Domain Name Change

April 29, 2019

For the second, and hopefully last time in 13 years, the domain name/web address for this blog will be updated.  Technically, it’s reverting to the original name that I had to forego when I migrated to WordPress a few years ago.  Actually, nearly five years ago, which is hard to believe.

So if you’ve been used to reaching this site through livingapologetics.wordpress.com, please make note of the domain name that may be replacing it (or may be working alongside it) living-apologetics.org.

The changes should take place sometime in the next few days if all goes well.  Thanks for your patience and perseverance!

 

 

Reading Ramblings – May 5, 2019

April 28, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Dates: Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019

Texts: Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:1-14; John 21:1-19

Context: The work of God the Holy Spirit is the reconciliation of all creation to God the Father through the atoning work of God the Son. The Christian hope is mistakenly characterized as deliverance from our enemies, when in reality the prayer of all Christians should be for the conversion and transformation of our enemies into brothers and sisters in Christ for all eternity. This is in fact the very power of God at work in our world, and if we doubt that our enemies might be won through this power, we need first to remember that we ourselves have been won by this power.

Acts 9:1-22 – While we rightly revere St. Paul and his mighty evangelistic and apologetic efforts in the early Church, the real glory goes to God. Saul was feared but was he prayed for? To quote Billy Joel, could St. Paul have said of the Church before his conversion she never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me? How many Christians and churches are guilty of this today? We see our enemies only as fit for defeat and ourselves fit for deliverance. Yet the same God the Father created all of us, and the same Son of God died for all of us, and the same Holy Spirit of God seeks after each one of us. Lost sheep are sometimes so because of ignorance or carelessness, but also sometimes so deliberately and defiantly, yet the Good Shepherd seeks each one of them. If God the Holy Spirit can bring Saul to faith in the resurrected Son of God, how much more should we be praying that those who fight against his power today be brought to faith as well?

Psalm 30 – The scope of this psalm is a personal song of thanks to God for delivering the speaker from a difficult situation, one reasonably brought about by enemies (v.1) and that could conceivably have resulted in death or complete destruction (vs. 3, 8-10). I think it is the mention of enemies in v.1 that might have prompted the inclusion of this psalm with the other readings today. Again, we tend to think of deliverance from our enemies in terms of their defeat and our victory, but deliverance could mean the conversion of our enemies, so that they end their persecutions and plottings against us. This should indeed be the greatest cause for celebration, for transforming mourning into dancing (v.11) – to know that those who once fought against the love of God in Jesus Christ are now robed in it! What better reason to give thanks to God forever (v.12)?!

Revelation 5 – I’ve gone with the optional full reading of this chapter for better context. I would have preferred to see this reading on Ascension Day, but since that’s not a Sunday I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m inclined to side with those who speculate that this scene, particularly verses 6-14, is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly descriptions of Jesus ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). Jesus departs earth for heaven, returning now in power and majesty to do what He has earned the right to do through his obedience and death – to open the book with the seven seals. Because He has earned this right through his obedience, He is rightly to be praised, and the liturgies of the Church have long utilized words form this chapter and other places in the book of Revelation for worship. We echo, or join in with all the saints and heavenly beings as they praise unceasingly the wonder and worthiness of the Lamb who was slain. I also don’t think this particular reading fits well within the larger theme of reconciliation and the turning of enemies into allies that we see in the other readings. But that happens sometimes! Others see parallels in these readings that I’m opting not to discuss here, and that’s the beauty of God’s Word.

John 21:1-19 – I’ve opted for the fuller text reading here as well rather than omitting verses 15-19. It’s in those verses that we once again see the desire of God for reconciliation and restoration. This scene takes place back in Galilee, after the events in Jerusalem of Easter Day and the days following. The disciples have returned home. They’ve seen the resurrected Lord but, barring more specific details, what are they to do now? They know He will be sending them (John 20:21; Matthew 28:16-20) but what does this mean? While it is possible that this scene takes place after Pentecost, it seems more likely that it happens in between Easter and Pentecost. Jesus’ admonition in Luke 24:49 may mean the disciples stayed in Jerusalem for over a month until Pentecost, but that would have been a complicated and costly stay.

What do you do with the knowledge of the resurrection of someone claiming to be the Son of God and who prophesied the details of his death and resurrection ahead of time? How does that knowledge affect what you do, how you fill your time? Some interpret Peter’s statement that he’s going fishing as resignation of sorts, as though he is simply going back to what he was and did before Jesus called him to be a disciple (in fact, I used to see these verses that way!). But it seems more realistic that, needing some way to pass the time, Peter reasonably does what he has grown up doing. It is not a repudiation of his role of disciple, but rather a passing of the time until what that role will now entail is fully revealed.

And of course, in the meantime, there is the guilt.

The guilt of denying his Lord three times in one night, just as Jesus had told him he would, even though he denied it heatedly. That’s a powerful level of guilt, for one who loved Jesus so deeply to pretend he didn’t even know him. Perhaps there is some part of Peter that suspects that, regardless of who he once was as a follower of Jesus, he will no longer have that honor because of his denials. But once again the grace of God is at work. Jesus comes not simply to say hi and have breakfast, but to restore Peter. Jesus does not simply gloss over Peter’s denials. He doesn’t simply say it’s no big deal and let bygones be bygones. Such words are helpful at one level but they do not remove guilt. They may restore relationship but they don’t absolve us from the guilt we carry inside of us. Instead, Jesus offers Peter three chances to express his love for his Lord. And once again Jesus privileges (or challenges) Peter with a foreshadowing of what this restoration will mean. Peter denied Jesus in fear, but in his restoration Peter should not assume he won’t be placed in equally difficult and frightening situations. He prophesies in general terms what Peter will suffer (on more than one occasion) but not how Peter will respond. Persecution is a known entity, but this time denial is not. We could easily infer that Jesus is letting Peter that unlike last time, he will stand firm in his love for his Lord in the future.

God’s desire is for reconciliation with a rebellious creation. He is not content merely to punish his enemies but rather is willing to suffer and die so that his enemies might become his loving subjects, freed not only from the sin of rebellion both active and passive, but also from the crushing guilt of knowing they have rebelled against the good and holy and righteous creator of all things. This is a love that truly confounds us with the depths and heights it is capable of and willing to go to for our sake!

Not An Influencer

April 27, 2019

I’ve begun unfriending people on Facebook.

It’s not that I desire to be unfriendly, but I’ve decided that in the coming weeks I’m going to gradually whittle away the people I’m friends with in anticipation of finally eliminating my account completely.

I can’t say it is an easy process.

I joined in 2008, and to give up on something after a decade isn’t easy in and of itself.  And of course everything about social media is oriented towards gaining friends and followers, not eliminating them.  And for years I thought that an expanding number of friends on Facebook (even a meager number by many standards!) was a sign of my role of influence and importance to these people.  But I’m no social media influencer by a long shot.  (In case you’re not aware, influencer is the term some people use of themselves and others because of a particularly large number of social media contacts and corresponding leverage for advertising or activism).  Social media functions by playing on our needs and desires for approval and status, things I’ve fought against all my life but sometimes not very successfully.

Going through my list of friends I’ve begun be eliminating those whose accounts are inactive – a sign that they’ve already gone down the road I’m starting on and are farther along than I am.  It’s also a demonstration that the connections created by social media are hardly very strong – I  didn’t even realize that half a dozen or so of my friends have deactivated their accounts.

The second group I’ve begun eliminating are connections from high school.  I’ll save the friends I was closest to till the end, but the reality is that the connection we had once has severely decayed over time.  I haven’t seen most of them in close to ten years.  One or two I’ve seen more recently, but our connection – if it’s going to remain – won’t be because of Facebook.

I’m amazed and depressed by how difficult clicking Unfriend can be.  Our desire for approval and acceptance and admiration (or is it just my desire) is strong, and admitting that those things – if they’re there at all – are so weak and insignificant as to be of truly no meaning is not easy or pleasant.  It’s getting easier though, and now that I’ve begun the process I don’t think it will be as complicated as I thought to complete it.

It just makes me wonder where I’ll look for affirmation and approval next.  Hopefully more in Christ, and less in myself and others.  I don’t say that as a word of judgment against those of you who continue on Facebook or other social media.  But  rather as a word of judgment on myself.  And maybe only a word of caution to others.

 

The Times They Are A-Changin’

April 24, 2019

And not for the better, in case you were wondering.

A too-brief article about a too-large subject – the impact of technology on human beings and human society and culture.  Much is at stake when technology is less about helping you do what you need to and more about trying to ensure you stay connected as long and regularly as possible.

Jumping for Conclusions

April 23, 2019

Like many of you, I watched in sorrow as Notre Dame de Paris burned at the start of Holy Week.  And like many of you, I heard many news reports declaring that, even before people were able to investigate fully, the cause of the fire was accidental, related to an antiquated electrical system, perhaps.

News stories have left it at this, at best.  CNN has no new updates on the cause or investigation after almost a week.  The New York Times runs stories (like this) that presume an accident and leave no room for deeper exploration of the event.  But that’s not unreasonable, is it?  I mean, it must have just been an accident, right?  Even though it happened at the start of Holy Week – the holiest time of the Christian liturgical year?  I mean, you’d need additional evidence before you start hypothesizing that perhaps it wasn’t just an accident, right?

I didn’t hear about other attacks on churches in Paris in the same rough timeframe.  Here’s an article that deals with whether US media should bother to report on Christian sites being attacked in Europe (fortunately the article thinks that they should be reported on, but the reality is that they by and large are not reported on in the US.)But this article pointed out that Notre Dame was  not the only church having difficulties in the days leading up to or including Holy Week.  Like the Basilica of St. Denis.  Another article indicated that a recent arrival from Pakistan had been arrested in conjunction with some  of the vandalism, though the article did not mention the man’s religion.  And in the weeks that followed, as Christians around the world suffered violence and death, there has been a marked reluctance to identify causes.  The article’s title – Taquiyya – is reference to a Muslim doctrine that permits Muslims to lie about their religious adherence when necessary.  What about the arson at St. Sulpice in early March?  Didn’t hear about that either, and Newsweek apparently is only mentioning it because the priest there is cautioning against Notre Dame conspiracy theories.

Didn’t hear about these events?  Or about many other similar events?  How curious.  There’s a story here about it.  Here’s a story with an editorial insert to assure readers that they aren’t insinuating that Notre Dame was anything but an accident, despite all these other horrific acts of vandalism or sabotage to other Christian churches.  Articles such as this go out of their way to quote people – religious  people especially – who claim that Christian houses of worship are not being singled out for attack.  But this is exactly what seems to be happening, whether the media wants to acknowledge it or cover it or not. Christian news sites are far more willing to say the difficult reality – attacks on Christian churches are on the rise, and that those attacks with links to Islam are increasing dramatically.

If a mosque is attacked anywhere in the world, the outpouring of sympathy is monumental.  But if Christian churches are attacked and their adherents slaughtered, there is little mention at all.  Some sites are willing to show the unusual lengths that many prominent politicians in our country will go to not to acknowledge acts against  Christians, and not only to not question Islamic extremism, but use attacks on Christian churches as an opportunity to denounce Islamophobia.

Americans can enjoy or depend upon a basic NIMBY attitude (not in my back yard) to justify ignorance or disinterest.  But ignorance and disinterest are the necessary fertilizer to allow acts of violence to crop up and proliferate.  As many have pointed out, regardless of whether Notre Dame was an accident or not, as lamentable as the destruction to the building is more lamentable still is the atrophied state of Christianity in France, in Europe, and increasingly in the United States.  In many real senses the death of church buildings is a sign of the death of the faith itself in large numbers of the population.

I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories.  Nor do I think that Muslims are behind any and every attack on Christian sites or people.  Neither should we turn a blind eye – or have our eyes blinded due to lack of coverage or investigation – if there are real and credible threats.  And as a reminder to all those folks out there so aghast that our President might belittle or mistrust media and news outlets, it’s slanted or non-existent coverage of this kind that lead not just the President but many others to distrust our media and news outlets, suspecting them of partisan politics and skewed reporting to support it.  Be objective and let the chips fall where they may.  This used to be the ideal and goal of news outlets and journalists.  I don’t blame people for suspecting that this isn’t the goal any longer.

Movin’ On Up

April 22, 2019

Perhaps not exactly to a deluxe apartment in the  sky, but an improvement all the same.

I’ve bit  the bullet (paid) to upgrade my blog site from free to a paid plan through WordPress.  The annoying advertisements are now gone.  I intended to do this much sooner but, well, life and money and what have you.  Look for some tweaks and changes to roll out as I explore the options I have available now as a paid user of the site – including possibly a change back to my original domain name (livingapologetics.org) instead of the WordPress name.

All in good time, but at least it’s the first step.  Perhaps a step up?

Reading Ramblings – April 28, 2019

April 21, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

Texts: Acts 5:12-42; Psalm 148; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

Context: We may still have in our heads the picture of Jesus beaten, crucified, buried. Graphic depictions of the final hours of his life in movies such as The Passion of the Christ have done a good idea of giving us a better understanding of just how brutal death by crucifixion was. But if that is the only or most lasting mental picture we have of Jesus, we are mistaken! Our Lord was not defeated by death, but He defeated death! He took the greatest abuse possible, culminating in death and burial. But He rose from the dead. Notice that none of the accounts of the resurrected Christ say anything about wounds to his body other than his hands and feet and side. These are the wounds of victory, however, not defeat. They identify him clearly, they testify to what sort of victory He accomplished. When we see our Lord again it will be in glory, far closer to John’s vision of him in the reading from Revelation. This is the Lord who promises us life through faith in him – our victorious Lord!

Acts 5:12-42 – I’ve expanded this reading because I think it has so much in it that just reading half the story is unfair. And since the rest of the story isn’t returned to in the readings for the rest of the year, we’ll do it now! Because things have changed. Granted this reading is from after Pentecost, so the disciples have the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way. But beyond this, the disciples have seen the resurrected Christ. They know who He is, and what He has accomplished, and it infuses them with a boldness they never had for long during their time with Jesus during his ministry. Even though they could cast out demons at times or heal the sick, their understanding of Jesus was limited, and their bravery was more words than deeds. Now they are arrested, imprisoned, beaten, warned, and yet the strength of the Holy Spirit within them, who has led them into all knowledge regarding Jesus is more powerful. They cannot be silenced. They will not succumb to fear! They cannot be intimidated! This boldness and eloquence is not lost on their persecutors. There was no effort to arrest or try the disciples of Jesus – the religious leaders considered them of no consequence, incapable of continuing on the ministry of Jesus. They expected – rightly so – that the disciples would slink back to their homes and humble jobs once Jesus was removed. But this determination was not expected, and Gamaliel is wise to point out that the situation is so unusual that it might just be the finger of God at work, in which case they would be foolish to oppose it!

Psalm 148 – Who is to praise God? It might be simpler to list out who shouldn’t praise him. The heavenly realms and those who dwell there are to praise him. The celestial heights and the lights that dwell there – so often mistaken for divine themselves by flawed mortals – they are to praise God. They are not divine but simply his creations (as per Genesis 1). The mysterious creatures of the ocean should praise God, as well as the very elements of nature themselves. Likewise the land and all the creatures that dwell on it should praise God. The great people of the earth – kings and all rulers – they should praise God as should the least of mankind. There is no other entity who deserves the worship and praise that God does as the creator of all things, and certainly should his people praise him, those who know him and the great things He has done!

Revelation 1:4-18 – St. John spent three years or so following Jesus. Yet in this vision provided by Jesus the Christ, the emphasis is not on a reunion, but on the power and glory of the resurrected and ascended Son of God. John is commanded to write what he sees and hears in this vision to seven churches in Asia. John identifies himself as their brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom. These are the two realities which John and his hearers find themselves. They are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and inheritors through Christ of eternal life. But for now, they endure tribulation and suffering. Their lives are marked with suffering because of their steadfast faith in the resurrected Jesus as the Christ. It is this reality that predicates the vision to John and its communication to the faithful. And it is this reality that should guide us in reading and interpreting what John describes. To those who suffer, this letter is a letter of encouragement, ultimately a summary of Biblical history and the ancient enmity between Satan and God, the efforts of Satan to destroy God’s creation, but the victory that has, is, and will be won over Satan through the Son of God. Our lives may not always evidence this victory. We may suffer, whether from illness or disease, from persecution or poverty, or even suffer persecution for holding fast to our faith in an age that has decided such a faith is an affront to more sensible ideals. The letter is not intended ultimately as a secret code to unlocking the hows and wheres and whens of the final defeat of evil, but rather to encourage we who must endure faithfully to the end whenever our lives unfold.

John 20:19-31 – The events of that first Easter Sunday continue to unfold in John’s gospel. The sightings of the resurrected Jesus are not limited to that morning at the empty tomb. They continue as Jesus visits his disciples as they huddle in fear. They are invited to witness the signs of his ordeal – the holes in his side, hands and feet. This they communicate to Thomas who finds their words too difficult to believe. So Jesus once again presents himself to his followers – including Thomas – a week later. Thomas’ skepticism is gone. He does not need to touch the wounds to know that this is his Lord.

Nestled in this familiar account, however, are important words from Jesus to his followers and to us, the Church in our time. Jesus conveys to his disciples the Holy Spirit and the command that they are to forgive sins, and they are capable of withholding that forgiveness. This is not intended as some coercive tool for them to wield, but rather is the continued outflowing of what Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death. Jesus requested the forgiveness of God the Father for those around him as He hung on the cross (Luke 23:34), forgiveness made possible only through the death of the innocent Son of God on our behalf. It is now the duty and privilege of the Church to continue to announce the forgiveness of God wherever there is repentance, and likewise to state the unforgiven state of the unrepentant sinner. The Church – with the presiding priest or pastor acting on behalf of the gathered people of God – is doing nothing more than repeat what Jesus himself promised, and only under the authority of Jesus as granted here to the earliest Church – his disciples.

Skynet Jams

April 19, 2019

In all the worries about robots and artificial intelligence (AI), one element we might have neglected to worry about – what will our robot overlords listen to as they attempt to eradicate humanity?  I mean, if humans use our musical jams to get us through workouts and other rigorous things, why not AI?

So here is a death-metal streaming YouTube channel.  The music is created non-stop by an online neural network.  Seems kinda appropriate for a bunch of robot warriors, doesn’t it?

 

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.

 

 

Empty Empathy

April 17, 2019

A great article on the decline of empathy in our culture over recent decades.

While I’ve identified as an empath and described at empathic by many people throughout my life, I never really gave much thought as to the history of that term (which is relatively recent) or more technical usage of it.  To me it just meant the ability to understand and respond to something another person was feeling or going through.  It’s a handy enough definition, and it avoids some of the technical and clinical definitions or nuances that I might be more hesitant to agree with.

I immediately thought about empathy in light of the Christian faith.  The Bible doesn’t utilize εμπάθεια, the particular Greek word from which the English term derives.  And yet it seems as though empathy is very much an expected response to the Gospel.  At a basic level, we are to have empathy with others as creations of a loving God, but sinful creations in the midst of a broken creation.  Our shared circumstances, existentially speaking, drive us towards empathy from the Biblical perspective as opposed to away from it.  Others might argue the Biblical injunction to love your enemy or offer forgiveness freely make no sense apart from a certain amount of empathy.  While I’m not sure I’d say it’s required, empathy certainly might help the process of obedience.

It isn’t surprising in a clinical book and on the NPR website that there is no effort to mention a correlation between a decline in empathy and the decline of Christianity in our country.  But I can’t help but think that they are very much directly related.

Christianity calls the individual out of themselves,  placing them in a larger communal context in the past, present and future.  Everything in the  Christian faith is, Biblically speaking, a matter of community.  And this continuous outward direction of the life of faith will help develop empathy with others if it isn’t something that was present in the individual prior to conversion.

It seems to me declining rates of empathy are indeed unsurprising where this counterintuitive life of faith is not practiced.  It is far more natural to not be empathetic to people I disagree with, fear, or dislike.  It is precisely for this reason that the life of faith as described in Scripture must direct me towards and empathetic posture to those around me.  Despite Richard Dawkins’ attempts to argue that empathy and altruism could be attributed to natural selection, we seem to be witnessing a return to a more natural human state, the state unmitigated by faith and trust in a God who created all things, redeemed all things, and is bringing all things to a conclusion.  If there isn’t anything beyond myself, existentially speaking, why waste the time and effort to try and understsand others, especially if I don’t like them or disagree with them?  Life is short, eliminate the negative baggage, as social media continually reminds us.

The conclusions drawn by the author of the book on this subject seem very much on point.  A lack of empathy can only lead to deeper division and polarization, something fatal to democracy.  This is, historically, where we’ve come from, and it appears to be where we’re returning to.  Our experience of “civil society” as Fritz Breithaupt, the author, describes it, is one inextricably linked to being people of faith, and particularly I would argue people either explicitly and personally Christian, or who embrace Christian ideals for ease and simplicity.  This association has long been recognized and noted by people such as Alexis de Tocqueville.

But we’ve either forgotten it or choose to ignore it.  The results are devastating.

Breithaupt’s solution, the development of a selfish empathy, is equally doomed to failure.  As we discovered with the ruse of tolerance in the last 20 years, people don’t act in one manner very long if they believe in something very different.  If you believe that you’re right and someone else is wrong, eventually this is going to come out in the wash and tolerance gets swept aside.  Likewise, pretending to be empathetic may work for a short while but will get smashed apart as soon as someone gets hurt or is rejected or otherwise sees no personal gain to be gotten from it.

Unless we are obedient to a Creator that tells us we were designed to live together and for one another and Him  rather than just ourselves, we are left with the meaninglessness of materialism and evolutionary theory and atheism which says there is nothing greater, no purpose to any of this.  And as such, we might as well just enjoy ourselves as much as possible for the brief span of existence we enjoy.  While the rule of law will prevent some people from taking that mindset to an unhealthy extreme, it cannot foster the positive sense of empathy that requires a meaning and purpose beyond oneself.