Sunday, May 28, 2023

A prayer for Memorial Day

 I did not write this but I first used it so long ago that I do not recall whence it came. It is presented here as a responsive. 


Holy and redeeming God, may we honor your holy name by living up to the inheritance of your salvation, as we bear the name of your son, Jesus Christ our savior, with passion for his work of reconciliation of all the world. 

May your vision of peace and justice be realized and enacted among nations embroiled in war, among families affected or bereaved by war, and may all hearts that find their rest in you.

Lead us to that day when every tear is dried, every life is fulfilled, and the law of love is written on our hearts.

We thank you, Lord, for the lives of all those whose sacrifices have made our freedom possible. We beg your grace for our country and your wisdom to guide each of our citizens.

Let us not squander the freedom we have been bequeathed by those who died to preserve it. More than in any human system, let us live as redeemed disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whose life, death and resurrection we are made free indeed.

Remove from human beings the arrogance of power, our will to anger, our reliance on weapons, and our love of violence.

Chasten us with humility and strengthen our trust in you. Make us agents of your peace in all places. We lift up to you the persons whose names we gratefully remember this day, and in remembering we pause in silence:

We pause for a time of remembrance

O almighty God and most merciful Father, as we remember these your servants, remembering with gratitude their courage and strength, we hold before you those who mourn them.

Look upon your bereaved servants with your mercy. As this day brings them memories of those they have lost awhile, may it also bring your consolation and the assurance that their loved ones are alive now and forever in your living presence. In the name of the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

 And please remember:

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Paganism is coming back strong

 These are four long-ish essays that deserve careful reading because, though not collaborative products, they all interrelate remarkably. I wish I had the time to excerpt them and comment. So for now, at least, the list:

Generation Z and the Future of Faith in America

From Commentary: The Return of Paganism - The spiritual crisis afflicting contemporary America has ancient and enduring roots—and so does the cure. Key point: As explained in the article, pagan practices ultimately always result in human sacrifice, especially of children.

The Queers Versus The Homosexuals - We are in a new era. And the erasure of gay men and lesbians is intensifying. (Yes, it is relevant to both links above)

Rape of the Locke - Western liberalism is being replaced. What comes next is illiberal to its core.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Going to a theme park? Be prepared for fist fights. . .

Multiple theme parks across the country are enforcing stricter rules about adults being required to accompany children in the parks. Knotts Berry Farm even closed down several hours early one day because of teens' behavior.

The largest group to implement chaperone policies is Cedar Fair, which owns and operates many parks, including California's Knott's Berry Farm. Knott's Berry Farm was forced to close early on July 16, 2022, due to "unruly behavior and altercations involving a number of teenagers," according to a statement from the park.

A few days later, on July 20, 2022, the park announced it would be implementing a chaperone policy on Fridays and Saturdays only. It also updated its code of conduct page to include details of the police.

A large number of other parks have implemented stricter rules as well. 

Why has this become an issue? Well, Consider: "U.S. has world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households," for one. 

For decades, the share of U.S. children living with a single parent has been rising, accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage. A new Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households.

And according to the Census Bureau, the number of children living with a single parent climbs sharply as children get older. 

Note that among children 12-17 years old, 36.6 percent live with only their mother and 40 percent live with only their father. That makes almost 81 percent of all minor teens living with only one parent.

And as we pastors all know, worship attendance or other participation by post-Boomer generations has fallen sharply - and the younger the generation, the more sharply.

American religious identity has experienced nearly three decades of consistent decline. But this roughly linear trend masks significant generational variation in religious identity. Research has consistently shown that every generation of adults is somewhat less religious than the generation that preceded it.[7] This pattern continues with Generation Z demonstrating less attachment to religion than the millennial generation did.[8]

In terms of identity, Generation Z is the least religious generation yet. More than one-third (34 percent) of Generation Z are religiously unaffiliated, a significantly larger proportion than among millennials (29 percent) and Generation X (25 percent). Fewer than one in five (18 percent) baby boomers and only 9 percent of the silent generation are religiously unaffiliated.

It’s not only a lack of religious affiliation that distinguishes Generation Z. They are also far more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic. Eighteen percent of Gen Z affirmatively identify as either atheist (9 percent) or agnostic (9 percent). In contrast, fewer than one in 10 (9 percent) baby boomers and 4 percent of the silent generation identifies as atheist or agnostic.

But there is a lot more to this drop than mere year of birth, there is politics, too:

A growing body of research finds that religious practice and identity have become entangled with politics.[11] What is notable is just how recent some of these shifts have been.

According to Gallup, in 2021, only 35 percent of liberals said they were a member of a church or other place of worship.[12] But liberals did not always have such low rates of membership. In fact, the left has experienced a precipitous drop in church membership over the past three decades. In 1998, a majority of liberals (57 percent) were members of a church or other type of religious organization.

Conservatives have also experienced a steady drop in church membership, but it has not been nearly as steep. More than six in 10 (62 percent) conservatives belonged to a church or congregation in 2021, a significant decline from 1998 when 77 percent reported being a member.

But it’s not only that liberals register lower levels of religious participation or membership. They are also less likely to have been raised in a religious tradition. Liberals are nearly twice as likely as conservatives are to say they grew up religiously unaffiliated (13 percent vs. 7 percent, respectively). They also report engaging in formal and informal religious activities at lower rates. Rather than religious disengagement reflecting decisions liberals make as adults, their trajectory of disassociation appears to have been set much earlier.

It is not a coincidence that more and more children are being born to never-married mothers: Statista's graph agrees with the CDC's report:

Percentage of births to unmarried women in the United States from 1980 to 2021

Increasingly, the traditional, two-parent, religious nuclear family is becoming an exception rather than the rule. Heck, according to these numbers is already is the exception and it is no accident that this is the deliberate intention of the American Left.  And so we are reminded once again:

But at least some people are taking what is now a counter-cultural position: "‘Get married and start a family’: Georgia Tech grad speaker."

Students should not be solely focused on making money and becoming a success in their field, according to a Super Bowl-winning kicker who spoke at Georgia Institute of Technology’s graduation ceremony.

Harrison Butker, the kicker of the Kansas City Chiefs and an alumnus of Georgia Tech, instead urged graduates to “get married and start a family.”

He said this is an antidote to ongoing mental health problems in society, including loneliness and depression. He also reminded attendees that not every good deed or success will be noticed but “what is done in the darkness will be brought to the light,’” Butker said, quoting the Bible.

The devout Catholic and pro-life advocate then showed off “the most important ring” he had to the crowd – his wedding ring. Butker also has two Super Bowl rings.
And Glenn Reynolds writes that we are seeing the return of "Those shocking bourgeois values."

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Mass shootings: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans"

Update, April 2023: I wrote this in 2018 after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz massacred 17 students and faculty at Parkland High School, Florida. With the recent murders of three children and three faculty at Nashville's The Covenant School on March 17 by 28-year-old Audrey Hale, I am reposting it. Nothing has changed, of course, because politicians on both the Left and the Right are far more interested in scoring points against the other side than protecting the lives of children. 

If things proceed according to pattern, there will be energetic debate after the latest school massacre about stopping such a horror from happening again, then the news media will move on to other topics. And the American people, who have generally been trained over the last 50-plus years not to think something is important unless it's on TV, will move on also.

And in a few months or next year, when it happens again, lather, rinse, repeat.

This inability to take meaningful action is due to several factors, one of which is the existing (and strengthening) political divide in the country. But the main reasons, I think, are pretty simple:
  • both sides firmly believe that the other side is solely responsible for the deadlock, 
  • both sides' most prominent voices insist that there is a "silver bullet" solution that by itself will completely resolve the issue, and
  • neither side will admit that its own broader political core beliefs are already part of the cause for these shootings. Both demand that all of the surrendering must be done by the other side.
So I proceed on the basis of this post's title: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." I learned this very well when I was assigned to the Army Operations Center in the early 1990s at the Pentagon. The Army's chief of staff was Gen. Carl Vuono. He sometimes found occasion during our briefings to him about current and planned operations to hammer home a point: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." 

Don't tell me what you hope will happen, don't tell me what you wish you could do, he repeated. "Give me a plan that makes it happen."

Stop offering "Bell the cat" solutions

... concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome would be, but also on how it can be executed. It provides a moral lesson about the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility, and how this affects the value of a given plan.
Anyone who thinks that there is one thing that, if done, will stop mass shootings (whether at schools or elsewhere) is actually not thinking at all. They are making political statements, not relevant statements, and are so convinced of the moral purity of their own side that they think that a wish is a plan and that their wish, if fulfilled, will automatically result in zeroing out mass shootings. 

Here are two examples, one from each side. On the Left: 
  • "We must ban AR-15s and similar weapons."
In fact, we cannot ban these weapons. I am not saying we should not ban them, or must not ban them. I am saying we cannot ban them. It is impossible. The same with "high-capacity" magazines. 

Yes, we could legislate that they may not be manufactured or imported into the country. So? There are still tens of millions already here (no one knows how many). Will you ban them also? If so, as The Beatles sang long ago, "We'd all love to see the plan." Besides, when testifying before Congress, the director of the ATF, Steve Dettelbach, told the House Appropriations Committee that he was not able to define what an "assault rifle" is. 

Don't even utter the word, "Australia." Their 1996 ban was mandatory, requiring residents to hand over their firearms to the government, but the government paid for them, which would be mandatory here (that pesky Constitution's "takings clause"). Where will the the US government get $30 billion (at minimum) to do that? Do not even dare to suggest cutting only spending beloved by the Right, such as defense. If you are not willing to pare Left-loved spending, then you are not serious about stopping school shootings at all. You're just trying to score political points. 

Are you willing to zero out payouts and tax-money support, for example, of Planned Parenthood, the NEA, NPR, etc. to diminish the number of AR weapons in America? No? Then you will understand why I am completely ignoring you. 

That said, in Australia's ban only 20 percent of Australian gun owners complied. One out of five. The ban, btw, had little effect on crime rates or suicides there, but it did create a thriving black market in firearms, including black-market importation. See here and here, for example. 

Ban AR-type weapons? Well, show me your plan. If in your plan no one's ox gets gored but your political opponents', you have not got a plan to save kids' lives, you have a platform for fund raising and campaigning. 

On the Right:
  • "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." 
If I hear that one more time I will not know whether to throw up or just laugh out loud. Okay, good guys with guns do stop bad guys with guns countless times per year (that's why we arm police, after all),  and good guys (cops) with guns definitely stopped Audrey Hale before she could murder anyone else.

And yes, schools by law are "gun free zones," and yes, "gun free zone" really is a euphemism for "defenseless people here."

Fine. But then your advocates post stupid stuff like this:

This meme has been around since at least 2012 and is simply false. False as in "untrue," as Israelis on social media have attempted to refute. Here is Israel Today:
There is a picture going around the Internet that I have seen about a dozen times today that claims that Israeli teachers are packing heat. Well, are they? The answer is “NO.” There may be some exceptions in dangerous areas like the West Bank (where five percent of Israelis live), but in general, Israeli teachers are not walking around like it’s the Wild Wild West, strapped with a six shooter. No, our teachers are not focused on shooting, but educating. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t protect young students.

In the picture, the students are on an outing. While it appears that the teacher is holding a rifle, I have never seen such a thing in ten years of living here. Rest assured however, they are under armed protection. In most cases it is an armed guard or a soldier that will accompany a class, not the teacher. And my guess is that the woman with the gun is a security guard, not a teacher.

Secondly, they are not armed in the classroom. Is that really the image you want to imprint on the minds of six-year-olds? (That would be Hamas.)
Even so, suppose that it was made legal for faculty and staff to volunteer to go armed in schools. What's your plan to implement? Just let them get a carry license and go for it? Will they be required also to take shoot-or-no-shoot training, repeated at intervals? Will they be paid extra for carrying? Will they wear distinctive identifying clothing so they don't shoot each other by mistake? Will their local governments accept the financial liability for using their weapons when the shooter, if he lives, or his family, if he doesn't, sue the teacher who shoots him and the rest of the district? (and they will sue.) All of these factors also apply to other categories of potential guards, such as veterans or retired police.

In the wake of the Aurora, Colo., mass murder in a movie theater, I wrote elsewhere about the ignore-reality advocates of the "good guy with a gun" argument as applying to crowded venues of panicked people, which is what Parkland's high school became when the shooting started.
But let's assume you do unmistakably locate the shooter and decide to engage him. You have a 9mm compact-sized, semi-auto pistol with the typical 7-10 round magazine (though the Beretta PX4 compact holds up to 15). The killer is firing madly, apparently about 25 feet away. You shoot at him.

You will miss. Your heart rate is through the roof. So is your respiration rate. You are sweating like a marathon runner. Your hands are shaking. These are involuntary physiological responses and you can do pretty much nothing about them. They badly affect shooting accuracy. Also, you are being jostled by panicked people trying to get away. And firearms trainers know that even on a range, firing under stress makes people fire high unless they are collected enough to correct for it intentionally. However, being a typical permit holder, the only actual pistol training you ever got was when you went to the class to certify the permit application. When you shoot again, you will miss then, too. And the next time.

But now you have identified yourself as a threat to the killer, assuming his state of mind lets him notice your fire (which he might not, to be fair). So he turns his semi-auto AR-15 on you and starts pulling the trigger. Now you are dead or badly wounded. The shooter is unharmed and still shooting.
In 2011, not even the very pro-gun site, The Truth About Guns could endorse the idea that more people going armed would do anything to stop public-venue mass shootings. Even so, as I have said, show me your comprehensive plan and I will listen. Not until then. See here, too. (However, it is probably appropriate here for me to explain why I am an armed pastor.) 

Stop proposing to bell the cat, all of you. There are zero steps to end school shootings or make them much more difficult that are not going to press hard on what all of us hold dear.

What can we do now?

Let's start with what can be done fairly quickly, which is make carrying out such a shooting more difficult, perhaps so difficult that that fact alone will deter an attempt. It is very worth noting that according to Nashville police, Covenant School murderer Audrey Hale rejected at least one other target venue because it had "too much security."

The Saturday after Parkland, Nashville's Tennessean newspaper published a video about such measures, featuring Sean Burke, president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, who said that "layers" of security at military installations can be model for all schools to remain safe. URL here, please watch the 91-second video.   

Not everything he says translates cleanly to civilian schools. For example, just getting onto a military installation is highly restricted and requires vetting at the entrance gate. But we can and should start with physical security measures for three reasons.
  1. First, they will be effective.
  2. Second, they don't tread on either sides' core values.
  3. Third, they are local-government initiatives, hence do not depend on the federal behemoth to rouse itself, and these initiatives would be poor federal ones anyway. 
The basic principal is simple: Make school shootings hard to do

Making school shootings difficult to carry out consists of two main things: First, it must become very difficult for a shooter to enter a school or its ground with weapons. Second, the schools' designs must inhibit successfully carrying out attempts.

The same Israeli site that refuted the notion that Israeli teachers go armed also says this:
On the other hand. I have never seen a school in Israel that was not fenced in. You must go through a locked gate that is guarded by an armed shomer, a security guard. He or she, on the other hand, is not concerned with educating, but protecting. He or she will ask you why you are there? “What is your child’s name?” “Show me your I.D. card.” And he or she would not let you bring a weapon inside.
Just yesterday (4/5/2023) Nashville's CBS affiliate carried a news story about "safety film" for school windows:
Safety film is a thin clear material that adheres to the glass. It's more affordable than bulletproof glass, making it a popular option for schools, homes and businesses.

"The bullet still goes through it so we always want to point that out that safety film is not bulletproof," said Dave Andrews, president of Solar Insulation. "So it's two levels of security, but this will keep people from coming in through the doors but it's not going to keep bullets from going through."
What safety film does is stop the glass from shattering when struck by one or more bullets. Killer Hale literally shot a door window to pieces at The Covenant School and then stepped through to enter the school. Had the door be layered in safety film, the bullets would have made only bullet holes, but the glass would have remained otherwise intact. 

"That's the idea is to keep them moving or they have too much trouble and then they go away," said [Dave] Andrews.

Entry security and simple access to school grounds must become more arduous than now, all the time. Every active doorway into a school must become guarded, and not by teachers or staff. Metal detectors and backpack inspections, all intrusive, yes, must become the routine. Arrival times for grades, not just for schools, must become staggered to avoid large clusters of students standing outside the school, presenting mass targets, and to avoid large numbers enduring bad weather awaiting entry. End-of-day exits must likewise be staggered.

Interior reinforcements must be made - bullet-resistant glass in all windows, for example, and strong locks with backups on doors. Classrooms in newly-built schools should have very quick and easy exits to the outside (I believe this has actually been designed in for a number of years).

Shooter drills need to be rehearsed by all, teachers and students alike. They can be age appropriate, but trust me, high-school students already know what's happening in America, and will not be traumatized by rehearsing what to do in case of gunfire.

We will have to "do school" differently to reduce the likelihood of shooters attempting the deed or succeeding if they do. It will not look like what we are doing now.

But how is Nashville's school system doing on implementing these are other security measures? Well, they don't
Despite all of the options, Metro Nashville Schools has no SROs in elementary schools. No Stop-The-Bleed kits, no security cameras, no ballistic film, no door barricades, and some very questionable training according to people with credibility.
A safety scorecard without a single check mark.
TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

None of this will happen overnight - nothing can - but they are all doable and can happen relatively quickly compared to the federal leviathan. And yes, they will cost money, but that can be raised far more quickly at local levels than federal. 

BTW, Tennessee's US senators introduced a bill on March 30 to provide $900 million for school safety. The bill provides funding for  
... both public and private schools to train and hire veterans and former law enforcement officers to serve as school safety officers, hire off duty law enforcement officers, and provide funding to harden schools and increase physical security. 
But the Biden White House almost immediately rejected it.

I would infinitely prefer that new initiatives stay local and not be gutted by the black hole of the US Treasury, however.

Besides, there is no reason that significant federal funds cannot be reallocated to states for this purpose without raising expenditures or the deficit. As I have said, anyone who is not willing to take unpalatable actions, or who in convinced that all the pain must be borne on only the other side, is not serious about this. Federal expenditures dear to both the Left and Right need to be identified for deletion and reassignment.

Once again: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans."
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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Resurrection concept unclear, say scholars

Easter is the day when Christians celebrate the central tenet of their faith, that Jesus, having died on the cross on Friday, was raised from the dead by the power of God.

The concept of resurrection, though, was not original with Christians. It was a prominent, though not universal, belief among the Jews of Jesus' day. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that one group of Jews, the Sadducees ("the party representing views and practises of the Law and interests of Temple and priesthood directly opposite to those of the Pharisees,"),did ...
... not accept the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection (Sanh. 90b; Mark xii. 12; Ber. ix. 5, "Minim"), which was a national rather than an individual hope. As to the immortality of the soul, they seem to have denied this as well (see Hippolytus, "Refutatio," ix. 29; "Ant." x. 11, § 7).
The older Hebrew conception of life regarded the nation so entirely as a unit that no individual mortality or immortality was considered. Jeremiah (xxxi. 29) and Ezekiel (xviii.) had contended that the individual was the moral unit, and Job's hopes are based on this idea.

A different view, which made a resurrection unnecessary, was held by the authors of Ps. xlix. and lxxiii., who believed that at death only the wicked went to Sheol and that the souls of the righteous went directly to God. This, too, seem based on views analogous to those of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and probably was not widely held. In the long run the old national point of view asserted itself in the form of Messianic hopes. These gave rise to a belief in a resurrection in order that more might share in the glory of the Messianic kingdom. This hope first finds expression in Isa. xxvi. 19, a passage which Cheyne dates about 334 B.C. The hope was cherished for faithful Israelites. In Dan. xii. 1-4 (about 165 B.C.) a resurrection of "many . . . that sleep in the dust" is looked forward to. This resurrection included both righteous and wicked, for some will awake to everlasting life, others to "shame and everlasting contempt."
So by the time of Jesus, the idea of the resurrection of the dead, though not universally held among the Jewish people, was likely the majority view. To be fair, though, even among those who affirmed the resurrection, there was ongoing debate as to its extent - just whom would be resurrected and where, only in Israel or elsewhere also. As time went by, the concept of resurrection continued to evolve.

The Pharisees, a lay movement of Jews who devoted themselves to adhering to the covenantal law of ancient Judaism, affirmed the concept of the resurrection. The Christian apostle Paul was the son of a Pharisee and began his religious vocation as a Pharisee. (Pharisees generally get a bad rap in Sunday Schools but shouldn't. Jesus shared the religious devotion of Pharisees. Pharisaism was a lay movement, just as Jesus found his broadest support among the laity.)

Now, all this is to point out that modern-day Christian understanding of the resurrection is "deeply misunderstood, say scholars from varied faith traditions who have been trying to clear up the confusion in several recent books."
"We are troubled by the gap between the views on these things of the general public and the findings of contemporary scholarship," said Kevin Madigan and Jon Levenson, authors of the upcoming book, "Resurrection, The Power of God for Christians and Jews."

The book traces the overlooked Jewish roots of the Christian belief in resurrection, and builds on that history to challenge the idea that resurrection simply means life after death. To the authors, being raised up has a physical element, not just a spiritual one.

Levenson last year wrote a related book, "Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life." Meanwhile, N.T. Wright, a prominent New Testament scholar and author of the 2003 book "The Resurrection of the Son of God," has just published, "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church."

Debate about Christ's Resurrection has focused on whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead after the Romans crucified him on Good Friday, or whether Resurrection was something abstract.

Wright's 2003 book was considered one of the most important recent arguments that Jesus was physically resurrected.

The three scholars also have been challenging the idea, part of Greek philosophy and popular now, that resurrection for Jews and the followers of Jesus is simply the survival of an individual's soul in the hereafter. The scholars say resurrection occurs for the whole person — body and soul. For early Christians and some Jews, resurrection meant being given back one's body or possibly God creating a new similar body after death, Wright has said.
It's my experience that the vast majority of Christians readily agree that upon death, the souls of the saved enter immediately into heaven, but when asked about the resurrection of the dead, mumbling ensues. After all, if heaven is your reward instantly upon breathing your last, what purpose could being resurrected have?

Now, this whole debate won't interest many people but theologians, but it actually cuts to the core of the Christian proclamation, as Paul realized:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
Paul is explaining that the resurrection of Christ is a subset of the larger category of resurrection. The Corinthian church apparently accepted Paul's teaching that Jesus had been raised, but rejected the idea that they (or other also) would be raised as well. That made no sense to Paul. It was like someone today saying, "I drive a Chevrolet but I don't think there is any such thing as General Motors."

The resurrection of Jesus, Paul insists, is of little utility unless it is to show that the promises of God are true, that the promise of the general resurrection is true. In fact, Paul understood the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection yet to come as belonging to the one and same event, separated by a "time out," as it were. Hence, for Paul, Jesus was the "first fruit" of the general resurrection yet to come.
Yet Wright and others say the church should teach what the first Christians believed. Wright also has argued that the physical reality of a future world after death shows "the created order matters to God, and Jesus' Resurrection is the pilot project for that renewal."

Madigan and Levenson have an additional motivation. They said they wrote the book to help Jews and Christians understand more about their theological bonds.

Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School, said interest in resurrection — along with reincarnation, ghosts and contacting the dead — has grown in recent years.

"The more chaotic our world, with war and disease, hurricanes and famine," she said, "the more many seek a divine response to the problem of evil."
The problem of evil is, I think, the central problem of Christianity and is most often cited by people as the reason for their rejection of it.

Monday, March 13, 2023

To endorse green energy is to be pro-slavery

 Anyone who demands we transition to green energy is endorsing slavery. Period. 

China is the largest single provider of most of the critical minerals and rare earths used around the globe, and is almost the only refiner of such products. This means minerals and rare earth elements mined elsewhere, often with Chinese funding, are shipped to China for processing into usable materials. Much of the mining and refining of materials in China is produced by forced or slave labor, often of persecuted religious minorities, like Falun Gong followers and Uighurs.

To be clear, those pushing Net Zero goals, like Democrats in Congress, green energy elites profiting from government support in the form of mandates and subsidies, and the Biden administration, know child- and slave-labor are used to produce the minerals their green technologies depend upon. They claim to care about human rights, but their actions belie their words.

Child labour, toxic leaks: the price we could pay for a greener future:

But scientists warn there will be an environmental price to pay for this drive to create a world powered by green technology. Prospecting for the materials to construct these devices, then mining them, could have very serious ecological consequences and major impacts on biodiversity, they say.

“The move towards net zero carbon emissions is going to create new stresses on our planet, at least in the short term,” said Prof Richard Herrington, head of earth sciences at the Natural History Museum, London. “We are going to have to learn how to consider profit and loss with regard to ecosystems just as we do now when we are considering economic issues.”

Metals such as lithium and cobalt provide examples of the awkward issues that lie ahead, said Herrington. Both elements are needed to make lightweight rechargeable batteries for electric cars and for storing power from wind and solar plants. Their production is likely to increase significantly over the next decade – and that could cause serious ecological problems.

In the case of cobalt, 60% of the world’s supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where large numbers of unregulated mines use children as young as seven as miners. There they breathe in cobalt-laden dust that can cause fatal lung ailments while working tunnels that are liable to collapse.

All of this has been documented so much over the years by so many organizations that "I didn't know" is as morally empty as can be. If you endorse using green energy what you are really saying about slavery is that you do know, but you do not care

Sunday, February 26, 2023

More than we can bear?

    There was woman whom Cathy and I knew from attending soccer games of a team one of our kids was playing on. The soccer mom, whom I’ll call Anna, was in her late thirties with three children. A few months after the end of the season, we learned that Anna had just been terminated from her job. Shortly afterward, her husband filed for divorce. It turned out he had been seeing another woman for more than a year. We relayed this sad news to someone we knew a few days later. This friend replied, “That’s terrible news. But remember, God does not place on us more than we can bear.”

I have to confess that I find that statement deeply troubling. It presumes, I think, God somehow is the direct cause of tragedy in our lives and that we are all really just human ten pins who sometimes get flattened by the divine bowling ball. But don’t worry, you can handle it because God would not have laid your divorce, or illness, or bankruptcy, or other misfortune on you if you could not bear it.

But the Bible never says that. “God does not place on you more than you can bear” is nowhere in the Bible. Nothing like it is in the Bible. The saying is sometimes attributed to Mother Teresa. But she neither said it nor wrote it.

In fact, the apostle Paul says flatly in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 that he and his missionary companions “were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life... .”

But Paul never blamed God for that. Rather, he did understand that there was only one way out: “… indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God … on whom we have set our hope.”

Probably, the idea that God won’t lay life’s exceptional misfortunes or tragedies won’t happen to someone unless they can “handle” it is a misquote of First Corinthians 10, verse 13, which says,

You suffer no temptation but that which is common to everyone. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.

It is temptations to cease discipleship, even if only for a moment, that Paul is talking about, not being struck by a personal difficulty. Note that Paul does not blame God for temptation. After all, the apostle James wrote, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” (James 1.13). No temptations come from God, but we have God as partner when temptations come.

What does it mean, though, that God “will not let” us be tempted beyond what we can bear? Does that mean that God is hand picking and choosing which temptations he will let come through and inflict us? Does he stand aside for some but block others? Frankly, if God is actively selecting the temptations that strike me, then I don’t even want to imagine the ones he blocks. The ones that get through are bad enough. Besides, if God wants me not to sin, why would he let any temptations through at all? If he can block some, he can block them all.

The way I understand Paul’s teaching is that no temptation is possible that is more than we can bear, God being our helper. I do not think that God is carefully selecting which temptations hit us; no, they all get through. But no temptation is stronger than the Christ's ability to defeat it. Therefore, no temptation is more than we can bear, Christ being our strength.

This doesn’t mean it is easy. It does mean that God is faithful and is always at our side, even when we want to sin.

I knew a man in his late thirties, a member of our Sunday School class in Virginia before I entered the ministry. Though happily married, he became attracted to another woman who was also married. He knew this was wrong and he successfully suppressed every urge to act on his attraction, but it was a struggle even though he prayed about it. He read one day Hebrews 2.18, which says of Jesus,

… he had to be … fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

So in prayer this fellow asked Jesus bluntly whether he, Jesus, had ever been tempted to commit sins of the flesh. The answer was not what he expected. He wanted a simple yes or no but instead the Lord’s answer was, “You may trust that the Scriptures are true.” The man realized that the specific temptations Jesus may have faced were not what mattered. The truth that counts is that “he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

For this reason, no temptation is more than we can bear, but only if we know that it is not ourselves who win the fight, but the risen Christ who suffered when he was tempted and therefore is our certain strength when we are tempted.

Martin Luther put this truth in verse. Let’s look at verse two of his hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:

Did we in our own strength confide

our striving would be losing, 

were not the right man on our side, 

the man of God's own choosing. 

Dost ask who that may be? 

Christ Jesus, it is he; 

Lord Sabaoth, his name, 

from age to age the same, 

and he must win the battle.

Here are four things about temptations that may help us defeat them:

1.     The devil does not tempt Christian people to bring us back to damnation but to remove us from service to God. Once we belong to Christ, the devil has no control over our eternity. But recurring sinfulness blunts our discipleship and hinders others from seeing Christ in us or knowing Christ through us. In tempting us to renounce allegiance to God, which is what sin is, the devil is not trying to reclaim our souls but to keep a claim on the souls of people who do not know Jesus but who might be led to Christ by us – were it not for our sin. Yielding to temptation, therefore, makes us allies of Satan. This should disillusion us of the idea that there is such a thing as harmless sin.

2.     Temptation presents a choice, not a destiny. It may be that comic Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine like to announce, “The devil made me do it,” but the devil cannot make us do anything. James says, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” There is no temptation that cannot be defeated by a combination of human faith and divine power.

3.  There is no temptation that makes anyone unworthy of discipleship. Being tempted is not a sin, no matter how severe the temptation or how serious the action would be. Jesus was tempted to deny God altogether and worship Satan instead. He didn’t. Hebrews explains that Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are yet was without sin” (4:15). To be tempted is neither sinful nor shameful. (But it’s nothing to brag about, either!)

    However, being human we will not be able to resist every temptation. This is a riddle: if any particular temptation can be defeated why cannot every temptation be turned back without fail? This question vexed even Paul. He wrote in his letter to the church in Rome,

“I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want to do, I do what I hate to do. So I know that sin lives within me. There is nothing good in my sinful nature because I cannot carry out my own desire to do the good. I keep on doing bad things, even though I want to do good. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Even though in my heart I love God, I also love ungodly things and I feel trapped by this struggle. What a wretched man I am!” (Rom 7:15-24a, paraphrased).

     Nonetheless, our progress toward a sanctified, holy life is still achievable. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?” asked Paul, for after all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer is no one who can finally or ultimately prevail. So what to do when temptation strikes?

First, pray, and simply commit that temptation over to Jesus’ hands.

Second, try to identify what appetite the temptation is appealing to, because temptations almost always find a way to exploit natural needs or desires. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry and so the devil tempted him to misuse his divine power for selfish ends by turning stones to bread. Our natural needs and desires are supposed to serve us, but we sin when we wind up serving them. There are limits to what we may justly desire. Instead, we should redirect that appetite to serving the cause of Christ. 

Third, never let temptations, even successful ones, think you are unworthy to serve God. That would be like Patrick Mahomes thinking that when he gets intercepted, he should hang up his jersey. When we yield to temptation, as inevitably we all will, we should confess, repent, learn from it to be stronger next time, and recommit to serving the Lord, especially to being one through whom others may know Christ. I can’t think of anything that will anger the devil so much, and I’d much rather have the devil mad at me than happy with me.

I’ll leave the last word to Paul, who in his first epistle to Timothy advised handling temptation this way, “…shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Let us remember both who we are and whose we are, for we are called to holiness. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.”

We may trust that the Scriptures are true.


A prayer for Memorial Day

 I did not write this but I first used it so long ago that I do not recall whence it came. It is presented here as a responsive.  PRAYER FOR...