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Month: June 2017

Finished reading: a few more…

Summertime seems to make it hard to get through too many, but here are a few more books that I’ve finished over the past few weeks…

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

Ohler’s book is partly a technical explanation of the development of opiates and methamphetamines by German pharmaceutical companies and partly a chronicle of Hitler’s descent into the hell of addiction. A stunning picture of horror and madness.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson

A beautiful little volume that calls readers back to the spiritual disciplines in a way that is gracious and encouraging.

The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson

I’ve posted several quotes from this book already, and should really queue up several more. Robinson’s essays are so thoughtful and engaging. Finding someone who unashamedly professes a belief in orthodox Christianity while at the same time discussing that faith in terms and from angles that are far outside traditional theological writing is a huge treat. Destined to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Nineteen

Nineteen years ago today Becky and I were married. If I search back through the archives on this blog I’m sure I’d find that I have used the same phrases almost every year. Yes, it was a hot day. Yes, we were young. No, we really didn’t know what we were getting into.

But nineteen years later I can say I have been immeasurably blessed by having Becky as my wife and best friend. Three kids, four homes, a dozen or so cats, and hundreds of softball games later we are stronger, closer, and more content than I think we have ever been.

Here’s to many, many more. Years, that is. And softball games. (Maybe not too many more cats?)

Finished Reading: People to Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle

I’ve honestly been avoiding books on the topic of Christian views on homosexuality because I’ve become so familiar and fatigued with the arguments over the past decade. But this one by Preston Sprinkle caught my attention and was on sale cheap at the time on Amazon, so I downloaded it to my Kindle app and gave it a go.

Sprinkle sets out to take an evenhanded look through the Bible at the various key texts that have been used to argue for both the Affirming and Non-Affirming positions regarding homosexual practice. I’ll give him credit – for the majority of the book he was even enough that I had no real inkling of which side he was going to come down on. Well done!

The beginning of the chapter seven wherein he finally reaches a conclusion (spoiler alert: he’s in the Non-Affirming camp) is where the shine started to come off. Not because of the conclusion he reached, but because of how he addresses 1 Corinthians 6. What do malakoi and arsenokoites really mean? How should they be translated? “Affirming scholars”, he tells us, “generally argue that these words are too ambiguous.” OK. A “brilliant New Testament scholar at Yale University” concludes that nobody can really know exactly what they mean. Later on about arsenokoites, he tells us that “[s]cholars differ widely on what this word means”. But after setting this scene of ambiguity, he essentially says what do these words mean? Let me explain it all to you in 20 pages in a popular-level book. He lost me at that point.

There is good stuff to take away from Sprinkle’s book regardless of which camp you find yourself in. I appreciate his focus on loving individuals rather than flattening them to “an issue”. And if you’re not familiar with the various approaches Christians have taken toward Scriptures related to homosexuality, there are worse places to start than this book to get an overview. I can’t find myself jumping-up-and-down-excited about People to Be Loved, but I can affirm (sorry, couldn’t resist) it as a solid, useful volume.

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue

15-year-old Chris would be in disbelief

File this under “things that would’ve stunned the 15-year-old Chris”.

As a teenager, the evangelical Christian culture we were in lionized people like Jay Sekulow. He founded the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which was out there fighting against the secular world to protect Christians’ rights. He argued and won a 9-0 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed Jews for Jesus could distribute evangelistic pamphlets at Los Angeles International Airport. A sterling example for Christian young people to look up to.

At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was spoken of with disgust. Anti-Christian. There to take away our religious liberty. Thank God we have people like Jay Sekulow to fight them on our behalf.

Fast-forward 25 years.

We now have a President who has been described by Jerry Fallwell Jr. as “evangelicals’ dream president”. In that president’s flurry of anti-immigrant activity, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is now looking to deport more than 100 Iraqi Christians, most of whom have been in the country legally for many years, and send them back to Iraq where they are a heavily persecuted minority.

Wait, what? Christians immigrants being deported? Where are the religious liberty groups like the ACLJ and our brave heroes like Jay Sekulow?

Oh, that’s right: Sekulow is currently a part of the President’s legal team and is making the rounds of the Sunday news talk shows arguing with TV hosts about why the President’s tweets saying “I am under investigation” don’t really mean that he’s under investigation.

And who is standing up for the Iraqi Christians?

The ACLU.

Yes, I know all the objections that will come back to this. Not all evangelicals. Franklin Graham actually broke with the President on this one. Some of the deportees have criminal records. The ACLU supports some causes I disapprove of. Etc, etc.

But really, this is such a stunning reversal of positions (or at least, my perception of those positions) over the past couple decades that it’s enough to set my head spinning. It also makes me happy to have set up a recurring monthly donation to the ACLU.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8, NIV

The extraordinary moment…

Again from Marilynne Robinson’s The Givenness of Things, from a chapter titled “Proofs”, a paragraph (which I am splitting up for online readability) about the extraordinary experience of Christian preaching:

The great importance in Calvinist tradition of preaching makes the theology that gave rise to the practice of it a subject of interest. As a layperson who has spent a great many hours listening to sermons, I have an other than academic interest in preaching, an interest in the hope I, and so many others, bring into the extraordinary moment when someone attempts to speak in good faith, about something that matters, to people who attempt to listen in good faith.

The circumstance is moving in itself, since we poor mortals are so far enmeshed in our frauds and shenanigans, not to mention our self-deceptions, that a serious attempt at meaning, spoken and heard, is quite exceptional. It has a very special character. My church is across the street from a university, where good souls teach with all sincerity – the factually true, insofar as this can really be known; the history of nations, insofar as this can be faithfully reported; the qualities of an art, insofar as they can be put into words.

But to speak in one’s own person and voice to others who listen from the thick of their endlessly various situations, about what truly are or ought to be matters of life and death, this is a singular thing. For this we come to church.

Sabbath is a way of life…

More from Marilynne Robinson’s The Givenness of Things, from a chapter titled “Decline”:

The Sabbath has a way of doing just what it was meant to do, sheltering one day in seven from the demands of economics. Its benefits cannot be commercialized. Leisure, by way of contrast, is highly commercialized. But leisure is seldom more than a bit of time ransomed from habitual stress. Sabbath is a way of life, one long since gone from this country, of course, due to secularizing trends, which are really economic pressures that have excluded rest as an option, first of all from those most in need of it.

Marilynne Robinson on Cultural Pessimism

I’ve been a fan of Marilynne Robinson’s for a while now, though perhaps even more for her volumes of essays than for her award-winning novels.

(As a complete aside: Robinson lives in Iowa City, and my fantasy flight back to Cedar Rapids is to end up seated next to her for the 45-minute flight from some hub airport. In my head we could have some meaningful conversation about theology; in practice it’d take me nearly all of the flight to work up the courage to say hello. Ah well.)

I’m reading through The Givenness of Things right now and enjoying it immensely. I’ve found several passages that I’d like to share, but I’ll just start with one in this post, from a chapter titled “Reformation”. (I’ve split it into a couple chunks to make it easier to read; in the original this is a single paragraph.)

Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and, since we are human, there are always grounds for it. It has the negative consequence of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible. And from time to time it has the extremely negative consequence of encouraging a kind of somber panic, a collective dream-state in which recourse to terrible remedies is inspired by delusions of mortal threat. If there is anything in the life of any culture or period that gives good grounds for alarm, it is the rise of cultural pessimism, whose major passion is bitter hostility toward many or most of the people within the very culture the pessimists always feel they are intent on rescuing.

When panic on one side is creating alarm on the other, it is easy to forget that there are always as good grounds for optimism as for pessimism – exactly the same grounds, in fact – that is, because we are human. We still have every potential for good we have ever had, and the same presumptive claim to respect, our own respect and one another’s. We are still creatures of singular interest and value, agile of soul as we have always been and as we will continue to be even despite our errors and depredations, for as long as we abide on this earth. To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error.

I aspire to this sort of grounded, optimistic faith.