The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

In Touch With the Sky

For a few years now my main blog has been, not here, but at a different site I call "In Touch With the Sky." It has a little bit of most everything that interests me, but ever since I discovered that I could take surprisingly decent photos of the Moon and planets simply by aiming my cell phone camera into the telescope eyepiece, it pretty much took over my blog. If that interests you, please head on over. Thanks! Here's the link: In Touch With the Sky

Friday, July 17, 2009

जेविश स्टडीज इससे लिंक alert

Jewish Studies essay link alert:

The links to my Jewish Studies essays won't work for awhile, until I find a new home for them. I'll keep you posted. A number of pictures in posts also won't work, since they were hosted on my old web hosting service.

My titles are still coming up in an Asian script that I don't recognize. Go figure.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

नोर्मल म्य्स्तिसिस्म Revisited

Normal Mysticism Revisited

This is a reposting of an old post on my old blog. The commenter's exact biographical info has been edited to protect the innocent. Why the title is coming up in Asian characters I have no idea.

This topic relates to the topic of the Jewish "smorgasbord" of ideas concerning God, which I expect to write a short essay on for the Jewish Theology course I'm taking. And it's one of the topics that connected the most with my own Christian faith and experience.

The term "normal mysticism" was coined by someone named Kadushin (if I have it right in my notes), and it's the idea (from their viewpoint) that in many if not most religions "paranormal techniques" are used/needed to get in touch with the divine. But in Judaism normal experiences are a stimulus for awareness of God's presence. So, as the rabbi says in "Fiddler on the Roof" (which movie my prof hates, btw, for reasons I won't get into here) "There's a blessing for everything", and goes on to say blessings for sewing machines, etc. One of my class readings gives the text for a prayer to be said upon relieving oneself in the bathroom. No detail of life is beyond the umbrella of sanctity.

My immediate reaction, of course, is that normal mysticism is a part of Christian faith at its best as well, that the glory of God is present in ordinary, everyday things. I just gave my wife a copy of the book "Hidden Art" by Edith Schaeffer, in which she shows how simple creativity in homemaking can be an expression of faith and devotion. Kathleen Norris, the theologian laureate of South Dakota, writes some good stuff on the topic of God in the ordinary, especially in her book "The Quotidian Mysteries".

I've run into certain Christians over the years who have had an above-average understanding of "normal mysticism". Francis Schaeffer & L'Abri are strong in that area. It was in a Schaeffer study group years ago that I first experienced a certain brand of Christian fellowship that can be hard to find - an almost indescribable blend of conversation on deep subjects with the eating of wholesome foods (the founder of the group was an organic farmer), of singing and praying together, laughing and crying together, of open-hearted love, open sharing, and devotion to the Truth. When one has such an experience one misses it when it's gone - sadly a common experience in Christendom. I've caught glimpses here and there of just how good it can be - not only at L'Abri centers but among a rather wide spectrum of Christians, even among some Lutherans!!!. We caught a glimpse of it recently at the vegetarian cooking seminar at the Seventh-Day Adventist church. We've also experienced it at a coffeehouse and bookshop in Indiana operated by an Eastern Orthodox Christian community. I pray that I can help recreate the experience for the people who call me "pastor".

By the way, the course I'm taking doesn't ignore the contributions of Christians to the topic. An Anglican lady named Evelyn Underhill is credited with defining mysticism as "conscious awareness of the presence of the divine." I see that her writings are available through Eighth Day books.

Sometimes God works through everyday things, sometimes He works through extraordinary (to us) things. If you've experienced "normal mysticism", drop a comment and tell us about it.
posted by Michael at 7:51 AM

Rich said...
Dear Pastor
You wrote this blog almost 3 years ago but it annoys me as though it were written yesterday. "The term "normal mysticism" was coined by someone named Kadushin (if I have it right in my notes), and it's the idea (from their viewpoint)..."
You are a graduate student in Jewish Studies: His name was MAX Kadushin; if you think it's worth your while to use his ideas at least look up his first name, (if I have it right in my notes) indeed!!! and "it's the idea (from their viewpoint)" !?! Jews are not quaint Micronesians and you are not Margaret Mead. What do you mean their viewpoint? Didn't Max's universality strike a chord with you, or did you think you discovered the relevance of Jewish thought on your own... And most people do prefer the Fiddler play to the movie. Other than that I'm sure you are charming at cocktail parties.
Rabbi Richard
Graduate, JTSA

9:48 PM
Michael said...
Dear Rabbi Richard,

Thank you for your comment on this post. Your comments deserve a thoughtful, detailed response.

Three significant points I gather from your comments. Let me know if I understand you correctly, and if I’ve missed anything else you’re trying to tell me:

1. You’re saying that as a Jewish Studies graduate student, I’m responsible as a blogger to display a higher level of understanding than I showed when I commented about Rabbi Max Kadushin without remembering his first name or very much else about him. And to do less is careless and/or inconsiderate.

The point is well taken. I once thought it might be a rewarding experience to document/share my learning experience by blogging about it. Hence, posts like “Normal Mysticism” in which I write about some of my first thoughts when I encounter a new idea for the first time. I thought a blog might be an acceptable place to share half-baked ideas in hopes that they will become fully baked someday. But I’ve found out in more than one way that I was wrong. First of all, my little blog has been largely ignored. I’ve read somewhere that successful blogs generally give the reader uniquely valuable information, or are exceptionally entertaining (it probably doesn’t surprise you that I don’t remember the exact quote, nor the first or last name of the person who said it), and I’m not so vain as to imagine that my attempts at blogging have either helped or entertained many people. Furthermore I’ve discovered that I simply don’t have time to do justice to blogging. I could probably do a more valuable or entertaining blog if I had the time, but I’ve decided that I’m better off quietly doing my studies and actually learning things, not to mention doing my job and other duties. So if you look at my blog (which I continued at the address, you’ll see that as of late I really don’t blog anymore, other than every few months when I post about subjects like my dog’s 12th birthday, or other things obviously of no interest to people who don’t know me personally.

But now, 2 ½ years later, I hear from someone who’s been offended. Nothing could be further from my intention. Which brings me to the next thing I hear you saying:

2. That in my post I’m treating Jewish people in a condescending way, like “quaint” specimens to be studied.

Could you please explain to me more how I have done this? In reply to your question, “What do you mean their viewpoint?” I think you may have misunderstood the antecedent of the pronoun “their.” (I admit I didn’t help matters by putting the antecedent after the pronoun.) “Their” refers back not to the Jews or to Judaism, but to “many if not most religions.” All I meant by “from their viewpoint” is that I was contrasting the viewpoint of “many if not most religions” with that of Judaism. I was trying to summarize what I understood from the course lectures in “Jewish Theology”, that Normal Mysticism in Judaism contrasted sharply with unusual and extraordinary measures taken in many religions in order to get in touch with the Divine. Have I misunderstood or misrepresented Max Kadushin’s views? Would he disagree with this contrast between Judaism and “many if not most religions?” Is that what you mean by my missing “Max’s universality?”

What did I say that suggests that I think I’ve “discovered the relevance of Jewish thought on my own?” I wouldn’t claim that any more than I’d claim that Columbus (or Leif Erikson) really discovered America. But I would indeed claim that I’m in the process of discovering the relevance of Jewish thought for myself. I was attempting nothing more in this post than to share my own thoughts, half-baked as they may be, upon learning something new. The central assertion of my post is that the concept of Normal Mysticism in Jewish thought seems akin to me to things I’ve experienced in Christian spirituality. By the way, in my opinion there’s a hint of universality in that claim. I’ve known people who would brand me a heretic for suggesting that there could be kinship between Christian and non-Christian religious experiences.

A word to the wise: in your comment “Jews are not quaint Micronesians” you lay yourself open to the charge that you yourself think that Micronesians are “quaint.” I don’t think that’s what you really mean to say. For the record, I don’t think that Jews, Micronesians, or any other people are quaint, and though I’m not an expert on Margaret Mead, I doubt that she did either. I’d rather think that her serious, expert research on Micronesians reflected a high value that she placed upon all people. So do I, but it seems that I didn’t show that in my blog post, so I apologize for my insensitivity. I only ask that you spell out carefully what is offensive about what I’ve said, especially if there are parts of it that I haven’t understood yet. It seems that the offense lies especially in subtleties of language. Even if it seems like it should be painfully obvious, it would be helpful to me if you’d spell out for me what not to say.

3. I hear you saying that I come across like the kind of intellectual dilettante who thinks that he’s an expert because he’s taken an introductory course and enjoys stringing factoids together in a way that dazzles and entertains people in social gatherings, all the while having no real understanding of the subject. “Other than that I'm sure you are charming at cocktail parties.” Ouch. Sounds like you’re saying that I haven’t (a) proven myself capable of any better, or perhaps you think I’m (b) incapable of or (c) uninterested in doing any better than that.

I can accept charge (a). As I’ve said, I’ve already given up my stream-of-consciousness blogging on my Jewish studies experience, and now I have a couple of new good reasons, because I’ve found it’s too easy to cause unintened offense, and it’s too easily misunderstood as an attempt to look like an “expert”, as if I’m trying to say “Hello, I’m the new Margaret Mead!” By the way, there aren’t many cocktail parties where I live in rural South Dakota. To gain a cocktail party-level knowledge of the culture I’m immersed in, one need go no further than “A Prairie Home Companion” or the movie “Fargo.”

The very reason why I’m taking the MSJS program at Spertus is that I don’t want to be a dilettante, just quoting things from reference books or exploiting my beginner’s knowledge to dazzle the 99% of people in my state who know even less about Judaism than I do. I want to gain actual expert-level knowledge in a given field, as Geology Professor Steven Dutch describes in this article: "Self-Appointed Experts" In my case I hope to specialize in the late Biblical “Second Temple” period. But I’m not there yet.

So, in the meantime, I’ll continue to study the foundations of Jewish Studies, in hopes that after toiling and studying in modest obscurity, someday I might pleasantly surprise you and others by erupting forth as someone who has something intelligent to say about the Second Temple period and other things I’ve studied. And I’ll ask you to take me as a serious student and thinker, able to learn from mistakes and listen to correction. And I’ll refrain from any further acts of blogo-dilettantery, especially ones that might treat Jews, Micronesians, or anyone else as “quaint.” Do we have a deal?

One more thing I hear you saying: you have a deep passion for the Jews, Judaism, and Jewish thought, and you don’t want them to be slighted, disrespected, or mistreated in any way, especially by a Jewish Studies student. I hear you. As a Jewish Studies student your toes are the last ones I want to step on, and I apologize. If there’s anything else you believe I need to know on this subject, I’m listening. What if I do find myself at a cocktail party sometime, and someone asks, “What are you learning in Jewish Studies?” How would you have me answer the question in a respectful manner, considering that I know some things but I’m not an expert?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17


4:23 PM
Michael said...
PS - The more I read the sentence in which I said the "their viewpoint" comment, the more I see how bad a sentence it was, and I don't blame you for not understanding it. I think your saying that Jewish studies deserves better writing than this post, and I agree. I find myself wondering if I should take all this down after a bit. What do you think?

6:41 PM
Rich said...
I should never post late at night
1. Kadushin was a hero of mine when I did religious studies at Yale so that when I actually got to take one of the last courses he taught at JTS I was in 7th heaven, (I was only in my first year and required special permission);
2. After you explained that I got the antecedent of "their" wrong the rest of my post becomes drivel and your response was calmer and more reasoned than I deserved.
Good luck with the studies!!!

4:11 PM
Michael said...
Thanks very much. You've lifted my spirits and made my day!

As I said, I'll try my best not to write sloppily about Jewish Studies in any venue, including blog posts. One must tread carefully upon sacred ground.

I looked back at my materials for the "Jewish Theology" course and rediscovered that the course readings included two sections from Kadushin's "The Rabbinic Mind", including "Normal Mysticism" and "This Side of Philosophy." I suspect I'll be seeing much more of him, since "The Rabbinic Mind" is also the name of a course I have yet to take at Spertus.

Thanks again! - Michael

7:40 PM

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Theological eccentricities meme

What better way to break my long silence than to respond to the clamoring crowds (that is, two people) who have expressed interest in the "theological eccentricities" that I alluded to a year ago in this post! So, here goes: in this new meme we air any number of eccentric theological ideas or tendencies we may have, things that either go beyond the norm for our particular faith group or for Christianity in general. No particular number - I won't know how many I put down until I'm done with this post.

1. I seem to be the only kid on the block who thinks that the presence of the "second Cainan" in Luke 3:36 is a piece of evidence that the Septuagint reading of Genesis 11:12-13 is correct and preferable to the reading found in the Masoretic text.

2. With regard to the "Filioque" I lean strongly toward the Eastern Christian position, not because I claim a deep understanding of the issues - I don't, and I've seen detailed arguments on both sides that seemed confusing and/or unconvincing to me. But John 15:26 leaves it out, simply saying "... the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of me."

3. Ever since I met a few Coptic Orthodox Christians who had somehow found their way to my church body's small Bible college years ago, I've had a soft spot in my heart for Monophysites (or, apparently more correctly, Miaphysites. Perhaps I'm a closet Miaphysite myself, but I don't know.

4. Now, just to stir up the pot a little, other non-Lutheran churches which have influenced (or at least nudged) my thinking have included the Seventh-Day Adventists (I'm of the school of thought that agrees with Walter Martin that they are a legitimate Christian denomination and not a cult, as some claim). Though I have many disagreements, I respect the interesting brand of internal consistency their doctrines have, and that they have a comprehensive vision of how the Christian faith should shape all of life. Many Christians don't seem to have that kind of vision. I think their doctrine of the Great Controversy is one of their strongest distinctives, and their distinctive form of premillennialism (in which Christ and the saints reign in Heaven during the Millennium while Satan is imprisoned on a desolate Earth) seems at least as valid an option as any other option floating around, so I don't know why I've never heard of any non-Adventists advocating that position (though, come to think of it, one of my seminary professors had a similar position in which Christ reigns from Heaven during the Millennium). Which leads to my next oddity ...

5. I'm not sure what category I fit into with regards to the Last Days. My views either combine or don't quite fit into the usual categories (Amillennial, Premillennial, Postmillennial). Concerning the "Great Tribulation" I thought for years that at least I was clear on being "Post-Trib", but after noticing how many times the Bible repeats "a time, and times, and the dividing of time", "1290 days", 1260 days", etc., I realized that there's something very important about the mid-point of a seven-year period. I don't know if that makes me "Mid-Trib" or not, because I sometimes wonder if "experts" on Biblical eschatology have connected the dots of Bible prophecy in entirely conjectural ways. But I definitely no longer place the "mid-Trib" position on the bottom of the heap, as I once did.

I'm not a Postmillennialist, though I briefly considered it, under the influence of Christian Reconstructionism. The influence I retain from that movement is that I think Christians should be more optimistic about the influence we can have right now. I may be some type of Premillennialist, but not any of the usual kinds. I'm probably technically a Premillennialist because any other view would hold that the two resurrections in Revelation 20:4-6 are different in kind, that is, one physical, one not physical, and I think that strains the text. But, on the other hand, in common with Amillennialists and Postmillennialists, I think it's possible that the "Millennium" is in progress right now because of my next eccentricity:

6. I'm utterly fascinated by the resurrection of some saints mentioned in Matthew 27:52-53. How can such a big thing be mentioned only one place in the Bible? People have speculated over the years about these people. Did they die again? Did they eventually go their way to Heaven? Are they still among us? Nobody knows, since the Bible says nothing more. Going back to Revelation 20, was this event the "First Resurrection", or at least the first stage of the First Resurrection? If so, one could hold a position which has some characteristics of Amillennialism (the Millennium is now) and some of Premillennialism (the Millennium is between two physical resurrections), and that may be my current position.

If indeed there are resurrected humans out and about, could they be some of the "angels" some claim to have seen? In 1987 my Dad and I were rescued from a dangerous situation when a piano we were moving fell out of a pickup in the middle of a 5-way highway intersection. A burly, curly-bearded guy appeared on the scene and singlehandedly lifted the piano back into the pickup, right over the side of the box, showing no evidence of unusual strain, and went on his way. Was he just a guy who worked out a lot, or was he an angel, or was he an Old Testament saint going about doing good deeds? We don't know.

No doubt I have people concerned about how I'm doing. Don't fear, my theology is more coherent than the jumble above may suggest, I've just learned to ask lots of deep questions and to have a high tolerance for ambiguity in the meantime. I guess six is a good number, but don't feel bound by it if you have fewer or more theological eccentricities to share. I'll tag Steve, Sol, and Lars and Phil, and anyone else who wants a go at it, either on your blog or in a comment to this post.



I'll add these while I'm at it:

7. As a whole I believe that churches should behave more conspicuously as care centers or rescue missions, like the Salvation Army, whom I respect very much. In fact, I'd give serious consideration to joining the Salvation Army, except that they don't practice baptism or the Lord's Supper, something I wouldn't be able to deal with.

8. I don't know if this is an eccentricity or just a semi-original idea: I believe many aspects of the personalities of various church bodies and movements can be illustrated (not defined, measured, or quantified) by plotting them on a graph with x and y axes, one axis showing a polarity between orthodoxy and pietism, the other between scholasticism and mysticism. As an example, my church body deliberately tries to be halfway between in the orthodoxy/pietism spectrum, while leaning a bit towards the direction of mysticism.

9. I'm not a Dispensationalist, but I do believe in dispensations. For example, to me it seems clear to me that Romans 5:14 mentions an "Adam to Moses" dispensation, a definite time period in which God was running things in a certain way that changed later.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


This is a very brief announcement to confirm that after 6 1/2 years of blessing in South Dakota, we are now moving to Minnesota. Sometime within the next few months I may break my relative silence once again to share some piece of timeless wisdom. In the meantime, I have posted my latest Jewish Studies essays, on Modern Judaism, and they may be viewed by clicking the "My Jewish Studies Essays" link on the sidebar.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Choosing my battles (or, "Only the mediocre are always at their best")

Once upon a time I came upon a blog entitled "Ah Yes, Medical School." The blogger had drawn a following by writing about his ongoing med school experience in an entertaining way. I got the "bright" idea that I could do a sort of stream-of-consciousness blog about my ongoing experience as a Jewish Studies grad student via distance education. In part that is how I envisioned the blog you're reading now. But I haven't posted any such posts for many moons, partly because I found I really didn't have the time to do it justice, and partly because it didn't seem to be drawing any real interest.

Then, the other day, I discovered that my deepest fear had been realized: a Jewish person had been offended by a post. UPDATE 4-26-08: I removed the post, since he had clearly identified himself. I may eventually repost the same post and comments with identities more concealed. A deep point I'm taking to heart from this is, the topic of Jewish Studies is too important for me, as a Jewish Studies student, to treat in a mediocre manner. If I have something to say about it, it has to be something important, written in an excellent manner. Otherwise it's best for me to keep quiet. So in the interest of damage control I've deleted a number of posts on the subject. Most of them drew no apparent interest anyway, and I'm hoping the rabbi who took the time to write doesn't represent a number of others who were also offended but didn't write. But he easily might.

There are those who thrive on conflict, and who might think I should be defending myself more assertively. But I'm simply a thin-skinned person who meant well, and putting out fires caused by unintended offenses is not a battle that I have the time, energy, or stomach to fight. The battle I choose to fight instead is the one to attain excellence in my chosen field, the type of excellence described by Professor Steven Dutch in this interesting and sharply written article. So I'll stick to doing my work, completing my assignments, gathering the expertise to have something excellent to say, and say it excellently. So that's what I'm doing in the long silences between posts. So, in the meantime, watch this space for relatively harmless diversions such as my dog's next birthday or the next meme someone tempts me with. And if I missed something that offends someone needlessly, please let me know.

UPDATE: My respondent lifted my spirits considerably by receiving my response well.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy 12th Birthday, Pluto!

I'm alive and well, though a bit worn, thank you! What better way to return to the blogosphere than to post some new pictures of our favorite dog, Pluto, who is turning 12 right about now, born mid-August 1995 in rural San Antonio, Texas, and has travelled a long way since then. He remains lively and active and is often mistaken for a dog half his age (I hope that's true of me when I get into my 70s, except for the dog part).

About as natural a pose as he's ever struck on-camera.

Humbly and gratefully receiving an ear rub. That's Your's Truly, with
the Town Church in the background.