Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rough Draft of Daft Stuff, Referring to John 1

John is probably the most interesting of all of the gospels. He's my favorite NT writer, and ties with Solomon (Cantica Canticorum) for my favorite Scriptural author. So, here is a brief intro to reading his gospel, and then a briefer overview of John 1.

John should be read as a יוֹם כִּפּוּר (yom kippur) entrance into the temple: the first five chapters deal with water (ceremonial washing), then light and bread (holy place), then the blood and death, then the High Priest returning from the presence of God alive, signifying the Divine acceptance of the offering and the atonement for the sins of the nation. Of course, this is simplistic: taken with Revelation, it forms a chiastic whole, it has tremendously complex themes of marriage (as the Second Adam follows the footsteps of the first up a hill, into a deep sleep, has his side opened and a bride created from it as well as obeying God on a tree to be the faithful guard of the garden), Eden (his resurrection occurs in a garden, he is seen in a garden, etc), and many more that I've never discovered, but it still works well for a general overview.

Now, for chapter one. Or rather, as far into chapter one as my sleep-deprived mind feels like going. The first two divisions are quite interesting, and are made numerically: the three repetitions of Word in 1 is the foundation of 1-3, then the seven repetitions of light in 4-9 lead to the natural division that takes place between 13 and 14. 14 is lightly distinguished from what came before by a very explicit chiasm (14-18: only begotten, only begotten; grace and truth, grace and truth) that centers yet again--just in case you happened to miss the rather prevalent preceding theme of the Divinity of Christ--that centers yet again on the eternal existence of Christ: "He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me." It also calls himself as his first witness, along with Peter and James. His second witness he calls immediately after; John the Baptist.

19 is the opening bookend of another chiasm that closes in 28: from Jerusalem, Bethabara; Christ Elijah and the Prophet, Christ Elijah and the Prophet; those who sent us, those who were sent; you say, Isaiah said, with the center being focused on the office of John as the prophesied forerunner of the (Incarnated) Deity.

Verse 29 opens another chiasm, in which is a trilogy of John's actions: said, bore witness, testified. It is also the first mention of the Spirit, making this the end of the natural section of 1-34 as an exposition of God, and of Christ as God. Christ was in heaven with God; the Spirit of God is with Christ on earth. This could be viewed as another witness, but the text flows far better as a chiasm: The Word with God in the beginning, the Spirit (of God) on Christ (the Incarnation of the Word) after John; the witnesses (which are bookended by the "He who comes after is preferred before") are at the center.

29-34 (Lamb of God, Son of God); 30-33b (He was before me, He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit); 31-33a (I did not know, I did not know); Center, 32: And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him."

Also, I don't yet know what to make of it, but the trilogy of "He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me" is repeated for emphasis, but probably also for some structural theme. Were I to guess, it is a part of the overall chiastic structure, the damning Arche chiasm of the passage: 1. only begotten, 3. Lamb of God: center: 2. you don't know Him. But that's a guess, and I haven't yet gotten to the big picture, to the loose chiastic structure.

That is as far as I will go with the structural analysis for the moment. The prevalent, inescapable theme is the utter Deity of Christ, which John asserts completely by verse 14.

So, this is the focus of the first section of John 1. The Word, the second member of the Godhead, was with the First, and comes bearing the Third, as witnessed by a couple of John's, and the Pharisees, parallel to the darkness, did not comprehend the One standing among them (5, 26).

Wimpy Winston

ChurchillChurchill by Paul Johnson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

All in all, rather badly done. Well researched, but his focus couldn't have been more limp-wristed and pathetic.

He wrote this book to answer the question, "Did Churchill save England?" The answer, if you were wondering, is yes. He saved not only England, but the world. If it weren't for Churchill, you wouldn't even exist. And neither would puppies or kittens or butterflies or ice cream. I was hoping to hear about the man, or at least some funny quotes from the legend. I got very little of either. I found out a few interesting facts, such as the fact that he took up painting and was good at it--about 500 of his paintings survive--and that--get this--he had between eight and ten million words in print by the time he died. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was absolutely dwarfed by his account of the first world war: 1,100,000 words to 2,050,000. The last Harry Potter book, by comparison, has fewer than 200,000, and that's just cause the editors decided to sit back, drink gin and practice saying, "why yes, I am the editor of the most successful books in the civilized world" in front of a mirror instead of actually editing the book. Hardcovers are more expensive.

But Churchill comes across looking kinda like a pansy by this guys account. A pansy is the last thing he was: he was the one who specifically ordered the bombing of Dresden. He was the one who brutally suppressed the Irish, causing more civilian casualties than anyone seems likely to admit. He was a violent, brutal, bulldog of a man, but this author spends half the book explaining that though Churchill was always smoking a cigar, he never inhaled. Seriously? Why on earth would we care? I was looking for Churchill: the "blood, toil, tears and sweat" Churchill, the "never has so much been owed by so many to so few," the Churchill that almost singlehandedly built up both the British navy and RAF, the one that was so determined to win that he would have nuked every city between Berlin and Belfast if he'd had the bombs, the one that said "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

And, if our author was too concerned with explaining how he watered down his whiskey so he didn't actually drink as much as it seemed, too concerned lest our freshly whitewashed hero(?) (he got plenty of exercise) be human, then he could at least have given us some comedy. I mention Churchill to the most uneducated person--to the governmentally schooled among us--and he'll even start fumbling around with, "'you may be drunk, but I'm...' no, wait... 'Madam, you're ugly, but I'm Winston...' no..." Churchill was hilarious, quick witted and could be downright vicious with his comebacks, but we're given so little of that in this book that I would never have guessed he had a sense of humour at all (yes, I spell it with a "u", just like honour and valour and all those others. I'd spell dog with a "u" if it wasn't my pastor's name). So, the book was simply boring. I'd hoped for better.

But, if you're more interested in Churchill's policy than his person, in his chronology than his character, this book is well researched, and I have no doubt--no doubt--that it's accurate. It simply has to be.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

My Mommy Loves Me

One of my favorite poems as of yet (if you don't do this already, click on my titles, for therein is hidden great treasure).

A Second Childhood

When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.

Wherein God's ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are, and cannot be.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber's dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.

Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.

Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.

Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.

Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed:
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And find I am not dead.

A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.

Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky:
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.

-G.K. Chesterton

John Adams

John AdamsJohn Adams by David McCullough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book I picked up because it was available, not because I had any particular interest in the man. That has changed. From his deeply loving and tender marriage to his obsessive political career to his troubled children to his tumultuous friendship with Jefferson, this is the story of a brilliant, flawed, real man, for whom I now have the greatest respect.

Without this man, we most likely would not be a nation: he was the one that fought ceaselessly for a declaration of independence, and yet he harbored no delusions regarding the length of the conflict or the effort that it would require. He alone of all the proponents for the war declared that it could take upwards of ten years.

This also contains the origins of John Quincy, and they are fascinating.

Excellent book, with perhaps not so many original quotes as I would have liked.

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Wodehousian Fun