“Bread of Life?” Too many carbs!

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How do carb hating Americans begin to understand Jesus’ words on “bread of life”? My mother baked bread. She encouraged Julia to bake bread and Julia has baked bread at nearly every other week for the nearly 50 years of our marriage. I really enjoy her bread. During tomato season a BLT, usually without the B, is a frequent feature of my lunch. Colder weather brings out my carefully seasoned cast-iron skillet for grilled cheese with the addition of mustard, then meatloaf or sprouts or Lebanon bologna or whatever compliment is available.

Until my Meniere’s was brought under control bread toasted was a first food welcomed after a bout of nausea. (That and Cheerios which I still associate the Biblical character Legion. After recovery from nausea, getting dressed and eating food again—Cheerios usually—I felt I, like Legion, was “clothed and in my right mind.”)

But bread “of life”? For the first century citizen, according to a bit of research I did, bread made up a third to a half of the diet by volume. On this year’s Thanksgiving Feast table, I am not sure I saw any bread—there was some in the stuffing/filling/dressing. Probably the five loaves and two fishes the boy carried in his bag would give us a volume of ten to one or so. He probably ate the dates his mother packed.

In an era when Wonder Bread was first introduced, Consumer Reports experiments determined that rats could not be kept alive with the bread. How can we gain any sense of Jesus’ “bread of life” saying? Even with the vitaminized version of bread today “in a healthy diet” as the bread loaf label says, do Jesus’ words have any clarity? Has this rumination brought me any closer to a first hearer’s understanding of Jesus’ words? Can the tools of historians and cultural anthropologists cut through the veil of 21 centuries to open up the truth of what Jesus was teaching? Will eating a Biblical diet bring me closer to Jesus?

 

 

Grace for the journey

Do “Marvelous grace” or “Wonderful grace of Jesus” aid us in living as Christians?

Much-loved songs like the ones mentioned above celebrate one kind of grace. Being ‘saved by grace’ is often thought of as referring to a past, usually datable event (at least in my upbringing). “Marvelous grace of Jesus” jumps from the initial experience of grace to the final grace of God’s presence. As joyful as it is to sing, “Wonderful grace of Jesus” wouldn’t it be good if it had a verse celebrating grace for dealing with the issues of life? Due to the familiarity of Eph. 2:8 “By grace are you saved through faith…” grace is most associated with the initial saving event in our lives. Perhaps the importance of grace to that event cannot be overemphasized. But does grace stop there? In the songs referred to above there is a jump from that initial event to heaven. This is the common pattern in many songs and hymns. * A notable exception is the verse from “Amazing Grace” that concludes “’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” “Open the wells of grace and salvation” comes close. Without mentioning grace other gospel songs reflect the spiritual pilgrimage. But what pattern do we find in the use of grace in the Bible?

Definitions

The word ‘grace’ (NIV) occurs 116 times. Some of them refer in general terms to the goodness of God or signs of the goodness of God, such as in Luke’s account of Jesus: (“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”; or the description of Stephen in Acts 6:8.) “Grace” and “saved” or “salvation” occur together frequently and are synonymous at places. Salvation, too, has a continuing aspect. While we were saved (past), we are being saved (present), and we will be saved (future). The middle tense of saved is ‘grace connection’ for this essay.

Grace for weakness

Paul in a very familiar passage connects this aspect of God’s goodness to a weakness in his life when he reports that God has told him:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Would it be appropriate to conclude that whenever we become aware of a weakness in our lives, God’s grace is already available to deal with that weakness?

Grace for growing

Beyond using our gifts, especially in giving, God’s grace is available to us for growing as Jesus’ disciples:

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

An important part of that growth is seeing the pattern of attitude and behavior of those around us who are not followers of Jesus and determining to live as God created us to live.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:11, 12)

Avoiding error by learning more about Jesus will keep us growing.

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

Grace and generosity

Paul seems to see a special kind of grace that leads to generosity with gifts of money.

But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us —see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Cor. 8:7)

Grace gifts

Another part of ‘grace for living’ is “grace gifts”. (The word in Greek for grace is charis, and charismata for grace gifts.) Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:1-14 give us lists of ‘grace gifts’ that all Jesus’ followers have.

In Hebrews also we are encouraged to use these gifts of grace.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (Heb. 13:10

How is God’s grace working for growth in your life? What songs and hymns have been of help to you?

 

*I would be glad if anyone would bring to my attention songs that include something about ‘grace for living’.

Saving more books

New treasures at Booksavers of Virginia

“It was a dark and stormy night . . . “ lines often parodied which began Edward Bulwer-Lytton (English novelist) 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

Last week I researched a book with these lines:

“Who could think of love within the haunt of the temple of  ‘That Nympholepsy of some fond despair’ and not feel that love enhanced, deepened, modulated into at once a deepened desire.” (Godolphin, p. 183, 1833 published by Carey)

These stirring lines were from the first edition of the novel. This edition was published just after the English Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. This bill reduced the power of the noblility by extending the voting franchise. Lytton’s satire was highly critical of the actions and views of bill’s opponents. He later revised the novel (1840) to soften the portrayal of the nobility. It took me some searching to determine that the Carey edition was different than the later ones for which there are many publishers. No other vendors offered a copy for sale. I had to guess on a price for the quarter leather bound volume with marbled covers and darkened pages. Value? Somewhere between $50 and $300. (I put a conservative $69.)

A. J. Trask   Music [Selections of piano sheet music from 1840-1860]

When I saw the large, worn leather bound volume, I knew it would be a problem. The title, stamped on the front, was a name: A. J. Trask. This was a collection of piano music. Several pages were sticking out beyond the others and page edge trimming was irregular. On opening the volume, I found no contents page. Paging through the book, I found many tears from probably resulting from the quick turning of pages as the pianist played—they were about 1/3rd of the way up the page.

But then I recognized some of the titles, especially those by Stephen Foster. The volume contains around 40 pieces of sheet music including:  “Song of the robin” and “Romance”, George William Warren;  “The last rose of summer : with an intro./ brilliant variations for the piano forte”, Firth, 1856?;  “The last waltz of a lunatic”,  Beyer, Ferdinand,  New York : Firth, 1850s; “The rainbow schottisch”, H Kleber;  “George W Quidor”, Firth 1854; “Gentle Annie  ballad”, Stephen Collins Foster, 1856 [1st ed.]; also, “Camptown Races”; “Ethiopian Melody. As Sung by Christy Minstrels”, “Nelly was a lady”.  Firth, 1849(?); “He doeth all things well, or, My sister : a ballad”, I B Woodbury.

I had trouble putting a price on this. I knew it could be worth more than the $25 I put on it.

—I posted it to Amazon and found out that it sold the next day. Did I put too low a price on it?

 

 

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The Methodist Episcopal Hymnal (1852) has solid leather covers with some wear and cracks at hinges.  Gilt lettering and design on spine is easily readable.  On front are the words  “Cool Spring M. E. Church FROM Mamie Dashiell”.

On the fly in pencil (faintly):  “This book belongs to Thomas R. Gentry  I bought it of a lady at Lincoln Station and give $5.00 dollars in Confedret (sic) money” [according too?] Phebe A Gentry This book was bought November 28, 1862.  Thomas Gentry died in 1881 at age of 43 according to a slip of paper inserted in the hymnal.

(Methodist Episcopal Hymnals for this period are not expensive ($15-$25). How much does the note on the fly add to the value?  I was unable to locate a “Cool Spring M. E. Church” with a limited search.)

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Adam’s tiller vs the microherd Or building soil God’s way

 

Soil building activists tend to be divided into two camps: some want to move stuff down and others want to build it up, although I suppose some of us have a dirty shoe in both garden beds. Here is how I explain to myself, and anyone who will listen, my approach.

Penn State helps promote an “Ag Progress Days” near Tyrone, Pa each August. One of the times (more than thirty years ago) I attended with Julia’s farmer father I went to a session on something new: no-till planting into a green manure crop. (Not sure what they called it.) The expert there stressed the importance of chemicalizing the green manure crop that was in place before proceeding with the planting. This was important to avoid depriving the new plants of nitrogen (and other nutrients) while the green manure crop was decaying/decomposing.

I wondered how that would work out in my more or less organic garden. I used a weed chopper and mower to cut down the rye I had planted. Then I spaded a shovel wide furrow into which I planted corn. Between the corn rows I dumped enough leaves to suppress any regrowth of the rye. As soon as the corn was six to eight inches, I pushed the leaves closer to the corn to suppress any weeds that might challenge the corn. I didn’t see any sign yellowing of leaves or stunting of stalks or any other signs of nutrient deficiency in the corn. The crop of sweet corn was normal. Didn’t plant a control plot since I was planting like I had in other years.

I had faith in the microherd (although I did learn that term until some years later). With the help of maintenance personnel of the local educational institution, I had been dumping a lot of partially shredded leaves on the garden for several years. I planted the rye because I thought the corn might need extra nitrogen! But with the leaves cover was heavy enough to keep the ground from freezing in the Michigan winters.  A healthy microherd had developed that was able to quickly go to work on the rye without taking nitrogen the corn might need. That’s my assumption. I do not have the biological knowledge to explain what has happened.

Tilling Adam’s way

What does this have to do with Adam’s tiller? My earlier thinking about the command to Adam to “till the soil” led to a vision. Due to my lusting after a mechanical device to ease my garden labors, I imagined a naked Adam violating virgin Eden with a mammoth, red TROYBUILT ROTOTILLER tearing that resistant sod into soft plantable soil. Rereading the Genesis passage reminded me that the couple had already been outside the garden at the time of the “till the soil” command. (Then was Adam’s possession of a tiller due to sin?) But, as explained to me recently, the word “till”, means, “care for”. When God is said to care for humans and this same word is used. (Off stage sounds of big red tiller fading.)

About this time in my life I was learning the Joy of Composting. Shifting compost was great exercise.   Bin composting was satisfying and somewhat useful. (See earlier blogs on “Composting and Grace” and “Three bags of leaves, two of grass”. I began to understand what I labeled “Ultimate Composting” (I was fascinated by all things Frisbee at the time) an imposing term for what others called “permanent mulch” or “lasagna gardening” or other terms. This is how I applied that understanding.

My current garden

Seventeen years ago we moved to a Shenandoah Valley ridge at 1300 feet with a southeastern orientation. Most topsoil had been liberated from the ridge before the slaves had been liberated from the area. The previous owner liked grass. We quickly smothered the grass with wet newspaper, leaves and some of the 15-30 gallons of coffee grounds per week I picked up from local convenience stores and a nearby college. A friend moved to a farm with an old barn with hay more than five years old. He would drive my pickup home and bring back a load of old hay. Julia said at one point that we had lots of hay in the back yard and only needed a cow.

We started spreading out these ingredients and had a good garden the second year. The third I began setting up raised beds with board sides. The steep hillside required some protection for the beds. Even with heavy mulch rain would shift everything down hill. Every year we have dumped leaves, some grass clippings (when we can find un sprayed yards) and coffee grounds on the beds in addition to much of the garden’s plant wastes. I am continually amazed at how much organic matter disappears into the beds. When you build up a microherd population, they work hard. The micro herd feeds the soil which the feeds the plants.

Building soil up

Finally we come to the wild claim that I know the way God does soil building.  This did not come by divine revelation.   I did not discovered on my own.   Many have contributed to what I have learned over the past thirty or more years of “organic” gardening. As a church-goer and follower of Jesus I cringe at all the things for which people claim God’s authority or attribute to God’s preferences. I do work at not demonizing those viewing soil building differently than I do. Double diggers puzzle me.  I remember creating straight lines of lovely black sod bottoms with the moldboard plow as a teenager less fondly now than I did when I mastered the skill.  My anxiety intensifies when I hear the sound of the ferocious mechanical devices churning through the soil cutting up the bodies and homes of the worms and the micro herd.

How has God been making new soil? In the prairies, grasses grow, die, decay and eventually become new soil. In the forest leaves fall, decay and become new soil. Trees die and turn to new soil. (Not sure what the natural rate of temperate zone soil development is.) God builds the soil up. Now, God is a bit slow. But, then, God has a lot more time to work. We don’t. That’s why we do in-the-garden composting, find combinations of ingredients to speed decomposition, do lasagna gardening or permanent mulching. Composting in bins permits faster building of new dirt to be added to a garden. Much of these “new” techniques imitate the “natural” process of soil building. (Machine aeration and mechanical turning of piles may represent a major extension of the natural processes.) Many of us see building the soil up and relying on worms and the microherd as man’s effort to imitate God’s way of building soil.

 

 

 

New life: Connecting a death and an amaryllis

Making the most of a fascinating coincidence

This week a friend died.

She brought joy to many with her humor and sparkling laugh. She brightened the world around her. Over a year ago, after her amaryllis had bloomed, our friend had passed on to us the spent bulb hoping we could find new life in it.

Last fall when I brought in amaryllis plants so that they would bloom at Christmas time, I missed one. Usually a bulb left in the ground over the winter in western Virginia will freeze and no longer be viable. In late April when I was pushing back mulch to plant green beans, I saw the green leaves of an amaryllis. Later, when beans were sending out their second and third full-sized leaves and we saw buds emerging between the amaryllis leaves.

For some time she had been eagerly looking forward to her new life with Jesus.

This week a bright white double amaryllis blossom opened.

 

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Not Just for Preachers — Living our call in all of life

Our small church was in a time of leadership transition and the overseer was visiting. He asked me if I had a call to serve the church.  I was in my forties and had thought about the question and responded to what I sensed was his question: “I have not identified within myself a leading of the spirit to the pulpit ministry.” He asked no further questions.   He didn’t seem interested in my struggle with how I could best serve God in the church and beyond. Sometime later a young man from the congregation began pastoral leadership in our congregation. We were discussing some issue and he responded that his views should have greater weight because he had been ‘called.’ Later a friend reminded me that Paul’s lists of qualification for ministry do not include having a CALL.

First look at call

You have all been called to follow Christ. Just as Jesus called disciples and the Spirit called Paul at Damascus, everyone hearing the gospel has a call to follow and serve Jesus. Most Christians would agree with these two sentences. [This use of the word call will appear in lower case letters.]   In the Bible there are many ordinary uses of the word “call” such as “request to come” or to give someone a name. Paul uses the word ‘call’ refer to the spirit’s leading or God’s encouraging us to follow Jesus. For example:

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 1Th 4:7

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours: (1Co 1:2)

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 2Pet.1:10

We are all called to become Christ ‘s followers. Our call includes doing as Jesus’ disciples did, whether it is holding the baskets to collect the leftovers after the feeding of the 5,000 or going to the village for food while Jesus talked to a woman of Samaria or going out like the seventy-two to announce the coming of the kingdom. As Paul was directed to take the gospel to the gentiles, our call also includes making tents while talking about Jesus to shoppers.

CALL as a special experience

At one point the Mennonite Church had a program to address our concern over the lack of candidates for pastoral office. “Culture of CALL” initiative encourages people with pastoral and administrative skills to consider church ministry, usually on a full-time basis. Historical shifts of the past century (status and difficulties of church workers, a shift away from use of the lot, and perhaps opening of the pastorate to women (and probably other factors) have affected the drawing of young people to church work. But if everyone is called, why are we speaking of CALL in the specific sense regarding Christians entering church offices? What is the origin of the use of the word ‘call’ to mean a special leading of the spirit to service and leadership in the church. Almost always people experiencing a CALL in this sense are already Christians. [I will use the CALL to indicate this specific use.]

The word call in the Bible

Gospel writers sometimes use the word ‘call’ in reporting Jesus’ inviting the disciples to follow him. Paul does refer to himself as being called to be an apostle in the salutation of two letters

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Ro 1:1.) Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, (1Co 1:1)

Are these references to Paul’s Damascus experience? Was that a conversion experience, a vocation change invitation or both? Prior to his ‘call’ was he (were the disciples) a follower(s) of Christ? Paul, in discussing the office of elder/bishop/overseer and deacons, does not list “call” as one of the qualifications. These servants of the church, of course, had a call that led to their salvation. One passage that includes both the word call and speaks of church offices is Eph. 4.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Eph. 4:1

In Acts 13:2 we are told that the Spirit has “called” Barnabas and Paul to a particular task. Does this imply a lifetime leading? When speaking of the leading of the spirit to church office, the Paul does not use the word ‘call’. Is the pattern of use of the word ‘call’ in the New Testament reflected in our use today?

Finally, Paul uses the word church, ecclesia, as the distinctive term for followers of Jesus. This word is defined as the “called out ones”

Uses of the term CALL in the church

The probable origin of the use of the word CALL for full time church workers is the development of a two-tiered spirituality after the establishment of the state church under Constantine. According to this tradition, Jesus had a special spiritual vocation/calling as Messiah. Since it was his ‘vocation’ to suffer and die, the events of his life are not a norm or example for us to follow. Some Christians like Jesus have a ‘spiritual’ rather than a temporal or secular vocation and receive a special “call.”   These are the people who become priests and nuns. The laity did not need to follow Christ closely in spirituality, direction for Christian service or service in the military. Priests, for instance, were expected to be pacifists, but not the average Christian. At the time of the Reformation, some claimed that only the ordained were CALLED and part of the church.   Taking issue with this separation of life into secular and spiritual, Anabaptist sought to recover the sense of following Christ in all of our lives. They insisted that those called were to follow Christ in ‘churchly’ activities, work and all of our daily lives.

The word CALL identifies the leading of the spirit, the thinking of the individual and counseling by other Christians directed toward individuals considering full time work in the church, especially the pastorate. This term is generally not used for those who are considering other careers or occupations.     (Some have worked to extend this sense of a special leading of the Spirit to all work situations.) I wonder if this focus places unnecessary stresses both on those considering church work and on those considering secular jobs?   For those with gifts and skills suitable for the pastorate or full time church work, there is pressure to expect a high intensity and memorable experience (probably datable) of the Spirit’s leading to full time church work. On the other hand, devout followers of Christ seeking the leading of the Spirit for work direction or job change who desire to serve God in their work and in their non-vocational time may wonder how God leads them differently. Does using the impetus of the concept of CALL accomplish in a scripturally sound way (as interpreted above) the important job of encouraging individuals into missionary or pastoral positions? If we used “call” in the scriptural sense for persons entering “secular” work would they better understanding that work as a way of serving Christ?

Living out our call

Let’s find ways of encouraging and aiding people making decisions about their life’s work. Initial career choice or later changes are major life milestones at which fellow Christians should provide support for one another.   Finding a job in which we can honor and glorify God requires the spirit’s leading within us, as well. To cooperate with the spirit’s leading and to work with the spirit in aiding all Christians in career choice, we should affirm that

  1. Serving the church/extend the kingdom is an important responsibility of all Christians.
  2. Serving Christ in one’s vocation is part of every Christian’s calling.
  3. Encouraging fellow Christians to make the best use of their gifts is an important task for the people of God.
  4. Challenging jobs such as the full-time pastorate or outreach in difficult areas may require encouragement from others, and extra prayer and courage by the one making the choice.

God’s call comes to all people. Those who respond are called to salvation and a life of serving God. Let those who answer God’s call live all their life in response to the call.

Saving books

Old books

“Do you have any old books?  I need a gift for my fiancee.”  That was one of the stranger requests that we’ve received at Booksavers of Virginia.  The customer told us his fiancee just liked old books and  he wasn’t sure if she liked more than the look of them.  That solved a problem for us.  I was working on a Luther Bible in German script without a title page, probably from the eighteenth century.  I had not been able to identify any distinguishing features of the Bible to permit us to list the Bible on Amazon.  The book was about three inches thick, by six wide by nine long.  The leather cover was well-preserved with five raised bands on the spine.  There was only limited foxing (brown spots) on the pages.  When the groom-to-be saw the Bible on the shelf in its warm brown leather binding with only “attractive” wear, he was sure that his fiancee would be happy with the gift.  (I don’t remember the price, but it was more than $50).

Our work

Booksavers of Virginia is part of Gift & Thrift of Virginia.  We are part of the Mennonite Central Committee network of stores that raise funds for famine and disaster relief and for development work, mostly overseas.  Most of the books, DVDs, and CDs posted to Amazon fall in the seven to fifteen dollar range.  Many have UPCs and ISBNs and are easily identified.  My work is with the items that do not have these numbers and often requires a good bit of research.  All of the items mentioned above are donated.  Those not posted on Amazon may be displayed for sale in the retail store.  Books and magazines not sold are sold to paper recyclers.

Another old book I worked on was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century Bible with local newspaper clippings of births and deaths. It had no title page and was destined for recycling.  The manager said, “Let’s put it on the [in store] silent auction.  Maybe someone will want it for the local information.”  Result:  $90.  In the electronic age I am amazed that we still receive books for which I cannot find electronic records.  Recently I process an autobiography of a pilot who had lived just down the road (north) the road in Basye, Va.  He had piloted private planes for famous personalities in film, sports and politics.  None of the standard book sources or variations of Google searches turned up a record of the book.

Other languages

Due to several retirement villages in the area, plus three higher education institutions and numerous immigrants, we receive donations of many non-English language items.  I’ve discovered you can find Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people in Farsi, that there is a language called Catalan (formerly thought a Spanish dialect) and that a 1986 book in Russian published in Azerbaijan is barely understandable by a young (Russian speaking) Ukrainian.  When a cookbook in a southeast Asian language (I thought) arrived, none of us could find anything in the book to determine its origins.  So, I took it to a Laotian restaurant to ask for help.  When the cook looked at it, she said, “Oh, yes, this is Laotian country cooking”.  (I remembered seeing French words in a menu in an upscale Laotian restaurant, so I guessed I knew what she meant.)  Then she said, “How much do you want for the book?”  I admitted I had no idea of its value.  I told her the book was to be sold for disaster and famine relief, including funding for refugee camps in Southeast Asia.  We agreed on $10 or $15, I believe.   Five years or so later, she bought another Laotian cookbook.

Valuable books

Bunyan’s Holy War in German script?  Photos from a famous nightclub in New York in the late thirties?  A compendium on the fur trade in North America?  All these and more have come through Booksavers and valued at $500 or more.  The photo album sold for $1200.  A devotional book from the eighteenth century may have been worth more.  It contained an 1742 Luther Bible, a shorter catechism, an early devotional work and a special Psalter.  These were specially bound together in leather with an intact metal clasp.  We were unable to get full value for the volume because of the difficulty of describing the different parts.  Value is not always measured in dollars.  The manager fielded a call from Texas about a cookbook.  The caller asked about particular pages and recipes.  Then they ordered the book, saying their copy of the cookbook was lost in a flood and they valued the recipes it contained.