Sunday, June 11, 2017

"As Long as They're Nice About It."

I had the very good fortune of knowing former Senator George A. Smathers, now deceased, and even of being one of his law partners in the firm of Smathers & Thompson.  I became an associate of that firm in 1972 and a partner five years later.  By the time I went to work full-time for S&T in 1972 (I was a law clerk during the summer between my second and third years of law school), Senator Smathers had retired from the Senate.  By then he was active in two firms that he had founded.  One of them was in Washington D.C., which was mainly a base for his lobbying, and the other his Miami-based firm.  To call the Miami-based firm "his" is a bit of a stretch, because there was a set of senior partners and then there was the rest of us, but the question of his ultimate control was one that no one really wanted to test - although a crisis did arise during the 1980s.  But this post is not about that.

What it is about is the friendship that "the Senator" and I had, or one aspect of it, and that was the lunches he and I had together, usually on Fridays and usually at a place called "the Miami Club."  Often those lunches had one or two others with us, but many times it was just the two of us.  He was very open about many, many things, and I learned a great deal about, well, just how to behave.

One of the things he said to me that I will never forget and that I often recall, is this: "Paul, it doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they're nice about it."

Now of course that is hyperbolic, but there is so much truth to it.  Having spent most of his adult life in the club called "the Senate," not allowing one's self to hold a grudge was the path to success, as he saw it.  If you were going to cross him, and people often did, then they needed to be nice to him, because he knew (and his colleagues in that chamber knew) that at some time in the future, they would need his help on something that would mean much less to him than it would to them.  So people in the Senate - at least at that time - knew to be nice.  He would not have fled the field after a set-back.  He would still be there, cordially welcoming an approach.  Thus and similarly, he was "nice" to others, even when others gave offense.  He was a master at dealing with angry, self-centered people.  That was simply part of one of his several his over-arching gifts: he was a master at dealing with people of all sorts.

How sad it is that President Trump has no idea of the power of the idea that "It doesn't matter what people do to you, as long as they are nice about it."  In one sense, I think that President Trump is the exception that proves the rule.  His being "not nice" reaches the angry center of many people so unhappy with the American Situation.  But ultimately, I think, this will make the President an unsuccessful one.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It's All About Displacement

The headline of a recent article in the New York Post beckons as follows: "Two Bisexual Women and Their Husband as Threesome."  The article features a photo of the apparently happy, young people, which I've posted.  The photo appeals to one's prurient interest, especially, a male's.  The three people are sitting on king-size bed, and daddy (these are parents, we learn in the article) is sitting in the middle.  The hands of each person are not simply posed, they are poised.  In another era, this would be scandalous.  But now it is simply interesting.

What could we say that is wrong with this relationship and be able to say it without moralizing.  A question comes to my mind immediately, and it is, "How does this work?"  I think an accurate response to that question must be that most modern of all non-answers, "It's complicated."  Another non-answer, but probably as truthful as the prior non-answer is, "It probably doesn't."

But what puzzles me is the extra time this must take for all concerned and how they will deal with that problem.  We have it in our cultural memory: "Three's a crowd."  Assuming that gender matters (as I do), these three people are not the same.  We have two females and one male.  In the group, the male is special in a technical and, finally, practical sense.  But one could persuasively say that each is special, unique, one of a kind.  How does the male parcel, how does he measure, himself out to the other two?  How does each woman (the women are described as "bi-sexual") parcel herself out to the other two. How does one of these people not displace one of the others in all sort of essential ways at any given point.  The most essential way is simply time, it seems to me.

And if a relationship is displaced by someone else, then it is less nurtured.  I don't think this arrangement can work, simply speaking.  It won't work.  This is a snap shot, but I can imagine the movie and how it ends.  In fact, I don't have to wait for the movie, I already saw the play.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Keep On

"The problem is that a normal reading of the English suggests Jesus is talking about a single ask, a single attempt at seeking, a single knock on the door. Of the three, the meaning of “seek” is most likely to be heard as continuous .  .  .  , but “ask” and “knock” sound punctilear."  Thus, Bill Mounce writes in a blog-post entitled Aktionsart and Ask, Seek, Knock (Matt 7:7-8).

("Punctilear" sent me to my Webster's SecondIt is the the adjective form of "punctilious," which means "scrupulously exact in detail or form.")

So this is a one-off event: we ask, we knock, Kirk out.  Bill says, no, and explains why in his post.  I would like to think Bill is right.  Jesus has other places where he says, "Keep on asking."  My mind jumps to the widow and the judge, sometimes called "The Parable of the Persistent Widow,"  Luke 18:1-8.   We are never to give up asking of God, seeking of him, knocking, knocking.

But isn't it a characteristic of friendship that our friend need not even be asked?  He sees our wants our needs, approximately simultaneously if he really loves me, or at least he certainly should.  I have a law partner whose way of dealing with people who are important to her in this respect is to tell them, "Tell me what you want!"  She doesn't want to make a mistake; she understands the limits of her "sensitivity," that is, her ability to read minds; she is more than busy.  "Tell me what you want."  And if you know what you want (that itself is often a question), she'll give it to you.  But God has no excuse.  He is all knowing, etc. Why should I even have to ask.  Or keep asking and asking, as Bill Mounce suggests is the more accurate translation of Matthew 7:7 - 8.

If we keep on having to ask and if God is our friend, then maybe the asking is good for us.  "How do I love thee.  Let me count the ways."  Seems to belong here.  Ways he loves us is getting us to rephrase the question again and again.  We grow with each effort.  We begin to see ourselves as God or the other person may see us and we begin to examine our felt-need.

So we engage, we wrestle, we don't turn away, we keep asking and knocking, with everyone, our friends, our enemies, and with God most of all.  See also Gen. 32:22 - 29.

Thank you, Bill Mounce.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 3

Today in the class we discussed the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism that pertain to “Lord’s Day 3.”  (The Heidelberg’s 129 sets of questions and answers are divided into 52 sets, one for each Sunday of the year.  Today is not really Lord's Day 3 on the Reformed calendar.  But it is for our Sunday School class.)  Today’s sets of questions and answers were numbers 6 through 8 (“Q&A6 through Q&A8”).  These sets pertain to the miserable situation in which people find themselves without Christ.  (The Heidelberg’s 52 sets are themselves divided into an “introduction” followed by three “parts.”  We are now in “Part I: Misery.”)  We learned last week that people are in a state of misery because they cannot live up to the requirement of God’s law perfectly.  As a result, the answer to last week’s Q&A5 includes this statement: “I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.”  (Note the use of the first person format here, an approach that makes the Heidelberg uniquely personal among confessions.)

Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg addresses the matter of God’s accountability (or lack of it) for our situation.  Q&A6 asks whether God created people “so wicked and perverse,” giving the answer “No,” but then going on to describe how God did create people:

 God created them good and in his own image,
      that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that they might
      truly know God their creator,
      love him with all their heart,
      and live with God in eternal happiness,
      And live with God in internal happiness,
to praise and glorify him.

It is important to note that the Heidelberg adopts the view that, when our first parents were created, they were created with what some theologians describe as “original righteousness.”  They were not, then, created “morally neutral.”  In other words, they were not put on earth with simply “free will,” that is, the ability to make a choice between the right thing and the wrong thing.  Like God, they had “choice” or “free will,” but they also had a righteous moral nature that would inform that choice.  That’s what makes the sin of Adam so very significant, much more significant that simply being given “free will” alone, and then making the wrong choice.  When the first parents made the wrong choice, they went against the very righteous nature with which God endowed them.  As a result, they lost that aspect of being made in God’s “own image,” but not necessarily all aspects (a discussion for another time).

Q&A7 asks whether we are so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and totally incline toward all evil.  The answer is “Yes,” but with this stipulation: “unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.”  That answer this morning took us to the question of whether a person without Christ, having lost original righteousness, has the free-will to choose to follow him or whether a person is so helpless and miserable that God must act affirmatively.   

The Reformed faith holds that God must act affirmatively first.  This distinguishes Protestant faiths that hold to that view (Presbyterians among them) from other Protestant faiths, such as Methodists and certain Baptists, once known as “Free-Will Baptists.”  We will discuss these distinctions further, but the idea of “original righteousness” and its loss will inform our discussion of later Heidelberg questions and answers.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Using an Old Portable Radio as an iPhone Docking Station

We have a couple of old, pre-iPhone portable radios, neither of which has an external port that would accept and amplify an iPhone's audio.  What do you do in such a situation?  You google the problem.  Lo! I found a fantastic You-Tube video on the subject by "The Post Apocalyptic Inventor," and here it is:

This brings out the, right now, completely frustrated amateur radio being that lives inside me, and so I am going to see if I can modify the two radios I have on hand.  I will update this blog post as I proceed with the project.

At the threshold, I want to mention that I pulled out one of the radios from a trash pile a couple of weekends ago.  (Raiding trash piles is a Stokes-male tradition in our family.)  Our church was having one of its "work-days" and people were plundering the vacant Sunday School rooms and piling it all on a trash heap next to the rear parking lot.  This radio (photo to be supplied) was among them.  It had no electric cord and was full of batteries that were dead and bleeding acid into the battery compartment.  So I took it home to nurse it back to health.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hebrews and Psalm 2:7

We are studying the Book of Hebrews in our adult Sunday School class at Crossbridge Miami Springs. Today was our sixth “lesson”, Hebrews 3: 1 – 6. As the class “commentary” we are using N.T. Wright’s, Hebrews for Everyone, and it really is very good for the student whose preparation will consist of just the time it takes to read nine or ten short paragraphs on the given passage.

I have led (I am not sure it rises to the level of “teaching”) our class in its studies for many years, and it is usually one of the high points of my week.  My practice is to acquire additional commentaries or studies that will supplement our class commentary.  For Hebrews, I have The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised Edition) by F.F. Bruce; The Holiest ofAll: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews by Andrew Murray, and The Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the Hebrews by Simon Kistemaker.  

 A substantial part of my class preparation are the “real” books that I have at hand.  I can spread these out on a large surface behind my desk (actually a low queen size bed – and on the floor), as I read through and compare the scripture passages.  In addition to the specific books I acquire for a given study (usually used books from,, and Amazon), I also have  some Bible Dictionaries, Bibles in various English translations, including Study Bibles, a Strong’s, a couple of one volume commentaries, and a number of other helps.  On line, I use quite a bit, especially to compare translations, and it has some free commentaries.  (I am not embarrassed to say that I use its links to Matthew Henry’s commentaries and really like them.)  Google has links to free, mainly 19th Century sources, which can be very helpful. 

Returning to Hebrews, I want to discuss very briefly Psalm 2 and the messianic use that is made of it by the author of Hebrews.

Being a lawyer, a professional who often deals with documentary evidence as part of his profession, and having majored in history at Duke in a department with wonderful teachers (I can think of one exception to that, but he proves the rule), I am always curious about NT citations to the OT that would prove a point (and what citation would not be used that way?), especially one that would be controversial in the conversation with Judaism.  Jesus of Nazereth as the expected Messiah and Son of God comes to mind. 

Obviously, the question is whether the Early Church simply read back into the OT passages their messianic implications.  Psalm 2, for example.

Kistermaker, in his book cited above, makes the following statement about Psalm 2:7:

The Psalms of Solomon, composed during the first century B.C. and used generally in local synagogues [footnote omitted] testify that the second Psalm, out of which the author to the Hebrews has taken his first quotation [Heb. 1:5a, and also is 5:5], was understood messianically [footnote omitted].  Although Targum Jonathan [part of the Talmudic books] may give evidence of this same type of interpretation, [footnote omitted], yet in later years, when the controversy between Christianity and Judaism waxed hot, the Rabbis poured quite a different meaning into the term “Anointed.”

 (The Psalms of Solomon are among the books of the Pseudepigrapha.)

Rather than the citation of the OT passages for the messiah being back-read by first and second century Christians to Jesus, the fact that those passages were in the minds of the people of Palestine when Jesus came accounts for his acceptance as the Messiah by so many Jews of that time, especially in view of his teachings, his healings and other miracles, his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection and ascension. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

What's Wrong with Modern Law, its Lawyers, and its Judges

It took a systematic dose of arcane philosophy in order to instruct lawyers and judges over the years that there are no moral ends intrinsic to the definition of law, that law is simply whatever is promulgated by the sovereign and enforced as law, and that, in the words of Justice Holmes, “every word of moral significance [ought to] be banished from the law altogether.” [footnote omitted] In the interest of a new analytic clarity, the philosophers of legal “positivism” schooled generations of lawyers to an understanding of law that was intellectually truncated. For they had detached from the very definition of law that which had been understood from the earliest times to be incorporated in its character: not merely that law was binding, but that it was binding precisely because it sought to embody principles about the nature of right and wrong. It required a teaching that was distinctly modern in order to make a whole profession of jurists forget professionally what Blackstone taught: that the law represents “a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.”

From Arkes, Hadley, First Things: an Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice. Princeton University Press 1986, at p. 26

I had this quote on a new blog that I started in January on the subject of estate planning, Miami Estates and Trusts.  I thought better of posting it there after a few days because it was not specifically about estate planning but more about the philosophy of law.  It seemed to me, then, that I should put it over here on Kith and Kin.

I had first read Hadley Arkes, at least as far as I can recall now,  when I read his article on the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonio Scalia, in the February issue of First Things. In that article, Arkes writes of Scalia's reluctance to use the phrase "natural law."  It was Arkes' view, however, that largely unknown to Scalia himself, Scalia's  approach to the law proceeded from that very philosophic base.  I was unclear about the concept myself.  It was not talked about much at the University of Chicago Law School, to say the least.  In my American intellectual history studies at Duke, Justice Holmes was the colossus astride not only the development of American law but of that history itself.  As Mr. Trump might say (and with the same level of general ignorance), "I love Justice Holmes!"  Holmes is Exhibit A for the case in opposition to that for natural law, the case for positivism, a case for which UC Law is well known.

So when I read the FT article last month, I became interested in Arkes, a professor at Amherst College. I read the Wiki article about him, and bought a used copy of the book that I quote above.  I am very carefully making my way through that book.  It is "clarifying," that is, it is very helpful to  the way that I think about my practice, the law, Christianity, and just about everything important.

Arkes is on the Advisory Council of the publication that I cite above, First Things.