Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bible 101 Booklet

I developed the following charts as a booklet used in connection with a Bible 101 class I taught in the parish. 

The first image is chart that suggests the similarity of structure for the Old and New Testaments. This is primarily valuable in helping the student of the Bible to organize the books of the Bible in a mental map, but one would not want to press the categories too much, as for example in the case of John's Revelation, which is a prophetic book but also takes the form of a letter to seven churches.

This chart page gives a brief timeline of the events of the Bible. If a reader familiarizes himself with these events and the major dates (586 B.C., A.D. 70), this will form another way to organize mentally the narrative portions of Scripture into an essential unity. This is important because, I would argue, the Bible is one continuous narrative. Its parts need to be known and studied, but we also need to have a conception of the whole.

The next three images provide a small amount of information about each book of the Bible. Provided for each book is a brief summary of the content and purpose of the book, an outline of its chapters, and a key verse highlights the overall purpose or vision of the book. The value of this information is primarily to give the reader a way to preview read. To preview read is to gain a sense of what one is about to read or study. Experience and studies show that if the reader has a mental map of where he is going, more of the text will be comprehended and more information will be retained. 

Image one contains the Old Testament books of Genesis to Song of Songs.

Image two contains the Old Testament books of Isaiah to Malachi and the New Testament books of Matthew to Acts.

Image three contains the New Testament books of Romans to Revelation, with a collect from the Book of Common Prayer that can be prayed before and after reading the Bible.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Charts and Maps on Paul

Having now read Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Galatians as part of our read the New Testament for Lent endeavor. During our session I tried to suggest that the content of those epistles is related to the geographical locations to which they were dispatched. For example, Rome being farthest from the epicenter of Paul's missionary activity, Paul's letter to the Romans is one of a very general character, laying out the fundamentals of the Gospel.

2nd Sunday of Lent: The Narrow Gate

Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

       Luke 13:22-35

Franz Kafka’s famous novel The Trial tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted for a crime that is never revealed either to him or to the reader. The novel epitomizes the despair of modern man in the face of overwhelming social and political forces that he cannot escape; it was written at a time—the early 20th century—when anxiety about dystopian states was high, and for good cause. Within a few decades, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin would all come to power. I wonder if the sensitive reader of the Gospel lesson might feel a bit like Joseph K.—the protagonist of The Trial—when he hears the words of Jesus: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” The complaint might be made that Jesus is asking too much and being too hard on weak human nature. He has put us on trial, and we do not even know where to begin with a defense. After all, what is the narrow, strait way that Jesus talks about? We cannot be expected to walk through this door if we do not know where or what it is.

Sometimes, it is easier to make sense of the statements of Scripture if we compare them to practical things that are more tangible, and I think that is the case here. Imagine that you are doctor. You’re a successful physician who has worked for many years. During that time you have healed many and brought comfort to many more. You have also had to make some difficult decisions along the way. Through the years you learned also how to navigate the demands of your vocation and your duty to your family. Looking back on your life, it is no accident that you have come this point. In fact there are thousands of small decisions every day that kept you on this course. It is evident that there were a myriad of ways you could have moved off of this course: neglect in your studies as a medical student, clashing with those in authority over you as a young physician, making a serious error in the treatment of a patient, becoming emotionally detached from your family, medicating sorrow and disappointment with alcohol; all these and more could have put you off that narrow path that has led to this point in time. But instead, you have gone through the narrow, strait gate. And we could say something about any other major accomplishment. Success is not a wide open path, but a strait and narrow one, whether it is raising children, prospering in a vocation, or becoming accomplished in an artistic skill.

The same point applies to spiritual matters; think of the devotions involved in Lent. It would be easy to keep a poor Lent simply by doing little or nothing for this season of prayer and fasting. You would not have to work very hard to do this. And many fall into this temptation. On the other hand, to fast, to pray, and to read the Bible are all small acts that require daily renewal and determination to do them. Along the way there are lots of small decisions to make in order to live into this season.

You see, the truth is that “wide is the door and board the way that bringeth down many to destruction.” It is easy to neglect the spiritual life and eternal things. To live life in a heedless pursuit of pleasures; to yield to every thought in speech and every impulse in action; to be consumed with trivial and transitory things; to be arrested by idleness and slouth, to reject the voice of correction from God’s law; to be unwilling to examine the thoughts and intentions of the heart; to be proud and scornful, forgetting that man is but dust. All of these are so easy, and we see them all the time, in the wider culture and in our own lives. Wide indeed is the way that leads to destruction. The statement is self-evident upon examination. Lent is a time to withdraw from the broad way and wide gate in order to be open to spiritual matters, to be open to changing one’s mind, to be open, in short, to new life.

But, of course, it is never sufficient to think of our faith solely or even primarily on the plane of human effort. A closer look at the Gospel lesson shows how grace enters into this consideration. Jesus’ discourse is prompted by a question: are there few that be saved? How many are making it to heaven? It is comforting to know that then and now there are questions that either cannot or should not be answered, and further that even Jesus largely rejected speculative questions, not because he did not know but because he was always more concerned with the state of the person asking the question than with the answer to their question. The only thing a straight answer to this question could satisfy is idle curiosity. Jesus however wants to speak something to the  questioner’s benefit and edification. Our Lord’s response consists of a kind of parable. He begins by stating the already discussed phrase, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Then the image is continued with these words, “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are.” This helps to fill out the imagery of the parable. Imagine a large house, a mansion even, and the owner of the house standing at the front door inviting outsiders in. There is only one door on the vast exterior of the house but it is open. I imagine some of those outside the house arguing with each other about where the door is, speaking so loudly that they cannot hear the master calling them into the house. Another has fallen asleep on the hard ground with a stone for a pillow, when if he only passed through the door there is a room and bed waiting for each. Others have heard the invitation and stand near the door, seemingly about to enter, but on closer inspection they are arguing with one another about who should enter first based on honor and reputation; it is apparent that they will never go through the door unless they let go of their religious arrogance. Still others are standing anxiously around looking at themselves with concern, wondering if they are wearing sufficiently nice clothing to enter the master’s house, forgetting or not knowing that at this feast, a wedding garment is provided. The point we need to be reminded of when we read this Gospel is that the door is open not closed. Yes, it is narrow. We cannot simply keep living as if eternal things were ancillary or an ornament to life now and in this place. The impulse to treat religion as just one component in a well-rounded life is strong. But religion is what seems to disappear when we allow faith to inform every aspect of our lives.

In closing, I would be doing you a disservice if I did not remind you that Jesus reserves some his harshest criticisms for those who are outwardly religious. When he says strive to enter at the narrow gate he is speaking to the respectable and church going folks of his own age, as becomes evident from the succeeding verses. The more I am aware of this recurring message of Jesus, the more I am disturbed and unsettled by it, because I know he is talking about me. It is the Jerusalem religious establishment that will be cast out of the kingdom, while the true sons and daughters of the kingdom will come from the north and the south, from the east and from the west. It is the characteristic of such people of the establishment to warn Jesus of Herod’s power with the ulterior motive of getting rid of Jesus. But of course, all the powers of heaven and earth could not drive Jesus from his mission, nor the wise man from truth. It is no wonder then that Jesus sees Jerusalem at the seat of the persecution of all the prophets and that he would have gathered them together but was seemingly prevented by their obstinacy or their unwillingness to be instructed in true faith. If you are as disturbed as I am by these thoughts, good. As Dr. Blackwood said in his quiet day remarks, we have to reach the end of ourselves in order to be open to grace, and I might add that we have to reach the end of our religious selves as well. If we are disturbed by Jesus, then you and I are both ready to hear the Gospel of new life addressed to all who will hear the words of the master, “Come unto me,” “follow after the one who goes before you to prepare a place for you.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shelf for CDs

I recently received a huge cache of cds that formerly belonged to one of my father's legal clients. Most of the cds are classical--mainly Romantic and modern--and jazz. Unfortunately I had no place to hold them. An old sheet music cabinet that I use for other cds is already full. So, I designed my latest project to fit in a small corner of the library, and it should hold most of the cds (though, sadly, not all).

It was a fairly simple project, with a basic structure with shelves, framed by a simple border. The best part of the project was learning how to use this special wood plane called a combination plane--a Stanley No.45--to make what are known as dadoes and rabbets.

What is a combination plane, you ask? It is a plane with about two dozen interchangable blades. As a unit, this one plane replaces dozens and dozens of other planes that can only do one operation. The following are some pictures of the plane and its accompanying blades.

The combination replaces the task, for example, of this moulding plane used for making a moulded edge on a board.

Which can easily grow to this number or more: 

For my project I did not make any moldings. I simply made rabbets and dadoes as seen is this picture of my test piece (used primarily to lessen the learning curve once I actually made my project proper). The rabbet is the groove on the left at the edge of the board, and the dadoes are in the middle of the board. These give the shelves and sides are interlocking quality that makes the shelves able to bear weight and the whole piece more sturdy and stable.

Here is the final project sitting in my shop followed by a picture of it in the library:

Monday, February 18, 2013

St. Matthew's Gospel : Structure & Outline

The following is a chart I've developed to demonstrate the five-part structure of Matthew's Gospel. It is possible, although not certain, that Matthew presented his Gospel as a new Torah composed of five books, just as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Click on the image to see the chart magnified.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Read the New Testament for Lent


Day Day of Lent New Testament Portion
1 Ash Wednesday Matthew 1-7
2 Thursday Matthew 8-12
3 Friday Matthew 13-17
4 Saturday Matthew 18-21
5 1st Sunday in Lent Matthew 22-25
6 Monday  Matthew 26-28
7 Tuesday Romans 1-8
8 Wednesday Romans 9-16
9 Thursday 1 Corinthians 1-9
10 Friday 1 Corinthians 10-16
11 Saturday 2 Corinthians 1-10
12 2nd Sunday in Lent 2 Corinthians 11-13, Galatians
13 Monday  Mark 1-5
14 Tuesday Mark 6-9
15 Wednesday Mark 10-12
16 Thursday Mark 13-16
17 Friday Ephesians
18 Saturday Philippians, Colossians
19 3rd Sunday in Lent 1 & 2 Thessalonians
20 Monday  1 & 2 Timothy
21 Tuesday Titus, Philemon, Hebrews 1-7
22 Wednesday Hebrews 8-13
23 Thursday James
24 Friday Luke 1-4
25 Saturday Luke 5-8
26 4th Sunday in Lent Luke 9-11
27 Monday  Luke 12-16
28 Tuesday Luke 17-21
29 Wednesday Luke 22-24
30 Thursday Acts 1-5
31 Friday Acts 6-9
32 Saturday Acts 10-14
33 5th Sunday in Lent Acts 15-19
34 Monday  Acts 20-23
35 Tuesday Acts 24-28
36 Wednesday 1 & 2 Peter
37 Thursday 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude
38 Friday Revelation 1-7
39 Saturday Revelation 8-15
40 Palm Sunday Revelation 16-22
41 Monday in Holy Week John 1-5
42 Tuesday in Holy Week John 6-10
43 Wednesday in Holy Week John 11-16
44 Maundy Thursday John 17-21
45 Good Friday Spare Day
46 Holy Saturday Spare Day

Schedule Rationale

This reading schedule is designed to be used in the context of the ecclesiastical season of Lent. Lent is 40 days long, not including six Sundays that are not days of fasting. Two days have been set aside as spare days to provide for the occasional emergency. The schedule was designed with several objects in mind. First, Gospels and Epistles are alternated in order to break up the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) which have so much material in common. It was felt that it would be more edifying to read these in alternation with Epistles rather than in strict canonical succession. Further, Luke and Acts have been placed together in order to point out the unity of these two documents, which are essentially two parts of one book. Finally, the Gospel of John has been reserved for Holy Week. John, whose traditional symbol is the eagle, traces not only the events of the life of Jesus, but suggests the implicit meaning in those events. He is, as it were, the eagle giving us a broad perspective. John's Gospel is really a sustained reflection on the person and mission of the Son of God. As such it was thought to be the ideal complement to Holy Week.

Tips for Reading

§      Pay attention: Try to maintain your concentration as you read. If you find your mind wandering, refocus back on the text. Paradoxically, the more you concentrate, although the reading will be more mentally taxing, the easier and faster you will read.
§      Read in one sitting: Try to read the day’s portion in one sitting. The first and last five minutes of a sustained period of reading are the times in which one reads the slowest and with the least comprehension. If you break up a day’s portion, these inefficient periods will be multiplied.
§      Preview the reading: Try to get a sense of the day’s portion before reading it. Look at the Bible 101 handout for a brief summary and outline of the book; read the introductions to the books in a study Bible, or simply look at the chapter headings in your Bible. If you have a mental map of where you are going and what you are about to read, you will retain and comprehend more.
§      Eliminate distractions: Try to remove any distractions that might arise during the reading time. Turn off electronics; silence cell phones; pick a time when interruptions will be minimized.
§      Create a space: If you do not have a good reading space, pick a place that can be used daily, that is comfortable but not too comfortable. For most people, this will be in an upright position. Make sure there is good lighting.
§      Timing is everything: Pick a time of day where you will be able to concentrate. For most people, reading before bed will not work. Try to schedule a piece of your day for reading, and read the daily portion at that time every day.
§      Prioritize the day: For most people tasks that get done in a day are the first things on a list. Decide that your reading is going to be a first thing, and stick to that decision even if busy days crop up.
§      Pray!: These tips could apply to any type of reading, but we are going to be reading the Scriptures which can makes us “wise to salvation.” Ask the Spirit of God to give you understanding, and to give you ears to hear God’s Word to you. 

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.