Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is Rob Bell's Love Wins saying the same things as C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce?

Pastor Doug Wilson answers. . .

Speaking of The Great Divorce -- an interview with N.D. Wilson who is writing a film adaptation of the Lewis classic (N.D. is the son of Doug).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Christiane Amanpour interviews Tim Keller

If you aren't able to watch the embedded video you can watch it on YouTube.

The KJV turns 400

I love the ending of Charles McGrath's splendid tribute in The New York Times to the 1611 Authorized Version: "Why the King James Bible Endures":

There are countless new Bibles available now, many of them specialized: a Bible for couples, for gays and lesbians, for recovering addicts, for surfers, for skaters and skateboarders, not to mention a superheroes Bible for children. They are all “accessible,” but most are a little tone-deaf, lacking in grandeur and majesty, replacing “through a glasse, darkly,” for instance, with something along the lines of “like a dim image in a mirror.” But what this modernizing ignores is that the most powerful religious language is often a little elevated and incantatory, even ambiguous or just plain hard to understand. The new Catholic missal, for instance, does not seem to fear the forbidding phrase, replacing the statement that Jesus is “one in being with the Father” with the more complicated idea that he is “consubstantial with the Father.”

Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor. Even some of us who are nonbelievers want a God who speaketh like — well, God. The great achievement of the King James translators is to have arrived at a language that is both ordinary and heightened, that rings in the ear and lingers in the mind. And that all 54 of them were able to agree on every phrase, every comma, without sounding as gassy and evasive as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, is little short of amazing, in itself proof of something like divine inspiration.

Read the whole thing!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Waiting for "Superman" (dir. Davis Guggenheim, 2010)

Be warned. Watching Waiting for "Superman" is a pretty depressing experience. It left me discouraged about the future of our country and anxious about the future prospects of my two boys. I think it's must-viewing though, especially if you've ever said something like: "I'll never send my kids to that school." This movie convincingly hammers home the unassailable fact that our public schools are failing a vast number of children  -- this despite spending unprecedented amounts of money and sallying forth with one ballyhooed reform effort after another. Millions of children are still being left behind. This fine documentary succeeds by presenting the numbers  -- often with nifty animations -- but even more effective than the damning statistics are the stories of the real life parents and kids told to us by filmmaker (and father) Davis Guggenheim. The statistics on failing schools can seem abstract, but here they come attached to names and faces.

Among the takeaways from Waiting for "Superman": he -- the Man of Steel that is -- doesn't exist, and there isn't a magic bullet solution to the education mess. The closest thing to education Supermen are reformers like billionaire Bill Gates, who understands that our nation's fortunes are tied to a quality public education system, and Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children's Zone, who's demonstrated that it's possible to give a quality education to children from the most at-risk neighborhoods. Another takeaway is that most teachers are heroes, but that teachers unions are a menace to our kids. If you think menace is too strong a word, then watch the scene where we visit a "rubber room" in New York City where tenured teachers accused of incompetence (and even sexual misconduct) are paid to do nothing while they wait for their cases to wind through the bureaucracy. It's virtually impossible to fire a tenured teacher, and the unions want to keep it that way. Usually what happens is that bad teachers are passed from school to school -- a process called "the lemon dance" -- leaving devastation in their wakes.

Failing schools a/k/a "dropout factories" a/k/a "education sinkholes" aren't just an urban problem though. Waiting for "Superman" follows 8th grader Emily from a tony Silicon Valley suburb where the median home price is in the high six figures. At Emily's ostensibly "good school" her chances of getting into one of California's stellar public universities are jeopardized by an arbitrary process called "academic tracking." Because of this her family decides to enter the lottery to be accepted at a nearby charter school where students aren't tracked. For more and more families the chances of their children getting into a good school are tied to a bouncing ball or a randomly generated number. This is a scenario that could be in my family's future, and is already a reality for some of our friends.

Waiting for "Superman" paints a devastating picture, but the blame can't all be laid at the feet of educators and politicians. For every single mom or working family doing all in their power to get the best possible education for their kid, there are others who just don't care. This film also makes evident that if there isn't support at home then even the best teachers have an impossible task.

As someone who used to be somewhat anti-public schools I came away from this film convinced that reforming public education is both a national security and social justice issue. Some will argue that taxpayer-funded compulsory education was a fools errand to start with. Perhaps they're right, but that horse has long ago left the barn. We simply can't give up on the millions of children for whom public schools are the only option? The truth is, somebody's kid is going to have to go to that school. You know...the one I wouldn't dream of sending my son or daughter to.

Waiting for "Superman" ends with a montage of the families we've gotten to know attending lotteries that will decide whether their child gets one of the coveted spots at a high-performing charter school. The stakes seem almost life and death. Tears rolled down my face as I watched the disappointment set in as their child's name or number wasn't called. Is this the best we can do? A lottery to decide a child's future? This film might depress you, but hopefully it will make you mad too. Hopefully it will rouse you to action. Our future depends on it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The ultimate culture-making event (Crouch)

Andy Crouch:

Of all the things cultures conserve most carefully—of all that they are most committed to cultivating—among the most important are ritual and time. For several thousand years, in the midst of a bewildering variety of geographic locations and civilizations—even as their own language and cultural practices changed in myriad ways—the Jews have never forgotten which day is the sabbath. The observance of the sabbath is written into the Ten Commandments and the story of creation itself, and was sustained in Jesus' time, as it is now, as a profoundly countercultural act with little or no support from the surrounding society. And yet, within a few years of Jesus' death, we have clear evidence (from Luke, Paul and John in the biblical canon, and from writers like Ignatius just a few decades later) of a group of largely or exclusively Jewish believers, living within sight of the temple no less, who have shifted their primary day of worship from the seventh to the first.

To grasp the cultural significance of this, imagine leaving the United States for a decade or so and returning to find that while the wider society continued to get up on Monday and go to work and school, a substantial number of churches left their buildings dark on Sunday and gathered for worship on Monday instead—perhaps getting up before dawn to do so, perhaps gathering after the work day was done, perhaps skipping work altogether—and, for good measure, now called Monday "the Lord's day." You would conclude that something absolutely extraordinary must have happened—or at least that they believed something extraordinary had happened.

As evidence that something extraordinary did indeed happen on the Sunday after Jesus' execution, the shift in worship from the seventh day to the first is arresting. But it is also, for those of us who believe the first disciples' report of Easter, perhaps the most vivid and indisputable sign of the cultural power of the resurrection. For through a complex and far-reaching chain of events, that tectonic shift from Saturday to Sunday directly shapes the lives of the great majority of the population of the earth—even though many of them are Christian only nominally or not at all.

The latte-sipping customer at Starbucks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is taking her time with the Sunday Times—why? Because in much of the world, the first day of the week has become the closest thing we have to a day of rest. Even when "blue laws" restricting business on Sundays have largely been repealed, the manager of the local department store who has to fill in schedules starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. is still, however vestigially, touched by the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30s, whose aftershocks are still being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many of whom have never heard of, and many more of whom have never believed in, its origins. . . .

The resurrection is the hinge of history—still after two thousand years as culturally far-reaching in its effects as anything that has come since.

Quote from Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (InterVarsity Press, 2008) pp. 144-5

Friday, April 22, 2011

The difficult embrace of Good Friday

This is a lightly edited version of something I wrote last year for my friends at Urban Youth Impact.

Passion Week begins and ends with joyful celebration. On Palm Sunday we stand with the cheering crowds welcoming our King into Jerusalem. Then on Resurrection Sunday we run with Peter and John to the empty tomb, and fall to our knees with Mary Magdalene before our risen Lord. We may sing, "Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes!"

It's easy to love the beginning and end of the gospel narrative. It's the in-between part that's hard to embrace. Think about it. There was betrayal by an intimate friend, overwhelming sorrow, desertion, a sham trial, physical abuse, and finally a drawn-out public execution on a hill outside Jerusalem. The victory we celebrate on Easter had to travel the dusty pathway of defeat. Strength came through weakness. The foolishness of the cross challenges the conventional wisdom of our society in which winning (as defined by the world) is everything. Thomas à Kempis is right: "Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few cross-bearers. . . . Many revere His miracles, but few follow the shame of His cross."

In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul reminds us that before God exalted Jesus, and gave him the name before whom every knee shall bow, there was humility and service. I like how Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: "When the time came, he [Jesus] set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death -- and the worst kind of death at that -- a crucifixion."

I doubt if any of us normally chooses powerlessness over power, weakness over strength, living on the margins versus living at the center. I know I don't! But as disciples living in anticipation of that final Resurrection Day, we're called by our master to take up our cross and follow Him. I've only just begun to learn what it means to live a cross-centered life. Much of what I do know has come through association with Urban Youth Impact. By volunteering at their annual events, as well as praying and worshiping with brothers and sisters across racial and denominational lines, I've caught precious glimpses of the cross. I'm deeply thankful for UYI because they give the Body of Christ in Palm Beach County an example of what cross-centered ministry looks like. Day in and day out UYI is taking the good news of God's love in Christ to the powerless and marginalized. I encourage you to get involved in their mission!

Gracious Father, thank you for sending your Son to become poor for our sake, so that by His poverty we might become rich. Forgive us for too often wanting to smooth over the hard path of discipleship. Enable us by your Spirit to give ourselves in love and service to our neighbors. Continue to bless the ministry of Urban Youth Impact. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's feeling like a Wilco Wednesday

This is purty. . .

Ashes of American Flags (dir. Brendan Canty & Christoph Green, 2009)

Why Catholics become Protestant

There's been a lot of ink in recent years on Protestant evangelicals crossing the Tiber to Rome, but not a lot on Christians moving in the opposite direction. The National Catholic Reporter has an interesting piece on this by Thomas Reese: "The hidden exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants". In it Reese summarizes research from the Pew Center and tries to discern trends.

One stat that pops out is that 1 out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. Just from a sociocultural aspect that's an amazing number. If these folks formed their own denomination they would be the third-largest in the United States! However, half of those who leave don't join another church or religion. It's the other half that "switch teams" that Reese focuses on. The reasons ex-Catholics give for becoming Protestants are many and varied, but a few common threads emerge. As a Reformed Christian I find reason for discouragement and encouragement in the findings.

The data shows that most people don't leave because of disagreement with church teaching. I wish they did. I wish doctrine was more important. Instead, most become Protestant because their "spiritual needs were not being met" or they "found a religion they like more." The negative spin would be that this is another variant of American cafeteria-style religion. It seems not even the Catholic Church is immune from the consumer mindset that is more concerned with "what has the church done for me lately?" than truth (i.e. treating the church like a shopping mall). On the other hand if Catholicism isn't connecting with people where they are on their spiritual journey, then it's encouraging that some are finding that connection in Protestant churches.

Also encouraging to me is that the Catholics who do in fact disagree with church teaching usually end up in evangelical Protestant churches (as opposed to liberal mainline churches). Among these folks the Bible is a huge issue. As Catholics they weren't being taught the Bible or encouraged to read it for themselves, and so they are attracted to churches in which Scripture is taught and the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously. Here's how the author of the article puts it:

. . . thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic scripture scholars have had decades to produce the best thinking on scripture in the world. That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible.

The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

I pray his advice is taken. Where God's Word is read, taught and acted upon; renewal and revival will follow. Who knows? Maybe the Reformation cry of Sola Scriptura will one day ring out in the halls of the Vatican.

Monday, April 18, 2011

An epic beginning (some thoughts on The New World)

I've been revisiting The New World, director Terrence Malick's 2005 impressionistic retelling of the John Smith/Pocahontas story. More specifically I've been watching the nearly 3-hour extended cut on Blu-ray. This is the way to see this film! Malick explores some of the same themes explored in the smash hit Avatar, but without the heavy-handedness of James Cameron. I don't see The New World as a masterpiece in the same way that Malick's first three features are, primarily because the casting of Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith never quite clicks. He just looks too much the part of what he actually is, which is an A-list Hollywood bad boy, and one of the sexiest men in the world (so I've been told). I wonder if the part would have been better served by a lesser-known actor? For instance, someone like Ben Chaplin or Jim Caviezel, both of whom were terrific in Malick's previous film The Thin Red Line. In my opinion the picture gets better once Farrell exits the stage about two thirds of the way through.

The last hour is perfect. Once Smith is sent off on other adventures we're introduced to another model of maleness in the compassionate John Rolfe, played effectively by Christian Bale. If Malick casts Smith and Pocahontas as Adam and Eve, the love story between Rolfe and the now-Christianized Powhatan princess "Rebecca" is more like Boaz and Ruth. Malick knows his Old Testament so I doubt the allusions are accidental. Upon her acceptance of his proposal for marriage he promises: "You do not love me now. Someday, you will." Though lacking the dash and romance of Smith, he proves to be the more enduring lover. Eventually he'll take her to England to see the King.

The New World begins with as stirring an opening as any movie has ever had. The choice of a piece by Richard Wagner (the Prelude from Das Rheingold) as the accompaniment to the English landing beautifully evokes the epic nature of this initial meeting of civilizations. In one sense it's like a discovery of Eden, in another it's paradise lost. Turn up your speakers for this one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lessons learned on the radio

Sometimes my most profound spiritual moments come from listening to This American Life, usually in the car, usually driving to and from work. Not spiritual as in warm and fuzzy "Oprah spirituality", but moments of clarity, understanding and empathy. I guess it just goes to show the power of stories, which is all TAL is. Stories about ordinary people. Case in point Act One of last week's episode KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM. A story about an evangelist intent on debunking his dad's faith, until something surprising happened. I almost had to pull over.

You can listen here

Francis Schaeffer said the final apologetic of Christianity was love. Unfortunately he didn't do too well in that department with his own son, but he was right.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bonhoeffer's childhood: a turning point

As described in a previous post the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's older brother Walter in the waning days of the First World War had a telling effect on the family. It also marked something of a turning point for young Dietrich. In the opening pages of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010) author Eric Metaxas wonderfully draws the reader in to the almost fairy-tale-like world of the seven Bonhoeffer children. Yet, where in other families of privilege this could have resulted in a bunch of spoiled brats, Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer cultivated an ethic of service to others and doing the right thing which powerfully impacted their children. I think they would have agreed that, "to whom much is given much will be required."

The impact of World War I on the Bonhoeffer family was a microcosm of it's cataclysmic effect on Germany. If there had been an age of innocence it was blown to smithereens in the bloody trenches of France. Nothing would be the same again. The humiliating defeat of the German nation set in motion a train of events that would culminate in the election of a crackpot nationalist and Jew-hater as Chancellor in 1933. The Bonhoeffer family, and Dietrich in particular, would be among the first prominent voices to sound the alarm against Hitler and all that he stood for. Ultimately, two of Karl and Paula's boys, and two of their sons-in-law, would die for their opposition to the Nazi regime.

But before all that there was Walter's untimely death. Metaxas suggests that this tragedy set Dietrich on the unexpected and unorthodox (in a family of doctors and lawyers) path of studying theology and becoming a pastor. Here's how Metaxas describes Walter's funeral (pp. 27-8)

In early May a cousin on the general staff escorted Walter's body home. Sabine [Dietrich's twin sister] recalled the spring funeral, and "the hearse with the horses decked out in black and all the wreaths, my mother deathly pale and shrouded in a great black mourning veil . . . my father, my relatives, and all the many silent people dressed in black on the way to the chapel." Dietrich's cousin Hans-Christoph von Hase remembered "the young boys and girls weeping, weeping. His mother, I had never seen her weep so much."

Walter's death was a turning point for Dietrich. The first hymn at the service was "Jerusalem, du Hochgebaude Stadt." Dietrich sang loudly and clearly, as his mother always wished the family to do. And she did, too, drawing strength from its words, which spoke of the heart's longing for the heavenly city, where God waited for us and would comfort us and "wipe away every tear." For Dietrich, it had to seem heroic and filled with meaning:

The patriarchs' and prophets' noble train,
With all Christ's followers true,
Who bore the cross and could the worst disdain
That tyrants dared to do,
I see them shine forever,
All-glorious as the sun,
Midst light that fadeth never,
Their perfect freedom won.

As meaningful as those words must have been to the 12-year-old boy, he couldn't have known that they were also foreshadowing of the path that ended at Flossenbürg. When Dietrich was confirmed a few years later his mother gave him Walter's Bible. He would carry it with him the rest of his life.

Over the next few weeks I'll share more vignettes from this exceptional biography.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Outrageous PUNmanship

Paul Copan is one of the foremost Christian apologists and philosophers of our day. I'm blessed to count him a friend, teacher, and fellow elder at our church. Anyone who's spent any time with Paul knows he's fond of puns. Very very fond. Recently some students and School of Ministry colleagues at Palm Beach Atlantic University where Paul teaches had some fun in this hilarious satire of the A&E show Intervention. Enjoy!

Self-interest vs. self-interest properly understood (Stiglitz)

Joseph Stiglitz has a terrific essay in Vanity Fair on the implications of the fact that the top 1% of Americans now make 25% of the income and control 40% of the wealth (25 years ago it was 12% and 33%). In 25 years will the top 1% make 50% of the income? If so, it will make the worst banana republic look like an egalitarian paradise in comparison. That's the direction we're heading. In the second half of the piece Stiglitz unpacks what's driving this trend, but here's an excerpt on why it even matters:

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year — an economy like America’s — is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Ultimately, Stiglitz argues, this naked self-interest will backfire because it's not the "self-interest properly understood" that Tocqueville identified as one of the strengths of American society. I know this will be dismissed as simply more class warfare rhetoric from a liberal economist, but it comports with the reality I see on the ground here in Palm Beach County, Florida, USA.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Goodbye Mr. Lumet

From 12 Angry Men in 1957 thru 1982's The Verdict director Sidney Lumet made films that were meant to do more than entertain, though entertain they did -- in spades. His last feature in 2007 was a tawdry forgettable affair, but let's cut Lumet some slack. He was one of those directors that needed to keep working, needed to keep his hand in, even when it meant making the best of less than stellar material -- or doing television -- which is where he got is start way back in the formative days of that revolutionary medium. Lumet died on Saturday at age 86 as one of the lions of Hollywood, though he was a New Yorker through and through.

If I had to describe Sidney Lumet's filmmaking in a word I would say workmanlike, in the best sense of the word. He largely eschewed fancy camera work and editing, choosing instead to let the word on the page and his thoroughly prepared actors take the fore. He was a big believer in extensive rehearsal before the cameras rolled. It showed. Lumet fashioned a handful of masterpieces including the two mentioned at the outset. Certainly another is Network (1976) -- my favorite Lumet movie. Here's without a doubt the most memorable scene from Network. Back then it played like satire, now it seems more like prophecy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One who stood fast

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "After Ten Years"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bonhoeffer's childhood: happiness interrupted

Eric Metaxas writes in his superb new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that Bonhoeffer's childhood was like something "from Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, without the undertones of angst and foreboding." (p. 25) Like the sprawling Ekdahl family of Bergman's film, the Bonhoeffer's enjoyed the best that turn-of-the-century continental European culture had to offer. Dietrich grew up surrounded by his many siblings, aunts and uncles, family caregivers, and was as sheltered from the dark side of life as one could be. The Bonhoeffer clan were a genuinely happy bunch.

Patriarch Karl Bonhoeffer was an agnostic, but he gave his pious wife free reign to instruct their children in the Christian faith. Though they weren't a churchgoing family, Paula Bonhoeffer organized elaborate celebrations of Christian holidays. For Advent and Christmas these included Bible readings, hymns and candle lightings. The Bonhoeffer's were a musical family and each Saturday evening they gathered for songs and chamber music. Metaxas paints a vivid picture of an idyllic childhood for the man whose martyrdom at age 39 we'll commemorate again on Saturday.

Dietrich was 8 years old when Kaiser Wilhelm II made the disastrous decision in August, 1914 to declare war on Russia. Three days later Britain declared war on Germany and World War I was joined. Even the war couldn't interrupt this privileged and happy existence -- yet. Most Germans foolishly thought the war would be over by year's end. Dietrich's older brothers Karl-Friedrich and Walter weren't old enough to be called up so the family seemed safe. But the war dragged on; and in 1917 the family's fortunes took a darker turn as the two eldest of the Bonhoeffer boys were called to war. Metaxas reports that the parents could have pulled strings to keep their sons away from the front lines (they had distinguished friends in high places), but they didn't. This was a family that believed in doing the right thing even if it came at great cost. It did.

In April 1918 it was Walter's turn to go. As they had always done and would do for their grandchildren's generation twenty-five years hence, they gave Walter a festive send-off dinner. The large family gathered around the large table, gave handmade presents, and recited poems and sang songs composed for the occasion. Dietrich, then twelve, composed an arrangement for "Now, at the last, we say Godspeed on your journey" and, accompanying himself on the piano, sang it to his brother. They took Walter to the station the next morning, and as the train was pulling away, Paula Bonhoeffer ran alongside it, telling her fresh-faced boy: "It's only space that separates us." Two weeks later, in France, he died of a shrapnel wound. Walter's death changed everything. (p. 26)

This tragedy had a profound effect on young Dietrich and presaged the difficult decades that lay ahead for this great family. To be continued. . .

Quotes from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Christ and the Qur' an (Andrew Walls)

Fascinating quote from Andrew Walls, founder of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World. . .

Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history. The divine Word is the Qur’an, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of original revelation.

For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents we have, a fact surely inseparable from the conviction that in Christ, God’s own self was translated into human form.

Much misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims has arisen from the assumption that the Qur’an is for Muslims what the Bible is for Christians.

It would be truer to say that the Qur’an is for Muslims what Christ is for Christians.

via John Piper

A serious man (David Brooks on Paul Ryan)

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been one of my favorite Republicans for a while. He was one of the only Republican congressmen to offer constructive alternatives to Obama's health care reform instead of simply being against whatever the president proposed. He understood that our current system is broken, notwithstanding clichés about us having the "best health care system the world has ever known." Now he's stepped out on a limb and offered a serious proposal to fix the systemic problems driving our deficit and debt. I think David Brooks is right that this is "the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes." Ryan understands that defunding NPR (silly!) and Planned Parenthood (about time!) plays well with the base, but doesn't address the real problem. Here's more from Brooks' column:

The Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context: The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract.

The initial coverage will talk about Ryan’s top number — the cuts of more than $4 trillion over the next decade. But the important thing is the way Ryan would reform programs. He would reform the tax code along the Simpson-Bowles lines, but without the tax increases. (It’s amazing that a budget chairman could include tax policy in his proposal, since it’s normally under the purview of the Ways and Means Committee.)

The Ryan budget doesn’t touch Medicare for anybody over 55, but for younger people it turns it into a defined contribution plan. Instead of assuming open-ended future costs, the government will give you a sum of money (starting at an amount equal to what the government now spends) and a regulated menu of insurance options from which to choose.

The Ryan budget will please governors of both parties by turning Medicaid into a block grant — giving states more flexibility. It tackles agriculture subsidies and other corporate welfare. It consolidates the job-training programs into a single adult scholarship. It reforms housing assistance and food stamps. It dodges Social Security. The Republicans still have no alternative to the Democratic health care reform, but this budget tackles just about every politically risky issue with brio and guts.

Ryan was a protégé of Jack Kemp, and Kemp’s uplifting spirit pervades the document. It’s not sour, taking an austere meat ax approach. It emphasizes social support, social mobility and personal choice. I don’t agree with all of it that I’ve seen, but it is a serious effort to create a sustainable welfare state — to prevent the sort of disruptive change we’re going to face if national bankruptcy comes.

It also creates the pivotal moment of truth for President Obama. Will he come up with his own counterproposal, or will he simply demagogue the issue by railing against “savage” Republican cuts and ignoring the long-term fiscal realities? Does he have a sustainable vision for government, or will he just try to rise above the fray while Nancy Pelosi and others attack Ryan?

And what about the Senate Republicans? Where do they stand? Or the voters? Are they willing to face reality or will they continue to demand more government than they are willing to pay for?

Paul Ryan has grasped reality with both hands. He’s forcing everybody else to do the same.

As one of those "younger people" who's probably going to get hosed in any entitlement reform I have some concerns, but I respect that Ryan's backing up his talk with action.

Monday, April 4, 2011

43 years ago today

On 4 April 1968 Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He was 39.

Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I want said?’ I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Because he first loved us

Last month I blogged about our second son Benjamin's baptism, which I'm happy to report took place the Sunday before last. Both boys behaved beautifully -- due to some serious praying I'm sure -- and the ceremony went off without a hitch. Well, there was a minor snafu when our pastor forgot to put water in the baptismal cup beforehand (I can hear my Baptist friends snickering). Thankfully he remembered at the last minute and signaled our pastor emeritus who slipped out and returned with water in a plastic cup. We'll have a funny story to tell Ben some day. Here's a picture of the happy family.

Some of you might be interested to read part of the liturgy our church uses for infant baptism. There's a different one for adult baptism (i.e. baptism on profession of faith) -- which has happened, though not as often as we'd like.

Here are the questions that were addressed to my wife and I, followed by our answers, and then the words addressed to Benjamin before he was baptized. I found these latter especially moving.

Do you renounce sin and the power of evil in your life and the world?
I renounce them.

Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Do you, by the grace of God, promise to be Christ's disciple, to follow in Christ's way, to show love, to practice justice, to resist evil, and to witness to the living Christ?
I promise, with the help of God.

Do you promise to devote yourself to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer, to celebrate Christ's presence and to further Christ's mission in the world?
I promise, with the help of God.

For you, Benjamin David
Jesus Christ has come, he has fought, he has suffered.
For you he entered the shadow of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.
For you he uttered the cry, "It is finished!"
For you he rose from the dead
and ascended into heaven
and there he intercedes —
for you, little child, even though you do not know it.
But in this way the word of the Gospel becomes true.
"We love him, because he first loved us."