Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thinking Through Some False Assumptions

Tonight I was coming home listening to my customary 25 minutes of drive time radio.  I listened to Janet Parshall and at one point said, Let me turn over to NPR and see if they are talking about Trump.

At first I thought, they aren't.  It was an African woman in Nairobi talking about how she has trouble getting her condoms.  Because of Trump.

That beats all.  He's been in office ten days and the supply of condoms in Kenya has been cut off.  Now, that is power!

OK, forgive the snarky.  I realize this poor woman is probably married and already has a number of children and wants to practice family planning.  Of course she should.  And she should get them from the health clinic.

But . . .

at what point in time did it become the responsibility of the United States government to supply her condoms?  Why doesn't Kenya's government?

Oh, they are too poor, you say.  Really?  Why are they poor?  Too poor to help with health needs as small as condoms?  Apparently yes, and food insecurity is real there.  Why?  Is  corruption possibly to blame?  Corruption that took American funds and funneled into something else, like limousines for government officials?

Now, I am playing devil's advocate here, and I do believe the developed world has a responsibility to the developing world.  You can judge me, but I dare you to look at my checkbook compared to someone who can cry and moan about poor people in Africa.  Talk is cheap, but I prefer to help NGOs that get the money straight to the people instead of toxic charity government programs that do not work.  How much money has our government plowed into Africa and these problems continue?  We have created a dependency.

But my real point is to question the assumption that every need is to be filled by the government.  That's just scary. I hear it all the time in higher education.  The problem is, it's never enough, and bureaucracies can be incredibly creative about finding ways to waste money.

I doubt anyone reads these rants, but I hope it makes someone think. 

Addendum on Feb. 4:  Ah!  In a news report today, NPR admitted to corruption in Kenya, although it was about police shaking down bus drivers.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

Thinking about Some Big False Ideas

The United States is not Israel in the Old Testament.  We are a representative democracy, a democratic republic with a constitution. 

We are not obligated to follow the laws of the Old Testament about the aliens and strangers among us.  As a sovereign nation, we are to protect our borders and citizens. 

Christians are not Old Testament Israel either.  Most of the "promises" Christians use from the Old Testament do not apply to us, especially not individually.

In Matthew 16 Jesus said, Upon this rock I will build my church.  That means he was going to start something new--new wine in new wineskins.  He wasn't replacing Israel; he was starting the church.  The church has very clear teaching of its own to follow, called the gospels and epistles.  Every spiritual and moral principle that God wants us to follow from the Old Testament is repeated in the New.

So, where does this lead us to refugees? 
Don't quote Old Testament passages about taking care of aliens and say they apply to us.  I find this especially strange from liberals who don't want to follow any of the rest of the Old Testament law.
As a church and an individual, practice all the love, compassion, and hospitality you can!  Hebrews 13 says to!  Romans 12 says to!  Help and minister to the refugees through NGOs, be aware, read, know the truth, don't just respond emotionally (although you should, but it should be based in fact). 

Stay off Facebook. It is a nest of lies and liars. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus now becomes, at least according to the text, more obvious and confrontation toward the religious order.  I think we overlook the radicality of this text.  What amazes me is his line of argument.  David and the showbread; the priests on the Sabbath; his identity; the scriptural principle of mercy as coming first.  “You would not have condemned the guiltless.” Who is guiltless here?  Those who have only broken interpretations of the law, not the real law itself.  They had not killed or used the Sabbath for gain—only for grain, one might say.  They had fed themselves in a way that caused them to interact directly with the plant.   They were not stealing because the real law said to leave grain around the edges for the poor to reap.  It’s also the principle of margin—do not hoard for oneself everything, and do not take everything, including time, for yourself. 
Mainly, though, this is about the Lord of the Sabbath—he created it, he is the fulfillment of it (note he doesn’t say “I’m getting rid of it,” only that it was made for man, not the other way around), everything about the Sabbath points to him.
I am typing this on New Year’s Eve (catching up on three months worth of jottings) and since tomorrow is both the “Sabbath” (I know, I know, not really but it will do as the day of the week for rest) and since it’s the first day of the year and a holiday too, it’s a good day to start my Sabbaths again.  They went away when I started the doctoral program.  Time to come back. 

Fact, Fiction and Hysteria

I find myself in the unenviable position of saying, "Look, I think Trump's a jerk, but let's calm down.  Let's look at what he's really doing and not take the media's and left's hysteria for fact."

This article explains the supposedly "Ban on Muslims" that isn't.  http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444370/donald-trump-refugee-executive-order-no-muslim-ban-separating-fact-hysteria

You can also search for the actual text of that order.  The word Muslim does not appear.  The word permanent does not appear.  This is not a permanent ban on Muslims or refugees.  It is a slowing down of the process to vet better.  Still, it seems to have caused an unnecessary confusion that is not boding well for his management style.  No nuance whatsoever.  And possible xenophobia. 

Now, whether it is needed is another issue, but it's not outside of the constitution per se. However, this practice of executive orders may be more the problem than what the orders are asking for.  We have gotten so deep into imperial presidencies since Wilson that we don't know what end is up.

Dare I say that maybe Trump is asking us to obey some immigration laws that have been ignored?  Dare I say that if the millionaires on the left are so concerned about Planned Parenthood and NPR, that they can pay for it?  Dare I say that our government has gotten too big and we expect the government to take care of us cradle to grave?  Dare I say that the government really doesn't have a responsibility to pay for the arts?  Dare I say we should go back to the real functions of government in the constitution, like defense and building roads and protecting interstate commerce? Clearly I lean libertarian.

Still, he's a con man, and I don't trust him.  I'm not worried about  a fascist dictatorship.  Yet.  It falls to us to be vigilant. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In Memory, Mary Tyler Moore

I don't usually get too concerned about celebrity deaths, but she was someone I watched a great deal growing up.  All those years of Dick Van Dyke and her own show, which I watched fanatically every Saturday night.  It really is possible that her character was more of a role model than we realized. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Happiness is my ESL class.  These people are special.  Three Iraqi woman, four Sudanese young men, and one Guatemalan. They are the high point of my week.

Media and Thoughts for January 22, 2017

So starts the four-year fight between Trump and the news media.  Principle 1:  The news media has no compunction about hiding the truth.  They report what they like.  What they report is truthful (or should I say based on fact) but only the truth they want to present, which might then by its very nature be perceived in an untrue way.  Cue the story of the blind men and the elephant. 

I listen to NPR a good bit but roll my eyes a good bit, too.  This past week they said they would be covering the inauguration and fact-checking the speech.  Oh, please.  Did they ever fact check President Obama?  They are so obviously out to "gotcha" on Trump and his administration, some of which seem to be really good people.  I hope they are taking the jobs to help our country through the trial of having him as president. 

However, Trump deserves to be fact checked.  He seems to believe that saying things enough times makes it true.  Magical thinking, maybe?

But I for one don't want every news headline to be about the news media and Trump fighting.  It will only lower the news media's already abysmally low credibility rating.  It will only give the news media more reason not to report the real news of what's going on in the world, which sometimes I don't think they want to do anyway.  Cue my go-to story of how NBC news spent two minutes on the UN finally admitting to human rights abuses in North Korea but five minutes on Jimmy Fallon taking over the Tonight Show.  Yeah. 

I taught Daniel 2 and 3 this morning, and couldn't help but feel that Daniel, Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael were working for a T***p like kind of guy, Nebuchadnezzar.  Definitely erratic.  Interesting, in Daniel 3 Nebbie only wanted his officials to bow down to the image (I figure he got the idea of the big statue from his dream in Daniel 2) not the whole populace.  It was a loyalty test (I have to sign a loyalty oath to the state of Georgia, but it only requires not be unethical and spend the state's money wrongly).   I don't think he expected the Jews whom he had promoted to be a problem. 

So inspiration for the day:  Be a problem to someone.  Maybe we will see God work.

"But if not . . . " Their short speech is one of the greatest in the Bible.  Most of the great speeches of the Bible are pretty short.  "Choose you this day,. . . "  "How long halt ye between two opinions?. . . ."

The deliverance of the three was a miracle.  End of story.  I saw a piece on the History Channel (never go to the History Channel for your theology, by the way) about how it worked that they were able to get out of that furnace.  Uh, no.

Let us pray for a miracle in our president, because if he governs wisely it will only be because of miraculous answers to prayer.

Another media alert:  We are told that the march yesterday was the biggest in the history of the world.  Really?  Sure, there were protests in other parts of the world, but how could they possibly know that it was the biggest?  Considering how the media never reports on the marches against Roe v. Wade,  which draws hundreds of thousands, I would doubt their counting ability. 

Finally, I am slowly watching The Crown on NetFlix.  Awfully good.  What an arse Edward was!  So wonderful that we were delivered from that fool.  People of my generation like and respect the Queen, although monarchy is so strange. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 11 continued

Sometimes I think that being a modern, as I call it, has divorced us from the rest of humanity that has been on the planet for thousands of years.  For about 150 years we have had quickly evolving technologies that have transformed our ways of thinking and relating.  So we come to Scripture with a mindset that is new in human history but we think is the only right one.  And we land in Matthew 11.
  Jesus may seem a little moody or all over the place, a bit up and down here.  We are assuming this is directly chronological, like a novel, which may or may not be true.  He comforts and judges in the same thirty verses. He comforts John’s disciples, he castigates the crowds for wanting a show, he condemns the surrounding towns for ignoring the revelations they have received, and then he makes a clear declaration of deity, and finish by inviting the weary and oppressed.  Comfort, a little sarcasm, and anger, condemnation, and comfort.  So, we see the human emotions.  Which one of us has not run the same gamut, without it being recorded as holy writ?  And of course we expect a flat sameness from Jesus, because he’s perfect, right?  It’s something we are not going to get.  Are emotions no less real or justified because they come close together?  In our medication-induced stupor, what have we lost?  I myself take a mild dosage of an SSRI to help with panic attacks, yet I had one yesterday, or at least one of those wild compulsions to run out o a room or church service, to even jump off the banister of the balcony.  So odd.  Sitting here in this office, with the door closed, with the heat on, with my big picture window, with my books and computer, I feel safe, yet this is somewhat of an artificial world.   

Trump is President

Just a few observations.  I am not happy he is president; I still think it's about the weirdest American political thing I've ever seen in my many, many years. But he is, legally.   I am not in despair about it, although there is no sense of satisfaction, since I didn't vote for him and spent the last year blogging and speaking against him when there was a chance.  So my conscience is clear; to quote "Sweet Home Alabama," my conscience doesn't bother me, does yours?

The left is a bunch of sore losers.  Bill Clinton only had 43% of the vote, but won electoral.  That's the way the system works.  If Hillary had won the electoral and not the popular vote, we wouldn't be hearing these arguments.  These folks are living up to the special snowflake insult. 

I have a feeling that a lot of of those protesters were paid to do that yesterday.  Not so much those today, the women, but it's interesting that those feminists did not want the Feminist for Life to participate with them.   So this proves what I have always believed:  the foundational issue between the left and right is abortion.  Not poverty, not racism, but a woman's "right" to terminate her pregnancy at any time.  Those who truly want to help the poor or hide behind that as their reason for being on the left have to live with the cognitive dissonance that their peers have one concern:  there aren't enough abortions.

That said, a truly prolife person is concerned about racism and the poor, but looks for constructive ways to deal with these issues rather than throwing tax money at them or just looking for racism when none is there.  I see a lot of beam vs. speck in the talk about racism. 

I made the mistake of putting an observation on Facebook that vandalism is not legitimate protest.  My liberal friends got into arguments with my conservative friends, and I use "friends" in the Facebook sense, not the real sense.  I should have known better.  Never again.

I don't think a lot of the people who are so worried have that much to worry about; certain immigrant groups are the only ones I feel empathy for.

But none of this should be taken as a defense of Trump.  You will never hear that from me.  He hasn't earned a defense and has a huge credibility deficit to fill before I can say much good about him.  I am just not going to criticize things that are minor and be the person who cried wolf.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 11:25-end of chapter

These verses bring up the question, what is the relationship between the members of the Trinity/Godhead and what do they know?  Jesus said the date of his return is known only the Father (although that may be historical rather than eternal time—in other words, at that particular moment Jesus had been limited from knowing, but not in eternity).  However, he also says that “all things are entrusted to the Son, which is echoed in other places, such as in Paul’s writing, specifically in Colossians 1 and 2.  The passage implies a coice by God as to who get the revelation.
The “come to me” verses—some of my favorites! In this context it is an assertion or claim to power, not just a nice “feel good” promise.  After saying that the offer of the gospel is closed to those who are not chosen to have it revealed to them, Jesus offers it to all.  In the wider context, we are looking at judgment on cities in that region that have had the blessing of revelation of the Son and have rejected it.  They have received “grace for grace” and turned their backs, incurring more judgment than the proverbial cities of evil. 
These verses bring up the question, what is the relationship between the members of the Trinity/Godhead and what do they know?  Jesus said the date of his return is known only the Father (although that may be historical rather than eternal time—in other words, at that particular moment Jesus had been limited from knowing, but not in eternity).  However, he also says that “all things are entrusted to the Son, which is echoed in other places, such as in Paul’s writing, specifically in Colossians 1 and 2.  The passage implies a coice by God as to who get the revelation.
The “come to me” verses—some of my favorites! In this context it is an assertion or claim to power, not just a nice “feel good” promise.  After saying that the offer of the gospel is closed to those who are not chosen to have it revealed to them, Jesus offers it to all.  In the wider context, we are looking at judgment on cities in that region that have had the blessing of revelation of the Son and have rejected it.  They have received “grace for grace” and turned their backs, incurring more judgment than the proverbial cities of evil. 
Matthew 11:28 starts, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you."  Now, we don’t want a yoke, even if it is from the person most deserving of placing it on us—and he asks us to choose the yoke.  We’ve already got yokes on us—forms of bondage.  That’s what we moderns don’t want to admit  We’ve got more than one yoke on us, and Jesus just asks us to take on his light one.  It is a yoke that gives us rest.  Not sleep, but rest. 
Rest is an amazing concept in the Bible, tied into the Sabbath (which Jesus is Lord of), our health, our liberation, our community, our sense of self.  We are striving so hard to prove something, to, like Rocky in the movie, to prove we are not bums; like Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire, “I have ten seconds to justify my existence.”  And Eric Lidell put his commitment above his need to get a medal (which he surely would have won) because he rested, not just on the principle of the Sabbath but on the Lord of Sabbath rest.  (These are from a Tim Keller podcast today).
I don’t need sleep; I need rest.  Our whole society does.  Although I get tired of the comparisons to Scandinavia about their having six-hour work days (they have to in the winter—everybody is depressed from the lack of sunlight), they do seem to be saying to us, “Americans, what is the hurry?  What’s up with 60-hour work weeks?” (to which I have not been a stranger in 2016).
(My DNA test from one of those companies said I was 3/8 Scandinavian, which I can believe but am glad to live in warmer climes and longer daylight hours).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 11:7-14

These are probably some of the most poetic but also scathing words of Jesus. Tim Keller has a good sermon (podcast) on this passage. What did you go to gawk at?  Jesus asks.  John was far more than you realize. This generation (which means more than a group of people bounded by birthdates) is fickle and childish.  They are fussing at each other over trivial and stupid matters, and they are as unsatisfied with an abstemious prophet as they are with a Savior who reaches out to humans in human ways.  We don’t want either.  We are a child in a bad mood not getting his way and rejecting both options his parents offer him.
(I am reminded of liberals and secularists who try to argue their points by appealing to Jesus.  They don’t want to follow Jesus but they will cherry pick his words when it suits them.  I am sure Jesus is pleased by their condescension and approval.)
The fact that Jesus was rejected by some because of his humanity is interesting.  Wisdom is vindicated—proved right—by the deeds that come from it.  In other words, ideas have consequences, so the consequences give us the indication of the validity and truthfulness of the “wisdom.”
Everything Jesus said was not “nice.”  We don’t get a nice Jesus.  So “nice” is not the ultimate standard, not a deal breaker, not a voting issue as we used to say in the debate circuits. Like most women of my generation I have lived too much of my life with “nice” as the criterion, afraid of “offending” someone but not so much out of concern of causing harm to them but from fear of losing something—respect, a job, an opportunity.
That’s a pretty tacky reason to be “nice,” because (1) it doesn’t work, and you can’t control other people’s perceptions and reactions, and (2) it’s ultimately all about “me.”  Nice doesn’t cut it.  Truth in love cuts it, filtered through good manner and civility. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Always Read the Book

Recently I downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes because I was tired of the TV and movie versions and wanted to see what they were really about.

So far I have read A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four.  They are delightful, and the portrayals of Holmes as an absolute jerk are unfounded.  (I really despise Cumberbatch's portrayal, but I don't think he's really supposed to be Holmes.)  He's aloof, unemotional, sometimes arrogant (but capable of admitting mistakes), and sometimes kind and giving; yes, he does take cocaine at times (which was not a huge deal back then), but not every day. 

Always read the original source material.  Movies can be very nice versions of the originals, but usually they get it wrong somehow simply because they are not the same medium.  It's like the difference between a photograph and a painting.  One is more directly the work and intent of the artist and his/her talent; the other has to be mediated through a machine.

(January 17--I have read 27% of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and I'm still looking for Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Fresh Studies in Mathew, Matthew 11:1-7

--> This chapter is chock full. It begins with the poignant story of John’s doubt.  What other religious document has such a human passage as this?  John had been at the baptism, and had seen the spectacle of the voice of the Father, the bodily manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the incarnate Word in one place.  And now he is prison; prison has a way of burning away spectacle and exposing doubt, especially since he was probably able to guess his fate.  Jesus answer is patient but clear: I am doing everything a Messiah is supposed to be doing, cousin John.  His claims are based on the Old Testament prophecies of what the Messiah would do.  But his tone changes in verse 7 and following.  John needs one thing; the crowd who gawked at John needed something else. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 10

This chapter, or portion, must be taken as a whole and not parsed out like the others.  Of course, we could argue that is true of earlier passages.  Here he is commissioning his 12 to go out and preach the gospel of the kingdom, pre-cross, and this is not pretty.  He addresses opposition, persecution, fear, separation from family, inter-familial conflict, death.
What I have missed up to this point is that this chapter immediately follows “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Jesus has looked at the masses and it is clear as one person in a body he cannot minister directly to all of them, so he commissions the 12 disciples (including the one who betrays him!) to go out and reach the masses with healing and teaching.  That part holds true today: we are an extension of the body of Christ.
The ideals of the gospel, the real essence and mandates of it, so transcend where we are.  
(In my original reflection I went on a diatribe about the election, because it was written ten days before it and I was appalled by what was going on, but I'll omit that here as untimely but not irrelevant.)
Jesus tells his disciples (and I take this as directly to them, only indirectly to us, so we must be careful to go too far with some of it, like the shaking the dust off your feet part), that he would bring division (the very strong metaphor of “a sword”) between family members.  He has.  What is it about choosing to follow Christ that causes such division?  Why do the nonbelievers in Christ become so opposed?  What point of doctrine is the crux of it?  The exclusivity of the gospel?  The negation of self-reliance?  The insistence on clear right and wrong behavior?  The need to repent and say, “I am turning from my past?” 
In turning from our past, how much do we turn from the people and relationships of our past, and how do they interpret that?  As rejection?  As superiority?  There is no sense in the New Testament that those who came to Christ really rejected their families.  The sense is that the families would reject the new believers, not the other way round.  This is vital.  Those who reject him, not those who take him, yield the sword Jesus brings.  However, I am sure it has often worked out as the believers seeming to reject, or actually rejecting, their families. 
When Jesus says that family members will deliver up others to persecution, it is of course the believers who will be delivered up.  Is this passage just for that time, for these disciples on this mission?  I tend to think so, although obviously it still happens today.  The fact that a parent or child or brother would “rat out” a child or parent or brother for believing in Christ may have hit the disciples as an impossible situation; it surely is for us, although it has happened.  The fact in v. 23 that he focuses on Israel leads me to believe we should not take this passage too much for us today, not literally.
So in the next verses he comforts them; they are worth more to God than animals that God cares for intimately.  Their bodies are vulnerable, but not their souls, not in God’s hands. 
It just seems that in my Christian experience I have heard sermons on these verses in an isolated way, but not holistically, not contextually. I don’t mean to dismiss them as not applying to us; I think they do in a global sense, but not in an immediate sense.  So, takeaways:
1.     Jesus commissions us as the extension of his ministry; we are embodied and empowered to extend his ministry (although not healing today).
2.     Opposition is endemic to the faith.  Expect it.  Prepare for it. 
3.     God is intimately involved in our lives, whether we “get it” or not.
4.     The claims of Christ are exclusivistic; that’s a fancy way of saying it’s his way or the (broad) highway. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 9:14

In response to a question about why the disciples of Jesus do not fast like John’s, Jesus essentially says, they will, when I am gone.  I am with them now and there is no reason to mourn and fast.  I found the analogy of the patched garment and new wineskins odd most of my life because I didn’t understand the reality of these items.  Sure, I patched garments, but with those patches manufactured ones that don’t shrink!  And we don’t make wine in animal skins now.  The kingdom Jesus is bringing is new and putting old parts of the former kingdom, with emphasis on law, is not going to work.  We cannot mix the law and grace.  So much of what he is saying is hearkening back to Jeremiah’s promises of a new way of doing things.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’[b] For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”[c]

This is NOT one of the more enigmatic statements of Jesus (not that there were really that many in the first place).  Matthew writes of his own call very succinctly.  “Jesus came, he saw, I went.” Like the fishermen, there is immediate turning from former vocation; we don’t know if he ever went back to it for a while, or what his employers the Romans said.  Maybe he was disgusted with the life, tired of being hated by his countrymen, exhausted with the pressure from the Romans to get more and more money.  Even Paul put up an argument, but not Matthew, not in this record.  We don’t know if this is the first time they have met; I find that unlikely. 
The next verses are an outgrowth of that encounter, most likely.  The tax collectors (who might be Jew or Gentile, for all we know) are eating with him, the supreme act of fellowship.  Not just tax collectors, but “sinners.”  That is interesting.  We know we are all sinners; every theologian from Paul to Barth convinced us of that, and we really didn’t need any convincing any way.  But apparently to this Pharisees, they were not sinners and sinners were a separate class of people rather than the state of all men.  Perhaps that is a core of legalism; some people get beyond the class of “sinner.” 
Instead of coming to Jesus directly, they try to talk behind his back, but to no avail.  Jesus is on to them.  I imagine they were pretending to be surreptitious but really wanted to be heard, but didn’t want to defile themselves with talking to Jesus, the friend of sinners.  “I am come to deal with people who know they have a problem, just like a doctor knows he is going to deal with sick people.  Well people don’t come to the emergency room, or people that think they are well.  Only sinners can repent; if you think you are righteous, you won’t repent and aren’t interested in me. “  But even more, “You get your righteousness from giving your sacrifices in the temple.  Wouldn’t it be better if you were merciful, especially to these people, rather than sacrificing?  Wouldn’t the right choices in the first place be better?”
This is my understanding of what Jesus says here.  I may be a bit off on it.  He is quoting the Old Testament, Hosea 6:6 to be exact, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”  As mentioned before, mercy is not just the act of forgiveness, although that is part of it. To be merciful is a lifestyle, a proactive stance as well as a reactive one. 
Our pastor is preaching on the reality of the gospel in one’s life; it is not a reality of having professed a conversion as a child and then ignoring it for decades.  He is preaching from James, a book that you have to be prophetic with if you are teaching it. 

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 9:1-8

This is similar to the story in Mark where the roof if taken off; that might be a purposeful omission since it wasn’t important to Matthew’s narrative about power and validation of Messiahship. I didn’t understand this for years, for some reason, because I didn’t understand the “which is easier part?”  It is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” because there is no outward proof.  It is much harder to say, ”Rise and walk” because that has to be followed with a healing understood.  Jesus did both, not just for himself or the scribes, but for the paralytic man, who apparently had not that being forgiven meant healing of his physical condition. 
We also do not understand, at first or even after a while, the full meaning of “your sins are forgiven.” We do not forgive ourselves and still let our scruples and Satan keep us in bondage to “not feeling forgiven.” We don’t have a right to be more righteous than God.
The scribes are an interesting bunch.  Although we see them as the bad guys, they were the ones who copied Scripture, so accuracy was vital to them.  In their minds they were not really out of line to question his ability to forgive sins, but Jesus says they are thinking evil, perhaps because they were less concerned about the man’s healing than their personal interpretation of Scripture.
This makes me think:  how many times do we put adherence to traditional interpretations of the faith ahead of meeting legitimate human need? How much do we use our interpretation of Scripture to keep from seeing those real needs and attempting to meet them?  Jesus condemned the man who put a gift on the altar and said it was “corban” rather than help his parents.  (By legitimate need I do not mean sex or sexual expression.)  If we say “God bless you” to the poor but do not feed them we are not showing real faith.  I think the Bible is pretty clear on this. 
Was Jesus a mind reader?  I think the implication here is that he could tell from their nonverbal behavior what was going on in their minds. I don’t believe Jesus was clairvoyant in some spooky way.  He was not clouded by sin and probably had heightened abilities to read people.  I may be quite wrong there, though, but the Scripture doesn’t say he retained all his “omni-ness” in the flesh.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Art Imitates Art Imitates Art: Sherlock Holmes, Gillette Castle, and Mr. Holmes

My husband and I just finished watching the rather sweet movie Mr. Holmes on Amazon's version of Netflix.  There was a factual error in it, but probably more than one since it's about fictional character commenting on how he is written about by another fictional character who was the unreliable narrator for the real writer, and of course the first fictional character comments on how unreliable the fictional narrator was.  Very meta.

In the movie Mr. Holmes (Ian McKellan ) says that John Watson invented the deerstalker cap, but I beg to differ.

In 2013 my friend and I took a road trip tour of New England. One place we ended up was Gillette Castle in Connecticut, atop a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River.  We took a ferry to get to that side of the river (everything in Connecticut is smaller and closer together than what we are used to in Georgia, but it's a pretty place).  I found the construction a tad odd, but interesting.  We found out that Gillette Castle was built by the actor William Gillette, who invented the dramatic portrayal on stage of Holmes.  Although he did not "invent" the idea of the deerstalker hat (which Holmes would only have worn in the countryside, not in London, heaven forbid) and the plaid "cape," he did popularize it to the extent that it became synonymous with the character.  John Watson had nothing to do with it.

Of course, the rather clever script plays along with the meaning of fiction in our lives in other ways.  Fiction is the storytelling magic of our lives, something we need, but a good story should never confuse the facts.  Fiction only works when we know factual reality and fiction gives us a retreat or an alternative for counterbalancing the negatives of that reality or, better, a way for understanding that reality in a different way, perhaps less directly sometimes or more directly sometimes.

Evidence:  photos of Gillette castle below. Rather odd, but not like Neuschwanstein.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew - Matthew 8:23-33.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
28.  When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes,[c] there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”
30 Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away[d] into the herd of swine.”
32 And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.
33 Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

There appears to be a discrepancy here, one of these reasons people do not take the Bible literally.  There is one demoniac in Luke and two here. Maybe these are two different instances, but the chronology doesn’t seem so.  Maybe we explicate too closely; maybe not enough.  This must have been a bizarre scene, the demons yelling out to Jesus.  Prior to that we have the straightforward story of Jesus calming the storm, which has led to many songs and sermons.  There have been fewer songs about the demoniac.  The outcome of this scene from a horror movie:  the people were mad, according to Luke, and perhaps fearful here; either way they wanted Jesus gone rather than welcoming someone who could exorcise demons.  Jesus destroyed their pigs, which Jews weren’t allowed to have or even touch.  The men’s lives were more important than the nasty pigs.  (And pigs are nasty, as are most animals. I don’t doubt my dog would eat a dead person if hungry and left to be feral, and pet owners don’t like to think about that.) 
I am typing this up on New Year’s Eve of 2016, it is 7:10.  I went to visit a friend today who has advanced liver disease, and I talked on the phone with my husband’s cousin who has had a long bout with breast cancer and is tired from five or more years of chemo and other treatment. Both mentioned that no one comes to visit them.  I heard this from an elderly friend yesterday in an email.  I don’t think most of us in the modern church are any better than these people mad at Jesus for the destruction of their pigs (which brings up an ethical question, see below).  We put our “supposed busy-ness” above the simple act of visiting the sick, invalids, and elderly.  Apparently pastors aren’t taught to do that in seminary any more; it seems they are taught to be CEOs or celebrity preachers.  I don’t think we are nearly as busy as we think we are.  We binge-watch and amuse ourselves plenty.  I think I might start being a curmudgeon and calling people when they complain about how busy they are. 
As to Jesus destroying the pigs.  I don’t read of any compensation for them.  9:1 simply says, “he got in the boat.”  They didn’t want him around, so he obliged them.  There is a tinge of dark humor here.  Was he liable for damages?  Well, like his confrontation with the Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath, he is Lord of creation as he is Lord of the Sabbath.  If he is God, they were his in the first place.  Make no mistake: Jesus claims nothing less than deity as well as Messiahship.
Now, it seems that I have skipped the “winds and waves” part, but as I mentioned, this gets plenty of sermons and songs (often about Peter and fear and sinking, etc.).  Suffice it to say that I don’t think Matthew put it here for preachers to wax eloquent about the sea of Galilee’s tempestuousness and how God brings us through the storms.  Matthew, remember, was on the boat.  He is “we,” here, although I think him too humble to even use “we.”  They marvel that Jesus had Lordship over the sea and weather, and that is the point, another sign of his power and another validation of his Messiahship.  That Jesus is asleep is one of those facts that I don’t think we are supposed to make much of, other than he was tired.  It had been a very rough day, and the next day wouldn’t be any easier. 

Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 Deaths, Revisited

Of the "famous deaths" in 2016, I would argue two had the most impact on real people.  Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia. 

Castro's death will change our foreign policy.  While Cuba might seem like a minor country, it was a big deal that President Obama opened up travel and trade with the country.

Scalia is a different matter.  I would argue that Donald Trump would not be president if Scalia had lived.  The one argument bought by millions of conservative voters who were totally unimpressed by Trump was that he would replace Scalia with a constitutionalist.  If Scalia was around and kicking, the urgency would not have been as real. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 8:18

18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”
20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
How do we read verse 20?  Is Jesus complaining or fussing or presenting reality.  First, this is the same day as the preceeding verses about many healings, and in the evening, clearly, because the next thing to happen is that they are on a boat at night.  Simply, “If you follow me, you can’t expect comfort and maybe not security.”  Verse 22 is really harsh. Is the potential follower saying, “Let me stay home until my dad dies?”  (which could be a long time off and may entail an inheritance?)  Or is he in the middle of grieving and rituals, in which case why would he even be following Jesus around?  Jesus answer is probably one of his hardest, because it seems to discount very real grief, but that is inconsistent with so many other passages where he “privileges” grief and seeks to comfort grievers. It is possible that he detects the lack of sincerity in the questioner.
However, we can’t get away from it:  the core of Christianity is hard and radical.  Yes, it is about love and grace and mercy and forgiveness for those (all of us) who need it, but it is also about self-denial and choices, Jesus coming first, him taking worship and claiming to be he Creator of the world.  It is about kindness and right living and caring for the poor and homeless and also about heaven and hell and being humbled and being serious about sin.  You can’t take part of Jesus and not the other part. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Moving Into 2017

As the Christmas season closes, I post these photos of figures on display at my church,various versions of the Nativity from Africa and other places that have been brought by missionaries. 

I have been slow to use many photos but they enhance the blog experience. These are charming.

Upcoming:  Return to Matthew studies, although they might be out of order for a bit.  My goal is to create a 365 day study in Matthew as an encounter with Christ as He is there.  A big, perhaps pretentious project.  It will only be saved if I see my audience, the person who needs the message of Matthew.

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

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