Monday, December 30, 2019

The lamb on the throne

Interestingly, as Steven Friesen [Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John, 198] notes, “John did not attempt to work out the relationship between the Lamb and the One on the throne through discussions of ontology or through abstract reasoning. His vision report works through the logic of worship and of apocalyptic symbol.” In this light, the strategic inclusion of hymnic praise is one means that John uses to paint a vision of past, present, and future in which the Christians of Asia Minor can locate themselves, form their communal identity, and live accordingly as worshipers of God and the Lamb.—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 215

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Thought for the day

People are not really rational animals. We are herd animals who are primarily driven by our emotions. This is true of the academy as well, although we do a better job pretending that it is all about the logic. Those who expect people to behave rationally are bound for frequent disappointment. Those of us committed to the quest for true objectivity are few and far between.—Ken Schenck

Friday, December 27, 2019

Tool of subjugation, or tool of freedom?

Here the present experience of the [Ephesian] community is in view and explicitly identified as one in which a former state of hostility has now been replaced by a state of peace and unity through the reconciling work of Christ. As we saw in the examination of Colossians, this peacemaking and reconciling was an accomplishment for which the Roman emperor was praised. Interestingly, here the Roman tool for subjugation of its enemies and the enforcement of peace among its conquered peoples, the cross, is the same tool through which Christ accomplishes his peacemaking work. As with the explicit mention of the cross in the Philippian and Colossian hymns, there may be a reference to Rome’s power here as well. The extent to which the Ephesians were presently experiencing the peace and unity that Christ’s death had made possible, or whether this was part of the author’s case for pursuing such unity, is an open question. But it is clear that the hymnic passage with its emphasis on unity has immediate application for the community (see Eph 4:3-16).—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, pp. 182–83

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

As promised, feel good academic stories

Last Saturday I said I would hopefully share some feel-good academic stories. Well, here are two from my days in graduate school.

As those of you who have done graduate work can attest, it can be a pressure cooker of stress. Between the intensity of the work and the financial strain of limited income, one sometimes feels overwhelmed. And sometimes you feel like a professor is gunning for you, or just doesn't care. Certain professors get reputations of being mean and impersonal, sometimes rightfully so, sometimes just because they have very high standards and that comes across as mean and uncaring. OK. Enough background. Here are two from my experiences, and a bonus that was told to me by one of my graduate professors.

I was in my second year of my Classics masters program at the University of Kentucky. Debbie was pregnant with Ryan and the morning sickness was pretty severe. Our cash was stretched to the breaking point. I had a TA position teaching first year Latin. I don't know how it works now, but in those days, TAs got in-state reduced tuition, not free tuition. And they required the tuition to be paid the month before the term started. It was December, and I didn't have the money for the tuition. I would get the extra cash two weeks after the deadline. I was wondering out loud to the department secretary, Sharon, what I was going to do when one of the Classics professors walked in. He heard what I was saying and offered to loan me the money to pay the tuition! I could pay him back in January, when classes started again. Talk about an early Christmas present!

The second story is set in Chicago, during my second year there. We lived in married student housing, just south of the Midway. We were in the habit of walking then, just as we are now. We would load the kids up in the wagon and pull them around the quads every evening. They would get out and walk some of the way, but mostly they rode. Occasionally, we would extend the walk to go to the store. At that time in Hyde Park there was a family-owned grocery on 56th or 57th Street. One January evening, with the temperatures in the zero degree range and falling (along with some snow), we walked to the store to get milk. On the return trip, about a block or so from the store, a car slowed down. The driver rolled the window down and called out my name, asking if we wanted a ride home. It was one of the toughest professors at the OI! He had a reputation of being extremely tough and students were scared of him. We turned him down because we're from Minnesota : ) But that offer meant more to me than I can explain.

OK. Final story. This was relayed to me by the ancient history professor at the University of Kentucky when I was there. He was a graduate student under Chester Starr back in the early 1960s. For those of you who don't know, Chester Starr was probably the best Classics history person in that time period. My professor was his graduate assistant. He told me that about once a week or so, Starr would throw him the keys to his Mercedes and tell him to take a drive. Starr said that he looked strained and might enjoy the break of driving a luxury vehicle.

Merry Christmas! Even Scrooge can be nice : )

Monday, December 23, 2019

He's not even mentioned!

For all of the empire’s grand claims for the emperor, he is not worthy even to be named but only to take his place in the shadow of the exalted Jesus of the Johannine prologue. Readers of John's Gospel are invited to embrace this exalted view of Jesus. As they encounter the words and works of Jesus in the Gospel narrative they are prepared by the prologue to understand that the work of Jesus as agent of God had its origins in the mythic past, before Rome, before Moses, before Abraham—“in the beginning.”—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 177

Saturday, December 21, 2019

In case you've been living under a rock this last week...

Christianity Today published an op-ed endorsing impeachment and removal of the current president. All that needs to be said was in that op-ed. Of course, the resulting onslaught of criticism is to be expected. When you put your hope in an idol, any idol, and that idol gets attacked, you fight back, right? That's what the Israelites did when Jeremiah confronted them. That's what happened to Amos when he confronted the Northern Kingdom. Of course, that doesn't make it any fun for the ones being attacked. Here's the final paragraph of the editorial:
We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.
Well said. Yes, I wish they had taken a stand years ago, but at least they did it now. Galli is well-aware that it probably won't make a difference in the general evangelical population. CT has always been a magazine for the evangelicals who tend to be more intellectually inclined.

Here's a couple responses that I would consider balanced: The Atlantic; John Fea has had numerous posts, but this one sums up the hypocrisy of certain "court evangelicals". I could link to others, such as Warren Throckmorton, but you get the idea.

The Anxious Bench reflects on Ron Sider and his influence. Summary statement at the end: "Ron Sider is still trying to evangelize the evangelicals."

Meanwhile, someone raised evangelical reflects on that heritage. Worth pondering. In my experience, people are always receptive to bringing up church history, the church fathers, etc. when explaining why a certain doctrine is the way it is, and why another one is incorrect. What they won't tolerate, though, is when I start drawing conclusions on how we should live based on those doctrines. In other words, keep it in the mind and you are fine. Touch my stuff, and you are in serious trouble. That seems to be a recurring theme, doesn't it? Genesis 3 anyone?

Speaking of that, remember the Wheaton professor who wore a hijab? Remember her name? I didn't think so; neither did I, but her life is slowly being put back together. A documentary is being made. Read the article for a small taste of what it must be like to be an Afro-American woman at an evangelical school who dares to say something less than acceptable to the alumni. Remember, for small evangelical schools, the alumni are what keeps the school afloat. As high as the tuition is at those schools, that doesn't pay the bills. Not even close. And the endowments aren't huge. I know; I went to one: Asbury College (now University). And over the years, I've watched the alumni at other small schools force those schools to give "the left boot of fellowship" to professors who said things they didn't like. Didn't matter whether what they said was true or not. Of course that shouldn't surprise us, should it? The Old Testament prophets wouldn't win any popularity contests, would they?

But the US evangelical scene isn't the only evangelical scene in disarray. Brexit, the never coming, never going away issue for the (un)United Kingdom has evangelicals there in disagreement.

And speaking of the UK, my favorite Classicist, who happens to have been born on my birthday (only a few years earlier), Mary Beard, reflects on the current status of higher education. Many good points there; do read it.

As long as we're in academia, how about a feel-good piece? Times Higher Education (THE) asks "Is there still a place for kindness in today’s harsh academic environment?" And then gives personal testimonies by academics on how little acts of kindness went a long way when they were just starting out. I'll have more to say on that next week (I hope) as I recount a couple from my past. Meanwhile, be sure to check it out; here's a taste:

This act of academic kindness occurred some years ago, but I only heard about it recently, from its beneficiary. She was teaching part-time at my university when, at short notice and in the middle of the marking season, she was shortlisted for a full-time post at another institution. Two of my colleagues—one a full-time lecturer, the other part-time herself—took all her marking off her so that she had time to prepare for her presentation and interview.

In their book On Kindness (2009), Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor argue that kindness is now seen as “a virtue of losers”. They attribute this to the ascendancy of free-market individualism, which has cultivated competitiveness and mistrust and led to “a life of overwork, anxiety, and isolation”.

If they are right, then kindness should also be endangered within the university. The new managerialism urges us to see ourselves as hard-nosed entrepreneurs competing for awards, grants and research time, while also making us feel that no amount of success will ever appease the gods of compliance. It makes the modern university not so much a cruel as a callous place, one where feeling harassed and stressed makes us thoughtless and self-absorbed. We are rarely unkind on purpose, but being unkind by accident usually has the same effect.

What is remarkable, though, is the doggedness of our desire to be kind. There is still room in academia for what A.H. Halsey, in The Decline of Donnish Dominion (1992), calls “commensality”, which literally means sharing a table and which he uses to mean that intangible sense of collegiality on which we thrive. Universities would grind to a halt without these millions of small, inconspicuous acts of goodwill.

On that same hopeful note, here is a nice advent meditation. A small excerpt, but it's a short enough piece you should read the whole thing:
Instead, Jesus completely disregarded the idea that the woman or himself were defiled, inherently capable of defiling others, or needed separation from others. The woman wasn’t an obstacle to overcome on his way to arguably more important tasks, nor was she an object of defilement he had to protect himself from. Jesus instead acknowledged and blessed her publicly then went on his way unflustered, undeterred.
Paranoid? Think you are being followed? Well, you probably are, but it's that smartphone in your pocket that's doing the following. And the data are being monetized to target you with ads for stuff you don't need, but probably think you want. Read this. Of course, I doubt you'll give up your phone (I won't), but at least consider turning off tracking on as many apps as you can. And, remember that the ads you see are designed to own you. You read that right. They aren't just trying to part with your money; they want your soul. They want you to buy into the lie that without stuff you are less a human.

OK. This is getting long, but I have three more links, all tied to bad practices by the current administration (and in one case, the past two administrations):

You've been lied to about the war in Afghanistan. OK, you already knew that, or at least suspected it. But the real crime is

The lack of accurate statistics should bother us, just as the misrepresentation of them should disturb us even more. But the greatest outrage over these numbers is the fact that the United States never seriously considered that they needed to document the loss of Afghan lives in the first place.

We need to stop and pause at this reality because within it is the entire reason why the war has become the disaster that it is today. The United States never cared about counting the bodies of dead Afghans caused by the war they started. They didn’t count the dead, they didn’t count the wounded, and they didn’t count the displaced or traumatized.

They didn’t count the Afghans because the Afghans didn’t count.

As Christians, that should bother us. 'Nuff said there. Next, the new rules about sexual assault on campuses. What? I can't even begin to describe how wrong that is. Ask any rape counsellor about that idea. Want the number of reported assaults to go down without actually doing anything to prevent them (and possibly even encouraging more!)? They just wrote the ticket.

Final link. The FCC is stealing part of the radio spectrum set aside for improving car, bicycle, and pedestrian safety and giving it to, wait for it, Facebook and other commercial entities. As if you don't already check your Facebook status too much! Here are the bullet points, but read the whole article for more details:

The FCC recently announced it was reducing the airwave spectrum for vehicle-to-vehicle communication in cars.

This technology is supposed to reduce the amount of car wrecks by communicating from car to car things like speed, acceleration, hard braking, and red lights.

The move could set back the forward movement of vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication in the U.S.

On that note, I'll end. This world is a mess, but Jesus is the hope. Someday, he will come back and set things straight, but in the meantime, we are called to live in love to our neighbors, praying for them and assisting them. All this can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us and through us. Don't forget that and fall into self-righteousness and pride—or despair that you don't reach some goal.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

So, is he or is he not?

Finally, does the prologue suggest that Jesus is the appropriate object of worship? In key places in the Gospel, a growing understanding of the identity of Jesus leads to belief in him, or in his name, and also to worship (e.g., the man born blind). Thomas’s confession is the climactic expression of a clarified understanding of Jesus’ identity: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). This belief in Jesus is what is already espoused in the prologue. The prologue constitutes a confession of Jesus as uniquely participating in the divine (Jn 1:1-2), the source of light and life (Jn 1:3-5), revealing God’s glory in his flesh (Jn 1:14), and the source of grace and truth (Jn 1:16-17). Recognizing that other Second Temple—period psalms embody the worshipful result that their authors promote (e.g., Sir 39:12-35; 4Q437; Pss. Sol.), it is not a stretch to imagine that the prologue itself reflects this same dynamic.” The prologue embodies the confession of an appropriate response by one who has seen God’s glory in Jesus and become a child of God. As a hymnic confession it models for the reader an appropriate response of worship. Even if not a preformed hymn itself, it nevertheless reflects the kinds of acclamations of praise that were the appropriate response of the community to the presence of the risen Jesus among them. The prologue does not tell us about early Christian worship; rather, it invites us into the narrative about Jesus and models a confessional response to the revelation of the glory of God in Jesus.—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, pp. 175–76 (emphasis original)

Monday, December 16, 2019

"…and dwelt among us."

The [Johannine] prologue itself touches on each of these aspects of worship, at least to a certain degree. First, the tabernacle imagery, related to the tent and to the glory of God, raises the issue of the location and focus of worship. Connections between the Greek verb skenoō and biblical passages such as Exodus 27:21, Leviticus 1:1, and Numbers 1:1 have been long noted. D. Moody Smith captures the connection with the verb skenoō and explains, “The very word suggests a subtle but important theme of the prologue and of the gospel, namely, that Jesus will become the place where the people will meet God, displacing the tent and its successor, the Jerusalem temple (cf. 2:19-21; 4:20-24).” [John, ANTC, 59] The glory of God is to be seen in Jesus (Jn 1:14), and Jesus is revealed to be the location and focal point of worship. This perspective is not unlike what we saw in Colossians regarding the dwelling of the fullness of God in Christ as a reference to the temple.—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 175

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Around the interlinks

If you are looking for comments on the happenings in Washington yesterday, look elsewhere. That said, is the church in a slumber? This RNS article thinks so:
Regardless of how you think about these movements [past awakenings/revivals] in American Christianity or how you divvy them up, the important point for our purposes is that despite their seemingly conservative religious bent — steeped in rhetoric of sin and redemption — there was, with notable exceptions, often enough a progressive moral, social and political agenda for its time.

How odd, then, that the current custodians of the evangelical movements would be seen, rightly this author judges, as anything but progressive and in fact stunting the work of churches to labor for greater freedom, inclusion, aid and equality of people as marks of a robust religiousness. Maybe the millennials are seeing what too many Christians are not.

Is it possible that we are living through “The Great American Slumber,” a time when too many churches are not pressing for the reform of the nation but lining their pockets, becoming court evangelicals and traveling around by private jets? Are these churches asleep while the youth of the nation are “woke?”

And what about all these continued assaults on the Salvation Army?
The first thing to know about the Salvation Army is that it is a church, founded by the Methodist preacher William Booth. He started his Salvation Army, with military ranks for its clergy, to reach the hungry and the needy through service. With more than 1.5 million members and a presence in roughly 130 countries, it is a spectacular example of, as Billy Graham once put it, “Christianity in action.”

As such, it obviously reflects Christian morality. “Soldiers, the core group among members,” one religious writer explained, “take covenant vows that cover doctrine, loyalty, willingness to evangelize and help the needy, and clean living (no alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography or profanity).” The army’s position that marriage should be between a man and a woman isn’t an exotic invention, but standard Christian teaching.

The idea that the Salvation Army has an anti-gay animus stems largely from its opposition to anti-discrimination laws that it worried would impinge on its conscience rights, and criticism over its policies regarding transgender people (especially the practice of some places of assigning people to male or female facilities depending on their gender at birth). The organization has made clear again and again, though, that its services are available to all.

Commenting on the scandalous Buttigieg bell-ringing images, the press secretary for the left-wing Alliance for Justice opined, “I know the photos are two years old, but still, I can’t help but wonder if Mayor Pete just looks at what LGBTQ activists have been working on for years and then chooses to spite it.” Or perhaps he was rational and broad-minded enough to appreciate the massive good done by one of the most admirable institutions in the country.

'Nuff said.

Heard about the latest example of our national love affair with fast cars? Bicycling magazine has this:

103 mph. That’s how fast three drivers recently went as they crossed the country in their successful attempt to break the informal “Cannonball Run” record for fastest crossing of the contiguous United States. The time: 27 hours and 25 minutes.

That 103 mph is not a top speed; it’s an average speed. And everything about the attempt—from the meticulous preparations designed not only to maximize efficiency but evade law enforcement, to how it’s being covered in the media—is a striking example of the slavish devotion we have to cars in this country, safety be damned.. . .

It’s clear that the drivers in the most recent attempt don’t fear punishment. They weren’t caught in the act, and while they’ve admitted flagrant speeding, and telematics from both the vehicle and the GPS systems they used would provide incontrovertible evidence, I don’t expect any enterprising prosecutor to subpoena that information.

Everything about the Cannonball Run, from its entitled, narcissistic beginnings to how we talk about it, exemplifies the worst excesses of car culture in this country. Maybe once, in some America of long ago, it had a purpose, but that’s gone now. It’s time for the Cannonball Run to die, before someone does.

Glad I wasn't on a bike when they went whizzing past. Or walking.

Shifting gears a bit, Ron Sider talks about the absurdity of Christmas:

The early Christians ran around the most powerful empire of the time saying their leader was in charge of the world.

To see the patent absurdity of this claim, just remember that the Roman empire at that time was perhaps more dominant over a huge part of the earth than any empire until America after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And this vast overwhelmingly powerful Roman empire was ruled by the almighty (divine) Caesar. The Romans had the best army in the world and they enforced Roman rule—ruthlessly!

Do read the rest for more perspective. Speaking of absurd, how about the guy who registered his bees as a service animal?

On a more serious note, a Scandinavian author takes on Nobel Prize winner Handke's Bosnian writings. Long read, but worth the effort.

And while we are on the theme of mass murder, the Houston police chief had a few choice words on the NRA, the GOP, and (lack of) gun control.

"You're either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you're here for the NRA," Acevedo said. "So I don't want to see their little smug faces talking about how much they care about law enforcement when I'm burying a sergeant because they don't want to piss off the NRA.

"Make up your minds," he said. "Whose side are you on? Gun manufacturers? The gun lobby? Or the children that are getting gunned down in this country every single day?"

Too simplistic? Maybe. But if you want to stop the murders, maybe it's time to get simplistic.

Speaking of simplistic, that seems to be the order of the day when it comes to evangelicals and the unwavering support of #45. Warren Throckmorton, no liberal in anybody's book, has this to say about the recent "worship leaders" convergence on Washington:

In October, no refugees were settled in the U.S. for the first time since the 1980s. There is an ongoing humanitarian crisis happening at our Southern border. Recently, a migrant teen boy died of the flu while in custody of U.S. Border Patrol. I could go on to discuss the Kurds and the faith community there that Trump left to be slaughtered by the Turks.

There is reason to believe the Administration’s rhetoric on human trafficking is faulty. Many of their policies toward migrants and refugees actually make trafficking worse. But because Christian leaders have stars in their eyes, they won’t challenge what they are being told or do any independent research. Because Trump and Pompeo say it, it must be true.

Christians are supposed to be monotheists. However, in the age of Trump, there are two gods in many of their lives, and as I have written before, Trump shall have the preeminence.

Along those lines of what a person is worth, Stephen McAlpine, an Australian blogger, muses on the recent euthanasia bill in his Australian state:
A signed off euthanasia bill—one of the most radical and invasive in the nation—may bring glee to the faces of its most vocal proponents, but the heart-aching decline of my dad that we allowed to occur, despite our misgivings and pain—brought grace to our hearts. I totally understand the heartache and despair of seeing a loved one die terribly. Indeed I see the challenge it presents to me, should I suffer a similar or worse pathway to death when it comes, as it inevitably will.

Yet, leaving that aside, if you have to choose between glee and grace in this increasingly graceless culture, then choose grace every time. Even if it means giving up some other choice or right that you wish to impose either on yourself or on others.

Speaking of grace, here is a thoughtful piece on Bonhoeffer by five different scholars. Read it!

On the happenings on the other side of the pond, Philip Jenkins asks how nations disappear. He is of the opinion, as an ex-pat, that the United Kingdom is about to disintegrate:

In some ways, this takes us back to the Middle Ages, when Europe’s nations were such fragile things, adding to people’s need for a higher religious loyalty. That is why they turned so readily to “Christendom,” the Res Publica Christiana, a true overarching unity and a focus of loyalty transcending mere kingdoms or empires. Kingdoms such as Burgundy, Wessex, or Saxony might last for only a century or two before they were replaced by new states and dynasties, but any rational person knew that Christendom simply endured. We grew up thinking we lived in a very different kind of modernity, based on the nation state – but maybe we don’t, and perhaps we never really did.

Nations are imagined communities, and sometime they unimagine themselves. It can happen very quickly. Thank heaven the United States could never evaporate like the United Kingdom seems to be doing. Well …

Shifting gears a bit, I'm familiar with the backstory on "O Holy Night," but I had never before read the literal translation of the French original. Mike Frost has it. And it's even more powerful than the version we sing. Take a look at what reading the Gospel of Luke can do for you. Careful! You might be forced to modify your opinions on things! But, as N.T. Wright observes (somewhere!), the Gospels are powerful weapons.

Another long read, but definitely worth the time, is this look at the dramatic increase in the number of kids (boys especially) diagnosed with ADHD. Here's the intro, but don't avoid the whole article; it doesn't deny that ADHD exists, it looks at how we got where we are and if there are alternatives to drugs (hint: there are, but it requires time and energy):

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to "normalize" them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It's time we recognize this as a crisis.
Meanwhile, at the Scholar's Kitchen, David Crotty reflects on the loss of shared cultural moments.

This, and other things I've been reading lately lead me to ask: Are we losing too much in a digital world? Can we retain the good while mitigating the bad? I don't know the answer to that, but I leave you to ponder it as we continue through Advent and approach Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2019

For those who have ears to hear!

Sir. 13:1    Whoever touches tar will get dirty,
and those who associate with the arrogant will become like them.
2 Don’t lift something
that’s too heavy for you,
and don’t associate with people
who are more powerful and rich
than you are.
What does a clay pot have in common
with a metal cauldron?
The one will knock against the other
and be shattered.
3 Rich people inflict injury,
but then act as if they’re the ones
who have been wronged;
the poor suffer injury,
but they’re the ones
who must apologize.
4 If you are useful to the rich,
they will work with you,
but if you are in need,
they will abandon you.
5 If you own anything,
they will live with you;
they will exhaust what you have,
and they won’t suffer.
6 If they need you, they will deceive you
and smile at you and give you hope;
they will speak nicely to you and say,
“What do you need?”
7 They will embarrass you
with their fine foods,
until they have cleaned you out
two or three times over.
In the end they will mock you,
and after these things,
they will see you and abandon you
and shake their heads at you. (CEV)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

But it's already here!

The [Johannine] prologue’s focus seems to be almost entirely on the latter notion (renewal) rather than on the former (judgment). Its focus also concerns more the past (remembering history) and the present (shaping identity) than the future. This is not to say that prologue does not suggest a particular vision of the future. It does. However, it is a future that is based on the present reality that the community is already experiencing. In theological terms, it is a realized eschatology. The community does not need to wait to see the glory of the exalted Jesus before whom every knee will bow and every tongue acknowledge his lordship (Phil 2:10). That glory has already been revealed in the recent past and the present: “we have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14). As Raymond Brown puts it, “The Gospel very clearly regards the coming of Jesus as an eschatological event which marked the change of the aeons.”—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, pp. 171–72

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Thought for the day

Sir. 4:1    Don’t deprive a poor person’s life,
and don’t avoid looking
the needy in the eyes.
2 Don’t grieve a hungry person,
and don’t make a person
in dire straits angry.
3 Don’t trouble an angry person,
and don’t put off giving to the needy.
4 Don’t keep rejecting the plea
of someone in distress,
and don’t turn your face
away from the poor.
5 Don’t turn your
eyes away from someone begging,
and don’t give anyone an opportunity
to curse you.
6 If some curse you
in their bitter circumstances,
the one who made them
will hear their prayer.

A thought experiment

Riffing on the theme of the $11 billion that Amazon had in tax-free profits last year, and adding the couple of thousand that they received in tax rebates, I decided to see what would happen if they lowered their target quotas for the warehouse by 10 percent. According to the information that I could find, they have about 125,000 full-time warehouse employees. That might not be totally accurate, but we're doing back-of-the-envelope type of estimates. That means they would have to hire another 12,500 warehouse employees to make up for the lowered productivity.

Now, we're not going to include the cost savings they would incur from not having as many injuries, replacement training time, administrative savings, etc. Those are real, but too hard to calculate for our purposes. So, based on 12,500 new employees, at $15/hour, 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year, they would incur an extra $390 million in wages. Now, for a normal corporation, that would be a burden, but all we did with Amazon is wipe out their tax credits. They still make $11 billion in profit. Probably more, because, as I said, the hidden costs of injuries and replacements would be minimized.

Now, just for the sake of "what-if," suppose they raised the wages of every warehouse employee by $5.00. What would that cost them? Well, around $1.5 billion. Again, for a normal corporation, that would be the difference between profit and loss. But for Amazon, it would lower their tax-free profits to a cool $9.5 billion. I think they could survive on that, although it might be tough. . .

Perhaps with that $9 billion, they could next consider being humane to their "last-mile" providers? I know, I'm asking for them to be human, and their algorithms aren't human. But, every algorithm has its original in a human presupposition. Algorithms aren't amoral. Think about that for a while and then buy local when you can.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Greater than the emperor

As we have seen, Roman claims about the emperor include notions that the emperor is creator of the new world, that his rule is divinely sanctioned, that he reveals the will of the gods, and that he is a gracious benefactor. The [Johannine] prologue shows instead that Jesus takes precedence over the emperor in each of these domains. The prologue demonstrates Jesus’ priority over the emperor by starting its hymnic acclamation not with his birth but rather much, much earlier: “in the beginning” (Jn 1:1). This appeal to antiquity prior to Rome follows a strategy used by other subjects of Rome’s rule who sought to show that their way of life preceded the rise of Rome. The prologue presents Jesus as God’s agent of creation in all that exists, including benefactions to humanity such as life, light, grace, and truth. As such his actions and benefactions are unmatched by the emperor.—Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns, p. 166

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