Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BSD Blogging: Samaritans of the 21st Century

Modern-day Samaritans celebrating Shauvoth on Mount Gezirim

In Nehemiah we read of the enmity between the Samaritans--especially their governor Sanballat--and the Jews during the post-exilic period when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding it.

We know that enmity continued in the time of the New Testament, but what happened to the Samaritans and Samaria? Inquiring minds want to know.

A few years ago I looked this up when I was teaching a class on Luke and got to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Much to my surprise I learned that a small group (about 750) of Samaritans continue to live in Israel today and practice their own unique religious tradition which is related to Judaism but relies on a Samaritan Torah and commentaries. Modern Samaritans claim descent from two tribes of Israel: Manasseh and Ephraim. They live near  Mount Gezirim, where tradition says Abraham took Isaac for sacrifice and which they say is the original holy site of the Israelites. 

Samaritans believe the Jews practice an altered and amended form of religion which developed after their return from Babylonian exile while Samaritans maintained the purity of the original worship and beliefs of the Israelites. Over the centuries the number of Samaritans declined due to bloody historical events and the forced mass conversion of many to Islam in the early Muslim period of Palestine. The 700+ Samaritans remaining in Israel today are members of five family groups and there are some Samaritans scattered around the world, including some in the United States. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

BSD Blogging: Lesson 6 Lecture Link

I meant to post about Lesson 6 which covers chapter 5 of Nehemiah but life got in the way as I was preparing this lecture!

The theme of the lesson is compassionate leadership. Focus of the lecture is on Nehemiah's Economic Stimulus plan and the problem of self-serving bias. A special tip of the QG chapeau to John Ortberg and chapter 14 of his new book The Me I Want To Be for providing great food for thought on the subject of self-deception. It's timely study that almost seems taken from today's headlines!

Here's the link to the podcast of this morning's lecture: BSD Lesson 6.

Questions, comments and discussion are welcome as always!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cutting Myself Down to Size: The Payoff !Part 3

Now that I am close to my goal I'm having the most fun ever buying a new wardrobe--from the inside out. I have lost 3 sizes and now happily shop in the regular women's section rather than the plus size department. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that because I'm not used to it.

It started about midway through the summer when my daughters started fussing at me for continuing to wear clothes that were by then two sizes too large. I eventually took the hint and began donating the largest clothes to charity and buying a few new things in a smaller size.

Then recently Daughter Babs took me in hand and marched me into stores I haven't shopped in for years. It was like having my own personal Stacy London without the notoriety of having to appear on What Not to Wear. She made me try on styles I never would have chosen in the past and to my surprise--they worked. Really well! Things like slim leg pants and jeans, pencil skirts, form-fitting blouses and tops, short sweaters, and even some heels are now in my closet. It does take a lot of mental adjustment to adjust to a new body size. 

Some old habits kept cropping up, though. Because it was hard to find clothes that fit when I was heavier--especially since I am so tall--I had a habit of buying the same item in several colors or patterns if I liked it. It's been a revelation to realize that I have far more choice now than I did before. I don't need to keep buying duplicates or shopping exclusively online. I have more choices than I can deal with most of the time. Amazing!

When I started wearing the new duds, I was almost embarrassed by the attention and compliments I got from family, friends and acquaintances. It really made a difference to have clothes that fit.

My advice for fellow travelers on this weight loss journey is to ruthlessly donate those "fat" clothes and replace them with items that fit. The first time you may want to limit  the number of purchases and their cost if you anticipate losing another 20 pounds or more. (This may vary according to your size. With my height it takes a lot of weight to make a difference in sizing while it would take less for someone who is petite.) I didn't buy "good" items until I got close to goal. But it is important not not to keep those larger sizes on hand "just in case." You don't want to allow yourself that option!

And thus endeth this series and the lesson. Next month will mark my the one year anniversary of my new way of eating. I pledge to update my status 6 months from then--in May--as a way of keeping myself accountable. Best of luck to the rest of you and let me know how you are doing!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BSD Blogging: Community and Personal Threats

This week we are reading chapters 4 and 6 of the book of Nehemiah. It may strike you as odd to skip over chapter 5, but the themes of chapter 4 and chapter 6 are similar: threats against the community of builders in chapter 4 and personal threats against their leader Nehemiah in chapter 6. We'll study chapter 5 next week which recounts Nehemiah's fiscal reforms that addressed an economic crisis that also threatened the rebuilding effort. 

In reading some of the commentaries on these two chapters I learned that as a general rule the kings of the Persian empire did not permit cities within the empire to have walls around them. Walled cities made it easier for local strongmen to put their own armies inside the walls and rebel against the rule of the king.The Persian kings were constantly engaged in putting down rebellion in various parts of their empire and sometime it cost them their own lives when (as happened with Ataxerxes' father Xerxes) men close to them took advantage of their relationship to assassinate them. It was much easier for the king to send in troops from neighboring loyal provinces to put down rebellion and exert authority over a city if there was no wall that had to be breached. In Ezra we see the Samaritan troops easily entering Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the wall under orders from King Ataxerxes. We also know that the Persian kings were constantly engage

But God strengthens Nehemiah's influence with the King  so that he has reverses this long-standing policy and authorizes the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. It's no wonder that Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem are disturbed by this change in direction and find it hard to believe that Nehemiah is being trusted to rebuild the wall and remain loyal. 

It seems to me that Nehemiah's unshakable faith in God's call to this task strengthened  both his reliance on his close relationship with the king so that he fearlessly brushes off the attempts to threaten both the builders and his own life and leadership. Which once again reminds us that God not only calls us to specific work for his Kingdom but also works through other people to support us in our tasks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cutting Myself Down to Size--Part Two

I chose to do Weight Watchers online instead of attending meetings and it worked really well for me. Years ago I did attend WW meetings,  but I have this besetting sin of impatience with meetings  I'm not in charge of. This time I decided that with the WW apps for the phone and IPad, which include the tracker as well as a scanner that reads the barcodes in the grocery store and tells you the points for the item and a cooking app that has tons of recipe suggestions, I could just do it electronically. I love seeing the graph that appears as you track your weight loss on the app!

For months I was very faithful recording the points and then got more lax as I repeated the same meals and got closer to my goal. But anytime I start to slip I begin tracking again. For me, the new WW points plus plan that allows you to eat all the fresh fruit you want without counting it made a big difference. If you aren't a fan of fruit, then it won't help you. I also found I had fewer cravings when I kept my carbs low and protein high. Your experience may vary. My new best friends are Greek Yogurt, apples, packaged broccoli slaw (for extra fiber in sandwich wraps and salads) and hummus.

Mary Beth asked me in a comment what Dream Dinners is. It is a national franchise that provides frozen entrees. You make an appointment for a session together with your order then go in and assemble them yourself fresh or for a small fee they will put them together for you and you pick them up. You can make adjustments to fit special dietary needs. The orders come in either 3 or 6 serving sizes. I found most of the 3 size portions worked for us so El Jefe ate 2/3 and I ate 1/3. Nutritional information is available online so I work out the WW points and that guides my orders. The food is pretty healthy on the whole so I find enough suitable items for my diet each month. I spend much less at the grocery store  because I'm not buying as much meat when I shop and the DD prices are quite reasonable. I'm very lucky to have a DD store very close to where we live. 

This is a HUGE help for me because I use the dinners two to three times a week and that frees me from having to plan meals and think about food every night. Portion control is the key to diet success and the DD portions for the WW-friendly items are perfect. I do enjoy cooking but find I am more tempted to stray from the diet path when I have to think about it constantly. And, for me, it is important not to eat out frequently although over the last 11 months I have gained more control over the impulse to indulge when we're at a restaurant.

Shedding those pounds also means shedding the old "fat" clothes, which is a great motivation to stay on the plan. More about that in the next installment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BSD Blogging: Allegorical Interpretation of the Gates

The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem
A number of years ago I took a course in Biblical Interpretation through the Austin Seminary extension program in Houston. The course covered different approaches to the interpretation of the Bible that students would encounter as they consult commentaries and interpretive works of different Christian authors.

One of the approaches is allegorical interpretation which seeks to find deeper spiritual truths by identifying symbolic meanings in the Biblical texts. It is an ancient method that began with   the early church theologian and write Origen of Alexandria. An example of this is interpreting Aaron, the first High Priest in the Old Testament, as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the spiritual High Priest. The Bible does contain allegories that are clearly identified in context (see Paul's interpretation of Hagar and Sarah in Gal. 4: 21-24). The allegorical method of interpretation can be controversial when it stretches a bit too far and/or when it ignores the context of the verses in the larger text. 

Which brings me to the symbolic meaning of the names of the gates of Jerusalem as described in Nehemiah 2: 11-20. There are as many interpretations as there are people who have offered them as you will see if you look for this on google! 

The gate names all have literal meanings of course. The sheep gate is where the shepherds brought the sheep into the city for market; the fish gate is where the fishermen from the Sea of Galilee brought their catch of the day for sale; the Horse gate admitted the horses; the Dung Gate was where the city's refuse was dumped and so forth. 

Some common allegorical meanings often ascribed to the gates are:

Sheep Gate =Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd
Fish Gate ="fishing" for men
Fountain Gate and the Water Gate =the fountain of Living Water (the Holy Spirit)
Horse Gate=spiritual warfare (horses were used in warfare)
East Gate = place where the Messiah will return (taken from Zec. 14: 4 which says the Messiah will return on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem)
Dung Gate = sin which smells bad and causes decay

Some interpreters also find in the order in which the gates were repaired an allegory of the life of faith in Christ and the shape of the wall and the gates is compared to a heart or a footprint both of which allude to Christ's presence.

Generally I favor the "plain meaning of the text" school of Biblical interpretation, but sometimes looking for allegorical meanings can deepen the power of the Word and our understanding of it. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cutting Myself Down to Size--Part One

I usually shy away from blogging about personal stuff, but I'm going to make an exception by special request. Robin Craig--you asked for it, so this is for you! And also for Julie Craig, who is now traveling this same path using a different approach that is working for her. Keep up the great work, Jules!

As of today I am 60 pounds lighter than I was last November. That's when I joined Weight Watchers Online and began to cut myself down to size. I've done WW and similar programs before--in fact I lost 70 pounds after having my two daughters. As any of you who have also battled your weight know, the biggest challenge is not losing the weight but keeping it off. I've had a couple of epic FAILS in that area, so my challenge now is not to FAIL maintenance again.

Looking back now, I can't explain exactly why it all finally "clicked" for me. I meant to loose the weight before our trip to Israel last year knowing that there would be a lot of walking which would be much easier for me (and my bum left knee) with less weight. But I didn't do it then and certainly regretted it!

I owe my success to date to the unflagging support of my husband and family, Weight Watchers and Dream Dinners. 

El Jefe, who has never had a weight problem and loves dessert, never complained when I quit baking and instead gave him pies and cakes from the grocery bakery. He was always agreed to eat out where I could order food that fit my program, and encourages me to buy new clothes to fit my new figure! And sixty pounds later, that means a whole new wardrobe.

Daughter Babs who gained weight in college then lost it and has kept it off was a consistent cheerleader who suggested recipes and tips for eating out that really helped, too. She took me shopping and made me try on styles I would never have considered before but love now. Daughter Portia was either losing pregnancy weight or pregnant again and so was a very supportive fellow traveler on the diet path. 

It would be much more difficult to stay on the program without this kind of helpful support and accountability. I'm not as forthcoming as Julie who announced her intentions on her blog at the beginning as a way of keeping herself accountable. Setting up an external check like this is a key to success, whether you do it privately with family and friends or publicly on Facebook and Blogger. Whenever I kept my resolution to diet to myself, I went off the program very quickly.

Now that I've started blogging about this, I see it will take several posts since even interested Gentle Readers won't follow something too long. Stay tuned for more, if you're interested.

But next--back to our regularly scheduled BSD Blogging.

Friday, October 05, 2012

BSD Blogging: Lecture--A Burden for the Work of Rebuilding

Here's a link to the podcast of my BSD lecture yesterday on Lesson 3: A Burden of the Work of Rebuilding which covers Nehemiah 2: 1-10. This is from the MDPC website.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

BSD Blogging: Of Rabbit Trails and Red Herrings

This week's lesson covers Nehemiah 2:1-10. Since I'm giving the lecture tomorrow I don't want to repeat it here, so instead l'm going to hop down the bunny trail chasing some elusive red herrings, to share some background speculation developed in the course of my preparation for tomorrow.

Nehemiah identifies himself at the end of chapter 1 as the cupbearer to the King. This position was given only to someone whose loyalty was unquestioned. Artaxerxes' father, Xerxes, had been murdered by the captain of his personal bodyguard so Artaxerxes was painfully aware of the potential for treachery in those who were closest to him.

Interestingly, Nehemiah is not Persian but a descendant of Jewish exiles. On the principle "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" the Kings of Babylon and Persia placed members of prominent Jewish families in their court so they could keep an eye on them, insure their loyalty and take advantage of their skills. 

Four months passed between the events in chapter 1, which took place at Susa, and Nehemiah's conversation with King Artaxerxes in chapter 2. They were probably not in Susa, which was the winter palace. Courts moved around frequently to take advantage of better weather (too hot in Susa in the spring and summer!) and to reinforce their control over different parts of the empire. 

There may have been more than one cupbearer. If so, its possible that Nehemiah did not have a chance to serve the king personally until this encounter. On the other hand maybe he was in the king's presence consistently but sensed (a holy nudge?) that this was the time to invite the king to speak to him by showing sadness. Certainly you did not speak to the king unless spoken to so Nehemiah had to wait for the king to recognize him before he could make his request.

Some commentators have noted that the queen was present at the time of this conversation and speculated that her presence was helpful to Nehemiah and showed that he had a trusted relationship with her as well which would make it a good time to have this discussion with the king. Persian queens had a good deal of influence so she could have been helpful, but scripture doesn't tell us that.

In my research I found speculation that Nehemiah was a eunuch because extra-biblical sources indicate that was required for any male servant who had interaction with the wives and female relatives of the ruler. Nehemiah doesn't mention any family in his memoirs so that could be possible since it was almost unheard of for Jewish males not to marry. 

These are some interesting rabbit trails and possible red herrings. But tomorrow I'm going to focus on the two-fold call of God: to faith and service and to a particular task. See you then!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Book Review: The Treble Wore Trouble by Mark Schweizer

Calling all Liturgical Mysteries fans!

The latest book in the series, The Treble Wore Trouble, is now available!

This is a quasi-review because I haven't finished it yet.
Gentle and frequent readers know that I always pace myself slowly through Mark Schweizer's stories because I can't stand to finish them and not have another one available to read.

But so far this one is a hoot--it's Lent in St. Germaine and the new rector of St. Barnabus church wants to introduce a "blended service" which tempts our hero Hayden Koenig almost beyond endurance to break his Lenten vow of giving up liturgical snarkiness for lent. Of course there is a mysterious death for Hayden to investigate as well.

Best line so far: " My eyes went as crazy as Michelle Backman and Rick Perry's love child."

Oh, yeah.