From the very insightful Ben Thompson:
And yet, the perception that Apple is somehow hanging on by the skin of their teeth persists. I was speaking to someone about Apple’s particularly excellent China results this afternoon, and was struck at how their questions were so focused on threats to Apple – “How will Apple respond to Xiaomi” for example. This is in stark contrast to the way most think about a company like Google, where their dominance in whatever field they choose to enter is assumed, just as Microsoft’s was a decade ago. Apple, though, is always a step away from catastrophe.
It’s difficult to overstate just how absurd this is, but here’s my best attempt: last quarter Apple’s revenue was downright decimated by the strengthening U.S. dollar; currency fluctuations reduced Apple’s revenue by 5% – a cool $3.73 billion dollars. That, though, is more than Google made in profit last quarter ($2.83 billion). Apple lost more money to currency fluctuations than Google makes in a quarter. And yet it’s Google that is feared, and Apple that is feared for.
I find such pleasure in writing code. Until there's a bug I cannot understand - and then it sucks me into this maelstrom of frustration tightly coupled with a compulsion to put all else on hold until I can sort it out.
That's where I am this morning.
One of my favorite bits in the OT recounts the story of the evil king Manasseh, and his heart-felt repentance:
2Chronicles 33:2–13 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asheroth, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever, and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses.” Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.
The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.
The apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh - which Luther retained in his translation of the Bible into German, and which the Orthodox church still uses in certain liturgies - is so incredibly beautiful:
O Lord, God of our Fathers, God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob
You who made the heaven and the earth…
You before whom all things tremble…
None can stand before your anger and your fury toward sin.
But unending and immeasurable are your promised mercies
Because you are the Lord, long-suffering, merciful and greatly compassionate…
You, O Lord, according to your gentle grace
Promised forgiveness to those who repent of their sins.
You have appointed grace for me… I who am a sinner
My sins exceed the number of the sand on the seashore
And on account of the multitude of my iniquities, I have no strength to lift up my eyes…
And now, behold, I am bending the knees of my heart before you
And I plead for kindness
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned
And I certainly know my sins
I plead with you… forgive me, O Lord, forgive me
For you are the God of those who repent
Display your amazing grace in me…
The Breath of life must
learn to breathe. The Word of God
incarnate, to speak.
He whose death will birth new life
is borning. Come, Lord.
mute no more. John loves honey
and chases locusts.
with Holy Spirit, blesses
cousin and nephew.
Steady Joseph helps
pregnant Mary settle down.
No room at the inn.
And so we wait. Still
while the world shops around us.
We wait... for the Gift.
Karen Armstrong writes engagingly about Islam and its prophet. Here's how she describes the first vision:
AFTERWARDS HE FOUND IT almost impossible to describe the experience that sent him running in anguish down the rocky hillside to his wife. It seemed to him that a devastating presence had burst into the cave where he was sleeping and gripped him in an overpowering embrace, squeezing all the breath from his body. In his terror, Muhammad could only think that he was being attacked by a jinni, one of the fiery spirits who haunted the Arabian steppes and frequently lured travellers from the right path. The jinn also inspired the bards and soothsayers of Arabia. One poet described his poetic vocation as a violent assault: his personal jinni had appeared to him without any warning, thrown him to the ground and forced the verses from his mouth.1 So, when Muhammad heard the curt command “Recite!” he immediately assumed that he too had become possessed. “I am no poet,” he pleaded. But his assailant simply crushed him again, until—just when he thought he could bear it no more—he heard the first words of a new Arabic scripture pouring, as if unbidden, from his lips.
He had this vision during the month of Ramadan, 610 CE. Later Muhammad would call it layla al-qadr (the “Night of Destiny”) because it had made him the messenger of Allah, the high god of Arabia. But at the time, he did not understand what was happening. He was forty years old, a family man, and a respected merchant in Mecca, a thriving commercial city in the Hijaz. Like most Arabs of the time, he was familiar with the stories of Noah, Lot, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus and knew that some people expected the imminent arrival of an Arab prophet, but it never occurred to him that he would be entrusted with this mission. Indeed, when he escaped from the cave and ran headlong down the slopes of Mount Hira’, he was filled with despair. How could Allah have allowed him to become possessed? The jinn were capricious; they were notoriously unreliable because they delighted in leading people astray. The situation in Mecca was serious. His tribe did not need the dangerous guidance of a jinni. They needed the direct intervention of Allah, who had always been a distant figure in the past, and who, many believed, was identical with the God worshipped by Jews and Christians.
This is a wonderful book!
I can't really think of anything quite like it. Vikram Chandra is an astonishingly gifted Indian novelist - and turns out to really get coding as well.
And he writes beautifully about it.
During one long summer vacation at home in Bombay, I dug through the stacks at a commercial lending library. I had already exhausted their stock of thrillers (at a rupee per book), then held off book drought for a couple of weeks with science fiction and westerns, before finding Hemingway at the back of a shelf. I was fourteen, had read some smatterings of what I didn’t know then was called “literary fiction”—Conrad, Heller, Tolstoy—but I wouldn’t have bothered with Hemingway if not for the charging lion on the cover of the paperback. That, and the décolletage of a distressed damsel and the very large rifle wielded by a hunter promised excitement, so I paid up and went home and read “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Then “The Capital of the World.” And “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” I felt something extraordinary, the dread and clipped despair of the stories, a complete concentration of my own attention, and somehow also a flowing wonder and delight. I’d known this feeling before, during performances of the Ramayana I’d seen as a child perched on my father’s shoulders, in moments of high Hindi-movie drama in darkened theaters, but I was now experiencing concentrated waves which I felt in my mind and my body: prickles on my forearms, a tingling at the back of my neck. I knew, even in that moment, that I didn’t understand everything the stories were doing, what they were about. I had no idea who this Hemingway was. And yet, here I was at our kitchen table in Bombay, entranced.
The work of making software gave me a little jolt of joy each time a piece of code worked; when something wasn’t working, when the problem resisted and made me rotate the contours of the conundrum in my mind, the world fell away, my body vanished, time receded. And three or five hours later, when the pieces of the problem came together just so and clicked into a solution, I surfed a swelling wave of endorphins. On the programming section of Reddit, a popular social news site, a beginner posted a picture of his first working program with the caption, “For most of you, this is surely child [sic] play, but holy shit, this must be what it feels like to do heroin for the first time.”2 Even after you are long past your first “Hello, world!” there is an infinity of things to learn, you are still a child, and—if you aren’t burned out by software delivery deadlines and management-mandated all-nighters—coding is still play. You can slam this pleasure spike into your veins again and again, and you want more, and more, and more. It’s mostly a benign addiction, except for the increased risks of weight gain, carpal tunnel syndrome, bad posture, and reckless spending on programming tools you don’t really need but absolutely must have.
So I indulged myself and puttered around and made little utilities, and grading systems, and suchlike. I was writing fiction steadily, but I found that the stark determinisms of code were a welcome relief from the ambiguities of literary narrative. By the end of a morning of writing, I was eager for the pleasures of programming.
I'm almost done with an absolutely wonderful reflection on soul care by John Ortberg, channeling and practicing Dallas Willard.
I'll be going back to it often for a while. Here's a taste:
Entering into a very busy season of ministry, I called Dallas to ask him what I needed to do to stay spiritually healthy. I pictured him sitting in that room as we talked. There was a long pause — with Dallas there was nearly always a long pause — and then he said slowly, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."
From Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary:
Moods are worth attention. I am discovering during these first weeks in Genesee that I am subject to very different moods, often changing very quickly. Feelings of a depressive fatigue, of low self-esteem, of boredom, feelings also of anger, irritation, and direct hostility, and feelings of gratitude, joy, and excitement—they all can be there, sometimes even during one day.
I have the feeling that these quickly changing moods show how attached I really am to the many things given to me: a friendly gesture, pleasant work, a word of praise, a good book, etc. Little things can quickly change sadness into joy, disgust into contentment, and anger into understanding or compassion.
Somewhere during these weeks I read that sadness is the result of attachment. Detached people are not the easy victims of good or bad events in their surroundings and can experience a certain sense of equilibrium. I have the feeling that this is an important realization for me. When my manual work does not interest me, I become bored, then quickly irritated and sometimes even angry, telling myself that I am wasting my time. When I read a book that fascinates me, I become so involved that the time runs fast, people seem friendly, my stay here worthwhile, and everything one big happy event.
Nouwen often puts into words the inarticulate and confused murmurings of my heart. This is so helpful for me right now.
So what is the good way? To cultivate an attachment to what is real, substantive, transcendent, holy.
In the afore-mentioned Reading Backwards, Richard Hays considers a passage (the parable of the wicked tenants) in which the OT shapes the text powerfully in allusive and indirect ways which require a thoughtful approach.
He compares the story as contained in Mark 12:1-12 with the version in the extra-canonical 2nd-century Gospel of Thomas 65-66.
In the comparison below (taken directly from Reading Backwards, p.10, the bolded bits are where the NT text points back to its context in the OT.
Then he began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower [Isa 5:2]; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.
And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. He had still one another, a beloved son [Gen 22:2; Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1].
Finally he sent him to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But those tenants said to one another, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him [Gen 37:20], and the inheritance will be ours". So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes? [Ps 118:22-23]"
When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Gospel of Thomas 65-66
A good man had a vineyard.
He gave it to tenants that they might cultivate it and he might receive its fruit from them. He sent his servant so that the tenants might give him the fruit of the vineyard. They seized the servant and beat him; a little more and they would have killed him. The servant came and told it to his master. His master said, Perhaps he did not know them. He sent another servant; the tenants beat him as well.
Then the owner sent his son. He said, Perhaps they will respect my son.
Since those tenants knew that he was the heir of the vineyard, they seized him and killed him.
He who has ears, let him hear.
Jesus said: Show me the stone which the builders rejected. It is the cornerstone.
Hays assesses the differences:
Some NT scholars have speculated that Thomas' expurgated version of the parable is more historically authentic than the canonical versions (i.e., closer to the teaching of the historical Jesus) because it is less allegorical. In fact, however, the chief effect of Thomas' exclusions is to extract the parable from its Jewish historical setting, distancing it from the cultural and religious context in which Jesus lived and taught.
He goes on to explain beautifully how the Jewish context (that Jesus constantly evokes in the telling) deepens and intensifies the effect of Jesus' story.
Finally, he concludes:
The Gospel of Thomas... offers a colorless, enigmatic version of the parable that distances it from the story of Israel and leaves it open to be read however the reader may choose; in the case of Thomas, the parable is co-opted into a gnostic message of detachment from an evil world. Thus, Thomas' editorial de-Judaizing of the parable illustrates the loss of meaning - or, better, distortion of meaning - that occurs when the Gospel traditions are artificially removed from the canonical matrix of Israel's story. Thomas' stripped-down text is almost certainly historically secondary.
All well and good.
But it made me wonder: why did Thomas (using Thomas as shorthand for whoever put the text called the Gospel of Thomas together) redact the account from Mark? Why did he strip the account of its Jewish context?
Several possible narratives come to mind:
- He was simplifying the text for his non-Jewish audience. Perhaps he thought it was too complex, and pulled the story out of its context to make it simpler for his hearers to understand. If so, he did profound damage to the story - distorting it to the point of eviscerating it.
- He had a different agenda - to present "a gnostic message of detachment from an evil world" - and stripped the text down to suit. If so, he understood very well how the Jewish context attached the message deeply into this life, this world, these people... and therefore de-situated it. He was using the text against itself with sophistication.
- Perhaps he didn't get the value of these echoes of the OT. Perhaps he thought they were unnecessary flourishes which distracted from the actual point of the parable. If so, he was quite an unskilled reader, and it makes me wonder how such an unskilled reading survived the centuries.
- He wanted a Jesus who was not Jewish. Perhaps he was a Gentile who disliked Judaism and Jews, and felt the Jewish context was an unfortunate encumbrance to be removed.
Many more possibilities, of course, only constrained by creativity and context.
There's a fifth narrative that might fit, a variation on the fourth. It's certainly more speculative, but I think it reflects well the realities of the human condition .
I wonder if this kind of redaction is primarily an emotionally driven act: powerful emotional forces driving the complex intellectual act of sanitizing the text.
Powerful emotional forces like...
the anger that tears the photo in two down the middle after you break up.
the pain that spends entire days removing every trace of your former friend from your Facebook history.
the hurt that retells the entire history of your marriage after the divorce is done.
the shame that drives your entire academic career into deconstructing the faith of your youth.
I wonder if Thomas was a Jewish follower of Jesus, who felt rejected by his own Jewish community, and worked out the pain of his rejection by removing every trace of his former community from the narrative of the one he had chosen to follow. Perhaps he saw Mark's Jesus as too Jewish, too much identified with the community that had rejected him, discarded him, persecuted him.
Hurt is a powerful force. We are all intensely emotional creatures at our core, and no matter how we cover up our emotional responses with reason and logic and facts and data, we're still working out our feelings.
The perennially profound Richard Hays, Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, recently published a brief volume containing his Hulsean Lectures at Cambridge.
Reading Backwards is a brilliant introduction to his larger project, still unfinished, that Hays hopes to publish in due course.
The first snow of the year arrived yesterday. So beautiful! And so cold!
But fall wasn't yet done, so there were astonishingly beautiful contrasts on display.
I turn 50 today.
I remember my father's 50th birthday. I was 7. It's from around that time that I have fairly continuous memories of him.
I find myself comparing him to the man I have become.
We are very alike, my father and I, in my remembrance. And my mother says it's true: both my brother and I turned out to be very much like our father.
I like that!