Archive for March, 2015

Debating Dilbert

March 31, 2015

A friend on Facebook tipped me off that Scott Adams, famed creator of the Dilbert comic strip, is looking for someone to debate.  The issue?  The legislation looming in California regarding doctor-assisted suicide, which I wrote about the other day.  I’m hesitant to get involved in these sort of online debates, as they generally devolve pretty quickly into rudeness.  But, I threw my hat in the ring.  So far, no acknowledgement or response from Adams, who was looking for a religious leader living in California who would be willing to debate him.  But the challenge went out a couple of days ago, so he may be bored and on to another topic.  We shall see.


March 30, 2015

Technology is a pretty amazing thing.  I celebrated a birthday yesterday, and had greetings from all sorts of people.  Phone calls with family, cards from parishioners, and a cavalcade of greetings on Facebook.

I’ll quickly acknowledge that Facebook birthday greetings are fairly shallow for the most part, an easy and almost mindless way of touching base with someone you likely wouldn’t otherwise have said anything to on that particular day.  But strictly from the ‘roll call’ aspect, it’s still amazing.  I can divide my life up into about ten fairly distinct phases or stages, and I had greetings from people from every one of those phases.  People who have known me since grade school as well as more recent friends and parishioners.  It’s amazing to see those names that span a lifetime.  It’s a simple pleasure, being able to look back over life and recognize a small fraction of the many, many people who have been, are, and might one day be a part of it.  Thanks to everyone for being part of my story.  And thanks to God that my story is all a part of his story!

Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday – April 5, 2015

March 29, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Context: Easter is the highlight of the liturgical year. While Christmas gets the most publicity (thanks to a long-standing association of gift-giving that makes it an economic powerhouse), Easter has from the earliest days of the Christian been the highest moment of Christian worship and faith. Every Sunday worship is a mini-Easter, a celebration of our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and Satan. So it’s only appropriate for our Easter celebration to be near-giddy with joy. Easter is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world – a basis in a historical event, testified to by documents of incredible historic and literary integrity. It is the standard of God’s victory planted in humanity, history, and geography. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – After the bleak picture of Isaiah 24, Isaiah 25 comes in like a breath of fresh air! God will indeed judge, and the judgment will fall on those who reject him. So the strains of the opening of Isaiah 25 are appropriate – evil must and will be judged, its strongholds leveled, and the glory of God revealed in his righteousness. On that day, after judgment has been given, begins the wonder and joy of God’s reign among his people. Then the feast will begin, consisting of the finest fare. But as wonderful as this image is, greater still is the promise of God’s victory not just over evil, but over the effects of evil in creation. Death will be swallowed up, destroyed, forever. Once this happens then tears can be wiped away. His people will give him praise, as their trust in him is vindicated at last. What a beautiful passage for Easter Sunday, a beautiful description of the victory Jesus has won in his resurrection, the full of experience of which we look forward to in the day of his return!

Psalm 16 – At first glance this seems like an easy psalm of thanksgiving. But it vascillates between giving thanks for blessings received and asking for help. It begins with a request – for God to preserve the speaker. God must be the source of preservation because God is where the speaker is taking refuge. While others may opt to try and worship or sway other deities, the speaker is resolute in dedication only to God, so much so that the speaker looks up to those others who are of a similar faith.

But there are those who are not so faithful, who seek other gods to preserve them, gods that require sacrifices of blood. The speaker rejects these other gods and other worship practices. The speaker than affirms that the Lord has already blessed her. Despite the fact that she is in need of preservation, she can affirm that the Lord has already blessed her greatly. As such, the speaker inquires after the Lord’s wisdom both day and night, and trusts in God’s wisdom to preserve them.

As such, the speaker can rejoice, confident that he is secure already in the Lord. Even should the speaker die, God will not abandon him to death. The blessings of the God are in living this life according to God’s will, and anticipating the eternal pleasures promised still. This is a beautiful description of the now-and-not-yet nature of our blessings in Christ. We still face struggles and difficulties in this life, culminating in death itself. Yet our hope is that the struggles of this life and not even death itself are the end of us.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – This is a beautiful summation of the Gospel message, and one of the rare passages that even the most liberal and dismissive scholars are willing to agree is by St. Paul. As such, it is particularly important as a glimpse into the earliest proclamation of the Church. Having lectured the Corinthians on appropriate worship practices, Paul reminds them of the centrality of the Gospel. Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised on the third day as Scriptures prophesy, and that He then appeared to the disciples as well as hundreds of other followers. At the time Paul is writing many of these followers are still alive, though some have died. Essentially Paul is telling the Corinthians that they are welcome to verify his message. Paul is not creating some myth about Jesus and his death and resurrection. Paul is simply preaching what everyone already knows, and what many people can attest to by eye-witness accounts. Last of all Paul himself encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, changing his life radically and completely. This is the power of the resurrected Christ. This is the source of our hope still today.

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s final verses are some of the most challenging of the Gospels – not because of what they say, but because of what they do not say. His account of the empty tomb is fairly straightforward and consistent with the other Gospels. But then Mark ends there. The other Gospels go on to describe Jesus’ resurrection appearances – Mark does not. Verses 9-20 of Mark are highly suspect and likely not original to Mark’s hand (and therefore Peter’s testimony). Mark ends his gospel with the women’s fear.

I think that Mark has structured his gospel more like a play than a biography. Mark’s gospel is a gospel in action, short on dialogue and big on action. Jesus is always moving, doing, speaking sometimes but mostly healing, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, discrediting and disarming his opponents. Mark seems to want the hearer/reader to make up their minds about Jesus and his identity and purpose based on what Jesus did, rather than on a lot of exposition or dialogue. As such, I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that Mark ends where he does. He ends with the women in the same position as the reader/hearer encountering Jesus for the first time. What are we to make of all of this? That is the crucial question, the question that is literally a matter of our life and death.

Mark has already indicated the proper answer. He states it in his first chapter and verse. Peter confesses it in chapter 8. The centurion confesses it in chapter 15. The logical conclusion to derive from all that Jesus did (and said), is that He is indeed the Son of God. The empty tomb is the final and most conclusive proof of this. These implications may terrify us, because they point to a very real God and a very real Son of God who has died on our behalf. Will we accept what He has done? Will we put aside our rationalizations and rely on the historical and literary testimony before us?

To reconcile ourselves to Mark’s conclusion it is reasonable to wish to have further testimony. We can go to Matthew or Luke or John or St. Paul for just such testimony. At the end of the day the question remains before us – who do we say that Jesus is? Is he mad? Is he evil? Or is he who he claims to be, the very Son of God? We must reach a conclusion for ourselves. If we conclude that He is not who the historical and literary accounts make him out to be, we must have a reason for this. Do we doubt Socrates or Plato? Do we think that Julius Caesar was really a humble shoemaker rather than a great military and political leader? Why do we accept historical and literary testimony about these people at face value and not the testimony about Jesus – which from a historical standpoint is stronger and more reliable?

This is the question Easter poses each year. What is your answer?

Stepping Down the Slippery Slope

March 28, 2015

Thanks to Rose Marie for letting me know that there is a bill making its way through our state legislature that would permit certain people to seek, and certain people to grant, the means by which to legally end their own lives.  The bill is here, and I encourage you to read it through.  It isn’t as complicated or daunting as it first appears, and it’s important to learn how to read legislative proposals.  The State Senate Health Committee passed this bill 6-2.

Several thoughts.  First of all, language.  Section 443.15 (page 13) mandates that this legislation and practice cannot be referred to as mercy killing, active euthanasia, or lethal injection.  The language the bill uses for the means of ending one’s life is medicine.  Take a look at the definition for medicine.  What horribly inappropriate terminology, to pretend that the materials being prescribed to end one’s own life are anything other than poison, since that is their intent, regardless of how they might be otherwise prescribed in order to preserve life.  It must be comforting to medical researchers that a breakthrough medicine aimed at saving lives might instead by misappropriated by the state towards the opposite end.

Continuing the charade that what is happening is not the poisoning of the patient, the bill also mandates that the cause of death for someone who avails themselves of this right and these materials must be the underlying sickness/disease they are suffering from, not the medication they have been legally prescribed (section 443.7b, page 8).  How convenient of the State to wash its hands of authorizing the patient’s premature death.

I think it’s interesting that the bill would allow doctors and pharmacists to opt out – not to participate in this legal practice.  In other words, a doctor might refuse to prescribe a patient enough medicine to kill them, or a pharmacist might decline to fulfill such a prescription (section 443.5, section 8, page 8; section 443.12b, page 11).  It seems rather naive to think that once this bill becomes law, doctors and pharmacists will not be compelled to fulfill their patient’s legal wishes to prematurely end their own life.  Likewise language that prohibits insurance providers and others from differentiating the fees they charge people based on either the determination to or not to avail themselves of this right seems ridiculous.  So the person that informs their insurance agency that, in the event of a terminal disease they will end their life early isn’t going to get a discount for this?  So the insurance company just makes more money by charging them as though they’re going to avail themselves of every actual resource to prolong their life?  Really?

Finally, I think it’s interesting that family does not need to be notified (sample form, page 9).  Once again the State is happy to intervene and facilitate our wishes – whatever they are and regardless of how they might impact those who actually know and love us – without the pesky mess of informing family.  And since the death certificate is only going to list the underlying disease/illness, how convenient that it will be hard to hold anyone accountable for someone making this sort of decision alone and isolated.  Once again we can be spared the difficulty of dealing with family because we have a benevolent State who won’t cause us any difficulties.

The very language of the entire bill makes it clear what a counter-intuitive thing is being proposed.  All the caveats and hold-harmless clauses are enough on their own to raise red flags that something here is very, very amiss.  How is it that such legislation cannot be considered elder abuse?  Would it be elder abuse if a family member told grandpa that it would be better off for him to end his own life rather than making his family take care of him?  Seems like there likely might be grounds for such a charge.  But no such charge can be made against a physician, who probably barely knows the individual and has no lasting relationship either with that person or their family.  A few whispered words about saving your family a lot of financial and emotional suffering, seeds planted in a moment of vulnerability and weakness – this can’t be considered a form of elder abuse?  Why not?!  Because we say it’s not.  End of story.

As we continue to model ourselves after Europe’s progressive or enlightened policies, it might be worthwhile to read some of the problems that Europe is reaping from their decision.  Like this.  Or this – particular the last bits about patients not being able to request it, and their doctors requesting it for them.


Book Review: The Shaping of America

March 27, 2015

The Shaping of America by John Warwick Montgomery

Bethany House Publishers, 1976

More required reading list for this.  Published on the occasion of our country’s bicentennial, Montgomery attempts to diagnose and trace the malaise facing America 40 years ago, a malaise engendered by the exhaustion of the energy and confidence that characterized our nation’s founding through the early 20th century.  This confidence and optimism was fueled by both religion and secularism in their own ways, and yet both strains have run their course, leaving us wonder where to go from here.  Montgomery’s analysis is typically wide-ranging and erudite.  He’ll dance you through history and literature and the arts sketching a disillusionment that still exists today, 40 years later, though more deeply.

Although he indicates that he has ideas about the way forward, out of inertia and disillusionment, his analysis and diagnosis is far more satisfying than his prognosis.  Essentially, he calls on Christians to re-engage, to renounce the isolationist tendencies that our religious forefathers brought with them and that continues in their evangelical descendants.  Christians need to be engaged – intellectually, culturally, socially, politically – in the life of this country.  And not the trite, bumper-sticker theology that so often passes for Christianity.  Rather a Christianity grounded in Scripture and a clear identity both of humanity and our condition, as well as the God who created, redeemed, and is still at work sanctifying us.  This is all true, but it is a complicated mess to sort through, obviously, as 40 years later little has changed other than growing worse.  His prescription remains just as valid and elusive today as it was in 1976.  But it will require further time to correct the listing drift of the Church in America.

Good Use of Technology

March 26, 2015

I’m skeptical of technology often enough to be considered a Luddite by some, I suppose.  But really, I think technology overall is great.  And here is one example – putting out fires with sound waves instead of water.  If this is actually legitimate on a large scale, imagine the cost savings for fighting fires!

Every Step You Take

March 26, 2015

Or more accurately, every move you make.  At least in your car.  And in Oakland.  And who knows where else.

Personal privacy in our country continues to be unraveled and assaulted in myriad ways.  Oftentimes through what we voluntarily disclose, but also through the collection of data on any number of our activities, such as driving.  In Oakland, police have 33 license plate readers that record license plate numbers.  That information is publicly available.

That may not seem like a big deal, but if just about anyone can get hold of that information, and they get hold of a sufficient quantity of that data, then they can begin to assemble information about you that you might never intend that person to know.  Like where you live, where you like to hang out.  We go about our daily routines assuming that we are more or less invisible (if we live in a large enough city).  Increasingly, we need to realize that we are not invisible.  We are being tracked by people constantly, ostensibly in the name of public safety or security, but usually without very well-defined purposes.  And even for purposes of law enforcement and public safety, the vast majority of the data collected has no bearing on criminals, but people not under suspicion of any crime.

Does your city implement technology in this way?  Have they indicated what they intend to accomplish by it, and are they forthcoming about the reality that this information will be publicly accessible?  Is this even a source of concern?

Wet Bar Wednesday – Apple Car

March 25, 2015

While I enjoy having a well-stocked home bar, the reality of the situation is that I cannot be Captain Creativity often enough to go through my stock regularly.  Particularly, there are specialty liquors that often grow dusty in the back row.  While their flavor may not be appreciably affected, sometimes it’s good to go out of your way to find a drink that utilizes something you don’t utilize very often otherwise.

So when my eyes fell upon a dusty bottle of Calvados, I decided this was just such an occasion.

Calvados is an apple brandy specifically from the Normandy region of France.  As with other French liquors, there are strict requirements over what can and cannot be called calvados.  The drink I came across is called an Apple Car.  Don’t ask me why.

Apple Car:

  • 1 part triple sec
  • 5 parts Calvados
  • 3 parts lemon juice
  • 1 cherry

Mix all the liquid ingredients together in a glass or shaker, add ice and the cherry.  I found this a little on the sour/bitter side, so you can add additional parts of triple sec to try and sweeten it, or you can add additional cherries/cherry juice if it’s sweetened.  Enjoy!

Me, Myselfie, and I

March 23, 2015

An interesting article on the escalation of narcissism in developed nations, driven by technology and obsession with popularity that now never needs to take a break – or can.  If you have kids or know kids, you need to be aware of this.  This is a primary reason why our kids don’t have cell phones, and why I haven’t broken usage rules for major e-mail providers to give my kids their own e-mail accounts.  I tend to think that age requirements for mail systems like Google are a good thing.

I’ll also state that home-schooling changes the dynamics described in this article.  My kids do not spend the majority of their weekly waking hours being shaped by the behavior and expectations of their peers, who are in turn often shaped by media.  Our kids have lots of friends and spend time with them weekly, but not in the peer pressure cooker of a classroom or, more still, the pressure cooker of the hallways, locker areas, and lunch tables between classes.

It isn’t that my kids won’t learn from their peers – they will, and in most respects that’s good. But they’ll also learn in a context that is shaped primarily by our family’s values, not school culture’s values.  While we can’t control how they will turn out, at least they have the benefit of deeper grounding in relationships where they are valued for more than their clothing and potential sex appeal.

As I’ve highly suggested in the past, if your kids are using technology, you need to talk with them about it and set limits on it at home.  It’s addictive, and (like most anything) it can be just as destructive as it can be helpful.

More on Death

March 23, 2015

Following up on another recent post regarding death, I found this a fascinating article.  It brings in the technology angle in terms of how to redesign death so that it isn’t as depressing as it really is.

Of course, from a Christian perspective, of course death is depressing.  Death is unnatural – it isn’t supposed to be part of creation, and is here only because of disobedience and sin.  It is universal in scope – nobody escapes it, whether they die before being born or live to be 116.  While pop philosophy and pop theology constantly attempt to redefine death, to take away the pain of loss and offer some sort of alternate reality, Biblically death is described exactly as we encounter it – as our enemy.

So redesigning death is challenging on many levels, since we aren’t the ones who designed death in the first place.  While we can adjust how we describe it and the ceremonies that we surround it with, death is a fundamental other.  It is beyond our scope to redesign.  We must deal with it.  We must have an answer for it.

The article highlights the very narcissistic nature of undertaking to redesign death.  The app described is ultimately an appeal to our fear of death and being forgotten, an effort to allow us to pretend as though we won’t die at one level – we’ll live on in Tweets and pings and notes and location identifiers.  We desire to continue to hold a place in people’s lives and technology has the ability to help ensure this.  Of course, this isn’t really a money-maker, as the developer realized.

Secondly, in attempting to redesign death the reality is that it is more a redesign of how we live, which is arguably just as hard.  From this standpoint, I think that the app could have a lot of appeal.  Right now most of us live in denial of death.  We don’t want to think about it.  We don’t want to prepare for it (statistics say 70% of Americans don’t have wills in place).  We want to prevent it and find it unfair even when the person involved has lived a very long and full life.

An app like the one described in the article would be helpful in reminding us that we will one day die.  We don’t know when or by what means.  This reality should infuse our living – what we do each day and how we choose to do it.  What we say to our friends and family as well as our enemies.  How we prioritize our resources, most importantly the resource of time.  An app that encourages us to live by reminding us of our mortality could indeed be valuable, so long as it isn’t ultimately an appeal to our vanity and narcissism, and a shallow attempt to make it seem as though we haven’t died.

Death happens to everyone.  The bitterness is that life continues for the rest of the world after our passing.  We will gradually slip from the forefront of thought and memory in the lives of our friends and family who survive us.  If death is really the end, then this is indeed a tragic thought, that our life and relationships and memories are truly meaningless.  If death is not the end, if there is hope that our enemy has been defeated, then the bitterness is tempered.  We still fear death and don’t look forward to it, but in Christ we have hope as well.  Not the hope of an app, but the hope of a Savior.

Which is what all of us really need.