Weekly Meanderings

Well, we had some time off from Weekly Meanderings when were in Iceland and Denmark, but they’re back …

… and again, thanks to RJS for monitoring the blog while we were gone, and I can’t thank her enough. She’s been attached to this blog for five years or more, contributes regularly, and has helped to establish the tone. And, thanks to Vose Seminary folks — Brian Harris and Michael O’Neil — and to the Tabor College Adelaide folks — Matt Gray, Stephen Spence, Aaron Chambers and Graham Buxton — for writing posts while we were gone.

So here we go again…

Alan Jacobs on the great Cappadocians: “A church is a community constituted by certain foundational beliefs, but among those beliefs a key one is that the word of the Lord must be obeyed. That is, there are practices that are intrinsic to Christian belief properly understood, and among those are the obligations to feed the hungry, heal the sick, tend to the widows and orphans in their distress, train up children in the way they should go, and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Thus religion, in the Biblical sense, involves not just holding certain beliefs but acting on them, and the institutions the church creates to help us carry out those commandments are just as “religious” as worshipping congregations. From that it follows that “freedom of religion,” if it is to mean anything, must be extended just as fully to those institutions as to parish churches. Otherwise the church is crippled in its obedience. Which is bad for the church, but also, and more important, bad for the world — unless you happen to think that the State, and the State only, is the proper vehicle for charity and social service. My own view, in political and not specifically Christian terms, is that to yield such service wholly to the State — or to the State’s power to define and circumscribe such service — is a profound impoverishment of human community. And as you can see I have my Christian reasons for thinking this way also.”

I’m with Jodi Fondell: “Yes, it is a great tragedy that people who are evil, mentally unstable, or simply enjoy inflicting harm on others have guns and will use them in in appropriate ways to hurt innocent people. But I will never believe that further arming the American public is the solution to the gun violence in America. Tighter regulation of who can obtain a firearm, where it can stored, how it can be used, and the type of guns made available are steps in the right direction. How we deal with the flood of weapons that are already out there on the street is a mystery that I have no answer to. But I know getting more weapons out there will not help us to create a more peaceful and free society. It undermines our freedom to think that the more heavily armed we all are, the better off we’ll all be.”

A good short sketch of the differences between happiness and joy by Tyler Braun.

From Patrick Mitchel: “In our tradition when someone goes on retreat they go to experience and listen to God. The first way they do this is to fast. You have not stopped eating all weekend. A second characteristic of a retreat in our tradition is to spend many hours in prayer. You have hardly prayed at all except quickly to give thanks to God at meal times. And a third characteristic is to spend considerable time in silence, listening for what God is saying. You have never stopped talking.” [A blog, like a newspaper, is either relentless or non-existent, and the relentlessness is what Patrick is examining… thanks brother.]

O Tony, have I got some stories for you: one year I “managed” 85 baseball games! Love your story: “I’ve found coaching baseball to be a lot like the many years that I taught confirmation classes to adolescents. I have to teach them about the rhythms of this way of life — about where to move when the ball is hit here, versus when it’s hit there; about how to encourage your teammates; about how to call a pop-up and how to take a sign to bunt, steal, and take. A couple players on this year’s team even got a lesson in how to run the bases after a homerun.After each game, my fellow coaches and I gathered the boys in the outfield, where they each took a knee, away from parents and opponents. We gave out a couple game balls, talked about how the game went, and taught one bit of baseball vocabulary: Texas leaguer, diamond cutter, battery, can o’ corn.” Tony, I used to buy thousands of baseball cards and give kids quiz questions to help them learn the game, and those who answered questions got the cards. The winners were rarely the best players!

That guayabera looks comfortable. Got one?

Rich Mouw’s work on Kuyper turned into a cool mind map.

If there is anyone who would know if Regnerus’ work matches up to social-science standards, it is Christian Smith, and he gives Regnerus both a thumbs-up and finds in this whole debate political progressive intolerance.

Mickey Maudlin’s candid reflections on publishing Rob Bell’s Love Wins. (HT: LA) Rob Bell’s reflections (not on Maudlin) but on his own life’s trajectory.

Keith Veronese, on the history of the rapture: “We’ve all heard stories about the Rapture — when all the righteous people will be bodily lifted into Heaven, leaving everybody else to endure years of tribulation. It’s a popular idea, that appears in loads of books as well as movies. But where did this bizarre idea come from? It turns out the notion of the Rapture is pretty new — dating back less than 200 years. So who developed this doctrine, and how did it become so popular, almost overnight?” This person finds lots of indications of The Rapture already in the Old Testament.

Joseph Phillips on the need for better language for Christians: “The thing that I have noticed in all my coffee shop listening is that in the christian community our conversations are incredibly predictable. The language tends to be stale and detached from the concerns and questions of the “lost.” Pastors and Christians are in a language rut–this pastor included. We say the same Christian catch-phrases over and over ad nauseum. It borderlines absurdity. There is no life in our language. This is a travesty. Any Christian, especially a pastor, should be a teeming brook of awe-inspiring language that captures attention–not because of our pretension or expertise but because of our intimate relationship with the God that chose to reveal himself in words. To reduce the glorious message of Jesus and his Kingdom into predictable Christian slogans that resemble a car dealership’s model year-end blowout sale is a grievous sin. Language that would relegate the infinitely beautiful God-story into a stale set of bullet points breaks the heart of God and severely thwarts the mission of the church.”

Meanderings in the News:

Kids and fun and too much organization with Jeff Pearlman: “Kids are gifted with 18 years of childhood. That’s it — less than two decades before the cruel, dark, real word overtakes their bliss. Yes, I want mine to do well in school, and learn the virtues of compassion and empathy and hard work. But I also aspire for them to jump on our trampoline until their legs sag from exhaustion, and ride their bikes up and down the street until someone lets loose a loud whistle, and play tag next door in Ashley and Emily’s yard and chase down the ice cream man and watch in amazement as the pink petals fall from our cherry blossom tree. If they wind up at Yale, and they’re happy, I’ll be thrilled. If they wind up collecting garbage, and they’re happy, I’ll be thrilled, too. That’s my end game.”

The highest point on earth — not Mount Everest.

Australia and threats of extinction: “When it comes to mammal extinctions, Australia’s track record over the last 200 years has been abysmal. Since European settlement, nearly half of the world’s mammalian extinctions have occurred in Australia – 19 at last count. So, when faced with the additional threat of climate change, how do we turn this around and ensure the trend doesn’t continue? Learning from previous extinctions is a good place to start. A comparison between two Australian species, the recently extinct Christmas Island pipistrelle and the critically endangered but surviving orange-bellied parrot, provides some insight into the answer to this question. Namely, that acting quickly and decisively in response to evidence of rapid population decline is a key factor in determining the fate of endangered species.”

By then I hope the Cubs will win the World Series! George Dvorsky: “Many physicists now believe the universe will end by tearing itself apart — and now it appears that this could happen sooner than anyone expected. Originally, scientists predicted the Big Rip would happen in 20 to 22 billion years — but now it sounds as though we may not have that much time left. And the end of the universe could be much stranger than the graceful “heat death” we’ve all been looking forward to.” [Which means we’ve got a good 16 billion years or so.]

Jesse Bering, theory of mind, and the belief instinct: “So it would appear that having a theory of mind was so useful for our ancestors in explaining and predicting other people’s behaviors that it has completely flooded our evolved social brains. As a result, today we overshoot our mental-state attributions to things that are, in reality, completely mindless. And all of this leads us, rather inevitably, to a very important question: What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind? That God, like a tiny speck floating at the edge of your cornea producing the image of a hazy, out-of-reach orb accompanying your every turn, was in fact a psychological illusion, a sort of evolved blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain? It may feel as if there is something grander out there . . . watching, knowing, caring. Perhaps even judging. But, in fact, that’s just your overactive theory of mind. In reality, there is only the air you breathe. After all, once we scrub away all the theological bric-a-brac and pluck the exotic cross-cultural plumage of religious beliefs from all over the world, once we get under God’s skin, isn’t He really just another mind—one with emotions, beliefs, knowledge, understanding, and, perhaps above all else, intentions? Aren’t theologians really just playing the role of God’s translators, and isn’t every holy book ever written a detailed psychoanalysis of God? That strangely sticky sense that God “willfully” created us as individuals, “wants” us to behave in particular ways, “observes” and “knows” about our otherwise private actions, “communicates” messages to us in code through natural events, and “intends” to meet us after we die would have also been felt, in some form, by our Pleistocene ancestors.”

The Goat Man has been identified: “Officials said he wasn’t only in danger of being mistaken for prey by a hunter — he might have been attacked by one of his fellow goats. “They may get agitated. They’re territorial. They are, after all, wild animals. This person puts on a goat suit, he changes the game,” said Douglass, adding that wearing an animal costume in the wild is not strictly illegal. The sighting of the goat man occurred 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, when a hiker saw a herd of goats about 200 yards away, and thought one of them looked a bit weird. “I thought maybe it was injured,” the hiker, 33-year-old Coty Creighton told the AP Friday. After looking through his binoculars, he saw something very odd indeed: a man in fake horns and a cloth mask with eye holes, traipsing around with the four-legged ruminants. “I thought, ‘What is this guy doing?’ ” Creighton said. “He was actually on his hands and knees. He was climbing over rocks and bushes and pretty rough terrain on a steep hillside.” Creighton said the man pulled up his mask once in a while to check where he was going. Then, he spotted Creighton, staring at him from afar. “He just stopped in his tracks and froze,” he said. Creighton retreated behind a tree and started taking photos while goat man pulled his mask back on and scrambled to catch up with the other goats. “We were the only ones around for miles,” Creighton said. “It was real creepy.”

On using the Rorschach inkblot test.

Meanderings in Sports

My favorite lines about Ernie Els’ win in The Open: “Els had another hero in mind: His son, Ben, 9, who has autism. Whenever Ernie practices back in Jupiter, Fla., Ben is with his dad. He loves the sound of the ball whizzing off the club, and the trajectory it makes across the sky. Ben and his sister, 13-year-old Samantha, watched the golf with their mom, Ernie’s wife, Liezl, from the family’s London home Sunday. Els could picture them as he tried to win the claret jug for the second time. Ben gets excited when he watches his dad, thus Ernie’s goal, his swing thought as he stood over putts: Keep Ben excited. “Ben, he’s coming through now nicely,” Els said. “You guys should see him. He’s a wonderful boy now, a bright boy. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

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  • Scott Gay

    Resonate strongly with Joseph Phillips. It’s complex why we get stuck. But when you really personally grapple with the rebirth aspect of faith, you don’t put the Spirit so much in Church or Bible. Pastor Phillips says “the God who chose to reveal himself in words”. Yes God spoke in the Bible if we notice in ongoingly fresh ways. When we return it should reform us.

    We have turned justification by faith into the opposite of its intention. A chick tract or emotional altar call presentation is a law. Justification by faith is well nigh unintelligable to modern man and even modern scholars, because they have no wiki grasp. To me that means a renewable feel for it. And nothing relates more to the dignity and autonomy of free personhood like rebirth.

    The late Michael Spencer( aka imonk) predicted the decline of Evangelicalism. To me it was because he saw the inability of his culture to speak the gospel in an ongoing way. Ironically he was good at it.

  • DRT

    Regnerus’ sin is that he produced an article that is too easily coopted by the right. Smith’s parenthetical shows the evil in the attacks by the left “(As an aside, that is unnecessary, since his findings can be interpreted to support legal same-sex marriage, as a way to counter the family instability that helps produce the emotional and social problems Regnerus and others have found.)”

  • Brian Scarborough

    Re: The Rapture. A lesser known church father called Ephraim the Syrian, who works have only recently been translated into English, taught the Rapture, Tribulation, etc. That would make it 16 centuries at least.

  • RJS

    First, even 16 billion years is not likely to be enough time for the Cubs.

    Patrick Mitchel’s post is worth pondering. The key, I think, is to relentlessly keep one’s eyes on the goal. This is hard as one gets wrapped up in the moment and the thrill of a “success” for example. Big numbers and recognition are intoxicating – in blogging, in leading a church, in teaching a class, in business, in politics, and much, much, more. As Christians the real key is to ask the right questions, keep our eyes on the right goals, and to be willing to sacrifice apparent “success” and the rush it supplies, to the relentless and gentle pursuit of the right goal.

  • scotmcknight

    Brian, got some textual references for us?

  • kierkegaard71

    Scot, in response to the Jodi Fondell comment: if more gun control is the answer, how do you explain violent crime-ridden Chicago, where people are getting bludgeoned and shot at alarming rates in a city with very strong gun control measures? If your answer is that gun control needs to be on a national level to be effective, then that approaches the idea of an unfalsifiable view, i.e. since gun control doesn’t work at the current levels, we need more of it to make it work. I am waiting for gun control to be shown to be effective as a public policy. In Fondell’s piece to which you linked, Fondell spoke of living in Colombia, a heavily-armed state, and filled with violence. I think this is telling – because I think it explains what unites the US and Colombia in violence, something that many European societies do not manifest – the presence of a pervasive drug war. Perhaps moving toward drug legalization would be a better solution to remove the incentives that lead to gun violence. As for me, I think that disarming the police and the military in their drug war carried out in places like Colombia and Chicago is a better answer than disarming innocent people of their means to immediately protect themselves in the moments that they await police response.

  • Luke Allison

    I have become convinced through reading lots of stuff written by green berets and swat officers and such that an armed and sufficiently trained civilian could have stopped the shooter and limited the amount of mayhem.

    Holmes wasn’t wearing armor: his online receipts are for a ballistics helmet (riot helmet), and for a “tactical vest”, not a kevlar vest. A tac vest is an ammunition holder. One round would have put him away. He was untrained, uncareful, but it was still like shooting fish in a barrel because everyone was vulnerable.

    I’m speaking very coldly because I have expended enough emotion this past week on something I have no involvement with. While I agree that having more and more guns on the street is not the solution, I also believe that we as a society may have to adapt to the violence the same way citizens in Israel and Northern Ireland have done. We need to be sharper, smarter, less intoxicated by entertainment, and willing to put our lives on the line for our families and others. Also…potentially willing to stop somebody physically from doing something. That last one is where the majority of people will fail.

    Ultimately, I believe in non-violence. But I also believe in violence, in that it’s a real thing affecting my survival and my family’s survival. I do think that having more armed and sufficiently trained people in our society is not a bad thing.

  • The date at which the universe rips apart is shortened from 20 billion years to 16 billion years? As the next Cubs World Series championship is expected to take 18 billion years I suggest we all become Cards fans. 😉

  • As a long suffering Tribe fan, I am in no position to speculate on how many billions of years it will take the Cubs to win the World Series.

  • DRT

    RJS, I wish there was a way to get people to keep their eye on the big picture. I just got done pulling hierarchy on my wife for getting stressed out to by a dump truck load of shavings for our horses because it will cost hundreds of dollars, and instead she would rather pay 8 dollars a bag for the little bags that will cost triple in the long run. Why can’t people thing long run?

  • DanO

    The article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Regnerus should serve as a warning. Whether his findings might or might not be co-opted others ought not cloud the seriousness of the “inquisition” against him. It comes as no surprise that he is being smeared. In too many disciplines a violation of the “hive mentality” is tantamount to heresy. And as a heretic, he must be silenced – even destroyed. The intolerance of tolerance.

    I think this sort of thing, which is not a recent nor isolated occurrence, contributes to some of the distrust of science and academia as discussed here at this blog.

    It will be interesting to see the blow-back in the Chronicle on this one (already over 180 comments!). It didn’t take long for one commenter to call it an “inflamed political screed.” It is heartening to see the article written in what seems to be a pretty non-partisan manner and published in a paper widely read in academe.

  • Stephen Mook

    A few thoughts on Mickey Maudlin’s reflections on publishing Love Wins…

    I understand his support as the publisher for the book and the author. However to compare Rob Bell to Martin Luther King and Billy Graham and overstate the lasting impact of this book is bit hyperbolic. I understand that he was pointing to the controversy and push back that came to King and Graham as they took a stand on certain issues. Yet history, the world, and the church has agreed that the opposition didn’t stop them because they were on the side of truth and justice. Is Rob Bell on the side of truth? Will history record that the Protestant church has changed the way they view the Scriptures? I understand that the publisher has been encouraged by the way Rob has carried himself in light of all the attention but serious issues come to light for me. Somehow the church has forgotten that just because a person or a book is controversial, garners a mass audience, ends up on the New York times bestseller list doesn’t make it prophetic, or represent that it has or will make a lasting impact on the church or the world. Plenty of wasteful and worthy conversation has come from this book but the substance in the book has not impacted the church or culture to the degree that the publisher portrays. Outside of the evangelical tent who is still talking about Love Wins? Are people inside the evangelical tent still talking about Love Wins? More than just talking about Love Wins, has it dramatically changed the way Christians understand the Bible or the way the world views Christianity. Interestingly enough in the same year that this book sparked such attention John Stott dies, a man who will truly be remembered in years to come for the impact he made to the church and to the world. A man and a ministry who is worthy to be mentioned with Billy Graham, especially for evangelicals. Also, the fact that churches or conferences or seminaries would be skeptical of inviting Rob Bell might actually be because they have some serious issues with his theology. All truth is God’s truth and some people (even people who aren’t Reformed) see the book as lacking serious biblical truth, amongst other issues. Selling books and creating controversy or facing opposition doesn’t mean you’ve changed the world, impacted culture, called the church back to the truth of God’s word, or brought more glory to Jesus (which should be the aim for any Christian leader).

    Sometimes books and leaders are controversial and face opposition because people are blind to God’s truth and are on the wrong side of history. In these cases we see the controversy and opposition increase only to fade away because the leader was actually prophetic and on the side of God’s truth. Other times, as I believe in the case, controversy and opposition represent a failure of leadership and a missed opportunity to truly be prophetic and illuminate the truth of God’s word.

    Of course God is the judge of all these things and everyone. And what could be more prophetic or timely in the 21st century then to be reminded of God’s love for the world, and his church, in light of his coming eternal judgment. I pray Harper will publish that book in the coming days…

  • Thanks for the mention!

  • Christian Smith’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is spot on target. Thank you, Scot, for pointing us to it. We’ve seen similar patterns, over and over again. Academe is no exception to the rule for human violence to the truth in “the name of” an agenda.

  • allthecommonthings

    I had quite the opposite response to the Smith op ed. His statement lacks any engagement with the substance of the criticisms against Regnerus which from an outsider’s pov appear perfectly reasonable. Regnerus seems to be comparing apples to oranges and claiming superiority because he’s looked at a lot of oranges.

    Smith’s complaint about the blowback Regnerus is getting only feeds the perpetual persecution complex endemic to conservative academics. Progressive academics may be unfair to conservatives. But defending sloppy work isn’t the answer. And it is sloppiness that most of the critics are citing. Do this with an incredibly controversial topic with even a hint of bias and you’re simply asking for it.

    It also doesn’t help that Smith at least appears to be misrepresenting his relationship to Regnerus’s previous work as his is the first signature on Regnerus’s title sheet for his UNC dissertation. With issues of funding and bias being close behind the methodological complaints against Regnerus this detail will only embolden critics. Again, not helpful.

  • tony springer
  • Thanks for the article on the audit, tony #16. There are definitely some grounds for the concerns cited there. What I noted was that the central issue is that gathering a substantial & durable enough dataset remains the problem for this kind of study. The fluidity of the relationships seems to make that even more difficult, for instance, because temporary relationships shouldn’t have made the cut for the data.

    allthecommonthings…I agree that defending sloppy work isn’t the answer. I’m not certain as much as you seem to be that the problems pointed out in the audit indicate sloppy work as they do insufficient samples/data. Certainly, a fuller analysis should have waited. Might Regnerus’ rush to premature conclusions be the problem?

  • allthecommonthings

    @Ann #17: It seems that the major criticisms have to do with Regnerus’s definitions of “gay” and “lesbian.” Even to a non-sociologist outsider they did not seem at all intuitive. Hence my comments about the comparison of apples to oranges. If the problem was “insufficient samples/data” that would be incredibly ironic since it is precisely the supposedly insufficient data sets of previous studies that Regnerus claims were the impetus for his own study. I doubt more numbers would help.

    Rather, I’m more concerned with the spirit of responses among conservatives (social or academic) that have convinced themselves they are now the persecuted minority being held back by “political correctness” and not legitimate criticisms of their weak scholarship/arguments/etc. The speed with which religious persecution imagery has been deployed here is embarrassing (“auto de fe” from Smith and apparently the rack on the cover of the Weekly Standard article noted in the link Tony provided). It reminds everyone that the church started this practice of appealing to authority and convention rather than data and arguments.

    I am convinced this is spiritually deforming. If we teach people that they are persecuted when they are not, then you teach them (perhaps unintentionally) to be sloppy with their data. You cannot hear genuine and appropriate criticisms.

    Indeed, one of the texts in the CBP I am considering preaching from next week is Ephesians 4:25 which begins “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors . . .”