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Does America need to defend everybody?

Frank Sonnek, frequent commenter on this blog, has found some interesting data and raises some interesting questions about our defense budget:

our military spending exceeds ALL global military spending if you don’t count china, which spends about 15% of what we spend.

some analyses relate military spending to GDP, but I am not sure what the relevance of doing that is, as opposed to absolute spending.

let’s say we cut our military spending to be maybe 1/2 of the next top military spenders combined…. would those nations not work to defend peace and commerce? are we unfairly subsidizing the peace rather than having other nations chip in their fair share of spending?

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/10/military_spending

and now look at this chart:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm

and this one… the pie chart is sort of eye-popping. the usa represents nearly half of ALL global military spending according to the pie chart.

http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

Summary: I am really challenged to believe that significant cuts in the military will threaten world peace.
It would appear that the United States of America really is the policeman of the world and budgets accordingly.  Is it that we are enabling other countries to spend so little on defending themselves that they can afford free health care and all of those other welfare state benefits?  Does our status as leader of the free world mean that we have to have the capability of defending every other country, as well as our own?   Couldn’t we expect our technological superiority in warfare, expensive as it is, to result at some point in savings?
Granted that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government and that it has to remain an important priority in this still-dangerous world, given our massive deficits, should our defense budget be scaled back?

Living in two times

The post about “Happy New Year,” referring to the beginning of Advent and asking about why the last days of the church year aren’t really noted, made me realize that the church year is not supposed to cover everything.  Christians are under two calendars, just as they live their lives in two times.  There is the secular calendar, the time of the world, that progresses from season to season, along with its distinct cultural and national holidays, such as in the USA Independence Day and Thanksgiving.   And then there is the liturgical calendar, commemorating the life of Christ and of the Church.  The church calendar is superimposed on the secular calendar.  Christians participate in them both, just as they participate in both of God’s Kingdoms, His hidden rule over all of the created secular order and His revealed spiritual rule in Christ as manifested in the Church.

We shouldn’t follow the church calendar alone, rejecting the secular calendar,  with its pagan nomenclature from Roman and Germanic deities (January from the two-faced god Janus; Wodin’s day, Thors’ day, Freya’s day), since we must live out our faith in this world.  Nor should we follow the secular calendar alone, since Christ became incarnate in time.  Sometimes the two time sequences counter each other, such as one of the most joyous days of the church year–Christmas– comes at the gloomiest point of winter.  Sometimes they complement each other, as when the other most joyous day of the church year–Easter–comes at one of the most joyous times of the secular calendar, the season of Spring.  And sometimes the church calendar crosses over into the cultural calendar, as Christmas does, just as Christianity has influenced the cultures in which it finds itself, and as Christ did when He became incarnate in human history.

So Christians can celebrate the new church year, beginning with Advent, which–as my pastor explained today–seamlessly follows the end of Pentecost, which also looks forward to Christ’s return.  The church year is cyclical.  It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.  Ironically, the secular calendar does count the number of years from the time of Christ, as the years forge linearly ahead.  So Christians can also celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day when the secular calendar turns over.  Christians live in two times, just as they live in two kingdoms.

Happy New Year!

Sunday is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the new church year.  So happy New Year!

I have a question for you, one that I have been unable to answer, but I’m sure you readers can answer it for me:   Last Sunday we celebrated the last Sunday of the church year, in which we contemplate the final victory of Christ the King at His return.  It was a big deal, a fitting climax to the long, long season of Pentecost.  But we don’t move from that to Advent, which is a full week away, always beginning on a Sunday.  So what’s the story of the last week of the church year?  Specifically, what’s the last day of the church year?  Saturday will be the equivalent of New Year’s Eve.  Doesn’t it have a name and some meaning?  It seems odd to me that the church year seems to just fizzle out.

I would think there would at least be a saint’s day.  In the Catholic calendar, every day, as I understand it, is devoted to one saint or another.   There is St. Andrew’s Day on November 30.   But what saint is honored on November 26?   I had thought that the specific day of the month might vary from year to year.  (Is the first Sunday of Advent always the Sunday after Thanksgiving?  Since Christmas is always on December 25, perhaps there is some consistency.  So in the secular calendar we have Thanksgiving, Black Friday [!], but then, again, what is Saturday?)

I have found that among the readers of this blog are people who are experts on just about everything, up to and including quantum physics and beyond.  So who knows about the church year?

Beware of Greeks fearing gifts

The Greeks founded Europe, and now they may end it.  And the vehicle for both is the same:  Democracy.

The European powers carefully crafted a deal to bail out Greece, forgiving half of their debt at the cost of significant reforms and austerity measures.  With this agreement, the world’s stock markets soared.  But then the Greek government, despite its earlier agreement, suddenly decided to put the accord to the vote of the people.  Since the population seems opposed to  austerity, the prospect of a referendum has cast the agreement into doubt, sending the world’s stock markets into another dive and shaking the economic foundations of the Eurozone.

World leaders convening at this resort [Cannes] for a long-planned summit find themselves confronting a suddenly acute crisis over Greece and signs of an economic slowdown throughout Europe that may narrow their room for action.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou left a cabinet meeting in Athens early Wednesday with his government intact — for now — and backing his plan to hold a national referendum on the country’s latest international rescue program.

World leaders will gather in Cannes, France, on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 to discuss Europe’s debt crisis and other economic issues. Thousands of protesters are gathering in France to urge the G-20 leaders to focus on the poor.

But his call for a popular vote on Tuesday has jeopardized the rescue plan and upended the agenda for Group of 20 leaders. Papandreou has been called to a meeting here Wednesday night to explain himself.

This was to have been a summit where the G-20 — the forum where industrialized nations and the leading developing economies compare notes on the world economy — puts its stamp on a plan that convincingly appeared to settle Europe’s lingering financial crisis.

Instead, with Cannes under a security lockdown that has made its streets into a virtual ghost town, the group will be looking for ways to avoid even greater problems. The 17-nation euro region is trying desperately to navigate between the budget-cutting and reform needed to bring down high levels of government debt, and the tepid economic growth that is sapping incomes, causing chronically high unemployment and straining political systems.

via World leaders to confer with Greece over referendum call – The Washington Post.

Do you think the Greek government was right to put the question of accepting the economic package to a popular referendum?  Does the world’s economic problems bring us to the limits of Democracy, the possibility that people will not vote to suffer, even when the alternative may be suffering on a far greater scale?  Can you see something like that happening here, with voters rejecting efforts to cut back federal spending AND repudiating new taxes AND demanding ever more entitlements, to the point of national bankruptcy?

UPDATE:  The Greek government has now scrapped the referendum.

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.


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