Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

Law and Kings

October 10, 2021

This morning we worshiped with a small LCMS congregation in between Tacoma and Olympia. For Bible study, they’re working their way through 1 Kings and we joined them for the latter 2/3 of Chapter 2. This section deals with the transfer of power and how the new king Solomon dealt with several questionable characters his father David had shown mercy to but remained potential sources of future problems. Since Solomon was not the eldest son of David, to whom the throne would have been expected to pass, Solomon’s position is a bit precarious, as this section highlights.

Four individuals receive judgment from Solomon based on combinations of past and present actions. Adonijah, who had already attempted to take the throne while David was still alive; Abiathar, priest under David but who had also supported Adonijah’s claim to the throne; Joab, David’s general who also had supported Adonijah’s claim; and Shimei, a kinsman of King Saul who had cursed David during his dispute with another usurper son, Absalom.

The passage reads rather harshly. Abiathar gets off the easiest – he’s banished and replaced in his role as priest. The other three are all executed by order of King Solomon. It’s a passage that may strike our sensitive ears rather dissonantly. How is it that Solomon, soon to be bestowed with divine wisdom, should condone the execution of these people his father saw fit to spare?

We must remember Solomon is king, but not just any king. He is king over the only Biblical theocracy in all of human history. He rules the people of God by the Word of God, in conjunction (at least theoretically) with the priests and prophets. Disobedience to the king is the same as disobedience to God. Those who thought it was their duty to determine who the king should be erred grievously in doing so. And those who felt they were not bound by the king’s law or their own promises discovered this was not the case. Just as God’s people are not exempt from his Law and are in danger (as the opening of Hebrews 2 warns us) of being drawn away from the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and suffering the condemnation of the Law.

We see in these historical passages both grace and judgment, and are called to remember we have not simply a Savior but a Lord, and that Lord is due and rightly expects our obedience. Our obedience won’t be perfect, flawed as we are with sin. But we must remember always who is the only proper and fit ruler of our lives – and it isn’t us! When we feel we can dismiss the Word of God for our own ideas or the ideas of our culture and day we err grievously and need to come back to repentance. The warnings of Psalm 2 are just as appropriate in our day and age as they were in Solomon’s!

Book Review: Introducing Indonesia

October 7, 2021

Introducing Indonesia – 3rd edition, published by the American Women’s Association, 1975

This was a short and fascinating read. Short mostly because at least half the book is a phone directory of services and businesses in Indonesia – particularly the island of Java and the city of Jakarta – that might be of use to an American moving to Indonesia. Fascinating because, published by the American Women’s Association, it’s clearly oriented to the wife/mother/homemaker who will be setting up house in a new place.

The book provides a brief bit of history but mostly to give an exceptionally broad overview of the many cultures and influences present in Jakartan society. It is the purpose of the book to inform, not to analyze or comment on that history. A similar broad treatment of culture, religion, and arts are also included. It’s clear the emphasis is on Jakarta and the island of Java – not surprising since it’s the capitol and the most likely destination of either government or industry-based relocation. There are a fair number of black and white photos to help provide context for the commentary and to give the reader a basic impression of their new home.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the brief treatment of the issue of household workers. Like most of Southeast Asia it is assumed that at a certain economic level you will employ one or more household workers. This is an important source of income to a large section of the population. The book lists various roles household workers might have, including driver, maintenance person, cook, maid, nanny, and several others. Advice is also given as to how to best manage a household staff, clearly intended for the American unfamiliar with this situation. Advice on how to find qualified staff, how to vet them and when necessary terminate them is all very curious and undoubtedly much of it is still applicable today.

Published in 1975 this clearly is not an up-to-date snapshot of Indonesia but is interesting for what it is – a snapshot of American perspectives on life in Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.

Blogging Has Been Hard

September 9, 2021

Everyone goes through periods of writers’ block. Given the uncertainty this stage of life is for myself and my family, perhaps that’s even more understandable.

It’s frustrating, though.

The things I’m inclined to observe and write about have felt burdensome in light of how divisive and hurtful they’ve become in our culture. Rather than contribute towards that – even when attempting to be diplomatic rather than vitriolic – I’ve just opted to keep silent.

While we’ve been busy in preparing for the next stage of our journey – literally – in working abroad, most of that isn’t very exciting. Doctors’ visits, filling out forms, raising funding – none of that makes for very riveting reading by and large.

But I’m here. Busy. But here. Trying to write about things that are enjoyable and pleasant rather than divisive and irritating. Waiting for the writers’ block malaise to lift and have the urge to start writing more frequently. Until then, thanks for your patience.

London Bridge

September 1, 2021

It’s quiet at 7am on Sunday morning in Lake Havasu City. I drive down from the seemingly endless rows of houses towards the main drag through town that skirts the Colorado River where it bulges out into Lake Havasu. I’m seeking a cup of tea before the morning of commutes and preaching between two different parishes I’m visiting with a colleague in Kingman, AZ and Needles, CA.

I see the sign for the London Bridge.

Ah yes, the London Bridge. Brought over from England and set back up again in this strange little river town. Bought from the town of London in the late 60’s and carted over to Arizona as a tourist attraction. Who would have ever thought of such a thing?

But somebody did. Somebody in London thought of offering it for sale instead of demolishing it to make way for the new one that was needed. And a wealthy businessman in the US thought of buying it and setting it up again. And there it remains today, some 50-years later.

I’m not interested in seeing the Bridge. It’s enough to know it’s there. Enough to know that daring people were able to conceive of such an improbable venture and carry it to fruition. Enough to know that such intrepidness was possible in the not-so-distant past, even if such intrepidness seems very lacking today. Today when we’re too absorbed in our cell phones and binge-watching and can’t be bothered to be concerned about our eroding freedoms and new definitions of liberty.

It’s good to know the bridge is there. Anachronistic as it is both in terms of engineering as well as regulatory red tape. Good to think that perhaps there remain people willing and able to dream and dare and accomplish improbable things.

Death and Collective Guilt

August 13, 2021

I don’t consider myself a real aficionado of Texas-style (or maybe just more traditional American) folk music. A bit too twangy. But playing pool in bars with juke boxes for most of my life you pick up a taste for a little bit of everything, and all that absorbed country music made me a bit more open to the twang than I otherwise might be. I discovered Nancy Griffith in the mid-90’s hot on the heels of the success of her Grammy-winning album Other Voices, Other Rooms. Twang notwithstanding, I fell in love with Griffith’s story-telling. Songs like Love at the Five and Dime and Gulf Coast Highway are still some of my favorite songs for the powerful stories they evoke in the small space of a song. I had the pleasure of seeing her in concert in the early 90’s and it was a wonderful experience to hear that clear voice in person.

She died today and that’s sad, as all deaths are.

I went back to listen to some of her songs this evening. They still bring a smile to my face or tug the heart strings in a way few other songs or artists do.

By chance I happened upon another of my favorite songs of hers, It’s a Hard Life. I still love the song but what caught my ear, in the midst of the rising racial tensions in our country was the last verse, a sort of confession on Griffith’s part that:

I am guilty I am war I am the root of all evil

She believed the words and the visions and promises of some great people like Walt Disney, Walter Cronkite and Martin Luther King, Jr. She believed their promises that change could come and was coming. And decades later, realizing those visions had not materialized the way she had assumed they would, for everyone rather than just specific demographics, she holds herself accountable. Though she’s not at the wheel of control, by implication she is guilty for those who are at the wheel of control, either by her support of them or her failure to stop them.

It’s a hard confession to hear after her stinging examples of prejudice that occurs in every culture and can take myriad forms. She confesses guilt that this still exists and she has personally failed to prevent it.

In the way this kind of corporate confession is currently being wielded or demanded in our country, it’s erroneous. It is misplaced. It assumes that we individually are capable of preventing people from reaching power or using power if they are not worthy of it or misuse it or fail to use it to full capacity. And it assumes at a deeper level that these things – prejudice and racism of all stripes – can actually be defeated and destroyed by our own efforts. If we just have the right leaders. The right policies. The right educational systems. The right corporate policies.

Unfortunately for Griffith and you and I and those who struggle under the oppression of real prejudice and racism, this isn’t true. Not that we don’t work towards it. Not that we can’t make improvements. But to remove these things is beyond our control. It is not in us to do so. Or more accurately, like Griffith’s confession, the sin we would stand against is present within us as well. Perhaps not in the same forms or to the same degrees, but there all the same.

And in that sense the corporate confession is appropriate. We all share in the common affliction and malady of sin. None of us is capable of removing it from ourselves let alone another person. And so we continue to struggle with sins as old as humanity. Some people are constantly amazed that a particular program or regimen failed to root out a particular sin. That is a sinful error as well, though a well intentioned one. Anything designed by a broken and sinful person is going to turn out in one way or another broken and sinful and inadequate as well.

Griffith’s bleak confession would be the last statement in her life and every life if there were not a deeper, greater hope than our own visionaries and programs. Thank God, there is.

There is only one hope for the defeat and removal of sin. One hope promised long ago in a primal garden, and one hope accomplished 2000 years ago on a cross by a man who claimed he was more than a great teacher or a great moral model, an inspirational speaker or a worker of wonders, but in fact the very Son of God. Who promised that in his voluntary and innocent death and burial, the sin within us would be overcome. All we had to do was believe this was true and who He was and what He accomplished. And for an anchor for that faith and trust He asserted He would rise from the dead after three days.

That hope and promise remain today. I pray that Griffith shared in that hope. That her disappointment in herself and others was overcome by a hope and trust in Jesus Christ. I pray it was ultimately that hope that inspired her to write and to sing and to become an inspiring voice to others and future generations.

Because I’d love to hear that clear voice in person again someday when she can sing of victory instead of defeat.

Back to School

August 10, 2021

It’s that time of year again. For so many years as a student, as a teacher, or as someone involved in campus ministry (sometimes all three at once!) my year was more defined by the ebb and flow of the American academic year. August and September always seem like starting months – more so than January.

This is a good article whether you’re a Christian student headed to school (really of any grade, adjusted for age-appropriateness of course), or the parent/grandparent/concerned friend or relative of a student.

Of course, these suggestions are all things that should already be going on in the life of every person of faith. If these habits and practices and skills haven’t already begun to be owned by the time college rolls around, it’s going to be a hard time for a student to pick them up. Although this article is aimed at Catholic students, the same ideas hold true for Christians of any stripe. Know who you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going, who created and redeemed you, who abides with you constantly. Don’t expect to have an answer to every objection or criticism leveled at the Bible or the Church or your faith personally. But know that you’re likely to encounter objections and criticisms, or assumptions that you can continue to consider yourself a Christian if you don’t actually believe the Bible.

The Apostles’ Creed

June 28, 2021

As I continue the transition from parish ministry towards eventual deployment as a theological educator overseas, my first opportunity to interact cross-culturally will come in August. I’ve been invited to lead a winkel consisting of a dozen or more Taiwanese pastors and church workers. A winkel is a Peruvian word that translates roughly to “fish slapper”.

That’s not entirely true. It’s actual an old German word with a variety of meanings depending on syntax, but in this usage it means corner or spot and is the traditional word in Lutheran circles for a gathering of pastors. These meetings usually include prayer, study, theological conversation, worship, the Sacraments, and general fellowship. I’ve been blessed to have been a part of the same winkel group over my nearly 15 years in ministry, and it was a good experience. Ideally it should be a place to be encouraged and strengthened by people who all are called to the ministry in similar capacities.

So I’ve been invited to share the teaching portion of a cross-cultural winkel. I’ll be doing it long distance as I’m still in the US. The topic I’ve chosen is the Apostles’ Creed, and more specifically, the First Article of the Creed. As such, I’ve been doing some reading and research on the Creed, and I’ll be sharing book reviews shortly.

But first and foremost, I’m reminded in this study of the importance of what you say about the Bible. The Apostles’ Creed has been in use for probably 1600 years at the very least, and the core tenets it summarizes are well-attested to going back to apostolic times. But the Creed is only as helpful as your view of the Bible. A low view of the Bible – meaning you don’t accept it (or at least all of it) as the inspired Word of God maintained in integrity through history and directly relevant and definitive for Christian belief and practice today – will mean you probably don’t think much of the Creed, since the Creed is based entirely on Scripture. If you have a high view of Scripture, seeing it as the reliable, inspired Word of God and normative for Christian belief and practice, then what the Creed says won’t be very surprising, although there is still plenty to think about!

So before you start studying the Creed, come to some conclusions about how you think about and interact with the Bible.

A Fine How-Do-You-Do

June 9, 2021

Remember all those banners and window signs and chalk drawings over the past year thanking our first responders and medical personnel for their service during the pandemic? Remember all those commercials about how these men and women in medical scrubs are heroes fighting to save lives?

Yeah, forget all of that because now we have a vaccine and if you don’t want to take it we’re going to fire you. That’s what nearly 200 health care employees in a Texas hospital system have been told – as they’ve been placed on a two-week suspension. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked to save lives, how you risked your own health or the health of your loved ones. All of that was just expected of you. But now we are going to dictate to you how you’re going to deal with your own health.

And if you disagree with us we’re going to smear you as people who don’t care about their patients.

The same people who have been saving lives for over a year.

Shouldn’t we be outraged by the brazen, callous language of a hospital system about its own employees? Shouldn’t we be outraged that these men and women who have been lauded as heroes for laboring to save lives at their own personal risk when there wasn’t a vaccine are now being smeared as selfish and uncaring just because there is a vaccine? A vaccine, mind you, with no long-term studies and that is more than likely – based on available current data – going to require additional boosters. And a vaccine that is being pushed and shoved despite the fact COVID case rates in the US (and around the world) have dropped dramatically.

I pray there are law suits brought quickly to stop this dangerous precedent. Not that it’s going to save these people from losing their jobs, most likely. But perhaps it will ensure that heroes are spared this unnecessary and outrageous treatment.

Mandatory Vaccinations

June 3, 2021

Interesting but pretty low-key coverage last week of an announcement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that employers can mandate employees to get COVID vaccinations. Most news reports I read emphasized how employers could incentivize employees to get the vaccine, but the far more concerning aspect to me is that they can mandate the vaccine. No vaccine? No continued employment. How does that not qualify as “coercive”, something employers are supposed to avoid in their incentive programs? About the only part of the reports that make sense is that there will be a lot of lawsuits as employers and employees try to navigate whatever the EEOC is trying to accomplish but prefers to do so through the private sector rather than Federal decree.

What is the rationale for allowing employers this broad degree of control over the personal health choices of their employees? Will this be used in conjunction with future possible COVID-related shutdowns, so that companies that require their employees to be vaccinated will be allowed to continue operations while other similar companies with no such policy will be shut down if non-essential?

If an employer can mandate COVID vaccinations, what else can they mandate in the realm of personal choice regarding health care? Can they mandate flu vaccines? Under what conditions? The EEOC’s own website acknowledges that public health guidelines are subject to fluctuation, so what about companies that mandate the COVID vaccine (or any other vaccine) only to have public health guidelines alter or reverse? You can’t undo an injection.

Section K is the relevant section of the EEOC’s most recent COVID-related guidelines, and section K.1 stipulates that employers may require all employees to obtain vaccination as a condition for physically returning to a workplace. What this means is that in terms of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there is no grounds as interpreted by the EEOC for claiming some sort of discrimination towards protected classes. It isn’t discriminatory of a company to mandate all employees be vaccinated. But that’s a rather narrow criteria for determining whether a company should be allowed to make such a requirement in the first place. All the EEOC is really focused on is whether such a mandate would be unfair to protected groups, and it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be if it’s being applied evenly to all employees (instead of targeting certain groups) and accommodations are made for those who may have legally protected exceptions from such a mandate.

But shouldn’t all Americans be legally protected from being forced to get a vaccination (or any other specific health procedure) to keep their job? It might be easy to say from the outside that if you don’t like that particular policy, quit and go work someplace else. But anyone actually working (or who ever has actually worked for someone other than the government) understands that it’s hardly that simple. And if all employers decide to require such a vaccination, how does that impact personal liberties?

These are all questions unique to America. Many Americans don’t seem to understand this. It makes life as an American in America more complicated. But those complications are deemed warranted in order to protect something valuable – personal liberty. As we’ve learned after 9/11 and today in an age where fear is increasingly being promoted and used to drive people towards approving certain policies, personal liberty is difficult to obtain, easy to cede, and effectively impossible to take back once ceded. So these questions and issues are important to think through carefully, and to ensure that what is required of people either by the private sector or the government is as narrow and limited and carefully defined as possible. Precedents are being set in a time of panic, and once that panic is over the precedents will remain and will be used as justification for further erosions of personal liberty in the name of safety or convenience or whatever else seems effective.

GetReligion

May 22, 2021

That’s not intended to be proselytizing (though of course I would be the first to advocate not simply for religion but Christianity). Rather, it’s the name of a great web site dedicated to analyzing media reports on various subjects and topics to point out the “ghosts” in mainstream media – places where religion could have been brought into the report but wasn’t, presumably because liberal media has no interest in talking about religion, or when reporters simply appear to be ignorant about the religious dimensions of a story.

I’ve been following this site for over a decade and greatly appreciate their examination of the media. In case you’ve forgotten, give them a check out!