Saturday, September 22, 2018

Equinox -- The Great Wheel Turns

And what a pleasure to see a sunrise, unblocked by trees! We face due east and I've always enjoyed following the sun's course during the year. It's at mid-point now, as it moves from north to south (where it'll be behind  a ridge by winter solstice.)

Though Fall is officially here, the weather is still rather warm. But the air is drier and something in the quality of the light is turning my thoughts toward getting ready for cooler days. 

I find myself reorganizing the pantry and freezer, taking stock of what's on hand and making notes of what's needed. (Getting ready for winter is not unlike getting ready for a hurricane as winter can bring impassable roads and/or power outages. Not always, not often, but it never hurts to be prepared.)

The season's turn brings new energy and I'm making mental lists . . . they need to stay in my mind because if I write them down, it will be too daunting. But perhaps I'll begin with getting rid of the mildew and mold caused by a damper than usual summer.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Mexican Cane

Josie picked this old cane from the crockery churn in the mud room where we keep umbrellas and walking sticks and, as she practiced walking with it, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia and the feeling of somehow coming full circle.

I 'won' the cane at the Florida State Fair over sixty years ago. It was one of those Guess Your Weight concessions and the guy -- who'd been quite accurate with all his other customers -- missed the mark with me.  The cane was my prize for being tall and thin and wearing bulky winter clothes.

It was a gaudy thing, before the paint faded. Made in Mexico,  it has the Mexican eagle holding a snake, along with other figures roughly carved and painted on it.

I was thrilled with my prize. I took it home and gave it to my beloved grandfather who always carried a walking stick.

Twenty some years later, he was still using it -- here on a walk with my older son -- who is also sporting a cane.

I inherited the Mexican cane and used it when I had back surgery, again when I had a knee replacement, and, most recently, after the catastrophe two years ago. 

It's not needed at this time but I keep it handy, just in case. For now I'm pleased to see the youngest generation playing with it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Misquoting Jesus

Now and then I take a break from my rigorous schedule of reading fiction and force myself into something a little weightier. While I was immersed in devouring (re-reading) all of Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries, as well as the continuations by his daughter Ann, I picked up this semi-scholarly book on understanding how and why the Bible has changed over the centuries.

I'm not a Christian nor, indeed, am I a Believer in any usual sense of the word. But I find the study of religion fascinating and important, inasmuch as religion affects so much of our lives. That's fine, if it's your own religion and you choose to follow its mandates. But all too often it's someone else's religion (or interpretation thereof) impacting others.

 Whether it's taking off shoes at an airport because a Muslim fanatic had a shoe bomb or living in a dry county because local Baptists believe no one should drink alcohol, or being denied coverage for birth control because your boss is Roman Catholic, or being turned away from a bakery because the owner won't make a wedding cake for a gay marriage, religion affects everyone. 

And, at this point in the history of our country, the religious right, especially those who believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, are wielding their uninformed power to the detriment of society. Their beliefs allow them to ignore climate change and environmental pollution because those same beliefs tell them that this world doesn't matter -- they'll be going to heaven soon.  These beliefs are finding their way into textbooks, side by side with actual science. These same beliefs fuel their support of Israel to hasten the onset of Armageddon. (See a fuller explanation HERE.) And this unqualified support, along with the plight of the Palestinians, goes a long way to explain the rise of Al Qaeda. (A history of colonial exploitation is pretty important too.)

So, what if this belief in the Bible as the Word of God, this belief that informs so much of our everyday life, as well as events on the world stage, is actually a belief in a series of cobbled-together texts, none of which are original but a series of copies, fraught with inaccuracies, whether inadvertent or intentional? 


Bart D. Ehrman, author of this interesting book,  was a fundamentalist Christian when he attended Moody Bible Institute to study scripture full time. At Moody, professors and students all signed statements of belief in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Ehrman signed without hesitation. 

As he pursued his studies at Moody and later at Wheaton and then Princeton, learning Greek, and Hebrew in order to read the earliest documents (ca.2nd century) from which the present Bible is composed, Ehrman was dogged by the question: How can we say scripture is the inerrant word of God if all we have are copies, the earliest mostly by amateur copyists and full of errors and inconsistencies?

Erhman gives a fascinating account of techniques developed over the years to attempt to determine which readings are more likely to be accurate when two source texts disagree. He notes that by the 18th century, scholars had found around 30,000 variations in the texts of the manuscripts on which the current New Testament was based. 

(This was a more serious problem for Protestants, with their emphasis on each individual's reading and interpreting the Bible for himself. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, could simply leave it to their priests to interpret scripture for them. And the priests had the Pope to provide the true meaning. Papal infallibility is a wonderful thing. Kinda like Presidential* infallibility. But I digress)

Ehrman deals with the causes of the various mistakes, omissions, or additions in the early manuscripts, and moves on to consider emendations made purposely, either to make to text more understandable or, rather insidiously, to bring to text into conformity with current theological opinion.

I found this last part the most annoying and the most interesting.  First of all,there seems to be a good chance that in the earliest version of the scriptures, women played an important role in the church. In one of many examples, Ehrman points out that in First Corinthians, Chapter 11, Paul instructs women to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in church, but three chapters later, he forbids women from speaking at all in church. 

Even small changes, such as switching the order of names when the woman's name was first, were part of this ruthless campaign of the early (but not the earliest) church to put women in their place and render them silent and subservient.

Another controversy that seems to have shaped scripture is the Christian attitude toward Jews. The fact that many Jews would not accept Jesus as the Messiah, led the Christians of the time to attempt t0 prove them wrong by demonizing them and even ascribing the Crucifixion to the Jews rather than to the Romans. Whereas in an early text, Pilate sends Jesus to be crucified (presumably by his on Roman soldiers,) a later edit has Pilate turning Jesus over to 'them' (the Jews.)

The third source of many changes was in answer to scholarly Pagan criticism. (Pagans being neither Christian nor Jew but followers of the many mostly polytheistic religions that flourished in the Roman Empire .) 

In the middle of the 2nd century, pagan intellectuals wrote tracts against the new religion, attacking both Jesus (a common criminal, a working-class rabble rouser) and the practices of the religion (greeting one another as 'Brother' and 'Sister,' exchanging ritual kisses, eating and drinking the body  and blood of their god -- all of which suggested to the critics, incest, debauchery, human sacrifice, and cannibalism.)

These pagan scholars also ridiculed the scriptures as being wildly inconsistent -- accounts of Jesus's birth, life, and death varying from gospel to gospel. This was the cue for the apologist scribes to curtail these arguments by changing scripture. (Even so, they didn't catch all the inconsistencies, not by a long shot.)

With all this in mind, and after years of diligent study,  Ehrman has come to see the Bible as very much the work of men, a document that has subtly changed over the centuries, reflecting the attitudes of the times. 

"In a more basic sense," he says, "they changed scripture the way we all change scripture, every time we read it. For they, like we, were trying to understand what the authors wrote while also trying to see how the words of the authors' might have significance for them, and how they might help them make sense of their own situations and their own lives."

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Joy of a Gentle Rain. . .

After passing a wakeful Saturday night listening for the first sounds of rain and wind and wondering if I should have taken the pots of flowers off the porch railing, I woke to gentle rain.

The rain continued for most of the day -- still gentle, no wind.

By late afternoon the rain gauge was at 7/10ths of an inch.  How fortunate we are in comparison to folks closer to the coast or even in other parts of western North Carolina. I have no doubt our rivers and creeks are running high and I believe school is cancelled today in the county, but still . . .

Several Madison County friends posted on FB a screen grab of a radar map -- showing Marshall and the surrounding area as a rain free. "The storm parts around Marshall as if there's a bubble over us," one said. 

(I've always known this is a rather special place.)

By late afternoon the rain had stopped.

Venturing out, I was surprised to find that the blue morning glories I planted had bloomed at last. The purple ones have been hard at it for weeks and we are still getting the occasional moonflower. But I'd given up on the Heavenly Blues.

Worth waiting for!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Josie and Her Boy Cousins

Josie was thrilled to have an overnight visit from three cousins.  She thinks it would be nice if they came to the farm every day.

These guys are the children of two of Justin's first cousins. (No, not married to each other.) I don't know if that makes them, first cousins once removed or what.

They were great with Josie and she loved all the attention.

She even let them pick her up -- a privilege enjoyed by only a few of us. 

Some of their play she observed from a distance.

They all enjoyed playing with the Muscle Men and other little figures -- treasures saved from her daddy's childhood.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Revisiting The Day of Small Things

Last night I spoke to a MLAS class at UNC- Asheville.  What is a MLAS class? I didn't know either but I looked it up. Masters of Liberal Arts and Sciences is "a broadly interdisciplinary program designed for a wide spectrum of adults that provides a challenging, structured liberal arts curriculum at the graduate level." 

The class are using Francine Proses's How to Read Like a Writer and they were assigned (among other local writers) The Day of Small Things to analyze -- paying attention to the writer's choice of words and construction of sentences and paragraphs. Their teacher Tommy Hays had asked me to come in and answer questions.

Which I was delighted to do but I decided that first I'd better read the book -- I wrote it almost ten years ago and, though I  skimmed it last year, preparatory to speaking to a book club,  I wanted to be sure I remembered various points so I'd be able to answer any questions semi-intelligently.

I knew I was proud of the book but this re-reading had me really loving every word and every character -- well, except for the evil guy. I also realized that, in a way, this book was written just for me and no one else will ever appreciate some of the little hidden things about it as I do. 

No matter. I enjoyed answering the questions they had -- questions like "Where are you when you write -- mentally and physically?" (Mentally, I'm in the head of my characters; physically I'm in a chair, feet up with a lap top.) and "What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?" (Bowing to my editor's insistence that I revise and tell the story chronologically rather than using the present day story as a frame with the bits of Birdie's early life interwoven.) 

Some of the comments were thought provoking. "How do you balance the harsh/scary/intense scenes and the beautiful scenes?" (I prefer writing the beautiful scenes but the harsh/scary/intense scenes are necessary to provide tension/conflict and to move the plot along. 

Tommy commented that I was good at writing evil characters, saying that he had trouble with this.  Actually, I struggle to make people do bad things. I realized some time ago that most of my villains are either crazy in one way or another or, as in the case of two of the Black Hats in DST, semi-mythical personifications of Evil rather than real people.

It was a pleasure talking with the class and a pleasure spending time with Miss Birdie and her friends. At this long remove, all the toil and agonizing that went into the book is forgotten and it's very much like reading a book someone else wrote -- someone who has an uncanny knack for my sort of story.