Friday, December 31, 2010

Something interesting.....

I've noticed over the years that very often, the most enthusiastic customers of family-oriented ministries like Vision Forum are women--that the husbands in the family are just "along for the ride."  In this, it seems that.....ironically the end result of a ministry with the stated desire of reestablishing patriarchal families is often creating.....matriarchal families that feminists only dream of--except that the matriarchs think they're building up their patriarchs.  Somehow it seems that there really isn't much out there that really reaches the hearts of men in a meaningful way.

(if my readers have evidence to the contrary, that would be greatly appreciated)

Also, a political thought; if I listen to the left, the people are not competent to select their own medical insurance, educate their own children, provide for their own retirement, protect themselves, and a host of other things free people do routinely.  Somehow these same people, however, think that the most infantilized people are somehow qualified to vote--for people who will make choices regarding insurance, education, retirement, safety, and that same host of other things.

(reason # 4, 324, 897 that I am not a liberal)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

START treaty ratification imminent,

....and it raises some interesting questions.  First of all, why couldn't five Senators--all Republicans apparently--be bothered to attend the cloture vote?  It's not as if this treaty could set, or shut down, the stage to World War Three, after all.  Oh, wait; it will.

More interestingly, exactly what did President Obama do to get those ten votes?  Again, given the stakes of nuclear armaments, the persuasion had better be pretty good.  If it's simply pork barrel spending or something, we have some Senators we need to remove--perhaps 67 of them. 

Yes, 67.  A treaty this darned important deserves full consideration, and the fact that the President chose to use the lame duck session for it indicates that he's not going to give arguably the most important treaty the Senate considers that consideration.   He's more or less conceding that he got rolled by the Russians, and 67 Senators have hopefully signed their resignation papers with this vote.

Now this is interesting.....

Contrary to the guiding principle here, it apparently seems that older men are not grumpy, but actually are simply at a stage in life where they are less willing to tolerate known evils, and are willing to let the world know their displeasure.

Now, of course, as a contributor to the "Grumpy Old Men" blog, I find this utterly humiliating--well, no, not really.  Rather, it explains to me that I'm hardly alone in being more reluctant to go along with the majority when the majority is "full of pre-digested food" or confused about the difference between shoe polish and....

....and hey, it feels good, and dare I say it (contrary to all sound science, of course), a bit ....grumpy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ending the Minnesota Mystique.....

.....were the carolers we joined yesterday, half of whom went out in the 15 degree heat wave without even a hat (and who didn't stay outside too long as a result), and this columnist, who inexplicably argues that football ought to be played inside.  You might as well argue that baseball ought to be played at night and without ivy.

We're losing our touch, people.  :^)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I love a story with a happy ending!

Houston jewelry store owner shoots and kills three men who attempted to rob his store.    At Christmastime, isn't it good to hear about someone making our world a better place?  Pray that his stomach wound heals quickly!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Something in common; dress codes and Christian intellectuals

I saw two very interesting things this morning; first, Swiss bank UBS has apparently issued a dress code for its employees that goes to 42 pages, and second, a dear brother has issued a call for more Christians to be "public intellectuals." 

What do these have in common?  More or less, a lack of thinking; my take on Dr. Bradley's call to intellectualism is that I don't care whether it's the pastor, other elders, deacons, laymen, janitors, or the organist's poodle Fluffy, I'd like to see anyone in the church doing some serious, logical thinking.  In the same way, the reason that UBS's dress code runs to 42 pages is because either the people writing it, or the people reading it, are either unwilling or unable to think through the issues at hand.

To illustrate the point, here's my family's dress code that we've been trying to apply since 2005.  Just for fun, it can be summarized not in 42 pages, but rather about 42 words.

1.  Pants, skirts, blouses, and shirts come together at the waist or upper hip.

2.  Garments which give a view of large portions of the torso or thigh--whether by tightness or openness--are called "swimsuits" or "undergarments."

3.  Watch out for eye-drawing patterns.

It works equally well for men and women, and I'd suggest even UBS--though one might clarify suit & tie for men, and some equivalent for women.  Maybe 100 words are needed.

As well as some logic instruction in the church, starting of course with the organist's poodle Fluffy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OK, so exactly what is the Rapiscan good for?

This article, which (NB) contains an actual Rapiscan image of a woman, indicates that the Rapiscan machines currently being used by the TSA can easily be fooled by contoured places on the body, and that they are virtually useless against plastic explosives.

In other words, they won't detect a gun, knife, or detonator as long as it's covered under a well contoured region of plastic explosives.  It's not exactly clear to me exactly what advantage is conferred by replacing metal detectors with this technology, to be very blunt.  Maybe it's time we actually pay attention to what the Israelis are doing.

Or does that make too much sense?

Addendum: Gorfinkel gets it exactly right.

A touch about stewardship

I thought about my friend Jim's recent comments on stewardship this morning while I got dressed.  Why? 

Well, the Dockers I bought a few months ago are already developing a hole.  The seven year old wool slacks I put on after asking my dear sweet wife to patch the Dockers?  Just fine.  So what was cheaper--Dockers for $50, or the wool slacks for over $100?  I'm going with the wool, and they look a lot better, too.

Now of course, you could get something out of polyester for even less than cotton, but that said, when you buy polyester, well, you get polyester.  Ick.  OK, actually there are some decent things out there in polyester, but still, it's not natural fibers!  The good and the bad of polyester is exactly the same; it lasts just about forever.

Also, a hint for any southern readers who may periodically have a need for warmth in the winter; a windbreaker or rain jacket over a good sweater is just about as good as a light to medium weight winter coat.  I've used a heavy sweater and windbreaker for going around at about zero.  Add a hat and  a pair of cotton work gloves, and you're good to go--and apart from the hat, you've probably already got all of this.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's wrong with higher education today?

No, not the Columbia University professor who has gotten millions to rewrite hillbilly jokes as "Ivy League Professor" jokes, but rather the sad case of many who cannot get their Wayne State University degrees because....

.....apparently they cannot pass a test of basic algebra skills.  No, not college freshman algebra, but rather the level of mathematics typically taught in eighth or ninth grade.  Now the person profiled in the article may be entirely correct that she does not use algebra in daily life--though a decent financial adviser might be able to tell her exactly why she might want to to maximize her retirement and minimize her taxes. 

That said, we face the sad spectre that this woman apparently cannot get her act together enough to pass freshman algebra--and yet she would, if she could, possess a college degree.  In short, it proves that for too many, a college degree is merely a glorified vo-tech college certificate.

More "Real Italian Pizza" for young skulls full of mush

When I was a skinny young lad in the government's schools, one of our favorite activities was to see how many napkins full of grease one could get off the "Real Italian Pizza."  Generally, you could fill at least eight napkins with the oil that came out after cooking--yes, Gino, this version of "pizza" did qualify as an ethnic slur.

So imagine my "joy" to find out that President Obama has signed a bill expanding the school lunch program, bringing greater federal funding and control to the school lunch.  Yup, more "Real Italian Pizza" for young skulls full of mush, and young bellies and arteries filling so early with cholesterol.  When you want something done poorly and wrong, you can count on Washington, DC.

Weekend thoughts

Some things of interest over the weekend

Dr. Bauder's weekly missive (a must read for me) details how hyperfundamentalism doesn't just attack Christian growth.   Rather, by attaching extraBiblical teachings to the requirements for orthodoxy, it imperils the Gospel itself just as certainly as liberal theology does.

Also, while reading Genesis 34, I noted that while most see the episode of "Dinah and the Shechemites" as simply Jacob's sons administering a bit of vigilante justice, Hamor and Shechem noted in their speech to their fellow citizens that (1) Jacob and the Shechemites would become one people and (2) all that belonged to Jacob would then belong to their city.  In other words, the plan of Hamor and Shechem was the destruction of Israel as a unique people and the pillaging of their God-given resources.  It was already well underway, as Jacob had to tell his sons to get rid of their idols (35:1-2), and it would have been the end of God's promises to Abraham if it had succeeded.

As such, it seems that what really went on was that the rape of Dinah (a common act among the pagans of that time, remember Genesis 19 and Judges 19) became the "wake-up call" for Jacob and his sons to come back to God--and the means by which (through the anger of Simeon and Levi) God preserved His people.

Not a bad deal for all of us, really.

What's Missing Here?

Take a close look at this article about (in)Justice Stephen Breyer's claims that the Founding Fathers would have endorsed restrictions on firearm ownership.  What is missing?

Yup, actual quotes and evidence to demonstrate his point, which even if true would not excuse his asinine votes on the wrong side of the Heller and McDonald decisions.  For reference, if you want real quotes and information on what the Founding Fathers believed about firearms, go to Gun Owners of America or Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.  Suffice it to say that, just like his postions in Heller and McDonald, Injustice Breyer is quote wrong here.  The real position held by Madison and others was that certain rights ought to be so obvious that we ought not need to enshrine them in law.  Fortunately, the Founders realized that there might be silly people like Breyer in the future, so the Bill of Rights was included as a condition for ratification of the Constitution.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Problem solved!

Well, at least it could be.  Apparently, large numbers of British college students are rioting because the government had the unmitigated gall to suggest that they ought to be paying for a larger part of their college education, having tripled fees.

Call me entirely sympathetic; let's make sure the rioters never, ever pay any fees for university again.  (expel them, of course)

Music review: Psalms in Hebrew

Well, as one might have guessed, my family plunked down a few schekels to purchase this, and suffice it to say that each CD--musical as well as reading of the Psalms in Hebrew--has been in our family's CD player a few times.  The musical styles range from virtual klezmer (heavy on fiddle with someone different tonality than modern classical music) to ballads to...well, there are a couple that hearken back to the 1970s, and thus are not exactly our favorites. 

The good; musically, it's a lot more interesting and diverse than most other sources I've seen, even if the singers aren't exactly Sills and Pavarotti, and the violinist ain't exactly Haifetz. 

The unknown; how the Psalms originally sounded.  This work is good, and it is fun, and it communicates to head, heart, and feet per Psalms 149 and 150.  That said, the music generally does what the Geneva Psalter does; takes a few verses of a Psalm for the song, not the entire Psalm--as at least a cursory reading of Tehillim (Psalms) might indicate.

Maybe it's time to brush up on Hebrew and see where one can get by reading them for myself....overall, though, it's a "buy", in my opinion, for those who get tired of both CCM and traditional Christian music.  Get it with a few CDs of Bach, Handel, and other true greats.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Want to hamstring Islamic radicalism?

It might help if we made this kind of thing known to ordinary people in Saudi Arabia and Iran, at which point they might rightly tell the mullahs and their government enablers to pound sand.   I was actually told once that my step-father's uncle reported hosting Jordanian officials in a somewhat boozy party as well, so I'm aware of independent corroboration of this kind of thing.  Think also of what Rush Limbaugh reported on "booty call" with Saudi princes leaving the United States right after 9/11; more or less, the last thing that left their private plane was a group of young blondes in short shorts.   And then there are the stories of Sheherazade in "Arabian Nights..."

Evidently, Sharia is for the little people in these nations, and if we value our freedoms, we'll let the "little people" know about this hypocrisy.  For that matter, if we value our freedoms here, we'll let our "little people" know about the hypocrisy of our leaders, won't we?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What's at stake with theological "hobby horses"

About 15 years ago, I had the privilege of doing what my friend Jim does; leading a group of young singles in a Bible study, hoping to encourage them in the faith.  By God's grace, many of them did grow in Him, leaving promiscuity for marriage, growing in evangelism, and more.  Others.....not so good, sad to say. 

One interesting thing, though, is that I could count on two or three of the young men to get into a discussion of God's sovereignty vs. man's free will just about every time.  Neither had actually read Calvin or Arminius, of course, but that didn't stop them for throwing those names around for an hour or so each week.  It got to the point where I simply attempted to guide the rest of the group through Hebrews while the argument raged.

What was at stake here?  Well, arguably, the debaters missed out on...well, probably not the best discussion of Hebrews ever, but they were missing the fellowship, teaching, and application of Hebrews.  Now contemplate other hobby horses; hymns vs. contemporary music, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, KJV only, Landmarkism, "be there when the church doors are open," and so on.    What's at stake?

Well, every minute spent on a hobby horse--especially the non-Biblical ones like "KJV only"--is a minute not spent discussing genuine theological issues.  Every minute spent on the "Trail of Blood" or "hymns vs. contemporary music" is a minute not spent on what the Bible actually does say about stewardship, marriage, the church, and more.

The result, all too often, is divorced fifty-somethings with forty-something years in Christ and no retirement savings, or divorced seventy-somethings with sixty years in Christ asking the deacons for help paying the heating bill.  By going off to hobby horses instead of teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God, many do incredible damage to the Bride of Christ.

Getting, but missing, the point with Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee is the highly regarded, now former, chancellor of the Washington, DC government schools, and she's now making headlines by attempting to start a group that will tend to advocate for the interests of parents and children in the highly volatile mix.

While I commend her for realizing that politics is highly involved in government schooling, I don't think I'll join her group for a simple reason; politics does not need to be a big factor in education, and her successes in the District of Columbia were in significant portion due to DC's asinine infliction of draconian regulations on homeschoolers.  If you think pushing homeschoolers into the government schools wasn't on the minds of DC educrats and the city council when they did this, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Regarding politics in education, the experience of homeschoolers demonstrates that no one group can adequately advocate for the interests of all children and parents.  You will see advocates of classical liberal education (like my family), unschoolers, Charlotte Mason advocates, A Beka, Bob Jones, and a host of other groups in the mix.  The only real thing all of these groups have in common is a desire to be the ones to train their children for adulthood.  We don't even agree on phonics for reading and repetition for math, for goodness' sake!

So what's the solution?  Probably the simplest one is to simply roll back federal spending and state mandates for education, and while doing so, work to make it clear to parents and other interested parties that there is a heavy penalty for failing to educate your child adequately; your child will be living in your home until he is 40, and you'll need to subsidize their life until you die--either by direct payments or by the taxes you pay.

If you want to counter special interests and get their attention drawn to the concerns of parents and children, that's the way to do it, I think.

Book Review; Ussher's "Annals of the World"

Growing up, I learned about the work of Bishop James Ussher of Ireland mostly in a mocking way; he was "that fool" who counted the years in the Bible and came up with a creation date of 4004 BC.  Through high school and college, this was the narrative I received.

A few years ago, I was surprised to see the book available in new translation, and to learn that for decades, there had been no readily available version of it in English--and not too many places had a copy even in Latin.  Hence, the critique I received was mostly a "hatchet job," criticism by professors who had never read the work quoting what they'd learned from their professors who had never read the work get the idea.  If you didn't read Latin, you hadn't read the work, and my professors weren't trained in that language. 

Learning this, my family obtained a copy of the new translation, and I've been wading through it for a few months.  Far from being only a justification of a young earth, it's rather a summation of the history of the world (as Ussher knew it), drawing from the Scriptures and ancient historical works--Livy, Josephus, Cato, and so on.  With the limited resources available to him, Ussher's history is really a summation of the history of the Mediterranean and Middle East from "the beginning" to the early Christian era.

It is a very difficult work to read, even in translation, as Ussher does not attempt, as modern historians do, to form a "narrative" that guides the work.  Rather, Ussher divides history in to a series of thousands of events and sub-events described by the ancient historians, and he compares and contrasts the reports of one historian versus another.  The translator moreover makes occasional notes about where the Loeb editions of these works (which have the same manuscript issues any other ancient text will have) differ from those which Ussher used.

By concentrating on the big events, rather than forming a narrative (a theme that really only started in the late 19th century, more or less), one will learn quite a bit about the kings, caesars, imperators, and such, but you will not learn a whole lot about the lives of the common people.  The book discusses a bit of the technologies used by the people (mostly of war), but all in all, Ussher covered what the ancients wrote, and that was the deeds and exploits of the kings.

Which were, apart from some minor good examples, mostly wretched, consisting in betrayals, adulteries, rapes, wars, and even murders of one's own children for the sake of political gain (Cleopatra and others).   The book also details the places where the ancients disagreed--making very clear that if history is anything, it is messy.  Just because one authority mentions something doesn't mean others agree, to put it mildly.

As such, it's a good work for those with good endurance in reading and a bit of maturity in reading history.  Those who don't like to read will struggle mightily with this one, and those who want history to be simple and easy won't like it, either.  However, those who have a touch of endurance and maturity can benefit greatly by struggling through this work.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

On those unemployment check extensions

John Lott hits one out of the park with his latest, and raises a question that I've asked as well; by exactly what magic is government spending more powerful in helping the economy than private sector spending--or is it?  The standard Keynesian answer is that the economy is driven by consumer spending, not capital investment, but that's largely an argument that because there is more consumer spending than capital investment or other categories, we ought to stimulate consumer spending.  As far as I can tell, there is no serious reason why we should believe that giving someone an unemployment check is economically preferable to allowing those funds to remain in the hands of his prospective employer.

In fact, it may be far worse for many reasons, starting with the fact that this extra burden reduces capital available for hiring, and increases the price point at which people will be willing to work--not too many take jobs at or below the value of their unemployment checks, of course.  Worse yet, it's creating a class of workers who have not worked for over three years, leading to a certain "staleness" in work ethic and skills in those workers.  In other words, we may be creating a class of people who are more or less permanently unemployable by paying them to sit on their rears.

So why doesn't Comrade Obama figure this out?  Well, to jump on a soapbox I use often, I'm guessing that he has not, despite his Ivy League degrees, gotten a liberal education and learned how to think. 

Save your country; train your children in the Trivium.

20 ways to mess up a church....

....the actual article is about 20 ways to screw up one's management career, and it is of course always dangerous to use business as a metaphor for the church.  However, in this case, if one substitutes "congregants" for employees and "deacons" or "elders" for "yes men," it seems like a very good warning to pastors.  Churches function best when leaders dream big and convey the significance of that dream to believers in an appropriate way.

Monday, December 06, 2010

How to be a better Pilgrim

No, not reader Pilgrim, but the Separatists who came from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts back in 1620.  Yes, this is later than Thanksgiving, but it's worth noting one big reason the Pilgrims landed in cold Taxachusetts instead of much warmer Virginia; they were running out of beer.  Along the same lines, the first words of Squanto to the Pilgrims were, it is said, "Do you have any beer?"

However, these days, far too many people think this kind of brew (kindly reviewed by Saint Paul of Fraters Inebritas) qualifies as the "liquid bread" enjoyed by the Pilgrims, and they not surprisingly enjoy what can only qualify as....a little bit more than the Scriptures (say Ephesians 5:18 and elsewhere) would allow.

So what does one do?  Ironically, to be safely like the militantly anti-Catholic Pilgrims, one might do well to consult the beer ratings of the very Catholic Chad the Elder.  The reason is simple; Chad's rating system favors flavorful, well-hopped (somewhat bitter) brews, the kind where drinkers can be satisfied with just one or two.  They're not "drunken man" brews at all.  Kudos to Chad for his good work in helping recover authentic fundamentalism, as ironic as it might seem.

Encouraging Gerrymandering.... this column by Dick Morris.  One of these days, I dream that the districting authorities simply realize that the purpose of districting is not to make "competitive" districts that might consistently be won by a few points either way, but is rather to create compact districts which will be able to send a representative who concurs with the views of the vast majority.

In other words, they are not to be "competitive," as courts have claimed in ridiculous rulings (e.g. Colorado redistricting in 2000), but are to be as homogeneous as possible.  Shame on Morris for advocating the silencing of large minorities in virtually every district.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Stupid me, and yes, OSHA is out of control

After getting a paper cut today lifting cardboard boxes, I was (foolishly)  honest enough to ask our site's safety coordinator whether I needed to report it.  I expected a form with name, phone #, and nature/time of the incident.

Nope.  Full OSHA form and a workman's comp form, all for a paper cut.  On the bright side, the shot of morphine that they gave me made the forms a lot more fun to fill out.  (j/k)

Maybe I'll call in sick on Monday for the paper cut..... :^)

About that Pentagon "study"

I figured it might be good to clarify a bit here what the recent Pentagon "study" suggesting that most soldiers are not opposed to ending "don't ask don't tell" and allowing homosexuals to serve openly.  What does it really say?

First of all, it says that higher-ups at the Pentagon don't understand the difference between a poll and a study.  Their "study" is really just a poll, and has all the military significance of....well, a poll about what kinds of candy ought to be carried at the PX, to put it mildly.

Going further, there is a remarkable disconnect between combat troops (60% against) and non-combat personnel (well over 70% for).   In other words, the majority of servicemen are not in combat roles (lopsided tooth to tail ratio), and they really don't understand what the infantry and cavalry face in their roles.

Finally, the generals appear to be pretty adamant that the views of 67% of combat Marines and 58% of infantrymen in the Army do not matter--that they will override their concerns to implement a new policy if Congress agrees.  Given that the effectiveness of our armed forces depends to a great deal on these men, it is scary to think that our modern day Pompeys and Alexanders are ignoring their concerns.

Overall, the only conclusion that seems tenable is that the leadership of our armed forces has become servile to the ruling political class--at least the liberal ones who were just rejected at the polls.  It's not a good sign for our country, no matter what one thinks about the issue being debated.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Nes gadol hayah sham!

Well, not here on this humble blog, but today begins the annual festival of Chanukkah, commemorating the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks/Syrians, the cleansing of the Temple, the preservation of the Scriptures (the Greeks tried hard to destroy them), and finally the burning of Temple lamps with consecrated oil for seven days instead of just one.

Yiddish or goyesh, if you love God's Word, it's a great reason to enjoy some latke with applesauce.  Something great will happen.  Latke, or potato pancakes, are easy to make; simply grate some potatoes, add a touch of flour and egg to bind them together, and fry in olive oil like an ordinary pancake.

And of course, this might be one day you might choose NOT to enjoy bacon with your pancakes!

An interesting subtext

....Ann Coulter asks, without entirely asking, whether there might indeed be a very good reason to ask about sexual orientation among soldiers and diplomats.  She does not present statistical information, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that a survey or two of historical evidence might be in order.

Also of interest; General Mullen suggests that soldiers must either agree with a new policy or get out.  No word, of course, on what a reduction in force of up to 60% of combat troops--the proportion of combat troops disagreeing with the proposed policy change--would do to military readiness. 

Finally, a new study from nature finds that birds exposed to methyl mercury are more likely to engage in homosexual behavior.  This is probably the most damaging study for the hypothesis of a genetic link to homosexuality since the LaVey identical twins study that found only 50% correlation between identical genes and homosexuality.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Why not tax the rich?

Just ask Calvin Coolidge's Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon.  When tax rates were hiked to "tax the rich," those prosperous few (about 200 before the tax hikes were enacted) suddenly shifted their income to tax-free investments.  When the tax hikes were repealed in 1925, all of those millionaires suddenly had high income again.

It's as one would guess; people may become super-prosperous by either legitimate (Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie) or illegitimate (Capone, Obama, Conyers) means, but they don't get there by being stupid and ignoring the implications of tax law.

It also bespeaks the folly of punitive taxation on the highly productive; when the super-rich shift their assets into tax shelters, they are simultaneously shifting it away from their highly productive businesses.  In doing so, the people hurt worst are those who could otherwise be employed in those highly productive businesses.

(end punitive taxation of the it for the poor and middle class!)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

That's Odd

I've been drinking all afternoon, and for some funny reason, no one wants to join me for a drink.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book review: "Respectable Sins"

I just finished Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges, and must heartily recommend it to anyone.  The reasons are multiple. 

How so?  Bridges models a beautiful portion of the Christian life by being a man with 50 years of ministry under his belt, multiple physical and life difficulties, and yet preserving a mind agile to the task of exegeting Scripture; he was over 75 when the book was published, an age when all too many are simply repeating what they've heard before.  Not Bridges; he retains a rather youthful ability to approach issues in a new, fresh way.

In doing so, he manages to draw a bead on the real issues which plague the church today; pride, gossip, hyper-criticality (not to be confused with "discernment"), anger, and the like.  Like Tedd Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart, this book succeeds in discerning where the actual issues lie.  It is not with music, or whether one drinks, or what kind of clothes one wears, but rather with.....the heart.

Through this, he also models how Christians ought to approach examples; Bridges does not shy away from giving examples from his own life, but he does shy away from naming the precise situations and the guilty, or blessed, parties.  All of us ought to have such a horror of gossip as Bridges displays!

One slight weakness ironically coexists with the great strength of the book, chapter 17 on judgmentalism.  He does a wonderful job explaining what our faith is not about per Romans 14 and elsewhere, and yet....there is something of a lack of clarity.  Even so, this may be a good thing; Bridges' entire point is, after all, to speak to our hearts and minds, and to derail us from our theological "hobby horses" we too often indulge.  Two thumbs up for this book!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thoughts on airport security

Many in this country argue that we could not perform airport security like the Israelis; let's take a look at that.  Overall, 670 million passengers board flights annually, screened by 60,000 TSA agents (1/ 10,000 passengers; 12 minutes per passenger) with a budget of $6.8 billion, or about $10/passenger, or $125,000 per screener.

In contrast, the ISA appears to generally require only a few minutes of interview for each passenger who is not of "special interest."  I am not certain, but I would guess that if you hired TSA agents like Israel hires screeners, you could put a lot more of that $6.8 billion into people instead of machines, making the airways safer, saner, and grope-free.  I'm sure there are any number of Marines and Rangers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq who have effectively learned the techniques.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Glad I'm not flying for Thanksgiving!

Poetry in hymnody; rocking the hymns by listening to the poem

For an example of how we might apply the principles of poetry to music in the church, let's take a look at Isaac Watts' great hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

It seems to me, sad to say, that most people who play this hymn miss the point, musically speaking.  The typical arrangement begins and ends at forte, and is played at such a rate to "get through three or four verses before the congregation gets tired of the tune."   If we read it carefully, however, we see Watts is in awe and deeply contemplative; we might actually arrange it better this way.

In Verse 1, Watts is approaching that awful hill with horror and dread; one instrumentalist plays only the melody softly as the congregation whispers the lyrics. 

In Verse 2, Watts is applying what he sees to his life and responding as he approaches the Cross.  Mezzo forte, complete the chords and perhaps add an instrumentalist.

In Verse 3, Watts is (effectively) at the foot of the cross, proclaiming it to the world.  Forte, and if the organist or bassist wants to indulge some power chords, have at it.

Verse 4; Mezzo piano; the poet is backing away from the Cross, waiting for the first of the week.

It's not the only reasonable interpretation of this hymn, of course; changes in tempo or other themes might convey the message well as well.  What we do, however, when we listen to the poem and play accordingly is to use musical themes to emphasize the message.  It's also worth noting that the basic structure I've outlined is used both in heavy metal ballads (Stairway to Heaven) and classical music (Beethoven's symphonies).  Music musically played is both a "Stairway to Heaven" and a bridge between generations.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poetry, discipleship, evangelism, and why we fight

No, not the movie "Why we Fight" which was presented to soldiers during World War Two as they deployed, but rather one reason (not "the," but "one") we fight in church, and also why efforts for evangelism and discipleship often falter.

Specifically, we no longer understand poetry.  Now why does this impair evangelism, discipleship, and our getting along?

Simple; poetry appeals, more than prose, to the heart along with the mind, and we've been systematically eliminating this from the schools for a century--along with the general war our society has been waging on literary (liberal, classical, liberal arts) education.  For another reference--and this on the 48th anniversary of his death--read C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, in which Lewis decries the "debunking" of literary sentiment prevalent over half a century ago.

Now let's consider what we have now that we have done here; by downgrading the significance of literature, poetry, and music in our education (and often in our churches), we debilitate ourselves.  We lose the ability to differentiate, more or less, between Shakespeare and doggerel, and in the process, we lose the ability to speak to another man in a way he understands.

Your church may be suffering from this, and here are some ways to tell.  Look around during music time, and see if people are singing, and how; enthusiastically, or????  Look at the worship leader(s); are they simply singing, or are they trying to whip up enthusiasm?  If the congregation is silent to a great degree, or those leading worship are trying to whip up enthusiasm, you know that a bit of poetry just might be in order.  Where there is strife over musical styles, a bit of poetry might help as well; strife over musical styles largely ignores the bigger question over whether what music is used is speaking to the hearts of men.

The same goes with a congregation remote from one another, or not reaching out to the lost.  God speaks to our hearts through poetry in His Word; why not us in our daily lives?

For a bit of encouragement, check out this flash mob scene where a few dozen vocalists render, sans accompaniment, the Halleluiah Chorus of Handel in a mall food court at Christmastime.   H/T Mrs. Bubba

Personally, of course, I'm appalled.  Everybody knows that a better Christmastime selection is "For unto us a child is born."  :^)  Is anybody with me? 

Friday, November 19, 2010

The dangers of hyper-fundamentalism,

.....can be illustrated in a single quote.

First, some background; those people who may have read my blog over the past few weeks (all three of them? ha!)  may have inferred from my posts regarding the KJV-only movement and other characteristics of hyper-fundamentalist Baptist churches that my "axe to grind" may have been somewhat personal.  If they have, they are right; my family has just left such a church that was trying to keep these objectionable theologies "under wraps" for a while.  Obviously, there are any number of side issues there, which I will not go into here.

However, inspired by dear brother Jim's comment on Sword of the Lord, a hyper-fundamentalist newspaper, I've found a quote from a book loaned to me by my now former pastor that illustrates a lot of things brilliantly.  The author tries to make the case that Bibles translated from the Critical Text are not valid Bibles with such brilliant evidence such as this (page 110)

This author has in his possession a photograph of the man puffing on a cigar.

Now, I would agree that tobacco is disgusting, and that it is good to avoid it for any number of reasons.  However, what the author is doing here is called, in informal logic, the ad hominem fallacy, the erroneous belief that an argument can be refuted by drawing attention to personal traits of the speaker.  The quote above is one of four such attacks in a relatively short paragraph on page 110 of that book.  Put gently, verse 9 of Jude comes to mind regarding this author!

There are any number of conclusions we can draw from this.  First, it is critically important that a pastor or teacher learn, and apply, the rules of formal and informal logic.  For that matter, it's not a bad idea for any deacon or church member to do the same--both to understand Scripture better and to keep the pastor honest. 

Next, it is unfortunately a fact that too many hyper-fundamentalists--King James Version enthusiasts, Trail of Blood enthusiasts, Sword of the Lord writers/readers, and so on--not only indulge ad hominem and guilt by association fallacies, but they do so (e.g. cigar quote above) on bases not even endorsed by Scripture. 

Personally, I love the fundamentals of the faith too much to allow the "King James and culottes, I don't drink and I don't chew and I don't go with girls that do" crowd to be the only face of fundamentalism the world sees.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More on the Rapist-Scan

For obvious reasons, including at least one assault prosecution of a TSA worker who was mocked by his colleagues after walking through the Rapiscan, the use of this machine is justly quite controversial.  Here is an interesting article where the TSA really lays out the guts of the program; that they are keeping "dangerous items" off planes.

That's fine as far as it goes, but the question remains whether they were confiscating possibly injurious items from people who would....use them to injure others.  Are illegal drugs going to down a jetliner, or were those "caught" young males from radical Muslim sects?  The airlines' association rightly notes that they are getting dangerous items--Grandma's knitting needles or your shampoo--but not dangerous people like the "Eunuchbomber" who lit explosives in his skivvies a couple of Christmasses ago on a flight to Detroit.

Moreover, for those willing to become a "Eunuchbomber" or worse, it's worth noting that the Rapiscan offers no way of detecting explosives stored inside a terrorist's body.  The physics is simple; high frequency waves are attenuated quickly in the body's saline environment.  Hence, you don't see anything below a few mm of skin, and even some pleated garments are "too thick" for the Rapiscan to penetrate. 

Which is why El Al, Israel's airline, doesn't endorse this technology.  Lipisuction plus explosive implants with a virtually undetectable detonator will walk right through anything the TSA can do to stop it, and yes, I expect someone to try it someday.  Hopefully we learn something from El Al about this before it is too late.

A case against grass fed meats..... made by a source of John Stossel in this interesting column.  More or less, what the source does is measure carbon emissions, land use, and such for both grass-fed and corn-fed meat and dairy animals, and very consistently finds that modern feedlot methods use less land, emit less carbon, and even yield a fat content "similar to" that of grass fed animals.

As one who routinely buys grass fed beef, however, I've got to quibble more than a little with the claim that the differences in fat content are minor; when one compares the marbling on feedlot beef to that of grass fed animals, the difference is visible to the casual observer.  There is simply a LOT more fat on the animal, and even the meat is of a different color--grass fed is a much deeper red, closer to the color of bison meat.  Whether it makes a major difference in health is up to debate, but the differences in fat percentage and content are not exactly subtle.

Moreover, is it accurate to simply count the carbon "emitted" (breathed) by cattle without accounting for the carbon sequestration inherent in natural patures?  To draw a picture, a century of corn farming had left Joel Salatin's land devoid of topsoil; 30 years of intensive grass based farming has to a great extent restored it.  The reestablishment of topsoil where pasturing is used, and the removal of topsoil via the plow, represents a huge carbon impact.  To neglect this factor is simply to not do a full analysis.

In short, I view Stossel's source as incomplete at best.  However, there is one thing we can both agree on, I think; end corn subsidies, and let's let farmers and consumers make their own choices in the matter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Workplace hazard, or tricks of the trade lost?

Apparently, a Canadian court has ruled that scooping ice cream from standard bins used in ice cream shops constitutes a "workplace hazard."  Now, certainly some ice cream shops do NOT use well designed, ergonomic cabinets for their product, but I remember my dear sainted mother's counsel on ice cream.

Specifically, there are two temperatures for storing ice cream.  One is well below zero, and is useful for storing it for longer periods of time.  However, there is also a "serving temperature" at which ice cream can be held for a few days to a week.  At this temperature, the product scoops easily, reducing greatly the likelihood of injuries.

Old style soda jerks also know the trick of having a container of warm water for warming the scoop to allow easier scooping of the product--one type of scoop owned by my family even has a liquid inside for conveying warmth from the scooper's hand to the end of the scoop. 

It may be true that this workplace had a hazard due to the placement of the product, but my hunch is that whoever owned this ice cream shop failed to convey to his employees proper techniques for scooping ice cream easily and safely.    Engineering.You.Can.Use.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In honor of Prince William's Engagement to Whatshername

Seriously, let's hope and pray that their marriage is longer and happier than his mom and dad's, to put it mildly, and that this is not--like his mom and dad's marriage--in great part a matter of royal political convenience.   Pray also that the connection of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Windsor) to the Anglican Church might also be led by someone who actually believes in our Lord.

EXACTLY: on the usefulness of academic degrees

Vox Day writes about a man whose job was, as an undergraduate, writing papers, including masters and PhD theses.  It raises a number of questions, beginning with why kids are apparently graduating from high school without being able to write, continuing with the fact that apparently this man's staff--all novices to various trades--are able to write convincing prose about those trades for those with PhDs in those trades, and finally to the scary point of realizing that.....

.....these guys who cannot "write a lick" to save their lives are going to be, to a point, teaching the nation's children not only in elementary schools and high schools, but also in universities.

Now more than ever, an academic degree seems to correlate to no particular expertise on any subject--and yes, this is something that observers of the current President know quite well.

There is one small place where I differ with the author, however; if professors routinely interviewed students about the papers they'd written, they'd figure out pretty darned quickly which ones had actually written them.   There is something to be said for the British tutorial system along these lines, and it's something that homeschoolers will do well to remember. 

Safeway shows the way.... good health for their employees, according to a point raised by Mona Charen in her latest column.  

How do they do it?  Simple; they self-insure, and they've actually listened to their actuaries when they said that certain risk factors account for up to 80% of heart disease and diabetes and up to 60% of cancer, and they've written their health insurance rates accordingly.  Smokers and the obese pay more, fit nonsmokers pay less.

The result?  Zero net increases in health insurance rates for their workers, and 78% of workers approve.  It seems that even a produce washer can figure out he doesn't want to pay for chemo for a smoker, or angioplasty for the guy clogging up his arteries with McRib after McRib.

Now if only government could clue in....

Monday, November 15, 2010

So what DOES Biblical music look like?

One can not be certain, really.  On one hand, you have the harp/lyre, consistent with slower, contemplative music.  You have the trumpet, suitable for loud or martial music.  You have the timbrel/tambourine, drums, suitable for martial, percussive, and celebratory music.  You have singers and, to an extent ( see Psalms 149 and 150), dancers.

In other words, absent modern instruments like the pianoforte, bass guitar, and such, we have the ingredients to do just about any of today's genre.  We might assume that it would follow classical Mediterranean or Jewish patterns.  Assuming the latter, we have the issue of whether it would be like Haifetz, klezmer, or perhaps the Beastie Boys, all of which are Jewish.  As much as I want to sing the Psalms to a klezmer style, I can't say that this is "the" authentic Hebrew style any more than the Beastie Boys.  Any serious student of music or history knows that, like language, the distinctives change too quickly to suggest we've retained those styles over 30 centuries.

In short, it seems that the "real" tunes used have been lost to history....perhaps for a reason.  We can infer some things were there from the instrumentation, but for our purposes, we are left to derive a tune according to the mood of the text.

In other words, according to the nature of music--poetry with a tune--whereby we receive the lyrics.  Our question is then; Are the lyrics Biblical, and does the tune fit the lyrics?  A bad example I remember is a little ditty of Proverbs 12:22, "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord", where the tune made one wish to skip and dance.  There is a place for dancing, Biblically speaking, but probably not when we're talking about abominations.  In the same way, when the Psalms talk about joy, one ought not to re-badge a funeral dirge for the accompaniment.

Perhaps what God intends here is that we think about these things, because when we consider whether the lyrics are Biblical, and whether the tune is fitting (not perfect, fitting), we are forced to do the work of the Bereans and truly understand the Scriptures.  As a pastor once rebuked a church I was attending, music is not just a time-filler, but rather a tool for communicating the Scriptures to both heart and mind.

So when we appraise church music, it's entirely Biblical and right to say "I think that this captures the joy of this song well," or "this Psalm, clearly call and response, really should have call and response instead of a solo in its presentation to the church."  It is, on the other hand, un-Biblical to say "this song has a beat that appeals to animal spirits" or "this song is soooo.....boring."

It is time for an armistice in the "worship wars."   The personal attacks, guilt by association arguments, and slippery slope arguments used by both sides indicate that there is a spirit involved.  It just isn't the Holy Spirit, to put it mildly.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bars, churches, and more

In my opinion, Paul Greenberg hits another one out of the park with this one about the similarities between bars, churches, coffee houses, and more.  There are any number of preachers who might do well to learn human nature as a bartender or barrista, and any number of bartenders and barristas who might do well to minister something even more spiritual than a triple espresso. 

His exegesis of the New Testament is also delightful--many pastors would do very well to begin to understand the depth and breadth of the Word in such a way as this journalist does.

More thoughts on music

First of all, an interesting Wiki link about contemporary music and the so-called "worship wars."  Of particular interest to me is this quote:

The musical style of contemporary worship is very much influenced by popular music, and the use of modern instruments is commonplace. Objectors feel that this style of music is 'worldly' and associated with an immoral lifestyle.

Now take a close look at the quote, and the argument therein.  Because of Sandi Patti, we are adjured not to listen to any music of the modern day not from our "approved sources."  To put it mildly, this is not a Biblical claim.  On the other side of the argument, advocates of contemporary music might argue

The musical style of hymnodic worship is a pale imitation of musicality and is associated with spiritually and relationally dead churches.  The Muzak in Hell will feature a little old lady warbling "In the Garden."

What we have here is guilt by association arguments instead of a Biblical analysis of music in the church.  Let's illustrate how sinful (yes, SINFUL) this is by applying the principle to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem uses an altar and musical instruments similar to those of the Canaanite temples.  In order to avoid human sacrifice and the wrath of YHWH, we must tear down His Temple and rebuild it using instructions other than those given to Bezalel by YHWH through Moses.

Any student of music will be able to list innumerable practicioners of all genre of music whose personal lives were, to put it politely, disgraceful.  Hence, indulging guilt by association will only result--and it has--in split churches and hateful behavior by brothers.  If you've been enlisted on either side of the worship wars, it might be time to desert.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A homeschooling moment

Having been disheartened to see the ease with which many dear brothers and sisters are carried off by such errors as "KJV only/preferred", "Trail of Blood," and "well that wine Jesus made wasn't really wine!", I'm going to see if I can partially inoculate my own family by taking them through hallmarks of theology such as the five solas and their importance, the Fundamentals, and Baptist distinctives.  I'm learning, as a dear brother mentioned in a note, that at times, the theological education in the churches I love is appalling.

What could possibly go wrong?

An article in the paper this morning tells that many college students have started playing a version of the Harry Potter game "quiddich" by running around and playing a ball game with brooms between their legs.

If you choose to play this game and understand why this might be a bad idea,  If you choose to play this game and do NOT understand why this might be a bad idea, ignore the previous sentence, please. 

Friday, November 05, 2010

An interesting couple of studies

In the paper today, there was a "shocking" study which found that when teens engage in oral sex, they're far more likely to engage in full intercourse.  As if anyone is surprised at what happens when teenagers are alone and naked.

Also, doctors have found the shocking result that when smokers submit to annual CAT scans, their risk of death due to lung cancer declines by 20%.  Fair enough, but given a relative risk of lung cancer vis a vis smoking of 40, it would seem that smokers could reduce their risk of developing this brutal disease by up to 97% simply by laying off the cancer sticks.  You want to cut, in the long term, deaths due to lung cancer?   Tell smokers that, from this day forward, Medicare and Medicaid will not be covering lung cancer treatments, and let them make their decisions.

Sad News from Arkansas

Paul Greenberg, one of my favorite columnists, notes with sadness (which I share) that the University of Arkansas has roughly halved the core curriculum in an effort to "get more graduates."  More graduates who don't know the difference between Plato and Play-Dough--what a bargain!  It's not like an educated citizen needs to be able to figure out what the Federalist Papers or Constitution actually mean, after all.

Oh, wait a minute....

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What the GOP should do

For many reasons, even a GOP majority is going to have some difficulties getting things past Mr. Obama's veto.  So what can they do to look VERY good to the electorate come 2012?  To differentiate themselves from Nancy Pelosi's rule:

1.  Eliminate voice votes.  Voters deserve to know how their representatives voted.
2.  Eliminate games to get a majority like the "deemed passed" method Pelosi tried to use for Obamacare.
3.  No more earmarks, period.
4.  Revive the ethics committee--starting with why Barney Frank did not recuse himself regarding Fannie Mae while he was dating one of their executives.
5.  Make John Boehner's plane quite a bit smaller than Nancy Pelosi's.  Use it less often.
6.  Eliminate funding for a few insignificant programs (PBS, NEA, NEH), pointing out that in a time of economic crisis, this is a luxury we cannot afford.
7.  Eliminate pork barrel spending, noting it's a "luxury we cannot afford," and also noting that pork barrel spending makes us all poorer.
8.  Choose ten of the most obnoxious parts of the healthcare bill (say the tax on sales of gold), and basically dare the Democrats to oppose their repeal.  Not the big things yet, just the small things.
9.  Rein in the DC party circuit and start work at 8am, like the rest of the country.
10.  Pass a pay cut for Congress, arguing that if the rest of the nation is poorer, Congress should be, too.
11.  Dare the Democrats to stand against any of this and watch the fur fly.

In other words, play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, softening up the opponent with well-placed, honest jabs to the midsection before swinging for the solar plexus.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The meaning of yesterday's election

Unfortunately, my take is that with the stunts that the Peloso/Reid/Obama triumverate pulled--midnight votes on bills nobody had read, parliamentary tricks to pass hugely unpopular bills, clearly unConstitutional mandates, and so on--the Democrats should have lost 150, not 50, seats in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate....

.....if Americans were paying attention to what was going on, and caring about the gross ethical and moral lapses on the part of equii asinii.  It's a long road back to sanity in government, and we're still stuck in the ditch into which Mssrs. Obama and Reid, and Madame.. Pelosi, have driven us.

It is even possible that there is not enough thinking going on among Americans for us to get out of this ditch.  I hope I am wrong, but the fact that Barney Frank and Harry Reid won last night is NOT an encouraging sign.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Watching out for the Devil's music

There seems to be no surer way at times of splitting a church and setting Christian brethren at odds with each other than to bring up the subject of music in the church; one side will characterize the other as "dead" or "frozen chosen" because the music seems "out of date," the other will characterize their "musical opponents" as "too worldly," claiming more or less that what is supposed to be worship has become something of an orgy if the musical style is a mere 10 or 30 years old instead of 50, 100, or 300 years old. 

Now I make no pretension that I'm going to bring the "true believers" on either side to repentance, but perhaps there is a hope of coming to the aid of those caught in the crossfire by pointing out some true, Biblical realities of worship in the Temple, and in the New Testament Church.

To wit, David was said to "dance with all his might" before the Lord when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem--and his wife Michal was condemned for thinking it unseemly and undignified  (I believe that this passage points forward to the Cross, by the way).  Saul's prophetic experience suggests that such dancing was a routine sign of the prophet's office.  The instruments used in the Temple include lyre, trompet/horn/shofar, tambourines, cymbals, and more.    Refrains of "Selah" and "His mercy endures forever" indicates that there was some degree of call and response in those days.

In the New Testament, Paul lays down procedures for songs, tongues, prophecies, and more in 1 Corinthians 14.    In other words, the New Testament church sometimes got a bit rowdy due to the great joy and enthusiasm of those who newly knew their sins were forgiven. 

Paul more or less says "keep the enthusiasm, but let's aim for a blessing for all here."  In the same way, the presence of percussive instruments in Temple worship suggests that, then as now, music in the near east had a beat to it, and that people would kick up their heels a bit as they came to Jerusalem.   For a modern parallel, one might think line dancing instead of ballroom dancing--and to lyrics far more edifying than "Celebration" or the "Macarena."

The development of polyphony, crescendos and decrescendos may or may not have been accomplished yet, but what seems to be the case is that worship in Bible times was a little bit more "rowdy" than we might believe today. 

So how do we divide, then, between good and bad music in the church?  Well, for starters, if the instrumentalists don't know the harp from a chainsaw, one might differentiate on the basis of basic talent.  Also, the example of Temple worship rings true; the pagans used many of the same structures as did the Hebrews, but with certain unmistakeable differences....things like shrine prostitutes and human sacrifice.  In the same way, we might know today that something is up today when the praise band doesn't just use the instruments and harmony techniques of the Pendletones, but also emulates the attire of their backup singers.

It doesn't mean one must give up hymns, or praise choruses, or Bach, or whatever.  It simply means that whatever genre are used, the true fundamentalist needs to understand that genre and how the Word of Life may be sung, or played, in that genre.  To stomp on one of my favorite soapboxes, it means we need to get a literary education in music.  Piano or singing lessons could come in handy, too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The assault on the 13th Amendment continues.... evidently Congressman Charlie Rangel has introduced a national service act that would require young people to serve the government for a period of two years.

If you want to know why this is a bad idea--beyond the reality of the 13th Amendment being egregiously violated of course--just ask any soldier who served in Vietnam and continued through the Reagan years about the ability and motivation of drafted soldiers vs. volunteers.   There was a reason that the Persians had their best troops driving their second best troops into the all-volunteer killing machine of the Spartans at Thermopylae, to put it mildly, which is the same reason the Soviets needed to put their best machine guns BEHIND the first wave of infantry during World War Two. 

One would figure that Mr. Rangel would have some historical memories that would make him abhor this idea, but apparently not.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Final thought on cowboy pastors

It occurs to me that not only is it poor form and practice to be a cowboy pastor, it's also poor form and practice to "drive" one's colleagues at work.

Thankfully, I'm learning this by trying to "shepherd" colleagues I'm responsible for and watching the results as others "drive" them, and not vice versa.  It is as if people.....remember how they're treated, and whether or not they are of the flock, or even the fold, they are more like sheep than cattle. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Teetotaling revisited

I got to thinking last night about the last few churches I've attended, and one thing that I've noticed is that as I sit down with somebody, they very often will share their testimony of faith with me--dirty laundry and all.  I've noticed that not too many have actually had difficulties with alcohol.  I can (but won't) name a few, but all in all, it's not that prevalent.

In short, the old idea about "we are teetotalers to protect those disposed towards alcoholism" is not exactly true.  Of course, if we were serious about reaching out to those without Christ, that might change, but we are where we are.

On the other hand, I have noticed a lot of cases where....let's just say that while a case of beer or a bottle of wine were not involved, a case of Mountain Dew and a crate of Doritos were--beer guts sans beer, more or less.  Which leads to an interesting fact from history; mankind seems to have an interesting compulsion to get a lot of sugar and fat in the diet, followed by alcohol. 

Along the same lines, one theory of weight control is that the overweight person is generally not seeking sustenance from their food and drink, but rather a certain amount of taste.  Some have even encountered significant weight loss simply by adding spices to their food; having indulged their taste buds, they stop eating and watch the pounds slip off.

Not a bad idea, and it leads to a secondary thought.  Everyone who has been given a sip of beer or wine knows that they tend to have stronger flavors than pop (even mass produced American swill), right?

Would it follow, then, that it might be a good thing for American evangelicals and fundamentalists to imitate their Lord and enjoy a cup of wine from time to time?  That instead of 20 ounces of Coke with 250 calories, they'd get six ounces of wine with about 100 calories--and maybe enjoy it more as well?  Instead of that Coke with 250 calories, would it be better (especially come Thanksgiving time) to enjoy a glass of beer with about 150 calories?  Keep in mind as well that, unlike Coke, liquor does generally have some actual nutritional value--Christ got much of his Vitamin C, most likely, from wine.

An odd thought for a fundamentalist Baptist like myself, but sometimes we need to go where Scripture and science lead, no?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time preferences

Vox Day reports on an interesting event overseas; evidently a gentleman (loosely speaking) who had received $120,000 from Exxon Mobil managed to get rid of it all in four months by giving most of it to his 10 wives and spending over $20,000 to buy another wife. This is, of course, a classic example of a short term time preference, along with giving a bum a buck for "a sandwich", or perhaps Michelle Obama's alleged shopping spree while in Spain.

He further notes, and is correct, that capital formation, and the accumulation of wealth and long term prosperity, relies on a longer term time preference, so any nation that (like, say, the United States) consistently takes from those who save and gives to those who don't is, economically speaking, doomed.  It will torpedo economic growth simply by diverting money from capital investment to spending.  The Chinese and Thais will profit as a result.

Note also that "demand side" economics is essentially this phenomenon, and it's a core to the Keynesian "orthodoxy" that characterizes our current leadership, so invest in precious metals (gold, silver, brass, copper clad lead, and ordinance steel) accordingly. 

Our economy will recover if, and only if, government stops rewarding spendthrifts.  Unfortunately, even if the GOP retakes both houses of Congress, I don't see this happening.  I hope I am wrong.

Sorry, Tylenol.....

....but being at risk for both heart disease and colon cancer, I'm thinking my painkilling needs will be nicely handled by aspirin.

Obama pulls ahead!

By apparently skipping the meal at a $7500/plate dinner, and (this is hilarious) excusing himself by (just before dinner mind you) noting that he's got to get out there and pick up dog droppings.

Jimmuh is going to have trouble matching this one!

Interesting note on the KJV

When looking at any Bible translation, it always helps to understand where the translators are coming from.  With most any English translation, for example, "baptizo" is transliterated (letter equivalents) instead of translated as "immerse."  The TNIV (New Gelded Version) tends to obscure the gender of important pronouns due to its "evangelical feminist" bent, a pattern duplicated in many translations commissioned by liberal, mainline denominations for the same reason.

Last weekend, I noted a very interesting translation in the KJV; look at Matthew 28:18-20, and note that it instructs the apostles to "teach all nations", a pattern repeated in parallel verses.  In contrast, all modern translations with which I'm familiar translate this as "make disciples of all nations".   I'm told that the Greek translates far better to "make disciples".

Now it's not a completely unforgiveable difference; the root word in Greek is the same for both "teach" and "disciple."  Moreover, it is possible that these societies would have understood "teach" in the mode of a master-apprentice relationship, which is in many ways close to Biblical discipleship.

On the other hand, it's also a fact that at this time, the clergy were of a distinct economic and political class from those in the pews--you had to be upper class, or sponsored by the same, to go to the universities, after all.  In this light, it is somewhat harder to imagine this being a master-apprentice relationship, but rather the translators (who were predominantly university trained Anglicans, after all) were understanding such a relationship in the light of their experience; professor-student, or clergy-laity.

Whichever is the case, we certainly understand the word "teach" today as professor-lecture hall, pastor--auditorium, and so on--not as the intimate interaction Christ had with the apostles.  This suggests a question; if indeed the KJV (purposefully or otherwise) obscures the real nature of discipleship by using a translation that doesn't communicate this to today's people, would we not assume that churches which exclusively use the KJV may have some difficulty making disciples?  Would we not assume that  they would tend towards an episcopal-style rule of the pastor, and spiritual immaturity of the congregants?

Whether or not this is the cause, it is certainly the effect I've seen where the pastor calls the shots, and congregants are more interested in whether their friends are using the KJV than in real understanding of Biblical doctrines.  In short, while reading and handing out Chick tracts about the (imagined and real) faults of the Catholic Church, they are.....duplicating, in many ways, the imagined and real faults they decry.

If one wonders why a literary education--the kind that will allow a pastor or congregant to investigate translation biases and meanings in the original languages--is important, this is an excellent example. 

Stiff competition....

....exists for "most clueless President in history" these days.  Former (thank God!) President Carter made his case earlier this week by claiming that his administration had "harmony" with virtually every nation on earth--ignoring little places like "Iran" and the "Soviet Union," and ignoring the little fact that half the world was under totalitarian slavery at the time.

Yesterday, however, President Obama raised the ante by suggesting that Republicans will need to "sit in the back" during an economic recovery.  One would figured that a black man, of all people, would make the obvious connection to Rosa Parks and "get to the back of the bus," but apparently not.  I figure that this comment should probably be good for the Democrats to lose about three to five more Congressional seats than they were bound to lose without this insanely stupid comment.

We'll keep you posted, and it looks like a humdinger of a contest here for "Most Clueless President in History."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Consequences of the "Trail of Blood" and Landmarkism

Building on my earlier post regarding Landmark Baptists, it occurred to me that it's not just what appears to be a factual error (three secondary/tertiary quotes does not a historical fact make), but also will tend to be a ruinous bit of dogma in the church.

How so?  Let's take the milder case first; the claim that there were always Baptists through history.  Why so?

Well, consider the claim; it doesn't have any precedent in Scripture, but it is stated as if it is vastly important.  It's not only a violation of the principles of logic (ancient is not equal to true, Molech worship is ancient as well), but also serves as a diversion from the more important issues of theology that--hey let's face it--the American church desperately needs. 

In short, emphasizing a "Trail of Blood" serves to make believers....immature, and as was noted before, it's an effective de-emphasis of the doctrine of sola scriptura.  Ironically, in trying to counter Catholic rhetoric about ancience, they're becoming more....Catholic, the very thing they want to avoid.

Full Landmarkism--the argument that the only true churches follow a "Trail of Blood," and even that one can only be saved if one is baptised in such a church--do things far worse.  Not only is it a more significant violation of sola scriptura, but the requirement of a "Landmark" to be a valid church or believer violates sola gratia, sola fide, and solus Christus (grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone) as well.

In other words, the one, or church, which subscribes to Landmarkism more or less throws out significant parts of the Reformation, and those whose rhetoric most avidly rejects the Catholic church become, more or less.....


I bet my friend Gino enjoys this irony immensely!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Consequences of corporate/cowboy ministry; down to brass tacks

I had thought that perhaps I would go through a virtually litany of effects of corporate/cowboy pastoring,'s a little bit more simple than I originally thought, I've come to think.

That is, cowboy and corporate pastoring adversely impacts the doctrines of "sola scriptura," "perspicuity of the Scriptures," and congregational/presbyterian church polity.  How so?

Well, if the Scripture indeed tells us that it is sufficient (2 Tim 3:16-17) for teaching, reproof, and training in righteousness, what does it tell us when someone ignores the call to shepherd and instead uses corporate or cowboy methods to drive the sheep?

It tells us, to some degree, that this person does not fully believe in Sola Scriptura; that the Scripture alone has the answers he needs.  When a person says "my way or the highway," in addition, he's more or less saying he doesn't believe in the perspicuity of Scripture--that God's people, counseled by God's Spirit, will achieve the will of God through the application of the Word of God.   He rather trusts his own will and force of personality to is it a Biblical, or the pastor's, goal in mind here?  It is, sad to say, not always clear--unBiblical methods of making disciples make not only the flock immature, but also.....their shepherd.

When we get to this point, congregational or presbyterian church polity is also at risk, as these church polities require that the congregation be competent to decide important matters.  In short, allowing, or encouraging, cowboy or corporate methods will start to transform a church from congregational or elder rule to episcopal polity. 

Not that leaders intend to do this, but it is one of our blind spots, and one we ought to watch out for.  And as my friend Jim says, keep an eye on the church constitution.  This kind of thing is exactly what such documents are intended to prevent.

Another good example; when I was a deacon at a church in Boulder, our pastor often posted the deacons' meeting minutes for the entire congregation.  He trusted the Spirit of God to move the people of God according to the Word of God.  Not all deliberations can be public, but we had a sweet spirit there in part because everyone knew what was going on.

It's like we need to put away the lasso and powerpoint, and pick up our shepherd's staff, or something like that.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Consequence 2 of cowboy/corporate pastoring; ineffective members

First of all, I hope that the claims I am making here are not borne out in fact; if some of what I say is, or becomes, wrong, I rejoice.

That said, if "cowboy" or corporate pastoring leads to spiritual immaturity in the flock, we can also assume that the same will lead to ministry ineffectiveness.  To draw a picture from a corporate setting, my managers were surprised to learn that my knowledge of German was sufficient (mostly) to interact with one of our suppliers, even though this appears on my resume.  A huge failing on their part?  No; it's simply what Hayek and others would call the "problem of knowledge"; one man cannot possibly hold every bit of information for ready use.

In a church setting, the pastor and deacons will not--especially if they are driving the sheep--realize that the person they need for redecorating the Sunday school rooms is a quiet young lady with gifts like Martha Stewart's.  She's been "driven" into the corner.  The guy they need to rework the roof?  Sitting in another corner.  The guy whose initiative could canvass the entire city in a week with flyers for the Christmas program?  He's been goaded into stretching his voice to a mediocre tenor in the choir.

You see, if we're going to exercise gifts like those described in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere, a corporate approach will be problematic, as it tends to put square pegs in round holes.  If gifts are to be used, they need to be discovered in a way consistent with that of the Scriptures, not John Wayne or Dale Carnegie.

An example; a couple of churches ago, I was the deacon (by inclination) for nurseries, and was surprised to see two women come forward to arrange the nursery schedule and cleaning.  Nobody ever asked them, but they did a far better job than I could have.  Another decided to make Sunday mornings easier by calling nursery workers a day ahead of time.

What had happened?  The pastor, to this day a dear friend, had simply mentioned to the congregation that when people served in the nursery, parents (especially moms) were free to relax and listen to the sermon.  Fully 2/3 of the adults signed up from a church that had previously had few children in attendance.  So when Pastor Devries preached on Ephesians 5:22-33 and a baby boom ensued, we were ready.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Side track; thoughts on the Landmark and KJV only movement

Two recurring themes in fundamental Baptist thought are the idea of Landmarkism/Trail of Blood and the idea that the church ought to prefer the KJV above other translations, or even to ban the use of other translations altogether.  Interestingly, they are linked by a most unlikely (at least to those in these movements) document; Jerome's Vulgate, the Bible in Latin.

First, here's a primer on the "Trail of Blood" from a source that fully endorses it.  If you read it carefully, you'll find that the claim that there were "always Baptists" really rests, as far as I can tell, on three (likely suspect) quotes of Newton, Mosheim, and Hosius on page 4--and none of them are primary sources, all of them being born after the Fall of Constantinople.  Were I a lawyer, I'd not like to rest my case on this evidence! 

More or less, it appears that the "Trail of Blood" is simply a way of trying to establish that Baptist theology is ancient--under the idea that if it's old, it's right, just like the theories of luminiferous aether, caloric, and Aristotelian physics are better than the work of Einstein, Rumford, and Newton because they are older, too.  (yet another reason why you should learn logic and teach it to your children)

Let us now consider the Vulgate.  The significance of this is that Europe was largely illiterate in the Dark and Middle Ages, and the only Bible the few literate people had would have been the Vulgate.  Love it or hate it, it is what they had, and here's how they translated the Greek word "baptizo."

"Baptizo"  with Latin conjugations.  In other words, a Greek word with a primary meaning of "immerse" (and numerous related meanings) was replaced--as in the KJV--with a transliterated word referring only to the ordinance of baptism. 

Now consider; how are you going to figure out that the Bible tells you to immerse if it doesn't use that word, and you neither know Greek nor have access to Greek manuscripts?  It is possible one might infer it from the Baptism of John, but doubtful--our paedobaptist friends have numerous explanations for that passage.

So we see that unless somehow the knowledge of Greek penetrated these churches, it is extremely doubtful that they would have become Baptists.  Interestingly, most Landmark Baptists will insist on the KJV, which of course....

...makes the same translation choice, or "error" if you will, as the Vulgate.

I treasure authentic fundamentalism, and I treasure authentic Baptist distinctives.  However, holding to theories in the face of a lack of evidence and a Bible translation most Protestants abhorred until the 18th century (it had the apocrypha until then) seems like an odd way to hold to what truly distinguishes Baptists.

Consequence #1 of cowboy pastoring; spiritual immaturity in the flock

As my wife and I contemplated the results of driving the sheep instead of leading them, using a corporate approach instead of the Biblical, it seems that the "scattering of the sheep" as they are driven instead of led will lead to lower spiritual maturity.

How so?  Aren't the cowboy pastors telling people to evangelize, pray, and read the Scriptures for themselves?

Well, absolutely, but consider the two guys we all knew in college; one was smart and did his homework because he had to, and the other lived for his major.  Which one did you want to hire when you got done?

OK, maybe the "geek" had some other issues, but if you really wanted to get somewhere with his subject, you'd be talking to him, wouldn't you?  The same thing goes for study of the Scriptures; if you want to know who is going to really know and apply them, you're going to look for the person with internal motivation.

And so we find that if we should desire to have congregants read and apply the Scripture for themselves, it would seem that the pastor who excites the desire of his flock to enjoy the Word by leading them to that green pasture would have a much better chance than the cowboy who tries to drive his flock through the desolate areas to that same pasture.

It's like the example I drew yesterday; those who knew the glories of the Gospel from interaction with the apostles evangelized almost without being told to do so.  They made disciples without that admonition, and their prayers ascended up to Heaven as a sweet smelling savor.  We've got something to learn from them.

An example of people learning from the first century; I once visited a church in Kiel, Germany, which had been bombed out and renovated in a singular way.  I talked with the pastor--who had lost some fingers in the Battle of the Bulge--about why the historic vaulted ceilings had not been restored, but rather steel columns now supported a light roof.

He mentioned that reading of ancient church history had suggested that the early church did not in general sit theater-style in parallel rows, but rather sat in a circle.  Hence the pews were arranged in that manner so the congregation could respond not only to the pastor, but also to each other.

Perhaps his understanding of history is correct, and perhaps not.  I haven't read the Church Fathers.  However, I know fully that he led me to an understanding of how church members ought to interact with one another.  He was in this way fully a pastor.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

OK, what IS a cowboy?

Having received a note from a dear brother asking "you're not talking about..., are you?", I figure that I might do well to clarify exactly what I'm talking about, and exactly whom.  The latter first; I am talking about everyone, but no one.  That is, in a society where we revere corporate and government leaders, it will be a rare church that is not impacted, but hopefully the Holy Spirit diverts many from this problem, at least to a degree.  I am trying not to accuse, but to edify--we will see how successful this is!

So how do we recognize the cowboy, or the pastor implementing corporate methods?  It's rarely as obvious as the pastor having a multimillion dollar birthday party for his wife (Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco Electronics), or even the $6000 air conditioned doghouse for which Jim Bakker is rightly infamous.  If your pastor is doing this sort of thing, take notice, but rarely will things be that plain to see.

More often, the pastor is described as "old school," or one can tell that everything is being managed from the pastor's office--or perhaps an influential member of the deacon or elder board.  One sees it when a small group is taken through a program where even the translation of Bible verses used is controlled, or discussion is not allowed (Growing Kids God's Way is a great example).  One sees it when personal preferences are used to define policies instead of Scripture.

Most importantly, though, one sees it as leadership in general uses external persuasion to achieve results instead of leading the congregation to have internal motivation through the Scriptures.

To draw a picture, count the number of times the New Testament commands believers to make disciples and evangelize.  My count so far is Paul's admonition to Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist", the Great Commission, and the sending out of the twelve and the seventy.

Now of course this doesn't mean that it's unimportant--it is a matter of eternal life and death, of course.  What's telling here is that with little admonition--and no tent revivals, crusades, tracts, and other methods we use today that would have gotten the ancient Christians killed in the Circus Maximus--our spiritual forebears turned the Roman world upside down by making disciples.

Worth noting, no?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The megachurch, cowboys, and shepherds

Due to events too close to home (no details, just pray), my attention has been drawn to the various ways a church can start to dishonor Christ--ways that really seem to be too numerous to count.  There is one Way that we can get it right--the faithful preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the whole counsel of God--and when one ignores that one way, there are infinite ways one can go wrong.

That said, one of the more pervasive ways a church can go wrong is if the pastor starts to see himself as a cowboy rather than as a shepherd.  That is, he sees the congregation as cattle to be driven from Texas to Kansas--Texas of course being an emblem for "Hell," as General Sheridan noted.  (If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas.....sometimes Mark Twain gets credit/blame, too). 

While leaving Hell (or Texas?) is commendable, the trouble is that the word "pastor" means not "cowboy," but rather "shepherd," and as a rule, you do not "drive" sheep anywhere.  Those who try quickly find that they scatter--just as sheep will scatter without a shepherd, as the Scripture notes. 

So how do pastors act the part of the cowboy?  Well, again, there are nearly infinite ways they can do this, but it all starts, in my mind, when we substitute the ways of our world (where managers and government leaders all too often are allowed to play the old Texas cowboy), assuming that since it seems to work for our favorite corporate or political leaders, it'll work in the church. 

It is appeal to authority and, by and large, micromanagement, and it has terrible spiritual results--as we would expect when we take a look at Luke 22, especially verse 25 and thereafter.  Those who claim the name of Christ are to be radically different than the world, and one great way to start is by remembering that the greatest among us is to be the servant of all.  I'll be going into the tragic results of "cowboy" or "my way or the highway" leadership over the next few days.  I hope you will be blessed and edified.

A great quip on higher education

Douglas Wilson, in a wonderful piece about the upcoming election, puts in a jibe that should be required reading by every professor in the country:

We are a highly educated university community, and therefore we tend to elect people who can't count.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Logic by advocates of the government schools

The HSLDA links a newspaper guest column with apparently this logic:

Problem: the government schools are shuffling likely dropouts over to the "homeschool" category to reduce their reported dropout rates.  (what did you think would happen with Ted Kennedy's "Most Children Left Behind" bill?  Honesty?  Please!)

Solution: regulate homeschoolers more.

I'm thinking that perhaps a better way of dealing with the situation would be mandatory ethics training for government school administrators, and perhaps also mandatory classes in at least informal logic.  Of course, the latter might not help classroom management, as kids would start to figure out what was really going on.  Or maybe.....they already have.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Something they should teach in "sex ed"

Phyllis Schlafly notes something that Walter Williams has noted as well; if you want to avoid poverty, wait until you get married before having children, and stay married.  If this advice were followed, and parents pursued responsible jobs, the poverty rate would drop by 80%--and along with that, a large portion of the need for welfare spending would disappear as well.  In a decade or so, millions of children that would otherwise have been raised in single parent homes might, due to judicious discipline by a father, NOT enter the justice system.

Now granted, not every "sperm donor" ought to be accepted as a husband, and not every "egg carton" is going to be a good wife, either.  However, if our government stopped doing things to discourage wedlock (SIECUS based sex ed, TANF telling girls they can have their own place if they simply have a baby, etc..) and taught this lesson of basic economics, it's a good bet that more men would be qualified to be more than a "sperm donor," and our nation would benefit immensely.