patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, December 29, 2012


For Mark “the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”—that is, the One God Sent—begins with the one God sent before he sent Jesus—namely, John the Baptizer—to prepare Jesus' way. Mark substantiates his claims about John's being this intended way-preparer from Isaiah, re-envisioning Isaiah’s original bodiless voice’s demand that his listeners “prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV) as a direct promise from God:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

As always in the gospels, the writer’s scripture quoting is inexact. If you’ve ever tried to translate something from one language to another—especially something in verse—you know why. Translating’s hard, languages are very different, and the ancient writer’s audience (intended and inadvertent, contemporaneous and current) and intentions—neither of which, of course, can be known with any certainty—may might not be the same as the translator’s. Isaiah’s purpose was to inform, I’m guessing. Mark’s, clearly, was to substantiate his claims from the prophetic writings of Christianity’s Hebraic precursors.

You need to keep in mind, too, that you are reading these two quotations from scripture in yet another translation—in this case, the New International Version—and that the Old versus New Testament translations were almost certainly executed by two entirely different groups of linguistic and literary experts, who have their own intentions and audiences operate under their own linguistic and theological constraints. (We believers often avoid thinking about how dependent our understandings of scripture are on the murky intentions of possibly fallible writers and translators, but those on the margins of believing don’t avoid thinking about these matters, so I think it’s important, rather than relying solely on the Holy Spirit to smooth things over, to take them up ourselves.)

Somewhere in the midst of all these potentially conflicting purposes and audiences and constraints and fallibilities lies this change from Isaiah’s call to prepare the way and Mark’s confirmation that this way was being prepared through John’s desert baptisms. And since my own purpose is to discover in scripture new ways of growing my own faith in the One God Sent, my discovery today is that we are all called, as John was called in Isaiah and as Mark was called in Jesus’ own generation, to prepare Jesus’ way. To “make straight new highways in the desert for our God.”

If you’re like me, “highways in the desert” make you think of Texas. I’m sure, though, that there are others besides Texans—my spiritually evolving daughters and students, for example—for whom I am called to aid in the preparation of Jesus’ incarnation in their lives—his embodiment in their dry flesh—as well as his fleshing out of my own faith.

So, I guess that means God's work entails (and I'm guessing this is obvious to anyone reading, but I am a slower reader than most) evangelism—the assignment, that is, of Deuteronomy 6:7: talking about the good news when I get up and lie down and sit at home and walk down the road as a means of helping others and, most especially, myself to believe ever more genuinely in the One God Sent.

Friday, December 28, 2012


I’m moving back in time today—back to the weeks after Jesus’ birth, at which time he was circumcised and presented in the temple—to consider Anna, one of the first believers in the One God Sent.

Here’s what we are told about her: she was “the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher.” She was married to some unnamed man for seven years before he died, and she had lived in the temple ever since, fasting, praying, worshipping, giving thanks. She was “very old” for those times and even for these: eighty-four. “She never left the temple,” we’re told, “but worshipped day and night.” She was, Luke writes, “a prophet.”

Others would have seen her every time they entered the temple: ancient, mumbling all the time, skinny, always wearing the same unwashed clothes, probably smelly. How can you wash your clothes or yourself if you never leave the temple? How, for that matter, can you relieve yourself?

And where did the food come from that she had to have eaten, her fasting notwithstanding, in order to stay alive? Perhaps she begged. Or perhaps the rabbis brought her bits of food. More likely, if the churches I have attended and the stories of Mary and her sister Martha provide any clues, she was on a meal list maintained by the women of the temple. Perhaps one of them brought her a clean change of clothes on occasion and, in some hidden temple sideroom, helped her change into them.

She would have been seen as a burden by some and, by some, a pest. A homeless, foul smelling bag lady. A prophet only in retrospect, and even then only from the point of view of the kind-hearted doctor Luke probably was. Indeed, Luke is the only biographer of Jesus who remembers this woman in his account, though even he gives no details of her prophecy beyond that “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

There are many such prophets, I reckon. Not least among them my skinny, long widowed mother-in-law Anna, who died earlier this year. She spent her last couple of months in the only temple open to old, mumbling, bad-smelling prophets like her these days: the nursing home, where impersonal hands wash and dress them and force globs of pureed food between their lips. The women there hunched in their chairs. "Help me!" one woman prayed, over and over, day and night. Another prayed, "Get me out of here!"

Every time a child entered that temple, the widows—visit a nursing home and you’ll notice it’s populated almost entirely by women—jerked up their heads and babbled their thanks to the God who would redeem them.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

assassin's creed

I’m back in John 1 again, where I have found the answer to one of my questions from yesterday. The Pharisees (and Sadducees, presumably, although they are not specified) have not gone out to hear John because they were wanted to know anything or even because they wanted confirmation of what they already knew but because they were sent by someone in charge.

Just as Paul was sent on “the authority of the chief priests” to persecute Christians (Acts 26:10 NIV), which led him to hear Stephen’s powerful retelling of the story of the Jews culminating in the murder of their long awaited Righteous One and to witness Stephen’s vision of “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Paul, himself a Jew, would soon come to believe in this Son of Man too, and no doubt Stephen’s account and subsequent murder were instrumental in Paul’s conversion.

And among Stephen’s audience were also many others antagonistic to what he had to say: those who had brought him before the Sanhedrin to blaspheme and be legitimately stoned to death as well as the Sanhedrin themselves. Whatever their intentions, they too heard Stephen’s message and witnessed what must have seemed his divine inspiration: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). It seems ironic that, in order to stone this messenger of God to death, they first “covered their ears” (Acts 7:57).

Which leads me to Lulu’s new video game, Assassin’s Creed, which appears to be about someone from the future going back in time to kill Crusaders.

(Forgive any inaccuracies, here or in what follows. I hate video games—the grunting killing noises, especially, not to mention the obsessiveness with which people who do like them play them—so my only experience of Assassin’s Creed is what I witness when I go in to deliver meals to Lulu so that she does not succumb to malnutrition while she’s in the throes of New Video Game Syndrome.)

The thing is, while Crusaders appear to be the enemy in the game, as far as I can tell—as, in my view, is appropriate to their murderous behavior—their Christian message is nevertheless openly and, as far as I can tell, accurately displayed. Various of them stand on street corners preaching key messages of Jesus. And the assassin-hero of the game—that is, the incarnation of the player herself—is impressed with their dedication and apparent true belief in their own words.

Whatever else I may think of this game, I must say that I like this about it: It speaks scripture to a bunch of empty-headed NVGS sufferers, many of whom may never hear it in any other place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the day after christmas

So, if Jesus is now among us, as I have just celebrated, how are things different?

I went to Matthew 3 this morning to study that question, thinking, Okay, Matthew’s account of Jesus birth is in Chapters 1 and 2, so what comes next—in the story, in my life—must be in Matthew 3.

Imagine my surprise to find myself with John the Baptist baptizing his cousin Jesus, both already grown up, talking about repentance. I had patently forgotten what I had already written about this Advent: all the miserable bad news that accompanies the good news of the birth. The killing of all the little Jewish boys Herod thought might be the king the magi were searching for. Poor Joseph’s many nightmares. Jesus’ family’s flight to Egypt as refugees of terror before settling down in Nazareth upon Herod’s death. I had forgotten, in the excitement of the gospel of Christmas, that meanness goes on all around us and in us. That we are all, still, messed up—whether or not we believe in the one God sent.

One line, in what Jesus’ cousin has to say about the matter, confused me. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” he preaches specifically to the Sadducees and Pharisees.  He calls them a “brood of vipers” and seems enraged that they have joined the crowds who “went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” (3:5). I didn’t stop to wonder, as I do now, why the Sadducees and Pharisees—religious experts who would have surely have known, or thought they knew, answers to people’s questions about God and the future that John was answering in his sermons (as I also often think I know)—were there at all. What did they want from John the Baptist and, later, Jesus? Confirmation? Validation? But why would they need it? Could it be they were secretly insecure in matters of faith—like the others in the crowd, like me?

Instead, I wondered—as those religious experts may have wondered—What does he mean? What does fruit have to do with repentance?

And so begins the assignment I have given myself for the coming spiritual year, to sort through the specific tasks involved in the only job God has given us of believing in the One God Sent. Believing in the One God Sent means bearing the fruit of my remorse for my own inherent, inescapable meanness.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

the birth of light

I was rereading the beginning of the first chapter of John this morning—about how “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and how this Word turns into first “life” and then “the light of mankind” and so on (John 1:1-9 NIV)—with the hope of reseeing this mystifying string of metaphors not as the philosophic conundrum it usually is for me but, as a former student of mine recently referred to it in a very moving Facebook post, as one of the three versions of the story of the birth of Jesus.

I became convinced of her reading—that, in essence, the light is the baby Jesus—when I got to this line: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus' birth, in other words, provided the concrete evidence of our unseeable God as a means of helping us to know him. That Jesus had not only seen God the Father but that that he himself was seeable gave “those who believed in his name . . . the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NIV). I like that!

(PS: I would love to make a link to my former student's very moving Facebook post about John's nativity story—it's MUCH better than this one—but I can't figure out to do a hyperlink to a Facebook post and anyway I'd feel I needed to ask her permission and, since she's kind of self-effacing in such matters, she'd probably say no. So, if you want to try to read it, you'll have to friend Lee Ella Oglesbee and, if she accepts your friendship, go to December 14 in her Timeline.)