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More discoveries of Bo Giertz

Justin Taylor, editor at Crossway Books, has a great post–entitled “The Best Christian Novel You Have Never Heard Of”– on the Swedish Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz.  He quotes Leland Ryken, a Wheaton professor I have known for a long time who is one of the top evangelical literary critics:

Bo Giertz’s fictional work The Hammer of God is one of the best literary “finds” I have ever made.

I discovered this novel-length series of three novellas while co-authoring a soon-to-be-released, co-authored (with Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson) book entitled Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature. Initially Giertz’s book came onto my radar screen as a candidate for the handbook section of our book on the portrayal of pastors in the literary classics, but once I started to read the book I could hardly put it down. My son quickly agreed that The Hammer of God merited a full-scale chapter and not just an entry in our handbook section.

The story of the author is nearly as interesting as the masterpiece of clerical fiction that he composed in a span of six weeks while serving as a rural pastor in Sweden. At the age of only 43, Giertz became a bishop in the Swedish Lutheran church. The best-known biography of Giertz calls him “an atheist who became a bishop.” The publication of The Hammer of God in 1941 brought Giertz immediate fame.

The design of this trilogy of novellas is ingenious.

Each of the three stories follows a young Lutheran pastor over approximately a two-year span at the beginning of his ministerial career, all in the  same rural parish. The overall time span for the work as a whole is 130 years.

Each of the three pastors arrives fresh from theological training and decidedly immature (and perhaps a nominal rather than true believer).

Each of the three attains true Christian faith through encounters with (1) parishioners, (2) fellow pastors, and (3) assorted religious movements that were in fact prominent in Sweden during the historical eras covered.

There are thus two plot lines in the book: one recounts the “coming of age” spiritual pilgrimages of the three young ministers, and the other is an episodic fictional story of a rural Swedish parish.

No other work covered in Pastors in the Classics covers more issues in ministry than this one, and it has the added advantage of being packaged in three manageable units.

via The Best Christian Novel You’ve Never Heard Of – Justin Taylor.

Read Justin’s whole post.  He also quotes ME, drawing on an article I wrote  on Giertz’s literary qualities as compared to what we see in conventional Christian novels.

(That article was based on a presentation I made at a conference on Giertz at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne.  It was published, along with the other presentations–including one by this blog’s commenter Bror Erickson–in one of the few books on Giertz in English, one that all Giertz fans will want to have: A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz.)

The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.

Vocation Day

This blog has, for a number of years, been engaged in a crusade to co-opt the secular Labor Day and to get it on the church calendar as a holiday that celebrates the Christian doctrine of vocation.   I think it is working.   I’ve been hearing people making the connection.  (Did you hear that on Sunday?)

Remember that vocation does NOT just mean your job, which is important for the over 9% of Americans who do not have one.   Our calling from God also and even more importantly has to do with our positions in our families (as son or daughter; husband or wife; father or mother), the church (pastor or “hearer”), and the state (ruler or citizen).  All of these are estates to which God stations us to live out our faith in love and service to the neighbors that each office brings into our lives.  “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

The reason we celebrate Vocation Day by NOT working, even though we are honoring economic labor, is to give recognition also to our other vocations:  our families (by spending time with them) and our country (to share in a national holiday doing cultural-specific activities such as grilling out and thinking about sports).

We will honor Vocation Day on this blog by not posting about our horrible problems.  We’ll go back to that tomorrow.  In the meantime, today is about celebrating all of your different callings.

 

How did the animals know?

Shortly before the earthquake hit Washington, D.C., the animals in the National Zoo started freaking out.   So did lots of people’s housepets, with sleepy cats suddenly jumping up and heading for the hills just prior to the quake.  Scientists can’t figure out how they knew:

Orangutans, gorillas, flamingos and red-ruffed lemurs acted strangely before humans detected the historic magnitude-5.8 earthquake. Now the question hovering over the zoo is: What did the animals know, and when did they know it?

Therein lies a scientific mystery, one in which hard facts and solid observations are entangled with lore and legend. There has been talk over the years about mysterious electromagnetic fields generated by rupturing faults. There has been speculation about sounds inaudible to humans, and subtle tilting in rock formations, and the release of vapors that people can’t smell.But there also may be less to the mystery than meets the eye, with Tuesday’s zoo weirdness merely serving as a reminder that many wild animals are paying close attention to nature while humans are doing whatever it is that humans do.

The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor that began in central Virginia and shook much of the eastern United States. For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf.

The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants.

And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook.

Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule. . . .

The belief that strange animal behavior is a precursor to earthquakes goes back to antiquity. A recent scientific study suggested that toads fled to higher ground days before the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy. In the most famous case of modern times, snakes and frogs emerged from their holes in 1975 in the dead of winter several weeks before a magnitude-7.3 earthquake in Haicheng, China (the odd animal behavior helped persuade officials to evacuate the city just before the tremor).

via Zoo mystery: How did apes and birds know quake was coming? – The Washington Post.

One explanation has to do with the so-called p-wave, a faint foreshock that precedes the big s-wave in an earthquake.  This is imperceptible to human beings, but maybe animals can pick it up.  The p-wave hit 15 seconds before the big 5.8-on-the-Richter-scale shock.  That would explain some of the animal behavior.  But some of the zoo animals started panicking a full 15 minutes before the quake.

Tax breaks as ‘Tax expenditures’

A major proposal to address the deficit is to eliminate various tax deductions–such as for home mortgages and charitable (such as church) giving.  Those tax breaks are being interpreted as the same as government spending.  Eliminating them would increase government revenue by billions of dollars, or even, according to some estimates, a trillion.  Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post “Fact Checker,” takes a look at these claims and finds that things are not so simple.  Actually, he shows, cutting out the tax breaks may not raise so much money after all.

His evidence and reasoning resists simple summary, so I urge you to read what he has to say:   Warning to budget mavens: ‘Tax expenditures’ may yield less than expected – The Fact Checker – The Washington Post.

He also mentions a simpler variation that might have a better chance of passage:

One interesting proposal, advanced by Martin Feldstein, Daniel Feenberg and Maya MacGuineas, would cap the total value of tax reductions that a person could take to just 2 percent of adjusted gross income. Their research suggests that such a cap would raise $278 billion in 2011, and it would encourage 35 million Americans to shift from itemized deductions to the standard deduction, thus simplifying their taxes. It might also be easier to implement than trying to eliminate or scale back some of these popular provisions.

We conservatives hate tax increases, and the notion that the government deigning to let us keep our money is the same as a government expenditure–as if everything we have rightly belongs to the government–is noxious on multiple levels.

And yet, addressing the deficit in a bipartisan plan will almost certainly call for increasing revenues.   Setting aside the question of whether that should be the case, what means of increasing government revenue would you find most, if only minimally, acceptable?  What tradeoffs would you be OK with?

For example, I would want to preserve the housing deduction (since to do otherwise would damage the housing market even more, which is where our economic woes hurt lots of ordinary Americans, as well as contributing to high unemployment).  I would also want to preserve deductions for charitable giving (since churches and other non-profit organizations depend on those).  But to preserve those, I might grudgingly accept a cap on deductions or an increase in other taxes.

HT:  FWS

Philosophical counselors

Psychiatrists medicalize personal problems, while psychologists apply the social sciences.  Now there are counselors who use philosophers to help people think through their problems:

Patricia Anne Murphy is a philosopher with a real-world mission.

Murphy may have a PhD and an intimate knowledge of Aristotle and Descartes, but in her snug Takoma Park bungalow, she’s helping a broken-hearted patient struggle through a divorce.

Instead of offering the wounded wife a prescription for Effexor — which she’s not licensed to do anyway — she instructs her to read Epictetus, the original cognitive therapist, who argued that humans often mistake their feelings for facts and suffer as a result.

Murphy is one of an increasing number of philosophical counselors, practitioners who are putting their esoteric learning to practical use helping people with some of life’s persistent afflictions. Though they help clients cope with many of the same issues that conventional therapists do — divorce, job stress, the economic downturn, parenting woes, chronic illness and matters of the heart — their methods are very different.

They’re like intellectual life coaches. Very intellectual. They have in-depth knowledge of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist theories on the nature of life and can recite passages from Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological explorations of the question of being. And they use them to help clients overcome their mother issues. . . .

Unlike a visit to a conventional psychologist or psychotherapist, seeing Murphy won’t involve lying on a couch or reaching for the obligatory tissue box. Though she works from a home library lined with tomes by Albert Camus, Søren Kierke­gaard and Immanuel Kant, Murphy takes clients outside for brisk strolls through her leafy neighborhood because Kant believed that walking helped thinking and was soothing for the soul.

The therapy is not covered by health insurance but is typically offered on a sliding scale and averages about $80 an hour for one-on-one sessions. . . .

The field is still in its early stages. There are about 300 philosophical counselors in 36 states and more than 20 foreign countries who are certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, along with another 600 who practice but are not certified, said Lou Marinoff, president of the organization and author of the international bestseller “Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems.’’ . . .

“You can go on the Internet and find 100 people who are giving you advice,” [Practioner Anne] Barnhill said. “But there are thinkers who are recognized for their knowledge, and ignoring them in our generation just seems like such a loss.”

via - The Washington Post.

I was skeptical reading this–for one thing, there are so many philosophers offering conflicting perspectives on everything–and yet Dr. Barnhill here makes a good point.  We do have a heritage of wisdom that one might draw on.   There is also, of course, spiritual counseling, which, at its worst tries to emulate secular psychology but at its best brings Christ into people’s difficulties.  Do you think there is room for the philosophers?

Have you ever been helped through a personal problem by just reading something that pulled you through it?


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