Saturday, September 15, 2018

How to illuminate a manuscript

If I had been born male  in the middle ages, this is what I would have wanted to learn to do.
I awed by illuminated manuscripts.

This blog post by Patricia Lovett shows the steps involved:

Recreating the ‘Beatus’ page from the Eadui Psalter

Monday, September 10, 2018

Joint worship with Manatial de Vida, Sept. 9, 2018

Yesterday's joint service Valley Covenant and Manantial de Vida.

Steve is almost finishing preaching through Acts. The incredible Charo Shaeffer translated his message on Acts 28:1-10.Here is the English transcript:

September 9, 2018 “Snakes” – Acts 28:1-10

Acts 28:1-10
September 9, 2018 –
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

[The audio for this sermon will also have a Spanish translation by Charo Schaeffer.]

I knelt down and connected a hose to the faucet. Then I heard a loud “buzzzzz.” I realized I was nose to nose with a coiled rattlesnake. I yelled and jumped back. Our daughter ran around our cabin in Arizona to see what I was yelling about. The snake relaxed and stayed there, wrapped around the pipe.
My project with the hose was over, but there was an urgent issue. We were leaving the next morning. The water needed to be turned off for the winter. The rattler blocked my access to that valve. I tossed rocks at the snake, but it didn’t budge.
Paul came through riots, prison, and a shipwreck, but a snake blocked him too. As the last chapter of Acts opens, the kindly natives of Malta start a fire on the shore and welcome the cold, wet castaways to warm themselves. Paul helped gather wood.
In the gloom and mist, Paul did not see the snake camouflaged as a small branch in the brush he picked up. The snake was dormant from the cold. But when he laid the bundle on the fire, it warmed up immediately, slithered out, and attached itself to Paul’s hand.
Luke says in verse 3 that it was a viper. There are no vipers or other poisonous snakes at all on Malta today, but there were then. Physicians in the ancient world, like Luke the writer of Acts, had good knowledge of snakes. The locals immediately recognized it as venomous. Verse 6 tells us “They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead.”
The Maltese also thought Paul must have been a murderer. “Justice” was bringing him his due. He escaped the storm, but the goddess Justice, holding her scales, would balance things out. Instead of drowning, he would die by snake bite.
They didn’t know God had other plans for Paul. If the deity that looked after him was not going to let angry mobs, cruel soldiers, prison chains or northern winds keep Paul from going to Rome, a little snake was not a problem. The Lord miraculously kept Paul from feeling the effects of the venom and he shook the viper off his hand back into the fire.
The islanders jumped then to the opposite conclusion. Paul was not being punished by a god. He was a god. So the red carpet rolls out in verse 7 as Publius, the chief official, welcomed Paul’s party into his home for three days.
We may draw the same lesson as we did from the shipwreck last week. Whatever God’s plans are for us, they are not going to be frustrated or ruined when we run into obstacles along the way. When the snakes of this world jump out and bite us, the grace of Jesus Christ still watches out for us and will see us through. Whatever God wants for you will not fail. He will not fail. Even when there’s a snake in the way.
That doesn’t mean you should play with snakes, literally or otherwise. The Gospel of Mark, from which we read about Jesus doing healing miracles, has an extra ending someone wrote after Mark finished. It’s verses 9-20 of Mark 16 in some Bibles, but not in recent versions. Mostly it’s all OK and offers a nice tidy ending to Mark, but it’s not genuine. One really troublesome bit is verses 17 and 18 of Mark 16.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
The idea is that miraculous signs happen for those who believe in Jesus. That’s true. But it doesn’t mean you should deliberately handle snakes or drink poison. That’s foolish. Just last month a pastor in Kentucky nearly died when a timber rattlesnake he was handling in church bit him. He nearly died and it was hospital life support that saved him, not a miracle. God will help us, but He gave us brains so we wouldn’t go looking for trouble. The Old Testament tells us, and Jesus repeated it, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Paul did not go looking for a snake. He just gathered firewood, just tried to serve others and stay alive to do God’s work. God didn’t save him from the snake to make a spectacle. God kept Paul alive through one more trial because He had plans for him. Jesus was bringing Paul to share the Gospel with people who needed to hear it.
God has plans for you. Your story may not be as exciting as Paul’s prison and shipwreck and snake, but you have your own trials. And God will bring you through them so that you can share the Gospel with people in your life, your friends and neighbors and maybe even some strangers like Paul did.
Look at verse 2. My translation calls the people on Malta “natives.” But Luke literally called them “barbarians.” It was a derogatory term for anyone who didn’t speak Greek. To Greeks and Romans, other languages sounded like “bar, bar, bar,” just babbling. The Maltese language derived from Phoenician, a tongue related to Hebrew. Modern Maltese language still has Phoenician words and the current residents have Phoenician DNA.
Yet these “barbarians” were “unusually kind” and hospitable to Paul and his company. Their chief opened his home to them. When the travelers were ready to sail on, Luke says in verse 10, “they put on board all the provisions we needed.”
Luke doesn’t mention preaching the Gospel on Malta, but it’s plain that God had a purpose for stranding Paul there. The chief’s father was sick with a form of fever and dysentery unique to Malta, transmitted by germs in goat’s milk. Paul prayed and healed the man. Then he healed everyone else who was sick on the island. God didn’t just take care of Paul. His took care of those around Paul, like the sailors saved in the shipwreck. God’s purpose included those strange-speaking people on a little island.
God’s purpose includes you and me. To respond to that promise and hope, we can learn from the Maltese. Before they had even heard of Christ, they did the Christian thing. They were kind to strangers. And when they received from Jesus through Paul the gift of healing, they were grateful. They responded by giving back what they could, supplying the needs of Paul and his companions for the rest of their journey. Kindness to strangers is a lesson you all know we really need today in this country.
Give and then give back, even to strangers. That’s the Gospel. Jesus Christ gave Himself on the Cross for you and me. Our whole lives are to be given back to Him in thankful response to His gift, by giving to others. And as we receive grace and forgiveness from Jesus, we must admit that we don’t deserve it. In His eyes, in our constant sin and failure, we are all “barbarians.” Without Jesus, we are spiritually uncivilized, enemies of God. Yet Christ loves us and comes to us and gives us His gifts.
You may be wondering how my snake story turned out. Well I was dismayed. It was late Friday morning and we need to leave at 8 a.m. the next day. How do I get rid of the snake? I made phone calls. National forest service: “Call animal control.” Animal control: “Sorry, we don’t go outside the city limits and we don’t do snakes.” Private pest control companies: “Only bugs and mice. No snakes.” Finally Arizona Fish and Game: “Call one of these two people. They can help, but there will be a charge.”
I called the first name, “Anthony.” A child answers. I ask for Anthony. “Daaad, phone!” Anthony came to the phone and I explained my problem.
“O.K., tell me how to get there,” he said.
“Just a moment,” I replied, “I have a couple questions. First, does this mean you are coming right away? Second, how much will it cost?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes and it’s not going to cost you anything.”
Anthony’s Ford Ranger came down the driveway in ten minutes on the dot. Within another five minutes, deftly using a hook and long tongs, he had the snake in a canvas bag. Then he turned to Joanna and me and said, “Now, I need to a place to let her go.”
I was expecting him to put his tools and the bagged snake in the Ranger and drive away with our problem. But Anthony wasn’t going to kill this creature. In fact, he kept remarking on the colors of its stripes and talking about how “beautiful” she was. He wanted to protect that snake, get it out of harm’s way, not destroy it!
So we took a hike down by the creek, a good distance from our cabin and the other homes around us. Anthony carefully upended the sack as my daughter and I stood back and took a picture to show my wife when we got home.
As we walked back up the hill, I learned that Anthony does this sort of thing all the time, just because he likes snakes. He has a regular job as a commercial pilot for FedEx, but he finds beauty and fascination in animals that make most of us shudder and want to run. Anthony loves them.
If you and I are honest, we will admit there is plenty of bad in us, even if we look pretty good on the outside. If others knew they might shudder and run. We’re not just barbarians, we are snakes. In our pride and anger, with our jealousy and greed and lust, we are, as Jesus said to some Pharisees, children of our father the devil, the old serpent who first deceived us and made us wretched.
Yet Jesus loves us. He finds beauty in us. Like Anthony finds in his snakes. Like Paul and Luke found in those Maltese barbarians. Jesus Christ finds you and me fascinating and lovely and worth His time. You are worth enough that Jesus gave His live for you.
As Anthony got in his truck, I asked, “Do you really do this for free? Can’t I give you something?” He said, “No, I do this just because I enjoy it. Payment is not necessary. But if you want to donate something to my son’s little league team, I’ll take that.” I was so relieved, so totally grateful, that I reached for my wallet, pulled out some cash, and handed it to him. It was a small token of my gratitude for a huge relief to my mind. If it bought a bat or a Little League uniform for some kid, that would be great.
Jesus died and rose again for you and me. He did it for free. He did it just because He wanted to. He didn’t expect to be compensated for His sacrifice. We’re barbarians and snakes, after all. We could not possibly afford our salvation. So it’s free. It’s grace.
But we want to be grateful. We want to honor Jesus with real gratitude. So we bring Him gifts by bringing gifts to others. We give to Him through our churches so that anyone can walk in those doors and hear in either Spanish or English that Jesus loves him, that Jesus gave His life for her.
We also give to people that maybe only Jesus finds lovely. The poor. The uneducated. The criminal. People who speak languages stranger than English or Spanish. People on the edges of our civilization. People we might think don’t deserve it, the barbarians of our world. They may stay in an RV in our parking lot, or sleep under a bridge, or live on the other side of the world in a hut. But just like Jesus loves us, He loves them. We can show our gratitude to Jesus by loving them too.
So show “unusual kindness” to someone. Ask where can you find “barbarians” or “snakes” who need Jesus’ love? People like the Maltese who need to be healed, or people like Paul and the castaways, who needed to be warmed and fed. Who are they? Let God show them to you and then show them His love. They are all lovely in Jesus’ eyes. He wants everyone to be saved.
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2018 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj



The first word I learned to read was "Look" from a soft-cover Dick and Jane primer. Even at age six, I realized the significance of that moment, and I appreciated how appropriate it was that my first word should be "look." Literacy would open the world for me, and all I had to do was pick up a book to discover it. It's not an exaggeration to call that a holy moment in my life.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Preparing for the Cascadia Quake

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific Northwest coast could hit at any time.
Enter your Oregon address for a custom report on your seismic risks and how to prepare.

The Moment

The scenario: Oregon's long-awaited magnitude 9 earthquake has finally struck, unleashing a sustained shaking from British Columbia to the tip of California. Oregon was unprepared – and your home in the valley is no exception.


Shaking here is strong. It causes panic. Heavy furniture is moving. Plaster is falling from the walls and ceilings. Many old brick buildings that haven't been reinforced are failing. Most buildings constructed before the '90s are damaged but usable. Buildings constructed before the '70s are likely more damaged. Many bridges are damaged and impassable.

Your Community’s Recovery

Experts project it could take several months to restore your community to its normal function based on damage to pipes, infrastructure, and the transportation corridors needed for recovery efforts.
Recovery Graph

How To Prepare

Given the hazards and preparedness level in your community, experts suggest keeping an emergency kit with enough supplies to last a minimum of two weeks. They also recommend connecting with community groups to boost your region's overall resiliency.

Your Supply Kit

Experts suggest you have the following:
Weeks of supplies
per person
Gallons of water
per person
per person
For more information on making your kit, check out these emergency supply lists from OPB and American Red Cross.

Your Home

Based on the estimated shaking intensity in your area, experts recommend you bolt your house to the foundation and secure heavy furniture. Strap down your water heater. Know the location of utility shut-offs and keep needed tools nearby.

Know Your Routes

Make sure your family and friends know where to gather after the earthquake and how to get there. You'll need a reconnection plan. Do you cross a bridge on your way to school or work? It could be unsafe to cross after an earthquake. Do you need an evacuation route? If you're in the tsunami zone, you do. Find your route.
Also be aware that some major roads won't be safe or passable during and after an earthquake. Contact your local public works department or Office of Emergency Management in advance to find out which routes could potentially be impassable in your area.

Know Your Leaders

Contacting local officials with questions and concerns can further preparedness efforts in your community. Recommended people to contact: building officials, who can assess vulnerable structures, local emergency planning committees, and elected officials.

The Importance of Community

The most crucial thing you can do to increase the resiliency of your community is connect with your neighbors to plan as a group. One way to do this is through Community Emergency Response Teams. Find out how to join or start a community team.
How does it work?
Aftershock is designed to help Oregonians prepare for a Cascadia earthquake. Several state agencies have released predictions on how a 9.0 earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone would affect Oregon. Aftershock organizes and delivers that information in a way that makes it accessible to any Oregonian.
Aftershock uses data from modelling done by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. Geographic data sets include: expected shaking, tsunami zone, soil liquefaction, landslides and impact zones — determined by the Oregon Resilience Report. The descriptions of risk and how to prepare for those risks are based on best estimates from DOGAMI, the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Have questions? Click here for more information.
Who made this?
Aftershock began during a weekend Storytelling with Data build-a-thon hosted by Hack Oregon and the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Jason Bernert and Tony Schick led the project with contributions from Dan Logan of Portland State University, Geoff Ostrove of the University of Oregon, the Portland multimedia studio Sticky and computer engineer David Losada.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

David Bentley Hart is a Democratic Socialist

I don't always agree with DBH, and often when I do, I wince at his aggressive rhetoric, but this time I can absolutely agree with what he writes, and applaud the way he does it.

A Brief Political Confession

by David Bentley Hart

Forgive me for stepping out from behind the curtain here, but I can think of nowhere else to post this. It has come to my attention that there have been some debates online, in a variety of forums, regarding my political convictions. Why anyone cares very much, I cannot say, but I am of course flattered. It even seems, however, that there are those who want to conscript me into their own political causes. Again, I am flattered, but I am also somewhat disturbed. In fact, apparently a comic feuilleton that I published about nine years ago—about a letter J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son, where he professed to being drawn simultaneously toward anarchism and toward a purely ceremonial monarchism—has been seized on by a few of these disputants as some kind of personal “monarchist” manifesto. I find this a mite bizarre, since that piece was nothing but an idle fantasy on how nice it would be if there were no need for a political class at all, and we all lived in a kind of agrarian utopia, and the only government were a totally powerless (and ideally somewhat inbred) monarch whose only interests were Dresden china and fly-fishing. How anyone could mistake that for a serious statement of political philosophy, I honestly cannot imagine. I am fond of the piece, and regard it as a good specimen of the sort of light extemporanea I particularly enjoy writing; but that is all. I have also been informed by an acquaintance who does some publicity work that these debates have resulted in interventions on the part of some person or persons unknown in the text of the brief Wikipedia page devoted to me. Apparently, someone does not want me to be identified as a democratic socialist there, though that is in fact what I am.

I have to say, for those in the academy familiar with my technical work, there could scarcely be much confusion on this score. From my very first publications onward, my political leanings have been almost ostentatiously on display in my scholarly writings. But I suppose it would be wise to make things clear here. I apologize in advance to anyone who might find my views a disappointment; but, again, it does not seem to me to be something that many people should care about.

I have never belonged to any political party except the Democratic Socialists of America; I am a member even now. Moreover, contrary to some opinions expressed online, my membership in the DSA is not simply an act of ironic political theatre, or a sullen expression of my contrarian disposition. I am quite a contented and convinced son of the European Christian Socialist tradition; I was formed in early in life by William Morris and John Ruskin, among other worthies of that sort; and socialism is my politics in the short term. In the long term, as the eschatological horizon of my political vision, as it were, I am drawn to something like Pyotr Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism, however unrealizable it may be within history. One needs a Utopia to strive for and fall short of. I have, moreover, no interest in or sympathy for—in fact, am temperamentally averse and morally hostile to—any forms of political conservatism: neo-conservatism, palaeo-conservatism, “lost-cause” conservatism, monarcho-conservatism, theo-conservatism, or any other. The true conservatives I have known in my life have generally struck me as suffering from a somewhat bilious resentment of the simple and inevitable fact of social change, and from a jealous desire to freeze reality in an image of a past they only think they recall or understand. To me, that would be an emotionally exhausting way to live. I take Heracleitus as my guide here, and recognize that you really cannot step in the same river twice. If the present appalls you, seek things eternal, like love and justice; but let the dead bury their dead. I also dislike every form of libertarianism, which among all the expressions of the American political mind strikes me as the most incompatible with Christianity.

I realize that in America, alone among nations with developed economies, the word “socialism” has a sinister ring in many ears. I take this as a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity. I am well aware of how badly the various parts of a “socialized” economy can at times be managed (the tales I could tell of my experiences with the NHS); but, well managed, they make for a far more humane governing philosophy than ours, and one that comes as close to something like “Distributist” justice in the use of property and wealth as we can hope for under current circumstances. So I find it very odd that, when we look at those nations of northern and western Europe that enjoy the benefits of sane socialist policies, as a result of both their Social Democratic and their Christian Democratic traditions—nations, like Germany or Denmark or France, where the cost of healthcare per capita is far lower and yet coverage is universal, where life spans are longer, where working people are not rendered bankrupt by serious illnesses, where the children of the poor cannot be denied expensive treatments by predatory insurance adjusters, where people have far more savings in bank and endure much lower levels of debt, where wages generally keep pace with inflation, where every worker has decent vacation time each year, where suicide and opioid addiction are not the default lifestyle of the working poor, where homelessness has been nearly abolished, where retirement care is humane and comprehensive, where schools are immeasurably better, where literacy is far higher…—we recoil in horror and thank God that we are free from such things. Surely, we tell ourselves, these are curses, only a few steps away from the gulags. We know that civic wealth is not meant for civic welfare, but is supposed to be diverted into the pockets of the military-industrial complex, by the needless purchase each year of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons systems that will never be used, or is supposed to be squandered through unneeded tax cuts for the very richest of the investment class. We know that when the child of a working family is diagnosed with cancer, that the child should be denied the most expensive treatments, even if they alone can possibly save him or her, and then should probably die, and that his or her family should be utterly impoverished in the process. We call this, I believe, being free. And, as long as we have access to all the guns we could ever need to fight off invasions from Venus, what more can we ask?

Anyway, there it is. Excuse the interruption. Best to all—DBH.


(DBH is a North American, Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian. Source: DBH's FB page, today.)

McCain's funeral: "I Vow to Thee My Country"

THE REST OF THE STORY: As I listened to McCain's funeral this morning on NPR, they announced a piece as "Jupiter," from Holst's "The Planets." Although it did indeed begin as a theme embedded in Holst’s “Jupiter,” Holst set that melody ("Thaxted") to Cecil Spring Rice’s text “I Vow To Thee My Country” in 1921. It is now a beloved Anglican hymn. I cannot help but think that McCain, who was raised as an Episcopal, chose it to be played because of its lyrics.
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Titles of Bach Chorales, as Translated By My Niece After One Semester of German NOLAN BONVOULOIR

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’s 12th Most-Read Article of 2016

Valet will ich dir geben

I will give a deer to the valet
Kommt, Seelen, dieser Tag
Come, seals, this day
Wie bist du, Seele
How are you, seal?
Christus, der uns selig macht
Christ, make us a salad
Nun lob mein Seel den Herren
Don’t throw that herring to my seal
Was willst du dich, o meine Seele
What are you gonna do now, O my seal?
Christ lag in Todes Banden
Christ is late to every band rehearsal
Schm├╝cke dich, o liebe Seele
My dear seal, you are such a schmuck

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Ministry as Sponging

I wrote this ten years ago

Ministry as Sponging
Isaiah 53:
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried.

This Lent I am learning how to be a sponge.

If Jesus' battle with sin, death and the devil has been won on cross, what we are presently engaging in is a mop-up operation. That means as his disciples, we are to absorb sin, suffering, grief and despair, just like He did.

So I am trying to learn how to be a sponge.

I am trying to learn how to walk with an Iranian woman through the valley of the shadow of death.
I am trying to learn how to listen to people who are depressed and angry with those I love.
I am trying to learn how to help someone shoulder shame, frustration and abandonment.
I am trying to learn how to enter into lives marked by pain, disease, and poverty.
I am trying to learn how to carry on when what I have to give is rejected.

I'm learning I'm need to be a lot more absorbent! But that's scary, because the more absorbent the sponge, the more porous it is. I'm not much for being drilled, shot through or eaten away.

We Protestants don't like to talk about it much, but the call to ministry is an invitation to allow oneself to be used as a sponge. Pastoral ministry--dare I use the term, "priesthood"--demands that one be extra-absorbent.

Sure, we like to claim that all believers are priests, but when we say this, I'm not sure that we are always thinking of allowing ourselves to be scrubbed over the world's dirt, wrung out, rinsed and repeated. We prefer to think of priesthood in terms of issues of direct access, not matters of soaking and swabbing.

A robust church is an absorbent church, but one which doesn't tear or lose its shape when it is repeatedly wrung out.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

Good sponges do not resist squeezing, nor do they make much sound when compressed. Similarly, when flattened, good ministers do not turn combative, but yield themselves and silently pour themselves out before the Lord.
...He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

Jesus was ultra-absorbent. He became sin, for our sakes. He was so absorbent that when wrung out on the cross, not only water but blood flowed.

Hebrews 12
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

I'm feeling wrung out, but I haven't yet shed blood. I can't wait for the ultimate Easter when there won't be any more sin to mop up, and our sponges will be transformed into prisms.