Evil eyes

As you will have noticed, I am interested in language, idioms, figures of speech, and imagery.  Our pastor’s sermon, which is worth reading in its entirety, looked at a Biblical expression that is usually translated away.  Rev. Douthwaite was preaching on Matthew 20:1-16, the parable about how the laborers were all getting paid the same, even though some worked longer than others, and told the Master that he was being unfair:

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? Now, those last words there are a bit of a paraphrase. The original puts it like this: Or is your eye evil because I am good? That gives us a bit more to work with here, especially because just a couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus say: And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (Matthew 18:9).

Now, usually – and as I talked about that in the sermon two weeks ago – we usually think of “our eyes causing us to sin” in terms of seeing things we should not see. And a common example of that are the sexually-charged images all around us in the world today – in movies, on TV, and in advertising – stirring up lustful and impure thoughts in our hearts. And that’s certainly true. But here today, Jesus is, perhaps, giving us another way to think about that: that the “evil eye” we need to beware of is not just what goes into our eyes, but – in a sense – what comes out of them. How we look at other people. How we look at God. Do we give them, and God, an “evil eye?”

That’s what those disgruntled workers in the vineyard were doing. They were giving an “evil eye” to the owner’s generosity and their fellow workers’ good fortune. And this “evil eye” perhaps caused them to resent their fellow workers, and certainly to resent the owner. He was wrong. He was unfair. He was . . . evil.

And that is the danger for you and me today. A constant danger. That we will look at others and their life and what they have received with an “evil eye,” thinking them unworthy, magnifying their sin, and resenting the good they have received. Then that we will look at ourselves, and with an “evil eye” think more highly of ourselves than we ought, belittle our sins, and think that we have deserved better. And then that we will finally look at God with an “evil eye” and judge Him! That He is wrong. That He is unfair. That He is not giving as He should. That He is . . . not good.

You’ve thought that. I know you have. For that’s what’s behind all of our “why” questions. When we ask: Why me, Lord? when something bad happens to us. When we ask: Why him and not me, Lord? when something good happens for someone else. Why did you do that, Lord? Are there not judgments in those questions? An implication that something is not right, not fair, not deserved?

And so we need to repent. And learn to see with “good” eyes, God eyes, faith eyes, eyes that have been renewed by the Gospel. And it is not impossible to do so. For while what the prophet Isaiah says is true: that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways, our Lord has given you His Word and Spirit, that you might know His thoughts and ways; that you know His goodness toward you, and learn to see with new eyes, good eyes, Gospel eyes.

Those eyes do not look at others and what they have. They do not look at ourselves and what we don’t have. They don’t look into heaven and try to figure out what God is doing and why. Gospel eyes look to the cross.

For there is where we see most of all that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. For there we see the one who truly bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day. There we see that with God there is no negotiating or re-negotiating, but the 100% unadulterated harshness of the Law, and the 100% pure sweetness of the Gospel. And that it cannot be any other way.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 14 Sermon.

Taxes & government manipulation

The Washington Post has a big story about tax breaks.

As President Obama and congressional Republicans argue over how to rewrite the U.S. tax code, the debate has revolved around “loopholes” for corporate jets and ending “carve-outs” for well-heeled special interests. But if the goal is debt reduction, that’s not where the money is.

Broad tax breaks granted to millions of families at all income levels dwarf the corporate giveaways. Over the past two years, largely because of these popular benefits in the federal income tax code, the government has reached a rare milestone in tax collection — it has given away nearly as much as it takes in.

The number of tax breaks has nearly doubled since the last major tax overhaul 25 years ago, with lawmakers adding new benefits for children, college tuition, retirement savings and investment. At the same time, some long-standing breaks have exploded in value, such as the deduction for mortgage interest and the tax-free treatment of health-insurance premiums paid by employers.

All told, federal taxpayers last year received $1.08 trillion in credits, deductions and other perks while paying $1.09 trillion in income taxes, according to government estimates.

Only about 8 percent of those benefits went to corporations. (The write-off for corporate jets equals about .03 percent of the total.) The bulk went to private households, primarily upper-middle-class families that Obama has vowed to protect from new taxes.

“The big money is in the middle-class subsidies,” said Syracuse University economist Leonard Burman, former director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “You’re not going to balance the budget by eliminating ethanol credits. You have to go after things that really matter to a lot of people.”

via Ever-increasing tax breaks for U.S. families eclipse benefits for special interests – The Washington Post.

I reject the way these tax breaks are called “tax expenditures,” since that implies that all money is the government’s and that letting us keep part of it is government largesse.  Still, it is definitely true that the tax code is one way the government tries to control the economy and to manipulate citizens according to one policy or the other.

The government wants to encourage home ownership, so it makes mortgage interest tax deductible.  It wants us to use alternative energy, so it not only gives the ethanol industry a big break, it gives consumers write-offs when they buy energy-efficient products.   It wants us to buy health insurance, so there are tax incentives towards that end. And there are lots more.   Add in the corporate tax incentives, which are aimed at nudging the economy in one direction or the other, and tax policy plays a major role–along with government spending–in the great Keynesian project of state control over the free market.

So should conservatives be in favor of every tax break, just because it means someone is paying less taxes, even if it is an attempt by the government to control the economy?

Should we just have a flat tax or a range of flat taxes?  What do you think of   Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan (9% income tax; 9% corporate tax; 9% sales tax)?  Would that wreak too much havoc in the housing market?  With churches and other non-profits that depend on tax-deductible donations?

 

 

Liberals and their language

George Will, picking up on some themes we have blogged about here, notes not only the ineffectualness of liberal solutions to our economic woes, but how they are running away from their own language:

In societies governed by persuasion, politics is mostly talk, so liberals’ impoverishment of their vocabulary matters. Having damaged liberalism’s reputation, they call themselves progressives. Having made the federal government’s pretensions absurd, they have resurrected a supposed synonym for the government, the “federal family.” Having made federal spending suspect, they advocate “investments” — for “job creation,” a euphemism for stimulus, another word they have made toxic.

Barack Obama, a pitilessly rhetorical president, continues to grab the nation by its lapels, demanding its attention, and is paying the price: The nation is no longer listening. This matters because ominous portents are multiplying. [Will goes ahead and cites some of them, including the bright idea of the administration's economic advisors to purposefully induce inflation]  . . .

It is a wonder, this faith-based (and often campus-based) conviction that the government that brought us the ethanol program can be trusted to precisely execute wise policies that will render the world predictable and progressive. . . .

The economic policy the “federal family” should adopt can be expressed in five one-syllable words: Get. Out. Of. The. Way. Instead, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department has become a venture capital firm for crony capitalism and costly flops at creating “green jobs,” praises the policy of essentially banishing the incandescent light bulb as “taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” Better to let the experts in his department and the rest of the federal family waste other people’s money.

 

via Our floundering ‘federal family’ – The Washington Post.

Divorce on grounds of Alzheimer’s

So what all is disturbing about this?

Pat Robertson advised a viewer of yesterday’s 700 Club to avoid putting a “guilt trip” on those who want to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s. During the show’s advice segment, a viewer asked Robertson how she should address a friend who was dating another woman “because his wife as he knows her is gone.” Robertson said he would not fault anyone for doing this. He then went further by saying it would be understandable to divorce a spouse with the disease.

“That is a terribly hard thing,” Robertson said. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

Co-host Terry Meeuwsen asked Pat, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone? That it’s For better or for worse. For richer or poorer?”

Robertson said that the viewer’s friend could obey this vow of “death till you part” because the disease was a “kind of death.” Robertson said he would understand if someone started another relationship out of a need for companionship.

Robertson gave the example of a friend who faithfully visited his wife every day even though she could not remember his visits to illustrate the difficulty of caring for someone with the disease.

“It’s really hurtful because they say crazy things,” Robertson said. “Nevertheless, it is a terribly difficult thing for somebody. I can’t fault him for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is gone, he’s right. It’s like a walking death. Get some ethicist besides me to give you an answer because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I’d do is condemn you for taking that kind of action.”

via Pat Robertson Says Divorce Okay if Spouse has Alzheimer’s | Liveblog | Christianity Today.

Note the Gnosticism.  I love Matthew Lee Anderson’s response:

The tragedy of Alzheimer’s is very real, but the fragmentation of the self that the inability to remember precipitates does not entail, as Robertson put it, that a “person is gone” or that Alzheimer’s is a “walking death.” While the debate over what constitutes a “person” is (and will be!) ongoing, as people who believe in an incarnate God, we should be wary of separating the person from the body in the way Robertson does. We are something more than minds that are floating free in the ethereal and insubstantial regions of space.

The point has significant ramifications for our marriages, for the union we enjoy is of two persons and for their mutual well-being. “With my body I thee worship,” reads the old version of the wedding service in the Book of Common Prayer (a prayer book that guides the liturgy of Anglican worshippers), a line that is as lovely as any in the English language. My wife didn’t let us say it in our wedding service for fear that it would confuse people, and I understand why. But it highlights the totality of the sacrifice that marriage requires, and points toward the body as the sign and symbol of my love.

Yet the sacrifice of my body is consummated in my affection and care for my wife’s. The love we have in marriage may not be exhausted by our concern for our spouse’s body, but it certainly includes their bodies—and not just their brains, either. The body is “the place of our personal presence in the world,” as Gilbert Meilander puts it, and the delight we have for the other’s presence is necessarily a delight of its manifestation in the body. The erosion of memory that Alzheimer’s causes makes this sense of presence less stable, but to suggest it can accomplish the final dissolution of the person is to ascribe to it a power that not even death has. For there is, within the Kingdom, a love that is even stronger than death.

HT:  Joe Carter

A Palestinian state

Have you noticed that the Republican presidential candidates are saying almost nothing about foreign policy, despite the huge problems overseas and the current administration’s bungling of so many of them?  And now the Palestinians have gone to the UN on Friday, seeking that body’s ratification of a Palestinian state:

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, says he will go ahead with a request to the United Nations Security Council to recognise what amounts to a unilateral declaration of independence, despite warnings from the US that it would raise ”dangerous” false hopes and set back real self-determination.

Mr Abbas said in a televised address the Palestinians would seek recognition next week of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital. He noted that the US President, Barack Obama, said a year ago he hoped to see an independent Palestine join the UN at this time.

”Obama himself said he wanted to see a Palestinian state by September,” Mr Abbas said. He said he would not bow to foreign pressure and what he called attempts to ”buy off” the Palestinians.

”We are going to the Security Council,” he said. ”The world is sympathising with the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

The defiant speech came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the US, the European Union and the envoy Tony Blair in Jerusalem and Ramallah aimed at trying to avoid a showdown next week at the UN Security Council, where the Americans say they will veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood.

via Palestinians warned on UN bid.

Do you think a Palestinian state might calm the region or make things even worse?  If the UN can create Israel, why can’t it create Palestine?  If this goes through, should the U.S. exercise its veto?  If so, what would be the consequences?   And what do you think Israel would do if a Palestinian state comes into existence on what was once Israeli-occupied land?

College football reshuffling

Well, my team, the Oklahoma Sooners, ranked #1, beat the highest rated team on their schedule, #5 Florida State, making me think they are for real.  OU has had a habit of losing games like this–early in the season, on the road, pre-mature hype–but this time, though it was a very hard-fought and exciting game, there was no choking, no appearance of disorganized panic when things got hard, just relentless football that ground out a 10 point victory.

But now I’ve heard that OU is seriously considering leaving what’s left of the Big 12 conference–along with Oklahoma State and maybe Texas, and I don’t know who all–for the Pac 12.   Oklahoma is nowhere near the Pacific ocean!  We are two time-zones away from the West Coast! A 7:00 p.m. road came will start at 9:00 p.m. in Oklahoma 5:00 p.m. in California!

I am opposed to doing violence to regional identity, language, and mathematics.   This is not the only conference shuffling in the works.  Texas Christian University, in roughly the same longitude as Oklahoma, is joining the Big East!  I don’t know the reasons for these shifts–I suppose the other conference members aren’t bringing in as much money for the pot as the members of these other conferences do–but I hate the loss of primordial rivalries (such as OU and Nebraska, which has already absconded to the Big Ten, now consisting of 12 members, with the Big 12 consisting of 10 members; the conferences should at least exchange names, until next year when the Big 12 may shrink to the Little 7).

I do see one potentially silver lining.  There are currently six Division-1 conferences in the BCS system.  The Big East is also bleeding members, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh considering joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.  If the Big 12 dissolves and the Pac 12 growing to unmanageable proportions, maybe it could split into two.   We could have four major conferences:  Perhaps a northeast, a southeast, a northwest, and a southwest, or if football wants to eliminate regions in favor of these artificial alliances, so be it.  But then with only four conferences, the winners could play each other.

Maybe all of this conference re-shuffling is the free market making possible a true national championship.


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