Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Revenge and Civil Disobedience

"If we took the precept of non-resistance as an ethical blueprint for general application, we should indeed be indulging in idealistic dreams; we should be dreaming of a utopia with laws which the world would never obey.  To make non-resistance a principle for secular life is to deny God, by undermining his gracious ordinance foe the preservation of the world.  But Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints; he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering.  It looked as though evil triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus.  And the cross is the only justification for the precept of nonviolence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept.  And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ's victory as well as of his sufferings."

Buried on page 144 of his book, I don't know how many people have actually gotten to this passage, but it seems pretty profound and revolutionary to me.  First, where does this leave Gandhi's use of nonviolent resistance, since he rejected Christianity? Second, is DB a hypocrite here, because he plotted with others to have Hitler assassinated?

More, it is part of a larger reflection on the cross.  The cross, the center of the gospel, is much more than a 3- to 6-hour payment plan by Jesus for us to go to heaven.  This is how it is portrayed.  The cross is foolishness.  The cross is a shame.  The cross is symbolic that our lives involve suffering.  It is the defining part of our doctrine (and I know there are arguments about penal substitution, etc. in the theological world). 

Suffering was so woven in to the fabric of first century Christianity; they understood it.  I don't.  Right now I am going through a bout of sciatica and trying to treat it with tylenol and a heating pad.  This is not suffering.  Suffering would be loss.

DB goes on:  "The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and it is therefore the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. . . . How can we convince the world through our preaching of the passion when we shrink from the passion in our own lives?"

Friday, May 20, 2016

Employability skills and higher education

 A must read if you teach college, especially if you teach liberal arts curriculum!


Most of these are the poorly named "soft skills" which are essential skills.  Some of them are skills, some are character traits (ownership, which is a euphemism for sense of responsibility).

As the chair of a communication department that just got a bachelor's degree approved, I am very concerned about this.

The Grand Theory of Everything

My son got me listening to podcasts of Timothy Keller, which I do when I am walking the dog (but I need to use the earbuds.)

So I have been reading some of his website material.  One was a series of talks he did about evolution and Genesis.  It was thought-provoking but I will withhold judgment here.

He explains (asserts?) that Genesis 1 is a poetic rendering of what happens in Genesis 2, and therefore the poetic language is not to be taken literally.  He also says that evolution as a biological process could have been used by God, since that is what the physical evidence seems to show, but that the process is a tool and not "the grand theory of everything."

This might be helpful to some as a distinction.  The problem with evolution theory (well, one of them) is that it has become the explanatory myth of the age, the metanarrative, and it therefore is used to  define all of our behavior, our existence, our meaning, our purpose.  Why do I love my husband and children?  Evolution. Why do I like avocados? Evolution. Why do I get mad at my dog when she jerks me to chase a rabbit? Evolution.  Why do I believe in God?  Evolution.

He does have to align the fall with all this, though.  The sinfulness of man is one of the easiest doctrines to prove, but the fall and evolution don't really go together.  The story goes:  God developed the primates through evolution to the point where he could put living souls into them, gave them the image of God, etc. and then the original pair (or however many people which were symbolized in Adam and Eve) sinned and created the need for redemption   This even helps explain where Cain got his wife! (she was some other primate that didn't make the cut?)

I am not sure about all this.

Agnosticism, Doubt, Faith, Thinking

This article in CT has definitely "stuck in my craw" for a number of reasons.  I recommend it if you want to be bothered.


First, a-gnosticism is a word created rather recently (1800s), and it's rather unusual. The "a" means not, of course, so it would seem to be "not gnosticism" and therefore some sort of orthodoxy or at least not new agey, and that is not at all the case.  More like "not knowledge" but it means, in our usage, "not faith."  Which automatically brings into question the relationship between knowledge and faith, what we know and what we believe.

Second, this article is about faith/antifaith but more about marriage.  In fact, as someone whose husband does not attend church with me any more (but is still a believer), I have sympathy and empathy--empathy for sharing in the lack of church attendance with my spouse and being so tired of sitting by myself in church, and sympathy for her having a spouse who no longer (if ever) shares the core of her world view.

Then, I get mad.  I feel as if this husband pulled a bait and switch on his young wife.  Did they marry under false pretenses?  Couldn't he try harder to believe?  Is being true to oneself in terms of one's doubt valid if it is so hard on the wife?  Well, the opposite is to be a hypocrite if one truly does not believe, and that of course is not an option.

I have wondered about this scenario for many years.  Paul writes that if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave, he/she can have that freedom, although it still leaves the believing spouse in the lurch.  And I think that situation is different:  in the New Testament case, both started out unbelievers and one changed to belief, not the opposite.  But either way, the believing spouse doesn't seem to have an out.  I prayed for this young woman this morning because it would be so difficult to not be drawn away from someone so cold to what matters the most to her.  She is in danger also of being drawn into his unbelief.

Third, of course, is the question of apostasy.  Is it possible?  Apparently yes, according to these people's (and some of those in the comments') experience.  I have to wonder if the agnosticism is not just severe disillusionment, though.  There is so much in the present-day church that could disillusion someone and cause them to conflate their experience with reality, with the big picture.  Abuse and bad treatment from church leadership seems to be a theme.  Yes.  I get that.  It happens.  I have never been mistreated but I have seen it and as a woman I am aware that some church leaders see me as less than.

Political issues being confused with the gospel is another.

Why is the gospel seen as antithetical to caring about the environment?  Would Jesus want us to care about the environment as opposed to abusing it for our own gain?  (This from a woman who doesn't carpool but does try to conserve resources.)  Jesus, I think, would not have us put the environment over people's health and well being, but otherwise, I don't see why being a Christian should conflict with a concern for ecology.

Does Jesus really want us to have AK-47s?  

The poor?  The least of these?  Care for them is pretty clear.  Immigration?  We can't solve world poverty by letting everyone into the country, but that doesn't mean we don't address world poverty.  My point here is that the gospel should influence one's approach to the world.  Because the Republican party is pro-life in its platform doesn't mean they are right about everything else; because the Democrats claim to be for the poor (that could be debated) doesn't justify everything else they hold to.  The conflation with politics has hurt the church immeasurable.

 Fourth, in regard to this article, is the issue of science.  I will put this into my next post.  That seems to be a problem that leads to agnosticism, or what I would say, succumbing to a lifestyle of doubt.  But can doubt be a lifestyle?  I would say no.  There is faith in something--one's own judgment, the writings or opinions of others, the belief that science is always right and good.  Agnosticism only really applies to doubts about God, not about everything.  Therefore it is a misnomer on a second point.  

I would finally contend that our pietistic narcissism, where God is seen as more concerned about my tiny problems than the Syrian refugees, is a real problem for thinking believers and unbelievers.

Is God tolerant of doubt?  I think he forgives us of it.  I don't think he wants us to live in it, though.  Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God, to quote Romans 10 in the AV.  I read about a powerful Savior in the Word of God, not a God who is pleased with our veiled narcissism.

Writing Life

 I began writing fiction seriously in the early 2000s.  My first draft was an embarrassing 160,000 words (or more) and I actually had two sweet friends who read the monstrosity.  But as bad as it was, it was on paper.  Eventually I pared it down to about 100,000 words or so, and submitted it to two clearinghouses that were available at the time for "Christian" fiction, a word I don't like but figured would be a start.  This was before (but not long) Amazon began to make a fortune off of people self-publishing on Kindle and it was still a huge accomplishment to get one's book in print.

It was "discovered" by Ramona Tucker and Jeff Nesbitt of OakTara and I was one of their first writers, for which I will be forever grateful.  In 2008 Traveling Through was published, and in 2012 republished with a different cover and some edits prior to the release of its two sequels. 

The book is about a young woman and her husband who find themselves in an impossible situation, do the right thing as they see it, and live with the consequences.  It explores whether doing the right thing has easy outcomes.  It doesn't always.  It also explores the tension between public and private, political and personal, and what happens when a cause becomes too important.  It is not a typical Christian book.  Two readers recently told me how they cried at the end, which might be a response of many.

I do not think the book has gotten the attention it deserves, but that is my fault.  The reason I have trouble settling down into my next novel is that writing is so hard with no guaranteed outcomes.  I know how hard it is to produce a novel of quality and have no fantasies about it.   I don't know how to produce a bad novel that will sell, like some seem to.

If you are local, I can get you a copy easily.  You can get copies on bookseller websites a little cheaper.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Movie connections to Donald Trump

Interesting essay on how four famous movies connect to Donald Trump and politics.  If you had asked me to name four, I would have immediately thought of #2 and #3 on this list, but #1 makes the most sense.  I don't know movie #4.

Link to my novels

They are available elsewhere.  In fact, I will sell you copies at cost if you contact me (but there will be shipping, and some of the used prices are better than what I can do.) I just have to put in this plug occasionally.  I don't make any money from them; it all goes to charity.

As my administrative job is coming to an end soon, I am turning to writing again.  I have at least ten book ideas.  I will self-publish and create a body of work.  Perhaps scale will get some attention!

Love and Friendship by Jane Austen: A review

Driving my dog to her vet appointment (which set me back $170) I listened to an NPR interviewer talk to Kate Beckinsale, the British actress, about her role in a new Jane Austen-based movie, Love and Friendship.  I was a little surprised because I had read a review of this on Christianity Today a while back, several months, and had read the book upon which is is based on Kindle in the meantime.

"Book" is a sort of misnomer.  Actually, I think the movie is based on two novellas, Lady Susan and Love and Friendship, which I haven't read yet.   Lady Susan is a novella, and an epistolary one no less, which I understand was not uncommon at that time. It took a bit of time to figure out the characters in this genre, but after a few letters it began to even out and I enjoyed the short read.  I am not a fast reader (too hyper to sit for long periods) so it took me a while, but for most it would be three hours maybe.

Compared to other Jane Austen's, especially Pride and Prejudice, one of the best novels in history (and by that I mean top ten), it is lacking and a bit one-dimensional, and its portrayal of just about everyone is unsympathetic and "edgy" (the word used by the NPR interviewer, I am afraid I forgot his name) or snarky.  Jane lets her full frustration with the place of women in her society out, but she also shows how it can create a nightmare of charm and flirtation like Lady Susan.

Essentially, Lady Susan is a very attractive and coquettish woman of about 35 with a 16-or-so- year-old daughter.  Lady Susan, a recent widow and used to the good life, does not like her daughter or being a mother, and tries to off load her on family members, boarding schools, and possible husbands with good connections.  Lady Susan, as a woman of her time, has no discernible skill and of course would not be allowed to make any money if she could, but working for a living wouldn't please her anyway.  I am sure there were lots and lots of women at that time who would have liked to earn their keep, at least to try it.  Lady Susan sees her only option to find a rich husband or maybe what could euphemistically be called "a sponsor," and it doesn't matter if the man in question is already attached.

Through a series of letters we see her flirting and intrigues and how others respond to it, specifically her late husband's family whom she is depending on currently.  Her attempts to marry off her daughter, who has quite shockingly run away from her boarding school to the refuge of another family and get her own rich husband, are thwarted.  The men in the book are pretty stupid and succumb much too easily to her charms, and the women get to be pretty catty.  It's a fun read but not the level of the "big six Austens" as I call them. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Two big questions to ask oneself everyday

What would you do if you weren't afraid?
(and what are you afraid of?)


Why does it matter?

Russell Moore is my hero

Just wanted to say that. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Women

I have written here before two thoughts about The Cost of Discipleship:  that people don't really read it even though they quote it, and that it was very much a product of its time and culture, especially of a country with a state church.  This is what I told my son recently when he saw I was reading it.  While much of it is profound and transformative and I think it is worth reading for historical context if nothing else, I have up-and-down reactions to it.

Definitely a down one when I came to his chapter entitled "Women."  The chapter was about lust and adultery, not women.  It should have been named that because it had nothing to do with women, and as an educated older woman with a pretty holistic and historic view, I found the whole chapter more than disturbing.  Modern editors should change the title of the chapter so he doesn't come across like such a misogynist.

From this chapter I conclude that he totally saw no place for women in leadership in the church, that women are a hindrance and a problem rather than part of the solution, that he is writing only to men, that women are "other" rather than half the body of Christ and therefore not equal to men, that he is not reading the whole New Testament.

I will do a little research to find out if I am right.  One woman has written about his friends who were women, so that is a start.  

I do believe Jesus saw the victimhood of women in his time (and today) and raises us to parity with men, but his goal is not to empower us as a gender or sex (and yes, I know the difference).  His goal is to empower us as members of the kingdom who lived in gendered or sexed bodies which determine a lot of who we are.  Women power per se is not a Biblical concept. 

StrengthsQuest and Anti-Strengths

In preparation for a week-long institute in Los Angeles sponsored by the AAC&U, I have been asked to read the Gallup's Strengths-Based Leadership book and to revisit my strengths.  I took the test originally about four years ago and I can't say that taking it again would change anything, really.

I totally subscribe to their philosophy of focusing on strengths and not spending all one's time trying to remediate weaknesses.  I also like the idea that no leader will have all the strengths but that he/she should build a team around him/her that does represent all or most of them.

I think this is clearly in line with the Scriptural view of spiritual gifts and how they are given for the church for the mutual benefit, and that all have a gift for mutual edifying. My understanding is that Gallup is a very pro-faith-based organization and I have read other research they do with churches.

Our institution even requires all freshmen to take the test.  So let no one think I am arguing against the strengths philosophy.  I like it very much. However. . .

I realized this week that, like most people, there are two Barbaras.  There is obedient, button-down, fundamentalist, organized, punctual, kind, studious, dependable, hard-working, administrator Barbara.  And there is extroverted, free-spirited, "get on the back of a motorcycle," snarky, wicked sense of humor, novelist, tap-into-subconscious, somewhat lazy, film noir, don't tell me what to do Barbara.  So now the second Barbara is going to write (which usually happens).

In reading the descriptions of the "strengths" and the research behind them, I noticed that they were "spun" to be all positive.  However, it is just as likely that these strengths have anti-strengths, or downsides.  I'll stick with mine, since I can't speak for others, but these are the strengths and anti-strengths.

Learner:  Always learning and never coming to a conclusion; too bookish; more likely to get other people to talk than talking about yourself (a colleague once pointed out that that shows a lack of trust in the other person to listen or take in the information).  Proud of what I have read and like to mention books I read recently.

Responsibility:  I am the only person who can do this right, so I will only pretend to get other people to help or get their input.

Achiever:  Work-alcoholic.  Living by a to-do list.  A good day is one with the boxes checked off, not quality time spent with others.  This one I am really working on.

Input:  Pack-rat.  One need only walk into my house.  Very hard to get rid of things.  It's even worse when married to the same strength! (I really don't see this as a strength at all).

Belief.  Dogmatic and Pharisaical.

On top of it, some of the other strengths, which I apparently don't have in excess, are just sexier than these.

As I take on a new leadership role, I am conscious of my lack of charisma and coolness.  I have to compensate for it by dependability and new ideas and follow-through.  That's ok.  Charisma and coolness (and Woo, as Gallup calls it) would be a heavy burden, at least for me.  I don't have the energy for it.  I also think one would be more open to criticism for those than for being dependability.  

The Twilight of Atheism, by Alistair McGrath: Review

A colleague who teaches philosophy and logic, and who has been a Presbyterian pastor for many years, recommended this book to me.  I had read McGrath’s biography of Calvin and enjoyed it.  So after reading my colleague’s copy for a weekend, I bought a copy. 
It is a good resource but . . .
The history of religion and of course atheism (which as he points out pretty much positions itself in response or counterpoint to Christianity) is a far too complicated subject to deal with in one book, so I consider this a perspective on the topic, a taking of massive amounts of data and literature and culling it down to a “less than academic” work that is in service to an argument that atheism did not take over the world but is in the decline.
Of course the book was written over ten years ago, so some of it is dated.  That’s why I can’t take his conclusions all that seriously, however interesting the journey.  Not that I disagree totally, only that there are huge gaps along with the “good stuff.”
When I write that it is less than academic, I mean it is for the educated laymen, not for the true historian of philosophy.  It is well documented, just incomplete.  Here are my more specific critiques.
Christianity is clearly on the rise in the developing world, even in the Muslim world.  Africa, China and Korea, and South America are becoming more evangelized and Christian. According to a report on the Colson Center yesterday, even in Nepal there is an explosion in Christian believers.  Christianity appeals to the lower classes and castes, and as McGrath points out, the existence or nonexistence of atheism or Christian belief has a great deal to do with historical and sociological circumstances as well as the “brand” of Christianity.  For example, the most Christian Asian country is Korea, largely in response to its oppression from Japan. 
The type of Christianity that is most growing now is Pentecostalism, which “emphasizes a direct connection with God” and does not place doctrine as the only arbiter of practice.  Pentecostalism can also be somewhat ecumenical although it started as an outgrowth of Wesleyanism. 
In the book, Islam is barely mentioned.  That is a huge gap.  Atheism is only defined in terms of European or Western Christianity.  While some would argue that the growth of Islam is a negative thing, from an academic standpoint it is still a force against atheism.  And that brings me to a personal point.  Yes, as a Christian reading this I can appreciate the arguments and analysis but the academic and former debate coach in me recognizes the incompleteness.  McGrath shows his hand and admits to his own former atheism and the shallowness of it in retrospect, and owns his current more evangelical (although it would probably not look like my experience of it) position.
In the U.S. more people claim to be atheists than ever.  I have my doubts as to whether these people really are atheists.  It may be a fad to say that, and given the anti-thought bent of most people.  I believe a more honest position is agnosticism, a state of just not knowing.   I can understand that, although it is a pretty crummy way to live.  Claiming to have conclusive evidence that there is no God is pretty arrogant, and of course they would argue that claiming there is evidence for God is pretty arrogant. Many of these so-called atheists are probably reactionaries against what they see as bigotry, especially against sexual minorities, by the “church” or established religion.
The Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins types don’t get much space in this book, although Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her shenanigans do, along with so-called atheists organizations.  There seems to be plenty of room to make fun of them.  They come across rather adolescent.  Atheism, in McGrath’s portrait, looks like a bunch of twelve-year-old boys who want to rebel against some authority figure by making fun of something they claim doesn’t exist.  Atlantic Monthly had an article about this phenomenon a few years ago:  People who are mad at the God who isn’t there.   You can’t have it both ways, it seems to me.  At least Sartre and Camus were honest:  you’re on your own; stop blaming the Higher Power for how crappy life, especially your own, is.  If you don’t like it, get off, but don’t be mad at nobody.
The most problematic of his arguments, though, is that Protestantism led to atheism.  This is an odd argument when historically the two least atheistic European countries are the UK and the US (he even points out how many in the UK still claim to be Christians). And, the first or leading atheistic country was a Catholic one—France.  I can see how some of the presuppositions of Protestantism, largely individual conscience, could lead some to atheism, it is not inexorable or inevitable historically.  The revival in Christianity is a Protestant version of it (Pentecostalism).  He also claims that Protestantism lacks imagination, because we emphasize the word and really, really didn’t like images in the first two centuries of the Reformation.  True, but imagination shows up in other ways.  There is C.S. Lewis, who got his vision from George McDonald, a minister.  And Bach and Handl.  And Blake.  And many others.  Maybe our painting wasn’t so great but our music and literature were.  So it’s not all that strong  an argument.  
I do recommend the book to anyone who would like a panoramic view of atheism, but with caveats.  No book, outside the Word, should be taken without critique. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Getting Older

One sign of getting older is when you see someone your age on TV or a movie, you say, "She looks good," or "He looks awful."  Or even worse, "Is she still alive?"'

Case in point (and example of sexism).  When Harrison Ford and Chewy showed up in Star Wars, everyone applauded and cheered.  When Carrie Fisher did, the response was, "Wow.  So that's what she looks like now." 

I am thankful for good health, although it's not perfect.  Something hurts all the time.  Weigh does not go away.  Energy levels are still high but I can't do the long hauls (such as driving) like I used to.  Sigh. 

The worst part of getting older is that so many family members are in eternity.  This will be our first Mother's Day without both our mothers.  I keep thinking I should order flowers but there is no one to order flowers for.

Short reflection on truth

"It makes all the difference in the world whether we put truth in the first place or in the second place."

This was the quotation in my Franklin Covey Planner this morning, and I find it quite inspiring.

It does no good to put "love" in first place.  One will lose all reason for loving, one's moral compass, one's true north.

"Speak the truth in love,"Eph. 4:15.  Not "speak love in truth."

"I am the way, the truth, and the life."

"You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (Unlike the Nazis, who said "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free).

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 

Go to and find these and others.  My point is first an apologetic one.  I have heard for years that in order to "reach the postmodern generation" we have to focus on story, not propositional truth.  Big mistake.  Story is great, I am all about story, but everyone's story is valid for them and we have a theology that is transpersonal and universal.  So why are we surprised by the shallowness of theological knowledge today?  

Secondly, it is a pastoral one.  Today I am listening to NPR on the ride home.  I am learning about the horrible conditions and plight of the people of Syrian.  I switch over to a Christian radio talk show for a minute to see what's on there.  The subject is how couples should pray together.  That's good, although I have to wonder what they are praying about.  A caller, a woman,  gets on the air and as typically happens, she starts to cry (I usually automatically turn those off).  She starts complaining about how her husband wants her to pray when they pray together.  I wanted to scream at the radio, "Is that why you are crying?  Is that what is important to you?  Do you know what's going on in the world?"  

The subjective had overtaken the objective, the personal is truth to the exclusion of the universal.   

I Don't Have to Do Anything

For those who say I now have to vote for the lesser of two evils, I will let my mentor-by-distance, Russell Moore, reply.

Just like I do not have to go to Target to prove I am loving (I plan to avoid them, more for other policies than the bathroom thing), I don't have to vote for the Republican nominee to prove . . . anything.  Don't tell me what I have to do.  Yes, that sounds childish.  Your arguments sound Machiavellian.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on relationship and worship

In this passage, DB says nothing but what Christ has said, and it has made me marvel how much we disobey in this regard.

"When a man gets angry at his brother and swears at him, when he publicly insults or slanders him, he is guilty of murder and forfeits his relation to God.  He erects a barrier between himself and God.  He no longer has access to him; his sacrifice, worship and prayer are not acceptable in his sight. For the Christian, worship cannot be divorced from the service of the brethren, as it was with the rabbis.  If we despise our brother our worship is unreal . . . . We are both individually and as a congregation worshiping an idol. . . . He who loves God and hates his brother is a liar." (I have omitted some really good things from pps. 128-9.)

My first response is to say, "I don't hate anyone," but.  I stop there.  Contempt is often shown by ignorance, by calumny (a great word, look it up), by meanness. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Babylon Bee

If you want to waste some time and laugh pretty hard, try this website:

The articles are funny but just reading the titles of these Onion-like, faux news-style pieces is enough.

Local Woman Searches Bible in Vain for Beloved "Footprints in the Sand" poem

Deny Your Conscience, Take up Your Guns, and Follows Trump, Urges Jerry Falwell, Jr.

King of Saudi Arabia Gets Kick out of Apple lecturing North Carolina (this is my favorite and a must read.  I doubt I will spend much future money on Apple products.)

Jaws of Life Needed to remove Worship Leader's Skinny Jeans

Southern Baptists Announce Plans to Silently Judge Trump

Pastor Admits Doing Life Together Just an Excuse for Doing Whatever.

There are many, many more.

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...