Kippers for Breakfast and the New Exodus in the Gospel of Mark

At last evening’s “New Testament Overview“, Ro Mody gave us a brief tour of the four Gospels. It was far too brief, I thought, to be absolutely coherent. Always a tough job to summarise without being simplistic.

So the four Gospels give us a full portrait of Jesus, and in Gospel of Mark, Jesus is a man always on the move, he is a man “on the way” – the way that was prepared by John the Baptist, that leads him from Nazareth to his baptism in the wilderness to his journey to Jerusalem to die.

Good observation, but what does that tell us about Jesus the man though?

Kippers and peas + Exodus = breakfast
Kippers fried in a good knob of butter + some peas

This morning’s reading at brekkie was from the Book of Exodus (in line with our church’s progress through the RML Bible Overview series).

Exodus was certainly the major redemption event in the Old Testament. It was also a major step in God’s revelation of himself to Israel as a unique God who is:

  • covenant-keeping (“abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”);
  • utterly and absolutely sovereign and powerful, who can control everything in creation (including the heart of the Pharaoh);
  • scarily holy;
  • yet somehow also, merciful and gracious and compassionate.

In RML Bible Overview terms, the “God’s Relationship with Man” box gets a little tick. Things seem to be improving before the people of Israel are booted from Egypt, but you as you read through the rest of Exodus, you start to despair of such a stiff-necked people ever possibly having a relationship with the aforementioned God!

But back to the Gospel of Mark.

In Mark 6:31-52, there are clear allusions to Exodus (for working, see Sach and Hiorns’ “Dig Deeper into the Gospels” (not “Dig Even Deeper Still” as many cheekily suggested)). But Rikki Watts suggests that the link is far deeper: in Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, he says that even though there is a plethora of direct quotations from Isaiah, Mark is deliberately structuring his Gospel to point out that Jesus’ work is to bring about a (greater and more portentous) new exodus.

If this is true, then Jesus isn’t just going on his way, but the schema of deliverance, journey, and arrival at YHWH’s dwelling suggest strongly that he is, in fact, the God of the Exodus (and all that entails) redeeming his people, in a greater and even more powerful way, for relationship with him.

Placeholder till I can do enough work to confirm this!

Mark 11 at Sunday School

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11

Sunday School at our church starts with an Introductory Session for the entire group, from drooling toddlers to awkward on-the-cusp-of-teenagehooders.

The aim of the Introductory Session is to prepare the kids for the lesson later, introducing ideas and bridging questions.

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11

This Sunday’s passage was Mark 11.

11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Game (The King Says)

Kids move around to the music until it stops and a bell rings.

“The King is coming! The King says,”Act like a monkey etc.!”


Introduction 1: Jesus fulfils Old Testament prophecy

Leader: Actually, how will you know the king when he comes? What will he look like?

Kids: [various responses]

Leader: Where should we look to find out what the king will look like?

Kids: [various responses]

Leader: We look at the Bible! [Reads Zechariah 9]

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Leader: [writes on pieces of paper: righteous and having salvation, humble, riding a donkey]


Now, while you wait for a king to appear, say together:

“Where is our King? Where is our King?
Riding on a donkey, humble as anything?”

ENTER LEFT: safari dude with lion head
Safari Dude: Hullo! I heard you were looking for a King. I can be your king. [Boasts about his ability to conquer even the King of the Jungle. How he can save people from lions and other scary creatures.]
props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11Kids: [boo]

Safari dude: Fine, find your own king then. [Leaves in a huff]


[Kids continue chanting.]

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11
ENTER LEFT: dragon-tamer riding a dragon.

Dragon-tamer: [boasts about his ride. disses the donkey]

Kids: [boo]


[Kids continue chanting.]

Introduction 2: The king will come looking for fruit of repentance

ENTER RIGHT: Proud Fig Tree
props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: crepe fig tree leaves

Proud Fig Tree: Hullo! Are you all waiting for the king? I’ll wait with you.

[Kids continue chanting.]

11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: green crepe fig leaves
Proud Fig Tree: [stands up suddenly] Say kids, I know we’re all waiting for the king to come. But have you wondered whether the king will like you when he comes?
[boasts about why the king will like him for his green leaves]

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: green crepe fig leaves

Bridging Questions:
1. Who is the king? How do we know?
2. What will the king be looking for when he comes?

Bak Kwa 肉干 Biscuits or Candied Bacon Cookies, and that Man with a Demon

Saddled with several bags of Chinese New Year 肉干 bak kwa, I thought of possibly making bak kwa ice-cream at last, having talked about it repeatedly to patient friends for the last half decade. Then, like a strange re-interpreted re-enactment of the fable of the Stone Soup, there came a bag of flour and a bag of instant oats and half a tray of eggs, so bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies in Americanese) it would be.

Had a look at several bak kwa cookie recipes online. The ones here and here looked delightful, but I was thinking of something not quite so melty-in-the-mouth, something crispy outside and chewy inside, something very Anzac bikkie-ish.

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)So here’s an attempt – the sugar and salt were included to emphasise the sweet-savory-ness of the bak kwa. Not too bad, imho!

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)Every year when bak kwa appears in homes everywhere during the Lunar New Year, I think of a classmate of mine who had been sad not to be able to eat pork. We, of course, were careful not to put temptation in his way either. One day, I asked why pig meat was considered unclean. Because, he said somewhat bitterly, Jesus had driven demons into pigs.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark today accompanied by Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns’ excellent Dig Deeper into the Gospels, I wished we were still in touch. Mark 5:1-20 records the event my classmate probably had in mind:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

I suppose one solution to my friend’s unhappiness would have been for him to realise that since the pigs drowned, they had no opportunity to pass on their demons to future generations of piggies (assuming that demons worked genetically or by vector).

"Dig Deeper into the Gospels" posing with bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies) But the better solution would be to find out why Mark wrote this in the first place. It wasn’t the back story to pigs being stinky things to be avoided at all costs. The focus wasn’t on Porky but on Jesus.

It was, in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark and in light of the preceding and succeeding accounts of Jesus calming the storm and healing the bleedin’ woman and Jairus’ daughter, about Jesus’ incredible frightening power. This passage is thick with fear, not just from the begging demons but also from the begging humans who witnessed his power.

So it’s not “oh, how nice, I’ll put him in my address book just in case I need a good exorcist next time”. Nor is it so much “Jesus is powerful to save, so don’t be afraid but trust him.” It’s “OMG, Jesus is bigger and badder (well, the street-speak meaning of “powerful-scary” at least) than anything you are afraid of. Both trust and fear him instead!”

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)


115g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
67g caster sugar

1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

146g flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt

45g instant oat flakes
120g bak kwa, lightly toasted then chopped

PS. apparently Plain Vanilla Bakery (34A Lorong Mambong, Singapore, facebook) sells bak kwa cookies, but i’d have to wait till next year to grab some.

Toolkit for Mark’s Gospel from St. Helen’s Training

I’m squirrelling away this gem of a collection here because (1) the St. Helen’s website has crashed on me about 20 times in the last half hour; and (2) the Vimeo site is a little difficult to navigate.

A bewhiskered Andrew Sach takes us on a tour of his house while sharing tools for reading the Gospel of Mark:

ST HELEN’S TRAINING: Mark tool kit. Power. Part 2 of 6 from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

ST HELEN’S TRAINING: Mark tool kit. Structure (part a). Part 3 of 6 from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

ST HELEN’S TRAINING: Mark tool kit. Structure (part b). Part 4 of 6 from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

ST HELEN’S TRAINING: Mark tool kit. Scripture. Part 5 of 6 from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

(Unintentional chiasm for the win.)

Street Scenes in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

In the 6 a.m. darkness, I was the only one emerging from the coal-smoked cocoon that had been home for the last 5 days.

“慢慢走! (be careful!)”, said the Chinese train attendants as they helped me off the carriage. They’d become properly motherly as the days had gone by, always looking out for me. On long train stops, I could feel their eye on me as they smoked cigarettes on the platform, while I went exploring. Also, they did not trust the Mongolians – “危险! (danger)”.

“谢谢你照顾我.(Thank you for taking care of me)” I replied.

They looked properly abashed,”不用,不用!”

On the platform, hotel touts who had been waiting for the arrival of the train swarmed up in busy expectation. But as they scanned the length of the platform, it became apparent that there was only one potential in sight and that person had a hostel booked, I had to keep repeating. But they did speak English quite fluently so as I waited to be picked up from Улаанбаатар өртөө (woohoo, Cyrillic still useful here!)(Ulaanbaatar Station), we chatted. Many were in family businesses catering to tourists – they didn’t like waking up so early, but someone had to do it (“we have hostel in city center, you want to go now?”). Oh loads of things to see in UB but best to go outside (“we have car to national park, you take this brochure?”). At the arrival of my driver (the husband of the lady running the hostel), they scattered with a smile and a wave.

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe driver was a big man, wide and tall with a heavy tread. He had thin eyes that stretched almost to the edges of his wide face and a little moustache and spoke English haltingly. I would meet many similar-looking men in the days to come, some wearing only a white little singlet and shorts and complaining about global warming: “Only -15°C! Who has ever heard of it so hot at this time of the year!”

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe private room in the hostel was basic and clean. Like many similar establishments, it was in an anonymous apartment block and could only be accessed from the sandy parking lot in the back, where there was little in the way of signage to identify the place.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaIn the morning light, a stroll through the city revealed something of a frontier town: basic roads and pavements, shiny new buildings beside shacks or older Communist era blocks, towers left to the elements after construction money ran out, uncovered potholes, too many new cars for the roads, nothing much in the way of greenery but a bit of scrubby grass, and everything covered with a fine dusting of sand.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThere were snacks sold to school-children from repurposed (or stolen) supermarket trolleys, and an old couple sitting outside the post-office waiting for people to rent their weighing machine.

Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaAround the corner from them, a man was selling secondhand books by the road. I loved the incongruity of the deel and the mobile phone.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There were quite a few other deel-wearers about town, looking very warm and comfortable, and some fashion magazines might say, stylish.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

And just across the street, in front of the gianormous Genghis Khan memorial (Chinggis Khan apparently, not Genghis), electric toy vehicles, padded with fur, were hired to speed-demon kids. Here, the postcard touts operated. Wanting to support one who claimed to be the artist of several watercolours, I selected a few with Mongolian-ised nativity scenes of three camel-riding men approaching yurts lit by large stars.

“Ah, you Kkrristian?” asked the other touts, who had come over for a look at what had been sold. (“How much did s/he buy?” they asked the artist in Mongolian.)

The history of Christianity in Mongolia is interesting. The first Christian-like religion to hit the big time was Nestorianism in the 7th century. Under Chinggis Khan (Temüjin), in the 13th century, Nestorianism was tolerated alongside other religions and some of the khans even had influential Nestorian wives. Historians have concluded that the Mongolian empire was remarkably welcoming of foreign influences and beliefs, encouraging trade and commerce, putting currency (backed by precious metals) into common use, and facilitated international cultural exchange. Temüjin’s grandson, Mongke, even invited Christians (Nestorians? Orthrodox Christians?), Buddhists and Muslims to debate the merits of their faiths before him.

Since the end of communist rule in 1990, Protestant Christianity has been on the rise. I ended up at one such church on Sunday. After Bible study, we all went out together for lunch.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

It was my first introduction to the ubiquitous mutton and salty milk tea that would be my staple diet in UB. I revelled in the joy of being welcomed by people I had not known previously, who not even included me in their lives, but also bought me a meal! Even though they were a mixed crowd – English teachers from America, ethnic Mongolians who had been brought back from Chicago by their parents so they would “know their Mongolian roots”, Mongolians who had gone to India to study medicine and were hoping to practice soon, they took me in because I was in reality part of their family as they were part of mine. It is as Jesus said:

29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)