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Tag Archives: Jesus

The Lord and the Vampire Queen

Anne Rice has certainly got range. Long before vampires became angst-ridden teen icons, Ms Rice gave us vampires that were complex, powerful and truly frightening. The vampire Lestat is a character for the ages and “Interview With the Vampire” will be around long after the “Twilight” series has faded from memory. Then she gave us a family of witches from New Orleans and an entity that gave new meaning to the term “willies.” But wait, there’s more! She also has done grand scale historical novels as well as adult erotica based on fairy tales.

Sounds like Anne is the perfect choice to write a modern, fictionalized version of the life of Christ the Lord, right? Well, yes, of course she is. And she has. Twice. “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” and “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.” I read the first one several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve finally come across the second one and I must say I’m impressed with this as well. But why would the modern queen of the vampires write a life of Christ? It’s a fascinating story actually. Briefly, she left the Roman Catholic Church and then returned. As a result she started writing “Christian” stories, including a very short-lived series about a guardian angel. But another time for that.

My concern here is with “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.” As the title implies, the novel takes place just before Yeshua (Jesus) is baptized by his cousin John and performs the initial sign of his ministry. The first half of the book explores his life in Nazareth with his extended family and friends. Rice continues to let Yeshua speak for himself in a first person narrative as she did in “Out of Egypt.” This is a bold approach by a confident, gifted writer and she succeeds wonderfully. Although it may seem presumptuous, who hasn’t wondered what Yeshua’s thoughts were as he approached his “introduction” to the world? Was he aware of who he was? What did he think of his family? Did he have friends?

Ms. Rice gives us a kind, soft-spoken Yeshua. A Yeshua who slips away to a private spot  to pray and meditate. A Yeshua who loves his family but is perfectly willing to disagree with and stand up to any of them should he feel it necessary. Yes, he loves a young girl, Avigail, and though he loves her he realizes he can never marry her. He (and his extended family) knows the stories told of him by his mother and step father, about the angelic visitations, his birth and the attending signs. Some of his friends and family even call him “Sinless One.” This is a very human, self-aware Yeshua, who just before his ministry begins and the world is sent reeling, thinks to himself:

And will I look back on these days, these long exhausting days, will I look back on them ever from someplace else, very far away from here, and think, Ah, these were blessed days? Will they be so tenderly remembered?

The event that prompts this poignant thought is the coming out of the wilderness of John bar Zechariah, Yeshua’s cousin, also known to us as John the Baptist. John begins baptizing at the Jordan and people flock to him, including Yeshua and his family. It takes a while to get to this point (chapter 18) but once reached the story takes off, mainly because from here we know what is coming. And it comes rapidly in Rice’s deft handling. In the last 115 pages of the novel we see the baptism of Yeshua, the temptation in the wilderness, the calling of the first disciples, including Matthew, the wedding at Cana (they were his friends) and the turning of water into wine.

The centerpiece of this final whirlwind, indeed of the whole book, is chapter 22, Yeshua’s confrontation in the desert with Satan. It is classic Anne Rice, a meeting of Good and evil as only she can render it. Appearing as a richly-dressed duplicate of Yeshua himself, Satan uses his celestial lore to try to lure the Savior of the world into his service. The dialog is crisp and quick, like this exchange:

“You know nothing of me. You have no idea! I was the firstborn of the Lord you claim as your father, you miserable beggar.”

“Careful,” I said. “If you become too angry you may dissolve in a puff of smoke.”

“This is no jest, you fledgling prophet,” he said. “I don’t come and go at whim.”

“Go at a whim,” I said. “That will be sufficient.”

The wedding at Cana is also a treat, with Rice showing us how Mary actually convinced Yeshua to turn the water into wine. (It was worthy of Jewish and Roman Catholic mothers around the world.)

The book ends with an unexpected but well deserved healing, and the promising final line: “And we started for the road.” Unfortunately, that promise will likely never be realized because Ms. Rice has again left the Church, and it’s doubtful her series “Christ, the Lord” will ever be finished. I hope I’m wrong, because this book was a wonderfully realized and well researched imagining of the Lord’s ministry at its beginning. It would be sad for it to end here.

As they say, “mysterious ways” and all that. We can pray.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Book Review

 

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Dancing with Historian

How do ideas or people change the world? How long does it take for major changes in worldviews to take place?Desire of the Everlasting Hills

These questions are explored, in a circling manner, by Thomas Cahill in his book “Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus,” (Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books Edition, 2001). This is the third in his Hinges of History series, preceded by “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” and “The Gifts of the Jews,” both of which I’ve reviewed here.

Cahill is a marvelous historical writer, making the story of Western civilization and culture a fascinating one. But here he takes on a new task, that of interpreter of the basic writings of the New Testament, meaning the gospels and letters of St. Paul. While he does a good, workmanlike job of it, there are fewer of those sparkling “Aha!” moments than in his previous works.

He starts off well, setting the scene for the reader by a whirlwind review of the four hundred years or so before Jesus was born. Beginning with Alexander the Great and moving up to the Roman occupation of Judea, Cahill gives us a pretty clear picture of the world Jesus came into, including an important fact that we don’t often think about; in the ancient world, the warrior was the role model, the icon that the people looked up to and physical might, whether expressed individually or militarily, was the expected norm in world affairs.

It was into this worldview that the Prince of Peace came. The central part of the book explores the Jesus of the synoptic gospels, the Jesus of the apostle Paul and the Jesus of John’s gospel. While Cahill gives us some nifty wordplay here, his observations are not stunningly original and can be easily found in other sources. Honestly, based on the subtitle of the book, “The World Before and After Jesus,” I was expecting more of a survey of Western history after Jesus’ resurrection rather than a summary of the gospels and guesses about their authors.

But here’s my biggest disappointment with this book, and it’s a big one. The author never directly addresses the resurrection of Jesus. He briefly approaches the miracles, and in typical historian fashion leaves them alone with the statement that the witnesses certainly believed they happened. Yet the biggest, world-changing miracle of all he dances around, circling it warily lest he approach it directly and perhaps offend any scholars or skeptics in the audience. Cahill fails to play his biggest card in explaining why the world is a different place today. I’d even go as far as to say that without Jesus’ resurrection the subtitle of this book would be unnecessary.

What’s funny is that it seems fairly clear that Mr. Cahill is himself a believer. In the book’s final section he writes glowingly about how Christ’s true followers are making a difference in today’s world, focusing particularly on a little known Italian group called the Community of Sant’Egidio. Their efforts are truly worthy of the attention he pays them. Yet all the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul couldn’t have brought them into being  without the resurrection.

If Thomas Cahill didn’t understand this right from the start, I don’t know why he wrote this book.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2014 in Book Review

 

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A Disappointing Book That Will Hang on My Wall

The other day while my wife and I were shopping in one of our favorite thrift stores, I found what looked to be a Knights in Combatnifty little book. Titled “The Little Book of the Holy Grail,” (Barnes & Noble/The Book Laboratory, 2004), it purported to give some historical background to the grail legends and even “retells two of the most famous Grail stories.” It was also loaded with marvelous Medieval art related to the grail. Oh, yes. I bought it.

Sucker.

Disappointing could be taken as an understatement here. Let’s start with the writing. The author, whose name will not be mentioned as a courtesy, is supposedly an attorney with a Master’s degree in Theology. They should have taken a composition class or two.

The first section of the book, about the history of the grail legends, is pedestrian at best. It gets the facts across and that’s it. The recounting of the grail stories is where the eyes glaze over. Honestly, I’ve read better fifth grade book reports. I’d quote it but I want you to finish this post.

For the big finish, the final section of the book is called “Reclaiming the Feminine Aspect of Christianity.” Here the author tries to make Dan Brown look like a scholar by going over the same “was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?” road that’s been traveled to death. There’s even a chapter here titled “The Conspiracy Continues?” Honest.

The only saving grace for this book are the beautiful reproductions of grail-themed art. Yet even here, the book falls short. None of the artwork is identified by artist or title. The only thing the reader is given is a list of acknowledgements as to the sources of the paintings and drawings. Frustrating.

I was going to donate this book to another thrift store, but then I had an idea. I have purchased several nice wooden frames at another thrift store we frequent and I plan to use a very sharp utility knife to extricate my favorite pictures and place them in the frames. I’m still trying to decide where I will hang them, but I know they’ll look great wherever they wind up.

Nice save, if I say so myself.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Book Hunting, Book Review, History

 

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The Theology of Friendship

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last post was on the theological virtues as expounded in Louis Markos’ book, “On the Shoulders of Hobbits.” Of course he covered the familiar trio of faith, hope and love, but then he threw in a fourth one: friendship. That one had me scratching my head a bit. I can agree that friendship is a virtue, but a theological virtue? Then I started thinking about it.

Darn, I hate when that happens!

A little research, a little scripture reading and it started to make sense. In fact, friendship fits in perfectly with faith, hope and love. Before I go into how this all works together, let’s take a look at friendship in general, and in the eyes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in particular.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Lewis or Tolkien not only knows the two were close friends, but they were also members of a group of friends who called themselves the Inklings. This group, which also included Charles Williams and Lewis’ brother Warren, would regularly gather to discuss various topics and to read some of their works in progress. Lewis thought so highly of friendship that he once wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves that “friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I shd. say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ ” ( I got that quote from a marvelous book titled “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life,” by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. If you are a Lewis fan you have to read this book.)

As for Tolkien, I don’t know if he ever wrote directly about friendship but its place in his heart is obvious by its place in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Truly the central, driving force of this epic is a series of friendships, anchored by Frodo and Sam. Of course Merry and Pippin’s bond is practically as strong and their adventures when separated from the Fellowship provide wonderful examples of why friendship can rightly be called a virtue. Then there’s the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, proving that even seeming enemies can develop strong friendships.

So what is this thing called friendship? Markos quotes Lewis describing it as “that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen.” Further, many ancient people looked upon friendship as the most human of all relationships, in some cases more important than family. I’ve heard it said that friends are the family you choose. A friend is not just someone you hang out with at the mall or go to the movies with. A friend is a person you willingly cast your lot with, extend loyalty to, and stand behind with a steadfast spirit. There is a type of affection that goes with it, but it isn’t of the overtly emotional variety. Friendship is as common as an ordinary day, and as wondrous as the night sky.

Friendship is also a key theme in the Bible, though often overlooked. Many times God related to His chosen ones as friends. God refers to Abraham as “my friend” (Isaiah 41: 8). Exodus 33:11 tells us that ” the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” And Psalm 25:14 states that “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” When you stop to think about it, it’s rather amazing that God, the creator of heaven and earth, would willingly relate to humans as friends. But how can this work?

First off, we have to define what friendship means, especially in relation to God and Jesus. I hear a lot about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus these days, but exactly what do people mean by this? I have a hunch that it means different things to different people since “personal relationship” is such a vague expression. People these days like “vague” because it gives them the wiggle room to define things any way they want at their convenience. But I think Jesus had something a bit more specific in mind. As a matter of fact, he tells us exactly what kind of relationship he expects in John’s gospel: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15: 14,15, ESV).

Friendship is the model Jesus would have us follow. This makes perfect sense since friendship is an excellent channel for the practice of the agape type of love that is referenced so often in the New Testament. This is the love of willing sacrifice and self-giving. It involves steadfast loyalty and support even during the hard times. Especially during the hard times. And while there may be an emotional component that goes along with it, it isn’t of the butterflies-in-the-stomach variety that can vanish so quickly. Together friendship and agape love form bonds that are meant to last a long time. Maybe into eternity.

Put all this together and it seems almost obvious that friendship is truly a theological virtue. Further, it is one that is familiar to all of us. Can we use our existing friendships as models of relating to God? In many cases, yes. We can also learn by reading about great friendships, like the ones in The Lord of the Rings and other great works of literature. Examples abound all around us. We just need to look, pay attention, and practice being God’s friends.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Book Review, Favorite Books, Ideas

 

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Good Holiday Book-Hunting

Moby-Dick coverI guess I must have been a good boy this past year because I’ve been having very good luck in my book-hunting the last few weeks. Between my favorite thrift stores and the local library, I’ve acquired some very nice volumes to add to my library.

Perhaps my favorite is an annotated copy of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick or The Whale,” (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1976, 1967.)  It was illustrated by Warren Chappell and includes a commentary by Howard Mumford Jones, who taught at Harvard University from 1936 until 1962. It’s a hard cover with the dust jacket still in decent condition. It also has a nice inscription reading, “A classic worthy of you, your attention, and retention. Merry Christmas, 1975. Jack and Margaret.”

I guess you could say it was re-gifted. Thank you very much.

But wait, there’s more! Anyone familiar with Winston Churchill knows that not only was he a brilliant leader, but he was also an accomplished writer and historian. Perhaps his most famous work is his four-volume “History of the English-Speaking Peoples.” Fortunately for me, Barnes & Noble put out a well-done single-volume of that massive undertaking back in 1994. It was arranged by noted historian Henry Steele Commager and follows the main stream of Churchill’s work. Commager included the chapters on Alfred the Great, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Henry VIII,  Elizabeth I, and George Washington, among many others. Purists may sniff at me – I have a friend who has read all four volumes more than once – but for someone with limited time it’s the perfect format.

Finally, for now at least, I picked up what looks to be a fascinating read, “The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & His Family,” (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003). It was co-written by two pretty big names in the fields of biblical archaeology and theology: Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington III. It’s the story of an ancient limestone ossuary, or burial box, that bears the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” As the promo on the back cover of the book says, “Could this be the first tangible proof of Jesus’ existence?” I love this kind of book!

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll fill you in another time on more of the books I’ve managed to get my hands on. Plus with Christmas around the corner, you can guess what I might find under the tree!

Merry Christmas all!

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Book Hunting

 

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“The Hobbit” Read-Along: Chapter XVI, A Thief in the Night

Bilbo Baggins Delivery

Bilbo Baggins Delivery (Photo credit: nevermindtheend)

“The Hobbit” isn’t a very long book. It runs a mere 250 pages or so. For most of us, that’s easy. But not if you’re Bilbo Baggins. He’s not used to ten pages of adventures, much less 250.

Just look what he’s been through so far: He had to entertain a bunch of unappreciative dwarves without any notice. He had to leave home! He barely escaped being Troll Chow. He had to exchange riddles with one of the creepiest characters in all of literature. And let’s not forget the goblins, wargs, a werebear, giant spiders, a devious dragon and those most dangerous of all creatures, men.

So as you might imagine, our Mr. Baggins is getting a bit weary about now. Here he is, besieged in the Mountain with a bunch of grouchy dwarves and no end to the situation in sight. He just wants to go home. Unless he does something himself he’s likely to be stuck where he is for a very long time. That just won’t do.

Fortunately, Bilbo had the great foresight to burgle the one thing in the whole Mountain that Thorin wants more than anything else: the Arkenstone of Thrain. So, taking advantage of poor Bombur, Bilbo slips off to meet with the Elvenking and Bard. He tells them flat-out, “Personally I am tired of the whole affair. I wish I was back in the West in my own home, where folk are more reasonable.” And he offers them the Arkenstone.

Well, after Bard and the Elvenking pick their jaws up off the ground, they see what Bilbo has given them: the solution. With new respect, the Elvenking says to Bilbo, “Bilbo Baggins! You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it.” To which Bilbo replies, “Thank you very much I am sure.” What he actually means is, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. Just end this thing, will you?!”

I have felt for awhile that the Arkenstone is a type of the Pearl of Great Price from Jesus’ parable. You know the one. A man would go and sell everything he owns to possess it. Well, Bilbo used the Arkenstone to purchase what for him was the Pearl of Great Price. Home. It’s hard to argue with his wisdom.

Having struck the deal, Bilbo anxiously heads back to the mountain when who should appear from out of the blue? Why Gandalf, of course! His timing is impeccable as future tales will bear out.

As usual, Gandalf brings glad tidings: “There is an unpleasant time just in front of you; but keep your heart up! You may come through all right.”

Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Book Review

 

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Power and Truth

Pilate confronts Jesus with two questions: don’t you know that I have the power to have you killed? And – what is truth? That is the language of kingdom, power and glory that the the world knows. Notice how the two halves support each other. In order to be able to say, ‘Support my kingdom or I’ll kill you,’ pagan empire needs to say that there’s no such thing as truth.

N.T. Wright, from “The Lord and His Prayer”

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Quotations

 

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