Things Observed Among An Overscheduled Life

I was reminded yesterday yet again, if such a reminder was necessary, that like most people I have an over-scheduled life.  Yet as hectic as that existence sometimes is, I still find a great deal of enjoyment and insight in the fact that this existence does not preclude being observant about other people and how they are living.  So, in the brief time allotted to me by my other responsibilities of the day–which will be discussed as part of my overscheduling [1]–I will attempt to discuss at least a few of those insights before I rapidly move on to other tasks of relative urgency, such as showering and getting out the door to accomplish those tasks that I have agreed to do.  So, let us begin.

On Friday evening, as I was reading before the Sabbath, I got a call from a friend of mine asking for the help of my roommate and myself–mostly my roommate, as I am no expert at the task–in cutting some wood for her.  I conveyed this request to my roommate and he agreed and commented that even if we do not feel as if we are getting enough progress on our own tasks in life that it is easy to assent to help a friend because at least that sort of task is one that we can consider finished and done.  I wholeheartedly agreed before returning to my own lair for a quiet rest of the evening portion of the Sabbath day.  Of course, it now being the morning of the first day of the week, it is now time to fulfill that promise, and so I write in the knowledge that I have things to do and do not have time to dawdle about my task.

At church, even more than usually I was a man on a mission.  For example, I wanted to clarify some details like what time we were wanted to help out with the woodcutting, which included a lunch–always a pleasant bribe for someone one wants to do some sort of work.  I also was looking for a bit of help on setting up the tent for next weekend’s church campout, since as usual I will likely be unable to arrive until fairly late Friday afternoon, a less than ideal time to set up a tent by myself before the arrival of the Sabbath.  During the course of the day as well I had the opportunity to talk to a few others about their own missions.  The gentleman I asked about helping with the tent and setting it up was busy himself as the songleader during services, trying to sell his house and enter into a new one, and rescheduling his next sermonette, as well as practicing a piece of special music.  After services another gentleman expressed a wish to switch sermonettes with me, as he thought he would likely be out of town when his was scheduled to spend time with his college-age daughter, which I assented to easily enough as my message is prepared and ready to give.  I was struck by the fact that I was not the only person with a lot of things to be concerned about in a short amount of time.

I spent an enjoyable evening with one of my fellow brethren working on a piece of special music that we are planning to sing in less than a month for our local congregation, a piece that involves a lot of Latin singing, and it was a productive evening.  Our tenor soloist (not me) sang enough to give out his voice, and I chatted with some of his brothers about the somewhat short amount of time I had been given to prepare for the split sermon I had at the camp-out, only to hear that he had been given the same amount of time to prepare as I had.  I had discussed with their father before the nature of preparing messages, and he had expressed to me personally that he sometimes has to wrestle with a subject for a long time before writing about it.  I suppose, as someone with a large amount of ideas more or less worked out in my head awaiting the opportunity to come out, that I am at an advantage in being able to work things up than others are.  Still, there are many people affected by wearing too many hats and not having a lot of time to prepare for their responsibilities.

In such times I am reminded of the prayer that Jesus Christ gave after the disciples returned with their report on the spiritual state of Judea, a prayer that God would raise up laborers for the harvest is ready but the laborers are few.  This is likely a prayer that many people raise up.  There is far more work to be done than there are people willing and able to do it.  How different this picture is from the one we often fear, where it seems as if little labor is required at all, and so we readily turn aside from our labors to less productive tasks.  Yet there is a great deal of labor to be done, and anyone who has ambitious plans is aware of the fact that there is far much more to be done than there are people to do it.  What is to account for this disconnect?  How is it that the work that needs to be done, the resources to do that work well, and the people that are ready and willing to do that work are not connected better?  Perhaps such work is a part of the labor that remains undone because there are few equipped for it.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Becoming Shakespeare

Becoming Shakespeare:  The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned A Provincial Playwright Into The Bard, by Jack Lynch

This book is an interesting piece of history, in that it presupposes the life and writing career of Shakespeare [1] and looks at the afterlife of his career showing how he went from a popular playwright among many to his place at the top of the writers of his age or any age.  As the author admits, this is by no means an exhaustive book.  The book includes no chapters on illustrating Shakespeare, setting his plays into operas, or the burgeoning industry of snobs who posits other writers besides William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon as the author of his plays.  Even without these additional chapters, which would have been quite worthwhile to read, this is a substantial volume that deals thoughtfully with the question of literary immortality and what it means.  This is a subject that many people have at least some interest in–even among those who do not harbor vain hopes that their own writings will be remembered fondly, and Shakespeare’s life makes a good case study for how relatively obscure people find literary immortality, as was the case for Jane Austen as well.

The contents of this book are organized in both chronological and topical fashion, extending from Shakespeare’s death to the 18th and 19th centuries, when Shakespeare’s reputation as a “classic” playwright was secure.  The first part looks at the period after his death when his career was revived through the publishing of the First Folio and the first rush of interest in Shakespeare as a writer.  After this came the period when performances of Shakespeare’s plays became more popular in the Restoration when the political context made his plays the best of what was relatively current after a long period when the theaters had been repressed.  The author turns his attention to studying Shakespeare and the textual criticism that his work underwent and still undergoes today.  After this the author looks at the matter of improving Shakespeare for his various defects, which led to a great many versions of Shakespeare that remained popular for centuries.  The author gives a very thoughtful look at the way that political regimes have long co-opted Shakespeare as an authority to support their own worldviews and agendas.  A chapter on the bowlderization and domestication of Shakespeare for women and children follows, full of intrigue in its own ways, before the author turns his attention to the careers of those who sought to forge Shakespeare writings for a variety of motives.  By the time the author has finished talking about the Shakespeare pilgrimages that mark the worship of Shakespeare as an original (if not the original) genius, the author has written a very excellent book of nearly 300 pages of material, and one that features a wide variety of material for further reading for those who are interested.

One thing that separates this book from many like it is that the author neatly sidesteps the contentious issues of Shakespeare’s biography, which has very little information and a great deal of supposal and speculation filling the place of the sort of hard textual and data-driven information that we would prefer to have and focuses on Shakespeare’s afterlife, for which there is a rich and diverse textual base.  Presuppositional apologetics is not something I am unfamiliar with when it comes to biblical studies, but this book is unusual in taking the same approach when it comes to textual studies, and in doing it well.  If one wants to make an evidence-based case, and this author certainly does, sometimes we must go where the evidence lies.  Sometimes the evidence leads us away from the shadowy depths where people engage in conflict and towards the place where we cease to argue over a mysterious past and examine our ourselves and what we demand from literature and how we judge it.  By the standards of Shakespeare’s time, he was a B+/A- kind of writer, and yet he is immortal today, a reminder of a dramatic shift in standards for theater that he was influential in creating, and at least something giving a measure of hope for writers today who ponder the circumstances of what endures beyond an author’s own era.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare

Players:  The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare, by Bertram Fields

There is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of this book, one that is shared by many of its type among those who posit alternative theories for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays [1].  Throughout this book, the author heaps scorn and contempt upon the supposed ‘man from Stratford,’ perhaps because calling him by his given name, by any of their spellings, would be to appear to legitimize him as one of the greatest writers in the English language, something the author is unwilling to accept.  In addition, the author shows contempt for those of the ‘Stratfordian’ school by saying that their books are full of may have and must have, for adopting the language of supposition and assumption.  Unfortunately, he shows himself to be adopt the same language himself, along with plenty of “couldn’t have” for all of the things he supposes that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon couldn’t have written because of his humble background and his litigious and somewhat ungenerous nature as it is revealed in surviving documentary evidence.  Pots should not be insulting the swarthy color of kettles, nor should those in glass houses gleefully start stone-throwing contests.  Those engaged in speculative efforts, as this book is, should be charitable towards others engaged in the same task, out of professional courtesy if nothing else.

Despite the intense scorn the author feels both for William Shakespeare, about whom he has very little good to say, as well as those who believe that such a commoner and grasping social climber as he could write such elevated writings that show such a depth of understanding of human nature and a wide variety of fields, the author at least attempts to portray himself as evenhanded and fair-minded over the course of this book’s almost 300 pages.  Part One of this book consists of a chapter that gives the historical context of Tudors and Stuarts.  The second part of the book consists of a lot of mostly short chapters that attempt to cast doubt that William Shakespeare was who he claimed to be.  The third part of the book looks at a host of other candidates, such as the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, William Stanley, Roger Manners, Queen Elizabeth, and the author’s own preferred group/collaboration theories.  The last chapter sums up the author’s case that he believes William Shakespeare served as a front man for one or more aristocrats with whom there was a collaboration between the high art of Shakespeare that has made it a classic and the sort of low arts of the stage that made it immediately popular with groundlings.

Ultimately, this book exists, and other books like it exist, because the author is a snob.  Every alternative theory for Shakespeare requires the existence of some sort of conspiracy.  Not wanting to think that a prickly and lowborn commoner was able to write in such an elevated fashion, the author and others of his ilk posit any kind of likely aristocratic candidate they can in order to believe that high art must be created by those who are highborn.  They believe that someone as common as the actor from the provincial market town of Stratford-upon-Avon could provide some savvy and profane lines to appeal to the prejudices of the ignorant masses, the sort that has long made people uncomfortable with unexpurgated Shakespeare plays, but that the nobility and excellence of Shakespeare’s plays could not come from a relatively uneducated person from the sticks whose surviving handwriting is cramped.  As someone not very far unlike Shakespeare in terms of his background and cramped handwriting who tends to write very elevated writings, I find this sort of snobbery a mortal offense.  This book can be enjoyed as the wishful thinking of snobs, but it makes for very poor literary criticism.

[1] It should be fairly obvious that I am a bardophile.  See, for example:

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When School Is In, Parents Win?

When I was younger, I found a great deal of amusement in watching a commercial that showed parents gleefully engaging in back to school shopping with despondent children, set to the tune of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” but recently a similar advertisement that claimed “when school is in, parents win” troubled me greatly.  As is the case with many subjects, my thoughts on education are very complicated [1].  As a person I am very well educated, with two master’s degrees, one a Masters of Science in Engineering Management and the other a Masters of Art in Military History.  Clearly, I am not hostile to education as a whole, and my relentless pursuit of self-education in the absence of formal credentials is no less notable.  I wish this to be stated at the outset, because I do not want to be misunderstood as some sort of anti-intellectual who is opposed to education.  I care very much about education, and have for my entire life, and I do not see it stopping as long as I draw breath.

That said, there is a great deal I disagree with in the statement.  How do parents win when kids are in school?  Obviously, as an advertisement, this phrase is spouted off to sell something.  Going back to school often involves the expenditure of large amounts of money, even for ostensibly free education.  Kids buy a new wardrobe so that they avoid being looked at as uncool for wearing all of the same clothes they wore last year.  There is the requisite purchase of notebooks and folders and large amounts of paper and pens and pencils and other related products.  Clearly companies win when schools are in, to the point where some areas engage in sales tax holidays to help encourage such back-to-school spending among the working class families from whom the sales tax is mostly collected.  So, knowing that some companies win when school is in, it makes sense that these companies would wish to encourage parents to feel like winners too.

Still, there is something that many parents see as a win from the beginning of school, and that is having their children off their hands.  The public school in particular has a well-recognized role as behaving in loco parentis, and no doubt many parents–especially single working parents or families where both spouses work outside of the home–rejoice in not having to be responsible any longer for their children for large stretches of the day.  Somewhat sadly, it seems that not having to be responsible for children and not having to keep them occupied for long stretches of time is something for parents to celebrate.  I’m not sure what this says about us as a society, but celebrating that one doesn’t have to spend time with our own offspring is probably not a good thing.  Certainly, many children are needy and demanding, but all the same parents should want to be around their children and enjoy the time spent with them.

There is certainly plenty of evidence to demonstrate that children do not particularly enjoy school.  As much as some of us enjoy learning, school itself, especially public school, is not an enjoyable experience for many people.  People with nothing in common besides the same birthday and the same geographical area–where busing is not an issue–are forced to be together for hours engaged in tasks that few of them enjoy doing for their own pleasure instead of doing what they would rather be doing.  It is little surprise in such circumstances that so much bullying and abuse happens, similar to what would happen at a prison, because in many ways a school is a prison.  The despondency that children feel about the approach of school is easy enough to understand, but the happiness of parents is somewhat more problematic.  Should parents celebrate sending their offspring to places where ridicule and abuse are likely, where conditions are restrictive, and where the utility of what is learned is often dubious?

Let us make no mistake, parents do not win when it comes to what schools educate their children in.  Do you want your children educated in cheating, political correctness, and immorality?  Most parents do not.  Yet this is the sort of education that can easily be found in the vast majority of public schools.  Do parents win when children cease to look to their parents as authorities and look instead to corrupt agents of the state, or other children?  That does not seem like a win for parents, to be sure.  In that context, it is little surprise that many parents who take the worldview of their children seriously engage in homeschooling, despite the fact that this requires a great deal of intensive effort at instructing children and in at least some cases becoming better educated themselves through the effort.  Yet this is no doubt a win for parents as well–as these parents certainly take education seriously and their children have no doubt of it, even at the effort required of becoming teachers, which is no easy work if one does it with a great deal of effort as is often the case.  Many other parents spend a great deal of effort and expense educating their children in private and parochial schools for similar reasons, because they care greatly about the quality of education their children get and recognize that many schools do not do a good enough job at it.

What, ultimately, counts as victory?  Do we count it a win when we keep people too busy to bother us?  Do we win when we spend a great deal of money in taxes and in our post-tax expenses for people to educate children in ways that we do not wish and must spend a great deal of effort and toil to attempt to counteract?  Is victory having a bit more free time or a bit less responsibility because our adorable ragamuffins are not at home, or because our children are learning the sort of lessons we wish them to learn?  Does victory take into account either or both the well-being as well as the interests of the children themselves?  Do they have a say in what they consider victorious?  Is not any victory worth having something that serves not only our own interests for today, but the interests of ourselves and of the universe at large both now and for all time?  How is such a victory to be attained?

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Treasure Principle

The Treasure Principle:  Unlocking The Secrets Of Joyful Giving, by Randy Alcorn

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Multnomah Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The subject of tithing and giving among Christians is one that leads to a lot of contentious struggles and ferocious and often ugly debates [1].  Into this debate Randy Alcorn has contributed an updated version of a best-selling book in which he address the subject of Christian generosity in a thoughtful way that avoids guilt-tripping but which is faithful to the biblical record.  In doing so he not only discusses biblical principles related to generosity for Christians but also manages to discuss his own life as well as the larger picture and context of generosity, and even managed to give me some ideas for generosity that I would like to put into practice for my own life.  Despite the fact that the author is dealing with something that is probably not the best aspect of my life as a Christian, the author’s approach to the subject was one that certainly overcame my own considerable reluctance about what he would have to say and, perhaps just as important, how he would say it.

This is a very short book–only about 130 pages or so in a quarto version that a quick reader could likely tackle in about half an hour reading, if my own experience is any guide.  Yet the quality of the book should not be judged by how easy it is to read, as if a quick book was a bad one or a lesser one by any means.  This is a book that is aimed at a large Christian audience and certainly manages to hit its mark.  In terms of its contents, the author discusses the principle of buried treasure, or treasure sent forward for eternity, the question of whether Jesus was talking about financial giving, compounding joy, living with our eyes on eternity, overcoming roadblocks to giving, how to get started, and what it means that we have been born for such a time as this.  The author then gives some treasure principle keys, a giving covenant, and asks 31 radical and liberating questions to ask God about our giving with answers/comments from scripture that give an idea of how God would likely reply, along with some personal questions and answers that address concerns from a critical reader and some resources for the reader who wishes to follow the example of the author.

As a reader, what I found most worthwhile about this book was the author’s candor about his own life and his own story about the repercussions of his opposition to abortion that led him to reflect on the subject of giving.  The author manages to encourage the reader on a difficult quest to live modestly and simply, avoid debt, and be generous with one’s money, possessions, and time without coming off as being too preachy or sanctimonious.  Admittedly, this is a difficult topic and it is one that many Christians struggle mightily with, myself certainly included.  One of the author’s discussions about his behavior was to donate his library to his church, which changed his perspective about the wear and  tear on what had previously been “his” books.  That was an example that hit home to me as a budding book hoarder, and gave me a suggestion that if it were possible to loan a great portion of my own library for the benefit of others it would be far better than for me to hoard it for myself.  There are certainly many ways I could stand to be more generous as a person, without a doubt, and it is to the author’s credit that he discusses such matters without offending the reader.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:  Updated Edition, by Peter Scazzero

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This is a book that left me with a lot of complicated and mixed thoughts and feelings.  It is almost as if the author does not know where he is coming from or what he is trying to encourage in the reader.  There are a host of contradictions buried in this reasonably short book of 200 pages that are waiting to be untangled.  Why if the author is so intent on embarrassing himself with his own failings, does he flatter the reader by saying that they are emotionally mature adults, simply for reading and presumably appreciating this book?  Why, if the author is a married pastor of an evangelical church, is he so interested in promoting Catholic monastic practices concerning daily devotion [1] and continually praising the Egyptian desert fathers?  Why, in a book about emotional maturity, does the author seem to whine so much about the difficulties of life?  Why does a book that seeks, however awkwardly, to address the Sabbath, focus so much on the grace that the author wishes to receive rather than give to others?  Why, in a book that steadfastly rejects being judged by others or held up to a godly standard, does the author spend so much time judging others for being unloving and judging unspecified church traditions and being unhealthy–on what grounds can the author make such a statement?  Why, in an ostensibly Christian book, does the author spend so much time dealing with pop psychology as a source of supposed spiritual insight?  These sort of questions could go on and on forever.

In terms of its contents, this book begins with a discussion of a genuine problem concerning the lack of emotional maturity among many people–including the author.  Then the author talks about becoming our authentic self in rather ragamuffinish fashion.  This leads to a discussion about breaking the power of the past, given that all of us have some problems that spring from our family background, often that are unexamined.  Then the author talks about going through the wall and remaining faithful to God through the dark night of the soul.  Somewhat paradoxically at this point, the author then talks about surrendering to our limits–this after he had talked about breaking the power of the past that limited us.  At this point the book takes a sudden veer into Catholicism with a discussion on the daily offices of monks (along with a brief discussion of the importance of the Sabbath), a chapter on growing into an emotionally mature adult, and then a discussion on developing what looks like a Catholic “rule of life.”  Appendices follow that give excerpts from the author’s daily guide to emotionally healthy spirituality that continues the monkish feel as well as a definition of contemplative spirituality and a modified Catholic prayer of Examen.

To be sure, the book does address many of the negative aspects of performance Christianity that greatly hinder the workings of the Holy Spirit within the lives of professed believers as well as within society as a whole.  Yet the author does not appear as part of the solution, rather part of the problem.  Like all too many spiritual adolescents, he finds it easy to lash out at others but his self-examination is all too shallow and the contradictions of his thinking all too deep and pervasive for him to be accepted as a spiritual authority.  There is also considerable difficulty in figuring out just what exactly the author is trying to accomplish.  Does he want Christianity to be burdened with new traditions of pop psychology to replace old traditions?  Is he consciously or merely unconsciously trying to lead Evangelicals in a direction towards Catholic religious thought and practice?  Is this not a harmful sort of religious tradition that we are to avoid?  The author’s free midrashing of biblical passages is deeply unsettling too, as it appears that the author uses scripture more for prooftexting than as an authority or guide for himself.  It would be easier to trust the author as an authority if he respected the Bible as an authority in his own life rather than a quarry for ways to bludgeon others who think and practice differently than he does.

[1] See, for example:

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Monuments Men: The Case Against Removal

[Note:  Although I had not planned to originally talk about this issue, the proliferation of vandalism of various monuments to Confederate war heroes of the American Civil War has prompted me to add my own thoughts to the matter.  As my own thoughts on the issue are somewhat complicated, I have chosen to approach this issue as something like what one would have read from a medieval theologian like Thomas Aquinas.  This particular post gives the case against removal of the statutes on an ad hoc basis as is occurring at present.]

Over the past few days there has been an escalation in the historical vandalism that has led to the toppling of numerous Civil War statues by thugs in the dark of night.  These efforts have been cheered by many, rather than being prosecuted as the destruction of public property ought to be.  Regardless of how one feels about the statues of leaders of the Confederacy, it is a principle of civilization that works of art with a historical value–as these statues undoubtedly have–are to be preserved.  The Taliban were roundly criticized by the liberal voices of Western Civilization for destroying statues of Buddha in a deeply Muslim country where such statues were seen as idolatrous.  And the widespread destruction of heathen historical architecture and statuary by the ISIS in Syria and Iraq was seen as barbarism of the worst kind [1].  If it is wrong to blow up statues of Buddhas or destroy old temples to Baal, how can it be just to topple over a statue of Jubal Early or Jefferson Davis?

People may compare the removal of these statues to the jubilant destruction of Communist statuary in the aftermath of Communist rule, but this too would be a false equivalent.  The irrational exuberance of those experiencing freedom for the first time after many decades of Soviet oppression cannot be compared to the stealthy and illegal destruction of statues in the middle of the night in an area that has long been free, and where legal impediments against racial equality have been removed now for half a century at least.  If there is any just comparison, then it is to the cowardly destruction of idols by Gideon (or Jerubbabel) in the dark of night in fear of the idolatry of his family and his neighbors.  While Gideon’s noble father urged Baal to contend for himself, perhaps those destroying these statues may wish to avoid looking for Southern whites to contend for themselves in the face of such dishonor and such vandalism, lest they bring a storm against themselves that they cannot overcome.

Our president has made himself even more unpopular than he is in certain circles by defending the beauty of Confederate statuary, but a strong case remains for leaving such statues alone and keeping them safe from midnight assault on the grounds of prudence.  There is a reason why these statutes are being destroyed by vandalism, and that is because a sufficiently large population is opposed to the removal and/or destruction of these statutes that it cannot be done in the light of day or through legal means.  Are we to encourage vandalism as an act of political discourse?  We ought instead to prosecute all such efforts to the greatest extent allowed by law, to discourage destruction as political language.  Our civil culture is already toxic and destructive enough already, we do not need to encourage such efforts any further.

How, then, should we deal with these statues if we see them as unjust but also as supported by a large part of the population?  There are solutions to midnight acts of vandalism.  Such statues can be removed to places where they may be studied for artistic value and discussed as part for their larger historical value even if we no longer wish to honor them in public.  Whether or not we appreciate aspects of our nation’s history, and these statues are an aspect worthy of much criticism, our history deserves to be remembered honestly.  We do not overcome a legacy of racism and oppressing by seeking to obliterate that history.  We come to terms with the past by honestly confessing it and acknowledging it and then using the memory of that past as a fire to never repeat it again.  Aspects of racism that exist in the present cannot be properly understood without the context of the past.  The people who commissioned those statues and endorsed the worldview of those traitors and rebels did so for a reason, and that reason needs to be understood, however abhorrent we find it.

Let us conduct a brief thought experiment.  Let us imagine that in the future social mores change to the point that it becomes abhorrent to believe that anyone favored the slaughter of innocent unborn children because they were inconvenient or because they had Down’s Syndrome or any other such reason.  Let us imagine that the statues and monuments of people who are currently viewed with great honor by many are toppled in the middle of the night by radical elements of the pro-life movement?  Would those who celebrate the toppling of Confederate statuary be content to see the monuments of Sanger or anyone else who had ever voted for supported anything that Planned Parenthood wanted?  Probably they would view these acts with undisguised horror.  What is different about this situation–only the unjust cause that was supported by these people.  Four million blacks were enslaved at the time of the Civil War, but forty million have been killed thanks to Roe vs. Wade.  All that blood is on someone’s hands, some wicked evildoer who deserves shame and contempt.

Let us think of another principle that is required here aside from prudence, and that is the principle of consent.  Our republic is founded on the consent of the governed [2].  It is that principle, for example, that made the behavior of the Confederacy so reprehensible, in that they refused to consent to the government of someone elected despite their disapproval in the face of their denial of that same right of consent to millions of their own fellow citizens, many of whom were their relatives by blood because of other denials of consent.  While it may be just to deny consent to those who have denied consent to others, the white people of the South today cannot be punished for the sins of their forebears.  We must bear the burden of punishment for our own sins alone, and that burden is enough for most of us to bear, including those who destroy and deface public property rather than behave in a proper and law-abiding fashion.  We may hate the behavior of the Confederates and loath their cause, as I do with great intensity, but we will be judged by the standard we judge others, and those of us who casually seek to destroy the property and memory of others may yet find the repercussions of those decisions to be a burden that we cannot bear when it is applied to us in turn.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Monuments Men: The Case For Removal

[Note:  Although I had not planned to originally talk about this issue, the proliferation of vandalism of various monuments to Confederate war heroes of the American Civil War has prompted me to add my own thoughts to the matter.  As my own thoughts on the issue are somewhat complicated, I have chosen to approach this issue as something like what one would have read from a medieval theologian like Thomas Aquinas.  This particular post gives the case for removal of the statutes on a widespread scale.]

Growing up as a Northern-born and pro-Union child in rural Central Florida, I was reminded from my youth that in many ways, the Civil War has not ended yet.  My own treatment at the hands of unreconstructed neo-Confederates convinced me that the cause of the Confederacy was among the worst in human history.  Rather than accept the legitimacy of an election of a candidate whose worldview they despised, seven states rebelled before Lincoln was inaugurated, and four more joined them after Lincoln called for troops to suppress the rebellion by force.  Four years later, after the deaths of more than half a million–estimates go considerably higher–the nation was reunified in a fragile peace and since then, no secession movement has been seriously attempted within the United States.

As a student of military history, I was very forthright in defending the behavior of Sherman, Sheridan, and others in seeking to end the Civil War through logistical warfare [1].  This forthrightness led to a great deal of conflict between me and those who viewed the Confederacy with more fondness.  So when I speak about the Civil War and its role in memory, I speak as someone with a larger personal stake in the matters than might be supposed, because I have participated in the struggle over its memory and I am aware that the war and its aftermath still rankles many.  Reconstruction, and the way that the South managed to win in peace what they did not win in war, was a betrayal of the promise of civil rights for freed blacks, leaving many in a position of second class citizenship lasting for at least a century.

Without a doubt, the cause of the Confederacy was unjust.  After Communist regimes were overthrown in Eastern Europe, the monuments and statuary of Lenin, Stalin, and a great many other lesser figures were often quickly toppled and destroyed.  And just as the Soviets were oppressors to the conquered peoples of Eastern Europe–and indeed even their own people, so too the Confederate military and political leaders honored in marble and other forms were oppressors too, especially of the black population of the Confederacy.  Millions of people were held as chattel property and their labor served to benefit a corrupt and rebellious planter class who had made a mockery of the freedoms of black and white, so afraid that even rhetoric or liberty would threaten their regimes that abolitionist writings were prohibited from being sent in the mail and in ten Southern states the moderate antislavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was not even on the ballot in 1860.  When looked at from the point of view of justice alone, Confederate leaders deserve the same fate as Communist leaders regarding their statues and monuments.

This is especially true as their evil extended far after the end of the Confederacy itself.  One of the main reasons why the South was so successful in and after Reconstruction in continuing under a different name its racially oppressive policies were because the people of the North were unwilling to expend blood and treasure to force upon the South a level of racial equality and color-blind justice that they did not hold to themselves.  The racism of Jim Crow days was by no means limited to the South–the 1920’s version of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, was quite successful in states from Oregon to Indiana that had proven themselves as Unionist during the Civil War.  Many of the same leaders who fought so bravely for the Confederacy were vital in encouraging the postwar settlement that led to a restoration of a racist legal and social order that long endured in the South especially.

Nor are the effects of this racism entirely gone.  Whether or not these concerns are just, many people feel as if they are profiled by police based on their ethnicity, and there are substantial inequalities in terms of education, imprisonment, and other factors where ethnic and racial origin plays a large role.  While many disagreements exist about how these inequalities are best to be eliminated, so that people can succeed to the level of their own God-given talents and their own hard work, clearly enshrining traitors and war criminals with public statuary and positions of honor does not aid in the ongoing process of overcoming our past.  In many ways, the United States has still yet to come to terms with the Civil War and with the massively racist aspect of many aspects of our history.  Removing these statues is one way of coming to terms with this past by letting ourselves and others know that those who fight for the oppression of other Americans will no longer be honored or held in esteem within our historical memory.  Justice demands nothing less.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Dispensationalism And The History Of Redemption

Dispensationalism And The History Of Redemption:  A Developing And Diverse Tradition, edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I must admit that I liked this book far more than I thought I would.  At times I read a book not believing I will enjoy it very much but thinking it somewhat important or worthwhile to read the book because it comes from a perspective that is not my own, and such was the case here.  I am not a dispensationalist, and am moreover somewhat hostile to it, even as I am somewhat hostile to Calvinism, which this book talks a lot about [1].  Ultimately, if I found a great deal that I disagreed with in the dispensationalist hermeneutic that this book expresses, at least I feel that I read enough to understand how people with that perspective view themselves and their own anti-denominational history and I feel that I can engage with that view directly and not through the straw men that are often posited by those hostile to their views.  Understanding does not always lead to agreement, but at least, as in this case, it can lead to a reasoned and open disagreement.  For honestly and forthrightly discussing their case and their viewpoint and their own desire to be seen as legitimate within Protestant intellectual circles, this book deserves a lot of credit.

In terms of its contents, this book is made up of a series of connected essays from various authors of the dispensationalist perspective on their worldview.  Overall, this may be considered a work of apologetics.  The ten essays of this book take up about 250 pages or so of material.  The first essay looks at a proposal for defining what dispensationalism is.  The second essay looks at the relationship between dispensationalism and the Bible.  The third essay explains the seven-era dispensationalist view of biblical history and prophecy.  The fourth essay looks at the hermeneutical principles of dispensationalism.  The fifth essay looks at the role of God’s workings in history before Christ.  The sixth essay examines God’s plan for history in the first coming of Christ.  The seventh essay looks at God’s plan for history from the ascension to the return of Jesus Christ.  Then the next essay looks at the consummation of history through the new heavens and the new earth, largely skipping over the question of the nature of Jesus’ rule in the Millennium.  The ninth essay looks at the relationship between dispensationalism and the views of redemption history, and the last essay looks at the worldwide impact of dispensationalism through its offspring like fundamentalism, the Evangelical movement, and the Pentecostal movement.  Each of the essays includes its own endnotes, some of which are substantial in length and depth.

I feel that this book largely clarified my disagreement with the dispensationalist perspective and for that I feel that this book is a worthwhile read whether or not someone agrees with the worldview of its authors.  The authors here point out that dispensationalism is a non-systematic bottom-up populist approach to scripture that largely conflates interpretation of scripture with the content of scripture, as opposed to the top-down and systematic covenantal approach of Calvinism that similarly conflates interpretation with the content of scripture.  I found a great deal of agreement with the historical-grammatical approach to textual criticism found here, but also found that there was far too much reductionism in the authors’ approach to scripture.  The authors, and this appears to a broader failing within dispensationalism as a whole, appear to seek only one layer of meaning within a given text and thus fail to capture its full layered nuance and complexity.  Additionally, over and over again I saw the authors exaggerate the discontinuities between law and grace and between the way God worked with Israel and the way He works with believers today.  Ultimately, this book showed that the conflict between dispensationalism and Calvinism is a false dilemma in which both sides are holding different parts of an elephant and are unaware of the broader picture that they fight over when arguing with each other.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: After Acts

After Acts:  Exploring The Lives And Legends Of The Apostles, by Bryan Litfin

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

For the most part, this book is immensely enjoyable to read.  The author takes a subject of importance but also considerable challenge and discusses it in a way that will make many readers more familiar with the writings of the early supposed “Church Fathers,” and that will hopefully encourage a great deal more study about these interesting people [1].  That is not to say that the author and I have similar views in certain areas of the legitimacy of the Hellenistic authorities cited here, but rather the author does a good job at bringing somewhat vague areas into greater clarity that will be of great aid to professed Christians in being able to better weigh and balance claims about what ‘tradition’ says.  That itself is a worthy purpose, and makes this short book of less than 200 pages a genuine joy to read.  Given the frequency that discussions about the extrabiblical travels and behavior and fates of the apostles appear in sermon messages and writings, this book does a good job at showing the intellectual scaffolding that exists in making claims about the apostles.

In terms of its contents, this book is organized in a very pleasing fashion, even if its contents are not as complete as one would wish.  The book begins with a chronology that places the traditions in a temporal context and then a thoughtful explanation of the diverse sources, some of which are widely accessible as the ante- and post-Nicene Fathers, which determine what is meant by church ‘tradition’ in the jargon of pastors giving extrabiblical discussions in sermons.  The author then has chapters about the traditions that have been recorded about Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Mary, Thomas James, the other apostles, Peter, and Paul.  Included in these chapters are many familiar stories, such as the beheading of Paul or how it was that Peter, who was not even mentioned in Romans, came to be associated with that city at the end of his life–coming to the reasonable conclusion that his stay in the city may not have been for very long.  Each chapter concludes with a report card that gives subjective but on the whole reasonable grades about various claims made about the person or people within the chapter.  No claim gets an F, but several get a D, and quite a few claims are given A’s, so this is not an ungenerous judge.

A large part of what makes this author an enjoyable one to read, even where there are differences in perspective, is that the author manages to combine two very unusual qualities.  On the one hand, the author is a genuine textual conservative who has a high degree of respect for the Bible.  On the other hand, the author also has a great deal of thoughtful as a textual critic when dealing with the nonbiblical texts such as the writings of Papias, Clement, Irenaeus, and Eusebius, all of whom appear relatively frequently in this book.  Ultimately, this is a book that deals with matters of possibility and probability rather than certainty, and the author does a good job of showing the critical nature of his task in assessing the likelihood of various accounts.  The historiography on the whole is sound and the author comes off as appealing and easy-going in his judgment.  One is correspondingly encouraged to be easy-going and generous in one’s own judgment of the author, which is makes for a pleasant reading experience all around.

[1] See, for example:

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