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.

Finished Reading: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Grabbed this one off the library shelf on a whim. I read Kostova’s The Historian a few years back and remember enjoying it, and I was ready for some fiction.

First comment on this one: bet you’ve never read a book set in modern Bulgaria before! (Kostova is an American but is married to a Bulgarian, hence her interest in the region.) The novel flashes back and forth between present-day and early Cold War-era Bulgaria to tell the story of a family and their suffering under Communist rule.

I didn’t find it as intense or engaging as The Historian, but Kostova writes beautifully and the story kept me going until the last page. Not a bad choice for some casual reading.

The Shadow Land: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova

James: Gotta Trust Somebody

Samuel James made a couple excellent points yesterday about our intake of the newsmedia over at Mere Orthodoxy.

The problem for all of us is simple: You gotta trust somebody. No human being can function as their own all self-sufficient filter… To make suspicion and distrust toward established, respected, and accountable sources of information your default orientation is to either put yourself at the mercy of other sources of information–which are probably just as biased and ideological as the sources you eschew, but biased in a direction you’re more OK with–or, even worse, it’s to make intuition and assumption your primary means of knowledge.

Right enough so far, yeah? Then he goes here, which may be a more squirmy point for a lot of evangelical Republicans:

So what? Let’s assume you’re right that every CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, etc etc, news feature is commissioned, written, edited, and disseminated by progressives who sincerely hope I will inch further to the left after reading their coverage. So what? Do their eschatological hopes for people like me actually determine whether the information they present is valid or not?

Here’s where it gets interesting. If the answer to that last question is, “Yes,” then it seems to me that conservatives have adopted a kind of philosophical identity politics. Liberals make liberal news, because they’re liberals. I don’t know for sure, but I could have sworn conservatives were suspicious of worldviews that reduced individuals to the sum total of their sociological groupings.

Yes, this. While we as evangelicals have been told for decades that we can’t trust anything from “the liberal news media”, we need to exercise better discernment than that.

This past year I’ve ponied up for online subscriptions to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. While they’re clearly never without an angle (and no source is), they’ve provided very good and worthwhile reporting on current events. While not perfect, their expertise in reporting provides a good baseline of facts from which to start to understand world events. I’m planning on maintaining my subscriptions to both.

Read widely, think critically, don’t discount the concept of experts… a good word for today.

Rands: Assume they have something to teach you

A brilliant post from Rands today that has broad applicability beyond managing in the tech industry.

When stuck with “marginal” meetings that don’t have apparent value going into them, Rands says he takes this approach:

The marginal meeting. It needs to be there, so I must figure out an angle to increase the value. I’ve got one hack that works consistently: assume they have something to teach you.

We would all be better off to take such a gracious, humble approach with those that we meet.

It is my personal and professional responsibility to bring as much enthusiasm, curiosity, and forward momentum to every single minute of my day. When I find myself in a situation where the value is not obvious, I seek it because it’s always there.

“Hi, Cathy. How do you know Ray? Interesting. How’d you two end up working together in such different parts of the company? No way. I never imagined that legal and engineering would end up working together on that? Tell me that story.”

With three questions, I’ve found a story that will teach a lesson.

A wonderful saint I used to serve on a deacon board with (who has since gone on to glory) modeled this principle for me. Even as a senior citizen, he daily approached young people (as our local director of Youth for Christ) and drew them in with this same approach. Ask questions. “Tell me your story.” Listen intently. Care.

Whether you’re a tech manager or just a person meeting other people on a daily basis, there’s a lot here to be learned.


Rands in Repose: Assume They Have Something to Teach You

Finished reading: another compendium

Finished reading:

Since I can’t seem to get individual posts written…

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan

A short history of the world as viewed with the Persia / India / China Silk Road corridor as the center of the action. Interesting in parts, though was far more of an overview than I was expecting. Now I need to go back and read some Persian and Chinese history.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

An autobiography by the famed rock-and-roller. An enjoyable read that sure seems to have his sense of style… no ghost writing here. I’ve never followed Springsteen’s music closely but it was fascinating to read his story.

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother by Kate Hennessy

A portrait of Catholic radical Dorothy Day as written by her granddaughter. While this book might add a lot of color for someone already very familiar with Day’s story and importance, to somebody like me who wasn’t familiar with her at all, it focused far more on their bizarre (and usually bleak) living and family arrangements. Could’ve been more accurately subtitled A Family Picture from the Perspective of Day’s Daughter, Who Was (Rightly) Put Off by Most of It.

Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business by John Newhouse

Interesting to me primarily because I work in the industry. The book is 10 years old – would be interesting to read an update now that Boeing’s 787 has made it to the field.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren

Now this is a lovely little book. Warren, an Anglican priest from Austin, Texas, looks at how our mundane daily practices can make us mindful of God in our lives and how spiritual disciplines include mindfulness of the little things in life. An encouraging read that was over far too quickly.