Falling Off My Shoes

When Mr. Bingham asked, “Why did Nixon go to China?” I kept a straight face and raised my hand.

He nodded to me. “Ms. Morgenstern?”

“To make American Chinese food great again?”

Others laughed, but he didn’t. “After class, please. Now, serious answer, anyone?”

I raised my hand. When no one else did, he nodded to me again.

“Why am I in trouble, but Mark isn’t? His jokes haven’t even been funny lately.”

I knew the reason. Mark Williams was the teacher’s pet.

Morons hooted behind me. Bingham pursed his lips. “Everyone, Monday will now feature a quiz. Fifty words on the significance of Nixon in China.”

Marie

I met Marie in the hallway after school. “The race is tomorrow,” I said. “We should sign up.”

“The three-legged race?”

“Yeah.”

Running the three-legged race together was what seventh-grade couples did on the next-to-last day of school, at the Outdoor Games.

For two months Marie and I had sat together at lunch, in assemblies, and on field trips. Being a couple was way better than her poking me in the back with her pencil in Algebra. I’d never been so happy. I had already prepared something to write in her yearbook on the last day of school – right after the morning movie, where I hoped to hold her hand for the first time.

“I’m sorry, Kenny.” Her big, brown eyes matched her words.

“You don’t want to race?”

“No, I do.”

“I don’t understand.”

I thought I saw her chin quiver, and she looked down. “I already signed up.”

“Oh, good. I didn’t know. Think we’ll win?”

I liked her blond curls, her sprinkling of freckles, and her smile, but she wasn’t smiling now.

“Not with you. With Bobby.”

Maybe my heart didn’t stop, but it started to hurt – for two reasons. The second one was, Bobby was my best friend.

Faith Amid Doubt

We mortals typically act in faith despite our doubt, not because we have no doubt. If we doubted less, perhaps we would need less faith.

The man that feareth, Lord, to doubt,

In that fear doubteth thee.

George MacDonald, The Disciple, 1867

Perfect love casteth out fear,” John wrote (1 John 4:18; see also Moroni 8:16). Perhaps we might also say, “Perfect faith casteth out doubt.”

I accept the truth of John’s statement about perfect love. I think my made-up version about perfect faith is probably true as well. But to date I have found neither perfect love nor perfect faith in myself. Maybe there have been a few exceptional moments of fleeting near-perfection scattered through the decades of my life, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. Yet I have some faith, and I do love — amid my doubts and fears.

You and I live our lives in imperfect love and imperfect faith. We hope both virtues are maturing in us, but perfection is a distant goal, and our progress depends utterly on abundant grace from a Source outside ourselves.

Meanwhile, remember that “grain of mustard seed”? (See Matthew 17:20.) Our faith doesn’t have to be perfect to be real. A small amount, amid our doubts, can be enough for today.

Reading the New Testament (Week 6)

This week’s reading is John 2-4. Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee, goes briefly to Capernaum, then heads south to Jerusalem for Passover, after which he preaches in Judea and briefly in Samaria on his way back to Galilee to preach.

Chronologically this period comes after Jesus returns to Galilee after his baptism and temptations, and ends as he preaches throughout Galilee, of which we read last week in Luke 4-5.

Reading the New Testament (Week 5)

This week’s readings are Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and 5. These chapters expand on some of the events we saw briefly in Mark 1 last week. So much happens that I won’t be attempting a complete commentary.

Temptations in the Desert

Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

We begin with three approaches to Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ temptations: the logistics, which have theological implications; the temptations themselves and their relevance to us ordinary mortals; and Jesus’ scriptural responses, which, taken in context, emphasize a certain theme. Then we’ll briefly note some parallel events and passages in scripture.

Logistics: The Devil’s Role

The King James Version (KJV) and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) differ on key points, where Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness and his temptations are concerned. The KJV accounts raise some concerns.

Reading the New Testament (Week 4)

This week’s readings are Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. These chapters are mostly parallel accounts, and we’ll look at them mostly in parallel, noting some distinct material along the way. They also partially overlap John 1 (last week) and Matthew 4 and Luke 4 and 5 (next week).

What Year Was It?

Luke 3:1-2

Luke begins with a historical note: It’s the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s rule over the Roman Empire, which began in AD 14. Therefore, by this reckoning, it’s now AD 28 or 29. However, the various methods scholars have used to fix the dates of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death vary by a few years in their conclusions. It’s widely thought that Jesus was born in 3 BC, or perhaps as early as 6 BC. (Note that the Roman practice of reckoning years by the birth of Christ began more than five centuries later, so some slippage would be plausible. Also, the year before AD 1 was 1 BC, not the year 0.)

This Wikipedia article, Chronology of Jesus, surveys of methods scholars have used to determine the year of Jesus’ birth, from political history to astronomy, as well as their different results.

Among Latter-day Saints, James E. Talmage discusses this question at the end of Chapter 8 of Jesus the Christ, considers the scholarship, and finally bases his conclusion that Jesus was born in AD 1 after all on modern revelation.

In any case, Luke puts Jesus at “about thirty years of age” when he begins his ministry (Luke 3:23), and John has Jesus attending at least three annual Passover feasts during his public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55-57). The Book of Mormon has 33 years passing from the time of Jesus birth until his death (3 Nephi 8:2).

Reading the New Testament (Week 3)

This week’s reading is John 1. the first chapter of my favorite Gospel. (Sometime I should try to articulate why it’s my favorite.)

A quick note about the author: Before his apostolic ministry, John was a fisherman by trade. It was the family business, which was successful enough that they had “hired servants” (Mark 1:20).

John 1

John 1:1-5

Here are the first words of John’s book:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (KJV John 1:1-5)

It’s practically poetry, but what does it mean? We’ll turn shortly to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) for help, but first let’s make what we can of the King James Version (KJV).

Reading the New Testament (Week 2)

This week’s New Testament readings are Luke 2 and Matthew 2.

Luke 2

Luke 2:1-7

There are few verses of scripture more familiar to Christians than these. We understand that this “tax” was more of a census, and I have read that by Roman law Joseph and Mary might have remained in Nazareth and registered there, but Jewish tradition declared that they should return to his — or their — ancestral home, Bethlehem, the City of David. Thus the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was fulfilled.

The Birth of Christ - Carl Bloch

As to where Jesus was born, I have often heard that it was probably a cave where animals were kept, not a barn. But I recently read an article by Ian Paul, “Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable.” He argues something entirely different. It’s an interesting exploration, though I am not scholar enough to evaluate it. See what you think.

In any case, the fact that he was born, the angelic announcements, and the role of the shepherds matter more than the specific structure and do not depend on it for their validity or significance. Even if what our imaginations have built may be shaky in purely historical terms — good grief, we sing of “bleak midwinter,” “snow on snow on snow,” and “a cold winter’s night,” which scarcely fit the climate — the text itself is mostly clear on the essentials.

Luke 2:8-20

Shepherds Abiding in the Fields - Carl Bloch

I have often reflected on the role of the shepherds in this story and heaven’s choice of shepherds for that role. Whether these were ordinary shepherds tending ordinary flocks or temple shepherds tending temple flocks matters little to our calculation of their humble station and circumstances.