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Archive for November, 2009

Committed fans of sweetness and light need not consult seventh chapter of the biblical book of Daniel.

Placed in the time of the weak-kneed Babylonian king Belshazzar—it is notable how much the brute power of empire compensates for frailty at the top—the story shows us the Judahite exile Daniel terrified by his bizarre night-time visions.

They are not, to put it mildly, a pretty sight. Waves of animalesque imagery flood the man’s brain. These are interpreted as the comings of goings of great empires, a theme that ought to have made Belshazzar’s knees knock still more. Empires, after all, presume and when necessary insist upon their own permanence.

The exile’s dreams say otherwise. (more…)

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Badly as Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar comes off, he is the moral equivalent of a rock star when placed alongside his pitiable son Belshazzar. For all his overweening pride, the pater familias of this dubious tribe at least learned the lesson that ‘the God of the heavens is sovereign over the affairs of men and gives rule and power to whomever he wills’. Thought it took becoming an animal to figure this out, the biblical book of Daniel at least credits the now defunct Nebuchadnezzar for his tuition.

Not so Belshazzar the son, a man who earns that lamentable historical badge of being the last leader of an empire. Belshazzar will learn nothing and will die in the very night his chickens come home to roost. (more…)

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One should spare a merciful thought for the writer of an acrostic.

Whether required to bend his pen to the task or the victim of his own enthusiastic but self-incarcerating ambition, the man or woman who sits down to write a poem wherein each sequence of lines begins with the same letter of the alphabet does not merit our scorn. If his result sounds wooden or inauthentic he deserves, at worst, our pity and, more charitably, the benefit of our aesthetic doubts.

Take the writer of the exceedingly long one hundred and nineteenth psalm, for example. Some ninety-seven verses into his long, parallelistic slog, he wrestles with the glories of YHWH’s revelation, on the one hand, and the letter mem (the Hebrew equivalent of our English letter m) on the other. (more…)

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Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar does not come off well in the biblical book of Daniel. It is not difficult to find in the text’s description of his behavior the definition of a neurotic fool.

Yet below the obvious humorous touches in the book’s way of telling a story, a more subtle irony may be detected. Frankly, it is difficult to know whether this kind of thing is really there or whether we read it into the text because we rather like this kind of thing. One such soft-spoken irony is borne along by the Aramaic word gala’ and related forms. (more…)

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We parents watch attentively for the return on our investment.

Parenting is not a catch-and-release endeavor nor a spectator sport. To the contrary, our identity is wrapped up in the results. To some degree, they define us.

Those who keep the law are wise children,
but companions of gluttons shame their parents.

We have tools, with our modern discourse of individualism and our casual approach to rectitude, for letting ourselves off the hook quite quickly when our grown child runs amock. Indeed, we may have needed to react against the rigid assumptions that wrote off a parent for another adult’s deeds. (more…)

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When we unreflectively take ‘democracy’ as our self-evident starting point, we gain individual rights and untrammeled liberties at the loss of other blessings. The economic and social benefits of prizing liberty are so obvious that we absolutize them. We convert the gift into the god. We idolize the product rather than the maker.

We behave stupidly, mistaking the part for the whole. We become fools.

It may be impossible for us to share all the assumptions that undergird the biblical proverbs. Indeed it may be unwise. History means something and ‘originalist’ attempts to re-make our society according to an ancient blue-print always fail. We are called to be wise, not antiquarian. (more…)

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Our tolerant times allow us to smile wanly at the fool’s misalignment with reality, but not to savage him with demeaning words.

Not so the biblical proverbs. In the Bible’s sinecure of realism, the fool represents a rogue threat to communal health. He is not merely exercising individual preferences or making choices that one might not care to follow. He is a shredder of valuable cloth, an undiscerning revolutionary against the nourishing status quo that has taken generations to construct.

He is not, as with us, to be pitied but rather condemned and rooted out. If he will not listen, he does not only show himself without hope. He proves himself lethal. (more…)

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