Some Practical Advice For Deleavening

[The following is the prepared text for a sermonette delivered at the United Church of God congregation in Portland, Oregon on March 17, 2018.]

When it comes to deleavening and the avoidance of eating leavened bread during the Days of Unleavened Bread, most of us have some stories that we could share.  I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’m sure that many of you can think of times when you thought you had completely removed leavening from your home or care or office only to find out months after the fact that this was not the case.  Maybe you found a muffin in the pocket of a coat, or maybe you made that embarrassing stop at Subway during the Days of Unleavened Bread while the person or people you were with graciously tried to prevent you from what was about to happen.  What practical advice, though, does the Bible give when it comes to setting the standards for deleavening, though?

The Bible contains only a few verses that give us a practical advice on what we should do physically speaking to prepare for the Days of Unleavened Bread, and these verses can be found in the same section of the Bible, specifically in Exodus 12 and 13.  Let us read these three verses quickly and see what points are repeated.  Let us begin with Exodus 12:15.  Exodus 12:15 reads:  “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”  Four verses later, in Exodus 12:19-20, this point is repeated:  “For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land.  You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”  Then, in the next chapter of the Bible, in Exodus 13:7, we read:  “Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters.”

Given how the way that these verses repeat the same points over and over again, let us ask ourselves what exactly these verses want us to do.  There are three aspects of the removal of leavening that are noteworthy here.  First, we must remove leavened bread for seven days and not eat it, with the penalty of being cut off from among the congregation of Israel if we do so.  This does not mean that we must remove anything that may remind us of leavened bread or that is leavened but not bread, like, say, wine, but rather that we must remove leavened bread.  As one might imagine, the commentaries of the Jewish laws attempt to specify exactly what grains count as leavened bread, and we will return to this point later on to discuss it in more detail, but on a general level at least this prohibition is clear in that we must get rid of leavened bread and eat only unleavened bread during the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Next, we are to remove leavening during the course of the week.  Not only are we forbidden the finished product of bread, but we are also forbidden the raw materials that make bread leavened.  For those of you who bake your own bread using sourdough starters, you have some idea of how this worked in the ancient world.  In the modern world, we tend to think of these raw materials in terms of baking powder and baking soda, but chemical leavening was, at least to our knowledge, not something the ancient world was familiar with, only being invented in the nineteenth century or so.  We will discuss both of these elements in a bit more detail given their symbolic importance shortly.

The third element is one that we must spend a bit of time on, though.  Over and over again these verses tell us that we shall remove leavened bread and leavening from our dwellings or houses.  In a practical sense, this is telling us to remove leavened bread and leavening from where we spend our lives.  We should make a conscientious effort to remove leavening and leavened bread from our homes, our cars, and our offices, where we tend to spend our time and where a search for leavening can be made without extreme difficulty.  We do not have to tear down our house and remove the carpeting or worry about leavening in our floor boards or tear apart our storage units or barns or other outbuildings in the search for leavening.  In the ancient world, of course, the Israelites had rather rudimentary dwellings, and it would likely have been very difficult, as has been said before, to sweep dirt floors entirely clean of every possible crumb that may have fallen on it during the course of a year.  The same is true of our own houses, even if they are much fancier.  How do we make this task more fun?  That is up to us.  We can attack it with checklists so that we feel our preparations are as complete as possible, or we may enlist our little ones to treat leavened products as if they are in a game of hide and seek, or to enlist them to ask us questions about the ingredients on our food storage items, whatever makes the task less tedious for us.

However, in a sense that we do not often realize, it is impossible to get rid of leaven entirely, and always has been.  The main reason for this is that there is leaven in the air, and even if we could with some machine zap all of the air inside of our house and kill every particle of yeast that was inside our dwelling or office or car, every time we opened a door or window, we would be letting more air in that would have yeast inside of it.  Indeed, it is the pervasiveness of the yeast around us that allows us (and allowed people in ancient Israel) to make those sourdough starters in the first place from which leavened bread was traditionally made.  In the contemporary world, a lot of leavening comes from chemical leavening.  It is this type of leavening that we find when we read boxes or cans of food that we find in the grocery store or pantry.  Where we do not see yeast as an ingredient we may see, for example, the following chemicals on food packaging:  sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, cream of tartar, sodium acid pyrophospate, and ammonium bicarbonate, to give but a few examples of the chemical names for baking soda and baking powder.  There are even ways where leavening can happen without any chemical leavening being added.  For example, this happens in choux pastries where the eggs serve the role of encouraging the leavening process through steam, often used to create a hollow shell where eclairs can be made.  This is similar to the process of mechanical leavening where one whips eggs in order to force air into a dough so that steam escapes during cooking, making leavened bread without having to add chemical leavening.  This is possible because leavening is in the air around us and that which stirs up the air allows for the spread of that natural source of leavening.

There are spiritual implications to this that are worth examining [1].  In our lives, leavening can come in several means.  The corruption can be in the air and work on something that remains receptive to it and is left out in the open.  The corruption can come ready made in packages for our convenience and ease of use.  Finally, the corruption can be stirred up through the mechanisms of our behavior.  The work of yeast in the air or the working of carbon dioxide from chemical reactions is symbolic of the working of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:2.  The attention that we pay to physical leavening is because there are spiritual implications and symbols in the physical leavening that we would do well to pay attention to.  Although eating leavened bread is not sin 51 weeks out of the year, during the Days of Unleavened Bread leavening and leavened bread serve as a symbol of the sin and corruption that so easily overtake us in this present evil world, which is why we are commanded during this time to remove leavening and leavened bread from our dwellings and not to eat leavened bread or to have leavening around us during the seven days of the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Hopefully in the last few minutes I have given you all some practical tips on what the Bible expects of our deleavening efforts as we approach the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread.  I would like to close to my message today by reminding us what Paul told the brethren of Corinth during this time of year in 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8.  Breaking into the thought of verse six, we read:  “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  In this way may we all keep the upcoming Days of Unleavened Bread as Paul instructed the brethren of Corinth to do so nearly two thousand years ago.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy

Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy, by Eric Berne, MD

This is an interesting book, if you find psychology interesting [1].  Written by the same fellow who wrote the much less technical and much more popular book Games People Play, this book is a deeply technical look at the way in which the different ego states of people can be discovered and analyzed in multiple degrees.  This book is not for everyone; it tends to attack the legitimacy of moralistic “parental” approaches and as a result misses an important spiritual dimension in mental health, and its language is extremely technical and probably requires at least some background in Freudian psychology to fully grasp, although the basic principles of transactional analsysis are simple enough that even below-average intelligence combined with an intuitive observation of others is good enough to understand the fundamentals of this book, making this a deeply interesting book to read because of the generally humane atttitude of its author.  This author sounds like someone who would be a decent person to know and his approach to group and marital therapy remains highly influential, and there is much to appreciate here for those who are willing to wade through the book’s language.

This book is divided into four parts with an appendix at the end that provides a case study of an interrupted but largely successful and complicated example of the author’s therapeutic approach.  After a short introduction (1), the first part of the book looks at the psychiatry of the individual and basic structural analysis of the self, looking at the structure of personality (2), the function of personalities within the person (3), various pathologies that result over the course of life (4), the beginnings of those problems (5), the symptoms that tend to accompany mental health problems (6) and the diagnosis of these issues (7).  The second part of the book examines the subject of social psychology and transactional analysis, where the author talks about the stresses of social intercourse (8), the analysis of transactions within a given interaction (9), an analysis of games (10), the subject of the author’s more popular book, an analysis of the scripts people use to reduce stress (11), and an analysis of the relationships people find themselves in (12).  The third part of the book gives a look at the author’s approach to psychotherapy, with a discussion of the therapy of functional psychoses (13), the therapy of neuroses (14), and a lengthy discussion (filled with interesting transcripts) of group therapy (15).  The fourth and final part of the book contains more advanced and difficult material like a look at the finer and more complicated structure of the personality (16), advanced structural analysis (17), the therapy of marriages with the avoidance of triangulation (18), regression analysis (19), and some closing theoretical and technical considerations to the author’s approach (20).

This book is an odd book but a good one.  On the one hand it has an immensely dense technical apparatus springing from the author’s background in psychology that will be alienating to many readers who will have to look up quite a few words here even if their basic gist is straightforward enough.  Yet on the other hand the book is written with obvious compassion and a clear understanding that it is not intellectual ability but rather strength of character, sheer tenacity and integrity, and compassion and understanding of one’s self and others that is the biggest hindrance between people and psychological health.  This book is written by an essentially honest man for others who believe that being honest about ourselves and honest in our dealings with others is the only way that we can move beyond games to genuine intimacy and friendship with other people.  If that honesty can be difficult to find, this book reminds us that the costs of dishonest dealings with others in order to avoid uncomfortable realities can have a heavy personal cost.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Games People Play

Games People Play:  The Psychology Of Human Relationships, by Eric Berne, MD

Some time ago, I made a note that my pastor was enthusiastic about this book and recommended that we in the congregation read it.  Since it was a popular book at the library, it has been some time that I am able to read it, but in reading this book I found myself with a lot of questions.  Which of these games do I play with others?  Which of these games do others play with me?  Which of these games has my pastor seen played and is particularly irritated about?  How can one become comfortable enough with awareness, spontaneity in the face of stressful interactions with others, and intimacy not to play most of these games at all?  To be sure, I read a lot in these pages that I was painfully familiar with [1], and reading the games people play written about in such a clinical fashion was painful and somewhat embarrassing.  I suppose many people will have the same feeling in looking at this book if they see themselves on these pages, and that sort of candor is best done in reading a book individually and perhaps afterward enjoying a discussion of the games with someone who is similarly unsentimental, rather than being confronted abruptly and openly by someone who wants to point out the games that you are playing.

This is a short book of under 200 pages and can be profitably read by anyone who is aware of the language of social psychology used by the author, although the version I read was an older one and the language used was pretty unsparing in my own judgment.  Like Gaul, this book is divided into three parts.  The first part of the book gives a brief discussion of the analysis of games:  structural analysis (1), transactional analysis (2), procedures and rituals (3), pastimes (4), and a brief introduction to games (5).  The second part of the book, which makes up the bulk of the contents, gives a brief and possibly obsolete but frighteningly clinical discussion of a thesaurus of various games, divided into gategories like life games (6), marital games (7), party games (8), sexual games (9), underworld games (10), consulting room games (11), and a few good games (12).  The third and final part of the book gives a very brief discussion of going beyond games to intimacy, and the author appears pessimistic about the ability of most people to do this effectively.

There are many ways one can take this book, and it is probably best to take the book on a variety of levels.  First, the reader of this book should be sensitive to the sort of games that they play as well as the degrees to which they play them (some of these games, when taken to the ultimate degree, can be a matter of life/death/court).  Likewise, once the reader overcomes a sense of personal embarrassment at having one’s own games dealt with in the blunt manner of the author, the next response is likely to be a shrewd desire to recognize the types of games that one will witness so as to diagnose them and take the appropriate countermeasures, which are also talked about in this book along with the personal and social benefits that are gained from playing these games effectively.  Given how common some of these games are, it behooves us to have some idea of what type of games we are playing and how others are playing with us, hopefully so that we can pause and examine ourselves and think if there is a better way to get what we most want out of life rather than playing games to get it.

[1] See, for example:

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An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers: Part One (Identity)

Who were the Apostolic Fathers, and why should you care?  I would like to spend today dealing with the first of these questions, or rather the first part of the first of these questions.  The expression apostolic fathers is a fairly recent one, although the term expresses a reality that existed in the first and early second century AD.  The reality expressed is that the Apostles influenced later believers who, like them, did some writing.  It is possible that some of the writers we know within this tradition may have known some of the Apostles personally.  It is clear that some of these people were very interested in passing on either the written (Polycarp) or oral (Papias) information that they had received from others and that this was a major interest of theirs.  But who were these people, these ancient men, most of whom are extremely obscure?  Before we delve into the writings of these ancient men and examine their relevance to us today, I would like to give a bit of an introduction to who these people were that we will be looking at.

Clement of Rome is the first of the Fathers we will be looking at, specifically as the author of the book of 1 Clement.  I may, at a later time, examine 2 Clement, which was not written by the same author as 1 Clement and is an anonymous work, but I will save that for later, and as the author of that early sermon is anonymous, there is nothing to be said about him.  Clement is often considered, by those who believe in apostolic succession [1], to be among the early Bishops of Rome.  Whatever the truth about this, the book of 1 Clement reveals him to have been a leader in Rome who was deeply concerned with maintaining proper church authorities in Corinth, and the book is an early hint of the power that the leaders of the Church of Rome would gain in later generations, which is one of the factors that makes this book well worth discussing.

Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom, managed to write several letters along the way, which have much of interest concerning the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, the importance of the imitatio Christi to those of later generations, and other related matters of church authority.  The epistles, even where one may find that they do not always reflect very positively on our view of the personality and perhaps even the character of the author, are at least emblematic of a man who is on his way to face death and is trying to do so as bravely as possible and giving some encouragement to others, one of whom is Polycarp of Smyrna.

It just so happens that Polycarp of Smyrna [2] is perhaps the unsung hero of the Apostolic Fathers.  His brave defense against the Bishop of Rome of the keeping of the Passover as it was kept by Jesus Christ and the apostles on the beginning of the 14th of Nisan (as opposed to Easter Sunday) has been an inspiration within my own particular religious tradition, and has ensured that he is the best known of this particular group of people.  In addition to this, he was the recipient of one of the letters of Ignatius and was responsible for collecting the rest of Ignatius’ epistles (seven in total) as one set that he provided along with a letter of his own to the Philippians which is another one of the works in this collection.  The martyrology of this leader was among the first, and the first we have recorded outside of the Bible, and thus serves as an early example of a genre of particular importance in the early Church of God.  For all of these reasons, as a defender of the faith, as a writer, as a collector of the writers of others, and as a martyr for the faith, Polycarp certainly deserves to be remembered and thought of fondly.

Hermas is another one of the Apostlic Fathers, and is responsible for a lengthy book that we will looking at eventually (but not particularly soon).  Hermas is interesting as a person because he was a literate but not necessarily intellectual writer whose book reveals him to have been a somewhat flawed person–no spoilers–and who also appears to have been a brother of a bishop of Rome and a former slave.  Hermas is an interesting figure because he demonstrates to some the sort of background that people would expect of the early Church of God in terms of literacy as well as social class.

Papias was an Apostolic Father who may not have known any of the apostles personally but who was an avid collector of tales and traditions about them.  Despite the fact that he was a prolific writer during his lifetime, none of his writings survive except insofar as they have been collected in excerpts by other writers, most notably Eusebius.  Among the most notable achievements of Papias was that he is one of the early witnesses to the four writers of the canonical Gospels and collects some interesting information about how they were viewed in the early second century AD, and that is certainly well worth remembering.

There are, of course, other Apostolic Fathers as well, but we know very little about them so it is worthwhile to write them only briefly.  The Martyrdom of Polycarp was written by a fellow named Marcion (not the famous heretic by that name) about which nothing more is known.  2 Clement, as we have mentioned earlier, is an anonymous second century example of Christian writing about whose author we know nothing.  The author(s) of the Epistles of Barnabas and the Didache have likewise left us very little if any personal information except for the content of their own views about, respectively, the law of God and the proper discipline for Christian congregations.  Quadratus is a largely forgotten Apostolic Father who is only remembered in a single citation by Eusebius where he is said to have been an early leader of the Church of God in Athens and a disciple of the Apostles.  The Epistle to Diogenes is likewise written by someone about whom we know nothing.

What does all this tell us about the Apostolic Fathers?  For one, these were not famous people about whom the world knew a lot.  Most of these people are only remembered for what they wrote and for the fact that they lived in the generation or two after the apostles and who may have known the apostles personally.  That this sort of obscure connection is enough that their writings are often collected and some of them were well regarded throughout history suggests that we do not know much about what happened with Christianity in its early periods.  If a writer who is remembered for a single sentence and for having been a disciple of the apostles is listened among the top figures of the Church of God in the early 2nd Century, and if the best known figures are known to have been famous in large part for having been martyrs, that suggests that the Apostolic Fathers are truly only the survivors or remnants from a particularly difficult time in history where very little has survived from.  To the extent that we value what has survived, then these people have something that is worthwhile for us to ponder and reflect on, as we will do if time permits.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: In Search Of King Solomon’s Mines

In Search Of King Solomon’s Mines, by Tahir Shah

Who knew that the search for the legendary gold mines of Ophir of King Solomon could be a family quest that included the author as well as his father and grandfather?  As someone who is by no means unacquainted with crazy traveling quests inspired by my family [1], there was a lot in this book I could understand.  The author was certainly a far more unscrupulous traveler than I was and clearly he had mixed motives that were fascinating to watch.  Who, for example, brings a fancy gold detector on a trip to desperately poor Ethiopia and spends his time with all kinds of greedy wildcat gold miners while also uprightly claiming that he was not interested in mining for personal profit.  Only someone who was deeply ambivalent about what they were about would do such a thing, and yet that is what we find here, a travelogue of a man obsessed with ancient gold mines who has a somewhat critical but also humane eye towards the country of Ethiopia and its people.  It is ultimately that humane but critical eye that makes this book ultimately enjoyable to read even if the author is not an entirely trustworthy narrator.

The book takes a bit more than 230 pages and begins with a dramatic story about the author’s encounter with a dodgy treasure map in Old Jerusalem (1), which leads the author to take a trip to Ethiopia and divide his explorations there with seven stones to find the most likely place where King Solomon’s mines can be found (2).  After this the author goes to the Harar area where he finds a man whose job it is to feed hyenas (!) to keep them from eating little children (!!) (3) before visiting the wildcat mines in the southern part of the country where his religious guide is from (4) where the violence and depravity of the community leads them to be thought of as children of the devil (5).  A brief spell in prison for being a foreigner in an illegal mine leads the author to think of a brave fellow traveler who had promised breakfast with Idi Amin before his untimely death (6) and eventually the author is able to visit some mines and return to Addis Ababa where a Somali driver with a khat addiction promises to drive him to the north in one the ancient and decrepit jeeps of the late Ethiopian emperor (7).  This drive proves itself to be particularly difficult although there are discussions of some furtive gold mines that exist in the region (8) and a trip that is made by the author on some camels to a place of former savages where the author’s Somali driver refuses to go (9).  When the author arrives at the supposed place of gold (10) he finds some comfort in looking at the history of Ethopia’s glorious religious past (11) and the efforts of previous leaders to avoid central control over their mad violence (12).  Finally, the book winds to a close as the author takes some rented mules (13) on a trip to a mountain of supposed gold only to find his way blocked (14) and a second trip to the area leading the author to be concerned about his own sanity in searching after this gold (15).

How much you like this book will depend on a variety of factors.  Do you like travel books that look at travel into history and in dangerous places with some degree of illegality involved?  Are you okay with the narrator being unreliable and deceptive to a high degree?  Are you alright with discussions about the rivalries that exist between nations and cultures and frank discussion of prostitution and drug addiction as well as the death of people and beloved animals?  The more of this sort of thing that the reader is able to stomach or even able to appreciate, the more this book will be enjoyed.  Although this author is not one whose word I feel is necessarily trustworthy, he does paint a convincing enough picture of the land of Ethiopia and its complexity and the way that its glorious past and abominable present make it a combustible area lacking a great deal of stability and hope, and that gives me more than a little bit of pity for those who live there even if the author himself is not someone I would want to travel with myself.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Tschiffely’s Ride

Tschiffely’s Ride:  Ten Thousnd Miles In The Saddle From Southern Cross To Pole Star, by Aimé Tschiffely

It is striking and almost unbelievable to me that this work was rejected by publishers on three continents until the author was helped by the noted Robert Cunninghame Greene in having this work published at last as the author despaired of ever telling his moving story about a lengthy trip he took on horseback from Buenos Aires north to Washington DC and New York.  The book is credited, and deserves the credit, for blazing a trail in the long travels by horseback of later “long riders.”  While I am no great equestrian myself, I do appreciate compelling stories of travel and stories about horses and those who care for them [1], and this book is certainly a compelling narrative about a lengthy journey by horseback from a Swiss-Argentine who not only muses about the greatness of Argentine horses (about which he may be slightly biased) but also shows himself to be an observant and humane and deeply reflective traveler through the troubled countries of Latin America, which he observes with a great deal of insight and criticism.  There is much in this book that is worthwhile even aside from the author’s evident purposes and interest in proving the stamina of horses when treated with humane care.

Much of the appeal of this book’s contents comes from a rare combination of the modesty as well as the observant nature of the author.  In terms of its plot, the book consists of the occurrences and observations of a trip by horseback between Argentina and the United States, with a few interludes of boat travel in places like the Darien Gap which proved to be impassible.  The author spends very little time talking about his travels in the United States because they did not present any sort of difficulty for him except for the quantity of traffic.  He writes a lot about the logistics of traveling–finding forage and water for his horses, food and water and a place to sleep for himself and his occasional guides.  He shows himself to be an observer of geography, the psychology of horses, and has a lot of criticism to make about the corrupt religious and civil authorities of many Latin American countries and the savagery they inflicted on the poorer and darker majorities of their countries.  He is critical of the envious hatred of many Latin American elites towards the United States and is fond of pretty women, lovely views, the nobility of people and horses, and hospitable people when they can be found.  Whether you are more interested in the journey itself or what the author sees along the way, or both, there is much to appreciate here.

In looking at this book from the standpoint of reading it decades later, it is baffling to me that this book was not recognized at its time by contemporary publishers as being a book of obvious excellence.  The author details Latin America in the early 1920’s as being filled with a great deal of injustice and seething with envy towards the United States and its power and wealth as well as with internal conflicts over various abuses within their own societies.  The author manages to avoid fantastic and embellished accounts but there are parts of this book that are all the more horrifying in its discussion of economic backwardness and the immense violence directed at women and the poor, largely because the author’s obvious (to this reader at least) compassion for both human and animals is judged as mawkish sentimentality by those who casually rape and murder their fellow citizens with impunity.  Most readers, I imagine, will see in the abusive treatment of Latin American elites the fuel for the revolutionary fury that has filled the region periodically since then, and the authors matter of fact dealing with these concerns only makes this book a more important one in terms of its eyewitness account of life in Latin America during the early 1900’s from an observant man traveling very slowly on horseback.

[1] See, for example:

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I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, I’m A Toys’R’Us Kid

If you are a child of the 80’s or 90’s, you can probably hum along or perhaps even sing along to their theme song.  Perhaps you remember that theme song accompanying commercials featuring child stars promoting Toys’R’Us as a toy superstore.  Yet the store is going bankrupt, closing down all or selling all of its American stores and abandoning the field.  A company that was once a behemoth and even a cultural icon is now going completely under, and likely to be forgotten and obscure to those children growing up now and in the future who will sing different catchy jingles about different companies, no doubt.  What happened?  The short answer is that Amazon happened, but the answer is somewhat longer than that, and I would like to explore that today as we face a world without Toys’R’Us and yet another ominous look at the future of business that are being caught in the middle between rising customer expectations (and knowledge) and the convenience and price benefits that competitors provide that some companies simply can’t keep up with.

Let us begin with a story about a game called Oregon Trail [1].  Like many children of the 80’s and 90’s, I played Oregon Trail at school while being taught basic computers, and although the game was fiendishly difficult, I managed to beat it courtesy of a dramatic trip down the Colombia River through the Cascade Rapids.  My love of the Oregon Trail has extended to even touring a museum as well as trail markings in Eastern Oregon, which was quite an enjoyable occurrence, I must say.  Yet although this game was a massively nostalgic memory for my generation of adults, when the board game for the Oregon Trail came out, it was not to be found at Toys’R’Us, but rather at Target, a place that appeals to professional adults and their hobbies to a greater degree than Toys’R’Us.  This was a mistake.  Given that the children of the 80’s and 90’s were at least once greatly interested in Toys’R’Us and were its loyal customer base, it seems rather short-sighted that the store would not seek to capitalize on retaining their interest through games that would be of interest to adults as well as children.  After all, it is the money of adults that allows children to have the toys that a toy store sells, after all.  Where does one think that most children get their allowances or other spending money from, after all?

This blunder was a microcosm of a larger problem.  In the wake of a long string of failures of once-successful large business whose models have been crushed by the competition of behemoths like Wal-Mart and Amazon, a business has to ask itself what it provides of value to its customers.  If a customer wants low prices for toys, it is not hard to look up Legos or other products on and have them sent to one’s house.  I do this for books and music on a regular basis.  These are not products I need to see in person before I buy, not least because most toys come in boxes and packaging and one cannot see them up close anyway even in a store.  The greater overhead that brick and mortar stores have as opposed to online businesses is a major disadvantage if customers are highly price conscious and if the store does not provide in its in-person experience anything that cannot be gained from sitting in front of one’s computer and purchasing online.  Obviously, Toys’R’Us didn’t provide enough that was worth bringing customers in and once one could get thousands of toys to play with online, its raison d’etre no longer held.  Once that was the case, the company went under.

Is there a way that stores can survive the onslaught of Amazon and superstores like Wal-Mart whose price levels can remain low because of their massive economies of scale and their shrewd use of inventory management?  Yes, but they will have to compete on different grounds.  Obviously, one cannot expect to compete on price with commonly available products in the massive superstores when one is a small to moderate-sized business.  But there are plenty of other grounds that one can compete on by providing good service and access to a community.  Likewise, there are also niche products that one would want to buy in person.  For example, let us assume that there exists in a city or town a small business that offers board games and miniatures for a passionate niche audience.  Such a business will be staffed by someone who is truly knowledgeable about such obscure products and can provide a great deal of help to someone who wants to buy an Avalon Hill game or miniatures for their table top RPG experience.  There may even be times where that business or a neighboring one offers a chance for people to connect with others in their local area who share the same passionate interests, like a face-to-face Diplomacy game or a Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons group, for instance.  Such a business does not need to compete on price points, because it offers a level of community that encourages customer loyalty over the long haul.  Likewise, a used book store that offers first edition or other high-end book products provides a customer a chance to check out the book in person for oneself before making an expensive purchase, where it is difficult to fully trust what one is purchasing online.  In these cases it makes sense to have a brick & mortar business because it provides a benefit to customers for a face-to-face connection as well as the building of trust and loyalty.  If a business can do that, it can survive the crush of online businesses and massive superstores.  If it cannot, there is a major risk of going out of business.

[1] See, for example:

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Joe Walsh

[Note:  After this post had been written but before it was published, one of my readers, Mike Honcho, said the following about Joe Walsh that I thought would be good to share:  “How about Joe Walsh/James Gang. I know he’s in with the Eagles, but so is Don Henley, on the list of snubs. Unbelievably influential to generations of guitarists. First to do the talk box, sold/ gave Jimmy Page the Les Paul he made famous, helped Pete Townshend with some if his tone through gear (gave him a Gretsch used on Who’s Next and Quadrophenia). Rocky Mountain Way, Life’s Been Good, Funk #49, Walk Away, All Night Long, The Bomber etc. There are more, but he’s all over what’s left of FM radio and the satellite now. The amount of guys he’s influenced stretches from Billy Gibbons to Joe Bonamassa to Brad Paisley. He could write, sing, play killer rhythm, lead and slide. He did it all- fronted the James Gang and Barnstorm, was/is a successful solo artist and vaulted the Eagles to what they became. Imagine Hotel California without him.”]

If you think about the music career of Joe Walsh, there are a few different images you can have.  Perhaps you think of his time with the Eagles, singing the occasional song he penned about sad cafes and pretty maids standing in a row.  Perhaps you think of his dry and sardonic look at the way that life’s been good for a music star, even if he finds himself unable to drive because his license has been taken away or his contribution to the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack.  One thing you may not think of, though, is that he is a fairly obvious snub for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist or, even more notably, under the “Award For Musical Excellence” that goes to those who help make other people’s music better.  Not long ago I found that my writing about Don Henley’s case for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist received some attention from some Eagles fans [1], and that some people lamented that Glenn Frey had not been inducted either, but it was noted that Joe Walsh had perhaps the most obvious case for induction aside from Henley.  And why that is the case is the subject I would like to tackle now.

The Influence Of Joe Walsh

In looking at the influence of Joe Walsh we are left with a lot of possibilities.  Do we look at his solo career, and examine his hit singles and albums, as the linchpin of his case for induction?  Do we look at his time with the Eagles and other bands?  Do we look at his side work for other musicians on their albums as evidence that the talented musician was someone well recognized for making other artists better?  The fact that all of these remain viable options suggests that Joe Walsh is a figure more important in the history of rock & roll music than he may initially appear to many people at first.  After all, someone can have influence on music in a variety of ways.  Walsh’s influence was varied in nature, including songs written and recorded under his own name, songs recorded by bands he was a part of, and songs recorded by others that he wrote, produced, and played on.  This varied and complicated influence is the sort that is better recognized by those involved in the music industry than those who are merely fans of artists and focused on those names that appear on the cover of singles and albums, and it is that case to which we now turn.

Why Joe Walsh Should Be Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

As is sometimes the case for musicians, the whole of their case is greater than each individual element of it.  Joe Walsh recorded with the Eagles, writing and singing songs like “The Sad Cafe” and “All The Pretty Maids In A Row,” and he also recorded with such bands as The James Gang And Barnstorm.  As a solo musician he had two gold albums and one platinum album, and 4 top 40 singles, most notably “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Life’s Been Good,” and “All Night Long,” as well as the #1 mainstream rock song “Life Of Illusion [2].”  Besides this he was notable as a producer, songwriter, and session musician for a diverse group of worthy bands and musicians like:  The Ohio Express, B.B. King, America, Billy Preston, Dan Fogelberg, Keith Moon, Andy Gibb, Jay Ferguson, Warren Zevon, the Beach Boys, Don Henley, Lionel Richie, Michael McDonald, Steve Winwood, Richard Marx, Wilson Phillips, Bog Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Ringo Starr, Kenny Chesney, and the Foo Fighters [3].  This case, when looked at as a whole, signifies someone who made a lot of other musicians better and deserves credit for that in some fashion above and beyond his well-regarded work with the Eagles.

Why Joe Walsh Isn’t Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

It seems likely that Joe Walsh seems a bit anonymous as a musician.  His work with the Eagles was towards the later part of their initial popularity, after they had been around for years.  His solo work is certainly impressive, but hardly obvious, and most of his work is almost anonymous in providing songwriting and production to excellent songs and albums or providing a slide guitar part to songs that are known for their main musicians.  He is someone who is known by musicians as being very good at what he does, not someone who is recognized by the masses as being an obvious star.  And yet that lack of obviousness makes him a suitable case for the Award For Musical Excellence, as it does not require a mass campaign in his favor but rather the recognition of a job well done over the last few decades as a musician.

Verdict:  Put him in.  He won’t be in anyone’s way.  Life’s been good for him anyway.

[1] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:

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Book Review: Lord, Have Mercy

Lord, Have Mercy:  The Healing Power Of Confession, by Scott Hahn

Confession has a bit of a bad name, and it happens to be a major Catholic sacrament, and so it little surprise that the author would want to talk about it as part of his collection of books celebrating Catholic practice and belief for the lay Catholic reader.  Now, unlike most people, I don’t have a great deal of problem with the idea of confession [1], despite the fact that I see a great deal of discontinuity between Catholic practice and its biblical roots.  Even so, despite the fact that I am fairly critical of the author’s quest to justify the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church and the fact that the authorities the author mentions are not always ones I consider remotely relevant or valid, there is still at least something worthwhile here.  Even the weaker arguments the author presents about doing penance in one’s relationship when one has done wrong, weak because one cannot induce reconciliation and the performance of deeds in penance need not have any positive benefit whatsoever on a relationship where there is estrangement and brokenness due to sin, still have a certain charm to them in that the author is wrestling with the practical outgrowth of an attitude of repentance.

This book consists of thirteen chapters and three appendices that together take up about 200 pages, which is where most of the author’s books seem to rest in terms of their length.  The author begins with a look at his own youthful career as a juvenile delinquent and what prompted him to the seriousness of confession (1) before looking at acts of contrition being at the roots of penance (2).  After this the author looks at confession being a new heavenly order despite its roots in the Hebrew scriptures (3) and some comments on the fact that for confession to be valid it must be honest (4).  The author looks at sin as being what’s wrong with the world (5) in the manner of Chesterton before looking at the sweetness of forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God and with others (6).  The author looks at confession as a covenant, which is a bit strained of a comparison (7) while also looking at the Prodigal Son in the fashion of Nouwen (8).  After discussing the way that there is no home away from home for believers, whatever that means (9), the author examines some supposed secrets of winning penance in suffering pain (10), which has some ominous roots in Catholic historical practice that the author all too quickly skips over.  A discussion of some habits of highly effective (?) penitents (11), the use of confession as spiritual combat on the home front (12) and a discussion of the open door of reconciliation close the book (13) before the author gives three appendices that discuss the rite of reconciliation, prayers, and the detailed and harsh examination of conscience that takes place in the Catholic rite.

In reading this book I had a variety of complicated thoughts and feelings.  On the one hand, the author’s discussion of the Confession as it takes place in the Catholic tradition has a lot to do with the sort of counseling between members and the ministry that my own religious tradition is familiar with, including the painful and awkward discussion of sin and the goal ministers have in encouraging reconciliation between members as privately and tactfully as possible, sometimes with various actions being taken as a sign of good faith.  On the other hand, this book is unfamiliar in all kinds of strange ways, largely because of the impenetrable language relating to the Catholic church.  The Bible commands repentance, while the Catholic Church (and this author) talk much about penance, which opens the door to that works salvation that troubled the Reformers so much.  If the author refers to the deeds of penance of being the demonstration of an interior repentance, then I’m not as bothered by that, although the knowing pain to get the gain of reconciliation in confession sounds altogether too masochistic to be legitimate biblical faith.  The author tries to put the most positive spin on Catholic practices, but although there is a great deal here worth discussing and pondering, ultimately the Catholicity of the book is not biblical enough to compel assent even if the subject of repentance and confession and reconciliation and the importance of having rituals and oaths relating to these matters is an important and worthwhile one.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Swear To God

Swear To God:  The Promise And Power Of The Sacraments, by Scott Hahn

It should be noted that I have read quite a bit from this author [1], and my feelings about the author are mixed.  His writing shows, as a pattern, no great fidelity to the Bible and some truly lamentable habits as an interpreter of scripture and tradition.  Over and over again the author talks about his own regression to Catholicism and tends to, as one might imagine a convert to do, cherry-picks conversion stories for others to add to his unfortunately triumphalist rhetoric.  Yet these are aspects of the writer’s thinking that remain constant through his body of work, at least so far as I am able to tell.  The larger question is, is there anything in this Popish writing aimed at a Catholic audience to instruct them about the seven Catholic sacraments that is of value to a non-Catholic audience?  The answer is a qualified yes.  Again, a great deal has to be taken with more than a little bit of skepticism or criticism, but there is enough here to be worth reading for someone who wants to encounter a Catholic perspective and who is interested in the larger question of covenants and oaths and the power that results from them, even when there is much to disagree with.

This book consists of fifteen chapters (some of which, along with many of the headings within chapters, are full of punny titles) that take up about 200 pages of text.  The book begins with a discussion of how sacraments used to bore the author (1) as well a discussion of signs and mysteries (2) and a look at how the sacraments of baptism, laying on of hands, the Passover, ordination, marriage, healing, and confession appear in scripture (3).  The author then looks at why there are seven counted (4), even if there are more rituals called “sacramentals” that he fortunately doesn’t go into in a lot of detail.  A look at the connection between sacramentals and covenants then follows (5) along with a look at sacraments as covenant oaths (6) and the phenomenon of words being deeds (7).  The author looks at oaths and their importance as the engine of history (8) and looks at the question of trustworthiness and treachery as making it important that oaths are taken seriously and said conscientiously (9).  The author examines the critical aspect of truth in making oaths (10) and makes some critical comments about those who compartmentalize their lives between being religious only some of the time and irreligious and faithless the rest of the time (11).  The author looks at questions of the connection between sacraments and sexuality and lying (12) and the realm of risk (13) before closing the book with a look at the “real presence” of God in the oaths made by believers (14) and the way that oaths and sacraments look toward eternity (15).

In the main, approaching this subject, I would look at the sacraments as being aspects of covenants that are made where an oath creates a reality that was not the case to begin with.  There are strong cases to be made for five of these seven oaths.  Three of them, of course, are matters that every believer is subject to:  the baptism and laying on of hands (here called confirmation), both done at the same time, one of them an oath on the part of a believer to repent of his sins and accept a new life and the other an oath on the part of the one doing the baptism to proclaim the entrance of the believer into God’s family with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  The third of these universal sacraments is the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine at the Passover, which puts us in a right relationship with God and serves as a memorial as well as a proclamation of the death of Christ and brings believers under judgment if they have taken the cup or partaken of the bread in an unworthy manner.  Two of the sacraments are oaths that are taken by some believers but not by all of them and are also covenants.  The first of these is marriage, where there is a oath between a husband and a wife to remain loyally united together until death do they part, an oath far too many do not take seriously at present.  The second of these is ordination, where people enter into church offices and make a vow to serve God’s people loyally and faithfully.  While I have some serious questions about the way that confession and anointing are, I see both of these as aspects of healthy Christian practice that I have sought myself on occasions as a way of appealing to God and seeking to reconcile with others.  While I find a good deal to criticize about the approach of the author, the fact that I consider much of his statements about sacraments and what separates them to be worthwhile of thinking about is, perhaps the highest praise a reader like myself could be expected to give.

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