This is the eve of All Saints Day.  In the middle ages, evidently the belief was that All Saints Day was an especially holy day.  The faithful throughout the world would be honoring the Saints and the Saints would be interceding for the faithful, and the powers of darkness would be banished, at least temporarily.  But what about the night before all the folks start praying?  The eve of All Hallows Day (another way of saying All Saints Day) was the devil’s last chance to prowl.

I grew up celebrating Halloween as a relatively benign holiday; a chance to enjoy a crisp fall evening, to pretend I was someone else, and to enjoy gifts of free candy from my neighbors.  Then over the years bad things started to happen–or at least to be reported: people contaminating candy and doing other mean things.  Pranks got out of hand and became vandalism.  It has been a bad problem it Detroit–people celebrated Devil’s Night by setting the city on fire!

Then there were reports of Satanic cults, and concern that we shouldn’t be honoring the powers of darkness anyway.  I live in a pretty quiet small town.  A few trick-or-treater’s go out before dark with their parents to houses they know.  Otherwise not much goes on.  We don’t get to many costumed kids at our house because, well let’s see: I’ve only lived here seven years and not everybody knows me, and I’ve been putting off fixing my porch light for seven years . . .

So tonight I got on my bike and stuffed some candy in my handlebar bag.  I rode around searching for trick-or-treaters and delivered the goods to them–in plain view of their parents, of course.

I’m glad the kids are able to enjoy a mild form of the holiday.  Of course parents are right to be cautious.  But I’m glad they’re not entirely paranoid.

We are about 4 day away from an important national election.  Of course there is reason to be concerned.  But let’s not become paranoid.  Maybe I’m naive, but I’m always a little suspicious of conspiracy theories.  Vote your conscience.  Vote for the candidate you are convinced will do the most good or the least harm to the country, as the case may be.  We have to remain vigilant always–but we don’t need to be paranoid yet.


Usually Joe is the first to send me new archaeology finds, but this time my daughter Heidi beat him by a few minutes.  They both sent me a report that yesterday archaeologists in Israel reported finding the oldest Hebrew inscription to date, in the valley of Elah where David met Goliath.  (Click on the tab for “JOE’S FINDS” for the link.)

Before yesterday, the oldest Hebrew inscription was believed to be the Gezer Calendar (Uriah Yaniv’s Gallery has a photo).

The inscription in Elah is on a piece of ostraca.  Ostraca (the plural of ostracon) are broken pieces of pottery used for writing.  Ancient people practiced recycling!  Ostraca was a common material for writing letters.  I can imagine a Hebrew family at the dinner table and mom saying,

We need to write a letter to grandma, but we are out of ostraca.  Would one of you kids mind knocking a pitcher off the table?

One of the most interesting collections of ostraca from Israel is the Lachish Letters (See Bible History online).

Lachish Letters
Lachish Letters

In one of the letters a commander complains about a troublesome prophet:

The words of the prophet are not good.  He weakens the hands of the people in the city (more here).

The prophet sounds a whole lot like Jeremiah.  In the 6th century BC, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army.  Jeremiah had been preaching to the people of Jerusalem that their only hope was to turn from their sins of injustice and idolatry and trust in the Lord to save them.  Many people thought that since the Lord had chosen Jerusalem as the site of his temple–the place where he made his presence known–the city and the temple could never be harmed.  God would bless and protect his city.

Jeremiah preached a famous sermon in the temple.  He said you can’t rob, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and then come to the sacred place and say “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” and expect to be blessed and saved.

Jeremiah’s message was unpopular.  He was considered unpatriotic.  He “weakened the hands” of the people, an idiom meaning he lowered their morale, undermined there resolve to fight.  The people and leaders wanted him to say, “God will bless his holy temple, God will bless this city.”  Jeremiah said, “No, God will curse this city–unless you repent.”

The Romans had a use for broken pottery.  When they wanted to vote someone “off the island” or out of a club or association, they would have the members write on a piece of ostraca the name of the one they wanted to banish.  Such a person was said to be ostracized.

Jeremiah of Jerusalem was ostracized more than once.  They threw him down into a mud pit once and left him to die, but friends eventually rescued him.  Jeremiah may very well be the prophet mentioned on the piece of ostraca from Lachish.

Sweet Lectures

Soul Tsunami

Soul Tsunami

Leonard Sweet was a guest lecturer on our campus the past two days.  Last night he spoke on facing storms.  He said the only way to survive a “perfect storm” is to head straight into it; ships that hug the harbor get smashed to pieces.

He wrote the book Soul Tsunami, by the way, ten years ago–before most of us had heard of the word Tsunami.  It was before the tragic Tsunami that hit Indonesia the day after Christmas in 2004; he was not trying to capitalize on that tragedy.

Sweet also said during a storm you have to throw excess cargo and baggage overboard.

I’ve been thinking lately about excess baggage, superfluous stuff.  I have stuff that I’ve saved because I might need it, but I can’t use it because I can’t find it among all the other stuff I’ve been saving.

Of course, there are other kinds of baggage besides physical stuff.  There is emotional baggage, there are activities which may be good–but you can only do so many things without crowding out other things.

This is the year I’m trying to lighten my load.

A Little Help from my Friends

Check out this clip on how we can stop Global Warming.  For more info, go to Green Peace.

Meanwhile, here are Garrison Keillor’s thoughts on the current election campaign.

I suspect the extra “Pages” on this site don’t get used often.  This is just a reminder that I have updated the “Friend’s Finds” page.  Check it and “Joe’s Finds” ever once in a while to see what’s new.  Joe keeps us updated on archaeology discoveries, among other things.

Keeping a Perspective

In about a week I will be casting a vote that will influence this boy’s life, one way or another.  What kind of world will he grow up in?  Of course, many other factors will affect the world he grows up in, besides the election.

Hiking on the Konza Prairie

Hiking on the Konza Prairie

I may not post as often as I otherwise would, because I am trying to keep a perspective.  There are many important things in life.  Last weekend we went for a hike with our grandson on one of our favorite places, the Konza Prairie.

Four Rules for Interpreting the Bible

Here are four rules for interpreting the Bible that I teach my students, along with the acronyms that help them remember them.

1.  Do No Harm (DNH).  This is the first rule of any profession, and the Bible itself warns against twisting its words in a way that causes harm.  Judaism taught this principle, based on the teaching of Moses,

[These words] are your life.  By them you will live long . . .

Judaism takes this to mean that the commandments can only be interpreted in a way that enhances life, never in a way that threatens it.  Jesus taught a similar principle: It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it.

Of course, the Bible has often been misused.  Krister Stendahl said,

There never has been an evil cause in the world that has not become more evil if it has been possible to argue it on biblical grounds.  (Cited here)

2.  Author’s Intended Meaning (AIM). Don’t use the words of the Bible to push your own agenda.  For example, when the Bible talks about oil–it is not referring to barrels of petroleum–it is talking about olive oil.  We have to take the historical setting and the understanding of the human authors seriously.

3.  Author’s Intended Purpose (AIP). The first writers and readers of the Bible lived in a world far different than ours, yet they are trying to reach goals that are relevant to us: reconciliation, love, compassion, justice, for example.  Most of us in North America don’t worry about food offered to idols–but the purpose for the teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is to teach us to respect cultural and religious differences, to embrace diversity.

4.  Whole Context (WC). This basically means we have to get the big picture, to read every part in light of the whole.  It also means we have to have a concept of progress.  The story of the Bible is the story of God interacting with imperfect people and leading them a step at a time a little closer to where thy need to be.  If we forget this, we will stumble over details along the way, and we may even interpret Scripture in a way that does harm.

The Metaphorically Challenged

Here is a quotation from an atheist, explaining why he decided Christian faith is nothing but superstition:

We now know that our brain is the seat of thinking and of our emotions.  Modern artificial heart transplants now adequately debunk these beliefs, for we can do just fine without our own hearts.  Therefore, it is nonsensical to believe in a “sinful heart” or in asking Jesus “into our hearts.”

Well.  There you have it.  Purge your bookshelves of poetry; tell the Tin Man to quit looking for a heart; and no more country music either: the “achy breaky heart” is just a primitive superstition.

Now here is a quote from radio preacher John McArthur,

Genesis 1 teaches that the earth was created about 6000 years ago in six literal, 24-hour days, exactly as it exists now, with no kind of evolution in any form.  Either you believe it or you don’t.

The problem is that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the sun on day four, after the first three “evenings and mornings.”  So those first three days cannot be exactly the same kind of days that exist now.

What do the atheist and the literalist preacher have in common?  They have no appreciation for literary subtlety, for metaphor.  Genesis 1 is a beautiful and carefully structured account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.  The main theme is that by God’s blessing the earth brings forth life in all its variety, and it’s all good.

The book of Jonah is another beautifully crafted story that literalists–either of the believing or unbelieving variety–fail to appreciate.  They argue over the possibility of a whale, or a “great fish,” swallowing a man; and they miss the main point: God desires peace and reconciliation.  He would rather see a violent and arrogant evil empire repent and turn to the ways of peace than to see it destroyed.

The book of Jonah is full of humor and irony.  Image dressing cattle and chickens in sackcloth and forcing them to fast and pray.  Imagine a prophet becoming depressed over his own success.  Imagine a man who grieves over a whithered vine but who can spare no compassion for 120,000 human beings who do not know their right hand from their left.

A wee bit mair fonetiks

I’m enjoying my phonetics class.  This is an easy week for me; my students are giving reports.  Today we heard about Korean, Kiswahili, German, and Hindi.  Megan introduced us to an online tutorial from the University of Iowa.  It includes a graphic display of the organs of speech in action, plus audio and video of a real speaker.  You can see examples in Spanish, German, or American English (here)

My new found blogging friend Berkeleyscot also posted a comment in Doric Scots today on her site (here):

Far aboot’s the Mannie Bush and his wee chum, Cheney?

They’re nithin bit big Jessies. The Country an the world is a geen tae Hell, an they’re doon in their bunker.

Fit we need is a BANKER ye twits – nae a BUNKER.

It would be nice if she could include an audio link so we could hear her.

Still Learning to Speak

I’m teaching phonetics this semester, which is a new experience.  I have had some linguistics study in the past, and bits and pieces in the study of several ancient (and a few modern) languages–but I’ve never actually taken the course I’m teaching–so I’m learning from my students.  This week they are doing reports, so I’m sitting back and enjoying.  Yesterday we had two reports on French, one on Amharic, and one on Ojibwe.  The real name of the last-mentioned is Anishinaabemowin, but the white folks call it Ojibwe.  See if you recognize these words:

Mi sah (large) Zi be (river) = Miziziibi

Mi shah (great) Gah mi (sea) = Mishigami

Seka (urinating) unck (fox) = Sekunck

Taxman (Voodoo Economics -4)

No one likes paying taxes–even the Beatles had a song against the “Taxman.”

Yet, someone has to pay for the services government provides.  Voodoo economics has waged a war against taxes for nearly thirty years.  It is now considered unpatriotic to pay taxes.  Taxes are called a penalty for success.

The rich should pay more taxes because they have more money.

The rich also benefit more from the services government provides.  The largest recipient of tax money is the military.  The armed services protect us all, but oil companies, power plants, and large corporations have more assets to protect than I do, so they should pay more for the protection.

A curious thing has happened over the last twenty to thirty years.  States have turned to gambling–first lotteries, then dog and pony races, now casinos–as an alternative to taxes.  Conservative, pro-family religious leaders used to campaign against gambling, but they have focused their energies on other foes while the gambling lobby has slipped in the back door.

In Wyandotte County, where I grew up, there is an abandoned dog and horse track.  When lotteries failed to raise enough revenue the state legislature bet on race-track betting.  The track is now grown up with weeds.  After the failure of the state-sponsored horse raises, a NASCAR track was built, not to bring in gambling money but to attract those who are genuinely interested in the car races.  Around the track a shopping and restaurant district has sprung up and the economy has been revitalized.

Now plans have been announced to build a casino overlooking the race track.  I am afraid the casinos will bring crime and drive out the good restaurants and shops; but maybe not.  Whether gambling brings any general prosperity or not, we know it will bring bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides. So great is the aversion to raising taxes that our leaders are willing to pay that price.  I’m betting the casinos will turn out to be a losing proposition.

A Reader Comments on Unions

(My friend Alex sent this response via email.  By the way, it is now easier to post a comment.  Just click on Comments, give an email address and a first name.)

Mark, a good blog about unions: My grandfather worked for link belt as a millwright for 30 some years, and six months before retirement they fired him telling that they did not have to pay him a pension if they fired him.  It broke his heart and he died about two years later.

The Kennedys a few years later got some legislation passed to try and protect non union workers. I am union as you well know and would not have it any other way.  I do not trust any big business, as the wall street banking scandal can attest to.

But even my union can have its problems, as our last union president squandered away 600 million dollars of our pension fund before being kicked out. My pension is now only 75% of what it could have been…

Greed and lack or morals or just plain lack of morals is the problem that christians or people of faith can only solve. Enough for now.

Oh I do believe that Obama is our best choice, but we cannot always have everything we want in a candidate. The Palin lady is in no way presidential material and, as far as I am concerned, is not even a good parent.

Later Alex

Income Redistribution (Voodoo Economics -3)

In spite of the claim by advocates of Reaganomics that “the rising tide raises all ships,” the poor and middle class have seen their incomes fall during the recent economic boom.  Several policies of the “Reagan Revolution” have led to this kind of income redistribution from the poor to the rich.

The War on Unions:  Corporations are organized and the power structure is centralized; and in an economy with any substantial rate of unemployment, they have a tremendous power advantage.  Organizing and representation gave some power back to the workers.  During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s union membership was strong enough to create a healthy middle class.  Even non-union workers benefited from the prevailing wage standards negotiated by the unions.

While many city and state governments during this period were rife with corruption, no one called for the abolition of government.  Yet anti-union forces used the fact of corruption in union leadership to discredit the concept of collective bargaining.

One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as president was to destroy the air traffic controllers union.  Reagan had a legal and public opinion advantage in that the controllers were public employees and their strike was illegal.  Still, it was an impressive victory; people thought it couldn’t be done, because the air traffic controllers were a small corp of highly trained professionals, and the nation’s airline industry depended on their work.

The victory over this professional union emboldened private employers to break unions.  Frank Lorenzo took over Continental airlines and used the bankruptcy courts to cancel that airlines union contracts.  Now after more than thirty year of union-breaking activity, the percentage of employees in unions has fallen to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s.  (NY Times)

One union that remains strong, the teacher’s union (the NEA) is the constant target of attacks from conservatives, including candidate McCain.

Exporting Jobs. Under “free trade” agreements, factories have been closed and jobs have been shipped overseas.  According to Jim Webb of Virginia,

Because of a perverse part of our tax code, moving manufacturing plants overseas is actually a profitable exercise for companies that wish to avoid paying corporate taxes (Roanoke Times).

Much of this “free trade” is hardly free or fair.  Countries such as China are unencumbered by enforceable environmental or child labor laws.  We export jobs to China and they export smoke and smog to California.  Further, many other competing countries have national health care, in effect subsidizing one of the highest costs American manufacturers face.

The result is that the ratio of the pay CEOs receive to that of average workers has skyrocketed in comparison with our own past history and international standards.  In 2007 the compensation for top executives “averaged 344 times the average U.S. worker’s pay. Thirty years ago, the ratio was about 35 to 1″ (Kansas City Star, Thursday, Sep 25, 2008).

“According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2006, the CEO to average worker pay ratio was 11 to 1 in Japan, 15 to 1 in France, 20 to 1 in Canada, 21 to 1 in South Africa, and 22 to 1 in Britain” (Pepperdine).