Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Another Good Article

May 19, 2022

I think I’m going to continue to enjoy seeing posts from this blog site. The latest installment has to do with singing the psalms.

To be fair, I don’t think I ever sang the psalms congregationally for the first half or more of my life. Nor did a pastor or other person chant them in worship. They were often absent, or relegated to the printout of the readings on the back of the bulletin. I was vaguely aware that some congregations might actually incorporate them in some manner, but never thought much about it. That was ignorance on my part. That has to do I’m sure with number 2 on his list of why congregations don’t sing the psalms any more. We are culturally conditioned, and unfortunately our churches have allowed themselves to be culturally conditioned as well, so more ancient practices are less common or non-existent in many places. If the church doesn’t counter-condition members, then some beautiful things preserved for centuries get lost in a matter of a few months or years.

Nor do I think singing the psalms needs to be liturgically mandated. Again, I’m probably guilty of number 2. There are others who disagree with me strongly on this and I respect their position and think I understand why they hold it. While I’ve learned a lot about liturgical history I’m not positive we know exactly how Jesus sung them. What pointings? What tones? And Jesus as incarnate man was also culturally conditioned to a certain extent – a pious (to say the least!) Jew of the first century. We need to carefully think about whether his worship style and practice is descriptive or prescriptive.

But I do believe the psalms have an important and useful place in worship, and the more they are used – and used in their entirety – the better. I believe the appointed psalm for a Sunday should also be considered when preparing the sermon – just as I think all the assigned readings in a lectionary ought to be considered and not just the Gospel reading. A lectionary arranges these readings to complement one another to some degree (depending on the liturgical season), and to ignore this loses some of the depth possible in preaching.

When I was younger I didn’t like the psalms. Or more accurately, I didn’t think they offered much. I’ve changed my mind on that. Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the importance of chanting/singing them (and chanting/singing them a certain way). For now I’ll simply lend an amen to anything that provides the people of God with more regular and broad access to his Word and how it can be lived out in their public and private lives.

Why? Because it’s God’s Word, and this is supposed to make people uncomfortable and question their predispositions and assumptions about the world, their neighbors, and themselves. It should drive them to meditation and prayer and repentance regularly – ideally daily at least! And if Scripture is making us uncomfortable, it’s even more important to understand why that is.

Hospitality, Meals & Scripture

May 9, 2022

I’ve had a long interest in the intersection of hospitality, meals and Scripture. The Bible frequently uses the language of food and feeding to teach spiritual truths, and hospitality is not only repeatedly described throughout the Bible (Genesis 18, as just a single example), it is also prescribed (Hebrews 13:2 as just a single example and related most likely to Genesis 18).

I finally verified something I suspected for years – I have access to a theological database called Atla (originally short for American Theological Libraray Association). So now I can start to research what others have said on this topic as I continue to draw my own conclusions from the Word.

The first article I read can’t be accessed without paying for it (unless you also have access to Atla). It’s by a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina by the name of David W. Priddy. The essay is entitled Eating with penitence: An essay on the local church eating responsibly (sic) and it was published in the Review & Expositor, a quarterly Baptist theological journal.

Priddy’s thesis deals with what the local church can do towards food reform and agricultural renewal. He posits three key issues. Firstly, a high regard for Word and Sacrament; secondly, examining the role of meals in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and specifically in association with themes of judgement and a call to humility; and thirdly, the importance of continued remorse over sin (penitence).

Although at times abstruse, Priddy does a good job outlining these key issues, and I concur with most of the ideas he presents. Although we come from different denominational backgrounds I suspect we’d have a lot in common theologically, at least on this particular topic.

The only difficulty I had with the essay was his disdain for the history of some property owned by his congregation. His difficulty reflects modern notions of contemporary remorse (penitence) as well as potentially the appropriateness of some sort of compensation for past injustices (penance) although he stops short of such an assertion here. He relates how a 200-acre plot of land and large home was donated to his congregation well over 100 years ago (perhaps as long as 170 years ago). The problem isn’t the property per se, though Priddy has ideas about how it could be better put to use in food reform and agricultural renewal. The problem is the man who donated it to the church owned at least ten slaves and apparently sired children through at least one of them (and it’s implied that it was far more). The congregation’s fellowship hall is named after this man, something Priddy clearly finds offensive and problematic.

However in the little he says in the essay, it’s hard to know whether Priddy has investigated the donor’s penitence. The life of faith is indeed a constant one of confession and absolution, of contrition as well as accepting the gracious forgiveness of God, something Priddy highlights admirably in his brief discussion of historic liturgical formulations. Yet the presumed damning evidence of the congregation’s benefactor all those years ago leaves little room in Priddy’s words or spirit for the idea of forgiveness either sought or granted, the idea that the offending donor might have in fact been penitent, which may have spurred his donation of land to the church as an act of penance.

Priddy speaks a lot about penitence but very little about absolution and this is most clear in this real-world application. The Church must speak this loudly in the face of rising intolerance in cancel-culture. The irony is that culture has discarded Church, the Bible and God, and with it the only worldly assurance – and demand – for forgiveness and absolution. In lieu of this we are now daily on trial by a culture that rapidly evolves in it’s ideas about what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and that views any past sins of either omission or commission as equally damnable and irredeemable. The psalmist might these days say If you, O Culture, should mark iniquities, O Culture, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3, modified). The answer is no one, and unfortunately Priddy conveys a similar unwillingness to accept the possibility of penitence or penance if the sin is great enough, and therefore denies effectively the possibility of forgiveness and grace – certainly in this world and if so, then perhaps in the creation to come.

Pastors and congregations do have an opportunity to encourage members to reflect more on the choices they make as consumers (in this case, specifically as consumers of food products). While I don’t have the basis Priddy apparently does to label the entire food industry as essentially evil, I recognize wholeheartedly there are some major problems that affect land and health. Congregations have the opportunity to read Scripture with an ear towards how these topics are discussed, avoiding the temptation to simply apply Biblically-specific verses and situations to modern-day issues, yet recognizing the Church is continually called to contrition and penitence as well as to joyfully proclaiming the forgiveness won for us in Christ. Failure to do either inevitably leads to darkness.

I’m excited by the prospect of continued research and academic engagement, and grateful my seminary provides this benefit to alum, particularly now that my work has taken me to places where obtaining physical books (including my own professional library in boxes in storage) is either impossible or unreasonably expensive!

The Real Story

May 4, 2022

By now everyone is talking. Likely you are too. Courtesy of Politico, there’s no lack of discussion going on right now about the possibility – or likelihood – the Supreme Court will reverse Roe v. Wade, ending Federally promoted and protected abortion rights and delegating such authority to states.

Fair enough. There’s lots to talk about.

We could talk about whether abortion should be a nationally defended and enshrined right or not. That’s where most of the talk right now will focus. No real difference there – the debate has been heated and the split hardly lopsided since Roe v. Wade was first handed down. Most of that discussion will likely focus narrowly on the Supreme Court’s role in both creating such a right and then modifying it (not eliminating, as this will be spun in most liberal circles). The Supreme Court’s decision will almost certainly not ban abortion, but will repeal it as a Federal matter and open the door for individual states to determine their course of action on the matter.

We could talk about the lopsided insistence of not only allowing but, definitionally, encouraging and legitimizing abortion as a viable method of birth control despite a huge percentage of Americans with serious to moderate reservations on the matter. The press coverage thus far is predictably overwhelmingly in support of Roe v. Wade, condemning the Supreme Court for even considering reversing it and with it 50 years of abortion promotion. Language about women’s rights and privacy predominate coverage thus far. Notably absent in such coverage – as well as in the scientific community – is the reassertion that abortion kills a human being. Absent is discussion on whether the fact that a human being is very, very small negates their human rights in the justification of murder.

But what we ought to be talking about – very seriously – is the fact that we’re talking about these things because some staffer inside the Supreme Court, some law clerk or other person privy to the information, leaked it to the press, and the press decided to publish it. As Politico acknowledges, this has never happened before in the history of the United States. The precedent it sets is monumental and catastrophic. The intent can be none other than the (further) polemical politicizing of the Supreme Court, and to pressure the justices based on selective coverage of public outrage.

If anyone considers this to be a win for justice or reason or democracy, they are grossly mistaken. There is no benefit in this. If it accomplishes the goal of swaying justices away from such a decision, this is not a positive thing regardless of how happy abortion-rights activists might be. It will demonstrate our forfeit of whatever justice remains in our country on the altar of popular (and usually ill- or mis-informed) opinion and emotionalism, disproportionately framed by a complicit media bent on distorting the reality of a truly divided population. Further commentary on these dangers will be whether the offending person can and will be identified, and what penalties they suffer. It’s already a given they will be exonerated by the press, but if they are not dealt with sternly nonetheless, the precedent set will be disastrous. The possibility that such an action could have possibly been encouraged by one of the Justices themselves should also not be overlooked, though the ramifications of such a situation will likely have to be dealt with solely by that justice’s conscience.

Again, there is no scenario in which the events this week can be seen as any sort of win for the Supreme Court, democracy, the much-vaunted and ill-defined concept of privacy so glibly invoked by those wishing to defend the legal status quo, the judicial process as a whole, and by extension the American people. I pray Roe v. Wade is overturned. The number of lives such a reversal might save – even though individual states may still opt to legalize abortion via state law – is hugely important. But the recklessness of leaking this information and publishing it have already inflicted massive damage on American justice, and the reverberations of this will continue to echo in our culture and society long after this set of judges have passed on.

Japan’s Hidden Christians

May 4, 2022

Offered here without commentary, but as an invitation for you to contemplate for yourself. How does this align with traditional, historical Christianity? Does it now? Is it necessary today simply because it was once necessary? Not nearly enough information here to draw strong conclusions on, but enough food for thought to stimulate personal reflection, hopefully.

The brief highlighting of this aspect of Christian history a few years ago was fanned into flame by both the book, Silence, and the movie. I’ve yet to see the movie, and I suspect it wouldn’t add much to the sparseness of the book. A reminder of the costs faith sometimes incurs, and the ways people attempt to deal with those costs.

As a further aside, this looks like a fascinating site for short videos on a variety of intriguing subjects!

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.

Old Testament Laws Today

December 26, 2021

An interesting article about the Old Testament rule that Israelite farmers needed to observe a sabbath year every – seventh year – from planting and harvesting crops (Exodus 23:10-12). I’m sure there were complicated issues of politics in Old Testament times as well as today. The directive was given for the express purpose of benefitting the poor (who had no fields of their own and could glean from whatever sprouted in their wealthier neighbors’ untended fields.

Nerding a Bit

December 22, 2021

I guess if I’m not to be proclaiming from the pulpit our Lord’s birth and how our celebration of that should be a pointed reminder that He’s coming back and that’s what we should be waiting for every day, I can at least geek out a bit regarding the winding and complicated nature of evil that is never so simple or isolated as we’d like to think.

For the Tolkien fans out there, a consideration of perhaps Peter Jackson’s biggest failure in his overall magnificent film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Swallowed by the Cracks

November 17, 2021

(Still a great jam all these years later.)

Unsurprisingly, being fully vaccinated (whether with Johnson & Johnson’s single shot or the two-shot program required for other vaccines) is likely going to be redefined to insist on at least an initial (and I believe eventually annual at least) booster shots. In other words, I don’t think it will be long before immunized or vaccinated status is a rolling status dependent on mandatory updates. Failure to stay up to date on boosters will kick someone into the legal status of unvaccinated.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the actual science of the vaccines and the changing understanding of how they work and more specifically, how long they work. If antibody generation wanes considerably after six months, only through additional boosters can the population hope to be protected long enough – by our current methods – for the virus to wane in prevalence and strength. Of course, since the vaccines only reduce your odds of infection and reduce the effects of infection, the virus may never really subside, a reality countries around the world are coming to grips with as they transition from pandemic footing to trying to manage the situation as endemic and ongoing, like the flu.

In the meantime, the reality of an even bigger problem will likely garner little more than passing notice by lawmakers and citizens alike. Indeed, as more and more states decriminalize not only marijuana but cocaine (and potentially other drugs), the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to skyrocket. Just in the last 20 years we’ve surpassed the number of Covid deaths (if my math is mostly correct). That may seem like a long time but this year we just surpassed 100,000 diagnosed deaths by drug overdose, up from only 20,000 a year just 20 years ago. At this rate the potential death rate for drug overdoses could rival Covid deaths, with no magic vaccine available to slow it down.

Musicians and other celebrities continue to pass away at young ages but the role of prescription medications as contributing causes of death is ignored. Regardless of whether someone kicks the habit or not drug abuse can cause permanent damage, damage that shortens a person’s likely lifespan. Yet we continue to allow the glorification of drug use even as it continues to strangle young people at an alarming and growing rate.

What a waste. When we emerge from our government and media inflicted Covid paranoia (at least I hope people emerge!) will we rally to destroy this larger and far longer-term enemy in our midst? Or will we continue to demand increasing laxness regarding the issue of drugs in general, further contributing to mixed messages to our impressionable youth?

I was a kid when the war on drugs began, long-overdue at that point and really just at the beginning of the epidemic of harder drug use as a widespread issue. The deaths in this war far eclipse the deaths of all of our military ventures in the last 40 years and Covid – probably combined. Maybe we won’t properly start caring about it until our ICUs are overwhelmed. Then again most overdoses aren’t caught in time to attempt medical treatment so I guess that conveniently won’t be a problem.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the cemeteries to fill up and the environmentalists to get pissed off before we recognize that legalizing for tax benefits drugs that are killing our children is not good public policy. We seem far more willing to protect the environment than our children.

Book Review – Muslims, Christians, and Jesus

November 2, 2021

Muslims, Christians and Jesus by Carl Medearis

Gifted to us by life-long Bible translators, this book offers personal insights in how Christians can meet and build relationships with their Muslim neighbors. The author speaks with confidence and experience in this regard, sprinkling the book with real life anecdotes about interactions with a variety of people in a variety of settings.

It’s clear Medearis’ overriding concern is to demonstrate that Christians and Muslims can co-exist, can be loving and good neighbors, and can engage in meaningful religious discussion based around common elements of Christianity and Islam. Towards this end he would much rather sidestep some of the most awkward conversation points that might arise, preferring to encourage his readers towards that common ground. This is important to keep in mind. If you’re inclined to see discussions with others primarily as an opportunity to engage in debate – whether academic, historical, or theological – you will probably be less than thrilled with Medearis’ approach.

For someone unfamiliar with the basics of Islam, the Qu’ran, or Islamic history Medaris’ suggestions might not raise any eyebrows. And even as someone with at least a passing familiarity with each of these areas, I’m willing and able to give Medaris a lot of latitude as his goal is not confrontation but conversation, and this is desperately needed at all levels and all over the world! Combatting an us-versus-them attitude is not only unhelpful but contrary to the command of Jesus to love our neighbor.

Medearis purports both anecdotally and directly an attitude that promotes the idea of spirituality against religiosity. Only by refraining from some of the broad connotations of spirituality and thinking of only the worst excesses and abuses of religiosity can I come close to sympathizing with his position, which I think I find ultimately to be either unhelpful to Christians or dishonest to them. I understand his emphasis on Jesus only to be particularly helpful in cross-cultural discussions, but it falls short ultimately as a way of living the Christian life. Only by attempting to live life as an isolated Christian without meaningful Christian community can such a Jesus only theology work, and such an isolated life is contrary to Jesus’ own practice and the direct instructions of the Bible.

Medearis does a good job at introducing the basic tenets of Islam, providing a brief historical overview of Muhammad and Islam and explaining differences between the three major sects of Islam.

This is a good starting reference for Christians who feel led, or interested, or realize they have an opportunity to build a relationship with a Muslim person. His insistence on doing so not as a means to an end but simply as a fulfillment of the command to love our neighbor is admirable. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for meaningful, deep, and sometimes complicated and difficult religious dialogue down the line. It just acknowledges that’s not where things should – or can – start.

Book Review (Partial) – A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200

November 1, 2021

A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200, 4th Edition by M. C. Ricklefs

Another partial book review, this time because I didn’t finish it. I barely started it, but it’s obvious it’s far more detailed and in-depth than what I need right now. While I feel I have a good, broad-brushstrokes familiarity with the major eras of Indonesia’s history, I need to better cement that foundation before filling in with the detailed academic treatment Ricklefs brings to this book.

By his own admission in the introduction he prefers to provide details and allow others to draw broader conclusions, an approach I resonate with. I’m just not ready for this level of work quite yet! Once I’m a bit more conversant in the overarching history of Indonesia I’ll undoubtedly go back to this as a more detailed resource!