Thursday, December 30, 2010

Take Your Pick

The big race starts in just a couple of days!

Looking for a 3-peat are Volkswagen with their race Touareg:

We've already seen BMW's newest entry (the Mini... which is really just as much X3 as it is Mini). But they've also got their usual fleet of X5s:

The French Team Dessoude will be entering their usual selection of Nissans: (the interesting stuff starts at about 2:20)

And, of course, Robby Gordon will be back in his Hummer!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Get Ready for it...

For me one of the biggest highlights of the sporting year is the annual Dakar Rally.

For those of you unfamiliar with this extraordinary event, it is a 16 DAY rally race including motorbikes, quads, SUVs, and big trucks. This year the rally returns to Argentina and Chile.

Normally I've been a Mitsubishi guy, but with Mitsubishi's withdrawal a few years ago I've taken up cheering for the BMW X-Raid team... especially once I saw that they were entering a MINI in this year's race!!!

If you care, follow the race on OLN or on their YouTube channel. This year's race runs from Jan.1-16.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Meditation

This is a brief excerpt from Augustine's Confessions as he ponders the meaning of Jeremiah 23:24 which says, "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord." (my emphasis)

[1.3] (all the "you"s are referring to God) "Do heaven and earth, then, contain the whole of you, since you fill them? Or, when once you have filled them, is some part of you left over because they are too small to hold you? If this is so, when you have filled heaven and earth, does that part of you which remains flow over to some other place? Or is it that you have no need to be contained by anything, because you contain all things in yourself and fill them by reason of the very fact that you contain them? For the things which you fill by containing them do not sustain and support you as a water-vessel supports the liquid which fills it. Even if they were broken to pieces, you would not flow out of them and away. And when you pour yourself out over us, you were not drawn down to us but draw us up to yourself; you are not scattered away, but you gather us together.

"You fill all things, but do you fill them with your whole self? Or is it that the whole of creation is too small to hold you and therefore holds only a part of you? And is this same part of you present in all things at once, or do different things contain different parts of you, greater or smaller according to their size? Does this mean that one part of you is greater and another smaller? Or are you present entirely everywhere at once, and no single thing contains the whole of you?"

There's no doubt that trying to wrap one's mind around the immensity of God is an exercise in futility!

... and this mind-bogglingly BIG God became a human baby...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chritsmas, Trees, and the Beginning and End of Time

In past Christmas seasons I've blogged about all sorts of different aspects of our Christmas traditions. Usually I just pick a pet peeve and sort of "have at it." In typical post-modern fashion I've picked apart perceived portions of the narrative that I think are inaccurate; things like the non-existent inn, the time frame of the magi, the date of Christmas itself, and the whole "x"mas thing.

But I was reminded, as I was picking out our Christmas tree for this year, that I haven't blogged about the origins of the Christmas tree yet. So, maybe you'll know some of this, maybe you won't. Either way, here it goes:

Many people have tried to claim that the Christmas Tree has more roots in paganism than in Christianity. Certainly a case can be made; there are all sorts of different pagan religions that have used evergreens in their religious symbolisms. Naturally, these are also often in connection with the winter solstice. This just makes sense, 'cause what other symbol would you want to use to remind you of life and hope in the middle of winter than the only plant that is still alive and green!

There are a number of good examples of this: winter solstice in ancient Egypt involved decorations of green date palms. In Rome it was evergreen boughs for the celebration of Saturnus, the god of agriculture. In old Britain the druids put evergreen boughs over their doors to ward away evil spirits. And other northern European religions had traditions like the yule log.

None of these are anything quite like the Christmas tree, but you can see how people would extrapolate these pagan traditions and use them to explain away the origins of the Christmas tree. After all, there's nothing more that some people like than to "prove" that Christianity is really just a complex amalgamation of older pagan religions.

Anyway, regardless of it's questionable pagan origins, the vast majority of people agree that the Christmas Tree itself originated in Germany. There are two very interesting tales that root the Christmas Tree's origins to Christianity: Boniface & Luther.

St. Boniface was as missionary to the Germanic/Frankish people in the 700s AD. The story goes that one day Boniface ran into a large group of people worshiping a pagan god under an oak tree. As he had been ministering to these people for quite some time now, out of anger and frustration he ran over to the oak and started to chop it down. Of course, the people were shocked and warned him of the "heresy" he was committing, but Boniface (in very Elijah-like style) simply said that if the god was real he could strike him dead for this blasphemy... and continued to chop down the tree.

Well, the tree fell and Boniface was still alive, so the people converted to Christianity. It was then noted that in the place where the oak had once stood a fir tree grew in its place. This was then taken as a symbol of the supremacy of Christianity and Boniface supposedly then used the triangular shape of the fir tree to teach the people about the trinity.

Well, that doesn't quite take us right up to the Christmas Tree, but it shows us an early origin of the evergreen tree as a symbol of Christianity over and above paganism.

The other story takes us right into the period of the Reformation. This story goes that, after being ousted from the Catholic Church, Martin Luther had a lot of time on his hands and spent a significant amount of that time roaming the woods of Germany, thinking about his beliefs and the beliefs of the Church.

Well, one evening on Christmas Eve, Marty was walking through the woods and was struck by the astounding beauty of God's creation. He was blown away by the beauty of a stand of fir trees in the snow, lit by moonlight and stars. Trying to explain this experience to his family, but unable to put it into words, he went out and cut down a tree, brought it into his house, and then decorated it with candles. Since it was Christmas Eve Luther then taught his children about how Jesus, whose birth they were about to celebrate, was the light of the world. From then on, this tradition spread among Protestants as an alternative to the Nativity Scenes that the Catholics had become so enraptured with (Francis of Assisi started that one!).

So, whether these stories are to be taken at face value, are purely fictional, or are legendary in the sense that they have a seed of historical fact, I leave up to you... but such are the Christian origins of the Christmas Tree.

The only other thing that I'll mention is this: if anybody has the right to claim trees as a religious symbol it is Christians (and perhaps Jews). After all, the Bible uses trees as its "bookends":

In the beginning we see: Genesis 2:9 (ESV) 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

And in the end we see: Revelation 22:1-3 (ESV) 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

As I did a quick search I found literally dozens upon dozens of different passages that use trees as symbols for our faith. This post is already too long as it is, so I'll just leave you with these:

Psalms 92:12 (ESV) 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

Proverbs 11:30 (ESV) 30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV) 12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 15:4 (ESV) 4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV) 7 "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yesterday, and the Day Before

So, as I hinted at yesterday, this last Monday we took a trip into the forest to find, cut down, and bring home our Christmas tree. It's become a bit of a Christmas tradition in our family.
[Some of these pictures were just taken with my phone, so please forgive the lack of quality]

There was a fair bit of snow, so it was a lot of fun driving in.

It was a beautiful day. The temperature was about -10*C and not much for wind; a great day for a walk in the woods.

Unfortunately, Juanita caught the flu the night before so she couldn't come. Fortunately, Auntie Jess was willing to carry Luke around so he could still come on his first tree run.
We found our tree...
... strapped it on the Jeep...
... set it up at home...
... and then, yesterday, we decorated it.

It was a great day to spend in God's amazing creation with good friends and family!

And yes, this is a picture of a Jeep pulling a Ford up a hill! ;)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I found a Unicorn!

Yup, I found a unicorn... in the BIBLE!

Well, sort of.

I've been reading through the Psalms for my regular devotions, and to mix it up I've been reading them in the Septuagint (LXX); yes, I'm on a bit of a LXX kick.

Anyway, just yesterday I was reading through the famous Ps 22 when I bumped right into a unicorn. Needless to say, neither of us were expecting it, but neither me nor the unicorn were hurt in any way, so I think we're all good.

Any normal translation will read something along the lines of this:
Psalms 22:21 (ESV) "Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!" [ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT, NKJV all say "wild oxen"]

What I read in the LXX was:
Psalm 21:22 [22:21] (SAAS) "Save me from the lion's mouth, My humiliation from the horns of the unicorns."

That I know of, there are only 3 published English translations of the LXX (Sir Lancelot Brenton's, the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint [SAAS], and the New English Translation of the Septuagint [NETS]) and they all have "unicorn" in this verse!

The word here is "monovkerwV" (monokeros) meaning simply, "one-horn" (mono = one; keras = "horn"). So, with the help of my old Greek prof, we put together the following:

- The LXX is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament).
- This translation was done by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt
- The term "wild oxen" has been taken to be referring to an antelope type animal known as an "oryx"
- In Egypt, the hieroglyph for oryx is something that looks a lot like: ó
- Based on the hieroglyph one can easily see how people would then call the oryx a "one-horn"

But, why then would it not just be translated as a "one-horn" or oryx?

Well, the fact is that this word, monokeros/one-horn, was also used in ancient Greek literature to describe what is thought to be the origin of the "myth" of the unicorn.

Ctesias, a Greek physician from the 5th century BC, writes about an unusual creature they (supposedly) found in India:

"[§45] In India there are wild asses as large as horses, or even larger. Their body is white, their head dark red, their eyes bluish, and they have a horn in their forehead about a cubit in length. The lower part of the horn, for
about two palms distance from the forehead, is quite white, the middle is black, the upper part, which terminates in a point, is a very flaming red. Those who drink out of cups made from it are proof against convulsions, epilepsy, and even poison, provided that before or after having taken it they drink some wine or water or other liquid out of these cups. The domestic and wild asses of other countries and all other solid-hoofed animals have neither huckle-bones nor gall-bladder, whereas the Indian asses have both. Their huckle-bone is the most beautiful that I have seen, like that of the ox in size and appearance; it is as heavy as lead and of the color of cinnabar all through. These animals are very strong and swift; neither the horse nor any other animal can overtake them. At first they run slowly, but the longer they run their pace increases wonderfully, and becomes faster and faster. There is only one way of catching them. When they take their young to feed, if they are surrounded by a large number of horsemen, being unwilling to abandon their foals, they show fight, butt with their horns, kick, bite, and kill many men and horses. They are at last taken, after they have been pierced with arrows and spears; for it is impossible to capture them alive. Their flesh is too bitter to eat, and they are only hunted for the sake of the horns and huckle-bones."

The people of the day thought of the monokeros/unicorn (latin: uni = one; cornu = horn) as an actual, true to life animal and not as a mythological creature (as opposed to, say, sirens). The best I can understand, it was only in the middle ages when the unicorn began to take on more mysterious, magical, and mythological traits... although based on what Ctesius says, it's easy to see why.

On the other hand, some people think that the monokeros is really just talking about a rhinoceros.

Incidentally, the King James also says "unicorn" in this verse as it follows the latin Vulgate for this verse (Jerome used the LXX to translate the Psalms).

So, I guess that's that.
Uh, I guess, feel free to comment (or not) as you feel fit?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jesus, History, and the Greek NT

Here's a great little clip (OK, it's about 10 min.) of BW3:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Yes, this is funny

Michael F. Bird strikes again!

Here he's doing a silly little promo for the SBL's (Society of Biblical Literature's) new critical Greek Text of the New Testament. They are doing their best to give the NA27/UBS4 a run for their money! And yes, in case you weren't sure, this is funny.

And while we're at it, I want to share a link with you that may prove to be extremely valuable for those who care. Here (yes, click here) is a website that someone has put up listing EVERY SINGLE CHANGE in the various forms of the NIV (NIV'84 - TNIV - NIV'11). This is an insane amount of information! So, if you want to know how these various updates differ, this is the place to go.

Ah, good ol' Joshua:
Yesterday Ben Witherington posted an interesting discussion between himself and colleague Lawson Stone. Drs Witherington and Stone are both Profs at Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington is Professor of New Testament Studies and Stone is Professor of Old Testament Studies. Here they get into a gracious debate about the nature of violence in the Bible and the idea of God as a Warrior. If you've ever struggled with the violence in the Bible or the whole issue of war, non-violence, and pacifism you should check this out. Very interesting.

They both posted the discussion:
Witherington's Page (here)
Stone's Page (here)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All is Calm?

"Silent night, holy night, all is calm..." Really? Calm? Have you ever seen a woman in labour? And I can't help but think that adding a bunch of stinky shepherds to the mix is going to help anything. "How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv'n..." Wondrous, yes. Silent, not likely!

"It came upon the midnight clear..." Well, I suppose it could have; it just doesn't say. All Matthew has to say is "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem..." (Mt. 2:1) and Luke simply states that "while they were there, the time came for her to give birth" (Lk. 2:6). Yes, the angels appeared to the shepherds at night (Lk. 2:8) but that's the closest time-frame we've got... I guess, in all fairness, the song is talking mostly about the shepherds and the angels... but then what's the point of the song? If it's not about Jesus, why bother singing it?

It doesn't take much to find some Carols that have inaccuracies, poor theology, or just silly statements. So should we scrap them?

Just this morning I ran across this quote which attempts to answer that question:

Should we get rid of Christmas Carols?
Only with great care. For thousands, carols will be their only link with a church. At the same time, sentimentality is perhaps the single most dangerous feature of our Church and culture—and the sentimental air is never thicker than at Christmas. The Incarnation is messy, dirty, and resonates with the crucifixion. We need a new wave of carol writing that can gradually swill out the nonsense and catch the piercing, joy-through-pain refrains of the New Testament.” - Jeremy Begbie, professor of theology, Duke Divinity School

What do you make of that?
What carols are worth keeping?
Which carols are worth ditching?
Do you know of any new Christmas/Advent songs that are worth singing?