Friday, April 30, 2010

Who's a Monster?

Occasionally my boss (our senior pastor) will place articles in my box to push my buttons. (Okay, it's not really to push my buttons.) One such article was a Newsweek interview with famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.

The whole interview was difficult to read—not because I couldn’t understand it, but because I understood him all too well—but the section that really made me marvel was where he called God a monster.

“I suppose the most strident passage in The God Delusion is where I talk about how the God of the Old Testament is the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

Now there’s a delightful statement at so many levels: “God delusion,” “unpleasant,” and “fiction.” But Dawkins goes on.

“… what everybody actually knows: that the God of the Old Testament is a monster. I put it in this rather, I’d like to think, amusing way…. The God of the Old Testament is a monster. It’s very, very hard for anybody to deny that. He’s like a hyped-up Ayatollah Khomeini.”

I heartily disagree with his assessment. The God of the Old Testament, like the God of the New Testament (as they are the same God), is both a God of (just) wrath and a God of love, and his love is clearly manifested in the Old Testament. Psalm 103, Zephaniah 3:17, Micah 7:18-19, and Hosea 11 come immediately to mind, and they are representative of many more.

Unfortunately, Dawkins is deluded. But he will not be so eternally. I genuinely hope his delusion is dispelled in this earthly life that God has graciously given to him.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6 NIV). May God’s light shine into Dawkins’ darkened heart.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

9 Preferences

I generally prefer …
  1. baseball over basketball
  2. fiction over non-fiction
  3. emailing over phoning
  4. cookies over candy
  5. reading to over being read to
  6. Psych over The Mentalist
  7. action/adventure over comedy
  8. early to rise over sleeping in
  9. peace & quiet over hustle & bustle.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

9 Things I Want to See

  1. Genuine revival in Fort Wayne and in America
  2. America restored to greatness--morally, politically, economically
  3. President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Sen. Reid come to Christ
  4. All my kids in Heaven
  5. All my kids marry well or satisfied and glorifying God in their singleness
  6. All my kids walking with humility and integrity before the Lord
  7. The Hobbit made into a movie
  8. San Antonio, TX
  9. Season tickets to the Fort Wayne Philharmonic

Another 5K Pic

I saw this on Phil's blog and though I'd put it here. This is at the end of the race just before the finish line. Mind you, this is Phil's 3rd time across the line. He crossed himself first, then ran back and crossed it with his nephew. Then he changed to street clothes, drove to McDonald's and breakfasted, returned to the park, read the newspaper and the book of John, witnessed to two people, called his wife and talked at length with his daughter, checked his watch, changed back to his running clothes, came and found me, and ran with me across the line for his third time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is being pure in heart possible?

(Summarizing an editorial by D. A. Carson in Themelios)

When it comes to a Christian’s progress in holiness, Scripture comes at the matter in at least two different ways. On one side of the equation are passages that teach only two ways (like Ps 1): one way, the way of the sinner, leads to death. The other way, the way of the holy, leads to life. There is no middle ground. We are to be holy, or we will not see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Only the pure in heart will see God (Mt 5:8). The child of God doesn’t sin; sinners are children of the devil (1 Jn 3:6-10).

But there is another set of passages which faithfully present God’s people as righteous and sinful. They have shining moments of faith and dark moments of unbelief. Thus does Abraham leave Ur by faith, but sometime later does he travel to Egypt in fear. Thus does David love God passionately on the one hand, and thus does he lustily embrace Bathsheba on the other.

Both kinds of Scripture are helpful. The absolute passages keep us striving for holiness, while narratives of flawed saints keeps us humble and hopeful; humble because we recognize the same tendencies within us, and hopeful because we see that God loves his flawed people.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My 2nd 5K

Me, Phil, and Garrett

Saturday I ran in the Walk, Run, Bike, Drive for Jesus 5K in Columbia City. (The purpose of the race was to promote the National Day of Prayer in Whitley Co.)

I've been running off and on since January 2007. The reason I started running was to lose weight and to get in heart shape. I don't run real long distances, and I don't run fast, but it's still good exercise.

My friend Phil asked me to run this race with him a couple months ago, and I finally agreed, realizing that I was probably going to have to walk parts of it. (I hadn't worked back up to 3 miles.)

Thunderstorms were forecast, but it didn't even rain while we ran. It was great running weather, which was good, because I typically run a lot longer than other runners.

Phil's 8-year-old nephew Garrett also ran with us. And when I say we ran together, I mean that we were in the same race, but Phil finished 4th overall, and Garrett was also way ahead of me, finishing 32nd. I was 42nd. (I echo Jay Carty's sentiments, who once said about his brief stint with the Lakers that his opponents would often do a double-take when he ran, because they never saw something working so hard going so slow.)

But my hope was to run the whole thing, and I did, by God's grace. It was my 2nd 5K, my first one being almost 3 years ago.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sowell Humor

Thomas Sowell is not only brilliant, he also communicates his brilliance brilliantly.

In his online article, “Some Thoughts about Writing,” he shares wisdom on writing as well as on contending with publishers, editors and, “worst of all, copy-editors.”

Even in this article on writing, his writing brilliance and humor come through. I share a few lines with you for your entertainment.

“[T]he only way to become a good writer is to be a bad writer and keep on improving.”

“For reasons unknown, some copy-editors seem to think that words with similar sounds are substitutes for one another. But there is a big difference between Londonderry air and London derriere.”

“Where Shakespeare wrote, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question,’ a copy-editor would substitute: ‘The issue is one of existence versus non-existence.’ Where Lincoln said, ‘Fourscore and seven years ago,’ a copy-editor would change that to: ‘It has been 87 years since …’ Where the Bible said, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’ a copy-editor would run a blue pencil through the first three words as redundant.”

“If there is anything that could survive a nuclear attack, it is probably typographical errors.”

“But don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that all editors should be shot at sunrise; Midge Decter is an exception. So is Jim Michaels … If I thought about if for another day or so, I might come up with a third example.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Struggling with, Then Surrendering to, Sin

Contemporary Christian singer Jennifer Knapp recently announced her lesbian orientation. In the news piece I read, a few lines struck me.

The article says that Knapp “has always struggled as a person of faith to be the person she wants to be.” Perhaps this is obvious to the readers of this blog, but let me just state what is obvious to me. People of faith are to become (and struggle, if necessary, to become) the people God wants them to be. We all struggle with sinful inclinations of what we would be. But what our sinful nature wants is diametrically opposed to what God wants. People of faith should not surrender to the sinful side.

“God has always known she would walk this path, Knapp said.” That is absolutely true, but it’s not a justification for that path. God knew the paths Hitler and Mao and Stalin would walk, too, but they’re not off the hook just because he knew about it. Knapp is probably implying a kind of fatalism, that she couldn’t help but be lesbian, but the Bible doesn’t teach fatalism; it teaches human responsibility.

Finally, Knapp is quoted as saying, “If I am in any way unpleasing in his sight, I can only hope and pray that he gives me the opportunity to find who I am supposed to be.” He has, Jennifer, at least with regards to your sexuality, and he will continue to do so as long as he maintains your life on this earth. The clear guidance he has given you is the combined witness of Scripture and the gender he has given you. He wants you to be a heterosexual woman.

It is a sad thing when a professed believer struggles with homosexual inclinations, eventually surrenders to them, and then skews Scripture and theology in order to demonstrate the morality of his or her lifestyle. The struggle within these individuals is very real, and I think it brings to them a great deal of misery. “Please make me heterosexual” may be a regular cry of many of them.

Scriptural teaching is clear on this matter, and the tension between the strength of Scripture on the one hand, and the strength of their desires and the pull of the world on the other hand, brings nothing but weariness, exhaustion, and inner turmoil.

Peace and joy comes with either conforming one’s lifestyle to Scripture or conforming one’s interpretation of Scripture with his lifestyle. But the peace and joy of the former is of a higher quality and far more enduring nature than the peace and joy of the latter. And with such a decision one’s eternity is on the line.

May this issue in Knapp’s life not be resolved yet until it’s resolved right.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Red Harvest an Entertaining Read

Somewhere in my recent reading Dashiell Hammett was recommended. In the process of selecting Red Harvest, I found that I was already familiar with Hammett’s work via film. He wrote The Maltese Falcon, a Bogey film I’ve enjoyed at least twice. He also wrote The Thin Man. There are six Thin Man movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and Sara and I have seen all six, some of them more than once.

Reading Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest was just a lot of fun. I think that’s the best way to characterize it.

A detective comes to Personville only to find that just about the whole town is corrupt. He then sets about the task of cleaning up the town, and he does so from the inside out, pitting the various elements against one another.

Copyrighted 1929, the book reflects that era, which is part of the fun. The detective, whose name we never learn (unless I missed it), tells the story.

Two other elements contribute to the enjoyment factor of this book. First, the periodic surprises along the way. It felt like there was not one but three of four climaxes throughout the story. Once the first murder is solved, you feel like relaxing into the resolution when all of a sudden a second conflict is introduced, and so it goes a few more times.

Second, Hammett’s wit is delightful and his writing wonderful. I concur with the Boston Globe assessment on the back of my library copy: “He [Hammett] is a master of the detective novel, yes, but also one h--- of a writer.”

Some lines that stood out to me:

“Any reason for her jealousy?”
“I hope so,” he said bitterly. “I’d hate to think a son of mine would be faithful to her. Though likely enough he was. He’d do things like that.”

He was also known as Pontius Pilate, because he smiled pleasantly when he sent us out to be crucified on suicidal jobs.

Out of the center of the city there wasn’t much traffic to bother us, but the paving was rougher. It was a nice half-hour’s ride, with everybody getting a chance to sit in everybody else’s lap.

She wasn’t a very good cook, but we ate as if she were.

I walked, keeping to the darker side of the darkest streets. It was a fairly long walk for a man who sneers at exercise.

“So you’re still alive,” she said. “I suppose nothing can be done about it.”

First line: “I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.”

Last line: “He gave me merry hell.”

My ranking (on a 5-point scale): 4

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Good Weekend

Friday evening I finished up my stuff at the church, ending with the Sunday School lesson, and I was home by 6 or so. Sara prepared a great spaghetti meal using mizithra cheese and browned butter. Topped it off with strawberry pie for dessert. Cannot beat it!

The whole family was home, and we had nowhere we had to be. Super!

Saturday I did a comfortable mile-and-a-half jog. Sara and Callie took Andrew to work and then did some price-shopping at Menard's and Lowe's.

After lunch, the fam minus Andrew went to the downtown library. (Yeah, we got more videos than books. Something's not quite right about that, I know.) Leaving there later than we should, we picked up Andrew from his job later than we should. But he was fine with that. He had bought himself some food while he was waiting.

Dropped the fam at home, and I headed to Hyde Brothers (my little slice of heaven). I was there for a couple hours, browsing the theology, the fiction, and the mystery novels.

Two oddities there. 1) The cat that roams the store was really taken with me today. Not usual. But today he or she kept following me and purring and rubbing up against my leg. 2) I heard the proprietor and one of his employees discussing a book I just read, Canticle for Leibowitz ((c) 1959). I've never heard anyone talk about that before.

Back home in the late afternoon to mow the grass in the blustery wind. Too warm with a jacket on; too cold without. But the sun wouldn't allow me to frown. Next job: cleaning out the gutters. Didn't take as long as I thought.

Traditional Saturday night meal (pizza) in the traditional Saturday night place (basement, watching a movie). Tonight the movie was one we taped years ago and Andrew used to watch all the time as a little tyke: What the Deaf Man Heard.

Sunday to church, then to the house we're mulling over, then to Taco Bell for a leisurely lunch. In the Lazy Boy for an hour or so taking notes on John 6. Then a lengthy conversation with Sara about the previously mentioned house. Then to small group where we discussed John 6.

Wrapped up the day grading Andrew's math and Caty's math and ... blogging.

That was my weekend. How was yours?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading Snapshot

Some of you know I classify myself an ADD reader; that is, it's hard for me to stick with one book. I'm usually in the midst of several at a time.

Here are some of the books I'm in the midst of right now.

Talking about Detective Fiction (P. D. James--she'll be 90 this year!) -- What a delight to read her take on various writers, such as Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Dorothy Sayers. I'm wondering if she'll talk about her stuff at all. I've only read one of her novels (The Murder Room), but Sara's read a few.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education (Craig Mullaney) -- Began his basic at West Point in 1996, I'm only 2 chapters into this engaging read about modern military life. Recommended by Al Mohler, Jr., on one of his blogs, I think.

Other books in which I'm at various stages of reading:

A Quest for Godliness (J. I. Packer) -- about Puritan theology

The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (ed. Robert Clouse) -- 2 premillennial views, 1 dispensational and 1 non-dispensational; then also post- and amillennial

The Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)

The Civil War: A Narrative Vol 1 (Shelby Foote) -- This one has really bogged me down. I may be the only Civil War buff who isn't as excited about this book as other Civil War books. With 2400 pages in trilogy, maybe for me it's too much detail.

Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall & Denver Moore & Lynn Vincent) -- an unlikely friendship brought about by Christ and Ron's wife. Sara and I are reading it together. Good read.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Opposites Attract

After 18 1/2 years of marriage, Sara and I are still learning about each other.

It was interesting to study personality types a few months ago and categorize Sara and myself accordingly. My two strongest personality characteristics were her two weakest and vice versa.

What a blessing that is! We compensate for one another. (It's much the way Pat and I work well together, too, I think. We are opposite personality types.) As Rocky put it to Paulie when he was talking about his interest in Paulie's sister Adrian, "I dunno, she's got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps." Sara and I, together we fill gaps.

Sara's the ambitious one. She's the risk-taker. I'm the status quo one, the cautious one. I consider myself a plodder. There are strengths and weaknesses to ambition and risk-taking, and there are strengths and weaknesses to caution and plodding.

Those are all coming out as we discuss the possibility of moving. The very fact that we are talking about moving is because Sara has brought it up. That's practically a given. All the significant changes in our life--good changes--for the most part have been at her instigation, not mine. The move to our current house, our first adoption, our second adoption.

Right now our personalities are exposed, and we're learning stuff about each other and about ourselves.

Lest you think I'm airing dirty laundry, or that I'm trying to enlist your support for me over against her, I'm not. Our discussions have been in the context of love. She thinks she's found her dream house, but she's concerned that it might be my nightmare. I'm concerned about the financial investment and the sweat investment, but I want to fulfill her dreams. She thinks of all the possibilities; I, too, think of all the possibilities. But the possibilities we both think about are not the same type of possibilities. She's an optimist. I'm a pessimist (though I prefer the term "realist"). She's an exclamation point. I'm a question mark.

I have no idea how this will all play out. But the adventure's fun; stressful at times, but still fun. I told her recently that I have thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of my life the last 18+ years, and I can't imagine traveling it with anyone else.

Answers to "Servants in the Bible" Quiz

Whose servant were they?

1. Malchus -- the high priest

2. Ziba -- Mephibosheth (or King Saul)

3. Paul -- Jesus Christ

4. Hagar -- Sarah

5. Onesimus -- Philemon

6. Eliezer -- Abraham

7. Mary -- God

8. Gehazi -- Elisha

9. Bilhah -- Rachel

10. Zilpah -- Leah

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quiz on Servants in the Bible

Whose servant were they?

1. Malchus

2. Ziba

3. Paul

4. Hagar

5. Onesimus

6. Eliezer

7. Mary

8. Gehazi

9. Bilhah

10. Zilpah

I plan to post the answers some time tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

5 Questions about the Final Judgment

1. How many judgments will there be? (Believers & unbelievers judged together? Judged at separate times?)

2. When will the final judgment(s) take place?

3. Will the sins of believers be reviewed, or only their good works?

4. Will each man’s judgment be public, or will it be a private review between him and Christ?

5. Will unbelievers recognize the justice of Christ’s judgments (Rom 3:19?), or will they believe themselves to be dealt with unjustly (Mt 7:21-23)?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Warning against Adultery

A quick summary of Proverbs 5:

1 Listen to me 2 to be wise. 3 Adulteresses seem good, 4 but the truth is otherwise. 5 They lead to death, 6 and they don't even realize it.

7 Obey me. 8 Stay away from them 9 lest you wreck your life 10 and lose everything. 11 You'll always regret it 12 and confess your folly: 13 "I was stubborn; 14 now I'm ruined."

15 Stick to your wife--16 no other relationship. 17 None! 18 Take joy in your wife; 19 focus on her. 20 Why go to someone else?

21 God sees all you do. 22 Your evil deeds will trap you. 23 Your undisciplined life will kill you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

J. I. Packer's Zeal against Arminians, Part 2

(See my previous post for the occasion of this critique.)

Packer goes on to claim that the Arminian preaching of today not only pollutes and cheapens the gospel, it also produces worldly “converts.” “And it is, perhaps, no wonder that our [contemporary] preaching begets so little reverence and humility, and that our professed converts are so self-confident and so deficient in self-knowledge and in the good works which Scripture regards as the fruit of true repentance” (138).

This may be the case in some instances, but is that attributable to the tenets of Arminianism, or to their misrepresentation from some pulpits?

Further, has not the same charge been laid at the feet of Calvinist preaching? Has it not been observed that the Calvinist emphasis on eternal security has produced in some “professed converts” a lackadaisical attitude toward holiness and rigorous fruit-bearing? Yet in this regards I think I may be more charitable than Packer, for I do not charge Calvinist theology with an anti-holiness stance based on their carnal converts; I think the problem lies in the misrepresentation of Calvinism.


One of Packer’s charges is that Arminians believe one thing but often resort to Calvinist language when they preach the gospel.

But Packer seems to do the reverse. He uses what we might call “Arminian language” in his presentation of the gospel. Does he not do so every time he calls for a response to the gospel? He refers to saving faith being “exercised” (139). “The task to which the gospel calls him is simply to exercise faith, which he is both warranted and obliged to do by God’s command and promise” (140). Is it not the believer who exercises faith in that last statement and not God? (Of course, faith comes from God’s grace. But Arminians believe that, too.)

When Packer answers the question, “What must I do to be saved?” he includes such words as “repentance” and “believe” and “confess” (144). Does this mean that salvation is completely dependent on us? “No,” I think he would argue, “because God compels us to do these things. But if we were free to choose or not to choose, then salvation is of our own doing.”

I don’t believe so. Because to choose for Christ is made possible (but not inevitable) by God’s grace. We would not be able to even choose for Christ if God’s grace had not already come and worked in us (contra Packer’s accusations of Arminians being Semi-Pelagian, p. 127). And if we choose against Christ, it is utter foolishness; it reflects on us, not Christ.

If we are, as Calvinists argue, compelled to trust Christ apart from our volition, why would Packer urge, “So do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better …” (emphasis added)? This action that we take, this confession we make, this surrender we perform—why call for them if it’s inevitable we’ll give them anyway?

Okay. I’m done. I love J. I. Packer. He has taught me much. I just think he’s wrong about the Arminian perspective on salvation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

J. I. Packer's Zeal against Arminians

I was cruising along at a fine rate in J. I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life until I hit ch. 8, which is declared to be an introduction to John Owen’s work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

I did not find as much Owen as I expected, but instead I found a vigorous defense of Calvinism over against Arminianism. (But that’s okay, because Calvinism = gospel, according to Packer: “But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel” [p. 134; see p. 137].)

I have come to halfway expect this from my Calvinist author-friends. For instance, I remember enduring a chapter of preaching the gospel of Calvinism in John Piper’s otherwise fine book, The Pleasures of God. And Spurgeon, my favorite preacher, has nothing good to say about Arminians.

Even though I expect an attack on Arminianism from Calvinist authors, Packer’s attack has irked me a little more than most. I’m not sure why. I feel misrepresented, and I think Packer himself is somewhat inconsistent. Probably mostly because I don’t think Packer is charitable. (Although I understand his lack of charity, too, because I think he believes Arminianism is a heresy rather than a differing perspective within orthodoxy.

So I will respond a bit to Prof. Packer in this post and in the next.

In all fairness, I should say that I do not class myself intellectually or spiritually with J. I. Packer. I have enormous respect for his mind and his heart. I freely confess that I may misunderstand Packer at points in ch. 8 and may possibly misrepresent him. But I will proceed on the assumption that I understand him.

Packer says that Arminian evangelism leaves us in a “mental muddle” because we preach that salvation all depends on God one minute, and then the next minute we claim that it all depends on man. “We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Saviour; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has left us to become our own saviours” (137).

Arminians proclaim that Christ has left us to become our own saviors? Maybe some do. But there are many who don’t and wouldn’t dream of it. The saving was all of Christ. He’s the one who saves. Our salvation totally depends upon him.

If I fall over the edge of an ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic and I begin to drown, and someone tosses me a life preserver, and I grab on and am pulled to safety, who saved me? I didn’t save myself, and I’d be nuts to say so. The man who tossed me the life preserver saved me. I merely grabbed onto the salvation that was freely offered. The faith that we place in Christ is grabbing the life preserver.

Caveat: This analogy, while a helpful picture, actually breaks down in a couple ways when applied to salvation. First, it doesn’t adequately address the depth of Christ’s work of salvation—Christ did far more to accomplish our salvation than fling a life preserver and pull us aboard. Second, the analogy fails to show the Arminian belief that even faith is a product of God’s grace. To make the analogy more true to form, my arms would be broken so that I would be unable to even grasp the life ring. Christ would jump into the water and heal my arm so that I could grasp it. Then he would pull me in. Arminius taught that we could not even respond to God’s gift of salvation freely offered apart from his grace enabling our faith.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reducing Our Reliance on Military Deterrence

President Obama is ready to sign an arms reduction treaty with Russia, a treaty that would indicate a determination to reduce nuclear arms in both countries by 30%.

The radio report I heard indicated that President Obama desires that the US reduce her reliance on military deterrence.

I think in some situations it is good to reduce our reliance.
  • I think it would be good to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, for instance.
  • Some people could stand to reduce their reliance on caffeine.
  • Reducing our reliance on government programs is also desirable.
  • From a theological point-of-view, the Bible teaches that we should reduce our reliance on ourselves. ("Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight." --Prov 3:5-6)
There are, however, other situations where reducing our reliance is not so good.
  • Attempting to reduce our reliance on oxygen or water is impossible, so trying is not necessarily a good (or bright) thing.
  • I went ahead and got my brakes fixed on my van, because I don't want to try to reduce my reliance on them. Failing to maintain my brakes just leaves me exposed to danger.
  • As a Christian, if anything, I need to increase my reliance on the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
I class reliance on military deterrence in the latter category. Certainly God is my refuge and strength. But wisdom for nations is to protect its citizens to the best of its ability. Reducing the size of the stick in our hand exposes us to danger.

Lions pick off the straggling wildebeests, not the strongest. Why are we intentionally reducing our strength before the eyes of the nations that hate us?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Forest View Not Just Bible and Theology

(My son Andrew and my dad Ralph, from left to right)

My dad was surprised by my April Fool's post. "I thought it was mainly Bible and theology," he quipped. Of course, if you know my dad, you know that "mainly Bible and theology" doesn't bother him in the least.

But Dad, there's humor and levity and other frivolity (like politics) on this blog, too. I would direct you to the "Labels" on the left side of this blog and tell you to click on the link "humor" or "in the news" or "9" or "miscellaneous."

Of course, if you know my dad, you know that humor doesn't bother him either.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Review of A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Written in 1959, the book chronicles several centuries after a nuclear war has taken place. The events of the story cover three different eras in the future: about 2600 AD (600 years after the nuclear holocaust), 3174 AD, and 3781 AD. At the center of each part is Leibowitz Abbey (apparently near where Denver, CO, used to be). Civilization (and clear memory of it) died with the nuclear holocaust. The book charts, in 3 separate snapshots, it’s rebirth and development, all previous knowledge having been lost except for some writings that have been preserved as the Memorabilia at the abbey.

In Part I a monk discovers what is later determined to be a bomb shelter that belonged to Leibowitz, a scientist before the holocaust, an individual whom the abbey reveres and would like to see canonized as a saint. He is canonized by the end of this first section. In Part II the abbey plays host to a philosopher of sorts who is skeptical of a great civilization existing before the holocaust--for how could it destroy itself? It would be too far advanced to do such a stupid thing. He examines the Memorabilia and is surprised by the advanced state of that age. In Part III civilization has developed to the point of the space age again, and with it the threats of nuclear violence have returned. The book ends with the abbey destroyed by a nearby nuclear attack.

The church, in particular the Catholic Church, plays a significant role as the keepers of knowledge, even during the 12+ centuries when they have very little idea as to what the knowledge that they keep signifies. In Part I Brother Francis makes an illuminated copy of a blueprint that was preserved from the pre-holocaust age. No one knows what it means, but it belonged to the age of knowledge, so it must be significant. (We the readers know otherwise.)

Politics isn’t in the foreground, but it’s always in the background, especially in Parts II and III. And the world, particularly the various leaders of tribes, empires, governments, etc., is factious and deceitful and evasive and empire-building. Ironically, the Church is preserving all this knowledge for the world, and is always hopeful that the world will use the knowledge wisely (especially does the abbot Dom Paulo feel anxiety about this in Part II), but we the readers realize this isn’t likely.

Violence and destruction seems to be man’s lot. The whole book is book-ended by nuclear holocaust. Did man learn his lesson from the first one? No. Forced back to square one, humanity develops and progresses, eventually to the point of space travel and great scientific capabilities once again (over the course of some 18 centuries). And then he destroys himself again. And it’s not like we couldn’t see it coming, for all the centuries were filled with tensions, warfare, and bloody empire-building. The theme of destruction concludes each part. Buzzards feast on Brother Francis at the end of Part I. In a remarkably similar scene, buzzards feast on a character known as the Poet at the end of Part II. Toward the end of Part III a buzzard hovers around Dom Zerchi as he dies. He waves it off with a “Dinner’s not quite ready, brother bird. You’ll have to wait.” Part III closes with the image of a shark feasting on whiting that had feasted on shrimp. But then the fallout ash hits the water, and dead shrimp and whiting wash up on shore. The shark moves to cleaner waters. Last line: “He was very hungry that season.”

Throughout the Church appears to be portrayed as keeping a pocket of sanity in the midst of an insane world, even trying to influence the world for good (but with little effect in that department, it would seem). The abbots and monks and brothers and novices are not perfect, but they are well-intentioned, and some of them are quite intelligent.

In Part III, the abbot of the day (Dom Jethra Zerchi), in line with higher-ups in the church, convinces a reluctant Brother Joshua to lead a collection of his fellow monks and some families out in space to another colony to establish a place for the Church there, taking along with him microfilm of the Memorabilia. Brother Joshua finally agrees (don’t miss the significance of his name--as Joshua of old needed encouragement [Josh 1] in leading God’s people into a new land). The final loading is taking place as the brethren see evidence of the nuclear explosion many miles away. The last one on shakes the dust off his sandals and closes the door, and the ship rockets off.

The question for the reader is, did he shake all the dust off or not? There is no question that the destruction of man is self-destruction. The seeds of man’s destruction are within him. The buzzards are always present. The shark is hungry, but he’ll return. Does not this new community take with them the very things that destroy them? Do they truly escape? I don’t know Miller’s intent here, because he does paint the Church as different from the world.

Would everyone find this book interesting? Definitely not. The book carries a pessimistic outlook, is science fiction, and deals with medieval characters. These are not characteristics that are overly popular.

I, however, enjoyed the apocalyptic themes (the total devastation of our world’s culture and the rebuilding of civilization over centuries, a rebuilding that in many ways mirrored the development of our own world civilization over the last 4000 years or so). The central issue--man’s self-destructive tendencies--is realistic and biblical. The central role of the medieval-like church was also appealing to me. The pacing was practically perfect: not too fast and not too slow. Bonus for me was seeing how the religious leaders of the church wrestled with the relationship between faith and knowledge--in themselves and in their conversations with the faithful and the secular. As literature, it doesn’t come to the level of Dickens or Dostoyevsky or even Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander), but it’s definitely several notches above much fiction written today.

First line: “Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.”

Last line: (referring to the shark) “He was very hungry that season.”

My ranking (on a 5-point scale): 3 ½

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Crucifixion Still Happens

Every Good Friday in the Philippines, some men are literally crucified, nailed to crosses.

These Catholics first walk carrying a cross. They also whip themselves in the back with a blade to make the blood flow, and then others dressed as Roman soldiers literally nail them to a cross. The crosses are hoisted in the air, and they remain there for about 5 mins. before they are carried away on stretchers.

It's a form of pennance, though the Catholic church denounces it.

Read it here and here.

Watch it here.

Warren to Speak at Piper's Pastors Conference

John Piper has invited Rick Warren to come to his Pastors Conference in the Fall. That will probably surprise a lot of people because the Reformed brethren with whom Piper hangs are not especially fond of Rick Warren.

Piper explains why he extended the invitation: He first met Warren at Ralph Winter's funeral where they sat by one another on the platform for 3 hours. Warren told Piper that he had read everything Piper had written, which Piper doubted. But then Warren said something that caught Piper's attention.

Warren explained that every year he picks a major theologian and read all his works. He explained that at the time he was halfway through Jonathan Edwards' works. Piper was astounded, because what would the most pragmatic pastor in America be interested in deep theology like that for? (Plus, it's a sizable work, and Edwards isn't quick reading.) At the time Warren was in Vol. 17 of Yale's publication of Edwards' works.

So based on that and some follow-up interviews, he invited Warren to his Pastors Conference, the theme of which is "Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God."

The whole linup for that conference is as follows:
  • Al Mohler – “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Market Place”
  • Rick Warren – “Thinking Purposefully for the Glory of Christ: The Life of the Mind and Global Reality"
  • R. C. Sproul (via video) – “Thinking Deeply in the Ocean of Revelation: The Bible and the Life of the Mind”
  • Thabiti Anyabwile – “Thinking for the Sake of Global Faithfulness: Confronting Islam with the Mind of Christ”
  • Francis Chan – “Think Hard, Stay Humble: The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride”
  • John Piper – “Thinking for the Sake of Joy: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God”
Link here and here to video clips of Piper talking about his invitation to Warren.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday: The Evil and the Innocence

Woven throughout Luke 23 are various themes that emphasize the evil of the day and the travesty of justice against Jesus, and in so doing, they highlight even more his sinlessness and sacrifice.

(All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.)

Theme 1: Accusations that eventually degenerate into shouting
2And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”
5But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”
10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.
18With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”
21But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.

Theme 2: Pilate declares Jesus innocent four times, yet caves to the desire of the crowd
4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (INNOCENT!)
14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. (INNOCENT!)
20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. (INNOCENT!)
22For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” (INNOCENT!)
24So Pilate decided to grant their demand. (CAVES IN)
25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (UNJUST SENTENCE)

Theme 3: Other Declarations of Jesus’ innocence
(Pilate) 4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (also 14-15, 20, 22)
(Herod) 14 ... I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.
(Criminal) 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
(Centurion) 47The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”

Theme 4: Barabbas’ guilt detailed. Barabbas, known to be guilty, is released, while Jesus, declared to be innocent, is delivered up.
19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Theme 5: Taunts to validate his claims by saving himself
(Rulers) 35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
(Soldiers) 36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
(Criminal) 39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Of course, he couldn't both save himself and us. If he had saved himself as the criminal suggested, he would not have saved us.

Considering the evil of the day, isn't it all the more remarkable that in the midst of it all, Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day

This morning Andrew and I were recalling how we got my dad a year ago today.

We were at Massanutten in Virginia with some family. My dad loves April Fool's Day. He loves pranking people.

Since he was in the back room, the rest of us agreed to get him to believe there was a black bear in the woods across from our balcony. We called him excitedly.

You should have seen Dad scoot out of that room and cross the apt. quicker than a dog-chased squirrel. Audrey was blocking the door, and--this is the funniest part--Dad hastily scooted her out of the way so he could get out the door onto the balcony. Once the "April Fool's" had been announced, we melted with laughter.

YOUR TURN: What's one of the best April Fool's gags you've been a part of?