Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Minimum Wage is our Cross of Gold

Coming to terms with $7.25

William Jennings Bryan. 

My grandpa, who is in his 90's describes himself as a "William Jennings Bryan Democrat." I think he's voted Republican in pretty much every election for the last 50 years, but that changes nothing.

According to Wikipedia
William Jennings Bryan (March 19, 1860 – July 26, 1925) was an American orator and politician from Nebraska, and a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party's nominee for President of the United States (1896, 1900, and 1908). He served two terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Nebraska and was United States Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915). He resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I. Bryan was a devout Presbyterian, a strong advocate of popular democracy, and an enemy of the banks and the gold standard. He demanded "Free Silver" because he believed it undermined the evil "Money Power" and put more cash in the hands of the common people. He was a peace advocate, a supporter of Prohibition, and an opponent of Darwinism on religious and humanitarian grounds. With his deep, commanding voice and wide travels, he was perhaps the best-known orator and lecturer of the era. Because of his faith in the wisdom of the common people, he was called "The Great Commoner."
In case you can't tell, the vast majority of these positions are irrelevant. Prohibition was tried and failed. Arguments over whether or not the US should be a part of WWI are purely academic. Evolution, especially the arguments he had with it, probably still hold some sway, but it is, just like prohibition and WWI, pretty settled and to the extent they are not, Bryan's position would find more adherents in the Republican party than the Democratic party.

Still, he was a Nebraskan and those of us who are from Nebraska, including my grandpa, are pretty proud of the influence he had.

His Role in Rhetoric.

Any account that you read of William Jennings Bryan seems to emphasize his skill as an orator, a practitioner of spoken, public rhetoric. American Rhetoric consistently ranks puts Bryan's "Against Imperialism" in the top 100 American Speeches of the 20th century (barely making it in, having been delivered in 1900). Because of this profound skill, Bryan has been especially studied in my field, Communication Studies, especially in rhetorical studies. If this were an academic article, I'd put a lit review here. I also wouldn't write "I'd" or "wouldn't."

On of his heavily studied speeches is his famous Cross of Gold speech delivered at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 9, 1896. In this speech he advocated for "Free coinage of silver" in order to remove money from the moneyed class and allow it to distribute more freely among common people.

He was wrong. 

I probably won't tell my grandpa, but William Jennings Bryan was wrong. The US did eventually abandon the gold standard, first by making it illegal to exchange money for gold at banks during the depression. Then, in 1971 Nixon abandoned the gold standard entirely, saying money would no longer be backed by gold. In 1974 Ford signed legislation which made it so Americans could own as much gold as they wanted, making it a thing that could be traded like a commodity which would rise and fall how it could be exchanged for money.

There is still a "moneyed class" however. 

Maybe you haven't noticed, but there are still rich people and they still have a pernicious influence over poor people. The reason for this is that even though gold is no longer the standard, people with money are able to make exchanges that favor them. 

FDR's New Standard-- The Federal Minimum Wage

People say now that we have a "fiat currency." That is, a currency backed only our trust in our government. Sometimes people will say "just print money" to cover our debts. Others argue against this because it would devalue our currency because people wouldn't trust the government not to just do it again.

But no one really trusts the government. 

The same president who banned exchanging money for gold, however, actually, and rather covertly created a new standard. President Roosevelt created a federally mandated minimum wage. You could no longer be guaranteed to get gold for your money as a flat rate of exchange. Instead, the money is backed by a certain amount of unskilled labor; 25¢ could buy one hour of an unskilled American's labor. 

Skilled labor, yes, is worth more, just as finely wrought golden jewelry is worth more than the base value of the gold which was held at $35 an ounce during the years between FDR and Nixon where there was some pretense of a gold standard, although one couldn't do an exchange of money for gold anymore. A medical doctor might make much more, but even a medical doctor, when reduced by extreme circumstance or a sudden loss of skill could get the minimum wage for his labor.

William Jennings Bryan's argument, while still popular, is still not going to address income inequality.

You've got folks today calling for a minimum wage that is more than double what it is today. They think, just as he thought, that this will put more money in the hands of the common person. It won't. It will just mean that the money is worth less, not just because of services increasing their costs to save themselves, but because what the money is backed by really costs more.

Monday, November 14, 2016

It is something else . . .

Coming to terms with my false perception.

Christians are always loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. 

It sounds crazy, right? If you've met many Christians you might think this is demonstrably false. It's not.

So, if you are dealing with someone, and you know that person is a Christian, but that person is acting malicious instead of loving, angry instead of joyful, frantic instead of peaceful, demanding instead of patient, spiteful instead of kind, bad instead of good, rough instead of gentle, flighty instead of faithful, OR excessive instead of self-controlled, YOU ARE NOT DEALING WITH THAT PERSON. THAT IS NOT WHO THAT PERSON IS. THAT IS NOT HOW GOD PERCEIVES THAT PERSON.

Also, if you are a Christian, and you suddenly find yourself acting that way, IT IS NOT YOU. THAT IS NOT WHO YOU ARE. THAT IS NOT HOW GOD PERCEIVES YOU.

And God's perception is the TRUTH. Ours is not.  

From my own point of view, I can perceive that this guy from Church, whose faith I know, just posted a kind-of-racist meme. I know that's not him. He wouldn't do that. It is something else. He is loving. He is kind. My perception is wrong. It is not him. It is something else.

From my own point of view, this woman may have just been disrespectful and cussed me out. But I know her. She's a Christian. So, she is joyful, not angry. She's kind, not spiteful. She's self-controlled, not lashing out. My perception is wrong. That is not her. That is something else.

I can perceive that I have been failing in my struggle and overwhelmed by that failure. But I know that I am filled with the Spirit. So, that's not me. That is something else.

I think this is what Paul was saying in Romans where he wrote "it is not I who sin, but sin living in me" (7:several verses). It is also what is meant by our battle not being against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12). Our war isn't against this other person or even against ourselves.

It is something else. 

Now when I say that it is something else I don't necessarily mean it is a demon. I firmly believe demons work on and in Christians and that whenever we see someone who is not acting like God perceives them, it might be worth taking your authority in Christ rebuking whatever might be there because it might be a demon. I wouldn't do so loudly or in the person's face unless you've received a pretty clear word from the Lord that you're dealing with a demon and that this is the time and way where it is strategically appropriate to fight it.

It might not be a demon though. It might just be the person's ignorance, which can be educated. It might be the person's pain, which can be healed. It might be the person's fear, which can be cast out.

Whatever it is, it is not the person. It is something else. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Doing better than the best I can.

Coming to terms with the best I can do.

I am doing better than the best I can.

Sometimes I get frustrated with myself.
Sometimes other people get frustrated with me.
Sometimes I get frustrated with other people because those other people got frustrated with me.

Sometimes I can't do it all.
So, sometimes it doesn't get done.

But the fact of the matter is that

I am doing better than the best I can.

With my family.
In my work,
With the chores I do,
With the pain I endure,
With the overwhelming sea that is life,

I am not just doing the best I can.

I am doing better than the best I can.

Lie not in wait as a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous;
do no violence to his home;
for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
but the wicked stumble in times of calamity (Prov. 24:15-16).
I keep getting back up. But not on my own.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6).
That's all I am.  On my own I can't get up seven times. I probably couldn't even get up once. Doing my best is junk. I am the wicked who just stumbles, not the guy who gets up.


I am doing better than the best I can.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
And that's the only way I get done what I get done, which is always way more than I can possibly do.

So I need to forgive myself.
I hope others can forgive me
I need to forgive the others who can't forgive me,
for not forgiving me.

Sometimes I can't do it all.
So, sometimes it doesn't get done.


I am doing better than the best I can.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Facebook Grunge (contains spoilers, NSFW)

Television game show hosts are running for President
and the money never can quite come as fast as it is spent
And soda-pop and corn chips gain tribes over their flavors
and she’ll do what she has to do, except change her behaviors
Gorillas and alligators and scorning arm-chair parents
with much to teach too far to reach when guilt is so inherent
Another guy goes on to try to shoot the gay kids down
blood, blood, blood, blud, blub, blub, blub a gurgle and a drown.
Eventually, you pay the Devil his due; you can’t escape
but if you swim like the Devil himself, dues are just six months for rape
Between suicide calls and bathroom stalls, so difficult to choose,
She asks in perfect innocence why do we have to move?
The server in the closet tips the vandals at the tables
surrounded by the bleeding hearts of the mentally disabled
And if he were so sick, you ask, where did he get a gun?
And if so many are so sick, I say, don’t you think that I need one?
Immigrants and walls and whores with dreams and aspirations
She’s not crazy anymore. She’s taking medications
I hold the princess on my lap and watch the whole world breaking
It’s hard to keep the glue on things when things just won’t stop shaking.
So the elders and the deacons and the lawyers on the bench
don’t have their say so they just pray to play, two-cents for common sense
And my phone is way too smart to let me talk to anyone
cause you pay twice for bad advice like bullets for my gun.
My gun is small and shoots too fast and often unexpected
but you’ll feel okay , you took your pills today, you know that you’re protected
from the faggots and the Muslims and the rednecks and the spics
And if you spray yourself with Deet, from mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks.

The chemicals in sunscreen though, like the stuff in vaccinations,
will kill you dead as plain white bread with gluten complications.
So smoke a joint, but just a joint, stop big tobacco’s lies
and worry not, you little snot, at the end, Othello dies.

Monday, June 13, 2016


coming to terms with the Orlando shooting.

What a rich site for us to mine all the demons of our present age: Muslims, guns, gays, Latinos! It makes me sick

I completely agree with Austin Petersen's recent tweet that
Of course, no one is innocent. Christianity teaches that "All have sinned and fallen short" (Romans 3:23). Hinduism says that every bad thing that happens is because we did something in another life to deserve it and that we should, for that reason, "enjoy" the terrible things that happen to us, in that they have worked off some of our Karma "without making any complaint of it" (Nada Bindu Upanishad verse 21). Buddhism teaches that bad things happen because, even when we do good things, we always intend evil:
"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.
"And what is the cause by which kamma comes into play? Contact is the cause by which kamma comes into play.
"And what is the diversity in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell, kamma to be experienced in the realm of common animals, kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades, kamma to be experienced in the human world, kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas. This is called the diversity in kamma (Nibbedhika Sutta: Penetrative).
In Islam they say that “If Allah were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave, on the (earth), a single living creature (16:61).

Greek myth posits the evil inside us as originating with hubris (Pandora, Icarus, Narcissus, I could continue ad nauseam). We who are unholy have chosen to touch the holy thing, and deserve what comes to us.

I think when we find some teaching that is pretty universal, it is something to which we should pay special attention. God seems to have written it on people's hearts, regardless of religion.

Every religion and every philosophical system that holds any serious water agrees. We all deserve to die horribly and painfully, certainly, and probably go to Hell in most religions. And I think we all know it.

Yes, we deserve horrible things to happen to us. We have no right to complain when they do, only to cry out for mercy (not necessarily a universal, but I don't think I could handle a faith or philosophical system without it).

I don't think Peterson meant "innocent" in this sense. He meant it in a very earthly sense. There should be, in a just society, particular consequences (I hesitate to say "punishment," but maybe) for particular crimes, not just a constant vague torture for vague probable failures in the spiritual sense. Perhaps even an "eye for an eye" but not a son for an eye. There needs to be a human-type of justice that handles cause and effect with due process in the human world. We need due process. We need courts. We need juries of our peers.

And in this sense, there are so many "innocent."
  • Innocent LGTB bar goers who have another reason to fear violence. Who see their basic rights to their own body curtailed by fear.
  • Innocent Muslims, who need to worry about ways in which a reactive public might curtail their freedom of conscience.
  • Innocent Latinos who know that this murderer did not just choose a gay bar, but a gay bar on "Latin" night because people with varying degrees of documentation are less able to protect themselves. 
  • Innocent gun owners who are worried that their basic human right of self defense will be curtailed by another part of that reactive public. 
  • Innocent journalists, writers, and thinkers who somehow have to "come to terms" with so many different aspects of right and wrong in a way that calms the reaction, elevates the conversation, and still, sadly, sells copy.
Fear and reaction are the entire point of terrorism. That's why it gets its name. It instigates violence, but it insights terror. Fear makes us do stupid things.

Like take away people's rights and liberties
Like blame innocents because of association
Like blame the victim.

Because if people didn't have the right to protect themselves, they couldn't hurt others.
Because if people of a certain type would do this, then all we have to do to protect ourselves is eliminate that type.
Because if the people who did this deserve it, then it can't happen to us. We don't deserve it.
Then we can feel safe.
Because WE
(those who don't believe in guns, heterosexuals, non-Muslims, whatever)
are innocent
and THEY
are not

But we shouldn't feel so safe
because we're not innocent either.

Monday, May 30, 2016


Sticky crimson ichor still thick and wet
drips from my fingers as I’m remanded.
I hurriedly hide them behind me, yet,
I can’t deny, I’ve been caught, red handed.

Hands so red and shiny! It’s still hot,
from the body where it flowed through a heart.
The old-penny taste of it still has not
left my wet mouth where my teeth left their mark.

My victim’s innocence is just as clear.
I was not acting in my self-defense,
but from selfish pride, a spirit of fear,
hatred, anger, and malicious intents.

My hands are dirty with the only thing
that is pure enough to make them come clean.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Coming to terms with current suffering

I deserve every bad thing that has happened in my life, and worse. 

Contemporary psychology tries to assuage guilt. It tells people that they "deserve to be happy." You don't. I don't. I think we all know this on some level. Happiness is undeserved. We are bad people who do bad things and deserve the bad done to us.

There are good reasons that they most psychologists teach this. Because we don't think we deserve to be happy (because we don't), we sometimes punish ourselves. As a Psychology Today article puts it "For many of us, the deep-rooted belief that we don’t deserve good things makes us resistant to taking care of ourselves as fully as we can." So they say we should realize we deserve good and we can have good.

Except, that's not really what the article, or probably any philosophically honest psychologist, says. That same article goes on to state that: 
Feeling undeserving creates resistance to positive change. Here’s the thing: Once you understand what makes you feel undeserving, it's a process, and a messy one at that to become more self-assured and view your future more positively. What actually happens as you work on forgiving yourself [emphasis added] for the deep-rooted feelings that hold you back, is that you start to feel better, lighter, more relieved, and more understood in your own experience. 
But here's the thing, "forgiving yourself" actually means accepting that you've done something that needs forgiveness. You don't deserve a thing. It means recognizing that happiness is not what you deserve. You deserve bad things. But you are going to take the happiness anyway, because it's being offered.

Happiness, then, is a gift. 

That's what makes it so delicious. Most of us know that a meal with have prepared and worked hard to put on the table as a result of a job well done makes us happy. Realizing that we could never have done enough to really deserve the food on the table, despite how hard we worked, makes us happier. We get more than we deserve. That's part of how we know there is a God; we know we haven't done enough to have what we have. The poorest pauper in Malawi (the poorest country in the world, according to google) knows this. We in the Western world get so used to abundance, we forget it sometimes on a surface level. We know it's still true, deep down.

Footnote: [Of course, there are some logical assumptions here that, like most things when considered philosophically ultimately hinge on theology. The need to forgive yourself assumes some kind of objective morality with some source outside ourselves or our social constructions that say that there are actually some things that require forgiveness. It also implies that any happiness we receive can only be given by someone. Reasonably, it would have to be by the same source as the objective morality. That basically proves there's a God, if you need that. But I wasn't doing apologetics here. I'm actually whining in long blog form.]

Then, sometimes, we don't get it.

Sometimes we are not given the gift of happiness. Sometimes, we get some of the suffering we deserve, which is made many times worse because we've somehow convinced ourselves that we deserve happiness. We don't. We can and should claim it when it is available, but we don't deserve it.

Sometimes, we get the suffering we deserve despite the fact that we are actually doing good, moral, things in the moment:
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name" (I Peter 4:12-16). 
The admonition in verse 15 that "none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler" sometimes hangs us up. The reason for that is that almost every bad thing that happens to us can be traced to some stupidity:
  • I didn't take my prescribed pills properly
  • I wasn't paying enough attention while driving
  • I went to have coffee with my friend even though I knew he had a cold.
  • I shouldn't have been at a place where stuff like that happens.
  • I should have known the investment was shady.
  • I knew I should not have had that doughnut.
  • I let myself get angry and I shouldn't have.

Personally, I hardly ever really suffer for being a Christian.

Sometimes I can't be at certain events for my job because they are things a Christian just can't be a part of, but honestly, no one cares that I'm not there. Sometimes I get a bad student evaluation because I don't keep my faith a secret in the classroom, but both Academic Freedom and the Constitution of the United States pretty much protect me from retaliation or punishment based on that. It's been fine. Sometimes, rarely, someone makes fun of me, but I honestly don't care.

No, my suffering almost always comes directly from some mistake I've made.

And let's face it, mistakes are sin.

But there's a path to deal with sin (and suffering is a part of it).

First of all: God saves us from sin:

God often allows this suffering to shock us out of our humdrum. It is easy to let sin in not as an act of disobedience, but as an act of carelessness or ignorance. When these cause us to suffer, it is a wake-up call that God allows so that we can get away from these sins.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter (II Cor. 7:9-11).  

The suffering produces repentance that gets us away from our sin. That's awesome. Once we repent, we also get the Holy Spirit's power to actually be free from the sin. "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18)

Second of all, God saves us from sin.

So much of the New Testament, and an awful lot of the Old, talks about God forgiving our sins that I could fill up a page that talks about nothing else. Most people have their favorites, John 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:8-9, Etc. Etc. God forgives sin. If you need more scriptures, contact me, because I can get them: hundreds and hundreds of them. It's kind of a basic thing.

So, let's get this done: confession time.

I'm not going to into too much detail on a public blog, but I made some mistakes. My biggest mistake was that I became, as Tony Stark says in the 2008 Iron Man "And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero-accountability." I was not holding other people accountable. I was not being held accountable (because I didn't look for anyone to do so). So, some things were done in my name that I should have put a stop to, and didn't, because it was more comfortable not to. Now these things are my responsibility and I have to live with the fact that I was simply not proactive and the consequences of this are going to be far reaching and painful to me and my family.

So, I'm repenting. I am not just saying I'm sorry, I am actively changing my behavior. From now on I am holding that person accountable. In fact, I am no longer offering them the trust that the person once had. This is not vengeance or anger. It is simply the fact that I cannot and never should have had a zero-accountability relationship. This person may well see me as "throwing them under the bus" because I am taking away the trust, but that's just too bad. It hurts me to do it, but I have to.

Secondly, I am going to talk to a couple of people I trust about more of the details. I've got people I can trust with whom I can talk far away, but I am going to talk to a couple local men who are filled with the Holy Spirit and to whom I am going to give full permission to speak into my life. I will specifically charge them with guiding me and mentoring me to be a better leader so these things won't happen.

I have confessed. I am repenting. God forgave me. But there is STILL suffering.

Here's the thing, the suffering from this point on, while I definitely deserve it, is not coming as punishment. Rather, because of the continued suffering after repentance and forgiveness, the suffering is not in vane. I am suffering, badly. But, this is so that God can bring even greater triumph into my life and show his power.

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 
"strengthening the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith. 'We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,' they said." (Acts 14:22) 
"and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17). 
"For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (II Cor. 1:5). 
"And our hope for you is sure, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort." (II Cor. 1:8). 
"I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death," (Phil 3:10). 
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). 
"if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us;" (II Tim. 2:12).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Grace for a Miracle

Your grace is sufficient for me, and yet,
I was not sent into that wilderness
to die, but that You could show strength and let
me know my weakness and to see You bless.

Your grace is enough but by Your design,
it was not might, nor power, but Your Spirit
that brought down the walls of cities, now mine,
and steered the sling at giants that jeered It.

Your grace is all I need, but still I ask
to muster faith the size of mustard seed
to see You work an impossible task
and save me, again, in this time of need.

It is by Your grace my soul moves and lives.
Your grace is all, because it’s all there is.

Benjamin Cline

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reading the Bible

Coming to terms with what sounds like a simple act.

The Mindset of the Act.

I don't think there have been many days since I learned to read that I haven't read the Bible. I've gone through times of extreme discipline where I read a certain amount every day, usually to accomplish some goal. I try to start off every year and every semester by reading through the Bible pretty quickly in this way: just going in the order by page, chapter by chapter, book by book, until I'm done. I'm a pretty fast reader, so I figure I go through the Bible this way a few times a year.

I've gone through other times where I barely even pick it up.

Usually, most days, there's something in between.

Generally, for me, I'm thinking about something. I remember a verse or a portion of a verse that I think applies and I use my phone's concordance to look it up. I get the context of the verse, look through cross-references, think some more, and look up other verses in the same way as my train of thought goes. It's not the most systematic way of "reading the Bible," but it means I probably spend anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours reading the Bible and thinking about it. Sometimes I spend more time reading. Sometimes I spend more time thinking. It's not very disciplined, but that's how I do it.

This blog, however, isn't about the physical act of reading the Bible. It's about the mindset of the act. It's, in terms we rhetoricians use, how we approach the text. It's something that I think about a lot, but I've been thinking about it more lately.

I teach in the humanities department and the upcoming chair and I have discussed the possibility of me teaching a New Testament Survey class. It's in the catalog and generally does pretty well. I'd like to try it. As I've thought about it, I've considered a few things. What ancillary texts would I bring in? How would I guide discussions? What papers would I consider? What would I allow? These questions have made me think about the ways I approach the text and the ways other people approach the text, or hermeneutics.

Approaching the Text as a True Believer (mysticism).

One way to approach the text of the Bible is simply as a true believer. I am a believer, so often (but definitely not always) this is my approach. When read in this way, issues like historical context, translation, and sometimes even the context of a particular portion to other portions around it are ignored. Reading the Bible is a mystical experience in which one connects with God. It is read in conjunction with His Holy Spirit and verses are brought to life and provide insight on particular contexts within one's own life.

It's a really cool way to read the Bible, and it is advocated in the Bible itself:
"And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21).
So, it is a good way to read the scripture. The interpretation is given, not through contemplation or private interpretation, or studying context, but through an active work of prophesy brought about by the mystical act of interacting with the Word of God.

Like much in mysticism, it's beautiful and mysterious and hard to articulate in tangible terms. I certainly would accept papers that incorporate such a reading, so long as it was incorporated along side and with evidence from one of the other methods It is also not the only way of reading scripture nor is it even the only way that the Bible itself advocates.

Approaching the Text as Theology

Another way that I approach the text of the scripture is theologically. Approaching the text theologically is seeing the text as an argument, or series of arguments about the nature of God and the relationship of other things, including people to Him. Theology is not apologetics (that's historical or philosophical and we'll get to it later). It doesn't try to prove there is a God. It assumes that there is one and tries to logically derive information about that Divinity.

There are different ways that the Bible can be used in this way.

Rhetorical Theology:

I don't know if anyone else refers to this method as rhetorical theology, or if there is another term for it I don't know, but basically, it looks at the text as a coherent argument about the nature of God in and of itself. While I can't think of a place where this is expressly advocated in Scripture, there are lots of places where one scripture refers to another as evidence to the nature of God. In several of the gospels (although I'll use the example from Mark) Jesus engages in this kind of use of scripture to discuss the nature of God:
"Jesus said to them, 'Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong'" (Mark 12:24-27)

So, if Jesus used this method of approaching scripture, most true believers shouldn't have a problem with it either. But atheists or those coming from other theistic systems should also feel comfortable reading the Bible in this way. It is an argument about the nature of God, an argument that an auditor can accept or reject or even reject a part of.

Systematic Theology:

Systematic theology is a means for arguing about the nature of God which can take scripture as its premises and incorporate arguments from other sources in order for the writer to make his or her own arguments about the nature of God. Although I believe the scriptures are rife with systematic theology, it is a little difficult to prove it. The problem is that when premises outside of scripture are used for arguments within scripture, then they become scripture. Thus the theology is no longer systematic but what I previously called rhetorical. An assumption has to be made that the source texts could have been used whether they were used or not. Once that assumption has been made, it is easy to find examples of systematic theology within scripture, the most well known example being Paul's argument to the Athenians at Mars Hill:
"So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’" (Acts 17:22-28)
Arguments here come from multiple sources, those accepted as scripture and those from pagan poets to whom Paul is referring. Scripture is used as a premise of an argument about the nature of God, but only as one of several premises.

Either rhetorical or systematic theology are hardly the only acceptable ways to read the text.

The Bible as Moral Philosophy

The Bible can also be seen as a work, or collection of works, that contain arguments about how we should live our lives. In this way, the Bible can be read alongside the works of Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Hume, Locke, Rawls, and Nietzsche as making arguments for certain thought patterns and resulting behavior. Moral Philosophy assumes that right and wrong, if they exist at all, are logically derived and that by logically approaching these questions, one can arrive at answers for what it means to think and be good in the world.

Most moral philosophy does not claim to be creating something new, but rather to be guiding the reader's thoughts toward a particular goal at which the reader, if she or he had been thinking properly, would have arrived on their own if they really thought things through. It takes the reader carefully from premise to premise, or from narrative to narrative, to show that particular right thoughts and actions are manifest.

The Bible advocates its use as a means of moral philosophy in a number of situations. First of all, the Bible argues that the moral philosophy it advocates stands alone as a morality outside of itself. The morality is knowable by without the Bible and that the Bible merely provides a road-map, so to speak, of a morality already known:
"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (Romans 2:14-15).
Of course, the Bible still claims that it is useful as a road-map to arrive at moral thoughts: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (I Timothy 3:16). To approach the Bible looking for the right way to live and arguments for right living is an appropriate way to read the text, but certainly not the only appropriate way.

Philosophical apologetic is a common approach to using the Bible as moral philosophy. Ravi Zacharias is well known for taking his listeners through a serious of premises logically, with little reference to scripture, and then showing how that logical conclusion is also in the Bible. From that, he asks his auditors to consider that perhaps other portions of the Bible are likely equally important.

Historical Approaches to the Bible.

There is also a way of using the Bible as a historical text. Seeing the Bible as history and reading it to gain insight.

The Bible as History

All historians of the first century Mediterranean world see the New Testament as a primary text. The Bible as a whole is a wonderful tool for getting a glimpses of a time and a place that was very different than our time, but that has a profound effect on us. Some of the authors of the Bible clearly expected their work to have historic significance and even saw themselves as writing the history of their day:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
There are a few ways this is done.

The Bible in History

Using the Bible to Illuminate History

There are two primary ways that people try to place the Bible in history. One is to try to use extra-biblical historical sources in order to clarify certain passages. By knowing the facts about the Roman government, or the Alexandrian conquest of Palestine, for instance one can better understand what it means to "walk the extra mile" or the relationship between Pilot and Herod, or even why the New Testament was written in Greek. All of this adds a richness and clarity to the text. 

Personally, my study of classical rhetoric and the Greco-Roman culture in which both rhetoric and the Bible came into being have mutually influenced each other productively. Knowing how and why certain things were done helps me understand both. So, I approach the Bible this way a lot.

Using the Bible and History to Question Each other

Another way of placing the Bible in history is a Marxist influence coming from a discipline that really caught on in the 1980's and 1990's called New Historicism. This way of looking at the Bible assumes that a great deal of its influence comes from the fact that its interpretation was to the advantage of certain people, especially the Christian emperors of the late Roman Empire and subsequent regimes who have used the Bible to prop up their power.

This second method has heavily influenced the writers of groups such as the Jesus Seminar and other cultural critics who are looking for the "historical" Jesus or the "historical" Paul rather than the Jesus or Paul presented in the narrative of the scriptures. 

I have personal problems with this methodology, not just in Scripture but in the reading of other texts. "The Hermenuetic of Suspicion," as  Paul Ricoeur calls his methodology, of which New Historicism is a derivative, assumes the worst of every author. It relies on Marx and his notion of ideology to the point that it questions whether anything can exist outside of its ideology, even itself. It reduces the value of all texts to mere artifacts of an economic power with little to teach us.

Still, I have to admit that this is the current trend in Biblical studies. The Ivy League theological schools are full of these scholars and the scholarship they do is very, very good. It has provided profound insight into the power-structures of the first five centuries of  the Mediterranean and helped us know a great deal about the power structures that have produced us. So, while I would never approach the Bible or any other text using this method exclusively, I'd need to teach it to my students if I were to teach a course on the subject.

Using History to "Prove" the Bible

Sometimes, people use external histories to verify portions of the Bible. This is another branch of apologetic: where people try to show that the Bible is factual by pointing to external sources. Often this is the point of using external sources when looking at the Bible. Certainly, it works to an extent. If one assumes that because something is generally factual some particular part is also factual, history proves the Bible. Unfortunately, those portions of the Bible that are the most contentious are the least likely to leave an external historical record.

The Bible as Literature

Finally, the Bible can be approached as one of the greatest works of literature or collections of works of literature of all time. Whether one is a believer, an atheist, or a member of another religion, it doesn't take much time perusing the Bible to find that the Good Book is, in fact, a good book. It is filled with a variety of stories, essays, poems, and speeches. It is an amazing piece.

I remember the first time I got "lost" in the Bible. I was attending a Christian school where we were largely self-paced, so seeing a student reading the Bible was not something any adult would have interfered, although they should have that day. One of the texts asked me to read something from 1st Samuel and I got so into the story of David that I totally blew the entire day. I ended up having to take everything home for homework. I was 14 and I loved a good adventure story. Most of my free time was caught up in stories of swords and magic. I hadn't mean to spend five hours reading the Bible, but I did. As I closed the pages on an ancient David and being given Abishag to keep him warm, and at last he died, I was satisfied. It was a great story. Then I looked at the clock and whispered a word that was not allowed at my school when I realized I'd "wasted" the entire day.

There are so many really great stories like that in the Bible, but not just stories. When I realize I haven't read much in the Bible, my go-to is the Book of Psalms or Ecclesiastes. They are both so mournful. I love poetry, but bitter-sweet is my favorite flavor. Most of the time, when I am thinking about the Bible and end up reading the Bible though, it is the doctrinal books of the New Testament. Cogent, coherent, beautiful essays, written in the forms of letters (which gives a personal, rhetorical touch) move me . . . Romans 7. When you're frustrated with yourself, like I am all the time, read Romans 7. He gets me. He speaks to what it is to be human. That is good, flippin' writing right there. Or Galations 3. Isn't that perfect! Doesn't that just perfectly capture trying to be a good person and knowing you can't be good enough and that even trying isn't how you do it? And look at that little bit in the middle of 3, verses 15-22, It looks like Paul can get lost in a good story of the Bible too. 

Reading the Bible as literature is a great way to think through plot, genre, purpose, setting, verbal style, and audience. It is really good stuff.

It's All Okay

So, how will I teach the New Testament. Who knows. We're more than a year out from me teaching that class if I ever do. Still, it is something to consider. And something with which I am still coming to terms. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Signs and Wonders.

Coming to terms with the miraculous.

I woke up this morning thinking about miracles. It probably had to do with the fact that I saw Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice yesterday, but I'll get to that in a minute. I've seen God do some amazing things. Somethings that I've seen Him do just seem weird to me, and I don't really get them.

As I do most mornings, I rolled over in my bed and started checking email, Facebook, etc., while I listened for the sounds of my daughter rumbling in her room. It was then that I saw the blog post from Kris Vallotton entitled "RAISING THE DEAD, GOLD DUST AND FEATHERS," invoking three of the weirdest miraculous phenomena people talk about.

Kris is okay.

Now, before you attack the fact that I read Vallotton because you disagree with him on something, let's stop. He's wrong about some stuff, I'm pretty sure. His book Fashioned To Reign is more of a work of pop feminism with only a cursory glance at what God said, and much of that to "reinterpret" it than a faithful teaching of God's Word. He messed up there, but I think he really believes what he said. And he recently published a blog on Ecclesiastes that I believe invokes a really bad hermeneutic and misses the point, God's point, entirely. Those are just things I know right off the top of my head. I bet if I peruse his prolific work more thoroughly, I can find more places where I'm pretty sure he's wrong. If we throw out every Christian because he's wrong sometimes, well, I'm gonna miss you folks.

There are areas where I really think he's right too. His book Basic Training for the Prophetic Ministry is the only thing I've read that really makes sense of how the gift of prophesy functions in the Church in a New Testament context, when we have the whole Bible already at our disposal. If you haven't read it, I can almost guarantee that you don't understand.

I also appreciate Vallotton's genuineness and humility, which might just be a choice of rhetorical delivery, but I like it. The man realizes he is not perfect.

So, back to what I was writing.

I saw Mr. Vallotton's blogpost on a morning where I was already thinking about miracles. I've never seen the feathers thing nor have I witnessed the raising of the dead. I have seen the gold-dust though. It happened at a retreat for a campus group I was part of as an undergraduate student. The group was "nondenominational" but it was affiliated with the more theologically conservative branch Restoration Movement, There were charismatics and Pentecostals in attendance, but they were by no means the majority. We were praising God and we were covered in gold dust. It was NOT glitter. glitter is much more course. We were sparkly though. Then it went away. It wasn't even the best worship service I've been a part of, but this thing happened.

I've seen other miracles too. I don't really think we get a "share" of miracles, but I've probably seen more than my share. I grew up in a preacher's house. In our tradition (and Dad hates that terminology, but too bad), we don't have people come forward for healing or other Divine intervention at the end of services, other than salvation. Those things are done more privately. The pastor, and sometimes the other elders of the church, will gather at other times with people privately and pray for them. Because of my unique situation, I got to see some of this. Other people didn't get to, because it was done privately. I get why and I won't break confidentiality by talking about it much. So, I'll only talk about these things if the beneficiaries have also talked publicly. They don't want people chasing signs and wonders. They want them chasing God. Still, I like where I am now where everyone gets upfront seats when God moves miraculously.

I see one miracle every day. See, my wife and I are medically incapable of having children. I've dealt with this before in the blog, but I don't feel like explaining in detail right now. Just suffice it to say, it can't happen. Except, it did; plain and simple. We don't exactly know the day our daughter was conceived, but we know when we were made fertile. There was a prayer line at our church. That's kind of a weird thing if your church doesn't do it, but basically, we all line up and pray for everyone who goes through. In that moment, the infertility broke, just long enough for my daughter to be conceived. It is medically and biologically impossible, but here she is. She's a pretty normal two-year-old with every good and bad thing about that.

I also know this boy, Josh, who was born without nerves to his ears. That's a kind of deafness that cannot be fixed. We just can't grow nerves once we're out of utero. I wasn't there when it happened, but I knew Josh when he was deaf and knew him when he wasn't. My parents and I think at least one of my brothers were there, however. Hands were laid on him. Prayers were made. Josh could hear. It wasn't all roses, sounds scared him at first. He had to go to speech therapy because he hadn't heard words really until he was past the age most of us learn language. I was working where he went for therapy when his mom brought him in. That was the first I'd heard that the miracle had something besides just coolness to it.

And there's this lady I know, Grace. She's manages a fast food restaurant. Her husband is a police officer. She got this horrible brain tumor. It was one of the saddest things, because she's such a sweet-heart. The MRI clearly showed the tumor and showed that it was in a really bad place. She'd die if they took it out. It was large and advanced. I think they were giving her just a few months if I remember right.

I admit, that while we were praying for her, I was praying that her family would be comforted in their loss. What happened wasn't even on my radar. She was not there when we were praying. She left New Mexico for a Chicago, I think, to go to a doctor that specializes in such things, to see if there were any options at all since surgery was out. They did another MRI there. The brain tumor was gone. I watch her every Sunday now, holding her newborn grandson and think, "wow!"

One time, on a mission trip, we only had this little ball of spackling paste, smaller than my fist. We spackled an entire house with it. One time, I went over 300 miles in under half-an-hour, closer to 25 minutes, to get to someone who needed my help (I might have been speeding, but not going THAT fast, you do the math). I've had entire conversations only to learn later that I was speaking Spanish; I don't speak Spanish. I've had weird events that have basically herded me into the right place at the right time to talk to someone. This stuff happens.The more I think about it, the more instances I remember.

But that miracles happen is not the issue. 

What bugs most people about miracles is not that they happen. Only a few strident atheists, I'd argue, people who deny their own senses because they are so married to atheism, deny that they happen. Even most of these shrug their shoulders and start making statements about "probabilities" and "instances" that are fairly ridiculous. A simpler explanation, that it's a miracle, just doesn't fit into their worldview.

What people wonder is why they happen. Why does God step out into time itself and alter the rules of biology so that I, of all people, can have a daughter? Why does the all-powerful King of the universe make spackling paste? Worse yet, gold dust or olive oil (There was one time, I was praying for people, and my hands were all slimy, and it smelled like olive oil, and I tasted it, and it was olive oil, because olive oil was dripping onto my hands from this spot on my wrist, kind of like webs came out from Spiderman's wrists in the Toby Maguire version . . . so weird . . . why would God do that?).

That's why I appreciated Kris Vallotton's blog post today:
Why does God do these things, you ask? I really don’t know. I have often been among different groups of leaders who speculate about the purpose of these signs. I have heard many ideas that sound good and make me feel better about the things I have experienced. But the truth is, I really don’t know why these things happen. 
He recognizes that he doesn't know. I don't know either. To me, that is the pest answer that anyone can give. He's God. He does want He wants. You're not the boss of Him.

But that really leads to the real issue that people have, not why do miracles happen, but why do they do not?

My grandma died of colon cancer. God could have healed her, but He didn't. How come? That left my grandpa, who I believe already suffered from pretty serious un-diagnosed (because who would diagnose such things then?) depression, a very sad man for a couple of years until he followed. Why?

I have been watching the situation in the Sudans for almost two decades now. It is a mess, especially for the Christian minorities. They sure could use some Divine intervention there, more than they need more feathers in Redding, CA. It feels like God's priorities are messed up.

When we were emotionally struggling with infertility, my wife joined a lot of groups for Christians struggling with infertility. Most of those people are still struggling. Why did God choose for us to have a wonderful daughter and not them? I don't get it.

In the Superman vs. Batman movie I watched yesterday, Lex Luther postulates that God cannot be fully good and all powerful because bad things happen. It's not the first time that theory has been put forward. Kushner's exceptionally well-known book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People puts forward the same theology as Lex Luther, arguing that God isn't really "all poweful." There are just some things he can't do. Kushner's argument is extremely problematic from the point of view of any serious theologian, but it does solve the problem put forward when we ask "why 9/11" or "Why Katrina" or "Why did my friend miscarry?"

I know that the only way that we can choose to love God is if we can choose not to love Him if we want. I know that the way we choose not to love Him is by doing things that are evil. I know that what makes things evil is at least in part the fact that it does harm to others. So, if God made a world without harm, He'd be making a world without consequences, and thus a world without real good since no one could choose evil. I know that. But sometimes he does intervene in the world. And that makes us wonder why he doesn't other times. The answer, I think is still, "I don't really know why," but it doesn't feel quite as good when we wonder "why not miracles?"

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Privilege.

Coming to terms with my Privilege. 

I have a lot of privileges.

I have privileges that come from things that I worked really hard to accomplish, often specifically to get those privileges.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a (nearly) tenured faculty member.
  •         I have privileges that come from having a PhD.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a state employee.
  •         I have privileges that come from being a licensed driver.
  •         I have privileges that come from my lack of felonies.
  •         I have privileges that come from practicing my faith.
  •         I have privileges that come from having a salaried position.
  •         Etc

I have earned these privileges and I don’t feel guilty about them, but I do have to admit that earning these privileges was easier for me than for some people because there are other privileges that other people worked really hard FOR me
  • I have privileges that come my parents reading to me.
  • I have privileges that come from having been raised in a two-parent household.
  •  I have privileges that come being raised in a faith-system.
  • I have privileges that come from American soldiers fighting and dying.
  • I have privileges that come from good people investing in me.
  • I have privileges that come from growing up among animals (pets AND food).
  • Etc.

I can feel a sense of thankfulness for these privileges, especially being proud of the people who earned them for me. I can be honored by their sacrifice and hard work to give me a better life. I also have to admit, however, that some of these privileges were easier for them to give me because of privileges that no one had any real control over.
  • I have privileges that come from having north-western European ancestry.
  • I have privileges that come from having male genitalia.
  • I have privileges that come from being attracted to the opposite sex.
  • I have privileges that come from natural physical and mental abilities.
  • I have privileges that come from talents and inclinations that I’ve never worked to develop; they’re just there.
  • I have privileges that come from being born in America.
  •  Etc.

These are the hard ones for me to deal with. One of the first things that I might deal with when confronting these privileges is to first of all deny them.
  • Far more white people are unemployed or struggling than any other group.
  •  Men are also constrained by gender roles that limit our options and behavior.
  •  Gay people don’t have to deal with the pressures of pregnancy or fertility straight people do.
  • I don’t have some of the talents or inclinations of some other people.
  • My natural and physical abilities mean that people won’t help me out.
  •  Lots of other countries/cultures aren’t that fond of Americans
  •  Etc.
That doesn’t work very well because while I have to admit, that those things really are, actually, to my advantage in the vast majority of situations and I can probably avoid those areas where they are to my disadvantage fairly easily. So, my next inclination is to point out areas where I, also, do not have privileges that some other groups have so that I don’t feel bad about the privileges I do have.
  • I was raised in a household below the poverty line.
  • I am overweight.
  • I have a curved spine.
  • I am introverted.
  • I am hamstrung by debt.
  • My particular sect of my faith is not the most mainstream.
  •  My marriage has fertility struggles.
  • I have really wide feet.
  •  Etc.

All that stuff is true, and my struggles are and have been real, but the fact that there are areas where I am not privileged doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where I am. This kind of balancing act just seems kind of silly. That leads to my third inclination to react to my unearned privileges, and that is guilt. Because of this guilt I’ve done some pretty stupid things like.
  • Place less-than-qualified people in positions where they will fail because they haven’t had my privileges.
  • Tell people their differences don’t matter to me, cutting off an important part of who they are.
  • Talk a lot for these people, advocate, and thereby silencing their own voices.
  • Don’t take or use my privileges: refuse to do the things I can do because others can’t.
  • Completely ignore those outside my privilege zone so I am not bothered by it.
  • Bully other people into recognizing their privilege.
  •  Etc.

That kind of guilt is pretty messed up too and leads to some pretty horrible things. So, what can I do? Well, to start with, don’t feel guilty. Instead, just be honest.
  • Recognize that my privilege probably protects me and probably blinds me, so I need to listen carefully to other points of view.
  • Try to pay attention when I am acting from within my privilege. A lot of things that we who are privileged can do, everyone should be able to do. We shouldn’t stop doing them, but we should pay attention.
  • Try not to judge. This is true both of people who are not as privileged and those who seem to be just as privileged. A lot of this stuff is invisible until it works itself out and I might just be seeing the product, not the process.
  • While I can’t necessarily always use my privilege to build others up, sometimes I can, with their permission, and I should.
  • At the very least I shouldn’t use my privilege to tear other people down.
  • Etc.

I don’t have this all figured out. I’m still messing up. I’m still trying to navigate the whole thing. Still, I really think that recognizing my privilege and trying to live a life where I don’t feel guilty for its existence, or use it to hurt people, and where I use it to help when I can is the best I’ve got right now. Maybe someday I’ll have something better.