Saturday, July 31, 2010

Breakfast with the McKenzies

This morning we loaded up two cars and drove Downtown to meet the McKenzies and have breakfast. We parked in our usual parking garage a block from our office, and escalated up to the adjacent Metro-Mover platform, catching a car heading north to the Omni. We met the McKenzies there in the lobby of the Hilton, and led them back to the Metro-Mover and back downtown. We found a little restaurant that gave us a room almost to ourselves and had a wonderful visit.

Jennifer McKenzie is Carol's niece, Mary Ann's daughter. She is married to Preston, and they have three daughters, Taylor, Bailey, and Abigail. They live in Minneapolis, but for the last several weeks they have been staying in an apartment in Manhattan, where Preston has been getting acquainted with the company for which he is the new chief executive.

But last night they flew in to Miami just to see us this morning. Oh, and while they are down here, they are going on a cruise this afternoon for a week, with a great gathering of other members of Preston's clan. We will see them again next weekend, though, when they come back, and by then Walter, Morgan, Felicity, and Nautica will be in town.

Well Done! You're Fired.

The Heat strikes a blow for capitalism.

LeBron James was great for the Miami Heat but lousy for the staff hired to sell the team's season tickets. With no seats left to fill, the sales executives lost their jobs Friday.

-This morning's Herald.

Our friend, Walt Minnick, is calling for Rangel to Resign

Good for him. But will this Blue Dog hold onto his House seat? (Even though his name is Walt, it could be tough.)

Previous Minnick posts here, here, and here. Just as we know that the word "Republican" is hardly assurance of a right view of government and a selfless pursuit of the best for the country, the word "Democrat" is not necessarily an indicator of a self-seeking statist.

Walking Back Home from the Lahmeyers

Honor and the Lahmeyer's Wabbit

Daddy, See I can Make it Squirt!

Lesson: These kids will turn on you.

(At the Lahmeyers yesterday.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Having Faith in One's Faith

At our Sunday School class last Sunday, we considered Romans 3:27-31, where justification by faith is distinguished from justification by works. I particularly like Tom Wright's translation of the matter in verse 28: "We calculate, you see, that a person is declared to be in the right on the basis of faith, apart from works of the law."

One of our class members, while not rejecting at all the matter of justification by faith, expressed concern whether his particular faith was enough faith. As he said, "I am having trouble having faith in my faith." I thought that was an issue very well put.

What came immediately to mind at the time is the passage in Matthew 17 about the mustard seed:

20[Jesus] replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Macon and his family are visiting, and I talked to him about this issue last night. He had three passages to offer, in addition to the mustard seed passage. One is Hebrews 12:2:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[My bold]

The Lord is not only involved in the birth of our faith, however small and weak it might seem to us to be, but he is also involved in its "perfection." What a blessed assurance that is!

Macon also referred to the incident in Mark 9, where a father asks Jesus to heal his son, who suffers from convulsions:

21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"Since he was a child," he answered. 22 "The spirit has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us. Please help us."

23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for the one who believes."

24 Right away the boy's father cried out, "I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!"

On the basis of the father's belief/unbelief Jesus heals the father's son.

The third passage Macon recalled concerns Rahab, not a Jew but a citizen of pagan Jerico, in Joshua, Chapter 1. As he summarized her faith, "She had heard about the Lord and she was afraid of him." That was enough. Of course, she was involved in an important work for the Israelites, but knowledge of the Lord, perhaps relatively little knowledge, and fear of him, was the basis of her effective faith.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Metro-Dade Cruelty Joke

This article in the Herald yesterday is about the police union here suing the county's Inspector General's Office for issuing a report "critical" of two of the mayor's assistants (I have suppressed the urge to use the word "henchmen"). These men, senior police officers somehow assigned to the mayor, moonlighted in Panama (yes, the Central American country) over the last several years adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to their already inflated annual salaries of over $200,000 each. Moonlighting by a county employee, without specific authorization, is contrary to county policy. The police union is not happy about the Inspector General being critical. (We are dealing with sensitive people here, apparently. And perhaps in Panama one simply does not criticize the police.) The union lawsuit ought to be a cruel enough irony for the Miami-Dade taxpayer, but there's more.

According to the article, the "county ethics commission" issued a critical report against one of the men:

Last week, the county ethics commission issued a public reprimand against Morales, admonishing Alvarez's longtime confidant ``not to exploit his position for his own benefit and financial gain. . . Nothing serves to undermine the public's trust more than arrogant government officials acting as if laws and rules do not apply to them,'' stated the official rebuke, part of a broader settlement between the ethics commission and Morales . . . "

The "broader settlement" included a $1,500 fine.

A $1,500 fine? What a bitter joke.

In other news, the Daily Business Review reports this morning that "Buy-Owner, the nation's largest for-sale-by-owner company, has shut down and is liquidating the assets, unable to bear the weight of the housing crisis and rapid expansion." The article indicates that the company simply took on too much debt during the real estate expansion, and got caught by the collapse.

The Buy-Owner story is a familiar one. It's too bad that government, whether it is Metro-Dade or Washington or in between, seems protected from the discipline of the market place, at least in the short run. That discipline took 70 years or so to take down the Soviet Union. How long will it take to set right Metro-Dade and Washington and the tax-collecting entities in between? And how much damage will that delay and eventual denouement occasion, damage that could have been avoided had those entities been lead by responsible people, elected by citizens who were paying attention?

And So It Begins . . .

Macon and family, July 28 - August 3.

Mary, July 29 - August 5.

Walter and family, July August 7 - August 11.

You work so hard to boost them out of the nest and then . . .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Highlands Hammock for a Shoot

My friend, Sam, and I took a trek to Highlands Hammock State park near Sebring Saturday morning to take some photos with our Nikons. I drove the three hours up from Miami, and Sam the three hours down from Gainesville, meeting at the McDonalds near the park turn-off about 9:15AM. A major purpose for the meet was for Sam to get me off the "automatic" setting on my D40 and into the sort of shooting that Sam has been learning for the past several years. So at the McDonalds we spent 30 minutes or so with Sam giving me a short introduction, and then off we went to the park.

It is a familiar place to our family, and they will recognize the Cypress Swamp trail, which is my favorite among some gorgeous walks at that park. It is a loop, mostly via catwalk, through a very wet part of the park, at first very dense, but then opening up to a beautiful pond-like space (actually where "Billy Bowlegs Creek" flows through). The loop curves around that space, and I have taken shots from three sides, south to north first, then NW to SE, looking toward the center, and finally north to south.

All the shots were taken, with Sam's encouragement and instruction, with the "Mode dial" set on "M," for manual. Finally, I think, I "got" it: aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and the over-arching idea that it is all about the light.

Not that the photos are remarkable takes, but the views are old friends after 30 years of visits.

UPDATE: Charles, who commented on the post, has his own website (see his profile) and posted a video on his visit to HH in June. Thanks again for stopping by, Charles.

The Last Roll

of Kodachrome film. Wow.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dead Languages Indeed

"[T]he great bulk of current biomedical vocabulary is derived from classical Greek or Latin. Indeed, much of the latter is derived from the former. A survey of nearly 50,000 biomedical terms (Butler RF. Sources of the medical vocabulary. J Med Educ. 1980; 55:128) reveals that 58.5% come from Greek alone, 21.8% from Latin alone, and 13.2% combine Greek and Latin roots (only 2.9% originated in English)."

-from the Introduction to Haubrich, Medical Meanings: A Glossary of Word Origins (Second Edition), p. x.

Student Loan Defaults

NPR broadcast this afternoon an interesting report on this problem. In line with NPR's ideological slant, the focus of the report is "for-profit" institutions of higher education (bad) versus "community colleges," (good) with little, if anything, mentioned concerning private "not for profit" colleges and universities. But the point is still there, and that is that college debt, whatever its source, is a huge drag on the fortunes of young adults.

Years ago, I attended a luncheon (with hundreds of others) where the then US Secretary of Education spoke, William Bennett. He said that federal subsidies of student college costs, whether grants or loans, only drove up the cost of a degree and were, then, self-defeating. In other words, by increasing demand, those programs caused colleges and universities to raise their prices, thus requiring more subsidies and so on. No one paid any attention to his views, as far as I can tell. Now these chickens come home to roost.

National Taxpayer Advocate's Mid-Year Report to Congress

The National Taxpayer Advocate is a sort of Ombudsman within the IRS. She is Nina E. Olson and has issued a mid-year report that is both refreshing and disturbing. (Carol brought it to my attention today.) It is refreshing because it speaks truth to power in a way that is reasonable and pursuasive (at least to me, a taxpayer). It is disturbing because it identifies harmful policy decisions, largely, I think, foisted on taxpayers and the IRS by Congress.

The link is not to the report itself but to an IRS news release that summarizes it. It is a good summary and worth reading. Here are some of the points the report makes:

1. That the IRS is spending less on taxpayer assistance and more on enforcement. The Taxpayer Advocate asserts that tax laws have become so complex that it is assistance that will build revenues and not the threat of punishment. Collection statistics appear to bear this out.

2. That the IRS is being asked to assume much of the responsibility for national health care, but the delivery of social services is not its core expertise.

3. That the program of increasing the 1099 requirements imposes an unreasonable burden on both the IRS and the taxpayer, a criticism that I have mentioned in previous posts.

It is interesting to me that the source of this problem is not the federal bureaucracy. The source of this problem is Congress, our elected representatives.

The Skinny on Fats

It seems that every other day some new study comes out with conflicting information about fats, oils, nuts and seeds.

Are you "going nuts" trying to sort the truth from the propaganda? Are all fats created equal? Is olive oil a health food? Is the Mediterranean Diet the healthiest diet? What about the French Paradox? Are nuts and seeds good for you?

In this eye-opening 90-minute lecture, renowned dietitian Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LD, LN, will help you understand the skinny on fats."

"Fat is fat, no matter how you slice it, pour it, fry it or bake it. Jeff Novick debunks the fat myths that have been sold to an unwitting public by the big food industry" John McDougall, MD

Ad for a new DVD from John McDougall's associate, Jeff Novick.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TD 3: Not Good

If TD 3 makes a direct hit on the oil spill region as a tropical storm with 50 - 60 mph winds, it will likely drive a storm surge of 3 - 6 feet with high waves on top into the Louisiana marshlands, fouling a large area with oil. Oil would also penetrate into Lake Pontchartrain, which lies just two feet above sea level. However, the wave action of the storm will dilute the oil to some degree, which may limit the damage to the marshlands.

An outer rain band of TD 3 is now visible on Miami long-range radar, and a flood watch has been issued for all of South Florida. The Hurricane Hunters are in the storm at present, and have found top surface winds of 35 - 40 mph.

-Jeff Masters here.

UPDATE (Friday, July 23): Some hard rain and gusty winds from about 8AM to about 10AM this morning, but that was it for Miami.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

E-Books Outpace Hard Covers at Amazon

Not paperbacks, but hardcovers. But still a milestone. (So reports the WSJ today.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Effective Evangelism

Effective evangelism becomes possible only when the church recovers both the biblical gospel and the joyful confidence in its truth, relevance and power.

-John Stott

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I just needed a place to vent something:

what is with scheduling so many races (5K, 10K, etc) on Sunday mornings these days?!!! I want to find a challenging and fun run to do with my family, and almost every single thing I pulled up is on a Sunday morning. So disappointing. The only one we might possibly be able to do is a 5k that starts at 7:10am very near our house. We could easily run that and be home in time to do very quick showers before jumping in the car for church. But, what I really want to do that day is the 10k, and ain't no way, no how that we can finish that in time to make it to the service.

I am so bummed.

whatever happened to all those races that used to be on Saturday mornings???

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Birthday Present

These are wonderful recordings of hymns from the Trinity Hymnal. Here is the description of the CD set on the Great Commission Publications website:

This inspiring 4-CD set includes 88 instrumental hymns played by Susan Beisner on the piano. Each arrangement has an introduction and the same number of stanzas as found in Trinity Hymnal (revised). Arrangements include Holy, Holy, Holy; All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name; Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting and more.

I first became aware of the Trinity Hymnal during a visit to West Lake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin. During the worship service, we sang a hymn whose words were in the bulletin and the reference was to this hymnal. The hymn was only vaguely familiar, but lights went on all over my brain, for it was very beautiful and the words deep and solid. So I found the publisher's website, Great Commission Publications, and ordered the book. I also saw the CDs on the site, and had been meaning to get them for several years. Carol gave me the set for my birthday. They were there in the mail when we arrived home from work yesterday.

After supper, we spent an hour or more singing hymns from the hymn book to the marvelous accompaniment of Susan Beisner. When I get to heaven, I'm going to learn how to play piano like that. If I have the time.

UPDATE: On the Amazon page for this CD, I wrote a review. Here it is:

As one who grew up in a large church during the 50s and early 60s with a "graded choir program" (a sort of cradle to grave approach to sacred music), we were all singers, but some of us (and not a small number) were pianists. There were dozens of pianos around the church, one in nearly every church room where three or more might ever gather. Every age group above early teens had its key board musicians, young people who "took" piano at home from a fairly early age. Pianists raised on the hymns were very, very special. They produced joyful improvisations underneath the vocalists, they kept time, they hit the keys hard when they needed to, and they knew how to surround gently a struggling, young soloist with assurance. Because the hymns had "verses," sometimes 5 or more, hymnists at the piano gave every stanza its own special treatment, displaying the emotional content of the very important text, so none of it was boring. But never did these musicians claim center stage. They were each in Christian service.

Now, however, we worship in an era of synthesized music and praise teams, with even the smallest churches attempting to mimic in worship the mega-productions of the giant congregations. The hymns have been in decline for decades, and the hymn pianists more and more rare.

But here is Ms. Beisner, who is simply marvelous. The idea of this collection is so very good. She gives us master hymn playing and we sing back the text, whether at home, in "small groups" bereft of keyboards, or even worship services where the art of the hymn has otherwise been lost. This collection is simply not to be missed.

[This would be better writing if I lost the adverbs.]

No Kidding?

The kid-free lead rich lives full of pleasures many of us procreators miss: Leisurely weekend mornings! World travel! Regular sex!

From an opinion piece in the Miami Herald this morning.

I don't get any of this. The problem with weekends are big yards that need cutting. My Saturday mornings are great, and they are usually at the office. Sunday mornings are at a church centered more or less on the Gospel, which has had a lot to do with Carol and me staying married. World travel? Shoot, without our kids our travel would be back and forth to Sawgrass Mills. Do you want me to comment on the "regular sex" part? Probably not. But whatever it is we have and have had, put a couple of exclamation points behind it.

Update on the Bathroom Renovation Project

Much to the relief of Carol, I've decided not to do the demolition on the bath room project. Back and forths with the contractor via email convinced me that I probably should keep my day job. As I examined the situation, I realized that the risk was not that I would hurt myself. It was not that I would be untimely in finishing the project. The risk was that I would have so much fun that I would not be able to stop. I would probably break from the bath room into Mary's room and then keep right on going until I ended up in the front yard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Doubling Down on Parental Will

A transfixing murder trial is under way in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, a parricide, where the adult son is charged with murdering his mother and attempting to murder his father (leaving the father blind in the process), using a hit man.

The father is a trial lawyer, and I know him. Sometime during the late 70s, he represented a plaintiff against the SCL railroad, and I defended the railroad. He would have been in his late 20s and I in my early 30s. I remember him as someone good to litigate with: tough, but courteous, and you could trust his word. He went on to build a successful career as a trial lawyer, if one can at this point apply the word "success" to any part of his life. Now his nightmare continues, because he testified yesterday against his son at the son's first-degree murder trial.

Watching such a trial through the eyes of a newspaper reporter is seeing through a glass quite darkly, of course. But here from this morning's Miami Herald (link requires registration) is the reporter's summary of the father's testimony:

In heartfelt, charming and often chilling words, [the father] testified:

*That his son . . . enjoyed all the love, and support of his well-heeled family through the years - including many family trips, generous allowances and help finding work.

*About why he shipped his son, then a teen, to a tough reform school in Samoa: "He wanted to set the rules, to show he was the boss: We'd take him to school, and he'd go in the front door and out the back. With the passage of time, it became more and more difficult."

Of course, the son is not the only one on trial in that courtroom. Dad is on trial as well. If the jury rules against the son, then the son will pay the price. But I'm interested in the father. This seems like the Prodigal Son story gone very, very bad. Admittedly, we are viewing this nightmare through the lens of hindsight. However, if I had dropped my teenaged son off at the front door of a school that he insistently did not want to attend, and each time he left out the back, then much before I sent him to Samoa, I hope that I would have simply given him a big hug, some money, and let him go.

There is a point that a parent reaches with a child where the idea that the parent has control of the situation between them is simply a fiction. Raising children, in fact, can be seen as a progressive loss of the sort control that comes from direct coercion and even from clever manipulation (often - maybe almost always - you want to leave the weapon of manipulation untouched). If he wants to go out the back door, there is a point where a parent simply must let him go. That can be the loving thing to do, and often is. Doubling down on parental will does not necessarily end in murder, but it can end in destruction, whether the destruction is that of the spirit of the child, of the child's ability to relate well to others, of the child's potential happiness with his life's work, or of God's particular call(sometimes upsetting to the child's parents) for that child.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Medicare Fraud in So. Florida

The magnitude of the region's fraud is astonishing: Florida mental health clinics submitted $421 million in bills to Medicare last year -- about four times more than Texas and a whopping 635 times higher than Michigan, both also hotbeds of healthcare rackets, according to government records.

Florida rehabilitation facilities billed $310 million for physical and speech therapy -- 140 times more than New York and 10 times higher than California, records show.

Not all of that activity is criminal. But Florida's numbers are so much higher than other major states' that officials say the only logical explanation is fraud -- the bulk of it in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

From the front page article in this morning's Miami Herald.

We just can't wait 'till Obamacare kicks in. (But I'm sure all of us here will submit our 1099s, whether our gains are ill-gotten or not.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Jesus, Thank You for Loving Us"

You simply must listen to this, all the way through.

(Background here.)

I think this is where Hannah Friesen is.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cool Websites

Carol and I are planning to renovate our 50 year old bath room. Although we are using a contractor for it, I am thinking about doing the fun part myself, which is destroying what's in there now. Jack, an old hand at renovations, suggested Bagster for disposing of the debris. (Put this activity in the category of exercise routines that are not merely free, but profitable.)

Cody and I have been dialoging about web-based, original business plans. One of them he identified, sproutrobot, looks like healthy fun.

At a brunch yesterday, Carol and I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting with the minister of music of First Baptist of Ft. Lauderdale. I asked him how he kept up with what was happening in contemporary worship music. He identified Planning Center Online.

And here's a place to order great floor mats for your auto.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mary Visits the Cure International Hospital in Uganda

Yesterday we spoke on the phone with Mary about her visit to the children's hospital in Mbale, about an hour's drive from where she is staying this summer near Jinja. (She and another med student from Rochester are doing a malaria study near Jinja with an organization called Soft Power Health.)

The Mbale hospital is run by Cure International. According to the website:

The CURE Children's Hospital of Uganda (CCHU) in Mbale Uganda, is a 30 bed teaching hospital that specializes in treating the neurosurgical needs of children with an emphasis on hydrocephalus, neural tube defects, spina bifida, epilepsy and brain tumors. CCHU also maintains a large outpatient clinic and operates monthly mobile clinics in remote regions. CCHU was opened in 2000 and serves children with physical disabilities regardless of their ethnic background, religious affiliation or ability to pay.

CCHU serves approximately 7,000 children each year with a wide range of medical services. Approximately 900 surgeries are performed each year. The hospital has 30 in-patient beds and 10 intensive care beds and maintains a busy out-patient clinic. The hospital operates mobile medical clinics that find hundreds of children who are suffering from disabilities in remote areas and whenever possible, transports the children back to the hospital for care.

I'm looking forward to a write-up from Mary on her visit, but she doesn't have ready access to the Internet to do so on her blog. So for now I will do my best to pass on what she told us.

She knew about Cure International because the organization has a hospital in Kjabe, next to the AIM hospital. She visited those hospitals during her two years teaching at RVA, taking students there each week to visit the patients. When she arrived in Uganda in June, she asked Sarah, one of her missionary friends who lives in Kampala, whether Cure has a hospital in Uganda, and Sarah told her about the one in Mbale. Mary emailed the director to ask whether she and her friend from med school might be able to visit. She added that she had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus as a child and has a Ventriculoperitoneal shunt ("VP shunt").

The director responded immediately, issued an invitation, and asked Mary if she would talk to the mothers of the little patients there about her diagnosis and treatment, because he knew it would be a great encouragement. (This is the same reaction Dr. Bransford and his staff had at the AIM Kjabi hospital, when they learned that Mary is a VP shunt veteran.) So yesterday, Mary and her friend made the trip to Mbale.

She said that the hospital is a fine facility, unusually squared-away, with up to date equipment, clean and well-staffed. Mary said that CURE is definitely a worthy place for contributions.

She met one of the neurosurgeons who was just getting ready for surgery, and he invited her and her friend to scrub and watch. (Later, one of the staff said that this surgeon never allowed visiting med students to watch, so he was apparently pretty impressed with Mary.) He warned her that she might find the surgery a little uncomfortable to view, but Mary said she would have no problem with it, and she didn't.

The surgery involved a two-month old hydrocephalic baby, which the doctor said was old for the VP shunt procedure. The operating room was well equipped, even to the CT scanning apparatus that guided the surgery. (Mary said that ours is a great country, that its people would supply a machine like that to a hospital in a little town in Uganda.) Before the surgery commenced, the surgeon and the other operating team members prayed together. (We might pray for that baby too, even now.)

After the surgery, Mary, through a translator, spoke to a group of mothers that the hospital staff had gathered for her, and the staff made a video of her talk to show other mothers later.

(The photo is of Ian.)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Faithfulness of Jesus

The upcoming lesson in our Sunday School's study of Romans is Chapter 3, verses 21-24. In this scripture passage, at verse 22, we bump into a very interesting translation battle. Here is the entire passage according to the NIV, and I bold the troubling verse:

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Here is that same passage in the NET Bible, with the verse at issue also bolded:

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. [footnotes, and there are many, omitted]

In N.T. Wright's study of Romans, Paul for Everyone - Romans: Part One, he is on the same side as the NET Bible translators. In the footnote, the NET editors discuss fully the controversy, and Wright refers to it in his little [but so helpful] commentary. Wright diplomatically writes that what he translates as "the faithfulness of Jesus" could be written "faith in Jesus." But it is clear that the former is his choice, as it is the NET editors.

I never really gave much thought to the "faithfulness of Jesus," until I encountered this controversy. What I mean to say is, "Of course, Jesus was faithful. He's the Son of God, after all. He would of course be faithful. He's perfect. So why stop and argue over this particular translation?"

But it made me stop and think about this. Was it possible that Jesus could have been unfaithful? Did Satan simply not get it, when he took the time to tempt Jesus, both in the Wilderness and at Gethsemane? I mean, really, Satan could not be as smart as we might think, if he subjected himself to such humiliation twice. Maybe Jesus could have been unfaithful. Maybe he had the choice.

Think of the reasons why Jesus might have been unfaithful: the world was a mess, everyone was falling short of God's intention for his creation, and even the Jews, especially the Jews, had completely blown it multiple times. Why not simply take over, as Satan suggested and [insert Obamaism referring to what a really great leader does when people are being bad].

But if there was a chance he could have been unfaithful [call it the Man side of him, if it makes you feel better], then the idea that his faithfulness (not ours) is at the heart of the gospel makes a lot of sense. This central truth of Christ's faithfulness very much needs to be transalated correctly.

There is an other side of that point, that Jesus, as a person not burdened with sin, had a choice and could have been unfaithful but decided not to be. The other side is that Christians, as people who have been set free, now, finally, have a choice too. We can choose to be faithful.


The following is from the Preface to the First Edition of the NET Bible and, in particular, that part which describes "some of the distinctive characteristics of the NET Bible translation philosophy." In discussing their "commitment to following the text where it leads and translating it honestly," the NET editors address this very controversy. Here is what they say:

Passages Involving πιίστις Χριστοῦ and Similar Expressions in Paul. The phrase πιίστις Χριστοῦ ( pisti Cristou) is a difficult one to translate. The issue centers on the relationship of the genitive noun Χριστοῦ to the head noun πιίστις: is the genitive subjective or objective? That is, is the emphasis of this phrase on Christ as the one who exercises faith (subjective) or on Christ as the one in whom others have faith (objective)? Traditionally these phrases have been interpreted emphasizing Christ as the object of faith; “faith in Jesus Christ” is the traditional translation. However, in recent years an increasing number of New Testament scholars are arguing from both the grammatical and theological contexts that πιίστις Χριστοῦ and similar phrases in Paul (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and emphasize Christ as the one who exercises faith: “the faithfulness of Christ.” A wider glance at the use of the noun πιίστις in the rest of the New Testament shows that when it takes a personal genitive that genitive is almost never objective. Certainly faith in Christ is a Pauline concept, but Bible scholars have begun to see that in Paul’s theological thought there is also an emphasis on Christ as one who is faithful and therefore worthy of our faith. The grammatical and theological contexts are not decisive, and either translation is acceptable. The editors decided to follow the subjective genitive view because a decision had to be made – “faith of Christ,” a literal translation, communicates very little to the average reader in the context – and because scholarship in this area is now leaning toward this view. The question is certainly not closed, however, and if further research indicates that the grammatical or theological context proves decisive for the other view, the translation will be modified to reflect that.

The Toxic Pill

This year apparently marks the 50th Anniversary of the Pill. I lived through that transition. I was a senior in high school (1963-1964) the first time that I learned that someone I knew pretty well was on it. (I didn't know her that well.) A few years later, in an upper level history class at Duke, the professor included in his lecture the impact of the pill on sexual morality. He said it was definitely negative. The phrase "well, duh!" wasn't in use then, but it was that kind of moment in the classroom.

This article
about the "toxic" nature of the Pill (a Glenn Reynolds link) is pretty disturbing, particularly the point about estrogens in the drinking water. Can this be true? Or is this Roman Catholic propaganda? Or is it both?

There was an interval in the late 60s and mid-70s (if I have my dates right) between the introduction of the Pill and the public consciousness of the spread of disease occasioned by the moral unloosing that the Pill caused. Things got pretty wild during that period, although I was safely married (Thanks be to God. Seriously.)

Then the first middle-class STD reared its head: herpes. Time Magazine, which was important then, had at least one cover story on it before herpes was displaced by HIV as the STD of major concern. I had a very good friend who was a bachelor during the 70s and early 80s, and he was a sort of window for me into the Yuppie single world, and that world reeked with herpes.

One doesn't hear of herpes much anymore, nor of STDs in general, other than AIDs. As to AIDS, one rarely hears it discussed in the media in terms of heterosexual risk. And one hardly ever hears or reads of other STDs. So STDs must have all gone away, right? Or we would be hearing about them. We must be back in the 70s, then, in a time of no consequences attending sexual license.

Or maybe it's because the Yuppies of my generation are now running the country that we don't hear about these things. (That's Obama's real problem: he's not one of us. Thank goodness Biden's there, giving us a bridge to Hillary and the return of the Clintons.)

I would venture that the toxicity of the Pill has hardly been confined to the drinking water.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Kidnap Insurance

For many of us in the Kith & Kin Circle, this matter strikes close to home. I receive a newsletter from Bessemer Trust from time to time, and the most recent one has an article on Kidnap insurance. Among other things, it lists the "Top 10 Countries per Number of Kidnaps in 2009" as follows:

1. Venezuela
2. Nigeria
3. Mexico
4. Pakistan
5. India
6. Afghanistan
7. Honduras
8. Brazil
9. Philippines
10. Somalia

Some of these you would expect to see in the top 10, but Honduras, Brazil, India? And then one would want to know the particular risks for each country and where inside the country are they concentrated.

Nevertheless, it is certainly sobering for someone who has a globetrotting family.

The article gives a list of "the most common types of victims." That list includes "aid workers [and] religious staff."

The article also discusses Ransom Insurance Coverage. It gives a couple of examples, here is one:

A policy recently issued to a husband and wife traveling on missionary work to Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe with a $5 million limit had a cost of $5,400.

The article ends with this statement:

As unsettling as it is, by addressing this very real risk through kidnap and ransom coverage, it puts you in a position to protect not only your family's financial interests, but your family itself.

[Maybe] a Final Word on Promissory Notes

So, where are we? Christians are called to keep their promises. Keeping them can become very difficult, especially where the circumstances (other than the promise we have made) are not of one's own making (e.g., the economy, a spouse who turns out not to love us just as we absolutely know we ought to be loved and, in fact, are entitled to be loved; a child whom we promised to raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord but who exhausts us, so we will sleep in on Sunday morning). One conclusion is to be very careful of the promises one makes. But once we make that promise, well . . . maybe the housing market will come back, maybe we will become happy with the way we are loved and learn to demonstrate to the other how we think a spouse should be treated, and maybe the spirited child will grow up with a strong Christian character of his own. Or maybe none of this will happen in this world, but the Lord will bless us in other ways. Or maybe he won't, at least right away. That's not the point, is it?

It seems to me that we are much too free with what we promise, and are very careless about our promises. Or, when others seek a commitment from us, we haven't the courage to say no. Or we are too dependent on the regard of others to turn them down. Or we so very much want what the other is offering, want it right then and there, that we will say about anything to get it. All of these reasons seem to go to the matter of our character and integrity. They really don't justify making a promise and, then, later breaking it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

This sort of thing is exactly what got John Mark in trouble with Paul

Mary texts this morning that she is bungie jumping into the Nile.

"Resourceful kids are making their own jobs . . . "

I like this.

Here's the link to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization mentioned in the article. (Sounds like a great "missional" ministry.)

"The Teacher" Should Get Out More

Yesterday in our Sunday School class, we covered Romans 3:9-20. My NIV edition entitles this section "No One is Righteous." Here Paul appears to be primarily addressing Jews. So he quotes or paraphrases a string of OT passages (8 of them) where the point is made that everyone falls short.

Among the references is one to Ecclesiastes 7:20: There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

I read on down the page in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, and found verse 28 of that chapter interesting:

while I was still searching
but not finding—
I found one upright man among a thousand,
but not one upright woman among them all.

As I chuckle, Carol says she doesn't find this funny.

But is the "one upright man" a placeholder for Messiah, as unintentional as the Teacher may be?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Non-recourse Promissory Notes

There is a kind of collateralized promissory note (or mortgage) called a "non-recourse promissory note." In this case, the creditor (the person lending the money) understands that if the borrower stops paying, then all the creditor can do is foreclose; there will be no deficiency judgment against the borrower; the creditor looks solely to the collateral.

With a non-recourse note, then, it is clear that the promise is contingent on whether "things work out." There would be no moral opprobrium attached to a "strategic default."

Given the fact that non-recourse notes are in the market place, the argument is stronger that there is moral opprobrium attached to a strategic default where the promissory note is the more typical recourse note.

Of course, a non-recourse mortgage is very uncommon in the home mortgage context. In such a case, the down payment requirement would be larger and the interest rate higher.

As strategic defaults become more common, then one will see the cost spread between the non-recourse note and the recourse note narrow. That is, the down payment required of a recourse borrower will increase and look more and more like that which would be required of the non-recourse borrower and the interest rate the recourse borrower pays will similarly increase. It will, then, be harder for people to finance a new home. The advantage that the strategic defaulter claims for himself will work to the dis-advantage of all home-buyers. Furthermore, the value of all homes will decrease because fewer people will be able to buy them; and then construction generally will decline and people in that industry lose their jobs. This starts to look like strategic defaulting on a recourse promissory note really is immoral, because the individual advantage is to the detriment of others.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Gamecock coach Ray Tanner goes to Omaha...

The Promissory Note

When one buys a house that he finances with a bank, he signs a promissory note. He also signs a mortgage, which "secures" the obligation he undertakes to pay back what he borrows. (I would shorten the phrase "promissory note" to simply "note," but it would not be useful in this discussion to drop the word "promissory.")

The promissory note contains the promise of the borrower to pay back what he borrows, together with the interest, according to a time schedule described in the note. There is a mortgage, as I mentioned, but the core of the transaction is the borrower's promise which resides in the promissory note.

If the borrower were to break his promise (i.e. "default" on the promissory note) , the creditor could simply sue the borrower. There is no obligation that the creditor foreclose on the mortgage first. The creditor could simply sue and get a judgment.

However, in practice the creditor will foreclose, because the house will not run away and disappear, as the borrower might. Furthermore, in the course of the foreclosure proceedings, the creditor will get a judgment against the borrower anyway, if the proceeds of the foreclosure proceedings do not cover the borrower's indebtedness and the expenses of the foreclosure. The judgement is the "deficiency judgment" that I discussed in an earlier post.

Again, at the center of the mortgage foreclosure proceedings is the borrower's promise. There is nothing in the promissory note that states that "I promise, provided everything works out." It is simply "I promise."

It is important to point out that, if the foreclosure proceedings happen to yield more than the sum of what borrower owes and the expenses, (that is, the house sells for more than the mortgage balance) the creditor doesn't get to keep the profit. It goes to the borrower. Of course, in such a case the borrower porbably won't let his house go into foreclosure, because it has equity in it. After all, the creditor only agreed (promised) to take back what he lent, plus the interest. The creditor can't take the profit. We will hold the creditor to that promise.

The idea that the borrower can walk away, because the creditor has his remedies at law, and that there is, therfore, nothing immoral is nothing new, of course. It reflects the school of "legal realism," whose most famous advocate was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. It pretty much reflected the philosophy at the University of Chicago when I attended the law school there, and I would say it reflected the philosophy of the other major law schools in the country. That philosophy is fraying at the edges, because its basis in Social Darwinism worries the Statists. Government, after all, needs to step into the economic jungle and impose "fairness."

But Christians don't take their cues from the pagan culture, regardless of how refined and sensible it seems to be (at least in a given case). We have to take a second look at these difficult questions. To coin a phrase, What would Jesus do?

What about Jesus? (By the way, he did not own a house here on earth but owned many of them elsewhere. Actually, here he did not have a place to lay his head. That's a little troubling when we worry about our houses here on earth.)

Maybe this question about keeping your promises in the financial context is a Caesar vs. God thing. Maybe Jesus refers to two worlds when he had answered the Pharisee's question and that Christians can walk back and forth between them when it makes economic sense to do so.

Maybe not.

"Lay Up Not for Yourselves Treasures upon Earth . . . Where Thieves Break Through and Steal"

Growing up in South Florida, the mantra always was to buy the most expensive house you could afford, leverage it with the biggest mortgage you could get, and then, when you could afford a larger house, sell the old one and finance the acquisition of a new one. (A corollary was that the house you can barely afford should be purchased in a neighborhood where that particular house would be the least expensive.) This was a sure-fire way to build wealth.

To that formula, now add a government policy of easy money, mortgage fraud, and a conspiracy involving policemen, one of whom coached at Dade Christian School, an FBI agent, and a couple of real estate lawyers, one of whom is a prominent Republican fundraiser. Now what what do you get? A federal indictment. (Not to mention a real estate bubble, lately burst.)

I would like to point out that this all happened in Broward, but this happens in Miami-Dade of course. Send them all not to jail, but bury them all under the jail.