how to read the Last Supper narratives

It’s Holy Thursday, and the nostalgia of Easter weekend has started to set in. Not the eggs and candy that my brother and I would hunt for as kids, but the memories of long Catholic masses, the solemnity of candles and crosses that mark this time as special. Holy Thursday is one of my favorite masses of the season, in part because the church in which I grew up chose to pay special attention to John’s Last Supper washing of the feet, recognized as act of ritual in which members of the congregation would gather at stone basins and carefully wash each other’s bare feet, drying them with clean white cotton towels while the choir sang “Behold the lamb of God”. There’s such humility in the simplicity of this act. A lesson that transcends most religions. No person is greater or lesser, and the good we do for others is an offering to be passed on and learned from.

The historical accuracy of The Last Supper is a widely disputed topic among biblical scholars. All four Synoptic gospels reference the fact that Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples, yet while the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide us with a central historical basis around which to construct a plausible reason for the meal’s inclusion, the differing accounts also leave us with a number of lingering questions as to why exactly Jesus and his disciples gathered on Holy Thursday to share such a significant meal.

Many scholars maintain that the Last Supper was eaten in the tradition of an institutionalized holiday. A Passover meal, in which the idea of sacrifice is the central tenet. This is the case made by German theologian Harmut Gese who argues that the meal was intended as a todah, or sacrificial supper, eaten in anticipation of Jesus’ own imminent sacrificial death. It’s an interesting argument, particularly if you start paying attention to the various “lamb” references that appear throughout the texts. In the Jewish tradition, the sacrificial lamb was offered to mark the beginning of Passover. James Sanders tells us that as part of the ritual meal, “every party took a lamb to the Temple where it was sacrificed, flayed and partially eviscerated.” Every family needs a lamb. Following the threads of this narrative, Jesus’ as the “Lamb of God,” could be interpreted as his responsibility to sacrifice himself for mankind.

Other passages support this theory. As New Testament scholar Paul Bradshaw points out, the meal did seem to take place in a Passover atmosphere. Mark 14.12 indicates that Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb would have been slaughtered. On the other hand, in the Gospel of John, Jesus dies on preparation day, as the Passover slaughtering is taking place. This may be a theological adjustment, but for the sake of simple chronology, John’s gospel does make more sense if the lamb references are to be used as a metaphor for a population who would have understood the significance of the “slaughter” in the context of Passover. Jesus is the lamb for the collective family that would ultimately become the Christian faith.

That said, an equally strong case can be made for argument that Jesus actually brought his disciples together for the very purpose of reconciling his impending crucifixion and passing on his ministry in the form of a few symbolic acts- namely the sharing of the covenant and John’s divergent washing of the feet narrative, both of which imply a sentiment of, “I, Jesus, have taught you as best I can. And now it is your responsibility to follow my example and carry these lessons of compassion and ministry out into the world.” In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes a cup, gives thanks and tells his disciples to, “drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 17.28-29) which differs from Mark, only in reference to the forgiveness of sin. Similarly, Luke writes that after the meal Jesus tells to his disciples “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 20.21). In reference to these particular passages, Old Testament scholar James Sanders explains that, “we can see that he regarded the meal as symbolic and as pointing to the future kingdom” or in modern terms, the church. Additionally, in the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples ‘I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes’. This passage is often referred to as the ‘farewell discourse.’ The sharing of the cup was Jesus’ last symbolic gesture and, according to Sanders, makes it highly likely that Jesus knew he was going to die. Jesus recognized that his time had come and that this was the last meal he would share with his disciples. In analyzing these particular passages some argue that Jesus’ command to ‘do this in my remembrance of me’ (Luke 22.19) indicates his intention that the last supper be performed as a liturgical rite, yet it is more likely that he was referring to the broader sense of ministry. Jesus could arguably be asking his disciples to take what they have learned and spread his teachings. Passing along his ministry from which others might “drink.” Jesus is also saying, with characteristic duality, that he will no longer bear the responsibility of spreading the ministry.

There is one further passage that must be considered in all of this, namely, John’s divergent washing of the feet narrative. Though frequently overlook in the analysis of scripture, the washing of the feet carries similar connotations to the distribution of the covenant. The root of this practice is a hospitality custom of many ancient civilizations, yet in the context of the Last Supper, when Jesus says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Luke 13.14), the reciprocal nature of the rite also becomes Jesus’ last lesson to his disciples. The uniqueness of this passage lies in the fact that Jesus is not only imbuing his disciples to continue his work, he is teaching them a greater lesson in compassion.

We know that Jesus inspired the people of Galilee as an itinerant teacher and healer, and that he visited Jerusalem around the time of Passover. And we know that soon after visiting the Temple, he was betrayed and crucified on a wooden cross. Yet we also know that prior to his death, with an uncanny awareness of what was to come, Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples in which he broke bread and imbued his disciples to carry on his mission. The Last Supper narratives consummately portray Jesus as he was among his disciples- a quiet introspective man who tried to teach by example and shared great hopes for the future of his ministry. “Last” almost certainly implies a final meal with a few close followers, but reading the Synoptic gospels with a contextual understanding of what was about to occur - last could also be seen as an equivocal statement, suggesting a newly emerging religious tradition. The Christian faith. Born on an evening when a man broke bread, shared what he could offer and built a foundation for the future of his church.

From a purely historical perspective, that’s a powerful message to carry. And it still makes for a very pretty mass.

Next Story — seasons
Currently Reading - seasons


It’s amazing how quickly the seasons can shift in the northern latitudes. We go to sleep on summer nights with the windows open, covers thrown haphazardly off the bed, only to wake-up seven hours later, wondering if we’re going to have time to put the storm windows on before we go to work.

Humans tend to characterize seasons based on perceptive generalization. Around here we base ours on a rhythmic quartet; Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, occurring with relatively equal distribution. Yet these seasonal divisions hardly hold true at the global scale. Residents of the sub-tropics for instance know only a rainy season, and a dry period. A year in the pacific Pacific Islands is a succession of hot, rainy and cool. Seasons can be marked by anticipated natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, and monsoons. Or by the solar shifts of solstice and equinox. When creating their calendar, the ancient Romans used temperature change to gauge the passage of time. The year began on the first of March, as soon as the ground began to thaw with each season following lasting roughly three months.

Seasonality is merely a qualitative measure of time. And yet, our bodies are internally tuned to the quantitative levels of variation. Earth tilts on an orbital plane, altering it’s proximity to the sun by a factor of about 23.5 degrees; and nature responds accordingly with the acceleration of a time-lapse photograph. Some animals hibernate (the badger and the ground squirrel), others migrate (most impressively the arctic tern). We humans, lacking (for the most part) the practical adaptations of blubber or hair, put on socks and wool sweaters. Insulate and wait.

As a species, we mark time in a myriad of ways. The time it takes for the snow to thaw, the length of a good ski season. College semesters. Vacations. I tend to delineate the seasons based on farmer’s market produce. Subtle greens of arugula and asparagus indicate the arrival of spring. The kindergarden colors of heirloom tomatoes and stone fruits are the sticky, pulpy mass of summer. Orb shaped squash and crunchy apples mean that summer has shifted into fall. And then winter. The waiting period, when the market is gone and the produce section of the local co-op is left with brown potatoes and imported bananas. This evolution of taste and color is my favorite part of seasonal variation.

Yet this year my internal calendar appears to be confused. I made a tomato sauce last night using Cherokee Purples and sweet basil from a farm down the road. In previous years I would have long given up on local tomatoes by this point in the calendar year. I crave apples, yet the Hubberston-Nonsuch sitting on my desk still tastes dry, and slightly under-ripe. I regret the snack, knowing the bitter fruit will probably sit uncomfortably in my stomach for the rest of the afternoon. The New Mexico air smells of pinon and roasted green chile, yet the afternoon monsoons have yet to let up, so late in the year, the desert is still green with purslane from the consistent rain. Mostly though, I want a squash. The winter squash, particularly the buttercup, is my absolute favorite food. One year, I ate so many that my skin took on an unpleasant orange hue, as if I’d gotten carried away with a bottle of spray on-tan. Squash means autumn, which means it’s time to set aside the restlessness of summer. Right now I’m finding this to be an impossible task. The mixed messages of cognition and desire are blurred into some sort of seasonal in-between place.

It’s easy to make small talk about the deviant weather.“Yeah, this year we had three months of rain and now we’re finally getting our summer,” or, “Wow, this is the greenest it’s ever been in August! It feels like July!” Yet there is underlying concern in these offhand remarks. We are creatures of habit, detached from, yet perceptive of even the slightest changes in the delicate balance of our ecosystem. And as the conceptual season is transformed, we lose our fundamental ability to understand the passage of time.

Next Story — max’s wave 
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kayakers on the clark fork/meaghen brown

max’s wave 

They finally had to put the lake place up for sale. Why keep it? The boy’s parents could hardly stand the sight of water anymore. Haunted by ripples and eddies and the garage full of kayak gear that would never get used again. Even the hot tub had been removed. Their timber frame cabin would probably be sold off to some young Silicon Valley family looking for a summer vacation home, a family who would never know the teenage boy who taught himself to roll in the still bays of Flathead Lake. Those countless hours and obsessive repetitions while a father and a black lab, watched quietly from the dock. A focused persistence he’d applied to few other things in his seventeen years of life.

Montana is a landscape that echoes with the ghosts of buried children, and by the time I turned 24, I’d been to more funerals than weddings. Young kids, throwing blunts, hucking cliffs and challenging landscape with every pool drop and inverted aerial. And later, older kids. Skiing the backcountry and running remote whitewater. First descents and class five rivers. Aware of their vulnerability, yet lusting after an inexplicably primal self-awareness. An entitled sense of freedom. Boys, raising each other out of necessity and circumstance and a shared devotion to the adrenaline of wild places.

This is a story of kids who grew up traversing rivers and mountains, simultaneously and separately affected by the events unfolding around them. Teaching each other to mountain bike and ski. Cutting class on powder days, ordering burritos from a local taco joint and hanging out at the board and kayak shops, watching videos of their heros until well past curfew. Sometimes there were drugs. Pot mostly, and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. A few joints and a discount case of beer were just a way of unwinding, of calming the endorphins before the rush of adrenaline filled all the spaces. Addictions manifest in air and water. The magnetic power of dangerous attraction.

The boy in this story, isn’t much different from many of the kids I grew up with. Almost as soon as he could walk, his parents taught him to ski, and by junior high he’d joined the Missoula Freestyle team and learned to paddle his lime green Jackson kayak down perfect lines on the Clark Fork’s Alberton Gorge. Hovering harmlessly at the margins of adolescent delinquency, the incessant activity helped give focus to some of his thrill seeking tendencies. Many days after school he’d head out, practicing bow stalls before the first spring runoff and backflips on an old trampoline in his yard.

When summer rolled around,we’d all head north, to the pint sized town of Polson, Montana on the southern tip of Flathead Lake. Carloads of stray kids and more gear than should ever have fit in the back of our parents’ Outbacks and beat-up Toyota pickup trucks. Our parents always worried. The drive involved an hour long stretch down Highway 93, once considered one of the most dangerous two-lane roads in the US, and brought us close to the border of the Flathead Indian Reservation where unemployment hovers around 60 percent and alcoholism is rampant. The town of Polson has long been divided between affluent out-of-towners building second homes on properties that locals can no longer afford and the poverty of reservation communities. A few Missoula families had managed to hold on to inherited lake property, but the numbers were dwindling with each passing year, and we spent as much time there as we could, shuttling back and forth between friends’ cabins and empty pieces of land an hour’s drive from Missoula. Long days followed by campfires and reckless teenage debauchery. Cheap beer, bought with fake I.D’s and Yonder Mountain String Band echoing over makeshift campsites late into the evening. Hundreds of weekends spent drinking and dancing and memorizing the lyrics to Wagon Wheel, and relishing in our immortality.

But high school started and the boy, though naturally gifted, was having a hard time with traditional classroom learning. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled in a traveling high school for serious kayakers based out of Trout Lake, Washington, and spent the next six months running rivers from Mexico to the American South. Reading The Alchemist by the banks of the Copalita River and visiting more obscure places than most of us would see in a lifetime, the days falling in to a rhythm of learning and boating. When he returned home a few months later, the force of ascendancy belonged to the boy, who was now almost a man, and we hounded him for stories.

In many ways, he was living a life we all instinctively knew, but on a grander and more varied scale. Chasing a dream through the world’s wild places and posting pictures on Facebook when Internet was available. We lived vicariously through his adventures and clung to him as long as we could. He attempted another semester back in Missoula, but sitting in a classroom was close to unbearable, and it wasn’t long before he was gone again. Off to Canada and later to West Virginia’s Gauley River for another semester of fast water and envious lines.

The eastern tradition talk about ‘liberation of the soul,’ the body serving as merely a vessel to carry the immortal spirit from one life to the next. Death, it is said, frees us from the constraints of our humanness. Just like water. But the day he died, the whole world crumpled. The hollowed eyes of kids growing suddenly old, just as we were starting to grow up. Our world- which was to us the whole world, snatched away by the Gauley. Hollowed souls. Even those who hardly knew him, because our town is small, and that’s how communities grieve. Trapped in a crack while attempting to run a creeky line, the boy had been taken by the water he loved. He and a number of other students had run that same line several times in the preceding days, and two other paddlers had run the same line that morning, just seconds before him, but to this day, no one is entirely sure what happened. As far as anyone can tell, just as the boy entered that critical spot, the water level suddenly decreased then surged back up again, trapping him underwater. Over the next 20 minutes, seven kayakers and two coaches tried in vain to free him. The boy’s body was recovered just after 5pm when water levels receded again.

I don’t know many kayakers who regularly read scripture, yet the days that followed the boy’s death were a ritualistic semblance of eulogy and release. In the Theravada rituals, survivors pour water from a vessel into an overflowing cup, reciting the verse: As water raining on a hill flows down to the valley, even so does what is given here benefit the dead. As rivers full of water fill the ocean full, even so does what is given here benefit the dead. The remains are then immersed in a river. For the kid who spent his happiest moments in a boat, nothing seemed more appropriate. Garlands of flowers strung across the mighty Clark Fork as the whole town watched from opposite banks. The boy’s funeral, like his childhood, the coalescence of tradition and invention. A memorial service, tethered to landscape on a perfect October day. Montana, holding us all close in it’s strange, euphonic, compulsive grasp. Later, his fellow students would carry some of his ashes to Zambia and Uganda. Scattering them from Victoria and Murchison Falls, close to the rivers he should have been running along with them.

That night, at dusk, like followers of some ancient ritual, we packed up sleeping bags and handles of Jim Beam and climbed up a mountain to settle score with nature, built a campfire outside an old ski lodge and sang Pearl Jam to the melody of a lone acoustic guitar. None of us really knew how to grieve, so we constructed a tribute the way we’d learned to play. Consuming and philosophical and painful and beautiful. Drunken and mortal for the first time.

I came home smelling of tears and campfire smoke. In the recesses of exhaustion, the turbulent poetry of Pearl Jam’s ‘Immortality,’ playing over and over in my head. Can’t stop the thought. I’m running in the dark. Coming up a which way sign. All good truants must decide.... Some die just to live. Years later, under paralleled circumstances, a friend would quote a similar phrase over dinner in a Colorado mountain town. “Sometimes you have to take risks in order to feel alive.” Landscape might have the power to save us, but it will always win.

Shortly after his death, a fund was set up in the boy’s name, to create a memorial that would honor his devotion to water in the form of a river enhancement kayak park. They’re building the boy a wave, much like the wave created in 2006, for another Missoula kayaker who died doing something he loved. Right where the Clark Fork passes through downtown, Brennan’s Wave transformed a dangerous water diversion weir into a perfect kayak park and concentrating an affirming energy on a central community place, so much so that the wave has since played host to the US Freestyle Kayaking Championships. Walk down there on any evening between April and October, and you’ll likely see a fleet of multi-colored boats playing near the bridge. And a crowd of people, pausing to observe the action. And maybe a few parents and a dog, watching from the banks.

Max’s Wave too, will eventually help set the Clark Fork back on course, and perhaps the town as well. Or maybe just a new course. I’m not sure rivers ever really resume their original channels after suffering the torrents of change. Nor do people for that matter. But the wave will be perfect, because the metaphor of water is one of reconciliation, and this wave was inspired by the people who loved him most. When it’s finished, in 2015, parents will gather to watch, grateful their children have a place to play. And likely a few of us kids will be there as well. Coaching, or watching, or simply contemplating the absolution of water. Max wouldn’t have had it any other way.

*This story is based on truth, but names have been omitted and details condensed to protect the privacy of the community who knew this boy.

Next Story — linguistic complexities of Biblical interpretation
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linguistic complexities of Biblical interpretation

Cervantes once complained that reading a translation was, “like looking at the Flanders tapestries from behind: you can see the basic shapes, but they are so filled with threads that you cannot fathom their original lustre.” And the translations of ancient texts is perhaps even further frustrating. Entirely dependent on context and personal discretion, the intention of a translated text is both taught and internalized based entirely on assumption.The act of translation contingent on the decisions made by translator, yielding inherent gaps in discourse and rhetoric.

The Bible in particular is considerably vulnerable to these linguistic puzzles. Available now in 2,454 languages, it is impossible to achieve both a formal and dynamic etymological equivalence when the Bible is filtered from the original Greek form. And the alternative renderings are exegetically significant, for the simple reason that the foundations of Christian faith are partially predicated on linguistic guesswork. The intention of translated text becoming both taught and internalized based almost entirely on assumption.

Take, for instance, the Greek word ‘pistis’ πιστις as it appears in Paul. ‘Pistis’ is most directly translatable as “faith,” though in the Pauline gospel it is employed as a complex noun-verb hybrid. “The verb form ‘to put one’s faith in’ (or ‘to believe’) appears 42 times in the undisputed letters, while the noun form ‘faith’ (or belief) appears 91 times.” This is where translation first gets complicated though, because in the English language, faith isn’t a verb. The concept of “being faithed” doesn’t translate from Greek to English so in order to compensate for such discrepancies, the term “belief” is often substituted throughout the bible. This work technically because Greek doesn’t differentiate between the two, but in the translated form the differences remain confusing. “Belief,” implies an opposing sentiment of disbelief or doubt. There are also “beliefs” or doctrines which are conceptually separate from the act of believing.

Take this a step further and examine Paul’s actual intention in employing the word pistis. Structurally, “faith” takes on four primary forms. Nearly all English translations use the objective genitive which implies obedience to faith, as illustrated by Rom. 3:22, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction.” However the subjective genitive interpretation, that obedience is produced or required by faith, clearly emerges in Rom. 4:9; “faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” Occasionally, ‘pistis’ appears in both the attributive genitive form of believing obedience, and as the genitive of apposition, namely that faith defines obedience (Cranfield: 1985). However it is the subjective v. objective argument that transcends exegeses and it is Paul’s intention for the concept of ‘pistis’ that perpetuates debate. If one is to achieve faith by means of obedience, then what does it mean to obey?

In comparing the Greek to English versions of Paul, an argument can be made for three distinct and scripturally significant definitions of “faith” as they relate to obedience namely; faith as trust, faith as disposition and faith as achievement. These terms are not mutually exclusive- quite the opposite in fact because at the root of each interpretation lies the Pauline the explication for the process of atonement.

Faith as trust is a commitment to the idea that belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the condition for salvation (1 Corinthians 15.1-4) Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures

This interpretation is illustrated by Galatians 2:20 which affirms, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,” and in Romans 1:17 which reads, “for in the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.” Paul often speaks of trust as a passive verb. We are “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2) and it is through trust that God justifies the believer on the basis of faith, giving sinful men the right to enter into communion with him (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:8, 11, 24). Paul also describes faith in the sense of disposition; that one can be “faithed” the way one can be curious or competitive. 1 Thessalonians is perhaps the most indicative of faith as disposition. Chapter 3 frequently makes reference to “your faith” (1 Th. 3:2, 3:5, 3:6, 3:7, 3:10) and to “you believers” ( 1 Th. 2:10, 2:13) expressing faith in the possessive as if it were an individual character quality, one that supplicates redemption. Lastly, Paul argues that ‘faith’ is a psychological state of being and that righteousness comes from the augmentation of such countenance. Romans 1:5 for example speaks of grace and apostleship as bringing about “the obedience of faith” or more accurately, “obedience which is faith.” In other words, salvation is an achievement, a specified objective.

The translational discrepancy found in the phrases “faith in christ” v. “faith of christ” cultivates an additional layer of complexity in the exegesis of Pauline interpretation. Does Paul place greater importance on the believer’s faith or Christ’s? The term πιστις, followed by the genitive form of Jesus appears seven times over the course of the Pauline Letters (Rom. 3:26, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9, Rom 3:22, Gal. 3:22, Gal. 2:16 and Gal. 2:20). Faith in Jesus as an objective genitive, can most accurately be interpreted as the faithful person acknowledging the fact that Jesus sacrificed himself in order that we may have faith as a disposition. In effect, Jesus died so that we may be “faithed.” On the other hand the subjective genitive, faith of christ, indicates faith as achievement. We look to Jesus’ sacrifice as an example of how to achieve faith and understand that we ourselves must ultimately be made sacrifice in order to be absolved of sin. More directly, because Christ was faithful, we too have the capacity to achieve faith.

This dichotomy raises a fundamental question in regards to theology; do we come to understanding (are we “faithed”) because we trust in the significance of the death of Jesus, or does Jesus’ death serve as a guide for achieving faith? Again Rom. 3:22 demonstrates the power of a single word to fundamentally change the intention of a passage. When written as “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” one can assume that by believing in Jesus Christ humans are endowed with a communion of faith and a relationship with God. However the alternative translation, “the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe” implies that by understanding and acting on the Jesus’ example, we will eventually achieve salvation with God.

These distinctions are particularly important however in analyzing Paul’s understanding of sin. According to Paul sin is the unavoidable consequence of being human. It is not something we “have” it is something by which we are persuaded and affected. Will trusting the sacrifice of Jesus as affording us a faithful disposition allow us to be reborn in Christ and escape sin, or must we embody the death of Christ in order to be absolved? Exegetical interpretations render variations the ways in which “faith” are manifest. Both are the means by which the power of sin will be transferred to the power of faith, yet there is a variance in process. The Pauline epistles are replete with such phrasing, and although primary debates favor the subjective genitive, it is arguably that Paul accepts both.

Lastly, as scholar of theology, Leander Keck points out, Paul emphasizes “faith” as contingent on “hearing.” In Rom 1:17 Paul literally writes that, “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. Consequently, hearing is the event that awakens faith. Keck argues a threefold importance in Paul’s concern for “hearing;” namely that faith is a response, that the gospel must be articulated in order to be “heard” and that the appropriate response to hearing is heeding. Paul confirms that hearing, necessitates heeding, and that in the act of heeding, Christians make a full commitment to ‘faith.’ This verse is the reason why- as professor of Biblical interpretations, Paul J. Achtemeier, explains- Paul takes his responsibility to preach the gospel so seriously. For Paul, writing was merely as a substitute for his physical presence. “Trust in God was awakened in those who heard the apostolic announcement, which was to be carried to all people everywhere, the announcement that the gracious intentions of God which culminated in Jesus Christ had been present from the beginning of his creation of the world, as they were present throughout his dealings with his chosen people.” The Pauline letters communicate “truth” as the only adequate response to God, with faith as the product of a comprehensive understanding of God’s actions in Christ. By emphatically emphasizing hearing, he correctly surmises that the only way to guarantee the perpetuation of this message is through physical audition, augmented by letters. Paul innately perceives that where Christ is not proclaimed, faith as a response to God’s gifts cannot appear. Hearing is therefore essential to building a lucid foundation of faith.

St. Augustine can be credited with saying, “crede, ut intelligas”- believe in order that you may understand. Translational discrepancies aside, this the premise of Paul’s ‘pisits.’ Paul likely intended for the word to serve as both a noun and verb, clarifying the formative distinction between faith in Christ and faith of Christ, while promulgating the idea that the faithful will be brought to salvation by trusting in God’s intentions. It is true that arguments can be made favoring either the objective or subjective interpretation, yet it’s also likely Paul did not intend for us to choose one over the other. The exegetical ponderosity of ‘pistis’ is thus a source of both historical and theological significance as well as an interesting analysis of a word within the context of a literary text. It is however, imperative that we acknowledge the fact that Paul’s intention is conditioned on the renderings of translation, meaning that the foundations of Christian faith have been partially established upon educated supposition and filtered significance.

Next Story — love letters from yellowstone
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upper geyser basin/steve brown

love letters from yellowstone

My first home smelled of pine and sulfur, Kodak film and hand me down poetry. It’s a transient place,largely inhabited by the federal employee, the day hiker, the tourist and the buffalo. It’s also enormous, heavily regulated and entirely wild; a bizarre juxtaposition of antediluvian geology and room service. I call it home because, it’s a place we visited so often as children that the geyser basins and boardwalks became as familiar as the storefronts and bike trails of the town where we actually lived. It’s also the place where my parents first crossed paths in the summer of 1983.

June 1983: An impractical college graduate takes a job at a gas station in Canyon Village, splurges on a Patagonia windbreaker and grows some stubbly facial hair. The constraints of responsibility have yet to weigh him down as he spends his weekends hiking solo around the backcountry and melting glaciers, wandering far from the crowded viewing decks of Old Faithful on his days off. He falls in love with the view from the top of Mount Washburn and eats avocado and cream cheese sandwiches when his paycheck comes, and dreams of becoming a park ranger. After one ill-conceived adventure, he stitches up his own finger at the Mammoth medical clinic while the shift doctors watch a particularly spectacular thunderstorm.

That same summer, somewhere in the flyover parts of Minnesota, the promise of another summer shucking corn and selling toothpaste and condoms at the corner drugstore has suddenly become a terrifying prospect. So a young nursing student follows a friend out West in a quest to feed her fascination with wilder landscapes, and fulfill her insatiable desire to know what might be on the other side of the prairie lands. She works in hotel reception, making reservations and consoling disgruntled tourists. She breathes the air of mountains, and skips rocks into icy alpine lakes, tucked away above the timberline, so different from the still waters of the midwest she grew up knowing.

They probably met in a bar. Details were never easy to come by with my parents. All I really know is that they once hiked Grasshopper Glacier, set the camera on a timer and captured a moment of uninhibited joy- arms wrapped around each other, wind blowing, laughter echoing down the canyon. Tossing aside the guidebook they explored Yellowstone Park with the innocence and curiosity of native species, taking pictures and trading stories. Three months later, they returned briefly to their separate lives with the possibility of undeveloped film and a prospective wedding date.

September 1988: The month I was born, the park burned. Whole forests destroyed by the blazes of late summer fires, leaving blackened stands that still smell of charred wood. When the smoke finally cleared, my young parents strapped me into a backpack and went hiking through fields of beargrass, the rhizomes of which survive bad fires to bloom in full and give forests like this one new life. They skipped rocks on the Firehole River - lukewarm from geyser runoff further upstream - and camped near Slough Creek, and took my picture inside of the blackened shell of what was once a mighty Ponderosa. They had the slide made into 5X7 photographs and tucked those photographs into Christmas cards and sent those Christmas cards to family far away.

May 1991: When my brother was born, Yellowstone’s geologic activity had noticeably increased. Familiar ground lost its stability and grass grew where there had once been ice. My parents named him Jonah, and his general stubbornness about all things has become the irony of his namesake. Geysers tend to have a predictability threshold of between 20 minutes to two days (or in some cases years), and Jonah would insist that we wait to catch his favorite eruptions. Often we’d spend hours sitting on park benches as tourists came and went, monitoring Castle’s bubbling cone until the temperamental geyser finally spewed it’s boiling contents into the air. When he wasn’t waiting, Jonah was launching, and sprinting, and teetering and eating. Rocky-road ice cream from Park Concessions running down his chin and down onto his wiggly toes.

We took distracted pictures in front of bubbling mud pots and hidden waterfalls, and made more Christmas cards, and measured time by the crowds gathering to watch Old Faithful, and commented on how funny it is that sulfuric geyser basins smell like cooking eggs.We ate Cheerios® out of Ziploc® bags and learned to walk on paths constructed for travelers, and to swim in a river warmed by the runoff of primordial hot springs, and to dance, accompanied by an ancient grand piano on the third floor of the Old Faithful Inn which the white-haired pianist once let me play. And we returned every year to explore new transects of the park, and see what had changed.

Twenty- plus years later most of the old wooden boardwalks have been replaced with Trex® and many of the trails we visited as a toddlers are now closed to the public. Even the most reliable geysers have become less reliable than they once were. But in certain places you can still smell the acridity of smoldering pine forests,even as new trees have grown up healthy and strong in the midst of old burns (we’re the same age, those trees and I). We take pictures in front of familiar places, and post those pictures on Facebook, and listen to stories about the Park our parents knew, and load old slides into an ancient carousel projector to watch against the wall of our living room when we’re together. Some families have heirlooms, we have places. And Yellowstone was the first— the changes preserved in scraps of poetry and boxes of grainy Kodak slides.

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