The top news stories of 2010

The week before New Year’s Day is always a time of retrospection for me, in which I look back on the soon-to-pass year and contemplate what it means, from a number of different perspectives.  I invite you to help me do that.  In the days leading up to New Year’s, we’ll discuss different facets of 2010.

First, let’s see what we can come up with in journalism’s annual wrap-up of the top news stories of 2010.  But with a twist:  What do you think were the most important news events of the year?

Vocation vs. Churchianity

I love to see what happens when people discover Luther’s  doctrine of vocation.  Here Chaplain Mike at Internetmonk looks at St. Paul’s exhortation for the Christian life and contrasts it with what we hear from most pulpits today:

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

• 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Chaplain Mike then contrasts that with what we would be more likely to hear from pulpits today:

In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give a list of doable activities that one could perform on behalf of others to express love.

We have this thing about being “practical,” and we want to know the “steps” of “application.” We value creative ideas, instructions, a manual with directions to follow. We want to know which books to read, which videos to watch, which seminars to attend, which websites to consult, which counselor can help us make the breakthroughs we need to live this out more fully. Paul does not oblige.

• In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give examples or tell a story that touches our hearts about how someone showed extraordinary, exemplary love for another, how a person showed sacrificial generosity toward another—perhaps an unworthy recipient—and how God blessed as a result.

Perhaps the person who received love opened his or her heart to Christ. Or maybe the person who sacrificed received back abundant blessings from the Lord for showing such love. Maybe a marriage was saved, a prodigal came home, a life turned around. Perhaps a video clip would be shown of people extending themselves in remarkable ways to serve and bless others. But Paul gives no such heart-tugging motivational example or story. . . .

Paul’s encouragement, instead, must seem remarkably lackluster and ordinary from the point of view of those who invest so much in spiritual engineering and technology, motivational methods, and churchianity. . . .

• Live a quiet life.

• Mind your own business.

• Work with your hands.

The best way to show Christian love to others? It almost sounds like a prescription for a small, selfish life! Yet this is how the Apostle, by divine inspiration, encourages us to live.

Paul commends a life that is the very opposite of activist churchianity. Instead, he advocates the way of Christian vocation—Walk humbly and quietly with God. Don’t think it’s your job to change the world. Quit sticking your nose in everybody else’s business. Do your work and do it well. Let Christ’s love for others grow naturally out of that soil. Earn the respect of your neighbors over time as you live your life in Christ. Slow down. Get small. Run quiet. Go deep. Grow up. Keep on keeping on. Stand on your own two feet. Become a mature human being.

Not sexy at all. Kind of disappointing.

Maybe the video will be more practical.

via Paul’s Disappointing Approach to the Christian Life | internetmonk.com.

Ngrams

You’ve got to check out the Google Ngram Viewer.  It allows you to tabulate, in the form of a graph, the number of times a word or phrase is mentioned in the vast number of titles in Google Books, from 1500-2000.   Those periods of time are statistically evened out, so that the far greater number of titles available in the last few decades does not overwhelm the relatively fewer number of titles in earlier centuries.

This allows users to explore trends in the history of ideas, language, and culture.  For example, go to the linked site and type in “Christ.” (Note the decline.)  “Boredom.”  (Was no one bored until the modern era?)  Do a comparison by typing in two terms:  Try “reason” and “culture.”  (Notice how “culture” hardly existed as a concept until a few decades ago, but now it has passed “reason,” which had its heyday just after the Enlightenment, as we would expect.  This might make us wonder how long “culture” will last.)

At the site read “About Google Books NGram Viewer” to see what all else it will do.  (It can be narrowed down in some very useful ways.)

Play around with it and post your discoveries here.

HT:  tODD

The Christmas story in Revelation

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

Ray Hartwig, who holds the office of the Secretary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, draws attention to a Christmas account in the Bible that gets hardly any notice.  It’s in the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

So what do you make of this?  The child is pretty obviously  Christ.  The woman is often interpreted as the Church, but the Church does not bring forth Christ, but the reverse.  Besides, the Church is His bride, not His mother.  Others say the woman is Israel, which is a possibility.  Others say she is the Virgin Mary, which seems most likely.  What does this account teach us about the meaning of Christmas?

UPDATE:  I had always heard that the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a displacement of pagan goddess worship, with one evidence being that in Roman Catholic iconography, the depictions of Mary as the Queen of Heaven showed her wearing a crown of twelve stars and standing on the moon.  Supposedly, this was how Diana the moon goddess was depicted.  But this text, with Roman Catholics do ascribe to Mary, shows that the imagery is Biblical.

And yet the text is also problematic to Roman Catholic Mariology. The woman is “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”  But according to  Roman Catholicism, Mary was blessed with an immaculate conception, so that she did not inherit original sin.  Thus, she was spared Eve’s curse of enduring pain in bearing children.  And, indeed, this is how Roman Catholic accounts depict the birth of Christ.

I suppose the best interpretation is that the woman represents “God’s people”–both in the sense of Israel and the Church as the new Israel–which is what the Lutheran Study Bible says, but that, as Al Colver adds in Carl’s link,  both are represented in the historical Virgin Mary (who does bear the curse of the Fall, so that Christ can fully bear humanity’s Original Sin so as to atone for it).

If I don’t have the Roman Catholic position right, I’m open to correction.

A great new drug called “placebo”

This reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine, when he played a “wild and crazy guy” in a white suit with a fake arrow through his head.  He was going on about how he found this new drug that gave a mind-blowing high.  It’s called “placebo.”

Imagine your doctor gives you fake medication and tells you it’s nothing more than a sugar pill. Would it still work?

Incredibly, according to a new study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the placebo effect, even when patients were in on the secret, worked almost as well as the leading medication on the market.

It’s also a lot cheaper. And the best part about placebo – no side effects.

“I didn’t think it would work,” said senior author and Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Anthony Lembo in a statement. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center split 80 patients into two groups. One group was given placebos and informed of it. The other group was given nothing.

“Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle,” said Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn’t have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

After three weeks. the placebo group reported adequate symptom relief at double the rate of the group told to do nothing (59 percent vs. 35 percent). And those results are about as good as the leading irritable bowel syndrome drugs on the market.

Researchers sounded the usual cautionary notes. The study was small. It’s not clear what it would mean for other conditions and more research is needed.

via Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Placebo Works Even if Patients Know – Health Blog – CBS News.

Somebody should–quick–manufacture sugar pills under the brand name “Placebo” and market them as treatments for all diseases.

Anybody have any theories that would explain these results?  I’d be curious about a theory that explains the placebo effect in any event–how is it that a mental belief can affect a physical ailment?  Second, how can a mental belief affect a physical ailment when it isn’t a mental belief?

China will bail out Europe

Towards the Chinese Century and world domination:

China has said it is willing to bail out debt-ridden countries in the euro zone using its $2.7trillion overseas investment fund.

In a fresh humiliation for Europe, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said it was one of the most important areas for China’s foreign exchange investments.

The country has already approached struggling European countries with financial aid, including offering to buy Greece’s debt in October and promising to buy $4billion of Portuguese government debt.

‘To have any discernible effect China will have to buy a lot more than 5billion euros if they expect to have any impact on the negative sentiment surrounding Europe,’ said Michael Hewson, currency analyst at CMC Markets.

China’s astonishing economic growth has put it on track to overtake America as the world’s economic powerhouse within two years, a recent report claimed.

But experts believed still be some years before America’s leadership role is really challenged – largely because Beijing has given no indication it is ready to take on the responsibility of shepherding the world’ economy.

This foray into the future of the euro could be a signal from Beijing that it is ready to change that perception.

via Fresh humiliation for euro zone as China says it will bail out debt-ridden nations | Mail Online.


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