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The Wedding Banquet

The Banquet Story

Have you ever attended a large banquet? One where there were so many utensils that you didn’t know which one to use first? Perhaps it was a banquet requiring black ties and tuxedos for the men and gowns for the women. If you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate.

But everyone loves a feast. In the US the most popular holiday of the year is Thanksgiving, a veritable banquet in many homes. We read that it was an event initiated by the Pilgrims to thank God and the Indians that they were still alive. Tradition has it the feast included, among other items, wild turkey, pumpkin and corn. Drawings and sketches usually have the Pilgrim’s seated outside their houses, resplendent in their broad rim hats, waistcoats, breeches and stockings, with Indians in feathers and war paint at the table as well. The women were of course cooking and doing most of the work.

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Kissing or Shaking Hands?

When we read a passage of scripture that has an injunction (a command or order) in it, we have to know the context of the passage: to whom it was written (and under what circumstances), as well as to determine the extent it is applicable to us now.

For example, following the KJV, there are four instances in the NT that ask Christians to greet or salute one another with “a holy kiss”: Romans 16;16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. Paul wrote each of them as an ending to his particular letters.

Are we therefore to conclude that members of every Christian church today should greet one another with a “holy kiss”? If not, on what basis do we decide that this was a cultural way of greeting and not a universal command for all churches?

First of all, we can examine other cultures of the world to see how people greet or say goodbye to one another? Do they kiss? If so, how do they do it (one cheek, both cheeks, lips?) and how well do they have to know one other in order to do it? And where do they do it—church meetings, social occasions, card games, etc.?

Secondly, we ask if there is any moral feature that accompanies the act: Suppose, for example, that a “holy kiss” is supposed to be cursory , i.e. hasty and in passing, and not dynamic, i.e. lively or forceful so that there are no moral ‘side-effects’. Can we judge the difference and decide what is a “holy kiss” and what seems to be more “unholy” or secular and profane? That seems pretty subjective and may be open to all sorts of arguments. But, as I show later with the names of some Western cultural kisses, not all are holy.

Thirdly, does a different action, such as “shaking hands” or “hugging” have the same social effect: a greeting between two people, but nothing more than that? In other words, does it matter—is a greeting of sufficient cause—to lead into doctrine? A doctrine arises out of discussion by church leaders, just as the Creeds arose out of the judgment and writing of the Church Fathers. And, if the matter of how greeting were performed became a doctrine rather than a “custom”, who would decide and how would they go about it? A council? A vote?

Some NT versions do not use “holy kiss”; instead we find: “ holy (consecrated) kiss (AMPC); warm greeting (CEV); “the special greeting of God’s people” (ERV); kiss of peace” (GNT), “hearty handshake” (Phillips); “shake hands warmly” (TLB); “holy embraces” (MSG); “kiss of holy love” (NLV); and “sacred kiss” (NLT). Most English versions, I might add, stick to “holy kiss”.

If we turn to the OT, we find 31 examples of kisses as greetings, beginning in Genesis 27:26, where, with his mother Rebekah’s help, Jacob tricks his father into believing that he is Esau and therefore deserving of Isaac’s blessing. So he goes near to his father who “kissed him…and blessed him.” Generally, in the OT the kiss is between relatives. However, in other instances, “kiss” is used in a metaphorical way : Job 31:27 where Job implores that he has not secretly “kissed his hand” or Psalm 85:10, where righteousness and peace “kiss” each other.

This short example is one of many that we find in the NT that raises similar questions about taking certain passages literally, instead of figuratively. In other words, when it comes to passages like a “holy kiss”, are we provided with guides or opinions, or with absolute rules? Either can be inspired.

Now, with the biblical mandate in mind, what does our U.S. culture say about kissing? On the web, I read about 20 different kinds. For example, think of the “Eskimo Kiss,” which is rubbing noses and moving back and forth at the same time. This is good in cold climates so that the lips don’t get stuck together.

Quite repulsive to some, on the other hand, is the “French Kiss,” which involves “plenty of tongue action.” Or, how about the “Single Lip Kiss,” where you suck and sandwich the lip of your lover between yours? Just hope she (or he) has not been eating spinach or garlic. And when people get so close to each that their eyelashes connect, that is the “Butterfly Kiss” and is said to signal “mad infatuation,” much like a butterfly landing on a flower.

The “Lipstick Kiss” is when the girl wants to leave a “mark” on the boy, especially if the boy may be interested in another girl.

Of course, kisses don’t have to be on the lips: other common ones are on the forehead, hand, earlobe, nose (watch out for snot), jaw, and the cheek. If one of the couple gives a “deep passionate kiss on the neck that includes “sucking and a bit of biting,” it is called the Vampire Kiss.

There are many kinds of “hugs” as well—one Internet site names 11, but we’ll leave that alone, except for the Grandma Hug, which squeezes you so tight your eyes pop out.

This little essay should remind you that not all kisses are holy ones—maybe it is better to shake hands!


Rules and Regulations


I have commented elsewhere on how the biblical directive of a “holy kiss” can be translated, as well as how the notion of a “kiss” in our culture is most often quite different.

It follows that when we read  scripture with an injunction (a command or order), we have to know the context of the passage: to whom it was written (and under what circumstances), as well as to determine the extent it is applicable to us in our own or some other culture.

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Donkeys and Elephants

Donkeys and Elephants: An Allegory

I had a vision today—not a dream because it was broad daylight—and it was all about animals. Two animals stood out amongst the spectacle: a donkey, with a greyish type of hide that often looked almost blue in the twilight. The elephant, who had skin that shone like the mid-morning sun, but turned to an almost blueish tint toward evening. In fact, in the evening and despite their size, it was sometimes difficult to tell them apart—until they started talking. For you see, in my vision all animals talked, and there were many of them. There seemed to be an animal Kingdom and their language, I learned, was called “Gibberish.”

The donkey had an enormous set of teeth, a kind of perpetual smile, and was waving an American flag with its tail. The elephant had mammoth ears and it too was waving an American flag, but with its trunk. Both were clearly patriotic. They were part of a vast animal Kingdom that was divided into 50 animal zones. Some of the zones were heavily populated, with great clusters of nests and caves. I could see that sometimes within a particular zone fish could be found in schools, but  they take no notice of donkeys or elephants. I also saw other animals out “marking” their territories.

As I was taking in more of the vision, a monkey climbed on my back and began to tell me things about the Kingdom: “There are at least three parts to our animal Kingdom: The first consists of the animals who make the laws, for we are law-abiding animals; the second are the animals who decide what the laws mean, for most are not transparent; and the third are the ones—and they are all birds—who oversee and manage all of us. There may be a fourth part to the Kingdom, but no one is sure.”

“Who are the animals who make the laws?” I asked, rather timidly. “It is fairly complicated,” answered the monkey. There are actually two sheds for such animals: the first is called the Assembly of Animals and the second simply the Collection of Animals. There are 100 who Assemble and 435 who Collect and there is a great divide between them. But that is not all: those who assemble and those who collect have animals who speak for them.”

“Let me guess,” I replied. “That big donkey I saw speaks for the one group and the elephant for the other group.” “Not exactly,” said the monkey. “Sometimes lesser animals—deer, bear, woodchucks, dogs, cats, even weasels or skunks will try to speak—often at once. Because of the confusion there is a large water buffalo who stands at a table between the two groups and, by pointing its horn to the left or right, it determines who can speak.”

I then noticed something else: hundreds, perhaps thousands of cockroaches, were running around among all the animals in the sheds. “What are those cockroaches doing?” I mumbled. “They are giving counsel to the animals,” replied the monkey. “For example, some animals would like to preserve the passenger pigeon, the American bison and the eastern timber wolf. Others say, ‘no, get rid of them all so we can picnic in peace.’ The cockroaches tell them what is wise and what is not wise. For example, some rabbits wanted to outlaw slingshots because so many are killed each year. But the cockroaches assured the rabbits not to worry because they multiply rapidly.  In another famous case, some animals complained that turtle’s eggs were abandoned or eaten and wanted laws against it. However, the wiser animals pointed out that is was up to the turtle to protect or destroy its eggs—no one should instruct a turtle when or where to lay an egg.” The monkey continued: “Cockroaches are necessary for the running of the animal Kingdom, and were it not for them there would be no laws passed.”

The later Kingdom branch, I found, was ruled by a giant Golden Eagle, one that had an enormous flock of feathers at the crown of its head, protruding slightly to the right, then continued to its tail. It was obviously in charge and surrounded by a number of vultures, as well as a harpy eagle and common buzzards.

I could see that there were 9 Supreme judges, full of wisdom. One of them could hardly hold its head up and was kept awake by side owls. The Supreme owls had their own perches and over the years decided issues for the Kingdom, primarily because of their binocular vision, binaural hearing and sharp talons.

The monkey then asked me if I had noticed the donkey and the elephant. I had, of course, but now I listened to them more closely. The donkey was explaining why additional animals should be let into the Kingdom, including additional spiders, scorpions, poisonous snakes and rabbits. The elephant was arguing that such vermin were the scourge of the Kingdom and should be killed. The Golden Eagle wanted a large rabbit fence built—from sea to shining sea—and intruders killed, either by execution in a large frying pan or by the sterile injection of battery acid.

As I listened, the elephant seemed more interested in health and the economy: “These days it is hard for the average weasel or rat to find a job or to pay for having a loose tooth repaired. Nevertheless, we must find ways to make them happy, perhaps by leaving scraps of food around the Kingdom sheds will help keep them at bay and quiet.”

The monkey admitted that there were problems in the Kingdom: It said that the deer and antelope were always at play and never working. They were becoming a nuisance and the animal Kingdom, but they needed help. The cockroaches suggested that the Kingdom needed laws to allow all beasts to sniff clover and munch on wild mushrooms. But in the end, the animal disease specialists thought it would be more “humane” to set up shelters so they could discuss their problems with the canary consultants.

My vision was beginning to fade—it was close to 8 in the evening and many of the animals were looking for holes in the ground, nests in the trees, or caves in the hills. Even the monkey had gotten off my back and was chomping on some peanuts a squirrel had given him.

“How thoughtful and considerate,” I thought. Although the monkey was an outsider to the animal Kingdom, an insider was helping it. However, the donkey and elephant were eyeing the monkey suspiciously.

“I know that all animals are smart,” said the donkey. “Yes,” said the elephant. “But some of us are smarter than others.” Both agreed that intelligence was not a measure of monkeys.

Post Election Day
November 7, 2018

Mary, Mother of God?

I am a layman, not a theologian, so what I write is from a personal view. It is therefore useful that I don’t write about theology because my questions may be quite simplistic. Nevertheless, I am not a Catholic, so I can presumably question some of the tenants of that faith. I do this with some trepidation and a great deal of respect, knowing that centuries of dogma prevail in the Catholic tradition.

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