- D.A. Carson
Government sanctioned same-sex relationship edition (since I can’t bring myself to call it “marriage”) – we can shorten it to GSSR
To make faith in the public square illegal and dangerous, you need legal cases and publicity. Voila, lawsuits against small business resting on the notion that acting on genuinely held faith is bigotry per se.
Under these rules, freedom of conscience is squashed under the jackboot of liberals, all in the Orwellian name of “equality and fairness.” Here we are dealing with not just forcing someone to do something for you, but forcing them in the process to violate a sacrament of their faith as well.
Some opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in bigotry and some isn’t. Assuming otherwise is itself prejudice rooted in ignorance.
Maybe the response for florists, bakers and photographers is to tell gay couples if they hire their services for their weddings that they will be donating 100% of the profits to a sanctity of marriage group.
Drops the bomb right into the laps of those who for whatever reason want to force religious bakers to bake cakes and photographers to take pictures.
“Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed,” he said in a statement. “Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona.”
Yet Christ’s call to servanthood is for us to yield our desire to live for ourselves and instead submit to him, in doing so we live for others. But this is not a call for others to demand of us what they desire.
Douthat is right. What unfolded last week reveals that this latter scenario is the most likely outcome. Gay activists and gay marriage supporters seem to have very little interest in a live-and-let-live diversity of opinion on the issue of marriage. They are making sure that the government imposes coercive sanctions on anyone who fails to affirm the moral goodness of gay unions. As last week revealed, the press has been happily passing along the propaganda of gay marriage supporters without any thoughtful consideration of the other side of the argument. They are backing us into a corner.
This March is the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, the former Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. Reactions have, in the main, been of two kinds:
- He’s the greatest thing that ever happened to the Catholic Church!
- He’s the worst thing that ever happened to the Catholic Church!
We’ve heard very few moderate opinions along the line of “He’s the pope, true, but he’s only one pope in the line. He won’t damn the Church (if we believe the words of Christ) and the same way he won’t save the Church.”
For someone who was fairly obscure before the Conclave, elected as a replacement for Pope Benedict XVI, he has gained a lot of favorable attention from unexpected sources, such as being named “Time Magazine Man of the Year” and being put on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Mainly, this is based on things he has done which appeal to the media which can be easily characterised, to take a line from the Rolling Stone article, as “conservatives who have gone liberal”. Things such as choosing to reside in the St. Martha guesthouse rather than the papal apartments, the vestments he wears, and even the pectoral cross and ring he wears, as well as the stories about taking the bus, paying his own bills, and the like, make for a very easy presentation of him as being a contrast to his immediate predecessor. Simplicity versus old-fashioned grandeur; extrovert versus introvert; live-and-let-live versus insistence on rules and regulations – it’s a constant refrain of “Francis this vs. Benedict that”. Whether this is his true intention or not, he’s seen as a pope who is in tune with the modern, secular world, one palatable to its tastes.
I can’t help but be reminded of the adulation about Blessed Pope John XXIII and how, in the years since Vatican II, there has been a refrain of “If only he had lived to see it through!” and wistful listing of all the changes we would have seen “if only”. It seems, at times, as if Pope Francis is perceived as a second John XXIII, that finally the liberal or progressive wing of the Church has the pope it has been waiting for so long, and now all its long-cherished dreams will come to fruition.
It’s not only on the left (though I hate using politically-derived terms such as “left” or “right” wing in the context of religion) that this view is promulgated. If some hail these possibilities with delight, others touch on them with horror and despair.
Literally within minutes of the announcement of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, one particular Traditionalist website (and I’m mentioning no names in the spirit of charity) was prognosticating all manner of doom from the very way he walked out on the balcony – including a breathless live-blogging of how he had to be “forced” to wear the stole before giving the papal blessing (something I can say had no basis in reality as I was watching the same live broadcast they were).
Reports from Argentina alleging that he had, putting it at its kindest, foot-dragged on implementing the moto proprio, and at worst, that he was actively hostile to Traditionalism, were being plastered all over. Here was a pope, it was as good as said, who would destroy all the hard-won progress made undoing the excesses of Vatican II. Here was the long-awaited Antichrist!
There was also what looked like a very interesting potential mini-scandal brewing, although it has since quietened down and I’ve seen no mention of it. The Wikipedia page about the former Archbishop Bergoglio, on the night of Pope Francis’ election, went through a spate of editing and re-editing, with accusations and counter-accusations flying from all sides. Basically, it was an accusation that during the so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina, he had been complicit with the régime, to the point where he allegedly permitted church property to be used to hold opponents of the dictatorship and that he was complicit in the kidnapping, by Navy forces, of two Jesuit priests who had been active in missionary work in the slums and engaged in political activism.
These accusations have since been rescinded, or at least softened immensely. It reminded me of nothing so much as how, when reporting on what Pope Benedict XVI had said or written or done, the media commonly made a point of referring to his former position of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which they helpfully reminded us was formerly known as the Inquisition) and his “Hitler Youth” past. I have to wonder, if Pope Francis was not currently a media darling for a perceived liberal or progressive slant, would they be equally helpful in reminding us of the collaboration with the military dictatorship allegations?
Anyway, to quote from the current Wikipedia article now that everything has settled down:
Bergoglio was the subject of allegations regarding the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests during Argentina’s “Dirty War”. He feared for the priests’ safety and had tried to change their work prior to their arrest; however, contrary to reports, he never tried to throw them out of the Jesuit order. In 2005, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against Bergoglio, as superior in the Society of Jesus of Argentina, accusing him of involvement in the Navy’s kidnapping of the two priests in May 1976. The lawyer’s complaint did not specify the nature of Bergoglio’s alleged involvement, and Bergoglio’s spokesman flatly denied the allegations. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. The priests, Orlando Yorio and Franz Jalics, had been tortured, but found alive five months later, drugged and semi-naked. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Yorio (who died in 2000) said in a 1999 interview that he believed that Bergoglio did nothing “to free us, in fact just the opposite”. Jalics initially refused to discuss the complaint after moving into seclusion in a German monastery. However, two days after the election of Pope Francis, Jalics issued a statement confirming the kidnapping and attributing the cause to a former lay colleague who became a guerrilla, was captured, and named Yorio and Jalics when interrogated. The following week, Jalics issued a second, clarifying statement: “It is wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio … the fact is, Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio.”
Turning from this type of accusation of collusion and involvement, if not active sympathy, with a right-wing military dictatorship to the current view of Francis as something new and wonderful that has never been seen in the Church before, someone who is a “man of the people” doing away with the luxury and pomp of the past and dragging the Catholic Church into the 21st century, there’s much to be said for opinions on both sides of this image.
You’ve all seen and heard by now the (in)famous remark of his about “Who am I to judge?” It’s been plastered everywhere from the newspapers to social media to protest placards. It’s been on Facebook, Tumblr and become an Internet meme. It’s been waved about as “See, even the Pope is in favor of gay rights!” as a bludgeon in the “culture wars” about same-sex marriage and more. It has heartened some and depressed others as somehow the Pope has gone soft on Church teaching, even those who should or do know better. The more charitable disheartened ones wish fervently that someone would put a muzzle on him, or at least not let him make off-the-cuff, unscripted remarks which are going to be snapped up and cut to size for a headline without all the accompanying qualification of “Yes, but…” being gone into. The less charitable take it as yet another sign that he’s the Anti-Christ.
As for me, I’m sufficiently cynical about modern media everywhere, whether in Italy, America, Ireland or where you will, to imagine that even a carefully-scripted, uncontroversial, all the doctrinal “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed statement would stop them from, if they couldn’t find anything else, “Pope slams!” or “Vatican condemns!” headlines.
What very few have done is examine the context in which this remark was made. It was on a flight back from the World Youth Day in Brazil in July 2013. The Pope was conducting a question-and-answer session with the journalists on board. One journalist asked a specific question about a particular case. What looked like a “gay priest shock” scandal was brewing in the Vatican — rumors that the cleric appointed by the Pope to report to him on reforms in the Vatican Bank had a history of homosexual activity, including:
“a homosexual affair with a captain in the Swiss army. …The monsignor allegedly met the officer during an earlier posting to Berne in Switzerland and took him with him when he was sent to Uruguay. …On one occasion in 2001 he allegedly got stuck in a lift. When firemen rescued him, they found a young man trapped in the elevator with him. On another occasion in the same year the priest was reportedly beaten up in a gay bar and had to call for help, arriving back at the nunciature, the Vatican embassy, with bruises to his face.”
Look, if you need a scorecard at this point to keep track of the sexual and financial scandals brewing, allegedly brewing, or allegedly having brewed, in the Vatican, I can’t blame you. Sex, money, power and religion – we’ve got it all!
The point is, this was the context of Francis’ statement, and it was tied to one particular, specific case and generalizing from that, the forgiveness of sins and how we should treat the repentant sinner. It wasn’t “What do you think about same-sex marriage?” “I think it’s perfectly fine!” (though we’ll get to that latest storm in a teacup later on).
I would like to ask permission to ask a somewhat delicate question: another image has also gone around the world, which is that of Monsignor Ricca and news about your privacy. I would like to know, Holiness, what do you intend to do about this question. How to address this question and how Your Holiness intends to address the whole question of the gay lobby?
In regard to Monsignor Ricca, I’ve done what Canon Law orders to do, which is the investigatio previa. And from this investigatio there is nothing of which they accuse him, we haven’t found anything of that. This is the answer. But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the “sins of youth,” for instance, and this is published. Not the crimes, alas. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins. But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought. But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I’ve done the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay” . They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.” The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem. And I thank you.
So who is this liberal, progressive, modernizing pope with no hang-ups about sex and contraception and divorce and abortion, who constantly preaches on the value and necessity of the Sacrament of Confession and the reality of the Devil, who came back from studying in Germany in the 80s with, not the latest in theological progressivism, but the 18th century devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, which he introduced to great success in Buenos Aires and which has since spread throughout Argentina and Brazil, who has obvious Marian devotion in how he welcomed the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, went on pilgrimage to the shrine of Aparecida in Brazil during the World Youth Day, and is always popping in to visit the icon of Salus Populi Romani in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?
More on that in part two.
Indeed, Jesus, you’re an engaged Shepherd, not an absentee landlord. Even as we make plans in our hearts, you are actively ordering our steps (Prov. 16: 9). Oh, the freedom and peace this brings! You are the Lord who “opens doors no one can shut” (Rev. 3: 8). And the converse is just as true; you also shut doors no one can open.
Our future is tied not to making the right decisions but to trusting the right Lord.
From “Everyday Prayers”
These days, all around us is the cry, “We worship the same God!”
But we don’t. Christians belong to a sovereign God who is in control of the universe. Our future belongs to Him.
There was a time when I felt that – yes, there was a God, but I wasn’t sure that He wanted me. Coming from where I am now, I know that if I want HIM, He wants me.
For those of us dealing with job changes, financial stresses, and health issues, show yourself to be both merciful and mighty, Jesus. May your mercy keep us gentle and your might trump our impatience. For those of us having to make important decisions for the people we love, be huge and present. Long-term care for aging parents, the “right” education for our kids, the best treatment for family members and friends in the destructive whirlwind of addictions—make the way clear, Lord. As Prince of Peace, give us your peace as we wait upon you.
Huge changes are coming in my life. Good changes, but hard changes also. I’m leaving a great church, I’m leaving my kids (although I think I’ll see them a lot.) I hate moving. I’m moving. Addictive behavior of family members, all sorts of choices.
I pray for my family members, and my future family members. Help me be patient, and pour Your mercy on us all.
March, Ms. Brooks’ take-off on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. I found it to be an odd little novel. Ms. Brooks takes a fictional character, Mr. March, father to the “little women”, and places him and his family in a real world with people who actually lived in Concord near the Alcott family, namely the Emersons and the Thoreaus. Then, the author sends March off to war, just as he is off “where the fighting is” in Little Women, and she tells most of the story from his point of view. It’s an odd point of view, that of a vegetarian, abolitionist, peace-loving philosopher-soldier-chaplain caught in the midst of horror and insoluble moral dilemmas.
The tone and voice of the novel matched the rather stilted nineteenth century style of Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, and while this style of writing was a little disconcerting at first, I soon began to like it and to feel transported to the Civil War era when men wrote flowery, loquacious letters to their loved ones.
“I have now traveled so far south that I find myself come to a place where our common expression ‘white as snow’ has no useful meaning. Here, one who wishes his words to make plain sense had better say ‘white as cotton.’ I will not say that I find the landscape lovely. We go on through Nature to God, and my Northern eye misses the grandeur that eases that ascent. I yearn for mountains, or at least for the gentle ridges of Massachusetts; the sweet folds and furrows that offer the refreshment of a new vista as each gap or summit is obtained. Here all is obvious, a song upon a single note. One wakes and falls asleep to a green sameness, the sun like a pale egg yolk, peering down from a white sky.”
March is an adult novel, and in it, the “perfect” Marmee and the idealized Father March become real flesh and blood people with faults and passions and uncertainties and doubts about their own choices and abilities. March, in particular, is a man who finds himself in a place and time where his ideals and moral philosophy are tested and found wanting. And still he and his wife, the Marmee of Little Women, come through the fires of war and suffering with admirable character and fortitude. There is much to respect in Geraldine Brooks’ March, even though Bronson Alcott and I would find much to disagree about in real life. (I’m not a transcendentalist nor a utopian nor a vegetarian nor a pacifist nor a Unitarian/free thinker.)
The novel does a good job of bringing out the impracticality and impracticability of March’s/Alcott’s beliefs and still making him admirable as a man who tried, at least in the fictional version of his story, to remain true to his principles. I think all of us, as we age, feel the tension between the youthful ideals that we still believe to be right and good and true and the imperfection and fallenness of the world we actually inhabit, including the impossibility of remaining pure in our own execution and implementation of those ideals and principles to which we bear allegiance.
“You are not God. You do not determine the outcome. The outcome is not the point. . . The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed—what you sincerely believed, including the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’–acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you–I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act, or to act in a way that every fiber of your soul held was wrong–how can you not see? That is what would have been reprehensible.”
“[T]here is only one thing to do when we fall, and that is to get up, and go on with the life that is set in front of us, and try and do the good of which our hands are capable for all the people who come in our way.”
The other night, I watched the film, “All Is Lost,” which is the story of a lone sailor adrift in the Indian Ocean who struggles to survive. I found it to be a film that lends itself to contemplation, with a couple of good lessons to think about during this Lenten season.
All Is Lost is a remarkable movie. It has only one character, played by Robert Redford, and his character has no name. The credits list him as “Our Man,” and this tips us off that his journey has metaphorical significance. The film has no dialogue. Its only words come in a voice-over at the beginning in which Our Man reads a farewell note, believing hope is gone, and in a couple of expletives that explode from his mouth at key moments. For the rest of the movie he remains mute, engaged in silent hand to hand combat, human being vs. nature, mano a mano, in a context stripped down to basics.
Two impressions stayed with me from All Is Lost.
First, I was struck by the banality of suffering. This is one of the most unsentimental films I have seen. It is thoroughly unromantic. Its events, though dramatic to the character on screen, are presented in pure, straightforward fashion.
The only nod the movie makes to idealism is casting Robert Redford as Our Man, but this is not the boyish Butch Cassidy or the heartthrob aviator in Out of Africa whose time on screen was accompanied by soaring music. This is not Roy Hobbs from The Natural, filling the screen in slow motion, knocking the cover off the ball or shattering the ballpark lights. Sure, Redford still has movie star good looks, and in All Is Lost he is portrayed as wealthy enough to take a well-equipped sailboat out on an exotic journey, but the way he handles adversity is entirely pragmatic and systematic. The natural sounds of thunder announce coming storms, not foreboding music. We don’t get shots of circling fins teasing us with the prospect of Our Man becoming shark food. Predators and other dangers he faces are not dramatized whatsoever, and he handles them all with careful practicality, using whatever means he has at his disposal in utterly commonplace ways as he works to survive.
We know nothing of this character’s inner world. We don’t hear his thoughts. We are not invited to feel what he is feeling. We see how he acts and draw whatever conclusions we might make from that.
The message this communicates is about as down-to-earth as it gets: Suffering sucks, and you have to deal with it.
Many of us have notions of the “noble sufferer.” Redford’s performance de-romanticizes such ideas. When something unexpected pokes a hole in the side of my boat, the cabin fills with water, screws up all the electronics, and I’m cut off. When the waves get high, there’s a good chance I’ll bonk my head if I try to move around. Storms can break masts and sink ships — even mine. Sometimes I leave the cap off the container and the drinking water I’ve saved gets fouled by the sea. Ships go right by me and nobody notices I’m stuck on a raft.
These things hurt and sometimes I scream. They challenge how well I’ve prepared for emergencies. They force me to think about how I can creatively use the meager resources at hand. They look me straight in the face and say: Act or die! Most of the time, they don’t allow me the luxury of philosophizing about my fate or the ways of God. Those are the things we do when we’re not really suffering. In the midst of it, it’s just a battle and all I can do most of the time is scratch and claw and try to survive.
This is why a lot of our platitudes (Christian/religious or not) don’t mean anything at all to someone who is suffering. Words are empty when you’re adrift at sea. “Shut up and help me bail the water out of this damn raft,” I can hear Our Man say.
Lent should be so silent and sober-thinking. It’s time we dreamers looked suffering and mortality and how little and self-focused we are in this big world directly in the eyes. And this: instead of fasting and trying to fill our heads with all kinds of right ideas so we’ll feel better about ourselves, perhaps it’s time to take the words of Isaiah 58 seriously. Maybe we should be rolling up our sleeves rather than tearing our garments.
* * *
The raging sea has been used as a metaphor for life’s troubles, often taking on mythological significance. In the Bible, the sea is a prime example of surd evil and chaos. From Genesis 1:2 straight through to Revelation 21:1, where the sea is eliminated from the new creation, the great deeps threaten life. The sea is the realm of Leviathan, the mythic monster. God’s way of bringing order to the world so that he might provide a “good land” for humans was by dividing the waters and putting them in their place. God secured Israel’s freedom by demonstrating his power at the Red Sea, parting the waters of death and leading the people through them. Jesus showed himself to be Lord of the storm and turbulent waters by walking upon them and calming them with a firm command.
But in All Is Lost no one comes striding over the waves to rescue Robert Redford. At no time does Our Man pray or utter God’s name. There is no trace of religion in the film. It simply portrays one human being fighting to live in the natural world. We aren’t privy to his dreams. We don’t know if any piety sustains him. The film contains no remarkable coincidences that get our attention and hint that an unseen Hand might be guiding the sailor.
I found myself asking, “How would ‘All Is Lost’ have been different as a ‘Christian’ movie?” I’m sure silence would not have been enough for a pious director. Words — of prayer, of scripture, of devotion, of religious questioning, of thanksgiving, etc. — would have been inserted at “teachable moments” along the way. Perhaps God would have come to Our Man in a dream, angels would have ministered to him, a remarkable answer to prayer or two might have occurred, or a timely insight about what to do under duress might have come to him out of the blue. Some overarching purpose would have been revealed so that we would be comforted knowing that nothing like this could ever happen without us seeing that God is ultimately in control and providentially ordering events.
But in the actual film, and usually in the real world, God doesn’t show up.
That is why I am glad I watched this film in Lent. The Lenten season is not only about our mortality, our finiteness, and our sinfulness. It is also about God’s hiddenness in all of that. Lent is about acknowledging that God usually feels absent, not comfortably present. It’s about being one of the disciples and walking with a Jesus who leaves me feeling as befuddled and lost as a sailor adrift at sea. It’s about the fact that, a great deal of the time, I don’t see any “big picture,” any “reason” from which to draw strength as I struggle through life.
Lent is about realizing I’m on a journey I don’t really get, led by a God I can’t really grasp.
And then it leads to a Cross.
Too many of us are looking for a God who will rescue us from the stormy sea. We don’t want to roll up our sleeves and deal with the commonplace demands of real life. Rather, we seek some supernatural escape to a higher existence. We’d love to walk on the waves with Jesus and be able to point out, with every step, the “difference” he makes in our lives.
But maybe, just maybe, we will only see him clearly when he raises us from the bottom of the sea.
* * *
All is Lost
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Robert Redford
I once was fatherless,
A stranger with no hope;
Your kindness wakened me,
Awakened me, from my sleep
Your love it beckons deeply,
A call to come and die.
By grace now I will come
And take this life, take your life.
Sin has lost it’s power,
Death has lost it’s sting.
From the grave you’ve risen
Into marvelous light I’m running,
Out of darkness, out of shame.
By the cross you are the truth,
You are the life, you are the way
My dead heart now is beating,
My deepest stains now clean.
Your breath fills up my lungs.
Now I’m free. now I’m free!
Lift my hands and spin around,
See the light that i have found.
Oh the marvelous light
Lift my hands and spin
See the light within…
Because my move from Arminianism to Reformed Theology has been such a formative thing, as well as a very formative thing in “our relationship” – it makes sense.
(well, it will be in October, so we’ll have millions of mums also)
T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints
Friday – Saturday, March 21-22, 2014
Join Bland Mason and me this spring for the first annual Life on Mission Conference at Westgate Church in Weston, MA. The call to make disciples of all nations is not just for those who go overseas. We want to see every member live as a missionary, for whom every sphere of life is their mission field.
The theme for our inaugural conference is Gospel-Centered Mission. Our prayer is that God would fuel our passion for the gospel and equip us to make disciples for Christ in our towns and neighborhood.
This is a FREE Conference, but registration is required. Details here.
I determine to blog a certain number of times per week, or per month.
Here we go again.
Usually, I make a sort of rough “schedule” so that I have a target topic for the day.
Here we go again.
In the past, this is been a “life blog” – including family, theology, life, work, diet, exercise, pretty much everything.
I’m a Reformed woman, that can be the focus of my blog…that’s a good thing. Faith informs all parts of my life, all parts of my life that are informed by faith can be written about, as informed by faith, right?
I’m narrowing it down…but there will still be “life” stuff. Blogging helps me work through things – I think I’m determined to work through a couple of theological issues that don’t worry me a whole lot, but I’d like to understand them, so that will be a topic.
I’m moving into a different stage of life and my online presence will also be a little different, with a different “area” that I’m active in. That’s a good thing.
I’ve been moderator on a specific topic forum that has taken up time, time I’m planning on spending blogging…that’s a good thing.
“I read books in all the obvious places—-in my house and office, on trains and buses and planes—-but I’ve also read them at plays and concerts and prizefights, and not just during the intermissions. I’ve read books while waiting for friends to get sprung from the drunk tank, while waiting for people to emerge from comas, while waiting for the Iceman to cometh.” ~Joe Queenan
Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.
Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.
After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.
* * *
Happy weekend, imonkers. Here in the Midwest, we are finally above freezing (at least during the day). And, of course, Lent began this week. Did you give anything up? One analysis of the top things people gave up for lent is based on tweets, and looks like this:
|Rank||What||Number of Tweets|
Mark Galli has given up self-discipline for Lent. And, no, he is not being facetious. Will Willimon gives a thoughtful (as usual) take on why we can be joyful during Lent. And the Wall Street Journal reports on Ash Selfies.
Who would hate the Dalai Lama? These guys, who have been following him around with pickets signs, and called him “The Worst Dictator in the World.”
Does the Catholic Church have a drinking problem? Some Catholics think so: “From parishes to parochial schools to university classrooms, the Church is failing in its responsibility to talk about the pernicious impact of alcohol (and even drugs) on so many people in our society, along with the detrimental impact it has on achieving the common good. One is more likely to see devout Catholics being flip about drinking—or even romanticizing and glorifying it—than confronting the nihilism, escapism, and despair that are a big part of our nation’s drinking culture and the wreckage that it leaves in its wake.”
From the Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department comes this quote about church outreach: “One of the things we’ve been doing recently is morphing these wild-game dinners into Second Amendment rallies. You know, we get in there and we burp and scratch and we talk about, you know, the right to bear arms and all that stuff….One of the things that we’ve learned in doing these is that when you do an affinity event, you have to have a hook that draws the unchurched. In the event of a Second Amendment rally the number of unchurched men that show up will be in direct proportion to the number of guns you give away.” That’s right, churches are giving away guns as a form of evangelism. Not just one or two churches; it is part of the Kentucky Baptist Church’s outreach strategy. So many questions arise here:
- What caliber of church would do this?
- Is the Second Amendment in the Bible? Did I miss that?
- Are the burping and scratching mandatory? If so, how much of each?
Well, this is interesting. 82% of white evangelicals believe that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, but only 40% of American Jews who believe the same. Also, 46% of the first group believe American Foreign Policy is not supportive enough of Israel, while only 31% of the second group concur.
The 2014 Oscars were last Sunday night? Did you watch? I confess as I get older I have less and less interest in glitterati worship services. So, no, I didn’t watch. But I did hear of this quote, from the acceptance speech of Matthew McConaughey: ”There’s three things that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward and another is someone to chase. First off, I want to thank God, ’cause that’s who I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities that I know is not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Lawton who said ‘when you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.’” I am really, really not sure what to make of that last sentence.
NPR had a story about a drive-in church in Florida: “Other parishioners say the drive-in approach is perfect for those who have trouble walking or for antsy children who enjoy the open space. Others say they revel in the ocean air and Florida sunshine. And some say they like that the church welcomes the whole family, including pet dogs: When ushers hand out Communion, even the dogs get treats. At the service’s close, things get even livelier when people use their car horns to “clap.”
In Nigeria, an Islamic group called Boko Haram struck again, leaving 32 people dead. In the last week, they have killed over 150 people, mostly Christians, as they attempt to set up an Islamic state. Our Coptic brothers and sisters are also in trouble: seven Christian men have been shot execution-style on a beach outside Benghazi, security officials in Libya announced Monday. And Brunei has recently passed a law indicating 19 Islamic words that non-Muslims are not allowed to utter.
John McCain joked this week that because of his close friendship with Joseph Lieberman, “I was bris close to converting to Judaism.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is objecting to the “cartoonish” idea that good Mormons will receive their own planet.
Donald Trump and Pope Francis have something in common, at least according to the Donald: “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” Yep, Donald, just like you.
But at least Trump didn’t call the Pope dead, like he did this week to “the late, great Jimmy Carter” (who is still very much alive).
Your tithes at work? Mark Driscoll’s church paid a marketing company at least $210,000 to ensure that Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, made the New York Times best-seller list.
A few years ago, Philadelphia schools passed a grooming policy in 2010 that mandated beards on police and security officers be no longer than one-quarter of an inch. They recently demanded that a Muslim security guard shave his beard in conformity with that. The U. S. Justice department is now suing the school district for discrimination. Also this week, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new, detailed guidelines for employers as the number of complaints and million-dollar settlements for cases of religious workplace discrimination neared record levels in 2013. Examples of discrimination cited in the report include:
- An Albuquerque hotel that would not allow a Muslim woman to work in housekeeping unless she removed her head-scarf.
- A Newark auto dealership that refused to hire a Sikh unless he shaved his beard
- A fast-food outlet in North Carolina that sought to force a Pentecostal woman to wear uniform pants even when her faith teaches women should only wear skirts.
- An Orthodox Jewish woman being asked to wear a short skirt
- Rastafarians being asked not to wear their hair in dreadlocks.
First Things published an interesting article on how Mike Huckabee could win the 2016 Republican primaries. Would this be a good thing? I heart Huckabee (even if not all his views), but can’t help but feel he would re-ignite a culture war that he just cannot win (the high ground being held by the opposition). What are your thoughts?
How many times have we heard that, “Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians”? Not true at all, at least if you define “Christians” as those who actually go to church. One sociologist found that that 60 percent of those who claim Christianity but do not attend church have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced. Another prominent sociologist adds, ”‘active conservative Protestants’ who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.” His other findings: Active Catholics are 31 percent less likely to divorce than secularists, while nominal Catholics are only five percent less likely. The biggest difference active faith makes (in this area) concerns Jews. Active Jews were 97 percent less likely to divorce than secular Americans, while nominal Jews were 53 percent more likely to do so. What got me started looking at this was a link in a very fine article, What God Teaches Us About Broken Marriage Vows.
Gee, thanks, Science Guy! A proposed Noah’s ark theme park led by Ken Ham will be built after all. Ham has announced that the publicity surrounding his debate with Ken Nye has helped raise enough money to sell the bonds needed.
Memebase has a cool show (thankfully, in just one page) of 30 awesome finds on google earth. I think the Badlands Guardian is my favorite.
The Mayor of London views “religious radicalization” as a form of child abuse, and want to remove children from homes where this occurs. He is speaking of Muslim families here, and his goal is reining in terrorism. It’s a good thing the war on terror never produces any undesirable consequences, isn’t it?
Apparently there is some discussion over whether the Son of God movie that debuted last weekend featured a Jesus who was “too hot”. This is carrying over into discussions over whether Russell Crowe (as Noah) and Christian Bale (as Moses) also have a little too much buffness, tan, and dental perfection for their roles in upcoming movies. I admit I had not thought of this before. But some people not only have, but have created a slide-show (if you’re interested) of the most attractive actors to play Jesus. Hmmm. None of them look very Jewish. And who knew the list would include Will Ferrell. I haven’t seen most of these movies, so I’m not sure who would be my favorite. The only one more laughable than Ferrell was (unlike Ferrell’s) not played for laughs (but got them anyway): William Dafoe as a red-headed Jesus with a British accent in The Last Temptation of Christ. Or maybe Dafoe just seems too creepy to me to play anything but a whacked-out villain. Anyway, what are your favorite and least favorite actors to play Christ?
Speaking of creepy, did you know they are finding severed goat’s heads in Brooklyn?
Finally, by tradition, I am supposed to end the Ramblings with a music video. But I stink at choosing videos. Apparently my taste in music is like my taste in beer: non-existent (though for different reasons — I don’t drink). So unless The Good Chaplain Mike™ wants to take over this role, you have to put up with whatever is on my mind that week. And this week my mind is still on Steve Taylor. After all, who else would make a Claymation video about a ravenous cow terrorizing a city, all in the name of spoofing our materialistic mindset? The last few lines are actually quite thought-provoking (but forgive the poor recording quality).
Well, I finally went to the doctor in January to find out why I've been increasingly tired mentally. After a battery of tests, the answer was pretty simple and something I should have figured out without all the testing: sleep apnea, bad enough to wake me up multiple times per hour, make my blood oxygen drop significantly, and leave me mentally exhausted all day.
I recently got a CPAP machine, and the change has been substantial. I don't have anything to write about at the moment, but I'm feeling better every day and think I may actually be ready to start writing again soon. Whether or not that's on this blog remains to be seen, but it's good to have energy again.
Thanks for stopping by, and thanks especially if you're one of those who has been praying for me.
A quick post in passing, to apologize for only doing quick posts in passing -- and few of them. I wish I could promise improvement, but it doesn't look likely soon. My online graduate studies are kicking my tush, eating my lunch, drinking my milkshake... whatever metaphor you want to apply to a process that is sucking all the energy and time from my life.
I've even got a review I've been wanting to write.
But it won't happen tonight.
On a cheerier note, I've been cleared to drive again, and am mostly healed up.
Alex Medina writes:
When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel, a Christian who is not looking for selfish-gain and desires to make music that is less explicit is seen as shrinking back from their faith. A Christian who desires to make an entire album about nature, beauty, and social justice is not being unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about anything and everything that belongs to their God, which is everything.
Brought by faithful sowers to the far places and the low, the gospel of Jesus conducts heavenly business, spreading heavenly happiness. Couched in heaven’s invasion of earth and heaven’s vindication of earth, how could it not? As Lesslie Newbigin writes, “Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy.” The juggernauty growth of the gospel (Col. 1:6) requires newness all around. It is bursting through our lives and structures. It is utterly transformative. This is what we see in the breakneck pace with which Mark records the Gospel where we find these seed parables. He wants us to see (1) the absolute depths of joy and (2) the extraordinary wideness of transformation this joy has. The sheer authority of Jesus’s teaching results in deliverance, healing, restoration, and resurrection. How come?
“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins’.” (Mark 2:18-22)
How is this talk of cloths and wineskins connected to the question about fasts? I think it goes something like this:
The Mosaic law really required only one regular fast. The others that occupied the Jewish calendar grew up around traditions—not bad things in and of themselves. It is possible that John’s disciples were fasting because he had already been either imprisoned or executed. They likely fasted out of mourning. The disciples of the Pharisees likely fasted out of tradition, which became an idol for many of them (see Luke 18:12). One kind of fasting (grief, expectation) was legitimate, the other not. But Jesus’s disciples weren’t going with the flow of the traditions, mainly because they had nothing to grieve (yet) and no merit to glory in. They had Messiah, and having Messiah means having fullness of joy (John 15:11).
Jesus goes on to connect the man-made traditions and ceremonies to outdated structures not suitable for the new wine of the gospel. This joy is growing, going forth into the world and bearing fruit. It cannot be grafted onto brittle, inflexible institutions. The gospel is not just for Jews but for Greeks as well. It is for the unclean, the ungodly, and the outcasts. (It’s for the losers!) All that came before is fulfilled now in Christ. The light by nature cannot be confined to the shadows. It must spill out, shine forth.
There is a time to fast (cf. Ecclesiastes 3), but those united to Christ are to be typified not by grief but by joy, even in hardship (Hab. 3:17-18; Rom. 12:12; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; 1 Pet. 4:13). This means that joy must run deep. And if joy runs deep, it will overflow and run wide.
When we have this deep joy, we navigate seasons of suffering and brokenness with both the firmness of faith and the flexibility of it. We are able to confidently say, “This day”—with all its troubles—”is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). Because we know that the joy is so deep, it will buoy our souls for all eternity.
The ferment of the gospel needs the wineskin of the church, which shall be made up of all peoples. The Jewish ceremonial laws and temple system are no longer sufficient for the purposes of God’s glory covering the whole earth as the waters cover the sea.
The ferment of the gospel needs the wineskin of missional adaptability. Our traditions and structures must serve the joy of Christ and his kingdom, not the other way around.
The ferment of gospel joy needs the wineskin of new hearts (Ps. 119:32; Ezek. 36:26; 2 Cor. 6:13). We must be born again to be a new creation.
As we look to however many more days God will grant us, for ourselves as Christians and for our churches, let us commit to proclamation of the gospel, that it would settle deep into our bones, soaking into the marrow, enlarging our hearts that we might run in spreading the news that Christ is King, casting aside all that hinders us, including even religious, churchy things.
And when the gospel changes our attitude to depths of joy, it will change the latitude of our missional boundaries to widespread transformation. This is the joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8).
This is the world into which the parables are windows. We see in these little stories that God’s big biblical story of redemption—the joyful restoration of the cosmos, the joyful expansion of the sovereignty of King Jesus, and the joyful redemption of sinful exiles—is coming true. It is coming true through and in and by Jesus.
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!
– an excerpt from The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables (Crossway, 2014), pp. 172-174, bold added.
Do You Want to Make a Million Bucks as a Christian Writer? Consider Writing Your Own Religion. by Paul Louis Metzger
“All too often I hear that Paul recreated the Christian faith. Certainly, Paul talks about his gospel — ‘my gospel’ . . . Paul owned the gospel, but he did not control it. Rather, it controlled him.”
Was McConaughey’s Oscar Speech “All Right, All Right, All Right” for Christians? by Aaron Earls
“[M]y questions aren’t directed toward the actor and his faith (though I would hope he would avoid movies like Magic Mike in the future). My concern is more about us and our wisdom in embracing any and every famous person that claims Christ or even uses the word ‘God’ in a positive light. This seems to be yet another example of Christians adopting our culture’s celebrity obsession . . .”
40 Must-See Photos from the Past
Some are amusing. Some are quite haunting.
17 Shocking Food Facts That Will Make You Question Everything
The double-dipping debunking scientists must be the same as those global warming guys. And wait– every Fruit Loop tastes the same? (Link is to Buzzfeed, so mind the sidebars.)
Finding Your Sweet Spot by Darrin Patrick
“Contentment is neutered for the complacent man. To pursue real contentment, a man must push beyond his natural limits, tapping into supernatural strength to do more than he thought possible. Complacent men coast along in life without compulsion to do anything great. They passively engage the world, only exerting themselves to make sure it stays small and within their control. Contentment is reduced to stress avoidance. Here are 4 ways to find true contentment . . .”
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! A Capella
This guy’s got a lot of time on his hands.
Some days, everything’s cool; we are content
And health and life are well inside our grip;
But other days your light has all been spent
And darkness intervenes, your heart to strip
Of all its dressings, all its healing balms;
It lays you bare and naked to the bone
And desperate, and devoid of what could calm
Your burning heart, your desperation-groans.
Some wounds are slow to heal, infection-bound–
And some, though now scarred over, still are sore;
What healer could there be to come around
And reach into your still-too-tender core?
What drug, what surgery could ever cure
Your broken heart, the sorrow you endure?
Chaplain Mike’s post on small churches reminded me of one of the first posts I had made on Internet Monk in July of 2009. As many of our current readers may not have seen it, I thought it would be worthwhile to post again. Based on the last two surveys that were done, the numbers likely have not changed much since this post was originally published.
You may have heard people say that the “average” sized church in the U.S. or Canada is about 75 people. You also may have heard someone say that the “average” sized church in North America is about 185 people. Who is right? It all depends how you define “average”.
Statisticians use three terms when describing populations. “Mean”, “Median”, and a third term that won’t really enter our discussion today called “Mode”.
I have borrowed, and expanded upon, an analogy from the The National Congregations Study that was released last month, to help us understand the differences in these terms and why they are important to our understanding of churches in North America. What you will read here is U.S. data, but the numbers are very similar for the Canadian situation as well.
Imagine you are looking down a very, very long street, and all the churches of U.S. are lined up along the left side of the street from smallest to largest. In behind each church are all their Sunday morning attenders.
If you counted the grand total of everyone standing behind each church and then divided this number by the total number of churches that you see on this very long street, you would come up with a “mean” or “average” size of 184. “Mean” is usually what we mean of when we think of “average”. But this number of 184 is a very misleading number.
Lets say you start walking down the street, passing the churches with 5 people on a Sunday morning, 10 people, 15 people, 20 people. You continue walking until you have passed half of all the churches in America. Half of the churches in the U.S. are now behind you, half are still in front. The “average” church that you are standing in front of is called the “median” church. You look to see how many people are lined up behind it, and you see 75 people. That is right, half the churches in the United States have less than 75 people.
The average or “mean” church at 184 is 2.45 times the size of the average median church at 75. Why is this so? If you continue walking, you will get a better understanding of how skewed church numbers are within the United States.
So, you continue walking, past the churches of 80, 90, 100, 110. You walk until you have passed 90% of all the churches. You look to your left and you see 350 people lined up behind this church. Much to your surprise, although you have passed 90% of all the churches, over half of the churchgoers are still in front of you! This is why the “mean” is so much higher than the “median”. While most of the churches in the United States are small, most of the attenders go to large churches.
You keep walking, past the churches of 360, 370, 380. It isn’t until you reach a church of size 400 that you will have the same number of people behind you as in front of you. This means that half of church attenders in the U.S. go to churches larger than 400. If we were to use the word “average” again, we would see that the “average” or “median” churchgoer was in a church of 400. Not only that, but this means that half of all those who attend church are in less that 10% of the churches!
So now we know the “median” and “mean” of the average church, along with the “median” of the average churchgoer. What about the “mean” of the average attender? Let me mess with your mind a little bit more now. Imagine that you can interview everyone, standing behind each church, and ask them what size church they go to. You then “average” their responses. The “average” or “mean” response from the perspective of an attender is… drum roll please… 1169! Just to help us understand this number, let me give you an example. If you have 1000 people attending churches of 75 in size, then you would also have 1000 people attending churches whose sizes averaged out to 2263 people each. If you average out their responses you get the average or “mean” number of 1169. ((2263+75)/2=1169)
To see what this looks like graphically I created a graph of 100 representative churches. If you took a cross section of 100 churches from all the churches across America, the graph of those churches would look something like this. The churches are along the bottom of the graph. Their attendance ranges from 10 for the smallest church to 4000 for the largest. In reality, we do have churches much larger that than 4000, but out of every 100 churches, you might have 1 megachurch of about 4000 in size. As you can see, most church attenders in America (and the same holds true for Canada), attend big churches. Half of them attend churches larger than 400 and many of these are experiencing church many times that size. In fact, out of every 100 churches, the one largest church (in my example 4000 attenders) would have as many attenders as the lowest 70 churches combined!
This has huge implications for denomination structures and for Pastors.
Lets take an extreme example, the case of the Brethren in Christ in Canada (not to be confused with the Christian and Plymouth Brethren). For those not familiar with the Brethren in Christ, their theological heritage and influences are Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan. Right now, as I understand it, they are part of a North American Conference for decision making. What would happen if the Canadian churches, for whatever reasons, needed to go their own way? In Canada, half of the attenders of Brethren in Christ churches are in associated with a single church, The Meeting House, which has experienced significant numerical growth over the past 10 years. Currently it has over 50 staff, spread over 9 locations, with most meeting in movie theaters. If half your denomination goes to one church, what do you do when it comes to denominational decision making? One church, one vote? You are then saying that half your people don’t really have any say. One person, one vote, or one pastor, one vote? Then one church wields an inordinate amount of influence within the denomination. And what happens if that one church doesn’t like the direction that the denomination is headed? If it leaves, you lose half of your denomination, half your support for you national office, half of your support for your missionaries, half your support for your educational institutions. (Note that I am using the B.I.C. as a hypothetical example of a separate Canadian entity which does not currently exist.) Such a disproportionate split between numbers of churches and numbers of attenders that are seen throughout the U.S. and Canada, cannot be healthy for denominations. But what should we do about it, if anything? I am interested in hearing your responses.
There is a potentially a greater problem when it comes to bible college and seminary graduates, most of whom will eventually aspire to become solo or senior pastors. As previously shown, if these students come from churches in the same proportions as church attenders, then 50% of seminary students, come from roughly 8% to 9% of the churches. Their life experience in church is with larger churches. If they are initially placed as an associate, they will be building on their experience in other large churches. Yet, 90 percent of senior pastoral positions are in churches less than 350 people, and 50 percent of senior pastoral positions are in churches less than 75 people.
So they get placed in inappropriate situations: In places where people enjoy their church of 50 and don’t really want it to change. In places where power-point is a dirty word. In places where words like “missional” and “emerging” don’t really compute. In places where three piece suits still rule the day on Sunday morning. In places where you still can hear, “If the King James was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me.” So the church gets frustrated, and the Pastor gets frustrated, and unless there is some give and take, it is a relationship that doesn’t last long. Some Pastor’s will get so frustrated that they will be out of ministry within a relatively short time frame.
Has this been your experience, either from the perspective of the church or the Pastor? What are the solutions? What can we do to prepare our Pastors and our churches better? I would love to hear some of your ideas?
I have just touched upon one aspect of the The National Congregations Study. I would also encourage you to follow the link to the original report and read some of the other interesting information that they have gathered about American congregations. Compared to most statistical studies that I read, this one is particularly well written.
In 2011, 77 Norwegians were killed on July 22nd. Norway's prime minister said, "A paradise island has been transformed into a hell."
Now, the country plans to develop a memorial on Utoeya island by cutting through it and sealing it with the victims' names. They are calling it "Memory Wound." "Visitors to the memorial, which is titled Memory Wound, will by guided down a pathway through the island's forest into a tunnel that leads to the wound. The tunnel ends abruptly at the cut, where visitors will be able to see to the other side," reports The Verge.
See large mock-ups of the memorial.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
- Romans 11:6
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
– Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
What is the ratio of grace to works in the salvation equation? 1 to 0. Not one speck, not one microgram, not one atom of works there. It is all grace or no grace. Wring and wrestle all you want, but it is grace all the way down.
When I read this article about a prolific pastor-author hiring a marketing firm to put his book on the bestselling "Advice, How-to" list, I wondered how it could possibly work. I roughly understand how a company could coordinate purchasing 3,000 books, both in bulk and individual sales, but what would they do with all of those books?
Apparently, they return them. This WSJ article on authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, says some marketers believe hitting that list once is the doorway to invitations and future success. Once you're on the list for a week, you can claim to be a bestselling author.
Last August, a book titled "Leapfrogging" hit The Wall Street Journal's list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.Isn't this equivalent to creating an award to give to yourself so you can claim to be an award winner?
Something similar happened when the hardcover edition of "Networking is Dead," was published in mid-December. A week after selling enough copies to make it onto the Journal's business best-seller list, more hardcover copies of the book were returned than sold, says book-sales tracker Nielsen BookScan.
The marketing idea hamster Seth Godin recommends ignoring the NY Times lists altogether. "The curious know that there are in fact two lists for non-fiction hardcover books. The first list, the regular list, is the list of 'real' books of the sort the Times would like people to read. The second list is a ghetto, a place for How To, Advice, and the always coveted 'Miscellaneous' books to reside. This list was invented by the editors at the Times because these books were crowding out the other, better, books from the list."
He says questions about serving your readers become overwhelmed by concerns about placement on the Times list. Is your goal as an author to serve your readers or your message, or is it to serve the eccentricities of this list?
Jared Wilson, who has a new book out, lists five reasons buying placement on any bestseller list is dishonest, egocentric, and poor steward, among other things. Speaking particularly to pastors who write:
"If you're simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel - or your gospel-teaching material - wouldn't it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?)"
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
- John 16:12
These words of Christ really minister to me. The immediate context is this: Jesus has resurrected and he is issuing warnings and promises to his disciples. He is consoling them about his soon departure, saying he is going to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. He’s going to keep speaking to them, only now through the Holy Spirit, primarily through the Spirit-inspired new covenant Scriptures.
But I love Jesus’ pastoral heart. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus is patient with his people. He plods. He knows how to hand out bread day by day. He doesn’t overcook his sermons like us dumb pastors, thinking we’ve got to hit everybody with everything all at once. He does not “turn on the firehose.” He does not inundate. Of course, Jesus has the benefit of omniscience — he knows how things will play out tomorrow — and we do not. But he is so gentle in this moment.
These words remind me that Jesus is committed to giving me all that I need at the times I need it. It has been said that all our knowledge of God at any given moment is merely a thimble of water compared to the ocean of water available. And yet the thimble is a daily supply, more than enough, just the right amount. Jesus is so good. He knows my limits and condescends to fill them and minister to me within them.
We undershepherds should take note.
In forsaking the ability to change, they diminish the capacity for hope.
- Kathleen Norris
I have often praised smaller churches. I continue to hope in the restoration of community life across the U.S. and the revitalization of neighborhood churches that will bring the Gospel back down to its proper human scale.
But I am not wholly idealistic and naïve. Wherever there are human beings trying to make it through life together, there are problems. It matters not whether the setting is large or small. Every community of people faces challenges which, if not handled with wisdom, grace, and love, will threaten its health and perhaps even its existence.
Re-reading Kathleen Norris’s contemplative classic, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, I was struck by the chapter, “Gatsby on the Plains,” about how folks in small settings can become insular, resistant to change, quick to turn on one another, vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking, suspicious of “outsiders,” and incapable of absorbing new information. I have seen all these tendencies and more in small communities and congregations. I recognize them in myself.
Kathleen Norris observed how people in her small South Dakota community tended to live in the past, when life was more prosperous and satisfying. “If we could only go back,” they said. Forgetting the problems that were present then and ignoring the progress and positive changes in the world since their community was “Eden,” they long for an idyllic time in the past that was somehow taken away from them. As Norris notes, “Paradise wasn’t self-sufficient after all, and the attitude and belief that it ever was is part of the reason it’s gone.”
She also describes a commitment to stability that becomes, in reality, a death wish. Though the world “outside” may change constantly and dramatic ways, we remain the same and this is to be preferred. “Values that once served to protect and preserve the town become threats to its survival,” Norris notes. When new opportunities that will open up future possibilities present themselves, the cry goes up, “We never had to do that before, and we did alright, by God!”
This leads to new lines being drawn and conflicts. Those who are more open to change may suddenly find themselves on the other side of the aisle in church from those committed to stability. Of her town Norris laments, “It is painful to watch intelligent businesspeople who are dedicated to the welfare of the town spend most of their energy combatting those more set in their ways.” And thus inertia not only cuts us off from the future but also from one another.
Because of this small churches may lose their best and brightest people. This has been happening for a long time in rural communities across our nation. Many leave, never return, and suffer no regrets in staying away from their provincial past. Some do return, often with romantic notions of a simpler life and a supportive face-to-face community. However, Kathleen Norris observed that these returnees themselves often shrank in soul over time: “As their frame of reference diminishes, so do their aspirations and their ability to adapt to change.” She noticed teachers who had stopped reading, youth who saw no point in preparing themselves for anything, farmers who couldn’t grasp the need to learn about changing markets. Many couldn’t imagine the point of taking and reading the newspaper. They lost the virtue of curiosity.
It becomes easier for people who have come to “idealize their isolation” to latch on to conspiracy theories. They see themselves as the holy remnant, guardians of the old wisdom vs. the new, who pridefully lean on their own understanding and skill and threaten the ancient ways of righteousness. Various “shamans” become their guides: political extremists, prophecy teachers, or maybe just the local “expert” who continually dampens enthusiasm for anything outside a local perspective.
This insular thinking sees outsiders, particularly gifted outsiders, as threatening. As Norris says, “Such outsiders can unwittingly pose a threat to the existing social order, and if their newcomers’ enthusiasm doesn’t wear off, if their standards don’t fall to meet the town’s, and especially if they keep on trying to share what they know, they have to be discouraged, put down, or even cast out.” Once evicted, community members may speak of them for years as scapegoats for their own problems. Unfortunately, Norris observes that resisting outside influence to protect our institutions only leaves us with mediocre and unstable institutions.
Summarizing these tendencies, Kathleen Norris quotes G. Keith Gunderson, a Lutheran minister intimately acquainted with the region, who describes the darkness that threatens small communities (and small congregations) with these devastating words:
Progress is illusion and hope is folly. We are born, we live, we die. Leave us alone.
Churches that stay small and isolated because of such attitudes can’t die fast enough.
. . . or buying Twitter followers or gaming the analytics to inflate website stats, etc.
At least 5 things:
1. It’s dishonest.
No, it’s not illegal. But neither are lots of unethical, dishonest things. The asumption that people make when they see “Bestseller” labeled on a book or 600,000 followers on your Twitter page is that you came by those accomplishments the straightforward way: attracting or impressing enough readers to merit their attention. Many “bestseller lists” are assembled in such a way to prevent certain gamings of the system. It may not be a crime to figure out the workarounds, but it’s certainly against the rules, the spirit of the lists, and the expectations of those who respect the lists. Exploiting the loopholes is a patently deceptive practice. Some may ask what the difference is between this practice and paying for an ad. But the difference should be obvious: when people see an ad, they know it was paid for by the writer/publisher/marketer, but when people see a book make a bestseller list, they assume it was paid for by readers. That the net effect may be the same — influence — doesn’t justify non-transparent means.
2. It’s egocentric and lazy.
Rather than actually write a strong book or assemble a steady body of social media work that people find valuable over time, rather than putting in the actual time and investing the relational capital necessary to build a genuine audience, one opts to leverage one commodity (money) for another (power). And while some may say the system-gaming strategy is simply a way to get “the gospel” into the maximum number of hands, others of us would suggest that the efforts to gin up an insta-hit indicate it’s not so much the gospel that needs a bestseller as an antsy writer who needs one.
3. It may eventually harm your reputation and will bug you in the long run.
It may harm your reputation when people find out. That’ll stink. Then you’ll spend more time defending yourself or owning up to your shadiness than you will enjoying your success and leveraging your influence for Christ’s fame.
But maybe nobody ever finds out. Maybe the only ones who know are you and the ones you paid to create your status. Instead, it will start to eat at you. As people congratulate you for your bestselling status or express regard for your widening audience, you’ll know inside it’s a sham, that you didn’t actually earn it but bought it. That’s assuming, of course, you have a sensitive conscience. Either way, it’s just not worth it in the long run.
4. It’s poor stewardship and bad strategy.
Okay, so let’s say you are just trying to “promote” the book. Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to simply pay the same amount for an advertising blitz in key publications? Let’s say you really are just trying to reach people with the gospel. Wouldn’t investing the same amount in an actual ministry endeavor (supporting a missionary, funding a church plant, etc.) be money better spent? If you’re simply trying to expand the audience of the gospel — or your gospel-teaching material — wouldn’t it be more effective to simply purchase thousands of copies of your book and give them away to lost people? Or, alternatively, not to sell your book at all and just give it away for free? (Did Keith Green make any bestseller lists? Has John Piper?) As a ministry maneuver, system-gaming works against its purported aim because it’s non-transparent, but it also seems too complicated and inefficient to effectively accomplish what it means to.
5. It disadvantages those actually gifted.
This is a subtle point but I think an important one. Some people take years to gather thousands of blog readers or Twitter followers by consistently putting out quality content over time and earning readers’ trust and therefore the widening influence this affords. Then someone comes along and buys twice as many fake followers. You may call this sour grapes on the part of the guy who came by his readers honestly, but I think he’d have a genuine grievance about the buyer’s inadvertent cheapening of the earner’s effort and influence. When more and more people get quickly and easily what others worked very hard for over time, it lessens the value of everybody’s influence. This is why the celebrity culture pervading evangelicalism doesn’t advance the gospel so much as it creates a culture of competition and consumerism, and also distrust.
Additionally, authors who buy their way into sales and accolades disadvantage their brothers and sisters who are actually gifted to write. Yes, I know some of the bestselling Christian authors have actually written their own books, but too many have not, and adding the dishonesty of system-gaming to the dishonesty of ghostwriting further hinders the work of real artists who are getting crowded out of the marketplace.
And the disadvantage is a real one, if only because the “horning in” can’t run the other way. There are no ghost-preachers, after all. Many talented preachers are not talented writers, and vice versa, but talented writers can’t pretend to be talented preachers. But talented preachers can sure pretend to be talented writers. When we let them, we diminish the writer class in evangelicalism. We do a disservice to the Body, actually, because we let the preacher class cannibalize the writer class. They used to coexist harmoniously. But that was before the preacher got envious of the writer. And one of the awful results is that evangelicals don’t have very good literary taste. What if we let our gifted preachers preach to us and our gifted writers write to us? And when the twain meet, great, but when they don’t — also great.
The field, long lain fallow through the cold
And bitter winters, shot all through with weeds
And packed-down places, newly has been sold
To better farmers, better hands to bleed
With labor’s loving wounds, the nights and days
Of pulling weeds and compost and manure,
Of plowing, sowing–all the work to raise
A crop, to make the later harvest sure.
The workers work, all knowing that although
They plant the seeds and pull the heavy stones
Away, they cannot make the fields grow;
They cannot give it life. But still, with silent groans
Of waiting, expectation, pain, and joy,
They ask the Lord His mercies to deploy.
. . . for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
– Genesis 3:19
One of the problems I have with all the “chase your dreams!” cheerleading from Christian leaders is not because I begrudge anyone wanting to achieve their dreams, but because I don’t think we readily see how easy it is to conflate our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ.
You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?
Are we pursuing our own greatness or the expansion of worship of Jesus Christ? They aren’t necessarily incompatible, but God is more interested in the latter than the former. And ultimately, if we prioritize Christ’s glory, we won’t really care in the long run how noticed, renowned, recognized, or “successful” we are personally. We’ll realize that our lives aren’t really about us anyway.
Sometimes we have to let our dreams die.
And that’s okay. We will be okay.
Look, “for those who love God, all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). So God’s plan might be for your littleness, and that’s okay, because his plan is not for his own littleness! His plan for your efforts, big and small, is that they will maximize the glory due his Son. That he might draw all men to himself. That he might fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory – as Habakkuk 2:14 says – as much as the waters cover the seas.
One day, you are going to die. Perhaps today. What will they say about you? What legacy are you truly leaving? When the funeral is over and all the accolades about you are used up, your body will become dust.
In Al Mohler’s book The Conviction to Lead he writes of
. . . an old preacher [who] told a group of younger preachers to remember that they would die. “They are going to put you in a box,” he said, “and put the box in the ground, and throw dirt on your face, and then go back to the church and eat potato salad.”
Here’s the point: As great as you can make yourself, as many wonderful things as you can accomplish in your lifetime — even religious things — it will all be a blip on the radar of eternity. You will become dust. The worms will eat you. Statistically speaking, since most of us will never accomplish such great things that history will laud throughout the ages, memory of us will start fading with our grandchildren. Our great grandchildren will (likely) not have any clue who we are.
If you are bringing glory to Christ, not a thing about you is wasted, because the mission of the Spirit of God is to maximize the glory of Christ over all the universe. So that even at the end of days, as Revelation shows us, all the glorious kings of the nations in all their renown and splendor, file in one by one into the holy city to throw their crowns at the feet of Jesus. Revelation 21 reveals that the light of the new heavens and new earth comes not from the “sun” but from the “Son,” and the kings of the nations will bring their glory into it.
There is the vision of greatness the redeemed of the Lord ought to aspire to. That he would increase and we would decrease. That our decrease would serve his increase!
And those who are willing to lose their lives — whatever that might mean — for Christ’s sake, will find them.
And from dust you will return.
Believers in a Hostile Culture by Randy Alcorn
I will confess that it’s not the culture’s hostility that is increasingly unnerving to me but the hostility toward the brethren of fellow professing believers who seem to be increasingly aligning with the views of the culture. Alcorn writes, “If our eyes are on anyone but Jesus, we’re not going to have the stamina to put up with criticism or outright hostility. Paul said, ‘If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ’. . .”
Wes Anderson: King of Empathy by Andrew Barber
Over at Christianity Today, Barber writes of the maestro of cinematic quirk Anderson, “[He] mourns the wounds we carry because he believes that people are valuable. Even if he can’t explain why.”
Kayaker Discovers 110-Year-Old Ghost Ship in a Tributary of the Ohio River
“The photos are cool, but what’s more incredible is the history of this ship, and the things it has seen before it’s current resting place!”
Why Does Your Nose Get Stuffy One Nostril at a Time?
Your nostrils take breaks, apparently, on a work cycle.
Why “I Believe in Logic and Reason” is a Nonsense Statement by Clint Roberts
“Nobody likes an ugly custody battle, but in the recent era of boisterous ‘in your face’ internet debate styles, we’ve seen an attempt to co-opt the favored terms and claim them as the natural and exclusive property of the self-appointed champions of reason and logic. When you see any particular individual or group lay claim to ‘reason’, you should get suspicious . . .”
Awesome Chemical Reactions
I’m not sure this is science so much as witchcraft.
“It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your bond with your fellow being was your despair. It was a public experience; it was awful. But we were in it together.
“…When you are lost, you are not alone.”
- from “Doubt”
(Listen to sermon below)
* * *
By overwhelming consensus it is agreed that we lost one of our generation’s greatest actors when Philip Seymour Hoffman died recently of acute mixed drug intoxication. A “character” actor par excellence, he was renowned for fully inhabiting the roles of flawed and troubled people. A.O. Scott of the NY Times said of Hoffman, “He may have specialized in unhappiness, but you were always glad to see him.”
Anthony Lane’s remarkable retrospective in the New Yorker notes how he was able to play both sincere and insincere at the same time, expressing “both unfeigned outrage and calculated conceit.” Philip Seymour Hoffman knew how to “make a scene,” simultaneously pointing to the truth while making sure we took notice of him. He got our attention. Of his extraordinary voice, Lane writes, “such were the gravelled depths of his voice that he often gave the impression, even in company, of murmuring to himself, as though submerged regrets and grievances were ready to overflow.”
I am not going to comment on his death, yet another sad example of “the needle and the damage done.” I trust the Judge of all the earth to do justly (Gen. 18:25).
One of my favorite PSH performances was that of Father Flynn in Doubt, the story of a Bronx Roman Catholic parish in which a progressive priest, a rigid, tradition-bound nun, and a young teacher caught between them deal with an ambiguous situation: did the priest have an improper relationship with a young student, the first black child in the parochial school?
This movie and Hoffman’s performance are a perfect introduction to the ambiguities of Lent, which begins today on this Ash Wednesday 2014. NPR critic Bob Mondello, in a review of “Doubt,” observed how the film not only captures the moral fogginess of a situation in which there is no evidence and no witnesses but only suspicion, it also contrasts two ways of facing moral questions — an older way of moral certainty and a more contemporary, more complex and nuanced approach. “Doubt,” Mondello writes, sets forth the “notion that the old ways…were intolerant, even monstrous. But the espousers of the new are damaged, compromised and not necessarily better guides to morality. Our elders are disasters, [this movie says], and so are we. Now what are we going to do about our children?”
On Ash Wednesday and throughout the days of Lent, we come together and confess with the Psalmist: “We have sinned—right along with our ancestors” (Ps. 106:6, CEB).
Amid our losses, our despair, and our doubts, we come forward on Ash Wednesday as God’s people to receive that which marks us, in Father Flynn’s words, as lost but not alone.
If you liked the following books, you might like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, reviewed at Semicolon.
Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery and a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans, reviewed at Semicolon.
Horten’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin.
The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin.
The Puzzler’s Mansion by Eric Berlin.
The Sixty-eight Rooms by Marianne Malone, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass.
Conversely, if you read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and you want more, you might want to check out one of the books on the list above. Some of these books are at least alluded to in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but they’re certainly not the only books that are mentioned. Book-title-name-dropping is pervasive throughout the story, a story that takes place in a magically enchanting library full of books, games, puzzles, displays, artifacts, and technological wonders. A few of the other books and authors that get a mention in Escape are: Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Rick Riordan, The Hunger Games, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Thackeray, ewes Carroll, Geroge Orwell, Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Pseudonymous Bosch, and the Bible.
Now that’s an eclectic list! Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library should keep 10-12 year old puzzle-lovers and mystery readers enthralled as they try, along with twelve other twelve year old characters in the book, to figure out how to escape from a library filled with both informational marvels and deceptive snares. Kyle Keeley, our protagonist, is all-boy, and he and his best friend Akimi, along with the other children, if somewhat stereotypical, are still engaging enough to keep the story moving. In a book that’s mostly plot and puzzle, the characters are not as important and can be allowed a little flatness.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library isn’t as good or as intricately plotted as a couple of my favorites in the puzzle fiction genre, The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Westing Game, but it’s a solid entry in a field that still has room for a few more good selections. I recommend it for library aficionados, reading addicts, and puzzle and game lovers everywhere. And could someone explain to me the puzzle mentioned in the Author’s Note at the end of the book? I’m not so good at solving unexplained puzzles that are hidden somewhere in some some unspecified part of the book.
“Flaubert was always adamantly opposed to illustrations for his literary works. This apparent contradiction can be explained by his concept of pure art and his association of art with style, from which it follows that one art cannot be translated into another. For Flaubert, writing was a long, sometimes agonizingly slow, quest for perfection in style. His correspondence is filled with descriptions of his efforts to polish his prose, to eliminate repetition or assonance, to find le mot juste [the right word].”
– The Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia edited by Laurence Porter (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2001), 15.
Flaubert was obsessed with finding the exact right word. He would labor over his composition, sometimes finishing a long day’s work having written just a few words, perhaps one sentence. The result was both beautiful and cold, as anyone who made it through Madame Bovary can attest.
Some scholars say that you can’t read Flaubert in anything but French, for all translations lose the pristine fruit of his labors. One said Flaubert’s works would need the “Flaubert of translators” to do le mot juste justice.
Yet it occurs to me that in the Scriptures, which are God-breathed, we find ostensibly un-artful census results as well as ecstatic exultation, and lots of literature on the spectrum in between, and yet in its variety of authors from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of motivations in a variety of genres, every word of Scripture is perfectly placed. Flaubert wrung himself out like a limp rag for a few droplets a day, and the result was pretty, sterile. The Spirit pours it effortlessly out through similarly wrung men into the Bible’s flowing fountain, and the result is a tidal wave of exhilarating warmth. I remind myself of this when bogged down in Numbers as when lifted to Pauline pinnacles. It helps to know the biblical languages, I know, but it helps especially to know that every word of Scripture from Genesis 1:1-s “In” to Revelation 22:21-s “Amen” is le mot juste.
Pro Football Was My God by Derwin Gray
“Then I met the Naked Preacher, a linebacker for the Colts in 1993. It was impossible not to notice a linebacker who would take a shower, dry off, wrap a towel around his waist, pick up his Bible, and ask those of us in the locker room, ‘Do you know Jesus?’ I would think, Do you know you are half-naked?”
Red Letter Nonsense by Kevin DeYoung
“The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this ‘red letter’ nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.”
Bono Got Rejected
1979 record company letter, informing the singer that his “tape of ‘U2′” is not suitable for them at them at the time.
Girl’s Facebook Idiocy Costs Her Dad $80,000
“You know all those times you read about lawsuit settlements where the financial terms are undisclosed? That silence isn’t a sign that no one wants to talk about how much they won or lost; it means that agreement will likely be nullified if people start blabbing about the money changing hands. And that includes a plaintiff’s teen daughter . . .”
Why Deep Teaching Matters by Brett Derr
A good piece about going deeper to the affections with a biblical text, despite the fact that Bret says entirely too much about the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Let it Go” on Toy Instruments
Adele Dazeem (née Idina Menzel), Jimmy Fallon, and The Roots do their thang.
Let me write about myself for a minute. For the past several months, I've been pursuing a new line of work and I spent part of that time wondering what that line should be. I'm still looking for work in various ways, but my main thrust this year will be freelance writing and editing.
I am bidding on projects through Elance.com and Writer.ly (some interesting stuff on these site). I haven't gotten to other freelance venues yet, and I like the testing options available through Elance. They verify your skills to a degree. If you have work that could be hired out, you can post a job with Elance and invite me to bid on it. Naturally, I would do my best writing ever, and the project would be more profitable than your wildest dreams, and we would sing each other's praises for months. The regulars at the pub would love us for at least a day. Maybe two! Feel free to look at my Writer.ly profile too. It's still in beta mode, but some people are finding work there.
I am happy to have made new connections with a couple editing services. There are two other organizations who have me on their writing roster also. Of course, there's LinkedIn for general networking. With all of these connections, I am not at all busy. I'd like to try being busy, for a change of pace.
I started this blog in 2004. Lars joined me several months later. Since we're an established lit-blog, we are asked to review various independent books. Every time I agree to receive a book for review, I hope to love it. I usually don't, and I wish I could reply with an offer to edit this already published book. It would be rude to make such an offer, but the need bleeds upon the page. Through these new services, perhaps I can field editing requests from authors who have a good story and need help making it great.
A friend of mine, the pastor of this wonderful church, quoted this on Facebook:
"We hope that by believing less we will become less vulnerable to spiritual manipulation. We cannot be duped, we imagine, if critical doubt weakens the force of our commitments. If there is no truth, then we will not quarrel over our visions of the truth. If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight. However, an iconoclasm of truth will not succeed. Hell can be as easily built of apathy and diffidence as of megalomania and fevered ideological zeal-- perhaps more easily for it is difficult to wake from the narcosis of a velvet barbarism that desires no truth." -- R. R. Reno, Commentary on Genesis
I didn’t realize that The Wind Rises was out already, which means I’ll have to take it in before it’s gone from the theaters. I’m one of the few (it seems) that doesn’t mind the recent dubs that Ghibli movies have received, so if all I can find is a dubbed version in the theaters I’ll be fine.
Speaking of animated films, I just found out that The Secret of Kells is available on Hulu. It is well worth your time. The director’s follow-up, The Song of the Sea, just got picked up for US distribution and I’m hoping it’s every bit as good.
Shifting gears 100%, the whole “Jesus wants you to shut up and bake” essays coming out might be some of the weakest lines of reasoning in the recent culture war volleys. There are many good reasons why the Arizona and Iowa bills were flawed, but after hearing many of the same people decry mixing Jesus and politics during the Falwell/Dobson/Robertson era, it just seems hollow now.
13 lbs. 12.6 oz
Right now he's wearing mostly 3 month clothes with some 6 month clothes sprinkled in. It won't be long before he officially outgrows his remaining 3 month clothes though!
Buster, bubba, buddy, stinker
He typically sleeps 6 to 6 and a 1/2 hours a night! Last night he slept closer to 7 hours, so I think it's just a matter of time before he starts consistently sleeping through the night (sleeping through the night for me is 7+ hours).
So far he's still exclusively breastfed.
Laughing at his daddy, hanging out outside, car rides, having his diaper changed and eating (as you can tell from the above picture)!
Being held like a baby.
He is coo-ing up a storm these days! It's beyond cute. The most surprising part for me is that he loves to "talk" to us while we're changing his diaper! It's where we have most of our heart-to-hearts
A specific moment doesn't come to mind, but I'm definitely enjoying all the sweet smiles and laughs! He's interacting more and is starting to show bits and pieces of his personality.
Deacon would probably say that his shots were the worst part of this month, but I didn't think they ended up being that bad! Haha. Our little guy was TOUGH and only cried for about a minute before he settled back down. He must get that from his daddy... or Junebug.
He has two different colored eyes! It's hard to capture in pictures, but his left eye is blue and his right eye is brown. Originally we thought that they were just changing at different rates, but today our pediatrician told us he thinks they'll probably stay different colors! I think it's really precious and unique
Poet W.H. Auden was generous, loving man, and apparently he wanted that to remain a secret. Edward Mendelson writes, "In an age when writers as different as Hemingway and Eliot encouraged their public to admire them as heroic explorers of the mind and spirit, Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was."
He sought out the marginalized in the crowd. He gave a large among to keep a homeless shelter operational. He disliked his public image and political grandstanding. Mendelson states, "In 1939 he left England for America, partly to escape his own public status. Six months later, after making a speech at a political meeting, he wrote to a friend: 'I suddenly found I could really do it, that I could make a fighting demagogic speech and have the audience roaring.... It is so exciting but so absolutely degrading; I felt just covered with dirt afterwards.'"
(Thanks to Alan Jacobs)
Yep, good guess. Doesn’t it seem like the most unLutheran thing ever said? (Source: sermon on John 15:10. vol. 24 in the Pelikan edition of his Works)
Well, it has to be someone surprising, so let’s guess “Martin Luther”.
Therefore it behooves everyone to search his heart and examine himself. Let no one bank on thoughts like these: “I am baptized and am called a Christian. I hear God’s Word and go to the Sacrament.”
not unless they’ve shown themselves able to handle Grave of the Fireflies, anyway.
Martin Luther said many things, but as with many famous people, he did not say a handful of things people attribute to him, such as:
The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays-not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors.Justin Taylor explains:
The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
Luther didn't say this. As with the quote from the first example, [Frederick] Gaiser argues that it doesn't sit very well with Luther's actual views on vocation. The idea that God is pleased with our work because he likes quality work "would be the American work-ethic version of vocation, theologically endorsing work as an end in itself. In the hands and mouth of a modern boss, good craftsmanship and clean floors (or a clean desk or a signed contract) to the glory of God could be a potent and tyrannical tool to promote the bottom line. . . . [W]hat marks Luther's doctrine of vocation is the insistence that the work is done in service of the neighbor and of the world. God likes shoes (and good ones!) not for their own sake, but because the neighbor needs shoes. . . ."
"It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him." - Solomon Northup
Pastor Tony Carter gives his reaction to the memoir by Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, released in 1853. He was deeply moved. He writes:
"Those who contend that American slavery was tolerable and preferable for the African-American continue to be an enigma to me. While I might give the secular humanist a slight pass because his mind is not enlightened by the gospel of truth (though he remains accountable to God for the wrong he thinks and does), I can have little to no understanding of the Christian who contends for and maintains such a position. With evidence such as Northup's account before his eyes, and the supposed grace of God enlightening his heart, one has to wonder if those who claim to have been exposed to both have truly experienced either."I have not seen the movie based on this book, but if you have, you might find this comparison page of interest. It compares the movie with their own investigation of the truth. For example, they report, "the movie paints William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a hypocrite, contradicting his Christian sermons by overlaying them with his slave Eliza's agonizing screams. In his memoir, Solomon Northup offers the utmost words of kindness for his former master, stating that "there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford."
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, vicar of Belmont & Pittington in Durham, England, and author of The Essential History of Christianity writes about how the poetry of George Herbert opened her up to Christ:
"Certainly the poems are unashamedly intelligent. They are an example of the metaphysical school of poetry, which deliberately piled metaphor upon metaphor, and drew those metaphors from the cutting edge of contemporary science and philosophy. They flatter the reader by assuming a breadth and depth of political, theological and scientific knowledge."
The line quoted in the headline is from Herbert's poem "Denial".
Here's another of the Scandinavian mysteries I read in convalescence, House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson. Ingolfsson is also the author of The Flatey Enigma, which I reviewed positively a while back. I liked this one as well, except for an ideological problem.
Like the Flatey book, House of Evidence is a very Icelandic novel, gentle and quiet at its heart. There are no super detectives or murderous psychopaths here, just a shocking puzzle investigated by cops who (with one exception) go about their work in an almost apologetic manner; embarrassed, perhaps, that any violence could happen in their polite society.
When Jacob Kieler Junior is found shot to death in his home one morning in 1973, it's doubly strange because his father was killed in a similar fashion in that very room around 30 years before - shot by the same pistol, as they learn. Jacob was a man of no great social consequence, but his father, who built the grand house in which he lived, was a rich and important man whose life goal (though never achieved) was to build an Icelandic railroad. Jacob Jr.'s great goal was to preserve his family home as a museum, something that will now never happen.
As the police detectives look into the story, they gradually find the roots of the crime in old secrets having to do with the prospective railroad, Nazi Germany, and a failed attempt to make Iceland a monarchy.
The final revelation is devastating - and also a gentle (though in my opinion slightly manipulative) appeal for the social acceptance of homosexuality.
Aside from my ideological objections, I liked the book. Nothing very objectionable in language or adult themes, except as noted above, beyond a single horrible act of police brutality.
Will try to make my next gap between
postsmasthead quote changes less than nine months
Erstwhile Tavern-theologian-not-in-residence, Alastair Roberts, wrote a good post on the topic of sermons-as-monologues the other day: Hear Me Out: On Sitting Through Sermons. Key quote:
While preaching is often placed in contrast to the rituals and actions of the liturgy, it is a liturgical act too, and the things that the various participants in the liturgical event of preaching do are of great significance and formative power. Even the little ‘physical’ habits involved in hearing a sermon shape us. Leaving our homes to go to a different, communal context to hear God’s Word. Remaining silent and attentive. Learning how to be physically still. Learning how to use our ears in an age of the image. Sitting alongside others. Facing someone standing over against us. Etc. [...] Whether or not you think that you are learning anything, it is shaping you in significant ways.
I tend to find myself quoting George Herbert when I find myself sitting through a, um, disengaging sermon:
Judge not the preacher; for he is thy Judge:
If thou mislike him, thou conceiv’st him not.
God calleth preaching folly. Do not grudge
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot.
The worst speak something good: if all want sense,
God takes a text, and preacheth patience.
(And yes, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry for my long absence. Started a new job last summer, and while I’ve remained active on Twitter etc., something had to give, and it appears that this place was it. Will try to make my next gap between posts less than nine months…)
Loren Eaton wanted to like the movie Monsters (2010), but the opening scene killed it for him. "I'd have an easier time liking it if it didn't lie to me in its opening scene," he says. Spoilers.
Also in movie news, Vic Armstrong appears to be remaking Left Behind. I can't tell if this is a straight-forward remake or a comic one. Look at some of the promo images. They're silly.
Of course, that’s just the thing about Twitter, too. For brevity’s sake, it’s impossible in this case to tell if someone is speaking out of hubris, or looking at problems with the way sermons are handled in some quarters, short of spending an evening with the writer of the original statement over a meal.
Or, could the question be one of examining the structures of today’s worship services and puzzling at the prominence of the sermon in some as compared to others.
Or, could the question be one of how many churches came to be understood as having only one pastor/teaching elder/leader/priest/whatever they call it, as opposed to a plurality of capable and vetted leaders who are capable of preaching well.
Or, (insert other idea here).
In that light, is the idea so silly? If you assume the tweet is just someone griping about church for the sake of griping about church, then you’d be right to call it out as silly. But what if that assumption is incorrect?