The Lord’s my shepherd.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August

Most everybody’s favorite psalm.

Adonái ro’i (Latin, Dominus pascit me), “the LORD’s my shepherd,” was written by King David ben Jesse in the 10th century BC. In the Hebrew bible it’s the 23rd psalm. (In the Septuagint and Vulgate it’s the 22nd.)

Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme. But really, all it takes to make a rhyming translation is a little effort. So I did. Went with anapestic septameter. (Poetry nerds know what that means.)

Psalm 23 KWL
0 David’s psalm.
1 I am never deprived, for my shepherd’s the LORD. 2 In his pastures of grass do I rest.
I am guided by him to the waters so calm. 3 He provides me my life. I am blessed.
I am led down the rightest of paths by his name. 4 In the valley’s dark shade, I may veer;
but because you are with me, I won’t be afraid. In your stick and your staff, I take cheer.
5 You arrange me a table in face of my foes. You rub fat on the wool of my head.
You have made my cup overflow. 6 All my life’s days, love and goodness pursue me instead.
I will always return to the house of the LORD for the length of my days. I’m well-led.

Now, the down side to doing this is the parallelism in these verses becomes a little less obvious. And that’s not unimportant. So in order to make the parallels more obvious, I’ll format it thisaway. (And drop the text I had to pad it with to keep it in meter; and put the contractions back in.)

Psalm 23.1-6 KWL
1 I’m never deprived; my shepherd’s the LORD.
2 In pastures of grass do I rest.
I’m guided by him to the waters so calm.
3 He provides me my life.
I’m led down the rightest of paths by his name.
4 In the valley’s dark shade, I may veer;
but because you’re with me, I won’t be afraid.
In your stick and your staff, I take cheer.
5 You arrange me a table in face of my foes.
You rub fat on my head. You make my cup overflow.
6 All my life’s days, love and goodness pursue me.
I return to the house of the LORD for the length of my days.

Teaching science at a Christian school.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

And a side-rant about the anti-science fears running through Christendom.

Years ago I taught the science classes at a Christian junior high school. Just for a year. Mainly ’cause the other teachers in our program didn’t wanna, and I had two classes free in my schedule. So those classes became Science 6, and Science 7/8.

I’m not a scientist. My field is the social sciences—history, civics, economics. I also have a degree in theology, so of course I can teach bible. I find science interesting, but I’m no expert. But since I had the summer recess to prepare, I had to get familiar with what I’d be teaching. So first I read through the California state standards. Then I got hold of our textbooks.

Great horny toads.

I’m not talking about their condition, which was bad. If you’re running a school, never, ever, EVER buy paperback textbooks for the children. I don’t care how much money you saved; in the long run, you cost yourself way more. We had these books maybe five years. They were thrashed. I had just enough sixth-grade textbooks, but nowhere near enough seventh-grade books. (I wasn’t gonna bother with the eighth-grade books. Our eighth graders still needed to go through the seventh-grade material. The previous year’s science teacher spent more time preaching at the kids than teaching, so they knew nothing anyway.)

I am in fact speaking of their content. The books came from a popular Christian textbook publishing house in Florida. I don’t know whether they matched Florida’s state standards for intermediate school science. They didn’t California’s. I realized I was gonna have to pull in quite a lot of supplemental stuff.

The other part of the problem: They weren’t about actual science anyway. They were about nature trivia and astronomy trivia. Nothing about how to prove your hypothesis through experimentation. Y’know, actual science.

In fact a full sixth of the books were all about young-earth creationism, and why good Christians weren’t allowed to believe in anything else. Apparently ancient and medieval scientists were all good Christians, but godless atheists like Charles Darwin had convinced science to become anti-bible, which clearly teaches God made the universe in a literal week.

I’m an old-earth creationist myself. But even if the books taught my view, I still wouldn’t wanna waste two months of the school year on the subject.

Mixed in with all this non-science were whole paragraphs and pages which consisted of odes to God: Nature is great, and so is God for creating nature. Lots of bible verses, used as pull quotes, which the authors figured were appropriate to the subject at hand. But most of ’em totally out of context.

Not completely useless, but pretty close. So I went to the vice principal to inform him on the situation, and what I was gonna do about it.

The crowds who came to see Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

Having fans isn’t always a great thing.

Mark 3.7-12 • Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 • Luke 6.17-19

Despite the Pharisees’ frustration with Jesus curing people on Sabbath, word about Jesus spread all over the province—and to the provinces nearby. Jesus gradually found himself with loads of followers. Impractically large loads of followers. From all over.

These passages aren’t all that parallel, but they roughly cover the same ground, so you get the idea.

Mark 3.7-12 KWL
7 Jesus went back over the lake, with his students and many groups:
People from the Galilee, Judea, 8 Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond-Jordan, Tyre, and Sidon.
Hearing about whatever Jesus was doing, many groups came to him.
9 Jesus spoke to his students so they’d have a boat nearby, because of the crowds.
Thus they wouldn’t crush him. 10 Jesus had cured many.
So the many plague-sufferers could touch him, they resorted to jumping him.
11 Whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him,
shouting out, “You’re the son of God!”— 12 and Jesus silenced them, lest they expose him.
Matthew 4.24 - 5.1 KWL
24 The rumor of Jesus went out to all Syria.
People brought him everyone who had all sorts of evil diseases,
those crushed by torments, demoniacs, lunatics, the paralyzed,
and he cured them.
25 Many crowds followed Jesus:
People from the Galilee, Dekapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond-Jordan.
1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up a hill.
As he seated himself, his students came to him.
Luke 6.17-19 KWL
17 Coming down with them, Jesus stood on level ground,
with many crowds of his students, a plethora of people
from all Judea, Jerusalem, the coastline of Tyre and Sidon.
18 They came to hear Jesus—and be cured from their diseases.
Those tormented by unclean spirits were dealt with,
19 and all the crowd sought to touch Jesus, for his power came out and cured everyone.

People from everywhere were coming to Jesus. Not just fellow Jews who lived in the Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. Time for a mini-geography lesson.

Christians, “adult content,” prudery, and self-control.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 August

Couple years ago an acquaintance of mine was casually recommending some movies to a group of us. Stuff he’d recently seen; stuff he’d seen, but we hadn’t, so he thought we might be interested.

It just so happened one of the movies is what we’d call “adult content.” Lots of swearing. Little violent. Some sexual activity; not buck-naked thrashing around, but even so, it’d be stuff you might not want your kids to see. Although maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care what your kids see. I’ve had a few fourth-grade students whose parents were far from discriminating. Far.

Most of this group were Christian, and the inevitable question came up: “Do you think it’s appropriate for you, as a Christian, to watch such a movie?”

Not “to recommend such a movie.” Watch such a movie. The implied question wasn’t, “Is it okay to recommend such movies, ’cause certain people might be led into temptation?” but “Won’t everyone be led into temptation by this movie? Are you sure you’re not fully corrupt by watching such stuff?”

Are there some movies, video games, songs, TV programs, magazines, or books, which no Christian should ever, ever see?

A fair number of Christians would answer, “Absolutely. There are certain things which soil everyone they touch.” So they avoid such things. Some go even further: They wanna ban such things. These would be the people who try to pass laws against them, who complain to the Federal Communications Commission about anything on TV which offends them, who make sure sex shops and marijuana dispensaries and online bingo parlors can never open within the city limits of their town. Not just because they’re protecting the children from stumbling across such things; they don’t trust the adults either.

And a fair number of Christians would also answer, “Absolutely not. Mature Christians can handle such things and not be affected. You do realize Jesus used to eat with tax collectors, drunks, whores, and sinners, right? He wasn’t corrupted by them. And I won’t be corrupted by them.”

But let’s be blunt: Some of those Christians are totally lying to themselves.

The person with the paralyzed hand.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 August

When Jesus’s lesson in synagogue turned into an ambush.

Mark 3.1-6 • Matthew 12.9-14 • Luke 6.6-11

Matthew bunched together all the stories about Jesus outraging people by doing stuff on Sabbath, but Mark (and Luke follows Mark) sorta told them in the order he knew the stories. Clearly the Pharisees believed curing disease and healing the sick counted as the sort of work you were to stop doing on Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t agree in the slightest.

Considering Jesus couldn’t cure a soul without the Holy Spirit empowering him to do it, you’d think these Pharisees would’ve put two and two together, and realized God had mightily taken Jesus’s side. But we aren’t dealing with the sharpest knives in the butcher shop. They figured they were right, Jesus was wrong; they had 50 years of Pharisee tradition backing them up, and who was he?

So yeah, once again here’s a story about the religious Right of Jesus’s day, taking advantage of their lack of separation of church and state, hoping to get Jesus prosecuted or killed for violating their traditional values.

Okay, enough loaded political buzzwords. Here’s how the story unfolded.

Mark 3.1-2 KWL
1 Jesus entered synagogue again. A person with a paralyzed hand was there.
2 People were watching Jesus: If he healed the person on Sabbath, they could criticize him.
Matthew 12.9-10 KWL
9 Leaving there, Jesus entered their synagogue. 10 Look, a person with a paralyzed hand!
People questioned Jesus, saying, “Ought one heal on Sabbath?”—
so they could criticize him.
Luke 6.6-7 KWL
6 Jesus happened, on another Sabbath, to enter synagogue and teach.
A person was there, and his right hand was paralyzed.
7 The scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus:
If he healed on Sabbath, they could find a critique against him.

The KJV describes this person’s hand as “withered”—a word that doesn’t mean today what it did in 1611. Back then it meant as the Greek word xirós does: Dry. Like wood you wanna build something with, or burn; as opposed to fresh wood you’ve just cut off the tree. Nowadays we call such wood weathered instead of withered. But the reason the ancients called an arm that, was ’cause all the life appeared to be gone from the arm: It was dead, or numb, or paralyzed. Not shriveled like a dried-up tree branch.

Not that this stops artists from painting or drawing some pretty creepy-looking, messed-up arms for Jesus to heal. But if this guy’s arm had been that level of messed up, he wouldn’t have been allowed to enter synagogue. The Pharisees would consider his arm ritually unclean. So likely it was no more than paralyzed. Still not good, but it wasn’t like this guy had a shriveled tree branch attached to his arm.

My big-ass bibles.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

A few months ago, someone left a bible at my church. It’s one of those big, leather-clad bibles. It’s the size of a bible that really should be reserved for large-print bibles for the visually impaired. I tend to call them “big-ass bibles.” Though, when I do, I tend to get startled stares from Christians who can’t handle the word “ass.” Even though it’s in the biblein the KJV, anyway.

I have some big-ass bibles too. But I stopped carrying ’em to church when I was in seminary. Since I needed a bible for nearly every class, I bought a smaller-than-average edition of the NIV, which I always kept in the front pocket of my backpack, and that was my go-to bible for school, church, work, travel, anything and everything. Years later I upgraded to a NASB compact bible with a teal pleather snap cover. But soon thereafter (a few years before phones became smartphones), I bought a pocket computer, loaded bible software onto it, and that became my bible-on-the-go. Today that software’s on my phone.

The reason I own bibles of unusual size? They’re study bibles. They came with notes. Sometimes there’s more notes than scripture.

Remember this verse?—

Revelation 22.18-19 KWL
19 I testify to everyone hearing the prophetic words of this book: When anyone adds upon them,
God will add upon them—of the plagues recorded in this book.
20 When anyone subtracts from the words of this prophetic book,
God will subtract from their share—of the holy city’s tree of life, recorded in this book.

Too many Christians assume “of this book” refers to the whole bible, not just Revelation. It doesn’t—and good thing, too. Otherwise a whole lot of publishers are going to hell for overdoing it on the study notes.

I still have one of those monster bibles: The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. Currently it’s published as The Life with God Bible, and comes in paperback. That’s probably better. I got the old hardcover edition. Sucker’s huge. After I jammed it into a barely-big-enough bible cover, then added pens and a notebook, it weighs about 4 kilos.

Now that’s one of those bibles you carry around to proclaim, “Look! I have a bible. And it’s much, much bigger than yours.” It’s a bible meant to inspire bible envy—a covetousness similar to penis envy, but more spiritual. (As if envy is ever an appropriate kind of spirituality.) Although you can get bigger bibles. Pulpit bibles, they’re called.

But I don’t carry the Renovaré bible around. I use it for private devotional time—in the five percent of the time I don’t use my computer bibles. It stays in my room, along with my other bibles.

What KJV-worshipers believe about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 August

I know; I already wrote an article about the history of the King James Version—and the people who worship it. But two years ago I wrote a different article, and was asked to repost it. I was a little reluctant to, ’cause it’s largely based on a Chick tract.

Some of you already know who he was: Jack T. Chick (1924–2016) was a conspiracy theorist who believed the devil was behind everything he doesn’t like. Seriously everything—and Chick didn’t like much. In order to prove it, he played really fast and loose with the truth. He’d misquote bible, mangle history, and apparently just make stuff up from scratch. ’Cause for some of his claims, I can’t find confirmation anywhere—well, other than books Chick himself published.

Primarily his company publishes evangelism tracts. Nearly all of them lack fruit of the Spirit: They’re loveless, impatient, unkind, joyless (his humor is the ironic, mocking sort), graceless (any little slip-up on our part sends us to hell), and fearful. I needn’t remind you they likewise make up any facts he needed to prove his points… and hopefully scare you into the waiting, loving judgey arms of Jesus.

His tracts are controversial, because many Christians love love LOVE them. Believe it or not, some of them actually aren’t bad. But most of them are. Christians justify using them ’cause “Chick tracts work!”—but that was just Chick’s marketing slogan. If they win anyone to Christ, chances are you wind up with just another Chick-style conspiracy theorist.

Yep, someone’s supposedly burning the One True Bible. Attack 1
(Reference numbers refer to images on the website; the cover is 1, the next page is 2, etc.)

So I’m loath to use him as an example, ’cause the man doesn’t need any more publicity. Then again, he was mighty typical of what a KJV-worshiper believes. Not only that: You’ll find more than one KJV-worshiper actually turn to Chick’s publications as their “historical” justifications for believing as they do. So if you wanna go straight to the source of the madness, Chick’s got a river of bile flowing out of him.

Chick’s tract, “The Attack,” is his alternative history of how we got the King James Version, and the devil’s conspiracy to deny it to us. You can read it, in its entirety, on his website. As with all his “historical” tracts, a fraction is true. The rest is out of context, hyper-compressed, reinterpreted, whitewashed, or pure fiction.

It uses two sources. One’s David W. Daniels, whose book Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible? is published by Chick Publications, and where “The Attack” got its secret history. The other’s Alberto Rivera (1937–97), a con artist who claimed he used to be a Roman Catholic bishop, whom the Jesuits sent to infiltrate and undermine Protestant churches. In the 1970s, Rivera “outed” himself, told all sorts of wacky tales about how the Catholics are secretly behind Islam, Communism, the Masons, the Ku Klux Klan, the Mafia, the Mormons… and pretty much every boogeyman Chick feared. Rivera was debunked years ago by Cornerstone, Christianity Today, and Walter Martin’s Christian Research Institute. But Chick Publications still produces Rivera’s books, and plenty of anti-Catholics still believe his every word.

Picking your label.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 August

Everybody wants to reserve the right to define themselves. Or redefine.

Years ago I joined an internet forum. As you do, when you wanna interact with like-minded or similar-minded people, and you can’t find a whole lot of ’em in your hometown, so you try out the internet. They’re a lot of fun for the first couple years, but I find they invariably deteriorate. They’re so interested in getting more members, or new members, they start letting in the cranks, and cranks ruin everything. Those of you who are cranks know what I mean.

Anyway, after the numbers got up there, the moderator asked that we all re-introduce ourselves for the sake of the many newcomers. “Please tell us your religious background.” How would you label yourself?

A lot of us took the opportunity to be really vague about it:

  • “Student of Christ.”
  • “Disciple.”
  • “Catechumen.” (Seriously.)
  • “Worshiper of the King.”
  • “Christ-carrier.”
  • “Jesus person.”
  • “Grateful believer.”
  • “God-chaser.”

Honest to goodness, I didn’t think I’d joined a group of hippies.

Lefties, you know what I’m talking about. I ran into it all the time in college. Join a group, ask the members of the group what they call themselves, and just about every single person has chosen a different label for themselves. They customized the definition to whatever they wished it would be. ’Cause it’s all about them, isn’t it? Even in community.

I used to see this all the time on Facebook, or any of the other social media platforms where there was an “About” page which invited you to state your religion. Some folks went with the usual “Christian” or “Jewish” or one of the denominations. But lots of ’em, sometimes for fun and sometimes because “Christian” wasn’t enough, would put “Lover of JESUS!!!” or some such. Caps and three exclamation points means you really mean it.

Back to the internet forum. I got specific, because I wanted there to be no question where I was coming from—and if there were, it would only be because people didn’t understand the terms. I went with “Christian / Arminian / Pentecostal / Assemblies of God.” From the general to the specific: Religion, theology, movement, denomination.

Some of the others were specific as well. If you identify with your denomination, or you’re in leadership, you tend to. If you don’t care for it, you tend not to join its hierarchy. (Although there are exceptions: At my last church, we took an informal survey of the people’s attitudes about membership, and asked how they identified themselves. One of our elders identified herself as an attendee. No, there was no box to tick; she wrote the word out. Not an elder; not even as a member. There’s commitment for ya.)

The rest of the forum members picked the usual vague terms we find among bloggers, Twitter users, authors, survey respondents, and average church attendees throughout Christendom. It signified they wanted to be unique. It also signified just how much the other terms don’t work for them.

“God makes all things work together for our good.”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 August

Romans 8.28.

“You make all things work together for my good,” goes the bridge of the 2008 Jesus Culture song “Your Love Never Fails.” (Or are you more familiar with the 2013 Newsboys version? No? Doesn’t matter.) It’s a common variation of a popular idea, borrowed from Paul in Romans, which goes like so:

Romans 8.28 KJV
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Frequently people drop a “the” in quoting it, and end it, “to them who are the called according to his purpose.” More like the ESV has it. But however we remember it, the problem is why we remember it; and this being a “Context” article you can bet it’s about wrongly remembering it.

Together with “Everything happens for a reason!” this is a myth we Christians use to comfort ourselves, and one another. When we’re going through a rough time, we like to imagine God’s permitting or allowing or even causing these trials, because he has a greater good in mind. We just gotta trust God, and ride it out.

But this is an idea Calvinism teaches. Not the scriptures. It’s based on the Calvinist belief God sovereignly micromanages everything in the cosmos. They say he’s actually behind all things—even evil things—so of course he’ll work ’em out for our good. But we gotta stretch the scriptures beyond their breaking point before they state any such thing.

You do realize there’s an entire book of the bible dedicated to the existence of meaningless things, right? Not everything happens for a reason! It’s why Qohelét, the author of Ecclesiastes, started his book with “Vapor of vapors. It’s all vapor.” Ec 1.2 KWL

I won’t go as hardcore as Qohelét did, and claim we can’t find meaning in anything. Certain things definitely have meaning. Sometimes we grant the meaning to them; sometimes God does. But Qohelét was dealing with a culture which—like our own—tries to find meaning in everything. A random accident upends our lives, and we go out of our minds playing mental connect-the-dots, trying to find anything deep or truthful or profound in it. So to give his culture a solid slap in the face, Qohelét pulled out the stops: Nothing has meaning. Nothing makes sense. All sorts of stuff that’s “supposed” to happen, doesn’t. Stuff that should be fair, isn’t. Life sucks.

For these people, Ecclesiastes is a bummer, so they avoid it. We don’t wanna believe it. We way prefer the idea God has a grand plan, and these random accidents are secretly part of the plan. We imagine every irrelevant, minor thing triggers a butterfly effect, with great, life-altering consequences. Every decision matters. Every action counts. Every time we talk about God, we plant a seed which never returns void. You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap.

You know, the usual hyper-optimistic crap. And don’t get me wrong; Christians ought to be optimistic. Jm 1.2 But not delusionally so. We live by faith, not wishful thinking.

Gentleness: Take charge of your emotions!

by K.W. Leslie, 01 August

“Gentle” doesn’t mean “nice.” It means, like a well-trained horse, you don’t spook easily.

When Christians go through Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians—love, joy, peace, etcetera Ga 5.22-23 —we tend to skip gentleness. ’Cause we figure it’s just a synonym of kindness. Gentle people are kind, right? Gentle Jesus is meek and mild, according to Charles Wesley’s hymn; we assume gentleness is therefore meekness and mildness. Nice, friendly people.

Or gentle people are patient. They handle others softly, not roughly. Like the washing machine on the gentle cycle: Treats your clothes softly and tenderly, kinda like the way Jesus is calling, “Oh sinner, come home” in Will Thompson’s hymn.

What’re the chances I’m gonna tell you both those definitions are incorrect? Better than average.

The word Paul used for gentleness is prahýtis. It describes someone who’s prahýs/“gentle.” In classical Greek literature, it’s used to describe people or animals who were angry, sad, or fearful… but they got control of themselves.

  • In Homer’s Hymn to Hermes, Apollo was enraged, but let music make him gentle. 417
  • In Hesiod’s Works and Days, stubborn mules were made tame, or gentle. 797
  • In Aeschylus’s Persians, Xerxes tried to gentle a team of horses, 190 and Darius advised Atossa to use gentle words to soothe her grieving son. 837
  • In Pindar’s Pythian Odes, Hero was “gentle to his citizens.” 3.71
  • And in the Septuagint, Moses was more gentle than anyone, Nu 12.3 in contrast to his angry brother and sister. Nu 12.1-2

The term refers to someone who’s emotionally stable. You know, like a wild horse that’s been broken, who doesn’t buck every unfamiliar rider, or freak out at every odd thing it encounters. Like a tame animal who’s not passive and quiet one moment, then tearing through your throat the next.

Unlike some humans. And some Christians.

The ancient Greeks highly praised gentility. Gentle rulers weren’t emotion-driven despots, who’d freak out whenever you tweeted something they don’t like. They weren’t easily outraged—which, I remind you, is a work of the flesh. They weren’t thrown into panic, frenzy, depression, or euphoria, at the smallest things. They weren’t quick to sorrow, despair, rejoice, or ecstasy. Like I said, stable.

God’s that way too: Gracious, merciful, slow to anger, quick to forgive. Jl 2.13 Stands to reason it’s a fruit of the Spirit: All those fruits are God’s traits. If we follow his Spirit, we’re gonna take on his attitudes, behaviors, and emotional stability. We’re gonna be gentle like God is. We might feel excitement, rage, sadness, zeal, all sorts of emotions—but we’re never gonna let ’em take over our lives, and lead us to do something sinful. We are in control. Never our emotions.