Boot strap pulling/loin-girding or trust

Reflections on Isaiah 30:15

For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. (KJV)

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it. (NIV)

If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered;  if you calmly trusted in me, you would find strength, but you are unwilling. (NET)

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:  In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  But you refused. (NRSV)

Loins girded
Note bootstraps sticking up

Somewhere in my past was a motto with “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength”. Perhaps I read it “be the strong silent type”.  For me, the motto’s meaning had shifted to bootstrap lifting or loin-girding.  So, I must prepare myself for battle.  Be ready to work hard (lift, take care of, protect myself by my own efforts).  Later thinking took me in two directions.  First, I found in this passage personal comfort and encouragement.  Later I looked at the context of the verse.

The context of this verse with the use of the words “Israel” and the acknowledgement “you refused” suggests an historical context.  Here, like in chapter six (where Ahaz wanted a military alliance with Assyria), Israel was ready to trust an alliance with Egypt rather than trust God.  God’s prophet gave this word about their prospective ally: “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;” (verse 7 ESV).  The next verses have some vivid language detailing how worthless Egypt is.  So, in the context, the word from God has to do with public policy for the government.  Am I justified in shifting the use of this passage for personal comfort and encouragement?

First reflection on the passage.

In resting and turning to God will be your deliverance. In quietness and trust will be your strength. (my paraphrase of verse 15)

To rest, repent and trust,

Brings strength and hope in God.

We rest who turn and trust;

We trust who in Him rest.

To rest and trust brings hope;

And hope in God is strength.

Breath Prayer

These reflections later developed into a breath prayer. (See https://biologos.org/articles/breath-prayer-an-ancient-spiritual-practice-connected-with-science for some background on “breath prayers”.  The article makes a useful connection between science and faith.  Or, do a general Google search.)  My breath prayer helped me deal with several medical procedures and in times of frustration with life events.

Just three words, one on inhale, the other two on exhale:

Rest … and trust.  (Or, one might use the following: Rest in God . . . trust in God.)

*For the technique of girding up loins, see: https://www.churchpop.com/2016/02/02/an-important-biblical-skill-how-to-gird-up-your-loins/

**For the current socio-cultural meaning of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”, do a search on that phrase.  Be sure to click on the “Images” link to see some of the graphic interpretations of the phrase.

County line jogs and getting square with the world

Going straight

How do you respond when someone giving driving directions says, “go straight down this road? During the years I have lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia, I have learned not to laugh at these words coming from a native of either state. I guess there are a few roads that have more than several hundred yards of straightaway.   In rural Northern Illinois where I grew up, most of the roads were straight north and south, east and west.  Some were graveled roads.  In dry weather these wide, straight, gravel roads sometimes saw drivers do speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour.  There were a few exceptions to this straight road rule.  A friend of my father lived along a stream.  The builder of the house built it to square to the road that angled along the not-so-straight stream.  My father’s friend decided that he wanted his house to have the sides of the house to face the directions of the compass.  So, the house was jacked up and a new foundation was made under it and the house was now “square with the world”.  I wondered afterward if the owner needed the adjustment, too.

County Line Jogs

However, an exception to this beautiful arrangement existed due to conflict between instructions to surveyors and the way county road builders worked.  The explanation is below.* A slight adjustment at county lines needed to be made. These came to be called county line jogs (CLJ). The jogs might not have been a concern in the horse and buggy days when the roads were built.  When I learned to drive in the 1950s, the CLJs on gravel roads were right angle turns with one-hundred-yards to three-hundred-yards between them. As cars got faster, jogs got more dangerous. Forgetting about the CLJ, especially at night, in the fog or when inebriated led to many panic stops, run-over corn plants and serious accidents. (The photo, sent to me by my brother, Joel, shows a modern CLJ with a smoothed-out curve suitable for modern travel.) When I was a teen driver, this road, just west of our farm, was gravel and the CLJ much sharper.  This is Covell Road about fourteen miles north of Morrison, Illinois.)

One evening I took my siblings to a youth group event.  I had just arrived home from college, perhaps that day and was quite tired.  Somehow my sibs must have gotten to youth group meetings in my absence, but I felt it necessary to be the driver.  After the fun was over, we headed home.  And, yes, I forgot about the county line jog.  Fortunately, at the corner was an entrance to a field with little variation in elevation.  No damage done to the car.  One college guy, though, had damage to his ego.

My sense of direction has always been fairly good.  (My view, of course.)  Once I heard that Daniel Boone claimed that he had never been lost in his life.  But once, he said, “I was pretty confused for a week.”  Never for a week, but confusion over directions/where I was has happened.  Confusion a bit different happened when we moved from Michigan to Virginia.  I slept during part of the trip and when I woke up in Virginia after dark I was not aware/thinking of directions or my orientation.  Now, even after living thirty years in Virginia, I need sometimes need to reorient myself that the world is a quarter turn off.  West seems to be north!  Sometime after arriving in Virginia I read a Natural History Magazine article about someone who had the same disorienting experience.  He had someone drive him to Michigan after dark.  Then he drove himself back to Washington, DC and that reoriented him so that his innate sense of direction was reestablished.  Maybe I should do that.

What’s up and down

The first time I taught history to eighth graders map study was included.  One of the indisputable facts I mentioned was that up was north and down was south.  The snotty eighth graders started snickering.  This community, Kishacoquillas Valley, was less than a mile wide at its widest and probably fifteen miles long.  The students assured me that north was “down” and south was “up” the Valley. Some forty years later (after twenty years in the Midwest where roads were straight and north was north and south was south), we moved to Virginia.  We found out that due to the course of the Potomac and its tributaries “down” was north and “up” was south.  In the Shenandoah Valley one must drive forty-five miles “up” the valley until one can drive “down[south]” toward the James River.  In the Kish Valley where I first taught, the students would need to drive a little over eight miles “up” the Valley toward the Tight End of the valley.  Just past the welding shop on the west side of the road is a small hill with a sign marking the beginning of Huntingdon County.  There the water drains south into Sadler Creek, then to Mill Creek and into the Juniata River.  But, my job in the classroom was to help the students get a bigger perspective beyond the Valley.  “Up north” and “down south” may not be the whole truth.  But it was a language the students needed to understand, at least, if they wanted to understand directions in other places. That was not too different from my father’s friend.  Getting square with the world for him would require a broader perspective.

*The Continental Congress passed the Ordinance of 1785 which initiated the requirement that lands be first divided into grids so that lands could be divided and described uniformly, now known as the United Stated Public Land System. There were several ordinances passed following the original of 1785, but in general those ordinances instructed the early surveyors on how to divide the country into those grids. Generally, the surveyors began at a base point and ran meridian lines north and south and a base line which ran east and west. The next phase involved dividing the land into six-mile squares known as townships (these are not governmental townships found within counties). The lines run north and south from the base line were called range lines and the lines east and west from the meridian were known as township lines. The procedure involved placing a wood post on the township and range lines at one-half mile intervals (standard corners). The surveyors later divided the six-mile squares into 36 one-mile squares (sections). The method generally used to create the one-mile squares was to start near the southeast corner of the township and run lines (section lines) north and west once again setting posts at one-half mile intervals. When they would intersect the north and west lines of the previously established six-mile divisions a new post was set (closing corner) which probably would not have matched the older post (standard corner). They did not correct the section line to match the standard corner previously set. This distance between the closing corner and standard corner, or falling, was merely noted and could be within a foot or hundreds of feet different.
 
When counties began constructing roads, the preference was to follow the range, township and section lines. When a road ran north, let’s say, along a section line and came to the township line, it was necessary to jog the road to be able to run along the section line in the next township north, because of the falling between closing corner and standard corner. Don’t blame the surveyors, they were simply following the instructions given them on how to divide up the land.

http://schneidercorp.com/resources/blog/august-2014/the-jog-in-the-road/#.XGANos9KjOQ

Growing cannas and giving cannas

The canna roots were in a box labeled “Free” along College Street. This was during the first year (1989) or so we lived in Virginia. We took some of the roots, (technically, rhizomes, but “roots” is easier to write) and off we grew.  After growing and dividing our small patch on Union Street, we took some of the roots to the Weavers Mennonite Church food pantry garden.  Then in 2000 we moved some of the roots to Upland Drive. Along the way, we shared the roots with others, too.

Food Pantry Garden Cannas

When Weavers Mennonite Church started a food pantry garden there were gladiolus in the garden. Since there so many glads, I took a bunch of them to Patchwork Pantry along with the vegetables. While I took the flowers for decoration, one of the workers took the flowers and divided them among some of the clients.  We had a good supply of glads, so we brought more the next week and later planted zinnias to extend the flower giving season. When glad production was slowing down, someone said, “Why not take canna flowers?”  So, we added canna flowers to the bouquets.  That continued for several years. 

The cannas developed vigorously in the soil enriched by bags and bags of leaves and grass clippings supplemented by gallons of coffee grounds from several convenience stores.  Soon we had too many roots.  To keep the roots from freezing over winter, our usual practice was to create a mound of dry leaves over the canna roots in the fall. When we had too many roots, we left one section of cannas uncovered.  That winter was a mild one and the cannas did not freeze. 

Cannas as fundraisers

Someone asked, “Can we sell the roots?”  So, we dug, divided, cleaned and took the roots to the local gift and thrift where they sold rapidly.  We wondered why they sold so quickly.  (I had priced them according to last year’s nursery prices.)  Later, I read that the area that usually grows canna roots had enough bad weather to significantly reduce the crop and drive up prices.  Maybe we should have raised our prices, too.

Caring for cannas

After the food pantry shut down, we continued to grow cannas in our garden.  The four foot by ten-foot patch made a striking sight in the far end of the garden from the house.  Sometimes they grew to more than ten feet tall as shown in the picture of me holding a yardstick over my head.  Often, we found enough dry leaves to raise a pile more than a foot high.  Sometimes, for additional insulation, we also put bags of leaves in the paths. 

Cannas above my head!

In April, we would remove the leaves from the bed.  Then some weeks later we would see the roots sprouting.  We would remove a good number of sprouted roots from the bed and leave mostly unsprouted ones.  Eventually, there always seemed to be enough to fill the bed.  Every few years the roots became crowded.  Sometimes they pushed out the sides of the bed boards.  The large roots with sprouts we potted for donation.  The smaller ones or ones without sprouts were placed in the shade until we were sure whether they would sprout.  Then several would go into a pot.  The ones that didn’t sprout in a reasonable period of time went into the compost pile, where they sometimes sprouted.  Some of the canna roots we gave to friends and some we donated to charitable plant sales and to Gift and Thrift. 

The less than a dozen roots we found along the street in the early 90s provided beauty for us at two homes, flowers for clients of Patchwork Pantry, and roots for fund raisers for several charities.  Now, after 20 years of growing cannas on Upland Drive, we are leaving the cannas for new owners of this property.  We hope that the giving continues.

Having a Danish in the living room-The Morsø woodstove

The  Morsø wood stove has been a good companion giving warmth with only minimal maintenance.  But why wasn’t there a place for it other than the living room and why is it called “Squirrel”?  We struggle with these bushy-tailed rodents at the bird feeders. We would rather not have a reminder of them interrupting our “warm and comfortable”. (The Morsø is of Danish origin.  I downloaded a brochure from the Morsø website, but it didn’t give much help on using the stove, partly because it was written/translated by a person whose first language was not English.)

stovein sunThe smallish Morsø (25” wide by 14” deep by 52” high) was in the living room when we purchased the house and finding another location for it was questionable.  Previous owners had closed off the rest of the house from the living room with folding doors to retain heat and probably used very little heating oil.

Our adventures with the stove, included an insurance company’s demand to replace the brick wall behind the stove, to finding out from the guy that delivered wood from “Jake’s Firewood” that there was no Jake, to having a gathering entertained by birds that had fallen down the stove pipe.  We, with the guests, heard rustling and scratching in the stove pipe. By the time the guests had left the noise had stopped, so we did nothing.  The next time I removed ashes, I removed two dead sparrows along with them.  When our home insurance was to be renewed, we were required to have a home inspection—this was five years after living in the home and safely using the stove. The inspector said there was not enough space between the stove and the flammable material in the wall behind the stove.  The brick wall behind the stove was not enough. The options were a new stove or having a wall built behind the stove with an inch of air space between the new wall and the established wall.  We could not find a side-loading stove at a reasonable price, so we chose the wall.

Getting a fire started


It took a while to learn how to get a fire started.  Although I grew up on a farm where there were many trees to produce wood for firewood, Dad an early riser, always had the fire started when I got up.  I occasionally added wood to the stove, but do not remember starting a fire.  I had learned of the “Boy Scout” method of putting in some kindling and gradually adding larger pieces once the smaller stuff was burning. Later someone told me about the top down (or in my case front-to-back) method.  In an enclosed area like a stove, as opposed to an open fire, this works quickly.  My stove has a narrow fire box. So, I place at the bottom of the box, two or three pieces of wood (20” long and 4” to 9” wide at the widest side).  Then I lean half a dozen or so pieces of twigs or other kindling against the logs.  The next part is two to four “newspaper knots” made by opening up a double sheet of newspaper, rolling it loosely, then tying in in a loose knot.  To speed the fire along, I have ready several more newspaper knots to push in as necessary.  The Morsø has a very good draft which makes starting a fire fairly easy.

Getting more wood

For the first few years, wood supply was not a problem.  Ash tree down '00An ash tree stood just to the south of the area where we hoped to have a garden.  The trunk was more than thirty inches in diameter.  Taking it down was a good idea for several reasons.  First, the garden area more sunlight now reached the garden. Second, we had plenty of firewood for several years.

A year or so later, a neighbor’s large crab apple tree fell onto our yard, causing only the grass any damage.  The neighbor expressed her appreciation to us for cleaning up the tree and also to a friend down the street.  He had a large oak tree taken down.  The tree company wanted $100 for hauling the wood away.  I agreed to haul the wood away for the several pickup loads of wood.   That lasted us another year.  I think we scrounged firewood another year, so that it was nearly ten years until we needed to buy firewood.  One source was a special deal to get several pickup loads from an area where firewood had been stacked.  We could take as much as we could get in two loads for a price well under the going price for firewood.  In quantity, we got a good deal.  In quality, not such a good deal.  That brought us to Jake’s Firewood.  We were disappointed to learn from the guy that brought the wood that there was no “Jake”.  The pieces of oak “Jake” delivered were from logs rejected from a nearby paper plant.  Some of them were too big for my stove, so I was thankful a friend to help split the wood to save my back.  Thanks, Dennis.DKsplitting

Pricing firewood is a problem.  Some sellers want to sell by the pickup load.  When one seller told me, he was selling me half a cord, I realized after the wood was delivered that I got only a “face” cord.  (A full cord is 4’ X 4’ X 8’.  A face cord is half of that (2′) or maybe only 16” deep.)  Jake’s Firewood brought the wood on a small dump truck.  I measured the size of the truck bed and the height the wood was stacked, but the curve of the top of the load made any estimate of the amount of wood questionable. The wood was fairly dry and the size of most of the pieces just right for my stove. I think I got a good deal!logends

Getting the stove clean

The stove pipe for the Morsø goes straight through the ceiling and attic to the metal chimney.  Since the stove burns clean, there is seldom creosote or ash to be cleaned out of the pipe or chimney.  I have a set of brushes to clean the chimney. (I use a wire brush to clean the chamber above the firebox).  But the last few years my strength has, apparently, diminished to the point that I am unable to pull the brush out of the chimney once I push it down.  Then, too, my partner doesn’t like me to be up on the roof.  So, the chimney cleaner is coming soon.  The ashes will go to the back of the garden between the compost pile and the forsythia bush.  If the scant blooms on the forsythia is due to excessive nitrogen from the compost pile forty feet up the hill, the potassium in the ashes may give us more forsythia blossoms. So, use of the stove brings beauty as well as warmth.

Now, when we are ready to leave the Morso behind, I find that I am glad to leave behind the back pain that kneeling to lift the wood slabs into the stove produced. That and some other associated physical challenges makes easy leaving the Morso to younger folk. The “squirrley” presence in our living room seemed strange, at times.  But, we have enjoyed the warmth the Morsø has provided.


Fallowing land, Jubilee year for land

 

Biblical principles and todays gardens?

middleeasternploughmangrimmversion2016From childhood, I have had the blessing of being immersed in scripture.  My parents regularly read the Bible and Bible storybooks to us.  My father had only one year of high school, but he had gone further in knowledge of scripture than anyone that I knew.  On Sunday evenings our small church frequently featured a Bible quiz.  Because he could answer quicker and more questions than anyone, a “Dean Alleman rule” was instituted:  When anyone answered three questions, that person was not eligible to answer again until no one knew the answer.  From that heritage, I have questioned why we don’t celebrate Christmas as the disciples and Paul did, wondered if it was significant that the only time in the Bible a man tells a woman “I love you” it is Samson to Delilah and raised the question of “fallowing”. I have known of the “fallow” year rule, but have never heard a farmer or gardener practice it or discuss it**.  After all, we eat pork, plant two kinds of seeds in a field (rye with clover) and wear cotton/polyester clothes. Fallowing fields is commanded by God:

Ex 23:11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.  (See also, Lev. 25: 1-4)

 Interpretations of “fallow ground” law

To what extent is the ‘land rest’ command binding on the Christian today? What are the principles by which to interpret scripture on the matter of land rest?    Do we choose the general interpretation, looking for the principles behind the law?  This approach would conclude that practices like crop rotation, manuring the fields, composting and mulching meet the purpose of these regulations and are the equivalent of “rest”?  Or, should we follow the practice of some observant Jews who do not use the land at all during the seventh year. I read of some who lease their orchards the seventh year (to Arabs) to meet the requirement of the law of land rest?

Basic principles

What is the basis for the Christian taking this scripture literally?  First, I assume that the Gen. 2 instruction to Adam to “serve and preserve the land” provides the basis for interpreting this passage.  Second, Jesus (Mark 2 23-28) tells us that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  From this I conclude that the Sabbath rest was made for human benefit in three areas: 1. Observing the Sabbath and the Sabbath year was commanded the Hebrew people as a symbol of their trust in God to provide for them.  Letting the land rest for the seventh year demonstrated their trust in God.  2. Resting the land from cultivation during the Sabbath year provided for rejuvenation of the land.  3. Sabbath rest for the land was one way of providing for the poor.  These three principles stand behind the literal application of the fallowing law (as it does the related practices in Leviticus).

Trust in God

How do Christians demonstrate their trust in God for provision of food?  Trust in God for provision of food seems even more distant in a society where most do not have gardens, get their meat and dairy products from the grocery store and buy their orange juice from Brazil and more distant sources.  Gardens, however small, give parents and children a way to experience dependence on God.  Even when the water comes from a faucet and the fertilizer comes from a bag, there is realization that some part of the growth is beyond our control.  Organic practice seeks to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.  Here the dependence is a bit clearer.  With the use of permanent mulch, the work of worms and their allies to convert leaves, grass and kitchen trimmings to “new earth” is evidence of God’s creative work on our behalf.  The third principle, providing for the poor relates closely to this one.  Giving a portion of our garden production to the poor acknowledges that we rely on God to provide for us.  However, one benefit that observing the Sabbath rest demonstrates, trust in God, is difficult to provide for in modern agricultural practice.  Is it possible that returning to a literal “fallowing” would be an opportunity to increase our trust in God?

Rest and renewal

What contemporary agricultural practices provide for the land to get rest and renewal?  While the “rest” part may be difficult to understand in modern practice, the renewal part is clear.  I believe that the organic standard of “feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants” comes close to replicating the benefits of the Sabbath year.  Jesus words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath establishes the principle.  The practice of agricultural Bible-believers to exempt farmers, especially dairy farmers and poultry farmers from the “no work on Sunday” rule is a tacit recognition of this principle.   The agricultural practices seen in the Bible such as those required by the fallowing rule were reflective of climate and soil conditions typical of the Middle East.  Stiff soils and dry climates where there are two crops per year taking off the land, lose fertility faster than in temperate zones where the soil lies dormant from Oct. to April (or is covered with a “green manure” crop of rye, vetch or a combination of plants.

The renewal of permanent mulching is apparent at the garden I worked with.  The red clay ridge had probably been stripped of most of its fertility before the slaves were freed.  With the application of six inches or so per year of leaves, hay, grass and the addition of coffee grounds, what had been “waste” became soil amendment: “fertilizer”, if you please.  (Due to the pressure of companies producing nitrogen fertilizers using fossil fuels, organic gardeners/farmers are not permitted to call these ingredients “fertilizers”.) Over a period of ten or so years, three to six inches or more of organic matter has turned to black soil—the original red mineral portion of soil (subsoil) is still below it.  The soil tests completed (at conventional agricultural laboratories) show that all nutrients are well above optimum for nourishing crops.  A soil scientist told me that if I were a farmer with a soil management plan, I would not be permitted to add even compost to the garden.  So, does this restoration of land (and the rescuing of organic matter from the landfill) equal the Biblical requirement of renewal? If all of creation is good, then the worms, sow bugs and microorganisms that process leaves, grass and coffee grounds into soil are an important part of creation.  When the right conditions are created, these creatures transform raw organic matter into compost or humus which is the plant and animal part of soil (the rest being primarily mineral).  By mixing carbon and nitrogen materials, reducing the particle size and maintaining a good moisture level, worms and the microherd can convert several feet of “yard trimmings” (wastes) into “new earth”.  Is this part of God’s work to bring about a new earth/reverse the degradation of land by erosion and overuse? Extending the idea of shalom to all of creation is a continuation of this understanding.  The good or best of conditions for organic matter processors is the “shalom of the microherd”.  Mulching creates a suitable environment for sow bugs and worms.  Letting the worm created channels for moisture and nutrients function in the intended manner creates soil creations that permit plants to be at their best:  part of the creation God declared was good.

Care for the poor

How do contemporary gardening practices provide for the poor in the way that gleaning from volunteer grain or other plants might provide during the fallow year?  The garden referred to in the previous paragraph raised produce and flowers for a food pantry.  If there was a practice comparable to carbon sequestration/carbon banking which permits those adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to pay, for instance, forest owners a fee to continue to pump out excess amounts of carbon.  Forests sequester or capture “excess” carbon and give off oxygen.  So, food pantry gardens can be a “bank” for agricultural practices, which do not of themselves provide for the poor.  Since 1995 the Garden Writers of America/GardenComm (a secular organization) have promoted their “plant a row for the hungry” program where the extra rows of produce can be taken to the local food pantry.  Again, this is a way that gardeners can meet the principle of “providing for the poor” while continuing to use the land.  https://gardencomm.org/PAR Can permanent mulch, minimum and organic gardening fulfill the purpose of the Sabbath rest for the land?  If the poor are fed, the land is improved and trust in God for provision is taught and experienced, then one can say that there is some accomplishment of the principles behind fallowing/Jubilee year.

(Whether conventional gardening practices accomplish God’s purpose in giving the fallowing command can be investigated by someone else.)

 

**Two later references (Jeremiah 4:3-4a, Hosea 10:12) to “break up your fallow ground” are sometimes interpreted to mean ‘stop sinning.’  But since God instructed the Hebrews to let ground lie fallow, normal “fallowing practice” would not constitute sin.  Ploughing previously fallow ground would begin the next cycle of creation and renewal.  That seems the most likely focus of Jeremiah and Hosea.

 


 

Isaiah to Joseph: Watch out for leaders who rely on political/military alliances over Immanuel

Isaiah and Ahaz

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. Isaiah 7:14-16

What happened in Isaiah:  Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria and traveled there.  He liked the altar he saw there and had one made to use in Jerusalem—he may have been required by the treaty to erect an altar for Assyrian gods.  Israel became a dependent of Assyria.  During the time it took the young woman’s son to reach twelve, the kings threatening Ahaz and Judah were defeated and, one of them, Israel, ceased to exist as a nation.   (See the story of Asa for the prophet’s pronouncement of judgment because Asa made a military alliance with a foreign nation, rather than trusting God as he had in the past. 2 Chron. 16:7-10)

What would have happened if Ahaz had trusted in “God with us”?

Five hundred years later

 Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 This all happened so that what did the Lord through the prophet speak would be fulfilled: 23 Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means “God with us.  Mt. 1:20-23 (NET) [Emphasis from NET]

Was the angel was reminding Joseph of Isaiah’s word to Ahaz of the consequences of not trusting “God with us”?

We might conclude that part of the message was that Joseph’s trust in God (Immanuel) was essential in the days to come. Challenges included social disapproval due to Mary’s pregnancy, immigration to Egypt under the threat of death, and a son would be born into a world hostile to the message of “God with us.”

For Isaiah, Immanuel meant trusting God, rather than turning to military alliances (violence).    The freedom fighters of a century and a half before Joseph, the Maccabees, decided that only by a violent revolt against Syria and a military alliance with Rome could the people of God practice their religion as they should. Their contemporary, compiler of the Daniel experiences, called for faithful living like Daniel and friends, teaching wisdom, and trusting the visions of God’s control of history.

However, the “chief priests and rulers” of Joseph’s time were part of the ruling class which gained power after the successful revolt against the Syrian (Seleucid) government.  The Jewish leaders had chosen violence as a way to protect the temple and their way of worship.   After the Hebrews gained their independence, the Romans used the treaty with them as a pretext to take over Judah.  Some of the chief priests and legal experts maintained their alliance with Rome for personal economic advantage as well as to protect their religious freedom.

Later, the legal experts were frequent opponents of Jesus during his teaching ministry.  At the time of Jesus’ torture and execution, we know that the chief priests collaborated with the Romans to seek the death of Jesus – Immanuel.  Did the angel bring a word of warning to Joseph because they, like Ahaz, had made accommodations with a pagan nation of the day, rather than trusting Immanuel?

The Wisemen

This collaboration of the religious leaders with political shows up in another part of the birth of Jesus events.  The Persian priests came following a star, looking for a king.  But, then they went to Jerusalem.  It is not clear that the star led them to Jerusalem.  I wonder if it was their assumption that religion and government/politics (a king) went together led them there, not the star.  When Herod consulted “the chief priests and experts in the law”, they gave him the location information he requested.  Surely, they found the passage about “Immanuel” as well as the Micah passage they quoted for Herod and the Persians?  When they left Herod the text of Matthew is “once again they saw the star” which suggests to me that they did not see it on their way to Jerusalem. The bias (only the political/governmental capital would house a king) of the Persian priests about a king which may have led them to go to Jerusalem, rather than keeping the star as their guide.   That and the Jewish leaders’ alliance with Herod, the Romans ruler, resulted in the death of many young boys in Judea and forced Jesus’ family to be refugees.  Could it be that the rest of Isaiah’s words (not quoted in Matthew) warned Joseph?   He knew that the rulers of his time, like Isaiah’s, would prefer a foreign military alliance to trusting Immanuel, so he was ready to flee to Egypt


 

Mary’s prophecy, Jesus’ first sermon

What’s the connection?

 

Mary responded to Elizabeth’s confirmation of the angel’s words about the identity of the child she was carrying.  She spoke strong words about God’s work in the future:

He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.

The angels declared:

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among people
with whom he is pleased!”

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 

 

The message from the angels of peace was one to be remembered and passed on to her son.  In her song are words about raising up the humble.  Didn’t the shepherds coming as Jesus’ first visitors reflect Mary’s song of praise?  The visit of humble shepherds and their response to Jesus have been remembered throughout history.  Mary’s place in history is a prime example of the humble being raised.  Jesus should be added.  A carpenter’s son in an area remote from the centers of political and economic power who become the most important name for many.

What of these words and birth events do we see in Jesus’ first sermon and subsequent work?

 

Compare Mary’s song and Jesus’ first sermon:

He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:51-53)

 From Jesus first sermon

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
 (Luke 4:18-19)

 

 The Connection?

What in his sermon shows that Mary had taught Jesus her understanding of how God worked in the world? I do not believe I have given Mary enough credit for her influence on Jesus and his teachings.

To what extent does Jesus omit Mary’s theme of bringing down the mighty?  Can one only release the captives by eliminating the “mighty”? Should we conclude that this is a call to revolution?  Followers of Jesus in the spirit of Mary should, perhaps, seek by force to eliminate the Roman oppressors and their Hebrew collaborators. Taxes imposed by Romans and collected frequently by Hebrews, plus the temple tax often led to the peasant farmer losing his property due to the inability to pay the taxes.  But Jesus’s way was different. The oppressed, of course, are freed only by dealing with the oppressor.  Mary sees the hungry filled with good things and Jesus speaks of good news to the poor. This good news is possible when “the mighty” (Mary’s words) are not like the “rich fool” (Luke 12:13-21), Dives (who neglected Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31) or the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30).  The poor will be feed when people understand Jesus’ parables of the rich farmer (and what he should be doing with his bountiful harvest). In understanding the Lazarus parable, they will see themselves as the “brothers” (Luke 16:28) who should pay attention to the “law and the prophets” and care for Lazarus’ kin.   The wealthy will see the contrast between the rich young man and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

Heeding Jesus’ word there will be more people now like Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus’ example of giving half his wealth to the poor will be the model for those who, living in the spirit of Mary’s prophecy, want to be true sons of Abraham.

 

Quotations from The New English Translation

Also posted on Rawley Pike Peace and Justice Notes

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One more read

Saving books through “Little Libraries”

For the past several years Julia and I, when visiting our son and family in Texas, have been taking books with us to read on the way and while we were in Texas. Rather than bringing the books we had finished back to Virginia with us, we placed them in a Little Library within sight of our son’s house.  One year we decided to take additional books to just to put in the Library. Recently we discovered there are little libraries in Harrisonburg, too.

Booksavers (Gift & Thrift on Mt. Clinton Pike*), where I volunteer, keeps many books from an early trip to the landfill.  Our donors bring their books (as well as CDs and DVDs) to our store for resale.  Booksavers recycles for paper, books that are not saleable (due to minor blemishes, etc.) or have not sold after time on the shelves.  But some of us at Booksavers have wanted to give these books “One More Read”.

Harrisonburg “little libraries”

People of Harrisonburg are giving books one more read by putting them in “little libraries” –free libraries, usually along the street. Some belong to the “Little Free Libraries” organization**.  Some of the “little libraries” are not a part of the Little Free Library organization:

Collicello south of 3rd

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Collicello near 3rd

Collicello just north of 5th. (Beneventos)
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Cornerstone Lane off Rt. 11 north near/at Cornerstone School

East Market just east of Mason at Strite Donuts—called “Free Library” (John Shafer, Steward) ++

East Wolfe between Myrtle and Sterling (Mary Lou Wylie) https://www.whsv.com/home/headlines/Little-Free-Libraries-Encourage-Kids-to-Read-During-Summer-Months-262338191.html

Eastern Mennonite University near the corner of Parkwood and Park.  Stocked by Hartzler Library.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 660 South Main Street, near MLK, Jr. Way.

Friendly City Food Coop, Mason and Wolfe –bookshelves near the cash registers and windows‡

Immanuel Mennonite Church, 400 Kelly Street – near Hill Street.

Madison Street-between Jefferson and Monroe–stocked with the help of Vine & Fig Tree—a very colorful Library ‡

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Mountain View Elementary School, Rawley Pike, Rockingham County

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Myrtle and Kelly – Stocked by Gus Bus people

Our Community Place – (boxes inside occasionally) outside–proposed

Pale Fire Brewery off Bruce Street between Chesapeake and Liberty – inside

Ridgeway Mennonite Church, 546 E Franklin St

Sentara RMH Wellness Center, 2500 Wellness Drive, HNBG

 

South Dogwood just south of Neyland Avenue ++

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West Market (33 West) near North Dogwood

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Lincolnshire Drive – North end (this one is actually in Rockingham County)

Other locations stocked by Booksavers people:

Children’s Clothes Closet

Refugee Resettlement

Roberta Webb Preschool, Kelly Ave. (for school participants only)

Salvation Army, 895 Jefferson Street (available on distribution days)

Sentara Hospital:  One near the Main entrance and one near Emergency entrance

Waterman School, 451 Chicago Avenue (for students only)

[If you know of others, please let me know at dave528va@gmail.com.]

Free book offer

These people and organizations are to be commended for their work setting up the little libraries and in giving books “one more read”.  Booksavers can supplement what the owner/stewards of the existing little libraries are putting in their libraries.  The books available may have blemishes, may be out of date (at least, some people think so), or just don’t sell in the store.  (Books that are not claimed, Booksavers sells to paper recycling.) To see what Booksavers might have to give your “little library”, make an appointment with Booksavers’ Manager, Amy Rohrer at (booksaversmanager@gmail.com ).  Currently, Booksavers’ employee Sue stocks an unofficial “little library” at Waterman School and several others.  Gary helps stock the one on East Wolfe.  David has been delivering books to Our Community Place, Salvation Army, Vine & Fig Tree and others. Julia has sent books to Refugee Resettlement and Children’s Clothes Closet.  None of these are official library stewards, just book and people lovers. We have distributed more than fifty boxes of books since the One More Read program started in October of 2018.

Booksavers has many books worthy of “one more read”.  We will make these available to library owners or stewards (stewards of the Little Free Libraries they maintain are required by Little Free Library Org.). Volunteers are ready to deliver books to the Little Library stewards.  Additional volunteers are welcome.  For more information text David Alleman at 540-705-1437, or email at dave528va@gmail.com

More little libraries needed

Observers (nationally) of the Little Library movement have noted that most of these libraries are located in more affluent neighborhoods.  This appears to be the case in Harrisonburg as well.  We would like to locate Little Libraries in neighborhoods not currently served.   Harrisonburg does have a few little libraries in less affluent areas.  Madison Street, Myrtle and Kelly, Myrtle and Hill, and Ridgeway Mennonite on Franklin.  Possible sites are near Our Community Place, Lucy Sims School, and the Salvation Army on Ashby Avenue. Stewards/caretakers are needed for these locations.

What more is needed?  The Little Library organization asks $40 registration fee to make the library an official Little Free Library. This fee pays for instructions, publicity and signs.   Additional funds are needed for the materials for the library box, the post and the cement.  The cost would be under $75.  Finally, people are needed to install the little libraries.

Ridgeway Mennonite Church, 546 E Franklin St, Harrisonburg is the latest to install a Little Library. They opened in early September.  Our Community Place has made a commitment to install a Little Free Library.  It should be the next Little Free Library in Harrisonburg.

*

https://www.facebook.com/booksaversofvirginia/

http://giftandthrift.org/

**For more on the Little Library organization, see their website:

https://littlefreelibrary.org/   https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/

 

‡libraries currently stocked by Booksavers staff or volunteers.

Praying for rain

rain.pexels-photo-459451

The record for rain in a twenty-four-hour period is 73 inches on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Mt. Wal-ale-ale (Hawaii) gets 460 inches of rain per year.  Rain falls 335 days of the year.

 

Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.  Deut. 11:14

Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.  Deut. 11:17

The Desierto del Atacama in Chile had 1/4 “ of rain in 1971.  As far as can be determined, the previous rain had occurred some 400 years earlier. (Weather Book)

 

At one time in my life, I would not hesitate to pray for rain.  Now, I hesitate to pray for rain.  As a boy growing up on the farm, I welcomed the rain.  Frequently, rain meant no more digging out thistles or chopping brush out of fence rows and the possibility that I could spend some time reading.  A refreshing summer sound, the cooling rain rattled the corn leaves to announce its coming across the creek field and up the hill toward the house.

Some pastors or worship leaders were uncomfortable about praying for rain in public.  “I always give thanks for rain in public prayers.”  said a worship leader.  Another person said we should not expect God to give an area normally getting ten inches of rain a year to suddenly get forty inches a year.

Rain imagery occurs in many songs and hymns of the church.  Most people I ask for their memories of “rain” in songs and hymns thought of “Showers of Blessing” The song “Healing River” implies rain to cleanse.  A song from my childhood, “Sunshine and Rain” invites both rain and sun.  The children’s song “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” has in the third verse “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.”

 

Rain images abound in the Bible as indicated (see the header):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 2 Chronicles 6:26

Throughout most of the OT rain is associated with blessing, the lack of rain with sin of God’s people.

The prophets saw rain as blessing:

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day, your cattle will graze in broad meadows. Isaiah 30:23

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Isaiah 55:10

 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

Rain as blessing frequents the Psalms, although Psalm 78: 47-48 provides a contrast:  Storms, at least hail and lightning can be a means of punishing God’s enemies:

During the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Ezekiel brings this word:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath, I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. Ezekiel 13:13

Ezekiel’s God can use the rain to punish as well as bless.  Just as the “day of the Lord” once meant salvation for Israel, later it meant a day of judgment, so now rain comes to warn and punish God’s people.

But in the New Testament, Jesus announces:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:45

If God sends us rain without regard for our goodness, and if we have the Weather Channel, why pray for rain?  But today with the likelihood that some drought is the result of (in part) human caused, climate change, the prayer of repentance (including changing our behavior) takes on new significance.  (The verse from Matthew focuses on how we should treat those around us, not on what we should pray about–or when we should pray.)

Reflecting on praying for rain the thought came to me:  Does “give us this day our daily bread” imply a prayer for rain?  Praying the prayer Jesus gave his disciples gives us a start with our prayer for rain.  Perhaps praying for rain is part of our regularly reporting to God what we feel our needs are, not telling God what he should do.  Maybe I can pray about rain without feeling embarrassed!

 

Moses’ farewell “song” is an excellent blessing:

May God’s teaching fall on you like rain and his words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.  [paraphrase of Deut. 32:2]

 

 

Advent:  Learning about the other side of Christmas?

Our congregation is beginning the Advent season worship observances. Do these make our Christmas different from that of the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise?  The bright side of Advent has always been well represented.  There will be candles, bright lights, “Joy to the World” and angels, all as they should be.  Most of these we see and hear when we venture outside our church or home where the world is bright with lights, filled with inflated animals, birds and machines; busy with shoppers and noisy advertisements.  How might we use Advent to make our Christmas focus different from what we see and hear at the Mall?

Mary’s Role

Perhaps to get away from the negative attitudes of neighbors who wondered why she was pregnant before marriage, Mary left Nazareth.  She traveled nearly ninety miles, perhaps by herself, probably on foot to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to exchange news of their pregnancies.  (Mary would have been six or more months pregnant by the time she returned.)  When Mary arrived, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praised God for blessing Mary as the mother of the Son of God.  Mary responded by praising God for his promise to bring salvation, to bring down the rich and powerful and to feed the hungry.   Not long after that, Mary and Joseph experienced the effect of the oppressive government.  To fund their oppression of the people of Judah, the Romans were collecting a tax that required Joseph and Mary to go to Joseph’s hometown.   They traveled ninety miles (probably more) from Nazareth east to the Jordan down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up into the hills to Bethlehem.

Jesus birth

Did nearly nine-months-pregnant Mary repeat her prophecy of the downfall of the rich and powerful of her time to Joseph as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem?  Because many people had arrived in Bethlehem for the taxing, the couple could only find shelter in an animal pen.  They may have found the warmth of animals for their comfort there or the animals may have been out in the field because it was warm at the time. Due to the Roman occupying army, Mary had none of the comforts of home, presence of family and friends and may or may not have found a midwife.  After the Jesus birth, Mary may have placed Jesus in a feed trough of stone.

The lights, bells and cheery greetings of the season as we celebrate it do not remind us of the words of Simon reported by Luke.  Simon’s words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).

Herod’s role

Then after somewhat less than two years, Persian wisemen/astrologers/priests stumbled into Herod’s schemes.  A violent ruler who had killed several relatives who he feared wanted his throne, Herod saw Jesus a threat to his rule.  Jewish leaders located scripture that they probably could guess Herod would use to find and kill the child.  To try to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his throne, Herod ordered killed maybe 10 to 30 young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.  God had already warned Joseph to take his family away; so, by night they were started their trip to Egypt when the massacre happened.  For several years Jesus’ family were immigrants in Egypt.  So, Joseph, his teenage wife, and son had been away from home probably five years.  Murders, forced immigration and hardship due to the efforts of the political and religious leaders to maintain their power and privileges are nothing new.

Advent vs Christmas?

Perhaps the old Anabaptist idea of “separation from the world” needs dusted off and used here.  Perhaps our Advent observance should be used to balance the world’s (including much of contemporary Christian world’s) Christmas focus?  Maybe we need a sermon on occasion from the Revelation 12 Christmas story on the dragon and the woman.  Do we recognize that turmoil and suffering will be a byproduct of Jesus coming (and probably of our proclamation of his coming), but redemption and peace is the goal of the season?  Mary, mother of Jesus spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the poor and hungry would be cared for.  Thirty years later her Son spoke very similar words in his first sermon at Nazareth (see Luke 4).  This, too, was Jesus Advent.  Is this our Advent proclamation?

 

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