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April 2014


This article discusses hell and the true, instrinsic consequences of evil deeds (which precludes the standard idea of eternal torture).  I liked these paragraphs best:

Which is why the most theologically cogent view of hell found in classical Christianity maintains that it is the state of mind (or soul) of someone who is alienated from God. Living a life that is out of harmony with God is painful, and to die and be confronted so decisively with the error of your ways — to be made to see that you made a wreck of your life by separating yourself from God, and to have to learn to shatter your pride by reforming yourself in his divine presence — is, one imagines, excruciating. But it is intrinsically painful, not externally imposed by torturers in some fire-and-brimstone-filled dungeon.

Or in the words of theologian David Bentley Hart, "What we call hell is nothing but the rage and remorse of the soul that will not yield itself to love." In refusing to "open itself to the mercy and glory of God, the wrathful soul experiences the transfiguring and deifying fire of love not as bliss but as chastisement and despair."

Will on Obama's rhetoric

I agree with George Will that the President's rhetoric commits logical errors and is not helpful for sustained, rational discourse.  However, I disagree with him that this is particularly a feature of this president, as it seems rampant in public discourse, particularly in the political class.  I do believe that this president can talk in extended, rational arguments, but has realized the public futility of doing so in the current climate.

Reflections on the Novel

Some of the obituaries for Gabriel Garcia Marquez (my favourite writer) have suggested that One Hundred Years of Solitude is the greatest novel of all time.  I can admit it is my favourite.  This provoked me to ponder, and then I raised the question on Facebook.  Further reflection seemed merited.

So, sitting here in my library and gazing upon my own collection, I will give some reflections on the novel in this effort to address what might be greatest.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, what many consider to be the first novel, is clearly a monumental work of world literature.  I found it exotic and compelling, and it held my interest through its hundreds of pages.  (I speak as if the volume were here, but, tragically, it was one of those borrowed and never returned.)

Is Don Quixote a novel?  If so, it is clearly among the greatest, though I often found it boring and drawn out and then suddenly interesting and exciting again.  I have not read all of the second part.

The early English novels are fun to read, but I wouldn't consider any of them the greatest.  

I couldn't get through Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.

Austen is enjoyable and also a profound philosophical thinker.  Though I confess that her novels are not among my personal favourites (I've read three), she is clearly one of the greatest of novelists, even if no individual work is the greatest of novels.

Though Hugo's works have been sitting here on my shelf since high school, I have never read them.  I am not aware as to why.  Dumas I enjoyed thoroughly, however.

Dickens is fun and insightful, but I would not list among the greatest.

Now Wuthering Heights, that's a contender.  Narratives embedded within narratives and the use of the unreliable narrator make this novel well ahead of its time, in my opinion.

Do you think that the greatest American novel is Moby Dick or Huck Finn?  I'm a huge fan of both and believe they are clearly the two greatest we've produced.  I do not think, however, that they are better than One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Moby Dick is not as immediately engaging or entertaining (a necessary trait in my book), and Huck Finn is neither broad enough or deep enough in its subject matter nor do I think that Twain is as great a stylist as Garcia Marquez.  Melville was as great a wordsmith, but lacked the joy and humour of Garcia Marquez.

The Russians are the greatest novel writing people, it seems.  I confess that I have not read War and Peace nor Anna Karenina.  I have read three of Dostoyevsky's novels.  The Brothers Karamazov is a clear contender for the greatest novel ever written.  It is not as immediately readable as One Hundred Years of Solitude but is even broader and deeper in content.  Dostoyevsky is a great wordsmith and storyteller.

Madame Bovary is marvelous, of course.

I'm saving Henry James for later in life.  Yes, I have intentionally decided that.  Though I did read Washington Square in my twenties.

There are so many enjoyable American novels in the 20th century, but none that rise to the level of Melville's and Twain's masterworks.  Maybe a separate post on the greatest of American novels is merited?

Is Remembrance of Things Past a novel?  Either way, I have not read it, though it sits on my shelf awaiting a future effort.

The only Thomas Mann I've read is Death in Venice, so I cannot judge whether The Magic Mountain should be a contender.

I love the novels of Galsworthy and Forster, but don't think that they are contenders.

I could not make it through Ulysses.  I understand that many believe it to be the greatest novel ever written, but for me readability and storytelling are essential criteria.

D. H. Lawrence has so far bored me.

Now, Lolita is definitely on the list.  Nabokov is a great wordsmith and humourist, though the novel lacks the depth of One Hundred Years of Solitude.  For some weird reason, it never seems like an "American" novel to me, though it so clearly is.

Okay, maybe Their Eyes Were Watching God can compete with Moby Dick and Huck Finn?  

I've read three novels by Naguib Mahfouz.  Midaq Alley was probably the best and featured some of the same traits as One Hundred Years of Solitude.  But when I read the latter (and when I re-read it), there was this immediate sense of something wonderful and beautiful, something magnificent.  I don't remember the same with Midaq Alley.

I'm currently reading Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook.  While I cannot judge it in its totality, I know that it is not as beautiful a work as One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I would include Things Fall Apart among the greatest ever.  And it is probably the simplest in breadth and style of those I would so judge.

What of Toni Morrison?  Beloved is among the most powerfully overwhelming books I've read.  The Song of Solomon is my favourite of hers.  Let's include Beloved with the four American greats I've identified.

Naipaul has amazing perception and can craft such fine sentences and paragraphs.  Of the six Naipaul novels I've read, Guerillas is my favourite and The Enigma of Arrival is probably the greatest.  Though his novels lack the magical, captivating charm of Garcia Marquez.

What of Cormac McCarthy?  I did not enjoy Blood Meridian, though I recognized its power and should probably return to it.  The Border Trilogy I did enjoy on almost every level.  The Road was the best novel I've read from the Aughts.  McCarthy is similar in perspective and use of words to Melville, without being as great.

Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral is a triumph.  It is ambitious in its breadth and style, borrowing some techniques from Joyce and carrying them off better, in my opinion.  But, for me, it lacked the magic, the wonder, and the imagination that remain essential to the greatest storytelling.  Clearly for me, something must inspire these childlike responses to be great.  Yes, as a child a great story set one's imagination aflame and filled you with adventure and delight.  That, for me, remains a requirement.

Coetzee lacks that as well in the two I've read.  Nor do they rise to the level of Naipaul, in my opinion.

Midnight's Children does contain that childlike sense of imagination and delight and much like when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, reading it sent me in search of other Rushdie novels.  I admire Rushdie's use of words, phrases, and images; he is among the greatest current stylists in the English language.  Plus, he tells fascinating stories.  This is also a novel of ideas.  I find it difficult to say why I think it falls short of One Hundred Years of Solitude and some of the others I've listed, but I do think that.  What about you?

I've read two Haruki Murakami novels and have yet to understand his international reputation.

2666 by Roberto Bolano is an enigma.  Immediately praised as among the greatest things ever written, I definitely felt so while reading part one, "The Part About the Critics."  Then parts two and three were less than satisfying.  Part four was imporant, or was it only trying to be?  Part five was an interesting and enjoyable novel of its own.  I can make no sense of how they are supposed to hang together.  Yes, there are connections of place and character, but altogether what are they doing?  I am unsure.

And no other recent novel I own or have read do I think merits our consideration for this prize, even those I have enjoyed.

Clearly there are great international authors who are missing from consideration because I have not read them.

So, I'm left with these as the five greatest Americans novels:

  • Moby Dick
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Lolita
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Beloved

And it is probably my American bias to include those five on any list of the greatest.

Then, there are these four:

  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Things Fall Apart

It seems to me to be between Dostoyevsky and Garcia Marquez.  And I'll give the award to the latter because of the reason I identified in the process of this exercise--the ability to generate childlike imagination and delight.  On all the other criteria they match one another, but on that one One Hundred Years of Solitude triumphs over The Brothers Karamazov.

At least in my mind, on April 23, 2014.


Today I finished a volume of Audre Lorde poems.  The final poem in the book was entitled "Need: A Choral of Black Women's Voices."  One stanza was particularly striking for its blood imagery:

Dead Black women haunt the black maled streets
paying the cities' secret and familiar tithe of blood
burn blood beat blood cut blood
seven year old child rape victim blood blood
of a sodomized grandmother blood blood
on the hands of my brother blood
and his blood clotting in the teeth of strangers
as women we were meant to bleed
but not this useless blood
my blood each month a memorial
to my unspoken sisters falling
like red drops to the asphalt
I am not satisfied to bleed
as a quiet symbol for no one's redemption
why is it our blood
that keeps these cities fertile?

I Have Seen the Lord

I Have Seen the Lord

John 20:1-18

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

20 April 2014



    In 2002 Bruce Springsteen released a song that included lyrics about Mary Magdalene and this encounter in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wrote:


I see you Mary in the garden

In the garden of a thousand sighs

There's holy pictures of our children

Dancin' in a sky filled with light

May I feel your arms around me

May I feel your blood mix with mine

A dream of life comes to me

Like a catfish dancin' on the end of the line


    I'm not exactly sure what role the fishing image is supposed to play in the song. But these lyrics are part of a song entitled "The Rising," which was on the album of the same name. Here's what Time magazine had to say about the album:


On The Rising, his first album of new material in seven years, Springsteen is again writing about work, hope and American life as it is lived this very moment. The Rising is about Sept. 11, and it is the first significant piece of pop art to respond to the events of that day. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of working people whose lives and fates intersected with those hijacked planes. The songs are sad, but the sadness is almost always matched with optimism, promises of redemption and calls to spiritual arms. There is more rising on The Rising than in a month of church.


Throughout the album, the lyrics draw attention away from the darkness of that terrifying day and focus attention instead on the hope of a new future based upon the sacrifices of those who gave their lives to save others. The album prays that we can come together despite our differences, forge a union of fellowship and love, and together work to create new life.

    The song "The Rising" opens with verses about the emergency responders who rushed into the burning building to save the lives of others. The "rising" is initially their climbing the stairs in darkness. And then the song turns at this moment when Mary is weeping the garden over the one who has died. Mary comes to a garden of sighs and there encounters her beloved Jesus and holds him in her arms and the despair begins to fade in the dream of life after she has seen and held the Lord. The song then concludes:


Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)

Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)

Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)

Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)

Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)

Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight

Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)

Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life)


Come on up for the rising

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight


Asked about the spirituality of the music, Springsteen claimed that a spiritual revival was necessary and that it had to be a communal experience. He said, "I think that fits in with the concept of our band as a group of witnesses. That's one of our functions. We're here to testify to what we have seen."

    And what they had seen was not simply the death and darkness. They saw something else—rising, resurrection, an Easter moment.

    The band was like Mary. In the garden she was transformed and ran to proclaim to Jesus' other followers "I have seen the Lord."


    Way back in chapter one of the Gospel of John, the author proclaims that through Jesus life has come into being and "the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." This true light is coming into the world so that we might receive the power to become the children of God.

    And then over and over again the Gospel tells us stories about this Jesus. How he turned water into wine at a wedding party, revealing God's wish that we all enjoy abundance. How he broke down barriers that society had erected between people. How he healed the sick and caused the blind to see. How he forgave sins and challenged the rules that religious authorities had created. Even how he raised Lazarus from the dead.

    And the drumbeats throughout these stories are life and light. Let's shine a light in the darkness to cast away fear. Let's affirm the joy and beauty of life in order to defeat the powers of death.

    And in this stories, those who experience Jesus begin to believe. To believe in him, because in him they see revealed the life-giving purposes of God.

    So, it should come as no surprise that death does not defeat him.


    There is another drumbeat throughout this gospel--a dissonant drumbeat. Every time Jesus does something life-giving, it elicits a doubtful, angry, and finally violent response in the political and religious authorities. And so injustice, violence, and death do their worst—they take and beat him and crucify him and kill him. And that should have been the end of the story. Good intentions and noble ideals defeated once again.

    But the gospel tells us something else happened this time. The grave could not hold Jesus. Oh no. He entered into the very life of God, rising again. Theology professor Cameron Murchison put it this way, "the mercy and grace of God in Christ triumphs over all that would undo it."

    This is the foundational confession of our Christian faith. It is not easy to believe in resurrection. It is so much easier to see and believe in the darkness, the despair, and the death. It is so much more difficult to believe, contrary to much evidence, that goodness and truth and beauty and joy and life ultimately triumph. UCC minster Martin Copenhaver has written that this is a claim worthy of our faith precisely because it is big enough to contain our doubt. He wrote, "What we proclaim at Easter is too mighty to be encompassed by certainty, too wonderful to be found only within the borders of our imaginations."

    What we proclaim is that Jesus lived into and out of the life of God and by doing so, death could not contain him. We are invited to share in that same life. We are given the kind of life that abides forever and overcomes all its enemies because it is life located in the heart of God. Murchison writes that it is "new life in the endlessly creative life of God."


    Experiencing that new life changed Mary, and it changed the other disciples as well. Mary ends her grieving, Thomas ends his doubting, Peter becomes a bold leader, and those followers who have hidden away in fear come boldly out into the world proclaiming the good news. They too had seen the Lord. To experience the living Christ is to be transformed.

And the good news is that we too can experience the living Christ. Not in some supernatural encounter, but by awakening to the Spirit of God within ourselves. The Celtic spiritual leader J. Philip Newell said, "The emphasis is not on becoming something other than ourselves but on becoming truly ourselves." Or as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us, "Christ plays in ten thousand places." The divine image is our true nature. The life-giving power of God is already within us. This was the message of Jesus.

    Jesus reminded us that God's love is already our light and our life. Like Jesus, we too can live into and out of the life of God. And, when we do, nothing can overcome us. We experience healing and freedom, and we rest in the peace that all is well, for we are one with a loving and gracious God.


    We have seen the Lord. And we are new people.

    No longer do we notice only darkness and death. We see now through Easter eyes. Where there was sorrow and fear, we now dream of life.


Come on up for the rising

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising [today]


Christ is Risen.

Christ is risen indeed.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my favourite author.  Or, at least, the author of my favourite novel.  And, I think, probably the greatest writer of our lifetime. 

We lovers of great literature have had much to mourn over the last year or so with the deaths of Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing, and now Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

With Me in Paradise

With Me in Paradise

Luke 23:39-43

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church

18 April 2014



    Last Sunday afternoon Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr. killed three people, driven by anti-Semitism. This ancient plague continues to infect us.

None of the three people he killed were Jewish, reminding us of how hatred cannot be focused. William Corporon, Reat Underwood, and Terri Lamanno died an unjust death, the victims of hate, by someone who tried to exert terror upon an entire group of people.

    We are left wondering why such injustices occur and what can be done about them.

    The author of the Gospel of Luke gives us a response to that ancient problem. In the midst of violence, oppression, and injustice—God is always with us.

    According to scholar Charles Talbert, Jesus dies a martyr's death in Luke's Gospel. The crucifixion is an unjust act, the response of an oppressor.

    In his life, Jesus has offered forgiveness and salvation. In doing so, he revealed God's love and power.

    Jesus should not have died. A just society would not have killed him. There is something wrong with a world which would do this. This is evil.

    Hannah Arendt, that great Jewish philosopher of the twentieth century, wrote insightfully about the nature of evil. For Arendt evil is not a powerful force that we must battle. It actually results from a series of minor, insignificant, banal decisions that we make every day, often without even realizing that we do it. We stop it by refusing to participate and by choosing to do good. She wrote,


Evil possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface.


    That was our experience last Sunday, hearing the news that this fungus had laid waste three more innocent lives. In the same way, evil brought three people to their crosses that day in Jerusalem.

Crucifixion is among the cruelest, most inhumane, most evil practices that human beings have ever inflicted upon each other. It is an horrific form of torture, whereby the victim suffocates to death—finally too exhausted and damaged to lift himself and breathe. The very breath of life, God's Spirit which humanity received at the creation, is extinguished in pain and ruin.

This torturous death was not visited upon common criminals, but upon those which the Empire viewed as a threat to its way of life and its power. All three are victims of an oppressive, unjust, evil system.

We must pause here to correct a fatal error in the long history of the church's teaching about the crucifixion. This story of Jesus' death has itself given rise to anti-Semitism. It has been the source of violence perpetrated against others. We should remember that every year, but it is especially important for us to acknowledge it this year. And the fault lies not only in two thousand years of interpretation, but even within the very words of scripture. Though the authors of the New Testament were themselves primarily Jewish, writing about characters who were themselves Jewish, they were often lacking in compassion and grace when they wrote about those Jews who did not believe in and follow Jesus.

It was not the Jewish people nor the Jewish faith which killed Jesus, himself a Jew. It was evil which did it. Evil manifesting itself in the military, economic, and bureaucratic power of the Roman Empire. Evil, that like a fungus, had infected that society, bringing with it oppression, injustice, and the distortions of human personality that result from those.

I have pity upon the first man, who derides Jesus. Most of us would be angry and bitter if we had fought against injustice and instead of bringing about a revolution, we were captured, tortured, and killed.

The second man has accepted that this end is the consequence for his fight. He now hopes that the revolution will come at the end-of-the-world. He hopes that Jesus will bring about a new dominion of justice and peace. The man longs to be included when that dream is fulfilled.

Yet for Jesus, Paradise is not something which occurs only in the future; it is immediate. This man who is a victim of injustice and oppression is one of the righteous and thus immediately enters into the presence of God.

This Gospel responds to the world's evil by proclaiming that "God does not leave the righteous one abandoned," to quote Charles Talbert. God is already with the man and will be continue to be with him. Just as God is always with those who are the victims of evil.

Paradise, in the Christian imagination, is not some separate location; it is the power and glory of God present with us. The theologian Andrew Sung Park explained this when he wrote:


Salvation is not a futuristic ego trip. As soon as we project heaven as the place where we pick up gold nuggets on golden streets and wear diadems as kings and queens to rule over others, heaven closes down. A paradise with our craving for power, mammon, and reputation is a paradise lost. Plainly, being with God is our heaven in this life and beyond. . . . The essence of salvation is not to obtain something but to live with God.


    And, so, this man's life and work will not have been in vain. They will continue on in the presence God, participating in the great ecstatic fellowship that God desires for all creation.

    The lesson for us this week is that the anti-Semitic violence of Frasier Glenn Miller, Jr. will also come to nothing. But the lives of William Corporon, Reat Underwood, and Terri Lamanno will continue on. Because just like the man crucified beside Jesus, as victims of injustice and oppression, God has promised to be with them and to bring them immediately into bliss.