19 June 2008

California Same-sex Marriage

  1. The California Civil Code, which defines marriage laws, was amended in the 1970s to define marriage as "a civil contract between a man and a woman" and explicitly forbade "persons of the same sex from entering lawful marriage."
  2. In 2000, Californians voted to adopt Proposition 22 (aka, "the Knight Initiative"), which clarified the state's marriage code to state that only opposite-sex marriages would be recognized; i.e., a same-sex marriage performed in another state would not be honored by California.
  3. In early 2004, under the direction of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, city clerks issued ~4000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was done in defiance of state law (points 1 & 2, above); however, Newsom argued that state law violated the US Constitution.
  4. In late 2004, all of these marriages were subsequently voided by the state Supreme Court. Nevertheless, several suits were filed by groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Through the appeals process, these lawsuits eventually made their way to the state Supreme Court in March 2008.
  5. In 2005-2007, the state legislature passed bills allowing same-sex marriage; these were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger on the grounds that they complicated issues by not addressing Proposition 22, by preempting anticipated state Supreme Court decisions, etc.
  6. In late 2007, an initiative called the "Limit on Marriage Amendment" (or the "California Marriage Protection Act") gained enough signatures to be placed on the November 2008 ballot. The act echoes (exactly) the wording of Proposition 22.
  7. In May 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that the 1970s legislation and Proposition 22 that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples were unconstitutional and issued a June 16th deadline for counties to begin allowing same-sex marriage.
  8. On June 16, 2008, the first* same-sex marriages in California were performed. (*"first" under the current legalities....)
  9. In November 2008, Californians will vote on whether or not to amend their state constitution to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. The amendment uses the same wording as Proposition 22, which was just ruled unconstitutional, but if the amendment passes then it becomes part of the constitution (i.e., not "merely" a law) and so by definition could not be unconstitutional.


24 November 2007

Young-Earth PhDs

Here's an article describing an interesting group of scientists (hat-tip to T&S sidebar). It's about the scientists who make up the First Conference on Creation Geology. Two interesting quotes:

The first---unwittingly---makes the Bible into a scientific theory.

“We don’t subscribe to this idea of the ‘God of gaps,’ meaning if you can’t explain something, then blame God,” [John] Whitmore told me before describing a method that hardly seemed more scientific. “Instead, we think: ‘Here’s what the Bible says. Now let’s go to the rocks and see if we find the evidence for it.’ ”
Now, you may not agree that that makes the Bible a theory, and if you do not then I think you should look into how scientists use the word "theory."

The second quote is a very good rule to live by.
“I have faith that the Bible is a true and accurate record of the earth,” [Marcus Ross] said. “I also entertain the possibility that I’m wrong. It would be cartoonish to say I don’t have doubts from time to time. Everybody has moments of doubt. But I can have those moments without my brain exploding.”
Well said.


19 November 2007

Intelligent Design and the Natural Man

Nova recently aired a program about the Intelligent Design trial in Dover, PA. One of the interviewees questioned Darwinism, stating that it robbed man of his dignity.

I wondered whether the scriptures support this idea. My conclusion is that they do not. Yes, we were created in God's image, but our physical creation does not separate us from the animals. Rather, we have the same passions, drives, desires that they do (more or less). Importantly, it is this "natural man" that we must overcome.

We are not born "dignified" because of the manner of our creation any more than we are born "chosen" because we are "children of Abraham." Human dignity comes not by looking like but by acting like Jesus.

(More detail is posted at Feast Upon The Word Blog.)


11 November 2007

Caricatures of Caricatures?

Over on Feast Upon the Word Blog, there is a discussion about the use/creation of scripture-based cartoons. One of the concerns is whether it is a good idea to create "reduced narratives" of the scriptures. I think the concern is that our cartoons are actually caricatures of the scriptures.

But I've been thinking: aren't the scriptures themselves mere representations of something much greater? As beautiful, sacred, and moving as they are, they are still just an expression of our true object of worship.

Which is not to say that scriptures are caricatures of God, but how closely do they really approximate Him?


19 August 2007

Grace and More

There is a very good discussion going on over at Feast Upon the Word. Robert C started it with his post on grace and works in Ephesians. The discussion is quite long (up to 72 comments as of this posting) but worth reading. It's helped me clarify my thinking on many topics and think about new things as well.

Among other helpful thoughts, the discussion got me thinking about works. What are they good for, anyway? Let's just suppose that we believe Luke 17:10 and Mosiah 2:21: Even if we serve God with all diligence (i.e. obedience) we would still be unprofitable servants.

What does unprofitable mean? Well, in the context, it means that the servant has not gained anything to his credit. What does that mean?

Imagine a man living in Jesus' day, looking for a way to make a living, so he decides to sell himself into slavery, becoming a bondservant (sort of like an indentured servant). He gets a place to live, food, and protection, and the master gets someone who will do everything the master tells him to do. That's the deal. So if the servant does everything he is told, that is not counted towards him as some kind of bonus, as though he went above and beyond. Thus, he cannot one day say to the master, "I worked really hard so now you owe me something," because those were the terms of the contract. The word "unprofitable" applies to the servant, not to the master; i.e. the master may very well have profited from the servant's labor, but he doesn't owe the servant anything.

So, how do we profit from works if they are in fact "unprofitable"? I think the discussion I linked to holds the answer....


05 August 2007

"Bitter" + "Cup"

I've been thinking about the words “bitter cup.” (A more detailed version of this post is available here.)

How is the word “cup” used in the scriptures? A search of the KJV for the word yielded 57 references, which I divided into eight categories:

1) ACTUAL CUP – though additional symbolism is (at least sometimes) implied









What, if anything, do all of these verses have to with each other? First: that our discipleship is sometimes bitter in the same way (though to a lesser degree) as the Lord’s atonement. Bringing in the verses from Group 2, we see another important point: the sacramental cup is inseparably connected to that bitter cup Jesus hoped to avoid. Nevertheless, trembling, he took the cup and drank it completely. There’s something to be said about quantity and quality here: Groups 3 and 8 talk about God’s wrath and our iniquity reaching a maximum—that’s the “quantity” part. But Group 3 also refers to “the dregs,” which forces us to consider the quality of Christ’s suffering and the full meaning of his words on the cross, “It is finished.”

Lastly, the connection between Jesus’ bitter cup and our sacramental cup is both beautiful and overwhelming. That cup, which for Jesus was the bitterest, made possible the sacramental cup, which for us is the sweetest.


12 July 2007

Passover Symbolism During the Last Supper

(Yes, this is the same thing I posted at Feast Upon the Word. Why did I double-post? Because I've learned that some people who read this blog---or used to; it's been a while---don't read FUTW. So this is for you.)

As I studied the reading for Sunday School Lesson 23 (Luke 22:1-38; John 13-15), I kept coming back to the thought, "How did Jesus use the Passover feast to instruct his disciples?"

I'm going to try to present this sequentially, even though the Gospel authors don't agree in this respect. The sequence I am following is patterned after a typical Passover feast from the time period (I am relying on many sources for Passover ritual, but the one I should definitely mention is The Temple, by Alfred Edersheim). I don't know that Jesus' party followed the same schedule, but I assume that his Apostles would have been familiar with the "norm" and noticed any deviations from it.

Passover as Introduction and Conclusion

I found it particularly interesting that Jesus used the Passover, as opposed to any of the other feasts. What makes Passover such an appropriate time for his atonement? One could argue that other feasts are also rich in atonement-related symbolism; why not choose one of those dates? (Yes, I am assuming that God had some choice in the matter.) For example, why not choose Yom Kippur which, after all, means "Day of Atonement"? Or perhaps Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths), which commemorates Israel's forty years in the desert and is also one of the most joyful Jewish holidays. I could think of ways to relate that to the Atonement of Christ, if the two shared the same date.

I'm beginning to think that the reason that Passover was chosen has as much to do with the timing of the feast as it does with the symbolism of the feast itself---or, more precisely, the timing of the institution of the feast. Moses' instructions concerning the Passover occurred at a unique time in comparison to the other feasts: the Passover precedes the Law from Sinai, whereas the other feasts are part of that Law (Cf. Exodus 12 for Passover; Leviticus for other feasts). This one feature seems important because Jesus' Atonement fulfilled the "Old" Law and instituted a "new" one: Passover was before the Law and was the end of the Law.

First Cup of Wine: Rejoicing in Jehovah's Goodness

There were three to four cups of wine---mixed with water---used in the Passover feast. The first cup marked the beginning of the feast and was accompanied with a blessing of praise for Jehovah's goodness toward Israel. This is probably the cup the Apostles drank as Jesus said,

Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. (Luke 22:17-18)

Why did Jesus promise abstinence? One could say he was referring to his impending death, and using the wine as just one example of food he would not have time to enjoy; i.e. "I will not drink wine, because my death comes too soon," except that there is a reasonable expectation that Jesus partook of other foods at the Supper. The wine stands out as something uniquely refused. The reason may have to do with the purpose of this cup: the disciples could drink and rejoice in Jehovah's goodness, but Jehovah himself was too burdened by the thought of his ultimate act of goodness (Cf. D&C 19) to delight in that particular celebration. That juxtaposition is troubling for me: my greatest joy is Jesus' greatest agony.

Washing the Feet

After the first cup of wine, participants washed their hands. Obviously there was a practical aspect to washing one's hands before eating, but the ritual cleansing also symbolized making oneself spiritually clean. The account in John 13 isn't exactly clear on when Jesus "[rose] from supper...and began to wash the disciples' feet," but I suppose it was immediately following the first cup of wine.

Jesus plays off of the meaning of this symbol in at least two significant ways:

  1. He washes the disciples; they do not wash themselves---just as his atonement cleans them spiritually, which they cannot do for themselves.

  2. Jesus does not wash his own hands. How then was he made clean so as to be able to participate in the rest of the meal? Jesus could be showing that by serving others one makes oneself clean.

It's possible Jesus had both meanings in mind when he said of his disciples---and Judas in particular---"ye are clean, but not all" (John 13:10). The eleven were clean because they lived worthy to receive the atonement (meaning #1) and because they served others (meaning #2), but Judas forfeited both, due to his treachery (meaning #1) and his selfishness (Cf. John 12:6).

(Yes, Jesus also makes a point about service and humility, but that does not play off the original meaning of the symbol. As an interesting side note, however, when the disciples later argue about "which of them should be accounted the greatest," Jesus replies, "he that is chief, [let him be] as he that doth serve" (Luke 22:24-30). Is Jesus teaching that the way to be the "greatest" is to serve others, or is he pointing out that because he (Jesus) serves others he is already the greatest? The former has a sort of job-opening feel---"Wanted: Great People; Qualifications: Serve Others"---whereas the later indicates that that position is already taken. In other words, Jesus is already the greatest, and compared to his glory, of what significance are the differences between the disciples?)

Bitter Herbs

After the first cup of wine and the ritual washing, the head of the dinner party (the father of the home, or Jesus in this case) took some bitter herbs sandwiched between pieces of unleavened bread, dipped them in salt water or vinegar, and ate them. He then gave some to everyone else at the feast. I've always thought it strange that Jesus identified Judas as his betrayer with this gesture, rather than simply pointing at him, but maybe the symbolism holds some answers.

The unleavened bread which formed part of the "sop" was meant to remind everyone of the haste with which they were freed from bondage, mirroring nicely the haste with which Jesus would be tried and crucified, and the haste with which we can be freed from sin by calling on his name (Cf. Helaman 5). Sandwiched in between this symbol of liberation were the bitter herbs, representing the trials endured in Egypt. But how did Israel get stuck in Egypt in the first place? Hadn't Joseph saved Egypt by feeding them through the famine? Didn't Pharaoh commit the land of Goshen to the Israelites? But, as we know, "there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8), who reneged on the promises between Joseph and the previous pharaoh. Thus, Egypt (and the bitter herbs) represents not only persecution, but also betrayal.

The "sop" of bitter herbs and unleavened bread would have been the last part of the feast Judas 'enjoyed,' for "having received the sop [Judas] went immediately out: and it was night" (John 13:30).

Paschal Lamb

The feast on the lamb was obviously a major part of the meal. Strange, then, that there is almost no mention of it in the Gospels. There is rich symbolism between the lamb and Jesus, but since this post is on how Jesus used Passover symbolism to teach his disciples, and there is no record of how Jesus may have done this, that is all I will say about this portion of the feast.

The Wine of Blessing and 'Extra' Bread

After feasting on the lamb, participants were not to eat anything more until dawn, although drink was permitted. Jesus, however, apparently 'broke' this rule by passing bread along with wine.
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.' Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.' (Luke 22:19-20)

What is the significance of 'breaking' the Passover rules with the institution of the sacrament? Possibly this was symbolic of the fact that once Jesus, the Lamb of God, had completed his Passover sacrifice, the 'rules' of the Passover no longer applied. In their place we find new rules and a new ordinance to remember them. Thus, the sacrament is an indication or remembrance that The Passover has been fulfilled.

It's also interesting to note that Jesus used the third cup---the cup of blessing---to institute the sacrament. This cup was drunk in thanks for a meal just enjoyed, whether at Passover or some other occasion. Just as this cup normally stood for thanks for the Passover meal, in the sacrament this cup shows thanks for The Passover sacrifice.

The Hallel

Matthew tells us that "when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives" (Matthew 26:30). I'm not going to go into detail on this, since it is merely mentioned by Matthew, but I felt I should at least mention the hymn. The full Hallel is essentially Psalms 113-118. I mention it because Psalm 118 in particular (especially verse 22) is such a meaningful way to end the Last Supper and frame the discourse that would become John 15-17.


10 January 2007

What's Wrong with This Picture? (#2)

What's wrong with this picture? I'm not asking about color choices or body proportions, I mean something wrong in how the characters/event/setting are portrayed.

Come up with an answer, and preferably a scripture that supports it, then scroll down for mine---no cheating!

What's wrong? See Joseph Smith-History 1:32, "The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person." The light was coming from Moroni, so there shouldn't be any shadow behind him.

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What's Wrong with This Picture? (#1)

What's wrong with this picture? I'm not asking about color choices or body proportions, I mean something wrong in how the characters/event/setting are portrayed.

Come up with an answer, and preferably a scripture that supports it, then scroll down for mine---no cheating!

What's wrong? See Leviticus 19:27, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." If Nephi is the righteous one, why is he clean shaven?

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04 January 2007

Resource for Sunday School Teachers

There is a new blog devoted to being a resource for teachers. It is called Feast Upon the Word Blog. Some may recognize the name as coming from the scripture study wiki Feast Upon the Word. Indeed, the creator of the wiki is also behind the blog, and I was lucky enough to be asked to participate (and flattered but mostly terribly intimidated by the invitation as well).

There are three main categories of posts on the blog:
1) Sunday School lessons: these will cover specific reading assignments in the New Testament (this year) and will include notes, questions, handouts, and lesson plans.
2) Study guides: these will address study methods, including (for examples) how to study a specific chapter or how to deal with Greek translation.
3) Teaching topics: these will include both generally applicable and specific topics. By general, I mean topics that apply to any lesson, regardless of the reading assignment, such as how to ask questions, how to involve shy students, what to do differently with large vs. small classes. By specific, I mean topics dealing with a specific lesson, such as how to introduce the Joseph Smith Translation or how to make sense of Paul's epistles.

Note that the blog has just begun and so these categories are not firmly established and there may be more added.

I'll still be posting here, though the themes will change a bit since most of what I've done here in the past has been Sunday School-oriented. (I'm thinking of making this more of my daily scripture reading blog.)