Sunday, March 30, 2008

Since You Asked ...

In response to Gumpher's recent comment asking why the date of Jesus Christ's crucifixion changes from year to year, I replied with the following comment:

Indeed, there's more and much older manuscript evidence of Jesus' life than of Julius Caesar's. But like Caesar there's no confusion about the date when Jesus died. Caesar was stabbed on the Ides of March (March 15th); Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar. But because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar (inserting seven leap months during each 19 year period rather than a leap day once every four years), Nisan 14 falls anywhere from late March to late April on the Gregorian calendar.

However, while there's no question about the date of the year, there is some doubt as to which year Jesus was crucified. Given that: (1) Jesus died on Nisan 14, (2) He was in the tomb three days, and (3) He rose from the dead between midnight and dawn on a Sunday, we can conclude that the crucifixion must have occurred either on Wednesday April 3rd of A.D. 30 or on Friday April 1st of A.D. 33. No other years within the possible range of Christ's later life permit a Sunday morning resurrection three days after His death on Nisan 14.

As for the seemingly random conjunction of Easter and Passover, those holidays usually coincide (a few days one way or the other), but because Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday and Passover falls on a different day of the week from year to year, they rarely coincide as they did when Christ went to the cross. And every once in a while (partly due to the Vatican's archane rules for setting the date for Easter) the insertion of a second month of Adar will cause Easter to occur a full month ahead of the Feast of Passover. (I'm pretty sure the Greek Orthodox Church is celebrating Easter next month - right next to Passover.)

If you're interested, I'll tell you which of the two years (A.D. 30 or 33) I believe is the more likely date of the crucifixion and why I think so. (But you have to ask me to torture you with that boring detail.)

So far Gumpher has wisely demurred, but my brother-in-law Jerry (being not so blessed with Gumpher's wisdom) took the bait. Duty demands that I make good my promised of an explanation, but I caution you not to attach any spiritual significance to this. It really doesn't matter when Christ's crucifixion occurred. The important thing is that our Lord's Resurrection is an historical fact. So with my caution that this information is both useless and boring, feel free to quit reading now. You've been warned.

I believe Jesus Christ was probably crucified in A.D. 30. I think the most compelling argument for that date is found in an otherwise innocuous statement in John 2:20. But before I explain how that verse argues for an A.D. 30 crucifixion, let's make sure we understand what the point of this passage is.

Back during Jesus' earthly ministry, the Jewish leaders who controlled the operation of the Temple in Jerusalem were trading in Passover lambs. We read in John's Gospel that when Jesus saw this, He commanded:

"Take these things away; stop making My Father's house a house of merchandise." (John 2:15)

Since there's nothing wrong with buying and selling sheep, what was Jesus objecting to?

Matthew's account of Jesus' similar action three years later gives us clues:

And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN." And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (Matthew 21:12-14)

Two things immediately jump out:
The trade was being conducted inside the Temple (probably meaning within the confines of the outer court); and
Thus, the trade involved the Levitical priests, the very people who were responsible for the selection of Passover lambs.

By the first century A.D. the Levitical priests had assumed the roll of Passover butchers (something the Old Testament Scriptures did not commission them to do). Thus, the priests (as those who certified the fitness of the lambs), by engaging in the lamb trade themselves, stood to gain financially by finding fault with spotless, unblemished lambs, that were brought for slaughter, or conversely by certifying the lame and blind lambs they were selling as spotless and unblemished. We also see that "moneychangers" (non-Levites) were involved in the lamb market. These moneychangers weren't merely exchanging foreign currency, they were sanctifying the transaction by exchanging any coins that had a "graven image" (of Caesar) for currency that the priests could accept in trade for their certified spotless and blameless Passover lambs. The revenue stream from those who handled Caesar's filthy lucre then would have flowed back to the Levites by way of rental space in the Temple or through tithes on the moneychangers' income.

In response to this, Jesus not only disrupted their business, but set about actually doing what the Levites themselves had presumed to do: He sanctified the lame and the blind as fit for God's service. And thus Jesus proved Himself to be the real "Lamb of God" ("suffering servant" spoken of by in Isaiah 53), the one who had the power to sanctify those who were defiled. In response to Jesus' actions, the Jewish officials challenged Him to explain by what authority He'd disrupted their trade.

The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?" (John 2:18)

Were the Jewish leaders really asking for a sign miracle? No, Jesus was already performing the sign miracles that bespoke the Messiah. These Jewish authorities weren't asking Jesus for proof, they were asking for His credentials. Their question is probably rhetorical; they were merely saying, "You have no authority to disrupt our business." Nonetheless, Jesus answers them by citing the supreme proof of His divine commission.

Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19)

The word "destroy" here is in the imperative - it's a command to the Jewish leaders. But rather than understanding this as an order, we should take it as irony.

The same sort of challenge is issue by God in Amos 4:4
"Enter Bethel [house of God] and transgress! In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel," declares the Lord GOD.

Is God actually commanding Israel to sin? No, of course not. He is defying them to test Him. Likewise, Jesus isn't commanding the Jewish authorities to execute Him; He's merely saying, "Go ahead and destroy this Temple [My body] and see what happens." But the Jewish authorities misunderstood Jesus' statement as a reference to Herod's Temple.

The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple [or rather, "This temple has been under construction for 46 years"], and will You raise it up in three days?" (John 2:20)

We know from extra-Biblical sources that the construction of Herod's Temple was begun in 20 or 19 B.C., so these Jewish officials must have uttered this statement no earlier than Passover of A.D. 26 and no later than A.D. 28. This is the first of four Passover commemorations mentioned in John's Gospel. So if these four Passover Feasts were in consecutive years, then that final Passover (when Jesus was crucified) in John 13 and following would have been three years later: A.D. 29, 30 or 31.

In Matthew 12:39,40 Jesus declared:
"An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Using the reckoning of our current Gregorian calendar (which of course, wouldn't exist for another 15 centuries), Passover of A.D. 29 fell on Sunday, April 15th. If that were the year upon which Jesus had been crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, then that would mean He died on a Saturday. But there is no way one can interpret the interval from Saturday evening to the next morning as "three days and three nights", so A.D. 29 is not a possibility. In A.D. 31 Passover was on Tuesday March 25th. Likewise, the interval from Monday evening to Sunday morning is more than five days and by no reckoning can that be called "three days and three nights". So by process of elimination we're left with only Wednesday, April 3, A.D. 30.

However, this argument alone isn't sufficient to eliminate A.D. 33, since it's predicated on the assumption that Jesus' earthly ministry lasted less than five years. But we find no definitive Biblical statement that the Passover commemorations mentioned in John's Gospel were consecutive or even that they're listed in chronological order (other than the fact that Jesus was obviously crucified on the last of those Passovers). So even if one accepts the fact that the events of John chapter two occurred sometime between A.D. 26 and 28, that doesn't preclude the possibility that Jesus was crucified five to seven years later (on Friday April 1, A.D. 33).

In support of A.D. 30 are several facts:
(1) Jesus Christ was most likely born in either 6 or 5 B.C. (From Luke 2 we know Herod the Great was still alive when Jesus was born, and from extra-Biblical records we know that Herod died in 4 B.C. But if the Lord were crucified in A.D. 33, then He would have been at least 37 years old when He went to the cross.);
(2) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then in that year there was an added day for selection of the Passover Lamb (see the chronology below);
(3) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Israel was granted exactly 40 years of wandering in a spiritual wilderness. (In A.D. 70 the Roman army, using the Jew's Feast of Passover against them, permitted Passover celebrants to enter Jerusalem, but the Romans then sealed off the city on Passover, thus trapping an estimated one-million Jews within the walls of Jerusalem, 70% of whom weren't there a week earlier.);
(4) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Jesus' body lay in the tomb a full three days and three nights (according to both the Hebrew and Roman calendars); and
(5) If Christ's crucifixion occurred in A.D. 30, then Sunday, Resurrection day, lands on Nisan 18, the middle day of the week of the Feast of First Fruits when the unleavened grain offering seasoned with incense was to be presented to God. "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:20)

Here's the sequence of the Passion week for the two possible years:
If the year of Christ's crucifixion was A.D. 33 [during Hebrew calendar year 3793], Nisan 14 (the date of the crucifixion) would have started on a Thursday evening and ended on Friday afternoon.
9th = Saturday-Sunday (Mary's anointing Jesus' feet)
10th = Sunday-Monday (Selection of the Passover Lamb)
11th = Monday-Tuesday
12th = Tuesday-Wednesday
13th = Wednesday-Thursday
14th = Thursday-Friday (Last Supper & Crucifixion)
15th = Friday-Saturday (Passover)
16th = Saturday-Sunday (3 Roman calendar days: Sat, Sun, Mon)
17th = Sunday-Monday (3 Hebrew calendar days: Sabbath plus days 1, 2)
18th = Monday-Tuesday (3 days = after midnight, before sunrise Tuesday)

However, Jesus did not rise from the dead on a Tuesday. It was a Sunday morning.

If the year was A.D. 30 [during the Hebrew calendar year 3790], Nisan 14 would have fallen on Tuesday/Wednesday.
9th = Thursday-Friday (Anointing of Jesus' feet - selection of Passover Lamb)
10th = Friday-Saturday [No preparation for Passover due to Sabbath]
11th = Saturday-Sunday
12th = Sunday-Monday
13th = Monday-Tuesday
14th = Tuesday-Wednesday (Last Supper & Crucifixion)
15th = Wednesday-Thursday (Passover)
16th = Thursday-Friday (3 Roman calendar days: Thu, Fri, Sat)
17th = Friday-Saturday (3 Hebrew calendar days: days 5, 6, 7)
18th = Saturday-Sunday (3 days = after midnight, before sunrise Sunday)

It's only fair that I cite the counter-arguments in favor of A.D. 33.

In support of the A.D. 33 date is an astronomical event, the lunar eclipse of April 3rd, A.D. 33. On that evening the moon rose over Jerusalem in mid-eclipse. Proponents of A.D. 33 cite this as fulfillment of Joel 2:31, "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come." And they also point out that Peter (in Acts 2:20) quotes Joel 2 as proof that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. This all sounds very convincing until you consider two facts.

First the eclipse of April 3, A.D. 33 was only a partial eclipse, so even at the height of the eclipse the moon would have been only partially obscured. It would not have been the "blood moon" one sees during a full lunar eclipse. This partial eclipse would have been difficult to distinguish from a typical moonrise that's been partially obscured by clouds. Secondly, the Apostle John tells us in Revelation 6:12 that Joel's prophecy will be fulfilled when the sixth seal is broken, so unless your eschatology teaches that Jesus' second coming has already occurred, you have (in addition to the practical problem of an obscure fulfillment of a major Old Testament prophecy) a very big theological problem with calling the partial eclipse of April 3, A.D. 33 the fulfillment of Joel 2:31.

Also, as an argument in support of A.D. 33, are the words of Jesus' disciples on the road to Emmaus:

"But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened." (Luke 24:21)

These words were spoken on Resurrection Sunday. So if the third day is Sunday, then counting backward: Day 2 = Saturday, and Day 1 = Friday. Conclusion: the Lord was crucified on a Friday, which (based on the timing of the Hebrew calendar) establishes the year as A.D. 33. The counter argument is simple: "It is the third day since these things happened" need not be interpreted literally. These disciples could have just as easily meant, "It's been three days since these things happened." Preferring the narrow interpretation of these disciples' ambiguous words over the clear statement of the Lord that He would be "three days and three nights" in the tomb seems foolish to me.

So there you have it. The conclusion seems obvious to me: "Good Friday" occurred on Wednesday, April 5, A.D. 30. I won't argue this point with anyone, because (as I said from the start) it really doesn't matter what day our Lord died.

What matters is: He's alive!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Found A Cat

I think I've seen this same cat in the tree in our back yard.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter and Esther

Joyce and I are the "young" folks in our senior adult Sunday school class and some of our classmates have been in the church since they were children, so among the members of the class, there are a lot of friendships of longstanding. And they do love to tease each other, especially about getting old.

This morning before class, someone remarked about how early Easter falls this year. Mary, a fiesty white-haired octagenarian, dazzled us with her command of statistics, "You know, the last time Easter fell on March 23rd was 1913."

John (fifteen years Mary's junior) drolly inqired, "Mary, can you also remember what the weather was like that day?"

One of the oddities of Easter's falling so early is its departure from the actual Jewish Feast upon which the Resurrection occurred, Pesach (a.k.a., Passover). Another oddity of Easter coming so early was a courtesy call from the Watchtower's Witnesses (who style themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses). In any case, two sweet clueless little old ladies came to the door yesterday to invite us to attend their "Memorial" service that evening. The "memorial" of which they speak is what orthodox Christians refer to as "The Lord's Supper".

However, the Watchtower's Witnesses have a tradition of "observing" their Memorial just once a year, on the eve of Passover (the evening that begins Nisan 14). When I pointed out that Passover doesn't happen for another month, they insisted that the Watchtower has the date correct and all of Judaism has messed up. I couldn't help but laugh at the notion that this 3500-year-old tradition celebrating the birth of the nation of Israel has been screwed up by the Jews but put right by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I told them, "I don't hold to your Roman Catholic traditions, so I'll be celebrating the Memorial of Christ's Crucifixion next month."

These dear miguided ladies protested my claim they're holding to Roman Catholic tradition, so I replied, "Well, it appears this year you are. Invite me next month."

As I pointed out last year in this
post, there's no Biblical mandate to celebrate Easter. We Christians celebrate not because we're commanded to, but because the news of Christ's Resurrection is simply too joyous not to celebrate it. Unlike that neo-gnostic cult, the Watchtower's Witnesses, who commemorate Christ's death but deny His physical resurrection (in direct contradiction of Luke 24:39), Christians celebrate the Messiah's Resurrection, not because we have to, but because we can't help it.

Of course, since the Passover observance is deeply interwoven into the Passion story, my personal preference would be to have Easter occur during the week of Passover every year, but it's of no real consequence whether our celebration actually coincides with Passover. So admittedly I was being more than a little disingenuous with those lost souls who came knocking on our door. But I hasten to add that my sanctified sarcasm served the worthy purpose of pointing out that the Watchtower (which puts great stock in its timing of its "Memorial") flubbed it this year.

Now, it occurs to me that there is an upside to Easter coming a month before Passover. That places it smack up against the celebration of Purim, Israel's indulgence in a bit of legitimate schadenfreude, when they celebrate the foiling of Haman's plot to exterminate the Jews.

In Luke 24:25-27 [KJV] Jesus said to His two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
... O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

What "scriptures" was Jesus expounding on as He walked the Emmaus road? Of course, there are several direct Old Testament allusions to the need for Messiah to suffer, die and be resurrected (Gen 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 53:4; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 9:24-27; Micah 5:2; Zech 9:9), but as I study the Bible, I find that there's hardly anywhere in the Old Testament that doesn't prophesy of the Lord's sacrifice.

The Book of Esther is a case in point. Consider the plot of the story: The usurper [Haman], enraged that God's Anointed [Mordechai] refuses to bow to him, plots to destroy him and erects wooden gallows on which to hang the Anointed. But rather than defeating God's Anointed, the gallows become the means of the usurper's own downfall. Is there anything about that story that sounds familiar?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pickin' and Grinnin'

Years ago my brother Bart and I visited one of those photo booths and ... well, here's what came of it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Can You Believe This?

Fools! The neighbors are all a bunch of fools. They've all been talking about this guy who's passing out loads of money for free. Reportedly, not only is this feller handing out wheelbarrows full of money, but he's gonna keep on a-sending us money - enough money to pay a big chunk of our mortgages every year - cuz we're royalty (or some such thing).

What kind idiot would fall for that? First of all, he ain't gonna pay off my mortgage - I ain't got any danged mortgage to pay off. Second thing, I ain't royalty. And third, who's stupid enough to believe that some feller with a crazy name has so much money that he just has to give it all away? But there all the neighbors are - down at the armory - all lined up to have this "Barnett Shale" character hand them his rubber checks.

Fools I tell ya. The neighbors is all a buncha dern fools!

Cruisin' (Episode III)

After we'd experienced the magic of Meramec Caverns, we drove to Saint Louis and visited old friends -- folks whom we'd met at church in El Paso -- Danna and Weldon. Weldon is a pathologist who (at the time we met) was an Army doctor at Fort Bliss. Fondly do I remember gathering at their house in northeast El Paso for an evening of bring-your-own-fixins nachos and see-if-you-can-hold-your-own chatter.

Weldon, an impish 200-pound child, has truly found his calling; his work as a pathologist perfectly fits his need to play with gross dead things. Weldon's idea of fun included showing us his 35-mm slides of autopsies -- a pleasure which his dainty bride Danna (a petite southern belle from Humble, Texas) didn't share. So indulging our vulgar tastes required us guys to retire to the bedroom and to hand around the plastic-35-mm-slide viewer while the charming ladies rattled on. Emerging from the gore of the bedroom, we were then treated (despite the mild protestation of Danna) to Weldon's latest 45-RPM Meatloaf tune. Does anyone else remember "Love by the Dashboard Light"?

At the time of this trip it's now been more than eight years since we left El Paso, but we've stayed in touch with Danna and Weldon through letters and phone calls. (Well, to be more precise, Joyce and Danna have been corresponding.) We meet Danna and Weldon at their new home in suburban Saint Louis and I'm pleased to find that Weldon (despite his becoming a very successful and highly respected physician in private practice) still hasn't grown up. Given Weldon's improved financial status, we now retire to the stereophonic multimedia-equipped gameroom to listen to his latest music-video discovery and gawk at high-def autopsies. We then trundle up from the basement and Danna feeds us quiche.

Following our short midday visit with Dana and Weldon, that afternoon we moved on to Jacksonville, Illinois where Abdul, the desk clerk, once again greets us at the motel. We eat at Wendy's and then wander over to a playground to let the kids get their wiggles out. At first we're puzzled by the oversized play equipment, but we eventually figure out that we've wandered onto the campus of a school for the mentally challenged. Ironically, we've made our way from the home of a big kid to a home full of big kids.

Sunset finds Joyce and me sitting in a gazebo, supervising the boys who are still dashing around the playground, but now they're busying themselves with chasing fireflies. The nearly full moon was already up at sunset, so we can clearly see the boys running and snatching at the luminous dots. I note that James and Ben don't actually pose much threat to firefly liberty, but they're having great fun mimicking Andy's exuberance. Andy, on the other hand (five years senior to James), is quite the hunter.

Andy catches a half-dozen or so, and with each bagged prey we hear the tall soprano sing out, "I got one!" James and Ben immediately abandon the chase and come sprinting to share Andy's excitement. The younger boys gather around and watch intently as Andy's hinged hands pivot open to reveal his glowing palms. Time after time the fluorescent bug (both literally and figuratively) lights up their little faces. Eventually Joyce and I decide the magic has worn off for us and we bribe the boys to abandon their fun by offering them frosties at Wendy's. Thence, with the chocolate treats tucked into our tummies, we return to the motel to rest up for another day of travel adventure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day

I trust you all had a happy Pi Day. At 3-14, 1:59 this morning Joyce asked, "What are you doing up at this hour?"

I of course replied, "I need to go pi."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Grocery List

Joyce: What's this on the grocery list?

Andy: You said, "Put toothpaste on the list."

Joyce: I meant, "Write the WORD toothpaste on the list!"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cruisin' (Episode II)

As you remember from our last exciting episode, Lassie had suffered serious a injury in a flood that cost her an eye and a foreleg, but she was still able to attempt to rescue Timmy from the cave -

Lassie: Woof! Woof!

June Lockhart: What's that? Timmy is trapped in the cave?

Lassie: Rrrrr, Woof.

June: But you've already alerted the sheriff and formed search party? Good dog, Lassie.

Lassie: Bark!!!

June: The sheriff couldn't find Timmy, but he stumbled upon Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher? What were they doing in there?

Lassie: Ow-Uuuuuuuu!!!!!!

June: That's disgusting!

Lassie dashes away in search of little Timmy and runs back into Jesse James's musty cave (right past Art Linkletter's honeymooning cave couple) and (coming upon Bob and Joyce's family) she leaps and lands back in Bob's twisted mind. Bob shakes his head and returns to typing his blog entry ... {{Fade to a Marlboro commercial}}

So once again we return to the vacation trip of the summer of '90. After our intrepid travelers had finished gawking at all the commercially available relics left by Jesse James in the gift shop and had filled their lungs with Mr Howard's lingering essence, they marveled at the wonders of modern science (the black and white television starring Art Linkletter and Lassie) and relived the harrowing 1970's living-color adventures of some completely forgettable Huck Finn and Jody Foster's Becky Thatcher. We wander deeper into the cave where our fire-plug tour guide has us halt for no apparent reason. She then explains that we are about to be treated to an experience we have probably never had before: total darkness.

Having thus been forewarned of the scheduled occultation, we stand there in the dark as our guide instructs us on how to test the darkness to confirm its totality, "You just put the thumb of your right hand up against your nose and wiggle the fingers of that hand to determine if you can see them move." Just when we're all agreeing that it's really really dark, the lights suddenly blinked on and we find ourselves all standing around with our thumbs on our noses and our outstretched fingers wiggling. Boy do we ever feel silly - ha ha. Our show-me-state guide has sure showed us.

But the humiliation is far from over. We then traverse narrow slippery passages, bang our heads on low overhangs, and finally gather around another of nature's marvels: a stalagmite called The Table which has a flat seven-foot diameter surface and had once been standing on a single limestone pedestal. Unfortunately, a decade or so prior to our visit, one of the more curious tourists had ventured to test The Table's sturdiness. The toppled Table has been mended (almost) by propping up the nearly intact remnant with several lengths of two-inch-diameter, schedule-80 galvanized steel pipe. As magnificent as the repaired relic is, one can only imagine the glory of the pre-salvaged marvel.

Finally we intrepid spelunkers are shuffled into a large cave opening with a colossal rock formation called The Theater Curtains. After we are all seated on rows of pressure-treated two-by-ten lumber, we're gifted with a dazzling musical light-show extravaganza beyond anyones wildest imagination. Our stocky tour guide flips light switches as a blue-grass version of Rock of Ages plays. Not only is a new facet of The Theater Curtains revealed with each activated light switch, but the synchronized clickity-clickity-click-ing noticably improves the music. Then comes the patriotic grand finale: Kate Smith (via cassette tape) scratchily singing "God Bless America", accompanied by the thunderous clickity-clickity-click-ing of our stout light-switch virtuoso. Absolutely AWESOME!

Upon emerging from the cave, we're offered the chance to purchase a photographic memento (i.e., the group shot that was taken upon our entry). Just as Neil Armstrong might have ventured to snap an instamatic of the moonscape just before he closed the hatch of his lunar module, I just must have this fuzzy 8-by-10 black-and-white glossy keepsake. And thus we end our geological exploration, forever touched by the adventure but also certain (like both Neil Armstrong and Art Linkletter's humiliated newlyweds) that we shall never return.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Space Fright

Joyce and I are NASA buffs. This morning Joyce called up the NASA-TV website, where a press conference was being webcast. For those of you who don't know, the next two Space Shuttle missions (STS-123 and STS-124) will add the Japanese modules to the International Space Station.

The NASA spokesman introduced the Japanese Reed Fright Director who tord us he was very preased to be abo to brief us on the upcoming mission. He was especiarry grad to be in Houston to participate in the raunch of Space Shutto Endeavour. With the instarration of the Japanese Raboratory Moduo, Japan is entering into a new era of human space fright and greatry extending its space fright operations. The instarration of the "Kibo" Raboratory Moduo wirr be coordinated from the newry inaugurated Japanese Space Fright Center, which is rocated approximatery 40 mios northeast of Tokyo. Once the raboratory moduo is rifted from the shutto payroad bay and praced into position on the starboar sigh of the Unity Moduo, Japan wirr be a fuo-fredged member of the grobo community of spacefaring nations.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Land Cruisin'

Andy (at age eight): What's gray, has four legs and a trunk?

Me: An elephant?

Andy: "Nope! -- A mouse on vacation!

Speaking of vacations ...

Way back when the kids were younger, in the bygone days when Joyce and I had the stamina to deal with kids imprisoned in a minivan for endless hours, we used to do the Chevy Chase "Vacation" thing. During the summer of 1990 (with kids Andy - 8, James - 3 and Ben - 2) we went on a whirlwind trip, looping from Texas to the Great Lakes and then west to Yellowstone and down through the Rockies to Pikes Peak and finally (like a horse headed to the barn) back home to the warmth of North Texas.

Our trek began on August 4, 1990, 6:15 AM (Plymouth Grand Voyager odometer reading 13,789.4). On the first day out we drove to Sullivan, Missouri, spent the night in a Super 8 Motel, and (after saying goodbye to our friendly desk clerk, Abdul) the next morning we abandoned common sense and harkened to the beckoning billboards along I-44. We detoured from our intended route to Meramec Caverns, the infamous hideout of that notorious outlaw Jesse James.

After completing our examination of the gift shop (fun-house mirrors, your usual token-embossing machines and sundry Jesse James memorabilia), we joined a guided tour of Jesse James's Lair. Joyce noticed as we entered the cave that it was a bit musty. I agreed, "Yeah, you’re right. I believe I can still smell Jesse James's farts." Both my beloved and our fire-plug-shaped-lady guide frowned at me for that remark.

We were herded deeper into the cave where we mounted rickety bleachers and had our group photo taken. Our intrepid guide was a bit sketchy on scientific facts (not too sure about what kind of bat that one above us was - my guess was "dead and glued to the ceiling"), but nonetheless what she lacked in scientifical detail, she more than compensated for in her command of all the TV programs that have ever been produced in the cave, which included: Art Linkletter's "People Are Funny", two episodes of "Lassie" and the TV version of "Huckleberry Finn", with Lurch (a.k.a. Ted Cassidy) playing the part of Injun Joe and Jodie Foster portraying Becky Thatcher. (If I remember correctly, Huck Finn was played by John Hinkley - but I could be wrong.)

On the "People Are Funny" program Art Linkletter (always the practical joker) enticed a newlywed couple to spend a week performing a caveman skit for each cave tour that came through. As reward for their what-must-have-seemed-interminal performances, Art sent them off on a whirlwind vacation for three glorious days and four even more glorious nights in Hawaii. There's a permanent plaque honoring this dauntless couple. I rather doubt those newlyweds have ever seen their memorial plaque - well, certainly not as a couple.

As a memento of the two "Lassie" episodes, Lorimar Studios presented Meramec Caverns with a wax figure of Lassie which is prominently displayed atop a somewhat user-worn stalagmite. Unfortunately, just a couple of years before we visited Meramec Caverns, there’d been a flood in the cave in which Lassie tragically lost a leg, an eye and had one waxen ear flattened a bit. Nonetheless we were awed by this wax collie standing proudly on her remaining sturdy legs, gazing nobly into the distance with her remaining good eye.

There's more to this story, but since we (who were bottle-fed on mindless television) have attention spans strained by 30-second commercials, just like the "Lassie" TV series, this is TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, March 3, 2008


When I was six years old we left the Baptist church (Grandview Baptist on Porter Street to be exact) and started attending Hillside Bible Presbyterian. Our new pastor, one Dr Hobart Bennet, was a milquetoast with thin hair, thin lips and bi-focals that had rims that were black plastic on top and wire-frames on the bottoms, kind of like an extra set of eyebrows. His wife Naomi was a dour, dumpy matron with a severe, gray-streaked bun below the crown of her head. She played the church organ at ear-damaging levels. I don't remember Mrs Bennet ever laughing - she'd pretend to smile as the congregation filed out the front door after the service, but it's hard to say whether her attempt was more painful for her or for the unfortunate flock that had to run the chute in front of her. I remember Dr Bennet's hands: soft, smooth, limp, wet and cold - like grabbing a handful of calves liver fresh from the refrigerator. His sermons were liberally plagiarized from various commentaries and Dallas Theological Seminary journals, which was actually a great blessing; no one really wanted to have him wing it.

In Sunday school I received my religious instruction from a remarkably able staff of teachers (which at different times included both Mom and Dad). Dad taught my class when I was about nine. I remember one Bible lesson in particular: the subject was Lot (Abraham's nephew). Dad was having trouble explaining the cause of God's displeasure with the original Twin Cities (nowhere near Minnesota). Dad interjected, "That's where the term 'sodomy' comes from." There was a long pause as if Dad wanted us to follow up on his statement. I raised my hand to ask the obvious question. Dad regained his composure and, ignoring my imploring hand, he plowed on with the lesson. I made a note to look up the term in the dictionary when we got home. (It turned out the dictionary was no use at all.)

After Sunday school we little lambs would join Mom and Dad in the "Fellowship Hall" and then "as lambs before the shearer" we were led into the auditorium to receive instruction on patience and poise (i.e., the sermon). "Suffer the little children to come unto me...", "Blessed are they who endure to the end, for they shall receive a crown of righteousness..." Dr Bennet's sermons were an ordeal, but for us, the cursing was turned to blessing by the "Sunday Pix", a type of a religious "Weekly Reader" (Does anyone else remember that six-page elementary school journal?). The Sunday Pix was somthing less than a comic book but more than a church bulletin. It contained maybe six pages of Bible stories in cartoon format. I could absorb the contents of the "Sunday Pix" three times over during Dr Bennet's opening prayer (and I was not in the top reading group), so that left me the rest of the church service to improve the pictorial journal with strategic editing. It's amazing how you can alter the meaning of sentences by the removal of a word here and there. ("I will blot out thy transgressions...") My older brother Roy particularly admired my literary style. I'd try to keep him from viewing my work during the service since he had a tendency to snort his appreciation, and Dr Bennett did not approve of inappropriate laughter during the sermon.

The year we started going to Hillside, 1958, two women greatly influenced my life: Mrs Hecker and Miss Nash. Miss Nash was the hood ornament on our 1954 Nash Rambler, a stunning vision who through a tragic chrome-plating process had lost her face. But what chromium concealed it also revealed. Although at the tender age of six I wasn't fully appreciative of the female form, I was aware that this winged creature had a peculiar charm that emanated from her symmetry, graceful lines and smooth curves, which I suspect were there for reasons other than aerodynamics. My concept of female pulchritude was greatly affected by Miss Nash, that willowy angelic creature whose wholesomeness was manifest by her brilliance in the west Texas sun.

Mrs Hecker was far less glamorous, but ultimately she became my greatest benefactor. I was in Mrs Hecker's Sunday school class. She was in her late sixties, although at the time my limited understanding of gerontology would have placed her at twenty or better. She came complete with flannel board and felt-backed figures of Moses, Abraham, Noah and Jesus. While I'd been introduced to most of these guys back at the Baptist Church, I learned something new about this Jesus character. Mrs Hecker informed us that Jesus was God who became a man and died as a sacrifice for our sins. "OK", you say, "So what?" She also said that all we had to do to receive salvation (eternal life and a whole lot more) was to believe in Jesus Christ. We bowed our heads and I silently expressed my faith, but (as far as I could tell) nothing happened. I later learned that salvation is sometimes like that, but at the time I thought the efficacy of my faith was in my "feeling" saved. Convinced that we were seeing the "signs of the times" and that the rapture was imminent, I was very concerned about being left here on Earth when the rest of my family met "the Lord in the air".

Thus it happened that one Saturday afternoon I stood in our driveway with thoughts of the Lord's coming on my mind. I looked up and saw the Angel of the Lord, radiant in the west Texas sun, looking down at me from atop the hood of the Nash Rambler. I prayed, "Wait, don't come yet. Wait until tomorrow." I'd decided that at the close of the Sunday morning service I was gonna fulfill Romans 10:9,10. I would make a profession of my faith. At the end of every service Dr Bennet always made the usual appeal for the unregenerate to come forward. As far as I know, he'd never had a taker - that is, 'til now.

Dr Bennet made the call and I raised my hand, but he droned on, oblivious to my tiny gesture. Dad told me the service was almost over and I could go to the bathroom right afterwards. I told him, "No, I don't need to go pee - I'm believing." Dad said, "Oh! Well, in that case, go to the front." As I strode up the aisle, Dr Bennet grew silent. I suspect he was silently cursing that rotten kid (who was always defacing the Sunday Pix) for once again interrupting the service. But then the light dawned and he realizing that his fervent prayer for the lost souls among the congregants was being answered. He quickly recovered his composure and welcomed me into the fold; I had eternal life.

We went to Hillside for another twelve years, but I don't think Dr Bennet ever learned my name; to him I was just one of the horde of kids in Joe and Clara's family. Someday when we gather in heaven, no doubt Dr Bennet expects to have a great congregation fall in with him. Me? I'll be standing in the ranks behind Mrs Hecker.

Not long after my thrilling conversion I remember my maternal grandmother (a.k.a., "Gramma") visiting El Paso and going to church with us. I was a brand new believer, but amazingly becoming a "new creature in Christ" hadn't made me any more attentive to the sermon. In fact, I'd very quickly grasped Romans 8, and I was now resting secure in the fact that "neither life nor death, nor angels nor principalities, ..." could separate me from the love of God. So there seemed to be less urgency about listening to Dr Bennet's meandering messages. I sat there in the pew beside Gramma; Dr Bennet began. I leaned up against Gramma's over-stuffed arm. Mom was on the other side of Gramma but saw me. She hoarsely scolded, "Sit up straight!" Gramma whispered back to Mom, "It's alright."

I closed my eyes and went to sleep.