Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Social Justice

I recently saw online someone using I Thessalonians 3:10 – well, really just the second half of the verse - in an attempt to argue that Obama removing the work requirement from welfare is unbiblical.

For starters, Obama did not remove the work requirement. At the request of the governors of certain states, he granted waivers in how they could distribute their federal welfare dollars, provided that their distribution increases the total number of people they put back to work. Several of those governors are Republican, incidentally, although that I’m aware of, none have sought to clarify what Obama actually granted in regards to welfare.

I am concerned, however, at this use of the verse.

For those not familiar, 1 Thess. 3:10 says, in total, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”” The portion that was quoted was the second half, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Had the entire verse been quoted, I’m certain there would have been more questions as to context. It’s quite clear that the writer (Paul) is directing this to a specific audience, and that he is reiterating something he’d told them before. Who was he speaking of? Well, here’s the whole passage:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

       With this as context, it seems clear that we are not talking about the merely unemployed, but of the idle and indolent, and specifically the idle and indolent among the believers. In addition to their idleness, they are “busybodies,” which means exactly what you think it does – they are meddlers, gossips and people who like nothing more than to get in the way. It’s a specific class of people (idle busybodies), called out from the middle of a specific class of people (the “brothers”). (Here, by the way, “brothers” is the Greek work “adelphos,” typically used to refer to either a relation by blood or a member of one’s own religious community)

     So, what is our responsibility to the greater mass of the poor? Well, lets start with Proverbs:

"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor."

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy."

“He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses."

     And the consequences for failing to do so:

"If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."

     And then Jesus:

"Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'"
"Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’"
     Okay. Seems pretty clear. We give to the poor and the hungry, we Christians. And look at that last passage – when you help the poor, it with the specific idea that we will not be repaid, at least not in this life. After all, anyone who has heard and answered Christ’s call has received a gift that they did not earn, that was made available to them when they did not want it.

     There are arguments to be made that it should not then be the business of government to give to the poor, but rather that this is the church’s responsibility. There’s a lot of meat to that discussion, and it’s one worth having*. During that discussion, though, we cannot neglect our duty first and foremost to Christ, and secondly to our fellow man.

     This is not an attempt to sway anyone one way or another in the coming election - each person should be free to vote their conscience, and it would be hubristic of me to think I could change that.

* My conversation on this subject begins with, “What are you doing for the poor, and what more can you do?” and moves on from there. Actions first.

Mayan Prophecies

This blog post is brought to you by the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center and the letters R and P. Because it was written by one of their educators, R.P. Hale.

Comments for Maya Prophecies R.P. Hale

Maya astronomers were really astronomer-priests, or more properly, calendar-priests who alone could interpret the night sky and the calendars—which is why as a class they could become so powerful in Maya societies.

They viewed the seasonal star positions to foretell the rainy or hurricane seasons. This was important because central Mexico to southern Central America does not have the familiar four seasons; rather, their seasons are wet-dry-wet-dry, roughly:

August – October: Major wet season, often with hurricanes
Nov. – Dec.: Two-month dry season
Jan. – Feb.: Two-month short wet season
Mar. – July: Major dry season; extended droughts were serious

Mesoamerican temples—and cities—were almost invariably sited astronomically, most often to solsticial or August 13 sunrise/sunset positions. Those at Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, Palenque and Tikál were sited to these and the four-temple complex at Tikál was sited to multiple Sun positions over the solar year.

August 13 was and remains the most important calendar day to the Maya groups overall. The beginning of the Current Era of the Maya Long Count correlates to 13 August 3114 BC. It does not “end” on 21 December 2012! This cycle completes on 13 October 4772 AD, when this pik’tun period of 20 bak’tuns is completed. Notice that I do not—and will not—use the term “end.”

The units of the Long Count are:
1 K’in = 1 Sun = 1 day
20 K’in = 1 Winal = 20 days
18 Winal = 1 Tun* = 360 days
20 Tun = 1 K’atun = 19.75 y
20 K’atun = 1 Bak’tun = 294.25 y
20 Bak’tun = 1 Pik’tun = 7,885 y
20 Pik’tun = 1 Kalabtun = 157,769 y
20 Kalabtun = 1 K’inchiltun = 3,153,985 y
20 K’inchiltun = 1 Alawtun** = 63,079,702 y

* Not a solar year! The solar year is 1 Tun + 5 days, called the “vague year”
** Pronounced “Ah-lauh´-toon”

And, if that weren’t enough, more Mayan archeological evidence shows we are in the midst of the longest time period ever conceived by any culture:
71,803,130,579,762,893,154,680,634,776 years!
In light of that time span, of what significance is 2012?

The Temple of K’ulk’ulkan in Chichén Itzá is oriented so that on the spring equinox, the temple shadows fall so as to appear that K’ulk’ukan the Feathered Serpent crawls down the staircase of his temple (very popular with tourists today). The Feathered Serpent cult came from the northern lands and wasn’t adapted by the Yucatán Maya until late in their history. Their Feathered Serpent, identified with the planet Venus, became Quetzalcóatl to the Aztec.

The Mesoamerican Venus was never a goddess of love; rather, it represented a bloodthirsty male deity of human sacrifice, war, pestilence, and hard times. Its white color also represented death itself.

The planet Venus was one of the two most important celestial bodies for Mesoamericans overall, and some Maya groups saw Venus as more important than the Sun. One of the Calendar Cycles derives directly from Venus’ sidereal period (584 d).. The conjunction of Venus with the Pleiades (the body of K’ulk’ukan joining with the tail rattles) is a rare event that happens once every eight to ten years—not every spring. It was also part of the Calendar 52-year cycle.

Human sacrifice is always a delicate subject to bring up. All Mesoamerican groups practiced it for over 3,500 years, and the Maya were particularly involved in it—far more so than the later Aztec. Capturing the king, nobles and priests for subsequent sacrifice was the primary aim.

The Palenque Maya viewed the Milky Way as Caban Xibalba – The Road to the Underworld, traveled by the sky monster, and other Maya groups saw the trunk of the sacred ceiba tree that connects the heavens to the Earth and Underworld. The Southern Cross was also a ceiba tree. Ceibas were and remain sacred trees to Mesoamericans. The late Maya knew about precession but made no mention of Sun positions relative to the Milky Way—simply because you cannot see the Milky Way in the daytime! (Reference this to King Pacal’s conquering of Death with the sunrise.)

In the entire Maya record, there is but one mention of the date corresponding to December 2012. This is in the c.740 AD Tortuguero Tablet, which also makes it very clear that, 4 Ahaw 3 K’ank’in—21 December 2012—is but one bak’tun completing among the 20 that make up the pik’tun that completes in 4772 AD. There are seven more bak’tun periods to go until 4772.

The Classic Maya considered the endings of k’atun and bak’tun periods as very important and many monuments commemorate these. If a king lived for a k’atun, that too was commemorated. Celebrations ranged from festivals to making wars on neighboring cities.

The Maya did not vanish: they abandoned their cities and authorities and returned to autonomous pastoral/farming (and sustainable) village life. Their city societies had created all manner of ecological disasters due to overcrowding and overconsumption of resources. There are some 15 million living now, speaking 30 Maya languages.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Frank Turner - Keep My Bones

Although new to the American scene, Frank Turner's old band, Million Dead, for which he was vocalist, seems to have had some amount of popularity. They're punk, which isn't my typical style choice so I honestly don't know much about them. I first heard "I Still Believe" on a college radio station and bought the album it's from, "Keep My Bones," on a whim.

  I loaned this album to a friend who compared it to Mumford & Sons. In the sense that both albums heavily feature acoustic instruments, it's not a bad comparison, but Frank Turner uses a lot more of the instruments of rock (distortion, drums and screaming vocals) than M&S. Many of the tracks lean pretty heavily into rock, sometime veering just a bit into punk (particularly "One Foot Before The Other, which has more than a bit of a punk ethos as well), but with some heavy, heavy dips into folk.

The first song, Eulogy, is short and to the point. It has a little bit of swearing, but it's used to make a point, at least. It also serves as a nice stylistic introduction, with a lonesome sounding acoustic intro that builds up to a crashing rock finale.

The most famous track on the album, at least in the U.S., is "I Still Believe," a song that's in the tradition of "It's Only Rock and Roll" - it's a sort of meta-rock song, a tribute to the power of rock music. I don't often use the term "rollicking," but it applies here. The song has the feel of something slapped together in a club with a few friends, but underneath that there's a deceptive complexity to the music and the themes. I challenge you to not sing along to the chorus.

Overall, though, I have to say my favourite track is "Redemption." I'm a sucker for a sad song, so that problem explains much of it, but it begins with a direct reference to Bruce Springsteen, my favourite songwriter, and moves on in what's either a brilliant paean to his style or a heartbreaking bit of autobiography. Maybe, as with The Boss' best work, it's a bit of both. If I've recently apologized to you for something you'd completely forgotten about, it's probably on account of this song.

There are no truly weak tracks to be found here. "Rivers" is a little on the quaint side, and "Nights Become Days" is a slow song that goes on maybe a verse too long, but the rest is solid. He sings a capella on "English Curse," a daring move for a vocalist who's clearly more confident when he can give a rasping shout over instrumentation, but it works quite well for the song. I wanted to dislike "Glory Hallelujah," a sort of atheist hymn*, but the tune's just so darned catchy. And, well, honest. I do appreciate that.

If you're getting a bit bored of Wrecking Ball and Sigh No More, give this a spin. You'll be very glad you did.

* The chorus includes the rather spare line, "There never was no God." The ungenerous portion of me wants to thank Mr. Turner for using the double negative to inform us of his belief in deity but this is folk/punk, a litter grammatical legerdemain is to be expected.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What I do on 9/11

I remember where I was on 9/11. I think we all do. I don't have much of a ritual around remembering it. I don't watch the videos of the planes crashing, the buildings collapsing, none of that. I just can't get my head around it. It's too big, to unbelievable. It feels like fiction and I hate that, because it's real, the damage that was caused, and the damage it's still causing. These are the things I use to remember it.

Jon Stewart's comedy isn't for everyone, but I get the feeling he's a good deal like me – the sort of person who jokes at the most inappropriate times, particularly at times of stress, as a sort of reflexive thing. This is him not doing that, for once. He's sincere. I appreciate that.

When satire is done well, it makes you laugh, wince and weep. I think The Onion hits all those notes with this article. It's gravestone-black humour, but it does provide a chuckle. And every time, at the end of it, I'm crying too.