January 23, 2021

Saturday Ramblings 11.9.13

RamblerIt has been a fun week here at the iMonastery, dealing with light topics like our salvation and how to pray for our leaders. Easy stuff. Now it’s Saturday, and that’s when we do our heavy lifting, dealing with the serious stuff. Yes, we call it “rambling,” but don’t mistake that for any easy-going stroll through the tulips. Or TULIP, for our reformed friends. No, we are all business on Saturdays. So, if you are ready for us to give you the business, shall we ramble?

First of all, a bit of site news. When I got home from work last night, there were 202 messages in our spam filter. (There were also a ton of leaves and some spiders in my pool filter, but that’s another story.) Four of those messages were legit. I had to delete all of the others to get to the good ones. So please forgive us if your comments don’t show up right away. We are not blocking you, I promise.

And it’s that time again, time for me to ask you very kindly if you would consider donating to iMonk. It costs us about $150 a month to keep this site going, and we are nearing the end of what we have received for this from your generous contributions. Also, I would really like to buy some kind of Christmas gifts for our writers who give of themselves all year long. But don’t tell them I said that, ok? I want to make it a surprise. If you want to give, you can do so conveniently by using the PayPal button to the right.

Ok, on to the fun stuff.

Is your church attendance on the decline? Here’s an idea. Why not offer craft beer? Why yes, this is a Lutheran idea. And yes, it’s being tried at a place called Church-In-A-Pub in Texas. But if your, um, nether regions get a bit chilled sitting in the pew, perhaps it is England you need to consider for your next church visit. Hot cross buns, anyone?

For those who just really don’t have time for church in the first place, why not try speedfaithing. All the benefits of an artificial spiritual experience in ten minutes or less. Then you can get on to more important things, like …

…the badass birds of the Bible. I like what the author (another Lutheran pastor, by the by, for those of you scoring at home) has to say about pigeons. You?

I’m not sure about this one. A 40 foot statue of Jesus now stands in Syria, overlooking an ancient path pilgrims once followed from Constantinople to Jerusalem. Why was this put up? Because “Jesus would have done it,” organizer Samir al-Ghadban quoted a Christian church leader as telling him. Jesus would have put up a statue of himself? Really? It reminds me of Big Butter Jesus. Your thoughts?

Did you see this picture of the pope kissing a severely disfigured man? Is it any doubt that even atheists love Pope Francis? Example: I may be an atheist, but there’s something about Pope Francis that makes me want to be Catholic. Gotta love that.

Something called Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is taking a survey, and they want your comments. Then they are going to pass this on to Pope Francis. Ok, this might seem like a good idea on the surface, but one of the great appeals of Catholicism to me is that it is not faith based on popularity polls or what is the latest “movement” to hit the streets. Sure, share your opinion in this survey. Help yourself. But the Catholic Church follows doctrine that has been set in cement for a reason. And I for one find that very reassuring. Discuss among yourselves kindly.

Here is one survey, however, I want to encourage everyone to complete. It is for the Catholic of the Year. You know what to do, don’t you? Your one answer is “Martha of Ireland, writer for InternetMonk.com.” Fill this out as often as you can. Stuff the ballot box. Let’s see Martha win this thing.

Oops. Seems if you donate money to help build chicken farms in Kenya, you might get a wee bit upset if the money instead ends up in a preacher’s personal bank account. Upset enough to sue said preacher. That’s what is happening in Orlando between a millionaire donor and the head of a large Baptist church there. My question is this: chicken farms? (Well, ok, I guess so, after reading about badass birds of the Bible.)

One preacher who not only has integrity but also the title of America’s Pastor just turned 95 this week. Billy Graham continues to preach the Gospel, and though his voice may be faint, his heart is not. Did any of you come to faith at a Billy Graham crusade?

Others who celebrated birthdays this last week include my newest granddaughter, Saylor Cypert, born to Chris and Rebekah, on Thursday; Burt Lancaster; Amar Bose; Stefanie Powers; Charles Bronson; Larry Holmes; Will Rogers; Walter Cronkite; Art Carney; Laura Bush; Roy Rogers; Art Garfunkel; Sally Field; Joni Mitchell; Bram Stoker; and Bonny Raitt.

I asked iMonk Ted of Maine to share what Joni Mitchell means to him.

Jeff asked me to write a bit in honor of Joni Mitchell’s seventieth birthday.  I need to be careful what I say in case my wife reads this, so I’ll stick to Joni’s music—although she herself thought her music secondary, a means of putting herself through art school and of buying cigarettes.

My first awareness of Joni Mitchell’s music was in 1971 while lobster fishing as a teenager with my father.  That summer, the coolest song that ever came over that boring old AM radio station (I think Dad kept it on only so he wouldn’t miss Paul Harvey News) began with the lyrics, “The wind is in from Africa; last night I couldn’t sleep” and it turned out to be Joni’s song “Carey”.  I re-discovered it a few years ago with her “Blue” CD, and recently I’ve burned a copy and listen in the car.  It’s new every time I hear it.

Lobstering on my own now, I’ve since made a fan out of at least one crew member—there was a folk program that used to come on every week (different radio station, and sadly no more Paul Harvey) and the host would open each time with a Joni Mitchell song.  I’d shove the poor guy out of my way and scramble for the volume knob and crank it up.  He got the hint and bought me her “Travelogue” CD for Christmas, just released that year and featuring artwork and music about the September 11 tragedy.

Besides her incredible vocal range (in spite of chain-smoking) and her songwriting that made that voice possible (in the early days at least; it’s huskier now and she’s singing jazz and torch songs), the lyrics grab my attention.  She writes about life—joys and sorrows, broken relationships, and having fun (“Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down”).  Growing up conservative, the smashing of wine glasses didn’t make sense, but by now I can appreciate the act in the song at least (still, who is supposed to clean that up?).  Like good literature, she says more with fewer words, painting a picture in the mind (if not on canvas), whether writing about giving her baby up for adoption (“Little Green”) or breaking up with a man, possibly Leonard Cohen (“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine; you taste so bitter and so sweet.  Oh, I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet”), or worrying about a friend mixed up in the occult (“I think of rain, I think of roses blue; I think of Rose, my heart begins to tremble, to see the place she’s lately gotten to, gotten to, gotten to”).

I’m less conservative now, or perhaps more so; and I see grace in more places than I used to because God’s in charge of it and he’s not stingy.  Joni’s music points me to the joy and caring and truth that only comes from grace, whether she is aware of it or not.  Oh, there are other musicians that do that for me too, some of them unfit to mention (as some might think) in a conversation about grace; but this is Joni’s three-score and ten and I thank God she’s made it this far.

Thanks, Ted. Joni Mitchell. Enjoy.

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  1. Joni Mitchell. Led Zeppelin. Beatles. Dylan. Stones. Joan Baez. Beatles. And many more. Music my parents loved and the soundtrack of my childhood.

  2. Congratulations, Jeff on your new granddaughter.

    If it is not too impolite to ask, how are you doing depression-wise?

    • I appreciate your asking. I’m having more good days than bad right now. I just started a new job, and that is helping, or will start helping, with finances. And then holding a grandbaby makes every day a good day.

      • I was just talking with a friend of mine the other day about grandparenting and grandchildren (he just became a first-timer and I was sharing observations about my dad with my daughter), and how joyous my friend is with everything his grandchild does (“I think he just looked at me and smiled!”) and how joyful my dad is when I mention anything about my daughter. We concluded that God must feel a lot like a grandfather, with us His grandchildren, just so excited and grateful as He watches us learn and grow, loving us unconditionally, and joyous whenever we just look His way and smile.

      • Glad the Black Dog has backed off a bit, Jeff! There is something about the smell of a newborn’s neck and the weight of her in your arms that makes you think all will be right in the world….especially when it is your GRANDbaby, who you love as much as your very own child, but who will not wake YOU every 2 hours for the next few months.

      • Don in Oklahoma says

        Jeff, glad to hear you’re doing better.

        Grandkids are great. Just seeing a new picture of my granddaughter on Facebook makes my day.

  3. Very nice write-up about Joni Mitchell, Ted. Her voice is incredible. I think Jewell has an amazing voice, too, but her music is not as memorable as Joni’s. Joan Baez is great too. I guess those may be my three favorite female singing voices.

    I wonder how long before that statue of Jesus in Syria is blown to bits?

    Welcome, baby Saylor Cypert, to the world! Congratulations, Jeff, to you and her parents.

    • Thanks, Joanie. The best female singers all begin their names with “J”. I’m not familiar with Jewell, but the five I’m crazy about are Joni, Joan, Judy, Janis, and my wife Jeri. How’s your singin’ voice? I could add you to that.

      • Joan Jett. Two J’s ftw.

      • Ted, so that would be Judy Collins and Janis Joplin, eh? My voice…not much to write home about, I am afraid.

        Jewel is Jewel Kilcher. She’s a part of the Alaskan family that you can see on TV in the show called Alaskan Frontier. Her voice is good, but her songs are not the caliber of Joni’s Mitchell’s early work.

        • Joni Mitchell is a law unto herself – great lyricist, and someone who became increasingly experimental (using alternate guitar tunings, starting with “Blue”) and much more.

          Not all of her experiments worked well (cf. “Paprika Plains”), but hey – that’s true of anyone who’s willing and able to take the risks that she’s taken.

          She could have been a Brill Building songwriter had she been born in NYC – she has such a feel for writing catchy hooks, and yet, she never let that dominate her work.

  4. My own opinion of the new pope has changed. I start off with a default setting that makes me suspicious of any pope, and that’s the way I started with this one. But I confess that I was wrong; he’s charmed me over to his side with his undeniably Christ-like actions and words.

    And it is a wonderful thing how loved and admired those words and actions by so many.

    I think it behooves us to remember how loved and admired the words and actions of Jesus were….right up until Palm Sunday.

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmn7G7XZZ0c
    Joni talks about the Book of Job and Corinthians on this short YouTube video. I didn’t realize she had put 1 Corinthians 13 to music.

  6. Wouldn’t Internet Monk getting a contract with Patheos be mutually beneficial?

    • It’s something we have considered. But I am resisting any attempts to “commercialize” this site. While we are most definitely not a church, nor do we ever want to be the substitute for anyone’s church, we are very much a community of sojourners. I don’t want to build this community just so we can deliver eyeballs to advertisers. I did that for a living for years. Not what I am going to do here.

      I care for you all too much to treat you as consumers rather than brothers and sisters, and I know each of our writers—Chaplain Mike, Lisa, Damaris, Martha, Adam and Mike—feel the same way, or they wouldn’t give of their time for this effort.

      So it falls on me occasionally to ask you all to consider giving. But if you can’t give or don’t want to give, you are still every bit a welcome part of our humble gathering.

  7. Call me shallow, but I actually like “speedfaithing.” It’s a good educational technique — I use something similar to evoke discussion about books we’ve read in my English classes. It’s a non-threatening, fun technique that allows even hesitant or painfully introverted people to interact. It’s brief, structured, and doesn’t have to mean any more than you want it to. In today’s increasingly uncomfortable society, speedfaithing could be a good idea. I don’t see it as an artificial spiritual experience, Jeff, more as a tiny little arena to ask some questions that might be considered rude or invasive in another setting. And surely it’s better, if I’m going to spend ten minutes on Mormonism, to do it with a flesh-and-blood human being in front of me than on Google.

    • I agree with it as you say here, Damaris—as an introduction to a faith, that can be beneficial. But I am learning a lot more about Islam by having two Muslim young men live with me (as they attend an English-language school, or at least an Oklahoma English language school, which is kind of like real English) and show me Islam lived out. We have a lot a great talks about their culture and religion and how it affects their daily lives. Plus I see how it affects what they cook and eat and how they treat others.

      I also know many who profess to be Christian, yet do not spend even ten minutes a day in their own journey of faith. But that is a whole different kettle of fish …

      • This is one of those questions that is maybe yes, maybe no. It’s a good introduction to the faith. It reminds me of a story in the Talmud of two ancient rabbis, Shammai and Hillel. A Gentile went to Shammai and said he would become a Jew if the rabbi could tell him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Shammai chased him away.
        He went to Hillel, and Hillel didn’t even look up. He said “Do not do anything that you would not want done to you. That is the entire Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now sit down, you have much to learn.”

        So speedfaithing is good for an introduction, but if one remains there….

        • I absolutely agree, Jeff and Marc. It’s only an introduction.

          • That Other Jean says

            As an introduction, not as a conversion attempt, I really like the idea, too. It may be much better, as Jeff writes, to see a how a faith that is not your own is lived out, but comparatively few people get that chance. Speedfaithing, since it’s a chance to listen and ask questions face-to-face, looks to me like a not-at-all-bad way to learn the basics of other people’s religious beliefs– and to ask questions that generally don’t get covered in short intro texts.

  8. Thank you for the nomination, Jeff (note to self: what did I do to offend him so mightily?) but my immediate reaction is “Oh dear God in Heaven, no!”

    Nolo epsicopari 🙂

    As for Pope Francis, he’ll either kill me or make me a saint – both of which are equally disturbing for my nice, comfortable, slothful rut of everyday life. That’s why we got him, of course.

    • Our priest on All Saints’ Day told about an exchange that a reporter had with the newly installed Pope Benedict XVI:
      Reporter (in a somewhat challenging tone): Are you going to be making a lot of saints in your time as pope?
      BXVI: It is the job of the church to make saints.
      Thereby changing the emphasis from what he as pope would do ex cathedra to what we as the Body would be in our lives.

      • What has just begun to slip into my pea-brain, as well as into my far-from-spotless soul, is that weird fact about sainthood……about it being what God and the Church ask of ALL of us. We are not likely to wind up canonized with a feast day, but that pull toward serving the Lord in all that we do is just starting to be more than an idea to me. It is so hard to explain, but struggling with a sad and dry spell in daily life has me reading and praying more, especially about the ideas of suffering and dying. My body can be ugly and not working so well, my finances not what I would have hoped for, and in the light of eternity it really doesn’t matter. I don’t have my head wrapped around this at ALL yet, but I think I have been focused on what I am doing HERE instead of how it impacts what I will be doing FOREVER….

  9. I fell in love with Joni around ’68. IMO she really hit her stride in the early 80’s when Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny toured with her. I’m glad her vintage has aged so marvelously well.

    A really fine tribute, Ted. Thanks.

  10. I a craft beer fan – I often enjoy a good stout or porter in the evening after work. But even I think the way it’s become such a part of young white Christian culture is ridiculous. It’s possible to just enjoy your beer without having to make it your main hobby or the center of all your social events, people. I can’t help but feel like it is in part a reaction our parents’ suspicion of drinking.

  11. Joni Mitchell? Meh! I never did “get” her and her songs. Big Yellow Taxi was fun, and some of the other stuff was music to listen to if I was in a melancholy mood but, overall, forgettable.

    Pope Francis: Right now he seems to be all the rage, but that’s only transitory popularity. When he has to deal with hard doctrinal issues, or discipline withing the church, or even interacting in international affairs, we then may see a drop off. Jesus was pretty popular for awhile, if I remember my Gospels correctly…

    • Christiane says

      Pope Francis IS dealing with ‘hard doctrinal issues’ . . . he’s doing it in plain sight in real time with real people in ways that don’t rely on words, but is shown through spirit. He is making the old teachings come to life right in front of us.

      And he has ‘disciplined’ within the Church . . . remember the ‘bling bishop’ from Germany ?
      And he is ‘interacting in international affairs’ . . . instead of bombing Syria, he advocated for a Day of Prayer for peace . . . He did. People prayed. Obama held off. Discussions took place instead of bombs falling.

      I suspect he may stay the course for being ‘who he is’, OSCAR.
      I don’t think he will tackle any problems in any ways that are outside of his nature, and people are beginning to understand that he has a nature that is humble and caring, so we shall see how THAT approach to problems is different from ‘same old, same old’.
      My hope is that there will be some healing that may come in the world that might not have happened without him. Maybe it’s already begun.

  12. I know what you mean about stuff caught in filters, but I find we have a lot fewer leaves in our pool since we switched to WordPress.

  13. David Cornwell says

    If God cannot change lives, then beer sometimes can.

  14. In the semi-humorous (but not falling-down funny) article on the birds of the Bible, the author made this statement:

    “In each of the four gospels, the Spirit of God shows up at Jesus’ baptism in the form of a dove.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t say that at all. It says the Spirit descended like a dove. That is, the way a dove would, after the manner of a dove, and so forth.

    When did the Holy Spirit BECOME a dove?

    The same misunderstanding occurs in Acts, where cloven tongues like as of fire descended on the disciples. Suddenly they BECAME fire?

    Why do we as a species do this?

  15. I don’t think Roman Catholic theology asserts the idea that Catholic theology is “set in cement”; in fact, I think Roman Catholic theology has a very sophisticated idea involving an initial “deposit of faith” which was given to the Church, and from which doctrine develops and unfolds across time.

    This is exactly what brought John Henry Newman over to Rome: he came to believe, based on the evidence of church history, that doctrine and its dogmatic statements developed and expanded over time, and that only the Roman Catholic church embodied this principal of disciplined and historically contiguous doctrinal and dogmatic development in its institutional life.

    • And while it may be true in Roman Catholic theology that the “deposit of faith” is unchanging, the Church acknowledges that, apart from infallible definitions which are actually very few in number, its theological understanding, interpretation and expression of that faith, even its teaching, may be deficient and even incorrect in important areas.

      Add to this the fact that, according to Roman Catholic theology, the Church is comprised not merely of the College of Cardinals and the Pope, but all the people of God. Given that, there is no reason not to consult the vast hordes of laity for their opinion on important theological issues, in the hopes both of continuing to develop doctrine toward a fuller and more faithful extrapolation of the “deposit of faith,” and of correcting deficient or incorrect interpretations and teaching.

      Lest you underestimate the importance of the laity in all of this, take into account how saints are canonized. Average Catholics experience the continuing presence in their lives of deceased Catholics. They begin to invoke those deceased Catholics in prayer and start to experience miraculous events connected with that invocation. If enough people have these experiences, they bring it to the attention of Church authorities, who may then decide to make an investigation to determine if these deceased Catholics led holy lives, and if bona fide miracles have occurred in connection with the invocation of these deceased. If it proves to be so, then these deceased Catholics may be recommended for beatification and ultimately canonization.

      None of this can even start without the spiritual experience of the laity as the foundation.

      • In fact, the theological purpose for the early development of the historic episcopate and the apostolic succession, which in the Roman Catholic Church have their contemporary extension in the College of Cardinals and the Pope, was not to define faith but to defend from corruption the already existing “deposit of faith,” which was given to whole church.

        Doctrine flows out of the worship of the church, and develops in the midst of that worship. According to Roman Catholic theology, faith is not given to the religious hierarchy who then transfer it to the rest of the church, but is given to the whole church in their communal life as the people of God. The hierarchy are responsible for defending, expressing and defining that faith as it becomes necessary; except in cases of infallible definition, the hierarchy may err. That means that an enormous swath of Church teaching may be erroneous.

        Consulting the laity, even surveying them, seems like a reasonable step in the attempt to correct what is erroneous or deficient in church teaching, since it is the very laity to whom God has gifted the faith ( it may also be salutary to remember that all clergy were among the laity before ordination).

    • Robert F – exactly!

    • David Cornwell says

      What you are saying, Robert, is among the chief strengths of Catholicism. It is the continuity of teaching and theology that attracts so many.

      • I recognize that there is real intellectual and spiritual strength in such an approach to unfolding truth; it is wrong, however, to describe such an unfolding as doctrine “set in cement,” as Jeff did describe it. It is not just a matter of continuity and stability, but development, extension and change as well.

        It is wrong to set the opinions and understanding of the laity in opposition to the pure teaching of the hierarchy, as Jeff’s criticism of the proposed survey of Catholics did. The laity is the church; the clerical hierarchy derives from the laity, and serves a purely defensive and representative role in relationship to the development of doctrine.

        Although my comments were not meant as criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church, since I was making them not as an evaluation of Roman Catholic theological truth claims but in response and opposition to Jeff’s critical statement about the proposed survey of Catholics, whether one accepts the Roman Catholic claim to unique apostolic authority rests heavily on whether or not one believes that it ever makes infallible definitions. If that linchpin is removed, then the claim to unique apostolic authority falls.

        As a Protestant, I do not accept that the Roman Catholic Church ever makes infallible definitions, although it may make correct definitions in a way similar to the correct definitions made by other Christian churches; as a result, I do not believe the Roman Catholic Church has a unique apostolic authority.

        The Roman Catholic Church has no extensive body of doctrine “set in cement” in which one may take refuge from the vagaries of historical contingency, although it may, like other Christian churches, have a “deposit of faith”
        embedded in the living stone of Jesus Christ, a dynamic and living faith discovered in the devotion and worship of the whole church, clergy and laity, Protestant and Roman Catholic, catholic and Orthodox.

        • Robert, I am not against the laity in any way. I are one. But I am coming out of evangelicalism, which, in my experience, shifts like the wind every time there is a “new” revelation or some new church growth technique introduced. Pope Francis has already made it clear he wants to hear from the people in the pew, and I applaud that. But don’t think the Catholic Church is going to change centuries of tradition because of poll results. And for that, I’m glad.

          • Jeff, the thing is – the RCC has changed a lot, over many centuries and in recent decades. Vatican II was a wonderful thing in that the liturgy became available to people in their native languages, the gap between hierarchy and laity narrowed a lot (in some places, at least), the study of Scripture and theology by lay people was encouraged, and much more.

            I feel like Benedict tried to turn back the clock – in all kinds of ways – to the pre-Vatican II era. It’s refreshing to see that Francis is a very different kind of man, and, imo, one who is much-needed.

            (fwiw, I’m not Catholic myself, but spent a great deal of time in the 70s with Catholic charismatics and even lived in a small convent for a year when I was in undergrad… if anything, the religious that I knew encouraged me to remain Lutheran and work and pray for renewal in that tradition. I wish I’d listened to them, but took a long detour into the evangelical wing of the charismatic movement instead, which is a story in itself.)

          • Sort of an edit to one of my comments above: I think Paul VI and John Paul II also were trying to turn back the clock to pre-Vatican II, but Benedict was *really* hardcore about it, in ways that the other weren’t. (Though JP II’s relationship to Opus Dei and similar groups was, imo, questionable at best.)

        • funny (or not so funny) thing: I heard much more about the body of Christ during my years with Catholics than I *ever* have among evangelical/charismatic Protestants.


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Because evangelical/charismatic Protestants got tunnel-visioned into a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. JEESUS and ME and NOBODY else. Personal LOORD and Savior, Private Personal Prayer Language, etc.

  16. Somewhere Martin Luther said, in a comment about the Hail Mary, that while he did not know what it would mean to be “full of grace,” he fully understood what it meant to be full of beer.

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