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.

Reading Ramblings – October 3, 2021

September 26, 2021

Date: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 3, 2021

Texts: Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:1-13; Mark 10:2-16

Context: Life is a blessing from God. We do not own it, and we are mistaken when we believe we are free to arbitrarily create or end it on our terms. Disengaging life from the Creator is a dangerous path leading to unforeseen consequences both short and long term. We should rightfully leave life in our Lord’s hands, trusting in him rather than risking drifting away from him (Hebrews 2:2) into our own ideas and methodologies.

Genesis 2:18-25 – Although some prefer to read Genesis 1 & 2 as two separate accounts of creation, they needn’t be read in that way. Some read vs. 18-19 as out of order with the account of creation in Genesis 1, but this is not a necessary reading. God’s intent from the beginning was to have a suitable helper for Adam, and had already created the other creatures that were then brought to Adam prior to creating Eve. The relationship of man and woman as created by God is unlike any other relationship in all of creation, so that St. Paul can proclaim in Ephesians 5:32 that this is the profound mystery of human marriage – it echoes and reflects the relationship between Jesus and his Church. This passage declares the profound beauty in our created natures as male and female, and helps us look forward to when these natures will be restored to perfection individually and in relation to one another and our Creator.

Psalm 128 – The pilgrims move towards Jerusalem, lifting their spirits and passing the time with the citation of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134 & characterized by the word ascent in their opening lines). They are reminded in doing so of the blessings of God, blessings both already received and realized and those yet to come. These blessings are understood to be part of the covenantal relationship, the proper relationship between God and mankind described in Genesis 1&2. In our fallen state this relationship (and these blessings) are experienced in a limited and imperfect sense. In this sense, this psalm can be taken as prophetic – these are the blessings we look forward to in our Lord’s return and our resurrection to perfected life.

Hebrews 2:1-13– I think the passage is fine ending at verse 13 instead of continuing on to the end of the chapter as the lectionary provides the option for. The emphasis here is also on what we look forward to in our Lord’s return, a reality glimpsed by those privileged to see Jesus after his resurrection. Salvation has come, but salvation can be lost Paul clearly indicates at the start of this passage. Satan is always working to pry us away from our faith and trust in Christ and lead our hearts and minds after other things. Paul cites Psalm 8 as evidence of the glory that is rightfully ours and which has been lost in sin, but to which we will be restored through Christ. Paul emphasizes Jesus’ incarnate nature and work on our behalf, by which we are privileged to call our Lord and Savior our brother. We have much to look forward to!

Mark 10:2-16 – Is it too much to read the first verse!?!?! Good grief! For the careful reader, this verse has meaning and helps explain the context of the question posed to Jesus. The geographical context of the Jordan River and Judea should remind us of John the Baptist and his fate as detailed in Mark 6. John the Baptist was arrested and ultimately executed for his stance on marriage that angered Herod’s wife Herodias (who formerly was married to Herod’s brother). Now Jesus is posed a question on marriage and more specifically divorce, likely with the hope that Jesus would run afoul of Herodias as well and suffer a similar fate to John the Baptist!

Jesus’ words on marriage are challenging in a culture where divorce is presumed a right and option by most people – including Christians! But if the marriage relationship is an echo or image or foreshadowing of the revealed relationship between Christ and his Church, we should not be surprised that divorce is prohibited. What God has joined together should not be separated, including by the participants. Some are quick to argue that there are cases where divorce is necessary – in the cases of abuse or negligence. While we would acknowledge that our sinful human nature sometimes makes divorce inevitable or even necessary, this does not legitimize it in broader application. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 provides additional insight regarding when divorce is permissible – but even then it seems clear the hope and goal would be reconciliation and healing. A high view of marriage should be the goal of the Church, the congregation, and the married couple, and all levels of community from family and friends up through the congregation should be blessings and assets to married couples in helping them honor their marriage vows to one another and God.

Book Review: Crux, Mors, Inferni

September 22, 2021

Crux, Mors, Inferni: A Primer and Reader on the Descent of Christ by Samuel D. Renihan

I didn’t realize this was a self-published book. I’ll admit I’m biased to some extent, at least when looking for thorough, more scholarly books, against self-published titles under the assumption that if it was good enough, somebody would be publishing it other than the author. I realize that’s no longer necessarily true and the Internet provides many options in the realm of self-publication that only complicates the matter further.

That being said, after reading this I don’t feel the self-publication category suits this book and I’m curious why a publisher didn’t pick it up.

I found this book while looking for resources on The Apostles’ Creed. And of all the statements in the Creed, certainly the most confusing one is that Christ descended into hell. If I’ve heard or read a compelling discussion on this statement I don’t remember it. That’s not meant as criticism against my profs or Confirmation pastors, but perhaps a comment on my memory or, more likely, a comment on the confusion apt to surround this statement which is in turn based on 1 Peter 4:6 and somewhat on Ephesians 4:7-10.

Renihan does a good job with this topic, dividing the book into two main sections. In the first section he lays out the Biblical (and somewhat extra-Biblical) topography of creation – heaven, earth and hell as we typically talk about them. He then argues that the Biblical understanding leads logically and naturally to understanding a localized descent of Christ’s spirit into hell – not to suffer, not as part of his defeat, but as the turning point, the beginning of his glorification after his incarnate process of humiliation. Jesus goes to announce and confirm his victory over sin, death and Satan to the deepest recesses of Satan’s stronghold, and we should not interpret this descent as intending to give the dead a second chance at the Gospel (as is argued by the Mormons). In the second section he examines how Reformed theologians dealt with (or failed to deal with) the Creedal assertion of Christ’s descent into hell, often transforming it into a euphemism for death or burial or a spiritual suffering as opposed to an actual localized descent of Christ’s spirit.

I like his work and his argument. He is not exhaustive in his exegetical/Biblical examination. He picks and chooses and that’s probably a necessary evil. I don’t necessarily argue with the verses he opts to cite. However most of his argument rests on a single point that he substantiates mostly with references to Apocryphal writings rather than canonical Scriptures.

His basic thesis is that sheol is the destiny of all (prior to Christ’s death on the cross). It is the abode of the dead. But it is separated into three areas wherein the lowest two are intended for suffering and the upper third is a place of comfort and peace for the righteous dead, referred to as the bosom of Abraham in Luke 16. Renihan also supports this understanding with a reference to the three heavens (2 Corinthians 12), so there is a symmetry with three levels of heaven and three levels of hell, with the uppermost level of hell not a place of torment but rather of comfort – if not heavenly bliss. Jesus’ parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 depicts not the divide between heaven and hell, Renihan argues, but rather the divide between the upper portion of hell for the righteous dead, and the middle level of hell (for the wicked dead) and the lowest hell (for Satan and his demons).

It’s a compelling argument, I have to admit, but I’m still hesitant to embrace it completely. Though admittedly, by accepting it completely it certainly provides for a level of reasonable interpretation of otherwise difficult parts of Scripture. The only real exception to this is Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross – today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). Renihan makes reference to this but frankly it’s one of the weaker aspects of his argument.

How does all of this matter?

Renihan argues for the Patristic understanding (as supported by Ephesians 4) that Christ descended into hell to demonstrate his victory over Satan and sin and death, in no small part by leading those spirits of the righteous dead out of the upper level of hell and into heaven. From that point on, those who die in faith in Christ do not descend into Abraham’s bosom, the highest region of hell, but rather their spirit goes directly to be with their Lord in heaven, a reality described in Revelation 6:9-11.

It’s the most thorough treatment of the descent of Christ into hell I’ve encountered to date, and has a lot to back it Scripturally as well as in historical Christian exegesis. But I’m still staying on the fence until I have the opportunity to read a bit further. I’m definitely open to good recommendations on the topic!

The second half (2/3?) of the book was of less interest to me, emphasizing how Reformed theologians and preachers dealt with this statement of the Creed while clearly finding an actual, localized descent of Christ’s spirit into hell untenable with their overall theology.

This is definitely a worthwhile read. His writing is very accessible and doesn’t presume advanced theological training or linguistic competency in Greek or Hebrew, though he references the Greek in several places and provides translation as well. Certainly worthwhile exploration on the topic!

Reading Ramblings – September 26, 2021

September 19, 2021

Date: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ September 26, 2021

Texts: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 104:27-35; James 5:(1-12)13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Context: I’m out of practice a bit, but hope to catch up a bit in the coming weeks! We’re still in Ordinary Time, so that’s something!

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 – Let me reiterate at the outset that I great dislike slicing and dicing sections of Scripture (or any written material, for that matter). Most often this is done to remove extraneous or unnecessary material (as it is here) and thus shrink down the overall reading and the time required for it. If you’re married to the idea that worship can’t be more than 60 minutes long, shortening the readings gives the preacher more time to preach. Circumstances dictate whether that’s a good thing or not. So here we don’t want to take the time to read about what manna was, we’re simply focused on the central conflict and why God had to provide it in the first place.

Ungratefulness, a theme related to the reading last week from James, is what’s at play here. But the greater story is God’s providence. The short memories and general ungratefulness of a people in a difficult transition from settled city life to long-term campers is secondary to the provision God extends. Provision not just in the physical manna to feed a perceived physical hunger, but further in his grace and mercy against a rather unattractively ungrateful people. Even Moses is perturbed by everything and his role in it, yet God remains calm in providing bread for his people’s temporal needs, just as He will provide the Bread of Life in his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ, to provide for his people’s eternal needs.

Psalm 104: 27-35 – In line with God providing manna in the Old Testament reading, the psalm selection emphasizes creations’ dependence on the Creator. The first 27 verses of this psalm extol the works of God in creating and sustaining. He alone is the cause behind all the causes and effects in the created order. As such, creation looking to the Creator starting at verse 27 is only reasonable and logical. Here the verses deal not only with the physical needs of food and shelter, but emotional needs like fear and existential issues such as death. All of which culminates rightly in praise to God as the author of creation and the author of our faith and hope and salvation.

James 5:(1-12)13-20 – Prayer is the language of faith. Prayer is the appropriate response in all situations, though we tend to think of it more often when we’re in need or facing difficulties. Perhaps that’s why James leads off with such situations in this section starting at verse 13. But it’s great that second in the list is a reminder we can pray when we’re grateful and happy just as much as when we’re lacking and fearful! Verses 14-15 are interesting in this time of pandemic and sickness and fear. A wonderful reminder that healing ultimately comes from God, whether He chooses to dispense it miraculously by the Holy Spirit through prayer or equally miraculously through vaccines or other medical options.

Some Christians interpret these words as directive regarding what we are supposed to do – anoint with oil. Certainly anointing with oil has a rich and deep history in Scripture, but this is mainly because it was also cultural and historical. Oil was used not just as a beauty product but also as a balm for healing. As such, it can easily be argued that James is basically instructing the Church to provide necessary medical care as opposed to rejecting or refusing medical care as though these aren’t means by which God can sustain his creatures! James also provides a link between illness and sin, something few churches are willing to preach about!

Throughout this section the reminder is that while physical illness and need are real and valid things that prayer can be brought to bear on, our greater need is for the affliction that runs deeper in us and ultimately is the cause of all sickness and disease and brokenness in creation – sin. Ensuring that we don’t neglect the spiritual care of people while going overboard to treat their physical afflictions is certainly something the Church must remember at all times!

Mark 9:38-50 – The initial verses in this section are striking. Jesus does not demand his disciples stop others from using his name to perform miracles. These other people presumably are not committed followers of Jesus (not among the 120 or so that formed his extended discipling group beyond the 12). They would not be privy then, we can assume, to the fullest of his teaching. They might be running with just the barest of understanding of who Jesus is and what He is here for. There must be some level of actual faith at play, since demons could refute the mere name of Jesus (Acts 19:15), yet these people were missing so much for whatever reason! Yet Jesus insists they be allowed to continue their work. Their work is good as done in faith and in the name of Jesus.

What an interesting lesson might there be here to learn for our congregational or even denominational conflicts? To remember that as we have faith in Jesus we are considered his, even if we may be missing out on some beneficial doctrinal understanding. The Universal Church of believers spans far more corners of belief than we are likely to be comfortable with. And while this is not an excuse not to preach and teach the Gospel to the best of our ability, there is a comfort that comes from knowing that even when someone doesn’t necessarily understand all they could or should, they are still in Christ.

Book Review – A Brief History of Indonesia

September 17, 2021

A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices & Tsunamis: The Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation by Tim Hannigan

How many colons are you allowed to have in a book title? I feel like Hannigan has exceeded his limit but, then again, he’s published a book and I haven’t. So I’ll just be quiet.

This is an engaging overview of Indonesia’s history going back to its earliest speculative and archaeological roots. Hannigan writes in a very readable fashion and his style is not dry or boring. It’s history – and a lot of it! But it’s also an interesting read.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book is along the way he makes mention of key concepts that form important aspects of Indonesia’s past and current cultural identity and self-conceptions. By bookmarking these as I notice them, I hope to have good guidance on areas for future study. Ideas such as Majapahit (p.57) help me understand how past empires are called upon as current and future inspiration, similar to the semi-mythical Wali Songo, remembered as Muslim saints who helped bring Islam to Indonesia. Great food for future study and contemplation.

Because of the books’ broad scope Hannigan doesn’t spend too long in any one area. This helps the book move along quickly. I found the names of people and places to be difficult to keep track of and didn’t try overly hard. That will come in time and once we’re living there and better able to find and even visit some of these places. But the scope of the book helps me get a handle on how much history these islands hold, and how many different forces have attempted to shape, exploit or otherwise engage with these peoples.

Clocking in at just about 260 pages, and with a bibliography of sources to be used as a launch for further reading, this is a great and manageable history for those who enjoy history and are interested in the island nation of Indonesia.

Pool Hall – Kolby’s Corner Pocket ~ Tempe, AZ

September 15, 2021

I was still in the first half of my educational venture at Arizona State University when Kolby’s opened. Having become addicted to the pool tables in the Memorial Union on campus, I was excited about another option for playing pool, even as my interest in classes continued to wane.

There were other places to shoot pool back then. Rack & Cue was still in operation on Apache near McClintock, Cue & Brew had relocated to the location it still maintains on Southern & Broadway. But Kolby’s was by far the nicest and newest place to shoot. As it should, this lured the best players, and my early impressions of Kolby’s were that I was way out of my league. Rather than be embarrassed by my lower playing level, I just opted to avoid Kolby’s and shoot in less competitive places where people weren’t watching and comparing so much.

That avoidance has lasted the better part of 30 years, and I can count on probably two hands the number of times I’ve returned to shoot there. It’s still one of the nicer places to shoot pool, although (as with us all) it’s showing it’s age. The tables are still good (Diamonds) and the felt is still kept in good shape. It remains a shooter’s pool hall with ongoing tournaments as well as league play. It offers beer and wine as well as a kitchen that can do a bit more than the typical fried bar food.

They have ten nine-foot tournament tables including Diamond and Brunswick brands. They have five seven-foot Diamond bar-box tables, and also one Joy Chinese Eight Ball table. Everything is kept in good condition. Staff is friendly enough and prices are reasonable.

When I stopped in the other evening I played for about an hour. I’ve enjoyed the practice I’ve gotten on nine-foot tables since relocating and joining a league that plays on the tournament-size tables. As such, I played fairly well. I noticed one guy wearing the jersey from the recent World Tournament in Las Vegas, and the play level of the people on the next table was definitely higher than mine. Still, I garnered at least two compliments for high-level bank shots I made in the process of just hitting the balls around.

I don’t feel out of my league here any more, though it still isn’t likely to become my preferred place to play since they only have beer and wine, neither of which I enjoy. It’s nice to know that in the last 30 years or so not only have I been able to further my education, but I’ve become a much better pool player!