Gunther

1. Philosophy

As he waited, Gunther reflected, not for the first time, that only a pantheist can rationally employ violence without a trace of anger.

He’d watched many of his colleagues spiral into madness over the years – killing lots of people in cold blood can be rough on the psyche.  Other people would work themselves up into a rage just to do the job, but Gunther disdained this approach as amateurish – rage makes you sloppy, and sloppy makes you dead. Continue reading

Notes on The Acts of The Apostles Chapter 4

See this post for the introduction to these posts on The Acts of The Apostles.

Chapter 4 of The Acts of The Apostles

Outline:

  • V1 – 4: Peter and John arrested
  • V5 – 12: Peter’s rebuttal to their arrest
  • V13 – 18: leaders attempt damage control – try to silence Peter and John
  • V19 – 20: Peter dismisses their warnings
  • V21 – 22: wrap up of this incident (which is really a continuation from Chapter 3)
  • V23 – 31: the believers pray for boldness
  • V32 – 37: snapshot of the early believer’s life together (a continuation of the one provided in Acts 2:24-47) – this also introduces us to Barnabas for the first time

Characters:

Narrator:

  • Luke

Audience:

  • Luke is addressing “Theophilus” (1:1)

Speakers:

  • “They” (rulers of the people) – this specifically includes the following subgroups (but it’s not clear who is and isn’t speaking):
    • Rulers
    • Elders
    • Scribes
    • Annas the high priest
    • Caiaphas
    • John (of the priestly family)
    • Alexander
    • All who were of the high-priestly family
  • Peter
  • “They” (Peter and John’s friends)

Non-speakers:

  • Priests
  • Captain of the temple
  • Sadducees
  • The people (crowds in the temple)
  • “The men” (those who believed)
  • The man who was healed (in the last chapter)
  • Holy Spirit

Off-screen:

  • Jesus
  • All the people of Israel
  • All the inhabitants of Jerusalem
  • Herod
  • Pontius Pilate
  • The Gentiles
  • Apostles
  • Joseph called Barnabas

Promises:

  • V12: “And there is salvation in no one else”

Commands:

  • I didn’t really see any commands in this chapter – more thoughts on this below

Direct quotes of other scripture:

Events mentioned elsewhere:

  • The whole chapter is a continuation of the story that started in Chapter 3.
  • V2 (again in V10): Jesus death and resurrection are covered in all four gospels:  Matthew 27 – 28, Mark 15 – 16, Luke 23 – 24, John 18 – 20
  • V27: Jesus interaction with Herod during the Passion is only mentioned in Luke 23, but the interaction with Pilate is mentioned in all four gospels (see links above).

Other observations:

  • We’ve now had three chapters in a row where Peter speaks to a crowd, and in all three, his speech follows the same outline:
    • Something happened to get your attention
    • Here’s how that thing connects to Jesus (who you killed but God resurrected)
    • Jesus is the Anointed One we’ve all been waiting for
    • And he’s the only way to be saved

    In his earlier speeches (chapters 2 and 3), Peter ends up referring to the audience as “Brothers”, and ends with a call to repentance, but does neither of those things in chapter 4, where he is speaking to the leaders.

  • Emphasis throughout is on boldness – Peter speaks boldly, leaders are surprised by this, then the church prays for boldness.
  • The last section on the early church feels very much like it is picking up the same subplot that was started at the end of chapter 2, and it really setting up what comes next week in chapter 5.
  • The Sadducees getting annoyed at the resurrection isn’t new – they hassled Jesus about it in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. Paul will use the disagreements between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over the resurrection to his advantage in Acts 23.

Understanding:

Two big things struck me about this chapter:

  1. It’s probably only been a few months (maybe) since Peter and John watched these same crowds and leaders arrest Jesus, and work through the Romans to have him publicly tortured to death. When that had happened they were terrified! But now they are nothing but boldness. Then, when they pray later, they do not even bother to ask for protection, safety, preservation, etc. They just ask that God help them continue to be bold. This is a bold prayer.
  2. In the two previous chapters, Peter never asked any fellow Jew to “convert” – he didn’t see this as a new religion. Instead he saw that everything they’ve been waiting for has arrived! He never softens the blow (“Jesus, who you killed…”), but he then calls them “brothers” and tells them to repent – literally to turn around. Here, same stuff, except he doesn’t “brother” them, doesn’t call them to repentance. There is no command, suggestion, or even offer to change given here. And I think the difference is that these leaders have no interest in the truth – in V16 they acknowledge that something big had happened, but instead of looking for the movement of God, they only think of how to control it, to limit the damage this miraculous good deed might do to their power. These aren’t guys who are mislead or deceived, but are open to truth. These are guys who have their own agenda, with little interest in truth.

How often have I had the chance to be bold, but preferred to not risk anything? How often have I been more interested in protecting my own turf, my own power or prestige, than in seeing the truth, seeing the movement of God? How often have you?

 

Notes on The Acts of The Apostles Chapter 3

See this post for the introduction to these posts on The Acts of The Apostles.

Chapter 3 of The Acts of The Apostles

Outline:

  • V1 – 10 Healing beggar at the temple
  • V11 – 26 Peter’s Second Sermon

Characters:

Narrator:

  • Luke (the second half of this chapter is quoting a sermon by Peter, though)

Audience:

  • Luke is addressing “Theophilus” (1:1), but Peter is addressing the crowds in the temple

Speakers:

  • Beggar
  • Peter

Non-speakers:

  • John
  • “They” (people who put the beggar in place to beg at temple)
  • All the people at the temple

Off-screen:

  • God
  • Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • “Our Fathers”
  • Jesus
  • Pilate
  • Moses
  • Samuel
  • “All the prophets”

Promises:

  • v19 – 20: repentance will lead to sins being blotted out and a time of refreshing
  • V23: don’t listed to the prophets and you will be destroyed from the people
  • V25: the whole world will be blessed through the offspring of Abraham

Commands:

  • V19: repent

Direct quotes of other scripture:

Events mentioned elsewhere:

  • V1 – 10: parallels many stories of Jesus healing, especially Mark 2:1-12. One things that matches in both of these is that other people seem to be helping the disabled person (in Acts, they put him where he can effectively beg, in Mark they bring him to Jesus for healing).
  • V12 Pilate, v14 Barabbas, v15 Jesus’ death: these are covered in all four gospels:  Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 18 – 19
  • V15: Jesus resurrection described in all four gospels: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20
  • v18 Samuel: there isn’t a really clear thing I can find that matches this – Samuel did annoint David as king, and there is a prophesy in 2 Samuel 7:12-17 about a successor in the line of David having “his throne established forever”, but it’s Nathan the prophet speaking those words (Samuel has actually been dead for some time by then).

Other observations:

  • This is the first time in the New Testament that any internal locations are given in the temple – v2 (Beautiful Gate) and v11(Solomon’s Portico). All prior mentions just say they’re at the temple, but don’t say where.
  • There is a probably apocryphal story that Thomas Aquinas and Pope Innocent II that references Acts 3. Innocent II had a large amount of money scattered around as Aquinas came to him, and remarked, “You see, the Church is no longer in that age in which she said, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’“. Aquinas replied, “True, holy father, but neither can she any longer say to the lame, ‘Rise up and walk.’
  • V15 – refers to Jesus as the Author of Life, support for the divinity of Christ.

Understanding:

This is Peter’s second sermon in a row where he clearly sees Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s story. He does not invite his fellow Jews into a new religion – this is not a “conversion story” in the modern sense. He just invites them to see that the Messiah has come!

This seems to be the overarching theme of the first half of Acts. The second half is where they start really getting serious about this being a blessing for “all the families of the earth”, but that is being pointed to even this early in the book.

Notes on The Acts of The Apostles Chapter 2

See this post for the introduction to these posts on The Acts of The Apostles.

Chapter 2 of The Acts of The Apostles

Outline:

V1 – 4: Arrival of the Holy Spirit

V5 – 13: Reaction of the crowds to Holy Spirit

V14 – 36: Peter’s sermon

  • V14-21: Holy Spirit’s arrival foretold by Joel
  • V22 – 23: Connects this back to Jesus
  • V24 – 32: The resurrection of Jesus, foretold by David
  • V33 – 35: the ascension of Jesus, foretold by David
  • V36: So Jesus is Lord and the Messiah

V37 – 41: Reaction of crowds to sermon

V42 – 47: first description of the early church

Characters:

Narrator:

  • Luke (much of this chapter is quoting a sermon by Peter, though)

Audience:

  • Luke is addressing “Theophilus” (1:1), but Peter is addressing the crowds in Jerusalem

Speakers:

  • “They” (some group of believers, but it’s not clear to me whether this is the 120 people mentioned in 1:15, or just the apostles, mentioned in 1:26 – I think the larger group makes more sense, though)
  • Devout Jews of every nation (gives list of nations, makes sure to mention proselytes)
  • Peter

Non-speakers:

  • Holy Spirit
  • The eleven
  • God

Off-screen:

  • Joel – quoted
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • David – quoted

 Promises:

  • V17 – 18: “I will pour out my spirit…”
  • V19: “And I will show wonders in the heavens above / and signs on the earth below…”
  • V21: everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved
  • V38: Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

Commands:

  • V14: Listen to this (repeated at V21)
  • V36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified”
  • V38: Repent and be baptized
  • V40: Save yourselves

Direct quotes of other scripture:

Events mentioned elsewhere:

Other observations:

  • Peter addresses the crowd in multiple ways:
  • Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem
  • Men of Israel
  • Brothers
  • All the house of Israel
  • Brothers
  • In the final section describing the early church, listening to teaching is listed once, but breaking bread is mentioned twice.
  • Peter, who just experienced the arrival of the Holy Spirit, refers to it as the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (V38). I love that he immediately realizes that this is a gift.
  • In the quote from Joel, it doesn’t say that “the young men will conquer, and the old men will rule…” It talks about prophesy (speaking for God), visions, dreams (more on this below).
  • We treat the word “repent” with special religious significance, but it really means to turn around, to change course. (In some of Paul’s letters he tells the Gentile believers to not repent – don’t turn around and leave your new faith.) It’s clear that Peter sees the arrival of the Holy Spirit as a continuation of the religion in which he has lived his whole life. He doesn’t offer his Jewish brothers a new religion – instead he quotes from the Scripture they all already acknowledge, and tells them to turn around and recognize that the Anointed One has already arrived.
  • When we leave a word untranslated, we tend to add things to it that aren’t necessarily there in the original text. “Christ” is not a proper name for Jesus – it is a translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” into Greek. If they can translate it, why can’t we? The translation into English is the Anointed (or maybe clearer in English as Annointed One).

Understanding:

I think there’s a tendency to remember the fire and the speaking in tongues as the primary action of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But the biggest movement of the Spirit I see in this chapter is in Peter’s sermon: this is the first time that he really gets it. He really gets everything Jesus has done and is doing. He seems to be giving up his idea of a political Messiah – his quote from Joel shows that he is expecting dreams, visions, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, not war, conquest, domination.

When I pray for the Holy Spirit to come to someone who needs comfort or wisdom or whatever, I often visualize a “tongue of flame” on their head as I am praying. But what I really want for them (and for myself!) is the transforming clarity and power that Peter shows in his sermon.

Notes on The Acts of The Apostles Chapter 1

See this post for the introduction to these posts on The Acts of The Apostles.

Chapter 1 of The Acts of The Apostles

Outline:
v1 – 11: Restatement of post-resurrection actions of Jesus, ending in the Ascension
v12 – 26: Apostles replace Judas Iscariot with Matthias

Characters:
Narrator:

  • Luke

Audience:

  • Theophilus

Speakers:

  • Jesus
  • “They” (referring to the group of apostles)
  • Two “men in white robes” (traditionally treated as angels, although that is not stated in the text)
  • Peter

Non-speakers:

  • John
  • James
  • Andrew
  • Philip
  • Thomas
  • Bartholomew
  • Matthew
  • James the son of Alphaeus
  • Simon the Zealot
  • Judas the son of James
  • “The women”
  • Mary the mother of Jesus
  • The brothers of Jesus
  • “The company of persons” – about 120 people
  • Joseph called Barsabbas called Justus
  • Matthias

Off-screen:

  • Holy Spirit
  • Judas Iscariot

Promises:

  • You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (v5)
  • You will recieve power (v8)
  • You will be witnesses (v8)
  • Jesus will come again (v11)

Commands:

  • Stay in Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the Father (v4)

Direct quotes of other scripture:

Events mentioned elsewhere:

  • V1 – mentions Luke’s first book (The Gospel According to Luke)
  • v2 – 11 – Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry and ascension are also described (with some differences) in:
        • Matthew 28 – post resurrection, but no mention of the Ascension
        • Mark 16:9 – 19 – post resurrection, says merely that Jesus was ‘taken up into heaven’
        • Luke 24 – pretty close parallel with Acts (no surprise – it’s the same author), but different emphasis, different anecdotes and quotes
        • John 20 – 21 – the longest list of post-resurrection anecdotes, but no mention of the Ascension
  • v16 – Peter says: “the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas”. Some commentaries have this as a reference to Psalm 41:9
  • v18-19 – Judas death is also described, with an entirely different story, in Matthew 27:3 – 10
  • v26 – they cast lots, which is something used throughout the Old Testament to make decisions. A couple of examples of this can be found at Leviticus 16:8 and Joshua 18:6 (there are many more – too many to list here). This verse in Acts 1 is the last time that this technique for decision-making is mentioned in the Bible. I suspect that after the events of Acts 2, this technique is no longer seen as necessary – the people of God are tuned in and listening to Him closely.

Other observations:

  • Theophilus means “friend of God”, and is not an uncommon name from that era. But I do wonder sometimes whether this is a real person, or an authorial creation – whether Luke is addressing any reader as a “Friend of God”.
  • As late as Acts 1:6, the disciples are looking for Jesus to create a political kingdom – they still don’t see that this is just not something he is interested in building.  They are going to figure this out very quickly, though.
  • In the little aside about Judas’ death, I do appreciate that both English Standard Version and the King James use the phrase “all his bowels gushed out”. I don’t know, that phrasing makes it sound funnier than is probably intended in the original. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
  • With all the hoopla to select Matthias as a replacement for Judas, right at the beginning of the book, it’s interesting to me that Matthias is never mentioned again after that.
  • When we read the word “apostles” we may think of this as a religious office (because that’s the context we have today for “apostles”), but the Greek word apostolos could just as reasonably be translated as “emissaries” – someone sent with a special mission. In Acts and in the various letters Paul wrote we see a number of people, both male and female, referred to as “apostles”.

Understanding:
It occurs to me was that this book is one of the rare stories in Scripture where the people of God actually do what He tells them to do. Most of the Old Testament, and most mentions of Jesus’ followers in the Gospels, are stories about people who may want to do the right thing, but they often wander off the path, and do stupid things. Here, starting in chapter 1, the disciples are told to wait in Jerusalem, and they do it. What would the story be if they had not waited?

The rare story earlier in Scripture that does seem to feature God’s people trusting and following him consistently is the Old Testament book of Joshua. There’s some interesting parallels there – in Joshua, they trust God, and the result is that they conquer Canaan. In Acts, they trust God, and the result is that they conquer all over the place – with the key difference being that this is not a political conquest, physically forcing people to acknowledge a particular rule, but rather an invitation for people to voluntarily participate in the Kingdom of God.

Introduction to Notes on The Acts of The Apostles

The adult Bible study at the church I’m currently attending is going through The Acts of the Apostles. We spent the last four weeks reading through the entire book (we read seven chapters per week). Today we are starting at the beginning again and discussing one chapter per week until we’re all the way through it. (Well, I think this group takes the month of August off, but we’ll resume after that.)

So for my study of just one chapter, I tend to do a few specific things:

  • I read it several times, in several different translations
  • I look up a few commentaries
  • I take notes using a specific structure

The notes structure is partly based on things I’ve done before, but I must point out that some of this is inspired by conversations with my wife about this.

Outline: first, I try to outline the chapter. Yes, many Bible translations will add section headers, but I try to come up with my own outline (which may or may not match theirs).

Cast: list all the people mentioned in the text, by the following subcategories:

  • Narrator
  • Audience
  • Speaking parts
  • Non-speaking parts
  • referenced off-screen persons

Promises: I list any promises given in the text.

Commands: I list any commands given in the text.

Direct quotes of other scripture: List and look up any scripture quoted, read the context for that scripture.

Events mentioned elsewhere: look up anything that is mentioned somewhere else in scripture (these are things where the different texts are not quoting each other, but are referencing the same events).

Other general observations: note anything else that came up as I was reading this

Understanding: was there anything in this that seemed to speak to me as I read this? And let me be honest: sometimes there just isn’t. Maybe I’m not just not allowing myself to hear from God, maybe God just isn’t speaking to me personally through that particular passage. Either way, I don’t want to fake it, so sometimes this is going to be left off.

Over the next eight months or so I’ll be taking these notes for each chapter of Acts, so I figure I may as well get blog posts out of them. These are not meant to be definitive or the final word on anything – just my Bible study notes.  Hope they are of some benefit to someone. I will update the list below to have links to all the notes as I post them.

Chapter  1
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5
Chapter  6
Chapter  7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28

St. George Poems

In 1812 the following poems, “The Birth of St. George” and “St. George and the Dragon”, were reprinted in Volume III of the fifth edition of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. (Please note that Google Books states that this is Volume 2, but the book at that link is actually Volume 3.)  The first of these poems casts St. George’s birth in a suitably heroic and mysterious mold. (Of perhaps greater importance to the original audience of this poem, it shows that he was English.) Percy cites Richard Johnson’s Famous Historie of the Seaven Champions of Christendom as a source for this poem, but that book presents the same story but in a different form. So it is not clear exactly where Percy obtained this version of “The Birth of St. George”.

The second poem, found in the Pepys Collection (Pepys 1.526-527) retells the story of George slaying the dragon, but rather than following this with the story of his martyrdom, tells of his conquering “heathen lands”, and eventually marrying Sabra, returning to England, and living happily ever after.

The versions presented here have been transcribed from Percy’s book. The spelling has been modernized slightly, but the words themselves have not been changed.
Continue reading

Cold

The room was small and bare. Stephen could touch all four walls without leaving the wooden bunk, and he could touch the heavy pine rafters if he stood up. He could see his breath, but it was warm enough when he crawled into the pile of of bearskins they’d left him. The one tiny window was so badly grimed and scratched that it was more translucent than transparent. It let in thin, wintery light for a few hours every day. The room wasn’t far enough north for total darkness, but the days were short.

 
The supplies they’d left him were as minimal as the room – a bottle of cheap Polish vodka, a box of no-cook MREs, a wind-up flashlight, a pack of cards.
MRE – Meal Ready to Eat. Three lies in one acronym. Stephen hated those things, would have given anything for a loaf of bread and some butter.
It took him a week to realize why he was losing every game of solitaire. At first he assumed that, like everything else, his luck was down. Then he realized that the deck was missing the king of diamonds.

 
He spent a couple of days after that realization wondering if someone had done that on purpose – trying to tell him something.

 
He finished the vodka then.

 
He didn’t need to come hide in a tiny room this far north in the winter to get the message that they were underfunded. He knew that, all too well. He thought about opening the door, walking off into the snow – let someone else continue the struggle.

 
But he stayed huddled under the bearskins and waited.

 
He was running out of MREs when John showed up.

It’s only fair

To gain some perspective, I remind myself: at any given moment, someone is dying, somewhere.  But this really doesn’t help.

I looked at her while the words “six months left” echoed in my head.  Later, I realized that my grief wasn’t simply losing her – I was losing my best future, too.  No wedding, no kids, no growing old and fat together in the suburbs.  All those dreams were smoke now.

Two weeks after the diagnosis she broke up with me.  “It’s only fair.  You should move on now – we’ve only been together for a couple of months, anyway.  I’d feel like I was leading you on if I stayed with you when we both know it’s going to end.”  No rational argument, no pleading, no tears would change her mind. She stopped returning my calls, even before she was too sick to do so.  She had her brother come talk to me, tell me to let her go.  Tears in his eyes, he declined to give her a message for me.  I refused to shake his hand when he left.

“It’s only fair.” Yet all I wanted was to spend every moment with her, whether that lasted six months or sixty years.  It’s been eight years since then, but I still haven’t gotten over her.  She was the one for me, but I didn’t get to keep her.

She’s been cancer free for six years now, and got married last year.  I just heard that she had her first child last week.

To gain some perspective, I remind myself: at any given moment, someone is being born, somewhere.  But this really doesn’t help.

Alternate Picking Exercise

You want a cool finger exercise for guitarists that helps with alternate picking? I can help. Tab for the first part of the pattern looks like this (click on pictures to make them bigger):

Remember that slow is smooth...

Now, here’s part two, which includes a little bit of string-skipping:

...and smooth is fast.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Start the first pattern with an upstroke.
  • Start the second pattern with a downstroke.
  • As you play each four note sequence, keep the pick between the two strings you’re hitting. This is the whole point of the exercise – don’t hit the string and go past, as if you were strumming – hit the string and then move the other direction to hit the other string in the four note sequence.
  • Smooth, clean, and perfectly timed is way way way more important than going fast. You will get fast eventually, but only go as fast as you can go while still doing it perfectly.
  • The synchronization between your right hand and your left hand is crucial – if they aren’t together as you’re doing this, you’re reinforcing the wrong things. Go slow and get it right.
  • If you have a metronome or a drum machine, use that as you do this exercise. You want to do this as rock steady as possible.
  • Run through this a couple of times a day. Be patient – you’ll get super-fast sooner with patience than with impatience.
  • Finally, please remember that this is an exercise that uses geometric patterns on the fretboard – it is not particularly musical. Do practice this. Don’t put it in your song or your guitar solo – that would sound dumb.

If you have any thoughts about this, please leave a comment – I’d love to know whether this was helpful (or a waste of time). I’m hoping to post more guitar exercises over time.

By the way, the tabs are drawn on the back of giraffe-pattern napkins. I’ll leave you with a shot of the front of the napkin:

Yes indeed.