Archive for January, 2022

Book Review – The Lost Temple of Java

January 9, 2022

The Lost Temple of Java by Phil Grabsky

Having lost a great deal of enthusiasm for my upcoming project, I decided to step away from anthropological and sociological texts and guides and do something a bit more basic. This is a great book primarily because it has a lot of photos. Much of the book is history – specifically the history of Thomas Stamford Raffles, under whose governance this massive Buddhist temple was rediscovered in the 19th century after having been abandoned roughly 1000 years earlier.

It’s history, but it’s written well and the photos and sketches break up the text nicely. This is appropriate as we know frustratingly few details of the actual construction of the temple – who built it, why, etc. The biographical information on Raffles is therefore more concrete and relatable even if it’s somewhat removed from the actual temple. But it does help to contextualize the amazing nature not only of the rediscovery but Raffles’ progressive attitudes towards exploration and preservation.

Hard Words. But True

January 8, 2022

If you are responsible for raising children right now, read this. Or read it if you know someone responsible for raising children. If you take your Biblical Christian faith seriously and need to guide young people towards their future, ready it. It’s blunt. And maybe bluntness is something we need a bit more these days.

What Cancel Culture Can’t Account For

January 5, 2022

A short article, but a miraculous one in our climate of cancel culture and the scorched-earth ideologies and tactics of whomever wields influence at the moment. The article reports how former inmates with the once-imprisoned Bill Cosby still try to keep in touch with him because of the positive impact he had on their lives while he was behind bars.

The author struggles with what appears to be this impossible paradox – a man imprisoned for accusations of sexually assaulting incapacitated women – could still have wisdom to impart and be a benefit to anyone. Because by today’s standards, this shouldn’t be possible. Someone who commits a crime or violates the accepted or promoted values of the moment deserves to be destroyed. Deserves to have their honorary degrees revoked, their accolades trampled, their achievements obliterated. The idea that a deeply flawed human being could at the same time actually be someone capable of doing good to others doesn’t hold currency in our culture today.

St. Paul would disagree, though. Read the latter portion of Romans 7 (actually, read ALL of this letter, but the most pertinent part to this discussion is in Chapter 7 for my less patient readers). St. Paul is not trying to exonerate himself. He is not insisting that he does not sin, or that his sin should not count against him. Rather, he acknowledges full well the reality of his sin, the severity of the sin, his deserving of the full penalty of the law for that sin. He realizes that his intentions are not enough to satisfy the requirement of the Law. And he recognizes he is doomed under the Law if left to himself. He is totally dependent on being rescued, redeemed, restored by someone external to himself (vs. 24-25).

I’m not defending what Cosby may have done. I’m not arguing he should not be punished for those crimes if they occurred. I simply hope to remind people that we are incapable of perfectly fulfilling the law. Either laws we create for ourselves or the Law given to us in Scripture upon which all of our laws ultimately derive whatever validity they might have. As such, punishment must come. As such, all of us to varying degrees deserve punishment. And as such, all of us must pray and plead not simply for justice and obliteration but mercy. Because whether we’re guilty of gossiping or shoplifting or murder, most every one of us also has moments where we are capable of doing some good – large or small – to others. Therein lies our humanity and our love for tragic heroes.

It’s not hard to punish. But it’s hard to punish while still desiring the best for the person being punished rather than simply wishing their suffering for reasons of revenge.

Law and Guilt

January 4, 2022

I don’t keep in touch with many folks from my high school days. A handful of close friends tenuously held together by intentional and not-so-intentional mini-reunions is about it. But I have another friend that has done an incredible job of keeping in touch over the years, and taking the opportunity to get together for lunch or dinner whenever we found ourselves in similar parts of the country. So it was that we were meeting the following day, Thursday, for lunch at a Mexican restaurant she suggested.

She asked me to choose a place to eat initially. I opted for a small Mexican restaurant nearby. I’d never been there but the reviews were good and the place looked pretty authentic, as opposed to the more Americanized places. But she nixed the idea because of Covid considerations. She wanted to sit outdoors, which was fine by me.

Then the night before she sent a short e-mail. Her daughter back in South Carlonia tested positive for Covid, and my friend had obviously spent a lot of time around her in the days before her trip to Arizona. My friend didn’t have any symptoms but wanted to warn me in case I preferred to cancel. I didn’t, and we met as planned.

There were tears in her eyes as we sat across the table from each other. Tears of frustration and anger and fear. We did everything right. And yet her daughter had Covid. My friend’s husband had tested negative, but still the great fearful illness had infiltrated their careful defenses. Their double-dose vaccinations. Their isolating. Their fastidiousness in wearing masks. Her daughter had tearfully asked on the phone the night before if her mother was angry with her that she got sick. My friend was angry, but not with her daughter. She was angry with all the people who hadn’t been careful. Hadn’t vaccinated. Hadn’t isolated. Hadn’t insisted on masks everywhere.

Though she didn’t say it, she was angry with me, as I fit into those categories. And in the carefully constructed Covid mythology, if you followed the rules and did what you were supposed to, you could avoid the virus. Except for those people. The people who for whatever reason opted not to follow every twist and turn, scientific, political, social, calculated or arbitrary, designed to keep people safe. Healthy.

It was a striking conversation. My heart went out to her. And I gently reminded her that there are no guarantees in life. That doing all the right things might be a very good idea, but certainly could not ensure a perfectly predictable outcome. She knew this to be true, and yet she couldn’t get past the anger and fear that the efforts she and her family had made, the sacrifices they had made, were not enough to protect them.

So this article struck a chord with me, and does a better job than I might in explaining the theological metaphors illuminated in this very un-theological Covid crisis. It’s worth a read.

It isn’t that trying to do the right thing is wrong. It’s just that in this very fallible and sinfully broken world, there is no clear, perfect right thing. Nothing we can hold onto and cling to as justification for ourselves, as protection for ourselves. Nothing outside of us, nothing inside of us. Only Christ can do this for us. Can promise us to be enough. And that requires us to let go of whatever we’re clutching to and cling to him instead, acknowledging in that action our terrifying frailty and the transient and brief nature of our mortal lives.