Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Feel Crummy Today...

I have what my doctor told me is "officially, the creeping crud." She says that the root cause is the wild fluctuations in temperature we've experienced so far this winter.

I've been fighting the Crud all week long--feeling terrific one day and lousy the next. Today, we had to scrub Catechism class. I'm praying I get through this afternoon's worship and feel better for tomorrow's celebration.

Anyway, this may be the last post for the day. After today's worship, I'm planning on sleeping, watching college basketball, sleeping, reading, sleeping, eating, and sleeping.

Speculation on Ohio's Upcoming GOP Primary Race for Governor...

...from Michael Meckler.

Charlie at 'Another Think'...

gives us something else to think about.

Friday, January 20, 2006

"Du Bist Deutschland" Once More a Hot Topic

In recent days, I notice that on Technorati, the site that measures and ranks what's hot in the world of blogging, the number one blog topic has been the "Du Bist Deutschland" campaign in Germany.

I was intrigued by this campaign, the German reaction to it, and the discovery of the similarity between this phrase and one used by Nazi propagandists several months ago, I posted on it twice:

'Du Bist Deutschland' and the Tragedy of German History
More on Germany's Mood

Guess Who Said This...

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

Was it:

a. John Wayne
b. Ayn Rand
c. Joseph Campbell
d. Benjamin Franklin
e. Steve Jobs
f. Howard Hughes

Before I give you the answer, let me tell you what I think of the statement. There are three parts to it:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life." True enough. Tamar Jacobson has recently written of her lifetime penchant for "matching up" with others. What Tamar calls "matching up," I call "comparing myself to others."

Sadly, I do this all the time in so many ways:
  • If a "successful" pastor is pursuing a particular program, I decide, at least momentarily, that I need to ape what she or he is doing.
  • If I read of someone my age attaining a notable success in some field, I beat myself up for having wasted my life.
  • If I hear someone berating their spouse for faults, real or imagined, I get puffed up inside, telling myself how wonderful I am by comparison.
It's a deadly game. And it's stupid. God has made each of us one-of-a-kind, no matter how the demographers, pollsters, marketing experts, and sociologists may think they have us figured out. In the Old Testament portion of the Bible, King David marveled at how he had been "fearfully and wonderfully made" by God. In the New Testament, the great preacher and thinker Paul acknowledged his deficiencies, marveled that God would call him to fulfill some purpose in God's plans for the world, and said that by God's grace--God's undeserved favor and charity--"I am what I am."

Paul would agree with our mystery speaker: "Don't waste your time by living someone else's life." Be the best you can be! Don't accept somebody else's blueprint for your life.

Then, our mystery person said, "Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking."

I love this! Generals, it's said, must fight the impulse to prepare for and fight the last war. Classic examples of this might be the way the French tried to forestall the invading Nazi armed forces during World War Two, the manner in which the British tried to combat the American Revolution, or, some would say, the way the US fought the war in Vietnam. In each case, the generals in charge used sound military strategies...for a previous conflict, but not the one they were fighting.

This is true for more than just generals. Corporations gain success and grow, only to become staid, rusty, and ungainly when new technologies come along. Politicians keep offering the same old tried-and-true formulae long after they're relevant to what's going on in the world. I could go on, but you get the idea.

A commitment to avoiding the traps of old dogmas and common thinking must go beyond the window dressings of tactics and strategies, though.

I always tell the people of our congregation that if there is one word I would use to describe the internal dynamic of the Christian life, that word would be change. "Behold, I make all things new," God declares in the Bible. In one of my favorite New Testament passages, Paul says that if anyone is "in Christ Jesus," a phrase meaning, if a person is following Christ Jesus, "there is a new creation," the old has passed away.

In the Bible lesson that we'll be looking at in our worship this weekend, Jesus calls people, in a literal translation of the New Testament Greek, to "Keep on repenting and keep on believing in the good news."

To repent is to change one's mind. Jesus says that we're to keep on changing our minds. That doesn't mean that we're to become inveterate flip-floppers, changing our basic life philosophies like chameleons change colors. It does mean that when we're taking the wrong road--morally, ethically, attitudinally--and when we're in ruts that take us far from growing as a living God would want us to grow, we need to say, "God, I can't seem to go the right way. Please turn my life around." I've seen God answer that prayer many times...every day in my life, in fact!

Finally, our mystery speaker said, "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

There are a lot of voices telling us what to do and how to live our lives. But are we any better off when we listen to that inner voice to which the speaker refers? I don't think so.

You see, whether the voices are those of other people or our own, they have something in common: They all belong to finite, faulty human beings.

It's so much better to listen to God. "Your Word," the Old Testament says, referring to the Scriptures, "is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." The Bible, we Lutheran Christians says, is the authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice. The Bible is God's Word because it tells us all about The Word of God--the One the Gospel of John calls the Word of God: Jesus Christ.

The sixty-six books that compose the Bible are called the canon, a term that means basically, the measuring rod. We measure our lives and thoughts and actions against it.

When we feel laid low by our finitude or sin, we turn to the Bible and find that God is for finite, sinful human beings. In Christ, He went to a cross to die and rise in order to give new lives to just such people.

When we feel depressed, the Bible shows us that "God is love."

When we feel arrogant, we learn that God calls us to be servants to each other.

On the Bible's pages, we learn that the ultimate expression of our humanity is to love God and to love others. We learn too, that when we fail to express our humanity in love, God is quick to forgive the repentant and quick to help us become all that He had in mind when He made us.

Listen to our inner voice? Every time I've done that, my life has gone wrong. Listen to God's voice? Every time I've done that, my life has gone right.

One other thing about the Word: There are lots of things on its pages that I can't explain. I don't understand all the wars in the Old Testament, for example. I don't know why God demanded that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac. (Thankfully, God later told him not to do this barbaric act.) I can't explain the seeming inconsistencies that we find in certain places in the Bible.

But this is what I've decided about all those things I can't understand: I acknowledge them and don't allow them to get in the way of my faith or my relationship with God.

Mark Twain once observed that lots of people stew over the things they can't understand in the Bible, but that what worried him were the things he could understand. Twain was an atheist. But I can say the same thing as a Christian.

Besides, I know enough of God's grace through Christ to know that God will never be critical of me for the things I don't understand. After all, I'm only human and the Bible says that God remembers always that we are "ashes." It's far more important to live on the basis of what we do understand in the Scriptures. (I am highly deficient on this score, something about which I pray every day.)

So, while I like our mystery speaker's first two statements, I find the last one very American, actually very human. Who said it?

It was Steve Jobs, quoted in today's New York Times. But, I'll wager, that in one way or another, every one of the folks listed in our multiple choice quiz could have said it.

Do You Have Enough Faith to Not Believe in God?

I used to be an atheist. But intellectually, that approach to the data of life became untenable for me. It became impossible for me to believe that the universe simply came into being. I didn't have enough faith to not believe in God.

Joe Carter has an interesting post on "six impossible things" that one might believe as an atheist. His list:
1. Emergent properties ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities (i.e., matter) and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them. Consciousness, for example, is an emergent property of the brain, arising – like magic – from a specific arrangement of molecules. This magical property which is created by the physical can also turn around and affect the physical matter from which it came.

2. Everything that is real is, in some sense, really physical. Therefore, mental states such as beliefs, desires, and sensations do not exist. Mental states such as the belief that mental states do not exist, do not actually exist but are merely physical states in the brain.

3. Our cognitive faculties have resulted from blind mechanisms like natural selection, working on sources of genetic variation such as random genetic mutation, yet are reliable for distinguishing between truth and false aspects of reality, such as the claim that our cognitive faculties have resulted from blind mechanisms.

4. Evolution is a blind process that has no teleology; whatever behavior works is the behavior that survives. Yet ethical norms of behavior should not be based on what works or what will lead to survival but should be based on concepts not found in nature (even though nature is all that exists).

5. The brain is nothing more than a physical system whose operation is governed solely by the laws of chemistry and physics. Nevertheless, a person’s beliefs (i.e., about the purported existence of deities) are not determined by random fluctuations in the natural laws but are chosen by the individual and should be considered “rational.”

6. A human being has a finite ability to know yet should be taken seriously when making claims that no infinite beings exist.
Read the whole thing.

Thanks to Andrew Jackson for pointing out Joe's article.

Greatest Hits of 2005: September Posts

Here they are: The posts that got the most hits or comments or that I just liked from September.

Real Worship
Jesus Commends Different Responses to Natural Disasters
Learning to Speak Each Others' Language of Love
Growing Up as Christians: Truth for Healing
The Place of 'Place' in Faith and Life, Part 1
The Place of 'Place' in Faith and Life, Part 2
Thoughts on 9/11
Three Things to Remember About Prayer
Attachments, Hubris, and Katrina
I Like the US Way of Electing Leaders
A Whack on the Side of the Head, Randomness, Hurricane Katrina, and Imbuing Life with Meaning
Biblical Resources for Sufferers and Those Who Observe Their Suffering
Liberal Giuliani Loved by Conservative Republicans...What's Up with That?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Two Thumbs-Up for 'The Last Holiday'

Two of my favorite bloggers, Mark Roberts and Danny Miller, have both recently posted glowing reviews of The Last Holiday. The film stars Queen Latifah. Roberts and Miller see the film as less than realistic, yet love it. Roberts is a Presbyterian pastor and theologian, Miller is an educational book editor with a deep love of film and film history. While Mark's review focuses tightly on 'The Last Holiday,' particularly from a Christian perspective, Danny expands his perspective to talk about Queen Latifah's skills as an actor and how her career could develop.

Mark's review

Danny's review

Jeff on Physician-Assisted Suicide

Pastor Jeff has some interesting and nuanced reflections on physician-assisted suicide and the "right to die," triggered by recent rulings from the highest state court in Massachusetts and the US Supreme Court. He writes:
I accept the "pro-life" label for myself. That doesn't mean life itself is an absolute good to be pursued at all costs. We can use technology to prolong life painfully, expensively, and even unnecessarily. Almost invariably, family members will end up providing more life-sustaining intervention for the dying than they say they would want for themselves.

As a Christian, my hope is not in this life but in the life to come, and in the resurrection of Christ (which is the guarantee of my own). I am going to die, in God's good time. Unlike in the past, it is unlikely that I will die in a sudden accident or due to a terrible disease. I will likely live to old age and experience what comes with it - diminished capacities, frailty, and pain.

I think much of the concern about end-of-life decisions is justifiably related to suffering. There are, sadly, many slow and painful ways to die. Suffering (for the Christian) is not an evil to be avoided at all costs, but an opportunity for God to work through our circumstances to produce perseverance, character and hope. And yet, I don't think Christians can demand that others endure suffering simply because of our beliefs about God's sovereignty. Hopeless suffering is cruel.
Read the whole thing.

"Just as the protests are becoming more and more common, so is the use of overwhelming force to put them down."

So says this article about China in today's New York Times.

Advocates of engagement, which would include every presidential administration since that of Richard Nixon, accept the argument of Nixon national security counselor, later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger and his descendants have believed that by engaging the Chinese government and offering them the baubles of Western material bounty, the government there is bound to become more open and create expectations for economic and political betterment among the Chinese people.

While there is a rising middle class in China and the economy is growing at a robust 8% this year--down from a 10% annual growth rate over the past several years--there is little evidence to suggest that the repressive regime in Beijing is changing its ways.

The question, of course, is how long will it take for engagement to bring about the critical mass needed for democracy to spring forth there?

In the meantime, won't we in the West, seeing visions of dollar signs in our heads, risk complicity not only with the repression of the Beijing government, but also its militarism and desire for domination over other countries, including the United States?

Haven't we got this whole thing backwards? Capitalism sprang from democracy, not the other way around. What happens when we enable a bloodthirsty regime to get us and the rest of the world over an economic and military barrel?

What do we say to a repressive regime with designs for exporting its repression that adopts a modified capitalism in order to buy off a portion of the populace, denies the country real freedom, and buys the complicity of Western corporations with its repressiveness?

One thing we say is, "No!" And we do it a lot more often than we have under Presidents, Republican and Democrat, for the past thirty-four years.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

My Family Won't Be Able to Stand My Company

I might get the big head. That's because, in addition to Tim Thompson's link and kind words to a blog article here, Mark Swanson, over at Best of the GodBlogs linked to a couple of things I wrote about the mummified grandma from the Cincinnati area whose body was found perched in front of a TV set last week. Thanks, Mark!

A Real Gem from Tim Thompson

I'm flattered by Tim Thompson's kind words about a recent post on this blog. But what I really like is his honest remembrance and wrestling with the demon of selfish ambition. If this makes sense, I'm humbled by Tim's humility. Tim calls my post a gem. The truth is, what he wrote in response is the real gem!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Mark 1:14-20

Once more this week, to help the people of our congregation--and anybody else who's interested--get ready for weekend worship, I'm presenting my thoughts and studies in progress surrounding the Bible lesson on which worship will be built. This is the first of what I think will be several "passes" at these verses.

This weekend's Bible lesson is Mark 1:14-20:
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Some thoughts...

v. 14: (1) John the Baptizer was an apparent threat to the religious and political power-holders. Inherent in his very call to repentance is the notion that people have something for which they must repent. To repent in the Greek of the New Testament literally means to change one's mind. The Hebrew word for repent, with which Judeans would be familiar from weekly reading of the Old Testament Scriptures in worship at their synagogues, means to turn, the idea being that while a person has been walking away from God, they now will walk toward God.

Smug religionists would have deemed John's call to repentance a threat. His talk of a mighty
King waiting in the wings of history would have threatened the Roman occupiers of Judea. And the sight of throngs of people seeking spiritual renewal in response to the Baptizer's preaching would have naturally caused jealousy among the priests and scribes in Jerusalem. These all would have been among the obvious reasons for John to have been arrested.

(2) The word for arrest, commentator Brian Stoffregen points out is paradidomi in the Greek. It's the same "word that is used for Jesus' 'betrayal' or 'handing over' ([Mark] 3:19; 9:31; 10:32; 14:10, 11, 18, 21, 41, 44; 15:1, 10, 15)." John's arrest, his handing over to the authorities, is really his death sentence. The same will be true of Judas' betrayal, his handing of Jesus over to the authorities, on the first Maundy Thursday.

Stoffregen goes on to suggest:
It may also be that John and Jesus are both precursors to the fate of the disciples who will face 'being handed over' (13:9, 11)
I think Stoffregen is right. There is a pattern iterated in the lives of those who follow God's will and Jesus. Christians must be under no illusions: To throw in with Christ is to be on the "winning side of history," so to speak. (Or more accurately, the winning side beyond history.) But following Christ in this world is not easy.

Stoffregen quotes Mark scholar James Edwards' commentary of the Gospel:
The arrest of John and the beginning of Jesus' ministry are intentionally correlated to show that the gospel is proclaimed and known in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort.
(3) In fact, there's an irony in Jesus' proclamation of good news (euaggelion in the Greek) at just this point. As Stoffregen notes, the words euaggelion and the verb, euaggelizonai, meaning to tell the gospel or good news, "traditionally...referred to victory in war."

You may remember reading, as a kid, about Philippides running from Marathon to Athens in order to give the good news that the Athenians had won a great battle in the Persian Wars. (Some historians believe that this is inaccurate, as you can read here.) In an era when there were no forms of mass communications, runners were sent with messages to far-flung places. This was especially true in times of war when cities and nations would anxiously await word on the disposition of battles. The messenger who brought word of a victory in battle had good news, euaggelion! (Conversely, the messenger who brought word of defeat had bad news. Bearers of bad news often were slain on sight, making the job of messenger one without much in the way of long-term security since not every battle can be won. But this is where our phrases of today: "Kill the messenger" and "I hate to be the bearer of bad news" come from.)

The irony in Mark's Gospel is that in the midst of the bad news about John's imprisonment, Jesus proclaims good news, victory in the face of seeming defeat. Jesus is saying that God is acting in the midst of the bad in the world. He still is! (You might want to read Four Things to Tell Children After 9/11, paying special attention to the fourth thing.)

v. 15: (1) Jesus' message is a three-part announcement:
  • The time is fulfilled: History is ripe for God to break in with the Savior
  • The Kingdom of God is near (More on this below.)
  • Repent and believe in the Good News (Gospel, euaggelion)
(2) "The time has been fulfilled." The word for time in the original Greek of this passage is kairos. This is one of two main words for time in Greek. Chronos is the word for time that most closely approximates what we mean when we talk about time. It's chronological time, the succession of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years.

Kairos though might best be thought of as God's time. For the time to be fulfilled in this particular case then, is for all the things God deemed necessary to be in place for the entrance of the Savior on the world scene. That God operates on His own timetable and not ours is important for we impatient humanoids to remember. Peter says:
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. (Second Peter 3:8)
(3) The phrase kingdom of God refers to the dynamic reign of God. It's not a place, but a state of being and that state of being is a status of restored relationship with God. Through Jesus Christ, all who repent and believe in His Gospel, come under the dominion of God. But the phrase means something even more specific than this, which I'll touch on below.

(4) I like what Brian Stoffregen has to say about the Greek word translated as is near:
The verb eggizo...means 'to come near." It can refer to space, as one person coming closer to another person. The same...form is used of the betrayer "coming near" Jesus (14:42) in the Garden of Gethsemane...The word can also refer to time, as "it's almost time."

[But the perfect tense of this verb, which is what we have in this passage]...indicates a past action with continuing effects in the present. When we say that "The rule of God has come near..." [that] implies that God's rule is near or perhaps God's rule has arrived."
Stoffregen goes on to quote Edwards' commentary again:
In Jesus of Nazareth the kingdom of God makes a personal appearance.
To paraphrase one of Amy Grant's old songs: "The Kingdom has a Name: Jesus." In Jesus, the Kingdom of God has made a very personal appearance!

(5) As is characteristic of all four books we call Gospels in the New Testament, there's an understated quality about Jesus' appearing. He just shows up. As Ched Myers, quoted by Stoffregen, notes:
Instead of a [grand] kingdom epiphany, the second act [in Jesus' ministry] opens with Jesus wandering by the sea, bidding some common laborers to accompany Him on a mission.
Nothing about this chapter suggests that very much about the world has changed as a result of the kingdom of God coming near through Jesus. In fact, if you weren't looking through the eyes of faith, you couldn't see His Kingdom at all.

This is not very like what you would expect from that word, euaggelion, the good news about some earth-shaking, life-changing victory. As Myers also writes:
Mark pursues a narrative strategy that consistently frustrates the equation between epiphany and victorious holy war.
(6) In my message last Sunday, I extemporaneously paraphrased Martin Luther's sentiment that "the problem with born again Christians is that they're not born again enough."

By that, he meant that for many Christians, faith in Christ is like a one-time business transaction. They think of repenting and believing, the last portion of Jesus' three-part message in verse 15, as a one-and-done deal.

But the verb tense in which Jesus' words are recorded in Mark put the lie to that sort of static approach to faith. As Stoffregen points out, those words translated as repent and believe "are present tense imperatives...[implying] continued or repeated actions. 'Keep on repenting!' 'Keep on believing!'..."

This and other passages in the New Testament explain why Luther wrote in The Small Catechism of the need for Christians to live "in daily repentance and renewal," always surrendering ourselves to God so that we can face life with God's power, forgiveness, wisdom, hope, and love.

(7) As to the substance of repentance, I can't say it any better than Stoffregen says it:
Repentance properly understood is an "I can't" experience, rather than an "I can" experience. If repentance is promising God, "I can do better," then we are trying to keep ourselves in control of our lives. If we can do better, we don't need a gracious God, only a patient One who will wait long enough for us to do better. When we come before God confessing, "I can't do better," then we are dying to self. We are giving up control of our lives. We are throwing our sinful lives on the mercy of God. We are inviting God to do what we can't do ourselves -- namely to raise the dead -- to change and recreate us.
It's impossible for me to tell you how excited I was when I read that paragraph. Stoffregen has nailed what repentance is about incredibly well! (I also can't tell you how much my sinful self wished that I had written it. That, in turn, goes to show you how desperately I need to keep repenting.)

(8) In explaining the "believe in the Gospel" part of Jesus' proclamation, Stoffregen says:
the flip side of the "I can't" is "believing the gospel"--"God can."

v. 16: (1) Jesus calls a set of brothers--Simon and Andrew. Later, He will call another set of brothers, James and John. They were fishermen. Fishermen, generally, were wealthy people.

Fishing, as I've explained before, was a licensed operation. Those who wanted to fish had to pay hefty fees to the local tax collector. The prospective fisherman had other capital outlays in his equipment and boats.

But once fishermen established themselves, they could become quite rich. We see that James and John were part of a prosperous family business because, when Jesus called them, they left the employees and their father behind. Andrew, soon to be rechristened by Jesus as Peter, and Simon no doubt were well-off financially as well.

(2) Stoffregen points out that literally, Jesus didn't ask these new disciples to follow Him, but to "Come behind Me." The Greek word is opiso. It's the same word Jesus uses when rebuking Peter for trying to prevent Him from going to the cross: "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Mark 8:33).

The implication of this word choice on Jesus' part is that He's calling these wealthy young businessmen to voluntarily subordinate themselves to Him. That's Jesus' call to us today!

v. 17: Jesus calls these first disciples to work. His call to us is more than just a call to salvation; it's also a call to take on the work that He gives us to do, too.

The work? To fish for people.

There was in ancient Judean thought, a great fear about the sea. In the sea, the leviathan, the sea monsters mentioned in the Old Testament, lived. In the first of two accounts of Creation found in the book of Genesis, the primordial chaos over which God's Spirit hovered to bring about life was pictured as roiling, stormy sea (Genesis 1:1ff). The sea therefore symbolized darkness, evil, and separation from God.

Applied to the task which Jesus now says will be the work of these fisheremen, Jesus' words appear to mean that they will call people from lifelessness and separation from God to life and fellowship with God.

But, there will be a "dying to self," too. When fishermen drag literal fish from the water with their "embracing" nets, fish do die, after all and this is part of Jesus' image. Stoffregen writes:
They were dragged from life in the water to their death in the air.
The newly-called disciples of Jesus are to engage in a ministry in which they call people away from the securities of a world where for now, they can breathe, but will eventually die, to a life in a Kingdom that will last forever.

v. 18: Simon and Andrew respond to Jesus' call immediately. Subsequent events show that they needed to be called many times more and in many ways by Jesus. A faith relationship with Christ, while we walk on this planet, is always a work in progress.

vv. 19-20: James and John respond with a dispatch equal to that of the other two brothers.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why Rice's Expressed Disinterest in Running for President Really is Disinterest in Running for President

Ann Althouse is parsing a new statement by Condoleezza Rice, in which the Secretary of State expresses zero interest in running for President. But Althouse claims to see in it reason to believe that Rice will be a candidate.

I left a comment at Althouse's site:

I think that you're engaging in eisegesis rather than exegesis of Rice's statement. [Eisegesis is, in effect, reading into words what we want to see. Exegesis is extracting from words their actual intended meaning.]

Yes, the "I know what I'm good at..." phrase is in the present tense. But it's referent isn't the outside world, it's to herself. She knows what she's good at doing. She knows her talents and her interests.

She also knows her limitations. That's probably what comes through most clearly to me in her statement. As a devoted Christian, Rice knows well and takes seriously Paul's admonition in Romans 12:
" the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."
Paul isn't calling Christians to self-abasement, but to liberation. Once one understands what one's gifts and abilities are, it frees a person from scurrying down other person's pathways. The siren's call of acclaim has led many a person to take up tasks that had nothing to do with their gifts, skill sets, or passions. For whatever strengths or deficiencies she may have as a policy-maker, Rice appears to be spiritually mature enough to recognize that running for political office isn't her thing.

As an old pol myself and as one trained to be a History teacher, I've talked about the prospects of a Rice presidential candidacy several times. In those posts, I haven't even looked at the religious angle, which I think plays a powerful role in Rice's approach to life. Here are the URLS for two of those pieces:

Condoleezza Rice for President?

Will Condi Be Nominated by the GOP in 2008? I Don't Think So, But Not for the Reasons You Might Think

[Notice that each of these posts has been incited by Althouse touting Rice as a presidential contender.]

Two First Impressions of 'Team of Rivals'

I've been slowly reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's newest book, Team of Rivals, a sort of multi-person biography of Abraham Lincoln and the others who vied for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and the story of how he brought them all together in his Administration.

Although my snail's pace in reading it is because a lot of other reading I'm also doing right now, the book itself starts a bit slowly. (Although I was interested to read about Salmon P. Chase's residence in my hometown in Columbus, where he served as governor. In fact, yesterday during a trip to visit family there, my wife and I wheeled by the corner of Sixth and State, just three blocks from the State House. There, Chase resided in a mansion where his beautiful teenage daughter served as de facto First Lady, owing to the fact that Chase was widower to three different women. But the house is no longer there. Why I'd never known about where Chase had lived while in Columbus, I'll never be able to explain.)

But once Goodwin gets into her tale, it's quite good. Two general impressions, one substantive, the other a matter of "style," I suppose.

1. No Lincoln biographer has done a better job of delineating the depths, the persistence, or the powerful force of Lincoln's ambition. It's not that other biographers haven't pointed to this central, defining aspect of Lincoln's personality before, David Herbert Donald especially. But Goodwin brings together all the indicators in fresh ways.

While Lincoln was magnanimous in defeat--he had little choice since he was defeated so many times--his ambition played a role like that of religious devotion in other people. Lincoln appears not to have believed in eternity. What he craved more than anything was to do something great and of positive, enduring value, that would cause his name to be remembered by subsequent generations.

(Ironically, in his book, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, Jim Bishop recounts a boyhood conversation of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth, too, wanted his name to redound through history. But to him, Booth told his childhood friend, whether the notorious action brought fame or infamy was immaterial. The point was to be remembered.)

2. Goodwin is obviously (and understandably) pained by the plagiarism controversy that gathered around a previous work. Then, it was shown that some of the material she presented as her own actually was lifted from another historian's work. Frankly, it's easy to see how, in the course of voluminous research, one could accidentally plagiarize, something I constantly hope and pray I don't do in my little writings here and elsewhere.

But throughout this work, Goodwin tells us things like, "As historian so-and-so tells us..." Or, "As biographer such-and-such says..."

Some have criticized the frequent appearances of such phrases in Goodwin's book as being disruptive of the narrative. I don't agree. I'm enjoying Team of Rivals and think it's a notable achievement in biography, with keen insights into nineteenth century America and into the practice of politics.

King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Deborah White presented this eloquent statement from King on her blog last year.

'I Have a Dream'

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here is the text of his I Have a Dream speech. May the dream one day come to pass for all people, in America and around the world.

China, Inc. Keeps Rolling

With its economy projected to grow at a "modest" 8% per year in 2006--it was growing by 10% annually--China has announced that its foreign currency reserves rose by 34% last year! (The US economy is growing at about 3% per year.)

This turn of events, Forbes notes, is largely fueled by the massive trade surpluses enjoyed by China with its trading partners from around the world, especially the US.

Notes Forbes:
Beijing is under pressure from Washington and other trading partners to let the yuan rise. They complain that the government-controlled exchange rate is too low, giving Chinese exporters an unfair price advantage and hurting foreign competitors.
So, far the government in Beijing is not budging on this matter. Is China, Inc. an arm of China, the unrepenant regime of repression, military build-up, and hegemonic designs? Duh!

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I've Mentioned This Before, But...

...Michael Meckler has one of the best political blogs around. If you're from Ohio or are just interested in politics here in the Buckeye State, always important in national elections, you've got to read his stuff regularly!

As Republicans in House Elect New Leader, a Call for Reform!

A number of bloggers identifying themselves as "center-right" have issued a challenge to Republicans in the US House of Representatives. Other bloggers, including me, have signed their agreement with it. The text reads:
We are bloggers with boatloads of opinions, and none of us come close to agreeing with any other one of us all of the time. But we do agree on this: The new leadership in the House of Representatives needs to be thoroughly and transparently free of the taint of the Jack Abramoff scandals, and beyond that, of undue influence of K Street.

We are not naive about lobbying, and we know it can and has in fact advanced crucial issues and has often served to inform rather than simply influence Members.

But we are certain that the public is disgusted with excess and with privilege. We hope the Hastert-Dreier effort leads to sweeping reforms including the end of subsidized travel and other obvious influence operations. Just as importantly, we call for major changes to increase openness, transparency and accountability in Congressional operations and in the appropriations process.

As for the Republican leadership elections, we hope to see more candidates who will support these goals, and we therefore welcome the entry of Congressman John Shadegg to the race for Majority Leader. We hope every Congressman who is committed to ethical and transparent conduct supports a reform agenda and a reform candidate. And we hope all would-be members of the leadership make themselves available to new media to answer questions now and on a regular basis in the future.
To learn who else has signed onto this call for reform in the wake of the House scandals, look here.

What Do You Do When Christ Calls You By Name?

(Message shared with the people of Friendship Church on January 14 and 15, 2006.)

John 1:43-51

It happened this past October during a plenary session at GodBlogCon, the first-ever gathering of Christian bloggers from around the country, held in the Los Angeles area. We were gathered to hear two fine pastor-theologians (Tod Bolsinger and Mark D. Roberts) and a professor of Philosophy (John Mark Reynolds) as they were interviewed about blogging by an author and syndicated radio host, Hugh Hewitt.

I was just settling into my seat with the other 100-or-so participants when the Hewitt announced that after he had posed his questions and the panelists had responded, he also wanted three specific attendees to give extemporaneous responses to what we were about to hear. He gave the first two names, people whose writing had impressed me. But I could hardly believe the last name he gave: Mark Daniels. When I heard it, all my old stage fright came back! I was terrified, honored, stymied, and gratified all at the same time. And this was just because he said my name!

Hearing our names pronounced by others can have different effects at different times, of course. When I didn't know the answer to a question in class, I hated it when the teacher called my name.

Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, was fond of saying that there is no word that sounds sweeter to us than that of our name spoken by someone we trust or revere. Most of the time, when my wife calls me by name, for example, it’s wonderful! The person I most want to be with and please, whose opinion matters to me most, calls me by name and in that one syllable resides everything we’ve shared with each other for the past thirty-one years and all the assurance of her love. That’s an awesome thing!

The Bible says that God knows us intimately. He has a supernatural knowledge of all that goes on within us and of everything that happens to us.

More than that, God cares about what happens to us. He cares so much that He became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. Then He died and rose for us so that He could make an intimate and personal connection with us and could call us individually to turn from sin and live with Him forever.

In today’s Bible lesson, a man named Philip goes to a friend named Nathanael and says, “We’ve found the Messiah, the One Who comes to save us from sin and death. It’s a guy named Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter, from Nazareth.”

Nathanael is skeptical. "Can any good thing come from that piddlin’ town?" he asks. Philip doesn’t argue with Nathanael. He just tells him, “Come and see.”

Nathanael takes Philip up on this invitation and as he approaches Jesus, Nathanael gets a surprise. “Look here,” Jesus says, “here is an Israelite without a phony bone in his body!”

Nathanael had never set eyes on Jesus before. So, his question of Jesus is natural: “Where did you get to know me?” “I saw you talking with Phil under the fig tree,” Jesus tells him, implying, of course, an observation that Nathanael was honest enough to express his skepticism to his friend.

Jesus knows all about you, too. He knows your name. The part of the Baptismal service I love the most comes when, with the water and the power of God’s Word, I get to say, “Mackenzie Jane, or, Benjamin Malcolm, today you are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” When God says your name, even in times when he may be displeased with something you've done, it’s always with the deepest love and compassion.

But God’s call to you by name is only the beginning of the story. In the movie, Deep End of the Ocean, Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams play the parents of a child who goes missing. Unbeknownst to them, the boy, Ben, was kidnapped and adopted by a family that lives a short distance from them. This is discovered and confirmed years later. When it is, Ben leaves the man he’d always known as his father to live with his biological family. Things don’t go well and though it breaks their hearts, Ben’s “real” parents decide to let him go back to his adoptive father.

But then one night, the parents are awakened by the sounds of Ben and his older brother, Vincent, playing basketball out in the driveway. After realizing that this group of people was his family, Ben had a decision to make. He had to decide whether to take them up on their offer and live with them for good.

When Jesus calls us into relationship with Him, we have a similar decision we must make. We must decide Who this person Who knows all about us, yet wants to be with us anyway, really is.

Nathanael made his decision right away. “Rabbi,” he told Jesus, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Two questions you must ask yourself when you see Jesus: Is Jesus your God and King? And if so, how does that show up in your life on Monday through Saturday? (Those are two questions I ask myself all the time!)

Now, when Nathanael confessed who he believed Jesus was--the Son of God, a Semitic phrase that means the exact manifestation of God among us, He must have done it with some excitement. But Jesus tells him, in effect, “Nate, man, you ain't seen nothing yet!” Jesus says:
...Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these...Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
Nathanael would have automatically thought of the account in the book of Genesis about something that happened to an ancient founding father--patriarch--of the Jewish faith, a man named Jacob. Jacob had a vision one night at a place called Bethel, a name that means house of God. In this vision, he saw angels and if you believe the scholars I consulted with this past week, Jacob sensed himself ascending and descending stairs or a ramp between heaven and earth. Jesus tells Nathanael that if he’ll stick faithfully to Jesus, Nathanael and you and I and all who follow Christ will see Jesus Himself connecting heaven and earth, God and us.

A few weeks ago, in response to a question during our Saturday GoDeep worship service, I remembered a true story told by Billy Graham in one of his books. An elderly Chinese man was told by a Christian missionary about Jesus. The elderly man was moved to tears and told the missionary, “All my life I knew He was there, but I never knew His Name.” At that moment, that missionary saw heaven and earth come together. He saw Christ come to a man who desperately yearned to know the God Who made him and died and rose to give him life.

God wants us to experience that too! The God Who knows you by name wants you to be part of doing His work in the world. He wants you to be like Philip who lovingly told his friend about Jesus and invited Nathanael to, “Come and see” just how wonderful Jesus is!

On the bulletin boards in the lobby, there are sign-up sheets for our congregational outreach activities.

I have leaflets that you can take into your neighborhoods that invite people to worship with us on either Saturday or Sunday.

You can choose to invite your nonchurchgoing co-workers to worship with us.

There are so many ways you and I can invite others to “Come and see” and so, watch heaven and earth come together.

You see, part of what Jesus was telling Nathanael with His “you ain’t seen nothing yet” statement is that we believers in Christ will see God do great things when we get involved with our faith.

Medical students don’t go into surgical theaters or halls where post-mortems are performed with the idea that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives observing others practice medicine. No, it’s their intent to become practitioners themselves.

Tragically, sadly, churches around the world are filled with what I’ve labeled before as “spectator Christians.” They willingly watch other people do the work of the Church, listen to stories about others’ faithfulness, plop some money into the offering basket or plate, and then motor home to watch football on the tube.

How many of you remember the band Devo? Some of you may be familiar with the work of one of their members in later years: He's the creators of the music for the Rugrats cartoon show. Devo, a group originally from Akron, Ohio, deliberately cultivated a weird image, sort of like Franz Ferdinand today. Once I saw them at a signing party and a fan asked, “Is it true you were potato farmers in Ohio?” One of the members replied, “No, we were potato observers in Ohio.” (I guess a potator observer would be the ultimate definition of a couch potato!)

There’s not much to being a potato observer. There’s not much to being a church observer either. In Christ’s Church, we need fewer observers and more doers. And it isn’t so much that the Church needs us to be doers. It’s that we need to be doers in order to become all that the Savior Who calls us means for us to become! When we give Christ to others, our faith in Him grows.

If you believe that through Jesus Christ, God has called you His own and if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then today--this moment--ask God to help you be a part of His work in the world. Play your part in sharing Christ and eternity with others!

Don’t put it off until some day. Volunteer for a ministry when you’re asked...and believe me, you will be asked!

And make it your priority this week to invite a non-churchgoing friend to worship with us, to come and see for themselves how Jesus Christ lives in and among ordinary people like us and is calling all His children to be with Him by name, here and now.

[The topic of this message was inspired by the outstanding work of the staff at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota and ChangingChurch.]

[The movie, Deep End of the Ocean, has some foul language in it. The music of Franz Ferdinand reminds me a lot of Duran Duran and disco, not my cup of tea. Their lyrics can be downright gross. With these forewarnings, I give a thumbs-up to the movie and a thumbs-down Franz Ferdinand. Of course, media criticism isn't my day job.]