Archive for March 2012

There Is No Such Beauty As Where You Belong   1 comment

Above:  The Reverend Beth Long, Rector of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, with Mr. Andrew Lane, also of St. Gregory the Great Church, at the 2012 Georgia Interfaith Power and Light Sixth Annual GIPPY Awards, Atlanta, Georgia, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta


I had to absent myself from church one recent Sunday morning.  Allergies attached me when I had a dearth of over-the-counter medications.  So, instead of going to church, I drove to a local Dollar General store and purchased what I needed.  I would have been bad company in church that morning.  My absence meant that I was not in the choir to sing an anthem which contained a memorable line:

There is no such beauty as where you belong.

This line, unlike many others I have read, heard, and sung, has remained with me.  And I think I know why.

I arrived in Athens, Georgia, in Fall 2005 to pursue a Ph.D. in history at The University of Georgia.  That dream died during a sad and frustrating saga of personality conflicts, historical disciplinary disagreements, and the perfidious action of one professor (whose name I will not reveal in any print or online source) with a weak ego.  Since then I have had an off-and-on internal debate as to whether I belong in Athens.  My father, who lives in Americus, in the opposite corner of the state, is ailing and my mother is his caregiver.  Should I start over there?  Ought I to live closer to my family?

I have established a personal network in Athens.  Having lived longer in Athens than I have lived anywhere else, I have come to like being rooted.  And I have belonged to and attended the same congregation–St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church–all that time.  It is a wonderful group of people.  There I fit in culturally.  The choir performs wonderful music and has earned a community-wide reputation for excellence.  And, at St. G’s, I am no longer (as I was too often in South Georgia) the resident heretic; there are plenty of people to my left, and I have not changed my mind much since shortly before August 2005.  The parish is also a leader in environmental stewardship through its recycling program and plan to add solar panels soon.  And I participate in the card ministry, mailing get-well cards.  I serve also as a Eucharistic Minister, put stray Prayer Books and hymnals in their proper places, and rearrange chairs (we have chairs, not pews) at the priest’s request from time to time.  And I even tell puns to those who appreciate them.  I have become accustomed to the place.

I belong in Athens and at St. G’s, at least for now.  I am where I belong.  There is no such beauty as where I belong, and I rejoice in the fact that I live in it.  Deo gratias!







A few weeks ago I donated my 1969-2002 run of the Journals of the South Georgia Conference, The United Methodist Church, to the UGA Main Library.  The fact that I felt comfortable doing that indicated how much my attitude toward that institution of higher learning had changed and have changed.




“St. Gregory is Going Green”–Athens Banner-Herald, April 6, 2012:





Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Episcopal Church

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Babylon 5–Passing Through Gethsemane (1995)   2 comments

Brother Edward

Among the character pieces early in the third season my favorite is Passing Through Gethsemane, the sad tale of Brother Edward.

The framing story is the return of Lyta Alexander, who left the station and headed for Vorlon space after Divided Loyalties, late in the second season, in which she exposed Talia Winters as the host for the Psi Corps-implanted spy personality.  Lyta, no longer part of Psi Corps, is working for the Vorlons, who have modified her, and for whom she conducts missions and errants, carrying Ambassador Kosh within herself.

Brother Edward is a gentle man, a model of charity and goodwill in deeds small, medium, and large.  He lives on board Babylon 5 as part of the community of Trappist monks which arrived two episodes ago.  He engages in his community’s work, which is to seek the other names and faces of God from members of alien species.

In one scene he interviews Minbari Ambassador Delenn and her aide, Lennier.  The Minbari diplomats explain their culture’s spirituality and the character Valen, a Minbari not born of Minbari–the founder of the Minbari nation as it exists.  (Pay attention:  Valen is pivital in the series.) Then Delenn asks Brother Edward to explain his faith, specifically the hook, if you will, on which it hangs.  It is this:  Jesus did not have to remain in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he chose to be there when the guards came for him.  Edward does not know if he would have had the courage to remain in the garden.

Edward has a secret of which he is unaware.  In 2260 there is no more capital punishment.  The worst criminals, such as serial killers, face the penalty called death of personality, in which the authorities mindwipe the convicted criminal and implant a new personality determined to serve society.  Until 2251 the person now known as Brother Edward was Charles Dexter, the Black Rose Killer.  Some relatives of Dexter’s victims have hired a Centauri telepath to undo the mindwipe partially, prompting Edward to have troubling flashbacks he does not understand at first.

Brother Theo, head of the Trappist community on board Babylon 5, counsels Edward to leave everything in God’s hands.  But the guilt-ridden Brother Edward takes matters into his own hands and searches computer records until he finds a news report with the image of Charles Dexter:

The angry relatives of the murder victims catch up with Brother Edward and leave him for dead.  The man pictured below leads them and does what he considers necessary and proper to exact revenge:

With Lyta’s help the station security forces locate Brother Edward yet find him close to death.  Brother Theo administers the last rites and the guards arrest Edward’s murderer.

Last Rites for Brother Edward

A few days later, Brother Theo introduces the newest member of the Trappist order to Captain Sheridan.  Brother Malcolm has wanted to serve others as long as he can remember.  Does his face look familiar?

Brother Malcolm (Left) and Brother Theo (Right)

Forgiveness, Captain Sheridan tells Theo, is a hard thing.  Nothing is more difficult, Theo agrees.  This, I think, is true.  And the episode has haunted me since I saw it in first run syndication, late in 1995, when I was a student at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, U.S.A.  Now I encourage you, O reader, to watch it, become haunted by it, and share it with others.




All images are property of Warner Brothers, and I do not profit from said images.


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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Media 1990s

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Babylon 5–Believers (1994)   1 comment

Above:  Dr. Stephen Franklin Comforting Shon

The obligatory happy ending, the result of a deus ex machina, is a staple of movies and television shows.  There is no happy ending with Believers, an episode in which the characters do what they think is correct, but not all can be right.

The Children of Time, a minor race with no ambassador aboard Babylon 5, reject surgery, which they believe kills the soul, rendering one an empty shell.  Surgery, even minor surgery, is reserved for mere animals, whom the Children of Time consider soulless beasts.  Steeped in this belief system are two parents, Tharg and M’Ola, whose son, Shon, has a life-threatening respiratory condition Dr. Franklin and his staff can repair with a minor surgery.  When the parents refuse the medical procedure a cultural clash ensues and the parents seek help from Commander Sinclair and various ambassadors to prevent Dr. Franklin from sending Shon into surgery.

Below:  Tharg (the father) and M’Ola (the mother)

Dr. Franklin obeys his conscience, disobeys orders, and saves the boy’s life.  The parents then reject their son, whom they believe is a soulless shell.  Then they take the boy to their quarters, where Dr. Franklin, much to his horror, discovers what their culture dictates they do next.  If Shon no longer has a soul, the logic goes, killing him cannot be wrong.

Below:  Dr. Franklin’s Reaction to Shon’s Death

I am a religious person.  Yet I am not blind to the excesses which flow from the combination of dogma and insufficient or absent critical thinking or simple compassion and goodness.  People have long justified a variety of cruel acts by labeling them God’s law.  I have covered this ground in some of my lectionary-based devotional posts.  My preferred standard for determining whether an act is consistent with divine law is 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter.  In this episode, Dr. Franklin lives up to that standard.  And the truly sad fact is that his decision does not change Shon’s fate.  The boy would have died anyway.

Below:  Dr. Franklin Defending His Decision to Take Shon Into Surgery

This episode concerns the dark side of religion.  Subsequent ones, however, deal with the positive side.  I think of two third-season episodes, for example.  The A-story in Passing Through Gethsemane is that of Brother Edward, a Roman Catholic monk experiencing a crisis of faith and identity.  And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place features a sympathetic Black Baptist pastor and his partners on a mission to resist the dictatorial President of the Earth Alliance.  Those partners include a rabbi and a Roman Catholic monk.  Religion receives balanced treatment in Babylon 5.  That is appropriate.





All images are property of Warner Brothers, and I do not profit from said images.


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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Media 1990s

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Of Gods and Men (2010)   2 comments

The Algerian Helicopter Gunship and the Monastic Chapel

(All images in this post are screen captures I took via the PowerDVD program and a rented disc.)



Lambert Wilson as Christian

Michael Lonsdale as Luc

Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe

Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin

Jacques Herlin as Amedee

Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre

Xavier Maly as Michel

Jean-Marie Frin as Paul

Olivier Perrier as Bruno

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

French with English Subtitles

Rated PG-13 in the United States

2 hours, 2 minutes long


In 1996, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists kidnapped a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria.  The precise circumstances of these men’s death remains uncertain, but their demise apparently involved beheading.  The terrorists did not abduct all members of the religious community.  This fact, I presume, explains how we know what happened until the kidnapping.  Of Gods and Men is the story of the Trappist monks.

Early Morning Prayer

The movie opens in 1995.  The monks form a community in and of themselves.  They support each other, pray and worship together, and even argue among themselves.  But they do more than pray and garden, not that those are bad activities.

Brother Luc, the Doctor

Brother Luc, a doctor, tends to patients most days.  Some days, he sees up to 150 people from the adjacent village, in fact.  He cannot get out much, due to physical infirmity, so the patients come to him.

Brother Luc, the Counselor

Luc also functions as a counselor.

Community Counseling

The monks’ Muslim neighbors turn to them for prayer and advice, which the gentle monks are glad to offer.  Militant, violent fundamentalists have become active in the area, much to the disapproval of the villagers.  The monks are, in fact, integral to the village, for they also attend family functions and other social events there.   Here we see Brother Christian, abbot of the monastery, and a fellow monk speaking with some village elders.

Turning to God and Each Other

The monks are in great danger from both the terrorists and the Algerian military.  The monastics have a way out, for they can transfer to another monastery.  But, if they do this, what will become of the impoverished villagers next door? And, if they stay, the monks risk martyrdom.

Inner Peace

We already know how the story ends.  So the real drama lies in the journey.  How do the monks make peace with the real possibility of violent death for their faith?  And by which paths do those who initially supported leaving come to agree to remain in harm’s way?

The journey of faith can be a difficult one, depending on circumstances.  One IMDb reviewer, while praising the movie, wrote that the monks were not saints, as if saints are perfect.  I propose that the monks were saints, warts and all.  They struggled, some more than others, but concluded that, if the path of following Christ leads to their martyrdom, so be it.  I harbor serious doubts whether I would have made the same decision.

Brother Christian, who died, left behind a written final testimony.  Here is the English translation:

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

I invite you, O reader, to spend two quality hours with this movie.  May it deepen your faith, or perhaps help you find it.





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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Media 2010s, Islam

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Passion Fish (1992)   1 comment

Two Friends in a Boat

All images are screen captures I took via PowerDVD.



Mary McDonnell as May-Alice Culhane

Alfre Woodard as Chantelle

David Straitharn as Rennie

Directed by John Sayles

2 hours, 15 minutes long

Rated R


A really good movie is a great joy.  Passion Fish is such a film, one, true to my standard method in these movie review posts, I will not summarize plot point by plot point.  My goal, rather, is to interest people enough to watch it.

May-Alice, Waking Up Paralyzed

May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera actress.  One day, however, she was stepping out of a New York City taxi cab when another cab hit her, paralyzing her below the waist.  It was a freak accident.  Now May-Alice is embittered, screaming curse words at the television set in her hospital room.

Her acting career over, May-Alice returns to Louisiana, her home state, where she has an old family house located near a bayou.  There she feels sorry for herself, drinks too much, and drives away nurse after nurse.  Her reputation at the agency is as a “bitch on wheels.”


Then Chantelle, who is at least as damaged and vulnerable as May-Alice, comes along.  Chantelle needs this job. She has even lied on a job application, hiding the fact that, until a month previously, she had a daily cocaine habit.  She is clean now, but she has to resist the urge to use the drug every day.  It is hard, but she succeeds.  And so Chantelle is the perfect person to confront May-Alice, who drowns her sorrows with alcohol.

Chantelle has other issues, too, but I leave them to you, O reader, to discover by watching the movie.

These two women help each other heal emotionally and find second chances.  And Chantelle, through her tough love, helps May-Alice physically.


Also helping May-Alice is Rennie, whom she knew as a child.  Rennie, a carpenter, builds a ramp for the old family house.  He also knows how to repair boat engines and takes May-Alice and Chantelle out for trips on the bayou.  He is the apostate, relatively speaking, in his family.  His wife and children are fun-damn-mentalists who won’t watch television or listen to the radio, and who sing only religious songs.  (Zydeco is the Devil’s music, they think.)  They pray for him a lot, he says.  He is a good and kind man, as his actions prove.

Ti-Marie and Precious

There are also some light moments.  For example, Ti-Marie and Precious, who knew May-Alice in school, visit, much to May-Alice’s irritation.  These are the most annoying and over-the-top people in the movie. They are also racists, for they complain about the perceived changes in attitudes (no longer subservient) among local African Americans since the Civil Rights Movement.  When not making racist comments, they reminisce with May-Alice and insult each other’s choice in husbands.

There is also a hilarious scene in which some soap opera actresses visit.  One of these actresses has taken over May-Alice’s role, Scarlet.  Despite the fact that the character had a hysterectomy some years previously, she is now pregnant by a space alien named Zondar, played by May-Alice’s former husband.  That could happen in a soap opera.

Passion Fish is a life-affirming story about discovering that, despite how bad events may seem or be, good can come out of them.  Beyond that, this good may be better than one’s former life.  Mary McDonnell deserved her 1992 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing the Oscar to Emma Thompson, for Howard’s End.





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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Media 1990s

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True Grit (2010)   1 comment

Above:  A Screen Capture of Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn

TRUE GRIT (2010)


Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn

Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf

Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross

Based on the novel by Charles Portis

Music by Carter Burwell

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13


True Grit is a powerful tale of justice, revenge, and mercy, and of the high cost the quest for vengeance exacts on the one who undertakes it.  Along the way the viewer encounters disturbing and unglamourous acts of violence (with the consequences being obvious), a dark cinematographic palate, excellent acting, a soundtrack replete with hymn tunes, and formal and intriguing dialogue almost entirely lacking in contractions.

Mattie Ross, the fourteen-year-old female protagonist, seeks revenge against Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father and fled Arkansas.  Steeped in the Bible and “an eye for an eye” notions of justice, she believes that one must pay for everything in this world; the only free thing is grace.  Mattie hires Rooster Cogburn, a frequently drunk U.S. Marshal known for being mean, to pursue Chaney.  That much constitutes seeking justice through legal means.  But Mattie really seeks revenge.  Convinced that God is looking out for her and noting that she has “a good horse,” Mattie dons her father’s coat and hat, carries his gun, and joins Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, on the manhunt.  The lawmen try to dissuade her, but Mattie’s true grit convinces them otherwise and wins their respect for her.

Mattie does not know, however, that her bloodlust will cost her a forearm, alter her personality, and transform her into a cranky spinster.  The decisions we make matter.  Mattie would have done well to leave law enforcement to legal officials.  And she should have left revenge to God.  That is also in the Old Testament.

The actors are wonderful.  Jeff Bridges portrays Cogburn as a gruff yet caring man, the individual who risks all to save Mattie’s life, if not her arm and personality.  Matt Damon’s preening Texas Ranger is the perfect foil to the frequently inarticulate Cogburn.  And Hailee Steinfeld, thirteen years old at the time of filming, spouts complex dialogue convincingly and makes her character the most formidable of all these three.

Carter Burwell’s score quotes old hymns, including “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  This is especially appropriate for the movie, given that the arms of Rooster Cogburn save her life.  Yet there is more to it than that.  Justice and mercy balance each other.  Mattie’s problem is that she does not understand mercy.  So she acts in such a way that she loses an arm.  In a sense, she had only one arm all along.

I recommend True Grit as a worthwhile meditation on the high cost of violence and revenge.









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Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Media 2010s

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Our Advocate   1 comment

Above:  Descent of the Holy Spirit


The Assigned Readings for This Sunday:

Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The Collect:

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A Related Post:

A Prayer for Those With Only the Holy Spirit to Intercede for Them:


I have written more than once that judgment and mercy coexist in the Bible.  This assertion is obvious from a close reading of the sacred anthology.  This day the emphasis belongs on mercy.

We read in John 16 that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the Advocate.  This is a legal term; our Advocate is our defense attorney.  In other words, God stands with us, so why should we fear?

Nevertheless, many Christians have suffered persecution and martyrdom for twenty centuries.  Many still do.  And Jesus, from whose Greek title, Christ, we derive the label “Christian,” died on a cross.  So this divine companionship and defense does not guard every follower of God from physical or legal harm.  Yet the message of Christ has continued to spread, the blood of the martyrs continues to water the Church, and killing people cannot end the spread of Christianity.

Beyond all that, those who die faithful to God go to God in the afterlife.  No harm can touch them there.  This might seem like cold comfort or no comfort in this life, but it is something.  The world is imperfect, and only God can repair it.

Yet may we rejoice that we have an Advocate.  May the quality of our lives reflect this gratitude.






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“For the Common Good”   1 comment

Above:  Tree of Jesse, from the Recipian Bible, 12th Century C.E.

(The doves around Jesus’ head represent the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.)

“For the Common Good”

JUNE 12, 2011


The Assigned Readings for This Sunday:

Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

The Collect:

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Apostle Paul provided a partial list of manifestations of the Holy Spirit:

  1. the utterance of wisdom
  2. the utterance of knowledge
  3. faith
  4. healing
  5. the working of miracles
  6. prophecy
  7. the discernment of spirits
  8. tongues
  9. the interpretation of tongues

And he cautioned people to use them for the common good, not building up oneself.  A spiritual gift ought not to become an occasion of the illusion of spiritual spirituality over those who lack that gift, he wrote, for the variety of gifts is essential to the proper functioning of the church.  And the greatest gift is love, or charity as some Biblical translators render the original Greek word.

(An Aside:  Some of my coreligionists insist that to pray one needs a “prayer language.”  My prayer language is English, which God understands very well.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

  1. wisdom
  2. understanding
  3. counsel
  4. fortitude
  5. knowledge
  6. piety
  7. fear of the Lord (see paragraph 1831).

And the Catholic Catechism lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit, “perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory,: identifying twelve of them:

  1. charity
  2. joy
  3. peace
  4. patience
  5. kindness
  6. goodness
  7. generosity
  8. gentleness
  9. faithfulness
  10. modesty
  11. self-control
  12. chastity (see paragraph 1832).

I believe that each of us enters this world with much potential to do much good.  We can fulfill this potential if we obey God, making wise decisions which liberate us to live into our divine vocations.  Trying to decide wisely does not guarantee success, of course, but that is at least better than not caring at all.  And our vocations from God might not be what we think they are.

As I survey world history I wonder how much better the world would be if more of us had spent more time nurturing joy, patience, kindness, generosity, fortitude, and other great virtues.  Leaving one’s corner of the world (or, on a grander scale, the world) is insufficient to grant salvation; only God can do that.  But this is a noble and achievable goal God empowers us to complete.

One might say, however, “What does it matter?  The world is a screwed-up place, and will be so for a long time.”  Yes, the world is screwed-up, but it can be less so.  I do not think of the world as the enemy camp, the bastion of Satan (in whom I do not believe anyway, although I accept the reality of evil).  Instead, I think of the world as my neighborhood, for which I am partially responsible.  I am partially to blame for its screwed-up nature.  If I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.  And I want to be part of the solution.  I can do my part, you can do your part, another person can do his or her part, et cetera, and together we can accomplish much good.

Empowered by God, may we do so.






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“Follow Me.”   1 comment

Above:  Celtic Cross


Acts 25:13-25 (Revised English Bible):

Some days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived an Caesarea on a courtesy visit to Festus.  They spent some time there, and during their stay Festus raised Paul’s case with the king.

There is a man here,

he said,

left in custody by Felix; and when I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought a charge against him, demanding his condemnation.  I replied that it was not Roman practice to hand a man over before he had been confronted with his accusers and given an opportunity of answering the charge.  So when they had come here with me I lost no time, but took my seat in court the very next day and ordered the man to be brought before me.  When his accusers rose to speak, they brought none of the charges I was expecting; they merely had certain points of religion, and about someone called Jesus, a dead man whom Paul alleged to be alive.  Finding myself out of depth in such discussions, I asked if he was willing to go to Jerusalem an stand trial on these issues.  But Paul appealed to be remanded in custody for his imperial majesty’s decision, and I ordered him to be detained until I could send him to the emperor.

Psalm 103:1-2, 19-22 (Revised English Bible):

Bless the LORD, my soul;

with all my being I bless his holy name.

Bless the LORD, my soul,

and forget none of his benefits.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,

his kingly power over the whole world.

Bless the LORD, you his angels,

mighty in power, who do his bidding and obey his command.

Bless the LORD, all you his hosts;

his ministers who do his will.

Bless the LORD, all created things,

everywhere in his dominion.

Bless the LORD, my soul.

John 21:15-19 (Anchor Bible):

When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus addressed Simon Peter,

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

He said,

Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus told him,

Then feed my lambs.

A second time Jesus repeated the question,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

He said,

Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus told him,

Then tend my sheep.

For the third time Jesus asked,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked for the third time,

Do you love me?

So he said to him,

Lord, you know everything; you know well that I love you.

Jesus told him,

Then feed my little sheep.  Truly I assure you, when you were a young man, you used to fasten your own belt and set off for wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

(What he said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God.)  After these words, Jesus told him,

Follow me

The Collect:

O loving Father, grant that your Church, being gathered by your Holy Spirit, may be dedicated more fully to your service, and live united in your love, according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Peter had denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion.  And he affirmed Jesus three times after the resurrection.  Yet there is more taking place in the reading from the Johannine Gospel.

The verbs for “love” vary slightly in the Greek language.  Commentaries I have consulted note this fact without assigning any significance to it, stating that these are synonyms, while noting that ancient and modern scholars have understood the different Greek words as being important.  Anyhow, the first two times Jesus and Peter converse Jesus asks if Peter has agape love for him, and Peter replies that he has phileo love for Jesus.  Agape is unconditional, sacrificial love–the kind of love God has for us.  Agape comes from the agapan, which is what John uses in the text.  (Agapan can mean “to prefer or to esteem.”)  Phileo is friendship and affection, which indicates passion, not preference.  The third time, however, Jesus asked if Peter hadphileo love for him, and Peter replied that he had phileo love for Jesus.

So, if one assumes that differing Greek words indicate more than the use of synonyms, here is what the Johannine Gospel depicts.  The first two times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you prefer me to fishing and fishing boats?” and Peter’s replies indicated passion in the sense of friendship and brotherly love.  The third time, however, Jesus and Peter referred to phileo love.

Yet, as scholars of the Fourth Gospel indicate, that work uses agape (and its linguistic variations) and phileo (and its linguistic variations) interchangeably.

As a devotional exercise, however, I ask you, O reader, a spiritual question:  Do you have mere affection for Jesus, or do you prefer him to the alternatives in your life?  Follow the question wherever the Holy Spirit leads.

(Thanks to Father Raymond E. Brown’s commentary on John in sorting out Greek words, by the way.)

Both Peter and Paul became martyrs–Peter by crucifixion.  Considering himself unworthy to die as Jesus did, he was crucified upside-down.

The account from Acts becomes more understandable if one knows who these people were.  Herod Agrippa II was a client king within the Roman Empire.  Think of the British rule in India through 1947; London ruled parts of the subcontinent directly and others through natives.  Rome followed the same practice in the Holy Land.  Herod Agrippa II (reigned 53-100) was a great-grandson of Herod the Great (d. 4 B.C.E.), who had ordered the infamous massacre of the Holy Innocents.  Herod Agrippa II “ruled” part of his great-grandfather’s territory and was incestuous with Bernice, his sister, who went on to become the mistress of the Roman Emperor Titus (reigned 79-81).  Also, this Herod appointed the high priest.

Festus was the new Roman governor of Judea.  The author of Luke-Acts depicts him as a conscientious man who tried to follow the letter of the law, rule honorably, and clean up messes inherited from Felix, his predecessor.  Paul did not convince either Festus or Herod Agrippa II of the rightness of his cause, but, as Herod observed, Paul could have been freed if he had not asserted his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to the Emperor, who, unfortunately, was Nero (reigned 54-68).  (Yet Paul had a divine mandate to go to Rome.)  At Rome Paul met his death by beheading, although Acts ends before that event.

Paul preferred Jesus to the alternatives in his life.  And, at his end, so did Peter.





Adapted from this post:


Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Acts of the Apostles 25, John 21, Psalm 103

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“I Have Conquered the World.”–Jesus   1 comment

Above:  Christ the Victorious


Acts 19:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul travelled through the inland regions till he came to Ephesus, where he found a number of disciples.  When he asked them,

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?

they replied,

No, we were not even told that there is a Holy Spirit.

He asked,

Then what baptism were you given?

They answered,

John’s baptism.

Paul said,

The baptism that John gave was a baptism in token of repentance, and he told the people to put their trust in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.

On hearing this they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus; and when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues of ecstasy and prophesied.  There were about a dozen men in all.

During the next three months he attended the synagogue and with persuasive argument spoke boldly about the kingdom of God.  When some proved obdurate and would not believe, speaking evil of the new way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and continued to hold discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years with the result that the whole population of the province of Asia, both Jews and Gentiles, heard the word of the Lord.

Psalm 68:1-8 (Revised English Bible):

May God arise and his enemies he scattered,

and those hostile to him flee at his approach.

You disperse them like smoke;

you melt them like wax near fire.

The wicked perish at the presence of God,

but the righteous are joyful;

they exult before God

with gladness and rejoicing.

Sing praises of God, raise a psalm to his name;

extol him who rides on the clouds.

The LORD is his name, exult before him,

a father to the fatherless, the widow’s defender–

God in his holy dwelling-place.

God gives the friendless a home

and leads the prisoner out in all safety,

but rebels must remain in the scorching desert.

God, when at the head of your people

you marched out through the barren waste,

earth trembled, rain poured from the heavens

before God the Lord of Sinai, before God the God of Israel.

John 16:28-33 (Anchor Bible):


his disciples exclaimed,

at last you are speaking plainly, without figures of speech!  Now we know that you know everything–you do not even need that a person ask you questions.  Because of this we believe that you came forth from God.

Jesus answered them,

So now you believe?  Why, an hour is coming–indeed has already come–for you to be scattered, each on his own, leaving me all alone because the Father is with me.  I have said this to you so that in me you find peace.  In the world you find something, but have courage: I have conquered the world.

The Collect:

O God, by the glorification of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit you have opened for us the gates of your kingdom:  Grant that we, who have received such great gifts , may dedicate ourselves more diligently to your service, and give more fully the riches of our faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


I have conquered the world.

The Johannine Gospel places these words in Jesus’ mouth shortly before his apprehension, torture, and execution.  This seems an unusual statement to make immediately before such an event.  Yet, given the narrative of John’s Gospel, it makes sense.  In that book the glorification of Jesus was his crucifixion and he was in control all along.  This is the fully human and fully divine Jesus with an accent on divinity.

Christianity conquered the Roman Empire, which executed Jesus, who rose from the dead and defeated death.  And no power has been able to extinguish the Christian message.  Many have tried, and none have succeeded.  Legend states that as Julian the Apostate, the last non-Christian Roman Emperor died, he said,

You have conquered, O Galilean.






Adapted from this post:


Posted March 30, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Acts of the Apostles 19, John 16, Psalm 68

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