Archive for October, 2017

Who Is Mistaken?

October 24, 2017

So, as I understand evolutionary theory and/or natural selection theory, it works something like this.  A series of genetic changes – purely random and by chance – over immense periods of time have resulted in all of the living organisms in the world.  Each one the product of millions of years of natural selection and evolutionary mutation.

Yet, in the comparatively few years since we have been able to really study genes and map them, we’ve developed a tool that can correct the errors in our genes.


We know enough in a few short years of working with genes to safely decide that we can begin editing the genetic code for life?  That we can simply snip off the naughty genes and give us diseases?  That we understand completely how this incredibly complex set of data interacts with itself to create us?

I don’t doubt that we can edit our genetic sequences.  But I’m so totally not convinced that we know enough to start doing this.  And the thought that there are very intelligent people out there who are perfectly comfortable with this idea is terrifying.


October 23, 2017

I frequently lament – and testily disagree with – our Church culture (maybe it’s yours too?) that stresses and exalts youth and young people.  It struck me that in some ways it’s like only wanting to talk about Jesus as a baby.  Youth, the future, it’s so beautiful and innocent.  It’s also not very challenging.  It doesn’t demand that you do what it wants, the way it wants.  It demands accommodations, but leaves  us in large part in control of things.

Jesus didn’t stay a baby and it’s interesting we know so little about his youth.  We are led to move beyond the wistful hopefulness of gazing at a helpless baby and impossibly young parents, to being challenged to discipleship by a fully-grown Lord and Savior.  It’s easy to simply focus on Christmas and disregard Lent and Easter.  Many Christians do exactly this, and it’s undoubtedly as ill-fitting and misguided as trying to orient a congregation to lure in young people who will stay and propagate and continue the congregational life.

Last night we had another great Happy Hour.  Several new people in the mix.  A musician from our congregation, laboring to hash out a jazzed-up version of A Mighty Fortress on saxophone with an acoustic guitarist.  A potential love-interest for one of our regulars.  A couple from our congregation who visited once a long time ago but, despite their own work with college-aged people for years – have insisted that they’re “too old” to come and hang out.

I got to have conversation with a couple of the guys.  One talking about his relationship status (or lack thereof).  Another curious about the fascination with Christian community that has driven my wife and I all our lives together.

We have a strange and I suspect unusual dynamic on Sunday nights.  Our house has become home to these dozen or so people.  They don’t worry about knocking or ringing the door bell.  They come right in and know they’re welcome.  They bring their friends, roommates, co-workers, and potential love interests.  They add their gifts of food and beverages to the mix and find their seat at the table to join in the next round of whatever game is being played, or wander out back to talk by candlelight, or find a seat off to the side waiting to see who wanders over for quieter discourse.

While my wife and I are well-acquainted with college and young adult ministry, the last time we were actively involved in it we were a lot closer to their age.  Now we’re not.  We’re more like parents.  But sufficiently different.  Different enough that they feel comfortable to be – at least as I imagine it – themselves.  Who they are right now, with these people, in this stage of life.  They don’t have to adopt or fall back into the familiar roles and rituals of being son or daughter at home.  They’re just Derek or Kenny or Brooke at our house.  They can be the adults they are becoming with adults who don’t have preconceived notions or hopes about who those adults should be.  It’s a different conversational dynamic, a different dynamic of identity.

They often talk about how much they value not just being around my wife and I as people their parent’s age, but how they also enjoy hanging out with our kids as adopted, much younger siblings.  And they also have voiced how they appreciate having others who are even older attending and hanging out.  Gleaning perspectives and insights from those who are much further down the path of life than the rest of us.

I wonder how many opportunities and options there are for this sort of dynamic.  Without the power dynamics inherent at work or school.  Just people of different ages and backgrounds gathering together with the understanding that everyone there wants to be there, and wants good things for themselves and the others.  A place where the peace of God the Holy Spirit in Christ flows underneath us like an underground river that occasional surfaces in song or theological discourse.  Something we all at one level or another float along on or dip our feet and toes into, even though our doctrinal understandings might be more fluid than the Holy Spirit himself.

It reminds my wife and I of L’Abri, which has served as an inspirational lighthouse of sorts as we seek to navigate the sometimes treacherous coastlines of Christian community in various incarnations.  I still draw great insights from reading Francis Shaeffer’s works (book review soon to come).  I don’t know if our following along side his footsteps will ever develop into anything quite so formal as his teaching and lecture sessions, I believe that God the Holy Spirit is at work in our informal Sunday evenings, and pray for the guidance as to where to place our next footsteps, trusting that however that might look, it will continue to advocate for multigenerational interactions that convey the faith and refresh it regularly.  In doing so I pray we faithfully follow from the manger to the cross to the empty tomb to the Day of our Lord’s return!


Reading Ramblings – October 29, 2017

October 22, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Reformation Sunday (observed) – October 29, 2017

Texts: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Context: Reformation Sunday is always the last Sunday of October, as close to October 31 as possible, which is the date Martin Luther is credited with tacking up a list of 95 talking points – mainly around the issue of indulgences – in 1517. In case you haven’t heard, this year is the 500th anniversary of that momentous event. We have no reason to believe that Luther expected the many massive changes that would come from his request for academic and theological debate. I view the Reformation as an unfortunate necessity. Would that the Church would have simply reformed, as Luther hoped! Instead, a violent schism emerged and has remained to this day, prompting multiple other, small schisms among non-Roman Catholic Christians. We should observe this day in worship of God the Holy Spirit who restored the Gospel to the forefront of much of the Church’s message, rather than as a day celebrating division and disagreement. We look forward to that day in eternity when our divisions cease, and we are united in the peace that can only come from the Prince of Peace himself.

Revelation 14:6-7 – This is the traditional text (at least in Lutheran circles!) for Reformation Sunday. It was popular in the years after the Reformation to claim that this angel is actually Martin Luther. I don’t think that’s a reasonable interpretation, but it is a passage that many see Luther as embodying with his insistence on proclaiming the eternal Gospel. This passage occurs after two very troubling passages that describe the grand cosmic war waged against God the Father’s plan of salvation and his chosen people, both the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church (Chapter 12). Chapter 13 describes two dreadful beasts representing the machinations of Satan in this world to lure and force people to abandon worship of the one, true God and worship instead human powers and institutions. Yet in the midst of such terrible times, there are still those who remain faithful to God, marked with his name instead of the beast’s. And while the powers of Satan ravage the world below, they are unable to prevent God’s angels from continuing to empower and encourage the faithful in true worship through the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ. As such, God’s people are not to necessarily rely on some miraculous deliverance from suffering in this world, but rather that in the midst of that suffering they are never forgotten or abandoned by their God, who alone in the sinless death and resurrection of the Son of God has provided for their eternal security.

Psalm 46 – What hope we have in our God, the Creator of the Universe, Redeemer of Creation, Fashioner of Faith! What little hope we have in the world around us, rocked as it is by catastrophes both natural (vs.2-3) and human (v.9). How often we are exhorted to put our faith in ourselves, in our leaders, in our philosophies, in our sciences. How predictably often our hope is disappointed and betrayed. Only God can cure what ails creation and each one of us. Only God can lead us to the river that runs through the holy city. Only God can inspire the psalmist (circa 1000 BC) to see the holy city and the river running through it that St. John will also see roughly 1100 years later! Only God is so amazingly consistent in the smallest of details, and therefore trustworthy in the most sweeping of promises. Our hope and strength can only be in God alone, and our hope will not be disappointed. One day we all will gather by the river that flows from the throne of God!

Romans 3:19-28 – The law cannot save us (v.20). Whether God’s Law or human law, no law is capable of saving us from the sin, the inherent disobedience that reigns not just in our actions but more deeply in our thoughts, words, and hearts. Matthew 5 serves as a good corollary chapter, explaining that mere outward observance of the law does not remove the inner disobedience. So it must be God who provides an alternative means of righteousness to every one of us. Something unexpected though certainly not unannounced (v.21). That righteousness consists of faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the resurrected Son of God. Just as sin has uniformly condemned us (v.23), so God offers a uniform source of righteousness and forgiveness in his Son (vs. 22, 24-25). And not in some intangible way, but in the very literal and physical blood and death of his Son. So it is God alone who justifies – who makes us right with him (vs.25-26). So can we boast of our salvation in Jesus? Have we done anything to merit boasting, to justify it? Hardly! Does the recipient of an expensive gift credit himself with graciously receiving the gift? Hardly! Rather, it is the giver who is praised and thanked as the source of the gift. So we give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord by faith worked in us by God the Holy Spirit, for the gift of righteousness and salvation that is first to last his creation, and therefore trustworthy.

John 8:31-36 – Jesus theological opponents are not stupid. I don’t think they are simply asserting that they have never been literal, physical slaves – as though they were forgetful of Egypt, or the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Persians or the Greeks or now the Romans. Much of the history of God’s people – the overwhelming majority of it, in fact – they have been slaves and subjects of other peoples. What his opponents are asserting however is a religious, spiritual freedom. They have remained faithful to God regardless of what temporal authority ruled the day. But Jesus won’t have this argument, either. Spiritually their worship of God is corrupted by sin, and is the very reason for their exile in Babylon and the myriad masters they have served since. Sin prevents them from experiencing the theological, spiritual freedom they assert they have always have. The reality is that they have always been slaves to sin. Only the one without sin is free, a true son of the father (they brought up Abraham, but Jesus is reaching beyond Abraham to the Father/Creator of all things!). Jesus is the only Son of the Father, eternally faithful, obedient yet equal to and with the Father. Only the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, can truly claim to be a full and obedient Son of his heavenly Father. Everyone else are slaves who, while participating in the household, are not actually part of it.

But the Son has the authority of the Father, both in the theological, Trinitarian sense as well as the Roman and Hebrew sense his hearers would be thinking of. When the son comes of age his word is as binding as his father’s. Jesus, in being perfectly obedient to death and resurrection, will accomplish the will of his Father, which is to set people free from their slavery to sin. They can’t accomplish this on their own. The slave can’t simply declare that she is no longer a slave! It is not possible, because it requires an authority the slave does not have. Only the master of the household can grant manumission, can declare authoritatively and in binding fashion that he who was once present only as a slave is now present as a free participant in the household, even a son or daughter of the master.

We may not rely on Abraham as the source of our righteousness, but we are always prone to rely on other things and ourselves. We might acknowledge our imperfection, but take some level of comfort that at least we’re better than those other people. We are constantly tempted to see in our broken and imperfect efforts at occasional obedience, something worthy of offering to God of our own creation, as partial justification for his love and forgiveness. God will have no part of this. We either accept the full and complete and perfect forgiveness offered to us through the substitutionary death of the Son of God, and with that the Lordship of the Son of God over our lives here and now, or we die in our sin. Our imperfect and occasional attempts at obedience mean nothing on their own and without Christ. Only with and in Christ do those efforts have any real and lasting meaning, not in our salvation, but in helping to shape us into the people God will transform us into for eternity.

Holding the Line

October 21, 2017

Thanks to Blake for sharing this timely and helpful article on the value of Christian sexual ethics as opposed to the sexual licentiousness our culture has adopted not only as inevitable but actually admirable.

If sex is the unspoken possibility any time two people of any gender are in contact with each other, the possibility for problems to arise is incredibly high.  Only in the movies and on TV is unrestrained sexual indulgence something wonderful and easy – free of the fear of STDs, unexpected pregnancy and emotional entanglement.  To sexualize every potential encounter and relationship in our lives is unhealthy not just to those who want to act on that possibility, but those who don’t want to, but have to be on guard all the same.

Being prudent, wise, aware – these are all good and admirable traits that have been highlighted and honored in cultures around the world and throughout history.  But now they are decried as restrictive and unnecessary and unwanted.  We should be free to indulge ourselves in any way we desire, to any extent we desire, without any worry about consequences of any kind.  Such a demand might be appropriate to a utopian society, but in case people haven’t looked outside the window recently (or into their own hearts), we don’t live in a utopian society.  Not by a long shot.

I wish my kids didn’t have to worry about predatory sexual behavior as they enter their teen years and adulthood.  And by predatory I don’t mean illegal, but rather the predatory assumption being drilled into both girls and boys that sex is wonderful and good and fine wherever and whenever and pretty much with whomever you like, so long as you both agree.  Whatever agree means.  It seems clear that agreement will only mean agreement if you still agree after the fact, which of course often is not the case for a variety of reasons.  It’s easy to read coercion or intimidation backwards into a situation once you’ve decided you’re not happy with the decisions you made.

So my kids are entering a world where sex will be assumed or expected with and from them as they begin dating.  My sons will face this as well as my daughter.  We’ve  taught them the inappropriateness and danger of this, provided rational explanations for why it isn’t a healthy way to live, both for themselves and those they meet.  We’ve tried to model and describe a Biblical sexual ethic that holds sexuality to be far more valuable than our society pretends to think it is.  But they’re still going to encounter those expectations.  As such, they’re going to have to conduct themselves in such a way as to enable them to live consistently with their morals and beliefs.  Part of this means being modest – both my sons and my daughter – and there’s no harm in that.  It only makes sense in a sinful world where things get misinterpreted all too easily.

People may want to laugh off Biblical sexual morality as antiquated and outdated, but compared to the massive harm inflicted on people in an open sexual culture, antiquated and outdated should start looking better than it has in a long time.

Waste Not Want

October 20, 2017

I didn’t see much report about this in the news over the summer, but it seems like a pretty big deal.  China has been a major importer of the world’s recyclable materials, but is making changes that will place major restrictions on the type and amount of material it accepts in the future.  I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I’ve heard anecdotally that China – until these changes take effect – has imported up to 40% of America’s recyclable material.

That should have a major impact on our country, seeing the massive amount of plastics we use.  It’s going to get more expensive, at least in the short term, to find alternate ways of dealing with losing a major market for our recyclables.  It hopefully will drive us to find better ways of handling them in the first place.  Oversees, it was routine to see multiple bins in the places we stayed.  The expectation was that the household would clean and divide up the types of waste.  Organic waste/table scraps in one bin, paper waste in another, plastics in another, aluminum in another, etc.  It was a little excessive compared to our policy where we live that we just throw all the recyclables into a single bin for weekly pick up.

Much of what we do and how we do it is driven by convenience.  But convenience has a price, a price we’ve been able to deflect somewhat, but which may get harder and therefore more expensive to mitigate.  Hopefully that will spur our American creativity and ingenuity to find better solutions than we have so far.  It would be nice to see us dealing with our own issues and consequences rather than just off-loading them to other countries.

Aquaponics 2

October 19, 2017

We’ve taken one step forward and two steps back this week in our aquaponics venture.  I procured three large 55-gallon drums for starter tanks.  But I also discovered this week that the most popular and common form of fish for aquaponics – tilapia – is not permitted in the county we live in (gotta loooooovvvveeee California!).

I had suspected this to be the case for a few weeks now after scouring the Internet.  But I held out hope that exceptions might be made if the system was completely self-contained (as opposed to privately stocking tilapia in a pond on your property or something).  I referred to the California game and fish web site to begin with.  I called the contact number listed there.  But the number was actually some sort of nation-wide contact, so they had to transfer me to a California person.  That person had to transfer me to someone else, and that person transferred me to someone else, who gave me the name and number of the person she was transferring me to, and I left a voice mail with this person.  She responded within an hour or so to give me another name and  number where I left a voice mail.  This woman called back in a couple of hours and was extremely pleasant but confirmed there were no exceptions to the tilapia ban.  She e-mailed me a variety of resources that will be very helpful as we progress, and gave me the name of  a guy down in San Diego that I have e-mailed, asking for his next best recommendation for an aquaponics fish.

In the meantime I’ve started researching other options for fish.  Catfish seems to be the next-best option in terms of growing quickly.  But it’s a less popular fish to eat.  We’ll see what the San Diego guy recommends.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Vesper Martini

October 18, 2017

I didn’t grow up on James Bond.  I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies until I was a teen, and even then it was only the edited-for-television broadcasts on ABC.  I may have seen one James Bond film in the theater, and I watched Skyfall on Netflix a few years ago.  But in general the films have been too over the top for my tastes, whether on the scale of explosions and car chases or in the realm of drop-dead gorgeous femme fatales.  I’ve never even read any of the books.

Ian Fleming created a character idolized by men and desired by women in part for his self-confidence.  A secret agent who always uses his actual name.  A man who always knows what he wants and goes after it.  Not surprisingly this is true of his signature drink.  Bond is famous for ordering a martini (vodka or gin, according to the books) “shaken not stirred.”  The first iteration of this drink, however,  is provided (according to Wikipedia) in Fleming’s Casino Royale.  Here’s a guy who never has to think about what he’s in the mood for.  He knows what he wants, and he knows how he wants it.  Muy sexy, n’cest pas?

The official Fleming version of what becomes known as the Vesper or the Vesper Martini (named after the undoubtedly beautiful Vesper Lynd):

  • 3 parts Gordon’s Gin
  • 1 part vodka (preferably grain-based rather than potato-based)
  • 1/2 part Kina Lillet

Shake the ingredients vigorously together with ice, serve in a deep champagne glass (a margarita glass is not as glamorous but substitutes well!) and garnish with a large, thin slice of lemon.

I tried this drink tonight.  Predictably, I didn’t care for it since I don’t like gin.  I don’t think it makes me less manly, but I considered the possibility for a moment.  Perhaps it just reaffirms what I already knew – I’m not British.  I may try this drink again, reducing the gin to two parts and increasing the Lillet to a full part or even a little more.  The idea is that the Lillet softens the impact of the two very strong liquors.  It does, but not nearly enough to hide the fact that there’s a ton of gin in there!

I used Bombay Sapphire gin instead of Gordon’s and I don’t feel at all bad about it.  If you’re a stickler for details and accuracy then get Gordon’s.  But frankly I think Bond would sneer at your slavish consistency.  To my mind, if I’m going to lick a Christmas tree (which is what I liken drinking most gins to – except for Hendrix gin), then I don’t much care if I’m licking a Douglas or a Noble.  If you really have strong feelings about what Christmas tree you most prefer to lick, go for it.  My rule of thumb stands – don’t buy the most expensive stuff in the store, but don’t buy the cheapest, either!

Lillet is a sweet French wine mixed with citrus-based liquors and quinine-producing botanicals.  It was first developed in the late 19th century, and is considered an aperitif – a before-dinner drink intended to stimulate the appetite.  It is sweet and heavy as an offset to the bitter (gin) and more neutral (vodka) liquors.

Oddly enough, it is actually tastier when served cold.  I shook mine with ice (which results in more meltage and a dilution of the drink.  It can also sometimes make the drink a bit cloudy, something martini purists abhor.  If gin is your thing, than enjoy.  If it isn’t, try something else!


Me Too…in Other Ways

October 17, 2017

I thought this was a great essay by Mayim Bialik.  While I doubt she and I agree on many things, I very much appreciate her mature evaluation of the irresponsible behavior of both men and (potentially) women.  Of course, she has been excoriated for this from many women who view her conservative treatment of a woman’s role in all of this as a betrayal of feminist insistence that women never, ever have absolutely any responsibility in a situation of sexual inappropriateness.

Bialik’s essay in no way gives a pass to men to sexually harass women.  But she does acknowledge that women have a role to play in this issue as well, which of course is a forbidden aspect of discussion.  Should women have to worry about being assaulted or harassed?  No, they shouldn’t.  We all know that in our hearts.  But they do.  And we recognize that there are good reasons for this, and that occasions for worry happen quite a bit.  Regardless of whether a woman conforms to societal notions of beauty or sexuality.  Despite whether she dresses conservatively or provocatively.  Regardless of whether she chooses to drink excessively or otherwise compromise her faculties or not.

In other words, there are no foolproof ways to assure a woman will never be harassed or assaulted.  Or to assure that a woman will never feel harassed, even if no such harassment was intended.  This is part of sin playing out in our world.  A sin that runs deep…all the way back to Genesis 3:16 and the preview of the battle of the sexes that has ensued ever since.  Woman and man struggle for control over each other.  What history has shown is that women have traditionally fared worse in this struggle – at least by the standards of wealth and power and public office.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t active combatants, or that they haven’t learned how to win in other ways.

The reality is that we relate to one another, both people we want to relate to and people we aren’t even aware of.  We relate to them in how we carry ourselves, present ourselves, how we speak and groom ourselves, what we wear, and all of the other subtle and not-so-subtle body and image languages we use.  Pretending that this is not the case is irresponsible and dishonest.  Most everyone takes at least some effort to put themselves together in a way they want other people to view them, and at least anecdotally, women put more time and more care into this than men.

How we prepare ourselves says things to other people.  Bialik understands this.  Admitting this is not giving an excuse to those who act inappropriately.  But admitting does recognize that at some times, some women are complicit.  Show business has long been an environment where this is tacitly understood (similar to politics, oddly enough).  The outrage over Harvey Weinstein has the benefit of a specific target, someone who can personally be held accountable and punished.  But it isn’t as though Weinstein invented the casting couch.  He perpetuated it.  And as much as it might offend some women, I’ll go a step further to suggest that he perpetuated it – like those before him and contemporaneous with him and those who come after him – with the help of some women.

Not all, to be certain.  But in the recognition that some people have been hurt and harmed, it is easy to try and oversimplify things and in so doing, ignore underlying truths and realities that might otherwise be helpful or necessary to bring about change.  Systematic behavior relies on a lot of things.  Systematically abusing other people presumes often times that abuse is not just tolerated, but rather sought out.  That it isn’t always abuse.  That some are participants, not victims.

The last big example of this was the famous taped comment of Donald Trump about some of his interactions with certain women.  He was taped – probably without his knowledge – and the tape was released before the election last year to try and destroy his chances of winning the presidency.  That effort failed, much to the surprise of Hillary Clinton and many other people.  How was it that such patently offensive language would not cause every voter (or at least every female voter) to repudiate Trump?

Because common sense understood what he was talking about.  Common sense understood that Trump was crudely describing the atmosphere of wealth and power and success that he has spent his whole life in.  The reality that there are always people (men and women, I have no doubt) willing to do whatever it takes to enter that atmosphere, to breathe deeply and permanently acclimate to it.  Some people work really hard to earn and accomplish things that bring wealth and power.  Others are willing to shortcut the process, relying on other assets and exchanges.  We call these people gold diggers.  Kanye rapped about them in 2005 but nobody took offense to him or to his rather explicit lyrics (and please be aware that the link above is to the lyrics to the song which are not exactly child-friendly, given the subject).  Why?  Because everyone understood what he was talking about.  When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything, Trump spoke.  I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids / His baby momma’s car and crib is bigger than his Kanye sings.    The implication is clear and everyone knows it when they aren’t ideologically blinded – not everyone is a victim.  Sometimes, everyone is guilty.  Is it crude?  Of course.  Does that make it any less true?  No.

Were voters commending or affirming the Donald and his comment and the reality he was expressing rather ineloquently?  Of course not.  But they also understood that he was describing a particular reality, however offensive and disgusting it might be.  And they understood as well that lots of people enter that reality knowingly, not as victims but as participants.  As combatants.

Is this right and proper?  That the rich and powerful should expect that there will be up-and-comers eager to sell what they have for what they might become?  Of course not.  But it is reality.  I’m not affirming that this is the way things should be, but I’m pretty sure this is always how things have been.  Which makes me skeptical about our attempts – however well-intentioned – to eliminate it.  As long as some have wealth and power and others don’t, there will always be willing participants on both sides of the equation, which means there will be unwilling victims on one side or the other of the equation.

What does all this have to do with Bialik and feminists and Weinstein?  The simple reality that how we present ourselves leads others to conclude things about us.  Those conclusions may not be correct, but they aren’t necessarily unreasonable conclusions, either.  This doesn’t justify abuse or harassment, but it can be a contributing factor to it -whether we like to admit that or not.  It isn’t always, but it sometimes can be.  For these reasons taking some time to consider how we present ourselves to others is worthwhile and appropriate.

What do you want people admiring you for – your body or your personality and other attributes?  If you don’t want to be confused with someone who is actively looking for a sexual relationship or encounter, why would you dress like that sort of person?  Bialik simply acknowledges the reality that clothing and appearance help communicate and we are responsible for thinking about the messages we send.  We can’t always be responsible for how those messages are received or acted upon, but we are responsible for thinking about what we are trying to say to the people who see us.  When we use this common sense, we may find that abuse and harassment decline not just in our own personal lives, but in the lives of others around us as men are reminded that women are not simply here for their own personal gratification, but ultimately as partners (Genesis 2:20, 23-25), which is what God intended from the beginning and, in Christ, will re-establish permanently one day.

As Genesis 2 shows, it isn’t ultimately what we wear that is the problem.  It is the sin within all of us.  The sin that takes the good bodies that God created and turns them into objects of shame and fear (Genesis 3:7, 10).  Which is why our efforts to eradicate sexual objectification, harassment, and abuse will fall short.  Not that we shouldn’t try, we just need to realize that the issue is sin, and runs a lot deeper than just retraining people how to speak and act.  Ultimately what Harvey Weinstein and all those like him needs most isn’t public humiliation or jail time or any other arbitrary punishment we might decide to inflict on them.  What they need most is salvation – the same thing every one of us needs.  Something we can’t get or create on our own, we can only accept it on the terms of and in the life and death and resurrection of one God-Man, Jesus.

That’s what our hope is – the transformation of ourselves and creation into the people we know we should be on the inside but are never capable of fully becoming.  Until that time, we need to be careful.  We need to think about the messages we send with our clothing and our behavior and all the other ways we communicate.  We need to work hard to keep ourselves from situations where we might exploit or be exploited.  We need the fig leaves and the animal skins here and now to protect us not just from one another but from ourselves as well.





Me Too?

October 16, 2017

Facebook’s latest protest meme is for women to post Me Too in a status update if they have been the victim of sexual harassment of some kind in the past.  The idea is solidarity with the women who were abused by Harvey Weinstein.   The intent of the Facebook thingy is to show that the headlines are only the tip of the iceberg, that it wasn’t just a few up-and-coming or hopeful starlets who have been bullied, harassed, abused, or worse.  Women of all walks of life have had moments of harassment that unite them in a common outrage.

I don’t have a problem with something that draws attention to a dangerous and sinful problem that human beings of all cultures and backgrounds have to deal with.  I have no doubt that there are many women who have been mistreated by men, manipulated mentally, emotionally, or physically simply for the gratification of another person.  This is a terrible and awful reality.

The problem I have with it is that in the effort to create unity, there is precious little talk about what actually defines harassment or manipulation.  We’re being indoctrinated to believe that it is possible to speak and act in ways that are completely inoffensive to all people at all times, yet the net result of this indoctrination seems only to be showing how completely and utterly untrue and impossible this is.  Someone is always offended, even if the person accused wasn’t trying to be offensive or was completely ignorant about the peculiar cauldron of experiences and issues that would lead someone to be offended in that moment.

Is asking a woman out an example of a man harassing or intimidating a woman, if she feels harassed or intimidated?  Obviously there are some behaviors and statements that most of us could and would agree upon as patently offensive or blatant examples of intimidation.  But the grey area seems inordinately large.  We can attempt to understand one another better in an effort to communicate more clearly and effectively and mitigate or reduce the number of unintended offenses.  We can be more diligent about protecting those who speak out against those who abuse their power to coerce or intimidate or harass others.  But there are limits to all of these things, and we’re also aiming at a moving target.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim, but it should make us cautious about the self-righteousness of our attempts.

Particularly it should make us cautious of applying definitions and standards we have created today to characterize situations and behaviors and individuals in the past.  Trying people in our past by standards only acceptable and recognized today is potentially unfair, recasting the past in a light that it may not have naturally experienced.  Jokes and innuendos about casting couches have been around pretty much as long as films have been.  Calling out Weinstein and others for their abuses in the past isn’t unfair because there was an understanding in the past that those behaviors were inappropriate.

Is the supervisor at a workplace 30 years ago to be thought of as a sexual predator for asking out a young woman?  Maybe.  Was he intentionally using his position as a means of pressuring her to accept?  Was there the explicit idea that refusal would jeopardize her job?  Foul play.   But not every supervisor who asks out someone in a lower power position is a sexual predator, and we ought to be careful about recognizing this.  Making someone uncomfortable accidentally shouldn’t implicate that person as predatory or bullying.

Hopefully we can all learn together how to be better co-creations of God the Father, seeing one another as someone that God the Son has died and risen from the dead for, and that God the Holy Spirit is actively trying to work within.  We can help one another towards that end by articulating what is and isn’t appropriate.  So go ahead and post Me Too if that’s appropriate.  I pray that there can be some healing and forgiveness in that honesty.  But I also encourage people to try and ensure their feelings and reactions to something aren’t coloring the event, turning it into something it might not have been.


Reading Ramblings – October 22, 2017

October 15, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 22, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9(10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Context: How sovereign is your God? How predictable and obvious are his ways? Do you have him figured out? Do you know what He’s going to do and how He’s going to do it? Then your God is not the Biblical God. The God of Scripture is not limited. He doesn’t simply work through the faithful and obedient and righteous. How many times have modern popular Christian authors stressed the importance of faithfulness and obedience lest you frustrate God’s plans for your life? Consider this – God called and blessed and enabled a ruler who did not know him, did not worship him, was not obedient in any sense of the Word – all for God’s glorious and sovereign plan, for the sake of his own beloved people! Our God works however and wherever He pleases, and through whomever. This should humble our haughty attitudes in all aspects of our lives and towards all people and institutions in our lives, even those we disagree with.

Isaiah 45:1-7 – What a fascinating passage of Scripture! We need to recall that Isaiah is writing around the close of the eighth century BC – roughly 739-701 BC. Yet the events that he is writing about in Chapter 45 won’t take place for another 200 years. Those who deny the reality of divine inspiration and therefore the reality of prophetic writing thus hypothesize that the book of Isaiah is actually compiled over a long period of time, including some of Isaiah’s actual material but also material written much, much later, by those influenced by him and seeking to carry on his tradition. I hold with the traditional view that Isaiah has authored all of the book of Isaiah, and that in places he is speaking – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – about things that will take place long after his death. Cyrus is the King of Persia who successfully conquers the Babylonian empire and issues the famous decree that allows the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. So when God says in v. 4 that He is using Cyrus for the sake of God’s people, this is very true. Through Cyrus God will free his people to re-establish themselves in Jerusalem, a place that will remain central until not long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. To achieve his purposes, God will enable Cyrus and give him success, a promise similar to the one God makes to Joshua in the Old Testament. God is not forcing Cyrus to do these things, but encouraging and enabling him so that as he applies his free will, he meets with great success. This passage does not necessarily mean that Cyrus will come to faith in God as the one, true God, but rather demonstrates how God can work through anyone and any situation towards the fulfillment of his divine plan and purpose. If God can do this with someone completely ignorant of his identity and existence, how much more can God work in the lives of his faithful people?!

Psalm 96 – A good friend of mine just released his first worship CD, and the opening track is based on this psalm! What an exultant hymn of praise to the Creator of the Universe! He alone in his creative mastery is God, and there are no others, no rivals, no alternatives. But God the Creator is also God the just (v.10), not the petty, vindictive deity we find in so many mythologies. Not only are people to give God glory and praise (vs.7-9), but all creation itself should and will also give God praise (vs.10-13) for the same reason, that God is just. In terms of theology, this brings to mind Paul’s line of thought in Romans 8:22-23. Creation itself groans and anticipates the future glory to be revealed by a just God who will perfectly judge sin and evil and free creation from their despicable control.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 – We made short work of Philippians – shorter than appropriate, no doubt, but now we move on to 1 Thessalonians. Acts 17 describes Paul’s initial work among the Thessalonians. His work there seems to have been short-lived yet also impactful, so that now there is a Christian community in Thessalonica, and an active one at that! Now their reputation has spread far and wide, so that other churches can relate the story of how Paul was received at Thessalonica. Apparently his early converts were not so much the Jews of Thessalonica but the Gentiles, those worshiping idols (v.9). They received the Gospel joyfully and fully turned from their idolatry to commit themselves to patiently waiting for Christ’s return. You can hear the joy and pride in Paul’s voice, his gratitude that while his time in Thessalonica was cut short, the Holy Spirit was hard at work and continues to preserve those faithful people who first trusted the promises of God in Jesus Christ.

Mark 22:15-22 – Politics makes for strange bedfellows, and so does theology from time to time. The Pharisees were a non-priestly group of ultra-orthodox, ultra-observant Jewish men committed to total obedience to the Laws of Moses. They despised the Roman presence and influence among God’s people, yet here they are willing to cooperate with the Herodians, a term we assume denotes Jewish people who supported Roman presence and rule and thought that complicity with the Romans would ultimately be beneficial to the Jewish people (certainly more so than fighting against them had proved to be!).

Matthew tells us what the intent of all of this is. They want to entangle Jesus in his words – they want him to say something that will incriminate himself either with the Romans or with the crowds. If he misspeaks against Roman law, then He can be arrested and incarcerated – removed from the public sphere. The Jewish crowds love Jesus (Matthew 21:26), a fact that makes it hard for the Jewish leadership to either undermine his authority, assassinate him (Matthew 26:3-5), or otherwise remove him.

Bringing up the issue of taxation seems the perfect means of getting Jesus to upset one side or the other. On the one hand, taxation is an important stream of revenue to the Romans and a primary means of evaluating whether the provincial authorities are doing their jobs – and therefore get to keep their jobs or advance. Interfering with taxation in any way is a serious issue to the Romans. On the other hand, the Jewish people hate Roman taxation, which they consider to be severe and oppressive. Jesus truly ought to be caught, unable to respond without either endangering himself with the Romans or alienating himself with the crowds who suffered under Roman taxation.

But Jesus is no ordinary itinerant preacher, wild-eyed prophet or rabble-rouser. The Son of God clearly shows the reality that they must live under. They are never to short-change God what He is due, but God does not collect taxes or issue currency. For these things, whether they like it or not, they are dependent on the Romans. Their use of Roman currency demonstrates that they have a debt to the Romans that they need to pay. They cannot pretend that they have no debt or obligation to the Romans just because they are the people of God.

His response neither condemns taxation, which could lead to his arrest, nor does it approve of or justify the ruthless level of taxation which the Romans exacted from the people. The people are to give God what is His – worship, praise, honor (Psalm 96!) – and to give to the Romans what is their due – taxes. The religious leaders might have viewed Roman taxation not just as excessive, but also as insulting or even scandalous. To pay money to a pagan government? How could God ever consider such a thing as appropriate? But such a point of view – 2000 years ago or today – forgets that there is no power on earth beyond God’s power, and that God is perfectly capable and willing to work through any variety of means, institutions, and persons to accomplish his will. Today’s passages – similar to the Romans 13 passage from a few weeks ago – reminds us that in all things we are to trust and acknowledge the majesty and sovereignty of God!