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Moon Watching

You have undoubtedly heard of “moon-lighting,” but have you heard of “moon watching”? I just received the “Astronomy and Astrology Almanac” (The Old Farmer’s Almanac) and there is information that help you if you want to moon watch

Every month of the year has a moon name associated with it—for example, August is the “Full Sturgeon Moon” and November is the “Full Beaver Moon.” However, I’ll write about the “Full Harvest Moon,” which takes place in September, the very month our Bible study begins.

This is technical, but should be known: the Harvest Moon “floats to the right of Jupiter on the 5th, left of Jupiter on the 6th, right of Saturn on the 7th and left of Saturn on the 8th.” However, the really “challenging” part of moon watching occurs on the 28th when you can see (if you are looking) a very thin crescent Moon low in the west after sunset. It forms a triangle with Mercury and Venus and helps Autumn to begin with an astronomical event on the 23rd.

I grew up on a farm and heard about the Harvest Moon because it reportedly provided the best light to complete the harvest. Some of the farmers called it the Full Corn Moon or the Barley Moon, but not where I lived because we never harvested barley and the corn was all shucked (only a farmer will know that word) by August.

Here are some trivial points about the September moon: the 17th and the 22nd are the best days to quit smoking; the 16th and 17th are favored for canning, pickling or making sauerkraut; the best days to color your hair or cut it to discourage growth are the 21st and 22nd—after you quit smoking. If you want to start a project, do it on the 2nd and try to finish it by the 29th. However, if things go poorly, the 6th through the 8th are the best dates for demolishing it.

If you want to purchase an animal in September—which includes dogs, but not cats—any day between the 26th and 30th will line you up correctly with the moon. There is no good day to purchase a cat. (As my neighbor’s bumper sticker said: “So many cats, so few recipes.”)

There are many more important September days listed in the Almanac: the best days to get married, travel for pleasure, ask for a loan, buy a home, move, destroy pests and weed, pick fruit, begin logging, and so on. It seems like there is a time for everything under the sun in September.

There is more—of course—in the Almanac. One that interested me was to examine the animal signs of the Chinese zodiac. These follow a 12-year cycle and are always used in the same sequence—something like the church calendar. Here I examine only those animals that concern us for September and the results were surprising (to me)—the animal that can help us most in September is the pig or boar. They are “gallant and noble” and will remain at our side as friends. They are compatible with the rabbit and sheep, but their opposite is the snake. In case you wondered, next year is the year of the rat and 2021 is the year of the ox or buffalo (last year was the year of the dog).

There is much more to learn about moons: for example, the idea of a “blue moon” originated in Native American folklore and only got into the media because of a mistake in an astronomy magazine. The wonderful thing about the blue moon is that it provides a second full moon as well. Each year has a season and typically there are three full moons in each, but if a season has four full moons the third one can be called a “blue Moon,” so it may also be a reasonable time to “feel blue.”

There is also a “Black Moon” and, as you may have guessed, it refers to a month when there is no full moon. Fortunately, for us, that is not in September.

What about the “Supermoon”? It is a moon that “is at the point in its orbit closest to the Earth.” A full-fledged astronomer will use the terms (I am not making this up) “perigee syzygy” or “perigee full Moon.” Supermoms may perform their work best on Supermoons.

One of the televangelists, best left unnamed, referred to a “Blood Moon” and wrote a book about the phenomenon, later made into a movie called “Four Blood Moons.” The Blood Moon is supposed to be a warning from God and occurs as a lunar eclipse in sync with Jewish Holidays that were significant warnings to the Jewish people. His book “will take you on a simple historical and prophetic journey that will enlighten you as to why we may be living in one of the most important years in history, 2014-2015.” There is now a second, updated, edition.

Moon events may comprise “lunar events,” the time when lunatics most characteristically make their appearance. The word lunatic is derived from the Latin word for moon, so it “makes sense” that the two should be related. However, it turns out that there is no correlation between strange behavior and full moons, although people in emergency rooms and maternity wards see it differently and characterize the full moon as “a harbinger of chaos.”

Remember the wild things that happened in your lives under a full moon, such as getting engaged? The moon is indeed an inspiration to lovers and poets. But, in closing, remember the quotation of Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who wrote “Technological change: its impact on man and society”:

“Ten years ago the Moon was an inspiration to poets and an opportunity for lovers. Ten years from now it will be just another airport.”

[September 2019]

Obituaries in the Waco Herald-Tribune

My wife is an avid obituary reader, mainly to make sure that neither of us are mentioned. Judging by the looks of those who have “passed away,” we might not recognize ourselves. The following are samples from the Waco Tribune-Herald.

This week the paper has pictures of Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans. Baptists seem to be the most prevalent but occasionally there is the picture of an outright pagan or atheist. Veterans in uniform are quite common.

Sometimes the departed are “surrounded by family,” hopefully without negative consequences. Some have so many relatives that asphyxiation would surely occur if all the family were there, prior to death.

Most of the deceased are going to heaven, or so we are told. PHJ (not her real initials) always wanted to visit Italy and see all the beautiful paintings. She never did, but the obituary suggested that “We think she did that on the way to heaven.” Perhaps there are no paintings in heaven, so she needed to stop in Italy.

With the death of PL, “Heaven has gained a special angel.” Pure speculation, of course, but a nice thought—which is what obituaries are supposed to convey. HL, on the other hand, simply “joined his heavenly Father.” Fittingly, it was on the fourth of July and occurred amidst fireworks.

I don’t know about PM going to heaven because she was “an avid bridge and polka player.’ in addition she was a sorority member, homemaker, United church member and worked as an Avon Lady. She did have the “companionship of several dogs, including Barney and Clyde and Lucy,” who—depending on one’s theology— may meet her in heaven some day.

About HC: “When she was finished, she was taking shorthand at 230 words a minute and typing over 100 words a minute.” I think that means when she finished college, not life here on earth. We don’t know, but those skills may be transferable in heaven.

Usually the “survivors” are listed: sons, daughters, in-laws, out-laws, grandchildren, great grandchildren, step-sons and daughters, and even relatives who are beyond and above. Also mentioned are spouses, cousins, best friends, fishing partners, and sometimes a favorite dog or prize bull as well. Most common the “love of his/her life” is left behind (even as the spirit of the corpse goes forward).

People are often not buried anymore—they are “interred” at the local Grace Gardens, the Peaceful Home cemetery, the Soft Cloud Sanctuary, or the Memorial Park. Some people are cremated, which brings down the cost considerably because steel and concrete vaults are not ideal for burning. Instead, a simple cardboard or pine box is purchased, which burn easily.

EM learned how to “deinstitutionalize people with disabilities” and MG hand-picked cotton in fields (where else?), worked at cleaners and cafeterias and did housekeeping. Still, she lived to be 96 and had 12 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 4 great-greats! She must have been some cotton picker.

The photos of veterans are often included in obituaries: DJA looks pretty chipper for a 96 year old and was a flight officer and in the military for 35 years. Sometimes an old veteran will allow their current photo on the obit page, but not often. Even veterans aren’t supposed to look old when they die, so an early military photo is included in the obit.

EFM will be remembered for being a devoted mother, grandmother and for her love and devotion to God, family and friends. She was 85 and a Baptist and had been married 67 years—pretty good, even for a Baptist!

HM died at a relatively young age and while attending a family reunion. He enjoyed “fishing, camping, hunting, playing golf, gambling and grilling. It was probably the grilled hot dogs that got him at the end.

HB bought and sold cattle “all over the U.S. and Mexico for over 50 years,” and was “a devoted Aggie and a member of the Dairy Association and the 12th Man Club.” He went to A&M games until his vision failed. That would not have mattered if he had been attending a game of the Cowboys.

ESR was a “die-hard Texan,” shown by the fact that she lived for 96 years—proving that it must have been hard for her to die.

MMM was 84 when she died and there was a Rosary and Mass recited for her. She “enjoyed working in her flower garden, camping, embroidering and taking gambling trips to Louisiana.”

CRJ was Chaplain in the army who, at the time of his death, “was surrounded by his loving wife of 65 years.” (She must have been a big woman!) CRJ pastored his first church at the age of 18, attended seminary, was ordained, and then completed 23 years of military service. He was weighed down with medals and awards and, upon retirement, tended more than 1,000 rose bushes “with great care.” His wife of 65 years lives on, surrounded by roses.

LSR was a Baptist who “grew up on Live Oak Street” with some siblings and, we hope, in a house. There are, of course street-people in Waco, but they don’t live on the street. We know LSR had a home because “she filled the home with both music she wrote and worship songs.” She must have had a strong back as well because she and her husband “carried Bibles into Eastern Block countries under communist control.” She had a daughter and then “almost immediately thereafter” (but we presume at least 9 months) gave birth to her only son.

Those who have cared for the departed often thank the nurses and doctors, hospice, Parkinson’s Foundation, the Comfort Dog Ministry, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Alzheimer’s Association, various temples and churches, members of the family and, once in a while, even the pastor or priest.

Summing it up for the week: all the customers were good looking, had high IQs, went to Baylor and wished to be Baptists.

Yeast Mustard Seed and a Feast

Two Small (but mighty) Parables of the Kingdom:

The Leaven (Luke 13:20-21) [Matthew 13:33]

The mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19) [Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32] {Thomas 20}

There is general acceptance, including the Jesus Seminar, that these are original stories by Jesus. The general themes are:

  1. Transformation: the leaven thoroughly transforms the dough
  2. Hiddenness: you can’t see the yeast hidden in the flour/dough
  3. Mysteriousness: difficult to explain exactly what happens
  4. Limited human capacity: it is not the woman who makes the dough grow
  5. Irresistibility: certainty that the dough will rise (assuming the yeast is good)
  6. All-embracing: it doesn’t stop until all the flour is leavened

Something extraordinary is happening: the kingdom is breaking in, shown by Jesus in his teaching and life. Something is happening now and the invitation to enter the kingdom is open to all people, although many people don’t know about it. God wants all people to be with him—in his kingdom. The process is not controlled by human action.

There is a small, insignificant beginning, but great final results. The kingdom is not imposed upon people, yet there is an irresistible power about it. As one writer has said “No matter what you do, the yeast works anyway” (Capon 1985:123). Jesus proclaims that the kingdom will definitely happen.

In these parables there are images of hope and the certainty of an invitation to enter God’s kingdom. God will bring about the desired results.

The Banquet/Feast (Luke 14:16-24) [Matthew 22:1-10]

Different groups op people: Jews and Gentiles

An urgent invitation to fellowship with God: God wants all people to fellowship with Him.

The people invited do now seem to grasp the splendor of the occasion. God does not want to force anyone to come—they separate themselves from God.

What about God’s threat? Is it a traditional Jewish rhetorical device of hyperbole? The invitation is declined because people are preoccupied with other things. The question of priorities is a key component of Jesus’s teachings.

What does it mean for God’s dining hall to be full? It is only full if all people take their places. It seems to also suggest that certain groups of people can be replaced by others.

Distinguish the logic of the images from the logic of the message. St Isaac of Nineveh (1995:171) wrote “Just because (the terms) wrath, anger, hatred, and the rest are used of the Creator, we should not imagine that He (actually) does anything in anger or hatred or zeal. We need to note that metaphorical figures are not God’s true nature. Fire, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth “suggest suffering and regret as well as the need for a painful process of transformation and purification.”

The exclusion from the banquet is self-inflicted, but is it permanent? Did Jesus say that religious authorities would not enter the Kingdom of God or only that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter first?

Translating the Parables

The nature of a story in other cultures: in Kewa there are two main genres: iti (legends) and remaa (stories). There are also sub-genres, for example “parables” (hidden talk) is an example of a story, but not one told by the ancestors.

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.

Continue reading


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!


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