Saturday, July 27, 2013

Peet’s vs. Intelligentsia

Upon recommendation by a friend I ordered a couple bags of Intelligentsia coffee. I couldn’t order it direct because they only ship UPS now and, uh, shipping for a single bag was $55…! (They had a USPS option that seemed to work, too, but even that was $12.) Anyhow, a few selections were available on Amazon so I ordered two, 12 oz. bags (to get their free shipping) of the House Blend ($27 total).

For the past decade or so, I’ve almost exclusively used Peet’s. I’ve personally found this brand the best of the widely available brands. Even so I have to get it shipped since the groceries here don’t carry Peet’s. The cost is usually around $35 (with shipping) for two 1 lb. bags.

From a cost perspective then, the two brands are comparable at around $1.10/oz.

I had a taste test this morning. I ground up a cup’s worth of each, placed them into a cup, and boiled some water in a pot.

The Intelligentsia House Blend (IHB) looks like a medium-light roast. The Peet’s Café Domingo (PCD) is a medium roast.

I found that the IHB has a much more lively, fruity and floral aroma with hints of nuts and chocolate. The PCD just couldn’t compare in this regard. There just wasn’t much there beyond the “coffee” aroma.

I added a bit of water to the grounds to let them “bloom.” The IHB continued to develop its aromas. The PCD remained flat in comparison.

I poured in more hot water to continue the brewing and then gave each a taste. The IHB had a more lively taste to it. The PCD was darker and more mellow. I ran each through a filter into a mug to continue sampling. The IHB definitely is a lighter, more lively coffee with a definite acidity to it. The PCD is smooth and mellow with virtually no acidity.

My verdict is that they are both very good in their own ways. They are so different it is difficult for me to say which one is better. I’m not a huge fan of coffees with acidity so in this regard the Peet’s wins out. But I do like the more complex aromas and flavors that the IHB offers. For me the contest ended up more or less a draw.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Assuming identification with the good guys

While reading the New Testament stories, when was the last time you identified with the Jewish leaders: the priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Scribes? When was the last time you pictured yourself as belonging to a group set to discredit Jesus and his apostles?

Through preaching, teaching, and reading we are conditioned to identify with the disciples and the apostles. With Jesus, too, though maybe not quite so explicitly as with the disciples. We are conditioned to view the Jewish leadership personas as the Evil Empire out to destroy Good. We are conditioned to assume that we are the persecuted and never the persecutor. Which is why, I believe, there is hardly ever a sermon or discussion where Christians are challenged to view themselves as ones who may be working against God’s will, who may be persecuting his true followers (who certainly don’t belong to my particular branch of Christianity or may not even go by the name “Christian”).

We are conditioned to believe that the Jewish leadership should have known better in regards to Jesus, the gospel message, and the apostles that taught the gospel. We are conditioned to assume the Jewish leaders realized and knew that their positions were all wrong and that Jesus and the apostles were right. We have been taught that the leadership were in knowing rebellion against the truth. But what if our assumptions are inaccurate and wrong?

But doesn’t the New Testament portray the Jewish leadership in opposition to Jesus and the truth? Yes. But the New Testament is not history – at least not history in the modern, academic sense of the word. It is more catechism, Christian propaganda, and at best a biased recollection of events flavored with strong overt purposes and agendas. As with any ideological movement, the early material that is produced must strongly differentiate between us vs. them (see any early writings of denominations to see this effect). These materials have to exaggerate the differences and keep silent where the opposition might gain sympathy.

Actual historical work paints a far more nuanced picture of the New Testament stories. The Jewish leadership believed they were right, and the holders and defenders of truth. They believed they had the correct picture of God. They believed that relationship with God was through their understandings, their doctrines, their traditions, their beliefs.

And then a splinter group comes along and beings telling them that their understanding is wrong, that God is far bigger and accepting than they had assumed and taught.

They are not fighting for their honor, but for God’s. They honestly believe that the splinter group is teaching lies about God. The splinter group is too liberal. This group is out to destroy the moral fabric of society with its new teachings. The TRUTH must be defended at all costs. Phinehas of the Old Testament (Numbers 25:10ff) was commended by God for personally going out and executing those who would bring lies, falsehood, and immorality into God’s community of Israel. Why shouldn’t the Jewish leaders do the same in regards to the splinter group who appear to be having the same effect in their contemporary Jewish society? God would be pleased, they believe.

So they seek to destroy Jesus and the apostles. All in the name of God, in the name of defending his name, his honor, his laws, his will, his morality.

Do you see any parallels with Christians – with us – today?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another Look at the Upper Room—Part 2—Lucan Parable of the Serving Master

Before I explore John 13 in more detail, I'd like to take a look at a parable recorded in Luke 12:35-38. Why this parable? Because in it the master of the house is depicted serving his slaves/servants. This post is based on chapter 29 of Kenneth E. Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, in which he discusses this parable.


[Luke 12:35] "Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, [36] and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. [37] Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. [38] If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! (ESV)


Without going into a large amount of detail, the literary structure supports ending the parable with verse 38. Luke 12:39-48 is a new unit. (For those so inclined, compare parables in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, and also see Dr. Bailey's discussion of corresponding text in Poet and Peasant dealing with the "Jerusalem Document" and parable boundaries, p. 80-81, 108-109).


From Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Figure 29.1


Let your waist be girded

Servant (prepared)


And your lamps burning,

Servant (prepared)


And be like people who are expecting their master

Servant (alert)


    when he withdraws from the wedding banquet,

    Master (comes)


    so that when he comes and knocks,

    Master (comes)


Immediately they may open to him.

Servant (alert)


Blessed are those slaves

Slaves - blessed


    who coming, the master finds awake.

    Master - comes/finds


        Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself

        Master - serves


            and cause them to recline [to eat],

              "               "


        and come to them and serve them.

              "               "


    If (in the second or third watch),

    he comes and finds thus,

    Master - comes/finds


Blessed are those slaves.

Slaves - blessed


The choice of English words used to translate the passage and the phrase ordering become important so I have reproduced Dr. Bailey's translation in the table above.


The rhetorical style is important in identifying the main point of the parable. What we can see is that the parable consists of three stanzas. The first stanza sets the scene. The second stanza expands on the first by incorporating new material in the middle two lines. The third stanza repeats the motifs of the first two stanzas but expands the parable with an astonishing climax in its center.


A brief outline of the parable's rhetorical structure is as follows (from Bailey, c.f., third column of above table):


Stanza 1

Servants prepared

Servants prepared

Stanza 2

Servants alert

Master comes

Master comes

Servants alert

Stanza 3

Servants blessed

Master comes/finds

Master serves the servants

Master comes/finds

Servants blessed


Stanza One sets the initial scene. Girding one's waist with a belt indicates that the person is ready to work and/or travel. It tightens the loose-fitting robes around one's self so that it does not get in the way of strenuous activity. A directive to keep lamps burning places the scene in the evening, as darkness begins to fall.


Stanza Two adds more details. We learn why the servants are directed to be ready for activity. We also note two key translation differences between common English translations and the words Dr. Bailey has selected.


The first alternate translation is found in the first line of stanza two. The difference may appear trivial but it connotes a significant change in feeling. The ESV reads, "And be like men who are waiting for their master." Bailey translates this as, "And be like people who are expecting their master." Waiting conveys a passive feeling, something that is simply routine and ho-hum, a sense that the servants are sitting around looking at the clock. Expecting conveys a much more active feeling, a sense of great anticipation, and the servants are preparing for an imminent return.


The second alternate translation is found in the second line of stanza two. The ESV reads, "The master to come home from the wedding feast." Bailey translates this line as, "When he withdraws from the wedding banquet." The ESV translation conveys the image that the wedding feast is done and as a result the master is returning home. Bailey's translation (based on Syriac and Arabic texts) paints a picture where the wedding feast is still in progress and the master has temporarily and quietly taken leave of the feast to come to the servants. Bailey writes,


"I find this translation more authentic to the larger world of New Testament images into which this parable must be placed. This often-neglected option [to use "withdraw" rather than "come home"] brings added nuances to the story. If the master returns home after the party is over, then the reason for his return is obvious. The party is over -- of course he returns home. But if he withdraws from the party while it is in full swing, the reader wants to know why is he doing so?" (370)


We get to the third line in stanza two where the master comes and knocks. Bailey writes that in the Middle Eastern culture, only strangers knock on doors at night. Normally a person known to the house would vocally announce their presence. Those inside, upon hearing a familiar voice would open the door. They generally would not open the door to a stranger knocking.


Here again our images of the parable are challenged. We have typically interpreted the wedding feast occurring at some other location, separate from the master's house. But what is actually happening is that the wedding feast is taking place at the master's house. The master is knocking on an inside door. The servants are in a secure location. It is not a stranger on the outside coming unannounced. They can safely open the door. The master knocks (quietly) rather than announcing himself because he does not want to alert the other party-goers to his temporary withdrawal.


The third stanza reveals why the master has withdrawn from the feast to come to the servants, now identified as slaves (in the first two stanzas, the precise standing of the 'servants' are still unclear). So the master has come to the lowest of the low (according to the social standings of the time).


First it is said that the servants are blessed. The word 'blessed' is makarios (most famously in the Beatitudes), a state that is not in the future, but a condition that is already present. In other words these slaves are not blessed because they have kept awake, lamps burning, and opened the door. The slaves do these things because they are already in a state of makarios. They are expecting their master to come to them, even in the middle of the night, even while the wedding feast is going on in another part of the house.


The surprise and the main point of this parable is found in the center of this third stanza (3-cdc'). The servants/slaves are expecting to serve the master upon his return, but in a dramatic twist the master immediately girds up his robes in preparation for doing work -- lowly work such as scrubbing the floor. Bailey writes, "Only lower-class servants and slaves, belt their robes [in preparation for work]." (372)


The master commands the servants to recline at the table [triclenium]. They cannot refuse. The slave is no longer a slave. There is only one reason why they have been ordered to recline at the table. It is for a meal. But from where is the food to come? It is the duty of the slaves to prepare the food, but the master had been at the feast. The slaves had no reason to expect the need to prepare food.


We now discover the reason the master slipped away from the wedding feast. Amid the celebration he thought about his servants, allocated portions from the feast itself, and took these portions to them. He then proceeded to serve the servants. The master did not call upon another servant to take the food out, but he himself did all the work, even going so far as to do it quietly so as to not draw attention to himself. Such an action would be utterly inconceivable and against the entire culture of social hierarchy and honor.


Why did I choose to spend so much space discussing this Lucan parable? Because I believe it informs and provides details that can guide our interpretation of the Upper Room event of John 13.


In the Upper Room event Jesus girds himself just as in the parable. Jesus is making himself a slave, one lower than the lowest disciple. The astonishment of the disciples (exemplified by Peter's protest) at Jesus' action is understandable. Jesus does not order angels or other human beings to do his work, but comes to the disciples himself, just as the master did in the parable. The disciples are called blessed (makarios) in John 13:17, as were the servants in the parable. The Upper Room event is a taste of the wedding feast that is going on now. We are already blessed. Jesus' actions changes our standing. We are no longer slaves, but partners and friends of Jesus (John 15:15). We do not know precisely when Jesus will return, but we know that he will return. And so we wait, not sitting around and staring at the clock, but in expectant activity.


The gospel writers are different, but the parallels between the parable and the Upper Room event are far too many and related to be given over to mere coincidence. Jesus taking on the position of a slave in order to serve and elevate the standing of his disciples (even knowing the ones who would betray and deny him) appears to be the theme of the Upper Room story.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Another Look at the Upper Room–Part 1–Introduction

This is a short series where I take another look at what happened in the Upper Room immediately preceding Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. In part 1 I provide a little personal background as to why this is significant to me.

I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist faith tradition. Adventist churches followed a general rule that Communion be held once a quarter, for a total of four times a year. In many churches, Communion Sabbath, as it was called, would often see attendance diminish. This may seem strange and inexplicable to those outside Adventism. Why would people stay away from such an important observance?

There are at least two reasons that I believe contribute to this phenomenon.

The primary reason is that in the Adventist tradition, the bread and juice portion of Communion is preceded by a foot washing service, called the Ordinance of Humility, where church members would separate by gender (though some churches also have "family" rooms) to wash one another's feet. This can be cause for considerable discomfort for nearly all involved.

Why, if it is the source of so much discomfort continue to do so? Why do people participate in spite of the discomfort? First, it is one of the official services of the church (c.f., Church Manual). Tradition ascribes to this ritual the preparing of one's heart, through a reminder of forgiveness of sins implied by the act of washing and the proper attitude of humility through participation, to partake of the bread and juice in a worthy manner (c.f., 1 Corinthians 11:27-29). Non-participation, then, induces a sense of guilt.

Thus some who would rather not participate choose to skip the service altogether.

The second reason is that all this adds up to what is frequently a lengthy service. It isn't always predictable as to how much time the whole thing will take. With kids, lunch, afternoon plans it's much easier to just skip this once-a-quarter ordeal.

The primary basis in the Adventist church for practicing washing feet as part of Communion is derived from John 13:14-15 where Jesus is recorded saying,

"If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (ESV)

A secondary basis (though some might argue, this is the primary basis) is found in the writing of Ellen G. White where she expounded greatly (c.f., Desire of Ages) on the meaning of this act by Jesus.

The Adventist church is one of the few denominations to take a very literal interpretation of these two texts. It hinges on the phrase "you also should do just as I have done to you" and the interpretation that the referent of "example" is "washed your feet."

Lest you might think otherwise, I don't intend any of this as a disparagement of Adventist tradition or beliefs. As I've participated in Communion at quite a few non-Adventist churches over the last several years, I've found that Communion is not regarded as an almost-dreaded experience in these churches. (I hasten to add that this is my personal experience and observation. I write this based on a sample size of one, which means the margin of error is rather high.) I find the difference curious and intriguing. What did Jesus intend when he said, "You also should do just as I have done to you"?

I was reading John 13 a few days ago and noticed that John 13:34 contains words and phrases that are very similar to John 13:15.

John 13:15
For I have given (δίδωμι [didōmi]; "commanded") you an example, that you also should do just as (καθώς [kathōs]) I have done to you.

John 13:34
A new commandment I give (δίδωμι [didōmi]) to you, that you love one another: just as (καθώς [kathōs]) I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

That got me thinking: what if the "example" of verse 15 is not the washing of feet, but what is underneath it—love? One commentary points out that Jesus did not say "do what I have done" but rather "do as I have done," a subtle but, possibly, significant difference.

What clinched for me the conclusion that the "example" Jesus commanded was not the washing of feet but love comes at the very beginning of the Upper Room episode in John:

John 13:1
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [emphasis mine]

This sets the stage and the theme of John's recounting of the Upper Room story. It is a story that describes what "loving to the end" looks like. So it should not be surprising that the command to love one another as Jesus loved them is given twice: in the center and once more at the end of the story.

In support of this line of thought is that the two named disciples who interact with Jesus are Judas Iscariot and Peter—the first, a betrayer, and the second, a denier.

With these broad thoughts in place I'd like to take a closer look at John 13: another look at the Upper Room.

Every commentary and study Bible has outlines and thematic groupings of verses in this chapter. Here is how I chose to organize the chapter:

  1. Jesus loves to the end (John 13:1)
  2. Scene 1
    1. Jesus knows his betrayer (13:2)
    2. Example of love (13:3-11)
    3. Command to love (13:12-16)
    4. Result of loving (13:17-20)
  3. Scene 2
    1. Jesus reveals his betrayer (13:21-26a)
    2. Example of love (13:26b-30)
    3. Command to love (13:31-34)
    4. Result of loving (13:35)
  4. Jesus knows who will deny him at the end (13:36-38)

Notice how the arrangement of the story seems to revolve around Jesus' knowledge of what some of his closest disciples will do, yet he continues to love them. I believe that is the theme of this story.

Here is my posting plan for this series on the Upper Room:

  1. Introduction [this post]
  2. Lucan parable [Luke 12:35-38]
  3. John 13, Part 1 [A & B]
  4. John 13, Part 2 [C & D]
  5. Concluding Comments

Sunday, July 14, 2013

To question God or not

In this piece I discuss two vastly different conclusions one reaches from the final chapter of the book of Job depending on whether s/he reads the Hebrew/Aramaic based translations or the Septuagint.

The last chapter of the book of Job in the Old Testament reads more or less as follows in most English translations.

Job 42 (ESV)
1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 "I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? '
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ' Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me. '
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes."

According to the above reading Job appears to be repenting (c.f., verse 6b) of his earlier questioning of God. In verses 3 and 4 Job appears to be quoting questions that God asked of him [Job] some chapters back (c.f., 38:2, 3). With this reading the conclusion the reader might come to is that it isn’t right to question God about things that we don’t understand, that God considers such questions meaningless and offensive.

But is this reading the only one?

Let’s take a look at the Septuagint (LXX) reading. History reveals that the LXX is the scripture text that Jesus, the Apostles, the Jews, and the early Christians had in front of them. The Old Testament text that we English readers have is a much later discovery. How would they have read this passage?

Iob 40a (NETS)
1 Now Iob said in reply to the Lord: 2 "I know that you can do anything,
and nothing is impossible for you.
3 For who is it that hides counsel from you,
and being sparing with words thinks to hide them from you as well?
But who will tell me what I did not know,
great and marvelous things that I did not understand?
4 Now hear me, Lord, that I too may speak;
then I will question you, and you, teach me!
5 Whereas before I would hear an aural report of you,
now, however, my eye has seen you;
6 therefore I disparaged myself and wasted away,
and I regard myself as dust and ashes."

When comparing the LXX to our English, we may notice the following:

  1. Verses 1 and 2 remain the same
  2. Divergence begins with verse 3. Instead of a statement that Job has uttered words in ignorance (EN), it is a series of questions that Job poses to God (LXX): Who is able to hide knowledge from you? Who then, is best able to reveal them to me?
  3. In verse 4, rather than a quote of God from earlier (EN), it is another question that Job poses to God (LXX): You’ve been speaking and asking of me for a while now. Let me now speak and ask you questions so that you can teach me and I can learn from you.
  4. Verse 5 remains the same.
  5. Verse 6 is profoundly different. Rather than the interpretation “repent in dust and ashes” (EN) the LXX interprets this phrase as “I regard myself as dust and ashes.” What Job appears to be expressing is the the surprise and astonishment that God has actually responded to his [Job’s] earlier demands that he be granted an audience with God. It is not a sense of remorse, that he has somehow done wrong or spoken out of place, but a sense of awe. I think it is best to interpret verses 5 and 6 together as using poetic parallelism:

a: Whereas before I would hear an aural report of you,
b: Now, however, my eye has seen you;

a’: Therefore I disparaged myself and wasted away,
b’: And I regard myself as dust and ashes.

What Job appears to be saying is that when all he had were second-hand reports about God, he [Job] thought he was just a pawn being tossed about in the winds of fate. But now that Job has seen (experienced in-person) God’s presence, Job no longer belittles himself, but he understands how little he knows and understands. Job sees himself in a position where he has much to learn from God.

The conclusion of this comparison is that the interpretation that we get from reading the translations from the Septuagint is vastly different from what we get from the Hebrew/Aramaic. One seems to imply that excessive questioning of God’s mysteries is wrong. The other implies we should and must.

a Chapter numbering differs between LXX and modern translations. NETS employs the phonetic translation of Job—Iob [ey-ob].

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Fourth of July in PSG - 2013

A photo album and a couple of videos of the celebrations that took place in Petersburg this Fourth. (I was too lazy to go out for the fireworks.)

Some scenes from the parade: PVFD, EMS, Lutheran Church, Ragnarok Rollers, and the Grand Marshall.

A few of the street games that took place in the afternoon. Slow bike race, 2x6 stomp, giant trike race.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Unfundamentalist Christian Statement of Beliefs

I've debated for some time whether or not to try to craft a list of beliefs that reflect my positions in regards to religion, spirituality, and Christianity. Doing so could help others understand at a glance how I see things. On the other hand it might just pigeonhole me. While browsing my morning news and blog updates today I found the About page for Unfundamentalist Christians founded by John Shore. While I don't agree with every detail there, in the whole it does articulate my position quite well. For now then, I will point to it as my statement of beliefs.