Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Forest

July 20, 2020

A very good read here. It requires that we lift our heads up above the headlines being screamed at us moment by moment to recognize the larger damage that has, is, and apparently will continue to be done.

Conclusions to be drawn, since the author does much in terms of description but very little in terms of prescription?

For starters, this should be a stark wake-up call to the inherent dangers of a professional political caste made possible by unlimited terms. It’s tragic that more publicity has been given in recent years – by both red and blue pundits – to eliminating term restrictions on the Presidency than on calls for term limitations on all elected offices and officials. Often such calls are aimed only at the legislative branch of government, but real thought should be given to considering term limitations for the judicial branch as well. I have long maintained that people with a vested stake in the real world tend to be more responsive to the needs of people they are not so different from than people who are virtually guaranteed employment for life at tax-payer expense without really needing to consider the needs of the taxpayers.

Criticism of the media for not fully reporting more nuances of the Coronavirus pandemic is necessary and warranted combined with some hard examination of why such willful exclusion of contextualized data and information continues. Much self-righteous indignation has been expressed in defense of our free press, but when the press is nearly uniform in what it says and how it says it, I suspect strongly it isn’t nearly as free as it likes to think itself, or as we need it to be.

Other conclusions?

Writing History

June 26, 2020

You wouldn’t know it from reading local news stories, but public officials are allowing mobs of people to destroy public landmarks – the costs of which are borne by taxpayers.

For instance, in San Francisco several statues were recently knocked over by mobs of people. The reports of what happened and why are fascinating. Consider this report, which begins as a fairly neutral account of what happened and some of the costs entailed, but then devolves into a virtual legitimization of the destruction due to essentially bureaucratic red tape. If only officials had moved more quickly to respond to input, the situation could have been handled properly. The writer ends the column justifying the destruction of public property as appropriate, despite the fact that some of the destruction mentioned in the article is also described as “less thought out”.

Or you could read this report, that begins with justification of the actions. Neither article describes any real effort to apprehend the vandals or stop them from destroying the statues in the first place, even though it seems likely the police could have effectively intervened. Perhaps fear of reprisals in the form of demands for disbanding or defunding the police department caused officers to hesitate to get more directly involved? Regardless of the rationale, those police officers will be directly involved in terms of their tax monies being used to pay for necessary cleaning, removal, storage, and whatever other costs the mobs incurred.

Closer to home an effort was made – perhaps half-heartedly – to destroy a statue in Ventura, California.

This report makes it seem like a rather innocuous discussion, really. A respectful exchange of ideas about the future of a statue commemorating a historical figure prominent in California history. A “rally” is described to “discuss” relocating the statue to private property.

Or you could read this account, which describes a far more volatile confrontation and a desire for more than discussion, at least by some of those present. Again, police presence is described as somewhat distant, but in this case enough to deter those bent on illegal activity from pursuing their goal.

I’m not quite clear how these events are described so casually despite the destruction of public property intended or carried out. Does the fact that someone is allegedly angry mean they are not subject to the law? Isn’t the law intended, at a very practical level, to discourage certain behavior by people who might be highly emotional and not thinking most clearly? I’d be fascinated to learn if Black Lives Matter has plans to reimburse cities for the forced redecorating (dedecorating) carried out in the movement’s name? Perhaps they’ll take up collections from people happy that the offending monuments are gone to defray the costs? Or is that really not at all something they’re concerned about? Hmmm. That’s a tough one to figure out, isn’t it?

It’s a dangerous situation when people believe they can act with impunity, destroying parts of their community without bothering to consider how others think or feel about the destruction, and expecting those other people to pick up the tab for their actions. If this is a foreshadowing of how things will operate in the future of defunded police departments, I can’t say I’m a fan of it.

Not that anybody’s asking me.

Filling in Gaps

June 18, 2020

Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?

Remember how she said that we would meet again

Some sunny day?

Vera, Vera, what has become of you?

Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?

Pink Floyd, “Vera” from The Wall

I remember being blown away by the power of Pink Floyd’s The Wall when I discovered it in high school. The disturbing power of that album, the bitter disappointment and rage at the society that arose in Britain from the ashes of World War II were all heady historical commentary set to music. And as often as I’ve listened to this album – or most any album or book or movie – there are references and allusions I miss or never bother to track down.

Vera Lynn is one of them. I assumed at some level she might be a cultural/historical figure from the British World War II era, maybe a film star. But now I know she was a singer. A singer who was never able (or allowed) to move beyond her cultural mooring of wartime Britain, and who has now died at a very respectable age of 103.

Another brick in the wall of understanding.

Peloponnesus & Bible Study

June 13, 2020

I start all my Biblical book studies with a section on isogogics – the study of things around or surrounding the text like who the author is, when it was written and by and to whom, and other information. When we can better understand these sorts of things we potentially gain better ears to hear what the author was saying and why. Not all studies include this sort of information but I find it very helpful.

One such example? Prior to starting preparations for this study on 1 Corinthians I didn’t realize there was an isthmus separating Greece into two main sections. I didn’t realize that Corinth’s location near this isthmus led to a very old and storied history of commercial vitality as the city had access not just to a western port leading towards Italy and Europe but an eastern port leading towards Turkey and the Orient. And because my geography knowledge is so sparse (I’m American), I didn’t know that the region where Corinth is situated separated by this isthmus from the rest of Greece is known as the Peloponnesus.

Just another reason I prefer to research and prepare my own Bible studies rather than rely on something someone else has prepared. I may never need to know some of these details, but I feel like they’re helpful in some small way to my larger appreciation not just of the Word of God as it impacts actual people and places, but the Creation of God as a whole.

Racism Is Sin

June 4, 2020

Earlier this week I sent a devotional to my congregation based on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Matthew 28:16-20. I urged them in this season of unrest and disquiet and anger and fear to remember Jesus’ promise that whatever we face we will not face alone. I encouraged them to take these words to heart rather than allow the anger and demands of the culture around us to drive them to sin in terms of anger or fear. But after I sent that message I found myself asking the question why I didn’t write to them telling them to begin working for peace?  In the midst of chaos and hatred and confusion on a variety of levels  and fronts, shouldn’t this be the message of a pastor to his people?  Work for peace?  Demonstrate for peace?


This is the proper message, but demonstrations are not only in the streets.  Some are called to demonstrate in the streets, to exercise civil disobedience.  Never out of joy but always in the hopes of change.  Change as it inevitably is and must remain this side of heaven  – imperfect, fleeting at best, flawed more than not.  Sin must be called out for what it is and when confession and absolution are not enough, it must be dealt with through courts and penal systems.  Always with the prayer of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus for all involved, not simply the accused.  Some of you may well demonstrate for change and so long as you do so without hatred and malice this is your privilege first as a Christian and secondarily as an American.


Some of you will demonstrate for peace in other ways.  Quiet ways, by some  accounts.  With yourself.  With your spouse.  With your children and grandchildren.  With your neighbors.  We are called to be imperfect vessels  of peace to all people and at all times, even when retired or less mobile than we once were or would like to be.  Whether with our doctor or the grocery store clerk or the bank teller or the gardener, we should meet all people regardless of race or gender or creed with the love of Christ as Christ himself has welcomed us with his love.  There are no exceptions to this and no excuses for  refusing to follow it.  


You also demonstrate for peace when you refuse to allow yourself to be agitated or manipulated by the media or  various talking heads.  When you refuse to allow yourself or your faith to be  co-opted by others.  When you insist on spending your time in God’s Word and meditation on whatever is true or honorable  or just or pure or lovely or commendable or excellent.  When we refuse to allow ourselves  to be stirred to hatred on the pretext of righteousness we demonstrate for peace.  In your living room  or the driveway or at family reunions or in the quiet of your own heart.  


As we will hear in the Epistle lesson this Sunday, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s you and I and George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.  Christ died for all of us because we are all ungodly.   All have sinned and fallen short.  Justice should be pursued and in this sinful world that means sometimes criminal and penal systems must be brought to bear to punish those whose sins are more  egregious.  These systems are themselves comprised of broken human beings and therefore imperfect but they are what we must deal with until our Lord’s return.  We can and should work for reform and change where we identify it is necessary.  But we should always remember systems will never end sin and if we put less faith and trust in them we will be less shocked and outraged when we find that sin exists in even the  most well-intentioned systems and solutions. 

The cure to racism and all sin is not a system but a Savior.  

So yes, work for peace because I can guarantee you somewhere in your lives is a place where more peace is needed.  Advocate for those in your life who are ostracized.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Give thanks that forgiveness is available to anyone and everyone in Jesus  Christ, and look towards the horizon constantly for his  return.  Be skeptical of easy answers.  Ground yourself  not in slogans or platforms or bumper stickers but in the Word of God that alone brings us the Son of God in whom alone are we promised real and true and lasting peace in this life and in eternity to come.

Facing the Mirror

May 28, 2020

The latest in celebrity outings happened late last week when late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon was criticized for a Saturday Night Live skit he did 20 years ago where he impersonated Chris Rock.

For clarification, Jimmy Fallon is white and Chris Rock is black. In impersonating Chris Rock, Fallon wore blackface and it was this in particular that earned the ire of certain people. Dutifully, Fallon issued a heartfelt apology for his offensive actions. That is the expected response whenever anybody anywhere anytime criticizes you for something they decide was racist.

I was pleased to see that actor/comedian Jamie Foxx came to Fallon’s defense, drawing an important distinction between appearing in blackface to make fun of an entire race, and doing a particular impression of a particular person who happens to be of another race. Fair warning if you click on Foxx’ response above it is not exactly child-friendly. While doing a comedy sketch is unpardonable, public profanity is perfectly acceptable these days.

Foxx makes an important distinction. Fallon was impersonating a particular individual who happens to be black. He was not doing a caricature of all black people. I tend to agree with Foxx that Fallon’s impersonation was pretty good, though understandably tastes will vary. Comedic tastes may vary widely, but just because you didn’t find his impersonation very good or funny shouldn’t (and hopefully wasn’t) be the basis for alleging racism.

Is it impermissible to impersonate any other race but your own? I imagine it should have a great deal to do with what the purpose is, although we have to admit at the same time that what is considered an acceptable intention in one age may not be considered acceptable in another age – even just 20 years later.

Still, if the overriding principle is that nobody should ever portray another race other than their own, this principle should be evenly applied rather than targeting white people impersonating black people.

Is anyone calling for public apologies and/or self-immolation from the Wayans brothers and their whiteface movie White Chicks? That movie is only 16 years old and they were impersonating a particular kind of white female, but not specific white females. Seems like this ought to be grounds for an outcry, right?

Or Martin Lawrence might be called out for putting whiteface on as a recurring character on his TV show, Martin? Again, not impersonating a person but a kind of person. Appropriate?

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate?

I’ll leave off pointing out Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle because their purposes were ostensibly to expose racism.

But we certainly needn’t limit it to white and black people impersonating each other. What about the universally lovable Tom Hanks? Should he be blackballed for dressing up as a woman for Bosom Buddies?

Pretending to be someone you’re not is not necessarily criminal. We teach kids to do this for Halloween. What you do with your impersonation could indeed be very, very wrong. That judgment has to be exercised within the current cultural conditions, though, and it’s unfair to call out a racist impersonation if it was not considered racist at the time – admittedly a complicated if not Gordian Knot to unravel.

It would be more helpful in the pursuit of better race relations to have conversations about these things rather than flinging hateful accusations to elicit knee-jerk reactions. This matter with Jimmy Fallon is going to quickly disappear, as it should. But it’s unfortunate that it was raised without an ability or desire to actually engage in discussion about whether what he did was racist in general, was racist 20 years ago, or racist only now. A chance to educate about comedy and that funny doesn’t always equate to insulting.

No word from Chris Rock on what he thinks of the allegations or what he thought or currently thinks of Fallon’s impersonation. Hopefully he’ll have something helpful and witty to contribute, something fitting for a man with a keen insight into human nature as well as race relations.

Rushing Back to Church

May 27, 2020

Our congregation will be gathering for worship this coming Sunday for the first time in about 10 weeks. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without worshiping, either as a parishioner or a pastor. I can safely say the say for the majority of my members. Though some remember living through polio quarantines earlier in their lives, those were of a far more limited scale. For most all of my folks this is the longest they’ve had to go without Church in their lives.

But for those for whom weekly worship isn’t part of their routine, it might seem as though the push to reopen churches is a curious thing. Hence an article like this one, characterizing the push for a return to worship as a rush.

I thought it was interesting the article drew a distinction between Christian activism on this issue and comparative silence from Jewish and Muslim Americans. I can’t verify whether that’s true or not, since I’m not in the communication chains for those groups. If it is true, perhaps the issue is different definitions of what worship is.

I’ll hypothesize here – for lack of better certainty – that in Jewish and Muslim circles weekly worship is seen primarily as social and educational. A time to be with friends and family and a time to grow in their understanding of the faith. That might be in very loose terms or very traditional and religious terms. Weekly gatherings are, in that sense, somewhat optional. They aren’t receiving something in weekly worship they couldn’t receive in other forms on their own, in private, through the Internet or Zoom meetings. Of course they miss the in-person fellowship, but maybe they aren’t missing anything else.

For Christians, the historic understanding is that worship is more than just educational and more than just fellowship. We love to gather with our church family, to be certain. We look forward to catching up with one another, planning brunch afterwards, hobnobbing over coffee in the fellowship hall.

But the most important thing about Christian worship is we claim things happen there that don’t happen in other places – at least not in the same way. Which makes Christian worship – at least for those who understand the historic practice and theological underpinnings – essential and necessary, not simply a pleasantry we can do without as the mood strikes us. Granted, a lot of Christians have exactly that latter opinion of worship. Tragically even Lutherans – and even some of my parishioners – have that perspective.

Traditional worship understands worship as a time when God gives to us. This is the proper emphasis – what God gives to us. We respond in thanksgiving and worship, but the initiative is on God’s part, not ours. He gathers us in order to give us his gifts. Those gifts come in two forms – Word and Sacrament. We hear his Word and receive his grace in the Sacraments, and this happens only in worship as He gathers us together.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is always with us. Yes, we can read the Bible at home and have his Word. Yes, we live in his grace and forgiveness at all times, and so, strictly speaking, don’t need to receive the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution. We don’t have to have Holy Communion as another means of God’s grace and forgiveness. We can exist in the faith without them. But it is neither safe nor healthy to do so for extended periods of time. Actually engaging in corporate confession is much more powerful than whether I remember to confess my sins before I fall asleep at night. Hearing the declaration of a Called pastor/priest that my sins are forgiven is much stronger than just reminding myself of that reality.

And of course Holy Communion is a corporate event – unless overriding other issues prevent someone from receiving it as such. Jesus instituted it as a corporate event and the Church has understood it should be celebrated as such. Am I forgiven and in the grace of God whether I receive the Eucharist or not? Of course. But to taste forgiveness, to smell it, to gather around the Lord’s table with my brothers and sisters in Christ? That’s a worship thing.

For Christians – at least those who understand worship as it has been designed and practiced for centuries – worship is essential. We come together to be strengthened, to receive the gifts of God before heading back out to our homes and neighborhoods and classrooms and workplaces. It grounds us in our identity in a way watching online or on the television can’t and doesn’t. We can pretend it does, but we’re wrong – and there’s certainly no shortage of psychological studies to back that up. Being together in person is different than being together virtually. It’s how we were designed and made, and while we might like to think our iPhones replace that, they haven’t. If anything, they’ve highlighted just how badly we need it!

Pandemic Possibilities

May 21, 2020

It’s not much of a secret that I love to drive. Since getting my license at 16 my love of the road has never waned. My wife indulges me and my corresponding discomfort at being a passenger, allowing me to do the bulk of driving when we’re together despite the fact she’s more than capable herself. And though I argue my reputation for a lead foot is exaggerated, it is not without a kernel of truth.

In addition to owning a couple of pretty speedy cars myself over the years, and pushing cars not known for speed (I once coaxed a late 80’s base model Nissan Sentra to over 100 mph cruising back from the Mogollon Rim to Phoenix), I’ve had the opportunity to drive race cars – though not as fast as I would have liked to.

So it shouldn’t be surprising I have a fascination with the Cannonball Run – a highly illegal competition to see who can cross the United States from Manhattan, New York to Redondo Beach, California in the least time. This requires driving at insane speeds for sustained periods of time. It requires a bankroll to get a fast car and then modify it to decrease refueling stops and escape detection of radar traps and other possible hazzards.

Not surprisingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding stay at home orders, roads have been a lot clearer than they would be normally. As such, there has been a flurry of activity as people attempt to set a new record for the Cannonball Run. And in the last five weeks, the record has been broken seven times. The new record is said to be under 26 hours to travel the 2800 mile journey. I’ll save you breaking out your calculator – that means an average speed of 107 miles per hour for the journey. And since it is necessary to refuel, it means that there are times when the speed is actually higher than that to compensate.

Impressive.

Yes, dangerous and illegal, but still, impressive!

ANF: Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus

May 20, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

The first volume of the ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) set concludes with a collections of quotes and paraphrases of Irenaeus from fragmentary documents as well as other authors.  These 55 snippets are various in nature, some conveying complete thoughts and others without much meaning in and of themselves but clearly part of larger works which have either been lost to history or remain to be discovered or translated.

Some notable inclusions:

Section III – contains a remembrance of Polycarp’s visit to Rome during the papacy of Anicetus.  They disagreed on the proper day to observe Easter, yet refused to let their different traditions cause a rift between them.  So firm was their commitment to unity rather than division that St. Anicetus allowed St. Polycarp to preside over the Eucharist celebration in the Church in Rome.  The translator references the Council of Arles in 314 AD as commemorating this by decreeing formally that the holy Eucharist should be consecrated by any foreign bishop present at its celebration, but I can’t find corroboration for this assertion.

Section XIThe business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.  (as quoted by John of Damascus, likely from a work of Irenaeus entitled Miscellaneous Dissertations, which is referred to by Eusebius).

Section XVI – There may be some uncertainty as to  whether this is really from Irenaeus or not, but in treating the topic of the Fall in Genesis 3, Irenaeus lauds Eve not as the weaker of the the humans but the stronger.  She resisted Satan’s temptations for some period of time, even arguing with him, while Adam ate immediately when she offered him the forbidden fruit without any objection or apparent misgivings.

Section XXIV – He asserts that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for Jewish readers.

Section XXXII – Quotes a tradition from Josephus, that Moses was not just brought up on the Egyptian Pharaoh’s palace, he served as a general in a military effort against the Ethiopians.  Because of his victory he married the daughter of the Ethiopian king.  The translator offers this tradition as perhaps an explanation of St. Stephen’s words  in Acts 7:22, emphasizing Moses’ esteem and wisdom before being selected by God to confront the Pharaoh.

Section LV – A fascinating commentary on the mother of James and John asking Jesus to grant her sons special favor  in glory (Matthew 20:17-28).  Usually, commentators look poorly upon her request, coming as it does so immediately upon Jesus’ prediction of his upcoming suffering and death.  It seems to be the height of not  just pride or grasping for  honor or glory, but terribly poor  timing!  But Irenaeus looks at it differently.  He instead praises their mother.  While we often focus on the first part of Jesus’ prophesy, that he will be tried and condemned to death and be flogged and crucified, the mother hears only the last words.  So firm is her faith – according to Irenaeus – that she considers the tribulations and sufferings of Jesus truly as inconsequential compared to the glory they will bring to him and his followers.  Precisely because she makes the request at this particular point, rather than after the resurrection is a praiseworthy demonstration of faith on her part!  The Saviour was speaking of the cross, while she had in view the glory which admits no suffering.  This woman, therefore, as I have already said, is worthy of our admiration, not merely for what she sought, but also for the occasion of her making the request.  

With this, I’ve completed the first volume of the  Ante-Nicene Fathers.  Thank you again too Lois for her generous gift.  At this rate, I may indeed finish them before I die – just barely!

 

ANF: Against Heresies

May 19, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

While it ends abruptly enough for scholars to suspect there was originally a more formal ending.  what we have in extant of Irenaeus’ major work is impressive enough.  Five volumes devoted to explaining the heretical teachings of several prominent schools of early Gnostic Christians and then demonstrating the falsity of  these heresies in the light of Scripture and apostolic tradition.  I’ve been fascinated with this work for years, and while I’m glad to have finished it, there is also an element of disappointment.  Against Heresies is not a generic work but very focused on dealing with the major heretical movements of Irenaeus’ day (and rightly so).  As such, much of it is not terribly helpful in dealing with more modern heresies.

Specifically Irenaeus is most concerned with the heresies of the Valentinians.  These are the followers of Valentinius, who premised a secret  knowledge of an extended cosmology well beyond  what Scripture lays out.  The entire first volume of Against Heresies is dedicated to describing in detail what Valentinius taught and his followers believed and then expanded upon.  These followers included Cerdon but more importantly Marcion and then the Montanists.

Along the way are fascinating insights to the life of the early Church and the fervency with which the Church was concerned with the Word of God as the only reliable source of knowledge.  These and other heretical groups attempted to draw from select portions of Scripture as proof of their false teachings, and Irenaeus destroys their attempts with an early example of a basic exegetical principle  – let Scripture interpret Scripture.  His list of the popes in Rome from St. Peter to Irenaeus’ day  is the most reliable source for this information.

I can’t advise anyone who isn’t a scholar of the early Church or a student of Greek or Latin or a doctoral student looking for thesis material to read this work.  It  doesn’t apply well today, when Scripture is held in such low esteem not only by non-Christians but many Christians as well.  Using Scripture and logic Irenaeus is convinced he has aptly destroyed the positions of his opponents, another concept difficult to translate into our day of subjective truth and very little understanding of logic and argumentation.