Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"You Prayed and Believed Your WHOLE Life..."

I was watching a YouTube video of the Christian movie, God’s Not Dead.  Many people focus on the part of the movie in which a Christian student challenges his atheistic philosophy professor.  But there are other sub-plots to the movie, as well.  Dean Cain, of Lois and Clark fame, is part of one of those sub-plots.

Dean Cain plays a well-off businessman who, well, is not a very nice person.  His elderly mother was a life-long Christian, and she now has dementia.  In a poignant scene, the Dean Cain character asks his mother why God let that happen to her after she served God her whole life, when she is one of the nicest people he knows.  Meanwhile, the Dean Cain character acknowledges that he is one of the meanest people, and yet his life is peachy.  His mother responds to her son that Satan has built him a comfortable jail cell, and that he can still get out if he wants.  The mother then reverts back to her dementia and asks her son who he is.  Did that plant a seed in the Dean Cain character to cease his wicked deeds?

The Dean Cain character asked a good question.  Or, more precisely, his question was half-good.  Why would God allow someone who served God her whole life—-a nice person—-to have dementia?

The Dean Cain character was very presumptuous, however, when he pointed to his own life being peachy, even though he was a mean person.  Why do I say that?  Because he is not old yet.  Who knows what health problems he will get once he is old?

There is so much in life that can humble a person.  If you don’t find that to be true now, wait a bit.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Envious of the Saved by the Bell Characters?

I’ve been watching Saved by the Bell during my lunch.  The very first time that it came on, which was several years ago, it was at nights.  I did not care for it then.  It struck me as cheesy, corny, and uninteresting.  But then it was on Saturday mornings, and it was on our TV because my sister liked it.  It began growing on me.  Later, it was on right after I came home from school.  I watched it.

I was reading some YouTube video comments, and one person said that he never liked the show because it was about popular high school students, and he was unpopular in high school.

Well, I was unpopular in high school, too, but I still watched Saved by the Bell!  Why didn’t I feel hopelessly inadequate comparing myself to Zack Morris, or fantasizing about being part of the Saved by the Bell clique?  I don’t know.  It was just a fun TV show for me.  I realized that my life was not the same as the lives of those on television.  That was the case with many shows that I watched.  I accepted that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Write-Up: How to Pick Up a Stripper, and Other Acts of Kindness

Todd and Erin Stevens.  How to Pick Up a Stripper, and Other Acts of Kindness: Serving People Just as They Are.  Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Todd Stevens is pastor of Friendship Community Church, which is known for its outreach to the community.  His wife Erin is founder of the Nashville Strip Church, which brings food to employees at strip clubs and offers to pray for them, with the permission of the strip club owners.  Todd and Erin show people the love of God, no strings attached, and they encourage other Christians to do the same.

This is an excellent book about the importance of proactively giving to others.  Many of the stories in the book are inspiring.  Some are funny.  A few are pretty ironic: some seminary students were about to preach about the Good Samaritan, and they ignored someone on the street who was in need!  It’s easier to preach something than it is to put it into practice!

The book also contained valuable insights about different stages of the spiritual journey, and encouraging people to take the next step rather than pushing them into a stage for which they are not ready.

In reading this book, I can find myself saying a lot of “Yes, but…”s.  I’d like to help, but I am too introverted and shy.  I’d like to help, but I don’t have much money for myself, let alone others.  Todd and Erin Stevens address these concerns.  Whether or not you find what they say to be adequate, they are definitely worth hearing out.  Moreover, Todd does not present himself as one who is superior to anyone.  He acknowledges his flaws, often with humor.  He is a work in progress, just like the rest of us.

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book (as an e-book) through the BookLook Bloggers ( book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Reaching Across the Aisle

I am happy—-even moved—-when people reach across the aisle.  You don’t see it often in these days of political polarization.  Today, on a couple of Sunday news shows, I got to see examples of people reaching across the aisle: praising acts done by the “other side.”

First, there was ABC This Week.  Democratic strategist Donna Brazile had this to say about Republican Senator Rand Paul:

“Senator Paul is making a serious effort at trying to have a different conversation with African-American voters — not on traditional issues. He wants to talk about, you know, economic development in poor inner city areas. He wanted to talk about schools. And clearly he wants to talk about this mandatory sentencing.  He wants to talk about restoring the right to vote for ex-felons convicted of non-violent crime…. I’ve had a lot to time to talk to Rand Paul. I see him on CNN just about every other day. And I think these conversations should be had. And I’m glad there’s a Republican willing to sit down with Senator Cory Booker, sit down with Senator Tim Scott, who happens to be a Republican, sit down with the attorney general of the United States, because these are serious issues that need to be resolved and we don’t need a partisan solution.”

Donna Brazile said the following about Republican Representative Paul Ryan’s recent plan on poverty:

“Now, on Paul Ryan, I think it’s interesting that he’s trying to come up with a big plan to reduce poverty in America. Part of it is expanding the earned income tax credit, which is a good thing. There’s parts of it in terms of consolidating programs into a block grant, I don’t know if that’s so good….What was missing in the plan, if we want the talk about the real stew there, was the fact that he didn’t talk about raising the minimum wage, that will also help a generation of Americans come out of poverty as well if we can finally tackle that issue itself.”

President Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary, progressive Robert Reich, had the following to say about Ryan’s plan:

“…I was frankly very impressed. Paul Ryan, who has been cutting programs for the poor left and right, or at least trying to do that for several years now, awarding tax breaks to the rich. Suddenly, he’s had a conversion of some sort. And he is now coming out with a plan that is actually a very interesting plan. Not only does it expand the earned income tax credit, which is the most important anti-poverty policy we have now in the federal government, he extends it, he expands it. He provides some guidance to the states in terms of actually helping people go forward.  It is not exactly a block grant. There are no cuts to poverty programs. This is something that is very new and different from the Republican Party. And I think it deserves a careful look by Democrats.”

I found watching this to be moving.  I then searched online for Bill Moyers’ program, which I also watch every Sunday, and guess what I found: Bill Moyers is interviewing Arthur C. Brooks, President of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.  Bill Moyers usually interviews progressives on his show, and, while those are indeed excellent episodes that open my eyes to problems in the world, they tend to be preaching to the choir.  I doubt that too many right-wingers will watch Bill Moyers because they know he’s a progressive, or they deem him to be an irrelevant has-been.  For a high-profile conservative to go on his show is remarkable, in my opinion.  And, while Brooks was stating a lot of right-wing claptrap, it was amazing what he was actually acknowledging: that the economy primarily benefiting the upper economic classes is a serious problem, as is knee-jerk opposition to government.

These things don’t make me want to become a Republican soon.  With Republican proposals, the question that is usually in my mind is “What’s the catch?”  Moreover, there’s the question of whether I can really trust Paul Ryan, in light of positions he has taken in the past.  Will Ryan change his mind again?  In the case of Rand Paul, I think he’s the real deal—-he’s like his dad, unafraid to go outside of the mainstream and to say what he believes—-but my apprehension about him is that he has bad ideas that would not be good for the poor of for society, even though he also has a lot of good ideas.

I am still happy, though, that Republicans are talking about these issues.  I really wish that this reaching across the aisle would happen more often in Washington, D.C.

Does God Have a Plan for People's Lives?

At church this morning, the theme was God having a plan for people’s lives.  That message somewhat took me aback.  Why?  It’s standard Christian fare, isn’t it?  I think the reason is that I am a bit skeptical these days.

I can understand my pastor thinking that God had a plan for his life.  He looks back, and, even though there were disappointments, things turned out all right for him.  He wanted to be a minister but could not go to seminary, so he went to a business college.  There, he met the woman who would become his wife.  After his wife died, he heard sermons that got him through the mourning process.  He was preaching in various churches, and opportunities opened up for him.  I’ve sometimes wondered: suppose I gave my pastor one of my atheistic books.  Would that shatter his faith, as encountering other perspectives has shattered the faith of so many pastors?  I doubt that it would.  He looks back at his life, and he believes that God has taken care of him.

In my case, I have disappointments and regrets, and I am still waiting to see if God will bring forth good.  Deep down, there is a part of me that believes that God will lead me to a job so that I can store up money and eventually pay off my student loans (as I do my part and look for the job, of course).  I have to have hope!  Do I believe that God has a foreordained plan for my life?  Well, I’m a bit skeptical about that, but I will continue to pour out my needs before God, hoping God will lead me to something.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

I Chronicles 20

I Chronicles 20:2 says the following, in reference to David conquering the country of Ammon:
“And David took the crown of their king from off his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David’s head: and he brought also exceeding much spoil out of the city” (KJV).

The crown of the king of Ammon was put on David’s head.  It weighed a talent of gold.  The HarperCollins Study Bible says that’s 75 pounds.  How did David wear 75 pounds on his head?  That’s really heavy!

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary lists rabbinic explanations, which are in Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 44a.  One is that David did not wear the crown, but it still fit his head.  Another is that there was a magnet on the ceiling lifting the crown when David wore it so that it would not be so heavy for him.  A third explanation is that the stone in the crown weighed the same as a talent of gold, but the crown itself was lighter.  A fourth explanation is that the person who could wear the crown was the one who would be king.  It’s sort of like the sword in the stone of Arthurian lore.  Rashi says that Joash could wear the crown, and Joash was the one in II Kings 11 who was hidden when the wicked Queen Athaliah reigned in Judah.  I can see why Rashi would think that Joash’s right to be king would need to be authenticated after Athaliah was overthrown.  And, according to Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 21b, the crown did not fit the head of Adonijah, the son of David who was competing with Solomon for the throne.

The Artscroll cites the Zohar, which, in 1:110b, affirms that David’s kingship was to come from Lot.  Lot was Abraham’s nephew centuries before.  Lot had two sons: Moab and Ammon.  David was descended from Moab, through Ruth the Moabitess.  But he was legitimized as king through the crown of Ammon.

One thing that I have to give to the “magnet” explanation and the sword-in-the-stone-like explanation: they take seriously the biblical text’s statement that the crown was put on David’s head.  It seems to me that other explanations try to skirt this.  I read one critical suggestion that crowns were placed on cult statues.  Maybe, but the text says that the crown was taken off of the head of the king of Ammon, and put on the head of David.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth

Karl Barth was a twentieth century Swiss theologian.  Because he is often discussed on the religion blogs that I read, I figured that I should solidify my knowledge about him and his theology.  Thus, I checked out The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth.

Barth believed things that many Christians believe: that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of humanity when he suffered and died, and who through his resurrection offered hope to humanity.  Some of what I already knew about Karl Barth’s theology was reinforced or clarified as I read this book: Barth’s belief that humans could not climb their own way to knowing God but depended on God’s revelation, that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, that the word of God was God’s illumination of the Scriptures to individuals and communities, that God elected Jesus Christ and that all of humanity is in him (implying universalism, according to some), and that the Old and New Testaments testify to Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament does so restrospectively, while also maintaining its own meaning within its original historical and literary contexts.

What I learned from this book is that there is a lot that I do not know about Karl Barth.  The scholars in this book were addressing a variety of questions, concerns, and controversies about Barth’s thought.  Did Barth truly believe in the Trinity, or was he a modalist who thought that God only manifested himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Did Barth really believe in the Chalcedonian creed, that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man?  One contributor stated that Barth treated these identities of Christ in functional terms: Jesus as man means that Jesus submitted to God and served his fellow human beings.  Because of the importance of the incarnate Christ in Barth’s theology, some have wondered if Barth held that Jesus always had a human nature, even before Jesus walked the face of the earth.  Conversely, someone in the book expressed the concern that Barth’s belief in the priesthood of Christ emphasized Jesus’ divinity rather than his humanity.

A lot of these discussions were rather abstract to me.  They remind me that there is more for me to learn.  What I especially appreciated, however, were the discussions about the down-to-earth topics.  What were Karl Barth’s politics?  Many are aware that Karl Barth stood up against Hitler and the German Christians, for Barth believed that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, not the Volk.  But Barth was criticized for not opposing Communism with the same rigor and for his stance against Western conduct of the Cold War.  Barth was concerned that Christianity was so often associated with the capitalistic exploitation that went on in the West.  In addition, while some have maintained that Barth was rather apolitical, Barth did believe that a governmental system can resemble the Kingdom of God, and he promoted societal concern for the poor.

What was Karl Barth’s stance on feminism?  Many feminists do not like Karl Barth.  Barth emphasized God’s revelation rather than looking to human experience (such as the experience of women) in doing theology.  He defined God in largely androcentric terms.  There was also the issue of his own personal life: he had a rocky marriage, and people speculate about what exactly his relationship was with his secretary, who was close to him, and who endured scandal on account of that.  But one contributor tries to explore how Barth’s thoughts can actually serve, or coincide with, feminist theology.

My favorite topic in the book was Karl Barth’s attitude towards other religions.  Karl Barth was critical of religion, period, for he saw that as humans trying to climb their way to the divine.  Because he so emphasized that God’s revelation was through Jesus Christ, many believe that he simply dismissed other religions as false.  One chapter in the book, however, addressed what Barth thought would happen to those who held to non-Christian religions, as well as Barth’s thoughts on whether there could be truth in other religions.  According to this chapter, Barth believed that non-Christians would eventually be saved by grace: that is their destiny, as part of the humanity that is elected in Christ.  And, while Barth was critical of natural theology—-of attempting to learn about God from nature and reason—-he was open to the possibility that Jesus Christ could somehow communicate to humans through concepts within other religions.

This is an informative book.  I did not absorb all of it, even though I did read it in its entirety.  As one essay said, Barth is not easy to characterize.  One has to read all of his thought before one begins to do so!

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