Archive for February, 2015

Truth Comes Out

February 10, 2015

The latest public snafu, this time involving journalist Brian Williams, has of course captured the attention of the masses, mostly because that’s what the media wants us to think about.  Eleven years later, claims that Williams’ made about his battle experiences in Iraq have been proven false.  Whether the falsehoods were deliberate or accidental is a secondary matter to this post, though.  The fact is that 11 years after the fact, the assertions of a high-profile media personality have been shown to be false.

Truth Comes Out.

It may take a while, but the truth comes out.

I think this is hugely helpful for Christians dealing with a culture that increasingly doubts the radical claims of first century authors that Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the state, buried, and then returned to life again, making himself seen to hundreds of people over a six week period before physically ascending into heaven.  It’s popular to simply act as if the writers of the New Testament made all of this up.

Why would they do that?  you should ask.  No answer.  There is no rationale for people making up and sticking to a story that culminates in their violent torture and death, their exclusion from family and community.  The idea that a group of people would make up a story that was patently false for no personal gain is hard to believe.

But it’s even harder to believe when we consider Mr. Williams’ situation.  Truth comes out.  Did the apostles, the writers of the Gospels, St. Paul and the entire early Church just make this stuff up?  Despite massive persecution both in their religious communities and by the secular government?  Despite the fact that the two groups with the most resources and the most to lose by such assertions – the religious authorities and the Roman government – both had very vested interests in making sure that Jesus remained dead?

St. Paul refers his Corinthian hearers to others for validation of his assertions of Jesus crucified and resurrected.  Unlike other major world religions – notably Islam and Mormonism – Christianity is not simply one person saying take my word for it.  St. Paul claims that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people, many of whom were still alive and accessible.  In other words, don’t just take my word for it.  Ask around and see if others validate what I’m saying.

If these had just been fabrications, if anyone had thought that there was something to be gained by making up these assertions, wouldn’t the stories have started changing when the persecutions began?  When people lost jobs and homes?  When people were disowned by their families?  When people were arrested by the government?  When tongues were being cut out and eyes being burned out?  When people started dying, don’t you think someone would have mentioned that Uncle Matthew or Uncle Peter had mentioned one time that the whole thing was a hoax?

The truth comes out.  Sometimes it comes out inadvertently.  Sometimes it comes out through guilt.  Sometimes it comes out through being exposed with the facts.  But the fact that there are no real attempts to undermine the facts of the Gospels by those most inclined and best able to do so at the time is a huge reinforcement to me of their validity.

It should be for you as well.


February 9, 2015

I’ll start by saying that this is a very cute story.  I applaud the guy’s heart and his willingness to go out there and be a part of his community.  Truly, I am not a complete jerk.  I would happily vote for this guy to be my police chief if given the chance.

All that being said, it hurts me how misguided all of this is.

Children voice a legitimate concern.  There are bad people out there.  Some of those bad people target schools.  They’ve obviously been watching the news or movies or something that, even at their very young age, has made them aware of these bad people.  And since kids aren’t as stupid as we sometimes wish (and not nearly as bright as we sometimes pretend), they connect the dots.  If bad things happen at other schools, they could happen at mine.

They’re the clear thinkers in this story.  The police chief, while very well meaning and undoubtedly a peach of a guy, is lying to them.  That’s unfortunate.  I pray they never realize that lie at their young age (though it appears that the kids in the video know it’s not really Superman).  But they’ll realize it someday.

Bad things happen in our world.  There are bad people in our world.  Here’s an opportunity for two things – to address how we deal with this reality ourselves, and then how we will communicate that reality to our children.  Are we going to lie to them?  Promise them that nothing bad will ever happen to them and that we’ll always be there to protect them from such things?  What does this say about our own way of dealing with the reality of evil and suffering in the world?

We talk with our kids about the reality of evil and bad people.  As they grow older and their awareness of the world increases, we hopefully have laid a consistent groundwork for really addressing this.  For instance, we were talking as a family the other night about our hopes to take a big family trip overseas in a couple of years if we can save up enough.  Our daughter was concerned about planes crashing.  She was genuinely worried, and her worries have a real basis.  Planes do crash.  I could lie to her and tell her that her plane won’t crash, but why lie to her?

We talked statistics, about how planes crash far less frequently than cars do.  What that ultimately will likely do is make her afraid of cars, too.  Yippee.  Then we talked about how if there was a problem and the plane crashed, that we would be with Jesus.  There’s reality.  Yes, things happen in this world.  But our God has us in His hands, and He never lets us go.  Our youngest joked that we would be all afraid that they plane was crashing, and then all happy that we were with Jesus.  If only everyone was blessed with that trust, (and with that quick a transition between this life and the next!), how would that reframe the way we prepare our children for a world that is unpredictable and largely out of our control?

I want my kids to have a basis for dealing with this reality if something were to happen to me or my wife or to one of their siblings or best friends.  If their basis is the lie that I told them about being there to protect them, they aren’t going to have a very strong basis at all.  Good intentions are wonderful, but what we truly believe about the world and reality always finds a way of expressing itself through the decisions we make and how we explain reality to others, even little children.

Reading Ramblings – February 15, 2015

February 8, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Transfiguration Sunday – February 15, 2015

Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13 (14-18), 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

Context: The Transfiguration of our Lord is understandably a curious event. What purpose did it serve? Why is it that only Peter, James, and John were permitted to experience it, and why were they sworn to secrecy until after the resurrection? Questions abound. The simplest answer is to confess that we don’t have the answers to most of the questions that are raised, though we can rationalize answers that are more or less satisfying at least in part.

This event would only make sense to the disciples after the resurrection, when they were more fully understanding of the nature of Jesus’ work and his identity. Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29) and Jesus had just explained to his disciples for the first time what the Messiah’s work entailed (Mark 8:31). But Peter had refused to accept Jesus’ explanation of things (Mark 8:32). Peter, James, and John each promise to be with their master until the end (Mark 14:26-31, Mark 10:35-40), and perhaps this preview of Jesus’ glory will help each of them in coming to grips with their failure in this respect. They are not Jesus, not the Son of God incarnate, and not intended to bear everything that He must.

At the end of the day we admit that if Jesus is who we claim him to be – the incarnate Son of God – then this event, however curious, certainly is not beyond belief. May we take equal comfort that our crucified Savior is also victoriously resurrected and ascended, and coming again!

Exodus 34:29-35 – The account which Paul references in his second letter to the Corinthians. Being in the presence of God’s glory and power has a curious side effect for Moses – a glowing face. This is disconcerting to the Israelites, just as the very voice of God had terrified them (Exodus 20:18-21).

Scholars debate the nature of Moses’ shining face. Did it permanently shine, or only directly after a session in the presence of God? Some think it was a permanent alteration, that Moses’ face shined continually, and the veil was always worn as a distinctive mark of Moses’ unique role between God and the Israelites. Others think that Moses’ face only glowed after being in the presence of God, and served in part to authenticate what Moses told the Israelites. What Moses said with his face glowing behind the veil came from God himself. What Moses spoke when his face wasn’t glowing and he had no need for the veil was just Moses being Moses. The people could thus discern between divine revelation and everyday conversation or opinion.

Psalm 50:1-6 – These verses include many references to light – the sun (v.1), shining (v.2), fire (v.3), all of which seem appropriate to today’s Gospel lesson and theme, the revelation of God’s glory. God’s power is celebrated here, a power that is terrifying in and of itself, exceeding all the forces of nature over which we have no control and are reduced to fear before. Yet our God’s power comes not to destroy us but to save us through the revelation of his Son, Jesus the Messiah. In him the power of God is directed against sin and death and Satan, destroying these enemies of God’s creation and making true freedom possible through the Messiah. We need not fear any longer if we trust God’s deliverance in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 4:1–4:6 – Paul draws on the account in Exodus 34 to show the difference between those who lived under the Law – the Mosaic covenant given through Moses at Mt. Sinai, and believers in Jesus Christ. Those who were under the law could not bear the sight of Moses’ reflection of God’s glory in his face. But we in Christ not only can bear it, we are promised that we ourselves are being transformed into a similar glory! As such, the way we choose to live our lives changes here and now, in anticipation of what we have declared to be fully already through baptism in Christ, and which we will experience in fullness in the day of our Lord’s return.

Not everyone is willing and able to accept this, however, and for them, the reflection of God’s glory needs to still be veiled. This fact demonstrates their improper relationship to God and his Son, and reveals their refusal to see reality. We do not direct people to ourselves as evidence of God’s truth, but rather to Jesus the Christ, specifically to his resurrection from the dead in human history and geography. However much we reflect our Lord’s glory, we are only imperfect reflections, not the source of the glory.

Mark 9:2-9 – Jesus takes his inner circle to reveal to them a glimpse of his divine nature. It might be tempting to see the Transfiguration as an anomaly, something out of the ordinary. It would be more accurate to see the rest of Jesus’ incarnation as the anomaly. Jesus gives up his divine glory to become human, to bind himself to creation in order to save creation. He accepts the humiliation of physical finiteness, the masking of his glory. He veils his glory much as Moses veils his reflection of God’s glory.

But in the Transfiguration the veil is pulled aside momentarily. The disciples see Jesus as He more truly is – glorious, blinding in his perfection and cleanness. I tend to side with those scholars who see Mark as crafting his Gospel as a dramatic play. It’s short on dialogue and full of action. Things happen wham-bam, one right after the other with very little exposition or explanation. The hearer/reader is supposed to make sense of what all the action means. But Mark provides pointers along the way to help the reader towards the proper interpretation.

Mark begins his Gospel with a declaration of Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark ends his Gospel with the declaration of the centurion that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 15:39). And here, at the middle of Mark’s play, we have the transfiguration. Jesus in glory. Jesus beyond explanation, flanked by both the embodiment of the Law, Moses, and the greatest prophetic figure, Elijah. Jesus at the center as the fulfillment of both of these ways of God’s speaking with his people. The reader/hearer is led to see in this moment – as well as in the power displayed throughout Mark’s Gospel – Jesus truly is more than just a good man, a moral example, an insightful teacher. Jesus is in fact the Son of God as claimed by none other than God the Father himself (Mark 1:11, 9:7).

Who do you see in Mark’s Gospel, at the center of teachings and healings and casting out demons? Who do you see in the man who goes willingly to his death and rises from the dead just as he predicted? Who you say He is, how you interpret Mark’s dramatic Gospel, is the difference between veiling the mind to God’s love, or basking in the light of his grace.


February 7, 2015

We host international students in our home.  We’ve been doing this for two years, and by and large it has been a fantastic experience for our family, to the point that our kids are actually disappointed if we have a short time without a student with us.  But such an activity brings hospitality to the forefront, not just in an isolated, every-now-and-then sort of way, but daily.  What does it mean to be hospitable?

There are lots of factors at play.  There are cultural differences, first off.  We’ve hosted students from South America, Europe, and Asia.  All of them are seeking a genuine experience of American life and culture, including family life.  This includes American eating habits, which I’m fairly sure we’re not fully representative of, but there you go.  We deal with the issue that many of our students are younger and from affluent families, meaning that they haven’t had to eat things they don’t like.  And we also have to deal with the personal preferences and dietary concerns of our guests.  We’ve had several students who are lactose-intolerant, one student who would not eat pork for religious reasons, and plenty of students who just don’t like vegetables.

How do you be a good host in such a situation?  It can be nerve-wracking.  Knowing that these people intentionally signed up to experience everyday American family life is not entirely comforting if you know your guest is not happy with the food you make.  We aren’t a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, we’re a family.  We can’t (and won’t) cater to the personal whims of our guests, but we want them to be happy and well-fed.

Even just with inviting other families over for dinner we must contend with the exponential rise in food allergies.  One of our kids’ homeschool friends has a life-threatening peanut allergy.  We want to be respectful of such needs, but is avoiding nuts to save a little girl’s life on the same par as catering to a student who really just doesn’t like to eat veggies?

Our culture is obsessed with bullying, and the realm of food has become a violent arena for bullying of various kinds.  Vegetarians and vegans and paleos and organic enthusiasts can be very quick to get aggressive as they not only seek to eat the way they feel led to, but feel it necessary to try and force others to eat the same way.

My wife organizes a weekly play-date open to any and all homeschoolers in our area.  For the last three years it has been a wonderful mix of new and old kids and parents coming together to meet and talk and play.  Naturally, around holidays talk turns to having a special party or event for the kids on Park Day.  The same sort of thing that happens in a classroom in a public school (or at least used to) – send some goodies to share with your kids and let them have fun together.

Two years ago as these plans were coming together around Valentine’s Day, one of the home-school mothers was adamant that her kids be included.  No problem – the event is open to everyone, right?  She was adamant that her preferences about food be respected – their family doesn’t eat any sugar.  No problem, right?  Everyone is bringing things to share, feel free to bring treats that your kids can eat and share with others, and then just avoid the stuff that your kids aren’t supposed to eat.  Piece of cake (so to speak), right?

Wrong.  This mom insisted that the entire event had to be sugar-free.  Otherwise, her kids would feel uncomfortable because they couldn’t eat the snacks that the other kids brought.  She accused my wife and the group of basically being food bullies, demanding that sugar be allowed at the event, even though nobody was forcing her or her kids to either bring sugary-snacks or eat them.  The very fact that everybody else in the group didn’t see a problem with this demonstrated their bullying ways.

It sounds silly but it created a serious rift in the homeschool community, particularly those who came to park days.  Harsh words were exchanged both in person and in e-mail.  This person couldn’t see that her insistence that everyone cater to her particular wishes was, at best, equally bullying.

It’s enough to make you think twice about inviting someone over for dinner!  Yet hospitality is one of the Biblical requirements for Christian leaders (1 Timothy 3:2)!  Interesting that we don’t hear this mentioned very often, or stressed.  Yet there it is, alongside monogamy.  I actually had a seminary prof who refused to translate it as ‘hospitable’, and tried to redefine the word as meaning basically a nice person.  I suspect St. Paul meant what he said, and was inspired to choose the appropriate word for it.  How then do we go about it in our fractured world?

I appreciated this blogger’s sensible approach on the subject, an approach that mirrors our own overall.  As much as the host wants to make the guest comfortable, the guest should remember that they are receiving a gift, the gift of hospitality, and should be gracious about it.  How one prefers to eat at home can be set aside for the greater goal of relationship with other people – unless of course it’s a serious medical issue.  We’ve learned to inquire in advance about dietary needs and preferences of our guests.  We accommodate them as much as possible.  In the process, we’ve learned that people can be flexible when they want to be.  We’ve also learned that some people exaggerate their food issues.  Exploration needs to occur as to just what the boundaries are with any specific guest.

I also appreciated this same blogger’s basic rules for eating.  Common sense can go a long way to making hospitality easier – both for the host as well as for the guest!

Mandatory Vaccinations?

February 6, 2015

Yet another Facebook acquaintance is touting their viewpoint that everybody should be required to have their children vaccinated.  Personal beliefs and religious exemptions are to be tossed aside in the quest to ensure that we eradicate diseases such as measles.  My state is pushing rather hard to accommodate this point of view, wishing to become one of only three states that don’t allow parents the option of claiming personal beliefs as a reason for opting out of a vaccine.

That being said, I’d be willing to acknowledge that the State has a right to demand vaccination for students enrolled in public schools.  If you’re going to avail yourself of one of the benefits our government offers, you need to respect the terms under which it is offered.  Likewise, I think that welfare recipients should be required to pass regular blood tests for drug use.  But to require every parent to allow a total stranger to inject something into their child’s body that is not explained to them and that the manufacturers thereof are not required to totally disclose every piece of information about what is in the injection, strikes me as ludicrous.  If women’s bodies are so sacrosanct (irony) that they are legally permitted to kill their unborn child, I would think that feminists at the very least would be demanding that girls be allowed to opt out of immunizations using the same rationale.

Before I get going on this further, I’d like to acknowledge what might be the most balanced post on the subject of immunizations of late, at least coming from someone on the pro-vaccine side of things.  Considering the frenzy that people have been whipped up into over this issue, the author (a pro-vaccine doctor) does a good job of bringing back the discussion more towards actual human beings who love their children.

Personally I don’t care for the pro/anti-vaxx label. I am not anti-vaccine.  I have no problem with the idea of vaccines or those who choose to avail themselves of them.  I don’t believe that every vaccine is going to do irreparable harm to the recipient, but I also believe that, as indicated by the manufacturers themselves, some can and do.  This presents to me, the parent, odds and options that need to be weighed.  It is my job to weigh them, not my government’s.  The decision to vaccinate should remain with me, the parent, as with any other medical procedure.  I’ve blogged recently about encroaches into parental authority by a State more and more convinced that it should have the final word in all of these matters, and the push to mandate vaccinations is just another angle on this.  For a nation founded on a dedication to personal liberty, it amazes me the rapidity at which people are willing to hand over their liberty to the State for a questionable promise of safety.

By the way, to date, has any of the children diagnosed with measles died?  Have any of them developed pneumonia or brain inflammation, two of the other afflictions which can accompany measles?  Just curious.  Much of the hype over measles is the idea that they are deadly.  This may once have been the case, but considering our advances in medicine over the last 50 years, is this necessarily still the case?

I debate entering into dialogue with my Facebook colleague on this issue.  Certainly more than a few acquaintances have made blanket posts at one point or another indicating that if anyone says anything they disagree with they will unfriend them immediately.  Amazing.  While I’m not really worried about being unfriended, I also tend to think that Facebook discussions rarely are helpful, and more often than not either degenerate into name calling or simply taper off into nothing.  You can’t pin somebody down in a Facebook conversation.  All they have to do is quit responding to you.  I don’t care for that approach to dialogue or debate.

My acquaintance was baffled how anyone could even question whether or not vaccines were safe or not, or whether or not we could trust our government to use them appropriately.  It baffles me how poor our understanding of history is, both our own history as Americans as well as history around the world, not to mention current events.

Let’s just look at one brutal example – the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, which were conducted by the United States government over a period of 40 years.  This isn’t ancient history, people.  1972.  Right here in the USofA.  Men were deliberately not treated for a disease that became curable a decade into the study.  They weren’t told what they had.  The experiments were still active and ongoing in 1972 – it was only because of a whistleblower that the whole thing was brought to light and condemned.

I’m sure there are people who will be happy to argue that this can’t happen again.  But I don’t share their optimism in human nature or regulatory oversight.  This experiment was ongoing even through and after World War II, as the world condemned the inhumane treatment of Nazi prisoners, including medical experimentation.  It continued to happen right here in our own back yard.

Some might argue that this was the isolated work of evil people.  Perhaps that’s the case, but it’s a dangerously narrow view of human nature.  I tend to suspect that in large part the Tuskegee experiments were made possible by people who believed they were doing the right thing, that their actions were leading to the overall betterment of society as a whole or at least the people and communities involved in the experiments.  It is a sad fact of human nature that we commit some of our most heinous evils upon others when we believe our actions are justified or, worse yet, necessary to achieve a greater good.

Let’s examine the demand for mandatory vaccinations.  What would this create?  We’re setting the legal precedent for my government to demand that I submit myself to its demands to inject me with vaccines.  Which vaccines?  Measles?  Whooping cough?  What about the flu shot?  Should that be included as mandatory?  And if we’re going to bring that up, are children the only ones that need to get vaccinated?  Why not demand vaccinations and boosters for all adults while we’re at it?  And where are the studies showing the length of efficacy for these vaccinations?

New vaccines are being developed at an amazing rate (and long-term studies on their safety aren’t available because they’re so new!).  According to that last link I gave you, over 300 new vaccines are in clinical trials or reviews right now.  Does the public get to vote on which vaccines are mandatory?  Would there be a two-tier system – mandatory vaccines and voluntary ones?  Sounds pretty ludicrous to me.  What seems more likely is that as new vaccines are developed and policy officials are lobbied as to the greater good they provide, they’ll simply be wrapped into the mandatory requirement.

I wonder how diligently the public will be informed of changes to the vaccines.  Is a certain, specific vaccine mandatory?  What about alterations to that vaccine?  Does the public need to be informed about alterations in the manufacturer’s procedures or ingredients?  Does the public need to be informed when new vaccines are added to the mix?  Does the public have the right to demand full disclosure of all the ingredients in the vaccines and public alerts when these are changed?  I can’t imagine it.  Not if we demanded that someone else make these decisions for us.

We all love our children.  I’ll go so far as to assume that everyone on both sides of the issue love other children as well – both the children of pro-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers.  The issue is one of trust.  Not trust in the science per se, but what happens with control of that science.  History is full of well-intentioned and brilliant men and women scientists who have watched their discoveries co-opted for purposes they never intended.  Vaccines may indeed be a good thing, but to pretend that those who hesitate about them are somehow evil, malicious, or otherwise idiotic requires a healthy ignorance of history as well as human nature.

Reading Update

February 5, 2015

I’ve been reading.  It’s an occupational hazard/joy (or at least it should be).  Sometimes it’s planned and other times less so.

In December I finished T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  I discovered and fell in love with the film version in late high school/early college with my best friend.  We didn’t just see the movie, we saw the movie in an amazing place – the Cine Capri in Phoenix, Arizona.  An amazing, environment for a movie of that scale.  However I wasn’t much familiar with the history the film described.  The book filled in some gaps while also going largely over my head in reference to obscure Middle Eastern place names and persons.  But I look forward to seeing the movie again having actually read the book.

My reading time now is split between two major endeavors.

The first is weekly preparation for the Bible study on Romans that I’m leading.  I have a devoted group of 20 or so folks who have survived in-depth studies on Genesis, Exodus, and Mark.  Romans is next on our list.  Thus far my prep reading for each week dwarfs what I did for any other individual study.  People have a lot to say about Romans.  While my bibliography for the course lists close to 10 different resources that I’ll draw upon from time to time, I’ve settled on the following three as my main go-tos:

  • Luther’s Lectures on Romans.  This is the first time I’m close-reading Luther for a Bible study.  I attempted it briefly with Genesis and gave up on it.  But I like his Romans commentary thus far, and his approach (the Scholastic teaching method) is similar in some ways to how I have structured these studies.  There is a basic study that I distribute to the students to get them into the text prior to class.  Generally these studies (Living Way) are fairly basic – they aren’t addressing scholarly or deeply theological issues with the text, but deal with the plain sense and application of the Word, oftentimes cross-referencing (sometimes well, sometimes not so well) with other Scripture.  Then I compile my lecture notes, which I give to the students as I lecture.  These are more in-depth and try to deal with more detailed theological analysis and application.  It seems to work, and I learn tons along the way.
  • The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans by John Murray.  A good overview.  Light on grammatical analysis (which I’m grateful for).
  • Concordia Commentary: Romans 1-8 by Michael P. Middendorf.  Dense.  I just got this and will need to commit more time each week to getting through it.  Heavy grammatical emphasis despite his claims to the contrary.  Very solid theological examination of the text and citation of relevant alternate interpretations.
  • Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8 by James D. G. Dunn.  Any author with two middle initials ought to be good, right?  The Word series is generally a little more liberal in interpretation but provides some good grammatical insights and word studies.

The other major reading endeavor is the preparatory reading for the academy I will be attending this summer in Strasbourg, France.  As a first-time attender expectations are probably somewhat flexible, but my intention is to read through as much of the three-page reading list as possible.  Much of the stuff expected for first-time attenders is authored by the founder and major figure of the academy – John Warwick Montgomery (you can Wiki him here).  Some of his stuff is very dense and is going to take a long time and probably multiple re-reads to wade through.  Other stuff is easier.  To date, this is how far I’ve gotten.  All of these are by JWM:

  • How Dow We Know There Is a God? – This is a very brief book – practically a pamphlet intended to be given to someone with some basic questions about the faith.  As such the answers are cursory in nature and the serious inquirer will need to be directed to more substantial works.  Additionally, because the answers are cursory they are sometimes phrased in a dismissive tone.  Authored in 1973 such a tone might have still been reasonable, but will likely be a major turn-off to post-modern assumptions about the relative nature of truth.
  • Defending the Gospel Through the Centuries – Authored in 1999 this is a brief summary of major apologetic figures of the last 2000 years.  While parts of it serve as a very reasonable overview and introduction, other sections assume a familiarity with various philosophical figures to truly make sense of JMW’s critiques.  He includes bibliographical references for each figure that he lists, which is helpful for someone looking to make a more in-depth study.
  • Tractacus Logico-Theologicus – Some consider this JMW’s magnum opus.  That may well be, but it’s painful to read.  Come prepared with a good background in philosophy and a comfort with the tools of analytic philosophy.  As such, the work is terse and to the point – there is no fluff here.  JMW presents page after page, line after line, of terse, logical defense of the Christian faith, particularly against the typical nonsense that all religions are essentially the same or lead to the same end-points/God.  Stylistically it is organized on the same basis as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus.  This is going to take a long time to get through, some sections are simpler than others, and the whole thing will require multiple re-reads.

On the fun side, last night I had a few extra minutes before my volunteer shift for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and wandered into our main downtown library for the first time.  Wandering in the fiction B’s I found a collection of Ray Bradbury short stories that was published just a few years ago, bound together around the common dystopian themes present in Fahrenheit 451.  I was able to read two short stories of his I’d never seen before, and review another one that I have always enjoyed.  What a wonderful 30 minutes of indulgence!

Have any good reading recommendations?  I should be able to get to them in about 2018….


February 4, 2015

I worry about my children’s socialization.

Not in the way you might expect.  When we first started homeschooling this was often the response we would get – what about socialization?  Aren’t your kids going to be isolated and socially stunted?  The short answer to that question is no, our children aren’t socially stunted.  They interact quite well with other children their own age.  And kids much younger than themselves.  And kids older than themselves.  And adults.  But there is one aspect of traditional schooling models that our homeschooling experience hasn’t been able to duplicate.  That aspect is learning about jerks.

My son loves to play a computer game called Clash of Clans.  He plays it with his siblings, he plays it with his cousin who lives out of state.  His cousin is the clan leader and our son is a co-leader.  Together they lead wars against other clans, assembling other members to bolster their clan’s strength and capabilities.  It’s a fantastic experience.  But the other day my son watched in horror as a newer member to the clan revealed his true colors.  This new member had asked for a promotion to co-leader and appeared to be a powerful player that would really strengthen the clan.  Trusting this person’s word, my son promoted him to co-leader.  Whereupon this person began kicking out all the lower-ranked clan members, decimating the clan from the inside out before resigning his membership with a lovely expletive.  Because of the nature of co-leadership, my son couldn’t stop this guy from wrecking the clan.  And my son had to deal with the knowledge that it was his decision to promote this guy in good faith that had destroyed the clan.

We constantly reinforce the idea of online safety.  Our kids don’t participate in chat features in the games they play, we caution them not to give out personal information and all that other very important stuff.  But there is also the need to explain human nature, and the idea that just because somebody doesn’t know who you are or how to find you, doesn’t mean that they still can’t hurt you by appearing to be something or someone they aren’t.

It’s a shame to have to have that sort of discussion with your child.  Not everyone is what they seem.  Sometimes trusting is not the best option.  Those are lessons that come naturally (and painfully) in a classroom and playground setting, but seem to be elusive in our home schooling community.  Our kids are genuinely puzzled by the one or two kids who are rude or unfriendly.  They have an intrinsic desire to befriend and make others feel welcomed and find it odd when others aren’t able or willing to reciprocate.

I guess it’s good that I have to educate them in this particular subject intentionally.  It’s a shame that it’s necessary but it is, particularly in our wired and interconnected world.  Socialization is a whole lot trickier than it used to be.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to help craft that for my kids.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Saint Barb’s Blast

February 4, 2015

Here’s a tip – if a drink includes things that you know you don’t like, don’t presume that just because they’re combined with other ingredients that you do like the result will be a drink you enjoy.  Trust your instincts.

Case in point.  We found ourselves in possession of one of the trendy culinary magazines for our area, showcasing all of the schwanky places to eat and drink.  Included was a recipe for the drink in the title.  I don’t care for champagne or most sparkling wines, but I thought, what the heck, maybe it will be really good because I like the other stuff in it.

See my advice above and decide accordingly

  1. 2 oz bourbon (rye if you like that)
  2. 1/2 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  3. 10 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  4. 10 dashes of Angostura bitters
  5. Orange peel
  6. Sparkling wine/champagne to top off

Mix the first four ingredients with ice and shake well.  Strain into two champagne flutes (or whatever glass you’re using.  Let’s be real.).  If you like the added touch of class (which probably means you have champagne flutes), carve off a bit of orange rind for each glass.  Place the rind in each glass and then top with the champagne/sparkling wine.  You don’t really need to stir it but you can if you like.  Enjoy – if you like sparkling wine/champagne/bourbon/bitters/orange liquor.  Otherwise, avoid.  I think the creator went overboard on the bitters for no good reason.  But I might be a bit on the bitter side myself.

Reading Ramblings – February 8, 2015

February 1, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 8, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Context: We continue in the intermediate season (Ordinary Time) after Epiphany and prior to Lent.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – This passage as a whole contrasts the one, true God with possible competitors for this role and title. Idols have already been ruled out and mocked as a possible alternative (vs.19-20). The verses assigned for today emphasize God’s role as the creator and overseer of all creation. As such, those who think that somehow they can fool God or evade his eye, that He will allow their sin to go unnoticed are misleading themselves. But likewise, those who trust in the Lord can expect his power and strength. For this reason the historic Christian liturgy can proclaim that My help is in the name of the Lord, who created heaven and earth!

We might be quick to think that idols are a thing of the past, but as our culture continues to drift towards uber-individualism in which each people feel that their beliefs are (or must be!) something that they fashion for themselves based on their preferences, idols are indeed running amuck. Sometimes they are hard to see, existing in the minds of the people around us. Other times they are physical – we place our trust in our debit/credit cards, in the education of our children, in our standard of living, or scientific alternatives to explain the universe without God – explanations which basically amount to the role of an infinite number of dice. As such these verses continue to challenge us to look at what is and consider whether we are truly worshiping the one, true God or not.

Psalm 147:1-11 – This psalm calls us to praise God for some of the same reasons that God exalts himself appropriately over any thing or anyone that would presume to trespass on his glory. Verse 1 is the formal call to praise God. Praise is due for his watchfulness for his people (vs.2-3), for his master over creation (vs.4), as well as for his commitment to justice (vs.6). Verses 7 is a renewed call to prayer, followed by reasons for responding. Verses 8-9 reflect on how the Lord provides for his creation, while verses 10-11 indicate that God (as God) is not impressed by his creation, but rather responds when his creation honors him in praise.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 – Technically this reading doesn’t necessarily fit with the Old Testament or the Gospel lesson, but there are some themes that resonate between this and the reading from Isaiah. We are right to praise God because there is no other entity like him or equal to him. The God that created the cosmos is the God who individually calls people into relationship to him, through his Son Jesus the Christ. Likewise, once called, it may be that we find the direction and intention of our life redirected to the praise and glory of this God who created us and saves us. In St. Paul’s case, that meant becoming a proclaimer of God’s saving work in Jesus. Paul often refers to himself as a servant or slave in this regard. It has become his duty and privilege to share the Gospel.

Taking this role seriously, Paul carefully considers his audience. How might this group of people best hear the Gospel? What might help this other group of people to hear the good news of Jesus best? Likewise, Paul encourages us to live our lives for Christ, allowing our lives to be to the glory of God just as much as our words and songs are.

Mark 1:29-39 – The Word of God made flesh now has a new, more imminent impact upon creation. The blessings of God flow through the person of God’s Son. The kingdom of God that Jesus preaches is near starting in verse 15 is at hand. The results are the unravelings of the effects of sin. Sickness is cured. Demons are cast out. Lives are transformed.

It might have been very tempting to Jesus to remain near Capernaum. Here He was welcome. He could teach and preach and have a relatively simple and easy life. Yet Jesus is not content to follow his own wishes, but rather to place himself wholeheartedly in obedience to his heavenly Father. This requires (and allows!) constant communication, so that Jesus might know what He is to do. Rather than enjoying the fruits of his successful ministry thus far, Jesus is therefore intent on preaching and teaching elsewhere, so that others might hear and see and know that the power of God is at hand.

Where Jesus goes, the incarnate power and presence of the kingdom of God goes. Results are not dependent on the location, but on the presence of Jesus that draws people to receive good news, healing, and freedom. All of these things are praiseworthy. All are the obvious outpourings of a loving God into his creation that has chosen sin and rebellion rather than the obedience demonstrated by Jesus, and suffers the consequences accordingly.

The response to this outpouring of goodness is that word spreads quickly. In our hurting and broken world, people respond quickly to hope for healing and recovery of all sorts. Sometimes this allows sinful and exploitative men and women the opportunity to deepen the hurting of God’s people. Sometimes the miraculous power of the in-breaking kingdom of God is made available in ways we can’t understand or predict. But each day, whether filled with the miraculous (as we variably choose to define!) or not, we should give thanks to the God who created us and strengthens us in each moment.