Pool Hall – Legends Billiards ~ Beaverton, OR

October 24, 2021

Located on the south side of SW Allen Boulevard just west of the 210 is Legends Billiard Room. It’s an amazing place with a split personality. On one side is a family-friendly, all-ages pool hall with 25 Diamond billiard tables (both 7′ and 9′). On the other side, and accessible by a hallway, is a 21-and-over pool bar with four more 7′ Diamond tables. Tournaments are scheduled nearly every weekend and there is tournament play during the week.

The tables and felt are in good condition. Cues are good but good chalk (not ground down to near-uselessness) was in shorter supply. The bar side was a step up over many pool bars, offering daily cocktail specials that showcased more than the typical whiskey & coke options and beer that dominate most pool bars. There’s also a pro-shop on site that sells a variety of professional merchandise and pool gear.

If you’re in the Portland area this is definitely a place you need to stop if you’re serious about your pool!

***** Backstory *****

Pool – like any sport or discipline – thrives on routine and predictability. Sudden change-ups in what you do and how you do it can influence your game dramatically, and rarely for the better. Most pool players have any number of rituals when they play, from how often they chalk their cue to how often they circle the table before taking their shot or how many strokes they make with the cue before connecting to the cue ball and making their shot.

Since pool is often shot in bars, drinks can become part of the habits and rituals of a player. If you normally have a beer when shooting, you want to do that regularly. If you don’t, it affects your mental game which affects your play. It isn’t that you need the drink because of the alcohol, you’re just used to having it and when it’s absent you notice it subconsciously (and/or consciously) and it can throw you off.

So it was I was standing in line to buy a drink for my buddy at 9:00 am in the morning. We were in Las Vegas for the world pool tournament which, contrary to all human decency, started matches at 9:00 am. Most pool players are night owls and used to shooting after work. To shoot in the morning is a huge change. And for most people shooting without having your favorite drink in hand is equally shocking. So as he was preparing to start his first match of the day I volunteered to go get him a whiskey & Coke (Pepsi, tragically, for this event).

I started making conversation with the guy in front of me. I found out he helps run a pool hall in Portland and also is launching a new line of pool-related professional gear. Knowing we’d be up in the Northwest before too long I got the name of the place and told him I stopped by.

So I did. I expected to find a high-level pool hall, which I did, eventually.

My wife and I showed up, but the place looked nothing like the images from online. Far smaller – just a handful of tables. I tried to verify the address and the name of the place several times on my phone and everything seemed right – it was just too small. Finally I asked the bartender, who clarified there were two sides to the place. We were in the bar side, and the all-ages, 25-table pool hall was on the other side.

When I inquired about getting a t-shirt for the place from the pro-shop he directed me to a guy at the end of the bar. Sure enough, it was Mark, the guy I talked with in Vegas. He claimed to remember me, though given time and masks and liquor that seems highly unlikely! But he was congenial and lined me up with a shirt which made me very happy.

Definitely check out Legends Billiards. I wasn’t able to stop and see any other pool halls in the Portland area this time, but it’s hard to imagine a better venue than this one!

Catastrophic

October 23, 2021

This is the word Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor used to describe the Court’s refusal to block Texas from enforcing Texas Senate Bill 8 which went into effect in early September and made it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to obtain an abortion from either an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a licensed doctor’s office.

It’s a good word. But let’s flesh it out a bit.

Catastrophic can mean something that causes great damage and suffering. It can also mean extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. It might also mean a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.

Great damage and suffering. Sotomayor means this to describe the suffering of women in Texas who are – at least for the time being pending Supreme Court review by early next month – possibly unable to obtain an abortion. Most statistics I found online indicate that there were in the neighborhood of 55,000 abortions provided in Texas in 2020. That to just under 4,600 abortions per month. For the sake of argument assuming numbers are constant, that means around 8000 women are potentially going to be prevented from obtaining an abortion from when the law went into effect until when the Supreme Court has promised an opinion on it.

That’s a big number. Then again, so is 596, the number of months since Roe v. Wade was finalized in January of 1972. I’m going to assume static numbers again, which I know is not entirely accurate since abortion numbers fluctuate by year, rising steadily from 1973 until 1996, when they began to decline. But since the fluctuation is similar to a bell curve it’s good enough for my broad brushstroke purpose here. 596 months of legal abortion, which adds up to – in Texas alone, and again based on generalized numbers – more than 2.7 million abortions in Texas. Think about that – 2.7 million babies legally killed in Texas alone since 1973.

I don’t know what Sotomayor’s rationale is for defending abortion. I don’t know at what point she believes the union of an egg and a sperm magically transforms from a non-human bunch of cells into a human being defended by other laws in our nation from being murdered. But if she thinks potentially delaying or preventing or causing greater cost or inconvenience to 8000 women who find themselves pregnant (despite presumably knowing that intercourse leads to a risk of pregnancy no matter what form of contraception you prefer to practice) is catastrophic, she hopefully can grasp how great a catastrophe over 2.7 million murdered babies in Texas is for those who based on clear science as well as religious conviction know that when that egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, it is at that moment a new human life deserving of the full protection of our laws. Hopefully she can grasp that as catastrophic as she finds it that men and women should be inconvenienced by the biological results of their decisions, it is a far greater catastrophe to have redefined the meaning of life simply for the greater convenience of sexual liberty.

Extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly Sotomayor thinks of this in terms of the Supreme Court’s refusal to block S.B. 8 from enforcement until their review. However perhaps it should be used in this sense to describe the failure of a philosophy and culture of death that glorifies the sexual act but insists on stripping it of natural consequences and removing it from the sanctity of marriage. Nearly 50 years of Roe v Wade and undoubtedly for Sotomayor and those who share her philosophy and opinion it is catastrophic to think their way of thinking and their philosophy and their life choices could be found lacking, inappropriate, even illegal. There is the clear message from those who support legalized abortion that this is simply a fact of life now, a reality that must be accepted and protected as inevitable and unchangeable, even though it’s really just a legal decision rendered by a small group of people 50 years ago.

And legal decisions are capable of reversal. It is fully possible for a ruling to be recognized after the fact as inappropriate on any number of bases. In fact our judicial system is based on this recognition and insistence. People are flawed and therefore decisions can be flawed, no matter how passionately some people wish they were not. No matter how clearly science destroys the most fundamental arguments they use to support their position. The extremely unfortunate issue is that it has taken this long to threaten legalized abortion. That it has taken this long to begin to dismantle the idea that abortion is somehow some sort of human right the US government has an obligation to not just defend but actively promote.

Sudden and large-scale alteration of state. This is certainly true, and I suspect that Justice Sotomayor and I probably would agree in how we apply this definition. If Texas is successful there begins – because other states will follow suit – a formal recognition of the reality that has existed for 50 years – a huge portion of the US population believes abortion is morally wrong or intellectually indefensible. It means that supporters of abortion can no longer pretend it is a monolithic, universally accepted and desired option and that dissenters are outliers and a crazy minority.

Hopefully it will challenge the devastating effects of our liberal ideas about unfettered sexual behavior, though this is probably hoping for too much or, at the very least, will take a lot longer to come about. By continually denigrating the estate of marriage and the historic understanding of family, our country has fostered and perpetuated cycles and systems of poverty linked to unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies where the father is absent. The State has attempted to pretend the family and fathers don’t matter and that the State can replace these things with aid programs. It has failed miserably and those statistics are pretty quickly available. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars in the last 60 years on a philosophical and political model that has failed to save those it claims to save, and instead has consigned them and their descendants to a continuous cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to break under current conditions.

Hopefully we can start to have dialogue again about the importance of understanding sexuality as something far too important to fling about casually with a disregard for consequences – something made possibly only by the continued support of legalized abortions and free or nearly free contraceptives and abortifacients. Hopefully we can begin to talk again about the value of human life instead of how to sacrifice some lives in order to make our lives more convenient.

Yes, the changes afoot – changes that hopefully will be sustained by the Supreme Court’s review – are catastrophic. But I’d argue in a good way, rather than the negative way Justice Sotomayor interprets them. That’s a lot of hope, but even for a realist like me, hope is critical. That hope is well worth the inconvenience of 8000 women. The lives of 2.7 million murdered Texan children deserve a little inconvenience by some at the moment, if the outcome could be the saving of 2.7 million Texans over the next 596 months and more.

A More Honest Defense

October 23, 2021

An article summarizing Bill Maher’s defense of David Chappelle. Nice to see some people are willing to talk about this situation honestly. Then again, Maher probably has less risk of losing his fan base than Jon Stewart does.

Pool Hall ~ Six Billiards ~ Lakewood, WA

October 22, 2021

The area between Tacoma and Olympia, WA boasts only one actual pool hall, Six Billiards in Lakewood. Located in a strip mall filled with ethnic businesses, Six Billiards is small but boasts an impressive collection of three-cushion and pocket billiard tables. Located not far to the west of I-5 near the intersection of 88th Street and South Tacoma Way, it’s a clean and neat no-nonsense Asian-style billiards hall.

At least half if not more of the 15 or so tables are three-cushion tables. In the United States the most popular game is known as pool or alternately pocket billiards. This is what you’ll find in nearly every pool hall or pool bar you walk into – a table with six pockets. Americans typically play either 8-ball or 9-ball, although there are other games for pocket billiards tables such as one pocket, straight pool and 10-ball.

But elsewhere in the world three-cushion remains very popular. A three-cushion table has no pockets at all. It’s played with only three balls (as opposed to 8, 9, 10 or `15) and the size of the table can vary just as it does in pocket billiards. It’s a form of carom pool, which means the object is to drive a cue ball off of one ball and into the second one. Points are scored only when the shooter successfully causes their cue ball to hit a first object ball and then a second object ball, with the cue ball also making contact with two or more rails at least three times, usually in between contact with the first and second object balls. It’s an extremely challenging game more popular in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’ve played it only a few times, but knowing how popular it is in Asia I look forward to playing more of it in the future!

The pocket billiards tables at Six Billiards were all Kangaroo brand, one I’m not familiar with. However the tables were some of the fastest I’ve ever played on. The lightest touch could send a ball the length of the table with ease. I had to severely adjust my typical playing style to compensate. That was amusing to a certain extent.

This is not a bar – no alcohol was for sale and perhaps not even a vending machine for sodas. Cues were of a variety of styles and conditions. Table time ran $15/hour per table, with a timer at each table to keep track of your time. Any amount of time over an hour would incur additional charges, though it wasn’t clear if that would be another whole hour or calculated on a fractional basis. There were four or five other folks in the place at about 3pm, most gathered around to watch or play on one table. The radio station was playing a selection of classic rock and roll. As with most places these days it seems, it was a non-smoking facility and with the current Covid situation, masks were required at all times while inside.

I’d love to go back in the evening to see how busy this place is and try to strike up a game with someone. If you’re a pocket billiards player be prepared to reduce the power in your shots dramatically. But I’d encourage you to give three-cushion a try. It’s a fantastic game for improving your skill in controlling the cue ball instead of focusing simply on putting balls in pockets.

Still Watching Netflix

October 21, 2021

On the heels of my post last week regarding the controversy between Dave Chappelle and the transgender/LGBGQ+ community I took the opportunity to watch his special at the center of the storm entitled The Closer.

This is not for the faint of heart. Ever since my one – and only – live stand-up comic viewing nearly 30 years ago I’ve never understood the need to resort to the basest language and the exploitation of all manner of sex. Chappelle, while clearly far more intelligent and insightful than the average comic trying to win cheap laughs from an intoxicated audience (thanks to the drink minimums comedy clubs at least used to require in addition to cover charges), is not above snagging some easy laughs from simple crudeness. Likewise, if you’re averse to race-related language and criticisms you’ll likely not enjoy this either. Although I knew this all going into it and considered it more a research exercise than the sort of entertainment I would naturally gravitate towards, I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. The man clearly knows his art.

The issue is what is that art? I’d argue Chappelle’s art is cultural analysis and critique. One may agree or disagree with his conclusions and assertions but that’s what he’s doing under a thin, and I mean very thin veneer of comedy. Much of his material is designed to elicit not just a laugh but the follow-up internal examination why did I laugh at that? Should I have? Is there something wrong with me? Am I part of the problem?

Everything about the show should clue the viewer in that Chappelle is up to more than simple entertainment.

This is the last of his contracted Netflix specials. He’s very clear that he feels not only the freedom but the obligation as such to say some things people aren’t going to like. He’s choosing specifically to be controversial in this special. And the entire special is bracketed within the somewhat comedic narrative arc of issues related to a black rapper named DaBaby.

Chappelle begins with commenting on the curious fact that DaBaby was involved in a Walmart shooting that left a man dead. He slapped a female fan who he claimed took a cell phone photo too close to his face with the flash on. He has an arrest warrant in Texas for a charger of battery. And he and his associates allegedly jumped a concert promoter they believed paid only 2/3 of the money agreed upon for a performance in Miami. In this altercation they stole a credit card, $80,000 in cash (almost 3 times what was originally agreed upon and far more than the $10,000 they were allegedly shortchanged) in addition to beating the promoter.

None of these events slowed down DaBaby’s career in any regard. The Walmart altercation where a man was killed eventually saw DaBaby pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon. The other situations all saw DaBaby posting bail and walking free within a matter of hours.

However DaBaby made a series of homophobic comments at the start of one of his concerts in July 2021 and at the demands of the LGBTQ+ community he was dropped from several concerts, a fashion collaboration, and his contributions on a popular song were edited out of the song, resulting in his removal of credits for the song. Effectively, as Chappelle notes, his career has been destroyed.

Destroyed not because of his violence and even killing a person, but because he hurt the feelings of the LGBTQ+ community.

This provides the crux for most of the material that follows. In this material Chappelle calls out the LGBTQ+ community for their power, and for their hypocrisy. He has garnered little love and much animosity from that community over the course of his career because of his insistence on mocking some of their ideological tenets (biological gender is a social construct rather than a biological fact, etc.). They’ve accused him of punching down on their community – a term that implies a level of superior social standing or other advantages inherent by Chappelle personally.

His counterargument – provided rather powerfully if often offensively – is that the LGBTQ+ community has achieved far more, far more quickly in their march towards equal rights than racial minorities in America. In the span of a few short decades it has become possible for this community to destroy the careers of multiple people opposing their demands not just for legal equality but for preferred treatment and depiction. Meanwhile Chappelle argues, minorities in America continue to deal with racism and discrimination.

The show closes with where it began, with his appealing to the LGBTQ+ community to lay off of DaBaby – and by extension Chappelle and anyone else who happens to simply disagree with them.

He defends his relationship to actual LGBTQ+ individuals while maintaining his stance in opposition to many of their ideas. He affirms his support for the biological reality of gender. And he observes that things have reached an unhealthy place when no dialogue is possible on these issues anymore. That any resistance to the increasingly wild assertions of the LGBTQ+ community simply results in financial ruin for the opposition. In such a toxic environment Chappelle maintains, there is no dialogue and therefore things are dangerously unhealthy. As such, he vows to make no more transgender or LGBTQ+ jokes in his shows until some sort of healthy dialogue is restored. It is not a cease fire so much as a refusal to engage with an enemy who insists he has no right to his opinion (or scientific fact) while he must not only agree but endorse every opinion offered by literally anyone within the LGBTQ+ community. Until this is rectified and acknowledged he will not pretend there is healthy dialogue when there clearly is not.

That’s a lot for a comedy special!

Unsurprisingly, the very situation he criticizes in this special – the inability to speak on the issue at all except in complete and total support and enthusiasm for LGBTQ+ assertions – is demonstrated through demands from LGBTQ+ employees of Netflix to not only remove Chappelle’s program from Netflix’s lineup but for Netflix to actively invest in more content that agrees with and furthers the ideas and demands of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ironically, the LGBTQ+ community claims this is not an example of cancel culture. They argue, hilariously, that this isn’t an example of cancel culture because they invited Chappelle to rupudiate his statements and embrace their ideals and demands and he refused. Therefore they’re justified in attempting to not just figuratively but literally cancel him.

Uh, somebody should explain the definition of cancel culture to these folks!

Friends of Chappelle struggle to not abandon him while not incurring the wrath of the LGBTQ+ community and facing very real financial and professional challenges as a result. Jon Stewart is reduced to simply asserting his love for Chappelle and his necessary belief that this is all just somehow a miscommunication. This is hilarious and pathetic all at the same time. The problem is not miscommunication, the problem is that Chappelle has dared to communicate too clearly and directly. And Stewart – who’s no slouch when it comes to mocking those he disagrees with – is reduced to simpering on the sidelines instead of calling this what it is, a hostage situation.

For whatever reasons (and there are plenty that should be examined) the LGBTQ+ community is in a position to financially and professionally and personally smear and destroy anyone they decide to if that person disagrees with them or fails to meet their expectations. Despite being a tiny percentage of the overall population, they are in a position to dictate to Hollywood to portray LGBTQ+ characters in huge disproportion to the general population. Judging by commercials and movies and other forms of entertainment, you’d likely come to the conclusion that LGBTQ+ folks comprise close to half of the general population, instead of under 5% (although recent studies indicate an uptick of reported LGBTQ+ affiliations by young people – hardly a surprise when this is actively taught in schools to developing minds and personalities).

Chappelle has indicated a willingness to talk with the disgruntled Netflix employees. He has also promised to launch a 10-stop American tour if his show is removed by Netflix. Chappelle appears more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue. A man who has been vocal about the racism he perceives in our culture is equally willing to stand against and speak out against other forms of abuse. Whether you agree with his perspective on racism or not, he has a lot to say and is very capable and willing to say it, though in language some of us find distasteful and offensive. I’d be fascinated to sit down over a drink with Chappelle and just talk with him.

Netflix in the meantime seems to be wavering, with the CEO apologizing for mishandling the situation. So far they haven’t removed the special, and the disgruntled employee group has dropped that demand from their list of demands. Chappelle is one of the few people willing to speak out actively against these tactics though, and perhaps one of the few voices able to be heard by a large cross-section of people. It’s a shame it has turned out this way, but apparently everyone else has too much to lose, or is too afraid of losing what little they have.

That’s definitely an unhealthy situation, no matter how you feel about LGBTQ+ ideals.

Watching Netflix

October 13, 2021

I’ve watched very little Dave Chappelle. A few YouTube clips at most. I don’t have a feel for his comedic style or where he might be coming from in life. The little I know about him is just that – little. So I don’t have opinions or perspectives on the controversial material that has thrust him into the spotlight again. Opinions and perspectives expressed in comedic observations, but which directly conflict with or challenge the prevailing championing of transgender issues.

This has earned him the ire of those who once felt he was on their side. A small group of Netflix employees have demanded Netflix remove the show. Netflix has thus far refused to do so, claiming it supports the creative license of content producers, and noting that Chappelle’s work as a whole has been some of the most widely viewed material Netflix has produced. No official word on whether this latest offering from Chappelle, entitled The Closer, follows in that lucrative and widely viewed path.

Personally, I wonder what Chappelle is up to. Either he’s boldly taking a stance contrary to the currently dominant vocal minority, or he’s orchestrating a larger-scale comedic event, where he’ll reveal at some point down the line how he was trolling those folks who cheered his countercultural stance. In the long run, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter.

What does matter, and what we should all be watching for carefully, is whether Netflix caves to that strident but very, very small minority of voices within the company insisting Chappelle’s show should be removed because it conflicts with their personal opinions and ideologies. The rest of Hollywood appears to have mostly caved to such voices long ago, and set about dutifully creating content that supports and encourages the sorts of lifestyles and world views championed by this minority. Upcoming new releases include a son-of-Superman comic line where the titular character is bisexual. Another includes a reboot of the awful 80’s horror franchise Child’s Play, this time serialized on cable channels and involving the main character (other than Chucky) just figuring out he’s gay.

Certainly there are a few voices like Chappelle’s willing to challenge this tidal wave of gender confusing material aimed squarely at children and adolescents ill-equipped to make healthy sense of it. But those voices are few and far between, or at least sparsely covered. When they are covered countering opinions overwhelm the actual material the article is allegedly about.

How ironic that those who champion inclusivity and diversity are adamant that any voice out of step with their own ideologies should be silenced. That was one of their complaints when other voices were reflecting or directing our cultural opinions.

What’s at stake here is creative license, to be certain. The reality is that approval and assent to gender and sex redefinitions is nowhere near unanimous. The minority of liberal voices seeks to create the appearance that their views and ideas (which are always in flux) are the majority view. If contrary material is made available to the public and is commercially successful it will demonstrate this is not the case, threatening the control these voices now exercise.

I commend Netflix. Not for their ideology necessarily, but for being a company instead of an ideological power. Their job is to create content and earn money for doing so. The market determines whether they continue to produce certain kinds of content. I don’t personally like slasher films like Child’s Play, nor am I much of a fan of most comedians today, Chappelle included. The question is whether people should determine what is produced by spending their money on it, or whether companies should determine what people like by only producing a certain kind of material.

So far the latter approach is holding sway, and I believe history will judge that trend harshly – both as a business model as well as a sociological movement. In the meantime, be aware of what your kids and grand-kids are watching, and don’t be surprised if they come to some conclusions about the world and right and wrong that are starkly different from your understandings and beliefs.

Suffering for Your Faith

October 12, 2021

I’m no fan of Jehovah Witness theology, but I certainly respect the conviction of the young men described in this article who are willing to serve prison time rather than violate their religious beliefs of pacifism. I wonder how many Christian young people here in the US would be willing to suffer rather than sacrifice their beliefs.

We recently re-watched the epic The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy since our youngest recently finished reading the books and wanted to compare the movies to the books (overall not bad but a lot of creative license in adding or expanding characters). Throughout the books/movies there is a consistent theme of being willing to face almost certain doom and failure, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Whether it’s Frodo and the Fellowship willing to take on the “fool’s hope” of trying to destroy the Ring of Power in the heart of enemy territory, or Theoden leading the remainder of his troops against an overwhelmingly larger force besieging Minas Tirith, the theme of being willing to die for what is right rather than submit to evil is powerful.

What an essential theme to pass on to our children! Life is a beautiful thing, so beautiful that sometimes it must be risked in order to ensure it remains beautiful and free. I’m reminded yet again of C.S. Lewis’ prescient words:

Since it is so likely that (children) will encounter cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

Law and Kings

October 10, 2021

This morning we worshiped with a small LCMS congregation in between Tacoma and Olympia. For Bible study, they’re working their way through 1 Kings and we joined them for the latter 2/3 of Chapter 2. This section deals with the transfer of power and how the new king Solomon dealt with several questionable characters his father David had shown mercy to but remained potential sources of future problems. Since Solomon was not the eldest son of David, to whom the throne would have been expected to pass, Solomon’s position is a bit precarious, as this section highlights.

Four individuals receive judgment from Solomon based on combinations of past and present actions. Adonijah, who had already attempted to take the throne while David was still alive; Abiathar, priest under David but who had also supported Adonijah’s claim to the throne; Joab, David’s general who also had supported Adonijah’s claim; and Shimei, a kinsman of King Saul who had cursed David during his dispute with another usurper son, Absalom.

The passage reads rather harshly. Abiathar gets off the easiest – he’s banished and replaced in his role as priest. The other three are all executed by order of King Solomon. It’s a passage that may strike our sensitive ears rather dissonantly. How is it that Solomon, soon to be bestowed with divine wisdom, should condone the execution of these people his father saw fit to spare?

We must remember Solomon is king, but not just any king. He is king over the only Biblical theocracy in all of human history. He rules the people of God by the Word of God, in conjunction (at least theoretically) with the priests and prophets. Disobedience to the king is the same as disobedience to God. Those who thought it was their duty to determine who the king should be erred grievously in doing so. And those who felt they were not bound by the king’s law or their own promises discovered this was not the case. Just as God’s people are not exempt from his Law and are in danger (as the opening of Hebrews 2 warns us) of being drawn away from the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and suffering the condemnation of the Law.

We see in these historical passages both grace and judgment, and are called to remember we have not simply a Savior but a Lord, and that Lord is due and rightly expects our obedience. Our obedience won’t be perfect, flawed as we are with sin. But we must remember always who is the only proper and fit ruler of our lives – and it isn’t us! When we feel we can dismiss the Word of God for our own ideas or the ideas of our culture and day we err grievously and need to come back to repentance. The warnings of Psalm 2 are just as appropriate in our day and age as they were in Solomon’s!

Reading Ramblings – October 17, 2021

October 10, 2021

Date: 21st Sunday after Pentecost – October 17, 2021

Texts: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 4:1-13(14-16); Mark 10:23-31

Context: A challenging group of readings in a culture where earning and buying is how we are taught to define our worth. In a culture where display of what we have accomplished (or what we want others to think we’ve accomplished) drives massive debt and the corresponding anxiety that accompanies it. Where we are taught to work hard to save up to spend and have fun in the so-called Golden Years, even if it means sacrificing time with children and family and friends in the short term. But the Biblical message is clear and consistent – these goals are not only unhealthy they are misleading. In the short term because wealth is fickle and sometimes fleeting, and in the long term because wealth can distract us from what matters most and eternally – our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 – Traditionally ascribed to Solomon despite the enigmatic attribution of Qoheleth, which means preacher or collector in Hebrew. Solomon is said to have written this challenging work in his old age, reflecting on a life of pleasure but also a life spent looking for meaning. This chapter begins with an exhortation to fear and honor God which forms a natural transition to a warning against the major distraction in our lives – an obsession with wealth. This obsession is dangerous whether still in the pursuit of wealth or after the acquisition of it. There is never security from this obsession, never a point at which the pursuer can be sure they have enough and can rest. Acquisition means nothing without expending, and so peace is never achieved despite the false promises that wealth brings security. In fact, wealth can be lost in an instant, perhaps far easier and faster than it is acquired! The alternative is a more balanced perspective on life that keeps wealth in proper context. Wealth may or may not be attained but life can still be enjoyed as the gift from God that every life is, whether rich or poor. We are designed to work (Genesis 1:28), but to work in right relationship to God rather than in an unbalanced drive for riches. When we lose track of who we were designed by and for, the inevitable result is sorrow and loss.

Psalm 119:9-16 – The second section of this great acrostic psalm echoes some of the language and concepts of the reading from Ecclesiastes. The young man is exhorted to seek not riches but God and his Word, and to guard and keep it as the rich man guarded and fretted over his treasure. God’s Word is more than capable of delighting us more than the passing wealth and trinkets of this world if we only recognize this! What better way to live our lives than with our eyes fixed on our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, from whom all blessings flow whether in times of need or plenty, and who alone promise us a peace that passes all understanding? This requires an intentionality on our part. We can become distracted (as Paul reminds us in the reading from Hebrews 4) and lose our focus. We must daily re-affirm our intent to remain fixed on God’s Word and statutes.

Hebrews 4:1-13(14-16) – Paul continues on the theme he began expositing at the start of Chapter 2 – the risk we are at continually of drifting away from the faith and hope we have in Christ. This is a real possibility (as opposed to those who would teach that salvation cannot be lost) given the reality of our enemy Satan and his powers, as well as the sin within each one of us. Certainly based on the other readings it would be reasonable to read into Paul’s concerns the role of wealth and material riches that seem to distract so many from the most important things in life, but Paul isn’t necessarily talking about wealth specifically. The problem with the Israelites was not the pursuit of wealth but rather a lack of trust in God. An obsession with wealth could certainly be interpreted as a lack of trust in God in some instances. Our trust is ultimately in our great high priest, Jesus, who unlike the limited and imperfect high priests of old has made perfect atonement for us in his own blood, yet understands our weaknesses and distractions and intercedes for us with the Father and Holy Spirit on our behalf not only in justification but in strength for sanctification.

Mark 10:23-31 – For the Jews of Jesus’ day (and for Christians today who subscribe to the heresy of prosperity theology), wealth was understood to be a sign of God’s pleasure with a person. This wealth in turn could be used to give to the poor and sponsor other good works which would in turn further increase God’s pleasure with the individual. So if a rich person who could give to the poor actually was disadvantaged in some way in entering the kingdom of heaven, what possible hope could the average person have? This is the astonishment and dismay of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ response is clear – it is not possible to us, but only to God. We cannot do what is necessary to earn our place in the kingdom of heaven, but we can receive membership by the grace of God through forgiveness found in the saving blood of Jesus Christ shed on our behalf. The second part of Jesus’ teaching, in response to Peter’s reminder that the disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus is more complex. Jesus assures Peter these sacrifices are not unnoticed, and nor are they uncompensated, both now and eternally. In embracing Jesus, the believer is united with all the faithful through space and time. The believer becomes part of Jesus’ own family (Matthew 12:50) with innumerable brothers and sisters! This is a reality here and now, though we too often value it too lightly and think of it too infrequently. Family ties are complicated things and sometimes it is easier not to dwell on this reality in this world, and the obligations it may place on us to place our riches second to the needs of our family members. These realities are true here and now. As Luther noted in Christ we are lords of all things and subject to none – although this reality is rarely recognized by those around us! We are at the same time the servant of all, so that our lordship is hidden in our poverty, our lack of control, our willingness to suffer if necessary rather than reject the citizenship we have in the kingdom of heaven. All of this Peter and the disciples and you and I receive here and now – and we look forward to the age to come and the eternal life we will have free of the persecutions that haunt us here and now.

Wealth is not our servant here, nor is it our hope. It is often just the opposite. It often becomes our master, whether we have too little or too much. And it betrays our hope by oftentimes loading us with fear, distrust, and other attendant difficulties. Only in holding our poverty or wealth lightly and continuing to insist on focusing on Christ and his eternal gifts to us does wealth better remain a tool rather than a temptation.

Book Review: Introducing Indonesia

October 7, 2021

Introducing Indonesia – 3rd edition, published by the American Women’s Association, 1975

This was a short and fascinating read. Short mostly because at least half the book is a phone directory of services and businesses in Indonesia – particularly the island of Java and the city of Jakarta – that might be of use to an American moving to Indonesia. Fascinating because, published by the American Women’s Association, it’s clearly oriented to the wife/mother/homemaker who will be setting up house in a new place.

The book provides a brief bit of history but mostly to give an exceptionally broad overview of the many cultures and influences present in Jakartan society. It is the purpose of the book to inform, not to analyze or comment on that history. A similar broad treatment of culture, religion, and arts are also included. It’s clear the emphasis is on Jakarta and the island of Java – not surprising since it’s the capitol and the most likely destination of either government or industry-based relocation. There are a fair number of black and white photos to help provide context for the commentary and to give the reader a basic impression of their new home.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the brief treatment of the issue of household workers. Like most of Southeast Asia it is assumed that at a certain economic level you will employ one or more household workers. This is an important source of income to a large section of the population. The book lists various roles household workers might have, including driver, maintenance person, cook, maid, nanny, and several others. Advice is also given as to how to best manage a household staff, clearly intended for the American unfamiliar with this situation. Advice on how to find qualified staff, how to vet them and when necessary terminate them is all very curious and undoubtedly much of it is still applicable today.

Published in 1975 this clearly is not an up-to-date snapshot of Indonesia but is interesting for what it is – a snapshot of American perspectives on life in Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.