I am working on three books now. One is ready for printing .
Why am I still trying to publish books, and why am I still studying and thinking about the gospels as if I had to preach again this week. I love the church, my faith is the most important event of my life, but the beliefs that it peddles I find get in the way. We drag behind us 2,000 years of theological baggage. Its time we came clean. I don’t believe the Ascension ever happened. I’ve said it to six men sitting round a table faced by their bibles. Their faces first registered a mix of horror and surprise, then smiles. I asked them if they believed the story of the Ascension of Jesus rising up into the clouds, (Heaven) and disappearing. They sheepishly admitted they did not. We spent the next hour discussing why the story was told and finally understood its genesis. Once we did this we did not need to throw it away. Belief is the enemy of faith, but understanding is its handmaid.
[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Book of Sam” by Peter D. Snow.]
4 out of 4 stars Wow!
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Book of Sam by Peter D. Snow recounts the conversations that the author had—over time—with his grandnephew about spirituality, the concept of sin, the over-glorification of science over art, faith, and intellectualism, and the depth of truth in popular religious catchphrases.
The author deals with how we get misled in our quest for discovering our own identity. The trend these days is to barter compliments for personal benefit. This certainly brings to mind what happens even at the level of presidential policy today. The author takes you through some everyday instances that help us see for ourselves how hollow this entire exercise is. As the author shares his experiences, we realize that the original divine presence (aka God) sees us out and all we need to do is to turn around and listen. When this realization hits us, it becomes easier for us to get some relief from the weight of peer pressure, our own injured assumptions, and other people’s judgments. What remains then is a stillness…and a sense of peace.
There are many different aspects to this book; it is a journey leading to finding ourselves, of the importance of silence in many situations, and of how shame and guilt heaped on us by others affect us so greatly that it impacts health irreversibly.
Much of the book is centered around the actual meaning of terms such as the soul and the subconscious. I especially enjoyed reading about that special natural event the author experienced one fine morning that helped him take the reins of his life in his own hands (and which he passes on to us as a meditation practice we can all benefit from). This book teaches us to identify the integrity within ourselves and shows us how being a victim betrays the grace that God has offered us.
I particularly enjoyed the way the author has described how he came to the realization that women around the world are NOT sending out messages to the men by dressing up and wearing pretty accessories. I respect him for coming out with that in a book – I’ve not seen anyone deal with that topic so beautifully before this. Through some short excerpts from the Bible, the author discusses throughout the book about how God is not separate from us—his creations.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even with some heavy themes, everything it touches upon has a positive tone. Initially, I was concerned that it would involve too much preaching and be depressing overall, but that was not the case. Not one bit. I was also worried that I would get lost with terms from the Bible as I am not familiar with the book—mostly due to the fact that I am a non-Christian. However, the author did well to make most of it clear. I do not feel like I missed out on anything important in the book, despite my ignorance of certain mentions of the gospels and related references.
It is impressive how well written this book is. Even though it jumps between a variety of topics, it is easy to keep track of all of the ideas the author is sharing. He manages to make the content flow, giving you enough time to digest each new idea and suggestion. The way the author writes is very open and relatable.
My rating for Book of Sam is 4 out of 4 stars. It is an excellent combination of a memoir and a self-help book. Not only will spiritual enthusiasts love it, but also those who love heart-warming stores and heartfelt suggestions from someone who cares about making a difference. However, if you have a low threshold for self-help books or religious references, this just might not be for you. I personally wouldn’t hesitate to check out the author’s next book and find out what more he wants to share with his readers next.
The poem was originally published in Rough Rhymes of a Padre (one of two volumes of war-time poems issued in 1914-18 under the pseudonym “Woodbine Willie”); then re-published under Studdert Kennedy’s own name in The Sorrows of God and Other Poems in 1921; and again in Rhymes in 1929, a one-volume re-print of the Rough Rhymes series. (Note plural `Sorrows’ in the book title, but singular in the poem.) In The Sorrows of God and Other Poems 1921 it is one of two items described as `Dialect Poems’. This volume is available online HERE. (I notice that some have reworked this poem in various ways so as to remove the Cockney dialect; but I think they have diminished its impact. So what follows is exactly what Studdert-Kennedy wrote.)
How to use a Parable:
These are simple illustrations, sometimes of no more than a single sentence, but at other times running on as a complete story. “You cannot gather figs from thistles.” Is an example of the short parable and the story of the Prodigal Son being of the longer variety. First thing to remember is these parables were meant to be simple illustrations that ordinary people could easily understand. The parable was not meant to confuse or hide the truth. The only people who could not understand them were the clergy. They did not want to understand but rather argue. A contemporary method of teaching was to argue using different points of view and quoting the writings of other men. The discussion on abstruse points of observance of the law might go on for days. After all there was no TV or other distraction. This was not Jesus’ way, after all you can’t argue with a parable.
Each of Jesus’ parables is a simile.
Many of them begin with the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Jesus style is recognizable and after reading a few of them they have a rhythm about them that can be identified as uniquely Jesus of Nazareth. Further these similes only occur in the synoptic gospels, and not the gospel of John. That writer puts in Jesus’ mouth teaching expressed in metaphor rather than simile. That is another story we may eventually get around to telling.
Jesus states the subject of the parable in the first phrase of the parable.
The point of the parable will therefore be about what that person or object does. This might seem obvious, but it is not. Preachers, teachers and eminent theologians have got parables wrong for centuries all because they missed who or what the subject of the parable was. It is very difficult to understand a parable if you begin with the wrong assumptions. The perfect example of this is a parable referred to as that of the Dishonest Steward. For two thousand years the point of this parable has been missed entirely because would be interpreters have concentrated on the figure of the dishonest steward. Jesus tells us in the first line who it is about, “There was a rich man who had a steward.” It is about the rich man, and it is about what he does that matters not the machinations of the grotesque figure of the steward. The same thing happens in the Prodigal Son story, the Sower, the Weeds, Treasure hidden in a field, Pearl of Great Price and several more.
Where is the Parable told
Farming, fishing and everyday life of the laborer belong naturally in the area of Galilee. The Man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, the story of the Good Samaritan belongs in Jerusalem, as does several other parables that belong in the city rather than the countryside. It is very important for us to understand what kind of people were listening to him, and what kind of expertise and experience of the world was common to them. Jesus intentionally involved the people in his teaching method. So the story of the woman making bread no doubt had mouths watering at the thought of new baked bread.
Who was he talking to
This is similar to the last one. Ask who was he talking to and you get some surprising answers. The Prodigal Son story is told to a group of clergy and business entrepreneurs. Their respective behavior is very germane to understanding the dynamics behind that whole section of five parables. Let your imagination loose. It has an important role in thoroughly understanding Jesus’ teaching.
What was the question that set off the discussion that precipitated the parable?
Jesus did not go about dripping parables indiscriminately nor did he do sermon preparation. Each was an illustration to clinch his point made in conversation or discussion. We see this a couple of times, the Lawyer who asks “Who is my neighbor?” is one example. This takes a little patience to figure out. If the parable is about the Kingdom of God then you know the discussion and question that preceded it was about that subject. Reflecting on what the question might have been assists a great deal with narrowing the quest for the parable’s meaning.
What did the subject of the parable do or say
It is in what the subject did or said that the key to the parable resides. The host of the marriage feast tells his servants to go out and bring everyone into the feast. Here is the key. Jesus is saying in effect, everyone is invited, but those who chose not to respond will not get a smell of the banquet.
Jesus often used couplets.
He would use two parables together to build a deeper understanding of a point. For example, the mustard seed grows and grows, and yeast grows and grows in a piece of dough. Take a moment to consider what the dough does to the flour and water and you get a glimmer of what the gospel does inside you. The parables of the mustard seed and yeast in the dough, of the good shepherd and lost coin, the sower and the weeds or tares, treasure in a field and pearl of great price are all examples of couplets that Jesus carefully crafts to illustrate the deeper truths in any question.
Avoid all interpretation
Any time the parables are explained in the gospels, you know you are dealing with someone’s interpretation which they then put into Jesus’ mouth. He never had to explain any parable, for they were meant for the fishermen and farm laborers in front of him that day. Meditating over the parables without the interpretation produces profound understanding, but keep it to yourself till you have made it part of you. Let the parable speak to you.
The Gospels Belong to You:
Who owns the gospels? What a strange question. They are just there, there is no copyright and nobody can tell you what you can and cannot do with them. Various translators do have control over their work, but most translations are in the public domain. The churches don’t own the gospel , though every church has its own doctrinal structure dependent on the gospels.
The gospels are meant for you. Many people down the ages have died protecting them, and asserting the right of access to everyone. Now what will you do with them?
The gospels value to you is going to depend on a number of things.
- The gospels are not an empty box in which you can keep your pet ideas and take them out to massage them when you want to. If you are under 85, don’t assume you know what the gospels have to say to you. If you are over 85, then being surprised by the gospels is one thing you can expect.
- The gospels were written 2,000 years ago and the authors were writing for a few people they knew, and who knew them. They did not realize you would be reading their very personal efforts to record what they had seen or heard. So give them a break. They didn’t get it all right all the time, but they were not trying to deceive you
- 2,000 years ago there were no copiers or cloud storage. When you wanted a copy of a gospel someone had to sit down for a number of days and copy it out by hand. After two or three days you then had two copies. There was no point to circulating lies or untruths. What people wrote was deemed by them worth the considerable effort and cost to set it down on very expensive parchment.
- When you pick up your gospel to read, imagine it a totally unknown entity. You are looking at it for the first time again. Even after all these years of studying these four documents I am constantly surprised b y another insight, and often the realization I was mistaken previously. This willingness to be surprised is vital for you if you want to find the true value of what is there before you. You are never done.
- The teaching in the gospels is simple and straightforward. Jesus never played mind games nor messed with people’s heads. He had a lot of trouble with the clergy of his day, but that’s another story. What Jesus of Nazareth had to say was understandable to the fishermen and farm laborers of Galilee. It’s not difficult but neither is it obvious.
- The real problem arose when others felt a need to explain his teaching to those who had not listened to him personally. Early teachers couldn’t help but spin the meaning of a parable or statement to fit their particular issue at hand. Reading their interpretation as words from Jesus’ mouth makes figuring out just what he said extremely difficult. This takes study and commonsense. The disciples’ spin is itself very instructive, and by no means a distraction once you understand the difference between what Jesus said and others’ assumptions or needs.
- What translation should you use? Modern translations are the work of good Greek scholars, historians and theologians. Even so, new insights will dictate changes in future translations. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls are still revealing background information on contemporary practices and beliefs. These nuggets of knowledge will change our understanding a little here or there and affect the next translations published.
Value your gospels, keep them close and leave space in your head for future understanding. You are not done yet.