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You May Have Heard of This Mueller Report Thing

Let me take a moment and quote myself — from December of 2017. That’s right friends, December of 2017:

Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election will not produce any incriminating evidence against President Trump, and then POTUS will pardon everyone who received indictments, particularly Michael Flynn.

The verdict is still out on the pardons, but some will be coming. You can click here for the link to the original blog post.

WARNING: COMMENTARY BELOW–ANYONE WHO DOESN’T WANT TO READ SOMETHING HE OR SHE COULD POSSIBLY DISAGREE WITH, PLEASE STOP READING NOW

So, let me just put in a few thoughts out there on where I’ve been pretty much all along.

  1. Collusion is hard to prove, and even if he did it, it would be nearly impossible to prove it unless they had something like an email from POTUS to Vlad begging for help.
  2. This is not Trump’s first rodeo. He knows how to stay ‘clean’ so they were never going to catch him. He always has fall guys.
  3. I am so glad they didn’t, because an impeachment process would be horrible for the country, one I don’t know if we could come back from.
  4. There may yet be other indictments and legal proceedings, particularly when the President leaves office, but this was always a hard one.
  5. I am so glad it is over. Please be over (although, no spoilers, but skip to the bottom and watch the President from this morning and you get a feel this might just be the beginning).

Now, having said these things, let’s think about going forward.

  1. I am not a big fan of the President, and I’m still trying to figure out how a habitual womanizer, adulterer, billionaire, casino owning, greedy, arrogant, foul-mouthed New Yorker on his third marriage became the darling of the evangelical right. I can’t tell if this fact (and these are all facts) is a paradox or irony–but back to my point, I am not a big fan of the President, but I don’t believe in removing him with subterfuge. If the Dems want him out, they need to do it the right way, at the ballot box. THEY PUT UP HILLARY CLINTON AGAINST HIM TO BEGIN WITH, and that was a huge mistake.
  2. President Trump owes Robert Mueller an apology. He will never give it, but he owes it. The things he said about Mueller and Tweeted are just horrible and unbelievable from a President about someone just doing the job he was asked to do.
  3. President Trump made this mess to begin with, by being coy about the Russian interference with the election. His schmoozing of Vlad (Helsinki still makes me sick)  and insistence that Russia didn’t meddle made him look guilty, even if he wasn’t.
  4. Oversight needs to continue, because I don’t think everything in the Trump Administration is on the up-and-up. But . . . the Dems better be careful. If they think the public has an appetite for two more years of this, they are wrong. There are plenty of things–from immigration, health care, the environment, and trade to debate.
  5. On the flip side, The GOP needs to make certain they don’t swell up too much with satisfactory smugness on this Mueller report. Pretty much everyone in the country knows that Trump is a dirty man who does dirty things, whether they voted for him or not. In fact, many people voted for him for that very reason–they wanted him to do whatever it took to stick it in the eye of the establishment. But, if the GOP begins painting Trump as a virtuous victim (as the President has already begun saying), then they may have a ‘jump-the-shark’ moment when they lose what credibility they have left.
  6. I don’t like at all the tone of revenge and denouncing as ‘illegal’ the investigation. Take a listen for yourself. It sounds to me like Trump is preparing to go to war, and that wouldn’t be good either.
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Bible Questions: A Short List

Sunday I began the sermon from John 19 and the trials of Jesus with an idea that some of the juiciest places in the Bible are the questions. These lines that end in those crooked little scribbles called question marks are the places we can often fold ourselves into the easiest, with almost instant and always profound application. Here is a list of some of the highlights. I count them down from ten to one, but really, no order is necessary and there are far more than are included here.

10. Who has bewitched you, O foolish Galatians? (Galatians 3:1) Paul’s questioning of the Christians in the region of Galatia regarding false teaching. It is still a legit question for a religiously confused age.

9. What is man (human beings), that you are mindful of him (them)? (Psalm 8:1) A great existential question that leads to a doctrine of humanity, plus the Messianic implications of the New Testament usage.

8. Who touched me? (Luke 8:45) Jesus asked the question he already knew the answer to.

7. Shall I crucify your king? (John 19:15) Nothing makes me come face to face with my own sin like this question. Pilate thinks he is being clever. He is not. He is being theological.

6. Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15) It is the question we all, I think, must answer.

5. Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29) The answer is a story, and the story’s point is that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor. ANYONE.

4. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:3) The rhetorical question centers the book of Hebrews. The writer’s obvious point: there is no escape.

3. Where are you? (Genesis 3:9) To loosely quote Michael Stipe of R.E.M., that’s me in the corner, hiding from God behind the fig trees.

2. What should we do? (Acts 2:37) The essential question from Acts. The answer: repent!

1. Have you considered my servant, Job? (Job 1:8) The question we never want asked about us in the heavenly ream.

The more I think about this list, I ponder this would be a great sermon series. The series title could be something like, “The Question!” or maybe “Query” or perhaps I’ll just use a giant question mark–maybe in parenthesis (?) or perhaps in backslashes in a cool hip and with it way– // ? //  or maybe like this // ? \\ or perhaps \\ ? //

Yeah, except bigger and with color.

I’ll have to remember to preach this in 2020 or 2021 because this year is already full.

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In Which I Argue With A Book

Argue is the right word. I argued with this book–or, to be more specific, the author of this book.

The author in question is Yuval Noah Harari and the book is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I picked it up at a bookstore during Christmastime. It is one of those books I buy from time to time to keep my wits sharp. I knew the worldview would be different from mine, and that is what I was looking for. The book has 323 pages of actual text, plus a large appendix of notes and an index. Although the material is weighty, it is an easy read written in a dialogue style. He has previously written two other bestsellers titled Sapiens and Homo Deus which I have not read. Unknown

At times it was enjoyable, funny, profound. At other times it was infuriating, depressing, and nonsensical.

What I Really Liked

There are two things I really liked about the book. The first is the opening 150 pages. If I narrowed it down even further, it would be the first 84 pages in which the author analyzes the technological challenges the future holds for human beings. I found this section riveting and spellbinding. Harari opened up ideas and thoughts, particularly about the role of AI in the human experience, I had never previously pondered, and for this I am thankful. In my opinion, the entire book is worth the buy and the read for just this part of the book.

The second thing I really liked about this book is that he devoted an entire chapter to science fiction. That’s right, Harari believes science fiction has a vital role to play in understanding and appropriating our human future. As an author who has a science fiction book he wants to release (Deep Cove Anthology) later this year and whose current WIP is a science fiction novel, this is good news. Now, I do think the author puts too much pressure on science fiction to perform a social good. Literature can only go so far, man. He does have a very interesting take on the movie Inside Out that any Pixar fan should take a look at.

What I Liked

I liked the way this book evoked in me a desire to think and argue with the author. I read it with a pencil nearby, and constantly wrote on the pages. Sometimes I agreed and wrote that, other times I wrote impromptu refutations. I must have sharpened my pencil twenty times. This is why I bought the book, but it far exceeded my expectations. Harari is an intellectual provocateur who takes things to an extreme situation in order to force us to ponder the logics of it. For people like me, this is fun.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like being called a fool. In several places in the book the author portrays anyone who believes in God–whether it is the God of the Bible, Allah, or Thor–as a fool. Harari portrays himself as a strict realist who only looks at the facts, but he deludes himself by shuffling the deck of facts in favor of himself and his worldview. This did not become fully apparent until the last chapter of the book, and it was then that I realized what as going on.

What Surprised Me

There were two surprises. One, Harari holds an odd position in that he is what I would call an Atheist Calvinist. He absolutely does not believe in free-will or choices. For him, everything is determined. His is not just biological determinism that tell us genes determine heart disease and lifespan. It goes much further. He perceives all our choices are made for us by culture, biases, religion, politics, and advertising. You didn’t have a taco for lunch today because you wanted it and you chose to. You and the taco for lunch today because your brain is preconditioned by pressures and stimuli you can’t possibly act against, so therefore, it was predetermined you would eat the taco.

The second surprise was the ending, and I have already alluded to it. Throughout the whole book Harari trashes any kind of spirituality or religious experiences, then in one of the boldest bait and switch moments he finishes by trying to convince the humble reader the key to it all is meditation and getting into contact with your mind as opposed to your brain.

I was very disappointed, and suddenly his anti-God stance made more sense. He is an evangelist for a new kind of faith–a faith not in God, not in self, and not in humanity. Harari peddles a faith in awareness and experience. This is why many of his thoughts are fatalistic.

Final Evaluation

Read this book if you want to be challenged, argue with the author, and think about things from a different perspective. Do not read this book if you are easily offended by other worldviews.

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#Oscar Predictions 2019

I used to be much better at predicting these, but then Birdman and The Shape of Water happened and now my confidence is shaken. Will I let that stop me from making predictions. No way!

Here are my picks. Keep in mind, I don’t pick all the categories, just the ones I’m interested in. For example, costume design and sound mixing are irrelevant to me.

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Best Picture–I predict Green Book. It is the best ‘total package’ movie. It is not a great movie, like Spotlight, The Artist, Or 12 Years A Slave, but it is probably the best this year. I would not be surprised if BlacKkKlansman or Roma won, but I don’t think so. If The Favourite wins, I’ll be mad for a year or two. For more thoughts on best picture, click here.

Actress In a Supporting Role–Regina King. There is a chance Marina de Tavira might pluck this as an early upset, and if she did, I wouldn’t be mad. My actual choice for this was snubbed for nominations–and that is Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians.

Actor In a Supporting Role–Sam Elliot. I called this one the day I walked out of the theater, and I’m sticking to it.

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Documentary FeatureMinding the Gap. The biggest travesty of the Oscars is Mr. Rogers Won’t You Be My Neighbor was snubbed. If RBG wins it is a political choice, because in terms of documentary skillset, it wasn’t that great.

Original Song–Shallow

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Actor In a Leading Role–Christian Bale. By the end of Vice, I thought it was Dick Cheney on the screen.

Actress In a Leading Role–Glenn Close. Hands down. no contest.

Director–This is a tough one. It is a two person race between Cuaron and Spike Lee. I’m picking Spike Lee on body of work.

 

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State of the Union 2019: What I Saw and Heard

I’m gonna keep this quick because it is Wednesday and I have lots of work to do. Nevertheless, I always like to follow-up the State of the Union address with a blog post, because the two or three people out there who read this might want to know what I was thinking.

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Doesn’t it look like Speaker Pelosi is checking President Trump’s Work?

 

  1. President Trump broke protocol by starting his speech before Speaker Pelosi had a chance to formally introduce him. I don’t know I this was intentional–to minimize her screen time, or if it was unintentional. If he meant to do that, it is one more move in the chess game these two are playing. If it wasn’t, then the President showed lack of focus on the big stage.
  2. I adore World War II veterans, but I never figured out exactly why there was so much World War II in the speech.
  3. Meeting with North Korea in Vietnam is curious. I mean, it is a big globe, but to connect the two anti-communist wars in this way is a bold choice. North Korea, in Vietnam: What could go wrong?
  4. The President is right when he talks up the criminal justice reforms he and congress have made. Those were a long time coming. I’d like him to build on that and move the same bipartisanship to infrastructure.
  5. POTUS made no move toward a compromise on southern border. Everyone should prepare for another government shutdown.
  6. Speaker Pelosi was something special to watch. I think I saw her four times ‘shush’ her side of the chamber with her extended hand. More than once she was reading the incredibly large pieces of paper while POTUS was speaking. More than one she ‘forgot’ to sit back down. Again, I wonder if this was intentional or a lapse in focus. Then there was her clap–that odd clap where she pointed her fingers at the President while she clapped.
  7. Vice President Pence has histories biggest man-crush on POTUS. Just look at how he gazes at the Commander-in-Chief.
  8. President Trump threatened “war” on congress if they “investigate” him.
  9. The President exploited the truth–and rightly so–the Democratic Party has zero tolerance for pro-life views. I’ve said it before and it is still true: you can’t be pro-life and be a Democrat. The result is the GOP has many, many voters by default.
  10. I think I heard the President say Hillary Clinton would have started a war with North Korea had she won the election.
  11. Teleprompter Trump is not as fluid as Rally Trump, and there was a bizarro moment when he read two lines that didn’t go together in the same tone. “all children — born and unborn– are made in the holy image of God. The final part of my agenda is to protect America’s National Security.” I lifted the actual line from the transcript, which yes, has National and Security both capitalized. He read both of those lines like they were connected–one idea and you could tell on his face he realized it but couldn’t do anything about it.
  12. There were four awesome moments: Congress singing Happy Birthday to a survivor of the Jewish synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Buzz Aldrin’s amazing necktie, times when both sides of the aisle chanted USA! USA! USA! and when the women all in white celebrated their huge numbers and historic gains in the House of Representatives. Regardless of political persuasion, these were “American” moments.
  13. The speech was Rated PG-13. At times it was graphic and the language was rather provocative. I wouldn’t have wanted to have an eight year old watching it, that is for sure.
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Hero wearing a Hero Necktie! 

 

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2019 Oscar Best Picture Nominees Rundown (NO SPOILERS)

Last night Kim and I saw the last of the eight best picture nominees. This is the earliest we’ve ever completed the task, and, it is also the first time we’ve been able to see them all without traveling into the big city. Nifty, huh?

Here are some preliminaries. First, there are NO SPOILERS here. These are my thoughts on the quality of these films. Second, I will have a second post on the Oscars later which predicts winners. Third, none of these films are great, but as a group (with an exception) this is a pretty solid class of movies–definitely something for everyone. Fourth, after I’ve given brief reviews for each film, stay tuned for the next section where I discuss trends and themes. Each year has its own themes, and this year is no different.

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Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is so wonderfully directed and shot that I am in shock, and a little confused, as to why Bradley Cooper was not nominated for best director. It is a beautiful movie. The acting is solid, although I think Lady Gaga’s performance is a little overrated, but her music is not. This movie easily has the best soundtrack of the Oscars in a long time. Watch Sam Elliot, and watch Andrew Dice Clay in a role he seems to have been born to play.

Chances? This is a remake, of a remake, of a remake. Three earlier versions of this movie exist, and the gold standard will always be Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I think there is no chance this wins best picture, although it may earn a lot of other awards.

Black Panther

I am so happy this movie is nominated. It is the one family film (the only family film) on the best picture list. You can watch this with your children and have great conversations about overcoming adversity, failure, friendship, trust, and so many other noble virtues. It is a superhero movie, so it has that against it, but it stands alone as a very good movie.

I think it has very slim odds of winning, but for Black Panther, the nomination is the prize. For the record, I’m still steamed that Coco and Inside Out were both snubbed in previous years. If Black Panther were to win, it would signal a paradigm shift for Oscar. Movies that make as much money as Black Panther and are as universally loved never, ever, win.

BlacKkKlansman

I expected to not like this movie. I don’t know why, but I went into it with a bad attitude. That didn’t last long. This is a wonderful film, superbly directed and the acting was outstanding. Watch out, though, because the language is very strong, and there are times when the hatred and evil things being said are so uncomfortable it made me cringe, but the way in which Lee unfolds the story is captivating.

BlacKkKlansman has a punchers chance of winning best picture.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek nails the egotistical capricious maniac that was Freddie Mercury. The film is worth seeing for his performance alone. The best lines go to the boys in the band, though. Their involvement in the story keeps this from being a one-man show. The music is outstanding, the costumes are flamboyant (of course) but the storytelling is choppy and at times it feels like an extended cut MTV special.

Bohemian Rhapsody has zero chance of winning best picture. If I could give it less than zero, I would.

The Favourite

I hate this movie. It is filthy, crude, and everyone vomits at least once. I’m not kidding. I think vomit and rabbits are the only identifiable themes, except for deception, violence, and seduction. There was not a single character in this movie I liked. If that was the point I was supposed to get, then it succeeded.

Okay, let me back down a bit. The first hour of the movie was okay–I could see where things were heading and it had potential for some nice ‘gotcha’ drama or even a little absurdist humor. There are nuggets of a great story here, but the director bores us to death with tedious attempts to show us how clever and smart he is.

Having said that, and realizing this is exactly the way I felt about The Shape of Water and Birdman, both of which won best picture, it is altogether likely this will win. It is a puffy and pretentious film, therefore Hollywood will love it. I give it a likely chance of winning.

Green Book

Of all the films in the list, this is the one that has the most gripping narrative, all around best acting, and cultural pop. I like this movie. Viggo is terrific, but Mahershala Ali is fantastic. The only flaw in this film, as I can find it, is the lack of significance from secondary characters, specifically Tony’s wife (played by Linda Cardellini), who is one dimensional and cliche. The film has been attacked variously on several fronts, not the least of which is historical, which may be legitimate, but this is a story. Movies might be based in history, but they are not historical education. BlacKkKlansman is based on a historical case as well, but I am not bothered if they don’t get all the details about the Colorado Springs police department right. If I only take the movie at face value, then Green Book is the best picture.

I think this has a very likely chance of winning.

Roma

The first hour and a half of this movie will leave you asking, “Will it ever end?” You may find yourself thinking it is some kind of French existential experiment. However, hang in there. The last half hour is devastating. In typical Cuaron fashion, this thing is building up to a crescendo. Now, before you watch, you need to know it is in black and white and Spanish with English subtitles. I warned you. But you won’t really need the subtitles. You will follow along perfectly just watching the action and the acting.

There are some light moments in Roma, but for the most part it is an intense movie that makes you focus. It also wins the weirdest moment at the movies–the naked shower rod karate. And that is all I will say about it.

Roma has an outsiders chance. If it won, I’d be a little surprised, but I can easily see Oscar thinking this Netflix production is worthy of the honor.

Vice

Heads up. Vice is a political movie with a political agenda. This some-what of a biography of Dick Cheney starts with him in Wyoming and finishes with him in the present day. I don’t agree with all the political angles in the movie, but it is a very well done story that is quirky at times, like breaking into Shakespearean tragedy, or the POV of the narrator. The acting is incredible. By the end of the film I thought Christian Bale was Dick Cheney. Seriously. Ultimately, though, the storytelling is uneven and large gaps in character development were left unfilled.

This has a marginal, very marginal chance of winning.


Now that I’ve given a baseline review for the eight films, let’s look at the themes. I’ll cover these briefly, but keep in mind this is always what fascinates me most. The reason is the Oscars reflect culture, and as a student of culture, it helps me see where things are going. I identify at least three themes.

Theme 1: The 1970s. Oh yeah, shag carpet and everything. Roma is set in 1970-1, BlacKkKlansman is in the 70s, most of Vice is in the 70s as is Bohemian Rhapsody. Black Panther serves almost as a corrective to the Black exploitation films of the 70s, and … and A Star Is Born, though contemporary, has the 70s version with Streisand and Kristofferson always in mind. This year’s Oscar movies are a love letter to the 1970s. The reason for this might be two-fold. One, it was a time of great decadence and pervasion which creates great fodder for storytelling. Two, it was simpler, so you can write a story without Google or cell phones. For example, the entire story of BlacKkKlansman couldn’t happen today if people had smart phones.

Theme 2: Remember a couple of years ago when #Oscarssowhite trended and became a real issue because there was so little representation of people of color? Literally, not figuratively, but literally two of the movies nominated this year have “Black” in the title, and half the films feature people of color and two of the movies have racism as the major plot device. Is this an overreaction or a necessary corrective? I think it is a corrective. However, I think Black Panther and Roma are the most hopeful here. Here is what I mean–and my view is limited because I am white man, and I admit my limitations for I will never know the particular troubles a person of color goes through in our society–but what I mean is I look forward to movies that feature minority groups just living their lives and being who they are and not defined by the racism launched at them. We are not there yet, because racism is a problem and seems to be getting worse instead of better, but someday we will.

Theme 3: Without giving away any spoilers, homosexuality is a major theme in this years Oscars. Half the movies, which is the same as for people of color, feature sexuality as a major or minor plot device. I will not spell out which, because in some of them it tries to sneak up on you. And that is what I find most interesting. Hollywood is still using homosexuality as a shocking plot device, but no one is shocked. In this, I think, the movies are a bit behind the times and behind where most families are on the issue. There is more to say on this–and I’ve deleted about four paragraphs of text already on this theme, but for now let’s leave it at what an interesting development this is.

Theme 4: Music makes a huge splash in these movies. Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is Born are all about musicians. This is a melding of the icon celebrity culture where movies are no longer about everyday people with everyday lives, but instead we not only worship the celebrity singer, we want to watch movies about them turning their music into drama. The more I think on it, Roma is the only nominated film that doesn’t have either a celebrity, a person of privilege, or a cultural touchstone (like David Duke in BlacKkKlansman) in the narrative. Hollywood might have lost its ability to tell a story about an average person, because it doesn’t value real people.

 

 

 

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The Brexit Hero

I have a new hero.

It is this guy–Parliament speaker John Bercow. I have no idea what his politics are or what kind of person he is, but him trying to keep things in good ‘order’ during the recent topsy turvy times in jolly ole England is inspiring to me. Also, I think he could probably be a good teacher of preschoolers. Or lead a Baptist business meeting. Just sayin’.

Here is a video from Twitter. You can skip the CBC commentary at the end, but don’t stop until he clears the lobby. You’re welcome.

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A Book Review: Santa Claus Goes To Haiti

Not exactly Santa Claus, but close enough.

Joseph Courtemanche has recently released a beautiful book that combines so many themes that are near and dear to me. It is titled Nicholas of Haiti and is available at Amazon in paperback and kindle. There is also an audiobook featuring the author’s own voice.


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What I Love About Nicholas of Haiti

There are three specific things I love about this book.

  1. A major plot theme is human trafficking. My first novel, The Little Girl Waits, is set against the problem of child sex-trafficking, and as such it shares a kinship with Nicholas of Haiti. Slavery still exists in the world, and this book wants you to do something about it.
  2. I enjoyed the action scenes. This is not a spy novel or a thriller per se, but it definitely has one or two Ethan Hunt moments. Those are some of my favorite moments.
  3. The setting of Haiti intrigued me. I have never been there, but the book is so immediate that I FEEL like I have walked through Cite Soleil or talked to the orphans at Titanyen. Specifically, I liked the behind-the-velvet-curtain feel of the missionary work in Haiti.

There is lots more good stuff. Courtemanche obviously enjoys the simile comparison, and some are real howlers. I noted the one found on page 70, “Nick dove down into the narrow space between the door and the bank, the violent flow of water battering him against the wreckage like an angry bully interrupted while mugging an old woman.” I am not sure what an interrupted angry bully is like, but man, that is some kind of sentence. In the context of the whole scene, it is extraordinary. I also liked the discussion questions at the end of the book, which could be useful in a book club. I liked the building of secondary characters and even tertiary characters. There is one particularly delightful scene that, at first read, doesn’t further the story, but that is a wrong impression. The scene involves an elegant French restaurant in the middle of a shanty town. Those characters, and that scene, give the story depth and life beyond the rat-a-tat of action and adventure which makes a book about amazing and unreal things feel actual.

What You Will Love About Nicholas of Haiti

I think you will love at least two aspects of this book.

  1. You will love the transformational nature of the main character. Nicholas Bacon changes dramatically from start to finish.
  2. You will love the little girl, Violene. She will stay with you after you’ve forgotten about Nicholas.

Who Will Not Love Nicholas of Haiti

Some people will not love this book, and the is okay. Everything is not for everyone. I don’t think you will like this book if :

  1. You don’t like supernatural stories. Nicholas of Haiti has supernatural elements and things which are ‘impossible’ in the strict sense of the word. If that kind of action bothers you, then, perhaps, you should read something else.
  2. If you like Amish love stories, don’t even think about reading this book.
  3. People who get annoyed when church people or Christian people don’t behave in the ‘stereotypical way’ might not appreciate certain parts of this book.
  4. People who have an anti-catholic bias might not like this book, either.

Those things aside, I recommend Nicholas of Haiti–if for no other reason it offers a different kind of Santa Claus.

 

 

 

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2019 Predictions

I am wrong more often than I am right, but every now and again, I am actually right. I seem to average two to three right(ish) predictions every year. I wonder which one will be right for 2019?

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10. The stock market hasn’t found bottom yet. It will fall below 20,000 at some point this year.

9. England will have a ‘no deal’ divorce from the EU, resulting in a major economic crisis that will ripple around the world and tilt an already nervous global market into recession.

8. Oil will climb to at or near $90 a barrel before July 4th.

7. There will be no impeachment of President Trump, but there will be legislation restricting his powers.

6. Amazon will buy either Wal-Mart, Fed-Ex, or Alibaba.

5. A major Protestant denomination in the United States will dissolve, or maybe file bankruptcy. They may call it a reorganization, but it will be a dissolution.

4. North Korea and South Korea will enter into a significant peace treaty bringing the two Korea’s closer together than expected. They will do so without Beijing or Washington, making both capitals nervous.

3. Russia will invade a weak nation. Mostly likely it will be a further attack on Ukraine but it could be against one of the Baltic states.

2. It is grotesque and troubling, and I hope I am wrong, but somehow Harvey Weinstein will avoid all legal consequences of his crimes. He will pay out sums in civil trials, but he will never be convicted of sexual assault.

1. Bill Belichick will retire from coaching.

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Bird Box: A Brief Review

I can’t tell if this review has spoilers or not. I don’t think it does. The reason I can’t tell is because I’m not sure it is possible to spoil a movie that is so predictable a blind person could see it coming. And yes, I meant that. On purpose.

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One of the sprouts cojoled Mrs. Greenbean and I into watching Bird Box Friday afternoon. It is streaming on Netflix. The language is rough and there is considerable violence and gore. Not appropriate for children or people who are sensitive to violence.

Here is your Bird Box recipe.


1 cup A Quiet Place

1 cup M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

1/2 cup Stephen King’s The Stand

1/2 cup This Is The End (The James Franco/Jonah Hill/Seth Rogen farce)

2 tablespoons The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price (or if you prefer modern, Will Smith’s I Am Legend)

1 teaspoon The Book Of Eli starring Denzel Washington


I am only partly kidding. There is a lot of internet chatter over the similarities between this and A Quiet Place. The truth is, as best I can get at it, the novel basis for Bird Box is earlier than A Quiet Place, but they both are variations on the the other ingredients listed above. To my mind the most obvious similarity was with The Happening, although the middle part of the film could have been This Is The End in a Star Trek type mirror universe.

The cinematoraphy of the film was nicely done, and the editing was pretty good too. The acting was mostly mailed in. I never believed Sandra Bullock, and she was never believable as a late 20’s single mom with an introverted artistic touch. John Malkovich was playing the evil brother to his character in the Red movies (which I love) and most of the other characters were throw-aways. Trevante Rhodes was really the only character I could identify with, and he did a great job being human. The others were just cliches. But then, this whole movie is a cliche.

Motherhood

Societal Decay

Nature

Apocalypse

Demons

Water–don’t ever miss Hollywood’s complete fascination with water motifs.

So many metaphysical themes to this film. Pick your blindfold.birdbox-2-1-572x381

Having written all this, it actually wasn’t horrible. It is a popcorn and soda kind of movie which doesn’t require you to think. It poses some fun ‘what about’ discussion and even could pose theological debate–which is my fave. It is a full two hours, but you probably won’t hate yourself for watching it.

 

 

 

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Advent 4, Year C–Luke 1:39-56

Mary.

The woman who stands at the crossroads of divinity and humanity is the focus of my last Advent blog for 2018 because Luke 1:39-56 it is the last reading. As you might expect, I have worked this particular text over a time or two previously here at the Greenbean blog. Below is my own translation from the Greek New Testament which I published here about eight years ago.


Mary rose up in those days and traveled with haste to a Judean city in the hill country.  She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Then what happened is that as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant jumped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She screamed a loud shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that the mother of my Lord might come to visit me? For it happened at the sound of your greeting in my ear the infant jumped with gladness in my womb. Blessed is the one who believes that it will be completed what has been spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is gladdened by God my savior because he looked upon the humility of his servant. For behold, all generations will say [There is no verb here in the Greek for “say” or “call” so something has to be added to smooth it over. The lack of a verb is not an omission or a sign of chopped speech, but instead reflects careful poetic search for word choice. The verb is assumed.] I am blessed from now on because of the great things The Almighty did for me. His name is holy. His mercy to those fearing him is from generation to generation. He strengthened his arms and scattered those with arrogant thoughts in their hearts. He deposed the powerful from thrones and exalted the humble.  He filled those who were hungry with good food and he sent away the wealthy empty handed. He took care of Israel his child, remembering mercy. Just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” [In translating the Magnificat, two things are apparent.  One, Luke did not compose this.  The language, style, and vocabulary are not from his hand.]

She remained with her three months and returned to her own home.


We could do a lot of complicated salvation history theology on this passage, but I’ll leave that to the scholars. Here is where I am going today.

  1. Mary, did you know? It is a popular song that seems to be quite front and center this year. The answer is, yes. According to scripture, Mary knew a lot of what was going down. Whether she understood it all, or whether I even understand it all remains to be seen. However, she was not ignorant of the supernatural things taking place in her time and in her life–indeed, in her own body.
  2. Elizabeth is mentioned by name, and is John the Baptist’s mom. The father of John the Baptist and husband of Elizabeth is a priest name Zechariah (Luke 1:5). Both Elizabeth and Zechariah are named as descendants of Aaron–the priestly tribe. Elizabeth and Mary are cousins. Mary is from the priestly tribe. Jesus one true human link is through Levi–the priestly tribe. He is Judahite through his ‘stepfather’ Joseph. Jesus is king and priest.
  3. Some have argued a teenage Jewish girl couldn’t have written this complicated piece of literature. I find that argument sexist and elitist. Luke didn’t write it, the language is too different. He is copying it from a source, and that source might well have originated with Mary.
  4. I think Luke is very brave to include this story. A male writing about two pregnant women filled with the Holy Spirit and doing theology is not a common template–but here we are! Luke charges right in and tells what was happening and quite honestly, it is very believable because he had a good source for the actual event–babies leaping in the womb, women crying out, and then supernatural speech. Good stuff.
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Advent 4, Year C–Hebrews 10:5-10

Here is my true confession.

Of all the Advent readings following the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, this is the one that puzzles me the most.

I can think of so many other lections that would make more sense.

The justification, I think for this one is the opening phrase.–Circle that one in your Bible. “When Christ came into the world”.  I think that is what ties this passage to Advent. I checked to see if maybe the Latin Vulgate used a variant of “advent” in its rendering, but it does not. It uses the word ‘ingrediens” which means “to go in” or “enter.” This makes perfect sense for our word ingredient, which are the things that ‘go into’ a dish. Don’t ever say you learn nothing from the Greenbean blog.

But watch this–Jesus is and was the missing ingredient in the world.

I’m telling you, that will preach.


Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it his written of me in the scroll of the book.” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come [note–this word come is venio, which is in the same word family as advent] to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Hebrews 10:5-10

Most of this is a citation of Psalm 40:6-8. In fact, there are eighty-nine words in these verses, and only thirty-four are not from Psalm 40. This means sixty-two percent is from Psalm 40.

This leaves us to ask two questions.

Question One

The first question is, what is Psalm 40. The answer is Psalm 40 is a plea for the Lord to come and help. It begins with, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock”. The quotation Hebrews uses is not far after that, and then it is followed by a reference that sounds a lot like preaching–“I have told the glad news of deliverance”–then in verse 12 of Psalm 40 we find a reference to sin. “My iniquities have overtaken me.” Finally, Psalm 40 finishes with a reference to the enemies who gloat and a call for the Lord to not delay.

It is a beautiful Psalm. The rock band U2 wrote a song called “40” that is an interpretation of Psalm 40. It is a beautiful prayer.

The way the writer uses Psalm 40 is telling. He indicates that Jesus is the one who said it, which is for us a WOW moment. It is the equivalent of saying, “Remember that time when Jesus said “A wandering Aramean was my father?” (Dt. 26:5). There is something special here in putting the Psalms actually on the lips of Jesus in a specific way. I also find fascinating the sacerdotal trail: blessing leads to sacrifice that leads to preaching that leads to confession which leads to petition mingled with praise.

Question Two

The second question is, what commentary does the writer of Hebrews add to this citation. In very few words, he adds four thoughts.

  1. He indicated Psalm 40 doesn’t have full meaning apart from Christ’s advent.
  2. Jesus canceled the old ways (law and sacrifice) in favor of the new (grace and praise).
  3. The new offering is his atoning death.
  4. We are sanctified by this new, once and for all offering.

It is a stunning theological move to take Psalm 40 and preach the atoning death of Jesus, but that is exactly what the writer of Hebrews does. This methodology would fail every seminary class, Bible test, or preaching test that exists today. You can’t just draw lines from one text to another without some kind of clear connection. Yet that is what the writer of Hebrews does. And he or she can do that, because it is scripture. You and I, not so much.

The Advent Angle

Here is your advent perspective. You cannot separate the birth of Christ (when Christ came into the world) with the work of Christ (to save human beings). The fourth Sunday of Advent, ever so close to Christmas Day, tempts the preacher and spiritual leader to move into the sweet nostalgia of glowing candlelight and drain the moment of its blood. The writer of Hebrews forbids this, and that is good reason why this is actually, against my judgment, a great Advent reading.

 

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Advent 4, Year C–Micah 5:2-5a

The last week of advent features a common Old Testament passage because it predicts Bethlehem as the birthplace of Messiah, and is quoted as such by Matthew. However, Matthew doesn’t quote the whole prophecy. Let’s take a moment to examine the text, but then I want to also address a second issue.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until he time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

Micah 5:2-5a

Bethlehem means “house of bread” in the language of the Hebrews, and the further demarcation Ephrathah, an alternate name, means “fruitful.” I will resist the urge to draw too many connecting lines, but Jesus is the bread of God born of a woman–the fruit of her womb. Surely that can’t be completely coincidence. Micah sees the smallness of Bethlehem as a tiny village, not even a clan, as a grand reversal in that the Messiah will arise from there. Matthew cites this passage, but he also cites a non-biblical prophecy (unless Matthew is making a play on words and is referring to the word “branch” in passages like Isaiah 11) in Matthew 2:23 that says Messiah will be a Nazarene.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, but he is raised in Nazareth (Galilee). Sometimes, two things can be true at the same time.

It is quick work to note details of Messiah–which would form a very good outline for a sermon or Bible study.

  • His coming is from of old–ancient.
  • He shall give them up–enigmatic to be certain, but I take it as a reference to ‘leaving Israel to her own devices for a period of time’
  • The rest of his brothers . . . return–I think this is future and refers to the repatriation of Palestine by Hebrews. You can pick your time period–distant past, recent past, or future. Or all of the above.
  • He shall shepherd–This is a kingly usage as David was the shepherd. Messiah will exert real power to protect the people.
  • They shall dwell secure–this is the people, his brothers, in Israel.
  • He shall be great to the ends of the earth–The name of Messiah will be feared by all peoples.
  • He shall be their peace–Messiah will ensure peace for his people.

Some of this prophecy is the past–the birth of Jesus. Some of this is also fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus as he has come to bring us peace and he is also our good shepherd. But much of it has not. Which is why this Micah oracle is applied across multiple timelines. We should also not rule out that some of it might have been fulfilled before Jesus’ birth, such as the return of exiles. Nevertheless, the bulk of it will not be fulfilled until the ultimate return of Christ and eternity begins.

Now, to the dirty work. The scholars of Israel in Herod’s time knew this oracle, and they knew where to tell the Wise Men to look for the baby. The actual timetable for when these things happened is hard to know, but the location is not. They said, look in Bethlehem. For this same reason, Herod knew where to do his butchery. He sent the soldiers to Bethlehem too. This leads us to the unsettling reality of prophetic and biblical material. In the wrong hands, it can be used for evil. If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (and I am not), I believe I would make this the actual focus of my sermon–“When the Good Word is turned into Evil Actions.”

This isn to about poor hermeneutics or misunderstandings. This is about people who are evil in their heart and turn the words of the Lord upside down.

  1. Terrorists quote the Bible as they murder abortion doctors.
  2. Politicians quote the Bible as they oppress millions or start wars.
  3. Churches cite scripture and verse to justify the tolerance of abuse.

You probably can come up with your own, but it is a real problem. Does this make God culpable? A co-conspirator? Absolutely not. People who twist the scriptures in violent and immoral ways will be punished. We, as people of faith, have an obligation to be alert for these particularly heinous kinds of false teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent 3, Year C–Luke 3:7-18

If you are not careful, John the Baptist can swallow your Advent calendar. No lie. I’ve actually had it happen to me a time or two. You think you’re plugging along doing the right thing with these verses from the lectionary laid out every week, and the next thing you know you’ve essentially peached a four part sermon on the prophecy, birth, ministry, and death of John the Baptist. It can happen to anyone.

The reason it can happen is because, quite honestly, there is so much juice there. The third Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke’s synopsis of The Baptist’s preaching ministry, and quite honestly, it has some of my favorite lines in it.

You brood of vipers! Luke 3:7

The Baptist did not follow seeker sensitive paradigms. I feel like this was his opening. Whereas most preachers today would tell a lighthearted story or a joke to warm the crowd up, JB just lays into them by inferring they were a bunch of snakes. I wonder what insults he’d come up with to open a sermon today? Maybe, “You entertainment entrepreneurs” or perhaps “self-help supplicants” or something biting. I’ve often wondered if he isn’t, by saying ‘vipers’ intimating a connection with the serpent in the garden.

We have Abraham as our Father. Luke 3:8

This is the claim of the religious leaders–we are the children of Abraham so we are automatically spiritually significant. It is a type of elitism that boils my skin. Pedigree is meaningless in the Kingdom of God, and those who would hide behind it or revel in are grossly mistaken. I like how he called them out on it. There is no place for snobbery or nepotism in the church.

The axe is laid to the root of the trees. Luke 3:9

The people are the trees and the axe is the activity of the Lord. Having grown up on a farm, this image is powerful to me. The tree is not being chopped off where there will be stump. It is being cut at he roots and pushed over. Nothing of it will be left exceptionalities the hole that is left in the ground.

Share with him who has none  Luke 3:11

There is nothing in his sermon to this point that is complicated or necessarily doctrinal. He gives the warning and then launches with ethics. Share. Whatever you have, share it.

Be content with your wages Luke 3:14

This is what he said to the soldiers who were out there. Soldiers in the ancient world padded their income with extortion, bribes, and violence. I am certain in some parts of the world this is still the situation. JB says don’t do that. I find it fascinating that he doesn’t, and neither does Jesus, say “stop being soldiers.” Soldiery is honorable, good, and important. But not all soldiers are good. For the record, these are probably the priests soldiers and not Roman soldiers.

With many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. Luke 3:18

Verse 18 is not JB’s words. These are Luke’s words’ and Luke refers to the harsh, combative, confrontation words of The Baptist as “good news” or “gospel”.  That is not how most of us would define a gospel message. We would define it as the love of God proclaimed, a discussion about the need for salvation, and an invitation to make Christ your Lord. But that is not JB’s message. His gospel is humility, share, fairness, and contentment with honesty. That is fiery stuff in any age.

In addition to these jabs, there is the constant backdrop of fire in JB’s words. He tells them fruitless trees will be thrown into the fire, the Messiah will baptize with fire, and the chaff is burned with unquenchable fire. The emphasis upon fire is the prophetic mantle he wore. Prophets don’t hold hands and comfort, they rebuke and challenge with fiery words and fiery images. They remind people of the certainty of judgment as well as the certainty of purification. Neither one is pain free, and both will leave burn marks.

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Advent 3, Year C–Philippians 4:4-7

These verses from Paul’s inspiring prison epistle come close to hitting just about every Advent theme there is.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Let’s just count those Advent themes, shall we?

  1. Joy (Rejoice)
  2. The coming of the Lord (The Lord is at hand–literally, ‘the Lord is near’)
  3. Anxiety
  4. Prayer
  5. Thanksgiving
  6. Peace
  7. Love

Some might quibble with the inclusion of love, but Paul references ‘hearts’ in verse 7 and even uses along with ‘minds’ as two different things-cognitive and affective. This indicates he is speaking about love. The words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ are missing, but they can be deduced through the activity of prayer, which is faith in action, so to speak. Hope is about the future, which is where the passage goes in terms of God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.

Now, let’s make another list. Let’s make a list of the things that can make us anxious during the Advent season leading up to Christmas?

  1. Gift buying
  2. Gift receiving
  3. Family
  4. Money problems
  5. Health Issues
  6. Weather
  7. Busy Activities
  8. Loss/Grief
  9. Bing Crosby
  10. Elf on the Shelf
  11. Pressure to cook
  12. Weight gain
  13. Schedule interruption/loss of routine
  14. Christmas cards
  15. Christmas parties
  16. Travel
  17. Houseguests
  18. Crowds
  19. Christmas trees
  20. Christmas music

That is a quick list, but hardly exhaustive, amiright?

If I were preaching this passage this Sunday (I am not), the bulk of the sermon would live with that idea-what makes us anxious. I’d spend considerable oxygen on seasonal anxiety but then I would shift to anxiety in general and perhaps have our congregation daydream with me about a warm day in June and the anxieties there.

  1. Vacation plans
  2. Plane tickets
  3. Sunburns
  4. Graduation Parties
  5. College Issues (there are about a hundred that go with this)
  6. Juggling schedules at work
  7. Children getting out of school
  8. Mowing the grass/yard work (this is a high source of anxiety for me, personally)
  9. Church activities
  10. Air conditioner broken
  11. New tires for the car
  12. Dropped phone in the lake/fountain/toilet
  13. Dog’s veterinary visit
  14. Frenemies at work (textually, this is close to the source of anxiety in Philippi, c/f 4:2)

You can see anxiety is not just a seasonal issue. It is continual and always with us. Having made that point, I would then pull from the text two different aspects that Paul seems to offer as solutions.

The first one is prayer. Whatever makes us anxious is an issue of prayer. Certainly this means focusing on these things when we pray, but it probably also means letting the moments of anxiety themselves become prayer opportunities. When the crowd makes me nervous it will help if I center myself and pray in that moment. This practice makes the awarenesses that “The Lord is near” more relevant than ever. His presence, his Immanuel, can help with anxiety.

But he seems to give us more than prayer to work with. Paul says that we should let our ‘reasonableness’ be known. The ESV chooses reasonableness as the rendering, but ‘gentleness’ has a fine tradition for interpretation, and the word could even indicate ‘graciousness.’ One of my favorite little Greek New Testament tools indicates ‘considerate’ as a baseline meaning. When you have this kind of word soup for options, I find it nice to put them in a blender and hit puree. What we get at is the concept people should not be jerks and take whatever actions are relevant to ease anxiety, whether it is their own or someone else’s. In our modern context, I take that to mean enjoying the science-based evidence that medication, therapy, a psychologist, meditation, or any other treatment that might help is in play here. It is only reasonable. Some people face anxiety in different ways than others. This could be as much biochemistry as it is spiritual. That doesn’t mean you stop praying, though. It means you let your faith and reasonable activities partner together to help you enjoy the peace that guards your hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent 3, Year C–Zephaniah 3:14-20

There is no hope in the book of Zephaniah until the backend. Well, perhaps I should temper my sentence down a bit, as hope is sometimes a subjective thing. It would be more accurate to say there is only judgment in Zephaniah until the last section that begins in 3:9. From there it is all hope all the way to the end. Verses 9-13 are prophecies which speak to the future conversion of other peoples besides the Hebrews.

Our Old Testament reading for the third Sunday of Advent doesn’t begin until verse 14, though. We have to be careful to always take note of the historical situation, because that matters too, but in the themes of Advent we should read these words primarily as prophetic oracles about the Lord Jesus.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.

Zephaniah 3:15-15

Remember, Zephaniah has been pronouncing judgment–powerful condemnation–and he started with Judah (1:4). But now something has changed. The Lord takes it away. The reader is designed to come to the conclusion this is so because the Lord himself is in our midst, and his presence vanquishes evil.

The Lord doesn’t promise he will remove evil, he just promises that the people will no longer fear it, because the enemies have been cleared away. As a follower of the Lord Jesus, we see “Immanuel” in these lines–God with us who vanquishes the enemy, the only true enemy which is death. Jesus is with us, therefore we have no fear of death. Those dots are not hard to connect.

Let me push farther. It might be a reach. I understand that, so no scolding or judgment. The phrase “Daughter of Zion” is found throughout the Hebrew Bible and is usually understood to mean the Hebrews. What if, though, through the lens of prophecy, we could see the offspring, the daughter of Zion as the bride of Christ. The child of Israel might therefore be the church. The daughter of Zion.

Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah  3:16B-17

The idea of the Lord quieting us with love is evocative of maternal action. The baby is afraid, so the mother comes into the room and is with the frightened infant. She holds the baby as she laughs and says, “There there, all is well” holding the baby near her chest and the pumping, beating heart. The baby is still jittery, so to nestle her back to sleep she begins to sing a lullaby.

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3:20

I am smitten by these words.

  • Save the lame–Jesus heals those who cannot walk.
  • Gather the outcast–Jesus makes a people from those who were not a people.
  • Change their shame into praise–the forgiveness of sins leads into the doxology of worship.

At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together, for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes . . .

Zephaniah 3:20

Pentecost, the great ingathering day of the harvest festival, when the Holy Spirit brought the nations into one speech (Zephaniah 3:9).

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Luke 3:1-6

For use in my own preaching, I moved this Advent reading to week 3 (December 16) as the sermon text. The reason? I started working on Luke 3:1-6 for week two, but it blew up to about four thousand words (which is about one thousand too many) so I cut it in half, changed the form on the first part, and made it two different sermons. The point of my little opening aside here? These lines here at the beginning of Luke 3 can take you to many different places, and most of them are good.

The historian inside Luke screams out as he gives us a backdrop of the time period we are in and the location where things are happening.

. . . the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate . . . Herod . . . Philip tetrarch of the region . . . Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . . in the wilderness .. the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance fo the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1-2

We know when we are, which is important because Chapter 2 ended with the boy Jesus in the temple. Luke is reminding us we’ve shifted to the future when Jesus is no longer a child, and the powers in this world are political and religious. In contrast to these powers, John The Baptist is preaching something difference. He is preaching forgiveness and repentance. So Luke, the ever careful writer gives us who, what, when, and where.

The part of this text which most people will focus on, and rightly so, is the quotation from Isaiah’s vision of the future. This is the why.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Luke 3:4-6

I’m preaching this passage in ten days, so I will not show all my cards. Let me just point out three things about this amazing text.

  1. Luke doesn’t say John is saying this. In our imagination we often put these words in The Baptist’s mouth. That is a mistake. This is Luke’s interpretation of who John is and what prophetic function he fulfills. It is often other people, and later generations, who are benefited and understand our work the most.
  2. It is hard to know what is meant in the opening of the prophesy. A clear reading is nearly impossible, and in every language it seems to be muddled. I have never been fully satisfied. It could be, “The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” as if a person is crying out that the highway should be built in the wilderness. Or, is it “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” where the wilderness is more about where the person is shouting and not necessarily where the road is to be built. Either way, though, the Lord is coming and you better be ready.
  3. Luke, and the other gospel writers as well, see this passage then as a connected to the message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues, in the rest of Luke 3, to wed these ideas with ethical behavior, fairness, and integrity. It is about this time we should remind ourselves this was a huge part of the prophetic message in the Old Testament, including Isaiah. Belief and faith are important, but if they are disconnected from ethical behaviors all that remains is superstition.

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Philippians 1:1-11

Paul’s affinity and connection to the Philippian church is well documented, and these lines from our second Sunday of Advent highlight the issue. Paul gets emotional when he prays for his friends there.

This opening section can be broken up into three loose categories: Opening, A celebration of God’s work among the Philippians, and Paul’s prayer for them.


1. Opening

The apostolic greeting is familiar enough to most of us.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:1-2

It is so familiar we tend to skip over it, but let me tell you there is a lot of juice in these lines. The first drop of juice would be word selection. Paul refers to himself and Timothy as servants, but the people at Philippi as saints. Then he drops the words “grace” and “peace” as blessings. His desire for them is shalom.

The second drop of juice flows from the leadership language. The ESV renders these as overseers and deacons. The words are actually episkopoi and diakonoi which could be rendered bishop and servant, respectively. Some people put a lot of meaning on these types of words, but I am not one of those people. My reading of the New Testament leads me to think of all of these leadership words as synonymous–pastor, bishop, elder, deacon and so forth. The one word that is different, and is a cut above, is that of apostle, which Paul will use in other places, but curiously, note how he doesn’t use apostle in the greeting. He uses the word servant, a different word that means servant from the word deacon. Curious indeed. Also note, the words are plural.

One more slurp of juice from these lines is the language of “in Christ Jesus”. I’m telling you, if I were preaching this passage this Sunday, I could spend a lot of time on what it means to be “in Messiah Jesus”.

2. A Celebration of God’s Work Among the Philippians

A quick outline shows us that verses 3-8 are Paul’s description of the work and how this bonds him together with the saints at Philippi.

I thank my God in all remembrance of you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ . . . for you are all partakers with me of grace in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness . . .

Philippians 1:3-8

The tricky part here is identifying the work itself. This becomes more problematic because of generations of self-appropriation of verse 6. By that I mean, people have become accustomed to view the promise of completing work “in you” to be that somehow God will bring each of us into greatness and completion. The “you” here is plural, and I take it to mean the unified church and its mission—you saints as a group, rather than some divine promise that guarantees success in any particular venture. Failure happens, and we who love and follow him must admit failure in some task or project is often God’s plan for us and for those around us.

The work Paul is celebrating is the presentation of the gospel, which the Philippians joined in with him almost immediately. He calls this a partnership, a fruitful theme in Philippians–sharing in labor, sharing in ministry, sharing in suffering. Not even prison and distance had terminated this partnership.

Nor can time. To me the most interesting pat of this is the almost thrown away line, “at the day of Jesus Christ.” It might take a while for this work to be completed.

3. Paul’s Prayer

The prayer is beautiful because it specifically asks from the Father attributes, rather than things, for the church at Philippi.

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

It might be helpful to enumerate these prayer requests as a flow that starts with love and finishes with glorifying God.

Abounding love → leads to knowledge and discernment → to approve right behavior → to be pure and blameless → which is filled with righteousness → to the glory of God

Paul is praying about their character and spiritual strength. He does not pray for ease, comfort, wealth, or even health. He doesn’t pray for the things most of us spend our time praying for. Instead, he prays that the Philippians will be better people, and as such, the Lord will be glorified. We think of God being glorified by the great things we do or accomplish (v. 6), but the reality is the Lord is glorified when we live the way we should.

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Malachi 3:1-4

We read this passage in our worship service last Sunday as the prophetic passage for the first Sunday of Advent. It is one of my favorites.

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.

Malachi 3:1

Much is happening here, but it starts with the promise of a messenger. I would like to begin by asking you to think what a weird word choice this is for the Lord. We expect the Lord to send a prophet, one like Samuel, perhaps. We expect the Lord to send a king, maybe one like David. We expect the Lord to send a priest? Like Aaron.

He doesn’t send those. He sends the messenger. I think this is a play on words with the title of the book. The word Malachi means “My Messenger” — and 3:1 might be a self-reference by the author. Maybe he views himself as the messenger. Likewise, I have often though of the similarities between the idea of “messenger” here in Malachi 3:1 and the New Testament word “angel” which is roughly the same–a messenger from God.

Jesus identified John the Baptist as this messenger in Matthew 11:10. That makes, for me, the word choice of messenger that much telling. Why doesn’t it say, “I will send my prophet, or my priest, or my king”? The answer is because Jesus himself is the prophet, the priest, and the king. The messenger can’t be, in relation to the ultimate, any of those. The messenger must decrease, while the Lord must increase (John 3:30).

After The Messenger’s work is done, the Lord will do two things:

  1. Suddenly appear in the temple.
  2. He will purify and refine the sons of Levi

Of course, the language Malachi uses is more beautiful than this.

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple . . . who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? for he is like a refiners fire and like a fuller’s soap . . . he will purify the sons of Levi . . . and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4

Before we jump to the many messianic concepts here, we must do the work of context. In the book of Malachi there is one central complaint from God: the priests have neglected their work and have brought polluted and inappropriate offerings before the Lord. This is spelled out strongly in Malachi 1. Later, this pollution of sacrifices will be connected to the call for tithes and offerings to be again given by the people and collected by the priests. Malachi finishes abruptly with a flourish about The Day of the Lord.

So, in context, Malachi is looking for the Lord to first send a messenger with a warning, whom Malachi might see as himself, that the priests need to get their act straight because the Lord is coming to purify the priesthood through reform of the offerings.

We can spend a lot of time critiquing the priesthood in the Old Testament, but it is enough to say here that it failed, and that failure was total and complete by the time Jesus arrives on the scene in the early first century. Jesus was many things, and one of those was a reformer and critic of the priests, as was John the Baptist. To emphasize the point, there is a reason why John the Baptist was out in he desert baptizing: he was protesting the Jerusalem temple complex and the priesthood.

The reader of these words from Malachi would do well to connect them, though, not to John the Baptist, but to Jesus cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-19), running out the priests and their polluted, greedy sacrifices, then teaching every day until the priests gathered enough courage to have Jesus arrested and murdered. But the priests fell into his hands, because this was the way he purified and washed. His blood was the soap and his cross was the fire. What he did, then, was, as Peter put it, was to reject the Hebrew priesthood for something new–a complete reform with a new kind of priest, the priesthood of the believer with immediate access, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, to the Lord.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light

1 Peter 2:9

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Advent 1, Year C–1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

The Epistle reading for the first week of Advent seems whittled down for my taste. I would prefer it take a bigger bite and include the earlier material in chapter 3 about afflictions, because the theme of afflictions matches the other readings as all the travail leading up to the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Son of Man will be filled with afflictions. It will get worse before it gets better.

But instead we have these encouraging words. Maybe the lectionary thinks we need some encouragement after the harsher materials from Zechariah and Luke.

“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.” 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10

How can I thank God enough for you? I got it–I will pray night and day for the opportunity to come fix what it is that you clearly don’t understand yet. Okay, I admit that is a little harsh, but I’ve been reading Paul for so long that I feel like I understand his sarcasm. He is writing 1 Thessalonians because they have questions about things they should have already understood. He clearly perceives they are lacking some finer points of discipleship or theology (v. 10) and he needs to come fix it. For the record, they still didn’t quite get it, which is why we have . . . 2 Thessalonians.

The concept, though, that people who earnestly follow the Lord and try to do and be right, yet have something lacking is intriguing. Paul hints at the same thing in the Roman church (Romans 1:11) and there is no end of problems in Corinth. Here in this time of advent, maybe we should consider–is something lacking in our own faith?

  1. Perhaps our personal faith is lacking. What I mean is, we could devote ourselves to learning more. Stop relying on whatever the pastor is leading and read books on your own, listen to podcasts, do some study. Learn. Fill in the gaps. This personal lacking might be practice as well. Perhaps you don’t pray as often as you should, or at least don’t pray ‘earnestly’ as Paul mentions.  Only an arrogant fool would say ‘There is nothing lacking in my spiritual life–I’m a perfect 10.’
  2. It could be something is lacking in our local church. Maybe your church is a sweet fellowship, but it doesn’t lift a finger to help solve the problem of clean drinking water in Africa and could not care less about child sex-trafficking. Flip it around, maybe your church is great at reaching children and young families, but terrible at discipling older adults. Maybe your work is to address what is lacking in your congregation.
  3. There is no way anything is lacking in Western Christianity, though. We have our act together perfectly. #sarcasm.

From this desire to fix a problem, Paul turns to benediction. In fact, this benediction could be crafted and worked very nicely as the spoken benediction to finish a worship service.

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Having read the benediction, we see Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians and we see how it fits the familiar pattern. As much as Paul wants to fix their theology and fill in the gaps, the things that really matter in our daily living are:

  1. Love. Paul is quite specific when he says love for one another and ‘for all.’ I take this to mean all people. Love within the church fellowship is important, but love for neighbor, love for stranger, love for enemy, love for the confused, love for the addicted, the immigrant at the border, the extremist Muslim in Malaysia, and even Tom Brady.
  2. Holiness. The curious thing about holiness is Paul doesn’t mention their behaviors when he describes this, but instead their hearts. Remember, Jesus told us that it is what comes out of our hearts (Matthew 15:18) that defiles a person. If we are not holy the root is not behaviors. The root is the heart. In the end, we do what we want to do.

The apex of this benediction is the eventual coming of Jesus, which is a major theme of 1 Thessalonians and it is what I am preaching about this Sunday.

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Advent 1, Year C–Luke 21:25-36

The gospel reading for the first week of Advent plunges us into the heart of some of Jesus’ scariest words, near the end of the Olivet Discourse. Jesus is teaching in the temple, in the shadow of his own cross. By the end of the week he will be dead. You can feel the weight of atonement in his words.

Several years ago I translated these passages, let me share them with you here again:

There will be a sign on the sun, and on the moon, and among the stars as well as upon the land.  The Gentiles will have anxiety over not knowing what to do, like a sound tossing the sea.  Men will have died from fear and the whole inhabitation of the earth will be waiting, for the power of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the son of man coming in the clouds’ with power and all glory.  Now, when these things begin to occur, you straighten up and lift up your heads because your redemption is near. And he spoke a parable to them, “You see the fig and all those other trees?  When it blossoms you see for yourselves and you know now that summer is near.  In the same way, when you notice these things happening you will know that the kingdom of God is near.  Truly I say to you that this generation will not pass by until everything happens.  The heavens and the earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.  Watch yourselves, that you do not let wildness, drunkenness, and the cares of everyday life overtake your hearts in those days.  It will come upon every one of those living everywhere like a trap.  You must be awake at all times; praying that you will have the strength to flee out of all these things that are about to happen and to stand before the son of man.”–Luke 21:25-36

Let’s just pick apart what Jesus is saying in a literal way.

  1. Signs–some kind of omen– will be everywhere–sun, moon, stars and the land.
  2. People will be so afraid, that fear itself will kill them.
  3. The heavens will shake.
  4. The Son of Man will come from the cloud.

I can’t tell whether this is theology or science fiction. This is some worthy of blockbuster special effects. You can see why Christ-followers have struggled for years to imagine this as metaphor rather than literal activities. However, as I contemplate the text, it sounds more and more plausible.

Could a sign not simply be atmospheric changes? Pollution that blots out the sun at day and changes the color of the moon at night could be seen as a sign. The stars I find particularly fascinating as we, today, see far fewer stars in the sky than our ancestor because of light pollution. Then we think of the land. Has the land not changed? Is it not a sign that whales beach themselves, bees die off, and the forest burns constantly?

Then Jesus talks about fear and anxiety that leads to death. Perhaps he means heart attacks, strokes, or paralyzing fear. You know, the kind of fear that would rather die than keep on living. Just being honest, I can think of no better description for some segments of our society today than to describe it as afraid. Politicians make their living stoking fear.

Shaking heavens seems harder to explain, but not entirely so. The powers of the heavens are what is shaken. Maybe this is an allusion to the gods, the false gods who live in the sky. They are shaken because the cosmic order is shuffling. Another view might be a simpler technological idea: airplanes and rockets moving through the sky could be described as powers shaking the heavens.

Last, the son of man comes on the clouds. Perhaps he comes to put a stop to the shaking heavens, the fear, and to heal the land. This is an article of faith, that some day we will look up (maybe not me as odds are death will claim me first, but it will be people who have the same faith convictions I do from all over the world) and Jesus will be coming again to set all things right.

The great teacher says these words, and he sees the trepidation on his disciples face. So he tells them to not be like the gentiles, don’t be afraid. He tells them that when this stuff starts going down, their redemption is near (v. 28). Lift up your heads, he says (Ps. 24), because the King of Glory is coming.

The Lord then comes back with promises.

  1. This generation (the disciples) will not pass away until this happens.
  2. Heaven and earth will disappear, but Jesus’ words will not.
  3. Wildness, drunkenness, and everyday cares will consume peoples thoughts.

Let’s work backwards. The promise of wildness, drunkenness and the trap of being swallowed by the mundane is stated as a warning. Jesus expects his followers to be better than that. His words, which mean his teachings but also, I think, extend out to the entire word of God. Philosophies, political systems, the power dynamics of this world will all disappear but the way of God does not.

But the generation–it surely did pass away and here we are, yet remaining? How can such a thing be? The simple answer is this all began before the end of the week when Jesus was crucified and signs were in the heavens, people were afraid, and everything changed. But it was not the end of this transition, for a generation later Jerusalem itself fell in a great holocaust–and ever since we have lived in the tension between the times. It is the times we live in now when the wildness, drunkenness, and mundane seeks to swallow us alive, trying to make us forget that we serve a God who shakes the heavens and terrifies the world with his death defying love.

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Advent 1, Year C, Zechariah 14:4-9

In my opinion, there is no more Christological Old Testament book than Zechariah. Word for word, it punches way above its weight. This is especially true in the latter section of text, beginning around Chapter 9. The lectionary reading to start the advent observance doesn’t disappoint. Nestled here in the ‘fly-over country’ of the Bible which most Christ-followers skip are words with deep messianic meaning.

“On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives . . . [it] shall be split in two from east to west.”  Zechariah 14:4

This is probably the idea Jesus is alluding to when he says, rather bluntly, that if we ask for a mountain to be moved in prayer, it will be moved into the sea in Mark 11:24. It should be noted by the interpreter that Mark puts this after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a theme which is prevalent in Zechariah (c/f 9:9)

What specifically interests me about the Zechariah reading is the eschatological emphasis.

“On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost . . . neither day nor night . . . living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem . . . and the Lord will be king over all the earth.” Zechariah 14:6-9

It doesn’t take a brilliant scholar to point out these ideas also emerge in the ending chapters of The Apocalypse.

“The sea was no more . . . behold the dwelling place of God is with man . . . and God himself will be with them as their God . . . To thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payments . . . and I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God . . . and there will be no night there . . . the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding is fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed.” (from Rev. 21:1-6, 22-25, 22:2-3).

There are, then at least three identifiable themes that emanate from Zechariah 14.

  1. One is the literal earth shattering nature of the coming of Messiah. When partnered with Jesus’ prayer words when he is standing in a place where the Mount of Olives could be seen in the distance for Mt. Zion, we see the power of Jesus’ advent in our own spiritual lives.
  2. The second theme is one of newness. Jesus not only made all things new, he makes all things new in a continual manner. Things cannot stay the way they are and also be in the presence of Christ.
  3. The third theme is healing and wholeness. No frost. No night. The Lord’s presence. Jesus is the balm of Gilead for a sick soul, a sick culture, a sick family or a sick church.

Zechariah’s vision of the future is not about when Jesus comes as a nativity event, but when The Day of the Lord Comes and turns upside down the cosmic order the same way he turned upside down the moneychangers tables in the temple. He turns the frost of winter and Christmas into the springtime of Easter. He exchanges winter’s shortened days with summer’s elongated sunshine. He takes us from the desert wanderings to the living waters in his oasis.

 

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The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Crime

emo_crimes_logo

NO SPOILERS! I PROMISE. NO SPOILERS


Thursday night Mrs. Greenbean and I watched the new Wizarding World flick–Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I was looking forward to it because I love backstory, and these tales seem to me basically back story. Also, Jude Law is an amazing actor and I looked forward to him as a young Albus. Here is my review, in my usual format: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

The Good

I liked three things about this movie. First, I liked some of the acting. Jude Law, as I said, was great. Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston were also enjoyable but they take a back seat to Zoe Kravitz, who really does a fantastic job as Leta Lestrange. I also liked the effects.  The first scene is clumsy, but after that the imagery gets much sharper and more spectacular. The “final battle” was very well done. Third, I think they did a great job with the setting in Paris.

The Bad

There  was a lot of bad. There is “continuity” bad, which has been talked about in many other places, but there is also “story” bad. The plot is confusing and the character’s actions and reactions are hard to reconcile with the way people would actually react. In fact, almost no one in this movie at any time behaves in a way that is believable. There is a particular scene and a choice at the end of the film that I liked as an idea, but the character’s journey to that choice is baffling.

Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald is, to put it bluntly, boring. It’s just not very exciting at all. I don’t know if that is Depp or the director, but I’m sure some middle school theater student could have given more life to Grindelwald than did Depp.

There is plenty of other bad, but these are the main offenses.

The Ugly

In an ocean of bad, one ugly rises above the surf. That is the issue of focus. This movie doesn’t know what it is. They seem to have thrown a pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what will stick–and none of it really does. Because of this lack of focus, when credits are rolling, I’m thinking I don’t care about the fate of any of them because I’ve been given no compelling reason to care. It is difficult to characterize this without spoilers, but when you watch it I think you’ll understand. It’s not one story, or even three woven stories. It is more like seven different stories with five different themes and three different genres none of which are intrinsically connected while the whole thing is spiraling out of control in vastly different directions. More time should have been spent tightening up this narrative arc.

Summary

As I have written on this blog before, the Harry Potter films never match the brilliance of their literary light, and this film, which has no literary underpinning, falls even further into the realm of the mundane. This movie might be redeemed if the next one connects some dots, but as it stands now, The Crimes of Grindelwald is the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock of the Harry Potter Universe. It provides interesting filler–no one will ever really care about it–and it is only important because of the film before it and after it.

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2018 Midterm Elections Analysis

I didn’t even try to predict what would happen last night. After 2016, I have no confidence in my ability to determine what the American people will do but that just makes following it all that much more enjoyable. We popped the popcorn and made the Kool-Aid and I stayed up way too late.

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But it is the morning after, and that makes analysis the name of the game.

First, let’s start with rating the coverage. That is always fun.

Every time I turned to FOX they were running a commercial.

Did anyone else have a hard time with CNN’s map? The blue looked so much like the gray that I had a hard time differentiating. Also, I love John King’s analysis, but he seemed to be trying to ‘willpower’ more votes from Miami.

NBC had the best set up–both the parent company and MSNBC.

What the deuce was going on at ABC? Did they have 172 people on the screen at the same time? Seriously. Seriously.

Steve Kornacki needs to slow down on the Red Bull. He was yelling and waving his hands like, ‘PEOPLE ARE VOTING !!!!! LOOK AT THE MAP !!!!!!’


Now we can talk about the actual results.

  1. For me, last night was a win all around. I like divided government, and I love that so many more people voted this year. Well done, America. Well done.
  2. If the Dems had taken the Senate as well, which was always a long shot, then I think then we would be seeing impeachment hearings next year, and I am on the record as decidedly against any attempt to impeach The President. It would be horrible for the country. Just horrible.
  3. But, with the Dems in control of the House, they have the power to provide a solid check on The President, which is what we desperately need.
  4. There was no blue wave. No blue tsunami. What we saw was a correction where things balanced out. I think we forget just how much Hillary Clinton tainted the electorate both Red and Blue.
  5. Florida.
  6. Remember boys and girls, never trust exit polls. Never. When a Republican votes, he or she doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Democrats, by contrast, want to tell everyone, and will even tell people twice. It skews the numbers.
  7. From what I can gather, the real story is not Blue or Red, but how many women won, and how many veterans won. I made it a priority where I could to vote for people who had military service, and I think other people did as well.
  8. I like how everyone is claiming victory. The best quote I saw on it was a tweet by Jon Acuff–he compared it church church league basketball–everybody won, and the score doesn’t really matter. However, we all know, Trump lost, because his cover in the House, specifically that thrown by Nunes, is now gone.
  9. Beto O’Rourke outperformed, but there was just too much East Texas for him to win. However, him dropping the strongest vulgarity in his concession speech was . . . special . . . and simultaneously showed why he lost.
  10. The upper midwest turned decidedly bluish. The one exception is Ohio–but Kansas was a real shocker as was Iowa. Something is happening there. It could be the mean and debasing rhetoric of the GOP is rubbing the naturally nice and kind people who live in the heartland the wrong way.
  11. I’m not a Nancy Pelosi fan, not by any stretch, but her speech was very nice. If she means it, then maybe things will get better. We will see how the Dems play their hand, but if she is serious about ‘peace’ then I have another reason to be optimistic.

 

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Fred and Christopher Made My Weekend

Over the weekend Mrs. Greenbean and I watched two outstanding films, and I want to share them both with you. This is not so much as a review as it is a recommendation.

Sunday evening we watched Won’t You be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers. It was wonderful. Anyone who cares about the quality of life and world we create for our children should watch it. Keep in mind, children shouldn’t watch it—children should watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood–adults should watch the documentary. Powerful stuff.

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Saturday night we celebrated one of our nephew’s birthday by watching Christopher Robin at the cinema. I was prepared to be bored and underwhelmed, as these types of films seem to always overpromise and underdeliver. I was pleasantly surprised. I found the dialogue witty, the story compelling, and the visuals captivating. I think children would enjoy the story, but the real target is parents. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) were delightful, but as far as I am concerned Eeyore steals the show.

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We live in such a cynical, jaded, and gloomy world right now; I don’t want to minimize that fact, but watching these two films back to back had a therapeutic effect on my soul. I am grateful for them both.

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Blood Letters: A Book Review

9781541644236On the plane ride home from vacation I read the biography Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi. The book is a quick read, has lots of notes, and is compelling in the extreme. It is incredible.

The book is a biography of Lin Zhao, a woman who spent most of her adult life in prison under the evil dictatorship of Mao Zedong in China. She was born in China to what I think of as a middle-class family with intellectual leanings. Lin Zhao became enamored with Mao and communism in high school. In college, she studied writing and journalism for the express purpose of facilitating “The Revolution.” Her initial enthusiasm for communism was likely a reaction against the Nationalists abuses and the general confusion following the invasion of China by Japan and the general unsettledness in the world following World War II.

It wasn’t long before she realized that communism was (is) merely a disguise for a new kind of dictator, and her disillusionment lead to the writing of anti-Maoist poetry. Early in her rebellion against the communist regime, she returned to the Christian heritage she had been raised in and which had been nurtured by Methodist missionaries. She participated in the publication of opposition pamphlets, and for that, was imprisoned. She was in prison for eight years where she was tortured until she was executed in 1968.

She continued to write throughout her imprisonment. Deprived of ink and pen, or sometimes out of conviction, she wrote letters, treatises, and even plays in her own blood on toilet paper, which the authorities kept as a apart of her file. Part of that file was released in 1981, which is why we know of her story. It is a story which ranks with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela as compelling accounts of voices that refused to be silenced.

The book is not always easy to read. Part of this is because of the difficult subject matter of torture and prison, another part is due to my unfamiliarity with Chinese culture and nomenclature. But a big part was the the author’s style. He has an odd time-slip tendency in his writing of moving between years and events without bridges or explanation. Once I got use to this quirk, the reading was easier.

I can’t tell if Lin Zhao was martyred because she was a Christian or if she was martyred because she was a political dissident. Perhaps in Maoist China there was no difference, as the cult of Mao was all that mattered. In that sense, she might be closely akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was no doubt assassinated because of his brave political activity against the unjust and totalitarian Jim Crow regime in the American south, but it was no doubt his Christian faith that lead him to be so brave and daring in his prophetic zeal. That is the way I view Lin Zhao–the more she resisted, the more it became clear her strength came from her inner convictions of faith.

I highly recommend the book.

 

 

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Greenbean went to France

To be specific, Greenbean went to Paris.

That Paris. Oui!

And now, for some observations and pics. Per my usual, I have broken these down into categories.

The People

  1. I was expecting French people to be rude, given all I’d read and heard. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We found the French delightful, conversational, fun, jovial, and good-humored. The only rude people we encountered were tourists from other countries–and I’m taking to you rude American woman who cut in line with your two loud-mouth children at Notre Dame.
  2. Also, the French are a well-put-together group of people. They dress well, carry themselves well, love uniforms, and are incredibly fit. The only overweight people we saw were . . . tourists.
  3. But . . . the French smoke. A lot. We were unable to get away from the noxious fumes of cigarette smoke. It seemed specifically bad in restaurants. No one was smoking indoors, but it was summer and windows were open and sidewalk cafes and  . . . fumes!
  4. Most everyone spoke English. We never had a problem communicating.

The Food

  1. My new favorite cheese is camembert. Love that stuff. They serve it after the meal to cleanse the palate. Yum.
  2. Oh, and crepes. I had a honey crepe in front of the weird obelisk at Concorde. The guy who made it was funny and wore a little hat.
  3. Duck confit. I had it twice. The ducks on the lake better watch out, because I might just have to try and make that at home.
  4. Baguettes. Every. Meal.
  5. The coffee was good, but they don’t give you a lot of it.
  6. I ate the snails, but wasn’t specifically enamored with them. They tasted earthy to me, like some varieties of uncooked mushrooms.
  7. Perhaps my favorite was the macarons. I especially liked the pistachio.

The Sites

  1. The Eiffel Tower is really tall. Four hundred feet taller than my beloved Space Needle and five hundred feet taller than the Washington Monument. Of all the things we saw, it was the hardest to navigate the lines, waiting, and the top. It was so crowded at the top that it wasn’t as enjoyable as you’d expect.
  2. We did the Louvre in one day, and we saw all the floors and all the exhibits. All. The. Things. The big time exhibits were nice, like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, but the Egyptian exhibit and the paintings on the top floor (where no one else was) were some of my favorites.
  3. We visited Notre Dame, but my favorite was Sacra Coeur in Monmarte. I actually had a genuine spiritual experience there. It was nice, and unexpected.
  4. We skipped Versailles.
  5. It took a while, but we eventually conquered The Metro. I think I’m as much an expert on the Metro right now as a tourist from another country can be.
  6. The Louvre is monumental, but the D’Orsay is more enjoyable because its size is manageable.

Extras

  1. One of the highlights of our trip was watching the new Mission Impossible film, most of which was filmed in Paris, in Paris! That was way cool. The best part was the commercial before the movie started for a doctor who specialized in lice removal.
  2. I thought Delta provided great service getting there and back. Charles De Gaulle Airport is easy to navigate.
  3. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Latin District and the night time boat ride on the Seine. Both were extremely pleasant.
  4. We’d been told that going in August would be a drag because people would be gone and the shops would be closed. We didn’t experience that at all. Everything was open and the weather was perfect.
  5. On the plane ride home I read a great book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr In Mao’s China. I’ll probably blog about it tomorrow.
  6. The French way of having supper late, like around nine at night agrees with me.
  7. The picnic we had by the fountain under the Eiffel Tower will stay with me as one of the sweetest memories with my family.

And now, some pics!

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A statue of Apollo at the Louvre. Looks like he is taking a selfie, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?
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This is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “John The Baptist”. He looks like Loki, a bit, and we thought it would be a great movie, Tom Hiddleston as Loki AS JOHN THE BAPTIST. Think about it.
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Even heretics go on vacation
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Texas Rangers, Captain Kirk, and A Reflective Quaker

I’ve finished three different books in the past week. And yes, I don’t think you could find three more distinct and different books–not only in subject matter but in style and genre. The first is a history book about the Texas Rangers, the second a weird Star Trek book, and the third is Parker Palmer.


9781574416916-usTexas Rangers: Lives, Legacy, and Legend by Bob Alexander and Donaly E. Brice.

I bought this book at a great book store in Kerrville and looked forward to reading it for a long time. The history in these pages is wonderful. I wish the authors would have gone into a bit more detail about some of the individuals and escapades, but their intent is more of a survey than specifics. The main problem with Lives, Legacy, and Legend is at times the prose is not quite clear–as the authors seem to try and write paragraphs in the most muddied way possible to demonstrate their clever way of saying common things.

There are also a lot of digs against “Political Correctness” which I never understood in the text. One reference to it is an indulgence. Two references are pushing it. But by the seventeenth time the authors remind us that political correctness and modern sensibilities have no place in studying Ranger history, the point seems belabored.

There are some great photographs and primary documents, which alone is worth the price of the book.

UnknownThe Autobiography of James T. Kirk: A Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain ‘Edited’ by David A. Goodman.

Two things up front: I enjoyed this book and laughed out loud several times. Also, it is a quick, easy read, unlike the Texas Rangers book, which is slow, plodding and laborious. The problem is, I think I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Star Trek, and the writer clearly does as well. But I don’t think the book is that well written.

The best are the early pages where we learn things about James T. Kirk that aren’t covered in the television shows or movies. But about sixty percent of the book is really lame plot summaries of shows. Yes, we get Kirk’s perspective on those things, but nothing  really new is brought to the table.

But the book is funny. That should come as no surprise because it is written by Goodman, called the ‘editor’ on the book cover, who wrote for Family Guy and Golden Girls. What it lacks is emotional depth. The book was given to me as a gift for Christmas by a kind friend, and I looked forward to reading it, thinking it would give more character depth about the famous alpha male. But nope. Goodman is funny, but he is not that good of a writer. He does more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and as a result he leaves Kirk shallow.

There are two things that will stay with me a while, though. The first is how Goodman ‘washes’ over Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the movie almost everyone agrees is the worst ever. It is quite clever, and I must say I like it. The second was this line thrown in to describe the mind-numbing administrative work of being an Admiral that Kirk hated.

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Of course the Obama was over budget and behind schedule. Of course it was.

Parker-Palmer_Hidden-WholenessA Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer

I’ve read Palmer before, but not this book. What interests me is that I think Palmer believes he wrote a how-to book, when in reality he wrote about the inner voice, overcoming our fears and paranoias, and the need to learn to trust.

The format of the book is laid out as the steps to forming circles of trust. A circle of trust is a group of people who dedicate themselves to allowing people to hear their own soul in protected communication. It is good material, and I recommend the book to small group leaders of any kind, because the principles he shares are nearly universal.

The book is a gem, but what will stay with you for a long time is the story of the woodcarver. I’ve seen Palmer use it before, but I think his exposition of it in this text is his best.

Of the three books I’ve shared about, this one is the most vital; it is the one I think everyone would benefit from.

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Long Shot Supreme Court Nominations

I should be working right now, but I’m taking some time during lunch to share these long shot supreme picks. Solid money has it as one of the four Federalist Society nominees–and of those four I say Amy Barrett has at least a 60% chance of being President Trump’s pick. The reason I say this? She is the one that would cause the biggest fight–and POTUS loves a good tussle.


But this blog is not about the likely choices. This blog post is about what if President Trump goes way off course and does something crazy. It is not outside the realm of possibility. Remember when President Bush nominated Harriet Meyers, then White House Counsel and who had never served as a judge anywhere, to the Supreme Court? Or that time when Franklin Roosevelt wanted to add a lot more judges? Presidents do crazy stuff sometimes, and none more so than President Trump. It’s kind of his brand to go off script. So, here are my long shot predictions.

  • There is a 7% chance he will nominate Jeff Sessions. This is the genius of the day pick. By nominating Sessions, he can get him out as Attorney General without firing him, then put someone else in as Attorney General who can then fire Robert Mueller. Unknown
  • There is a 4% chance he will pick Andrew Napolitano. You know there is. You just know it. If President Trump could pick without any kind of political considerations at all, this would be his guy.
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  • There is a 3.5% chance he picks Jeanine Pirro.images
  • There is 2% chance the pick is Judge Judy. He would lock up the Florida vote forever   with that pick.

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  • There is a .75% chance he picks Ivanka Trump. I know, I know, it is silly to think that, but can’t you see him doing it? TBH, I thought he might pick Ivanka as his Veep.  He needs someone on the court he can count on in case this Russia thing goes bad, and who can he count on more than Ivanka?

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  • I’ve got one more long outsider pick. You know who we haven’t heard from in a while? That’s right, Sarah Palin. Back during the primaries, Palin was one of the first people to back Donald Trump, and that gave him a strong boost, especially in the midwest. It might be time for payback . . .and I predict a .5% chance it is Palin. You betcha!

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I’m glad President Trump is picking, because if I were picking SCOTUS nominees, my first thought would be is to go Doc Hudson. Or Maybe John De Lancie as Q from Star Trek?

 

 

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Happy Birthday, America–242 Years Young!

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On birthdays we tend to celebrate and share the things we love about the person having the birthday. So, how about it for our nation? There are so many things about The United States that I love dearly, it would be impossible to list them all. Here are some political, historical, cultural and a bunch of other things that came to mind.

  1. I love that we have three co-equal branches of government.
  2. I love that criticizing leadership, elected officials, and policies we disagree with is an act of patriotism. America was born in rebellion!
  3. I love Election Nights. I’ll take Super Tuesday results over a Super Bowl any day.
  4. I love the Bill of Rights and the fundamental freedoms–religion, speech, press, assembly, personal protection, and trial by jury.
  5. I love that we can amend our Constitution to correct wrongs, like slavery.
  6. I love all of those Lincoln/Kennedy comparisons.
  7. I love that spot in Michigan where I can look south and be looking at Canada.
  8. I love that the French helped us beat the Brits, and then we repaid the favor by kicking the Nazi’s out of France.
  9. I love the ideals of our Founding Fathers–equality, opportunity, fairness under the law, and liberty.
  10. I love that we chose English as our language, because English is so messed up and thus is more fun to play with.
  11. I love that Texas history is pretty much American history.
  12. I love the Southwest–desert, cactus, dry, and beautiful.
  13. I love Puget Sound.
  14. I love the sugar white beaches of Destin.
  15. I love the unique characteristic of each region of the nation, that New Yorkers and Idahoans share the same love of country and national destiny, but not the same culture.
  16. I love how we are an amalgamation of so many different peoples–Germans, French, Mexican, Irish, Iranian, Native American, Polynesian, and so many other rich heritages that add to this unique experience of being American.
  17. I love the classic movies of Hollywood–Casablanca, Red River, North by Northwest, Bullitt, and Mars Attacks.
  18. I love Hamburgers with mustard, onions, tomatoes and French fries doused in ketchup washed down with a cherry Coke.
  19. I love American cars and blue jeans.
  20. I love the American Flag. It has an intrinsic beauty beyond the sum of its parts.
  21. I love baseball at the diamond on a hot day.
  22. Speaking of baseball, I love that our national anthem is practically unsingable–because who wants an easy national anthem!

I tried to keep my list to twenty, but alas, in America I have the freedom to do what I want.

Is our nation a perfect nation? No. Not by a stretch. We have many problems that need addressing and are cause for alarm and calls to prayer, not the least of which is the evil of racism, mass violence by disturbed young white males, childhood hunger, our disastrous health care system, and the squabble over how we will handle the great influx of people from other countries who believe what we already know–that America is the greatest place in the world to be.

Happy Birthday, America!

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#Philippians #Iwashavingfun

For various reasons, I’ve always thought that it would be fun to Tweet the book of Philippians. I shared some of this madness with our church yesterday as I preached Philippians 4:10-20 in preparation for our week of vacation Bible school.


Here is what the text could look like, Tweeted.

v. 10 – I thought you had 4gotten me. Whew #justintime

V. 11– #igotthis#contentment #stateofmind

V. 12—I’ve had everything and I’ve had nothing and I know the #secret of both.

V. 13–#icandoallthings #Jesus #winners!

V. 14—You are awesome #generous

V. 15—I can’t believe no one else sent help to me at all – just you, you’ve always been there for me. #thankyou #MacedoniaMissionsTrip

V.16—@baptistchurchofThessaloniki are slackers! Sad.

V. 17–#gifted

V. 18–SHOUT OUT to @epaphroditusset

V. 19-Jesus has mad bank. #blessed

V. 20-#PTL Puts your hands up high!

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Jesus’ Preoccupation With Thievery

Sunday I preached about the eighth commandment from Exodus 20, and during that sermon I highlighted the following eight ways Jesus seems to be preoccupied with stealing.


  1. When Jesus cleared the Temple, he referred to it as having become a den for thieves. Yes, he was quoting Jeremiah, but he chose that particular scripture to quote (Mark 11:17).
  2. Jesus referred to the devil as a thief (John 10:10). Two verses earlier, he said all those who came before him were thieves and robbers.
  3. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus referred to the unknown timing of the end of all things as like knowing when a thief is coming at night (Matthew 24:43).
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said we should store up treasure in heaven where rust, moth, and thieves can’t get to it (Matthew 6:19).
  5. The Lord tells a weird parable about the need to tie up a strong man before you steal his stuff out of his house (Luke 11: 21-23).
  6. The parable of the Good Samaritan begins with the unfortunate traveler falling in among robbers as he goes down from Jericho (Luke 10:30).
  7. Judas was thief. Jesus knew this, but chose him anyway (John 12:6).
  8. The Lord was crucified between two thieves (Mark 15:27).

357110f18ce7fa5c52c33246b44ca58fThere are probably more of these thievery themes interwoven in the Gospels, but these are the eight I highlighted. I don’t know if I would build a theological argument from this data alone, and if so what that argument wold be, but I do think it is safe to say Jesus had a slight preoccupation with thievery, and that in and of itself is fascinating.

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The Gospel of Mark: A Translation

 

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I spent the winter and spring translating the Gospel of Mark from New Testament Greek to English.  Here are a few sample lines from the first six verses of Chapter 3.

  1. He went up again into the synagogue, where there was a man with a shriveled hand.
  2. They watched him closely in the synagogue, to see whether he would heal him, so that they might denounce him.
  3. He says to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand in the middle.”
  4. He says to them, “Is it legal to do good or to do bad on the Sabbath? To save a soul or to kill it?” They kept silent.
  5. He looked around with anger, having been saddened by their hard hearts. He says to the man, “Stick out the hand,” and he stuck it out. His hand had been restored again.
  6. The Pharisees and Herodians left immediately. They conspired about how they might destroy him.

 

If you’re interested, CLICK RIGHT HERE to download the whole document.

 

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Proverbs 4–The Forward Gaze

Proverbs 4:25 teaches us,

Let your eyes look directly forward,

and your gaze be straight before you.

Wisdom and righteousness are always forward looking. These twin attributes do not dwell on the past, for that leads to bitterness and regret. Right now is important, but only insofar as right now is the first movement toward the future. The future is just the present that hasn’t happened yet, and therefore, unlike the past, the future is something we can control and change. The present is a downpayment on the future.

The more I ponder it, the wise person doesn’t even dwell too much on the right now. True, wisdom learns to enjoy the moment, but we never have all the information we need right now. In the future we will have more information, and that is when we make more informed opinions and thoughts. The mind is always adjusting and changing with new data. The wise person will choose the future over the present. Fools, by contrast, throw the future away and only live in the moment. Wise people plan for the future, enjoy the present, and learn to let go of the past.

  1. Wise people prepare. Fool are never prepared.
  2. Wise people dream. Fools squander opportunities.
  3. Wise people watch trends to see where people and things are headed. Fools wish for yesteryear.
  4. Wise people keep options open. Fools shut doors.
  5. Wise people don’t burn bridges. Fools keep matches in their pockets.
  6. Wise people “might” burn boats. Fools are afraid of change.
  7. Wise people learn how to forget. Fools never learn how to move on.
  8. Wise people don’t hold grudges. Fools have scores to settle.
  9. Wise people don’t waste time on nostalgia. Fools build monuments to the glory days.
  10. Wisep people use the past (history) to inform the future, not to shape it. Fools use the past as a template for the future.

Don’t waste energy by dwelling on the past. The future is where the action is.

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Infinity War and Religious Symbolism and Language (Spoilers)

This is not a review of The Avengers Infinity War, Marvel’s latest superhero offering (notice the word I used there, how it is a religiously loaded word. That is how this blog post is gonna roll). However, there are spoilers below. Lots of spoilers. But before I get there, here is this one spoiler-free thought–Thanos is the best bad guy in a while, precisely because he thinks he is the good guy.

SPOILERS

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STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!

 

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So, notice the Crucifix-like post of Iron-Man? Also, remember where he was pierced in the film?

Good. You’ve been warned.

What this is, instead of a review, is a quick study of some of the religious themes in the movie. Superhero movies have always been religious tales, the most blatant is Superman, but Marvel is not afraid to engage in a little theology, too.

To that end, I ask you to consider the following observations. Keep in mind, I have only seen the movie once, so I likely missed some good things.

  1. Loki is the traitor who has remorse, but then dies by strangulation, very Judas-like.
  2. There are six infinity stones (gems), which perhaps symbolize the six days of creation. I would wager that somehow this gets solved in the next installment of Infinity War by the existence of a seventh infinity stone that can undo or set all things right–“one stone to rule them all” kind of thing? And of course, there is nothing biblical about the number 7 at all. Actually, the more I think about it, Infinity War is almost a mash-up of the book of Revelation.
  3. The portrayal of the ‘half the world is gone’ at he end, specifically the bonus scene of Nick Fury, could have been a scene from any “Left Behind” type film.
  4. Thanos mission is to ‘bring balance’ which he symbolizes with a blade. In religious speak, it is symbolized with the Yin-Yang of Taoism. Which is interesting, in that it casts this Eastern mystic idea as the problem. Hollywood usually casts mystic theologies as the good guys, so there is a definite zig and zag in that Yin and Yang.
  5. Three times (by my count) someone asks to be killed for the greater good. Loki and Thor, Gamora and Quill, then fatally with Scarlet Witch and Vision. Three end up dead, but not with the beneficial consequences they desired.
  6. Thanos, of course, is a derivation of the Greek Thanatos which is either death, or the personification of death. (note–my publisher’s name is Athanatos, which means, not dead). You know before this is over, Thanos will be defeated–(because they have made a Spiderman 2 and Guardians 3 etc… so these people have to come back) and thus a kind of fulfilling of “The last enemy to be defeated is death” which is an integral part of the gospel of Jesus–that he defeated death at the Resurrection. 

More predictions for the next installment: Captain Marvel is the obvious one–Gamora returns, but not Loki or Vision–Tony Stark and/or Captain America die for reals–and Phil Coulson returns to the big screen. 

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Heroes–Just In Time

This blog has a theme song–it is David Bowie’s “Heroes.”

Hero #1–The Southwest Airlines Pilot

Her name is Captain Tammie Jo Shults. I listened to the cockpit recording of her during the incident, when the engine blew up and tore a hole in the plane. Absolutely awesome. Can I get her to pilot all my flights?TAMMIE-JO-SHULTZ-SW-AIRLINES-PILOT-FORMER-NAVY-PILOT-NERVES-OF-STEEL

She was a fighter pilot in the Navy.

She has degrees in biology and agribusiness.

She goes to church, and is described as a, “Strong Christian lady”.

After the landing, she texted a friend, ‘God is good.’

I think she is emblematic of many heroes. In so many ways she was just doing her job, but she did it well, and in the crunch, she saved lives. Just like doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and so many other people do every single day. A big shout out to all of you!

Hero #2–The Guy At The Waffle House Who Took The Gun

His name is James Shaw, Jr. He wrested the AR-15 from the murderer before he could kill anyone else. “I decided he would have to work to kill me.” That is what he said. “I took it (the rifle) from him and threw it over the countertop.” Like. A. Boss.180422153400-james-shaw-jr-waffle-house-hero-large-169

He is a college graduate.

He has a four year old daughter.

He apparently likes waffles at 3AM.

He is a vegan who works as a wire-tech for AT&T.

He went to church later that morning.

Who knows how many lives he saved?

Hero #3–The kid Who Remembered The Sermon And Stood Strong

His name is Lawrence Wollek. He is in elementary school.

He listened to the sermon I preached on Sunday about the third commandment–not taking the name of the Lord in vain. Sunday night his parents, both his mother and his father, texted me to tell me that their neighbor was over that afternoon and his language got out of hand. That was when Lawrence told him he needs to watch it.IMG_0004

I love that kid.

It is not the same as landing a plane with one engine or wrestling away a firearm from a murderer, but in its own way, speaking truth to power is heroic. We need more people like Lawrence to gently remind people of truth.

 

Remember, the world is filled with heroes.

 

 

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Harry Potter — A Blog Post At Least A Decade Too Late

A friend of mine suggested I title this post, “Last one in.”

When the Harry Potter books came out, I was busy. Very busy. We had just moved to the Northwest and I was working nonstop, then I started my doctoral work. Everything I read in those days was either theology or churchy books. For the record, I still enjoy theology books, but I will never read another church how-to book for as long as I live.

But back to Harry Potter. I watched the movies as they came out, and enjoyed them with my family. Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts all read the books and often mocked and cajoled me for not reading them. When I did get time to read for pleasure, I thrust myself into other series and works. When my family or friends brought up Harry Potter, I always said something like, “Well, I’ve seen the movies, so I know how the story ends, so reading it would be a waste.”

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Well, I finally read them. Mostly just to appease my family, but I am glad I did. I enjoyed the books much more than the films, which is always the case. Having read them, I have some observations. Of course I do.


1. The theme of the books has to be something like “Adults and people of responsibility who don’t do what they should.” Seriously, no adult or person in a position of trust does their job. No one. It starts with Harry’s aunt and uncle. I don’t care what your prejudices are, those people are awful and fail to fulfill the responsibility of humanity. But how about every single government official in the magical ministry? Then there is Dumbledore. I know he is a hero/sage/mentor figure, but he is lousy at protecting people. And how about those teachers. Snape should be fired, but so too should just about every other teacher. No one is protecting the children. Hagrid is the best example. Never forget he sent the kids into the extremely dangerous Forbidden Forest time and time again, unsupervised, because he had something that needed doing. He cares not one wit about the fact the giant spiders will likely try to eat the children. A possible second theme might be-, “One generation’s failures threaten the next.”

2. I would never let my child attend Hogwarts.  Ever. It is dangerous and they really don’t learn anything. When do they take grammar classes? Science? Mathematics? Plus, this quidditch game is ridiculously dangerous. It makes concussions from football look like a game of tag.

BONUS OBSERVATION ABOUT HOGWARTS: The movies put too many students at the school. The way I read it, Hogwarts was a very small private school, where everyone would have know everybody, and the classes would not have been very large at all. Notice how there really aren’t that many teachers there. You don’t need that many teachers when there aren’t that many children. I’m thinking there are probably fewer than 175 students for the seven grades, which means there are an average of 25 students per year, and only about 40-45 students per house. It’s a pretty small school. So in the movie, when there are about 50 kids out there learning how to ride a broom, there probably should only be about 12.

3. Rowling is great at telling a story. This is a wonderful world she has created, and I am thankful to have experienced it. I don’t find it as intriguing as Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Narnia. Neither did it almost swallow my mind as did Stephen King’s Dark Tower world, but it is fun and enjoyable. I would put it above Asimov’s Foundation Series (but only because the last four books were much worse than the original trilogy). Rowling’s at her best with dialogue. She does a great job of creating realistic, meaningful speech between characters that move the plot along. She is also a true master of POV–Point of View. She demonstrates such discipline with the POV that the entire story, almost all of it, is told though Harry’s eyes. That is something to celebrate. The only real negative I have in her writing is the blatant adverb abuse. That woman will put “ly” on the end of anything quicker than Hermione can remind us you can’t apparate into Hogwarts.

Question: How bad does she abuse adverbs?

Answer: The Deathly Hallows.

4. The movies are fun, but they are the one rare case where I think the movies muddle the story rather than smooth it out. Most movies gloss over things to simplify, but I think these films actually take some things that are simple and makes them complex. For example, in the novels, the relationship between Harry and Voldemort is very clear and easily grasped. By contrast, in the movies, it is a muddled mess that is never quite explained. I think the reason for this comes from the movies missing the point. The books are quite clear, this is basically a coming of age story about Harry Potter the boy. The movies want this to be a morality tale of Good versus Evil in which Harry Potter is the key player, but the main point is good winning in the end. In the books, the focus is always Harry. In the movies, the focus is the struggle. At least, that is the way I read it.

5. Robes. We need to talk about robes. Forget the movies for a moment, because in the films the robes function more like school uniforms than a separate attire for an entire culture. I want to know, and Rowling never tells us, what is worn underneath a robe? Is anything? What kind of shoes did they wear? We know there are dress robes, and there is a traveling cloak, but are there coats? Insulation? I’d like some specs on this. I guarantee if this were a Tom Clancy novel there would be seventeen chapters dedicated to exactly how these robes worked, fabric type, factory of origin, and possible other uses.

6. Male/Female relationship are strained in this series. I don’t know if that is a motif, or if it flows from the author’s heart. The Weasleys are the only family portrayed on the page that seems to work as a married husband and wife. I assume all the teachers are single, I don’t think we’re ever told, and most of the wizards and witches we meet are likewise. The Malfoys are an exception, but it is an exception that moves the point, for the Malfoys are most decidedly not happy. There are two weddings in the novels–and one of those is tragic at every front while the other has a very definite negative flow to it, as no one likes Fleur. Snape was in love, obviously, but that was unrequited romance, and the adolescent never outgrew it. Of course we see Harry and Ginny pair up as did Ron and Hermione, but none of it feels like romance. It is far more about the pressures of being in a war. Or, does Rowling view love and romance as something only for teenagers? Things ring true even if you surmise that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a fling, which, is altogether possible and still proves the point that these witches and wizards just don’t do family very well.

7. Why does it seem like they care so much about who wins this house cup thing? I mean, for reals? Its not just the students, either. The teachers are all caught up in it. I don’t understand it at all. Is there a cash incentive for winning? Do your grades bump up? I can’t really buy that students would care that much.

8. Two words: Luna Lovegood. If I attended Hogwarts (and lived to tell the tale) I would have you know that Luna would have probably been my bestie. I’d had a subscription to her dad’s paper, and we would talk long and hard about all the different conspiracy theories. In fact, I would really like it if we could have a spinoff book about the grown up Luna and her adventures with the nargles. I recommend she look for them on the dark side of the moon, which is where they are hiding the secret base, anyway.

9. As a villain, Voldemort is a little too one dimensional. This is certainly true of his Death Eaters. Most baddies think they are good, which is one of the things that makes them so bad. They also usually have some sympathetic human characteristic–they love their mother, they are loyal to friends, create beautiful art, gives lavish gifts, or something. Voldemort has none–he is just 100% bad. He kills for sport, has no true affections, and is most assuredly insane, as are his closest allies. Given that level of insanity and evil, it is hard to believe he would have ever gathered any serious following.

10. Last observation. I don’t like the part of this world where magic is just something you’re born with or not. This was the part of the Star Wars universe I didn’t like, too. It gets worse, even among those who can do magic, there is a hierarchy based solely upon how powerful the magic is in you. No matter how much Neville studies, works, learns, or achieves he will never be as powerful a wizard as Harry Potter, who is quite the slacker at his studies, because Harry just has power in him. This worldview is elitist, and I have always rejected it. I don’t like any world where some people are just born better than others.

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The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

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My Unvarnished Opinion On Seven Current News Items

What an exciting time for news. There is more things happening than I can really keep up with, especially with Easter on the horizon. But that doesn’t keep me from having opinions. I’ve always got opinions.


1. As it pertains to “March For Our Lives” this weekend, I have three thoughts. Thought one–I am proud of those students who marched, and I hope they learn something about civics, citizenship, and democracy. Thought two–A nation that doesn’t listen to its children will miss a blessing, because our children can often see things we’e become too hardened to perceive. Thought Three–A people that let’s children dictate the terms of the argument or worse yet, govern by mob or sentiment, is a people that will not last much longer.

2. This “Cambridge Analytica” thing is really a giant nothing burger. Facebook was designed to do this exact thing–gather data and sell it. Why do you think Facebook is free to users? I don’t understand why anyone is shocked that Trump organization would have used this data in its campaigning. Now, if they shared this with Russians, or got the information from Russians, that would be different (although historically, that really isn’t that big of a deal either) but just using the information is something all campaigns have always done. Anyone who truly follows politics knows this.

3. I pastored in 90s. I remember Monica Lewinsky. I remember the media’s constant reporting on it. I remember downloading The Starr Report on the internet before the internet had learned to walk. It took something like six hours to download. Morality mattered then. It matters now. I don’t want the details, I just want us to hold our leaders to account for their actions.

4. I am very pleased with the Final Four. I predicted two of them–Kansas and Villanova. Gonzaga let me down, but there is nothing new there. I adore the mid-major being in the mix and even though I got Kansas winning it all, I wouldn’t be mad if those Catholics from Chicago won.

5. As predicted on this blog one week ago, President Trump is on a firing spree. I polled you, and 18% predicted correctly that it would be H. R. McMaster who got the boot. Good job, 18%. What no one saw coming was that POTUS would replace him with a warmongering nut job who has publicly advocated for the United States to attack Iran and North Korea, is unrepentant in his advocacy of the Iraq War, and in general doesn’t favor diplomacy at all. Also, note how Trump keeps hiring people who are talking heads on FOXNEWS. If Eric Bolling becomes the chief communications director or Sean Hannity is announced as the new Chief of Staff, I think we’ll be in real trouble.

6. Expelling diplomats from Russia is at least something, but it seems the wrong something. We need diplomats to talk to each other. That is how wars are avoided. When you get rid of diplomats, war becomes that much likelier. Perhaps some kind of economic sanction would have been better, or more of those ‘targeted’ sanctions used in the past. But considering this all started with the death of a Russian double-agent sitting on a park bench in London under the protection of MI-6, I think the best use of this story is as the plot for James Bond 25.

7. Once upon a time, Republicans were fiscal conservatives. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. President Trump dumped really bad protectionist trade tariff’s last week and then signed a ginormous spending bill that people have already forgotten about because of salacious news (see number 1, above). This is when the GOP has control of both houses of congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court, for that matter.

 

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Vote Early And Often–Who Gets Fired Next!

Vote in my highly unscientific poll. Which person will President Trump fire next?

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit, he is on quite a roll. Last week he fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then fired Andrew McCabe over at the FBI on Friday night, a mere twenty-six hours before his pension would have kicked in. Technically it was Jeff Sessions who did it, but everyone knows the order came from POTUS.

Now I’m wondering, who will he fire next? I predicted he would fire Jeff Sessions before July 4 LAST YEAR (click here to read that blog I wrote after Comey was fired). It might still be a safe bet he’ll be fired because, as I pointed out then, the first rule of an assassination is to kill the assassin. Sessions did the dirty work, now he’s got to go, too. As you vote, and for future clarity, remember a resignation counts here, because we all know those are ‘fall on your sword’ type things. For example, I suspect H. R. McMaster will not be fired, but will resign and that is the same, for our purposes here, as a termination.

So, vote below on who you think will get the axe next. Remember, you have to click on the “vote” button for it to go through, after that, you should be able to see how the voting is going.

 

 

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2018 Oscar Preview and Picks

I watched them all. All nine of them. Here is a brief, no spoiler review of each Best Picture nominee. Following that, I will predict some winners in the major categories. Then I will elaborate on some themes from this year’s movie selections. So, here here we go, in alphabetical order.


Best Picture Quick-Review

Call Me By Your Name

Pretentious. Snobbish. Boring. The only truly great part of this film was the acting done by Michael Stuhlbarg. I can’t get the thought out of my mind that this film is nominated solely because it is a homosexual love story. If it were a straight love story, with all the same elements, people would yawn. What is not a yawn, though, is the very disturbing ages involved–a grown man and a 17 year old boy. I’m pretty sure that is a crime.

Darkest Hour

This film has some great one liners, and the storytelling is superb. It is hard to take such a well known subject and historical figure as Winston Churchill and make it interesting, but this movie does just that. There are some bits that are ahistorical, but that doesn’t take away from the truly outstanding film this is.

Dunkirk

If like you lots of scenic panoramas, then this is your film. However, if you like a little dialogue, then maybe not so much. I bet the screenplay for this movie is no more than a page and a half.

Get Out

Of all the films, this one surprised the most in how much I enjoyed. It is equal part Rosemary’s Baby, The Village, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Lady Bird

If you like Juno, you’ll love this movie. Great acting. Witty dialogue. Religious overtones, both positive and negative, as well as that great classic mother/daughter angst.

Phantom Thread

Asparagus. Mushrooms. and Loud breakfast. That is all you need to know. The acting here is superb, but the story leaves me flat. The MC is interesting, but not interesting enough to make me care.

The Post

Great historical film, but I think it misses the mark in terms of greatness. It wants to be Spotlight for the Vietnam War. This is not Spotlight.

The Shape Of Water

Of all the movies nominated, this was the one I was most excited about. Boy, was I disappointed. I know lots of people love this film, but I just couldn’t. The acting is good (again, Michael Stuhlbarg steals the show) but I hated the overall story. And what is with the Parisian arthouse soundtrack to a 1960s era movie set on the East Coast? This movie ruined some of the sweet nostalgia I have for The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Three BillboardsOutside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a disturbing movie. Its s loud, profane, vulgar, and shocking. These elements combine in a powerful way to evoke deep emotions. It reminded me of the Coen Brothers.


Predictions

Best Picture

I predict Darkest Hour. Billboards has a punchers chance, and Get Out is a long shot.

Director

This is the toughest one for me to pick. It should probably go to Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, with would split the best picture and best director categories. The problem is, Jordan Peele did so much with so little in the movie Get Out that I really think I want him to win.

Leading Actor

If anyone besides Gary Oldman wins it is a travesty. I love Denzel Washington, but if he wins it is because the academy feels guilty for not picking him last year for his outstanding role in Fences.

Leading Actress

Frances McDormand in a landslide. If Saoirse Ronan won, though, I wouldn’t be mad.

Supporting Actor

Woody Harrelson. He and Rockwell could split the vote, but I think Harrelson has this. The biggest question is why is Willem Dafoe even on this list. The best acting in The Florida Project was Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and Bria Vinaite as Halley, who aren’t nominated for anything anywhere, which is a real shame.

Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf wins.

Animated Feature

Coco

Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049, although Dunkirk might sneak in there.


Themes

It is always interesting to me how the Oscar films tend to follow themes that might reveal a lot about culture and the times in which we live. This year is no different.

  1. The historical Dunkirk as the symbol of snatching hope in the moment of despair. This is the focal point of both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. I  feel like these are companion films that should be watched together.
  2. Elaborating on that theme, the overall feeling of ‘trapped’ comes to mind. That is true in Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, but also Get Out, The Shape Of Water, and even Call Me By Your Name if you get right down to it. One can even spot that theme in the movie Lady Bird and it shines brightly in The Florida Project and MudBound.
  3. Only two films are set in the present time–Billboards and Get Out. (Caveat, it is possible in mind that Get Out is actually set in the future, but that is a different discussion). As the world gets more complicated and technologically driven, the stories we tell go back to simpler times. This might be because telling a story in the era of technology is difficult. This is what some of the problem was with the Blade Runner reboot. Technology is not all that interesting, and it removes opportunity for narrative.
  4. Women are the future. Water, Billboards, The Post, and Lady Bird are female driven films. This is a very good thing. The next hurdle for Oscar will be women behind the camera getting serious consideration for directing.

You know I’ll be watching the Oscars Sunday night. I guess we will wait and see who wins and how right or wrong I was. I still have not forgiven Oscar for Birdman, so disappointments are possible.

 

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5 Things I Love About Billy Graham: In Memoriam

c93b53ad616e615faf39c2a908de98fd--billy-graham-quotes-travelingThere is a lot to love about Billy Graham. Learning of his death today at the age of 99 is bittersweet. Bitter because it represents the end of something special, but sweet because it is the actual beginning of something else–something Billy talked about so often–eternal life. I’m a little younger than those who were very influenced by Graham, for by the time I came into the ministry his primary years were already behind him. Nevertheless, he still had an impact on me as a believer and as a pastor. To be sure, he wasn’t perfect–only Jesus has that wrapped up, but he was a positive and powerful influence in the world. Here are five things I love about him.


1. I love the Billy Graham Rule. In a world filled with #metoo, we need to remember Graham was way ahead of the curve here. He pioneered the idea of never being alone with a woman who wasn’t your wife. I was taught this in seminary as the Billy Graham model, and it has served me well. A corollary to this involved the establishment of a board to handle money and make salary decisions. Graham taught us that staying away from temptation on the two fronts where men and ministers are most vulnerable is good ethics.

2. I love the way he adopted whatever media worked. We often think off I’m with the big crusades, but he used television, radio, leaflets, tracks, and even films. I am sure many of us remember watching those evangelistic movies from the BGEA. I am certain that if Graham were hitting his stride today, he’d be tearing it up on Twitter and Youtube. Scratch that, he’d be all over #thesnapchatofdecision.

3. I love his book on angels. I don’t really agree with everything he writes in it, but I love that he took the time, did the work, and wrote a theological treatise. It demonstrates to me that even though his gospel ministry was really the same message over and over again, he had a heart for academic pursuits and biblical knowledge.

4. I love that he helped found the magazine Christianity Today. CT is one of my favorite magazines.

5. I love his commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than a commitment to politics, denominations, or particular churches. To be truthful, there were times when it seems like the power of politics, particularly during the Nixon years, threatened to sweep him away like yet another fad. Yet, to his credit, he chucked all that and turned back again toward his first love. He got burned, but learned his lesson.

Rest in Peace Billy. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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Some Words About Gun Violence

I’ve waited, using the time to think, before writing about gun violence. Again. I am not so arrogant as to think my words could change anything, nor do I wish to persuade anyone of my positions. I even hesitate to write at all. I waffle from anger, to cynicism, to hope and then at some point I worry this kind of news will no longer shock me.

As I wrestle with it, I’ve tried to focus on what is true in all of this. We live in a time when truth is under attack from every front, so it is better to work from truth rather than from cliche or assumptions. Here goes my attempt, and then I will give some analysis. But before I share the truths I’ve come to accept on this issue, I need to remind you that multiple things can be true at the same time, and those truths aren’t necessary always in harmony with each other or with a particular worldview.

The first truth, a big picture truth, is that an unarmed populace is a vulnerable populace. Specifically, it is vulnerable to tyranny. Whatever else our founding framers might have envisioned when they crafted the Constitution, keeping people armed in case of an outbreak of tyranny was certainly on their mind, especially given the fact of the Revolutionary War they’d just fought. The first thing a tyrant seeks to do is take away the populations defense mechanisms.

The second truth is that guns have always been regulated in our nation. Always. Most cities and towns in the past had very strict gun control laws, such as no one could have a gun on them in the city limits. These types of restrictions were very common throughout our history.

The third truth is liberty and security do not play well with each other. The more secure you make something, by definition, you restrict its liberty. A well educated, rational society that cares about both liberty and security will learn to find the balance between these two in order to create the best possible outcome for the majority of people.

The fourth truth is a society has an obligation to its children to protect them until they reach adulthood.

The fifth truth is that decisions made out of fear are never good decisions. Our nation is afraid right now. I see it on the faces of people at church, at work, in the supermarket, at the movie theater–everywhere I go. People who are afraid are often not thinking properly, which makes them susceptible to bad ideas or demagoguery.

The sixth truth is though they are alike in kind, there is a difference between the random killings we’ve seen at schools and churches and the traditional gun violence demonstrated in urban environments or domestic violence. Do not misread me, those are horrible problems and need to be addressed as well, but they are different problems than what we saw in Parkland, Florida last week.

Here is the last truth, the seventh truth, I’ve come to. We don’t have a gun problem. We don’t have a mental health problem. We don’t have a teenage problem. What we have is much more specific than this–we have a young, white, male with mental health issues who has access to guns problem.


Now, for a little, but not much, analysis.

  1. One possible solution would be to think about schools and education differently. Maybe large schools with a high concentration of students is the wrong way to go. Perhaps some of the mental health issue is caused by the attempt to raise our children in large, massive industrial-styled complexes with hundreds or thousands of students as if they were a product being made. Maybe we need to decentralize, create smaller, more intimate learning spaces where children can’t fall through cracks.
  2. Banning particular kinds of weapons is not a viable solution. The solution would be more akin to restricting, or banning, certain types of people from having firearms. Most Americans, myself included, have no problem whatsoever with a sane, well-adjusted soul owning a weapon. But I think, given the recent issues, we need to put the onus on the individual to prove sanity and stability. This would require far more than a background check. Bonus thought–if people are serious, they will not restrict weapons at all, but instead restrict, limit, regulate, and record the purchase and sale of ammunition. A gun without bullets is just a heavy stick.
  3. Look at the venues where these tragedies occur–schools, churches, concerts, movie theaters, and night clubs. If we turn these places into fortresses complete with armed guards, razor wire fences, metal detectors, and staff (think kindergarten teachers, theater ticket takers, pastors, bartenders) who are armed, then liberty has not only diminished, it is dying. It will also kill these institutions. The movie theater experience will die, as well as congregational worship as we know it, along with schools. Parents will pull their kids out, and thus the public school will fade away. I just don’t think the answer to these issues is more security, because that poses greater issues and takes us down the slope toward a police state–where everyone is secure, but liberty is a myth. I have already witnessed the loss of too much liberty in my lifetime. I don’t want to see us lose any more.
  4. I have argued in the past, and still believe, that the mental health issue emerging in young boys as random violence is actually a larger problem. The problem presents itself differently in other demographics, but has the same causes. I say causes because there is no one cause, but I do believe there is one basic solution. The causes are manifold and include but are not limited to–fatalism, despair, glorification of violence, dissolution of home life, the teaching of Darwinism, and propserity. The solution, though, is singular. As a believer in Christ Jesus, all of this points to the need for spiritual renewal. Our society is broken, because we have neglected our soul.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Good people can disagree on issues, and you might be in a different camp on some of this, and that is okay. Whatever we do, it is imperative that we learn to listen to one another and realize that we are all on the same team, because none of us want what happened in Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, Miami, Las Vegas  . . . and sadly so many other places, to happen ever again.

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6 Things You Might Not Agree With

Lots of stuff going on around here. Tonight is Cajun food night at our church meal, and I got nothing, so I’m just gonna go get tacos from Taco Bell. I know, it is the lowest form of food, but I figure they have Taco Bell in Louisiana, too.

But here are some things that are on my mind, and I need to get them out. I recognize you will probably not agree with some of them, which is fine. Maybe It will stimulate some thinking.


1. President Trump is right to question why good financial news, like more people working and higher wages, causes the stock market to go down. Probably points to the reality that Wall Street and Main Street have two completely different sets of priorities.

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2. As a Seahawks fan, it is extremely rewarding that the man who cost us a Super Bowl victory also cost the Patriots a Super Bowl victory to a team wearing green. Thanks, Malcolm Butler.

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Seeing this picture still stings.

3. Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 107, if my math is right. It made me a little nostalgic to remember a time when conservative Republican presidents advocated for walls to be torn down, not built.

4. I have an almost uncontrollable desire to buy a red Tesla Roadster. Watching that launch was amazing, and really made me miss when NASA use to do great things.

5. I’m watching a lot of Oscar movies right now, which means I’m eating a lot of popcorn. I will blog about them all when I’ve seen all the best pic nominees, but for now I will tell you that The Shape Of Water was a terrible disappointment. I mean, it was almost unwatchable at times, but it did make me miss The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

6. I’m preaching about the Holy Spirit right now, and finish the series up on Sunday. I think the smartest thing I’ve said in a very long time is something I tried to point out this past Sunday.

The reason we have so many different churches and kinds of churches is a strength, not a weakness. The Holy Spirit takes pleasure in diversity, and this diversity makes it possible for there to be a spiritual home for all different kinds of people.

 

Okay, that’s all I got for now.

Update, while writing this, I decided to go with KFC and a bucket of chicken. Everyone loves chicken, right?

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Orphans in Uganda

The last month has been very hard on our friends in Jinga, Uganda.

Pastor Dominic and Rachael Achen run the Tender Love Care Orphanage there. They feed, care, and teach. Many of the children were orphaned because parents died of diseases, violence, or were simply abandoned in the streets. Dominic and Rachael responded, opening up their lives. They have thirty children that they care for. Thirty! And they do this work pretty much by themselves.

Thirty!

To add to the normal stresses of this work, in the last month:

  1. Someone has tried to rob the orphanage.
  2. Their water has been turned off.
  3. Their electricity has been turned off.
  4. The orphanage is four months behind on rent, and the landlord is threatening eviction.
  5. The school year started up, and that means tuition and expenses for all those kids.

Here is the good part. Dominic met the guy who tried to steal from them, and forgave him, and shared the love of Christ. The man repented and gave his heart to Jesus. How cool is that? Also, the funding for the kids to start school for the first term has been met. There will be a big need in July for funding for the second term, but for now the need is covered.

However, just feeding these children is expensive. One can only imagine the struggles just to make ends meet in this environment. Mrs. Greenbean and I started a GoFundMe for them, which makes it easy for you to help out. Please consider giving–every little bit helps. Click HERE for the link.

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I don’t post things like this often, and it is certainly not intended to guilt anyone. If you want to help, this is how you can do it. If you don’t, that is fine, too. I know that you all have many things you help out with and contribute to, and sometimes it is overwhelming. But if you can, and you want to, I can think of no more noble way to be a blessing than by making sure the lights stay on, the water runs, and thirty orphans are fed. Dominic and Rachael need to know they are not alone–we stand with them.


Below I’ve posted a scan of some of the letters they sent us at Christmas. They call my wife “Momma Kim”, which she loves. One of the letters called me “Aunt Jamie.” I don’t know what that was all about, but . . .

 

 

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Vegetable Soup

Over the winter I’ve been perfecting this vegetable soup recipe for our #meatlessmondays.

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This is an actual picture of this vegetable soup that I made all by myself.

Start with half a red onion and four celery ribs. chop them very small. Heat them in the bottom of your soup pot with a splash or two of olive oil. I generally use my large dutch oven. Throw in a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. If you want, you can dash a bit of Tabasco sauce. I also add a dash or two of garlic powder. I don’t find that fresh garlic works well in this recipe, because it doesn’t always blend as easily. Many vegetable soup recipes will call for thyme and oregano as well, but I don’t like them with this soup. The flavor comes from the ingredients here, not the spices. You’ll want the fire up on high at this point.

So to summarize the base: olive oil, red onion, celery, salt, pepper, garlic and if you want a little Tabasco for punch.

Once that sweats out well,  reduce the heat on your stovetop burner to low. Start adding other delicious chopped veggies. I have found the more the merrier. There are three I always use are tomatoes, broccoli, and cabbage. The tomatoes I use are stewed frozen tomatoes from my mom and dad’s garden. However, any canned tomatoes would work. I wouldn’t use fresh ones. I have put as many as six different veggies in if I have them. This is a great recipe for clearing out fresh veggies that are on the downward path toward rotting in the crisper. Other good veggies to add are green beans, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms, and cauliflower. All of them are delish. Here is some advice, though. Stay away from potatoes and corn. These things always end up as filler in these kinds of soups, but this is not a chowder. Corn brings an unsavory sweetness and potatoes bulk it up too much. Stick with the skinny fresh veggies.

Once those are in the pot, add enough broth to thicken, but not enough to cover it. Right now we just want to cook up the veggies with a little more direct heat. Bring the pot to a simmer, and let simmer for about three to five minutes. take out the toughest veggie at three minutes and see how done it is. If you are using carrots, those are a good tester. Broccoli can be tough too, so that is a good bellwether for how ready the veggies are. What we are looking for is soft enough to bite but still a little firm. Once they get to this point, add enough broth to cover the veggies completely.

Throw in a bay leaf or two. Let simmer about ten minutes, stirring three or four times. Taste the soup to see if it needs more salt or pepper or garlic. This is completely subjective.

A big question here is what kind of broth. To keep this recipe truly meatless and vegan, you’ll need to use vegetable broth. However, chicken broth brings this soup to an exceptional level of flavor. You can’t lose either way, though, unless you use water. DON’T USE WATER OR BOUILLON CUBES. Can you hear me shout that? The only water you should use in this recipe is to wash the veggies when you clean them.

For best results, after simmering the soup for ten minutes, let it set for about an hour. The next day it will taste even better. That’s just the nature of all soup and chili type foods. After an hour, it might still be hot enough, but if you need to raise the temperature.

If I am in a particularly enjoyable mood, I will use that rest time of an hour to make homemade croutons to serve with the soup. This is simple. Just take a loaf of French or garlic bread. Cut it up into blocks (whatever size you want your croutons). Splash them with olive oil, salt, and garlic then bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about ten minutes, or until they have that nice golden color.

Put the croutons in the bottom of your bowl and label the soup over them. Top with Parmesan cheese if that is your jam. Enjoy.

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Five Questions–The Last Jedi

 

SPOILERS

SPOILERS FOLLOW

STOP NOW UNLESS YOU’RE OKAY WITH SPOILERS

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET–STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This isn’t a review of The Last Jedi. However, I’ll take two lines right here–I really loved the movie and thought it was the best since Empire Strikes Back. I love jaded, cynical, 2017 Luke Skywalker as much as I loved whiney, entitled 1979-83 Luke Skywalker. He has always been hyper-emotional and in this film we see the other pole.

But enough with the review. What I write here are five questions the movie leaves me with. This is not intended in a negative way, because good books and films always stoke the imagination and bring the consumer in so he or she can ponder the story. But here are my questions.

  1. Is Snoke a MacGuffin? It’s actually okay with me if he is–if the makers of the film just did an “insert mysterious bad guy here” and he is only useful in this moment. But is there more? Are we being set up to think of him as only a plot foil and then we get the sucker punch later? I want there to be more, but I suspect Snoke was never intended to be a major plot point. This story is all about Kylo and Rey. So for now I’m going with Snoke as MacGuffin.
  2. Is The Resistance really this small? I can’t tell after a first viewing. Are we supposed to believe this is all there is to it or is it a fragment that has been cornered?  This matters to me, because if this is all there is, then my feelings somewhat change. Perhaps the galaxy wants an authoritative government that suppresses liberty. It is something to consider.
  3. What is it with Luke Skywalker and milk? Is that the key to midichlorians?
  4. Is that the last word on Rey’s parents? I am still enamored with Rey’s true identity. I know many people think the issue is settled. That might be so. It is a major moment in the movie when it seems like she and Kylo come to the agreement that her parents were nobodies. Part of me likes this, because I never really jammed on the elitist/birth blessing of Jedi skills. That always seemed just a little too much like nobility and royalty; and those are two things I despise. The flip though is what if this is a deception. Work with me–The Last Jedi parallels ESB in so many ways. In ESB Darth Vader tells a truth to Luke about his parentage, which Obi-Wan later talks about as looking at it from a, “certain point of view.” What if a different point of view paints the picture of Rey’s parents differently. The reason I say this is because I still believe Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter or niece or somehow related.
  5. Is Rey a Jedi? This question, put a little differently, could read, “Does training matter at all for Jedi?” Because if she is a Jedi, she has zero training. Luke got more training from Obi-Wan in the lounge of the Millennium Falcon in the original Star Wars film than Rey has received. So is she a Jedi?

 

Predictions for the next one: Rey goes back to that island and steals Luke Skywalker’s green lightsaber. Obi-Wan Kenobi will force ghost visit Rey. If there is any justice in the galaxy, Chewbacca will be the one to kill Kylo–choking the life right out of him with his furry dexterous hands. There is another Solo kid–the one we all loved from the EU–and he will join with Rey to rebuild the order (note–Rey is playing the role of Jaina in this tale, so we need the third one to show up somehow for the story to make sense: IMHO).

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A Prayer For My Youngest Daughter On Her Eighteenth Birthday

I have two children–daughters. Today is my youngest’s 18th birthday. This thought is more than I can completely comprehend. She was born in the shadow of a new millennium in a place far-away from the land of my fathers. Where has the time gone? It seems like only yesterday I teased about naming her “Y2K”, but instead I chose to name her after a deacon in the Bible. This is my prayer for Phoebe. 

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Phoebe Greening, My Baby Girl

Dear Lord, first I want to give you thanks for Phoebe’s presence in the world and in our lives. To say she is unique would be an understatement–and I thank you for that. Her physical beauty is only eclipsed by her wit, charm, maturity, and intelligence. I thank you that she is bright, conversational, and likable. These are characteristics that make sharing life with her so enjoyable. I thank you for the confidence she feels in her bones–and I likewise thank you for the humility easily visible in her heart.

One of her attributes, Lord, is that she is a hard worker. She throws herself into tasks, sometimes to the point of obsession. I pray two specific things about this. First, use this for good by giving her the wisdom and discernment to choose wisely what to throw her effort into. Guard her from the mistake of giving her heart and efforts to people and projects unworthy of her devotion. The second thing I pray is that she learn to temper this passion for work with a healthy balance of rest, enjoyment, and pleasure. She has it in her to over-focus on the task and neglect what really matters. Keep her from that temptation.

I pray she achieves her many goals. She has a preferred college and I ask that you show her favor with the admissions process. She has dreams of being a diplomat. Let her, let her do that work and use her to bring peace in at least some parts of the world. She wants to get married someday, and I ask that you begin to prepare that young man for her. I ask that he be a kind, generous, nurturing man who loves you and who will love her, support her, and give her the space to be the woman she yearns to be. She wants to have at least one child–I pray that you let her. Let her have a boy or girl, and more if that is your plan. I further pray her children be as big a blessing to her as my daughters have been to their parents.

As she transitions from childhood to adulthood, I ask four things:

  1. Give her a heart for purity.
  2. Lead her in an unwavering commitment to truth.
  3. Surround her with good friends who will love her.
  4. Put good leaders–teachers, supervisors, mentors–around her that will challenge and instruct her with wisdom.

The world she lives in is so very different than the one I became an adult in. Lord, I ask that you protect her from the evil hand of terrorism and the hatred of war. Give her understanding to not become entrenched in the ugly pettiness of divisiveness inherent in today’s public discourse. May she never know  poverty. I ask that her health be good. Protect her from temptations of drugs, addictions, and easy solutions to complicated problems. May her wine vats always be filled with the best vintage. May her cattle multiply on every hillside. May the oil of peace and blessing flow freely upon her head. When hard times do come, as they always do, show her how to let integrity be her guide, faith be her comfort, and your presence be her bedrock.

Teach her when she should stay and fight for what she believes in.

Teach her when she should run as fast as she can from a toxic situation.

Teach her when to ask for help or counsel from others.

Teach her when to stand alone or reject the folly of others.

Almighty God, the four of us have always been tight-knit and close. I am so grateful that there are no barriers among any of us, and that my children love each other and like each other. I can see in their eyes and the way they interact, that even though they are both so different from one another, they are the best of friends. I pray that remain, but in a grown-up way as we all transition. It is hard for me and my wife to let them go into the big world. My desire is to always protect, always provide, always be present. But that is not the way you made us. You made us to grow up and leave home and make our own way in the world, yet having the reliable connections to family as a safe and nurturing support. Help me to make that leap–the leap of walking beside her as an ally and not in front of her or over her as if I were a ruler. She doesn’t need me to carry her any longer. She needs me to watch as she walks on her own. She doesn’t need me to drag her down the right path, she needs me to be ready to explain to her where the different paths lead and how she will have to live with her choices. Help me do that, Lord. I’m not very good at it.

You know the good I want in her life because I love her, and I have loved her long before she was ever in the womb. Yet you have loved her from before the foundations of the world. Therefore, in all I ask, I submit to your divine will and plan–and I make it my ultimate prayer for her–that she will commit herself to you throughout life, follow your will and ways, and be used by you for you purposes.

I ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the knowledge the Father loves all of his children. Amen.

 

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My Thoughts On A Theoretical Presidential Knife Fight

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Some ideas are good.

Some ideas are bad.

And some ideas are completely genius.

I found one of those tonight thanks to my friend Joe Shaw. He posted a blog post link on his Facebook page. The blog was written by Geoff Micks who I think calls his blog faceintheblue. The link to the blog post is RIGHT HERE CLICK ON THIS NOW and you all should go read the blog, in its entirety, from start to finish and then share it. Don’t want to read the blog–check out this video below, but I warn you, the blog post is gold. Pure. Gold.

Apparently this has been around for a while. There is even a card game. How is it I am just now discovering this over the Christmas holiday?

Here is the premise: All forty five U.S. Presidents are locked in a Thunderdome or Roman Coliseum type arena and must fight with a knife to the death. Who walks out? In the end, there can be only one.

I want to see this made into a movie. Of course we’d have to enlarge it to a Hunger Games type competition, or maybe it is the theme for a one-off Fantasy Island feature film.

Who do you got? Here is some of my thoughts.


The Favorites

The first reaction is to start picking up military folks for favorites. The problem is, before Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump, all presidents had military experience of some sort. That being said, some stand out, and that makes this a bit easier.

  1. George Washington–He was a ruthless warrior who executed a plan for survival with brutal efficiency and without mercy.
  2. Andrew Jackson–the writer of the article rightly said he’d have the highest kill count. He loved killing people, and his first victim would be Barack Obama, because Jackson was as big a racist white supremacist as you could imagine.
  3. Teddy Roosevelt–he would use his cousin in an alliance, and then shove FDR’s cigarette holder down his throat with one hand while sticking his knife into Polk’s kidneys.
  4. Abraham Lincoln–Lincoln would last a while, but his great weakness is that at some point he’d stand up and ask if people couldn’t put down their knives and appeal to their better angels. That is the moment LBJ would stab him in he back.
  5. George W. Bush (43)–I know you might not think this likely, but 43 has Jedi reflexes when it comes to dodging things, like a shoe thrown at him by an Iraqi reporter. He also runs, so, like the movie Zombieland, cardio is gonna be big in this.

 

The First Outs

Most of the presidents from the 19th and early 20th century were overweight and slothful. All of those, most of these people whose names you don’t know, would be gone quickly, like Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Chester A. Arthur. Aside from this group en masse, there are some notable names who will fall quickly.

  1. Barack Obama would be gone before the first minute. Whatever else you might think of him, and this is not a political statement, but he wasn’t rugged by any means. And I think it would be Andrew Jackson who kills him.
  2. Richard Nixon, and it would be Gerald Ford who did it because he’d be looking for the slimy fellow.
  3. Woodrow Wilson, like Obama, was far too academic to survive this environment.
  4. Trump would be gone very quickly.
  5. Thomas Jefferson’s brilliance and poetics would not be much use here, plus John Adams would be looking for him.
  6. U.S. Grant would go quickly because one must be sober to fight. Usually.

 

Alliances

There would be alliances, of course, that form to get through the initial melee.

  1. The Bush boys would ally, and they might drag Reagan in too. It is not hard to imagine George Washington finding a natural affinity here, as well.
  2. The two Roosevelts would do well together. They would probably have LBJ on their team.
  3. The two Adam’s boys would team up. I think they might draft Eisenhower into their lot.

 

Underdogs

I don’t figure these people to do particularly great, but they might have a fighting chance.

  1. Franklin Pearce–He was very tough man.
  2. Jimmy Carter–Read the original blog post on this. Just read it and tell me you don’t think he’d be capable of hanging in there. Plus, Carter was a Southern Baptist, which means he is filled with Klingon guile.
  3. John Kennedy–his health was famously awful, and his moral character was almost non-existent, but there was a gritty toughness to him. The man who didn’t blink at the thought of WWIII over Cuba and Berlin probably has a good chance of walking over the dead bodies of Bill Clinton, Millard Fillmore, and Calvin Coolidge.
  4. Andrew Johnson–not Jackson and not Lyndon, but Andrew Johnson. This child of the South who could never fill Lincoln’s shoes might have enough pent up frustration to go a while.

 

And the Winner Is?

I think it comes down to George W. Bush (43) and Andrew Jackson. In the end, Jackson will be wild-eyed and crazed, but spent. Bush’s extended cardio regiment and zen-like connection to paint brushes, not to mention that Dick Cheney’s voice is in his head, will be the difference.

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Predictions for 2018

I am no prophet. I have a hard time predicting what Mrs. Greenbean will want for dinner, much less long term trends. This deficiency doesn’t keep me from trying, though. I just went and looked at 2017’s predictions, and I was almost 50% accurate–and I completely nailed the entertainment predictions, particularly the decline in football ratings. Sadly, 2016 saw me only get 20%, and 30% in 2015, and even more dismal in 2014 with only one prediction really happening. However, in that year, I predicted a Facebook scandal–which actually happened in 2017. Maybe I was just early?

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I try to mix up the predictions in various areas of life–entertainment, politics, business, science, religion, and faith so I’m all over the place. Anyway, here goes my predictions for 2018.

10. The Houston Astros will repeat as World Series Champions.

9. A White-Supremacist will do something so horrible it will make Charlottesville look pale and insignificant.

8. Some big secret will be revealed at NASA—not like aliens or anything, but it will be something like we’ve already been to Mars in a covert plan, or the Columbia space shuttle explosion wasn’t an accident. Something scandalous or controversial.

7. The implementation of new internet regulations (net neutrality) will be a shot in the arm to traditional cable and television corporations, temporarily stabilizing a dying industry.

6.  The Republicans will lose heavily to Democrats in the 2018 elections, losing at least one chamber of congress.

5. Subscriptions to self-driving car services will be big Christmas presents.

4. Theresa May will be booted out as British leader in the midst of an ugly undoing of the Brexit vote.

3. The economy will continue to cook under conservative policies.

2. Two or three major mega-churches will close their doors, beginning the coming wave of emphasis upon small, neighborhood, community churches.

1. Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election will not produce any incriminating evidence against President Trump, and then POTUS will pardon everyone who received indictments, particularly Michael Flynn.

 

BONUS PREDICTIONS–This year will be an unseasonably cold winter and spring, POTUS will drop an F-Bomb in major speech (State of the Union?), Eli Manning will be the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, and Wal-Mart will be bought by Amazon.