Saturday, December 07, 2019

All kinds of goodies to make your week

Actions speak louder than words for the Salvation Army. Their theology is traditional, but their outreach is to anyone, regardless of the lifestyle. Maybe progressives should rethink their condemnation of them. (But the Salvation Army is no stranger to criticism; it's history is riddled with it.). From Bloomberg:
Religious groups, regardless of their theology, provide assistance to millions who are unable to help themselves. Without religiously motivated volunteers, we would have scarcely any volunteer sector at all.
Read the whole article, but it is something to think about, isn't it? Meanwhile, N.T. Wright takes a look at US Christians; from the Atlantic:
Green [interviewer]: But if you’re talking to young people today, and you’re trying to introduce them to what Christianity is, they may say, “Okay, fine and well, in the horrible world of ancient Christianity, where it was a terrible thing to be a woman, sure, I can see the case for a restricted sexual ethic. But we live in a different time now.” How do you bridge that divide, and address the pain people feel?

Wright: With constant difficulties. The primary means of communication of the Gospel, I think, is through the communities that are living it, and by people saying, “Wow, that’s interesting. They seem like really nice people, what is it about them, and they were so helpful when the baby was sick, and we just like having them as neighbors.” And then it turns out it’s because they’re followers of Jesus.

It’s in that context that it makes sense to talk about Jesus. Part of the trouble is that we’ve lived in a split world. People talk about this heavenly Jesus, who may be a savior and will come down and rapture us or whatever, but he doesn’t have muddy feet: He doesn’t live in our world. He isn’t weeping with those who weep on the ground now. Followers of Jesus are called to be those who, as Paul says in Romans 12, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Read the whole thing; most refreshing. On the other hand, seems Grudem has changed his mind on abusive relationships, but for the wrong reasons.
A careful reading of Jesus’ teaching on divorce reveals that the welfare of women (and, by extension, their children) was of central concern. When the Pharisees asked Jesus in Matt. 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”, they were asking him to weigh in on a longstanding debate among Jewish teachers. And they posed their question precisely as men seeking to preserve male prerogative in a patriarchal society. In essence, they were asking, “Do we have the right to put aside our wives whenever we want, for any reason?”

One need not think very long about this to realize the serious problem with men thinking they are free to abandon their dependent wives for any reason. Such a scenario puts already vulnerable women and children in an even worse situation—literally one of life and death.

As usual, Jesus knows the motivations of his interlocutors, which is why his response to them is so firm: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (vv. 8-9). No, Jesus says. You cannot set aside your wife any time, for any reason. Adultery is the only reason for which you are excused in abandoning your God-given obligations to your wife.

We see here that the protection of the vulnerable party in the relationship—in this case, the wife—is Jesus’ primary focus. And that focus drives his instructions to the Pharisees regarding divorce.

Yep. As much as I'm a fan of knowing the original languages, that can't be an end in itself, which leads to this interesting post on Bernard of Clairvaux, via theLab:
Bernard’s brilliance is not his use of so-called critical methods but in the fact that, as a monk, he had prayed, read and studied the Sacred Scriptures so intently that his vocabulary is literally a biblical vocabulary. Bernard’s words are imbued with the words of Scripture. Bernard’s thoughts are rooted in the biblical text. In his own sermons, he speaks in such a way that almost every sentence has an echo of the Bible. In this way, we know that Bernard was absolutely awash in the Bible. He was a good biblical scholar because he was wholly immersed in the Word of God.
Not a bad idea. And while we're doing that, let's also be open to voices from unexpected places:
I don’t mean to identify a Huldah, Deborah, or Miriam already on the American religious scene. But if we’re going to learn any lesson from these biblical histories, it’s that time and energy spent legitimating those in power would be better spent listening for those who speak truth to power. If we dare to seek a historical type, let it be a Daniel, not a Cyrus; a Nathan, not a David; a Huldah, not a Josiah.
Here is a good post on oil and money and what the descendants of Rockefeller et al. are doing to roll back the mess their forbearers started.

Ron Sider, never one to avoid controversy, has a good list of questions to ask Democratic candidates.

And, if you can get past the front-loaded rhetoric, here is a good post on the ethics of self-driving vehicles and AI in general and whether we will trust it or not. From First Things.

David Fitch has a good post titled "On Living in These Antagonistic Times: Leading the Church to Be Christ’s Reconciling Presence" on Catalyst, which is a site worth bookmarking.

I just ran across this today, but the Wesleyan in me cries to hear it.

As we blogged about, working class Americans also have the lowest marriage rates, the highest percentage of single parenthood, have been most devastated economically by outsourcing jobs overseas, have the highest rates of drug addiction, and tend to live in blighted communities. All of this means a decline in “social activity,” which includes going to church.

Again, though, Berge documents that this social collapse and the gap between income levels has happened only recently (“since the mid-1990s”).

So the question remains, what happened to cause this?

And what can churches do to reach this biggest demographic of the unchurched? Lower income people are typically not hostile to Christianity, and many, including those who never go to church, consider themselves Christians. They are quite reachable. But today’s church growth strategies focus on attracting middle class suburbanites, well-educated Millennials, and other groups with lots of money. But, as I said in my earlier post, “The white working class is a field ripe for harvest. What is the church doing to harvest them?”

Ouch! And what about the humanities? Lots of arguments about what direction to take them. Here's a post in favor of "vocationalizing" them; and here's a post saying somewhat the opposite. As that network of propaganda used to say (do they still?), "we report, you decide"—although I hope I don't present just one side the way they do.

And a week wouldn't be complete without some technology going for evil. Can't seem to find that hot new item online? Maybe a Grinchbot bought it.

I won't link to the multiple Amazon-related posts that I read this week; too depressing. But, it does drive home the fact that when you worship money ($11 BILLION in profit last year), you will do anything to make more, including using people. And that brings me to the closing link, to a book entitled, of all things, Cheaters Always Win. From the description:

“Cheaters only cheat themselves,” so satisfying as a phrase, leads to nowhere. The one covenant that is in no way implicit, the deal that individuals have with themselves, is an impression left by their sense of morality. Being so deeply personal, it occupies a wide plain, impossible to see or to map. For that reason, the great religions leave it to someone more qualified, someone ethereal, to judge whether a person has cheated him- or herself. If Mr. X’s sole desire on this mortal span is to pile up money and he manages it by nefarious means, observers would be presumptuous in the extreme to suggest in a weak and yet hopeful voice that he had only cheated himself. In the flintier world of this study, we can’t say if Mr. X cheated himself, but we can certainly accuse him of being blithely aware that he was going to rook others, even before he did so.

The corollary is less often heard, perhaps because everyone already knows it, probably from experience. It tends to remain in the system a long, long time. It’s terribly un-catchy. The corollary: “Cheaters are fully aware in advance that they are going to stomp on someone else and they do it anyway.” That epithet is the second defining factor of cheating.

Did you catch that? “Cheaters are fully aware in advance that they are going to stomp on someone else and they do it anyway.” Ouch! It isn't an unintended consequence. It's part of the plan to get ahead. And on that note: Have a good weekend and week! (And stay optimistic because God is always at work in unexpected ways, as more than one of these posts makes clear!)

Friday, December 06, 2019

More wisdom from Wisdom

Wis. 6:1    So then listen, you rulers, and understand. Learn, you who judge the far reaches of the earth. 2  Pay attention, you who have power over multitudes, you who take pride in having power over throngs of nations.

Wis. 6:3    The Lord gave you authority to rule. The Most High gave you your power. He will watch carefully what you do and examine everything that you are planning. 4  You are merely stewards of his kingdom. If you don’t judge rightly, if you don’t keep the Law, or if you don’t act according to God’s plan, 5  then he’ll fall upon you very suddenly and very terribly. Judgment falls hard on those in high places. 6  Those who aren’t important may be pardoned out of compassion, but the powerful will be powerfully examined. 7  The ruler of all won’t back down from anyone. He won’t show any special consideration to someone whom others consider great. The ruler of all made both the small and the great, and he regards them all in the same way. 8  But a stern judgment will fall upon the ruthless.

Wis. 6:9    Yes, I’m speaking to you who rule with unbridled might so that you may learn wisdom and avoid going astray. (CEV)

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Wisdom from Wisdom of Solomon

9  Those who trust in the Lord will know the truth. Those who are faithful will always be with him in love. Favor and mercy belong to the holy ones. God watches over God’s chosen ones.

Wis. 3:10    The ungodly will get what their evil thinking deserves. They had no regard for the one who did what was right, and instead, they rose up against the Lord. 11  Those who have contempt for wisdom and instruction will be miserable. People like this have no hope. Their work won’t amount to anything. Their actions will be worthless. (CEV)

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Under the radar

It is fair to say that at most the Roman themes touched on in the prologue [to the Gospel of John] are implied rather than explicit. But this should not be surprising. Warren Carter and Tom Thatcher both draw on the work of James C. Scott to better appreciate the subtle ways in which resistance can occur. The forms of resistance are often very subtle, for good reason. Carter summarizes,
An expectation of explicit naming is unlikely in a text that originates with those subjected to imperial power and yet are concerned, in part, to contest it. The powerless rarely engage in direct and open confrontation but employ self-protective, calculated, disguised arts of resistance along with continual acts of accommodation. [Carter, John and Empire, 150]
Just because the allusions and engagement are subtle does not mean they are not significant.—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 165

Monday, December 02, 2019

The power of Rome?

The point of the Colossian hymn is that through the blood of Jesus this long-awaited new era has now begun. The comprehensive picture of Christ through the hymn is thus eschatological in the sense that what God does in and through Christ is a revelation to the world of the renewing actions of God.

In the context of Roman claims to have initiated a new era of peace and prosperity——what Maier has called a kind of “realized eschatology”—the Colossian hymn paints a vivid portrait of reality in which the new age has arrived through Christ. The new age has been inaugurated through the most unlikely of means: the cross. The Roman tool of fear and control has become the means of the triumph of Christ (cf. Col 2:15).—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 141

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Links of interest

This week's links will include stuff for the last two weeks. Last Saturday was the first day of AAR/SBL, so I was quite busy. That also means I didn't collect as many links as normal this week. Hopefully you will find something of interest to you.

For starters, Ron Sider reflects on Democrats and abortion:

Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g., on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.

Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania( and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in his circles, one did not dare even use the word “reduction” when talking about abortion. . .

This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal. 25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances.

One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion. . .

One final point. I do NOT think that abortion trumps all other issues. Universal healthcare is a pro-life issue. So are capital punishment, climate change, racial justice and effective poverty reduction programs here and abroad. One must evaluate the entire platform of candidates and decide which set of proposals on balance is better. People who seek a biblically balanced agenda in their politics will not be “one issue” voters.

Amen! And this one, from the Atlantic, about dishonesty in the abortion debate.
What I can’t face about abortion is the reality of it: that these are human beings, the most vulnerable among us, and we have no care for them. How terrible to know that in the space of an hour, a baby could be alive—his heart beating, his kidneys creating the urine that becomes the amniotic fluid of his safe home—and then be dead, his heart stopped, his body soon to be discarded.

The argument for abortion, if made honestly, requires many words: It must evoke the recent past, the dire consequences to women of making a very simple medical procedure illegal. The argument against it doesn’t take even a single word. The argument against it is a picture.

This is not an argument anyone is going to win. The loudest advocates on both sides are terrible representatives for their cause. When women are urged to “shout your abortion,” and when abortion becomes the subject of stand-up comedy routines, the attitude toward abortion seems ghoulish. Who could possibly be proud that they see no humanity at all in the images that science has made so painfully clear? When anti-abortion advocates speak in the most graphic terms about women “sucking babies out of the womb,” they show themselves without mercy. They are not considering the extremely human, complex, and often heartbreaking reasons behind women’s private decisions. The truth is that the best argument on each side is a damn good one, and until you acknowledge that fact, you aren’t speaking or even thinking honestly about the issue. You certainly aren’t going to convince anybody. Only the truth has the power to move.

But it's easier to shout at each other, isn't it? I am firmly prolife—from womb to tomb. That's why I am in favor of universal healthcare and against war. And that's why we need to address the inequalities in our society that force people to think that abortion is an option.

Ok, now for those of you who are sick of the "angry god" approach, take a look at this:

For Jesus, it’s not about whether we are sinners (he knows we are) or whether we are obedient to all God’s rules (he knows we aren’t). It’s about gratitude. We don’t deserve God’s grace, but God gives it to us anyway. We are healed. The challenge to us is whether we can live in gratitude. The challenge is for us to proclaim God’s ridiculous and excessive and undeserved grace for us sinners and thank God for it every day.
Now that is good news! And speaking of grace, Bob on Books reviews Grace Will Lead Us Home, about the Charleston church massacre:
I’m reminded of a Bible that was once my grandmother’s, probably looks much like Sanders Bible. She, like Felicia, loved the Bible, underlined many verses and wrote notes in the margins. She lived the Bible. I wonder how many in our churches are truly shaped by its message like the people in that Bible study, or like my grandmother. Instead of the disturbing messages that prey on fear, do they hear the Master’s “be not afraid.” Do they build walls or welcome the stranger and the alien? Instead of profiting from inequities, defining the world in terms of allies and enemies, and measuring one’s worth by what power one has, do they “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)?
And a tale of racial reconciliation with two churches, one primarily white, the other primarily black, merging.
Three years into the merger, The Refuge remains united. Pastor Jay’s congregation in Kannapolis now numbers around 4,000. And Pastor Derrick’s community has swelled to 250 families. Through their love of Christ and their love for each other, Pastor Jay and Pastor Derrick have guided their communities through any divisions that might threaten their unity.

Could theirs be a model for healing our nation?

You will have to click the link for the answer : ) But it's easier to yell at each other, isn't it?

Speaking of healing, Jesus Creed has a good post on "Dry Drunks":

I think most people in most congregations are dry drunks. Here’s what I mean by that. Most people come to Jesus in some kind of crisis. Something is going wrong in their lives and they cry out to Jesus, and Jesus in His mercy saves them. They aren’t struck by lightning. Demons do not pull them away into the darkness.

The crisis is averted. Things get better. Things aren’t healed, but they are better. Now, feeling better, the person stops right there. They have met Jesus, but they don’t follow Jesus. They may be born again, but they don’t grow again. They’re stuck right where Jesus found them. The wounds, left untended, fester into bitterness. Their anger slowly stews into bigotry and self-righteousness. They delight in pointing out the failures of others and seem determined to make sure everyone is as miserable as they are.

Ouch! Shifting gears a bit, is Kafka still relevant? Crooked Timber says yes:
“A cage went in search of a bird”

Franz Kafka certainly knew how to write a story. The eight-word aphorism he jotted down in a notebook a century ago reveals so much about our world today. Surveillance goes in search of subjects. Use-cases go in search of profit. Walled gardens go in search of tame customers. Data-extractive monopolies go in search of whole countries, of democracy itself, to envelop and re-shape, to cage and control. The cage of surveillance technology stalks the world, looking for birds to trap and monetise. And it cannot stop itself. The surveillance cage is the original autonomous vehicle, driven by financial algorithms it doesn’t control. So when we describe our data-driven world as ‘Kafka-esque’, we are speaking a deeper truth than we even guess.

And so on. Well worth the read. Shifting gears again, Roger Olson discusses theological knowledge among the average church-goer. Hint: there isn't much, even among those going to Christian colleges:
I have taught Christian theology for forty years—to college and seminary students. I have noticed a definite “thinning out” of their knowledge and understanding of the Bible and theology and one culprit, I strongly believe, is the demise of hymns. Very few “praise and worship” songs contain anything biblical or theological. They appear to focus on God but seem actually to be designed to evoke emotions.

I’ve said all this before. The great hymns of people like Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Isaac Watts, Charles Gabriel, Johnson Oatman, Jr., and numerous others of the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries contained powerful lyrics that taught about God, salvation, sin, eternity, heaven, etc. Some of those songs are being rediscovered and put to new tunes or given new arrangements by contemporary worship leaders. But most of the songs I hear for congregational singing in major metropolitan evangelical churches are repetitious, shallow and unsingable by anyone except the worship band musicians. (emphasis original)

Yep. And an Aussie talks about the different way we treat males and females who are well-known preachers:
Can us male preachers even begin to imagine what that would feel like?! Our sisters put up with a thousand times more criticism than us, much of it disrespectful, cruel, belittling and hateful, much of it focused on their very identity not just their actions.

Observing the criticism of Jory Micah’s video reminded me that her critics aren’t simply expressing a different interpretation of Scripture to her. They are attacking her with openly sexist taunts.

Whether you agree with women preaching or not, it is incumbent on every male church leader to condemn the cruel and vicious sexism behind the attacks on Jory Micah. (emphasis original)

What we need is less toxic masculinity and more godly behavior. And Roger Olson has some thoughts on that:
Kimmel rightly criticizes the old advice to men who feel neglected and are disaffected: “Man up!” He rightly says that is not helpful. We need to show them how to man up and he points back to President Obama’s strong effort to support new job training for both men and women in America’s community colleges—free. He blames the Republican controlled Congress for killing that effort.

In other words, Kimmel is sympathetic to the plight of many men in America who, rightly or wrongly, feel disenfranchised and turned to populism in the form of Trump and the Republican Party. He argues, however, that their hopes in that direction are misguided. The case is really that the programs of the Left are more likely to help them. It’s like a great delusion.

In yet other words, Kimmel believes and argues that it will be counterproductive for society simply to ignore white men’s (and their wives’) complaints or to demonize them because they elected Trump and the Republican Party. He calls for a dialogue between feminists and anti-feminist men (not crazy, radical, violent ones) and a coalition of the willing to at least attempt to hear each other and work together toward a better world where there is true and complete equality between the sexes but men do not feel left behind.

There's that word dialogue again. Rarely happens, unfortunately. It's much easier to yell at each other. Or shoot each other. Speaking of which, here's an idea, from Jim West, after listing nine things, he concludes:
The Second Amendment says that you have the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say you have the right to have bullets.
Elegant, but not going to happen. It's easier to yell at each other. And social media doesn't help. From the Atlantic again:
Many Americans may think that the chaos of our time has been caused by the current occupant of the White House, and that things will return to normal whenever he leaves. But if our analysis is correct, this will not happen. Too many fundamental parameters of social life have changed. The effects of these changes were apparent by 2014, and these changes themselves facilitated the election of Donald Trump.

If we want our democracy to succeed—indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising—we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s social-media platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve social media. (emphasis original)

Yep. But it's easier to yell at one another, isn't it?

How about the Mormons? They seem to be moving in the direction of orthodoxy, but before you rejoice too much, beware, says this blogger:

What I’ve written is only the tip of the iceberg regarding LDS heterodox beliefs, the sum of which is the “Restored Gospel.” The original true gospel had vanished at the end of the first-century apostolic era. That true gospel was then restored by Joseph Smith after some eighteen hundred years of apostasy. Really. I say it again. The “Restored Gospel” is Mormonism. Period.

Mouw blames Christians generally, and counter-cults specifically, for misrepresenting Mormon beliefs in an effort to malign them. I’ve encountered that myself. But Mouw misrepresents their beliefs in order to befriend and bolster them. Serious interaction with Mormons about their beliefs must be based on LDS scriptures and other official teachings, not on what a BYU professor might say. Smith’s visions and revelations contain startling instructions and information. . .

Definitely need to be cautious and watch for further developments on that front. I'm cautiously hopeful. Speaking of hopeful, there's a move afoot in some schools to revive the humanities:
The Cornerstone example demonstrates that the liberal arts can prosper even at a STEM-centered campus like Purdue. "We’re trying to show," said Reingold, that a liberal-arts education can be "central to the mission" even of a large, comprehensive research university.
I like that idea.

Finally, a look at how reporting influences attitudes. In this case, who's to blame in bicycle-car and pedestrian-car collisions. Mind you, they are not accidents, which implies they couldn't be prevented. They can be, but it isn't easy—and as we've seen in this series of posts, it's far easier to yell at each other, isn't it? Anyway, this post from Bicycling Magazine takes a look at how the way something is worded affects how people respond:

Version 1: The news story is pedestrian-focused; “Pedestrian struck and killed on east side.”

Version 2: The news story is driver-focused; “Driver hits, kills pedestrian on east side.”

Version 3: The news story is driver-focused and thematically framed; “Driver hits, kills pedestrian on east side as pedestrian deaths continue to increase city-wide.”

The researchers found that our current methods of reporting on traffic crashes, like in version one, influenced people to place more blame on the pedestrian; 43.1 percent of readers believed the pedestrian was at fault, while 50.2 percent thought the driver was at fault according to the first description of the scenario.

Yep. Blame the victim is the way it is usually reported. As a philologist and amateur linguist, I know words matter. Think before you speak/write. What response do you want? Hopefully it isn't outrage—but of course, it is easier to shout at one another, isn't it? Hmmm . . . seems to be a pattern here, doesn't it?

Ok, that's more than enough to ponder. Hope you had a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day, whatever it's historical origins (that's another series of posts that I won't be doing!).

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ah, the joys of travel (updated)

Well, after a very successful and good time in San Diego for the AAR/SBL conference, I am now experiencing the travails of November travel. I'm stuck in the airport of Fargo, ND after being diverted from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport because of blowing snow. My flight leaves here at 2:00 PM on Wednesday (later today), so it will have taken about 24 hours to get home. Probably longer by the time I clear baggage claim, pick up my car, etc.

Oh, the things we do to sell books! : )

Update: The flight actually left a bit before 4:00 PM. Because Sun Country doesn't normally fly out of Fargo, they don't have a computer system set up there. They had to physically check us off against a printed manifest. Also because they don't normally fly out of Fargo, they don't have a gate. The Sun Country flight that was ahead of us was supposed to leave at 1:00. It still hadn't left at 2:45. At that point, another gate became available and they shifted us over there. If they hadn't done that, we would have been there another half-hour or so.

I finally landed in Minneapolis-St. Paul at 4:30. I had done a reverse park, stay, and fly, so I called the shuttle. It took over an hour for the shuttle because of being so busy and the roads being somewhat slick. I finally got home around 7:30 PM CST. That made for a bit over 24 hours in travel time. . .