Saturday, September 29, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: Fahrenheit 11/9, Iran-U.S. Friendship, EU Austerity and the Collapsed Bridge, Hospital Monopolies

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

Counterpunch: “Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics,” by Louis Proyect.

Reviews Michael Moore’s newest film about the Trump victory, while contrasting current Democratic Socialist candidates with old-style socialists.

Vridar: “Iran, Iran, If Only We Had Been Friends,” by Neil Godfrey.

Iran was standing beside the U.S. soon after 9/11, ready to help the U.S. take on the Taliban.  Then President Bush said Iran was part of the “Axis of Evil.”

Consortium News: “Privatization, the EU and a Bridge,” by Andrew Spannaus.

The EU’s austerity measures hinder Italy from making necessary infrastructure improvements, with dire results.  Yet, the article acknowledges that Italy is mired in waste and bureaucracy and has lots of debt.

The Federalist: “Why Hospital Monopolies Are What’s Wrong with American Health Care,” by Christopher Jacobs.

To quote the subtitle: “Obamacare’s crony capitalism—allowing hospitals to grow their operations in exchange for political endorsements—continues to contribute to higher premiums.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

Addendum on Mein Kampf: Hitler on Religion

This post is an addendum to my Book Write-Up on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  This post will briefly discuss Adolf Hitler’s views on religion, as they are expressed in this book.  This is significant because of contemporary debates about Hitler’s religion, as some regard him as a Christian, others see him as an atheist, and others label him a pagan or an occultist.
  1. Hitler frequently refers to “Fate” thrusting him into situations rather than “God.” At least one time, he referred to the “gods.” This could be a literary device, or perhaps he is giving a nod to paganism, as some suggest.  Occasionally, Hitler refers to God, as when he states that, by opposing the Jew, he is doing the work of the Lord
  2. Hitler expresses admiration for the Catholic church because it commands the loyalty of so many people, from so many walks of life.
  3. Hitler also sees a valuable place for religion in German society: it provides people, especially the working class, with a moral code.
  4. Hitler makes use of the Bible when it suits him. In criticizing the Jews, he refers to Christ’s cleansing of the Temple.
  5. As was stated in my Book Write-Up, Hitler criticizes the Jews for their disbelief in an afterlife. Adherence to a belief in personal immortality, in his eyes, is a mark of strength and ennobles human beings.  Jews, in Hitler’s mind, focus on gain in this life and seek to undermine humanity for the sake of power.
  6. I do not recall Hitler saying anything about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Hitler says that the Jews are incapable of forming a state of their own, since they are ruthless towards each other, so they gain power by being parasites on the accomplishments of others.  As I said in my Book Write-Up, though, I wonder how Hitler would reconcile that sentiment with the existence of an Israelite state in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.  Would he deny that the biblical Jews were the ancestors of the Jews of his day, as some anti-Semites today claim that modern-day Jews are descended from the Khazars (converts to Judaism) rather than the biblical Jews?  But that would run contrary to Hitler’s appeal to Christ’s cleansing of the Temple in his attempt to justify anti-Semitism, since the Khazars converted centuries later than the time of the historical Jesus.  I recall a book that I read years ago for a paper, Theologians Under Hitler, and one such theologian argued that Christ was not a Jew because Galilee was populated by other people.  Is this what Hitler thought?  Another reason that I wonder what Hitler thought about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is that some contemporary anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish writings are quite critical of the biblical Jews or the ancient Israelites, including such luminaries as Moses.
My impression in reading this book is that Hitler was not particularly religious himself, but he saw religion as a valuable tool.  What he prioritized was the German people and nation.

I hesitantly leave open the comments, in case someone has new information to add.  I will not continually re-edit this post in light of new information, though.  Snarky and snotty comments will not be accepted.

Book Write-Up: Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler

I finished Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  I cannot say that I understood all of it, but here are some items, based on my impressions of what he was saying.  The wikipedia page about the book may offer more clarity, but I have not read it yet.  This post is simply a record of what I got out of the book, as I interpreted it.

A.  The introduction to the edition that I read was written by Abraham Foxman, who has served as director of the Anti-Defamation League.  Foxman states that “Mein Kampf‘s existence denies the free world the excuse of ignorance.”  A question that I asked in reading this book was: Are the things that Hitler did—-invading Europe, the Holocaust, forming an alliance with Italy and Japan, dictatorship—-foreshadowed at all in Mein Kampf?

Some reflections:

—-I cannot recall a passage in which Hitler explicitly says that non-Aryan races should be eliminated.  This wikipedia article states that there are such passages, but its endnotes cite sources that refer to Mein Kampf, not Mein Kampf itself.  At the same time, Hitler does seem to oppose non-Aryan races being among Germans.  A criticism that Hitler has of the Hapsburgs in Austria is that they allowed a lot of Slavs into the country and diluted the German community that was there.  While Hitler notes that whites rule non-white peoples in South America in arguing for white superiority, he also laments that the whites there have intermarried with non-white peoples, thereby (in his opinion) diluting the white race.  He respects the United States for its restrictive immigration policies and prevalent white population, which he believes have contributed to its advancement as a nation.

—-Hitler despises the Jews.  He says that, at first, he was not anti-Semitic, but certain developments led him to embrace anti-Semitism.  He did not care for the press because it was not nationalistic enough, as it acknowledged the perspectives of other countries and spoke against the German war effort in World War I.  Hitler believed that Jews ran the mainstream media, and he thought that the anti-Semitic media made more sense in speaking about German problems.  Hitler was opposed to Social Democracy and Marxism, initially because of the fanaticism of their adherents, but eventually because he concluded that Marxism threatened German culture.  Hitler speaks sympathetically about workers and trade unions in this book, and what he professes to support is National Socialism, a nationalist movement of workers, rather than the non-nationalist Marxist movements; while Hitler appears to support German businesses, he also speaks for a parity of wages and against materialism.  Hitler noticed that a number of Jews were in the Social Democratic and Marxist movements that he opposed.  Hitler speaks about Jewish finance.  He laments that the stock exchange has supplanted German businesses in Germany, and he maintains that Jews are seeking, and in some cases already possess, financial control over Europe, Asia, and America.  For Hitler, Marxism is one if its tools, since Marxism destroys German culture and society and leaves Jewish finance to pick up the pieces; so is race-mixing, which Hitler regards as the dilution of the Aryan race, which has contributed significantly to culture.  Hitler thinks that Jewish finance has especially targeted Germany because Germany is a bulwark against its ambitions, or Germany at least has the potential to be this if it gains strength.  Hitler makes other criticisms of Jews: that they are ruthless against each other, that they prevaricate, that they sow dissension among the German states, that they contribute to the degeneration of art (i.e., cubism), that they were not out in the trenches with Germans in World War I (which is untrue), and that they profit from war.  He takes a swipe at Jewish disbelief in an afterlife, seeing a belief in an afterlife as ennobling.  He even says that Jews cannot form a state, since they are parasites as opposed to being constructive.  This puzzled me, since what would Hitler say about the Israelite state in the Bible?  Hitler believes that the Jews worldwide are such a problem, that I would say that, in a sense, Mein Kampf foreshadowed the Holocaust.  Hitler speaks candidly about his support for the annihilation of France, after all, and he deems France to be a mere puppet of Jewish finance.

—-Something that was surprising: Hitler does not advocate eliminating disabled or weak Germans.  He simply says that they should adopt children rather than reproducing themselves.

—-Are Hitler’s imperialist ambitions and alliances foreshadowed in Mein Kampf?  Hitler states that Germany is over-populated and needs more land.  He definitely wants Germany to take back the land that it lost as a result of World War I.  He speaks belligerently about France.  He talks about Germany being the leader of the world, but he is unclear about whether that means Germany conquering the world, or Germany merely exercising influence over the world.  Overall, he supports alliances, especially with England and Italy, and he believes that such an alliance can successfully undermine French hegemony in Europe.  Hitler speaks favorably of Fascist Italy, believing that it has resisted Jewish control.  He appears somewhat critical, yet understanding, of English friendship with Asia in order to resist America, yet he states that Jewish finance seeks to undermine Japan.  Here, he manifests a sympathetic attitude towards Japan, which he still regards as inferior to the Aryans.  He does not seem to care for the prospect of a German alliance with Russia, for he regards Communist Russia as the tragic result of a bloody revolution that eliminated the talented.  Some of this foreshadows what Hitler later did—-e.g., ally with Italy and Japan, invade Russia.  Some of it, not so much—-e.g., forming a German alliance with England.  Hitler also speaks frequently about the German struggle to survive, and this may hint at a support for German belligerence and imperialism.

—-Hitler expresses disdain for parliamentarian government.  He doubts that a bunch of heads coming together can lead anywhere constructive, and he states that having a single ruler is best.  Such a form of government would attract the right person, he claims, because the weight of responsibility would only be assumed by someone who sincerely desires to help his country.  This may foreshadow his authoritarianism.  At the same time, he uses buzzwords such as “freedom” and “tyranny,” claiming to support the former and to oppose the latter.

B.  Hitler opines about a variety of issues.  He believes that memorizing a bunch of vocabulary words to learn a foreign language is a waste of time and that it is better for schools to teach the structure of grammar: that is more easily remembered and can form a foundation for people to learn a foreign language, if they feel so inclined.  He laments the prevalence of syphilis and believes that Germans getting married at a young age can counter that.  He also offers thoughts on effective propaganda: be clear about the message rather than acknowledging other perspectives and appeal to the workers rather than the bourgeoisie, whom Hitler deems to be lukewarm and spineless.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Church Write-Up: Deep and Wide, Unity, Concrete Blessing, Fruit, and Reality

Here are some items from Wednesday’s LCMS Bible study.

A.  One of our texts was Ephesians 3:17-18, in which Paul hopes that Christians will grasp the height, depth, length, and width of the love of Christ.  One lady’s Bible said that this means that God’s love can touch whatever situation we are experiencing.  The pastor observed that height, depth, and width makes the shape of a cross, which highlights that it is through the cross that we experience Christ’s love.  But the cross is significant in another respect, the pastor continued.  While we hope to bypass suffering, it is in our suffering that God shows us God’s love, sometimes in ways that we do not know.  We also discussed the Book of Esther.  God is not mentioned in that book, but Mordecai had confidence that the Jews would be delivered, perhaps because he recognized that God chose the Jewish nation for a purpose and made promises to her.  God was at work behind the scenes, as is the case in the world and in our lives.  God meets us in our pain and uses it: our pain can encourage us to pray for others in pain, and our mistakes can encourage us to pass on forgiveness to others.

B.  A theme in Wednesday’s study was unity in Christ.  The pastor believes that Paul wrote Ephesians and that it was relevant to the Judaizers controversy.  The pastor compared the controversy to the situation of the LCMS in the 1950’s.  People were moving to rural areas and suburbs, and more were joining LCMS on account of its schools.  The long-standing Lutherans felt that these newcomers did not grasp what it meant to be Lutheran.  Similarly, the Judaizers in Paul’s days saw Gentiles coming into the church and thought that the Gentiles were detached from the roots of Christianity, namely, the Torah.  They believed that the Gentiles needed to become circumcised Torah-observant Jews to be Christians.  Paul, however, was saying something different.  Paul proclaimed that Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death, so they are one people.  Jewish traditions that separated Jews from Gentiles, such as the tradition that kept Gentiles from the Jewish sections of the Temple, are invalid, as Jews and Gentiles are equal worshipers of God within the body of Christ.  The pastor also talked about Gnosticism and likened that to the Jesus movement in the 1970’s.  There were people who were differentiating between regular believers and “disciples,” as if the latter were superior.  People who have intense spiritual experiences can fall into the trap of thinking that they are above other believers.  Paul in Ephesians 3:17-18, however, encourages Christians to see the love of Christ as all that they need.

C.  Another of our texts was Jeremiah 17:5-8.  Those who trust in human beings are like a destitute plant in the desert, whereas those who trust in the LORD are like lush trees planted by the waters.  The pastor said that Jeremiah was contrasting looking to alliances for preservation from Babylon with trusting in God.  The pastor also said that the Hebrew word for blessed here means a physical blessing, not the state of happiness that the Sermon on the Mount is talking about.

D.  Another text that we discussed was John 15:5, where Jesus affirms that he is the vine and his disciples are his branches, and those who abide in him bear fruit.  In 14:31, Jesus says, “Arise, let us go hence” (KJV), and the pastor speculated that Jesus may have spoken the words of John 15 on the way to Gethsemane.  He and his disciples may even have passed grape vines, and Jesus used them as a teaching opportunity.  A lady’s Bible notes said that the fruit of John 15 is not just converts but answered prayer, joy, and love, which are mentioned in John 15-16.  The pastor replied that the entire Christian life is the fruit of abiding in Jesus.

E.  People were sharing stories about loved ones’ experiences with natural disasters.  One lady said that relatives are currently in a hotel because their home has been destroyed, and the head of the household is not the sort of person who likes disruption.  Someone else told of when his brother lost his job and his house due to a natural disaster and, years later, he is still shaken by that.  These are horrible experiences, but something that I appreciate about this church is that I get to hear about the real world.  Amidst this reality, people are still faithful.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Church Write-Up: Friendship with the World vs. Agape

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church services and events:

A.  The theme for the LCMS service was taken from James 4:8a: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (KJV).  The youth pastor said that, when we ask God for something and we do not get what we want, that is still okay because at least we are drawing near to God by making the request.  I like that concept because it implies that any prayer that we make is welcomed by God and is not wasted: it is accomplishing something, namely, bringing us closer to God, since we are sharing with God our desires.  I think that the concept is broadly Scriptural, as there are passages encouraging people to bring their needs and their requests to God.  In terms of the Epistle of James, though, I wonder how it fits with vv. 2-3: “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”  It coincides with v. 2 because it suggests that not receiving is a result of not asking, so it encourages people to ask.  Yet, the next verse says that there is such a thing as asking amiss, so that one might consume what one hopes to receive on one’s lust.  The verse after that appears to focus on the attitude behind prayer: not praying with an attitude of friendship towards the world, or an alignment with worldly values and desires.

I will sneak in a thought from the Sunday school class.  The pastor there was talking about I John and the difference between agape and phileo.  Agape is a giving love that originates from God and is exemplified by God’s love for us in sending Christ to die for our sins.  Phileo is friendship, which can easily be conditional: you do good to me, and I will do good to you.  The pastor was musing that perhaps the concept of friendship with the world implies a hope of redemption, because the friendship with the world is merely philia, which is not as strong of a devotion and attachment as agape.

A few weeks ago, I shared an old post that I wrote, which referred to the scholarly view that agape and phileo are interchangeable rather than distinct.  LXX II Samuel 13:1, 15 challenges the idea that agape is always some lofty form of love, for it refers to Amnon’s love for Tamar, whom he raped then rejected.  Still, could there be something to the pastor’s insight, and the thought of many Christians who differentiate between agape and phileo?  There is a love that Christians have, or are supposed to have, that is rooted in the Gospel, the self-sacrificial, others-oriented love that God showed and shows to us. That love goes beyond the quid-pro-quo of friendship and affection.  It is a stronger commitment to the well-being of others, planted and rooted in Gospel territory.  In addition, could not our friendship with the world be described as a conditional devotion or affection?  We are affectionate towards the world as long as it gives us what we want or makes us feel a certain way.

B.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the sermon was a mixture of references to Nehemiah and to the “work out your own salvation” concept in Philippians 2:12.

The pastor used two cups as an illustration.  One cup is how we see ourselves, based on our flaws.  We may recognize that we are lustful, or bitter, or alone.  The other cup concerns what we have in Christ: God, in Christ, sees us as righteous.  Which view do we live out?  The pastor put one cup into another, and the other cup into the other one, and that represented which cup takes center stage in our lives.  Christ may be inside of us, but do we work out the implications of that, living out God’s love and approval of us, or are we burdened by self-condemnation?  The pastor compared this to the walls in the Book of Nehemiah.  They were intended to keep the Jews safe from attack, so they were associated with salvation.  But, like Christians, the Jews rebuilding the walls were assaulted by various forces: commitment to the status quo, mockery, and intimidation.  The pastor said that small groups are an important part of the Christian’s battle, for that is where Christians can encourage and remind each other of who they truly are.  The pastor observed that Philippians 2:12 is second person plural: it is addressed to the community, not just individuals.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: Yemen, Obamacare and Netflix, Bernie vs. Debs

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

TomDispatch: “The American War in Yemen,” by Rajan Menon.

The saddening story about the U.S.-supported war in Yemen, which has resulted in numerous civilian casualties.

The Federalist: “How Obamacare Is Making the U.S. Health-Care System Run Like Netflix,” by Adam Barsouk.

According to Barsouk, Netflix makes its own movies, and it skimps on quality for the sake of profit: the company wants to make money from subscribers, without spending a lot on production.  Similarly, Obamacare, in an attempt to contain costs, limits people to a particular network.  They cannot go outside of that network for care that may have more quality.  Barsouk also criticizes insurance company-run health care providers, as they seek to skimp on care in order to make more profits for the insurance companies.  Interesting analogy.  I read an article a while back that said that combining health insurance companies and health care providers into one is the way to go because, that way, both would not be waging war with each other, with the providers wanting to allow more treatments and thus make money, and the insurance companies wanting to deny treatments for the sake of their own bottom line.  But there are disadvantages to combining them into one.  Progressives, of course, would say that this is why we need to get profits out of the U.S. health care system.  On Netflix, I like some of its original programming, especially the Marvel series (i.e., Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist).  And, of course, there is Stranger Things!

Counterpunch: “When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid,” by Bruce E. Levine.

Levine argues that Bernie is too much of a warmonger and has become a shrill for the Democrats.  His old hero, Eugene Debs, by contrast, started out as a Democrat and came to see the system as corrupt.  There were people during the 2016 election who were saying that Bernie is not as progressive as people think.  Maybe.  Still, I am glad that he gave Hillary a run for her money!  And I will not apologize for feeling that way.  On his becoming a shrill for the Democrats, he may think that is the best option for the country: for him to work within the system and to move the Democratic Party further left.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Story of Christian Theology, by Roger E. Olson

Roger E. Olson.  The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform.  IVP Academic, 1999.  See here to purchase the book.

Roger E. Olson teaches theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, which is at Baylor University.  In this book, Olson tells the story of Christian theology from the second through the twentieth century.

The book is organized chronologically rather than topically, but among the topics that it engages are: the tension between an emphasis on grace in salvation and an emphasis on good works; Christological debates about the relationship of the Son to the Father and the divine and human nature within Christ; ecclesiastical evolution and disputes over the primacy of the Bishop in Rome; monergism vs. synergism; the presence of Christ in the sacraments; the tension between emphasizing orthodoxy and emphasizing personal piety; the relationship between Christian theology and philosophy and, later, modernism; and liberation theology.

The book is very lucid.  There were some thinkers whom I failed to understand, such as those who posited that God’s existence was somehow contingent on the world.  Olson explained them as best as he could!  Overall, the book effectively broke down the thoughts of major Christian theologians throughout history.  Olson admits that this book is not a comprehensive treatment, but it does provide the gist of what prominent theologians have argued, and this can provide a crucial foundation and context for further study.

Olson managed to phrase issues in a manner that I found clear.  For instance, I have wondered how exactly to define Nestorianism and to differentiate it from what became orthodoxy.  It says Jesus had a divine and human nature.  What’s wrong with that?  But Olson explained that Nestorianism presented two personages as present within Jesus: a divine being and a human being.  Another question that I have had concerns who experiences prevenient grace, according to Arminianism.  Is it only those whom God chooses to woo, or is it everyone?  Olson states that, according to Arminianism, everyone does, on some level.

The book also conveys that there are nuances, without getting lost in a mess of details.  While it seems to acknowledge that a belief in Jesus’ divinity goes back to the first century CE, it states that the conception of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were different in the Shepherd of Hermas and Athanasius’ writings than in what came out in orthodox Trinitarianism.

Olson also corrects common misconceptions, as when he states that deists believed in a God who could interfere in the cosmos.  He also addresses questions that some may be afraid to ask, thinking they are dumb questions.  For example, does Black Liberation Theology hold that only black people will go to heaven after they die?  Olson’s willingness to engage this brings the book down to an accessible level.

Olson is not afraid to share his views, here and there.  He characterizes the Shepherd of Hermas as legalistic, seeing it as a departure from Paul’s message of grace.  He tends to root for the orthodox Trinitarian side.  He sees the Council of Orange as a mess when it comes to the issue of predestination.  He is skeptical about Process Theology.  While Olson is known as an Arminian theologian, he is not particularly negative towards monergism in this book.  Even when discussing positions that he may not hold, he tries to get inside of the heads of their adherents and convey their point of view, as when he explains the development of liberal theology.  At times, Olson discusses the effects of past disputes on the present, as when he maintains that the U.S. religious culture is privately pietist and publicly deist.

There were things that I learned in reading this book.  For one, Olson states that Celsus, against whom Origen argued, may have been raised in a Christian household.  Second, there was the issue of nominalism.  Nominalism believes in particulars, not categories.  As Olson explains, this has profound ramifications on Christian theology.  If there is no category of divinity, for example, what does that do to the Trinitarian model in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one what and three whos?  There is no longer a what called divinity!  There are only three distinct whos, and saying they are one because they share a divine nature is precluded, under nominalism.  Is there such a thing as goodness?  Olson shows that nominalism led to a divine-command model of ethics: something is right simply because God commands it, not because it is right in itself, according to some category called “right.”  According to Olson, such an idea influenced Martin Luther.  Olson explained nominalism well, but I have a hard time believing that Luther rejected the idea that God is good.

This book covers a lot of territory, but in an accessible manner.  It is a go-to book, yet it is more than a reference book, as Olson provides a compelling narrative and displays his love for the subject matter.  There are thinkers who are not treated in this book, such as Tillich, but Olson has written another book about modern theology, which I will read in the future.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Church Write-Up: Jeremiah 11:18-20; Mark 9:30-37; James 3-4

The LCMS Wednesday Bible study started up again.  Here are some of the points that I got out of it.

A.  One of the texts was Jeremiah 11:18-20, in which Jeremiah complains of people from his hometown (Anathoth) trying to kill him and desires God’s vengeance upon them.  Jeremiah was unpopular because he was prophesying doom and gloom in a time of national prosperity.  He may have participated in righteous King Josiah’s reforms against paganism and in favor of the consecration of the Temple and the Judahites to God.  Now that Josiah was dead, Jeremiah was yesterday’s news.  Jeremiah entrusts himself to the LORD of hosts, who is sovereign.  The pastor told a story about how he counseled pastors whose congregations did not want them, and how that was a painful experience for these pastors.

B.  Josiah tore down the high places, and the pastor gave background about those.  High places were sacred sites on the hills that were dedicated to Baal, the weather god, and his wife Ashtoreth,  In an agricultural society, people prayed to Baal because they wanted rain and to Ashtoreth because they desired fertility.  Passages such as II Kings 21:3, 5 and Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35 say or imply that there were Israelite high places where worship of Baal occurred.  At the same time, there were also high places to Yahweh (I Kings 3:2-3), which ran counter to Deuteronomic centralization.  The pastor got me thinking some about the high places, since there were kings of Judah who were righteous, yet they did not tear down the high places (II Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35).  Righteous kings pursued reform, on a limited level, but they did not challenge the popular practice of paganism.

C.  The pastor asked if it is acceptable to desire vengeance because Jeremiah did.  The pastor contrasted Jeremiah with Jesus in our New Testament reading, Mark 9:30-37.  Like Jeremiah, Jesus was rejected by his hometown, in this case, Nazareth.  Jesus did not desire vengeance against his enemies, however, but served them with his life.  The pastor said that the reason the doxology occurs after Scripture readings is that it highlights that Scripture is to be read within the context of Christ.  Psalm 137:8-9 ends by wishing that the heads of Babylonian babies would be dashed against rocks, but Christians read that remembering that Christ paid the penalty for sins.  Proverbs 21:9 and 25:24 warns against living with a contentious wife, and Christians read that realizing that such contention can be healed through Christ.

D.  Jesus in Mark 9:30-37 teaches humility and service.  He exhorts his disciples to be like deacons, who waited tables and were the lowliest servants.  The pastor said that the apostles apparently were slow to learn this lesson, since they did not want to wait tables in Acts 6:2!  Jesus also exhorted his disciples to be like little children, in a world where children had hardly any status at all and were considered the property of their parents.  Jesus held the child and gave him status, and that demonstrates that we gain status through our relationship with Christ.

E.  The pastor moved on to the Epistle of James.  The Epistle is directed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (James 1:1).  The pastor said that these were Jewish Christians scattered throughout the known world.  Some were scattered due to persecution from Saul (Acts 8:1) and Herod Agrippa’s murder of James the brother of John (Acts 12:2).  Some scattering occurred later, close to the time when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed (70 CE).  Some Jewish Christians fled to Pella, some to Antioch.

F.  According to the pastor, the Epistle of James is not about how to be saved, nor is it merely a rule book.  It is wisdom literature for people who are already Christians.  The pastor said that Lutherans distinguish between wider justification and narrow justification.  Wider justification includes conversion but also sanctification, becoming practically righteous.  When James states that faith without works does not justify, he is referring to wider justification.  Narrow justification refers to conversion, and that is what Paul talks about when he affirms that people are justified by faith alone, apart from works.  Related to this, I asked the pastor to define grace, since the pastor talked about James 2:6, where James says that God gives more grace, and that God gives grace to the humble.  Is grace unmerited favor?  Is it mercy?  Is it the spiritual power to live righteously?  The pastor said that it is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense, and that includes everything that God provides to people due to the sacrifice of Christ.  That would include God’s word, forgiveness, spiritual power to live righteously, and the list goes on.

G.  James 3:17 states: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (KJV).  The pastor said that this describes Jesus: Jesus is the wisdom from above, and Jesus had those characteristics.

H.  James 4:5 states: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (KJV).  The NASB translates it the way the pastor was interpreting it: “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’?”  The question, apparently, is whether pneuma (spirit) is the subject or the direct object.  If it is the subject, the verse is probably criticizing the envious lusts condemned in vv. 1-4.  If it is the object, it is talking about God’s jealous desire to have us with him—-for us to draw closer to him rather than to have friendship with the world.  The pastor said that the spirit could be the Holy Spirit or the spirit that enlivens every human being: either way, God does not want that Spirit to go to waste but desires to be with that spirit.  The pastor noted that v. 5 says it is quoting Scripture, but this verse does not exist in the Hebrew Bible.

I.  The pastor and one of the people in the class were talking about devotions.  The person in the class was saying that her I-phone was reading the Bible text aloud to her, and she did not like that.  The pastor thought she meant that she preferred that, and he talked about how the biblical texts were originally intended to be read and heard aloud, not read silently, since few people could read back then.  When he understood that she was making the opposite point, he said that she may have seen her devotions as her personal time with God and did not want another voice interfering with that.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Church Write-Up: Help My Unbelief, I John 3, Calling and Humility

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up.

A.  The LCMS service focused on Mark 9:14-29, the story of the father with the demon-possessed son.  The father humbly said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  The youth pastor said that it is good to have faith, but we can always use more faith, and, when we ask Jesus for something spiritual, he gives it to us.  That encouraged me to think: rather than continually complaining about my inability to love, how about asking God more often for that ability?

B.  The pastor said that the people in the story were relying on their own strength, but Jesus was trying to direct their attention to himself, the only one who could solve their problems.

The pastor also referred to the transfiguration story, which precedes this story: Peter wanted to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and the pastor said this was Peter’s attempt to keep the experience going.

The pastor opened his sermon by referring to the movie, Finding Nemo.  The fish have escaped from the aquarium in the dentist’s office and are back in the ocean, and they wonder, “What now?”  Similarly, the church celebrated it’s sixtieth birthday.  What now?

We sang a hymn that stood out to me.  I had not heard of it before, probably because it is a distinctly Lutheran hymn.  It is called “O God, My Faithful God.” The third stanza especially stood out to me, perhaps because of my own desire to say the right things, in the right way:

Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.

C.  The Sunday school class on I John resumed.  I’d like to highlight two passages:

I John 3:2: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (KJV)

The pastor said that Christians are the children of God right now, but it is hidden from the world, in a sense.  Christians still die.  They still stumble.  The world is such that people have reasons to argue against God’s existence.  What Christians will be like in their eschatological state is a mystery, and taking field trips in the mind of God leads to speculation.

I John 3:11-12: For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. (KJV)

I’ll quote the pastor’s comments in the handout:

“John gets back to the Gospel—-Jesus’ words to love one another—-as a witness to the world of whose we are and because we are loved by the Father in Jesus.”

I like this, even though I am one who usually recoils from sermons about love.  The pastor said that love brings people together, and I thought, “Well, there are plenty of people I would rather love from a distance!”  But I liked what the pastor said here: we are loved by the Father in Jesus, and we testify before the world of that by loving one another.

“Why Cain/Abel?  Remember Cain was warned the Devil was crouching at the door and chose to leave the family and leave God’s love—-just like the Devil was the first one to rebel against God, lie and kill—-so those who make a practice of hating do.”

The pastor said that Cain was an example of the sinner John criticizes in I John 3: one who lives to sin and rebels against God.  Cain gave in to jealousy and murder.  In the same way that Cain selfishly murdered his brother, so were the Docetists damaging the Christian community, without caring.

I struggle with this.  Were the Docetists living to sin and rebelling against God?  They didn’t think so, since they were seeking a connection with the divine.  But they were rejecting doctrines that John saw as foundational: by saying that Jesus was not flesh and blood, they were denying that Jesus shed his blood for people’s sins, providing atonement.  In addition, because they felt the physical did not matter, some Docetists went in an antinomian direction, indulging the flesh.

D.  At the “Word of Faith” church, we had a guest speaker.  This speaker spent time in basketball.  He now runs a basketball camp for youth, so he can mentor them to be better people the same way that his coach mentored him.  He sees this as his calling.  Because of that, he is not as bothered by criticism as he was when he was a basketball player, checking blogs after each game to see what they said about him.  But his head also is not big on account of any celebrity he has attained in broadcasting or in basketball, for these things serve as a platform for God’s calling.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Current Events and History Write-Up: 9/15/2018

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.  Actually, this is more of a History Write-Up, but most of these articles bring up the past within the context of Current Events discussions.

Townhall: “Wonder Where All the Government’s Money Goes? Look to the Lawsuits,” by Bruce Bialosky.

“Every governmental entity is grappling for money. They all have gargantuan unfunded liabilities for employees’ retirement and health benefits that already are impacting their annual budgets. The federal government has underfunded Social Security and Medicare costs. Despite this, these governmental agencies are spending massive taxpayer sums suing each other to the detriment of us all.”

Mother Jones: “California Wants All Its Electricity Carbon-Free. How’s That Possible?”, by Nathanael Johnson.

Challenges and possible solutions.

The Federalist: “The ACLU Has Become A Big Fat Hypocrite On Free Speech,” by Jay Hobbs.

How the ACLU is inconsistent in which free speech cases it will take, and how it has changed from its former free speech absolutism.  The article also discusses corporatist attempts to stifle free speech, and corporatism is a topic of interest of mine.

The Federalist: “Read A Pile Of Top Nazis Talking About How They Love Leftist Marxism,” by Paul Jossey.

This article argues for the typical right-wing “The Nazis were liberals, not conservatives” spiel.  (Not an exact quotation, but the substance of the argument.)  Still, it is an interesting article.  It talks about Hitler’s private views on Marxism, religion, and the occult, his tolerance for private enterprise, and the racist and nationalist tendencies of prominent Communists.  I am currently reading Mein Kampf, and I will discuss Hitler’s views on Marxism there when I do my Book Write-Up of it.

National Review: “Did France’s Gun Control Hurt Its Resistance to the Nazis?”, by Robert Verbruggen.

Discusses a book by a Second Amendment lawyer.

Persephone Rising: “Patterns: Why I Am Nervous About the Far Right Fringe.”

To add balance, check out this old post, which argues that the Nazis were right-wing, not left-wing.

Reason: “The Alt-Right Loves H.L. Mencken. The Feeling Would Not Have Been Mutual,” by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers.

Menken fought for civil rights.

Tomgram: “Sandy Tolan, Was Oslo Doomed From the Start?”

Why did the Oslo accords in the 1990’s fail?  Tom’s introduction to the article also criticizes President Trump’s reduction of aid to the Palestinians.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Book Write-Up: Jesus in the Secular World, by Ben Pierce

Ben Pierce.  Jesus in the Secular World: Reaching a Culture in Crisis.  Steiger, 2018.  The book releases on October 1 and is not yet on Amazon, but go here for the group’s web site.

This book is about the importance of Christian evangelism in a secular world.  Its author, Ben Pierce, offers a profile of secularization, which includes a belief that religion is irrelevant as well as relativism.  He states that Christians should have a heart like that of Jesus for the lost, and that they can gain this heart through prayer.  The book stresses the importance of listening to people, as people crave to be heard and to be loved.  According to Pierce, apologetics can be useful in that they can help remove barriers that people have to believing.  Pierce also contends that the Gospel can be presented accurately but without church jargon that non-Christians may not understand; he offers a sample Gospel presentation that illustrates this.  Finally, he urges Christians to boldly share the Gospel with people, even if it will lead to their rejection, for God did not call Christians to be comfortable but to change the world.

Throughout the book, there are personal stories that illustrate Pierce’s points.  Pierce is part of a Christian band and has preached the Gospel to numerous audiences, even in countries that tend to frown on the Gospel.  The power of prayer and of the Gospel message comes out in his stories, which concern changed lives and hearts.

I had some disagreements with Pierce, as with his dismissal of evolution.  Still, the book was enjoyable to read.  Pierce is a thoughtful writer.  The stories enhance the book, as do Pierce’s references to his family.  For some, his advice may be easier said than done.  Many non-Christians may not want religion to be shoved down their throat, but, overall, the book balanced the boldness out with an exhortation to love and to listen.  Moreover, the book can perhaps encourage Christians to pray, to love, and to share the transforming Gospel a little more than they do.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Write-Up: God Is a Particle?

David C. Peterson.  God Is a Particle?  WestBow Press, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

David C. Peterson is an attorney.  This book, God Is a Particle?, is about the Higgs boson particle/field, commonly called the “God particle.”  Peterson provides background information on how it was discovered and what it is: essentially, it underlies the composition and organization of the cosmos.  Peterson believes that God created the Higgs Boson particle, and he also offers reflections on Intelligent Design, Black Holes and multiple universes, evolution, the post-mortem survival of the soul, and the spiritual life.

Here are some thoughts about the book:

A.  The prose is well-written and effectively organized.  Not all WestBow books are like that!

B.  In terms of the scientific element, some parts of the book were more impressive than other parts.  Peterson is not afraid to engage atheist scientists like Victor Stenger.  Peterson seems open to the existence of multiple universes, whereas a number of Christian apologists are dismissive of the concept.  In terms of less impressive parts, Peterson states that there are no missing links between chimpanzees and humans, when the theory of evolution does not affirm that humans descended from chimps but rather that humans are related to chimps.

C.  Peterson argues that atheists should not dismiss God’s existence because there are a lot of things that are beyond our understanding.  Maybe, but atheists can make the same point about theism: why dismiss a natural cause for the universe or life and posit a supernatural cause?  Maybe there is a natural cause that is unknown to us.

D.  The parts about the afterlife and scientific studies of prayer and meditation are interesting.  Peterson makes an argument from authority in talking about out-of-body experiences, but his point is effective: you have people from different backgrounds, some of them respected in academia, who have had these experiences, so there may be something to them.  Peterson refers to a study by Andy Newberg, MD of the brain when it is praying and meditating, and the brain when praying shows signs of communication.  I am interested in fact-checking this to see if that is what Newberg actually says, but it is an intriguing point.

E.  Peterson’s defense of the spiritual life is compelling, as he talks about the futility of materialism.  It may not be Christian-enough for some, since it upholds some non-Christians as spiritual exemplars and (as far as I recall) does not mention the death and resurrection of Christ.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers.  My review is honest.

Book Write-Up: Inspired, by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans.  Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.  Nelson Books, 2018.  See here to buy the book.

Rachel Held Evans is a controversial religious author.  She is known for her writings about her struggles with conservative evangelicalism and even Christianity in general, and she currently attends an Episcopalian church.

Inspired contains her reflections about the Bible.  She talks about the Bible of her upbringing, as she learned the biblical stories from sanitized versions or from cartoons.  As she grew older, she became troubled by aspects of the Bible, such as the Flood, the Akedah, and the Israelite Conquest.  She also came to believe that conservative evangelicalism tries to tame the Bible and make it what it is not, by explaining away biblical contradictions and troubling passages.  This book affirms the Bible, however, as it highlights where the Bible was progressive for its time and attempts to offer a constructive way to look at the Bible, one that takes into consideration the cultural context of its authors, the positive moral and spiritual trajectory of which they were part, and the complexity of moral and spiritual questions.  While the book includes Evans’ reflections, it also has a creative element.  There is a story about Jews in Babylonian exile holding on to the Genesis 1 creation story in the face of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, for example, as well as a modernization of the Job story.

I was a little reluctant to read this book, to tell you the truth.  There was a time when I was somewhat of a RHE-groupie, in that I diligently read her blog and shared her posts.  But I have had a variety of ideological seasons in my life, and right now I am in a season in which I tend to roll my eyes at progressive Christianity.  I was expecting this book to be a smug, hyper-dramatic critique of “ignorant” conservatives from an “enlightened” progressive, with a hefty dose of Trump-bashing thrown into the mix.  Well, the book had its share of Trump-bashing, and Evans’ view of biblical inspiration probably falls short of what a lot of conservative Christians believe.  Still, the book displayed some openness to conservative perspectives.  Evans referred to Greg Boyd’s thoughts about the Conquest, but also the thoughts of Paul Copan, who has more of an apologetic approach.  She mentions midrashic attempts to defend or at least explain the Akedah.  She critiques conservative perspectives she has encountered, but also progressive perspectives, and she speaks reflectively about her past as a “Bible bully” who smiled disparagingly when conservative Christians claimed that Paul wrote Colossians.  Evans in the book comes across as one who is self-reflective and is pursuing truth, from a variety of sources, as she shares honestly and humbly what makes sense to her and what does not.  The book would have been better, perhaps, had she at least tried to understand the perspective of conservative Christians who feel persecuted: this feeling is not limited to being wished “Happy Holidays” but extends to their livelihood being challenged because they choose to hold to their religious convictions.  Still, Evans’ political viewpoint is understandable, in certain respects, especially when it comes to social justice issues.

This book was helpful in terms of my faith journey and my own attempts to come to terms with the Bible, especially when it coincided with other things I have been reading or thinking.  Evans speculates that the Conquest story was developed as a way for ancient Israel to affirm its dependence on God amidst challenges, and that reminded me of Derek Leman’s insights on Deuteronomy, as he drew from Stephen Cook’s work.  Leman speculates that the Conquest story in the time of Josiah served to give Judah faith as she was surrounded by imperial powers, and he says that the author of Deuteronomy may have had legitimate concerns about paganism but is over-zealous, at times.  Such an approach is different from a conservative approach, but it resonates with me, somewhat.  I end up sympathizing with the biblical authors as they attempted to articulate, find, and practice their faith.  Evans also expresses her hope that God is renewing the world and that justice ultimately will triumph, and she is willing to take a leap of faith that such a hope is valid.  I agree with her there.

I have been in seasons of disenchantment with conservative and progressive Christianity; neither one is really my “speech community,” if you will.  Still, I respect the practice of wrestling with difficult questions.  There are conservatives who do this, and Evans is a progressive Christian who does so.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers.  My review is honest.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Write-Up: Middle Knowledge, by John D. Laing

John D. Laing.  Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty.  Kregel Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

John D. Laing has a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He teaches systematic theology and philosophy at the Houston campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is also a chaplain for the Texas Army National Guard.

As the title indicates, this book is about the concept of Middle Knowledge, which was articulated by Luis de Molina, a sixteenth century Jesuit theologian.  According to this concept, God foresaw various hypothetical worlds, how humans would act and things would unfold in different settings and situations.  With this in mind, God acts to effect God’s will.  God, in a sense, is limited: God chooses not to violate human free will, and God can only effect a world that is feasible.  But God acts in light of the various alternative scenarios that God foresees: God knows that, if God does A, humans will do B.  God wants humans to do B, so God decides to do A.  God works with human free will: God is constrained by human choices, yet God can effect God’s will by influencing humans to make the choices that God wants.

The Introduction situates Middle Knowledge among other Christian models of divine providence and human free will, including Process Theology, Open Theism, and Calvinism.  Chapter 1 explains Middle Knowledge, and Chapters 2-4 respond to objections to the concept of Middle Knowledge.  Chapter 4 is noteworthy because it addresses the question of how God can interact with the world in time when God is said to exist outside of time.  In Chapters 5-8 and 10, Laing contends that Middle Knowledge sheds helpful light on contentious theological issues: predestination and salvation, the problem of evil, biblical inspiration, science (particularly origins), and the efficacy of prayer.  Chapter 9 focuses on what Laing considers to be biblical evidence in favor of Middle Knowledge.  I Samuel 23:7-13, where God guides David in reference to a danger that would come if David were to remain in a particular area, is cited more than once in the book.  Laing also refers to other Scriptural passages in which God is aware of alternative scenarios.  Interestingly, Matthew 11:23-24, in which Jesus declares that Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented had they seen the sorts of miracles that he was performing, is denied by Laing to be an illustration of Middle Knowledge; rather, Laing claims that Jesus there is being rhetorical.  Chapter 9 is also where Laing offers his interpretation of Romans 9, as he argues that God foresaw, not predestined, how Jacob and Esau would act as God chose Jacob instead of Esau.

The greatest strength of this book is that it meticulously goes through various positions and evaluates them.  Chapters 2-3 were difficult because they used logical equations, but the rest of the book was fairly easy to understand.  In some cases, Laing arrived at a position that made sense, as when he argued that libertarian freedom does not mean that choices lack motivation or influences; choices, in short, do not pop out of thin air, but what libertarian freedom affirms is that a person has some ability to choose otherwise.  Another example of a sensible conclusion is when Laing stated that God is not required to create a perfect world, but that God creates a world that fits God’s purposes.  In a number of cases, Laing’s conclusions were a little tepid.  For instance, after an exhaustive discussion of views about whether divine foreknowledge undermines human free will, Laing simply concludes that humans have libertarian free will, even if their choices were foreseen.  It is not so much the conclusion itself that is bothersome.  What makes it disappointing is that one might expect a more robust defense of it after all of the build-up.  Laing deserves credit for attempting to tackle the issue of natural evil.  Essentially, he questions whether there is “natural evil”: “natural evil,” Laing muses, is subjective, and what one may see as natural evil may serve a positive purpose.  But is there anything naturally beneficial about cancer?  To his credit, Laing acknowledged situations in which readers might deem his conclusions to be inadequate, or begging the question.

The book is lucid, overall, in summarizing different positions, and Laing does well to reiterate what Middle Knowledge is throughout the book.  There is still unclarity on my part, however, on how Middle Knowledge adds to many of the theological discussions that Laing discusses.  There are so many variables and so much randomness that, even if God were to intervene through creation or providence, could God get entirely what God wants?  And how does God effect God’s will?  Okay, those who lack an opportunity to hear the Gospel are people whom God foresaw would not believe it anyway, if given the chance.  Did God arrange for them to be born in non-Christian areas that have little access to the Gospel?  That makes God somewhat of a micro-manager, which Molinism seems to argue that God is not.

In writing this review, I feel as if I am looking at a blurry image that becomes clear, then blurry again.  Middle Knowledge makes sense, then it does not, then it does, and the cycle continues.
A slight point of critique: Laing frequently uses the term “counterfactual,” and he seems to mean by that term the various alternative realities that God foresaw, including the one that God chose to work with.  That muddied the waters a bit.  “Counterfactual,” one would think, implies contrary-to-fact, the alternative realities that did not take place.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Church Write-Up: Stressed Moses, Three Mountains

I went to the Pen Church and the LCMS church last Sunday.

A.  The pastor at the Pen Church started a new series on stress.  His text was Exodus 18.  Moses is stressed out over judging the people of Israel’s cases all day, so Jethro suggests that Moses appoint judges to lighten Moses’ load.  Similarly, we should feel free to say “no.”  The pastor also discussed other ways to alleviate stress: to have family meetings in which the family members can share what people in the family can do to make the other person’s life more peaceful, as well as the importance of prioritizing listening to God, as that can lead to a smoother family and work life.  The pastor’s father-in-law used to be the pastor of this church, and the father-in-law liked v 24: “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (NIV).

B.  The LCMS church was having its 60th anniversary service.  Instead of having two services—-traditional and contemporary—-it merged the two services into one for this occasion.  This service had hymns and also contemporary praise songs.  It was interesting to see the traditional people try to adept to the contemporary songs.  I used to attend the contemporary service, but I have gone to the traditional one for the past nine months.  One reason is that I want to go to Sunday school, which is after the traditional service, and it is sometimes at the traditional service that a new Sunday school class is announced, on the very day that it is beginning!  If I were to go to the contemporary service, which is after Sunday school hour, I would miss out on that information.  Another reason that I go to the traditional service is that I have come to know people there.  Two people were saving me a seat, and that was nice of them!

I like the traditional service, since there is something to reading and singing the old hymns.  I also prefer the pastor’s sermon delivery at the traditional service.  At the contemporary service, he uses pictures on the overhead, whereas, at the traditional service, he does not have that and relies on his storytelling ability; the latter allows for a more compelling delivery, in my opinion.

Still, in singing the contemporary songs, I realized that I somewhat miss the contemporary service.  I have heard these songs at other churches and in other settings, but this LCMS church performs them the best.  I think that is because other churches make them sound like rock songs, whereas the LCMS service adds a dimension of cheerfulness and sweetness to them: the service is called “Morning Song,” after all.  I may attend both services on some Sundays.  I somewhat have a niche at the traditional service (assuming I didn’t unintentionally burn social bridges today).  But it would be nice to go to the contemporary service, every once in a while.

The sermon was delivered by one of the church’s past pastors.  He talked about the current predicament of the church today, with the Roman Catholic scandals and the skepticism that many have about Christian institutions and beliefs.  He spoke of three mountains.  One was Mount Hermon, a site of rife paganism, close to where Jesus affirmed that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.  The second mountain was Mount Tabor, where the transfiguration traditionally took place.  Peter, James, and John ended up looking at Jesus alone, as we should.  The third mountain was Calvary.  The pastor also commented on John 21.  Jesus asks Peter two times if Peter loves him, using the Greek word agape, meaning divine love.  Peter replies that he loves Jesus, using phileo, which refers to friendship.  Jesus finally asks Peter if Peter loves him, using phileo.  According to the pastor, Jesus was accepting whatever inadequate love Peter offered.  Scholars have been skeptical of the radical differentiation between agape and phileo, seeing the two words as interchangeable.  Still, I wonder if there is significance to Jesus using agape two times, then phileo the third time.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 9/7/2018

Here is this week’s Current Events Write-Up.  It is a little earlier this week than usual because I will not be able to write it on Friday evening this week.

CounterPunch: “Revised NAFTA Shows Every Sign of Being Another Trump Scam,” by Pete Dolack.

I asked last week why progressives are not supporting President Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA, with its minimum wage and collective bargaining provisions.  This article offers a progressive critique of NAFTA 2.0.  According to this article, those provisions are voluntary rather than binding.  The article also contends that the renegotiated NAFTA allows for pharmaceutical price-gouging and will undermine the newly-elected Mexican President’s ability to effect reforms before he even takes office.

The Epoch Times: “Pentagon Suspends $300 Million in Aid to Pakistan Over Terror Groups,” by Holly Kellum.

I remember a few years after 9/11.  I attended a liberal church.  Someone mentioned President Bush’s statement that “Whoever is not for us is against us.”  A lady then remarked, “Then he turns around and makes an agreement with Pakistan.”  I heard such an argument from the Left frequently: if the Bush Administration is so serious about combating terrorism, why does it give Pakistan a free pass?  Well, rightly or wrongly, the Trump Administration seems to be acting according to this argument.

Two Opposite Conservative Perspectives on Trump’s Decision to Cut Subsidies to Palestine: “Will Getting Rid of UNRWA Fix the Palestinian Problem?”, by Mike Konrad (Con) vs. “Here’s What You Need To Know About Trump’s Decision To Cut Subsidies To Palestine,” by Michael Pometantz (Con).

Townhall: “Will the Export-Import Bank Rise Again?,” by Veronique de Rugy.

According to de Rugy, the Export-Import Bank is starting to support small businesses rather than big businesses, and, for some reason, Democrats are fighting this.

Townhall: “No, Betsy DeVos is Not Trying to ‘Sneak Guns Into Schools,’” by Christian Barnard.

“DeVos’s openness to the idea of arming teachers is rooted in her department’s broader goal of allowing states to pursue their own educational priorities. After all, there are 172 school districts in Texas that allow teachers and staff to carry guns on school property, and DeVos wants to respect the decision of these elected school boards…The education secretary cannot be blamed for providing clarity on a program she neither came up with nor wanted to fund, and her critics are wrong to condemn her without the full context.”

Yahoo Lifestyle: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Attend McCain Funeral Service after the President Wasn’t Invited,” by Tanya Edwards.

And, of course, they get criticized.  I wonder if they would have been criticized had they not attended.

American Thinker: “How Trump Can Save Free Speech from Big Tech,” by Rich Logis.

How Trump can do this, without federal interference in the Internet.

American Thinker: “Village Voice, the Original Alt-Weekly, Officially Dead,” by Rick Moran.

And this conservative author is sad about this.  I understand, as one who likes to read alternative media.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Church Write-Up: Lots on Obedience and Service

Here is my Church Write-Up for this week:

A.  I went to the LCMS church.  The text on which the pastor focused was Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9.  The pastor said that one of his favorite books is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which is a modernization of the Cain and Abel story in Genesis 4.  Much of that book revolves around a debate between an educated Chinese man and another person over the meaning of the Hebrew word timshal in Genesis 4:7: is God telling Cain that he has the ability to master sin, to choose good and to avoid evil?  Well, in Deuteronomy 4, God is speaking to the Israelites as if they have the ability to choose.  The problem is that we all have our personal definitions of good, and we use those to reassure ourselves and to condemn others.  When we encounter God’s objective standard in the Ten Commandments, we see that we fall short.  The solution is God’s nearness to us, for Deuteronomy 4:6-8 talks about God’s nearness to Israel and the righteousness of God’s law.  The pastor recalled something that existed before GPSs, called Triple A Triptiks.  They were maps that had an orange line marking people’s itinerary.  He got to sit in the middle and hold the map when he was a kid and the family went on large family trips.  The map guided them, telling them to turn here and there.  The pastor likened that to God being with us as we walk the path of obeying God.

B.  I then went to the largely African-American Baptist church.  The sermon there was about service, and the text was Matthew 20:20-28, in which Jesus teaches about service.  We try in life to exalt ourselves, and we measure our success by how many people we have under us; we look forward to retirement, when we do not have to deal with people anymore.  When we serve, we try to serve those above us because that can exalt ourselves.  But Jesus taught another way: we also serve those whom society considers unimportant, even when nobody is watching.  I thought about the ministry of Jesus: he went about doing good, trying to enhance the lives of others by healing (Acts 10:38).

C.  I then went to the “Pen” Church.  It was playing a video and telling stories about last week’s service projects.  One of the projects, incidentally, was at the home for unwed mothers that spoke to the LCMS church weeks ago!  Back to the “Pen” church: someone talked about a homeless person who wanted to join the church because she was impressed by the service that people were doing.  The pastor then preached, wrapping up a sermon series that he was doing about happiness.  The pastor shared one of his famous quotes by actor Jim Carrey, about happiness not being found in fame and fortune.  And Jim Carrey knew what he was talking about, since there was a time when he earned millions of dollars for each movie he was in!  The pastor talked about the importance of being rooted in Christ (Colossians 2:7-9).  Strong roots are planted in water, so that the plants thrive even when the weather is bad.  The Bible likens trusting in God and meditating on God’s law to putting our roots in water (Psalm 1; Jeremiah 17:8).  We do this as we conform to God’s blueprint for our lives: Jesus made a similar point when he talked about building our house on a rock, the foundation of his teachings, and how storms cannot threaten that (Matthew 7:24-27).  Part of conforming to God’s blueprint is by un-clinching our fists of trying to be in control, and letting God through the Holy Spirit work in our lives: so many times, Paul exhorts believers to “let” such-and-such happen.  The pastor told the story about someone who recently joined the church.  This man was moving towards his 80s and wanted to spend that decade of his life serving God.  He moved close to the church and got involved in small groups.  He became a Christian when he was a child and had committed a crime, and the next decades were filled with addiction and alcoholism; he likened his marriages to holding his wives hostage!  But he joined twelve-step programs, and he has found that, to keep out of his own head, where he can get mugged, he needs to be a mentor and to have a mentor.

D.  I listened to the sermon from the “Word of Faith” church the night before.  Apparently, the series on the Book of Revelation was not over!  The pastor made a variety of points.  He said that the Babylonian system in Genesis 11 tried to climb its way up to God, when God wants to come down and dwell with us.  He said that God does not call us to love every single person but to love and serve our neighbors, those near us.  And even then, our allegiance and love is directed towards Christ, and that is what motivates us to love our neighbors.  The pastor likened showing love to difficult people to the faithfulness unto death that the martyrs of the Book of Revelation possessed!  The pastor said that it is easy to give to a food bank, but that the Gospel is letting the homeless dwell in our homes.  I thought of Isaiah 58:7, which says regarding the fast God has chosen: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (NRSV).  The pastor also talked about the importance of focusing, not on programs (evangelism, social justice), but on Jesus, then the evangelism and justice will fall into their rightful place.  He shared that the church does not focus on songs about God filling us up, as if the focus is on us, but rather on songs that exalt Jesus.

E.  This last items will be personal reflection.  I have no intention of inviting homeless people to stay in our home!  That can be dangerous.  Did not Jesus tell his disciples to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16)?  I think that giving to charities that can serve their needs is the way to go.  On faithfulness unto death in my relationships, I remember something that another pastor said: we love Jesus as much as we love the person we love the least.  The thing is, when I hear that, I just resign myself to saying, “Well, then I have problems loving Jesus, then!”  On service, I am thinking of helping out with an LCMS project this week.  It is within walking distance (I don’t have a car).  I am reluctant to do so because I do not know many people, but, as someone online told me a year ago, the thing to do is “Just show up!”

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Current Events Write-Up:9/1/2018

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

Let’s start with the passing of Senator John McCain, along with some reflections.

First, there is this CNN reporter’s questioning of John Sununu, trying to goad him into saying something about President Trump.  Sununu calls her out for it, and she responds in an arrogant, holier-than-thou manner.  Newsflash: a lot of conservatives dislike the mainstream media.  They are not required to apologize for that!  Second, I will now be a little hypocritical: after criticizing this reporter for politicizing John McCain’s death, I will do something similar.  My goal here is not to encourage you to vote for one person or party over another, but rather to use these articles as an opportunity to share my own ambivalent thoughts about John McCain.  There is this article: Remember When Obama And His Supporters Hated And Mocked John McCain?  That did annoy me about Barack Obama.  My problem is not that he criticized John McCain.  They were running against each other, so that should be expected.  It really got on my nerves, though, that Obama would lump McCain in with George W. Bush, when McCain had a known record as a reformer, a maverick, one who did not always follow the GOP line.  Obama seemed oblivious to that!  What this article shows, however, is that prominent Democrats questioned McCain’s wartime heroism.  Now, I do not think that being shot down and tortured qualified John McCain for the Presidency, nor do I believe that it gave him the moral authority that he sometimes appeared to claim.  That said, it is ironic that Trump got villified for challenging McCain’s heroism, when prominent Democrats made similar points back in 2008.  Here is a post-mordem criticism of McCain from the left, and here is a post-mortem criticism of him from the right.  I believe that John McCain was a decent human being, at least in his later years.  He was humble, down-to-earth, and a person with class.  Yet, he either participated in policies or encouraged policies that took the lives of civilians abroad.  I should feel bad for his family and his friends.  At the same time, is demanding that everyone feel bad like telling oppressed peoples to mourn for their oppressors?  This is a dilemma that comes with a lot of American leaders, Republican and Democrat, who enact or pursue policies that threaten innocent people’s lives.  Some may say that this is unavoidable and that leaders have to make tough decisions.  I don’t know.  This article was kind of cool: one of McCain’s Vietnamese captors shares his memories of the man.  Then there is this article about the resistance some Republicans are making to renaming the Russell Senate Building after McCain.  Russell was a racist, but these Republicans are saying that he helped effect the school lunch program.  Aren’t Republicans normally critical of those sorts of programs?

Federalist Radio: “The Best Interviews on Gun Safety and Firearm Laws”

A couple of days this week, the Federalist Radio Hour ran reruns.  Ben Domenech, the usual host of the program, is Meghan McCain’s husband, so he was understandably absent this week.  This particular rerun included three excerpts of interviews about gun safety and gun laws.  One of the interviewees was Dana Loesch, the controversial NRA spokesperson.  I will not defend her gaffes, but, in this interview at least, she sounded pretty reasonable.

The Federalist: “Here’s What You Need to Know about Trump’s Proposed Trade Deal with Mexico,” by Helen Raleigh

The good news: lower food tariffs and teeth on issues that have emerged since the 1990’s.  The bad news, according to Raleigh: a high minimum wage and collective bargaining for the steel industry.  Raleigh thinks that could bring jobs back to the U.S., but prices on steel would be high.  You would think that progressives would be applauding that part of the agreement!

The Federalist: “To Break Millennials from Socialized Health Care, Republicans Need an Actual Plan to Cut Health Costs,” by Alex Muresianu

This part was poignant: “Another restraint on healthcare supply has been consolidation among health providers, as large hospitals take up more and more of the healthcare market. Recent regulatory expansion, often supported by big hospitals, has prevented smaller, specialized care providers from entering the market and competing with hospitals on price. This cronyism made headlines a few weeks ago, when a North Carolina doctor who runs a small, low-cost medical imaging center was prevented from buying and using an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine at his clinic — thanks to hospital-backed regulations.”

Roger Olson: “Is Trump ‘Our Cyrus?’ A Critical American-Christian Explanation and Response”

“These people see themselves as a remnant of the conservative Christianity that once made America truly great. And they look at some European countries and Canada where some laws have been passed that could make them criminals if those laws were passed here. (In a highly debated incident a Norwegian Pentecostal pastor was jailed overnight for publicly declaring homosexuality sin.) Their view of American history is a downward slide toward not true pluralism but suppression of traditional Christian values. They truly believe that Trump, even if he is immoral and criminal (the latter has not been proven, of course), was raised up by God to reverse the trend in American culture toward total decadence and hedonism. But even more, they believe God raised up Trump not because he is one of them but because he hears them and will put a stop to efforts by government bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. (e.g., in the Department of Education) to persecute Christians.”

On that note, see “DOL Issues New Guidelines to Stop Discrimination Against Religious Federal Contractors,” by Stephanie Taub (Townhall).

LA Times: “California Legislator Shelves Bill to Ban Paid ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’ for Adults,” by Melanie Mason

I am pleased that the legislator who introduced this bill took the time to listen to the bill’s critics.

Christianity Today: “Bearing False Witness: Arab Theologians Advise Americans Not to Fear Islam’s Alleged ‘Permission to Lie,'” by Jayson Casper

Discusses taqiyya.

Townhall: “Police Officers Are Not Disproportionately Killing Black Men—Here Are the Facts,” by John R. Lott, Jr.

Lott still offers suggestions as to what the police can do to prevent such tragedies.

Triablogue: “IQ Meritocracy,” by Steve Hays

Hays critiques an Alt-right argument.

Taki’s Magazine: “Africa Destroyed: Poster Child for Liberalism,” by Hannes Wessels

I am not endorsing this site.  When I glance at it, I often want to take a bath!  Still, this article made some noteworthy points and observations.  It said that the landholders produced a lot of food, which helps the South African economy, and that Russia is reaching out to the dispossessed landholders.

People’s World: “Even Nixon Funded Jobs Programs, Why Can’t We Do It Today?”, by Michelle M. Tokarczyk

Tokarczyk shares her positive experiences with the CETA program.

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