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 his teachings, his healings and other mircales, 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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A "Free Clinic" Solution to Medical Services for the Poor?

At more than 100 clinics across the state, low-income Floridians can receive healthcare for much less than it would cost to buy insurance, often for free or a small donation.

-from last Sunday's Miami Herald.

Baptist Hospital identifies several of these in Miami-Dade which it supports.

Read more here:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Extra! My Partner Juan Antunez named Best Lawyer for Miami in Trusts and Estates Litigation

Go here.  He's a Marine too.  Nice to have some muscle in the firm.  Gracious muscle, reasonable and intelligent muscle, but muscle never the less.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Marauder Ants and Stigmergy

Members of the [road] construction crews [of marauder ant colonies] expend their efforts foraging for building material rather than food.  It is likely that no communiques pass among them.  Rather, like compulsive bricklayers unable to go by an unfinished wall, passing ants respond to the ongoing building project, and the structures emerge without active collaboration.  The portions of the walls that are suitably positioned and shaped along along a trail attract the most attention from passersby bearing soil bits.  As a result, the arcades rise to completion where they are most needed, without a blueprint, and damage to them later is repaired without a fuss.

Accomplishing large projects without communication is called stigmergy.  The marauders' approach to building has been duplicated by robotics experts, who have discovered that its cheaper and easier to achieve a goal such as piling up small objects with a group of simple robots responding to the sort done thus far than with one large, more intelligent robot.  Stigmergy is at work in such websites as Wikipedia and Google as well, where many people add their insights to the statements and choices of others.

-from Moffett, Mark W., Adventures among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions p. 23-24 (U. Cal. Press 2010), a simply fantastic book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rediscovering Dr. Johnson via Vernon Smith via Russ Roberts via EconTalk

Macon pointed me recently to Russ Roberts, of EconTalk, who on a weekly basis interviews fascinating people on an enormous range of topics that, one way or another, deals with  "economics."  These interviews go up on podcasts, and I have had the pleasure of listening to at least three dozen of them over the last couple of months, podcasts that I have plundered from the EconTalk archives.   This amazing resource is not to be missed.

You cannot listen to Mr. Roberts' very long before Adam Smith is introduced in one way or another.  Roberts has written a book on the 17th Century economist/sociologist. (I would like to take the opportunity to announce that the book is on my Amazon wish list.)  I've listened to two interviews in which Roberts interviews Vernon Smith, a Nobel Prize winning economist, during which they discuss Adam Smith and his two major works, The Wealth of Nations and A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Adam Smith's use of words is very important in these discussions, because he  used words in a very precise and important way.  Vernon Smith states that he uses an 18th Century dictionary to understand what  a given word that Adam Smith uses actually meant to Adam Smith and, therefore, should mean to us, rather than what the 21st Century use of that word might convey.  What a marvelous idea!  And the dictionary Vernon Smith said he uses is Samuel Johnson's.

So I started reading around about Samuel Johnson and came upon another great website, A Dictionary of the English Language.  The site is an ongoing project to digitize Dr. Johnson's dictionary and make it accessible to all of us, although I'm putting a set of the first edition of the dictionary also on my wish list.  So I doubt that I will need to use the site after Christmas, but the rest of you can.  The home page of the website has, among other things, a BBC documentary on Dr. Johnson that is a good introduction to the man.  And to James Boswell, his biographer.

I already have Boswell's biography, but haven't read it until now.  I'm well into it already.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

David W. Bianchi, His Book, and USDebtClock.Org

I had the privilege of attending a luncheon sponsored by Fiduciary Trust Company last week where Miami lawyer David W. Bianchi spoke about the book he wrote for his subteen son, Josh, on "money, investing, and the stock market."  The book, Blue Chip Kids, is now a best seller, and David a celebrated author, all of which is really great stuff.

But what I want to note in this post especially is a web-site he cited, USDebtClock.Org.  This a fascinating and very disturbing website that presents a very large number of statistics in an accessible format.  (It will never happen, but I would like to see a debate among the Presidential candidates where the website is featured and the participants asked to comment.)

David had other things to say during his talk about national and, in particular, individual debt in the US.

As I left the luncheon, my thoughts were in the following order;

1.  Carol and I can do with one car. I'll sell mine and ride to work on MetroRail.  I'll take the cash and invest it.

2.  Then we will throw away our credit cards and go back to the envelope system that worked so well with our kids when they were growing up.

3.  And I will never retire.  I will drop dead at my desk.

And we are in a position, apparently very rare in the US, where we have no debt.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Folger Shakespeare Library and its Digital Texts

The texts are all here.  For example, Troilus and Cressida is there for the reading - and for the downloading.

You can also buy the play in "mass market paperback" with essays, etc., and etc (416 pages! where the play itself takes up 33 pages - two columns each- in my Oxford edition of the "complete works") or in ebook form from Simon & Schuster or, of course, from Amazon.

All sorts of resources are at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.