Than When We First Begun? Really?

One of the greatest hymns is “Amazing Grace.” We did it during communion yesterday–me at the piano, Maddie on the clarinet, Cecilia on the violin. Sounded beautiful. But I confess–that last line always bothers me.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

People sing the last line without the contraction: “Than when we first begun.” Which makes it ungrammatical and, therefore, unspiritual. It should just be, “Than when we first began.” But then you lose the rhyme, and we can’t have that. I’m sure Gabriel and all the other angels cringe whenever we sing it (since English is their native tongue).

Even WITH the contraction, I don’t like it. It means, “Than when we had first begun.” Doesn’t sound right.

I’m sorry. It grates on my wordsmith sensibilities. It just does.

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The Parable of the Prodigal Father?

What does “prodigal” mean? I’m a writer and editor, a lifelong well-trained wordsmith. I’m 58-year-old who learned the story of the Prodigal Son as a kid and has heard countless sermons about it since. But until today, I assumed it meant something like “wayward.” The Parable of the Wayward son.

But that’s wrong. “Prodigal” means doing something lavishly, with wasteful extravagance. Donald Trump is totally prodigal.

In the parable, the son was prodigal in blowing his inheritance. But as James Martin points out (in what I read this morning from “Jesus: a Pilgrimage”), perhaps it should be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

When the son returns, even before the son can express any remorse for his recklessness, his father runs out and, full of compassion, embraces and kisses him. Then he has his son clothed in the best robe, puts a ring on his finger, kills a calf in his honor, and throws a big celebration. As Martin says, the father is “lavish, extravagant, and overly generous.”

Jesus never called it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Many lessons can be drawn from this story, and I’ve heard most of them. But perhaps a key point was the father’s prodigal nature. Jesus was saying, “Here’s what the Heavenly Father is like. Even before you have a chance to repent of anything, he’s all over you with his love. Point yourself in his direction, and you’ll find out.”

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It’s What They Do

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About 80 of Obama’s nominees for various positions have been filibustered. In the rest of the history of the United States, only 70 presidential nominees have been filibustered. Hmmmm.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee approves one of President Obama’s nominees, they wait an average of 107 days before getting a confirmation vote on the Senate floor. In the Bush administration, the wait was only 43 days. Hmmmm.

When it comes to nominees for Executive Branch positions, the GOP Senate is on pace to filibuster twice as many nominees as experienced by all previous presidents combined.

38 federal courts are now so short-handed, waiting for new appointees, that they are under what is called “judicial emergencies”–a huge backlog of cases. That’s up from 27 courts just two years ago. This doesn’t seem to bother the GOP Senators. Hmmmm.

Loretta Lynch has now waited nearly five months to be confirmed as Attorney General, and it could stretch out many more months. Some Democrats are accusing Republican senators of racism, since Lynch is black. It’s not racism. It’s just what Republicans do to EVERY nominee. Though they seem to be going the extra mile in putting Ms. Lynch–and a very important government position–on hold. I find nothing admirable about that.

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Jesus as a Parable

Jesus told parables. Ever think of Jesus BEING a parable?

Back in the 70s, my parents had a filmstrip series called “Parables from Nature.” A record album played while you manually advanced the filmstrip. I’ve always liked how the series defined a parable: “An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”

James Martin would have liked that definition. I’m currently reading his chapter on parables in “Jesus: a Pilgrimage.” He said Jesus was basically saying, “You want to know what the Kingdom of God is like? Let me tell you a story.”

Then he says this: “Jesus is the parable of God.” God is saying, “You want to understand what I’m like? Let me BE a parable for you.” An earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

I’ve heard this concept in various ways over the years. But I’ve never heard Jesus described as a living parable. It’s a new idea to me, and I like it.

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What Biblical Teaching have I Missed?

The Parable of the Sower is a pat on the back to people like me, at least the way I’ve always heard it. I’m not the rocky or thorny ground. I’m the good fertile ground, where the seed took root. Jesus was saying he likes people like me. Right?

Then on Saturday I’m reading in “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” and James Martin says this: “It may refer to those parts of ourselves that are open and not open. Can you see your whole self as the field and consider what parts are fertile, what parts are rocky, and what parts are choked with weeds?”

I then went on a two-hour solo drive to Indy, so I had a lot of time to reflect. I could see rocky areas, where I was spiritually passionate about something for a period of my life, but then the fervor subsided. I could see thorny areas choked with weeds–areas like my media consumption and materialism (thank you, American society, for providing weeds in such abundance).

But I was most curious about the seeds that fell on the path and were immediately eaten by birds. Those seeds had absolutely no affect. So I spent a lot of time mentally scouring Scripture, and musing on biblical emphases which have passed me by. What have I just totally missed?

I think for a lot of evangelicals of my generation and older, injustice is not on our righteousness radar. It’s certainly not something I ever heard emphasized growing up in the United Brethren Church. I was two years gone from a Christian college before God put issues of justice and the poor on my radar…and then God forced it upon me in what was practically a Damascus Road experience in 1981. But it’s been there, for ME, ever since.

But are there other biblical teachings which are important, but which I’ve never paid much attention to? I thought hard about that, and came up with a couple possibilities. I’ll keep an eye on them.

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The Editor’s Task: Fewer Words

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As a copy editor, I am always looking to condense. This is particularly needful in my case, since so much of the material I receive comes from preachers, who are never at a loss for words. Which is why I need this clock in my office.

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Congressmen Not Doing Their Job

Interesting piece on Vocativ.com about the voting attendance of Congressmen.

In the Senate, Marco Rubio has the highest absentee rate, missing 8.3% of the votes since taking office. Only one Democrat made the top 10 of “Most Missed Votes in the Senate.”

But then there’s Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine (whom I’ve always liked). She has a perfect attendance record since taking office in 1997–a stunning 5,788 consecutive votes with no misses. The next closest has 712 votes and no misses, so there’s no comparison.

In the House, 8 of the 10 most delinquent are Democrats, led by John Conyers of Michigan, who has an absentee rate of 16%. That means he skips one of every six votes.

Now that Republicans control the Senate, I’m guessing Democrats will be absent much more frequently, using the time instead to do fundraising.

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A Bone to Pick with Hoda Kotb

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I am troubled by Hoda Kotb. Specifically, by her last name, with that inexplicable “b” at the end. The name is pronounced “cot-bee,” yet there is no vowel to go with the “b.” Either the “t” should be strangely silent, or the “b.” It’s not Kid Roc-kay, after all. You don’t clim-be a hill or sing a hym-nee.

We simply cannot allow people to stick random consonants on the end of words without an accompanying vowel. We are not barbarians.

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White, Black, Brown

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Last week I came across these two graphics. The first one was reposted by someone who commented, “This is at least half true.” I would echo that sentiment for the other one.

Back in September, a Muslim guy in Oklahoma lost his job at a food processing plant. He walked into the workplace and attacked one of the first people he saw, a woman. He cut off her head, then attacked another woman. Conservative pundits quickly labeled it Islamic terrorism, and criticized the President for not jumping to the same conclusion.

More recently, a Muslim went into the home of three whites and shot them in the head. That, too, is terrorism…. Oh, I’m sorry, it was a white guy who shot three Muslims in the head. So that is NOT terrorism. That’s just a dispute over a parking space. My bad.

If nothing else, these graphics should admonish us to think about how we view other persons, and caution us against letting the media shape our view of people who are not like us.

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The Crusades: For I’m in the Lord’s Army

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I learned something about the Crusades that made me laugh, if it’s permissible to laugh about something involving the Crusades.

Since so many folks currently claim to be experts on the Crusades, and I skeptically figure “claim” is the operative word, I decided to educate myself. I found a short book (135 pages) by a real authority on the Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam.” There are massive, multi-volume histories of the Crusades, but being a simple person, I wanted something short and sweet.

Sure enough, I’m learning, too many people are full of hooey when talking about the Crusades. It’s all very complicated and nuanced.

But I digress from the aforementioned laughing point. It regards how the Catholic Church recruited people for the various Crusades. This is back in the 1100s and 1200s, but it sounds startlingly akin to 20th century evangelistic revivals and missionary appeals.

Church leaders, accompanied by Crusade vets, would travel from town to town holding inspirational recruiting services. Many of these places had never been visited by Cardinals, Bishops, and war heroes, so they were star-struck.

They would emphasize the penitential aspect of the Crusades–forsaking everything, putting your life on the line to engage in this holy pilgrimage to liberate the Holy Places from the Muslims. Do you want to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ? Then join our holy Crusade. Demonstrate your unreserved love for God, and watch God return the favor.

They held services which, intentionally, tugged mightily at heartstrings. They would read a letter from the Pope himself. Crusaders would testify to the holiness of the mission and how it had deepened their devotion for God.

Then they would invite men to come forward to dedicate themselves to the upcoming Crusade. It was like an altar call. Peasants, nobles–anyone yearning for a deeper relationship with God, and wanting to be absolved of their sins and get a fresh start–would come to the front and be embraced by church leaders. Probably a few psychopaths, too. A cloth cross was pinned to their clothing; they were to wear it until they returned home, their vow fulfilled.

It was not unlike a challenge to missionary service, inviting someone to leave everything behind to serve God in a foreign land–and perhaps die there.

Here’s the part that made me chuckle. When the invitation was given, the standard order of service required a hymn being sung underneath, probably by a choir. They found that very effective in pulling on emotions. It was not “Just As I Am” or “I Surrender All,” but probably close. Maybe some combination of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” In Latin.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. Billy Sunday was just ripping off the Crusades.

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