Friday, January 29, 2010

Reflections of a Minor Fiend

Back when I was in college, I was involved in drama.  One of the first plays I was heavily involved in was Screwtape, a play by James Forsyth somewhat loosely based on The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.  I had the fortune to be cast in the role of Wormwood, arguably the lead of the play (the name notwithstanding).  For those who don't know, Wormwood is a junior demon, and Screwtape, his uncle, is tasked with showing Wormwood the ropes.

One of the tasks of preparing for our parts was to write a brief document from the point of view of our character.  The scene that follows is what I wrote, as I tried to get into Wormwood's state of mind just prior to the start of the play.

Ah, at long last, freedom!  I thought those classes would never end.  From now on, old Slubgob will have to find someone else to put to sleep with all those boring lectures on "Pride," "Sloth," and "Avoidance of Truth."  I'm out to find some action!  My patient is going to be so gloriously depraved, I'll be promoted up from grade D (ugh!) to Master Tempter in no time.

It will be nice to get out into the material world.  Hell can be so dull at times.  All we get down here anymore are the same old, boring, self-righteous cretins who simply weren't smart enough to avoid our temptations and deserved to be tossed down here anyway.  Besides, it's not healthy to live in an environment where you might end up as your teacher's next meal if you don't turn in your report on "Keeping Your Patient's Attention on Himself."

I dare say, my parents would be most disgusted to see their "little monster" has gotten this far.  Fortunately, they so miserably failed in their mission with that "Theresa" woman that Lucifer sent them down for consumption while I was still learning the "ABC"s of temptation.  Uncle Screwtape's seen to my upbringing since then.  Not much better.  He's as contemptible as everyone else down here.  Well, I'll show them.  I'll outfiend them all!

Well, it's almost time to see what the Earth is like.  Uncle Screwtape has talked about the opportunities for a young fiend, "if you have the wits to find them."  I'll show him wit!  My patient will be destroying office buildings and shooting down Kindergartner's before I'm through with him.  Oh, Creosote!  Uncle's calling me now!  Coming, Uncle....  (I wish someone would consume him!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Game Show Board Games: The Joker's Wild

Of all the game shows I watched when I was a child, The Joker's Wild was always my favorite.  I'm not entirely sure that I can explain why.  Perhaps it was the "pure trivia" nature of the game (although certainly simplistic compared to Jeopardy! questions today.  But I started watching game shows in the few years between the end of the original Jeopardy! and the beginning of the current version, so I wouldn't have known that yet), maybe it was the hosting (Jack Barry at first, making his big comeback from the game show scandals of the '50s--something else I didn't know anything about at the time--and Bill Cullen in the couple of years after Barry's sudden death), but I'm guessing it was probably the fact that the game centered on a "slot machine" with three spinning wheels that determined the categories.  I've always been a sucker for game shows with wheels!

Naturally, when I grew up, I had to add to my game show collection the board game version of The Joker's Wild, produced by Milton Bradley in three editions (plus a child's version, patterned after the children's spin-off Joker! Joker! Joker!) starting in 1973 (the year after The Joker's Wild premiered).  I suppose that this game duplicates the mechanics of the actual gameplay as well as could be expected for an affordable home game using 1970's technology.  The main board looks enough like the slot machine from the actual game, but instead of three separately spinning wheels, the categories are determined by a deck of playing cards.  Instead of actual category names (as seen on the show), the cards have numbers on them, intended to correspond to one of 5 categories as read from a little booklet (although I do like that the booklet of categories is separate from the booklet of questions and answers, allowing players to see the categories for themselves without spoiling the game).  But I have to confess, cards are a poor substitute for actual wheels.  And the odds of getting matching categories out of the cards just has to be different than the odds of the same result from independently spinning slots... but I digress.

In the main game, a player "spins the wheels" (i.e. deals three category cards) to see what categories are available, and asks for a question corresponding to one of the displayed categories.  If the category (number) shows up only one time among the three cards, the question is worth $50.  If it shows up twice, it's worth $100, and if all three cards/slots have the same category, the question is worth $200.  Also, there are jokers interspersed in the deck, which are (as the name of the game suggests) wild, allowing the player to increase the value of a category listed on the other card(s), or giving the player the chance to go "off the board" with a different category, worth the value of however many jokers are available.  If all three of the cards/slots are jokers, the player can choose any category he/she likes, and will win the game with a correct answer.  In all cases except for a "three jokers" scenario, if the player gets an answer incorrect, his/her opponent gets a chance to answer, and if correct, gets the value of that question.  The first player to reach $500 (after ensuring that both players have had an equal number of questions) wins the game and gets to play the bonus round.

Bonus rounds are perhaps a bit superfluous in a home game, since prizes are seldom actually given away when playing at home.  Still, it does help to create the feel of the game show.  Unfortunately, the board game duplicates an early version of the bonus round that I never actually saw as a child (being born in 1974, the game had evolved a bit before I was old enough to remember watching).  However, I would argue that I like the way the cards emulate the slots better in this round.  You are given three separately-colored decks of cards, each corresponding to one of the three slots on the slot machine.  The cards in each deck are exclusively images of jokers, plus one "devil" per deck.  The player starts the bonus round by playing one card from each deck.  If all three cards show jokers, all is well, and the player is awarded $100.  The player can stop right there and take the winnings (again, this is a bit of a moot point at home, where it's just play money), or risk that money to try again with the next card in each deck.  Another set of three jokers increases the players' winnings to $400, and the player can stop there or risk it all to try again.  A result of three jokers one more time increases the winnings to $1000, and the game ends.  However, if a devil appears at any time, on any of the three decks, the bonus game is over and the player wins nothing.

I value this board game more for it's nostalgia factor than for it's actual gameplay.  If I really want to play a game, I prefer to use one of a number of (mostly unofficial) computer versions I've found on the web.  These can more accurately duplicate the feel of spinning slot machine wheels for random categories.  Go Jokers!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Matthew 16-20

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Matthew, chapters 16 through 20.  I'm especially aware this week that I'm going to skip over some very well-known sections of Scripture in my comments.  This is not because I think that such passages (Peter's recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, for example) aren't important, but simply that I'm not sure I have anything new to add that isn't already well-known quite readily.

Chapter 16

  • Verses 2-3: red skies - I'm not at all sure whether Jesus is being serious or ironic here, but "red" skies aren't at all common to my understanding.  At sunset, yes, but I'm not sure I would associate it with fair weather.
  • Verses 5-12 - I've commented in the past about the audio version I'm using to work through these readings.  Like in that passage from Chapter 3, the audio really brings out the speakers (in this case, Jesus) annoyance at those to whom he's speaking.  I really do think it's important that we recognize that the Bible reveals Jesus to have these expressions of anger and annoyance, as opposed to just his love and kindness all the time.  Still, I can't help by wonder, if Jesus is going to get so annoyed at his disciples for not realizing that he's "not talking... about bread," why does he use language (such as "yeast") that is less than clear in the first place?  Why not just say "beware the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees"?
  • Verse 28 - The verse, on its surface, looks eschatological.  That is to say, it sounds like Jesus is saying that the end times will arrive before (at least some of) the disciples have died.  Since we're reading this from the standpoint of nearly 2000 years later, we can safely say that the end has not come.  There have been several explanations for this.  One common one is that Jesus is, in fact, referring to his transfiguration (which happens in the very next chapter, and immediately follows the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well).  Another interpretation is that Jesus is predicting the fall of Jerusalem (which happened in the year 70).  Besides wondering what Jesus thought when he said these words, I wonder what Matthew thought about them when he was writing the gospel (presumably before the end of the first century, but after the fall of Jerusalem).1
Chapter 17
  • Verse 5 - The words from heaven sound remarkably similar to those heard at Jesus' baptism in Matthew 3:17.
  • Verse 10-13 - The tradition the disciples are remembering originates in Malachi 4:5Once again, John the Baptizer is identified with Elijah.
  • Verse 17 -  Jesus is annoyed again.  But why is he reacting this way to a request for help?  This isn't how he usually responds to such requests.  I considered the possibility that he might (again?) be upset with his disciples, since they were unable to drive the demon out (more on that in a bit), but Hagner suggests that Jesus is not annoyed with the man asking for help nor the disciples, but rather the crowd.2
  • Verses 19-21 - Again, Jesus seems to be saying that if you don't believe something strongly enough, it won't happen.  I've already commented about my difficulty with this kind of teaching.  Perhaps as much to the point, what does Jesus mean?  In one breath, he complains about the disciples faith being too "little" to drive out the demon, and in the next, says that faith "as small as a mustard seed" is enough to do amazing things.  Aren't these statements contradictory?  Surely, to talk about faith so small as a mustard seed is to talk about any real faith at all, yet since Jesus had given the power to drive out demons to the disciples in Chapter 10, it seems unlikely 1) that they've never actually driven out any before now, and 2) that the disciples have had a complete lack of faith up to now.  And if the disciples have had faith up to now, how is it that it should gone at this point?
Chapter 18
  • Verses 8-9 - Hagner suggests that these verses are "hyperbolic and not to be taken literally."3  I expect that other scholars might disagree.  Even so, it seems to me that, even among conservative, "literal" interpretive traditions, one would have to search awfully hard to find anyone who has actually maimed themselves in this way and for these reasons (and that, again even within such traditions, those few who have tend to be regarded as not-entirely-sane).
  • Verses 23-35 - In this season of economic hardship, I thought of this passage in a somewhat different light than I had before.  I wonder how many of us, feeling such pressure to pay our bills and meet our financial obligations, we treat those who owe anything to us (no matter how much less significant) more harshly.  None of this is to suggest that what the "wicked servant" did was any less wrong, but perhaps can help us understand how we often behave in ungrateful ways.
Chapter 19
  • Verses 10-12 - I feel that there must be some cultural context that I'm missing here.  Why should the disciples respond to Jesus' words on divorce, remarriage and adultery by suggestion that "it is better not to marry"?  Is it that hard to be faithful to one's spouse?   Jesus's response, immediately talking about eunuchs (by which I take him to be referring to anyone who is sexually inactive), doesn't help matters.
  • Verses 16-26 - I've written on this story (at least, as told in Mark) before.  I'll let that stand for now.
Chapter 20
  • Verses 1-16 - This is one of those times when I wonder about why the chapter breaks are placed where they are, given the clear connection to Chapter 19: 30.
  • Verses 22-23 - If Jesus doesn't even have the authority to grant James and John's (or their mother's) request, why does he even ask them if they are able to share in his sufferings ("drink from [his] cup")?

1See Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995. pp. 485-487, for more details.
2Hagner, p. 504.
3Hagner, p. 523.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Soda to Be Sociable

I enjoy listening to Old-Time Radio, via Public Domain MP3 downloads.  Even though a great many of the shows contain elements of the era that I'm certain that I would find embarrassing, should someone walk into the room while I'm listening to them at just the wrong moment (and, by that, I certainly don't mean anything sexually suggestive. I am talking about entertainment that my grandparents might have listened to when they were teenagers and/or young adults, after all! Rather, I mean some blatantly racist and sexist overtones that would be considered unacceptable in most modern entertainment), I find something simply fascinating about listening to these relics of what the world was like 50, 60, or even 70 years ago.

Some of these files have retained the commercials that were aired during the show's original broadcast, while others have had the commercials edited out. I'm currently working my way through Have Gun, Will Travel from around 1960, files for which generally retain the commercials.  Apparently one of the sponsors of Have Gun, Will Travel was Pepsi.  During 1958-1961, Pepsi wanted to remind would-be customers that Pepsi was a "sociable" drink.  Here is one of their commercials:

If you don't want to listen to the MP3 file, here are the complete lyrics.
Be sociable.  Look smart
Keep up to date with Pepsi
Drink light refreshing Pepsi
Stay young and fair and debonair
Be sociable.  Have a Pepsi
Much has been said about how commercials try to prove to people how their product will make you more attractive, more desirable, whatever. Still, something about these lyrics just struck me as over-the-top. It's a cola, for crying out loud! To think that I'll be "young and fair and debonair" because I'm drinking a cola sounds a bit absurd, doesn't it?

Truly, there's nothing new under the sun....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Transformers Then and Now: Warpath

As I mentioned on the Aveo Swerve entry, I'm working on ways to keep things fresh and interesting.  This is as much for myself as for the benefit of my readers.  One thing I hope to do from time to time is a bit more explicit demonstration of how Hasbro has updated certain Transformers characters that were introduced more than 20 years ago, much as I've already done with Cosmos back in July. The character of Warpath was introduced in 1985, at the same time as Cosmos.  The 1985 toy is on the left.  Oddly enough, the updated toy, released last year and shown on the right, was introduced at the same time as the updated Cosmos toy.  Serendipity!

One perhaps less desirable effect of the passage of time is the fact that toy manufacturers are more concerned these days with potential legal action, as vehicle makers (rightly!) seek to protect their copyrights and trademarks. While the Transformers franchise has always been about "Robots in Disguise" to a greater or lesser degree, back in the '80s, a good many Transformers turned into something that was patterned off of a very real, existing, piece of machinery.  1985 Warpath, for example, is a fairly realistic-looking tank (in fact, the TFWiki says it's a "General Motors M551A1 Sheridan ARAAV tank," but that's a level of precision I could never hope to match, especially in regard to military vehicles!).  2009 Warpath, on the other hand, is a fantastic "H-Tank" unlike anything out there in the real world.

If the disguise is less real-world accurate, though, the new version of Warpath is a superior toy on perhaps every other level, which is only to be expected.  In fact, although 2009 Warpath is a "Legends" class toy (one of the very smallest currently made), he boasts two separate legs and bendable elbows (the only "Legends" toy able to do this so far!), allowing for a good range of poses.  If you can find this toy (and good luck with that.  Like Cosmos, I've only found it at Rite Aid, and at a price comparable to most "Deluxe" class figures at Toys R Us or Target), I recommend picking it up.  Even 1985 Warpath can be purchased off of eBay for a reasonable price, and is worth it if you care about such old toys (but, if you do, and are reading this page, the odds are better than not that you've already bought a 1985 Warpath!).

Support this site! Before you go shopping on eBay, sign up for an account with Big Crumbs!  Besides eBay, they have partnerships with many sites online, and you can earn a percentage of your purchase back in cash.  This works just fine in conjunction with coupon codes or sales you might get from the site itself.  All you have to do is visit the site through the Big Crumbs link after signing up for an account.  Just sign up for Big Crumbs using the link here as your referral.  Check it out!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Matthew 11-15

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Matthew, chapters 11 through 15.  I'm still trying to find the balance between depth and brevity, so please bear with me if my comments are... well, "too shallow," especially compared to the past two weeks.

Chapter 11

  • Verses 2-3 - I find it interesting to note that, although John is in prison, he clearly has communication with his followers.  Although the same is obviously true of the Apostle Paul (or we wouldn't have some of the letters of his that we have), it makes me wonder about the nature of John's imprisonment.  What privileges is he granted?  What is he denied?  Also, having established John's belief that Jesus is... well, at least something special... earlier in Matthew, the fact that he sends people to ask if Jesus is indeed "the one who was to come" makes me wonder if John has lost some of the faith in Jesus that he had prior to his imprisonment, which itself makes me wonder about what the imprisonment is like.
  • Verse 11: "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." - This is a curious statement.  Is Jesus consciously leaving himself out of the "among those born of women" group (the fact of his own birth via Mary, established in the beginning of Matthew, notwithstanding), or is this perhaps some standard language that people of this time and culture used to describe all human beings?  (Hagner notes that "those born of women" is a Hebrew idiom, referencing Job 14:1 and 15:14, but he doesn't explicitly spell out the meaning of the idiom.1)
  • Verses 20-24 - Miracles are given for a particular purpose, but apparently these towns didn't follow through....
  • Verses 28-30 - I'm curious as to why this "yoke is easy... burden is light" passage follows so quickly upon the condemnation of those towns (and a bit regarding the relationship of the Father and the Son tossed in between them).  Contrast this section with Jesus' suggestion that the "easy" path "leads to destruction" in Matthew 7:13-14 (the ESV specifically uses the word "easy," although other translations use other language)
Chapter 12
  • Verse 5 - I definitely needed Hager's help on this one.  I've been reading and hearing this passage for years, thinking that Jesus was referencing some particular Old Testament passage regarding temple desecration... and not finding it, because that's not quite what Jesus is doing here.  As with the rest of this section, Jesus is talking about what's "lawful" to do on the Sabbath.  Here, Jesus is talking about the fact that priests "work" in the temple on the Sabbath (by offering sacrifices, for example), and since "work" is "unlawful" to do on Sabbath, what the priests do (and, indeed, must do by virtue of their role) could be argued to "desecrate" the temple.  But clearly, this kind of work isn't actually unlawful.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees how they have misread the law about what is appropriate to do on the Sabbath and what isn't.2
  • Verse 30: "Whoever is not with me is against me..." - I have commented elsewhere on the blog that there is another quote of Jesus that sounds very similar to this one, but which says the exact opposite.  Far from suggesting that we have to choose one version or the other, I'm struck by the fact that these two quotes (I assume the Lukan parallel to Mark is referencing the same incident as Mark), detailing two different incidents, both involve Jesus defending the right of a person (himself in Matthew, an "outsider" in Luke/Mark) to do good by casting out demons.  Clearly, the theme that doing God's work supersedes other considerations (specifically, in Matthew, the Pharisaic understanding of the law) is at play in both instances.  (In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that this interpretation disagrees with Hagner's3, although I'm going to go out on a limb and assert my right to do so.  Indeed, in the absence of actual evidence that the Pharisees did perform exorcisms4, I'm going to take a further step and wonder if Jesus' words in verse 27 are a dig against their failure to do such works.  However, even if I'm wrong in my assumption there, I think my interpretation of verse 30 still works.)
  • Verses 46-50 - Besides Jesus' redefinition of "family" to mean those who do God's will, I'm struck by the fact that Jesus' mother is mentioned here, yet in a not entirely positive light (not that she actually does anything, good or bad, here.  I wonder what she wanted to speak to Jesus about?).
Chapter 13
  • Verses 1-23 - So far, I have generally referenced a commentary by Dr. Hagner, one of the New Testament professors I studied under at Fuller Theological Seminary. For this parable, I am instead reminded of something I picked up in a class taught by Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson (who currently holds the same chair that Hagner held before his retirement).  Dr. Thompson comments on the common evangelical sermon on this passage as asking the question "What kind of soil are you?"  This question seems to confuse the roles of "soil" and "the one who cultivates the soil."  Soil can't do anything to itself to make it more fertile!  Instead, this parable is about the fact that God spreads blessings all over, including on areas that don't seem to produce results.  It (and, indeed, many of the other parables in this chapter) seems to have more to say about the apparent realities of the world, and about the nature of who God is, than it does about anything over which we humans have control.
  • Verses 10-15 - I'm not entirely clear as to why God/Jesus would want people not to understand his teachings.  Even so, it seems clear that not only does Jesus grant his disciples the insight as to what these parables mean, but that Matthew believes his readers to be entitled to this knowledge as well, given that he records Jesus' explanations to several of the parables contained in this gospel.
  • Verses 53-58 - I'm struck by the fact that Jesus is referenced as coming to his hometown here, a full chapter after we were told of his mother and siblings looking for him.  Where were his family members in chapter 12?  Why is this story related in this way? 
Chapter 14
  • Verses 1-12 - Matthew keeps dropping bits of John's story throughout the first half of his gospel, but now we get to John's death.
  • Verses 13-21 - The first of two mass-feeding miracles described in Matthew.  Although I've heard a number of scholars argue for a more scientifically-plausible "miracle of sharing" to explain these passages, it is difficult for me to imagine that Matthew understood this event in that way.  If this miracle was performed through everyone following the disciples' example and sharing what they had, I feel sure that Matthew would have recorded it differently.  Not that sharing what we have is a bad thing, of course!
  • Verse 31: "[W]hy did you doubt?" - I'm not sure what to do with this bit.  It is good Presbyterian belief to ascribe pretty much anything of Christian benefit to God, and not to any human agency, including belief5.  Yet, Jesus seems fairly clearly here to attribute Peter's ability to walk on water to Peter's belief and, more to the point, his failure to continue to do so to Peter's moment of doubt.  While I want to affirm the Bible over tradition whenever I'm aware of a conflict created by my tradition, this nonetheless sounds a bit too much like magic for my tastes.  (Note: I also maintain that the Bible cannot be interpreted except through some lens of tradition or another.  It's not an "either/or" proposition.)
Chapter 15
  • Verses 1-6 - Another passage where Jesus criticizes people for slavish adherence to a law (or tradition, in this case, since "(t)here is no OT commandment concerning the ceremonial washing of hands before the eating of ordinary meals."6) over doing good deeds.
  • Verse 12: "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" - What a mind-numbingly obvious question!  Having just criticized the Pharisees to their face, how would any reasonable person not know that they were offended?
  • Verses 21-28 - Another difficult passage.  Although Jesus does ultimately grant the woman's request, he seems disinclined to do so due to her Gentile heritage.  I don't want to read modern understandings of calling people "dogs" into this passage unnecessarily (it would certainly be racist to use such language today), it certain feels like a similar kind of usage (also in Matthew 7:6).  Besides Jesus' insistence that he was sent only to the people of Israel, I can't help but notice that he uses the same "lost sheep" formulation used earlier in Chapter 10.
  • Verses 29-38 - This passage is similar to the miraculous feeding in Matthew 14:13-21.  In fact, although the numbers are different, much of the language is identical in both versions.  While it seems clear that Matthew (and Mark, which shares this pair of stories) considers these two separate incidents, some scholars have wondered (especially noting that Luke and John only have one such story) if only one such feeding of the multitudes occurred7.  Personally, if one accepts that one miraculous feeding of thousands of people happened, it's not too great a stretch to allow for a second.

1Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993. p. 306.
2See Hagner, p. 329.
3See Hagner, p. 344.
4Hagner assumes (on p. 343) that the Pharisees, or more properly "those associated with (them)," are indeed performing exorcisms, but does not seem to provide any evidence of this outside of Jesus' remarks. My lack of awareness of such examples doesn't preclude the possibility, but I definitely read the passage differently.
5I'm not keen on getting into a debate on predestination, but one of the whole points of the predestination thesis is that God "chooses" us even before we "choose" belief in Christ.
6Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995. p. 430.
7For more details, see Hagner, Matthew 14-28, pp. 448-450.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Will the Real Baby Mark Please Stand Up?

Digging through the archives again.  This is one of the classic pictures from my childhood.  Babies and mirrors make for interesting shots.  You can also see my mom fairly clearly in one of the reflections, and that bright light is the flash from the camera being held by my great-aunt (who you can't really see).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Because I Can....

It's been especially crazy at work this past few days, so I'm a bit behind on my blog writing.  I think I'll just do a quick "I haven't forgotten" post by tossing up a picture of an item in my collection that is random enough that I can't imagine why I'd post it any other time--the teddy bear I was given when I was born.

Yeah, he's pretty ratty looking, but what do you expect from a teddy bear that's 35 years old?  I've had this guy my whole life, and he's not going anywhere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Matthew 6-10

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Matthew, chapters 6 through 10.

Chapter 6

  • Verses 1-18 - The formula "do not do X, like the hypocrites do" (or some variation) seems to pop up a few times in this chapter.  Jesus clearly wants his followers to have sincere intentions behind their actions.
  • Verses 7-13: The Lord's Prayer - Being a Presbyterian, I've always had a bias for the language of "debts," which is what the TNIV uses in the translation of Matthew's version of the Prayer (Luke's version, as we shall see later, uses a different Greek word, which is rendered "sins").  This seems to be the consensus among most (but by no means all) English translations, and Hagner notes that "(t)he concept of sin as a 'debt' owed to God has an Aramaic background."1  Yet this language is still a matter of controversy in cross-denominational conversations, as many denominations recite "trespasses" (some prefer "sins") in this part of the prayer (I was not able to find any translations on that used "trespasses" in the Lord Prayer as it appears in the Bible, although a few versions use "trespasses" in a related context in verses 14 and 15).  Some of this is no doubt a matter of tradition (even we Presbyterians still retain "King James English" when we recite the prayer, even though we've tended to abandon it elsewhere in favor of more modern language), but I do wonder why other denominations insist on using "trespasses" instead of "debts"?
  • Verses 22-23: "The eye is the lamp of the body..." - This passage caught me off-guard.  What could Jesus be talking about here?  Hagner definitely provided some help here by pointing out that the verses on either side of this bit both "refer to concern with wealth."  The "unhealthy" eye Jesus refers to here is "the 'evil eye' of Near Eastern cultures--an eye that enviously covets what belongs to another, a greedy or avaricious eye."2  Therefore, Jesus isn't talking about blindness in the physical sense, but rather about greed.
  • Verses 24-34: "Do not worry..." - Especially in these economic times, as we struggle so hard to make ends meet, being told "do not worry" about our material needs is hard to hear.  Speaking just for myself, Jesus sounds a little like he's saying that Christians shouldn't even be concerned about working hard (after all, the  birds and flowers don't, yet God takes care of them), which flies in the face of real-life experience.  Surely, some would say, this is a demonstration of a lack of faith on my part.  I don't want to defend myself too strenuously here, lest I protest too much, but I do notice that the context is, yet again, in Jesus talking about greed, and the apostle Paul certainly suggests that people need to work.  At what point does concern to exercise personal responsibility turn into worry?
Chapter 7
  • Verses 1-6 - How does one balance the need to avoid making judgment from the command not to give pearls to swine?  While Hagner does suggest that Jesus' words are not intended to command a prohibition against all judgment or discernment, and suggests an attitude of charity and humility3, it nonetheless seems to me that if God really does judge us on the same basis as we have used for others, we're all probably in trouble.
  • Verse 11: "Though you are evil" - And these are the people who follow Jesus he says this to!  Hagner suggests "sinful" rather than "evil" as the translation for the Greek word, but the tendency toward "moral degradation of all members of the human family" is still presupposed.4
  • Section ending in Verse 14 - whatever else might be said about "law" verses "grace" in Christian thought, these teachings of Jesus should make very clear that our actions matter.  (Compare with the comment on hypocrisy last chapter)
  • Verses 15-20 - About false prophets.  I wonder if it's an unfair application of these words to think about certain Christian leaders of our modern age.  People who have a lot to say about how Christians should act, or what we should believe, and yet who seem unable to produce "fruit" of love and charity in the world.  No doubt if I were to start a list, there would be a lot of disagreement about who should be on it, but I do nonetheless feel that, in keeping with the attitude of "actions matter," this is a teaching to take seriously. 
  • Verses 21-23 - The "actions matter" rubric does cause me some trouble, here, though.  When Jesus describes the words of those who will  be cast away as "evildoers," he actually has them presenting actions they claim to have done on his behalf.  Perhaps Jesus is speaking about hypocrisy again?  This is another section that I find troubling.  Who among us can possibly be found "right" under such a standard?
  • Verses 24-29 - Another strong "actions matter" teaching.
Chapter 8
  • Verses 5-13 - While I especially want to emulate the faith of those who, like the centurion, are commended by Jesus for it, I find myself wondering about those who, despite persistent prayer and petition (to say nothing of the prayers and petitions of others, since the centurion himself was asking for the healing of another person), are never healed.  Are we to suggest that their faith was less than the centurion's?  On what basis (besides their lack of having been healed)?
  • Verse 14: "Peter's mother-in-law" - Apparently Peter was married.  Blink and you'll miss it (actually, Hagner notes that this is also attested in I Cor. 9:5,5 but that's also pretty easy to miss).
  • Verse 19-22 - These responses to those who seem to wish to follow Jesus seem wedged in the middle of the narrative (both verses 18 and 23 reference Jesus looking to cross the lake).
  • There are quite a few miracles in this chapter.  Why does Matthew chose to include the ones he does? What do they demonstrate?
Chapter 9
  • Verses 1-8 - Leaving aside the matter of Jesus' authority to forgive sins, I'm struck by the connection made between the man's paralysis and his having sinned.  In this instance, Jesus seems to affirm that connection, just others of this time and culture so often did.  Contrast this with the blind man in John 9:1-3, of whom Jesus specifically says that his ailment is not caused by sin.
  • Verse 8: "God... had given such authority to human beings." -  Did the witnesses see Jesus's disciples also exercising such authority at this time (we are explicitly told that they can do such things only later)?  While my traditional understanding of this passage is that the witnesses were amazed that any human being (i.e., Jesus) could exercise such authority, the way Matthew phrases it here makes me second guess that assumption.  Hagner seems to think Matthew's use of language is odd, as well.6
  • Verse 9 - It seems a little late in the narrative for Jesus to still be calling members of the Twelve (specifically, Matthew, presumably the same Matthew who is considered responsible for this gospel), but then again, we don't get the full list until Chapter 10.  The pattern is more or less the same as seen with the other "apostolic callings" seen in Chapter 4 last week: Jesus calls, the disciples follow.  No questions asked.
  • Verse 14 - Presumably, the "John" referenced here is John the Baptizer, despite the fact that Matthew said that John was in prison at the time Jesus began his ministry.  Why are his followers asking this question, of a kind which we have come to expect from groups like the Pharisees?  Did John not teach them well enough?  Hagner notes that John himself was an aesthetic (note his eating habits described in Chapter 3)7, so perhaps it makes sense that John's disciples cared about fasting.
  • Verses 30-31 - A group of people were healed, and Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about it, yet they spread the news anyway (he'd given a similar instruction to a recipient of healing in Matthew 8:4, but we're not told whether or not that person obeyed the command).  Do these men suffer any consequences for their act of disobedience?  Should they have (if they didn't)?
Chapter 10
  • Verses 1-4 - This passage, where the Twelve are finally named, follows on the heels of the end of Chapter 9, where Jesus asks that his followers pray for workers to go "into (God's) harvest field."  Might this say something about the Twelve, setting them up as somehow distinct from Jesus' other followers in terms of their mission?  Or does such an interpretation risk sounding like only a few of Jesus' followers are asked to do the work of evangelism?  What about the Twelve's "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness"?  Is this to be considered unique or special to the Twelve, among Jesus' followers?
  • Verse 5 - Why were the Twelve specifically told not to go to the Gentiles (or the Samaritans) at this time?
  • Verse 10 - Jesus here tells his disciples not to bring a staff.  The parallel passage in Luke agrees, yet the one in Mark includes a staff among the limited number of items the disciples were allowed to bring with them?  Does this apparent discrepancy make understanding Jesus' intention more difficult?  How might this kind of difference have arisen?  Does the fact that God apparently allowed this kind of oddity to remain in God's Word give more or less credibility to the idea that these stories depict something that actually happened in history?
  • Verse 10: "for workers are worth their keep" - as a person seeking a career of paid employment in Christian service, can I just emphasize this part? :)
  • Verses 11-15 - Hagner makes comments that suggest to me that the expectation that other towns should welcome the Twelve and provide hospitality to them may be tied to Jesus' instructions to them only to travel among the "lost sheep of Israel" (i.e., and not to the Gentiles).  Such hospitality was already expected within this culture, but might not have been possible in outside lands where the Twelve did not share "commonalities" with the people they were going to meet.8
  • Verses 16-23 - Clearly, Jesus expects trouble for his disciples (or is this still just to the Twelve?  More on that in a second), and does not want them to be unaware of these dangers.  The reference to the coming of the Son of Man (Jesus' favorite term for himself) in Verse 23 is what makes this all hard to figure.  It sounds a lot like a reference to the Second Coming, but I see no indicator in the preceding verses to indicate this shift from the immediate context to such a future one.  Indeed, Jesus hasn't even mentioned his own death and resurrection just yet!
  • Verses 29-31 - This bit about sparrows reminds me of the exhortation not to worry (at the end of Chapter 6), despite the object of the worry (or lack thereof) having shifted from financial needs to persecution.
  • Verses 32-42 - This isn't some cream puff "anything goes" Jesus speaking here.  He commands full obedience, and clearly doesn't depict such obedience as being easy.  Yet, even here, he tells his followers that even a small action, giving a cup of cold water to a disciple, will be rewarded.  How do we hold these two extremes together?

1Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993. p. 150.
2Hagner, p. 158.
3Hagner, p. 169.
4Hagner, p. 174.
5Hagner, p. 209.
6See Hagner, p. 234.
7Hagner, p. 242.
8See Hagner, p. 269.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Game Show Board Games: Jeopardy! (Parker Brothers version)

Given that Jeopardy! has a history dating back more than 45 years, it's probably no surprise that there have been a lot of home versions produced.  Of the board game versions (that is, not counting any fully-electronic versions or various versions one might play on one's television set), I think the 1999 version by Parker Brothers is definitely the best.

It's not necessarily the one that most closely duplicates the actual gameplay.  Other legitimately "board game" versions had incorporated electronic buzzers at least as early as 1987, which certainly made the answer to the question "who buzzed in first?" much clearer than the little clickers that this 1999 version comes with (visible on the left-hand side).  The thing that makes this version stand out to me is the fact that this version actually incorporates six categories per round.   

Since the television version of Jeopardy! has always had six categories per round since the show's beginnings in 1964, the fact that no version had included a board with six categories previously may come as a surprise (TYCO did a couple of versions of Jeopardy! in the mid-1990's that used six individual category stands, rather than a single board.  This allowed for the correct number of categories, but had a rather different aesthetic and play pattern entirely.).  But take a moment and do the math on those dates.  It took board game designers 35 years to make a Jeopardy! board with space enough for six categories!  For some reason, all previous versions of the board game--and all versions made since--have used boards that only had five categories per round!  (Pictured here is the 9th Milton Bradley edition, which I believe is from 1972.)

Of course, game play for all these versions (excepting the TYCO versions) is more or less the same.  Pick a category and dollar amount (it's worth noting that both of these versions use outdated dollar amounts since the television show adopted its current dollar values in 2001), remove the corresponding tab to reveal a clue.  Click (or buzz) in first to be recognized by the "host" and give your response in the form of a question.  Correct questions add that dollar value to your total, incorrect questions require you to forfeit that much money.  Daily Double tabs are hidden on the board (one for the first round, two for the second) to allow you to bet however much money you want out of your current total (or up to the highest value on the board, provided you don't have that much) to respond to a clue without competition from the other contestants.  Then, after the second round is completed, all contestants wager how much of their totals to risk on a "Final Jeopardy!" clue that all must answer by writing their response on a piece of paper.

Actually, "Final Jeopardy!" is one more aspect that the Parker Brothers version of the game "gets right" that others generally haven't.  If you'll notice in the picture above, the Parker Brothers version has a dedicated space for "Final Jeopardy!" at the bottom of the board, below the rest of the spaces.  In most other versions of the game, the "Final Jeopardy!" tab is taken from one of the second-round clues, revealed in advance so that no one would pick that clue before that round is over.  The fact that I care about such things is, no doubt, just a side-effect of my generally over-zealous attention to detail.  But I think that the fact that I'm not "cheated" out of 11 full answers-and-questions per game is worth caring about!

EXTRA: If using all that funny-colored play money is too unwieldy for you, perhaps you might want to use the "Jeopardy! Challenger."  This little hand-held device from 1987 is basically just a glorified calculator designed to help fans keep their own score while watching the show.  My grandma found this one for me a few years back, and this seems like the best time I'm ever likely to have to mention this interesting and hard-to-find collectible, although, to tell the truth, I generally just use a pen and paper, anyway (both for watching the show and for keeping score on the board game versions).

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Kicks on 66: San Bernardino Wanderings

During Christmas vacation, I took advantage of one of my days off, during which I had to travel east anyway on an unrelated matter, to keep traveling east for a while, until I found myself in San Bernardino.  Specifically, I took the time to explore Route 66 in that area, with the help of my GPS, KITT.

I told KITT to take me to the "center of the road" in San Bernardino, but I'm wondering if I either did something wrong, or if the road has changed since the latest map was programmed in, because it clearly took me to the end of the road that it deposited me on.  I've never really been in San Bernardino before, and certainly would never have attempted the trip without the GPS in hand.  However, even at this "middle of nowhere" juncture, there were independent restaurants and establishments just around the corner.

Being at the end of the road, I at least had a clear path to follow to return to town, so I just followed the road for a while. Not too many buildings for quite a stretch, but I found myself in the main part of town soon enough.  One point of interest is the "Mitla Cafe," which I confess I'd never heard of before, but since it had a "Route 66" plaque on it, I figured I should snap a picture of it.

I've always known that Route 66 isn't exactly contiguous.  Indeed, parts of the road that used to be there years ago simply aren't any more.  Besides this being part the reason it was possible for me to be deposited at the end of the road earlier, I also discovered that just "staying on the road" while traveling through San Bernardino was no easy task.  In fact, to stay on "Route 66," I actually had to retrace my steps on three separate occasions as the "Route" took a turn when the road I was on didn't!  Still, with the help of KITT, I was always able to figure out where I needed to get to.

Toward the end of my journey, I found this unusual motel where all the rooms looked like "Wigwams" (to use the word they used.  I'd have called them "Teepees," myself.  If I'm reading Wikipedia correctly, my usage would be more correct, but who am I to tell the motel folks they got it wrong?).  The minute I saw these, I thought about the "Cozy Cone" in the Pixar movie CarsWikipedia suggests that this resemblance is indeed intentional.

But that's hardly a surprise.  Indeed, Route 66 is a huge part of what made Cars the movie that it is, with it's small(er) town values and distinctive establishments, and I found myself thinking of that movie quite a bit while I was enjoying my afternoon drive.  I'll have to take the time out to head back to San Bernardino sooner rather than later.  But now that vacation time's over, that will probably prove difficult.  Fortunately for me, there is still quite a bit of Route 66 to explore closer to home!

Monday, January 04, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: Matthew 1-5

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through Matthew, chapters 1 through 5.

Chapter 1

  • Verses 1-17 - There's really no way around it.  Whether reading through the genealogy or listening to it on audio, all those "X the father of Y" entries tend to blur together pretty quickly.  Why did Matthew chose to start the gospel in this way?
  • Verse 17 - Matthew makes a pretty big deal about there being three sets of 14 generations each from the time of creation to the birth of Jesus.  Why is 14 such an important number?  (I know about 7, being a number related to "perfection," so perhaps 14 is "2 times 7")  Although Hagner concedes he is not able "to conclusively... discern Matthew's intent in the 3 x 14 structure,"1 Matthew's intention to craft such a structure is obvious.  In fact, he had to leave out a few generations in his geneology to do so!2  I do not point this out to threaten anyone's doctrine of "inerrancy" or "infallibility," per se.  Indeed, I am concerned with them precisely because I think of the Bible as so important.  But obviously one's understanding of the Bible must take these kinds of apparent discrepancies into account.
  • Verses 18-25 - I'm finding it noteworthy that Matthew starts the narrative portion of his gospel from Joseph's perspective.  We don't even meet Mary at first, and only learn of her pregnancy through the eyes of Joseph.  Given how little Joseph features into the gospel narrative after Jesus' birth (indeed, if at all!), and how little Joseph is ever mentioned even in modern Christianity (except in conjunction with Mary, of whom much more has been written, despite the relative lack of attention given to her in Matthew's gospel), I find this remarkable.
  • Verse 23 - No doubt I'll still be "finding my way" over the next few weeks in terms of deciding how much depth to go into on these posts. It's tempting to comment on each of the prophecies and/or Old Testament passages that Matthew cites, but since he does so pretty often (in fact, Matthew cites over 60 Old Testament passages, "more than twice as many as any other Gospel"3), that would make for some very long entries, and besides not wanting to lose readers through sheer boredom, I'm not really writing a commentary.  So I'm going to try to balance a desire for depth with a need to write more generally about some of the basics.  Matthew goes to some lengths to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and says so explicitly a number of times (Hagner notes that Matthew uses "a formula containing the verb πληρουν, 'fulfill'" 10 times4) using passages and prophecies that probably weren't understood to be particularly "Messianic" by the original audience.  Verse 23 is a particularly interesting example, since the word translated as "virgin" in this verse uses a Greek word in Matthew that corresponds to the Greek word used in the Old Testament Septuagint, but which is perhaps not the best word to use to translate the original Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14, which doesn't necessarily denote a young woman who has never had sexual relations.  The Isaiah passage references a prophecy that was to be fulfilled in the immediate future of its original context, not solely in the birth of Christ several hundred years later.  Matthew's use of this prophecy, and others, is an indicator of how he sees Christ as the ultimate goal of God's activity throughout history.5
  • Verse 23: "Immanuel" - Even Matthew doesn't seem to think that this should actually have been Jesus' given name (the name never appears again in this gospel).  Thus, he must see this prophecy as a kind of "title" for Jesus.
Chapter 2
  • Verses 1-12 - How interesting that the tale of the Magi happens to fall in the same week during which this tale will be covered by the Lectionary (Epiphany is on January 6th).  I doubt that will happen all that often.
  • Verse 9: "the star... went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was" - A lot of commentators have suggested that the Bible depicts the star as actually moving about in the sky, using these words as a basis.6  The audio version I'm using puts special emphasis on these words to suggest this, as well.  While I expect they know what they're talking about, I have to admit that I've never really understood these words in this way when reading them on my own.  Rather (and I can't really explain why I've thought this way), I've tended to think of the "Christ star" as like Polaris, the "North Star" that navigators have used throughout the ages to find their way.  (Perhaps ironically, Polaris is useful because it is fixed in the sky in a way unlike most other stars, the exact opposite of what is said about the "Christ Star"!)  That a star (however stationary) would "go ahead" of a person following it simply strikes me as obvious.  How could it be any other way?
  • Verses 19-22 - Although I've read and heard this passage lots of times, I've always kind of glossed over the fact that Joseph and his family aren't done "running" even after Herod has died.  Matthew goes to some trouble to show that Joseph needed two dream warnings to finally end up in Nazareth.
Chapter 3
  • Verse 7: "You brood of vipers!" etc. - While I want to be careful about confusing an interpretation of a text with the text itself, I have to say, I really like how the audio version I'm listening to puts the rage in John the Baptizer's words.  However, I do wonder about John's outburst.  Did he not want them to repent?  I suspect that John would have unkind words for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, but whose lives do not demonstrate "fruit in keeping with repentance."
  • Verse 15: " fulfill all righteousness" - Jesus gives his reason for coming to John to be baptized, but I still don't really know what he means....  Hagner suggests that Jesus needed to be baptized to demonstrate "his solidarity with his people in their need."7 
    Chapter 4
    • Verses 1-11 - Although Jesus' temptations are illustrative for us, I similarly struggle with the question of why he would need to undergo this trial.
    • Verse 12 - I wonder, was John imprisoned shortly after baptizing Jesus, or some more considerable time later?  Did Jesus actively wait until after learning of John's imprisonment before starting his Galilean ministry, or is Matthew simply saying that this is the time that such ministry began?
    • Verses 18-20 - A key feature of these anecdotes of Jesus calling his disciples is that they immediately followed Jesus upon being called, but I wonder "what was the appeal?"  Fishermen, for example, catch fish to have food and to earn a living.  "Fishing for people" offers no such obvious financial benefit.  What was it about that promise that Andrew and Peter responded to?  Or, could Jesus have said pretty much anything, and they'd have followed him anyway?
    • Verse 22 - How did Zebedee feel about being left behind by his sons?  Why didn't he follow Jesus, too?
    Chapter 5
    • As with the Old Testament prophecies, I'm trying to balance the temptation to comment on each of the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount with the need for (comparative!) brevity.
    • Verses 1-12 - Jesus offers blessings to people who clearly need it.  Do only these kinds of people receive blessings, or is this a particular encouragement to those who need it most?
    • Verse 13 - I've always been a bit thrown by the reference to salt losing "its saltiness," since it is my understanduing that salt is a particularly stable compound that simply doesn't lose its properties in this way.  Hagner suggests that Jesus may be referring to salt "derived from the Dead Sea by evaporation" which may also contain "crystals of another mineral (gypsum) that can easily be mistaken for salt,"8 but which of course would not have salt's taste nor its preservative characteristics.
    • Verse 17-20 - One wonders why people might have thought, in Jesus' time, that Jesus was coming "to abolish the Law or the Prophets."  Was there something about Jesus' ministry that suggested to these early followers (I assume he didn't care so much what the Pharisees thought) that Jesus didn't care about the Law?  It's a bit easier for me to understand why people might make that assumption today, after Jesus' death and resurrection, and the establishment of the New Testament canon.  It's harder to see how people made that assumption at the time. 
    • Verse 22 - Why do modern translations leave "Raca" untranslated (and therefore needing unpacking for any modern reader to understand), yet go ahead and translate "you fool" so that we can understand it?
    • Verses 29-30 - I've heard a lot of debates about whether Jesus intended that these instructions that followers should maim themselves should be taken literally or not.  I can't help but notice that very few of even the most conservative of Jesus' modern followers seem to actually follow through on these instructions, even if they argue academically that Jesus did indeed mean them to be taken literally.

    1Dr. Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary), Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993. p. 7.
    2Hagner, p. 11.
    3Hagner, p. liv.
    4Hagner. p. liv.
    5See Hagner, pp. lv-lvi, 20.
    6For example, see Hagner, p. 30.
    7Hagner, p. 57.
    8Hagner, p. 99.


    Next Week

    Friday, January 01, 2010

    The New Testament in a Year

    I'm going to start a new project here on the blog.  I hope to get through the entire New Testament in a year.  This project was inspired partially by a news article through the PC(USA) about a church that challenged its congregation to get through the entire New Testament in just 63 days, but I honestly see that as an unreasonable pace for most churchgoers.  Indeed, the article itself seems to acknowledge this, but says that "the challenge is not meant to make anyone feel pressured to keep up."  In fact, the pastor says, “If they fall a little bit behind, that’s OK. They can come to worship or a group and just pick up wherever we are....Our main goal is to get them involved.”

    But the pastor's good (and apparently successful) intentions notwithstanding, the more I think that pace through, the more I am convinced that I don't want to do the same thing.  63 days is roughly two months.  So, about 8, maybe 9 Sundays?  That's actually a pretty short sermon series when one considers that we're talking about the entire New Testament (although the church was supporting this by many different means,  not just sermons).  I'm certainly not going to try to replicate that here.

    So, if not 63 days, why a full year?  Trying to do the New Testament on a blog in a year is, in some sense, a bit arbitrary, but I thought about the fact that many Christians have attempted the entire Bible in a year, and I even have one of those "one year Bibles" on my shelf at work.  Still, I've found that to be too much for me, personally, let alone what I think is reasonable for the average, non-seminary-trained believer.  The New Testament is considerably shorter than the Old Testament, and indeed works out fairly well to 5 chapters a week.  I think I can manage that, and I think it's a challenge that most of my readers can manage, should they desire to do so.

    So, that's the goal.  A "New Year's Resolution," if you like.  Starting on Monday, I'll post a link to roughly five chapters worth of the New Testament each week (I may add or subtract a chapter in a given week if I feel that context calls for it), including a brief run-through of my responses to each set, with the goal of finishing the entire New Testament by the end of 2010.

    I'll be back on Monday with Matthew chapters 1-5.


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