The Origins of Christ Jesus

      Since Advent begins today, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to the infancy narratives found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. 

      When we study these scriptures, we typically skip over the verses at the beginning, which deal with the Savior’s ancestry. I imagine we do this because we assume they do nothing more than recite Christ’s lineage, just like the family trees we create on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. We also may be a bit perplexed by the numerous differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies. 

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Grace and Gratitude

      ’Tis the season of giving thanks for the gifts we have received.

      While most of us appreciate the importance of gratitude, we typically give little thought as to how we express it. We don’t stop to ask: “How should I give thanks? What is the best way to show my appreciation?”

      The importance of the manner in which we express our gratitude is embodied in the very word “thanks.” As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger observed, the word “thank” is etymologically similar to the word “think.” “To think” in German is denken while “thanks” is danken.[1]

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Resistance is Necessary, not Futile

    “What’s in a name?” Juliet rhetorically asks in reference to Romeo’s clan: the Montagues. The answer, as she would soon learn, is: “quite a lot.” And in the world of the Old Testament, names were hugely important.

      The creation story underscores its significance when God gives a name to our world and to each of its features and inhabitants. For the Israelites, your name was an essential part of your individuality and created a link between you, your ancestors and descendants, preserving your connection with the living even after you have departed.

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Incest

      Well, I’ll bet the title of this essay got your attention! I mean, when was the last time you read a post about incest on a website devoted to religious, scriptural and historical subjects? But what better place to find it than in the Book of Genesis where Lot is warned by some angels to take his family and get out of Sodom—a place known for its deviancy—before all hell breaks loose. Literally! His wife doesn’t make it—too much sodium in her diet, apparently—but his daughters do, though the first thing on their minds, once they have fled to the hills, is seducing their father. And you thought the Kardashians were strange!

“Sodom and Gomorrah afire, by Jacob Jacobsz. de Wet d. J., c. 1680
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The Fifth Commandment

      When my parents married, my mother was not a member of the church and my father, who hailed from a long line of Latter-day Saints, had been inactive for some time. But they each retained a strong belief in God and desired to find a place to worship where they both would feel comfortable. 

      When I, their firstborn, arrived, they were attending the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. So I was baptized and added to the church register shortly after my birth. 

Cutest Baby Ever
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The Color of God

      One of our favorite family traditions when I was young boy—one we shared with millions of other Americans—was gathering around the television every Sunday evening to watch Bonanza, an American Western set in Nevada near Carson City. The show chronicles the adventures of the Cartwright family, owners of one of the largest ranches in the state: the Ponderosa.

      The family patriarch was the thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), who had three sons of varying temperaments. The show, which ran a record 14 seasons on NBC, was popular because it offered both comedy and drama, and told compelling stories about the challenges the family, and those in its orbit, confronted.

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Forgiveness

      On the evening of March 4, 1865, a black man, dressed in his Sunday best, approached the entrance to the White House. He was there to see the President of the United States who, earlier that day, had delivered his second inaugural address to the nation. Having heard that Lincoln would be hosting a reception open to the public, Frederick Douglass decided to attend.

      Douglass, until recently, had not been a big fan of Mr. Lincoln who, early in his presidency, seemed ambivalent on the question of abolishing slavery. But recent events—the single-mindedness with which Lincoln had prosecuted the war and his dogged efforts to win passage of a constitutional amendment banning involuntary servitude—had caused him to rethink his views. 

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Dancing Bears

      January 1, 2007, was a dark day for many Gypsy families living in Bulgaria, for that was when their country joined the European Union. The livelihood of these individuals was suddenly threatened because, as a condition of membership, Bulgaria was required to outlaw the keeping of bears in captivity.

     For centuries, young bears were captured by circuses and entrepreneurs from the Roma community, domesticated, and then taught to dance, perform tricks, and even imitate celebrities. While to the uninitiated observer this might seem little different than teaching an elephant to stand on its hind legs, it was undeniably cruel.

The Dancing Bear, by William Frederick Witherington, England, 1822
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The Unexpected

      In the early 1950s, the Karnaphuli pulp and paper mill, one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in the recently established country of Pakistan, commenced operations. For raw material, the plant drew almost exclusively upon the vast bamboo forests along the upper reaches of the Karnaphuli River in East Pakistan. The suppliers of the bamboo and residents of the region, in addition to the venture’s founders, had high hopes for the project.

      During the start-up phase, the business had its fair share of managerial difficulties and other troubles, but by the end of the decade it had begun to prosper. Then disaster struck. The bamboo began to flower.

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Vulcan

      This is a story about a planet called Vulcan. No, not the place where S’chn T’gai Spock—better known as “Mr. Spock”—was raised by his Vulcan father and human mother. This is about a planet in our Solar System by that very same name. It differs, however, from all the rest in one important respect: no one has ever been able to find it.

      To understand the mystery of Vulcan and how it was eventually solved, we must first turn our attention to a different—and quite real—planetary body: Uranus. While Uranus was discovered towards the end of the 18thcentury, during the early 1800s astronomers were beginning to wonder whether it might actually be a star. Those doubts had arisen because the planet was not adhering to Newton’s theory of gravity. 

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