Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Football Season? Really?

Dealing with my annual pre-football season crisis. To watch or not to watch. Lots of good reasons not to do so. The time, my gosh, the time! The saturation of the market place. The exploitation of college players against highly paid coaches and administrators, and the corruption. The concussion issue. The proliferation of above average entertainment on the tube. The outdoors during a wonderful season of the year. All kinds of books to read. Ham radio. And friends! The dear friends! These are just a few. People not standing up for the national anthem is a turn-off, but who can really blame these young men, given the sorry education they received, the opportunists they attract and the clap-trap they are fed. So that's not really important in the scheme of things. The other things certainly are.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dunkirk the Movie and Dunkirk the Event

Finally saw Dunkirk last night with Carol. As we drove to the movie theater, she read to me from "Their Finest Hours," volume 2 of Churchill's The Second World War epic, specifically from Chapter 5, "The Deliverance of Dunkirk." In a short space of time, that reading gave us some very necessary context. The movie should be an invitation to go much deeper into that event. Its telling on the screen was bereft of any meaning other than the poignant survival situations of the characters and the immediate objective of getting the troops back to England to fight another day. There was no reference to the transcendent at any point. Contrast this with the first paragraph of Churchill's chapter on the event: 

"There was a short service of intercession and prayer in Westminster Abbey [prior to the Dunkirk event]. The English are loath to expose their feelings, but in my stall in the choir I could feel the pent-up, passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds of material loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain." 

I concede that the movie ended with one of the protagonists, at last in England and on the train home, reading a newspaper account of Churchill's speech to Parliament on June 4, in particular that part of the speech where "we shall fight on the beaches" appears. I didn't think it was quite enough.

Here is what B.H. Liddell Hart writes of Dunkirk in his History of the Second World War, at page 74:

"The escape of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 was largely due to Hitler's personal intervention. After his tanks had overrun the north of France and cut off the British army from its base, Hitler held them up just as they were about to sweep into Dunkirk - which was the last remaining port of escape left open to the British. At that moment the bulk of the B.E.F. was still many miles distant from the port. 

"But Hitler kept his tanks halted for three days. His action preserved the British forces when nothing else could have saved them. By making it possible for them to escape he enabled them to rally in England, continue the war, and man the coasts to defy the threat of invasion. Thereby he produced his own ultimate downfall, and Germany's five years later. Acutely aware of the narrowness of the escape, but ignorant of its cause, the British people spoke of 'the miracle of Dunkirk'." 

I would say that the "intervention" was the Lord's, through the malignant mind of Hitler, and that the British public had it right. It was a "miracle." Perhaps those prayers at Westminster.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lord's Day 13: How are we "God's Children" and What Follows from the Answer to that Question?

Here is the text from Lord's Day 13, which is our Sunday School lesson for tomorrow.  As you can see, it is made up of Question 33 and Question 34 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  As you may recall, we are in the part of the HC that addresses the matter of "God the Son."
(Be sure to read the scripture references, if you have a chance.  I also have some questions further below, after Questions 33 and 34.)

Lord’s Day 13
Q & A 33
Q. Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son”
when we also are God’s children?
A. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.1
We, however, are adopted children of God—
adopted by grace through Christ.2

Q & A 34
Q. Why do you call him “our Lord”?
A. Because—
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—1
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,2
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.3

1.  In what way are we, as children of God, not like Jesus as God's child, in terms of our nature?

2.  How are we like Jesus in terms of our relationship to God.  And not like him?

3.  Is everyone a "child of God," as people are often fond of saying?  What do people mean when they say, "We are all children of God?"   (How do we deal with Hitler and Stalin?  Do we simply say that they were "inhuman" and go on?)

4.  What use is it to be a child of God?  Why should anyone care?

5.  Does it seem odd that in QA34, "gold or silver" is contrasted "with his precious blood," in terms of what liberates us from "sin and from the tyranny of the devil?" Isn't gold and silver a path to liberation?

6.  Why should we want to  be the Son's "very own" or, the "very own" of sin and the devil, which seems to be the default status?  Are those really the only choices?  (And, besides, many of us seriously doubt that there is  even a devil, even those of us willing to concede at least an "historical" Jesus of some sort.)

7.  In fact, why can't I be my very own? Why can't I belong to myself alone?  Isn't that really the current project, to be one's own?

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 eventually becoming one of his law partners in the firm of Smathers and 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 Smathers and Thompson 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.  The Miami firm had (1)  the Senator, (2) the Miami senior partners, and (3) the  rest of us.  The question of his ultimate control and authority was one that no one really wanted to test - although a crisis did arise during the 1980s.  But this post is not about that.)

The Senator and I often had lunch 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."  One of the applications of that proposition, he pointed out, is that when dealing with others, especially those with whom you are in very serious contention, one needed to be polite, civil, a gentleman or a lady, "nice," if you will.  The Senator was that way.

Now of course the Senator's proposition is hyperbolic, but there is so much truth to it.  Having spent most of his adult life in the club called "the Senate," he knew how to deal with people on the other side of an important issue.   By the same token, if you were going to cross him, and people often did, then you needed to be "nice" to him.  He knew (and his colleagues in that chamber knew) that at some time in the future, a colleague who was presently an adversary would need his help on something some unrelated matter, something that would then mean much less to the Senator than it would to the present adversary.  So people in the Senate - at least at that time - knew to be nice.

He said that an important part of that approach is that one does not flee the field after a set-back.  The Senator would remain very much a presence where ever he appeared, cordially welcoming an approach anyone, whether a former adversary or not, and especially an adversary who himself (or herself) had always been "nice."   The Senator remained "nice" to others, even when others gave offense.  He was a master at dealing with angry, self-centered people.  That was simply 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 now with the American Situation.  But ultimately, I think, this will make the President less successful than he would otherwise want to be.)

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 a 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.