Yellow, the color of sunshine, hope, and happiness, and, as this is Easter Sunday, a sign that He is Risen.
If I think I am, am I?
The subject came up this morning when Oz’s daughter tried to quote scripture. ” ‘You are as you thinketh,’ Jesus said,” she said.
Looking it up, Oz found this:
Jesus says in Mark 7:15-16, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” Jesus is explaining that we are what we think. Proverbs 23:7 backs Him up: “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.”
This is a good shout out for the theory of positive thinking. So, get rid of that stinkin’ thinkin’.
Tuesday, I am leaving Oz and flying to Atlanta with Martin Luther.
Flying time is just over two hours, which gives me little time learn about this fascinating man of faith and letters. While in Atlanta for three days, I will find snippets of time in the early morning and late evening to read Eric Metaxas’ Martin Luther: the man who rediscovered God….
This is unfair to a holy man of God, but work creates its limitations on pleasure. And Martin Luther was a man who worked much and suffered for it.
Never talk politics or religion, my mother advised me, and never speak of both. Martin Luther spoke of religion, and tried to avoid politics, but one is always forced to choose. Erasmus did, though he would have preferred to stay on the side lines observing and commenting, but not committing himself.
Martin Luther had no qualms about where he stood on religion and famously said in April of 1521:
“Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen!”
“My conscience is captive to the word of God,” Luther explained. “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” His remarks to the so-called theologians and politicians at the Diet of Worms put forth the idea of man’s own ability to read and interpret the Bible.
This earth rattling idea made Martin Luther the first existentialist of the modern era.
I say modern era because Gutenberg printing press had thrust Europe and the world into the information age, the precursor to our own digital age. I say Luther was the first existentialist because he had the temerity to challenge the pope and state on matters of belief.
Every Man a Priest
Every man a priest he said.
He would walk back this idea in time as he realized the many “false” interpretations of scripture that man was capable of. He also chose to become an instrument of state and recognize the value of submission to authority. Anarchy was the only other choice.
Amazingly, his idea took hold. Not without centuries of religious conflict, not without heretical burnings, wars, and murders, all fought in the name of God, an irony he recognized. An irony that we still live with and perhaps always will.
Sorry, John Lennon.
Luther’s idea of personal responsibility would in time become the bedrock of the American political experience, expressed eloquently by Thomas Jefferson, All men are created equal and endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights, those being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Freedom of thought is liberating, it is daunting, it is challenging. It is the existentialist’s mantra.
It is your choice.
Which is why I find it ironic that Martin Luther came down on the “wrong” side of the question about Free Will. We have none, he said. It is all a matter of faith and love, and nothing else.
Paradoxical, yes, so too is life. We are such imperfect creatures, made in God’s image, but poorly.
I have, you will noticed, used quotation marks around certain statements of fact. This is because very little in life is certain. We may be certain of in-certainty, but that is it.
Death, as Luther observed, and our ultimate destiny to meet with God, alone.
Today, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Eric Metaxas points out the historical trivia that after a visit to Germany, a certain Michael King changed his name to Martin Luther King, and his son became Martin Luther King Jr.
In April of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Does it matter, she asked herself, does it matter that all this must cease to exist – the jagged rocks, the warm sand, the wide ocean and the blue sky, and even the birds that glide on the gentle breeze itself must go away when she dies. Or, is this why we have children?
This is not an original thought, she thought, and then she realized, we do not procreate with a purpose other than to find relief. To momentarily escape reality before reality again rears its ugly head. Oh, she realized, that it is only in the long years of child rearing that one signals one’s hope that life should go on and that others should ask this same question.
Then she had a strange thought that life is an endless series of steps. One starts and stops, like life itself. The distance from beginning to end being both insurmountable and unknowable.
[In late September of 1916, British and French soldiers renewed their attacks on German lines around Thiepval. At a heavy cost to both sides, the British took the village of Thiepval. Heavy rains fell the first week of October, turning the fields to mud and silencing the guns for a moment. The Daily Telegraph ran the headline, A Quiet Break on the Front.
I am touring the battlefields. Outside the memorial at Thiepval to the more than 72,000 missing British soldiers, whose bodies were never recovered, there in fields in the wheat, I spot a ladybug waiting for an aphid to eat.]
The curious history of the Ladybug should be told. It is an old tale, whispered by children amongst themselves. Never, no not ever, told to an adult under any circumstances at all. This beetle, quite little, is delightfully charming. What’s more, surprise, it flies like a bird. So gather round children, I will tell you the tale, but promise me, to dad and mom, nary a word.
In England it is not uncommon to call a ladybug a ladybird. This delightful orange insect, which is in fact a beetle and not a bug, can fly away if threatened. English children came up with a nursery rhyme for the ladybug –
“Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, Your house in on fire and your children are gone”
One explanation for the words comes from the farmers’ custom of burning fields in late fall to rid the land of grasshoppers, aphids, and other pests. But, spare the ladybug if one can, which consumes 50 to 60 aphids a day over a two to three-year life span. In winter ladybugs don’t eat a thing, but hibernate and gather together for warmth and protection.
One other explanation of the ladybug rhyme.
The daughter of King Henry VIII, Bloody Queen Mary assumed the throne of England in 1553, after the death of her younger half-brother James. She ruled for five years. During that time, she reinstated Roman Catholicism and made her point by burning at the stake more than 280 Protestants. At her death in 1558, Elizabeth I became Queen of England and reversed Bloody Mary’s religious proclamation. The saying of Mass was outlawed and Jesuits declared traitors. Priests who continued to say Mass were often punished by being drawn and quartered, rather than burned at the stake.
Thus, the nursery rhyme was a child’s code word to watch out.
The irony is that the ladybug’s name comes from the Virgin Mary.
When their fields were plagued by aphids, farmers prayed for divine intersession. The little orange beetle came and ate the aphids, sparing the farmers’ crops. The beetle became the Ladybug.
In French, ladybug is “coccinelle,” – Insecte de forme ronde, dont le corps est rouge à pois noirs. La coccinelle est l’amie des jardiniers parce qu’elle se nourrit de pucerons .
[Another in a series of posts about World War I and the Battle of the Somme. This year marks the one hundredth year anniversary.]
September, 2016, Fields of Flanders.
I am in Europe on vacation with my two brothers-in-law. Adam, Andy, and Art, in case you were wondering. Three A’s. Three lawyers. At times, three assholes, some would say. Adam says I am contentious. What does that mean? Three of us in a car on our way to celebrate (is that the right word?) the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The fields of Flanders are all about us. Beautiful, I think. The picturesque homes and farms, the flowers. The very image of peace and tranquility.
I am driving down the highway minding my own business, gawking at the scenery, driving slowly, but not so slow as the small truck in front of me. The one with the blue bike on the back and the box. Just in case.
Thinking, thinking about all those lost souls on the battlefields.
“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.” Anne Lamott’s words, but they ring true for most of us. I remember being thirteen, reading books on faith, even Thomas Aquinas, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old to tackle, in church and wanting to believe, but struggling. Waiting for a sign but seeing and hearing nothing. Faith is not in a book and not in a mass. Faith is in believing in the bottom of your heart when there is nothing else. As I said, I have a lot of faith, I trust it is all going to work out.
But wouldn’t it be nice have a Plan B?
Thoughts on reading Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Faith is what you have when you cut and chop everything up. You pull it apart and look, deep into the inner recesses of what matters. So what if it is untouchable and unknowable. Lots of things are, but it is still felt, and felt all the more strongly because it comes from the heart.
“I was growlin’ one day ’cause I was so bent up and crooked; an’what do ye s’pose the little thing said? … She said I could be glad, anyhow, that I didn’t have ter stoop so far ter do my weedin’ – ’cause I was already bent part way over.”
― Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna
I am hearing a lot of growling and grumbling on the city streets and in blog-posts, so here is the Word for the Day – Pollyanna: someone who thinks good things will always happen and finds something good in everything.
In a philosophy class filled with twenty-somethings, I say that Voltaire’s comment in Candide – “This is the best of all possible worlds and couldn’t possibly be better.” – is quite nice.
The twenty-something next to me turns and smirks, “The comment is sarcasm.” To which I reply, “Let us [then, happily] work without reasoning,” so says Candide’s Martin; “it is the only way to make life endurable.”
The hullabaloo about evil the goodness of the world goes back to Gottfried Leibniz and his Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil. Eleanor H. Porter ‘s book, Pollyanna, covers the same subject and like Leibnitz, concludes that a little evil keeps us on our toes.
Or, as Mammy Yokum’s often said in the Lil Abner cartoon:
Matthew 26:15, King James Version And [Judas] said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
Thirty Pieces of Silver
I think most of us have, at one time or another, wondered what the thirty pieces of silver paid Judas Iscariot look like.
They were worth a month’s wages for a common laborer.
The denarius was a small silver coin whose weight varied, but was approximately 1/48th of a pound. It was a day’s wages to a common laborer or a soldier. “He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.” Matthew 20, 2.
The daily staple of a Roman was a loaf of bread of two. Romans would buy their bread in a unit called a “modius.” A modius would bake up into roughly 20 one pound loaves of bread so it would provide the needed bread for ten days. A “just price” for a modius of bread started out at 4 asses, but with inflation and debasement of the denarius, it rose to 12 asses, and by Nero’s time to 2 denarii, 32 asses.
Add this thought from Revelations in figuring the value of a denarius.
‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine'” (Revelation 6:6).
What is said is a common marketplace call of a merchant shouting out the price of his wares. He is setting inflationary values for both wheat and barley with the admonition that oil and wine will be more dear.
[ Under the rule of Augustus, (63 BC-AD 14) the silver content of a denarius fell to 3.9 grams 1⁄84 of a Roman pound.]