Circumlocution Confessions

Isaiah 40:21-31 – The 5th Sunday after Epiphany – for February 8, 2015

“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God . . .” (Isaiah 40:28)

It seems such a puny, one-syllable word in English . . . God.

The-Names-of-GodThe Italians (Dio) also have three letters, whereas the Germans (Gott), French (Dieu), and Spanish (Dios) boast a grand total of four. Hmong (Vajtswv) and Filipino (Maykapal) increase the count average, but how much of that is based on translations in the English alphabet?

For Scrabble, G2-O1-D2 amounts to 5 ho-hum points (unless linked to other words or when the tiles are placed on a double or triple square).

As I, and countless others, have joked (or have been very, furry serious), god spelled backwards is dog. Which, given what I’ve learned from dogs, is never an insult. My puppy Hannah died at 14 years of age last year. If I were to distill all the lessons learned from her into one, I’d claim how humbling it was to be around unconditional love. And, thanks be to YHWH, that’s a darn fine way to understand God.

God, of course, was rarely known as “God” in the original Hebrew or Greek of the Bible. Even confined to the English translations I’m familiar with, God was often known by the aforementioned and unmentionable YHWH, along with Lord, Creator, Almighty and other more-than-three-letter words. If the tetragrammaton YHWH was used in Hebrew scriptures to skirt saying and writing the holy name, then Jesus’ use of Abba—Papa, Daddy—served as an intimate Christian testament counterpoint.

Isaiah declared (from the Common English Bible),

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

The creator of the ends of the earth.

He doesn’t grow tired or weary.

How can we adequately say or describe God? David James Duncan, in his reverently irreverent “God Laughs & Plays,” wrote: Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Adverbial Jesus

John 1:43-51 – Second Sunday after Epiphany – for January 18, 2014

Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” (John 1:46)

Unleash the adverbs!
Unleash the adverbs!

Like the majority of Jesus’ disciples, Nathanael barely received a nod in the gospels. Unlike most of them, Nathanael delivered one of the most memorable questions about Jesus.

But first, another disciple named Philip—who could’ve been Nathanael’s co-worker or neighbor or third cousin or boyhood best friend or maybe even his sister’s husband’s brother’s boss—told Nathanael about a swell fellow named Jesus. Part of Philip’s explanation included Jesus’ hometown: Nazareth.

Nazareth? Nazareth!

According to the fourth Gospel, Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”


No one knows how Philip knew Nathanael. Their relationship either didn’t matter or was a blank slate to the writer of John. Indeed, the ignorance about the disciples’ various relationships prior to following Jesus appears inconsequential to any of the gospels’ authors. It’s what comes after, right?

As with Nathanael and Philip’s relationship, John’s Gospel remained ambiguous about the tone of Nathanael’s query. In the sparse retelling of Jesus’ ministry chronicled in the four traditional gospels, the ancient and modern believers weren’t overloaded with clues about the emotional reactions of the disciples.

What did Nathanael really mean by his question? How tempting to add a singular word to verse 46. Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Magi Me, Magi You

Matthew 2:1-12 – First Sunday of Epiphany – for January 4, 2015

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1)

Stars to follow, gifts to share . . .
Stars to follow, gifts to share . . .

How many magi were there? Certainly the Gospel of Matthew never mentioned the names or numbers of those travelers from afar. Three is the traditional count, but modern magi math is based on the gifts offered to the child.

Did any unnamed and unnumbered sojourners really give those now-familiar treasures to Jesus and his family? Every first year seminary student knows they were symbolic gifts, somber references to impending greatness and inevitable death. And I can’t help wondering if Matthew’s author would’ve reconsidered those metaphoric presents if warned about a future of Black Fridays with its 40% discounts on the newest phones or fashions?

Many of us, myself included, put the bewildered shepherds and road-weary magi near each other on the mantel. The ceramic (or plastic or glass) figurines blankly gaze at the Christ child, where the infant is situated between old Joseph and young Mary. A host of heavenly angels—in my case, it’s a solitary angel—hovers nearby. But every regular attendee of ye olde Sunday school classes could identify the annual mantel miscues. Luke’s sheepish herders and Matthew’s wise guys were from different stories and appeared at different times.

First century Herod was grim and devious. He, like the twentieth century’s lying loser Richard Nixon or the vicious Joseph Stalin, had hidden agendas within hidden agendas. Can the one who has the power ever be trusted? We, the reader of Matthew, are glad for the dreams that warn the magi about Herod’s manipulations. It’s always better to take the long way home and still have your head properly attached to the neck. Continue reading →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather