Weekly Meanderings, 26 November 2016

Issue: Tim Suttle, immigration and what it means to be a neighbor:

I am raising my voice in opposition to the prospect of the United States Government rounding up and deporting millions of our neighbors because they do not have legal immigration status. I’m doing so as a Christian and as a pastor. Because, for the Christian, immigration isn’t about politics or economics. Immigration is a matter of hospitality, and a matter of adhering to the teachings of the Bible.

The Christian scriptures insist upon love as a way of life. Hospitality isn’t optional, it’s an essential Christian posture. Our faith hinges on two great commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’… ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31). The link between the two is telling. One cannot love God and refuse to love a neighbor.

So, who is my neighbor? One of Jesus’ most famous stories addressed this question. A Jewish man was attacked by robbers and left for dead by the side of the road. Two good Jewish leaders, a priest and a Levite, passed the man without helping. Then the hated foreigner, a Samaritan, stopped and cared for the man, treating his wounds and helping to pay his medical costs, proving himself to be the true neighbor.

Those who first heard the parable got the point: stop considering the Samaritans as unworthy of being your neighbor. If Jesus were telling the story today, I think the Samaritan would be from Mexico or Syria. For contemporary readers the point is equally stark: stop considering immigration status when it comes to deciding who is your neighbor. One could say it more pointedly: you are not a good neighbor when you call for your neighbor to be deported. You are a neighbor when you stand with them and ask that they be included in the community.

And Vivian Sawyer’s first piece on John Wesley:

At a time when English society was comprised of petrified strata of peers and gentry, tradespeople and labor, paupers and vagrants; when the working class and poor were neglected and blamed for their difficulties[1]; when church preaching was poor and, among theologians, Thomas Trahern was waxing lyrical, William Law was shaking his finger to little effect[2], and religion was regarded as anti-intellectual by the educated class of the enlightenment[3], John Wesley was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England. The year was 1703.

Wesley was a seer: not of otherworldly apparitions, but of the anguish of the disenfranchised, invisible to those around him. He wrote about the suffering of the poor and sick[4], the suffering of African slaves[5], even the suffering of animals[6] – which must have seemed preposterous to agrarian and industrial 18th century England, dependent on livestock and beasts of burden. His tenet of the “imago dei” [7] applying to the uneducated and dispossessed was an affront to a society addicted to personal privilege. Wesley preached the liberation of all into the freedom of Christ, a threatening concept to 18th century England[8]. His outlook and audacity were extraordinary, coming 13 years before William Wilberforce took up the anti-slave-trade cause in England, and more than a half-century before Charles Finney and Thomas Weld spoke out against slavery in the United States[9].

He came to his views gradually. Initially following in his father’s footsteps as an Anglican priest, Wesley believed himself duty-bound to preach in churches, and thought it improper to take his message to the unchurched masses[10]. As invitations to preach in English parishes became scarce, however, due to the provoking nature of his message — with George Whitfield urging him on — he realized that reaching the greatest number of the most spiritually deprived required going beyond church walls[11]. It was essential Pauline thinking in: “. . .I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b NIV) The Church of England did not appreciate Wesley’s epiphany[12]. On one occasion, Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol, came upon Wesley preaching in an open field to a gathering of coal miners. Bishop Butler thought it outrageous that Wesley claimed divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and he said so loudly in front of Wesley’s audience. Butler announced that Wesley was not licensed to preach in his diocese and that he must move along[13]. Move along Wesley did; stop he did not, and a flavor of audacity and confrontation with the status-quo laced Methodism wherever it spread. [HT: JS]

In general, this idea of balance is very healthy and needed, by Steven McAlpine:

The general ideal is to have amazing koine Greek and be a fantastic communicator of the Word.  My ideal is to be the preaching pastor of a large church in which all of the admin, the pastoral care frameworks, the day to day thinking of and running of the “stuff of church” outside the preaching process is not carried out by me.

But not only is that my ideal, it is my idol. It is a pipe dream during the long stretches of week-in/week-out in ministry, and it presupposes that if I could slice up ministry into discrete portions, and hive off the ones I don’t like, I would be on to a winner.

And if you’re reading this thinking “Just put the Five Ms or the Three Whatevers into place and fill the roles with other people“, then you’re probably riding on the coat-tails of Christian white collar professionals whose trained in administration and leadership was undertaken in a secular tertiary setting.  Those people don’t inhabit working class areas such as mine by and large, though I’m open to offers of those who want to relocate.

But then again many in your church are heading to work tomorrow wishing that the part of the task they love is the only part they have to do, and that they could slot other people into the stuff they don’t like.  Most of us have to muddle by.

By far the best comment I received  was from a pastor who said:

One day, I’d like to do a public lecture and assert: “unless you’ve worked in ‘the real world’ with ‘the average Aussie’ for a minimum of 10 years, please don’t be a pastor in that context.”

That picks the eyes out of the issue as far as I am concerned.  There’s a growing disconnect between those of us who can preaching about Babylon, and those who have to drive there tomorrow morning to work in the king’s court.  And unless you even understand what is going on in their settings, then your preaching won’t connect, Greek or no Greek. [HT: JS]

Iain Murray:

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has an article in the British bien-pensants’ house journal, The New Statesman, that asserts that mass democracy has failed with the election of Donald Trump and that a “more humane alternative” is needed. Yet reading his piece, one can see that the answer to all his criticisms is contained in Tocqueville. His Grace is also blind to the role that the ideas beloved of The New Statesman and its readers played in bringing down exactly the sort of society he recommends.

For a start, the good prelate appears uninformed about the checks and balances of the American constitution. He says of the disaffected masses that Trump’s election “confirms that they have no part in real political processes; they can only choose their monarch.” Thankfully, the American President is no monarch. His power is checked by an independent legislature and a powerful judiciary. The President is not an absolute monarch on the model of Henry VIII (and I shall remain silent about the role that Rowan Williams’ – and my – church may have played in the creation of the absolute Tudor monarchy).

Yet if there has been a tendency towards a much more powerful Presidency, it has been the ideas of the left that have enabled it. The principle that executive agencies should have the power to control much of the average citizen’s day-to-day life is not a conservative one. Nor do many conservatives support the idea that courts should defer to the expertise of those agencies. If the President is in any way a monarch, the roots of that change can be traced to the New Deal, something that Rowan Williams would probably have supported.

From Good Friday to Spring Holiday, by Katherine Timpf:

The mayor of Bloomington, Ind., is changing the names of the Columbus Day and Good Friday holidays in order to “better reflect cultural sensitivity in the workplace.”

In a memo to city employees on Friday, Mayor John Hamilton announced that the Columbus Day and Good Friday holidays — both days when city employees get paid time off — would now be called “Fall Holiday” and “Spring Holiday,” respectively.

“We are terrifically proud of our diverse workforce at the city,” he wrote, according to local news source the Herald-Times.

“That diversity makes us stronger and more representative of the public we proudly serve,” he continued. “These updated names for two days of well-merited time off is another way we can demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity.”

As cute as all of that sounds, I really have a hard time seeing how renaming Good Friday in particular amounts to valuing “diversity” or “cultural sensitivity.” In fact, it almost seems like the opposite. Good Friday is an important holiday in the Christian churches, and “Good Friday” is what those churches have chosen to call it. What’s the issue? After all, it’s not like it’s called “All People Except Christians Are Bad Friday.” Suggesting that the name of a Holy Day is some kind of dirty phrase that needs changing is anything but sensitive, and a true celebration of diversity would be allowing a religion to keep the words it uses to describe its own celebrations — even if that religion is different from yours.

Do animals ask questions? [HT: JS]

Patrik Bubenik:

While visiting the Louvre, Redditor sbay captured and shared the astonishing intricacies of a mummy’s head wrapping. Unlike the image of a mummy we’re used to (with a winding wrap), this well-preserved man had his skull carefully encased in strips of linen with a sophisticated, interwoven square pattern covering his entire face. In addition to the incredible binding, the overall cartonnage includes a wide collar over the chest, a decorative apron across the legs, and casing over the feet.

According to the museum, X-rays revealed that this mummy was an adult who lived during the Ptolemaic Period (305 BC to 30 BC) in Ancient Egypt. They aren’t sure of his name, but believe that it’s either Pachery or Nenu, and the fact that he was preserved is an indication that he was fortunate during his mortal life—this funerary process ensured his survival into eternity.

Victoria Bateman and Brexit, perhaps good for the economy:

For those of us troubled by Brexit, and for Europeans concerned about the survival of the wider European project, a much-awaited book by one of the world’s most renowned economic historians and an expert on long-run economic growth might, on the face of it, offer some light at the end of the tunnel.

According to Joel Mokyr, Europe’s magisterial rise from economic backwater to superpower between the 16th and 19th centuries had much to do not with integration but with its division into multiple competing states. That is not the conventional view. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe disintegrated and political power was increasingly exercised at the local level, leading to the rise of the medieval knight and his castle. By the 15th century, Europe was still divided into some 500 separate political entities. To followers of Adam Smith, such political fragmentation was straightforwardly bad for the economy: It made trade much more cumbersome, leading to multiple tariffs and tolls, numerous currencies and an array of different legal systems.

That bird’s colorful!

Fossils of ancient bird, Eoconfuciusornis, revealed microscopic evidence of pigment within its feathers, which were preserved for 130 million years.

An international team of U.S. and Chinese scientists analyzed the color of the bird, the oldest known avian after the proto-bird Archaeopteryx, by first identifying a protein from its fossilized feathers that enables modern-day birds to fly.

The protein, beta-keratin, is the stuff of nails, feathers, scales and beaks. Evolutionary history and modern genetic evidence indicates that feather keratins evolved from reptilian scale keratins. (Beta-keratin is not to be confused with beta-carotene, the orange pigment found in carrots and other plants.) The keratin proteins are arranged like building blocks to give a particular biological structure its function, akin to the way brick can form a walkway or a chimney.

Scientists studied Eoconfuciusornis beta-keratin buried deep within the animal’s fossilized feathers. They probed the keratin structures to find small, dark grains called melanosomes. These are the little specks within animal cells that give skin and other tissues its color. Although melanosomes had been discovered in fossilized creatures before, it was previously too difficult to tell if the dark granules belonged to the animal itself or ancient microorganisms preserved alongside it.

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