August 22, 2018

By T

I was fascinated, encouraged, excited and even a bit nervous as I read a recent post by another Patheos blogger and Christian scholar, Roger Olson. Yes, that’s quite a range of emotions for one blog post, but in many ways, Roger was telling my own theological story, and the story of many others, I suspect, in identifying a recent development in Christian theology that was, in his words, “new . . . even if not entirely novel.” Roger is uniquely positioned to identify such shifts because at least one of his areas of scholarship is the history and development of Christian theology itself (e.g., his 2000 award winning book,  The Story of Christian Theology)

So what is this new but not new “paradigm shift” anyway? In Roger’s words:

Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God . . . traced out to its logical conclusion and not left as a mere notion that does not permeate the whole body of belief. . . .
My argument is that many evangelical Christians have always believed this principle in principle but have not worked it into their theology systematically. . . .
My point is simply this: This paradigm shift in modern, contemporary Christian theology toward thinking through logically and without restraint the principle that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the character of God has precursors and profound implications.

What we’re really working out, in terms of our theology, are the implications and range of Christ’s supremacy as the revelation of the Father. The question as to how far and how profound we allow his supremacy to be in our theology is not for the feint of heart, and any easy answers are bound to only gloss over serious concerns. I’m reminded of a common dynamic in the New Testament in which Christ is often portrayed as “greater” or as having more authority than even the greats that preceded him. Not only is he “greater” than John the Baptist (who Christ says is greater than any man ever born), but he is “greater” than or as having authority over Solomon, Jacob, Jonah, David, the Temple, Israel, the Church, sin, death, life, the wind and waves and all creation: heaven and earth, with a name above every name. What exactly do we mean by embracing these statements of superiority?And I’m particularly reminded of this event with pointed paradigmatic implications for theology: the conversations at the transfiguration.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

I find that story fascinating. I feel even a little shaken reading it. But what is the Father saying in his dramatic interruption of Peter and directing sole focus on Jesus, even as he stands next to Moses and Elijah? Jesus leads them up a mountain, and suddenly the disciples see, in real time, his face shining like the sun, his clothes made pure white by the transforming light, and as their eyes recover from the bright light, they see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, the human representatives of the Law and the Prophets. And Peter does what any good Jew would do (or any good Christian?) and offers to honor all three. But the Father literally interrupts Peter in his proposal. And in this context, affirms Jesus and singles him out for attention:” This is my Son, whom I love; with him I’m well pleased. Listen to him!” As we assess the historic and present systematics of Christian theology, as we look at our own lives and faith, the question needs to be asked,

“Have we? Have we listened to him above all others? How Christ-like is Christianity?”

Have we listened, do we listen to Jesus in the way the Father clearly prioritizes? How “supreme” is Jesus in our theology and doctrine? Is he the cornerstone, in the way that cornerstone’s function, to measure and guide and correct the building of the whole building by it’s trustworthy dimensions? Do we hold Jesus’ character and teachings in such a way so that such are “traced out to [their] logical conclusion[s]?” Do Jesus’ character and his teachings “permeate the whole body of [our] belief” or do we simply hold him, side by side, with Paul, Moses, Elijah and other ordained voices?

What I see at stake is manifold, including such small things as (i) our many approaches to and theories for the scriptures, (ii) our many theories of ethics, (iii) our understanding of the content of the gospel, (iv) and, perhaps most importantly (!) our priorities both of practice and doctrine which often actually serve as the real “cornerstones” for how entire persons, families, churches and denominations are built.

Have you seen this trend in scholarship? In popular level works? In church life? Where and how? Do you see this as overdue and necessary? As dangerous? Both? Where and how does Christianity need more of Christ? Next time we’ll get into some particular voices and examples I’ve seen and press into some specific ways I hope this movement continues to press on.

August 11, 2018

A huge thanks to JS this week for some of these links. This week has been a week of grieving in our home as we grieve what has happened and is happening at Willow Creek. Pray for Willow. It’s not over by a long shot.

Flat out one of the finest posts I’ve ever read and one of the best pieces of wisdom on leadership and churches I’ve read. Maybe the best.

Kristin du Mez

Debates over who is and isn’t an evangelical have become commonplace among scholars. Some of these debates have played out here at the Anxious Bench. Should evangelicalism be a theological category, à la David Bebbington? If so, people of color deserve a prominent place within evangelicalism. Or, is “evangelicalism” a cultural movement—one defined by its whiteness and its politics as much as (if not more than) by any particular statements of belief? Should we think of evangelicalism first and foremost as a global movement? As one represented by such luminaries as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and William Wilberforce? Or as the politicized, white, God-and-country movement best represented by Robert Jeffress and the Duck Dynasty clan?

What if the answer is all of the above?

For scholars, perhaps the time has come to set aside our quibbling over definitive rubrics and our attempts to dictate, once and for all, who is and who is not an evangelical, and instead begin to consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.

There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms, and each is imagined with a different center and different boundaries.

If we consider “evangelicalism” an imagined religious community—imagined as inherently limited, bounded, with insiders and outsiders—we must pay close attention to questions of power.  Individuals, communities, theologians, organizations, leaders, and distribution networks all imagine evangelicalism in different ways. (One person may even imagine it in conflicting ways simultaneously, using each for different rhetorical purposes, identifying with or against different imagined constructs.)

The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay decides you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism, it matters rhetorically. Does it matter beyond their own circles? Perhaps. This is a question worth exploring.

[SMcK: here’s the challenge. Until the official organs who speak for evangelicalism open their doors to more than their type, this imagination will not take hold.]

Bodies vs. screens

A rooster crows and awakens my family at the farm where we are staying for a long weekend. The air is crisp, and stars twinkle in the sky as the Sun rises over the hill. We walk to the barn, where horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats vie for our attention. We wash and replenish water bowls, and carry hay to the cows and horses. The kids collect eggs for breakfast.

The wind carries the smells of winter turning to spring. The mud wraps around our boots as we step in puddles. When we enter a stall, the pigs bump into us; when we look at the sheep, they cower together in a corner. We are learning about the urban watershed, where eggs and beef come from, and how barns were built in the 19th century with wood cauls rather than metal nails. We experience the smells of the barn, the texture of the ladder, the feel of the shovels, the vibration when the pigs grunt, the taste of fresh eggs, and the camaraderie with the farmers.

As a parent, it is obvious that children learn more when they engage their entire body in a meaningful experience than when they sit at a computer. If you doubt this, just observe children watching an activity on a screen and then doing the same activity for themselves. They are much more engaged riding a horse than watching a video about it, playing a sport with their whole bodies rather than a simulated version of it in an online game.

Today, however, many powerful people are pushing for children to spend more time in front of computer screens, not less. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have contributed millions of dollars to ‘personal learning’, a term that describes children working by themselves on computers, and Laurene Powell Jobs has bankrolled the XQ Super School project to use technology to ‘transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies’. Policymakers such as the US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos call personalised learning ‘one of the most promising developments in K-12 education’, and Rhode Island has announced a statewide personalised learning push for all public school students. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution recommend that Latin-American countries build ‘massive e-learning hubs that reach millions’. School administrators tout the advantages of giving all students, including those at kindergarten, personal computers.

Good read.

In 2014, George Barna spoke about a study he was conducting on conservative American pastors. He found 5 factors that the pastors consistently used to rate the success of their church: attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage. According to these measures—Willow Creek is wildly successful. Tohatchi Baptist Church is wildly unsuccessful.

Except it isn’t. The smile on the little girl’s face as she hugged my knees spoke volumes about the success—the true success—of Tohatchi Baptist Church.

I find Barna’s insight about these five measure of success—attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage–rather interesting. He said, “all of these things are good measures, except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them.”

As I laid on my lumpy cot in the multi-purpose sanctuary (did I mention we spent the night there?), I thought a lot about the difference between Tohatchi Baptist Church and Willow Creek. I have been a Christian for thirty-five years. I have been in ministry for twenty-two years. I get the church. I get why middle-class Christians are more comfortable dropping their kids off in a safely protected children’s unit that has computers and electronic cards checking you in and out than a small room with stained carpet and only two volunteers. I get why middle-class Christians like comfortable chairs and pretty bathrooms to accompany their well-orchestrated services. I really do understand that there are dedicated Christians serving Jesus at churches like Willow Creek just like the dedicated Christians serving Jesus at Tohatchi. I know this because I was one of them (not Willow Creek, but a similar style church). I get it, but I am becoming less and less comfortable with it.

I am also having more and more trouble understanding why Christians at any church idolize pastors and allow pastors free rein without accountability. As one of my good friends once said, when you build your pastor a privacy suite and give him all the keys, why would you not expect trouble?

The pulpit at Tohatchi points away from the pastor. “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  But when Bill Hybels resigned, his congregation groaned and shouted “No!”. When Bill Hybels denied the allegations against him, his congregants stood up and cheered him. His elders rallied around him. When Andy Savage confessed his “sexual incident” with a teenage girl, the people gave him a standing ovation. Despite the outrageous behavior of Mark Driscoll and his clear abuse of his pastoral position, people are still attending his new church and reading his Patheos blog.

Haven’t we had enough already?

Pastors, like all Christians, should point to Jesus—not to themselves. Churches should hold pastors accountable—not idolize them as saints.

Give me the churches like Tohatchi any day. At least for the time being, I am done with the Willow Creeks.

Great instincts:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A 12-year-old boy is recovering and remains hospitalized days after he jumped several [SMcK?] feet from an overpass and a police officer jumped to help him Friday.

“Everything happened so fast and I think my adrenaline was pumping so high” said police Officer Jessie Ferreira Cavallo, of the Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., police department over the weekend.

Ferreira, who was on her way to work in the village, was one of a few passers-by to stop to help. She said she jumped after the boy and helped him after he was unresponsive on the ground.

Ferreira said she immediately parked her car on the shoulder, stuffed her pockets with first-aid materials from her car and then jumped after the boy, who she said looked like a young teenager.

“I wasn’t thinking too much,” she said. “I just knew, when I looked down and saw him … he looked dead. I couldn’t see anything other than blood. I thought to myself, ‘He needs help. I need to help him.’ “

She said another woman, in a military uniform, also stopped to help.

“Both me and her together, we were able to aid him and assist him,” she said.

The boy was unresponsive, she said, and they put a neck brace and a splint on him, and checked his airway.

After some time, the boy opened his eyes, but was mostly non-responsive, Ferreira said.

“I was talking,” she said. “He wasn’t really responding back.”

The boy, who went to the hospital with a broken arm, broken nose and leg injuries is expected to survive, said Kieran O’Leary, a Westchester County, New York, police spokesman on Monday.

Good essay on Kafka.

Wes Hill on ReVoice:

At a time in my life when I wondered whether it would signal defeat if I said simply, “I’m gay, and I don’t expect that to change, and I want to be celibate,” an older single friend of mine wrote a letter to me—one that I now look back on as a turning point in my thinking, illuminating an unexplored possibility:

Perhaps the real question is not how to make unfulfilled desires go away, but rather, what they teach us about the nature of our lives, what is ultimately important. … This, I suspect, is much akin to Paul’s own discussion of the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul prayed but it did not go away. God allowed it to remain in his life that he might know the surpassing greatness of God’s grace in ALL circumstances. Likewise, unfulfilled desires point us to the only eternal source of satisfaction—God himself. … [T]hey help us identify with the true nature of the human condition of all those around us who are suffering [things] over which they have no control. It is an immediate bridge for ministry to our fellow human beings.

Reading those words was a revelation. In their wake, I began to ponder questions I hadn’t known I was allowed ask: Might there be some divine design, some strange providence, in my homosexuality? Might my sexual orientation be something God does not want to remove, knowing that its challenge keeps pulling me back towards Him in prayer? Might it even be something through which more empathy and compassion for fellow sufferers are birthed?

Asking these questions let me abandon my fevered search for some cure for my gayness and prompted me to look instead for what C. S. Lewis once called the “certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, [the] certain social role” of which only those who aren’t straight might be capable. Homosexuality, I continued to believe, is sinful insofar as it represents a thirst for acts that Scripture forbids, but I came to see that it is at the same time—like St. Paul’s thorn—an occasion for grace to become manifest.

Exploring that grace was the point of the Revoice conference. It was the first theologically conservative event I’ve attended in which I felt no shame in owning up to my sexual orientation and no hesitation in declaring my sexual abstinence. At Revoice there was no pressure to obfuscate the probable fixity and exclusivity of my homosexuality through clunky euphemisms. Nor was there any stigma attached to celibacy, as though my embracing it were simply, as the ex-gay leader Andy Comiskey once wrote, “a concession to same-sex attraction.” There was, instead, a kind of joyful and creative moving on. “Yes, we’re gay, and yes, we’re committed to historic Christian belief and practice,” everyone seemed to be saying. “But that’s just the boring preamble. What we really want to talk about is where we go from here.”

Concussions:

High school girls in the United States are 56 percent more likely than boys to suffer a concussion in sports that are played by both genders, a recent study says. The largest discrepancy was found in the concussion rates for girls’ softball, which were four times the rates of concussions for boys’ baseball.

Nearly 8 million U.S. high school students participate in sports every year, with more than 2 million competing in the sports where concussion is common: football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer, the study team writes in Journal of Athletic Training.

Participation in sports is one of the leading causes of concussions among the student-athletes, the study says. Researchers were interested in learning about who was getting concussion and how they might have originated.

Ocean Clean Up:

SAN FRANCISCO – On Sept. 8, an ungainly, 2,000-foot-long contraption will steam under the Golden Gate Bridge in what’s either a brilliant quest or a fool’s errand.

Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Project, this giant sea sieve consists of pipes that float at the surface of the water with netting below, corralling trash in the center of a U-shaped design.

The purpose of this bizarre gizmo is as laudable as it is head-scratching: to collect millions of tons of garbage from what’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which can harm and even kill whales, dolphins, seals, fish and turtles that consume it or become entangled in it, according to researchers at Britain’s University of Plymouth.

The project is the expensive, untried brainchild of a 23-year-old Dutch college dropout named Boyan Slat, who was so disgusted by the plastic waste he encountered diving off Greece as a teen that he has devoted his life to cleaning up the mess.

 Along with detractors who want to prioritize halting the flow of plastics into the ocean, the Dutch nonprofit gathered support from several foundations and philanthropists, including billionaire Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. In 2017, the Ocean Cleanup Project received $5.9 million in donations and reported reserves from donations in previous years of $17 million.

August 4, 2018

Reading: is it reading if you are listening? Betsy Robinson:

According to an Edison Research consumer survey, 65% of audiobook listeners imbibe books while driving; 52% while relaxing into sleep; and 45% while doing housework or chores. According to “The Brain and Reading,” an article by cognitive psychologist Sebastian Wren (published by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory), reading uses three major sections of the brain: the occipital cortex, where we visualize; the frontal lobe, where we process meaning; and the temporal lobe, where we process sound—our very own internal sound inside our own craniums. Whereas listening activates only two sections of the brain: temporal and frontal lobes.

This bodes well for people who are driving: at least they are not distracting their brains with inner visions while “reading,” but nor are they enjoying the full-sensory and gloriously autonomous experience of a direct hit from words on a page.

On second thought, real reading will never be replaced by listening. That would be just silly, right?

[Really, Betsy Robinson, what do you think the vast majority of people did in the ancient world? Writing emerged from speech, not speech from writing. In the beginning was the spoken word and the listening ear.]

Speaking of reading, there’s nothing like the ancient poets:

In 1942, the classicist Edith Hamilton acknowledged the “dark spots” which encroach upon the worlds of Greek myth. Reading ancient poetry today makes you realize how those dark spots have grown. They may be sinister, but like black holes, they suck you in. They are timely reminders of the continuing power of classical verse.

There is nothing like ancient poetry for making you reassess your priorities. HomerVirgil, and Ovidcan make you feel small and insignificant, but those feelings tend to pass and are worth enduring for the clarity they bring to the bigger picture. If you only let them in, the poets of ancient Greece and Rome can bring the kind of life you are living and person you want to be into sharper focus. They are surprisingly adept at cutting through the noise of modern life.

coverOvid captures the zeitgeist better than any contemporary writer I know. It’s remarkable, considering he died in the early first century, but his words have taken on new significance in the past few years. Where his Metamorphoses once seemed strange and fantastical, with their stories of girls turning into trees and sculptures transforming into living flesh, they now read like an entree to conversations of human fluidity.

A young man named Actaeon is out hunting when he stumbles upon the goddess Diana bathing. In her fury, the deity turns him into a stag. Unable to feel at home in his former palace or the woods with other animals—“shame impeded one route and fear the other”—Actaeon is torn apart by his hunting dogs and sense of displacement. There has never been a better description of what it’s like to be uncomfortable in your own skin. Other characters in the Metamorphoses are more fortunate. They change form to better manifest who they really are.

The anguish of Actaeon suggests to me that escapism shouldn’t be the primary reason for reading ancient poetry today. For sure, there’s diversion and joy to be found in the drinking poems of Horacenunc est bibendum!—or the Cyclops-haunted adventures of Odysseus. Virgil even provides a lively debate on the virtues of the countryside relative to the city. Perfect for the daily commute. But it’s when the poets turn to their struggles and political angst that their voices feel most modern. Read them not for escapism but for the reverse: They found the words to express the dark spots we’re still facing today.

The Pope decides the death penalty is always wrong and Rod Dreher doesn’t like it:

So, today, there is no “if” about it: Pope Francis has said flat-out that the death penalty is immoral, and has ordered the Catechism to be written to reflect this new teaching. As of this morning, the Catechism now reads:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

It seems to me that the Pope has crossed a bright line. He is denying, for the first time in nearly two millennia of Catholic teaching, and in direct contradiction to the Fathers of the Church, that the state has the right to impose capital punishment. That’s a meaningful difference from saying that the state has that right, but shouldn’t use it.

Even if you disfavor the death penalty, understand what this means: this Pope has claimed forthrightly that the Catholic Church taught error, but now, at long last, he has set the Church straight. From a traditional point of view, though, this means that the Pope is teaching error.

This. Is. Big.

Who’s got some scutoids?

We’ve got circles, squares, triangles and all the ‘gons — but, Spanish scientists say we’re missing one: the scutoid.

Researchers from the University of Seville found these “twisted prisms” in nature, more specifically within the cells that make up skin and line many organs. Scutoids are the true shape of epithelial cells that protect organisms against infections and take in nutrients, they say.

These “blocks” were previously represented as prism-shaped, but research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications suggests they have a specific curve and look unlike any other known shape. The researchers observed the structure in fruitflies and zebrafish.

The scutoid is six-sided at the top, five-sided on the bottom with one triangular side. Why it has been so complex to define is because epithelial cells must move and join together to organize themselves “and give the organs their final shape,” University of Seville Biology faculty teacher Luisma Escudero said in a release.

The researchers named the shape after a similar design in the thorax of some beetles.

Next, the researchers plan to examine the molecules that cause the shape.

Why no mention of global warming?

A record-breaking heat wave killed 65 people in Japan this week, just weeks after record flooding there killed more than 200. Record-breaking heat is also wreaking havoc in California, where the wildfire season is already worse than usual. In Greece, fast-moving fires have killed at least 80 people, and Sweden is struggling to contain more than 50 fires amid its worst drought in 74 years. Both countries have experienced all-time record-breaking temperatures this summer, as has most of the rest of the world.

Is this climate change, or merely Mother Nature? The science is clear: Heat-trapping greenhouse gases have artificially increased the average temperature across the globe, making extreme heateventsmore likely. This has also increased the risk of frequent and more devastating wildfires, as prolonged heat dries soil and turns vegetation into tinder.

And yet, despite these facts, there’s no climate connection to be found in much news coverage of extreme weather events across the globe—even in historically climate-conscious outlets like NPR and The New York Times. These omissions, critics say, can affect how Americans view global warming and its impact on their lives.

Major broadcast TV networks are the most glaring offenders. Media Matters reviewed 127 segments on the global heat wave that aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC this summer, and found that only one, on CBS This Morning, mentioned the connection between climate change and extreme heat. This fits a long-running pattern. As Media Matters noted, its latest annual study of broadcast coverage found that “during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.”

Legacy print and radio news outlets are generally much better at connecting these dots. In the last five years, the Times, NPR, and The Washington Post have built large teams of reporters dedicated to explaining climate science, dissecting climate policy, and showing how global warming affects communities. But when covering extreme weather across the globe, the outlets don’t often include references to climate change. [HT: JS]

Florida’s algae crisis:

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The number of dead manatees and sea turtles continues to climb as red tide strangles the life out of coastal Southwest Florida waters.

Bloom conditions started in November, and 400 stranded and dead sea turtles have been pulled from the waters surrounding Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Sarasota counties.

A manatee that probably died because of red tide poisoning was retrieved from the Cape Coral Yacht Club on Tuesday while hundreds of residents and visitors were expressing their anger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a meeting nearby.

“There was one dead female manatee,” said Michelle Kerr, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The cause of death is not determined yet, but it was found in a location with high concentrations of red tide. There was speculation that the manatee had a baby, a calf with her. She did not. She was actually found in a mating herd.”

Michael Egnor: [HT: JS]

How would our lives or our society be different if we found that our mind was merely the product of our material brain – and that our every decision was determined, with no free will?

The cornerstone of totalitarianism, according to Hannah Arendt, is the denial of free will. Under the visions of Communism and Nazism, we are mere instruments of historical forces, not individual free agents who can choose good or evil.

Without free will, we cannot be guilty in an individual sense. But we also cannot be innocent. Neither the Jews under Hitler nor Kulak farmers under Stalin were killed because they were individually at fault. Their guilt was assigned to them according to their type, and accordingly they were exterminated to hasten a natural process, whether the purification of the race or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

By contrast, the classical understanding of human nature is that we are free beings not subject to determinism. This understanding is the indispensable basis for human liberty and dignity. It is indispensable, too, for simply making sense of the world around us: among other things, for making sense of Katie.

I see her in my office each year. She is thriving: headstrong and bright. Her mother is exasperated, and, after seventeen years, still surprised. So am I.

There is much about the brain and the mind that I don’t understand. But neuroscience tells a consistent story. There is a part of Katie’s mind that is not her brain. She is more than that. She can reason and she can choose. There is a part of her that is immaterial – the part that Sperry couldn’t split, that Penfield couldn’t reach, and that Libet couldn’t find with his electrodes. There is a part of Katie that didn’t show up on those CAT scans when she was born.

Katie, like you and me, has a soul.

June 30, 2018

Ah, Italian pizza:

People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: “Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!”

But it was in late 18th-century Naples that the pizza as we now know it came into being. Under the Bourbon kings, Naples had become one of the largest cities in Europe – and it was growing fast. Fuelled by overseas trade and a steady influx of peasants from the countryside, its population ballooned from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 in 1748. As the urban economy struggled to keep pace, an ever greater number of the city’s inhabitants fell into poverty. The most abject of these were known as lazzaroni, because their ragged appearance resembled that of Lazarus. Numbering around 50,000 they scraped by on the pittance they earned as porters, messengers or casual labourers. Always rushing about in search of work, they needed food that was cheap and easy to eat. Pizzas met this need. Sold not in shops, but by street vendors carrying huge boxes under their arms, they would be cut to meet the customer’s budget or appetite. As Alexandre Dumas noted in Le Corricolo (1843), a two liard slice would make a good breakfast, while two sous would buy a pizza large enough for a whole family. None of them were terribly complicated. Though similar in some respects to Virgil’s flatbreads, they were now defined by inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients with plenty of flavour. The simplest were topped with nothing more than garlic, lard and salt. But others included caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), cecenielli (whitebait) or basil. Some even had tomatoes on top. Only recently introduced from the Americas, these were still a curiosity, looked down upon by contemporary gourmets. But it was their unpopularity – and hence their low price – that made them attractive.

For a long time, pizzas were scorned by food writers. Associated with the crushing poverty of the lazzaroni, they were frequently denigrated as ‘disgusting’, especially by foreign visitors. In 1831, Samuel Morse – inventor of the telegraph – described pizza as a ‘species of the most nauseating cake … covered over with slices of pomodoro or tomatoes, and sprinkled with little fish and black pepper and I know not what other ingredients, it altogether looks like a piece of bread that has been taken reeking out of the sewer’.

When the first cookbooks appeared in the late 19th century, they pointedly ignored pizza. Even those dedicated to Neapolitan cuisine disdained to mention it – despite the fact that the gradual improvement in the lazzaroni’s status had prompted the appearance of the first pizza restaurants.

All that changed after Italian unification. While on a visit to Naples in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita grew tired of the complicated French dishes they were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hastily summoned to prepare some local specialities for the queen, the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito cooked three sorts of pizza: one with lard, caciocavallo and basil; another with cecenielli; and a third with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The queen was delighted. Her favourite – the last of the three – was christened pizza margherita in her honour.

This signalled an important shift. Margherita’s seal of approval not only elevated the pizza from being a food fit only for lazzaroni to being something a royal family could enjoy, but also transformed pizza from a local into a truly national dish. It introduced the notion that pizza was a genuinely Italian food – akin to pasta and polenta. [HT: JS]

The Stroop:

It’s a sad day for Stroopwafel fans — at least those traveling in United economy on domestic flights departing before 9:45am.

The “Stroop,” as it’s been affectionately coined at TPG headquarters, first began making its way to United Airlines coach passengers in 2016. As of this weekend, the carrier’s replacing the beloved breakfast treat with maple wafers from the Byrd Cookie Company.

As described by the airline, the replacement treat “combines a crunchy texture with a sweet maple flavor.” United continues by explaining that “many [are] heralding [maple syrup] as the ‘next pumpkin spice.’”

Ugh.

I don’t want the “next pumpkin spice”… I want my Stroop!

Yes, Librarians!

As parents, we tend to get involved in our children’s education: Are they getting enrolled in the right classes? Did they make the team? We are concerned if they aren’t afforded access to technology, or if they are being bullied at school. If a school down the road is performing better, parents often lobby to get their child enrolled there, even if their addresses do not allow it.

These issues are all easy to get passionate about, even for the casual parent. Where we fall short, however, is when it comes to the fundamentals: the important things that actually have proven, direct effects on learning, such as ensuring that every one of our kids has access to school librarians—yes, librarians.

For those who don’t spend a lot of time in American schools, it’s easy to overlook how big of an issue we face as a nation. We are behind in STEM, with a recent PEW Research study showing the U.S. in the 50th percentile in both math and science. We also have a serious reading problem; more than 30 million adults cannot read at a third-grade level, according to ProLiteracy, a nonprofit that focuses on adult literacy. And children of illiterate adults have a 72% chance of being at a low level of literacy themselves, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

To have any chance for success in school, a child must be able to read at or above the reading level for his or her grade. It’s highly unlikely that a child who cannot read will succeed in any subject and even less likely that a child who cannot read will avoid behavioral and social problems, let alone matriculate to college or have a career.

On a near-daily basis, you can find news articles about school districts cutting librarians or even closing their libraries. Some reallocate the monies to other programs in the school, some just cut the budgets entirely, and others reinvest in facilities and football fields. Yet there is rarely uproar among parents, simply because they are not aware of the consequences of these actions. In many cases, even the district leaders have no clue what librarians can do.

In the past year, Follett has become actively involved in supporting a grassroots movement to fight back. Recently, a district leader and Follett customer threatened to take his business to a competing vendor after a campaign was waged to protest his district’s eliminating all six of its library media specialists at the elementary school level. We did not give in. Everyone needs to know the vital role librarians play.

Cleveland Clinic and Gaming Addiction:

Hours pass. Maybe it’s World of Warcraft or Diablo III. What was once a way to decompress or blow off steam has morphed into pattern of behavior that’s downright addictive. Conceivable or no?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is. Gaming disorder was recently classified as a mental health disorder in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

So when is gaming a problem? According to the WHO, gaming disorder is rare. To be diagnosed, the behavior must be severe enough to cause “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

The disorder isn’t sudden, but rather is considered as a diagnosis when the negative behavior lasts for 12+ months and dominates the player’s whole life — often to the detriment of a healthy diet and physical fitness.

“If players are avoiding other responsible behaviors, such as going to work, school or doing homework, then they’re starting to have a problem,” says Cleveland Clinic psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “And if relationships are suffering because of excessive gaming behaviors, this can be a sign of trouble.”

Roadblock:

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Police in Delaware’s capital city would like to know who dropped a house onto a two-lane road.

The Dover Police Department says someone abandoned the prefabricated home, blocking traffic at least until Wednesday.

In a Facebook post that had been shared thousands of times, the department posted pictures of the home and said “this is not a joke.” The house was draped with a banner that said “oversize load.”

Police advised drivers to use an alternate route.

Thank you Clara Daly:

While waiting in Boston Logan Airport to board her flight, Lynette Scribner noticed another passenger on the same flight.

“I observed a woman signing into a man’s hand, so he could feel her words. After watching them for a few minutes, I realized the man was both deaf and blind,” she said.

The man, Tim Cook, was heading home to Portland where he’s a resident of Brookdale Senior Living, according to a blog post from Alaska Airlines. He had been in Boston to visit his sister, the woman in the boarding area with him.

After boarding the plane, Cook was seated in the middle of Scribner’s row.

A man in the aisle of their row gave up his seat and switched with Cook to make him feel more comfortable on the cross-country flight to Portland, which would continue on to Los Angeles.

The cabin crew and passengers around Cook tried to make him feel more welcome and comfortable on the flight by helping him with his coffee and creamer, and the man in the seat next to him helped him feel his way back to the restroom.

After talking about the situation in the back galley, the flight attendants decided to make an announcement to see if any of the guests onboard knew American Sign Language (ASL) in order to better communicate with Cook.

Fifteen-year-old Clara Daly rang her call button in response. Daly was traveling to LA with her mom. Their original nonstop flight to Los Angeles from Boston had been canceled and they were placed on this flight to get home last-minute.

Daly had been learning ASL for a year. She had chosen to learn ASL since she was dyslexic and it was easier for her to learn.

When she heard about the situation, Daly immediately jumped up to help. She signed with Cook to make sure all of his needs were met.

“He just wanted to talk,” Daly said. “I sat with Tim a few times on the flight and toward the end for about 30 minutes.”

Cook asked Daly questions and in response, she sign-spelled answers into his hand. Everyone nearby appeared to be very impressed by the teen.

“I don’t know when I’ve ever seen so many people rally to take care of another human being,” said Scribner. “All of us in the immediate rows were laughing and smiling and enjoying his obvious delight in having someone to talk to.”

Sand cats and sand kittens:

Sand cats are small, mysterious wild cats that live throughout Africa and Asia, from Morocco to Israel. They look like stuffed animals, with wide, childlike faces and oversized ears. Scientists don’t know much about them; research tends to go toward studying bigger cats, like lions and tigers. Sand cats are not considered endangered because, ironically, they’re too difficult to find. You need hard data to convince the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that an animal is rare, and no one has enough information on sand cats to know just how rare they are.

“According to the IUCN, they’re not threatened. I personally think they are, but I can’t prove it,” Sliwa told me.

They’re also difficult to track; it’s near impossible to sneak up on a sand cat. Comparing their hearing to ours is like comparing an iPhone X to a telegraph machine. Sand cats can hear a mouse scurrying 200 yards away. Even a Toyota Land Cruiser couldn’t cruise quietly enough to catch one unawares.

How to find sand cats:

  1. Drive around the desert.
  2. Eventually the cats will get used to the sound of your car.
  3. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you hang out with them.

Adult sand cats can walk more than a dozen miles each day, so finding a cat once doesn’t mean you’ll find it again. Kittens hide in shrubbery, making them even harder to spot. Though kittens have been bred in zoos, no one has ever documented a sand kitten in the wild; Sliwa and Breton fantasized about finding one for years.

During the day, sand cats don’t move much and blend in perfectly with (you guessed it) sand, which is kind of the point of being sand-colored. So you have to look for them at night. Cat eyes are like mirrors: if you shine a light on them, they shine back at you.

Some dogs are ugly:

A 9-year-old English bulldog was named the winner of the 2018 World’s Ugliest Dog contest in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Zsa Zsa won the title Saturday night at the Sonoma-Marin Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma.

The dog’s owner Megan Brainard of Anoka, Minnesota, will receive $1,500 for Zsa Zsa’s win. Brainard found Zsa Zsa on a pet-finding site, according to the contest bio.

Dogs in the annual competition flaunt their imperfections – some have hairless bodies, others have lolling tongues. The dogs and their handlers walk down a red carpet. The dogs are evaluated by a panel of judges.

The contestants included a blackhead-covered Chinese Crested-Dachshund mutt, a bulldog mix with excess wrinkly skin and a Pekingese named Wild Thang.

Last year’s winner was a 125-pound gentle giant named Martha — a Neopolitan Mastiff with gas and a droopy face.

The contest is in its 30th year.

Evangelicals, politics, fear and John Fea.

When “godless” Thomas Jefferson was elected president of the United States in 1800, frightened New England evangelicals thought the Virginian’s henchmen would soon be arriving in their towns and homes on a mission to take away their Bibles.

But other evangelical options were also available. While Federalists like Boudinot and Morse railed against Jefferson and his followers, frontier evangelicals—mostly Baptists and Methodists—flocked to Jefferson in droves. They understood that Jefferson’s defense of religious freedom would allow evangelical faith to flourish in America. They were right. When religion in America was separated from state sponsorship, it resulted in a massive religious revival which historians have described as the Second Great Awakening.

Hangry, exactly what it seems to mean:

Hangry is one of those words that absolutely sounds made up and is just a result of the millennial generation’s need to put a label on every feeling and experience and pose made in pictures.

However, there is actually real science behind this feeling of hunger to the point of anger, according to physicians. If you don’t eat your blood sugar drops which causes your cortisol and epinephrine levels to rise to try to balance it out. However, those hormones can lead to you feeling and acting very irritated with anything that crosses your path (good luck to your office mates on those days.)

On top of that, Neuropeptide Y, which is also released when your blood sugar plunges, gives you that hungry feeling which is associated with aggression. So you may have saved time skipping breakfast this morning but now you are moments away from luring small children to your gingerbread house to eat them.

New research published in the journal Emotion has found that it isn’t just physiology that is making you hangry, but it is actually the emotional tone of the environment you are in.

“You don’t just become hungry and start lashing out at the universe,” said the study’s co-author, assistant professor Dr. Kristen Lindquist. “We find that feeling hangry happens when you feel unpleasantness due to hunger but interpret those feelings as strong emotions about other people or the situation you’re in.”

June 25, 2018

Before touring Turkey, Greece, and Pompeii-Rome with our Northern Seminary MA in New Testament students, I posted on this new book and I want to resume — by way of refreshing and addition — that series today.

Eric Seibert, in his new book, Disarming the Church, takes up the same big topic — violence and the church and the Christian and Jesus — and offers a pastoral theology of non violence with responses to claims for violence in the church. This is an important new study and worthy of serious reflection and discussion. The problem is that many don’t think this is even a problem.

Is this even a question in your church? If so, which demographic is asking this question? Is this topic do-able in your church? 

So why write such a book? Here are his biggest ideas:

I wrote Disarming the Church because I am troubled by how much violence Christians condone—and sometimes participate in—and by how much violence the church sanctions and sometimes actively supports. I do not believe this is what God intended. God does not want people to be victims of violence—and certainly not at the hands of those who claim to be following God! In fact, one of the central claims I will make, and one I believe is borne out by a careful reading of the Gospels, is that Jesus lived nonviolently and taught his followers to do the same. Condoning or participating in violence, even for the most noble reasons, runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, I have written to encourage Christians to reject all forms of violence as they strive to follow Jesus.

A big issue in intellectual studies about violence is defining violence:

Violence is physical, emotional, or psychological harm done to a person by an individual(s), institution, or structure that results in serious injury, oppression, or death.

And the same applies to non-violence: What is it? He offers a thoroughly Christian definition of non-violence.

To that end, I define Christian nonviolence as a way of life modeled after Jesus, one that completely rejects violence, actively confronts evil, and unconditionally loves others by practicing gracious hospitality, radical forgiveness, and deep compassion. Put simply, nonviolence is love in action.

Seibert then explores a number of major themes before he gets to Jesus, including glimpses of non violence in the Old Testament. In other words, some resources are found in the Old Testament that (seem to) counter the rather graphic violence sometimes displayed.

A number of Old Testament narratives describe people dealing with conflict without resorting to violence. Examples include the story of Joseph, the man who forgave his brothers (Gen 45:1-15; 50:15-21); the story of Abigail, the woman who prevented a massacre (1 Sam 25:2-43); and the story of Elisha, the prophet who fed his enemies (2 Kgs 6:8-23), among others. These narratives, which demonstrate the resolution of conflict without bloodshed, encourage us to seek alternatives to violence as well.

The Old Testament also contains a number of specific verses that condemn, or at least seriously constrain, violence and killing. The sixth commandment prohibits killing (Exod 20:13); the Psalmist declares that God’s ‘soul hates the lover of violence” (Ps 11:5), and the writer of Proverbs 3 says not to “envy the violent” or “choose any of their ways” (Prov 3:31), to cite just a few examples.

In addition, the prophets instruct people to avoid violence and to live peaceably with others. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Act with justice and righteousness And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer 22:3), and Ezekiel told Israel’s leaders to “put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right” (Ezek 45:9). More strikingly, the prophets dared to dream of a world without war. Isaiah envisioned a day when weapons would be transformed into agricultural tools and military academies would close their doors forever. On that day, people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:4; cf. Mic 4:3). Similarly, the prophet Hosea spoke of a time when God “will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land” (Hos 2:18).

In my estimation, a Christian eschatology can begin right here: if the prophets announced a day without violence, and if the kingdom has been ushered in by Jesus, then what the prophets announced ought to have more than a little bearing on how Christians act today. If the kingdom is ushered in, then violence and the end of war is ushered in.

Now we turn to Jesus and you can look up these verses:

First, in the Sermon on the Mount we are called to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9) and to love our enemies (5:38-48) and to love the Golden Rule (7:12).

Second, two moments where Jesus taught nonviolence: when they asked about fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56) and in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:47-53): No, No to violence.

Third, stare at these verses from John 18:

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

The early church followed Jesus. Violence, killing, war … not for the Christians, but that’s another chapter.

June 20, 2018

I have been on a tour with Northern Seminary’s MA in New Testament students through Turkey, Greece, and Italy (Pompeii and Rome), so I have been out of the loop on the discussion in the USA about separating children from parents.

In the Trump administration a few have commented on listening to the federal government authorities as a Christian duty.

They have appealed to Romans 13, so a discussion has arisen about Romans 13:1-7 in the early years of emperor Nero (I took the photo of Nero in the museum in Corinth).

Three solid discussions I have read are by:

Michael Gorman

Tim Gombis

Michael Bird

My thoughts:

First, Romans 13 reflects government by an emperor, in this case Nero, but at least one has to consider the transitional period from Claudius to Nero. Government and Christian response to government under Nero and an emperor is vastly different than our situation in the USA: that is, under government of law and people. Resistance is lawful in the USA; voicing one’s opinion is how our government works; appeal to authority and DC et al is inadequate. To say “The Bible says so” is hermeneutically tone deaf

On Rom 13: this text addresses what might be called illegal or unlawful or contrary-to-law resistance. There is much to be said here but if you read Romans 13 in its context, which means considering Romans 12:14-13:10, then any appeal simply to Romans 13:1-7 (or 13:1) out of context is foolish. This is what some of the Trump administration is doing. Why, one might ask, would executive administration appeal to such a text? It doesn’t take a cynic to know why. Why, one needs to ask then, did slaveowners appeal to Ephesians or Colossians? Easy: they got the authority they wanted.

Here’s a problem: What Pence and Session are asking for is little more than the divine right of kings. To say “We are the government, we are in authority, we know what is best for the people, therefore do what we say” is about an Un-American as anything I’ve seen in a long long while.

On Romans 13:1-7 the presenting resistance issue here is taxation, severe for many who were returning to Rome following Claudius’ expulsion. Notice these words:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them (12:14).

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (12:17-18).

Now notice these words, strong words indeed:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (12:19).

Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (13:2).

But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer (13:4).

Then comes taxes and taxes are the presenting issue of resistance among some in the churches of Rome. They are not likely to have taken up arms — Spartacus fashion — but to have been beyond irritated by increased indirect taxes on the kinds of jobs these Christians were doing in Rome. They are tempted not to pay taxes and to resist taxation. Paul says this is not wise.

Paul’s lines in Romans 13 are almost certainly strategic. That is, this is not a theoretical discussion of Church and State, as many have often said, nor a general principle for all times for all situations. It is again tone deaf not to recognize this. Which leads to this:

Speaking of foreign contexts for Jews — think Babylon, think Jeremiah — there is a long Jewish tradition of cooperation with pagan governments and economies to the point of consistency with worship of the one true God and obedience to that God. In other words, accommodation but not capitulation. When capitulation was demanded martyrdom, resistance, even rebellion were the responses. Hence, when pagan governments demanded breaking Torah Jews did not say “Submit” but “Resist.” So, this idea of submission has limits and the limits were moral and theological and worship.

Come to think of it, if Jesus followed the Trump’s administration’s use of Romans 13, Jesus would have to be silenced in his excoriating words directed at the scribes and Pharisees and that fox Herod.

Which leads to this point: this last point is all we need to give a contextual response to the Trump administration’s foolish citation of Scripture. What the administration is asking here is contrary to everything the Bible teaches about family: we do not separate parents from children, we do not do such a thing as Christians, and thus the appeal to Romans 13 on this occasion is morally reprehensible, hermeneutically irresponsible, and an opportunity for Christian resistance.

June 6, 2018

One of my favorite study topics was a reading of the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to answer a simple question: Was Bonhoeffer a pacifist? You may know he did not like that kind of question or the “principle” type answer, but instead sought how to be a follower of Christ in a specific situation. Recently Greg Boyd wrote up a massive study called The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and a one-volume shortened version called Cross Vision. Bonhoeffer’s thought is undefined while Boyd’s is thoroughly defined, both criticized for the opposite reasons!

Eric Seibert, in his new book, Disarming the Church, takes up the same big topic — violence and the church and the Christian and Jesus — and offers a pastoral theology of non violence with responses to claims for violence in the church. This is an important new study and worthy of serious reflection and discussion. The problem is that many don’t think this is even a problem.

Is this even a question in your church? If so, which demographic is asking this question? Is this topic do-able in your church? 

So why write such a book? Here are his biggest ideas:

I wrote Disarming the Church because I am troubled by how much violence Christians condone—and sometimes participate in—and by how much violence the church sanctions and sometimes actively supports. I do not believe this is what God intended. God does not want people to be victims of violence—and certainly not at the hands of those who claim to be following God! In fact, one of the central claims I will make, and one I believe is borne out by a careful reading of the Gospels, is that Jesus lived nonviolently and taught his followers to do the same. Condoning or participating in violence, even for the most noble reasons, runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, I have written to encourage Christians to reject all forms of violence as they strive to follow Jesus.

A big issue in intellectual studies about violence is defining violence:

Violence is physical, emotional, or psychological harm done to a person by an individual(s), institution, or structure that results in serious injury, oppression, or death.

And the same applies to non-violence: What is it? He offers a thoroughly Christian definition of non-violence.

To that end, I define Christian nonviolence as a way of life modeled after Jesus, one that completely rejects violence, actively confronts evil, and unconditionally loves others by practicing gracious hospitality, radical forgiveness, and deep compassion. Put simply, nonviolence is love in action.

Seibert then exploes a number of major themes before he gets to Jesus. For instance, six ways the church participates in violence has he has defined it:

Where do you see violence today in the church?

Violence and the Church Today

1. Participating in Warfare and Condoning Torture
2. Using Violence for Self-Defense
3. Mistreating Jews and Muslims
4. Hating Atheists
5. Expressing Hostility toward Members of the LGBTQ community
6. Committing Domestic Violence

For those of us who consider ourselves pacifistic or pacifists, an irritant is the seeming insensitivity of so many Christians to violence. Why? He offers eight reasons why Christians condone violence:

How about you, how do folks defend violence in your circles?

Why Do Christians Condone So Much Violence?

1. We Believe Violence Stops Evil and Saves Lives
2. We Have Been Desensitized to the Horror of Violence
3. We Are Unaware of Viable Alternatives to Violence
4. We Do Not Believe Nonviolence Will Work in Certain Situations
5. We Misapply Sacred Texts that Sanction Violence 6. We Rarely Hear the Church Calling Us to Love Enemies and Li
ve Nonviolently
7. We Receive Mixed Messages about Violence from the Church  8. We Confuse the Demands of the State with the Will of God.

One of the big and quite pragmatic questions is if violence does any good. Seibert says No. Here are his six impacts of violence:

Can Violence Ever Be Good?

1. Violence Breeds More Violence (Violences Dirty Little Secret)
2. Violence Escalates Dangerous Situations (Violence Makes Things Worse, Not Better)

3. Violence Harms Countless People (The Dark Side of Violence)
4. Violence Wounds Those Who Use It (The Corrosive Nature of Violence)
5. Violence is Unnatural (We Were Not Created to Kill)
6. Violence is Extremely Costly (We Cant Afford to Do Violence)

May 19, 2018

As we come to the completion of the Spring Term at Northern we also come to the end of the school year with meetings and events and completions and readings of DMin projects (I have fifteen, count ’em, graduates in our DMin in NT Context program graduating!), and add to that a wonderful time on Northern’s campus with Bishop Todd Hunter and the Telos Collective … lots of stimulating conversations.

Thanks to JS for so many links this week.

Peter Wehner:

Mr. Patterson’s comments are hardly the worst of it. Bill Hybels, the founder and senior pastor of one of the most influential churches in America, Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, recently resigned after charges of improper conduct and abuse of power that he denies. The pastor Andy Savage recently resigned from his megachurch in Memphis after it was revealed that he had sexually assaulted a high school student years earlier. Les Hughey, the founder and pastor of another megachurch in Scottsdale, Ariz., resigned after several women accused him of sexual misconduct when he was a youth pastor in California decades earlier (conduct that Mr. Hughey claims was consensual). And the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a story in March by its editor in chief urging an independent investigation into Sovereign Grace Churches over allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups that the network denies.

Complicating matters has been the rock-solid support of white evangelicals for President Trump, a man who has been accused by nearly 20 women of sexual misconduct and has a long history of misogynistic attacks; and for the losing Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, who was accused of varying degrees of sexual misconduct by nine women, including one who was 14 years old when the alleged incident occurred. Watching all this unfold has been painful for many of us who have identified with the Republican Party and the evangelical movement for much of our lives.

However we feel about these developments, it is clear that large segments of evangelical Christianity have a serious problem related to women. It’s disturbing, in part because this is contrary to the early history of Christianity, which did so much to elevate and dignify the role of women in the ancient world.

Part two, Matthew Bates.

Question 3:

If the content of the “gospel” (euangelion) is Jesus’s story and “faith”(pistis) is best considered allegiance when speaking about what is necessary for salvation, then how does “justification by faith” fit?

The dikaio- word family in Greek stands behind English translations involving justification and righteousness. Dikaiosynē in Greek means “righteousness,” the quality of being legally just or innocent. Meanwhile the verb dikaioō (“to justify”) means somehow to cause that righteousness. Yet in English we must use an extra verb such as “to declare” or “to cause” to explain the verbal action connected to righteousness.

The “by” in justification by pistis (“faith”) describes the means or the agency by which justification is brought about. It involves both Jesus’s allegiance and our own allegiance. How so?

Jesus as the righteous one showed pistis (allegiance) to God the Father by dying on the cross. He did this so that we might then show pistis (allegiance) to Jesus as the king. This is why Paul says in Rom 1:17 that the righteousness of God is revealed ek pisteōs eis pistin (best translated as “by allegiance for allegiance”). When Paul says the righteousness of God is revealed ek pisteōs eis pistin he is saying that it is revealed first of all “by allegiance”—that is, by Jesus’s allegiance to God the Father in living an obedient life even unto death. Second, the “for allegiance” means for the sake of bringing about our allegiance to Jesus the king as we are united to him.

In this manner, Paul’s citation of Hab 2:4 in Rom 1:17 intends both Jesus and humanity in general: “the righteous [one] will live by pistis.” Jesus was the ultimate righteous one. He gave trusting allegiance to God, and he was raised, so he lives. The same is true for us when we are united to Jesus the king and follow the same pattern. We live because allegiance unites us to his resurrection power now and beyond the grave. It is just as Paul indicates, for both Jesus the king and for us in him, “The righteous one will live by allegiance.”

The gospel proper includes Jesus death for sins and his justification, as his resurrection is proof of his innocence. The resurrection proves God declared Jesus “not guilty.” Our own justification is not part of the gospel itself, but rather the effectof the gospel. We are united to Jesus the righteous one by publically declaring allegiance to him as the Messiah-King. Our own justification depends upon on-going union with Jesus the king. This allegiance (pistis) need not be perfect, for Jesus is the forgiving king, but it must be relationally embodied and externalized—for this is what pistis means.

Although it is imperative that the church never neglect the truth of justification by faith, it remains the most surprising false gospel of all. The gospel is not justification by faith. The gospel declares how Jesus became the atoning king. Allegiance to Jesus as the forgiving king is the only saving response to the gospel, and the premier occasion to express it is baptism. For allegiance alone unites us to Jesus the righteous king so that we are justified in him.

Sarah Thebarge, Smile!

Somehow my cancer treatments affected my ability to fall — and stay — asleep.  So I haven’t slept through the night in more than a decade.

I’ve tried everything — Ambien, Valerian root tea, melatonin, meditation — but nothing has helped.   So I’ve just lived with it.  Lived with anxiety at bedtime, wondering how much sleep I’ll be able to get before it’s time to get up in the morning.  Lived with fatigue that caffeine barely lifts.  Lived with giving myself pep talks when I get out of bed after having lay awake most of the night.

A few months ago, my insurance forced me to switch to a new oncologist.  I filled out a symptom survey at my first appointment.  Fatigue?  Check.  Hot flashes?  Check.  Joint pain?  Check.  Insomnia?  Check.

My oncologist asked me about each symptom, including insomnia.  When I told him I haven’t slept through the night since my mastectomy 12 years ago, he asked if anyone had referred me to a sleep specialist.

No, I said.  And I was a little embarrassed because I’m a health care provider, and I feel like I should’ve thought of that, but it never occurred to me.

A few weeks ago, I had a consult with a sleep specialist at UCSF who referred me to a sub-specialist and ordered some tests to see what’s going on inside my brain that’s disrupting my ability to sleep like a normal person.  At the end of the visit, he pulled a blank piece of paper from his desk, wrote something down, and handed it to me.

“This is your assignment,” he said.

The assignment was a single word:  “SMILE.”

I was baffled.  Why is an internationally-respected specialist who practices at one of the top hospitals in the U.S. critiquing my facial expressions!?  I thought, slightly offended.

When he saw my raised eyebrows, he began to explain.

“When you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep, you get anxious, which releases adrenaline and cortisol, which make it even more difficult for you to sleep,” he said.  “So when you can’t sleep, instead of getting anxious and worried about the fatigue you’ll experience the next day, just smile.  It counteracts your stress response, and increases the likelihood of you falling asleep.” …

I also learned that most of us have the association backwards — we think happiness causes people to smile, but often it’s the opposite.  Smiling causes people to be happy.  Somehow changing our expression changes our mood and makes us more positive and hopeful.  It changes our biochemistry and our neurotransmitters.

AP:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One used to deal drugs on the streets of New Orleans. Another grew up in Chicago with two drug-addicted parents. A third survived the tough streets of New York and Washington, D.C., where he once stared down the barrel of a gun.

All three young black men became board-certified doctors.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Pierre Johnson, Maxime Madhere and Joe Semien Jr. said they knew the odds were stacked against them when they entered Xavier University of Louisiana in 1998 with hopes of becoming doctors. Black men make up a small percentage of doctors in America, and they knew getting through college and medical school wouldn’t be easy.

Their early lives, college struggles, and victories are chronicled in “Pulse of Perseverance: Three Black Doctors on Their Journey to Success.” They said they wrote the book to show African-American boys that athletes and entertainers aren’t the only examples of black achievement and success.

Madhere, an anesthesiologist in Baton Rouge, said they’re fortunate and have a responsibility to share their experiences with the next generation.

“Young boys need to know it’s not a game in these streets. They need to know that we are completely marginalized as people of color when we mess up. They also need to know you don’t have to rap or shoot a ball to get out of their circumstances,” said Madhere.

Semien, Johnson and Madhere each set a goal early on to become a doctor. Semien, an obstetrician/gynecologist from New Orleans who practices in Lake Charles, describes in the book how he became intrigued by a sixth-grade anatomy class. Madhere discovered his love for medicine after volunteering at a hospital. Johnson said he “just knew” he wanted to heal people after dealing with his parents.

Getting there, however, wasn’t easy.

Dan Rabb:

BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (RNS) — Smiling as he sings, Pastor Danny Awad faces his flock with eyes closed and palms turned skyward. The 30 or so worshippers scattered across two narrow rows of benches clap or sing along as the synthetic drone of an electric keyboard hums out a song of praise.

“Hallelujah!”Awad says, still smiling, as the song comes to an end. He rests his hands on the lectern, looking comfortable in front of the wooden cross that stretches floor-to-ceiling on the wall behind him. He motions for the others to be seated and prepares to deliver his sermon.

At first glance, this airy little church, modestly decorated with artificial flowers and faded posters of New Testament verses, could be any evangelical gathering from Topeka to Texas. Sunday morning hymns spill out its open windows into the small pasture outside. One detail sets this small community of believers apart, however, and has made it something of an apostate within the global evangelical community: the Palestinian flag that hangs prominently from the pulpit.

This is not the heartland, but the Holy Land. The Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church, led by Awad, sits off the main road in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. It’s an evangelical church that is proudly, defiantly Palestinian.

In the context of the Middle East, where “evangelical” has become political shorthand for conservative Western Christians with a distinctly pro-Israel orientation, the idea of a Palestinian evangelical can seem like a contradiction in terms.

Time and again, the Baraka Church has found itself caught in the conflict inherent in that moniker. The congregation broke off from its parent organization, the Bible Presbyterian Church, after a dispute over what Awad and others saw as the American church’s pro-Israel leanings.

Only Hauerwas:

No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.”

Perhaps the only surer way to enrage an American Christian than threatening to take the Bible out of his hands is threatening to take away his gun (no doubt, Hauerwas would bid both farewell gladly). Hauerwas wants to remove bibles from the pews because he is worried that individualism—the conceit of self-sufficiency—has thoroughly corrupted American Christians’ ability to interpret Scripture.

Lost in the smoke, American Christians “feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read.” This despite centuries, if not millennia, of church teaching that a rule of faith is necessary to preserve orthodox theology. In the end, it was not so much a commitment to Scripture that separated out the world-hating gnostics from those who worshipped God enfleshed, nor raw assent to scriptural authority that separated out the Arians from the Trinitarians. All sides used the Bible to make their arguments. In the end, it was the rule of faith, the pattern handed down across time by the apostles, that enabled Christians to interpret Scripture rightly.

By taking the Bible out of the hands of Christians, Hauerwas hopes to remind them that the Bible can only be read well when it is handed down. Interpretation, where it is faithful, always occurs within a tradition. As G. K. Chesterton would remind us, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead” (Orthodoxy). Hauerwas has no patience for individualism, for it denies the necessity of thinking with those who merely happen to be dead. But even more crucially than Chesterton’s point, individualism forgets that we are indebted to the dead, those whom the tradition gives voice, for collecting, preserving and passing the Bible, as well as its proper interpretation, along to us. We inherit a set canon from those who came before. Without the tradition, we would not have a Bible.

“I do not want students to think for themselves[.] I want them to think like me.”

At the beginning of a course, Hauerwas never fails to tell the classroom, with grinning candor, that his goal is not to make them independent thinkers but instead little Hauerwasians. His point, beyond quite literally desiring to make a peaceable army of minions, is this: we never think for ourselves; we learn to think by submitting ourselves to instruction by others. As John Maynard Keynes warned any would-be freethinkers, “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Individualism pretends as if humans were actually capable of independence, forgetting that we owe our life and our ability to think to others. Insofar as individualism is a refusal to submit to the authority and critiques of others, individualism is a refusal to think.

Together, individualism and liberalism eat away at the conditions and virtues necessary for community, leaving Americans incredibly lonely and without any story by which to make sense of their sad condition. As Jesus warns, when an unclean spirit is driven out of a man, “it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself … And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26). So it is when liberalism drives out religious narratives from our self-understanding. Just as Legion is the name of the myriad demons Jesus drives out in Mark 5, Nationalism is the name of the many demons that have taken residence in American churches.

Elissa Nadworny:

A teenage brain is a fascinating, still-changing place. There’s a lot going on: social awareness, risk-taking, peer pressure; all are heightened during this period.

Until relatively recently, it was thought that the brain was only actively developing during childhood, but in the last two decades, researchers have confirmed that the brain continues to develop during adolescence — a period of time that can stretch from the middle school years into early adulthood.

“We were always under the assumption that the brain doesn’t change very much after childhood,” explains Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London.

But that’s simply not the case, she says, and educators — and teens themselves — can learn a lot from this.

Blakemore has a new book, Inventing Ourselves, The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain — where she dives into the research and the science — and offers insights into how young adults are thinking, problem-solving and learning. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Cleveland Clinic and CVS:

The eyes have it — strain, that is. As our enthusiasm for using computers, tablets and smartphones grows, our eyes are paying the price.

Upwards of 90 percent of computer and device users experience a problem so common there’s a name for it: computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS comes with symptoms such as decreased or blurred vision, burning or stinging eyes, sensitivity to light, headaches, and back and neck pain.

If these symptoms affect you, use these tips from ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, to ease the strain and avoid the pain.

1. Adjust your viewing angle

The angle of your gaze plays a key role in CVS. For the best angle, the center of the monitor, tablet or phone should be 20 to 28 inches from your eyes and 4 to 5 inches below eye level. If you’re looking back and forth between a screen and reference materials, keep those materials where you can see them with minimal head movement.

2. Reduce glare

Letters on a screen are not as clear as letters on a printed page. Too little contrast between letters and background or glare on the screen makes your eyes work harder. The result: sensitivity to light. Position your screen to avoid glare from overhead lights or windows. Close the blinds on your windows or switch to lower-watt bulbs in your desk lamp. If you cannot change the lighting to minimize glare, buy a glare filter for your screen.

3. Rest your eyes

When using a computer or device for an extended period of time, take regular breaks to prevent eyestrain. Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer and look at a distant object for 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a chance to refocus. After two hours of continual computer use, rest your eyes for 15 minutes.

4. Blink often

People normally blink about 18 times a minute, but computer users tend to blink only one-fourth as often. This increases the chance of developing dry eye. To reduce this risk, remind yourself to blink more often. And refresh your eyes periodically with lubricating eye drops.

5. Get your eyes checked

Uncorrected vision problems — farsightedness or astigmatism, problems focusing or coordinating the eyes and eye changes associated with aging — can contribute to eyestrain and musculoskeletal pain.

Even if you don’t need glasses or contacts for daily activities, you may need them for computer or device use. If you do wear glasses or contacts and need to tilt your head or lean toward the screen to see it clearly, your lens prescription may need to be adjusted. Get an eye checkup to make sure your prescription is right. Doing so can help prevent pain in the neck, shoulders or back that results from contorting your body to see the screen.

May 5, 2018

Another busy week, but this one — somebody’s gotta do it — in Malibu at Pepperdine University for their well-attended Bible lectures. Now called Harbor. I call it Malibu. I’m so grateful for Mike Cope’s leadership and for all the friends I’ve made in the Churches of Christ including especially Randy and Lorree Johns.

Libertyville’s Finest, Dale Eggert:

Dale Eggert (Libertyville High School, ’74) is a lifelong Libertyville resident known not only for his outstanding wrestling achievements while at Libertyville High School, in college and post-college, but also for his longtime dedication to LHS and his impact as a coach for Wildcat wrestling.

Eggert began wrestling as a freshman at LHS and was a two-time state qualifier. He placed second in state as a senior in 1974. Eggert was named the school’s Outstanding Senior Athlete while competing in football, wrestling and baseball, being named to the All-Conference baseball team twice as a third baseman.

Eggert was active in Greco-Roman and freestyle outside of the high school season, placing in three Junior State Greco-Roman Tournaments and two Junior State Freestyle Tournaments. He earned Greco-Roman all-American honors in 1974 by placing third in the junior nationals.

He continued his wrestling career at Southern Illinois University — Carbondale and was named the team’s Most Valuable Wrestler his senior year in 1978. He graduated with a degree in health education and returned to LHS as a teacher and coach, serving as an assistant wrestling coach for nine years. In 1987 he was named the IWCOA Assistant Coach of the Year. He began his head coaching tenure at Libertyville High School in 1988.

He taught health education, driver education, and physical education at LHS for 33 years and, in 2007, was named the LHS Teacher of the Year.

In the 2017-18 school year, coach Eggert began his 40th year coaching in the LHS wrestling program and his 31st year as the head coach.

Great for Jasmine!

GREENSBORO, N.C.— A Greensboro teen’s hard work paid off in a big way. Jasmine Harrison, 17, was accepted to 113 colleges and universities and awarded more than $4.5 million in merit-based scholarships.

Harrison will graduate from The Academy at Smith on May 24th with an expected 4.0 GPA.

With help from her school’s faculty and her mother, she was able to apply to all those schools for just $135.

Harrison was awarded full rides to three schools: Ed Waters College in Jacksonville, FL, Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, MS, and Bennett College in Greensboro, NC.

All three are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In fact, she was able to apply to 53 HBCUs with just one Common Black College Application and got into 26 that way.

“When I got the first couple in the mail, I was like, ‘Okay, this is really happening.’ I didn’t really think I’d be able to do that,” Harrison said.

Harrison also took advantage of the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) College Application Week, where she was apple to apply to a number of North Carolina schools for free.

Then on top of that, the Common Application allowed her to apply to 20 more at once.

Harrison spent hours pouring over each entry making sure it was perfect and called on her faith when she wanted to quit.

I always read Kara Powell, always:

Churches that are “growing young” instead of growing old are the ones that look after parents, according to a Fuller Theological Seminary professor who specializes in family ministry.

Kara Powell, who also serves as executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, told those gathered at the Orange Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday that churches thrive when they make an extra effort to help parents.

Powell explained that she and other researchers at the Fuller Youth Institute examined the traits of churches in the United States that were neither declining in numbers nor seeing a graying of their congregation.

“We looked for hundreds of churches around the country that aren’t getting older and getting smaller, instead they’re growing and their engaging young people or they are what we call churches that are ‘growing young,'” said Powell.

“And one of our early surprises in our four years of research was how important it was for parents to be prioritized in these churches. That’s one of the things that set these churches apart from a typical church that was aging and/or shrinking.”

“When these churches gave a disproportionate amount of energy and emphasis and empathy to parents, the church thrived. The church flourished.”

Powell called on attendees to make sure that their congregations make sure that they are not simply asking parents to help the church, but that the church is helping parents.

Mike McRae:

Beyond the Biblical legend of David versus Goliath, historical records concerning a far reaching Israelite kingdom in the 10th century BCE have left plenty of room for debate.

A new archaeological study has found evidence supporting the belief that a monarchy just might have united the lands during this important period, while also serving as a reminder of how biases in archaeology can change how we view the past.

Archaeologists Avraham Faust and Yair Sapir from Bar Ilan University in Israel recently published their radiocarbon dating findings on a dig site at Tel ‘Eton that pushed the date of the site’s establishment to between the 11th and 10th century BCE.

Previous estimates on an elite building known as the governor’s residency had it being built centuries later, only to be destroyed by the end of the 8th century by an Assyrian invasion.

Not only does the evidence suggest an Israeli governor was ruling in a Judean town at a crucial period, it serves as a reminder of the challenges archaeologists face in accurately dating ancient sites.

Are you cutting the cord?

By DAVID Z. MORRIS

April 29, 2018

“Cord cutting” has been a kind of ghost story for cable providers for much of the past decade—a tale that, while foreboding, didn’t seem entirely real. But consumers are abandoning traditional cable for streaming services faster than ever, turning what had been an ominous prediction into a clear and present danger.

Three major pay-TV providers last week reported dramatic declines in subscribers to traditional cable and satellite television packages. Some of the losses were more than double what Wall Street analysts expected, and stocks in major TV providers have fallen off a cliff. Those dismal results followed reports of huge subscriber growth at streaming services like Netflix, leaving would-be defenders of legacy TV with nowhere to stand.

The numbers tell the story in no uncertain terms. Charter Communications, which offers cable service under the Spectrum brand, announced on Friday that it lost 122,000 TV customers in the first quarter of 2018. That massively exceeded Wall Street projections, which the Wall Street Journal said averaged about 40,000 lost subscribersahead of the earnings report. Charter’s stock dropped as much as 15% Friday.

That collapse followed similarly grim reports from other legacy providers. Comcastannounced Wednesday that it had lost 96,000 customers for the quarter, its fourth straight quarter of subscriber losses, and slightly worse than analyst projections. AT&T’s DirecTV satellite service lost 188,000 customers in the same period, driving down video revenue by $660 million despite growth of its own online streaming service. AT&T stock tanked as much as 7% the day after its report. Comcast notched healthy earnings from its increasingly diverse business, but even it couldn’t fight the headwinds, with its stock draining more than 7% by the end of the week.

The reports continue a strong trend away from traditional cable services—total cable subscriber numbers declined 3.4% over the course of 2017, a faster decline than in 2015 and 2016. The fact that the latest numbers so dramatically underperformed even grim Wall Street expectations suggests the dropoff is continuing to accelerate.

At the same time, streaming services, also known as “over the top” or OTT services, are showing gains that are even more dramatic. Netflix, the 800-pound gorilla in the sector, reported earlier this month that it had added a net 1.96 million subscribers in the first quarter. Perhaps even more worrisome for cable providers are services like HBO Now, which deliver what had been exclusive cable content directly to subscribers, and whose growth is also accelerating.

USA Today:

Young people are far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and in poor health, a surprising survey of 20,000 Americans released Tuesday shows.

The overall national loneliness score was alarmingly high at 44 on a 20-to-80 scale, but the prevalence of social isolation among those ages 18 to 22 raises even more concern. The younger people, part of Generation Z, had loneliness scores of about 48 compared with nearly 39 for those 72 and older.

The study was sponsored by the global insurer and health services company Cigna, which is concerned about loneliness as a societal problem but also because it’s not just making us sad: It can literally make us sick.

Loneliness actually has the same effect  on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which makes it even more dangerous than obesity, says Cigna, citing a 2010 report. And while the new findings don’t draw any direct links to increased rates of suicide among teens or the opioid epidemic, Cigna CEO David Cordani says it’s clear addressing loneliness will help solve other problems.

“If their sense of health and well-being is more positive, then less destructive activities transpire,” Cordani says.

The market research firm Ipsos posed questions online between Feb. 21 to March 6 to more than 20,000 people 18 and older in the U.S. The questions were based on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale and used to create the Cigna Loneliness Index.

Claude Mariottini’s retirement, and I miss Claude every day I’m on campus:

As many of you know, I officially retired from Northern Baptist Seminary at the end of June 2018. I taught at Northern Seminary for 28 years. During my tenure at the seminary, I worked with a group of dedicated Christians who love the Lord and are committed to prepare leaders for the church.

The members of the faculty of Northern Seminary are a special group of people. They are scholars, educators, and ministers of Christ who care for their students and make a profound impact in the life of the church through their writings, conferences, preaching, teaching, and mentoring of pastors and students. Any person who chooses to attend Northern Seminary will be blessed by learning and growing with these amazing scholars.

As I transition into retirement, I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Bill Shiell, Northern’s president, and the faculty of the seminary for honoring my years of service to the seminary by appointing me Professor Emeritus. This is a great honor that has been given to me and I will be eternally grateful. This honor will also allow me to continue my relationship with Northern Seminary for years to come.

I want to express a special word of gratitude to my friend and colleague Scot McKnight for announcing at my retirement program that he was dedicating his commentary on Colossians to me. In his dedication, Scot wrote: “To my friend and colleague Claude Mariottini, who reminds me of what Paul said of Epaphras: Ἐπαφρᾶς ὁ ἐξ ὑμῶν, δοῦλος χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ], πάντοτε ἀγωνιζόμενος ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς προσευχαῖς, ἵνα στῆτε τέλειοι καὶ πεπληρωμένοι ἐν παντὶ θελήματι τοῦ θεοῦ.” [Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God.]

Scot also wrote: “The commentary is dedicated to my friend and colleague Claude Mariottini upon his retirement after a full career of teaching Old Testament at Northern Seminary. Claude is not just a good friend and wise counselor but a careful scholar, sensitive to theology and church life, and one whose door is always open for conversation. To him and his good wife Donna, Northern will be eternally grateful, but I will sorely miss his kind presence in my life.”

I was greatly touched by Scott’s words and generosity. Scot and I used to sit either in his office or mine and talk about theological issues related to our fields of study. I reviewed his commentary on Philemon in a previous post and soon will review his commentary on Colossians. I have learned much from Scot. His concern for pastors and seminary students is evident to anyone who reads these two commentaries.

I also need to mention the people who work at the seminary. The whole staff are there to serve the students. The staff of Northern Seminary are women and men who are involved in ministry, who serve in their local congregations, and who understand the needs of seminary students. My work at Northern was very satisfying because of their hard work and their willingness to help the faculty in their work. Northern’s staff make the work of the faculty much easier.

One thing that my retirement has affected is the work on my blog. It has been months since I last posted to the blog. During this time I have received dozens of emails from people who are encouraging me to post again. I have also talked to former students who miss reading my posts.

Because my blog has helped so many people, I have decided to post again. I will try to post as often as I can. Since I retired, Donna and I have been traveling, visiting family and friends, and will continue to do so in the coming months. I will try to be regular in writing posts, even though I will probably not be able to post every day.

Since my blog has been dormant for months, I have also been behind in responding to your comments. I am grateful for your comments and I will begin responding to the many comments waiting a response.

Later this week I will begin a series of studies on the golden calf. The narrative of Exodus 32-34 is very familiar to people who read the Bible regularly. However, there are some important issues that need to be emphasized as we study these three great chapters in Exodus. I hope you will enjoy these studies.

Finally, I want to thank you, the reader of my blog, for your support over the years. I hope that you and I will continue our adventure together as we study and learn more about the Old Testament.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Bibliography:

Scot McKnight, The Letter to the Colossians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2018.

April 14, 2018

The baseball season is now up and running, the weather in Chicago has not been friendly to baseball, but the probabilities are that it will warm up and we’ll get some good weather. Probabilities is all I’ve got on this one.

During this Easter season we await Pentecost.

Worst idea yet:

A Pennsylvania school district incorporated a low-tech method of protecting teachers and students from attackers.

Millcreek Township School District in northwest Pennsylvania handed each of its teachers a 16-inch baseball bat Monday as a means to protect them and others, reports Erie Times-News. In March, Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County dished details of its safety plan, which includes equipping each classroom with a five-gallon bucket of rocks to “stone” a school shooter.

In the case of Millcreek, the bats are more “symbolic” but are free to be used to “fight,” district Superintendent William Hall told the Times-News and Erie News Now.

“It is the last resort,” Hall told Erie News Now. “But, it is an option and something we want people to be aware of.”

The teachers received their bats after a training on how to respond to school shootings, Erie News Now reported. The district ordered about 600 bats at a cost of about $1,800. They’ll be put in areas throughout the school, notes the Times-News.

“It’s to make people comfortable with the idea that they can attack and not simply go into hard lockdown and just hide, as we’d been told in our training up to this point,” said Jon Cacchione, president of the teachers union Millcreek Education Association, to the Times-News.

Maybe this is the worst idea, but it’s proven and proven and proven wrong. [HT: JS]

Great idea, just not timed well:

An Illinois fourth-grade student skipped school earlier this week to attend the Chicago Cubs’ home opener, arriving at Wrigley Field with a sign that read: “Skipping school… Shh! Don’t tell Principal Versluis.”

Then the student, Tucker Steckman, ran into the principal at the game.

“I saw him and I was kind of ducking down,” Wells Elementary School principal Pat Versluis told The Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “I didn’t want him to see me either.”

Versluis told the newspaper that he called in sick Tuesday to attend the Cubs game with his son, a fifth-grader named Aiden. Steckman’s parents told the school that Steckman was sick so they could all attend the game, which Chicago lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-5.

Versluis told The Chicago Sun-Times that Steckman’s absence wouldn’t be held against him.

“Doesn’t bother me. He’s a great kid. He was student leader of the year,” Versluis said. “(And) I thought the sign was hilarious.”

Yes, the death of expertise is common today:

By definition, an expert is someone whose learning and experience lets them understand a subject deeper than you or I do (assuming we’re not an expert in that subject, too). The weird thing about having to write this essay at all is this: Who would have a problem with that? Doesn’t everyone want their brain surgery done by an expert surgeon rather than the guy who fixes their brakes? On the other hand, doesn’t everyone want their brakes fixed by an expert auto mechanic rather than a brain surgeon who has never fixed a flat? …

How did we reach this remarkable state of affairs? The answer to that question can be found in a new book by Tom Nichols titled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Nichols is a politically conservative professor of international relations at the U.S. War College. (He’s also a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion, so you don’t wanna mess with him.)

First, it’s important to note, Nichols is not arguing for a slavish adherence to anything that comes out of an expert’s mouth. In a wonderful essay that preceded the book, he tells us: “It’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us.” Later he adds:

“Personally, I don’t think technocrats and intellectuals should rule the world: we had quite enough of that in the late 20th century, thank you, and it should be clear now that intellectualism makes for lousy policy without some sort of political common sense. Indeed, in an ideal world, experts are the servants, not the masters, of a democracy.”

But Nichols is profoundly troubled by the willful “know-nothing-ism” he sees around him. Its principle cause, he argues, are the new mechanisms that shape our discussions (i.e. the Internet and social media). He writes:

“There was once a time when participation in public debate, even in the pages of the local newspaper, required submission of a letter or an article, and that submission had to be written intelligently, pass editorial review, and stand with the author’s name attached… Now, anyone can bum rush the comments section of any major publication. Sometimes, that results in a free-for-all that spurs better thinking. Most of the time, however, it means that anyone can post anything they want, under any anonymous cover, and never have to defend their views or get called out for being wrong.”

Nichols also points to excesses of partisanship in politics, the weakening of expectations in schools and, finally, to human nature. The last cause, he says, is particularly troubling. As he puts it:

“Its called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.”

Part of the problem, says Nichols, is that while the democratization of knowledge is great, it’s threatened by the strange insistence that every opinion has equal weight. That’s an idea, he rightly says, that has nothing to do with democracy:

“Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge. It assuredly does not mean that ‘everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.’ And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.”

Nichols’ perspective is an essential one if we are to begin digging ourselves out of the hole we find ourselves in. In a complex, technological world, most of us are experts at something. More importantly, being a true expert means having a healthy dose of humility. If you have really studied something and really gone deep into how it works, then you should come away knowing how much you don’t know. In a sense, that is the real definition of an expert — knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge. [HT: JS]

John Perkins on unity:

John M. Perkins, a leading evangelical voice on racial reconciliation, thinks that 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the church is not focusing enough on unity.

“It scares me. We’re not talking about togetherness,” Perkins said. “That doesn’t improve the issue.”

Perkins, a minister who fought for civil rights in Mississippi, is hopeful for the future. But he believes that for reconciliation to happen, people must first affirm the dignity of all human beings and then move forward together.

“I believe that’s the gospel,” Perkins said. “God created man to reflect his image in the world and his likeness and then he said, ‘Don’t make no other god before me.’ What we’re doing is making ourselves god before God and each other.”

Perkins, 87, was in Nashville on Friday sharing that message, which is included in his new book, “One Blood.” The roughly 200-page work, co-written by Karen Waddles, is billed as Perkins’ parting words to the church on race. …

Perkins spoke in Memphis earlier this week at MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop, an evangelical conference that tackled racial unity as a gospel issue. The conference coincided with the anniversary of King’s assassination, which happened April 4, 1968, in Memphis.

From the conference stage, Perkins shared his message of unity alongside Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The two men — one black and one white, but both from Mississippi — covered a wide variety of topics, from Perkins’ life story to how Christians engage in politics today.

“We’re supposed to be witnessing to the political system instead of thinking ways this political system can help us out of it. We have mixed up political reconciliation with spiritual reconciliation,” said Perkins, in a video of their joint presentation. “We’re confused.” [HT: KKNM]

Does education work? Well…

One idea on which everyone can agree, in other words, is that schools shape society. The reason so many of us spend so much energy on school reform is precisely because we think it matters. For some conservatives in the twentieth century, teaching kids evolution was dangerous because it threatened to take away their moral and religious compass. For others, teaching kids about sex was a bad idea because it tended to unhinge their self-control. And for yet others, teaching kids socialist ideas was obviously terrible because it would lead to the corruption of their morals and of the entire society.

Last night, the Hawaii students shared stories that helped puncture those school-reform assumptions. One student, for example, reported that he came to the realization that he was conservative in high school. He was guided to that realization by his favorite teacher. At first, I assumed that the teacher was a conservative, too, and inspired the student by reading Hayek and Burke and smoking a pipe. In fact, the student told us, his favorite teacher was a heart-on-her-sleeve liberal. She taught social studies in a progressive way, one that hoped to help students examine their own ideas and decide questions for themselves. In the student’s case, that meant he came to the realization that his ideas were apparently “conservative.” The left-y teacher, in other words, didn’t indoctrinate this student into leftism, but precisely the opposite.

Another Hawaii student told a very different story. She only realized that she was a liberal when she was teaching Sunday school at her church. The goal was to help young people deepen their religious faith, but it had the opposite effect on her. Instead of becoming more religious, teaching Sunday school convinced this student that her church was full of hooey.

What’s the takeaway? Once we hear the stories, it seems pretty obvious. School doesn’t really work the way we sometimes think it will. No matter what our politics, we can’t control the future of our students by teaching them X or Y or by keeping them away from Z or A. Students are not predictable, programmable outputs. They have their own ideas and backgrounds and sometimes our best-laid plans at shaping America’s future will come out in ways we didn’t predict. [HT: JS]

Some education is evidently not working:

NEW YORK — More than one-fifth of millennials in the U.S. — 22 percent — haven’t heard of, or aren’t sure if they’ve heard of, the Holocaust, according to a study published Thursday, on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The study, which was commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and conducted by Schoen Consulting, also found that 11 percent of U.S. adults overall haven’t heard of the Holocaust or aren’t sure if they did.

Additionally, 41 percent of millennials believe two million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust, the study found. Six million Jews were killed in World War II by Nazi Germany and its accomplices.

Two-thirds of millennials could not identify in the survey what Auschwitz was.

“The survey found there are critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust,” said a news release on the findings.

A majority of American adults surveyed — 70 percent — agreed with a statement reading: “Fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust as much as they used to.” And 58 percent of Americans believe that something like the Holocaust could happen again, the survey found.

The study on Holocaust awareness and knowledge in the U.S. was conducted between February 23 and 27 and involved 1,350 interviews with American adults 18 and older.

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