Celebrating Baḍādaśãi बडादशैँ घटस्थापना Dashain: The Blood of Bulls and Goats

I debated whether or not to write on this experience while visiting “Incredible India and Nepal,” and whether or not to illustrate it with actual photos, but we happened to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durban Square (in Kathmandu, Nepal) when they were celebrating their most important festival in the Nepal Sambat (lunar calendar).

Crowded streets of Kathmandu, Nepal

As a holiday, it felt a bit like Christmas for Christians, in that people had come home from all around the world to be with friends and family during this time. However, instead of celebrating the birth of Christ (as Christians do), Dashain is a time of celebrating the victory of the goddess Parvati over the evil demon Mahishasura, who was terrorizing Devaloka (the world of the gods) but was finally killed by Durga, who is a manifestation of Parvati as the goddess of war . . . if I understand correctly. I am clearly not an expert on Hinduism!

During the fifteen days that Dashain is celebrated, there are various holy days with special events, but the most holy was the day we happened to be there while they were sacrificing bulls and goats in the temple. I believe our tour guide said they sacrificed 89 bulls, one for each of the most prominent manifestations of the gods.

Depiction of one of Hindu gods in Durbar Square, Kathmadu, India

Hinduism is a very complicated religion, and just like many religions, different people have different ways of explaining what they believe their religion teaches. Our guide explained that there are 339 million gods, and that new gods are named continuously as people discover more about the universe. I’ve read sources that say all the gods are just manifestations of the “ultimate reality” known as Brahma, and I’ve read other sources that say the supreme being is Krishna, and all the others are demi-gods helping him run the universe.

Celebrating Dashain at Hindu Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

Hinduism is also an ancient religion that has developed into significantly different branches in the various countries where it is practiced, most evidently in India and Nepal, so what our guide believes might be quite different from what other Hindus believe.

Sacrificial bulls and goats being removed from Hindu Temple

Nevertheless, I believe I’m correct in understanding that the priests had sacrificed 89 bulls and goats in order to appease the 89 gods the people were worshiping. We just happened to be walking by as they were dragging the beheaded animals out of the temple, and we all stood in stunned silence.

Some looked sick and turned away, while others were very curious and took lots of photos. I kept thinking of the passage that starts in Hebrews 9: 11 and reads through Hebrews 10:1-25. It’s a long passage, and is somewhat hard to understand, but the point is that Jesus Christ came as the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins because the blood of bulls and goats is not sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins. Only Christ, as the perfect, sinless Lamb of God could become the perfect, eternally efficacious sacrifice for our sins.

Like some in our group, you may find yourself repulsed by the thought of a bloody sacrifice being made to remediate for sins.

Crucifixion by Michelangelo, 1540

But, I hope you are drawn to the mysterious beauty of Christ—out of infinite love—sacrificing his life for yours and mine, so that we can have all our sins forgiven and be made right before God. Isn’t this sublime? “To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour o flife unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).

Goat sacrificed to the Hindu gods in Kathmandu, Nepal

Hebrews 9:11-Hebrews 10: 1-25 (bold print added by me): “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. 18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. 23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. [starting Hebrews 12] “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. 15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, 16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Temple in Durbar Square. Kathmandu, Nepal

Top Cultural Attraction in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: World’s Busiest Lock System!

If you ever go to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, be sure to take time to visit the Soo Locks, which is the single most significant cultural contribution the Yoopers (“folks from Michigan’s upper peninsula”) make to American heritage.

Alan and I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, so we sort of took the Soo Locks for granted, although we loved sitting together by their lovely fountain even 50 years ago!

However, since traversing the Panama Canal a couple of years ago, we now have a new appreciation for the importance of the Soo Locks, so on our recent “Roots” tour, it meant a lot of us to be able to take some of our kids and grand children there and tell them “all about it!”

Source: Unknown. Found at http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/SooLock.html

Begun back in the early 1800’s and opened in 1855, the Soo Locks was one of America’s great infrastructure engineering feats, making it possible to ship the resources from the Lake Superior region to the rest of America’s Great Lakes (and beyond).

Michigan Survey Map. Wiki Commons
(mauve-colored areas to north and east are Canada)

The project was heroic, as it meant forming a lock to accommodate the 21-foot drop in water level from Lake Superior to Lake Huron via the existing rapids along a 1000-foot-thick sandstone river bed on the St. Mary’s River.

Poster at Soo Locks Visitor Center, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Although the Soo Locks are one of America’s National Historic Landmarks, they continue to be a vital part of the modern shipping trade, receiving ships from around the world, and by cargo tonnage they are the busiest locks in the world!

Soo Locks, Aerial View. Wiki Commons

They consist of four individual locks that allow between 7,000-10,000 ships carrying more than 80 million tons of cargo (including over $500 billion’s worth of iron ore) per year to pass free of charge through their gates.

Photo from Soo Locks Visitor Center

The locks are powered entirely by gravity, and each traverse requires 22 million gallons of water to fill the lock.

View of the locks from a walk across the International Bridge Alan and I took in 2013. https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/walking-the-international-bridge/

A complete transit takes about 9 hours through the St. Mary’s River system.

Because they are part of the transportation system from Duluth, Minnesota all the way to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway, cargo ships may be on a 2,342- mile trip when they traverse the Soo Locks, although ships from around the world have passed through this port.

The biggest freighters that come through the locks are up to 1,013 feet long (which is more than three football fields!), but the morning we visited, we got to see the Joseph H. Thompson pass through.

Joseph H. Thompson passing through the Soo Locks

Although the Thompson is only 706 feet long, it is one of the Great Lakes’ most historic vessels.

It was originally built in 1944 and has served both on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, during wartime and peacetime!

Although impressive to watch, even for youngsters, it’s really helpful to go to the Visitor Center, where there are excellent explanations on the history and technical aspects of how the locks work.

Soo Locks Visitor Center

The most fun (and educational) exhibit for kids is a hands-on display where you can “open” and “close” the locks and let the ships go through.

Observation Deck at the Soo Locks

Obviously, you want to be out (or better yet, up on the Observation Deck) when a ship is passing through the locks, but if you have time beforehand, I almost think it’s better for people with young children to see the Visitor Center first so they have a better understanding of what it is they’re seeing.

Reflecting on our trip, I couldn’t help but think about how much we humans take for granted. Alan and I—as young kids fifty years ago—enjoyed the ambience and lovely gardens around the locks as just “the garden in our backyard” without any deep appreciation for the significance of the locks. Our grandchildren had a similar response. They had fun running around watching the big freighter come in and exploring the park, but they reacted with a simple acceptance of what “is” without any apparent wonder over the locks’ complexity or significance.

Another photo from our bridge walk in 2013. This is of the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario side of the St. Mary’s River. There are twin “Soo” cities, and the locks are on the border between the U.S. and Canada, although the four U.S. locks carry the commercial trade.

My grandchildren remind me of myself! In so many ways, I am completely oblivious to the vast complexities of both God’s creation and the world’s civilizations. I find myself taxed trying to figure out how to use and care for the material blessings in my life—everything from turning on our video system to caring for the flowers in our garden—but I couldn’t begin to make a video system or create a flower! Could you?

However, like a child, I want to learn, and experiment, and grow in my understanding of what’s around me, and I am thankful for the wondrous world God has made! I’ll never learn everything, but I want to understand the most important things about life, and for that, I turn every day to the God’s Word! 🙂

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Brain Research and Brain Dialysis

(By guest writer, Jane Anderson)

A few years ago, then President Obama approved $100M to start an initiative for study of the human brain. “There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama says.  No doubt! I, too, have been fascinated by the way my brain works [or doesn’t]. In fact, I’m often baffled by how people think. And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, I fit into that classification of people with sensible thoughts one moment and totally illogical thoughts the next. Try mind mapping that!

I’m not slamming the research project. I understand the mission behind it, which according to the White House “aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” I get that. However, there’s a much more significant brain research project available that’s 100% free and has eternal benefits, except it’s a do-it-youself project that no one else can do for you, and it starts with this observation: What we think actually affects the health (or illness) of our brain! In a very real way, we become what we think about. Every act started as a thought – in the brain. “Right thinking leads to right doing.” No amount of brain research is going to alter that truth.

There is a map in our brains, and all paths stem from the initial thought. To act right, thoughts must be right. But, how can we clean up our map of wrong thoughts and get on the path of right thinking? How often do we get onto a path of wrong thinking—worry, pessimism, negativity—and then wonder why we can’t shake the despair?

Have you ever wished there was such a thing as dialysis for the mind?  I sure have.  I have a friend who has dialysis on a regular basis. I have zero medical expertise, but I know that in that process her dirty blood is drawn through a machine that cleanses it and puts it back. It’s a fascinating process. In dialysis, man-made equipment and procedures perform the life-preserving act.

However, when it comes to our minds, it’s all up to us! We have to take responsibility for cleaning up our minds (although we can have access to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, of course).  Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This is the ultimate dialysis for our minds! Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold, but instead be transformed by renewing your mind. It’s not easy, but renewing our minds is the only way to think rightly.

It would be a phenomenal achievement if my brain could be mapped with all the right paths deeply embedded so I don’t fall off the track. It would be so much easier if I could hook my brain up to a machine and have the contents cleaned up and put back while I do nothing but wait. What are your thoughts on that? Well, don’t think too long because that’s not how it works. You know…free will and all. We have work to do in our minds, in our hearts, and in our acts.

If we get the inside right the rest will take care of itself.  How can we focus on the right things, so our acts will be right? We have some clues in the Bible.  2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Let me assure you, if our thoughts are obedient to Christ, the maps in our brains will lead to acts that follow Christ and are good.  1 Peter 1:13-16 from the Message translation reads this way: “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, ‘I am holy; you be holy.'”

Maybe you have it all figured out, but I don’t! I’m still working on spiritual dialysis and mapping my mind to right actions, and I don’t think this research project will ever be finished until the Lord takes me to heaven one day!

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

(Image of the brain from Wikipedia.)

 

Some Tips for Watching the Eclipse Today

Are you prepared to enjoy the total solar eclipse today?  There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse visible all across the contiguous states of America for ninety-nine years, so this is a rare and historic opportunity! My son Aaron posted on his timeline a great resource put out by Time for people in the U.S. If you’re interested in knowing exactly when the eclipse will occur and what it will look like in your area, just type in your zip code and it will give you a mock up of the orbit and exact times:  http://amp.timeinc.net/time/4882923/total-solar-eclipse-map-places-view/?source=dam    I’m sure you know this already, but the first safety rule of the day is: “Don’t look straight at the sun!” PBS has put out clear instructions for how to enjoy the eclipse without eye injury by making a simple pinhole projector. (See above.) If you have an i-phone, I’ve heard it’s safe to watch looking over your shoulder through your i-phone in the selfie mode. If you live on or near a lake where the water is still, I’ve also read you can safely watch the eclipse on the surface of the water. (However, I just tested this on our lake, and it almost seems like the water magnifies the glare, so I’m not going to look “straight” at the eclipse even on our lake.) Theoretically, you can watch images fluttering through the shadows that tree leaves make on the ground (which might make for interesting photo ops, but I’m not sure how satisfying this would be for serious viewing). Three of my girlfriends are coming over so we can watch together, and one of them is bringing a tripod and binoculars. It is totally unsafe to watch through binoculars, but I’ve heard you can set up the binoculars so they cast the image onto a piece of white paper on the ground, allowing several people to watch at once.  As I’m no expert, please double check whatever method you choose with some more scientifically reliable source than I am. I’d feel terrible if anybody damaged their eyes from listening to my second-hand information!  Speaking of second-hand information, I was reading in Proverbs 14 today and noticed a lot of admonitions for “witnesses” to be truthful. It occurred to me that even seeing televised reports of what’s happening around the world (such as at Charlottesville) is not the same as being there. What I saw was second-hand testimony, and each television editor had to take responsibility for what they included and what they did not, as was true for each news reporter.  When it comes to knowing and understanding the truth about anything, we are limited. Even if we’re at an event, we don’t see, hear, or understand everything. If we are not present at an event, then we have to rely on the testimony of other witnesses. On whom can we rely? Well, of course we turn to the people we trust the most, but ultimately, no one is omniscient and omnipresent except One, and that is God! He alone knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As we seek the truth, whether it’s about how to watch the eclipse or what to believe about our world, I personally believe the best “fact checker” in the world is the Scripture. If something contradicts the Scripture, then please doubt the witness, not the Word!

“Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

 

Who Was Ussher, and What Did He Usher In?

Have you ever heard of James Ussher? He was the Archbishop of Armagh for the Church of Ireland and Primate of All Ireland from 1625-1656. He was a brilliant theologian, Chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and eventually the Vice-Provost at Trinity College. I’ve visited these places and am very impressed, because I can’t think any higher honors for someone living in that time and place!  However, what really made him famous was his scholarly work in attempting to figure out the age of the earth from studying biblical genealogies in the Masoretic text and cross-referencing them with various events in history such as the deaths of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. According to his calculations, Adam and Eve were created by God around 4004 BC, King Solomon’s temple was built 3000 years from creation, and Jesus was born 1000 years later. Even the Bible I use today has Ussher’s calculations of time included at the top of each page, so I think his work is still considered the gold standard for most English-speaking students of the Bible who believe in interpreting the scriptures literally.

Many people today think of the Bible as simply a book of legends and myths, but I do not. I believe it is true and is the inspired Word of God. As the Apostle Paul wrote, the scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (1 Timothy 3:15-17).

Does this mean I believe that all we need to study is the Bible? Not at all! God has given us a vast world to explore and understand. However, I do believe the Bible is our textbook for how to live (and how to gain eternal life), and that it is accurate in what it says. I also resonate with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God has given us tiny windows into the universe—like a father explaining something vastly complex to his children—but what he says is true, albeit put in simple language that we can understand. And, this is enough for us. We can delve into the mysteries of the universe all we want and will never exhaust knowledge, but in the Bible, we have all we need to live lives filled with love, joy, peace, and goodness. It is enough. God is enough. Jesus is enough!

But, what about the age of the world? Is it really 6,021 years old? I’m not sure. I do believe that I’ve descended from Adam and Eve, whether or not I can “prove” it through genealogical research. I also believe in the Genesis account of creation, including “the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Sounds like a 24-hour day to me, and therefore I tend to hold with the “early creation” point of view. Tomorrow I want to share more on that subject, but for today, may I just end with the last words of James Ussher? “O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” Ussher ushered in an age of believing the world was nearing 6 thousand years of age and that the millennial reign of Christ would begin at the beginning of the 7th thousand (roughly AD 2000). Was he right, or did he omit something accidentally that made his calculations off?

When we get to heaven, we’ll know the truth about so many things, but in the meantime, can we humbly hold to our opinions without letting them break our fellowship? There are some things worth arguing, but I don’t personally believe that genealogies or how many days the earth has existed are among them. The only thing we’re exhorted to contend for in the scripture is true faith: “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). God want us to believe and testify to true faith, and that faith is explained in the Bible.

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).

As I besought thee…that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:3-5, emphasis mine).