Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This Day

Daq the jaj vetlh jIH ja', SoH jangta' jIH.
In the day that I called, you answered me. Psalm 138:3a

(click for podcast)

Travel to Mars has some advantages. For one, the time to get there (with our current technology it'll take months - over half a year in most cases) means you'll have no jet lag whatsoever. Once you land, it will be no trick to adjust - your "day." will be almost the same as at home (if you're from earth) - it's 25 hours long.

Compare that to Mercury (59 days), Venus at 243 or pluto at 6.4. Our closest destination, the moon gives you a day that is 27.3 days long!

On the other hand, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have days that whiz by at 10, 10, 18 and 18 hours respectively.

Daq the jaj vetlh jIH ja', SoH jangta' jIH.
In the day that I called, you answered me. Psalm 138:3a

Across our solar system - and the galaxies, no doubt - the length of a "day" (yom in Hebrew, and jaj in Klingon) is variable. So too, in the Bible, as I saw looking at the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry on "Day."

It sometimes means the time from daylight till dark. Day also means a period of 24 hours, or the time from sunset to sunset. It can also mean "a specific time" as in Psalm 20 where we read "May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble."

It is used figuratively also in Joh 9:4, when Jesus says "I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day," where "while it is day" means "while I have opportunity to work, as daytime is the time for work."

We must also bear in mind that with God time is not reckoned as with us, as Psalm 90 notes,

For a thousand years in your sight Are but as yesterday when it is past, As a watch in the night. (Ps 90:4)

Daq the jaj vetlh jIH ja', SoH jangta' jIH.
In the day that I called, you answered me. Psalm 138:3a

The sense here is "now" - that is, as the Message translation puts it:

"The moment I called out, you stepped in"

We don't have to wait - God WILL answer, not tomorrow, but DaHjaj - TODAY - when we pray.

As humans follow our robotic emmisaries at Mars, Sattun and heading out to Pluto, we are reminded of a fact of life for space travellers - distance equals time. That is, the farther a spacecraft goes, the longer we have to wait to hear what is happening, the longer we have to wait for it to respond to our calls. Every 18 million kilometers, or 11 million miles equals one more minute of time that it will take a signal to reach a space ship.

When we consider the implications of this verse from psalm 138, we find that David - though he probably knew nothing of space travel - is reminding us that God is NOT far off, that he is very close, for he responds immediately. We DON'T have to wait. Though our answer may not always be our desire, we can be assured God hears - and better, yet he responds. He is not in some light years distant heaven.

And this, of course, is the message of this holiday season - Im Anu El, WITH us is God.

Right now. This Day. He hears - call to him today!

Daq the jaj vetlh jIH ja', SoH jangta' jIH.
In the day that I called, you answered me. Psalm 138:3a

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Klingon Christmas?? (repodcast)

" batlh Daq joH'a' Daq the highest, Daq tera' roj, QaQ DichDaq toward Hoch."

"Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward all." Luke 2:14

click here for podcast

Picture this: Some December, oh, a few years from now, you find yourself wandering down a corridor in the Klingon section of Deep Space 9. Late at night, the lights are low and you hear a noise - a lot of noise! Spilling out into the hall is a crowd of boisterous tlhInganpu'. These Klingons are coming from the Klingon multifaith lalDan pa' (chapel). Of course! They just finished their Christmas Midnight service and they're off to celebrate. AND... they're heading your way.

What do you do? More importantly, what do you say?
  • nuqneh?

  • nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'?

  • QISmaS petIv!

  • toDwI'ma' qoS yItiv!

Well, of course the answer depends on many things, for one, whether you celebrate Christmas (many don't - even the early Christians were far more focussed on Easter as their celebration. Historically there have been times that Christians adamantly opposed the festivities). You might just call out the angels's song from Luke's gospel: "batlh Daq joH'a' Daq the highest" "glory to God in the highest." (though, by the time you're on such a space station, I hope you'll have a more grammatical translation than the Klingon Language Version - but it's a start.)


This is the all purpose Klingon greeting - "what do you want," literally. That's an okay thing to say when meeting Klingons, though not quite in the spirit of the occasion.

nuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'?

That would be fine - IF you're looking for the bathroom - otherwise, it might not make the best impression. While we're at it, one more "nuq" phrase - even more useful - is "nuqjatlh." It's the Klingon "hunh?" and means "what did you say?"

QISmaS petIv!

This gets more in the spirit of the celebration. The first word QISmaS is an attempt to transliterate "Christmas" into a Klingon spelling. After all, we don't translate "Christmas" into English - it's a word composed of Greek and Latin parts. It seems reasonable for Klingons to adopt this term to denote the celebration. The second word, petIv, is an imperative "all-of-you-enjoy-it!" You may decide to soften this with "botIvjaj" "may-you-enjoy-it" - or if you celebrate Christmas too, you could say QISmaS wItIvjaj "may we enjoy Christmas!"

toDwI'ma' qoS yItIv!

This is a phrase to indicate you, too, celebrate Jesus's birth. Literally "our-saviour's-birthday you-enjoy-it." Note here I said "yItIv," which is the singular "you" command "enjoy". You could also, as I noted earlier, say petIv or botIvjaj.

So - what would you choose to say? It's perhaps a fanciful question - after all I haven't quite built my spaceship to go off to Deep Space Nine. But it isn't hard to find people of many tongues celebrating this holiday. Nor is it hard to find places on the internet that provide Christmas greetings in every language from Afrikaans (een plesierige kerfees) to Yugoslavian (Cestitamo Bozic). As Christmas approaches this Advent - why not take a moment to learn a new way to call out with holiday cheer, so with the angels you too can say:

" batlh Daq joH'a' Daq the highest, Daq tera' roj, QaQ DichDaq toward Hoch."

"Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward all." Luke 2:14

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Name and Word

vaD SoH ghaj exalted lIj pong je lIj mu' Dung Hoch.
For you have exalted your Name and your Word above all. Psalm 138:2c KLV,WEB

When you zero in on narrow fragments of scripture, virtual slivers of text, there is always a chance you'll be looking at a phrase that is so terse, the meaning may be hard to find. That's the case in this enigmatic statement from Psalm 138 - what does it mean, to declare God has exalted his name and word above all?

Breaking it down to the literal Hebrew isn't necessarily a quick solution: ki hagadaloth al kol shemcha omertkah, literally for you-magnified on all-of name-of-you saying-of-you. To get further we need to turn the community of believers.

Community - in the sense of, "how do other translators understand these words?" When we come up against a passage that doesn't seem clear, we do well to remember that we aren't the first to consider these words. For centuries, believers have wrestled with the text and sought to bring out the meaning. Here are some of the efforts in English:

  • KJV: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
  • RSV: for thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word.
  • BBE: for you have made your word greater than all your name
  • DOUAY: for thou hast magnified thy holy name above all
  • NASB: For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
  • MESSAGE: Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.
  • CEV: You were true to your word/ and made yourself more famous/ than ever before.
  • (which adds the note: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.)
  • NIV: for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

These all move towards a meaning that highlights the power of God's name, and how closely it is tied to his word. And there, for HuchwIj (my money), is the meat of this passage - God's word is backed by something - his name. Just like when you sign a contract, or a credit slip - you are putting yourself YOUR NAME behind your promise.

Revelation God speaks - is integral to the Biblical faith. There is joy, challenge, confession and forgiveness, and salvation from sin - the whole message of the Bible - and we know, we understand it because of this word, this comprehensible message that has been communicated to us. It has power in our lives because it is backed by God's name.

The term here "word" is not the more literal term - dabar - most frequently used Hebrew for "word." Rather it is a noun derived from the verb - omer - to say. This is a dynamic expression, not just "word" but sayings (jatlhtaHghachmey in Klingon) Of course, the automated process that generates the KLV just maps all occurences of "word" to the single Klingon word, mu'.

As I reviewed this short passage from Psalm 138, one translation, the NLT, really captured it, for me:

for your promises are backed / by all the honor of your name.

Now Klingons, who are very conscious of names, and honor would be able to understand THAT!

This time of year, one of my favorite devotional practices is to reflect on the prophecies that Christians see fulfilled in the life of Jesus. In the Greek scriptures we find Jesus himself, as well as his apostles, making clear that the whole arc of Jesus's life was promised beforehand in the days of the prophets. When I first caught on, it was breathtaking - "You mean, it was all there, centuries before the first Christmas? Why didn't anyone tell me?"

Then I came across the book "Science Speaks," by Peter Stoner. This book put it in mathematical terms. Examining Messianic prophecies, Stoner layed down odds for each one being fulfilled in one man; multiplied together he demonstrated that the odds that ANYONE could fulfill these promises were incredible; the fact that they WERE fulfilled in Jesus pointed to something about this Man. (Note: Stoner's book is no longer in print. However it IS available online at his grandson's website: http://geocities.com//stonerdon/science_speaks.html. Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" is another excellent source of similar material).

Now that isn't a proof that can *force* anyone to believe: after all, any one day in MY life has a series of random events. Taken together, the sequence of one day in my life can be JUST as mathematically unlikely as Christ's fulfilling the Biblical promises.

But, what it suggests is that "something is up". History, and in particular, the history of Jesus's life and ministry appears, against all odds, to have been written in advance. It does not prove God "did it," but it offers a hint, a suggestion that there is an intelligence behind history, that this story is in fact HIS story. If you're interested in this, you can download a simple Windows program I wrote (http://star.mrklingon.org) to consider, and explore the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus's life.

Believers can see, in the birth and ministry of Jesus, just what it means when God absolutely backs his promises! What would you do, to have a friend like that, whose every word you could trust?

for your promises are backed / by all the honor of your name.

Give thanks! God is letting you know - you've got a friend like that - now.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What is Your Name?

[jIH] nob tlho' Daq lIj pong vaD lIj muSHa'taH pung je vaD lIj vIt

[I] give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth Psalm 138:2b

Should you be fortunate enough to meet a Klingon, one of the first things you may wish to do is do is exchange names. Here's how you'd do that - to ASK for a name, you could say:

nuq 'oH ponglIj'e' - what is your name?

To REPLY, you can say:
Joel 'oH pongwIj'e' (at least, that's what you'd say if your name was Joel.)

The operative word here is the Klingon word pong, name. As in English, it can also be a verb, as in to NAME something. The Hebrew word here for name is "shem."

In our time we take names for granted - though I think moderns are beginning to return to the Biblical idea of the centrality of names. There was a time when the power of a name, as understood by ancients, seemed almost superstitious or magical, as if a name could contain power to conjure.

But in an era where identity theft is all too real a threat, we begin to appreciate the significance of a NAME. It is far more than a label, it is how we operate in the world of cyberspace, as we work and buy and sell around the world. Today there are legions of people in computer security who do little else but fight to preserve the integrity of people's names and the control of their identity. Names matter.

And here we listen as the psalmist direct his gratitude, not "to God" but, "to his name":

nob tlho' Daq lIj pong vaD lIj muSHa'taH pung je vaD lIj vIt

give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth Psalm 138:2b

God's name was treated with tremendous reverence - there is a Jewish practice to NOT pronounce the Hebrew term, but substitute "adonai," Lord, in its place. That's why you see many English translations with LORD in all upper case, to represents the VERY carefully used name, made up of the four Hebrew letters. yod heh vav heh. In addition, applying the Hebrew definite article ha- to shem gives "HASHEM, which means "the name." Traditional Jews use the name "Hashem" instead of "God" to show their respect to God by not taking his name lightly and only using the proper name God in prayers.

This carefully protected name is not a thing to be used lightly - so to say we direct thanks to his NAME is indeed to be sending that thanks to God, in the most intimate way possible.

For what does this passage give thanks? God's loving kindness and truth. This calls to mind the trust of Psalm 117, where we hear the same two attributes (the same Hebrew words, Hesed and Emeth) extolled:

For his loving kindness is great toward us. The LORD's truth endures forever. (Psalm 117:2 WEB) (note: WEB uses "faithfulness" but the word is emeth, truth.)

God's name, his identity is a bedrock - something more reliable and faithful than our closest relative or dearest friend. The reliability of his creation, the truth of his promises are what we depend on - they are in a sense, his identity and name. Of course we ought to give thanks for this - it is with wonder and joy that we can turn to him. Malachi tells us God says:

I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed. (Mal 3:6 NLT)

His reliability gives us hope.

It is true that everyone in this world does not prosper, yet though we may have ups and downs in our fortunes - God's world continues. The laws of nature that bring seedtime and harvest, sunshine and stars continue. And when we do prosper it gives us a chance to participate in the blesings God gives, as the Apostle Paul reminds us :

Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don't give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let's do what is good toward all... (Gal 6:9-10 WEB)

Give thanks! God, the name above all names is there, to call on in prayer as we turn to him with our requests, and to thank for all that he has give us. Rejoice!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

These Little Ones (St. Nicholas Day re-run)

'ach vaj 'oH ghaH ghobe' the DichDaq vo' lIj vav 'Iv ghaH Daq chal vetlh wa' vo' Dochvammey mach ones should chIlqu'.
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

(click for podcast)

If you're a pastor, and looking for a way to quickly be driven out of your parish - I can't think of a better controversy to raise than.... a discussion about Santa Claus. I fear at times that the deepest beliefs of the Bible could be question without the kind of difficulties a preacher would meet if they weighed in on the reality of Kris Kringle.

Nor am I brave enough to tread on this legend - though I wonder what a Klingon would make of some of the stories? The Klingon dispostion toward things military lend to a tendency to be (shall we say?) paranoid. Imagine how they'd feel about a silent intruder who routinely slips in past all defenses to surprise the inhabitants! Motivated by generosity or not - I expect a Klingon hearing of such stealth would be more alarmed than happy.

But - maybe if they were introduced to the real Santa Claus - St Nicholas:

St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live. As priest and bishop, Nicholas put Jesus Christ at the center of his life and ministry. His concern for children and others in need or danger expressed a love for God which points toward Jesus, the source of true caring and compassion. Embracing St. Nicholas customs can help recover the true center of Christmas—the birth of Jesus.

Understanding St. Nicholas as the original and true holiday gift-giver also helps shift focus to giving rather than getting, compassion rather than consumption, need rather than greed. This can help restore balance to increasingly materialistic and stress-filled Advent and Christmas seasons.

St. Nicholas is beloved throughout the world and continues to be revered in Christian tradition, especially as protector and patron of children in the West and as Wonderworker in the East. The St. Nicholas Center aims to bring Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians together in common purpose—to help people understand and appreciate the original St. Nicholas, the only real Santa Claus.
[http://www.stnicholascenter.orgI encourage you to visit the site to learn more]
As a people - Klingons are depicted as fierce warriors - potent enemies in battle. But anyone who reads at all far in the lore of Star Trek will know how fiercely they honor and guard their family - they know the value of protecting children. They'd likely be impressed by the stories - some quite fantastic - of St. Nick's rescue of children. Or how he protected the honor of dowry-less girls by secretly presenting them with gifts of gold coins.

In the Bible Jesus says these words, used in the readings for the commemoration of St. Nicholas:

'ach vaj 'oH ghaH ghobe' the DichDaq vo' lIj vav 'Iv ghaH Daq chal vetlh wa' vo' Dochvammey mach ones should chIlqu'.
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

The mach - little - ones matter. Not just to a saint like Nicholas, but to God. In this season we have many opportunities to be generous. What can we do to protect the neediest among us?

Sunday, December 03, 2006


jIH DichDaq bow bIng toward lIj le' lalDan qach
I will bow down toward your holy temple Psalm 138:2

(click for podcast)

Here's a word we don't know yet in Klingon: bow.

Webster notes this verb, in English has a range of meaning from the simple "To bend" to "bend the body in token of respect or civility," all the way to "to depress; to crush; to subdue."

It isn't surprising to find this lack. There are many nouns and verbs that are yet to be revealed to us. And, after all, can you imagine a Klingon BOWING?

The closest word I find in the lexicon is the word, to kneel: "tor." This doesn't necessarily have positive connotations, either, hearing the Klingon expression:

QamvIS Hegh qaq law' torvIS yIn qaq puS.
Better to die on our feet than live on our knees.
[The Klingon Way p.95]

(torvIS yIn, translated as "live on our knees" is literally "to live while kneeling").

Here's the thing - though we have words in human language for "bow," and a variety of positive cultural associations (respect, honor, reverence), it does not always come easily to us, for to bow, especially as used here in scripture, is to WORSHIP, to humble ouselves before God.

The Hebrew word here is shachar, used over 150 times in the Bible. Translated as "worship" in the KJV of this passage, it literally means to depress, prostrate oneself - especially before a superior. The NLT captures the literal meaning with the intent by translating this phrase "I bow before your holy Temple as I worship."

Worship, means to acknowledge a superior's worth, their worth-ship, above all others. This is vital to our lives as believers, and we humans find it just as difficult as may Klingons. We are not God - and we have to go beyond the intellectual assent [as James writes "Do you still think it's enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror!" James 2:19] and humble ourselves before him before we move forward in a fruitful spiritual life.

Why don't Klingons have the word bow?

In linguistics, the Sapir--Whorf (no relation to the Klingon) hypothesis states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it.

That is, a society without a word for "snow" doesn't know what it is, and a society without "to bow" in their dictionary may not be able to turn in humble prayer to a Creator. This is an attractive theory, but in this case the lack of this word is probably just our ignorance - the warlike Klingons DO, after all, have the word "peace." We'll have to wait a while to see if the absence is significan.

Rather we do well to consider what our spiritual vocabulary includes, especially to find if we've taken into our hearts the aspect of worship that leads US to bow to the Lord. Are we able to kneel before our Maker and praise him, and appeal to him for his aid? This goes light years beyond physical posture, for there are many acceptable ways to turn to God in prayer. After all prayer in the Bible is portrayed in a variety of physical positions (standing, kneeling, lieing prostrate) and faith communities all have a variety of practices. (http://www.kencollins.com/pray-20.htm) The value is in finding the posture that "reflects the content of the prayer, so that you pray with your body as you pray with your spirit." As Ken Collins writes:

Not only is it impossible for us to separate the spiritual from the physical during our life in the body, it is heretical for us to try. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to us in the flesh, thereby sanctifying the physical matter that He created, redeeming not just our souls, but also our bodies. He promised us a resurrection, not just some ethereal spiritual home. So if we separate the spirit from the body, we are not just making an impractical academic distinction, we are denying the significance of the Incarnation and of the Resurrection on the Last Day.

jIH DichDaq bow bIng toward lIj le' lalDan qach
I will bow down toward your holy temple Psalm 138:2

This psalm gives us an invitation to stop, and turn away from all the immediate fuss and worries that surround us, and turn towards God. When we do that, and bow in worship we'll find we'll find the key to spiritual refreshment - praise God!