Posts by Arthur Thelesser

Human becoming. Likes making pies.

The Rest is Commentary: 1 Corinthians 10:13

So a few years ago, my dad (who is non-religious) misquoted Jesus at me. He did not know he was misquoting Jesus at me, but he said, “It’s like Jesus said, ‘Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats the rest of his life.'” And as I told my dad, it’s actually a Chinese proverb–perhaps from Confucius, perhaps not. What Jesus would say is, “Give a man a fish.”

It’s a terrible phrase we think is Biblical, is scriptural, but is not. But the worst one easily has to be, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

First of all, there’s the weird implications of does God cause bad things to happen in our lives? Did God want me to be in a car accident and lose a leg, knowing I’d be able to handle it? (This is hypothetical.) Is part of the divine plan my outrageous suffering, and since I’m not dead from it, I guess it’s my lot in life?

Second, perhaps God does give each of us more than we can handle. We’re called to take up our cross and follow Jesus! And he got nailed to his, and left to die! And depending on your theology, he did falter–he prayed for the cup to be taken from him, albeit for a moment. He cried to God, feeling forsaken. And, oh yeah, he died in a brutal, violent manner, executed by an empire at the behest of the powers that be.

So where does this come from, this “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” nonsense? I think it’s a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to [humanity]. And God is faithful; [God] will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, [God] will also provide a way out so that you can endure it

1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV (egalitarian brackets)

(It’s dumb that quotes are that much bigger than actual text, but I’m too unwilling to worry about it, I think.)

This is plural. God will not let y’all be tempted/tested beyond what y’all can bear. Do you know what I can bear by myself? Some stuff. Do you know what I can bear with you and they and all of us? A whole lot more!

Consider this–the way out God has offered may very well be our strength in numbers, our embodied relationship to Christ and each other by being actually connected with, and caring for, one another! This made me so mad, folks. I feel like we’ve all been duped into some individualistic nightmare.

Saturday Songs and Stories

I really like song covers. One of my absolute new favorites is I Wanna Dance with Somebody, as done by David Byrne.

This is a bop.

It’s maybe the perfect cover. Of course, David Byrne can do no wrong in my eyes. So I am inherently biased, but aren’t we all?

The other best cover of all time has to be Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ cover of Just Dropped In.

I love Kenny Rogers’ original. Of course I do–I also love The Big Lebowski. But have you heard this version?

This is also a bop.

What is the term for a cover that becomes more popular than the original? What do we do with songs like Tainted Love, made zeitgeist by Soft Cell in the 80s, covering Gloria Jones’ original?

This, too, is a bop.

I think I will call them “fitted sheets,” these songs that get overshadowed and covered up by other versions.

I guess I don’t have much of a story about song covers, except the reason I truly enjoy them is that they’re retelling stories, reframing a narrative, and finding ways to make something known their own. I guess my problem with covers like the one done by Soft Cell is that I get the impression they weren’t paying homage to the original, or building on top of it. (It feels like we weren’t meant to know there was an original? What do I know, though! Not my generation.)

I don’t know what to think about Weezer’s cover of Africa. It’s so similar, except where it’s not. What do we do with ironic covers, like Cake’s I Will Survive and Ben Folds’ B*tches Ain’t Sh*t? (Actually, I know what to do with the latter–throw it out. It’s a fun song, but it fetishizes an entire genre for a joke, and I don’t have a lot of room for that, personally. And I love Ben Folds.)

Is this really about storytelling? Surely.

The Shifting Nature of Genius

In 1997 or 1998, my friend Lou and I went to see Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in theaters. We both enjoyed it–we were big jazz nerds and the music is great. It featured Burt Bacharach. It was raunchy and full of thoughtful throw-away jokes. And, it featured Elizabeth Hurley, who was my beard as a super-gay middle schooler–“she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” etc. etc.

Waiting for Lou’s mom to pick us up, he said, “Mike Myers is a genius.” And I remember, twenty-two years later, my response. “Mozart was a genius. Mike Myers is a comedian.”

I remember that response for a few reasons. One, Lou is an actual genius–he is one of the most creative, innovative and pioneering creators out there. He has always been a genius–arranging charts for our middle school jazz combo (I told you, we were so super cool y’all) and writing full [symphonic cycles] in college that blew peoples’ minds. And while I am an intelligent, handsome, amazing and modest human, Lou is so far out of my league he’s on a different planet. He summers in Grenyarnia, as it were.

And two, I knew I was wrong when I said Mike Myers was not a genius, and I remembered being wrong forever. I talked to Lou on Saturday, and while our conversation wheeled all over the place as it does, I brought up that I watched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery with my foster kids (14 and 12), and it definitely holds up.

It also, in 90 minutes, hits the high points of every 60s Bond movie (lairs, henchmen, Odd Job, death traps), spoofs the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, and mixes brilliant throwaway lines (“I’m glad we overthrew those capitalist pigs,”) with gutter jokes (everything to do with the Swedish penis enlargement pump). There’s not a wasted second in that film; it’s tight.

And considering how much from the first and second Austin Powers movies entered the zeitgest–get in my belly; I ate a baby; I’m a sexy bitch; O behave; do I make you horny; mini-me; yeah baby!; I want my babyback, etc.–one might suppose genius impacts the culture. Of course it does!

Anyhow, as today is a rainy and indoors Friday, once the fosters get up, I think I’ll show them Austin Powers 3, with the greatest opening of all time. (Fun fact: Myers said, as they wrote the opening, they were laughing at themselves, saying, “This will never happen!” Genius and humility do go hand-in-hand? It’s probably why I’m not one!)

Good, Great and Best

So I became a morning person this year.

I’ve always kind of been a morning person–I wake up, and I’m there, ready, boom. I don’t have coffee cups that say, “Don’t talk to me until I refill this,” or whatever. How I feel when I wake up is as good as it gets all day.

But I’ve started getting up at five.

All right, wait. To be fair–I’m not always bright and chipper immediately at five a.m. I am at eight–I can start talking from a deep sleep at eight a.m. The sun’s up. The birds are singing. The world’s alive. Five a.m. is harder. I get up, more precisely I guess, at 5:08 or so. Before the husband’s alarm at ten after, but just barely.

I get up at five because it’s my time–or rather, because Husband gets up, too, it’s our time. The kids are asleep. The world’s sort of waking up, but not very much.

On the best mornings, I hit all the points of my routine on time. Please let me know if this is insane:

  • 5:00 – weigh in, change into workout clothes, get the dogs ready.
  • 5:20 – meet Husband in kitchen, walk the dogs.
  • 5:35 – drop the dogs off at the house, continue walk with Husband.
  • 6:00 – return home, hydrate, go do bodyweight while he gets ready for work.
  • 6:25 – unload the dishwasher, make and drink a smoothie
  • 6:40 – go upstairs, shower and get ready
  • 6:55 – in the Warren to pray and do Bible study
  • 7:30 – attend super secret meeting on Zoom.

I like my routine. Husband and I walk 2.3 miles by going up and down our street, and the streets one block over on either side. We’re never more than two and a half blocks from home. And the world is this electric purple at five a.m.–streetlights and moonlight and dawn and shadows all play together; down by the hospital, it’s like a baseball field from my childhood. Hard to explain.

There’s something to doing push-ups and insisting to one’s self that yes, five more! Five more! as the sun comes up. There’s an amazing feeling in taking six thousand steps before seven a.m.–just as there’s a feeling of utter disappointment to not hit ten thousand naturally, which has happened before!

There’s something to saying, “This is what makes a morning The Best. And this is what it takes to accomplish it.” And, to letting one’s self have Great Mornings, and Good Mornings, too.

Great mornings, not as frequent but certainly unavoidable, hit four or more–unload the dishwasher, eat breakfast, get ready, pray and do Bible study.

Good mornings, rare as they are, are getting out of bed and confronting the day on whatever schedule and slant is needed to do the next right thing.

What is your morning routine? Are things totally out of whack in the summer, the school year? Who, of you, are early birds getting that worm?

Workout Wednesday

Let’s talk about timing.

Right now, this is my day’s bodyweight workout:

EXERCISEREPSSETSTOTAL
Jumping Jacks404160
Squats304120
Hop Heel Clicks20480
Sit-Ups20480
Push-Ups20480
Plank Jump-Ins20480
Grand Total600

This works well right now. I’m trying to build endurance, and rest less frequently between (or, in the case of sit-ups generally and the third set particularly, within) sets, because I’ll lose myself in thought and also, not exercising is always better than exercising. I’m trying to get down to the workout above in 20 minutes.

And right now, I’m hitting about 21’10”, on average. I wonder if that’s all right–it’s the difference of 70 seconds–but I have gotten faster since I’ve started timing things.

The faster pace is for two reasons, I’d bet. One: I’m doing eighty sit-ups in a workout right now, which I’m pretty dang proud of. But I’d like to have better flow, and better control–I bet there’s something different about doing 20 sit-ups in a row versus 5 and 5 and 6 and 4 with little bursts of rest between. And two: I really want to hit a thousand, but keep my morning schedule in tact.

Hitting 1,000 looks like this, by the way:

EXERCISEREPSSETSTOTAL
Jumping Jacks505250
Squats305150
Hop Heel Clicks305150
Sit-Ups305150
Push-Ups305150
Plank Jump-Ins305150
1000

If I can get all that done in 30 minutes, I’ll be happy. So here’s the steps I am going to take by the end of the year to accomplish this:

  1. Get down to 20 minutes on four sets.
  2. Increase the number of reps to 25.
  3. Get down to 22 minutes on four sets.
  4. Increase the number of sets to 5.
  5. Increases the reps of jumping jacks to 50.
  6. Get up to five sets, 50×5 and 30x5x5.

I believe I can do this, except as I finish the second set! But it’s an achievable goal, I believe.

Now if I could only find a replacement for plank jump-ins, because I hate them. Any suggestions, fitness folks who may have stumbled upon this blog?

Monday Mull (Ephesians 2:11-22)

So, I was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri. It’s home to the most divisive team in the National League, the Saint Louis Cardinals. (The most hated team in the NL is still the Cubs; the most divisive team in baseball is the Yankees, obviously.) It is the birthplace of toasted ravioli, the St. Paul sandwich (look it up if you dare), and provel cheese, which if you’ve never had it, you should avoid at all costs. (What if we made cheese… from rubber…)

And, most important to this post’s purposes, Saint Louis is home to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch National Park.

Honorably borrowed, and cited, from The Riverfront Times, another Saint Louis institution.

Growing up in Saint Louis, you know things about the Arch without remembering how or when they entered one’s memory. The middle section of the Arch is a keystone, and because the Arch is a catenary curve, like this–

Thank you, Wikipedia

–the Arch can stand of its own accord. It’s a long-time architectural feat; it is neither magical nor mundane. But it is the center piece of the Arch, the keystone, that holds it all together.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Christ is described as the cornerstone of the Church. And I get that–cornerstones are laid first; cornerstones are the marker by which every other stone, brick, and object is placed in the construction of a building. But in the text, there’s this drawing together of us and them, of those far away and those who are near. Of those we already love, and those we may struggle to as we become more like Christ. And while sure, we can build up and out, I prefer to think we are linked–unable to stand on our own, without Christ as keystone-as-cornerstone, as best as a keystone can be a corner, since catenary curves don’t have… corners…

Here’s to mixing metaphors mathematically!

An Unintentional Week Away

One of the things we’ve discerned, and we prioritize, as a family is growing our family. We are a foster home, and we have had some kids staying with us this week. It’s been great. My schedule has shifted as we figure out timing and rhythm, and blog posts have fallen to the wayside.

AND, if I’m being honest–I’ve put up some posts lately that were just checking a box for me. Literally, I have a row on my daily tracker “arthurthelesser,” and if I post a blog (or schedule a draft, you don’t know) I check it off. But there have been some posts where I think, “If I had time, or energy, or the desire, I’d do more with this.” There are some posts I don’t write because they would take more energy! So is this a microblog with nothing really expounded upon, or do I need to post less but more thoroughly?

Working One Hour a Week (Part Three)

Previously, I wrote about serving as theologian in residence, and in providing and equipping for pastoral care. Today, I’d like to briefly write about Sabbath.

My intentional days off are Friday and Saturday. Because people do not work on Saturdays, they are sometimes the best time to meet or gather. Because the Holy Spirit will not be contained to particular hours for inspiration and transformation, sermons are sometimes written or edited or tossed out and restarted on Saturdays. Saturdays are a bonus, is what I think I’m trying to say. So my day of rest, my Sabbath, is Friday.

And I am strict with it. I answer my phone only for emergencies, I do not check or respond to e-mail. I do not work if I can help it–even if the sermon’s not done or a class is not prepped or if there’s a thousand things to do, and it’s for one simple reason:

There will always be more to do in ministry.

I know one person–one–who has suggested he’s ever just been done with his task list for the day. And he was an Associate Minister who later had his job expanded. Every other pastor I know can work eighty hours a week, every week, if they choose to. And plenty of them do. And I used to, and then I realized my boundaries were breachable, my rest was raucous, and I was not setting a good example.

God rests on the seventh day. Not for a few hours each day. Not half a day here and there. Not a month after nearly having a nervous breakdown. One day of rest, each week. The pyramids will still get built, the weeds will still be there to be pulled, the world will still run and devour everything we throw at it. We each can take a day.

(I recognize some folks cannot; they must work too much to scratch by. I want to be a better advocate for them, and lead people in serving their needs. Thus, Sabbath.)

Does taking a strong day off influence the congregation? Perhaps. Leading by example and not decree takes time; developing a rhythm, and then examining it in community, is a process.

Chess by Voice Text

Before the pandemic, a couple of kids in my congregation would come to the church early with their dad, who had praise band practice. If I was free–and because I am organized and prepared usually always, I was–we’d play chess. That is, I’d play both of them at once–though the younger brother played more in order to lose and raid the consolation candy drawer.

His older brother is very smart and very spatial and has a knack for the game. (The younger brother is also very smart, chess just isn’t his thing. Yet?) So we’ve started playing by voice text, using algebraic notation.

I never thought it would be as fun as it is. I am flattered and honored that he initiated the game today–usually I’m harassing him (with his parents’ knowledge) to play a quick game. I won by the skin of my teeth, and told him so today. We’ll play again Monday, and I just can’t wait.