Archive for December, 2016

Standing Together in the Wrong Place

December 22, 2016

I’m all for unity.  I dislike conflict.  I dislike exclusion and hate-filled rhetoric.  I may disagree with someone passionately, but I hope to never demonize that person, but rather to take issue with the issue, not the person.  I won’t be perfect in this, but I take that goal seriously in every interaction.

With the exception of ranting at idiot drivers.  God has a loooooooot of work to do on me in that area still.

So it strikes me at one level as sort of a no-brainer that various faith communities would work together to minimize and eliminate hateful discourse, and this example of such a commitment is, at that level, wonderful.  But it’s such a no-brainer that it really seems superfluous.  There are no particular action items.  Nothing tangible.  Just a vague assertion that hateful talk is bad.  Which it is.  Depending on how you define hateful, of course.  And if that’s all this included, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with it one way or the other.

My concern is in the last paragraph before the signatures.  That’s where it moves from a warm-fuzzy statement by people of various faith backgrounds, some with extremely different understandings of the universe, to a statement of intent and purpose.

Namely, this:  We pray for a society based on love, acceptance and respect for all humanity. As we work for that day…

I’m not working for the day when we create a utopian society based on arbitrary, self-defined concepts of love, acceptance, respect, etc.  I can’t work for it, because I’m part of the problem and will continue to be the fly in the ointment until the day I die.  I need a Savior to create this utopian paradise for me, and He creates it by killing me and raising me to life again.  Unless He does this in me and for me, I won’t ever be a part of a utopian society because I won’t fit in.  I’ll insist on defining things on my terms, and my terms are flawed and even my commitment to my flawed definitions is subversive and self-seeking.  And in case you think that this is my problem and that the rest of you are going to be very happy in your self-defined utopia, I’d encourage you to review human history to see how close we haven’t gotten to anything even resembling a utopia.  It’s not just me that would be standing on the outside looking in.  You would be too.  All of you.

This video has a  Christian comedian appearing on a Christian show.  At about the 1:20 mark, he summarizes what he thinks the work of the Christian church is – “behavioral alteration”.  Getting people to act better.

This is not the work of the Church.

The Church’s work is to point out to people that they are dead and in need of life, and pointing them to the Son of God incarnate, Jesus the Christ – the only one who makes this very thing possible.  It is not the work of the Church to alter behavior, or to create a utopian society.  Because those things are not humanly possible.  It is the Church’s job to remind people of this.  Not soas to dissuade them from being better people, but so they never mistake what they think of as moral or ethical progress for being killed and made alive again through baptism and faith in what the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, promises.

There are plenty of people and ideologies that claim to want to create a utopian society as described (vaguely) above.  It’s ironic that the one ideology which holds at a foundational level that this is impossible to do, is the one ideology single-handedly responsible for some of the greatest implementations of mercy and love and care in all the world and human history.  Ironic that the religion that insists the world will not be a completely better place until it is conquered by the God who created it, is the one religion that has sought to better the world as it is here and now more than any other.

Without any need for a multi-faith statement of purpose.  By, in fact, rejecting all other faiths as incorrect or misguided (just as they, logically, reject Christianity on the same grounds).

 

The fundamental problem that this group wants to confront isn’t a matter of behavioral modification.  It’s not a matter of better education or healthcare or all of the issues we can and should deal with as people of faith.  It’s about who we are at our core.  We can teach people to act better, and there is limited value in that.  But unless there is a solution for what bubbles underneath, sin,  it remains only that, an act.  And eventually, the veneer or the self-discipline wears off and all hell breaks loose.

 

Wet Bar Wednesday – Mezcal Negroni

December 21, 2016

Blessed as we are to live in the Southwestern US, we’re privileged to have access to citrus relatively easily this time of year.  A parishioner graciously gifted me with a basket of oranges from his tree, and I wanted to put them (or at least one of them!) to good use.

I’ve shied away from trying the Negroni because I’m not a gin fan.  Then I remembered this awesome little video that changed up the Negroni with mezcal instead of gin.  I decided to give that a shot.  And, I wanted an excuse to practice the little-used but oh-so-impressive art of flaming a citrus peel.  Someone has done this with tequila and dubbed it the Tegroni.  I don’t feel the need to call it a Mezgroni.

Though it’s tempting.

Mezcal Negroni

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • orange peel

 

Stir or shake the ingredients and pour into a glass over ice (a margarita or martini glass looks very nice, if you have one), and add the orange peel. You can also mix the ingredients with ice and then strain the drink to serve it (straight up).

I was very surprised at how much I like this drink.  It’s a fantastic balance of sweet and bitter and smokey that will keep your senses busy throughout the drink.  It’s visually very appealing as well, and if you can flame the citrus peel also, the enjoyment factor goes through the roof as far as I’m concerned.

Different recipes argue about whether the three liquids should be in equal amounts, or whether the base liquor (here mezcal, but otherwisse gin) should be prominent by 50% or more.  I liked the above ratios, but I’ll try the equal amounts next time.  Either way, enjoy!

 

Book Review – Long After Midnight

December 19, 2016

Long After Midnight by Ray Bradbury

If my recent review of another of Bradbury’s collections was a bit less than enthusiastic, I’m thrilled to be able to offer a far more affirmative vote of confidence in this collection.  Published originally in 1976, this collection of Bradbury shorts contains some truly classic and beautiful examples of the man at the top of his writing game.

I’ve begun to think in recent years that Bradbury’s best work – overall – is his corpus of stories situated on Mars.  This collection contains two Martian stories  – “The Blue Bottle” and “The Messiah” that are both quite beautiful in their simplicity as well as their continuity with Bradbury’s basic imaginings of Mars and Martians.  He is as comfortable in this setting, which provides him great freedom in sketching out a complete landscape, history, and culture, and those familiar with his other works such as The Martian Chronicles will feel instantly at home.

There are plenty of strong stories closer to home, touching on themes and ideas that we might remember from our own childhood.  How many of us made bets about what miraculous powers might lurk within us as children?  Enter “Jamie the Messiah”.  Fear of hitchhikers and evil?  “The Burning Man” may strike a chord with you.  Ever passed up an opportunity you thought was too good to be true and agonized about your decision afterwards?  You may wish to “Drink Entire Against the Madness of Crowds”.  A parent dealing with a somewhat unstable partner?  You’ll want to avoid ever playing “The October Game”.  Ever dreamed of getting even with a childhood bully?  “Punishment Without Crime” may give you pause to reconsider.

Bradbury’s mastery is drawing out the human in the midst of unusual or fantastical settings.  While he is thought of as a science fiction writer, he’s far more accurately an observer and reporter of the human condition, while sometimes imagining the human condition in space and on other planets.  His writing style is poetic, to say the least, and while his adjective-laden streams of consciousness are sometimes excessive, more often than not they hit the mark, raising in the reader a remembrance of their own childhood or other points in their life or experience.

A great collection of short stories that can be easily enjoyed in short sittings.  A must if you’re a Bradbury fan, and very worthwhile if you’ve never sampled him.

Reading Ramblings – December 25, 2016

December 18, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ Mass – December 25, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 2; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-14

Context: The promise fulfilled. The Messiah comes. Let the Earth receive her king! The readings resonate with joy and call us to celebrate. Isaiah delights in the excitement of good news announced and passed on. The psalm asserts the reality of the King and calls people to obedience. Hebrews insists on the absolute supremacy of the Son of God incarnate. And John speaks in eloquent poetry of the mystery of light coming into darkness, of the maker becoming part of the made. Jesus truly is the one and only reason for the season!

Isaiah 52:7-10 – Previous chapters have talked about the Servant of the Lord, contrasting his obedience to Israel’s disobedience. It is this Servant who will accomplish God’s reconciliation with his people, who will be the source of joy and hope for the people of God. The Lord’s return to his people – physically (“eye to eye”, v.8) is the cause of celebration. Those who stand watch convey the good news, and even the “waste places of Jerusalem” (v.9) are exhorted to song. The Lord has not just returned, but returned in a way visible to all peoples (v.10) so that there can be no denying what God has accomplished for his people.

Psalm 2 – A royal psalm, likely used at the coronation of Judean kings, this psalm contrasts the surety and strength of God and his designated ruler against the weakness of any and all other powers and rulers. It is certain that God’s ruler will be plotted against – his authority will not be acknowledged easily. But resistance is pointless to the point of being funny, from the divine perspective. God’s appointed will inherit all power and all dominion, to the ends of the earth. Those who rebel will be crushed. This is a certainty. So the psalm concludes with a warning and exhortation to other rulers – they should seek peace with God’s anointed, giving themselves over in service of the one true God. This God will ensure that his coronated Son has all power. That power will be destructive and dangerous to any who oppose him, but to his faithful people, that power will be a source of comfort and refuge. His own people need not fear him. This sets God’s appointed ruler apart from just any king, for this king will exercise his power and authority perfectly.

Hebrews 1:1-6 – While doubt continues about the actual author of Hebrews, tradition has that it is St. Paul. If so, he begins this letter quite different from any of his other writings, without the typical address and thanksgiving of his other letters. He begins this letter with a theme mentioned elsewhere in his writings (Romans 1:1-2, for example) – that the Gospel is not some newly devised plan of God, but rather what God has planned all along and revealed all along in Scripture. Jesus is not a new word, but the final Word, the final and ultimate testimony of God’s intentions to save us from our sin. Jesus is not some new creation, but part and parcel of the Godhead, bearing the Glory of God and his very nature. It is this eternal Word of God which sustains creation (rather than ceasing to speak after the six days of creation). It is this divine Word that has purified us from sinfulness, and as such, should not be doubted in any way to be superior to all creation, including the angels. Paul then quotes from Scripture (Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14) to support this assertion. Perhaps Paul is addressing uncertainty from some as to Christ’s position relative to the angels. Paul wants to make it clear that Jesus is far superior, and that Scripture has already prophesied and explained this. We don’t await the return of just any spiritual entity, but rather the fully divine Son of God, the King of Kings to whom all authority has been given over both physical and spiritual realms.

John 1:1-14 – This may be the most poetic passage in all of Scripture. Because it is so unlike the rest of John’s gospel, there are many theories about it’s origin. Some wonder if John actually wrote it. Some think it is an early Christian hymn or creedal statement. Others think that John actually borrowed it from another tradition, such as gnosticism. If it’s an early Christian poem/hymn/creed, this wouldn’t be surprising as scholars agree that such things are incorporated into other places in the New Testament. If it’s borrowed from another source, we have absolutely zero evidence of this. It seems best to interpret it as John’s authorship, a prologue to his formal narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.

It seems obvious that John’s opening words are intended to reflect Genesis 1:1. While Genesis 1 deals with the creation of the physical universe, John’s opening verses deal with God prior to speaking creation into existence. John affirms with both positive and negative statements that this Word of God is the source of all creation. Verse 5 introduces a disruption of harmony. There is darkness that resists the light and seeks to overcome it but has not. Some scholars think this is a reference to Genesis 3, and is the powerful assurance that God’s power remains active and vital in creation despite sin. Others think this verse is referring only to the resistance against the Incarnate Word, Jesus. I think both interpretations could work well together.

Perhaps John is dealing with a persistent idea that John the Baptist was actually the important one, rather than Jesus. Otherwise, it seems strange to introduce him here and go to such efforts to distinguish his role from Jesus’. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He had followers and created quite a stir, but St. John wants to make clear that it is Jesus who is the bigger deal, who is the true light of the world.

But He isn’t recognized by that universally. First of all, creation itself, the world (v.10) did not know him. Then more specifically, (v.11), his own people, the chosen people of God – they didn’t know him either. They rejected him. But not everyone did (v.12). Some believed. Those who knew God the Father rightly through Holy Scripture, who hadn’t recast him and his work in their own image, those people received Jesus and gained through him new identity as children of God. Not in the strictly created sense, for everyone and everything is a child/creation of God the Father. But rather in the redeemed and reconciled sense – brothers and sisters in Christ. This identity can not be conveyed by any mortal means. It is not a matter of genealogy. It is only and always the gift of God by faith created by God the Holy Spirit, in the work and person of the Son of God Jesus the Messiah, which reconciles the believer to God the Father through the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, (v.14), John begins to move to his narrative. This is all specific, not theoretical. This isn’t a Once upon a time sort of thing. It happened, and it happened by that eternal Word becoming flesh. Becoming one with us. Here. Among us. Dwelling with us. And we, John says, we have seen his glory. John includes his readers and hearers – many of whom would have remembered Jesus, having heard or seen him firsthand. He calls on them to give credence and support to his words. John does not write alone. John writes what others have witnessed. It is John’s unique perspective, but what he conveys was apparent to others from their own perspectives as well. But those differing perspectives were united in apprehending the glory of the only Son from the Father.

Regal Legal

December 15, 2016

Lawyers are a common butt of jokes in our country, with widespread public perception of the field of law and those who practice it as being…well, unsavory, to say the least.  Not just the ambulance-chasing brand of lawyers as well.  Large segments of the public distrust a profession that seems to thrive on the exploitation of minutiae to champion injustice rather than justice.  For a hefty fee.

And stories like this don’t exactly encourage a more trusting attitude, regardless of the fact that this guy lives in Australia rather than America.

I wonder what client would feel comfortable retaining Mr. Moore’s services, knowing of his willingness to defraud a bank in order to make himself more comfortable?  I wonder how Mr. Moore conceives of making “the world a better place” while still looking back fondly on his theft and the excessive lifestyle it allowed for as “great”.

I’m not sure I trust his definition of “a better place”, or his means for reaching it!

 

Wet Bar Wednesday – Odwits

December 14, 2016

I was first introduced to mezcal when I inherited a half-bottle from my best friend who was moving away for work after college. I didn’t really know what it was, but it was cool because there was a worm in the bottom of the bottle.  I haven’t had mezcal in the last 20 years probably, but I happened upon a bottle of it at the local grocery store and picked it up for nostalgic reasons. Then I stumbled across this article in Slate on the burgeoning mezcal industry and figured it was time to do put that bottle to use.

Tequila and mezcal are kissing cousins. Tequila must be produced from the Jalisco region of Mexico, while mezcal comes from the area around Oaxaca. Tequila can only be distilled from blue agave, but mezcal can be distilled from a variety of agaves. Traditionally, mezcal is considered the equivalent of moonshine – a basic liquor for the working man. However a growing international market is changing all of that, and you might start hearing about it more often than before. Yours may or may not have a worm in the bottom (my current bottle doesn’t), but that’s not really a critical issue. Most folks believe the worm-in-the-bottle was invented in the 1940’s or 50’s by a mezcal entrepreneur as a marketing gimmick. Traditionally it is a moth or butterfly larva that feed on the agave plants used to produce mezcal.

If you like tequila, you may or may not like it’s close cousin, mezcal. Chances are if you like scotch, you’ll find some affinity with tequila’s smokier neighbor. But I say that, admittedly, as a non-scotch aficionado. Both have smoky flavors, but the quality of that smokiness is decidedly different and even a scotch neophyte like me can tell that. Mezcal is more complex than entry level tequilas, but I’m not sure if there is an aged mezcal that could rival an añejo or super-añejo tequila for complexity and subtlety. It sounds like a fun quest, though!

You won’t find a lot of cocktail recipes that utilize mezcal. You can try subbing it in for tequila in various drinks, and you’ll find it changes the character of the drink a lot. But you’ll have to decide if that’s a good thing for you or not. I don’t care for mezcal-based margaritas, but in other drinks it substitutes more favorably.

The drink below is a loose variation on a Harvey Wallbanger, but it has elements of other drinks as well, including a favorite of mine that I’ll try to remember to share with you next week. I found this recipe through the online bartending site webtender.com. A quick Internet search turned up multiple variations on this named drink, but this is what I made tonight:

ODWITS

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Southern Comfort
  • orange juice
  • Galiano

Shake or stir the first three ingredients together and pour over a glass filled with ice. Top the glass off with orange juice, stir, and then drizzle a splash of Galiano (which you have left over from the Harvey Wallbanger, of course!) over the top.

The smoky overtones of the mezcal will be obvious but the edge of the liquor will be muted by the sweetness of the orange juice and Southern Comfort. Frankly, I’d just as soon ditch the vodka and split the difference between the mezcal and the Southern Comfort. This drink is a good summer option as it’s refreshing and easy to drink. You may find mezcal popping up in your local grocery store liquor section, but you’ll more likely find it at this point in a well-stocked liquor store.

Charges Set

December 14, 2016

I read today of the unsurprising conviction of Dylan Roof, the 21-year old man who slaughtered nine African-American Christians during a Bible study in 2015, and severely wounded several others.  He has freely confessed to being guilty, and his defense never argued this fact but rather focused on trying to get him out of a death sentence and into a life-imprisonment sentence.  That decision will be made next month.

I thought it was interesting though, that the Washington Post talked about his conviction in regards to “federal hate crimes”.  This led me to view the actual Federal indictment, a surprisingly short document that summarizes the charges against Roof.

Roof is charged with 33 counts total, summarized as:

  • 9 counts of a hate crime resulting in death
  • 3 counts of a hate crime with the intent to kill (but not successful)
  • 9 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
  • 3 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
  • 9 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence

Technically only a third of the charges are related to hate crimes.  I wonder why the WP chooses to summarize all of the charges as hate crimes.  I wonder why they didn’t summarize all three of the categories of indictments?  Maybe I’m just a tad sensitive, but characterizing the nature of the crime only based on the motivation seems a bit lopsided.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

But we don’t describe or summarize all crimes by their intent or motivation, do we?  Would the WP describe a husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage after discovering her infidelity a “crime of passion”?  Or would they simply say murder?  Why is it that the motivation becomes the definition of the act?  Isn’t Roof basically guilty of murder?  Isn’t that the primary issue?  Yet by classifying it as a hate crime, it makes it sound as though his main offense is his hatred or prejudice.

Of course there are various reasons that people kill other people, and the law recognizes this reality with various types of charges (murder, degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc.).  I believe passionately that Roof was wrong in his ideology and way of thinking, but the main issue is that he committed murder.  By emphasizing the motivation, I wonder if we continue to move down a path towards outlawing certain attitudes and making certain attitudes or beliefs prosecutable, even if no actual criminal offense takes place?

 

 

Loose Lips

December 13, 2016

Thank you to Becky for alerting me to a new piece of state legislation introduced a few days ago here in California.

Back in 2009, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature expressing support for a Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California.  It seemed a fairly innocuous, vague resolution without any real teeth or meat to it.  It was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, among others.  Many such expressions of support are undoubtedly passed in our country every year, most of which coming to very little of substance.  The terms aren’t defined, and no specific actions or funding are allocated.  It’s essentially a warm-fuzzy sort of document.

But warm-fuzzy documents can give rise to more tangible realities later on.

So it is that this week Senator Richard Pan (D) introduced  Senate Bill 18.  Senator Pan represents Senate District 6 which encompasses the greater Sacramento area.  He is a pediatrician as well as a Senator.   SB18 aims to “expand and codify” the Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California, turning it from a warm and fuzzy idea into some form of law.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving the lot of children everywhere.  But when the government decides that it’s going to assure that this happens, I begin to ask questions.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a “comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California”.  I would argue that this already exists – it’s called the family.  The family is a comprehensive framework that protects the rights of the children within that family.  Certainly there are situations where the family fails in this duty, and it is necessary for an outside entity to get involved to assure the protection of children.  But to assume that the State needs to create a “comprehensive framework” of its own that extends beyond the many agencies and programs to assist children and families strikes me as a bit odd.

More specifically, the Bill prescribes that within five years – by the end of 2021 – this Bill of Rights is enforced “evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state.”  Why do I need such a framework applied to my children?  My children have a solid family which is their framework.  Now I begin to worry.  How is my framework going to interact with the state framework?  Under what conditions and situations?  And if there is a conflict between the two frameworks, whose wins?  I’m going to make a wild guess here and say that if push comes to shove, the State is going to insist that their framework trumps mine.

The Bill’s premise is that all children are entitled to certain rights.  I would agree, and I would agree that our Declaration of Independence includes those in broad terms, just as it does for me:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are not intended as necessarily all-encompassing, but they go a long way towards a baseline we can all agree upon.  But this Bill intends to create a series of rights for children that is far more specific.

  1.  The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest.  This sounds good, but who gets to decide what is in my child’s best interest?  I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that the State is going to reserve that right to itself.  What if I disagree?  Hmmmm.
  2. The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being.  What does this mean?  Who defines healthy attachment?  Who decides what adults they should be required to form such an attachment to?
  3. The right to live in a safe and healthy environment.  Sounds good, but again, who decides what constitutes safe and healthy?  Don’t we have building codes and other things that already determine this?  What does healthy mean, and how is it distinct from safe?  What does environment mean?  Is that physical?  Emotional?  What?
  4. The right to social and emotional well-being.  Who defines these things?  On what basis?
  5. The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical and social development.  Again, who determines the best means for achieving these things?  It sounds as though there is only one way to reach these goals.  Is that true?  If the State decides that my kids will only reach optimal social development by going to school rather than us schooling them, what recourse do I have?  None, I’m going to guess.
  6. The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood.  This seems like an even more pointed attack at my parental rights to determine how best to educate my children.  The current state-sponsored public education system seems to be producing many children who do not have a quality education, and are unable to cope with the outcome of a presidential election, and who can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their ideas about the world, and who need safe spaces and other means of insulating them from opposing points of view.  Does this mean that the State is going to find public schools inappropriate?  Somehow, I doubt it.
  7. The right to appropriate, quality health care.  Again, who decides these definitions?  Given last year’s fear-based legislation mandating vaccines for as many children as possible in the state, what else is going to be determined to be appropriate and quality?

The Bill indicates that solutions will be “research-based”.  What level of concurrence in research will be necessary in order to use it as the basis for a specific solution to one of the areas above?  How will the State enforce this “comprehensive framework”, and what recourse will parents have – if any – in disagreement with this framework?  And as is typical, what recourse do parents have if the solutions imposed through this Bill turn out to actually be harmful, rather than helpful?  If you’re going to force me to do things to and with and for my children that I don’t want to do and don’t think are helpful to them at all, what recourse do I have if I turn out to be right?  If your research turns out to be faulty?  If special interests dictate questionable applications?

I don’t doubt that the intent of improving life for children is the actual intent here, but I dislike the idea that somebody outside of my family is going to make those decisions for me, particularly in the current ideological and intellectual climate.  How is the State going to make meaningful legislation that is broad enough to be applied to every family in the State?  I don’t think that’s possible, which means that the alternative is that some families are going to have their rights overridden by the State.

This seems like a really bad idea.  The State unfortunately may need to intervene in situations where children are at risk through neglect or abuse, and I am grateful for such services.  But to expand beyond this to create legislation that applies to all children and families is very overreaching.  I hope that this Bill does not pass!

Truly Safe Spaces

December 12, 2016

Long-time readers know that we home school our children, and that my wife helps lead a home-schooling cooperative.  It’s mostly a means for about 300 home schooling families to communicate, sharing resources, ideas, field trip invitations, and any number of other miscellaneous items with one another via a somewhat moderated (and very unwieldy) e-mail list.

Part of what my wife coordinates is a weekly play date at a local beach or park (depending on the time of year).  It’s a great way for people new to the area or new to home schooling or both can come and meet others and integrate into the community.  Over time, she’s made some really good friends with a handful of other home schooling moms who come regularly for their kids to play together and for them to talk together.  They’re all very different people, to be certain, and were it not for home schooling, they might never have crossed paths, let alone become friends.  There’s a mutual respect and appreciation which has developed despite different home schooling approaches and backgrounds.

So it struck me recently, as she was talking about a conversation that had happened the day before, how destroyed our society is.  The conversation among the mom’s veered over to the issue of vaccinations.  One of the mom’s felt it necessary to remind or warn the group that this is a controversial subject.  How sad.

How sad that a group of adult women who are highly capable and educated, who have known each other for some time and have grown to truly appreciate one another, feel like they have to warn each other before talking about a controversial subject.  As though because it’s a controversial subject, they’re suddenly going to turn on each other and become nasty and rude and dismissive?  As though it isn’t possible for intelligent people to reach different conclusions on a topic, be able to discuss the topic respectfully, and remain committed to one another even if nobody changes their mind as a result of the discussion.  As though there are things that we shouldn’t talk about because it’s just too risky.  As though issues and our stances on them are what defines and determines our relationships, rather than mutual respect and appreciation.

Home schoolers, of all people, ought to recognize not just the benefit but the need to model healthy dialogue and intellectual discourse to their children.  To demonstrate that it is possible to disagree without disparaging.  That someone who reaches a different conclusion than you is not necessarily an idiot or deranged or less of a human being than you are.  If public schools are more and more prone to ideological indoctrination that makes people intolerant of others – all in the name of tolerance – then truly those educated outside of that box are going to need to know how to communicate with one another, how to engage in true intellectual discourse rather than just name calling and ad hominem attacks.

The great fallacy of our age is that there is only one right solution to any given situation, and that anyone who holds a position different from our own must be wrong and bad and stupid.  The problems that face our society are nothing new.  They have been around as long as people have, despite the shiny gadgets we have that are new.  If solutions have eluded us for thousands of years, the odds of one group having the silver bullet solution and everyone else being raving morons are pretty low, it seems.  And perhaps focusing on issues and challenges, rather than on political associations and ideologies, might be a better way of moving forward together.

If our education system is a mess, I don’t really care if a Democrat or a Republican is the one who comes up with a better solution.  If we really want to slash our national debt, it’s going to require a new alternative to what has traditionally been championed by one party or another, if only because party-politics prevents any plan from being implemented very well.

There shouldn’t be any issue that can’t be discussed, particularly among people who respect and care about each other and yet may have different attitudes on the topic.  Sharing different perspectives, learning about how and why people think differently is hugely important.  It’s important for us as adults but also important for our kids as well, and I’m grateful that my wife has a place where this can occur, and where our kids can watch and hear it happening.

The alternative is that we aren’t allowed to discuss anything, and that’s truly deadly for all of us.

Reading Ramblings – December 18, 2016

December 11, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 7:10-17; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Context: The final Sunday of Advent, the final week of preparation for Christmas, the final week of emphasizing our continual posture of waiting and anticipation for the return of our Lord. The readings bring to a fevered pitch the emphasis on our Lord’s nearness, first 2000 years ago and still today. We may be sure of his return, because God fulfilled his prophetic promises to send his anointed one the first time.

Isaiah 7:10-17 – Isaiah is mainly thought of in terms of his prophetic utterances, but his writings also include historical narrative as well. Here we have his appearance to the King of Judah, Ahaz. His kingdom is threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel in alliance with Syria. Judah is much smaller, and this threat seems certain to spell the destruction of Judea. God sends Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz. Towards this end, Ahaz is offered a sign from God, a sign of his choosing. Ahaz is no faithful follower of God, however. His words sound demure and faithful, but he is rejecting an overt offer from God through God’s prophet. And Ahaz has an ulterior motive – he already has a plan to deal with the threat of Syria and Israel. He plans to pledge fealty to the King of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser III.

God is not fooled, and denounces Ahaz’ false piety. Ahaz will live to see his enemies destroyed by Assyria. But the reprieve will be short-lived, because the danger of Assyria will fall also on Judah (v. 17), so that the friend Ahaz seeks to buy will turn out to be an enemy. But in this prophesy we see a foreshadowing of Jesus. Truly, before Jesus is a toddler – before Jesus is even born! – the threat of Israel and Syria will be long gone. Assyria will have risen and fallen, along with Babylon and Persia and the Greeks. God will have delivered Judah and then sent her into exile and brought her back, all as part of ultimately bringing his Son, Immanuel into her midst.

Psalm 24 – This three-part psalm has long liturgical association with both the season of Advent and with Jesus’ ascension. The first part of the psalm (vs. 1-2) depicts God as the conqueror through his creative energies. He imposed order on chaos, bringing something out of nothing. He maintains this power and control, even incorporating elements of chaos (for the Ancient Near East, rivers and large bodies of water) into his creation. The second part of the psalm deals with God’s people. His people are his first and foremost because He created them, but secondarily because of their praise of the one, true God, creator of heaven and earth – as opposed to worshiping false gods (v.4). This section describes the ideal subject/creation of God in faithfulness and righteousness. The final section (vs. 7-10) describe the entrance into glory of the King of Glory – a term used nowhere else in the Old Testament. It is the victorious God, victorious in creation, that enters into glory. He is the Lord of Hosts – a technical title for God on his throne, surrounded by hosts of his creations who praise him and seek his will. Some scholars think this psalm was used when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple courts on special occasions. It emphasizes the divine right of kingship our God possesses as the creator and orderer of all things and peoples.

Romans 1:1-7 – Paul introduces himself to his Roman hearers/readers, many of whom have not met him personally before, though many of whom have (see Romans 16!). Paul is a brother in Christ to his hearers as a servant, but he also has a special work he was set apart for, the work of an apostle. He has been set aside as a messenger of good news – God’s good news in Jesus Christ. This isn’t new good news, or different good news. It’s the same good news God has been speaking throughout the Old Testament. Good news about a man who would come who would perfectly serve God. A real and true man, literally a descendant of David with a human genealogy, but also the divine, as evidenced by his holiness and his resurrection from the dead. This good news is a person – Jesus the Christ, who has evidenced his role as Lord and the means of God’s grace to all believers, and to Paul specifically in his role as apostle. God’s intent in his specific grace to Paul is that others would come to faith, for the glory of God in all of this. Paul’s readers and hearers – 2000 years ago and today – have been included in this grand project already as they have received faith through God the Holy Spirit. They are called to be saints and are already saints through Jesus Christ, just as you and I are through faith. We have received grace and peace from God the Father, by God the Son, through the work of God the Holy Spirit!

Matthew 1:18-25 – Having given us the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham in broad brushstrokes, Matthew now gives us specific details about Jesus’ parents. Matthew is unique in providing some insight and perspective into Joseph, Jesus’ non-biological father. Matthew speaks of the reality of the relationship between Mary and Joseph. They are pledged to be married, which means they are effectively, but not intimately, husband and wife. It is a relationship not simply decided on a whim by two young people as it might be in the USA today, but rather worked out through their families. It is a real relationship with a real progression.

But Mary’s pregnancy is one of the few things that could bring that progression to a halt. Joseph has very real legal options available to him once he knows Mary is pregnant and that he can’t possibly be the father. So it is necessary for an angelic visitation, a divine revelation to calm Joseph’s heart and mind and steel him for what might be difficult days ahead. Though he knows he is not the father, everyone else will assume that he is, and he has to bear the stigma of consummating the marriage too soon, or risk exposing Mary to the risk of being accused of adultery. Joseph has to deal with a lot, just as Mary does, and based on his faith and trust in his dream vision, Joseph shoulders that burden. He too must wait to see if his faith has been well-placed.

Waiting is hard and implies suffering by it’s very nature. We may well miss what the Lord is doing in our lives, preferring our own plans and arrangements like Ahaz. Yet there is forgiveness in Christ for this, and God continues his plans despite our weakness, and frankly, because of it. Waiting in faith implies that we might suffer for our trust. We might miss opportunities we would otherwise take. We might be called upon to hold a course of action that looks ruinous from other perspectives, or suffer shame that is not, in truth, shame at all.

But our faith and trust in Jesus Christ are well-placed. The testimonies of his identity and purpose – his fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy, his mighty acts of power over evil, nature, and sickness and disease, even death itself, and his own dramatic resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven assure us that our faith is not blind. We have very good reasons for our faith and for enduring whatever is necessary to cling to that promise in Christ that we are forgiven, we are made whole, and that we do have much, much more to look forward to! Come Lord Jesus, Come!