants a roommate in order to be less lonely.) I would personally rank the first two situations together as highest priority, because living alone is simply not feasible for them. And I would rank the last two situations together as lowest priority, because while friendship and community are worthy goals, single housing would not disrupt a family.

As for families without children, it’s my opinion that Columbia Theological Seminary ought to provide them shared housing whenever possible. We might try to distinguish between “married couples without children” and “families without children”, namely by saying that all married couples have, by definition, been bonded by some sort of ritual which holds great significance to them, and which bond the rest of the world is morally obligated to respect. This much is true, but whether it is true only of married couples depends entirely on what we mean by “married”.

By a legal, secular definition of marriage, only couples consisting of one man and one woman would qualify.  Should CTS use a legal, secular definition of marriage? I read Matthew 22:15-21 as saying no:

“This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” They said, “Caesar.” “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

Instead, I think it would be appropriate for a seminary to use a religious model for marriage. Christian weddings often include Ruth 1:16-17:

But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”

There may be no description of marriage (or, better yet, intentional family) more beautiful, and this passage has the additional merit of lending itself well to questions CTS could ask of families requesting shared housing on the basis that they are indeed a family:

  • “Don’t force me to leave you” implies We’ve already been living together. Are you currently living together? If so, for how long? If not, why not?
  • “Your people are my people” implies We regard each other’s family as our own. Do you celebrate holidays with each other’s family of origin? Do you visit them together? Do you exchange gifts or cards with them on a regular basis (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas)?
  • “Where you die, I’ll die” implies We intend to remain in this relationship for life. Have you made a lifelong commitment to each other and to your relationship? Do others know about it?
  • “So help me God” implies This is a matter of religious significance to us. What religious significance does your relationship have?

By asking these questions of anyone who requests priority for shared housing because they have intentionally formed a family, Columbia Theological Seminary could assure itself that these are genuine families.

[Edited to add: I feel that the Ruth questions should be asked of all couples who request housing on the basis of their relationship, including mixed-gender couples who are accustomed to presenting a marriage license as sufficient evidence. I’m suggesting this not because I want to be rude to couples who are legally licensed to marry, but because I do NOT want same-gender couples to feel that they’re petitioning for a variance. I also think the housing committee would come to appreciate how similar (and how diverse) the answers are. And a couple need not answer all questions in the overwhelming affirmative: sometimes they have good reason for not associating with each other’s family (like a history of abuse) or disclosing their relationship to friends and neighbors in their hometown (like fear of persecution).]

It’s essential to avoid trapping ourselves into foregone conclusions by the words we choose. When we talk about “married” housing, we’ve already excluded significant categories of people who need or ought to live together. Instead, Columbia Theological Seminary would honor Christ by offering the hospitality of shared housing to those students who are most in need of it, including students who have intentionally formed a family.

(It has not escaped my attention that Ruth was affirming her non-genetic bond with someone who was also a woman—but that’s not the point. In Christ, there is neither male nor female. This isn’t about gender or genitalia, it’s about famiglia.)

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Food Pantry Shopping List

A practical post for once, and not just my thoughts. These are the staples the OPC food pantry always needs:

  • Buttermilk biscuit mix (8 oz)
  • Cornmeal mix (8 oz)
  • Sugar (2 lb)
  • Grits (2 lb)
  • Peanut butter (18 oz)
  • Instant milk (10x1qt box)
  • Rice (2 lb)
  • Saltines (1 lb)
  • Tuna in water (6 oz)
  • Beef stew (1lb, 8oz)
  • Laundry powder (28 oz)
  • Toilet tissue (4-roll pkg)
  • Bath soap (1 bar)
  • Liquid dish soap (32 oz)
  • Pork and beans (16 oz)
  • Green beans (16 oz)
  • Whole kernel corn (16 oz)
  • Instant potatoes (13.7 oz)
  • Applesauce (25 oz)
  • Spaghetti sauce with meat (30 oz)
  • Spaghetti (16 oz)
  • Macaroni and cheese (7.25 oz)
  • Chicken noodle soup (10 oz)
  • Vegetable beef soup (10 oz)
  • Canned meat (12 oz)
The sizes are for standardization; the pantry can’t legally break up larger packages (say, a 50lb sack of rice).
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