Archive for January, 2017

Get Those Flu Shots?

January 19, 2017

Hurry!  Or maybe you shouldn’t hurry.  Who really knows?  Let’s just get those shots all the same, right?

The effectiveness of flu shots declines rapidly, providing less and less protection from multiple strains of the flu as weeks go by.  One scientist laments the marketing of flu shots as opposed to the most efficacious use and deployment of them.  This is a wonderful reminder to folks that science does not exist in a bubble, and scientists don’t always get to control how their discoveries are used.

 

On a More Positive Note

January 18, 2017

The idea of zombie comedy has always appealed to me.  Movies like Zombieland  touched on this and showed that it was possible.  Now Netflix has a new series called Santa Clarita Diet with Drew Barrymore and an unorthodox but interesting take on the undead.  The clip looks promising, if they can figure out how to carry the theme on over time.

Book Review – Good Faith

January 18, 2017

Good Faith, by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons

I was gifted with a copy of this book last month by an associate.  I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that these sorts of books are not very helpful, in my opinion – but he certainly had no way of knowing that based on the nature of our working relationship.  This book hasn’t changed my mind about allegedly helpful books targeted at nervous American Christians.

Kinnaman and Lyons are popular writers, speakers, and I suppose researchers (at least in Kinnaman’s relationship to Barna Group).  Perhaps cynically, I think much of their appeal comes from their age and their efforts to point a way forward for American evangelical Christians bewildered by shrinking congregational sizes and a rapidly changing culture that grows increasingly intolerant towards Christian morals, values, and truths.

At best, most of what this book has to say is redundant – read your Bible.  Love your neighbor isn’t exactly rocket science, but it’s a terrifying thought that Christians need to be reminded of this basic precept.  Perhaps it’s the less intuitive notion that I love my neighbor even when they don’t like me or I don’t like them or when we live our lives in radically different ways.  At worst, this book ignores basic Scriptural assumptions and descriptions of reality.

Curiously, this book directs Christians as though we are no longer the dominant population in America, yet Barna’s own statistics disprove this overwhelmingly.  It isn’t that Christians are outnumbered by any stretch of the imagination – it’s that Christians have somehow allowed themselves to be told that they are not free to speak, not free to practice their faith openly, and that this is acceptable.  If every Christian in this country ceased to allow their faith to be dictated to them by their employer or the civic government or the school board, things would change in this country dramatically and drastically.  Even more dramatically and drastically than the cultural changes of the last decade.  This country would cease to function properly if Christians simply said ‘enough’ to the pressures and guilts that have been laid on them.

Of course, that would necessitate a different sort of book.  Of course, that would require a massive rewiring of our priorities and values, but I think the Bible says something towards this issue.  Hmmm.

Another problem I have with this book is the basic premise that if Christians just do things the right way, everything is going to be OK.  If we’re just polite and thoughtful and engaging enough, we’ll retain a seat at the cultural dinner table.  People will continue to listen to us and we’ll have some level of influence.  We’ll be accepted, even if more and more people don’t consider themselves one of us.

I think this is terribly naive.

Firstly, it  ignores the spiritual aspect of things.  We have an enemy who has single-mindedly dedicated himself to the destruction of creation, to wresting away humanity and nature and anything else he can sink his claws into from the grace and love and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.  He began this in the garden of Eden.  He continues his work today though mortally wounded.  His thrashings in his death throes are still terrifying.   For over 200 years America has been profoundly influenced and guided by Judeo-Christian principles and ideas.  We are a historical anomaly, and if we think Satan hasn’t been working towards our downfall we’re not taking the Bible very seriously.

Secondly, it ignores the depths of human depravity.  We lament the polarization in our society right now, but we need to listen to the tone of that polarization and be careful of our role in it.  People are quick to denounce, threaten, mock, demean, and otherwise totally disregard the humanity of another person that disagrees with them.  They think it morally acceptable to cut themselves off from anyone who might think differently from them, to blame anyone who disagrees with them for every and any offense, and to demand some sort of accountability.  The tone of our rhetoric would be very comfortable and admirable to the likes of Joseph Goebbels.  Both sides are guilty of it to a degree.  And such rhetoric, such a disjointed view of other people who are different or who disagree with you is a dangerously close step to internment camps or worse.

Finally, this book does little to direct American Christians away from obsessive navel gazing and towards the return of our Lord.  Our hope and prayer is not simply a more tolerant public square or more favorable political patronage.  Our hope and prayer is not simply for a continued place at the table, but rather for the return of the Savior of the world.  This is our one true hope and prayer at all times and in all circumstances.  Yes, we must and should pray for our daily bread and the attendant policies and mechanisms that make it available.  But the first three of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer direct our eyes firstly to the glory of God and his plan for salvation – and away from our perceived needs, wishes, and fears.  I think that’s very telling, and no book that alleges to be a help and guide for Christians is complete without seriously taking this into account.

I think that on the one hand, things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem – if American Christians would just quit being bullied about and take steps to protect themselves via the mechanisms available to them economically and politically.  On the other hand, things are far worse than the authors paint, because we are facing a spiritual battle as well as an ideological one, and the stakes are much higher both individually and culturally than Kinnaman and Lyons either want to admit or can foresee.

 

 

 

Discussing vs. Teaching

January 17, 2017

By many accounts, we have a crisis of communication in American society today where people are unable to interact with people who hold diverging opinions and ideas from their own.  Being able to discuss things without taking it personally is an important skill to have, so I was curious when I saw the headline for this article.  Of course knowing the source, I assumed it would be hostile in some regard to a person of faith, but it was almost humorous how the author decides to start out.

By immediately dismissing as ridiculous a set of opinions and ideas on a number of hot-topic issues in American society today.  Not by discussing the actual facts or examining the other position, but simply by dismissing those ideas as obviously wrong and ridiculous and chalking them up to something other than possible alternate interpretations of data.

Admittedly, world-view shapes how we interpret data.  My world-view leads one person to assume that we all evolved from simpler organisms and there should be a fossil trail of some sort that shows that, so that ever fossil has to be fit into an evolutionary spectrum.  I don’t assume that this is how we got here, so I’m not forced to place fossils into such a spectrum.  My world view causes me to assume that scientists are just as prone to sinfulness – or to being exploited by other sinful people – as anyone else, so that companies based on science like pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t be presumed to be error or criminal free simply because they employ scientists.  I don’t doubt the reality of global warming because my understanding is that our planet has gone through plenty of cycles of warming and cooling over time.  But I may doubt that mankind is the cause of this particular warming cycle, and I may doubt the notion that we can actually reverse such a cycle.

What Mr. Shermer doesn’t seem to recognize is that world-view contributes to how everyone interprets data to create facts.   His world-view leads him to discard opposing view-points, and the data that might support them – as erroneous.  He exhibits firm faith in a certain understanding of things despite the fact that evidence is hardly conclusive and exhaustive.  And while I’m no fan of conspiracy theories as a rule, the idea that something sounds conspiratorial is not in and of itself grounds for dismissing the idea out of hand.  The melting point of steel is a scientific matter, is it not?  While I don’t hold to a conspiracy theory on the 9/11 attacks, it seems odd to dismiss such a piece of data or fact as minutiae  as I’m sure that such data contributed not just to the creation of those steel girders, but their selection for use in the building of the Twin Towers in the first place.

The good news is that his advice for dealing with those irrational people who disagree with him actually works in reverse as well.  And if  both sides are willing to abide by these as a means towards deeper conversation, there’s a chance that useful conversation might be had – useful conversation that might ultimately lead one or the other to change their ideas, if not their world-view.  In a surprising turn of events, I’m actually optimistic that such respectful dialogues are the hope of moving towards answering questions and away from demonizing people who disagree with us.

Well Said

January 16, 2017

It never fails to amaze me how Christians can presume that their emotions or even ideals give them permission to ignore the Word of God.  This is a well-written response to one such expression of personal autonomy instead of Christian obedience.

Reading Ramblings – January 22, 2017

January 15, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 22, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-25

Context: I think I’m giving up trying to ferret out Epiphany-related themes in the readings. I suspect that the Revised Common Lectionary (and the Lutheran variation on it) is simply moving into Ordinary Time and just continuing to refer to the Sundays after Epiphany to mess with my head! The readings, in this case, begin to flesh out the life of Jesus, and this week begins with the calling of his disciples and the beginning of his public ministry.

Isaiah 9:1-4 – Zebulun was the sixth son born to Leah, Jacob’s less favored wife, whereas Naphtali was the second son born to Jacob through Rachel’s servant, Bilhah, whom Jacob married in order that Rachel could claim the children as her own. Isaiah prophesied the invasion of Assyria in the previous chapter, an event which would signal the end of the Northern Kingdom permanently, including the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. However now Isaiah prophesies that these lands will once again be called glorious because of a great light that shall dawn in those regions. Jesus conducted much of his ministry in the area of Galilee, which included areas of the former tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Psalm 27 – This psalm expresses profound trust in the Lord, building on this theme for the first half of the psalm before transitioning to the actual petitions for help. Verses 1-3 posit the absolute reliability of the Lord against the feeble efforts of the petitioner’s enemies. The objective observer may expect the petitioner to be worried but this is not the case, because the petitioner knows that God is capable of preserving them completely, regardless of the odds. In verse 4, the petitioner refers to earlier/other prayers focused on being in the presence of God in his house, the Tabernacle (since if David wrote this he did so prior to the building of the Temple, which was in the reign of his son, Solomon). The privilege of seeking the Lord’s will in the Tabernacle is the psalmist’s true delight, and he delights in such activity because of the Lord’s capacity to save and deliver in the day of trouble. The petitioner praises God despite the nearness of his enemies (v.6), in complete trust in God. At verse 7 the petition for deliverance begins. The petitioner implores God to be faithful and responsive in a way that no other earthly person could be expected to. The petitioner desires to know God’s way as a means of overcoming his adversaries. The psalmist concludes in verses 13-14 with a reassertion of confidence and an exhortation to others to be equally confident in the Lord’s power.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – The lectio continua proceeds in 1 Corinthians. After his greeting, Paul gets to the point of his letter. He’s heard that there are divisions and a lack of unity in the Corinthian church. He calls on them in the name of Jesus to cease these divisions and to reconcile on the matters that separate them, which he will address over the course of his letter. We don’t know who Chloe is, or what relationship she has to the congregation, but it’s her slaves who make Paul aware of the situation. The first issue of division has to do with who was baptized by whom. Various members of the Corinthian church are holding themselves as better than others based on who baptized them. Paul quickly squashes such pettiness. None of the people who baptized the Corinthians died for them. Nor were they baptized in the names of those people, but rather in the name of Christ. As such, sharing the common baptism in Jesus Christ, they should be unified, rather than divided. Paul concludes his exhortations and warnings in this section with a reminder that the saving message is that of Christ crucified and resurrected. As such Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas – all are just servants of the same Christ, no better in themselves than any Christian, and not to be made into a source of pride, spiritual or otherwise. The message of salvation is wrapped up entirely in Jesus Christ. It derives all its power from him, and though it may sound strange to some, that message of Christ crucified and resurrected in and of itself bears the power to save, because it is the power of God in the Word of God conveyed about the Word of God made flesh.

Matthew 4:12-25 – John refers to John the Baptist. It is clear from John’s gospel that there is a period of time where the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlap and coincide (John 3:22-36). So Matthew’s reference to John’s arrest may not mean his arrest by Herod for preaching against Herod’s marriage to Herodias (Mark 6:14-29). It is possible that John the Baptist was arrested on other occasions, perhaps by the Jewish officials rather than the Romans. Regardless, Jesus withdraws back to Galilee and Capernaum to begin his official ministry after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. Matthew quotes the passage from Isaiah 9 as support for Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ message calls on his hearers to repent – to turn from their sin in recognition that the kingdom of heaven has arrived. It is not merely on the way, it is at hand – here and now in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ call of the disciples sounds dramatic, but He already met them in the vicinity of Jerusalem, shortly after his baptism. It is there and then that Jesus first calls the disciples to follow him (John 1:35-51). They likely returned to Galilee together, but separated for a time in order for Jesus to wrap up affairs in Nazareth and effect his move to Capernaum. Once situated there, He then finds Peter and Andrew as well as James and John and tells them He is ready for them to begin full-time as his disciples.

Jesus teaches throughout Galilee, not just in Capernaum. His teaching is public, in the synagogues, where He proclaims the message that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. His words are substantiated by a range of healings. This brings him quick fame as a healer, and the extent of his healing capacities are indicated by the range of afflictions mentioned – diseases, pains, demon oppression, seizures, and paralytics. Note that Matthew differentiates between those who deal with seizures as opposed to those who are plagued by demon possession or oppression. Jesus’ following is impressive in scope, ranging from his home area around Galilee and even the Gentile cities that made up the Decapolis, all the way down to Judea and Jerusalem itself as well as the areas east of the Jordan river.

Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of good news in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. Matthew sees Jesus not just as a light, but as the light that comes to banish darkness. We too should be encouraged by the reports of those who followed him. They had good reason to follow. They knew what they saw and experienced. Powerful teaching, hopeful announcements, but also prayers answered. Where the kingdom of heaven is, there is truth and healing and joy. We give thanks to God that by his grace, we too are part of a vast crowd following Jesus still today!

Goldfish Now NBA Target Market

January 14, 2017

Thanks to Ken for sending this humorous article.  If you don’t believe shrinking attention spans is a problem, perhaps knowing that professional sports organizations are looking to make changes to keep games shorter will be a more compelling argument.

While I’m not sold entirely on the research, it’s not terribly surprising.  Funny how the end of the game is often where the greatest excitement is, so I would think that attention spans would actually be longer and more focused there rather than other parts of the game.  Maybe if half-times were shrunk  or the quarters were shorter it would accomplish the same goal of making the game shorter without eliminating some of the final drama.

Then again, I can count on one hand the number of games I’ve watched from start to finish in the past year of any sporting event.  Do whatever y’all want!

Christian Persecution

January 13, 2017

While the American press – allegedly representing a population that is overwhelmingly Christian in one degree or another – fails to talk about this, the reality is that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise.

Two separate reports from two different groups highlight the growing acceptability of Christian persecution.  The first report is from a UK-based group – Open Doors UK – that reports that the rate of Christian persecution has risen around the world for the last four years.  I don’t know how they determine this, though from the use of numbers throughout the summary article, perhaps it’s based on the number of deaths reported world-wide as faith related.

The second report is from a US-based group – International Christian Concern – and it puts the United States on its list of countries where Christians are persecuted.  Obviously this group could be considered somewhat biased since they’re based in the US, and they clearly articulate that persecution in the US is not like persecution in other countries.  But they also want to draw attention to disturbing trends of persecution in the US.

A parishioner gave me a copy of this essay this morning.  It’s important in highlighting a very current example of persecution.  I looked up the video of Kim Burrell’s sermon on homosexuality.  The quality is so poor I can’t understand the majority of it, though enough is clear that she’s preaching very strongly against homosexuality.  The irony is that in trying to discredit Ms. Burrell for her point of view, her co-stars and ‘friends’ claim that prejudice against someone who disagrees with homosexuality is allowable and honorable under the guise of “there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017”.

That is persecution.  Ms. Burrell is being persecuted for her Biblical stance on homosexuality.  Publicly shamed, financially damaged.  I’m fairly certain that if a gay person was rejected from appearing on a promotional tour, uninvited from a guest spot on a television show, and had their radio show cancelled for saying things that are pro-homosexuality, it would be decried as gross prejudice and malice and anti-freedom.  It might be argued that homosexuals have dealt with such issues for a long time.  But that does not allow them to utilize the same techniques against those who disagree with them and claim they are doing so in the name of freedom and anti-prejudice.  If it was prejudiced when it was done to them, it is prejudiced when they do it to others.  We don’t get to redefine the terms.

Please pray for people everywhere who are persecuted, regardless of their faith or the reason for the persecution.  Suffering is evil.   And I pray for Christians who are persecuted.  For those who are more than socially embarrassed or chastised, but who are imprisoned and executed and abused in numerous ways that are – as yet – still somewhat unthinkable here in America.  But beware.  Trends move in directions.  And if the trends in the US are for Christians to be increasingly marginalized, it’s a fantastically short leap from public shaming to death camps, and that reality is demonstrated around the world not just in history but in real numbers and lives today.

Unsocial Media

January 13, 2017

What does your social media look like?  Not necessarily which one you use, but who are you in contact with through it?  I don’t Twit, and Facebook is my only social media venture thus far.  When I scroll through my friends, I see a broad spectrum of people.  There are two guys I’ve known since elementary school.  A smattering of folks from Junior and Senior high.  A few from college.  Some from many of the places I’ve worked (other than Burger King…oddly enough I’m not in contact with any of those folks still!).  Some from various educational institutions I’ve either attended or worked for.  Some from the congregation’s I serve(d).  There’s a growing number from the bar pool league I play in.  Finally there a few people that I’ve met in various capacities and situations only briefly.

It’s a diverse group, to say the least.  I take this into account when I post on Facebook – which is rarely.

I’m not sure about you but when I’m with any one of these many people, I don’t feel compelled to shout out my opinions on politics, sexuality, religion, or current events.  I may talk about some of these things with these various people, but there’s always a context to the conversation.  I’ve never had a single conversation where I or the person I was talking to simply announced If you hold this particular opinion on this particular subject, I don’t ever want to talk to you again and I hope you die in a car fire.

But I hear the equivalent from people all the time on Facebook.

I wonder about the diversity of their social network.  How many different people are they around?   Do they expect that every single person in their social network should think and feel exactly the way they do?  Have they forgotten that I’m in their list of friends?

It’s easy to think of the people posting obnoxious, rude, and hateful things.  But I’d argue that there are other people doing the opposite of this and it’s just as weird.  Many of the people I interact with on a regular basis aren’t Christian.  It would never strike me as appropriate when running into them at Costco or over a pool table to just shout out a verse of Scripture.  But I have friends that do this as well.  Are they only friends with Christians?  What must that be like for their non-Christian friends?  I can understand quoting Scripture to encourage a brother or sister in the faith, but does it have that same effect on non-Christians?  My experience has been overwhelmingly that it does not.

What is social media ultimately for?  Is it a platform to express my inner thoughts and feelings, even in a manner that I would never consider doing face to face with another person?  Is it a means of fostering dialogue and contact with a great number of people across the span of my life?  Should it only be for and with people who think and feel exactly as I do on whatever topics I make determinative?  Is it a reminder and celebration that even people who are very different can still find value in one another?

How is it that we’ve come to think of social media as different from our face-to-face interactions, even though it encompasses many of the people we interact with face-to-face?  Is it possible to disparage a particular point of view and have any respect for someone who believes it?  Is that the nature of friendship and relationship, let alone the definition of loving my neighbor as myself?

It’s troubling, regardless.

 

Fake News

January 12, 2017

A couple of years ago I posted a link to an article about a supposed discovery of a first-century eyewitness to one of Jesus’ miracles.  At the time I did some due diligence, checking on the alleged first-century source and determining that he was indeed an actual historian.

But today I stumbled on this blog indicating that the story I originally linked to is false.  However the author doesn’t explain why they reached this conclusion.  The only evidence is that the site contains other articles with questionable topics or titles.  But that’s hardly in and of itself enough to discredit a source.  And certainly, the photo in the original article is not a Greek document, but there could be human-error reasons why the wrong photo was linked to the article.

So I dug a bit further and found this article at Snopes.com.  Interestingly enough, Snopes’ main reason to disbelieve the article is the nature of the other article titles on the web site.  They only mention secondarily what I find to be the smoking gun in terms of the original story being false.  Buried in the About Us section, in the Disclaimer subsection, is a sentence that immediately discredits everything hosted at the site.

All characters appearing in the articles in this website – even those based on real people –  are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any persons, living, dead, or undead is purely a miracle.

In other words the story was completely fabricated, even though it involved a real person.  A great example of fake news.  Perhaps a more esoteric form of it than most people think of in today’s discussions of the topic.  But it reinforces the importance of verifying sources, of not simply assuming that because Great-Uncle Hubert posted the link on Facebook, it must be true.

But this highlights the greater issue.  Not all news sites will have a disclaimer like the above one does.  And if people are only just now realizing that the media has biases, then we should begin to worry that fake news may not just come from a disreputable source, but could also be pushed by a reputable source.  Someplace without fantastical headlines in other areas to tip us off that we might be getting fooled.  And given the impressive abilities of technology these days, it’s getting harder and harder for anyone to avoid being roped in or fooled at some point or another.

Be careful what you assume is true.  Look for multiple sources.  Watch to see who else picks up on the story and runs with it.  Or who doesn’t.  Don’t believe something just because it’s something that you want to believe.  The Truth is out there – but we have to be careful that we don’t mistake it for something false, and that we don’t give up searching for it just because of all the false stuff out there.