Monday, June 27, 2011

My 4th Calculator

My parents bought me my first calculator in 1974. I was in 10th grade and taking Algebra 2/Trigonometry. Some of my classmates were getting expensive Texas Instruments calculators to help them with their homework. Mom and Dad bought me an early version of the little square plastic case Commodore Minuteman for $40. It added, subtracted, divided, multiplied and might have had a percent key and a memory key.

Several months later I saw an advertisement for a more advanced Commodore Minuteman that had a square root key, for the same price as my original; $40.00. I convinced my parents that the square root key was worth it. That little rechargeable, LED screen, Commodore Minuteman served me well through the rest of High School, including Chemistry, Physics and Pre-Calculus. I even used it in a high school class on how to use the slide rule where all the students used their calculators to check slide rule calculations. Yea, slide rules were still in use back then and calculators were novel and expensive. I continued to use that second Commodore Minuteman all through college, including Calculus and Statistics and never used a slide rule after the slide rule class.

Well into 1980 or early 1981, my second Commodore Minuteman finally died. I replaced it with a Sharp, ELSI MATE EL-211, primarily to balance my checkbook, calculate my taxes, and keep track of the average miles per gallon our cars were getting. That Sharp is still working and I think I have replaced the batteries only once in thirty years. Along with cockroaches, my Sharp could probably survive a nuclear war.

Now that I am tutoring high school students in Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry, however, my thirty-year-old Sharp does not offer me all the functions I would like at my disposal. I have occasionally been using the calculator application on my Verizon HTC Imagio smart phone, but after a heavy two Algebra 2/Trigonometry tutoring session in the evening, without having recharged since morning, the battery comes close to draining.

I have had my eye on the TI-83 Plus but cannot justify the cost, at least not until I start a long time tutoring relationship with an Algebra 2/Trigonometry student. Therefore, I recently bought a less expensive Casio fx-260 SOLAR, “the official calculator for use on the GED Series Mathematics Test”. Since I have lately been tutoring a couple GED students, one long term, this seemed to be the calculator to buy.

Short of the graphing capabilities of the TI-83 Plus, the Casio fx-260 SOLAR offers me all the computational power I will probably ever need, and more than I will ever use. With tax, it cost me $10.33 at Staples, a lot less than a TI-83 Plus, and nearly a fourth of the price of my first Commodore Minuteman that did nothing but add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Although I will carry and use the Casio fx-260 SOLAR when I tutor, I will keep that thirty-year old indestructible Sharp next to my checkbook for occasional balancing. Sometimes, though, I wish I still had that original Commodore Minuteman to use as a paperweight and to remind me of what used to be.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Magdalene

Was Mary Magdalene possessed by evil spirits, or was she a mystic with awareness of, and access to, spiritual power? Was Mary one of the first disciples of Jesus, and more than any of the other apostles a nearly equal co-participant in Jesus’ ministry of preaching, and, in the final days of his ministry, his wife? Was she to blame for his death? Did she write her own Gospel before sailing for France, where she would bare Jesus’ daughter?

These are just some of the provocative theories explored, and perhaps faith challenging questions asked, in The Magdalene: A Musical Play, now in previews at the The Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street, NYC.  I find it both ironic and symbolic that a play such as The Magdalene would be running in a building still serving as an active church. Perhaps there is hope for the Church, after all.

Shad Olsen not only plays one on the lead characters, Yeshua, he is also the playwright. Shad calims to have been influenced and inspired by his teacher, James Olm, who wrote the music. He also credits the writings of Margaret Starbird.  As I experienced this musical, I heard what I thought were echoes of both Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. I saw scenes which reminded me of scenes from Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ. The sparse set and costumes were enough to transport me back two-thousand years ago to Palestine without detracting from, or adding to, the both spoken and sung script.

Olsen offered not a meek and mild saintly Yeshua, but rather a peace loving man, or rather a loving peaceful man, who sought nothing but to accept people as they were and to share with them God’s love. For this Yeshua, that is all God is, love, and love is also God.

The title character, Mary Magdalene, played by Lindsie Vanwinkle, seemed to alternate between a whimpering but self-righteous victim and a brash self-confident religious and spiritual rebel whom never seemed to be at peace with herself. The strength of VanWinkle’s craft was evident during an after performance talkback between the cast and audience when she appeared nothing like her character.

Faith Annette Engine ably portrayed the little girl that I was never sure was all angel or a mixture of little angel and a little demon, or perhaps an outward manifestation of Mary’s unconscious with just a little of the collective unconscious added in as well.

Evangelia Kingsley embodied the Rivkah roll, an older, blind midwife who subtly guides the birth of her assistant as Mary is transformed from abused daughter to a religious and spiritual leader, and then later becomes one of the followers of Yeshua and Mary.

I was most pleased, however, with the performance of supporting actor Eugene Barry-Hill, who boldly and confidently filled the Pilatus character with hints of modern street pimp, Wall Street tycoon, and the manipulative and opportunistic politician seeking re-election.

While some less informed in the audience might find their religious sensibilities and sensitivities, if they have any, challenged, there is nothing new here, at least not for anyone familiar with Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, or the writings of Margaret Starbird, or who are familiar with the Gnostic Gospels. I was first exposed to the theory that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have been married in the mid 1970’s when I was an undergraduate studying under the tutelage of the late William E. Phipps, Ph.D., who decades ago explored topics such as The Sexuality of Jesus, Was Jesus Married?, and Recovering Biblical Sensuousness.

I enjoyed The Magdalene sitting front and center, flanked by two other Mainline Ordained Ministers, both female, who, while seeing and hearing a few things slightly differently than I did, both liked the play. The Magdalene runs about ninety minutes without any intermission.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Throwaway Religion

In spite of overflowing landfills and a growing emphasis on the need to recycle, we still tend to live in a disposable, throwaway culture. If something no longer works, we do not fix it. We throw it away and buy a new one. In fact, it is often less expensive to replace a broken item than to pay the cost of repairing it. Even worse is when something still performs the function for which it was designed, but when a newer version offers upgrades and features the older model did not have, we buy the latest model and toss out the old one, even though the old one worked perfectly fine.

Are faith, religion and spirituality any different? Do we invest in repairing what is broken or simply toss it out and start over? Do we throw away what seems old and outdated so that we can replace it with the latest fashion trends in faith traditions?

I realize I am ruminating of existential things, ethereal ideas and concepts rather than physical consumer items, but ponder I must. Recently seeing a faded and dusty framed copy of DaVinci’s Last Supper thrown out with the trash is what has ignited my brooding. The sight caused me to reflect upon the disposable nature of our contemporary religious convictions, or lack of. While there is certainly nothing sacrilegious about throwing away something like a reproduction of DaVinci’s Last Supper, the sight of this framed print next to trashcan on the street seemed like a metaphor of contemporary devotion, or lack of, to mystery.

I wondered if the former owner of this DaVinci print grew tired of the faith it represented and dumped it along with their beliefs. On the other hand, perhaps they disposed of it and replaced it with a print of Dali’s Last Supper, or a framed photo of the Dali Lama or Mecca. Maybe they simply moved out of the apartment, left the print behind, and the property owner was the one to trash the print when the cleaned up the mess left behind. There is a story behind that print that I do not know and will never know. There are also stories associated with aging, declining, decaying, dying, churches that begging to be told and to teach us their lessons.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 12, 2011, the Day of Pentecost (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

The Day of Pentecost offers a variety of readings with several possible permutations. Here are the options.

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
Or alternate First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Or alternate Second Reading: Acts 2:2-21
Gospel: John 20:19-23
Or alternate Gospel: John 7:37-39

I will ruminate only on the four passages I will be using.

Numbers 11:24-30
v. 24 Is there anything special about the number 70? Is there any story like this in the New Testament?

v. 25 In the NRSV the “Lord”, not LORD, comes down. Does this make any difference? Why did the Lord take some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders? Was there not enough Spirit to go around, so it had to be rationed? What does it mean to prophesy?

vs. 26-29 OK, PC(USA) Presbyterians, this would have been an argument for the the passage of 10-A, but now that it has already been approved, I will not go there. Why are these two men named when the seventy are not named? Why might they have remained in the camp? Registered?

v.27 A young filer of complaints.

v. 28 And this be Moses’ successor?

v. 29 Indeed, would that all. We can only hope and pray that it be so.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
v. 24 How could this verse serve as an interpretive lens for Numbers 11:26-29?

v. 25 The sea kayaker and sailor in me is nodding his head.

v. 26 Was this verse Thomas Hobbes’ inspiration for the title of his political treatise?

v. 29 What does it mean for God to hide God’s face?

v. 29-30 I love the juxtaposition of these two verse, especially the imagery of breath/death and spirit/creation.

v. 32 Storm God imagery.

vs.33-39 Even these are the concluding verses of today’s Psalm, they could easily be adapted to function as a Call to Worship.

Acts 2:1-21
v. 1 What was the day of Pentecost before the coming of the Holy Spirit?

v. 2 This verse might be especially poignant in light of recent devastating tornados.

v. 3 What is a divided tongue? How does a tongue, even a tongue, as of fire, rest on someone?

v. 4 What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”. Rosetta Stone, eat your heart out!

v. 5 So?

v. 6 Have you ever been bewildered? What bewilders you?

v. 7 Similarly, amazed and astonished?

vs. 9-11 Lay readers, and even some clergy, hate reading these verses. I think, however, that this list serves a very important theological purpose.

v.11 What are God’s deeds of power?

v. 12 Earlier it was bewildered, amazed and astonished. Now it is amazed and perplexed. What does this mean?

v. 13 Thus most PCUSA Presbyterians shun offering fermented wine at communion, for fear of appearing to be filled with new wine. Instead, we are filled with Welches grape juice, a nice, safe alternative void of all power and warmth, like the spirit in most of our congregations (note to self: get off your soap box).

v. 14 Peter, always the first to open his mouth.

v. 15 Like people are not drunk at 9:00 AM? Some people are just coming home from all night parties at that time.

v. 16 You cannot go wrong by quoting from Jewish prophets when your audience is filled with devout Jews.

vs. 17-21 Is this a case where a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures prefigures a later event, or where a prophecy is used as an apology for a later event?

John 7:37-39
v. 37 And what festival would that be?

vs. 37-38 Is it at all problematic that today’s readings are mixing fire, wind and water metaphors?

v. 38 What Scripture passage does Jesus quote and what is the original historical and literary context of that passage?

v.39 Did the author of the Gospel know this at the time Jesus quoted scripture, or does this comment make sense only in hind sight?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Passing 20: More Ruminations on Tutoring

I recently passed the milestone of having had tutored twenty hours or more through WyzAnt. Not only do I now earn an additional 5% from tutoring fees and have a green 20+ hours medallion next to my name on my profile, I have gained the satisfaction of knowing that I have helped students improve their grades and prepare for standardized tests. I passed the twenty hours of tutoring milestone by tutoring three students. I am still tutoring one of these students, a ninth grader, in Geometry, helping him increase his Geometry grade as well as prepare for the New York State Regents. I tutored an eighth grader in Math, English and Chess, up until the time he was to take his state Math and English Language Arts Test. Relying on email rather than tutoring face-to-face, I also helped a seminary student write her first Theology paper.

Combined with tutoring through other services and on my own, I have now tutored over eight students ranging in age from seventh grade through graduate school, and have tutored well over 100 hours. Most of my students have been in the Ridgewood and Glendale neighborhoods of Queens and the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I am willing to travel into Manhattan or anywhere in the five boroughs of New York City as long as the location is near a subway station.

I look forward to helping other students improve their grades and prepare for standardized tests, and earning a green 50+ hours medallion next to my name on my profile. I am well over half way to that 50+ milestone.

If you are interested in learning how you can tutor through WyzAnt, or if you want me or another WyzAnt tutor to help you improve your grades and prepare for standardized tests, just click on the WyzAnt hotlink.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, June 5, 2011, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Acts 1:6-14
Will you handle this verse differently depending on whether or not your community observed and celebrated Ascension Day last Thursday?
v. 6 Who has come together?
v. 7 Take that, prognosticators of May 21being the end of the world!
v. 8 Do you have the power? Note the progression from the local to the global.
v. 9 In the NRSV, the action is in the passive. Must we read “lifted up” as a physical reference? In English, we occasionally say we “lift up” things without physically touching them or physically moving them. What might the cloud symbolize?
v. 10 Were the two wearing white robes really men?
v. 11 A good question. Is this a reference to the coming of the power and Holy Spirit mentioned in verse 8, or the second coming?
v. 12 Is the mount of Olives really a sabbath’s day’s journey from Jerusalem? What is a Sabbath day’s journey?
v. 13 What is the significance of the naming?
v. 14 Constantly? Who might the other women have been in addition to Mary? His brothers?

vs. 13-14 That eleven men are named, but only one woman, in my mind makes this a sexist and patriarchal passage. What would your reaction be if the passage read, “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs were they were staying. All of them were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Martha, and Salome, as well as his brothers.”?

v. 1 Is this Psalm paired with the First Reading only because of the “Let God rise up” language?
v. 4 Now we have “cloud” imagery to pair with the First Reading.
v. 8 When was the last time you heard someone begin a prayer with the address “God of Sinai” or “God of Israel” rather than “Father”?
v. 32 Not only Israel but “kingdoms of the earth” are called to sing praises to God.
vs. 33-24 Here we have “rider in the heavens” and “skies” language to add to the “rise up”language of verse 1 and the “cloud” imagery of verse 4.
v 35. My God is “awesome”! How do you understand this affirmation? What does it mean to be “awesome”?
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
v. 12 What is meant by ‘the fiery ordeal”? Shall we read this any differently in light of the Holocaust/Shoah? Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
v. 13 “Rejoice”? Really? Is this supposed to a pep talk?
v. 14 I find this verse easier to take than the one before it.
v. 7 What would a Psychiatrist say about this verse?
v. 8 In other words, “Pay attention. There be Lions” and tigers, and bears.
v. 9 “all the world”? Really?
v. 10 Now I hear a word of hope rather than resignation.
John 17:1-11
v. 1 What “words”? Ah Jesus, can you not just once in a while pray using more inclusive language when you address God? What “hour”? Quid pro quo?
v. 2 Jesus referring to himself in the third person?
v. 3 I like this image of eternal life more than eternal habitation on clouds playing harps.
v. 5 Jesus had glory in God’s presence before the world existed? Oh, that is right. I forgot. This is the Gospel According to John.
vs. 7-8 I think Jesus is attributing more knowledge and understanding to his followers than they really possessed at the time, or now.
v. 10 How has Jesus been glorified in others?

v. 11 God has given a holy name to Jesus? What was that name? How can those for whom Jesus pray in any sense of the word be “one” as Jesus and “his Father” are one?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

About the June 2011 Header

Yep! That is yours truly, in the deep, deep past, the fall of 1976 to be exact. The photo is from my first climbing trip to Seneca Rocks, WV. OK, I know my gear and apparel were not the best, especially the construction style hard hat, but I was a poor freshman in college. CAMS had not yet invented. Goldline was still available as a climbing rope. Ah, those were the days.