Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Beauty into Ashes

October 23, 2022

It’s been quite a week or two for museums, climate warriors, and art. Once again eco-warriors have attempted to deface or destroy a work of art because they don’t feel people are doing enough to save the environment. The first thing that came to mind when viewing this and recent similar headlines is the short story The Smile by Ray Bradbury. In that story civilization is already destroyed and lost when art is being defaced. I guess the folks who have been busy in the past few weeks are just starting the artistic destruction early.

First off, I’d argue that a trip to a museum to see renderings of natural beauty is probably a good step towards climate awareness and a keener interest in whether or not there actually is anything we can do individually and collectively to prevent greater loss.

Secondly, what would these two young people rather the people in the museum be doing? What specifically are they demanding? How do they know what these people have or have not done towards climate change mitigation? The assumption seems to be people who have the ability to be in a museum instead of a workplace are likely to be more to blame for climate change? Is this a protest against climate indifference or wealth? Could these misguided protestors separate the two? Should they?

Fourth, their righteous indignation is incredibly arrogant. That’s not their fault, but the fault of their teachers and everyone else who has espoused or mouthed the mantra that the climate is changing, it’s entirely our fault, and it is therefore entirely preventable by us. Anyone who questions this mantra at all is harangued for denying the first part about the climate changing, and hardly ever is there any serious examination of the other two portions. Given even my rudimentary knowledge of geology and earth science, I’m aware the earth has gone through repeated cycles of comparative heating and cooling. Ice masses have advanced and retreated before, and we certainly either weren’t around (allegedly) or were not industrialized to the point we could possibly be blamed. Yet I never hear this discussed, either in semi-scientific articles for the masses, or in the destruction by young ideologues like these two.

Should we manage to alter the climate change, the world will still be significantly poorer for the loss of great art weaponized in an attempt to galvanize the general public to an unspecified goal via undetermined means. I don’t consider myself much of an art connoisseur, but it seems a great shame regardless of the outcome of the climate situation to sacrifice these valuable interpretations and reflections on the climate we are apparently losing.

Revisionist History In One Lifetime

October 4, 2022

I’m sure all of you have heard the news by now. How could you not have?!

Velma is gay.

At least, Velma of 2000-2022 is gay. The article gushes about how this has been a long time in coming, citing Scooby Doo “creatives” who wanted to make her sexual orientation obvious as far back as 20 years ago.

Wow. Twenty whole years ago. That’s a long time. But not hardly as long a time as Velma has existed. Scooby Doo, Where Are You? ran as an animated series from 1969-1970 (and in other iterations through 1973) and has lived on in syndication ever after. And there’s not a word in this article from any of Scooby Doo’s original creatives about Velma’s sexual orientation. Or any of the other characters for that matter. Strange, huh?

Not too strange. First of all, the original creators are all dead.

Secondly it’s not strange because truly, the Scooby Doo of the 21st century bears little resemblance to the original series. Some 30-years on, the characters are reimagined through modern sensibilities. Obviously there must be sexual tension between the characters, right? That’s what every teenager is most obsessed with, right? Daphne and Fred with their good looks surely must be an item, or an item in the making? And no teenage boy eats a lot naturally, Shaggy must really be a stoner. Velma all nerdy and awkward? Surely she’s lesbian. Frankly I’m surprised there isn’t speculation about Scooby’s orientation. Or that awful additional character, Scrappy Doo.

While the creators of the series are all dead, many of the voice actors are not. I’d be curious what Nicole Jaffe, the primary voice actress for Velma, would have to say about her character’s orientation, or if there was any thought given to that at all.

I grew up watching this show and loved it deeply. At 22-minutes a pop it’s certainly not Sherlock Holmes quality mystery, but it was great fun. And sexuality and sexual orientations never entered into the equation. Understandably, since it was a show aimed at kids and we still as a culture believed at that point in time that sexuality and sexual themes were inappropriate in children’s programming.

My, how much has changed.

Of course there’s no need to talk to these people for clarification of original intents and purposes. Such information is irrelevant today. What matters now is what we choose to make of something, how we opt to interpret it. And while history is always undergoing revisionism of one sort or another, it’s hard to believe it could occur so quickly and with so little regard or attention to the primary source materials.

It’s a shame that a teenager can no longer just be nerdy and awkward, or even not obsessed with the opposite sex. Or the same sex. And while I’ll admit that some interpretations may sound plausible given the timeframe the series was created, it’s a shame that those interpretation eclipse the actual original reality of a silly series about a talking dog and crime-fighting friends that transcend typical teen cliques.

It’s a shame that such an ‘inclusive’ idea isn’t radical enough any more.

A Needed Gospel

October 2, 2022

I was having a theological discussion the other day with a friend regarding the challenge of sharing the Gospel in some cultures, particularly affluent ones. I pointed out that in such situations there might be no perceived need for the Gospel to address, and therefore people would be less open to the Gospel. He countered that we have to be careful about tailoring the Gospel to fit the perceived needs of recipients. This is a flaw in a great deal of global Christianity through the heretical prosperity gospel, which preaches that faith in God will naturally lead to tangible, economic benefits that will improve the lives of the faithful because God the Father’s intent is to lavish his good gifts upon us.

As I contemplated the discussion later, I kept coming back to this issue of need and the Gospel. It’s a historical reality that the Gospel often finds the most faithful and eager adherents among the most marginalized of society. Whether it was the lepers and the prostitutes blessed by Jesus directly, or the lower classes of Greek and Roman society who heard the disciples preach, or the poorer citizens of cultures around the world – such as the untouchable class in India’s Hindu caste system – people with very real and imminent needs often hear the Gospel more clearly and place their faith in it more readily.

After all, their other options might be few to none.

Add to this the Church’s historic (and present) practice of providing help and relief to the suffering both locally and globally, and it makes sense that people suffering through dire need who hear the Gospel and are assisted by those already professing it would be more open to making it their own faith. They’ve seen it in action.

It sounds good, but the flip side is just as slippery. Should a perceived need not be met by the Gospel or the Church, it might be equally easy for someone new in the faith or only shallowly familiar with it to despair and give up the Gospel in search of another, better option. Or the option of giving up entirely. My friend is right, relying on the ability to assist with a particular need in terms of tangible aid is a potentially dangerous confusion of the Gospel.

But the reality remains that the Gospel does meet our needs. And it should be preached and taught as such. But this requires adequate teaching to counteract the default cultural teaching and assumptions about life and reality. It requires an active counterpoint to cultural mantras (at least in the West) of rugged individualism or the promises of science and technology to solve our problems. It requires a more fundamental awareness of the Big Picture. This can’t be stressed enough, particularly in cultures where there no longer is a Big Picture. Where there’s nothing but the abyss of meaninglessness that logically follows in a mechanistic universe formed by accident. When culture insists there is no meaning in anything or anyone, the Church must work harder to teach that there is meaning in everything and everyone.

The Gospel does meet our needs, but those needs are not always (or ultimately) a matter of food or clothing or money. The Gospel fulfills our deepest needs and longings, but in many places those needs or longings have been buried under nothingness. There is no explanation for the sense of guilt, or disappointment, or frustration. And there is no fundamental hope that things can, should, or will be radically different at some point in the future. There can only be the vague encouragements to pretend life has meaning and to soldier on through suffering.

Given the skyrocketing rates of violence in the West – both in suicide as well as in the wanton destruction of other lives – such encouragements are understandably less than convincing. Evolutionary theory and natural selection can’t address the fundamental issues we face as human beings – why am I here? why is there suffering? why should I endure suffering? why should I help others? why should I continue on day after day when I’m unhappy? will there ever be anything more or better than this?

But the Gospel can and does answer these questions. It provides the meta-answers that place the problems human face individually and corporately in perspective, providing ways and means of interpreting them, coping with them, and continuing on in the face of adversity. As such the Gospel not only meets our needs, it defines them for us. We might be happy enough to simply acknowledge unhappiness with our lives, dissatisfaction with our jobs, loneliness from a lack of meaningful connection to other people. But the Word of God lifts our eyes to the Big Picture. A Big Picture that accounts for why we deal with such things, how we can deal with them better, and provides the all-important basis for hope to endure – things will not always be this way. There is a better day coming – the Day of the Lord.

So I’d still argue that the Gospel does address our needs and it’s not wrong to talk about it in such terms, so long as we allow Scripture rather than our sinful and narrow-minded hearts to define what our needs are. My need is not more followers on my blog, or more money in the bank, or a better car or a prettier wife or better behaved children. My needs are at the core of my being and cannot be addressed by more zeros at the end of my bank balance.

Let the Gospel address the needs people have, because it has addressed – and defined – the needs of those who share it. Jesus is the answer not just to temporary happiness or satisfaction but to the deepest existential questions existence conjures. Including, sometimes, hunger and nakedness and oppression. And miracle of miracles, the Gospel draws us in to sometimes be direct or indirect contributors to meeting the needs of those around us, which we find usually results in our own needs being met at the same time.

Ending With a Whimper

August 14, 2022

After over two years of sacrifice and fear, I guess this is how it ends. A barely reported update from the CDC that two cornerstones of the Covid pandemic era are no longer necessary. Social distancing is no longer recommended nor is at-home self-quarantining after being exposed to someone with Covid. Apparently there are enough people with antibodies that the unchecked spread of Covid is less a concern. That and weakened strains of Covid that don’t hospitalize or kill nearly as many people – though that’s not mentioned as prominently.

I wish there was a party. I wish we could celebrate making it through this together. I wish there was some acknowledgement that our efforts were helpful and effective. We did bend the curve enough to avoid completely overwhelming hospitals and healthcare institutions globally (although some places were indeed overwhelmed at various points). For all the jobs lost, educations disrupted, livelihoods reduced, emotional grief experienced, for all the fear and anxiety and uncertainty – to be able to have some sort of cathartic release would be so nice!

But we’re not going to get any of that kind of celebration. No hurrahs, no congratulations. Nothing. I suspect there are a several possible reasons.

First, I think there is a recognition of the power of mass fear in modifying human behavior, and acknowledging that a fear is passed doesn’t contribute towards that power. Other than 9/11 which was far more limited in scope there hasn’t been an opportunity in the US to see how far people’s behavior could be dictated and forced to change in America in our lifetime. In several generations, in fact. To celebrate the fact that such changes were unfortunate and only necessary for a short period of time might short-circuit the use of such tactics in the future, whether pandemic or otherwise related.

Secondly, people have been conditioned to fear, and there is no shortage (apparently) of possible new contagions to be fearful of. Monkeypox is an obvious example, though exact numbers are quite elusive and the apparent relegation of the disease primarily to the LGBTQ+ community hasn’t made it quite as comprehensive and able to generate the same level of fear – though media outlets are doing their best. Future variants of Covid will no doubt all get their airtime full of suspense and uncertainty whether they merit them or not. Insistence on tracking and reporting Covid cases rather than hospitalizations and deaths will also mean that inevitable spikes will be a cause for further pot-banging, even if they don’t cause more damage than any other illness we’ve taken for granted all our lives.

Thirdly, I suspect there is some level of bitterness in the scientific community. Though initial calls to shut down businesses and lock ourselves in our houses were couched in terms of bending the curve and trying to mitigate the rush of cases and hospitalizations and deaths in the early months of the pandemic, it became quickly clear this wasn’t really good enough for some in the scientific community. Instead, reasonable language was replaced with irrational language – warfare language. We weren’t simply going to endure Covid and ride it out and have as few deaths as possible, we were going to beat it. Defeat it. Stop it. End it. We were going to win because we had the science and technology to do so. Allegedly.

Vaccinations were a big part of this shift in language and I think there is some latent bitterness the vaccinations proved far less capable of protecting people from infection than initially asserted. Granted, the vaccines apparently lessened the severity of infection for some people, but I think there were more than a few folks convinced we could develop a vaccine that would essentially make people bullet-proof to the virus. Instead, we all got a first-class education in the limits of science and technology. And humility is not pleasant.

We also, hopefully, got a first-class lesson in the reality that America is different from any other country in the world. And while we’re quick to tout the benefits and glories of this, there are inevitable trade-offs. Our foundation on individual human rights rather than individual obligation to a government is a huge difference between the US and every other country in the world, democratic or otherwise. The insistence that the individual should be the primary arbiter of their risk-taking and general behavior has provided incredible opportunities that people from around the world still literally risk their lives to participate in by entering our country (legally or illegally).

On the flip side though, Americans are not as willing to accept mandates, directives, or recommendations, and as such vaccine rates were far lower than political and scientific individuals and groups wanted. The stubbornness that prefers to take somewhat known risks rather than the unknown risks of a newly developed vaccine was vexing for political and scientific leaders alike, and I think there is still bitterness over this. Nobody wants to congratulate a population that to varying degrees resisted the exhortations and pleadings and in some cases demands. Rewarding such behavior is counter-productive for future situations.

As someone who put off vaccination until the last possible moment and who personally had the illness, I commend this hard-headedness. I commend people insisting on making their own decisions rather than relegating that authority to some other agency. At least as much as possible. Such a line of reasoning does not – contrary to popular media – make people monsters. I think it makes them Americans (which some might equate with monstrosity). This applies in reverse as well – those who opted for the vaccine should be free to do so without denigration from others. Options are a blessing, as is personal agency. You’d think that was not the case to hear some people talk over the last couple of years.

So I think you should throw yourselves a party. Gather your family and friends. Gather your Covid-community that endured the hardships together. Do what’s healthy for yourself rather than expecting the powers-that-be to encourage or sponsor it. Don’t wait for someone to establish a day to celebrate when we collectively started to breathe sighs of relief that Covid was merely endemic. Because they aren’t going to.

While you’re at it, maybe give some consideration about how you’re going to pass down your experiences to the generations after you, especially the ones too young to remember or not around yet. Figure out how to convey your personal and family and community experience of Covid to future generations, rather than allowing whatever official reports exist or will be created to do that for you. You lived through a peculiar piece of US and world history, and your kids and grandkids and great grandkids and beyond would love to hear about it!

And good job, by the way. Whether you fought for vaccines or against them. Regardless of what philosophy you espoused or what political machinations you worked with or against. You made it through. By the grace of God, and that’s something to give thanks for, even as we remember those who didn’t.

Book Review: Wild & Weird

August 13, 2022

Wild & Weird: William J. Seymour, Azusa Street and Early Pentecostalism as Reported by the Los Angeles Secular Newspapers, edited by Larry E. Martin

First note – the title sounds pejorative but it’s not the author’s bias. The author is a Pentecostalist. Rather, the title summarizes (very aptly and somewhat generously) the gist of headlines and articles in the Los Angeles press about the erupting Apostolic/Pentecostal movement on Azusa Street and beyond.

Second note – I discovered after this book arrived that it’s the ninth book in a 12-volume (so far!) series of books by Martin on the start of Pentecostalism in America. Thankfully, this in no way compromises the reader’s ability to enter the material. The author provides occasional, very brief notes when additional explanation is helpful. He also at some points offers his opinions about whether the material presented is accurate or not. Such notes are indicated in italic soas not to be confused with the actual article reprints.

Mrs. Hutchinson was my AP American History teacher in high school. She was a strict but fantastic teacher, and one of two main influences in high school that directed me towards history for university studies. She made sure we understood the importance of evaluating information as closely to the actual events/persons as possible – primary source documentation was our mantra in that class and it remains something I look for whenever possible still. I’m far less interested in what someone else thinks about something that happened, and as much as possible I’d like to draw my own conclusions from accounts directly related to the events at hand (realizing that this does not remove bias completely!).

So when I decided to put together a seminar on the roots and teachings of Pentecostalism, I was naturally thrilled to find this book, which claims to simply duplicate ver batim Los Angeles press stories from 1906-1908 about the emergence of Pentecostalism in the city. A variety of papers are drawn from. I doubt the replication is comprehensive, and the author admits this as well, though indicating he tried to be as comprehensive as possible.

The result is curious and somewhat repetitive. Biases and prejudices racial, political and theological are all on display in these articles, but in parsing them it’s possible to start building a basic idea of the distinctive characteristics of Azusa Street and later Pentecostal movements. These rough sketches can then be compared to Scripture to begin evaluating the claims of the early movement that has gone on to deeply impact Christianity around the world.

My goal is first and foremost to understand not only how Pentecostalism started in the 20th century, but how it evolved theologically and doctrinally. Then I can better make sense of those evolutions and their current expressions in light of Scripture and the larger tradition of the Church throughout the last 2000 years. All of which should hopefully equip potential attendees with an awareness of what Pentecostalism is and a way of critiquing it’s teachings and practices. Which hopefully will in turn lead to some guidelines and suggestions on interacting with Pentecostals or their organizations. Considering the deep impact and spread of Pentecostal influence throughout much of the world this seems like a crucial undertaking, though by no means an easy one and hopefully one that recognizes both real and potential benefits as well as risks to the movement.

I may try to get further installments of this series on future trips back to the States, but for now this is a good start before moving on to more theological treatments of the movement.

This book is a great resource as a glimpse of both secular ideas and attitudes (which were perhaps not entirely secular in their source) in early 20th century Los Angeles, as well as getting close to specific, alleged actions, beliefs, and expressions of early leaders and followers in the movement. I appreciate the author’s restraint, since the articles are almost entirely negative in their treatment of the holy rollers, and the author’s own self-professed adherence to the Pentecostal tradition. I’m also grateful he kept poor-quality copies of articles and illustrations to a minimum, and I trust he faithfully reproduced the articles rather than altering them.

I like to think Mrs. Hutchinson would approve of my initial efforts, and I’m grateful for her own secular echoing of the Renassaince’s (and the Reformation’s) mantra of ad fontes – “(back) to the sources”.

Book Review – The Things They Carried

July 25, 2022

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I finished this book in one sitting on a two-hour plane ride. It’s that readable, that engaging. While it’s worthwhile to study about the Vietnam conflict it’s also necessary to hear the voices of those who were there. The motif of carried objects as portals into stories about individuals the author knew and served with personally in Vietnam is compelling.

O’Brien is careful and also explicit about not wanting to create moral lessons for his readers to grasp, but rather to simply say what he remembers about what happened and who it happened to. This is helpful but of course one can’t read a biographical account of a war like this without being viscerally reminded of the awfulness of war, whether it is a just or justified or necessary engagement or something less definable. The very real and permanent loss of life should be a constant guard and exhortation to be firm in resolve but also wise in how we spend that blood and those lives and relationships.

Even if you’re not a history buff I think you’ll find this a compelling read. Names and dates and the details of history most have learned to shudder and avoid are kept to a minimum so that the names and the lives and actions of real men and women might stand clearer. Those men and women might have served in any conflict in any part of the world and the stories would be substantively the same. This doesn’t trivialize the concrete reality of Vietnam as a location for conflict, but reminds us that immense loss, immense horror, and immense beauty can and do exist most anywhere and at anytime.

Perhaps we should be more intentional about seeing them and interacting with them when we have the chance.

When the Law Isn’t the Law

July 15, 2022

A few choice articles this morning when my brain is still fuzzy, highlighting the dilemma we create for ourselves when the law ceases to be the law. When the rules – even the ones we create for ourselves – are ignored in favor of other factors, chaos ensues. The alleged search for a better law, an amorphous law of equality or love or fairness or whatever term is seen as useful at the moment, a law that transcends the laws we actually *do* have in the end is never helpful. Only if the law can be redefined, recast, recodified into something that is actually better than what we’re trying to skirt around for various reasons can there be any hope of avoiding current and future chaos.

Of course, changing the law is complicated and difficult and time-consuming and expensive and all manner of other things. Oftentimes, there is no better consensus on what a new law should look like than there is on whether we ought to just follow the existing law. Public opinion can be vastly misrepresented by a remarkably small but vocal minority with the ear of the media and policy makers (or policy enforcers). And of course, some laws can’t simply be changed – and shouldn’t be. But more on that later.

The first example is this one, regarding legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. I’m no athlete and no historian of athletes but even I know the name, even if I didn’t know any other specifics. The upshot of the story is that Thorpe was stripped of his 1912 Olympic gold medals because he wasn’t technically an amateur – he had played for pay several years before the Olympics, which disqualified him from playing and therefore from winning. Based on the story, it appears that people were upset about this not because of the rules themselves, or whether or not Thorpe actually had violated them, but because he was a world-class athlete of great and deserved renown, and because he happened to be Native American.

I’m going based on what the story linked to above says. If the story is wrong then my facts are wrong and I apologize.

There wasn’t any indication that the rules have been changed (although with the US sending an Olympic basketball team comprised of professional NBA stars in the past, maybe it has?). There wasn’t even a complaint, per se, about the rules indicated. There was only the complaint that the rules were applied to Thorpe. I get the impression from the article that the rules are partially seen as ridiculous because of the small amount of money involved (although I presume it was a more reasonable wage in 1910 and we shouldn’t let our 2022 gauges skew things). And clearly there are other folks upset because they see a racial implication. But no indication is given in the article as to whether the rules have been unfairly applied to Thorpe, whether other minority athletes have been treated similarly, etc. The story states the decision to strip Thorpe of his medals was controversial but doesn’t indicate who else felt the decision was unfair, or why, other than Native American advocates.

Why does the IOC consider this an “exceptional and unique situation”? No clue from the article. So what I’m left with is because people complained on the basis of his ethnicity, the IOC bent the rules. Once in 1982, and now fully 40 years later because current sensibilities say it’s the right thing to do.

Were the rules broken or not? What does this decision mean moving forward? What other people who were disqualified for breaking a rule or not meeting other criteria will feel emboldened to complain and lobby that if Thorpe is permitted this violation, they should be as well? Does ethnicity override other rules, and if so, how and when and to what extent? My questions would remain the same regardless of the date or whether ethnicity was a factor or not (these days it always is though, so…). And if ethnicity is the driving issue here, what does this decision teach people? That rules don’t apply as much as your ethnicity? Who defines ethnicity? Who determines whether someone is actually a minority or not, and based on what factors? What does this mean to those who aren’t minorities – by their or anyone else’s standards?

Again, I have nothing against Thorpe. He sounds like an amazing and gifted man and he, his family, and his people ought to be proud of that. All people ought to recognize and respect that. Such is sports and sportsmanship at it’s finest – based solely on ability and not on other issues. Decisions like this one ultimately undermine that level playing field. It fosters the creation of a subset of unwritten (at least as of yet) rules because the existing rules are deemed inadequate in some way.

The solution to this is to change or update the rules. Otherwise the rules eventually cease to be rules at all because they can be circumvented based on an ill-defined and always evolving and changing set of unspoken criteria.

Second example is the ever-evolving poster-child case for legalized, universal, on-demand, no-holds-barred abortion to not simply be allowed (as Roe v. Wade permitted) but codified national law and policy (as Roe v. Wade never was). President Biden (self-proclaimed faithful Roman Catholic despite his intense advocacy for legalizing abortion) trotted out the terrible situation of a 10-year old girl who had to travel across state lines to obtain an abortion after she was raped. Turns out the situation is a whole lot more complicated and even potentially more tragic than originally described, though not of course for the reasons Biden promoted.

The girl’s (alleged but unconfirmed) mother is claiming the girl is “fine” and that somehow the accused is not at fault, though why that is the case is not made clear in the article which instead bends over backwards to defend abortion providers.

First off, if a girl is pregnant and receiving an abortion at the age of 10 she is NOT fine. Period.

The mother is defending a person who admitted to raping the girl twice. Why is she defending him? Why is she quick to insist she is not the one who pressed charges? Is this not the right person? Then why did he confess? I’m sure all of these questions are bound up in the fact the accused’s address is listed as the same address as the mother and daughter.

Although some outlets are reporting the perpetrator is in the country illegally the Post story above and other outlets make no mention of the man’s citizenship status, and formal charges are related only to the alleged and confessed rape. Although citizenship status doesn’t alter the horrific nature of the crime, if we’re intent on knowing all the details about an alleged criminal this seems like a fairly major one to omit.

The person who conducted the abortion also happened to be the person who brought the case to media attention. Ironic, considering she appears to have made a rather major mistake in her report, indicating the perpetrator’s age was 17 rather than 27. In typical current fashion, when caught in an error, go on the offensive. Her lawyer is hinting at potential lawsuits against prominent officials based on the age discrepancy involved. Granted, the doctor could have been lied to. Full disclosure of her report has not apparently been made yet (though why I’m not sure. Why leak part of it but not all of it?).

In the middle of all this grandstanding remains a 10-year old girl who has suffered some horrible things. That ought to be the primary discussion point and focus.

Instead, it’s a matter of law. But it’s a matter of which laws we want to emphasize and which we don’t. Do we want to push for laws permitting abortion and ignore laws which deny it? Do we want to focus on laws about immigration or push those to the side? And deeper still, do we still wish to ignore laws regarding marriage and the nature of adult relationships, preferring to rely on copy-cat partnership laws or, worse yet, ignore all of that completely and pretend people can safely and morally cohabitate as though they were married and committed for life even though they may have no such intentions?

All very important discussions to be sure, but secondary to the trauma this girl is dealing with. What sorts of resources are being provided to her to deal with it, and by whom? Who is her community, as opposed to those who simply want to exploit her for their own benefit, furthering the damage already done by her rapist? Which laws are we going to enforce or ignore?

All of this has to do with human law. Human law that is obviously imperfect, though supporters of this law or that law will argue their position is infallible. But the very existence of opposition – fallible opposition – implies our positions may be incorrect in full or in part. We can’t even follow our own laws or agree that they’re correct.

No wonder people are scrambling to run away from the reality of a law we didn’t create and can’t change. A law woven into the natural order and human nature. A law that serves as a guide for our best behavior, that restrains our worst impulses, and ultimately demonstrates our fallibility and guilt. No wonder we strive so hard to ignore any such reality and instead pretend we can simply dictate morality by creating or abolishing our own laws. We are creatures of law and we crave the chains which imprison us, believing in our burden that we are at least better than the people around us. That our chains are less deserved than the chains of others, and in this we imagine a kind of freedom.

God tells us otherwise. We can’t ignore his Law but at our own peril, a peril very much on display in huge ways as our country convulses with the consequences of indoctrinating generations of people with the idea that there is no ultimate accountability but therefore no purpose, no meaning to our own lives or the lives of others. That we are essentially accidental cosmic burps so whether we commit atrocities or acts of mercy makes no meaningful difference. People wonder why shootings are happening so often and they blame guns, but guns have been around for a long time, and part of our national identity (for better or worse) since the beginning. Yet their use to slaughter neighbors and children and loved ones is skyrocketing. Take away meaning, purpose, any sort of objective moral code and you set people free for many awful things. And while some would argue this is a false control placed on us by a contrived set of beliefs resting on an illusory divinity, our reality shows we have no ability to create any sort of meaningful laws on our own. All we can do is mirror – closely or poorly – the Law of our Creator. Results will vary in direct proportion to how far we diverge from his revealed order.

When we are unable and unwilling to follow even the laws we create, how much worse will things be when we refuse to acknowledge the divine Law in which we live and breathe? We have only two options provided to us by the Creator and the embodiment of that Law. One is that we can rage against it, continue to be crushed by it, and die without hope in it. Or, we can recognize our guilt, seek mercy from God, and find – miraculously – that mercy has already been extended freely through his Son, Jesus the Christ, who fulfilled the requirements of the Law and then offered his own wrongful conviction and execution to pardon us.

When we find the latter, we begin to recognize that God’s law while not always what we’d like in any given moment is always best in that moment and in all the moments before and after. In that law we find true equality based on our created nature rather than our accomplishments or genetic blessings. In that law we continue to be guided, though through faith in Jesus Christ we no longer face the eternal consequences when we violate that law. We are freed to live our lives in that law not in fear but in joy and relief.

Or we can keep trying to redefine it and replace it. And the results will continue to be as abysmal as they are right now. Repentance is always possible but I believe gets more difficult the longer we remain in our rebellion. I pray that people’s hope and purpose and joy comes to lie not in what they’ve done or whether what they’ve done has been properly honored. I hope their hope and purpose and joy comes from knowing who created them and everyone around them, and who loves them unendingly and unceasingly and demonstrates this in his gift of a Law that cannot be changed or ignored, a call to obey that Law, and the promise that because of Jesus, our performance of that law will not be the basis of our eternal condition.

There is a law, greater and deeper and more eternal than the transitory laws of any human society. At best, human laws should model and support this deeper divine law. At worst, they contradict it directly and in so doing reap the obvious consequences, just as pretending fire wasn’t hot or oxygen isn’t necessary for breathing would lead to very dire consequences. Continue to pray that our nation – and all nations – recognize this deeper law and seek to protect it. And continue to pray that we as a community and nation would argue not about whether we should enforce or ignore a given law, but continue to require our lawmakers and representatives to wrestle with these difficult matters on our behalf. If a law needs to be modified, then do so. If a law needs to be repealed, do so. But always with an eye towards how well (though imperfectly) any such changes match the deeper law of our Creator.

My Technology Timeline

June 14, 2022

As someone who has been on the Internet for over 30 years (I was online before there was a World Wide Web and the graphical interface so ubiquitous to the online experience now), this is a really cool stroll down memory lane, as well as a fantastic visualization of the Big Dogs of Internet companies and how they have changed over time.

Which onramp did you use to get on the information highway and when? I had my first dial-up account in the early 90’s, and was checking e-mail through Unix-based systems like Pine and ELM. My route into IT was unexpected (and for some hilarious), but it was a part of roughly two decades of my professional life to some degree.

I remember the arrival of Yahoo! and providing internal training to staff at the corporate IT training company I joined in the mid-90’s, teaching them about the rapidly shifting Internet landscape as Yahoo! and other companies began to gain on American Online (AOL) in terms of providing portals or gateways to online web sites and destinations. Being able to see how companies arrived, jockeyed for position, enjoyed their moment in the sun, and then disappeared is fascinating. Good to find useful and fun things on the Internet instead of just fear-mongering and mis/dis-information!

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!