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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

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 this 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.

Coming into work this morning I heard on NPR about a “March Madness” bracket for choosing the top political stories of 2017.

Obviously, I was interested–two things I really enjoy. The whole thing is on twitter at the account of the NPR political guy @DomenicoNPR (click here for a link to the NPR page)  .

I had wayyyyyy too much fun playing with this. There were so many stories, and all of them were important. I was careful to make selections which emphasized the immediate political impact of 2017, and not the long-term policy impact. An example of this thinking is the appointment and seating of Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice. I think this will have huge implications for the future, but politically, right now, it is not that earth shattering. Yet.

I was also careful to not let my personal opinion sway the pick. I was only thinking about the political impact of the issue. An example of this is I have Doug Jones win in Alabama higher than net neutrality, yet in my personal opinion net neutrality and the travesty that has happened by giving the internet corporations free reign to control access is a much bigger deal. Yet, it is not that politically hot except to a few well-informed special interest folks.

My Final Four has two number one seeds, Trump’s Inauguration and Sexual Harassment along with two number two seeds, Charlottesville and the Tax Overhaul. The Finals are Sexual Harassment and Charlottesville, with Sexual Harassment winning it in a buzzer beater.

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In Memoriam: My Dad

My father would have loved his funeral.

The service was about twenty five minutes–a simple graveside. All of his living children were there, as were all his living siblings. Many friends and family from his present and his past were there. When the service was over, we all stood around for over an hour talking, laughing, telling stories. Dad would have told the most stories, done the most laughing, and enjoyed the talking.

He would have loved three specific things about his funeral.

  1. He would have loved that it had rained the night before, and we were basically standing in a big bog of East Texas red dirt.
  2. He would have really loved the picture my sister chose for the program handout. It was perfect. I love that it was from when he was in his mid forties–about halfway through life. (Editors Note: That is the present age of Greenbean right now, and he
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    This was him on a trip in Colorado, circa 1974. 

    looks nowhere near as cool and awesome as his father did at that age.)

  3. He would have loved that we buried him in Nacogdoches. Most of the stories I heard about took place there in that area north of Nacogdoches—Timpson, Tenaha, Appleby, Garrison, and Pisgah (which the Greenings all pronounce Piss-Key).

I would not be who I am were it not for him. This is true of all of us–for good of or for bad our parents are an important part of our formations. Jack Greening was not a complicated human being, nor was he perfect. But he was smart, and he lived life by a kind of ethical code that, at its baseline, could be summed up in two ideas.

  1. The only true virtue is hard work.
  2. Leave well enough alone.

I could go one and on about his methodology. One example will do.

Me: Dad, how tight should I tighten this bolt?

Dad: As tight as it will go.

Me: Okay.

Dad: And then one more half-turn for good measure.

There was almost nothing he could’t do. He left school at 9th grade to work and help with the family after his mother died, nevertheless, my father could do complex mathematical calculations in his head as fast as any machine or computer. Seriously. I’ve seen him do it. He only had two fingers on his right hand, yet his penmanship was elegant and beautiful, like a scribe of ancient lore. He was a hard man, but little children melted his heart. He could make you smile and laugh one moment, and the next infuriate you to the boiling point.

Five fun facts about my father:

  1. He saw a UFO in Arkansas once. This experience later led him to murder a mylar Smurfette ballon that landed in his pea patch, thinking it was an invader.
  2. He could call owls from a large distance, and converse with them.
  3. To avoid paying an electrician, he rigged a system of extension cords in our home to provide power from one side to the other. This system lasted over two years.
  4. In the forty-five years of my lifetime, I’ve never known him to change the oil in a car or truck. He just runs them until they die. This is why we never had reliable transportation.
  5. When he was a long-haul truck driver, and I was a very little boy, he would always buy me a Moon Pie and RC Cola in the lounge when we’d go pick him up from a long trip.

There is one thing, though, that is special and unique to me. Of all his other children, and all his other relationships, there is this one thing. Jack Greening is not my biological father. he met my mother when I was two months old. They married a week before my one year birthday. I was raised in his home as a young child, but I was not his son.

That changed when I was twelve yeas old, and had reached a sort of legal moment when I could make a choice. I chose to be his son, and he chose to be my father, and he adopted me, thus I became his son, his only son. He chose me knowing full well who I was, where I came from, all my baggage, and the quirks and peculiarities about me as a human being. He chose to be my dad. He didn’t have to, and no one would have thought anything untoward about it if he hadn’t. But he did. All the years growing up, before the adoption and after it, he never treated me as other or different. He treated me exactly as he would have treated any son.

I tell you honestly this experience has always shaped my understanding of the biblical usage of adoption–that we are adopted children of God. Jesus is the firstborn, but we, through faith in him, choose to have God as our special father, and he likewise chooses to have us as his children.

I tried to explain this to my father one day. He didn’t quite understand it, but not because he was stupid, but because he couldn’t perceive that it could be any other way. I’ve often hung my hat on this, for my father was not a spiritual man, but maybe he was able to intuit some of the things of God in a way differently than the rest of us. Maybe that was the farmer in him. Folks who work the dirt tend to view the universe differently than other people.

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Dad’s living siblings–from left to right: Aunt Marguerite, Uncle Homer, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Donald, Aunt Mary. He was preceded in death by his brothers Bobby, Gary, and sister Sadie.
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This is me and my three living sisters: from left to right–Paula, Becky, and Jill. Our older sister Reecie died in 2011. 
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These are the cousins on the Greening side
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Some of the grandchildren–The girls are my daughters, Phoebe and Belle

 

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Fifteen Questions for Senator Al Franken

 

This is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. It is not a celebrity issue. It is not a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue. It is men who have the problem.

  1. Have you always thought objectifying women was funny?
  2. How far will you go to get a laugh?
  3. Does the word ‘hypocrisy’ mean anything to you?
  4. How exactly does one recommend that they themselves be investigated?
  5. Can you see how your first attempt at an apology really was no apology at all?
  6. Can you see how your second apology feels a little disingenuous?
  7. If pictures like this were about Ted Cruz–who you’ve admitted to despising–would you call for his resignation?
  8. Do you think saying, “I’m sorry” after being caught makes the whole issue go away?
  9. Who else, sir, have you treated like that when there weren’t cameras around?
  10. Do you think being a liberal gives you a free pass?
  11. Will you call on congress to release details of the $15 million in payouts to ‘workplace discrimination’ on Capitol Hill?
  12. Have you realized yet that you have lost all credibility on almost any issue that might come up?
  13. Can you understand that a person can be forgiven for their actions, but still be unqualified for positions of leadership?
  14. Have you considered resigning your seat, and then running again to see exactly how the voters in Minnesota feel about your actions?
  15. How does it feel to have created yet another #metoo ?
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Fifteen Questions For Alabama Voters

 

I find that questions often help me, and others, come to a form of clarity on a subject. This started out as five questions, but became ten, and then morphed into fifteen. Go figure.

  1. Do you understand that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a legal concept applicable to crimes and not about suitability to be a U.S. Senator?
  2. How many women, with credible stories, would it take to convince you?
  3. How young is too young for a thirty-two year old man to chase?
  4. Has it occurred to you that some people engage in behavior that is wrong, but they don’t think it is wrong and this gives them the appearance of innocence?
  5. Would you let Roy Moore babysit your daughter?
  6. Do you believe that two wrongs don’t make a right?
  7. Similar to that, do you believe that the ends justify the means?
  8. If you were about to eat something that had poop in it, would it matter to you at what point someone warned you about the poop so long as it was before you put it in your mouth?
  9. Have you ever heard of a “write-in” campaign?
  10. Does the boring and uninspiring Luther Strange look better to you now?
  11. Have you considered that the kind of person who waves a gun around at a political rally could be perceived by a woman as a threatening figure?
  12. Do you know about victimization and the psychology of victimhood?
  13. The name Harvey Weinstein, does it mean anything to you?
  14. Sadly, Bill Clinton got away with abuse of power and violating trust with a young intern, but tell me how that has anything to do with a candidate who has yet to be elected?
  15. Can you see how, if you elect Roy Moore as a U.S. Senator, you will prove that personal morality and character no longer matter?
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Proverbs 3–Trust and Good

There are two different things going on in this rumination on Proverbs 3.

The first comes from that classic passage–3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Recently I worked on this passage for a sermon (okay, it was last Sunday) and I played around a bit, rewriting these words with a different twist. I called the first one “Still True From A Negative Angle.”

Trust in yourself with half your heart, and lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge and call attention to yourself, and you will utterly destroy your path.

I enjoyed doing that so much, that I decided to write what I called the “Spiritual Sounding But Not Right Angle.”

Trust in The Lord when things are tough, and lean not on the understanding of fools. In all your spiritual ways acknowledge him, and your path will become evident.

This rendering sounds true. The problem is that is not what the Bible teaches, but rather accurate of what we often teach and how we talk.

The last one I wrote is just ridiculous. I call it the “All Wrong But Exactly How We’d Like It To Read Angle.”

Trust in The Lord with some of your heart, and pray through your own

understandings. When you are hurting, acknowledge him and he will send a Facebook meme to cheer you up.


My second thoughts come from Proverbs 3:27. Here, the writer tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” I think this verse properly applied could change the world. Seriously.

My mind began to think about current political issues. The application of this is much broader, but here is a place to dialogue.

  1. Immigration
  2. Health care
  3. Taxes
  4. Opioid crisis
  5. Mass killings

You’re doing right now what I was guilty of, I think. If not, you are a better soul than me. For each of these, I assumed that what I thought and what I felt emotionally would be the ‘good’ that should be done.

But my opinion, or my knee-jerk, is not always the good. My perception of the writer’s intention is to inform us of the hard work in the application of wisdom to perceiving what the good is. Let’s take the opioid issue. I readily admit this is complicated, but fixing it might involve something more than more crisis managers, more first responders, or more federal dollars. Perhaps the good involved is about addressing the cultural, economic, religious, and educational systems that provide such a fertile ground for destruction. As such, maybe the best good is to admit not much good can be done for those who are addicted now, but the money should be spent on the next generation. My power for the now is low, but my leverage for the power to do good for the future is high.

And if that is not enough to push me along, the question comes with the phrase “to whom it is due.” Is help due to someone who has willfully, voluntarily, and repeatedly put themselves and others in harms way? I know that is a tough line, but goodness you have to ask at what point has someone’s actions disqualified them from assistance and help. This question is important. Resources are limited.

To children, to communities, to the unborn next generation, much is due. They are due a healthy environment. They are due a hopeful, optimistic world. They are due security. The are due a fighting chance.

What is in my power? To whom is it due?

If we apply these questions, we might find we don’t like the answers, and that is the exact point of wisdom.

 

 

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Pick A Winner–Seriously, Pick A Winner

I need your opinion.

I’m playing again. I should be working. In fact, staff meeting is in ten minutes.

But I’m playing.

Writer’s Digest has a contest for writing prompts. You’re supposed to write an opening line, in twenty five words or less, for a story that goes along with the picture that is the writing prompt. I have entered four or five times over the past couple of years, but I’ve never sniffed victory. This time, I thought I’d get you guys to help me pick. I’ve written several different possible lines. Vote for which one you like best.

Here is the picture.

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If you want to play too, click on THIS LINK. It’s fun and easy.

Now, back to my problems. Below are my opening lines, and then a poll for you to vote. Remember, you have to click the word “vote” to register your selection. Thanks!

A. With each step into the dark woods, Jenna sealed her fate.

B. “Here kitty, kitty.”

C. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for hide-n-seek?

D. Maybe the red coat wasn’t the best choice for war games?

E. Mary regretted her decision to accompany her boyfriend on his family’s annual Thanksgiving wild-turkey hunt.

F. As night began to fall, she remembered how the old man at the lodge had warned them funny things happen in these woods.

G. It had been eleven days since Jenna had seen another person.

H. “I found Carmen Sandiego,” the boy shouted.

 

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Proverbs 2–If . . . Then

Proverbs 2 seems to imply the search for wisdom is in and of itself the path to understanding. This is mainly because the search for wisdom is the search for the Lord, and he is the one who grants a wise heart.

The chapter is divided, to my eye anyway, in two portions. The last portion is a warning to stay away from the harlot. Here, the harlot is not literal (although it is literally good advice) but instead the harlot represents the way of foolishness. This second part is shorter, and begins in earnest in verse 16.

The first portion is what intrigues me. It is a series of “If . . . Then” statements which remind me of my computer class back in high school in the 1980s. We were always writing these silly programs that began with something like “If x<3 then …” whatever. I can’t remember anything beyond that. This is the same style the author of the proverb uses.kenyon-starlin-code-screenshot_c

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

The search is key. It must be the key. God is the one who gives wisdom, so it is not as if the Lord is some kind of rubric waiting to be translated or the maker of mazes hoping you’ll find your way out. That would be a wrongheaded way of understanding the search for wisdom. The search is learning the ways of the Lord, studying the scriptures, and listening to the world around us as he reveals himself. We don’t search for wisdom because we want to know the secret to wisdom; we search for wisdom because we want to know the one who gives wisdom, the source of wisdom. We do not search so that we can know, we only know that we must continue to search.

This concept culminates in verses 9-10.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Then–and only then–will you understand.

  • Righteousness: the requirement of the Lord, and the ways of faith. This is the moment you realize there is no one righteous. No, not one.

 

  • Justice: There is no peace without justice. Justice is not simply law and order, but it is holding people accountable for their actions and protecting the weak who have no advocate.

 

  • Equity: The world is not fair because it is baed upon power and force. Wisdom, by contrast, sees the necessity for equity and can spot when things are inequitable.

 

  • Every good path: A catchall phrase that can be loosely understood as the good life. Wisdom allows a person to see the things that really matter and maximize those for the benefit of all.

The goodness of God is that he grants these things to the wise.

The failings of humans is that we think we can have these without the Lord. The result is a foolishness that knows no bounds. We want righteousness in the world so we try to make people be righteous through coercion, politics, or law. We think we have justice, but really there is only a masquerade of justice that protects the powerful and exploits the weak. We claim equality for all, but as soon as we get a chance we remind everyone of how much better we are. We believe we can have the good life, but all we do is pop another pill and download another video. There is no true wisdom in any of this, because we have not sought the Lord.

If you and I search for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, we will never find it. If we search for the Lord and seek him, wisdom will wash over us.

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I’m Like Bogie, But Cooler

James Rubart says many interesting things. Which is a good thing, since he is a writer of such big selling books as The Chair and Rooms.

I was locked in a room with him sitting in an uncomfortable chair last weekend, along with best selling legal thriller writer Cara Putman and about twenty-five other folks. We were learning about story. Okay, I was learning about story. I can’t speak for what the other twenty-four were doing. We’d all paid to be at the ACFW, and I wanted to get my monies worth.

In the midst of the intriguing discussion Rubart said, “Tell me your three favorite movies, and I will tell you the theme of your life, which is really the theme of all your stories.”

I told you he says interesting things.

What I wondered was, is it true? Can someone deduce your major life theme (assuming a person actually has a life theme, which is not something I’m sold on completely) from the films you really like. He did the experiment with himself–and showed how it fit into the theme of his life and therefore was the overarching theme of his books. Then he performed the wizardry on a couple of other attenders to the seminar.

It was fun and entertaining. But is it true?

As others were talking and sharing, I began to make the list of my top three movies. This is a near impossible task, as I have shared here before. I love many movies across many genres. Picking three is a fool’s errand. But I worked at it.

The first thing I did was work on stand alones. That meant Star Trek II was out the window, and so was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Series of movies can grab so many different themes and are primarily character driven. My love for them might have more to do with memory or character bonding than anything else. That is why From Russia With Love can’t be on the list either. No Indiana Jones. No Star Wars.

Should I put The Godfather on the list? It is such a great film, but I decided it might be in my top ten, but not the top three. This is the same fate as The Outlaw Josey Wales. These movies are wonderful, and in the top ten, but not the top three. Same goes for you, Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks (although I have found Mars Attacks to be prophetic. Someday I’ll blog about that, but that day is not today).  As for recent films, Spotlight came close. Very close, to making the list. But it didn’t.

Before I give you the top three, a caveat. The list may change. Nothing is settled. I reserve the right to change my mind.

  1. Casablanca
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Bogart5a_thumbThere they are. The mother of all cliches, the greatest spy movie, and pure 1970s alien nostalgia.

Now find my theme! I’ll give you a moment to work it out.

Okay, I’m tired of waiting. It took me a bit to work through what Rubart was saying, but then it hit me. Each one of these films features a man trying to find a way to beat the system that is blatantly set against him. Bogie has to beat the Franco-German officials to find a way out for Ingrid Bergman. Cary Grant must find a way to survive in the face of Russian spies, Martin Landau, and American intelligence. Richard Dreyfuss knows what he saw and where he must go even though everything is telling him he’s wrong.

My theme is me against the system. You can see how Spotlight, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and even Mars Attacks all fit this same basic template? Interesting (strokes beard), very interesting.

Realization washed over me when I found that Butch Gregory’s theme is the same. The inherent evil in the broken system was a major part of the plot in The Little Girl Waits and the conspiracy angle was high in How Great Is The Darkness.

Then there are my monster stories, which I have taken down because I am re-releaseing them with five times more story early next year, which are all about the evil system of mad scientists at Deep Cove.

Guess what? That motif pops up, not as strong, but it pops up, in my current WIP.

I guess Rubart was right.

I’m gonna turn on comments for this post. I’d love to hear your three favorite stories and how it fits.

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Oh Look, A Writer’s Conference

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I met up with fellow Athanatos Author Joseph Courtemanche. You can spot us because . . . beards. 

I left the Hill Country yesterday, traveling north to Grapevine, Texas where I am attending the American Christian Fiction Writer’s annual conference. The facility here at the Gaylord Convention center is huge. I keep getting lost. Maybe my next book will be about a writer who gets lost at a writer’s convention and finds that he has been tricked by a demented muse, and thereby must write himself out of the danger with sharp, crisp prose.

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It is not a road trip without Fiji Water. Notice the banana? It was too green

This is not my first writer’s conference, but it is my first ACFW conference. The people here are so friendly that it is hard not to like everyone. Seriously. Writers must be the friendliest people in the world. No lie.

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ACFW wants everyone to know when you’re a newbie

People keep asking me, “What do you write,” to which I reply something like, “Christian supernatural stories where people die gruesome deaths” or something like that. This is the moment they turn their head sideways and take a step back and wonder if I am at the right place. Most of the people here write historical fiction, contemporary fiction, or women’s fiction.

Indeed, men are an endangered species here. I would say the ratio is something like one man for every fifteen or sixteen women. At a panel discussion last night someone asked, “Is there a market for books directed toward men,” and the consensus was no. This does not fill me with hope, because I feel my books are targeted mostly toward men. I’m gonna plunge ahead anyway. I think I can be the trendsetter with theologically rich supernatural books about fascinating characters.

Regardless, writing is cheaper than therapy.

Here is what I have learned so far.

  1. Randy Alcorn knows a lot about heaven. He brought the keynote yesterday and it was a sermon–a Sunday morning go to meeting sermon–on heaven complete with a quote from Victor Hugo. I would love to buy him a cup of coffee and talk about the hermeneutics of Revelation 21.
  2.  I probably don’t have much of a chance with my pitches here, because I am only 75k words into my work in progress (WIP) and I really should be finished if I want any kind of success. That’s okay. Perhaps my goal is simply that when they get that query letter from me, they remember something.
  3. Tyndale house has nice representatives.
  4. I need to work on my hook. Probably after lunch I will devote some time to polishing it a bit.
  5. YA (young adult fiction) is not as big of a deal here as I thought it would. It surprises me that YA is not a hot commodity in Christian circles, given that everyone has children and grandchildren. It feels as if it should be a target for faith-based audiences. As a person concerned about culture, this troubles me. It’s almost like we’ve surrendered the literary mind of the next generation to nothing but dystopian nightmares.

Gotta run now. The next workshop starts in a few minutes.

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Proverbs 1–The Fear of the Lord

FullSizeRender.jpgDuring the summer I read through the book of Proverbs and made some notes. My plan is to share these in an on-again-off-again kind of way.


Proverbs 1 is clearly a general opening to the theme of the book. Two paths are before each of us. One path is that of wisdom. Wisdom’s path is clearly marked by the finger of God. Those who fear him are on the right path. The other path is folly. The way of folly is easy to find as well, because it is littered with the fools who have sinfully gone ahead.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Two thoughts came at me quickly as I read this verse. The first is the word ‘beginning.’ I’ve never reckoned with that word before, but it indicates our spiritual connection, or awareness, of God is where our knowledge begins. We might think of that as a foundation. No lasting knowledge can be gained without the foundation of a heart and head pointed toward the Lord.

It is intriguing to me what the text doesn’t say. It doesn’t teach us the fear of the Lord is the end of all knowledge. This is because God is more than knowledge, and our journey with him is one in which we grow and change. We never stop learning. Knowledge is not finite. This is especially true in the knowledge about ourselves. The older I get, the more I learn about who I truly am. This could rightly be called self awareness–about my tastes, preferences, privileges, disadvantages, biases, and so much more. Wisdom is recognizing myself as I interact with the world around me and knowing my role in it.

The second thought that came to my mind is what fools despise. They despise instruction–because a fool is one who is arrogant. A fool rejects other people’s wisdom or insight, believing that he or she already knows all about everything. This is their pride, and they think they are already wise and need no teacher. They know more than everyone else. A fool chooses to stay foolish. It is not a congenital defect a person has no choice over, and as such it is not linked to intelligence. A fool refuses to see the world through anyone else’s eyes, but steadfastly insists they and they alone are all that matter.

The wise says, “Tell me what you think. I want to hear what you’re view is.”

The fool says, “Shut up and listen to me and I’ll tell you how it is.”

What fools despise is what the wise crave–to be taught and learn things from other people.

“O Lord, mold me into a person who craves wisdom, and rejects folly.”

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Some Analysis On What Happened

Warning: What follows is snarky political commentary. Read at your own risk.

Waiver: I am not partisan. I am too concerned about the unborn to be a Democrat. I am too much in favor of immigration and open borders to be a Republican. I am too cynical of the human condition to be a Libertarian. I trust no politician.

Disclosure: I will not, at any point in the future, buy or read Hillary Clinton’s book. Its just not something I’m inclined to do.

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What Happened is the title of her book. It is not lost on me that her book title doesn’t have a question mark. She is not asking, she is telling. And that is perhaps as much insight as anyone needs into why she lost in the first place. Nevertheless, I take it as a question. What follows are my answers to her not-so-rhetorical question.


  1. Hillary lost. That is what happened. She was a bad candidate. I am not a Trumper, and that has been made manifest on the pages of this blog before, but he out campaigned her. It has been said before, and should be said again– There is nothing anyone else did that kept her from going to Wisconsin. It could be argued that Trump didn’t win; Clinton lost.
  2. The emails are a fact of her own making. She tries hard to blame Jim Comey for her defeat as if he invented the problem. The problem was one she made. If one thinks on it from a certain perspective, Comey can become a sympathetic character who was between a rock and a hard place as it concerned the Clinton emails.
  3. Bernie Sanders did her a favor. If Sanders hadn’t been such a magnetic candidate, even fewer people would have cared about the election from the Democratic end. The truth is, the Dems made a terrible mistake in fronting HRC to begin with. Elizabeth Warren would have been the preferred candidate, IMHO to either Bernie or HRC. The only positive thing for the Dems is that the table is set for a strong Warren run in 2020. I, for one, think that Warren V. Trump would be compelling to watch. I’m already making popcorn and Kool-Aid. I mean, can you imagine the fiery Elizabeth Warren’s righteous indignation if Trump would have stalked her in a a debate the way he did HRC? She would have lit him up right then and there.
  4. America is sick of the Clintons. In many ways, she lost for the same reason Jeb Bush could never get traction in the GOP primaries. Most people are ready to move on. I am one of them.
  5. Benghazi mattered. Yeah, that was a big deal to a lot of people. I understand diplomacy means risks, but the way she and President Obama tried to sell that debacle to the American public was a disgrace and many Americans remembered that at the voting booth.
  6. If she couldn’t handle Trump’s tactics in the campaign, how on earth did she expect to handle Russia, China, and North Korea? I think Putin might have overplayed his hands when he worked so hard at undermining the Clinton campaign, because he would have run roughshod over her presidency.
  7. Whining is not pleasant. As a leader, you have to own your problems, and sometimes even own the problems of others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the blame for something I had nothing to do with, but because I’m the leader it is my responsibility. Blaming others and whining is not productive. Someone should tell her this.
  8. There is a gender problem in our country, and some people didn’t vote for her because she was a woman.  That is true. It is stupid and sad, but true. However, that is not why she lost. There are some people that didn’t vote for Trump just because he was a man, or who voted for Obama because he was black or didn’t vote for him because he was black or didn’t vote for Bush because he was from Texas or because he was from Texas. A strong candidate worthy of being the President of the United States overcomes this. How many people didn’t vote for Kennedy because he was Catholic? or Romney because he was Mormon? I don’t think I ever heard Mitt Romney complain about Mormon bias.

I do not wish HRC any ill will. I wish her the best. I want her to ride off into the sunset with Bill and spend time being a grandmother, doing philanthropy, advocating for women’s issues, and perhaps giving political commentary whenever she wants. But I don’t ever want to see her name on ballot again. Her time is up.

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Hey Apple–I Have Questions

I’m a pretty loyal consumer of Apple products. I get Apple. I understand the equipment. Perhaps it is because the first computers I remember are those old Macintoshes we had in high school. I can work a Windows machine fairly well, but I prefer Macintosh and Apple iPhones. The one exception is iTunes. I have invested a lot of money in iTunes music, and now I find that I can barely run the program and usually opt for Spotify or Amazon Music–which is what I’m listening to right now–some Allman Brothers on this Tuesday evening. apple_iphone_2017_20170912_11670.0

But I digress.

Today was the big reveal in Cupertino of the new iPhone X on the ten year anniversary of the first iPhone. I didn’t watch the event live. I had work to do. But I have been following the news release, and I have some questions.


1. What did nine do wrong? In fact, I’ll throw this out to Windows too. I was running a Dell last year and remember when the OS went from 8 to 10, and skipped nine altogether. Now iPhone has done the same thing. If I understand it right, they are releasing an iPhone 8 which is really just an updated 7, but there is no nine. Just like there was no Windows 9. The conspiracy theorists wants to know why? Is it a symbol? Does it have a secret only the Illuminati cipher? Is nine just too Trinitarian? Is nine not cool enough of a digit? Is it that nine is gone, because seven ate (eight?) nine?

2. Are you really doing something as lame as renaming the Apple Store “Town Squares” ? The word on the street is they are renaming the Apple Store to “Town Squares” Because they want them to be ‘meeting places’ for people. Man, that sounds terribly presumptuous and confusing. I think this will bomb. No one will call it Town Square. It will always be the Apple Store, just like no one calls it the Genius Bar, no matter how hard you try.

3. Can you give me a good reason to buy an Apple Watch? I wanted one, I really did. I wanted one when I thought it would replace my iPhone. I don’t want one if it has to be in close proximity to my iPhone to have full functionality. In other words, I want an Apple Watch that actually works independent, that is not just a bluetooth display of the iPhone.

4. Is face recognition a good idea? I mean, I watched the movie “The Circle” and it kinda of scared me because in my lifetime I’ve already observed the erosion of individual liberty and freedom for the sake of comfort as companies gather more and more analytics about us. Now you want my face? I mean, this sounds like a very bad idea. Can you give me some reassurances here?

5. If you get rid of the “Home” button on the iPhone, how will E.T. know where to go? How will he phone home? Okay, that was a bad joke, but I couldn’t resist. On a positive note, I like the look of the new iPhone X because it looks like the iPhone 3, which to me was the most beautiful of all the iPhones. It was smaller, true, but it fit in the pocket, and the hand, and looked amazing. I’m not a big fan of the square, and this new model looks like a throw back to that earlier design, and that is something I applaud.

6. Will “Augmented Reality” help me find better words for the letter V in Words With Friends? I’m asking for a friend.

7. Why does your promo shot of the iPhone X look so much like the poster for Star Trek the Motion Picture?

8. Can I trade in the drawer filled with the iPod, iPod shuffle, iPod mini, iPhone, iPhone 3, 4, 5, 5S, 6, iPad, iPad 2, and iPad Nano for a bit of a discount on the $999 price tag of one of your sleek new phones? Maybe a kidney? A toe, I mean I’ve got ten toes and I probably only need like seven?

These are some of the questions I have about the new iPhone. I’m sure more will arise in the coming days.

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Fire and Fury

I’m not certain I should write this blog post, because I am still processing in my mind what I am hearing our President say. And yes, whether you like him or not, he is our duly elected president. What I think I heard him say was that if North Korea threatened the United States they would be met with, “Fire and fury such as the world has never seen.” Then, I heard him say today that perhaps that wasn’t a tough enough statement.

I’m just working to put my mind around what that might mean. It sounds like he threatened thermonuclear war. That is what it sounded like–our President threatened another country with nuclear weapons. We, The United States, is engaging in brinkmanship of the ultimate kind. He threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on civilians oppressed under a brutal military dictatorship. He threatened to begin what would no doubt be a chain reaction of bombs across the Korean Peninsula, Asia, and no doubt the world. Our President threatened to intentionally deploy the weapons of a kind of armageddon. He used the specter of nuclear holocaust the way a playground bully would use a punch in the nose, or a petty businessman might use a lawsuit. He opened the vault of the past, where we’ve kept the fear of nuclear winter and the Doomsday Clock, and made us smell the rotting mold of genocide. He, that is we, because he is our president and he speaks for us, moved us in the most dangerous direction possible, on purpose.

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HELP! Greenbean Needs Your Opinion

I need to pick a new picture of me for our church newsletter. Of course, we go low budget around here, so any picture we use will likely be one taken on my iPhone. All my iPhone pics are on Facebook. I scrounged Facebook and found these pictures that I think could work. The problem is no picture of me is very good (not much to work with there) so it really boils down to picking the best of the worst. So here they are–register your vote at the end, and come back later to check and see who is winning. For the record, I do not promise to abide by the electoral decision.


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Game Time Jamie
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Theologian Pastor Jamie
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Bucees Big Drink Jamie
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Happy Church Camp Jamie
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Beard Stroking Jamie
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Not Happy Church Camp Jamie
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Jazz Hands Jamie
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Magnum P.I. Jamie

After you click your choice, be certain to click on “VOTE” to record your selection.

 

 

 

 

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The Dark Tower Movie

Is it possible to enjoy something and be disappointed by it at the same time?

The answer to that question must be yes, because that is exactly how I feel about my experience last night watching the Dark Tower.

WARNING: There are some spoilers below. Nothing major that would ruin it for you, but if you’re a purist you might want to stop and come back after you’ve seen it.


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I enjoyed the movie. I really did, and people who criticize it too harshly are either elitists who refuse to have a good time or who decided they didn’t want to like it before they ever sat down. The Dark Tower movie was far better than the Guardians sequel, yet another Spider Man movie, or anything else out there. I haven’t seen Dunkirk, but that is probably not a fair comparison, either. Dunkirk is Oscar bait. The Dark Tower movie is a fun summer film.

I enjoyed the movie because Idris Elba was amazing. Except for a single moment in the very end when he smiled too much, I was buying him as Roland. I never bought the story arc they told in the story for Roland, but I bought him, the actor, as Roland.

I enjoyed the kid playing Jake Chambers. The Dark Tower in the novels is not about Jake, but in movie he is the star, he is the protagonist and he is phenomenal.

I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey’s sleazy lizard lounge Man in Black. Sure, they put too much of him in the movie, but that was okay because I thought he captured the cheap sorcery and flippant caprice of the literary character pretty well.

I enjoyed the gunfights. I wish I could have seen more of those epic guns themselves, like a close up or a still shot or something, but nevertheless I loved those scenes.

I enjoyed that the movie didn’t answer all the plot elements of the breakers, and I enjoyed that they changed up the way they operated inside Algul Sient.

I enjoyed Jake making fun of Walter’s name.

I enjoyed the theme park.

I enjoyed hearing Roland say, “You have forgotten the face of your father.” Thank you big big.

I enjoyed all the homages to King’s other works, which are likewise part of the Dark Tower Universe, such as The Shining, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, and It.

I really enjoyed the opening screen that included the Ka-Tet Corporation with the turtle emblem as a maker of the movie. Way cool.


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But I was also disappointed. My perception is that a tinge of sorrow accompanied most people who loved the books as they watched the film play out, because the film was not the same epic story we’d fallen in love with. It is hard to even put into words, because its more about the feel of the movie than anything specific.

I was disappointed that they tried to distill several characters into Jake. I missed very much Eddie and Susannah and Father Callahan. And Oy. I really missed Oy. For those of you who haven’t read the novels, leaving out these characters would be like going to watch the Harry Potter movies and discovering that all the Weasleys had been written out, as well as Neville  Longbottom and they were all added to Hermione’s character. Or you went to watch the Lord of the Rings and discover Frodo was the only Hobbit around and that Sam, Merry, and Pippin were added to Frodo’s character. It is that disappointing.

I am disappointed that Roland’s motive was changed. Roland is all about the Dark Tower, not revenge on Walter. Walter is in his way and is his enemy, but all Roland cares about is the Dark Tower.

I am disappointed in the beginning. They start the film in New York. The story should have started with King’s epic first line. I really wanted the movie to open with Roland on horseback chasing Walter in the desert.

I am disappointed in the lack of musical allusion. If it was there, I didn’t catch it. For me, in reading the novels, the first hint that there is a connection to this weird world the Gunslinger inhabits and ours is when he hears the song Hey Jude in the bar in Tull. TDT has a soundtrack of wonderful songs–from Someone Saved My Life Tonight to Velcro Fly to Crazy Train. Zip, Zilch, Zero on that in the movie. If you’re interested, there is an awesome Spotify playlist for the Dark Tower songs.

I am disappointed in the ending. It felt like Back To The Future, and it was too much of a happy ending. There is never a happy ending for the Dark Tower. Never. It is a sad, tragic tale.

I am disappointed in the lack of connection to other works of literature–Asimov, Rowling, Browning, etc . . .

I am disappointed in the idea of Roland as a fallen gunslinger. He is not. He deals in lead.

I am disappointed I never got to see if Roland was drinking a Nozz-A-La on the bus.

I am disappointed the movie was only an hour and a half. Really? There is a bazillion pages of source material here, and we get an hour and a half? Come on, man!

I am disappointed that the Dixie Pig shootout was moved to the front, instead of the back where it should be. Not to mention that Roland wasn’t even at the Dixie Pig shootout in the novels, unless you count his todash type appearance.

I am disappointed that all the mysticism in the novels is encapsulated with the one element of “the Shine”, which it is not. The touch (as it is called in the novels) is only part of this mystical universe.


However, I do have hope. Perhaps a new director, better screenwriting, and a revamped approach can redeem the franchise for a second installment. Just think of the difference between Star Trek The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan. But for now I am content with the knowledge that the books are still there, and they are the kind of story that gets into your blood, and the characters become people you know, and the language, say thankee-sai, even worms its way into your head.

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I Need To Re-Think My Life

Friday I was in town, so I swung by the dry cleaning place to get my laundry. Most of the trousers I wear for work are dry-clean only, so I go there a couple of times a month.

I have never, ever, ever never, spoken to the woman who works the counter about any personal aspects of my life. Unless she googled me, there is no way she knows anything about me other than I am well-dressed.

Until Friday.

Friday, we had this conversation.

HER: “Are you a pastor?”

ME: “Why do you ask? It’s the hair, isn’t it?”

HER: “No, not your hair.”

ME: “Then what makes you think that?”

HER: “You’ve just got that pastor-vibe.”

This is a horrible development.

I need to make some changes, because the last thing I ever want is to have a pastor-vibe, whatever that is. Something has gone terribly wrong.

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The List Sermon: Dos and Don’ts

This morning I’m working on the sermon I will preach in three weeks–that is Sunday, July 30. It is a part of my Nehemiah series for the summer. The text for the sermon is based upon Nehemiah 6:15-7:4 when Nehemiah proclaims that the wall, his great magnum opus, was complete.

I originally wanted this sermon to be a narrative sandwich style, but a funny thing happened as I was working through the material. A list emerged. First it was three things, then it was five, and by the time I had finished it was seven.

Am I really going to preach a list sermon? You betcha! list

List sermons have a fine pedigree as a communicative style. The early Puritans loved them. Speeches are often nothing more than political secular list sermons. Think about the State of the Union addresses–just a giant list of stuff. And blogs, the best blogs are always lists. You know its true.

The problem is list sermons have a terrible reputation. This terrible reputation comes from being abused by sloppy speakers serving up half-baked homiletics. Here are some lists on the dos and don’ts of a list sermon.

DO

  1. Tell your audience that a list is coming. Don’t try to hide it. Come right out and say “I’ve got five things I want you to think about . . .” Doing this creates built-in momentum toward the exciting last point.
  2. Make the last point exciting. Even if it is not chronological, make certain the last thing you list is a real zinger that will either make them laugh, cry, or form a pulpit committee to replace you. Whatever it is, make it memorable.
  3. Keep the list tied to the text. Oftentimes list sermons turn into elongated word studies that have little to do the text. Or opinions. Or someone else’s sermon you’re just copying.
  4. Use lists when the text is a narrative. It provides balance, because you already have the story in the Bible, and the list can help process it.
  5. Work hard to ensure all your listed points serve one big point which is the one point sermon. I am a big believer in the one point sermon–so my Nehemiah sermon has seven things, but they all point to the big point, which is “Nehemiah built the wall as a part of a process to secure the people from their enemies.”

DON’T

  1. Use clever acrostics with your list. Everyone hates those, and they are so 1980s. It only proves you know how to use a thesaurus.
  2. Spend too much time on the first one or two of your items and then cram the other six in the last paragraph of text or the last minute of speaking. Give equal time to all of your points.
  3.  Develop a list sermon when the biblical text is a proposition or . . . a list. Yeah, don’t use that list sermon, I don’t care how clever your acrostic spells out the name of your church, just don’t use that list sermon to preach the fruit of the Spirit, which in case you missed it, is a list! You need a narrative to preach a list or proposition.
  4. Proclaim that your list is exhaustive or declare “These are the six things you need to know . . .” because seriously, there might be eight. And, there really might only be two, and you just like the other four.
  5. Make your list too long. I once heard a sermon that was a twenty-seven (27!) point explanation or something. Actually, I didn’t hear that sermon, because I walked out on it.

There is probably a lot more I could list here, but I’ll just leave it at this, because I need to go write some more sermony things.

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The Cross Is Not A Secular Symbol

The Texas Department of Transportation is using signs that include a red cross against a blue background to indicate a spot on the highway where a motorcyclist died. The family has to pay $350 for the sign, and there are no options. They have to use the red cross, regardless of their faith commitments. So, a Muslim motorcyclist’s family has to use a red cross. So to a Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or even the supposed atheist. They all have to use a singular red Latin cross. (My information on this comes from the Austin American-Statesman Sunday paper left on my back porch by my kind neighbor down on the cove.)

The reason for this is TxDOT says, and it is backed by the Texas legislature, that a cross is not a religious symbol but is instead a ‘death symbol.’

I found this picture of it on Patheos.com.

RedCrossTXSign

Now, the Pastor Greenbean Blog is all about my opinions, so here are my opinions.

  1. TxDOT is full of bologna. The cross is most definitely a religious symbol–and to me it is the most cherished religious symbol for it is the cross that is the scandal of Jesus’ death and the symbol of my life of discipleship. The cross is what I take up daily.
  2. Here is the thing I don’t get most. That blue sign in no way indicates anything about public safety. It doesn’t say “Motorcycles Watch Out” or “Be Careful” or anything helpful. All a person knows from that sign is that the individual, may he rest in peace, died on that date.  The reason I know he died is because it says “In Memory”, not because of the giant red cross. In your mind edit the sign with just the red cross, the name and date. Edit out the “In Memory” and what would you think it was for? I might come to the conclusion it was a dedicated Christian who paid for that stretch of highway. Or a billboard for a new ministry in town. I’m not sure I would come to the conclusion that the person had died there.
  3. If we, as Christ-followers, allow the state to co-opt our precious symbolism in order to communicate something about public safety, then we are guilty of selling out our faith for public recognition. The is a sin and a mistake.
  4. A related opinion: if they take the cross as a state symbol, how long before they come after the wine and bread? The baptismal waters? The ceremonial anointing oil? How long before they make a church get restaurant licensing in order to have potluck? The point is, once you go down this road, the state will always grab more and more power and more and more control.
  5. The cross was a death symbol two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of power, the power of the state to do whatever it wanted to compel obedience and submission. Christ-followers turned it around, though, and it became a symbol not of someone’s death, but of someone who was decidedly not dead–Jesus is alive.
  6. Why can’t TxDOT find another symbol? May I recommend a motorcycle?
  7. To be honest, I am completely baffled by TxDOT’s opinion that the cross is not a religious symbol but a “non sectarian symbol of death.” Do they really believe this, or is it some kind of covert attempt to “Christianize” the unChristian, like Mormons baptizing in absentia for the dead? I can’t believe anyone with any sense at all would think of the cross as anything other than a religious symbol.
  8. The cross is a very appropriate symbol for the resting place of a Christ-follower, a cemetery,  crematorium, crypt, etc… However, it is a violation of what the cross means–a choice a person makes in their waking, living lives to follow Jesus–to impose it upon someone who never made that choice. Likewise, the decision to impose it weakens its meaning to those of us who have made that choice.

So I finish with a plea–TxDOT, please leave our symbols alone and get your own.

 

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I Am Old and It Is Phil Collins’ Fault

This weekend I did a wedding, but this post is not about the wonderful bride and groom and their families. This post is about what happened two hours before the wedding.

I was sitting in the fellowship hall where the room was decorated for the reception. I was drinking coffee and talking to a couple of very intelligent and interesting young men. One was 20 years old and training to be a welder. The other was 22 years old and a recent graduate of college. I asked, in passing, if there was to be dancing at the reception. The 20 year old said, “I can’t dance.” To which I replied, “Phil Collins, 1991.” For the record, I was right on the money with the year. Yay me.

But that is not what this post is about.

The 20 year old replied, “Who is Phil Collins?” I laughed and thought he was teasing. He then added, “I’ve never heard of that person.” I turned and asked the 22 year old if he was hearing this, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t know who that is either.” I went off for a few moments–mentioning Phil, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and finally the 22 year old, who is familiar with football, said he’d heard of the song “In The Air Tonight” because they play it over the loudspeakers at football games sometimes.

I almost died.

Here is my conundrum. I know this makes me, officially, old. But what should I do about it? I am asking you to vote below in the poll to help me decide. Remember to register your vote by clicking the vote button after you choose. You may vote as many times as you like.

 

 

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Roger Moore, Peace, Rest In

Rest in peace, Roger Moore.

The sad part of modern life is we mourn the loss of celebrities, but we really don’t know them as people. We only know them as their character. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. Leonard Nimoy is Spock. Robin Williams is . . . everything.Unknown

It is not disrespectful, therefore, to remember the passing of a beloved icon with a tip of the hat to the work they did. As such, I am certain family and friends of Roger Moore will mourn him the way I hope to be mourned when my time comes. But I, I will mourn him by remembering him as Bond. James Bond.

Moore’s Bond was different than Sean Connery’s. Connery was tough first, slick second. Connery and Daniel Craig play Bond more like Fleming wrote him. Moore reinvented the character as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who enjoyed wisecracks and managed to do his job as a side-effect of his good time. He fit the 1970s, and his Bond was goofier, but far more playful. His bond was more sexual, carefree, and smiled. Moore wore the tuxedo better, but looked out of place in a fist fight. He could sell a scene with his eyes, and in so doing invite the audience in on a little escapism.

On that note, here are his turns as Bond from best to worst, in my personal opinion.

  1. Live and Let Die–His first movie was his best. Trains. Sharks. Crocodile farms. Exploding people. New York City. Jane Seymour.  An espresso machine. Paul McCartney. Perfect.
  2. The Spy Who Loved Me–The underwater car was brilliant. The submarine scenes were a little forced, but who cares.
  3. The Man With The Golden Gun–The film drags a little, but fun none the less. Moore is over-the-top Bond in this one.
  4. A View To A Kill–Horrible movie, but loads of fun. Moore was too old to play Bond at this point, but Christopher Walken as the bad guy was inspired. Let’s just forget about the Beach Boys in the opening escapade, but the Duran Duran theme song more than makes up for that. High Duran Duran coolness factor. (Click Here for more Duran Duran)
  5. Moonraker–The Bond book by this same name is one of my favorites. The movie was cheesy and beyond bad, however Moore makes it so much fun with his witty banter and the fun in Rio.
  6. For Your Eyes Only–Honestly, Moore feels a little stale in this film. Only the scenery of Greece saves it from complete and total failure. The plot is intricate, but all the actors are beyond bad.
  7. Octopussy–I hate this movie. The Tarzan yell is inexplicable. The Fleming short story by the same title is fascinating and spectacular. This movie is a terrible mashup of several Fleming plots and none of them work. But Roger Moore gambling and making his getaway through the streets of India is enjoyable and reminds us of why even as the worst, of the Moore films, it is still a good evening.

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On The Removal of Confederate Statues

I have many mixed emotions about the phenomena of cities and institutions removing Confederate statues. It is an issue that has clogged my social media accounts, although I’ve seen very little about it in the news. Perhaps the media isn’t covering it much because they don’t know how to feel about it, either. The most recent actions have been taken by the city of New Orleans to remove statues from public places, even in the middle of the night, and relocate (Click Here for NY Times Article) them.  However, the one that is closest to my heart is on the campus of my alma mater, where a very prominent statue of Jefferson Davis was recently (Click here for a news story on this)  relocated from the main square to a historical archive of statues.

AP-robert-lee-confederate-statue-jt-170521_12x5_1600

Here are my mixed emotions. I have no love for the Confederate States of America. I consider the Confederacy to be rebels who took up arms against the country I love. I do not understand how anyone can pledge allegiance to the American flag and still have such a love affair with the Confederacy and all her symbols and trappings. I also consider the Confederacy to have been tragically wrong. In fact, it was so wrong that my reading of history, as a person of faith, tells me God himself intervened to make certain it lost. How else can anyone explain to me why the South did not win the war in the first two years. There is no logical explanation other than Providence. God made certain the South lost because slavery had to end and the culture which was nurtured by the enslavement of souls had to end. In the modern age, the symbols of the Confederacy, as well as the cause of the Confederacy, have been use by people who are pushing a racist and/or xenophobic agenda. This is undeniable. Since the 1960s “States Rights” has meant, mostly, that states can segregate if they want to and the federal government should just butt out. History is written by the winners, and the winners are still writing and re-writing it as an act of imperium, and good for them. We want to celebrate the values of diversity, tolerance, and freedom which are the opposite of the Confederate values of uniformity, exclusion, and slavery.

Those are the mixed emotions on one side. But there is another side. History is precious. We learn from history, but we learn nothing by  sanitizing history as if it never happened. That is what I think the proponents of moving statues are trying to do–sanitize history. Removing the statues from New Orleans or the campus of the University of Texas does not change two facts of history. Fact one: These people lived and led. Fact two: Years later, people were still committed enough to the cause that they paid money to erect a monument. Both of these truths are a part of our history, and the latter is the issue for many in academia. The statues were put there by well-heeled donors who were racists, and thought of the school as an institution for their kinds of people.

Statues mean something, and they can teach. When I behold a marble statue from Ancient Rome, I do not consider the rightness of the Empire that gave rise to it. Instead I consider what kind of people made this, what were their values, how were they right, how were they wrong, what were their beliefs and so forth. Removing Confederate statues robs future generations from such contemplation as they gaze into the angry eyes of Stonewall Jackson or the gentle face of Robert E. Lee. I want them to stare into the eyes of Lee. I want them to ask, “How can such a gentle looking grandfather have believed in such a horrible cause?”

For that is the lesson. In the end, I think of these statues as monuments of pity. Lee, Jackson, Davis and company were wrong, and their wrongness caused the greatest devastation in American history.  Yet, even in their wrongness, we can learn a positive lesson that helps us every day. Honorable people can be misguided and wrong. I often bring that point out when speaking of war from a biblical perspective. Good, honorable people can be wrong and still need to be stopped. Everything I’ve studied of Lee and (Click Here) Jackson, for example, indicate that these were good men who loved their families and, in their own twisted way, thought of themselves as Christ-followers. Yet they were wrong. Very wrong. Tragically wrong. And they had to be stopped. I thank God they lost and were stopped. It is a lesson we need to remember in the times in which we live. There are honorable, good, and yes, even Christ-following people who are on the other side or whatever issue we are passionate about. Being on the other side doesn’t make them the devil. They may be wrong, but they may yet be noble. It does not mean they should not be stopped and opposed at every opportunity. And of course, I am speaking politically and rhetorically.  We are not at the point of bloodshed. We should stop no one with the power of a bullet, but instead with the authority of our logical and reasoned argument.

Mixed emotions. History is a great teacher, and I fear removing these statues is like taking a teacher out of a classroom, or ripping a page out of a textbook because it is painful. The issue of the statues is different and distinct than the Confederate Flag debate. Statues are snapshots in time–about the people who are memorialized and those who did the memorializing. As a contrary example, the Lincoln Memorial is about Lincoln–his times, his leadership, and his sacrifice–but it is also about those who appropriated his values and transformed him into something like a Greek god. There is little doubt to me that the Lincoln of history would have thought his memorial preposterous. But it teaches us something. I don’t think it is their intention, but those wanting to remove statues have a lot in common with the ISIS folks who destroy art and culture from antiquity because their intolerance can’t abide it. It is an ironic twist that the progressive left today cannot stand anything that is not in uniformity with its own views, thus they are more like the Confederacy they deplore than the Union they celebrate. The result could be a kind of cultural slavery that denies individuals the ability to be contrary, or to consider their history.

See, mixed emotions. I legitimately can see both sides of the issue. Perhaps we are missing an opportunity. Maybe instead of removing anything, we instruct and inform. Count me as one of those who believe education and learning can fix a lot of what ails our world. Simply removing statues from public view is a choice to live in ignorance of the past, thus guaranteeing nothing is learned except a temporarily soothed conscience or a glimmer of false peace. For anyone who thinks that removing a statue will remove the racism in the heart of someone else has never seriously considered the evil of either racism or the human heart.

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THANKSGIVING PILGRIMS AND THE ROMANS?

I’ve been thinking about this blog since I woke up this morning. I don’t know how it will turn out.

I love Thanksgiving because of all the holidays we celebrate, the only one with any true biblical commandment is Thanksgiving. We are never told in the Bible to celebrate Jesus’ birth or his resurrection with holy days. We are, however, told to give thanks many times. So, for me, this is a religious holiday, which might be why “Black Friday” and shopping the day after Thanksgiving is so distasteful and evil to me. But I digress.

The Thanksgiving Ideal

For me it is religious, but for the vast majority of people Thanksgiving is a secular affair with parades and shopping and football.  A new tradition has emerged though on the secular landscape. That tradition is the emergence of hand-wringing and guilty confessions of communal sin about the origins of the New World. Every year at Thanksgiving commentators and news analysts feel compelled to spell out how evil the holiday really is because of what the European settlers did to the Native Americans. For a particularly vitriolic and depressing rendition of the song and dance, click here.

It is true that the Pilgrims and the early settlers did bring problems and displaced the Native Americans who were here when they arrived. However, from what I can tell, the archaeological evidence seems to indicate various waves of migration, settlement, and then displacement have occured throughout the history of North America. We are simply the first society to feel guilt over such displacement. This is good, as I do not think we should wash over the sins of our fathers and mothers. I just don’t think it is beneficial to replace the positives with all negatives. Likewise, it is not good historical practice to hoist the atrocities of white people in the 19th century onto the intentions and actions of the white settlers two hundred years earlier.

But that is not the point of my pondering on this Thanksgiving Eve. The Pilgrim story is the original “founding of America” myth. Upon that myth such principles of harmony, helping one another, gratitude, survival, and innovation are reinforced. Even if our ideals do not reflect reality, the myth of the Pilgrims and Native Americans in some part encourages us to live up to the pluralistic beauty of being an American. But that myth has been replaced with a version of the truth that says America was built on violence, greed, oppression, and genocide. Although I believe that is a gross overstatement, that is what many people would have us believe about our founding parents on Plymouth Rock and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That myth of violence and destruction is becoming the dominant view of America and the United States. What does that reinforce? It reinforces an angry, divisive, selfish, entitled, and jealous view of the world.

Which myth do you think is  better for us as a society? Which one helps us become what we want to be? How can we keep the truth of history and the ideals of our myths at the same time?

Romulus and Remus–The Republic Myth

The ancient Romans likewise had two competing myths of its founding. During the glory years of the Roman Republic, the dominant myth was that of Romulus and Remus. The struggle of the twins suckled by she-wolves supposedly resulted in the founding of Rome on the banks of the Tiber river and led in the formation of a government that rejected kings and embraced a type of republican government based upon debate, ideas, and votes. That myth was about as true and accurate as the Pilgrim myth is for the United States. Yet, it established the ideal.

A new myth won the day when the Empire emerged and democracy was suppressed. This is the story of Aeneas. The poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid for the Emperor Augustus to explain the origins of Rome in different hues. Aeneas founded Rome, says Virgil, after fleeing Troy as a refugee following the destruction of Troy in the Iliad. It was the gods who willed the founding of Rome and of the Empire. As the empire grew, the Aeneas myth replaced the Romulus and Remus myth.

Aeneas carrying his father–The Empires Myth

The United States of America has become the dominant empire on the world stage.  Yes, there are competitors such as China, Russia, and the EU but everything is predicated upon the leadership and stability of the American Empire and all those competing powers define themselves against the U.S.

I prefer the republican (I use this term in the generic sense, not political sense) myth of our infancy when we as a people emphasized cooperation, harmony, survival, pluralism, and gratitude. It most certainly is a flawed history that people should be aware of, but it is the ideals–what we want to be–that matter. That is what I will choose to think about.