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Psalm 72:1-8 Advent Two: A Meditation

The readings for the second week of advent (Year A, 2019) have a theme of the rule of the future Davidic king bringing peace and harmony to the world: Romans 15 speaks to the scope of this reign as over the Jews and Gentiles, Matthew 3 is the summary of John the Baptist’s preaching in preparation for the coming of this Davidic King, Isaiah 11 is more specific about the stump of Jesse which will arise and bring the new age.

The Psalm reading intrigues me. Psalm 72:1-8 is a series of petitions to the Lord, prayers, regarding the rule of an earthly Hebrew king for certain, but with an eye on the eventual one who would fulfill the hope of the ages as the eternal king. My instinct tells me Psalm 72 was probably read at the installation of kings, or composed for the installation of a specific king. One notes, however, the backhanded nature of these petitions: praying for the king to do the right sorts of things indicates perhaps the King, or his predecessor, had failed to live up to the obligations and expectations of a righteous leader.


Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

There is a lot of poetics in the opening lines. First the careful reader will notice justice and righteousness are first asked to be given to the king, then these same attributes are asked for the people through the work of the king. Did you notice the change in order? In verse 1 we have justice then righteousness and in verse 2 we have righteousness and then justice.

I wonder if there isn’t some kind of parallelism here with the judging. There certainly is in verse 1 where “king” aligns with “royal son” forming a chiasm with “righteousness” and “justice” as roughly synonymous. If this works In verse two as well, then there is no chiasm but “your people” would then be synonymous with “your poor” as the same basic group of people. Poor people are God’s people. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

On an interpretative level, these two verses are a plea for the leadership to be fair to all people and not just the wealthy who can bribe and buy justice. It makes a person think about the fact, not opinion, but fact, how much you can afford to pay a lawyer goes a long way in determining wether you go to jail or not in this country. We have to be careful that we don’t take this plea be able punishing the right or even complaining that the wealth get justice. This is not about envy; it is about asking for the poor to get a fair shake in justice.

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!

The third verse shifts subjects momentarily from the king to mountains. The request is that the mountains will prosper and provide economic provision for the people. Putting this in context with the surround text, our eyes can focus on what the person praying is really concerned for. It is not the wellbeing of the king or the wellbeing of the mountains. Rather, the concern for the prayer is the wellbeing of the people. He is praying that both the king and the mountains be good to the people.

This verse reminds us it is not improper to pray for prosperity and for blessings. As this year ends and a new one is on the horizon, it is proper and biblical to ask the Lord to let ‘the mountains’ or ‘the factory’ or ‘the stock market’ or ‘the sales numbers’ bear prosperity for you and your family. Always keep in mind, however, we are blessed that we may be a blessing.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!

The subject goes back to the king, but we can still see who it is the petition is for — the poor people and their children. This is a prayer and is not necessarily what God is speaking, but is speech to God. In this speech we see the concern is with the oppressed and the needy. I wonder if people of faith too often make their prayers aimed at protecting the privileged and the powerful rather than the poor and the children of the poor.

There is a vitriol here as well. The prayer asks those who hurt the children and the needy be crushed. Not punished, but crushed. Before you move on, let that language settle in on your soul.

May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, through all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more.

It is a little confusing the way this starts — “may they fear you” — but this is not a valid reading. Likely the text should read “May he live” –thus asking the Lord for the king to live a long life in the idiom of ‘as long as the sun endures.’

The poetics continue as the work of the king is described as a blessed rain that falls on freshly cut grass watering the earth. If we put these together, we have an appeal for the king to be as faithful and stable as nature that allows for the a life filled with shalom. Can you smell the grass? Can you feel the warm rain on your skin? See the moon glowing in the night sky? See the sun’s last rays on a winter’s evening as the fire burns in the hearth? These are the feelings the pray invokes as it asks for good governance that creates the atmosphere of wellbeing for everyone.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!

Amen–May this kind of dominion rule from sea to shining sea and up and down all the mighty rivers.


This Hebrew prayer inspired me to put my own words to the same thoughts — which I think is a powerful way to understand the Psalms — ancient prayers to inform our daily prayers. I crafted it as a national prayer, but keep in mind the best hermeneutic of this would likely be a prayer crafted around the Kingdom of God rather than national entities. I chose national entities to keep it in the political context of the original writing; to help us, and by us I mean me, understand what the original implications might have been:

Help our government to value justice, O God, and our leaders to be righteousness.

May our judges be filled with righteousness, and may the poor find justice in every aspect of life.

May all of the economic engines of our nation be prosperous, let them be fair and just so that no one is left behind and no one is exploited, manipulated, or used.

May the President and those in charge of executing the laws have compassion on those who are needy, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak or who they pray to. Give him a vision and passion to be a protector of children.

May our nation, for as long as she is just and righteous, stand as long as the sun sits at the center of our solar system and the moon waxes and wanes above our heads; may our values of freedom and liberty be like refreshing rain showers upon a world that is thirsty for hope.

May we accept your dominion over us, Lord Jesus Christ, from the Harbors of the East Coast to the beautiful shorelines of the West Coast, from the bountiful Valley of Texas to the expansive Great Lakes of the Midwest. May we experience your shalom forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

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Frozen Ferrari Fred Whodunit

Other than the fact “Ferrari Fred” sounds like the name of a character in a bad Stephen King novel, what am I talking about with this crazy blog title? I WENT TO THE MOVIES, that is what I’m talking about.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend we saw the four hot movies out right now, and they were all wonderful in their own way. No, they are not all for everyone, but they are all wonderful. I will take them in the order I saw them.

Ford v Ferrari

Everything about this movie was near perfection. The story was tight, the dialogue was crisp and memorable, the imagery was iconic, and the sound and sights of those beautiful cars was spectacular. Even if you don’t like cars, you’ll like the movie and if you like cars, you’ll love the movie. Christian Bale will get a best actor nomination and the movie will get a best picture nomination. It has some language in it, so you might want to keep the kiddos away, but there is no violence or pornographic material.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Movies usually entertain. Sometimes they inspire. Sometimes they mesmerize. This movie affirms humanity and the possibilities for making the world a better place. Shot in the same style as the old Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television show, it usher you into a different world from the very beginning. Yet this movie is not really about Mr. Rogers as much as it is the journalist covering him, but at the same time it really is. The main character, Lloyd, is changed by Mr. Rogers. Tom Hanks will get a nod for best actor and the movie should be a top contender for best picture.

As an aside, I also recommend you watch the outstanding documentary about Mr. Rogers. Click here to read what I wrote about that.

Frozen II

All four of us enjoyed it and so can your entire family. The music is very good, but the emotions are what steal the show. There is one particular moment when Anna is everyone of us — fighting to keep up hope in a lonely and dark world. I liked this movie more than the first one, probably because of the heavy Tolkien influence on the story. I’m serious. If Olaf is viewed as a happy shiny Gollum, Elsa as Gandalf, Anna as Frodo/Aragorn, Sven and Kristoff become hobbits then the journey parallels nicely.

Aside from this, it is easy to see the motif of the movie — a needed restoration and reconciliation between indigenous peoples and those who exploited and took from them. It’s a good message.

Knives Out

This one surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but man was it fun. Nothing will be nominated from this movie, and there will be no awards for it but it is fun. Here was my take away on this movie: Knives Out is the Thanksgiving movie America needed but didn’t know it needed. Besides, it’s got Captain America, James Bond, half of Miami Vice, and Captain Von Trapp, and Halloween! There is a lot of star power here, but Ana de Armas steals the show as Marta.

There is a lot of language and one particular violent moment, but no nudie bits. Perfect for adults who want to slurp soda and enjoy themselves.

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Isaiah 2:1-5 Advent One: An Interpretation

Yesterday (Sunday, December 1, 2019) began the Advent journey — IMG_1096the four Sundays
of reflections and readings which lead up to Christmas Day. The key Old Testament reading from the lectionary was Isaiah 2:1-5, which we read in our worship service.


The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

My favorite part of the opening is that Isaiah “saw” the word of the Lord. It is probably an idiom for a vision — the vision he saw about the mountain. In my mind, though, I wonder if it was not some written document he saw. Did he spy God’s book with his eyes and then record in human language what he had seen? That is probably not the way it happened, but in my imagination it is, and what Isaiah gives us is insight into God’s secret plans about the future.

It is a secret The Lord freely shares, though. It is an open secret.

Two other fascinating tidbits here before we move on. Seeing the word of God is the same thing the first century apostle saw. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. They beheld the living word with their own eyes.

The second fascination here is the challenge this verse presents to our vision; that we might see the word or God all around us. Natural revelation comes to mind here with seeing God in the stars and moon as well as waterfalls. We should also learn, train, and work at seeing the word of God in children on the playground, lovers holding hands, and the truth being spoken to power. Can you see the word of God, the words of God, right in front of you?

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,

It is not that there aren’t other mountains, it is that the mountain of the house of the Lord is higher than the rest. Just like there are other gods, there are to be no other gods above the One True God.

I don’t know if this is literal. Part of me wants it to be literal, describing a future when the Temple Mount literally grows taller and higher than Everest as a beacon over the whole earth. But I’m not certain that is what this is teaching. Highest here should be taken as meaning the most important or significant. The Temple Mount will be more important than Mt. Olympus, the seven hills of Rome, or the artificial ziggurats which dot the ancient landscape. It is taller than the artificial mountains of skyscrapers and satellites. It is higher than mankind can reach.

The Bible here doesn’t say people will flow (flow uphill, I might add) but that nations will. Nations — not only Hebrews — but nations. The movement of nations echoes throughout the biblical witness until the cacophony cannot be drowned out any longer and the crescendo comes in Revelation when every, all the tribes and peoples, and every language cries out before the throne of God and the Lamb.

and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. Maybe Isaiah is just as cynical about his world as I am sometimes about mine. The Nations do not want to know the ways of God. The Nations want the ways of power, strength, greed, and exploitation. The Nations pollute the air and water without regard for our children or the animals. The Nations destroy families by trafficking our young to war and slavery. The Nations value control and manipulation in order to protect the privileged. The Nations use religion as a mask for abominations.

But Isaiah says it will happen. Some day in the future The Nations will be changed; their heart will turn. God’s law will move among them — the law of grace and of healing — and bring repentance to the earth.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, either shall they learn war anymore.

There can be no peace without justice. There can be no forgiveness without the struggle and pain to name the wrongdoing. The Lord will usher in a peaceful time without war or conflict by first judging the nations and then acting as arbiter of the great disputes. Eventually, finally, Palestinians and Israelis will have their dispute settled, as will the Muslims and Jews. Likewise, peace will come when the Lord arbitrates the grievance of Native Americans and those of African descent against Anglo-Europeans. Finally the Korean Penninsula will be at peace when God mediates. Likewise Sunni and Shia, Indian and Pakistani, as well as the Tutsi and Hutus will have all aggression and violence purged in their relationships. The wrongs of history will be settled. The future will no longer be on the horizon. It will be upon us.

And war will be no more. Never again will another dime be spent on nuclear weapons or bullets; it will instead be spent on feeding the children and building homes.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Amen. Let us walk in the light, as he is in the light. Marana Tha.

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Book Review : Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill

Some books you read because you need to.

Ronan Farrow’s Catch And Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators was for me, one of those books you just need to read. It is a very adult book with lots of foul words and graphic language wrapped around disturbing material. Farrow includes a warning that it might trigger some people who have been hurt. The warning is justified. I have never been sexually abused or harassed yet there were times I had to put it down and walk away for a day or two.

I’d like to address the book in two different aspects rather than one of my more usual formats (good, bad, and ugly or what I liked and what I didn’t like). The first aspect I’d like to take is the topic at hand. The second is the book as a written endeavor.

As to the topic, Catch And Kill is an important work because it highlights the criminal activities of powerful people who use their wealth and power to intimidate or silence their victims. What I found particularly disturbing was the complicit nature of law enforcement, particularly prosecutors. I was not aware the law was that bendable — that money and attorneys could essentially shut down a viable investigation into rape or assault by simply lawyering up or using the media to start a smear campaign, victim shaming, job insecurity, and various other power trips including blackmail. It is disgusting.

Farrow’s book also teaches us an important lesson: Power is not political. If you think only Republicans are guilty of sexual crimes or only Democrats cover things up, then you fail to realize the extent of the issue. This is not a political issue, this is an abuse issue. Farrow makes certain that we know Harvey Weinstein, the central figure for most of this book, was a huge supporter of Democratic causes and especially of the Clintons and he spells out how Weinstein used his leverage with Hillary Clinton to try to silence him. But he also reminds us the same media group that helped Weinstein cover-up stories and buy people off did the same work for Donald Trump. And Republican governors and Democratic media personalities all used the same processes.

This is true in the media, as Farrow points out, and in politics.

It is also true in your hometown.

It may be true in your family, as it was for Farrow.

It might also be true in your church, as many of us have seen first hand.

It could be true in your school.

It also happens in many workplaces.

Until we refuse to be silent about it any longer it will continue. Today as I write this blog post, Epstein and Prince Andrew are in the news. Epstein’s death feels very suspicious to me (after reading Farrow’s book, it makes you think anything might have happened) and Prince Andrew is demonstrating typical behavior of these kinds of abusers. And next week there will be more, and that is a tragedy because for every famous situation we hear about, there are untold numbers of victims forced into silent submission by those who have leverage and power.

This issue has always been near to me because of all the women whom I love that have been hurt, abused, raped, molested, and harassed by men who have never been brought to justice. I will not mention their names nor attempt to tell their stories. Their stories belong to them.

It is also personal to me because of the situation I found myself in, which I wrote about in the epilogue to my first novel, when a trusted colleague in ministry was arrested and clearly guilty of one of the most vile things I can possibly fathom. It is so vile I don’t even want to discuss it here.

So this issue is personal, and because of that I am thankful for this book for any attention it might call our collective society to give no tolerance to abusers or those who protect them.

So that is the first thing I wanted to talk about — the topic.

The second part of this is about the book. It is uneven in its narrative. Farrow seems to jump around quite a bit, which perhaps would be okay but then he throws in a large number of names that were hard for me to remember. At times I wished he’d had a Dramatis Personae at the beginning for quick reference. I’m certain these people are all clear in his mind, but to me it at times turned into a book in which the characters were Weinstein, Farrow, Lawyer in this chapter, NBC executive in this chapter, inept private investigator in this chapter, and someone dancing in the ballet studio across from his apartment.

What he did a good job on was highlighting the victims, both the famous ones we’ve all heard of like Rose McGowan and those we’ve never heard about like Brooke Nevils. There is a part of me that wishes the book would have been more a canvasing of the victims and their own individual stories. However, that is not the book we got. What we got instead was a book about Ronan Farrow. Make no mistake, he is the star of the book. At times he portrays himself as a hard working investigative journalist. Other times, the victim of such dangerous espionage he has to move into a safe house. Then he is also the martyr for the cause, the little guy going up against the machine. He also wants us to feel sorry for his beleaguered bi-coastal love life AND the physical toll it took on his body.

But its hard to read his words and not think of him at times as a whiney snob who can’t believe the bad guys didn’t just roll over and give up. Just when you begin to think of him as a work-a-day guy like the rest of us he so casually tells us he’s getting advice from Tom Brokaw, hanging out with Gwen Stefani, or was singing songs with Rose McGowan and talking about music. And then BOOM! he tells us about the time Rachel Maddow made him cry.

It’s kinda of surreal and I think Farrow believes this helps the book, particularly his own pain. It is impossible to untangle the story of Weinstein, Lauer, and other perps without an awareness of Woody Allen and Farrow’s sister Dylan. In the outside chance you wanted to, Farrow won’t let you. He keeps dragging himself back to the center of the narrative. For me this is not helpful, and this is not to minimize his own pain or Dylans — heavens no — and I hope there is justice and healing there someday for them all. It is that in this book, as a work on its own, it was a distraction.

In the book there are winners and losers. Farrow is a winner, and he is the hero. So too is The New Yorker Magazine and David Remnick, who published the original and subsequent articles. Oddly, the spies are winners too, because they ‘came to their senses’ and turned it around.

The losers are easy to spot–Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, and NBC News in general. I mean, the big loser seems to be NBC. What a horrible, horrible culture.

If there is a hope in the book, it is the truth eventually comes out. We can certainly pray that way.

 

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This Is Not Okay — Thoughts On The World Series

I was able to catch Game 6 of the World Series. It was the only post-season baseball game I watched this year. My life is just too busy and, the truth be known, the games last too long and go too far into the night. I turn into a pumpkin at 9:30, so a game that lasts until after 11PM is really out of the question. [Hot take: baseball needs a pitch clock like the minor leagues.]

But I did watch Game 6. My sleep patterns haven’t recovered yet. I checked this morning to learn the Washington Nationals won Game 7 last night, and congrats to them. They are a fantastic baseball team and I am happy for them and their fan base. It is also a historical oddity all the games were won by the visiting team. Weird.

But that is not my main thought today. During Game 6 a controversial call was made involving a baserunner. The call went against the Washington Nationals, and the manager for the Nationals, David Martinez, lost his mind. Seriously.

Lost.

His.

Mind.

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He had to be restrained by other coaches from attacking an umpire.

 

I know sports culture is unique, but this is not okay. You can’t act this way AT WORK! We need to keep in mind this is a work place for the manager, the players, and the umpires. I can’t think of very many workplaces where this type of behavior by one employee to another would be tolerated. Imagine if a coworker came at you, restrained by his subordinates on the managerial chart, like Martinez does here at the umpire over say, a bad sales call you made or because the data in your spreadsheet was disproportionate. Or you made a judgment call that was part of your job description to do.

He was ejected, that is good. But he needs help, or he needs to find another career option. If someone came at me like this in my workplace, I think I might call 911, I don’t care how good they were at their job.

Major League Baseball should suspend him for multiple games or a season, and he should be forced to complete anger management classes/counseling before returning to work, at the very least.

Our nation is filled with rage and violence, and people are constantly ready to explode over the littlest of things. It is nurtured by our politicians and fueld by social media. We have a gigantic anger problem. Perhaps, in the past we could wink and nod at the showmanship and entertainment value at the antics of Billy Martins or Lou Pinellas but this kind of behavior needs to be swept away into the dust bin of history. We must become better than this.

This anger, focused at a human being who is just doing his job, is unacceptable, and ejecting him, the equivalence of saying ‘clock out and go home and take the rest of the day of’ is not enough.

Our kids are watching.

Do better, baseball. Do better.

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Burger Talk

A hamburger is always a good idea, but what do you do if you are avoiding meat? Do you skip the hamburger altogether?

A rise in the number of vegetarians, vegans, and people (like me) who are cutting back on meat has prompted the marketplace to develop meatless burgers. Recently I mentioned the outstanding offering at the Hard Rock Cafe in an unrelated blog post. About two weeks ago I tried a local burger joint’s vegetarian burger and it was awful. Just awful. It had the texture of Playdough and the flavor of boiled turnips. It fell apart into crumbling bits I scooped up with fried pickles. In short, I hated it.

My youngest sprout, who is a vegetarian (I am not–instead I follow a diet where I avoid meat on Monday and consciously skip it when there are other viable options) wanted me to try the Impossible Whopper from Burger King.

Well, today is Monday, so that means I’m meatless. After reading to kindergartner children I dropped by BK on my way back to my study. The verdict: from the first bite onward it seemed like just another hamburger to me. In other words, it was good. I don’t think I could have identified it as being plant based at all, and if I were alternating bites with a regular Whopper they would seem indistinguishable. Well done Burger King, well done.

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If you’re wanting to make burgers at home (which is always better) I highly recommend MorningStar Farms Grillers Veggie burger. However, be careful, as there is another veggie burger they make in almost identical packaging that is gag inducing vomit worthy.

I leave you with these five tips for the perfect hamburger experience — whether your burger is vegan or beef.

  1. Thick sliced sharp cheddar, placed on the patty when it is either on the grill/pan is best.
  2. Put the bottom of the bun on the meat patty when it has about a minute left. Flip it over with your spatula on the plate to build the burger.
  3. Serve the burger with a thin layer of mustard on the bun and a drizzle of ketchup over the meat. Remember, mustard is for the bread, the ketchup is for the meat. The picture above almost gets it right, but it has mayonnaise on the top rather than mustard.
  4. More mustard and ketchup instructions: serve a generous amount of both on the side for dipping the hamburger that you have cut into quarters.
  5. Drink a cherry Coke with your burger. It will make the burger perfect.
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A Quick Poll: Tank or Pond

I grew up in East Texas where we call small bodies of water a pond, which I believe is common for most of the English speaking world. However, in West Texas they tend to call them tanks, as they are used primarily for watering livestock. Some people will get passionate about the differences between the two words, but my experience is people tend to use them synonymously.

Here is my situation: Where I live now, in Central Texas, I hear both tank and pond used. It all depends on the origin of the speaker. I am working on a novel set in Central Texas, and I need to use either the word pond or tank. Tank gives the setting some ambiance, but not all readers might understand the usage. I can see pros and cons for both words.

Help me decide! VOTE NOW! Remember to click the vote button to record your choice.

 

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What Makes You Thirsty?

At about 7:45AM yesterday (6 October 2019) I realized the sermon about John 7:37-39 was out of control.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

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I’ve preached this passage before, usually with mixed results. This time I tried to weave a little light exegesis with a constant hammering of metaphor — what it was like to be dehydrated. In fact, I used eight different metaphors–everything from mummies to Mars. I was having a hard time putting in all of the different things I wanted to say along with a baseline exegesis of the text, which is important as well.

Something had to go for me to regain control. What I cut was a wandering speculation about when do we get thirsty? I came up with five, and I intended to draw out the spiritual implications.

  1. When I first wake up
  2. After I eat something dry
  3. After exercise
  4. If I am sick, I am thirsty
  5. When traveling

It would be a safe jump to move “when I first wake up” into a “when I first become a Christ-follower”. I have found this to be inherently true of people who turn on their spiritual lives — they have a near insatiable appetite for the anything about Jesus — worship, church, Bible study, reading the Bible, and serving. Often they can’t stop talking about Jesus. It is because they are thirsty.

Eating something dry is a harder parallel, but not impossible. It could be likened to whenever I am around stale people, crusty ideas, or hardened hearts. Too much time in these environments will make me thirsty for Jesus all the more. Being thirsty after exercise is the opposite, in many ways to eating something dry. Exercise is when we are spiritually serving — for me this is when my teaching schedule is heavy, lots of appointments with people, people in the hospital — and I have exerted myself spiritually so much that I’ve ‘sweated out’ all my liquid. That is when I need to rehydrate and spend some extra time alone with the Lord and drink in his presence.

Antibiotics always make me thirsty. Medicine, in general, does. I like to think of this concept as running alongside the way I can become spiritually confused or even displaced. A good example is when a contemporary issue seems to be running right into the teaching of Scripture. This is a certain kind of dissonance that makes me need to spend more time with the Lord to gather discernment. I need a drink, so to speak, before I know what the healthy path is.

If I am in an airplane I am always thirsty. The same is true when I am in car. I think most people are this way and it is because of the dry recycled air. Recycled air is the key here. One of the problems in my life is I get comfortable recycling and repeating same the same things over and over again, neglecting the Spirits call to sing a new song, start a new thing, or travel in a new direction. When the air is dry and recycled, it is time to spend time drinking in the Lord.

So there you have it, the bonus material that had to be cut from yesterday’s completely out of control sermon.

 

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Our Ugandan Orphans Need Your Help

Mrs. Greenbean and I received an urgent request from Tender Love Orphan Care, the orphanage we support in Jinja, Uganda. It is a little involved, so allow me a moment to explain.

A teen student committed suicide. The reason? She was ashamed because she didn’t have feminine products during her period. She bled through her school uniform every month. Her solution was to die.

Rachel, one of the leaders of the orphanage, asked if we could provide $300 as her birthday present to buy pads and other feminine products for these young girls. Help us provide what these girls need, so they can grow up in a healthy environment and thrive. Help us save lives, and make lives better.

Every. Dollar. Matters.

The easiest way to give is through the GoFundMe I set up.  Click on the picture below to send help.

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Learning To Write: ACFW 2019

Greenbean has been taking notes this weekend at the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference in San Antonio because he wants to be a better writer.

I’ve published four books, and each one makes me a better writer. I still have a lot to learn. The last two days have highlighted how much I have yet to learn. But before I touch on that, here are some hot takes from the ACFW:

  1. The people who run this thing are wonderful, kind, hard working and inspiring. I really do appreciate how much they do to help all of us neurotic paranoids.
  2. Being around people who are like me is wonderful. Seriously, writers are a different breed of human and we all get each other without explanation. People who see me all the time in the real world don’t realize just how much I work to ‘hide’ that weirdness.
  3. The most unused public room at ACFW is the men’s room. It is not an exaggeration to say there are nine women to every man. If you’d like proof, here is a picture of last nights dinner table.

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Guess which one is me?

 

The keynote speaker this year is Frank Peretti — who many of you will recognize as the rockstar Christian author of This Present Darkness and The Oath. My favorite book of his is The Wounded Spirit. I’ve never seen him in person before and was very surprise by how much he reminded me of Doc Brown from Back To The Future. For reals. If he’d said “Great Scott” just once I’d would have lost it.

Peretti is speaking to us as the ‘wise old man’ and here is what he shared today.

  1. Keep a long term perspective.
  2. Always be honest.
  3. Be a real man. (Greenbean’s note: he didn’t make application for women, but I assume he could find a “be an authentic person” motif here with a little work.)
  4. Trust God.
  5. Failure is better than regret.
  6. Do not build your life around dreams and goals, because those will change.

He said a lot more, but this was the gist. I really appreciated it because he was right. So many of us have great big ambitions, but what it boils down to is faithfully answering the call of God in our lives to be people of faith. And most of us are not called to be rockstar writers or even signed and contracted authors. Most of us will simply continue to tell the stories which inhabit our soul whether anyone is reading them or not.

I’ve attended four workshops and two panel discussions. The workshops have been very helpful. Here is the ‘plot-skeleton’ I drew today in a session with super-duper successful writer Angela Hunt. In my hands, the plot skeleton looks like a plot-monster.

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Last night there were panels. Those were less encouraging. The basic message I got from each one is that my kind of fiction is not what anyone is looking like. The hot topics now are World War I and Vietnam Era historical fiction, contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, and suspense/romance. To a person, every time speculative fiction/fantasy/science fiction are mention the door is slammed. That doesn’t bode well for poor Pastor Butch Gregory or my WIP about St. Carl of Mars. IMG_0793.jpgI have two appointments tomorrow with literary agents, but my expectations are guarded. As Peretti said, I am trusting The Lord with a long perspective and will keep writing.

BONUS INFO: The hotel is on the Riverwalk and I had supper at the Hard Rock Cafe. If anyone is interested, their plant-based “Impossible Burger” was delicious. The fries were too salty and the Arnold Palmer I drank was not properly mixed but still refreshing.

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The Church Is Unique And What It Doesn’t Do Proves It

There is nothing quite like the church. It is a unique institution with all of its quirky grace and troublesome love mixed with beautiful ashes and horrible freedom. Imagining what it would be like if the church were just another business or organization helps us process some of the greatness of the Body of Christ.

Because if it were a business, this might be something you’d see:


Platinum Level

Platinum members enjoy full, unfettered access to all fifty-two Sunday worship services, forty eight small groups, all midweek activities, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise, Easter, and VBS. Also included is individualized, one-on-one access to all of our pastoral staff, unlimited hospital visits, as well as regular emails, weekly updates, and bonus on-line and social media content. Each year of Platinum membership earns one funeral AND one wedding.

Individual Price — $18,000
Family Plan — $25,000


Gold Level

Gold members have access to most of what our church provides. Fifty-two worship services, forty small groups, Fall/Spring midweek activities, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and VBS. Gold member includes three meetings with pastoral staff with unlimited access to the youth minister, and up to five hospital visits. Gold level includes a weekly email. With each year of membership members earn one funeral OR one wedding.

Individual Price — $15,000
Family Plan — $18,000


Silver Plan

Platinum members get thirty Sunday worship services, twenty-two small groups, Christmas, Easter, and VBS. Also included is one pastoral staff interaction, three meetings with the youth minister along with an informative weekly email. Platinum members get one hospital visit and may choose one funeral or one wedding for each year of membership with a maximum of three total.

Individual Price — $8,000
Family Plan — $10,000


Bronze Plan

The very popular Bronze Plan includes fifteen Sunday worship services, Christmas and Easter. This plan also provides a monthly email. Bronze members get a fifty percent discount on either a funeral or wedding.

Individual Price $5,000
Family Plan $6,000


Basic Plan

The Basic Member plan, often called the Chr-Easter (Christmas and Easter) includes ten worship services and your pick of either Easter or Christmas Eve.

Individual Price – $2,500
Family Plan – $3,200

 

All prices yearly, monthly installments due on the 15th of each month. Ten percent (10%) discount for membership fees paid in advance by January 10. 

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Camp, Texas, and Hiking: The Last Forty Days

The last forty days of summer have been a blur — but oh so much fun. Let’s start with the beginning of August. At the hottest and driest part of the Central Texas summer, we went to children’s camp. I have included both videos I made. One is the typical camp style video with the theme song for camp, “Aint That Funky Now” playing over it.

The one below it, well, those are my bonus reel. So, it is what it is. You will notice a lot of shoe tying and bunkhouse shenanigans. We spend a lot of time tying shoes at children’s camp. Tons. Of. Time.

 

 


I also read Texas.

For reals. I read the entire 1200 or so page tome by Michener. I bought it a while back at a great bookstore in Kerrville. It has been on my TBR for man years, though. Quick Review: The first seven hundred pages were nice, entertaining, and fun. Then it fell apart into stereotypes and tropes. He spent almost two-hundred pages on high school football. I could understand fifty, but . . . for crying out loud.

I can’t say I recommend the book, but it is one of those required reading kind of things for people who love writing, reading, and Texas history. It reminded me of a phrase I learned in college: mega kakon esti mega biblion. It is Ancient Greek and translated it says, “a big book is a big bad thing.”  I tend to agree. Michener could have used a brutal editor.


The last two weeks I’ve been on vacation, and Mrs. Greenbean and I hit three of the state parks nearby: Enchanted Rock, Colorado Bend, and Pedernales Falls. We love to go on hikes, and these were refreshing for my soul and for my heart. Pedernales Falls is an easier hike, but the trails are not as well marked. We may or may not have gotten lost. Colorado Bend was rugged and the most difficult hike we’ve done here. However, the trip down to Gorman Falls was worth it. The last video is me imitating my good friend John Duncan, who among his many talents is being able to give a weather forecast from anywhere at the drop of a hat. This my weather forecast from Enchanted Rock’s summit.

 

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Yesterday: A Thought Experiment or MAKE A MUSICIAN DISAPPEAR

As I mentioned on the social medias over the past week, Mrs. Greenbean and I went with one of the sprouts and saw the movie Yesterday. We absolutely loved it. It was refreshing to watch something that wasn’t a Disney rehash or Superhero in spandex. Yesterday is quality speculative fiction. I think there could even get an Oscar nod or two. Seriously.

But that is not what this blog is about. The premise of Yesterday is something goes haywire with the world and The Beatles never existed. Except the Main Character–Jack, who remembers them. A world without The Beatles is a very sad world, indeed. Play with me though. If you could erase a musical group/artist from the existence of the world, which one would it be?

This is not to erase them as a person or as people, just their musical experience and influence. Once I entertained this thought, it was not hard for me to pick mine. I would eliminate Pink Floyd. If I never heard another Pink Floyd song again, that would be okay. In fact, if I’d never heard a Pink Floyd song it make me wish you were here until all the money was comfortably numb, especially if mother asked for another brick in the wall.

There were other groups that came close. A world without Madonna would be a better world. I think the same is true of Journey. Maroon 5 could go, too.

I limited myself to one–and that was Pink Floyd, but as I sit at my keyboard imagining what could be, a world without Pink Floyd, Madonna, Journey, and Maroon 5 sounds like a very, very sweet place to live. I’m sure you have your one–one musician/musical group you’d like to disappear.

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Fourth of July Movie

Here is the setup. It is Independence Day, but raining outside. You decide to watch a movie until the rain stops. You want to watch a classic Fourth of July movie, and these are the movies you have to choose from.

 

Remember to click the VOTE button to register your choice.

 

Thanks for playing! Happy Fourth of July.

 

 

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A SPOILER Filled Review of Toy Story 4

I’m serious. I decided to shove spoilers all over this review post, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to not know things, then you better click to another blog post like maybe this post about my new book or this post about Bernie Sanders or this random post about books I like

I warned you.

forky-toy-story-4


What I Really Liked

There are three things I loved about this movie. The first is the humor. Toy Story 4 is not the best in the franchise (that would be Toy Story 2) but TS4 might well be the funniest. I laughed out loud, which is rare for me, several times during the movie. The sight gags are amazing. Another thing I loved was the visual look of Forky. He has a certain Claymation appearance that tickled my nostalgia bone. The last thing I really loved was Bonnie’s poor dad. I felt for him, because his troubles, though exaggerated for effect, are all too real.

What I Liked

I liked they brought Bo Peep back.

I liked the idea of a road trip.

I liked the mannequins. I really loved the mannequins in the antique shop. Seriously, Toy Story 4 at times is a horror movie. I liked that.

I liked that at the end Woody, for the first time in his existence perhaps, was able to be himself and not be responsible for anyone else. He is the leader who steps down to be with his family. The pastor who retires. The parent when the kids all finally grow up and leave home. He can relax with the little shepherd girl who has his heart.

I liked the emotions the film evoked. These are real emotions of love, purpose, abandonment, friendship, and loyalty. Take tissues with you.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like the over-arching plot. It was paper thin, predictable, and to be honest boring. The plot held zero tension for me.

Though it was good to see Bo Peep, I didn’t like that they turned her into Rey from Star Wars. Seriously. She is a scavenger with a staff who is a great fighter and clever schemer. Mind you, I’m not upset that she is a strong woman–I like that part. What I don’t like is how much she reminded me of Rey. I think Bo Peep could have been more interesting as Ridley from Aliens 2 or perhaps Sarah Connor. Or Captain Janeway.

I didn’t like there was no short film in front of this movie. It made the running time of the movie seem brief.

What I Really Didn’t Like

There are two things I very much did not like about this movie. Keep in mind, it doesn’t mean I hate the movie, I just hate these two aspects of it.

The first thing I hated was the goodbye at the end. Buzz Lightyear and Woody are life-long friends. The movies occur in real time with us, which means they’ve been friends since 1995. For almost twenty-five years they’ve known each other. Their goodbye was terribly anticlimactic and far too brief. Yes, it was the emotional moment in the movie and many people will weep as they pull out a tissue, but let’s be honest that is because we the audience are providing the emotion here. The film cuts it short. This should have been even more of a gut punch. I can even see a montage of their greatest moments running. How awesome would something like that have been. Put that together with the way in which all the other toys — toys we are led to assume Woody has led and nurtured from the beginning because Woody was Andy’s original toy and they barely even say by-by. This bothered me.

The second, and from a story-tellers perspective the most bothersome, was the minimizing of the other characters. Buzz Lightyear not only has almost no presence in the film, he actually somehow becomes dumber. Buzz in TS 2 and TS 3 was bright, alert, and very aware of his place in the universe. This Buzz seems to not know what the young Buzz knew.

But Jessie? Poor Jessie. I think she has a total of two lines in the whole movie. All of the other characters are likewise moved aside.

The moviemakers dedicate this film solely to Woody. Even Bo Peep exist only as the fulfillment of Woody’s transition. Gabby Gabby and Forky make meaningful transitions, but both of these are viewed as Woody’s accomplishment, not their own discovery.

Overall

Overall, this is a great movie. My ranking of the franchise is 2, 3, 1, and 4. However, the nihilistic Forky is worth the price of admission and the mannequins are worth the popcorn and soda. You will love the movie. However, it could have been better. I think it could have been a lot better. It is safe for your whole crew, although Forky’s fatalism might cause some discussions later when you’re eating supper at Pizza Planet.

 

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What Would Free College Be Worth?–Meditations on Bernie Sanders’ Plan

Yesterday (24 June 2019) Senator Bernie Sanders upped the discussion among those candidates hopeful of winning the Democratic nomination. If I understand his plan, there are two parts to it.ap_738914881801-smaller_slide-c38afbf1af02da96e2f3e6688d883493538cf8cd-s800-c85

Part One: Offer free tuition at public universities and trade schools to everyone.

Part Two: Cancel all existing student loan debt.

ABC news reported it this way on their website:

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced his most sweeping plan yet to tackle the increasing cost of a higher education, introducing a bill Monday that would make public colleges and trade schools tuition free and cancel outstanding student loan debt for everyone full article here

I completely understand why some people want these changes. It starts with the pernicious problem of history majors from Princeton with $150,000 in student loan debt only qualified to teach history for $45,000 a year. I feel for these situations, I really do. I was able to attend the college of my choice because of financial aid, but still had to borrow some money to finish. A four-year university is expensive and the most expensive schools and degrees do not always offer promising jobs in the future, especially if all you have is an undergraduate degree.

Yet there are problems with the Sanders’ plan. If you make something free, the value plummets. By excusing debt, those who have already paid their loans back and those who chose to go to local schools, work through, and leave debt free are punished.

I have five big concerns that make me opposed to Sanders’ (and Warren’s) plan. I want you to know, though, I could be talked otherwise, as these are where I start from not where I may finish. A solid argument could persuade me. I just haven’t heard the solid argument yet.

Objection 1: If tuition at public institutions, like my alma mater, the University of Texas, is free then it will only be a matter of time before a university education at a public school is downgraded to essentially be a biggie sized high school diploma.

Objection 2: When public institutions are so constrained, the dividing line between public and private will only increase (a distinction that is currently neglible) with no public school able to get into the top tier. This will further divide the haves and the have nots.

Objection 3: Many private schools are religious institutions. By excusing debt accumulated, say, at BYU or Notre Dame, the government is funding religious education. As a Baptist, I have a hard time accepting this.

Objection 4: Canceling that much debt at one time, with no obligation or payment of any kind from those who amassed the debt, creates two immediate problems. The first problem is artificially tilting the free market economy.  The second problem is the expectation of a whole generation of mostly young people that they can have someone else pay their debt. It undermines responsibility, which is something college is supposed to teach.

Objection 5: Going forward, what do we do? If you cancel the debt now, in five years there will be students with loans needing to be paid back. Is this a perpetual promise, because that would get expensive fast. Free tuition doesn’t cover the most expensive part of college–room and board, thus guaranteeing there will always be college loans and college loan debt problems.

I am cynical of Sanders’ plan, because the Democratic candidates are falling all over themselves to give away more and more free stuff in an effort to get elected. I have a counter proposal. It is three parts. Part one, increase both need based and merit based federal aid while putting tougher limits on how much money can be borrowed. Part two, instead of free college, spend money on healthcare and create a universal care system. That would take a big spending burden off the entire public. Part three, expand and make for easier application the methods of having individual student loans forgiven. Some methods already exist, but these could be increased to include things like volunteering at your child’s school or a local food bank, jury duty, or donating blood or plasma.

 

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First Ten Pages of My New Novel

Below you will find the front matter and the first ten pages of my new novel, absolutely free. Enjoy!

 

ADW_cover

 

A DREAM WITHIN

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

 Jamie D. Greening

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks, is not enough, but alas, it will have to suffice.

I begin my gratitude with you—dear reader. There are so many other things you could be reading today, but you chose my novel and for that I am thankful. You will never know how much I appreciate that act of trust.

I also deeply appreciate Athanatos Publishing, specifically Anthony Horvath. His belief in Butch Gregory, from the very first short story in 2009 all the way to this volume, has been an encouragement that feeds my soul. I also owe a debt to the other writers in the Athanatos ‘stable’—specifically Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, and Derek Elkins. After you buy two or three more copies of this book to give as gifts, you should immediately go buy their books. The same can be said of my little writer’s group: Patrick Shaub, Iris Macek, and Amber Jones continually remind me to shorten my overcomplicated, comma infused, compound, run-on, and pretentious sentences; avoid the echo of word echoes, as well as to not swing for the fences on fourth and goal by mixing my metaphors. My writing would be exponentially better if I listened to them more often.

Many people have read through this work at various stages, and I deeply appreciate their labor. My writing and grammar are always in need of improvement. This is particularly true of plane old homophones. I am convinced this was a section of grammar in grade school covered by my teacher when I had my tonsillectomy. If you find one or more in this book, it is no one’s fault by mine. These eagle-eyed people include Joe Courtemanche, Pastor Barbara Agnew, Sheila Cochran, and Elisha Pile. Another thanks to Pastor, writer, and theologian smart guy John Duncan for his assistance with tricky Greek transliteration.

A Dream Withinis the most pastoral book I have ever written, and as it pertains to that I wish to express my deep appreciation for Joe Chambers and David Caddell, both of whom share in the very difficult work of shepherding my soul even if they don’t know it. Related to this, the three churches I have been blessed to pastor—Walnut Springs Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Port Orchard, and now Fellowship Baptist Church, have helped me more than I have ever helped them. I owe these three congregations so much, and I am thankful the awful things that happened to poor Butch at Sydney Community have never been my own experiences. Although, there was that one time . . .

I am a crazy, insecure, neurotic writer, yet somehow my wife and daughters love me anyway. I can’t even imagine life without them. Thanks, FamSquad. I love you.

Jamie Greening

Texas Hill Country

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or characterizations correlate to actual people living or dead. Nevertheless, this story is filled with truth. Let the reader understand.

 

 

For my father, Jack Greening.

The field is plowed, the corn laid by,

and the peas are picked.

Rest in peace.


 While I weep—while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

Onefrom the pitiless wave?

Is allthat we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

                      From “A Dream Within a Dream”

Edgar Allan Poe

 

PART ONE

The crucible is for silver

The furnace is for gold, and

The Lord tests the heart.

 Proverbs 17:3

I

            Pastor Butch Gregory felt as dark and blue as the necktie he kept tugging.

The tie wasn’t tight. Tightness squeezed his throat from the inside out. It had been a long time since he’d felt this uncomfortable. It was warm, temperatures in the upper seventies. The sky was clear and blue. The sun felt good on his black suit.

The weather was not the reason for his discomfort.

Something wasn’t right.

Of course, things weren’t right. He was standing at the graveside service for a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy who had everything going for him. It was not just any boy, either. He was the boyfriend of his daughter’s best friend. The boy had been in his house.He had eaten at his table. He had watched countless movies in his living room. He had driven his daughter around town.

He was a boy who was almost a man.

And now he was dead.

What part did Butch expect to be alright, anyway?

He grunted as he tugged. The necktie loosened; the tightening increased.

Funerals are always tough, but he wasn’t the officiant at this graveside. Here, he was a mourner.

Butch’s wife, Lucy, stood with one arm around their daughter, Sarah.

What pain Sarah must be going through. Why hadn’t he spoken with her about it?

Sarah was between Butch and Lucy. Paul, their son and youngest child, stood on Butch’s other side. It was their normal family seating order at public events: parent, child, parent, child. Sarah always between her mom and dad, and Paul to the right of his old man. It was how they sat at movies, concerts, football games, airplanes, and now funerals.

The chapel service had been scriptural and uplifting, and his colleague from First United Methodist Church had done a good job dealing with the difficulties and trauma involved. Butch knew she would. Here, at the graveside the minister was reading a sobering and reflective text from Ecclesiastes. He listened, looking for hope. He’d always found hope in the Scriptures. Not necessarily the hope he wanted, but always hope. He listened with his aching heart, hoping to hear something positive. Anything to help.

He worked hard to not conjure the passage from memory, but instead to listen with fresh ears as each word was released into the air.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose.

 

The familiar text from Ecclesiastes should’ve comforted him. He could remember times when it had. It was the exact same set of verses he’d read at his own grandmother’s funeral. That was in the past. Today, though, the Bible agitated him. It mocked him. He felt as if he was always losing. When was it his time to win? His turn to get? When was his family allowed to dance? Why was their laughter always tempered with the weeping? And pain? Was the Gregory family ever allowed to heal?

God felt a million miles away.

He tugged at his necktie.

Sniffles and sobs filled his ears. Butch felt like the entire high school student body was at the funeral. He knew some, most he didn’t. He’d baptized a few of them. His heart ached for them and the world they lived in. This was not the time in the lives of these children when they should be weeping. They should be laughing, dancing, studying, exploring, dating, learning, and living. They should be asking big questions about their place in the universe, thinking about love and God and eternity and politics and philosophy, and what college to go to. It wasn’t fair. The young man would never experience these again, and Sarah would have to face life’s bitterness far too soon.

His heart hurt for the boy in the coffin. A coffin which would soon have pall bearer boutonnieres placed upon it. Then dirt. And then not a small number of tears.

Butch looked at the sky through his sunglasses and imagined how he might be more comfortable if Roberto had died in a car crash. Or kidney failure. Or a sudden aneurysm. None of those would have eased the grief, but any one of those horrible things would have at least made some sense. People die. It was part of life. Accidents happen. Illness steals away years. Medicine fails everyone, eventually. Even kids. It was the human condition.

But Roberto didn’t die in a car crash. He didn’t have kidney failure. His brain was fine—there was no aneurysm. The limitations of medicine or science had nothing to do with why Roberto would not be in class Monday morning.

Roberto had opened the veins on his wrists with a razor blade. He bled to death on the floor of his bedroom. His mom found him when he didn’t come down for dinner.

What a horrible experience it must have been for her.

Butch tugged at the necktie.

The more he stared upward into the sky, the more bothered he became. He’d been bothered since it had happened, but he’d blocked the whole unpleasantness from his thoughts. The ability to compartmentalize came in handy for pastoral ministry, and he’d successfully used this skill to shelter himself from thinking about Roberto. Instead, he thought about work, the landscaping of his backyard, and the book he was reading. He diagnosed himself with classic denial.

He’d not even taken the time to sit with Sarah and talk to her about her friend’s death. How could he have neglected her spiritual needs? Was it a mental block? Defense mechanism? Professional distance? Why had he ignored her? Had she been anyone else’s daughter, he’d have made an appointment to specifically speak to her as she went through this. Yet under his own roof was a teenage girl with enormous pain, and he hadn’t even talked to her. That this girl was his daughter made his heart even sicker. His shoulders slumped. His left knee buckled. Failing his family had always been his fear, and now he saw he’d done the exact thing he’d never wanted to do.

Butch drew his left hand from his pocket; he draped his arm around Sarah’s shoulder.

He moved to pull her close to him, but Sarah stepped to the side, pulling away. Without ever looking up at him, she clutched her mother’s arm instead. Only two feet separated him from her, but it was an emotional Grand Canyon.

Butch’s arm fell empty to his side He looked at her; she never looked at him. He felt as though he gazed at a stranger.

He clutched at his necktie, but this time he didn’t tug at it. He tightened it.

After the minister had declared the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and the funeral director gave brief instructions, Sarah and Lucy stepped up to the casket. Sarah took a necklace from around her neck and placed it atop the silver casket. Lucy held her daughter tight. Butch stood helpless beside Paul. He didn’t know they’d planned that. When had they talked about it? He tried to remember if they’d talked about it, but he couldn’t focus.

The car ride home was quiet. Butch held Lucy’s hand, but neither spoke. Sarah and Paul doubled down on their parents’ silence.

The weather outside was warm for a spring day, but the atmosphere inside Butch Gregory’s home was cold.

 

II

 

Tommy Bothers brought the meeting to order.“As you know, this is a special board meeting called to discuss the sorry state of our church.”

“Come on, Tommy!” Dr. Gerald Land said. “You’ve not made a fair characterization at all of what our situation is. Your pejorative term is not appreciated.”

“Appreciated or not,” another voice chimed, “Tommy’s words are spot on. Things ain’t good.”

Tommy enjoyed this moment. He’d anticipated it, or something like it, for years, for as long as he could remember. It was his destiny. Tommy carried a mood about the whole arrangement. Last year he was elected board chairperson. His father and mother had politicked hard for him to earn the position, and their work paid off. He had endured the troublesome Butch Gregory long enough. Tommy knew how church should work. He knew what Sydney Community Church needed. He knew the solutions to their problems, and the solution started with removing the old preacher and finding a new one.

A younger one.

A smarter one.

A professional one.

A sensible one.

A compliant one.

But he had to be careful. There were difficult waters yet to navigate. Tommy knew he needed to be cautious. It couldn’t look as if he was working solely to get Butch fired. He had to make a logical case for a change in direction. It must look as if he was doing the hard things and saying the hard things for the church’s sake. Most people in the church loved Butch more than words could express, and the old guy had allies on the board. But the preacher’s power had waned

 

[to keep reading, you can purchase the novel for Kindle ($3.99) or paperback ($14.95) by clicking here]

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Bella and Whoopi and Privacy

I don’t really know who Bella Thorne is, but I know she is a celebrity.

I know exactly who Whoopi Goldberg is; she is Guinan. She singlehandedly guides Captain Picard through some of his darkest times with her wisdom and insight.

Bella Thorne should listen to Whoopi.

She should also listen to Whoopi because Whoopi knows a thing or two about computer hacking, because her greatest work was in a film where she foils international computer hacking thieves and spies with a giant toothbrush. True story. The movie is called Jumping’ Jack Flash. No doubt her finest hour. Unknown

Here are the facts as I understand them:

  1. Bella Thorne had topless pictures of herself on her phone/cloud.
  2. Someone hacked these pictures from her and attempted to extort money.
  3. As a preventative measure, Bella Thorne released the pictures herself on Twitter.
  4. On the television show The View, Whoopi Goldberg gave advice that basically says “You shouldn’t take naked pictures of yourself because someone will hack you.”
  5. Bella Thorne lashed out at Whoopi on her Instagram saying “Shame on you” (although she insisted upon using the letter U instead of the word you.)

The basic accusation Bella leveled at Whoopi was victim shaming, likening the situation to someone who went out dancing and had a drink or two, then was raped and blaming the victim for asking for it.

I think Bella misses the point, and that puts me in the very uncomfortable position of agreeing with Whoopi Goldberg.

Let’s use Bella’s analogy instead of the facts. A woman who is raped after a good time of dancing and drinking a little too much is a victim. The rapist should be punished to the furthest extent of the law and for what it is worth, I think the laws should be tougher. However, a good mother or grandmother, or any parental figure, will try and teach their children to always be on the lookout for dangerous situations and take extra precautions BECAUSE WE DON’T WANT THE PEOPLE WE LOVE TO BE VICTIMIZED.

Whoopi, as I hear her words, was not as much shaming Bella as she was giving advice. There are evil people out there–rapists, hackers, extorters–and they intend harm. Their victims are usually innocent people just trying to have a good time.

Whoopi doesn’t want to shame you Bella, Whoopi wants to protect the next victim by giving some common sense wisdom. I know that it is hard to understand, but us old folks (okay, Whoopi is thirteen years my senior, but I’m feeling older every day) know a thing or two because we’ve been hurt before. We’ve danced too long, drank too much, and trusted people we shouldn’t have. We don’t want it to happen to you.

Sometimes we come off as grumpy when we do this, but I encourage you, Bella, to listen with open ears to the wisdom of your elders rather than becoming defensive and attacking.

I feel for Bella, I really do. She has been wronged in a personal and intimate way, and she thought she had taken steps to circumvent the wrong. Her mental state, as I observe it in the Instagram video, is fragile. I hope someone close to her will encourage her to go silent for a while, heal, get some rest, and spend time with people who really care about her wellbeing. That is hard for celebrities because of ego and their own sense of self importance. Nevertheless, that is what she needs to do.

Related to this whole squabble is the pernicious problem of privacy, and I think that is what made Bella really angry. She heaped upon Whoopi the emotion she really feels toward the one who hacked her images. She had assumed her pictures were private and would never be seen by someone without her consent. In a perfect world, I wish that were true. Privacy and free speech are eroding in our culture at a rapid rate. Every. Single. Day. It seems impossible to make a secure network that can’t be broken into; and keeping people’s data private is only a pipe dream. It reminds me of my home: no matter how secure it is, an evil person with bad intent will find a way in. There are days I wonder if the internet, as much fun as it is, has not proven itself to be a failed experiment that should be abandoned immediately by all free socieites.

The only real solution to the privacy issue is to make the punishment for hacking so severe–lifetime in prison perhaps–confiscation of all financial resources–no one would ever dream of doing it. The punishment should extend to anyone who knowingly uses or consumes this information, including publication. This should be true of individuals and also of nation states like China, North Korea, and Russia who hack everything from corporations, to media giants, to elections.

Until we can stop this, though, listen to Whoopi. Don’t take naked pictures of yourself. They will get out. This is true for Bella Thorne, but it is also true of the sixteen year old whose boyfriend bullies and pressures her into taking the picture and sending it him. There is good chance when they break up everyone in their peer group will see that picture. This is true of pictures, emails, and all kinds of data and content.

Listen to Whoopi and us old folks. We might not know as much about social media as you do, but we do know about life and human nature and we don’t want to see you hurt.

 

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The Number One Burger in Austin?

Taste is subjective, but that doesn’t keep us from talking about what food is best. We do it with desserts, bread, pizza, and here in Texas we are always comparing barbecue.

What about burgers?

I read not too long ago (okay, it was three years ago in Texas Monthly) that the second best burger in the state, and the best burger in Austin was at  Second Bar + Kitchen downtown. It is called the Congress Burger. Mrs. Greenbean and I met some friends from our college days and enjoyed a warm June day and tasted for ourselves.

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The meat was very juicy and tender in the extreme. The flavor was dazzling–combing the subtlety of hamburger with the complex sharpness of brisket. The tenderness caused the hamburger to break apart easily, which is fine by me because I like to dip the burger bits into kitchen and mustard, alternately. The ketchup wasn’t as spicy as I’d have liked. I found myself wishing I had some of that nice Whataburger spicy ketchup to dip the burger in. The mustard was fantastic. I think they make it homemade and I wish I could have bought a bottle to take home.

I added pork belly–because fancy bacon is always a good idea.

The bread was disappointing. First, it was insufficient to hold the juiciness of the burger, which toward the end made the experience soggy. Second, the bread was too small and didn’t really cover the bottom or the top well. I know it is nice to have some stuff hanging out and falling all over the place, but halfway through the burger was left with mostly meat, lettuce, and tomato. Third, the bread was bland, bringing no noticeable flavor to the party.

The other disappointment were the potato chips. These were homemade on site, but way too salty to enjoy. How salty were they? Lot’s wife is probably missing an arm.

A delightful treat were the fried pickles we ordered as an appetizer. These were not chips, but spears served with a nice gorgonzola dip. Delish.

I paired my burger with a cherry Coke because cherry Coke is the best beverage to have with a burger of any kind. It was served in a fancy glass with tiny crushed ice.

The service was excellent. The ambiance was okay but the music was too loud for me. The playlist was fine, but the loudness made pleasant conversation just a little difficult. The bathroom was clean, or as clean as I could tell because it was very dark.

The location was nice, but we paid to park in a lot right behind the building so factor that into the cost of eating there. After the meal we walked across the Congress Avenue bridge and did a little shopping, all the while trying not to get run over by people on Segways and scooters.

It made for a pleasant day, but I’m not certain our favorite little burger joint here in town isn’t comparable, and a lot more accessible.

 

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The Pastor Draft

What if churches chose pastors coming out of seminary the way the NFL draft works?


Announcer Guy: First Church from Somewhereville, California is on the clock now with their first round pick.

1st Analyst Guy: Somewhereville has two big needs in the off season. Easter really exposed some of those holes, too. They need a solid Bible exposition preacher, that is their obvious need but up from they are weak so the best pick would be a great discipleship pastor who can develop some solid formations.

2nd Analyst Guy: Thats Right. Everybody thinks they will go for a preacher, but I expect them to take Stan Standard from Asbury as a spiritual formations leader. He’s a solid three tool guy–Firm handling of curriculum, excellent people skills, and that degree plan of his includes Biblical languages, so he is no slouch in the study.

1st Analyst Guy: The problem with Stanley is Somewhereville needs to come in under their salary cap, and Stanley will have a big price tag. There is some speculation they may trade down.

Announcer Guy: The Deacon is coming to the podium.

Deacon: First Church Somewhereville has traded their pick to Mosaic Missionary of Downtown Elsewhere for two picks in the second round.

1st Analyst Guy: That is a great decision. Now they can get both of their holes filled, but for a cheaper price tag. Looks like they will talk Tommy Talks-A Lot out of Truett Seminary in Waco for their Bible peaching needs. He has two great tools–evangelism is one, but his secret weapon is the funeral service. No one does a funeral like Tommy. With the savings under the salary cap they can probably get someone like Sandy Small Group out of Fuller. Her Methodist background will really come in handy for all the relational small talk she’ll need to make.

2nd Analyst Guy: Doesn’t Sandy also have a certificate in baking from the Paul Dean School of Sugar Overload?

Announcer Guy: Sandy graduated first in class at the Paula Dean Academy. It was one of her summer pick up annexes last year. A lot of people advised her it was a waste of time, but she knew she’d need to up her stock to make it to the big leagues.

2nd Analyst Guy: She’s gonna nail the potluck and coffee klatch at First Somewhereville. This is such great pick for them. Give it a couple of years, and they will be in contention for solid mega-church numbers during Christmas and Easter.

1st Analyst Guy: You can bet there is a building campaign in that church’s future.


 

Of course, this system would be okay with me if there were a nice signing bonus and guaranteed contracts.

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Endgame–Five Things I Didn’t Like (Spoilers)

Be warned–This post has spoilers. Not many, and Greenbean isn’t trying to spoil things for anyone, but the movie made $1.2 billion, so chances are good you’ve already seen it.

Before I start, let me say I enjoyed the movie and found it satisfying for the most part. Big franchises are hard to wrap up, so I appreciate the struggle they had. Nevertheless, there are five things (at least) that irritated me, and I’m not including the bloated runtime, either. Good editing could have shaved 30 minutes off of the movie, and we’d had a better movie.

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  1. I didn’t like the earth-as-wasteland motif after five years. I don’t want to be too literal about a comic book movie, but there are about 7.5 to 8 billion people on the planet right now. When Thanos snapped his fingers, as I understand it, half of them turned to dust. That would leave somewhere between 3.5-4 billion people behind, which is almost exactly how many people were on earth WHEN I WAS BORN in 1971. Plenty of people would be left to fill the apparently vacated neighborhoods of San Francisco or to keep the derelict boats from running aground in New York City. Don’t get me wrong, it would be sad and it would be bad, but the earth would still feel pretty well inhabited.
  2. I didn’t like what they did to Thanos. In Infinity War we had the perfect design of a bad guy–one who is really evil but who thinks he is doing right. In this film, though, he is just the bad guy, reduced to petty bad-guyness and petty bad guy idioms. Something was lost in the writing for his character. I get it, I know why it was hard but watching the movie you could tell the writers didn’t know what to do with Thanos after the snap, and they really never did decide anything other than he’d have to fight a final battle and lose.
  3. I didn’t like the cursing. More than any other Avengers-era film this movie not only had harsher curse words, but more of them and used them as plot devices. Captain America doesn’t say these kinds of things, and I don’t think it’s funny when children say dirty words. You’re better than this Disney Marvel. Don’t be X-Men.
  4. Captain Marvel displayed the problem with Captain Marvel. She is too powerful, and they used her twice as a deus-ex-machina to solve an unsolvable problem. She is the only one in the franchise now to carry the banner, and it seems like they missed an opportunity for some development. Imagine her working with The Black Widow to do something—how cool would that have been, or maybe a great argument between her and Tony Stark. They missed an opportunity.
  5. The last thing I didn’t like was the absence of any bone–not a single good feeling or acknowledgment–to those of us who watched every episode of Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  All those characters from the movies found a way in, but would it have killed Marvel to show a cameo of Agent Melinda May or Skye (or Daisy, Or Quake, Or whatever her name is today)? A reference to Fitz working on the time travel aspects in the Avengers would have been so appropriate. But nooooo!

This was my list. I talked to another expert on the Avengers, my youngest sprout. She wasn’t happy about Thor’s final situation–he’s lost everything, his girlfriend, his home, his parents, his brothers, and his body! She also felt the production felt rushed and that some of the costuming/hair choices weren’t brilliant.

Keep in mind, though, this film made $1.2 billion in the opening weekend alone, so, they probably know what they are doing. Although, if they need ideas going forward, Disney should feel free to hit me up.

 

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Tacos and Jesus

I don’t know whether I should file this one under food, preaching, or Bible? Probably it is a little of all.

Let’s start with tacos. There are few things in this world better than a taco. When I say taco most people think about the crunchy things you get at Taco Bell. That hardly qualifies, but it does indeed qualify. I prefer soft tacos–flour for most of mine but if it is a fish taco I prefer a corn tortilla. I also love breakfast tacos made with sausage, bacon, chorizo, or egg and potato. It’s all delicious.

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Most food can be described as a taco. This is really true of what we label as Mexican food. An enchilada is a soggy taco. A chalupa is a flat taco. Quesadillas are panini tacos. Nachos are de-constructed tacos. Chimichangas are deep fried tacos.

And for the record, there is no such things as a burrito. A burrito is just a pretentious taco.

But so many other foods are really tacos too. A sandwich is a taco with puffy bread. Think about it, Subway sells things called ‘wraps’ to substitute the fluffy bread, and a wrap is just a taco with different filler. The same is true of a burger–just a taco without the spices, but still a taco.

A hot dog is really a taco, too.

A gyro is a Greek taco.

A calzone is an Italian taco.

An egg roll is an Asian taco.

A kolache is a Czech taco.

I mean, if you get right down to it, a Twinkie is a Mid-Century American taco.

Eventually this gets me to Jesus. Jesus made seven of the apostles fish tacos for breakfast after his resurrection.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “bring some of the fish that you have caught . . . Come and have breakfast.” John 21:9-10, 12a

Tacos are resurrection food! I wonder if Thomas brought along some guacamole or queso? I doubt it.

Tacos are the universal food. One way or another people from just about every culture can relate to a piece of bread wrapped around something. Jesus offers this universal food to his apostles as he leads them to consider the universal neediness we all have to dine with him.

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The Highwaymen: A Review

Mrs. Greenbean was gone this weekend, so I was left home unsupervised and in complete control of the remote control.

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I watched the new Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, and Kathy Bates. The movie was enjoyable for me on so many levels. Let’s start with viewpoint. This is the first I’ve ever seen, and perhaps only film about Bonnie and Clyde that is told from the law’s perspective. It tells it the way it was, cold blooded criminals who were as violent and mean as any terrorist today. I appreciated that view of things.

A second enjoyable part was the view of Texas in the 1930s. My home state has changed a lot, and this was a look at the Texas my father grew up in. I don’t know where they actually filmed the movie, but the drive to Lubbock from Austin looked pretty realistic to me, as did The North Texas plains.

The third enjoyable aspect was the acting of Costner and Harrelson. I was suspicious going in, but they were perfect. There were a couple of shots of Costner that reminded me of what my father looked like when he was in his 60s–a rugged and strong man who has gained a few pounds but refuses to buy a larger shirt, and thinks he can do what he used to. In fact, the best scene is where he tries to shoot bottles flung into the air, and this is when he realizes he is an old man. Harrelson has the best lines, though. Of particular interest is his reaction to wiretap and how he doesn’t really know what it is, but he uses it several times, and each time not quite in the correct way. Reminded me of George Bush saying interwebs. Bates was good as Ma Ferguson, but I think this is one area where the screenplay may have taken liberties. My reading of history (and I could be wrong here) is she was a proxy for her husband, Jim.

There are some drawbacks in the film. The language can be a little harsh, and I doubt that was historically accurate. The movie also dragged on a bit. Solid editing could have trimmed ten or fifteen minutes. There is some gore, but, in the opinion of this historian, the gore is important here, for what we are dealing with are murderers and the Texas Rangers who caught and killed them. One more flaw, and it goes back to wiretaps. Portraying Texas Rangers as technology averse or ignorant is not accurate. In fact, my understanding is the Rangers were always ready to employ new technology to get the job done.

And now for analysis. One of the themes of the movie is the historically accurate perspective that the masses of people loved Bonnie and Clyde. This is true. A careful viewer will pick up on why–America was in the midst of terrible economic problems, and the bankers and lawmen who protect them were viewed as the enemy. Make no mistake, Bonnie and Clyde were awful human beings. However, to people living in migrant squatter camps, living from day to day, and starving to death bank robbers and cop killers can look like heroes. It also shows us that tension between under-represented communities and police officers is not a new phenomenon.

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You May Have Heard of This Mueller Report Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, except bigger and with color.

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

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In Which I Argue With A Book

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

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

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

What I Really Liked

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

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

What I Liked

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

What I Didn’t Like

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

What Surprised Me

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

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

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

Final Evaluation

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

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#Oscar Predictions 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign Language FilmRoma

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

Original Song–Shallow

Animated FilmIncredibles 2

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

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

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

 

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State of the Union 2019: What I Saw and Heard

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

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

 

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

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Hero wearing a Hero Necktie! 

 

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2019 Oscar Best Picture Nominees Rundown (NO SPOILERS)

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

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

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Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

A Star Is Born

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

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

Black Panther

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

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

BlacKkKlansman

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

BlacKkKlansman has a punchers chance of winning best picture.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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

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

The Favourite

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

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

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

Green Book

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

I think this has a very likely chance of winning.

Roma

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

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

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

Vice

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

This has a marginal, very marginal chance of winning.


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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The Brexit Hero

I have a new hero.

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

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

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A Book Review: Santa Claus Goes To Haiti

Not exactly Santa Claus, but close enough.

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


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What I Love About Nicholas of Haiti

There are three specific things I love about this book.

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

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

What You Will Love About Nicholas of Haiti

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

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

Who Will Not Love Nicholas of Haiti

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

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

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

 

 

 

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2019 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Bill Belichick will retire from coaching.

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Bird Box: A Brief Review

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

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

Here is your Bird Box recipe.


1 cup A Quiet Place

1 cup M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

1/2 cup Stephen King’s The Stand

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

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

1 teaspoon The Book Of Eli starring Denzel Washington


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

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

Motherhood

Societal Decay

Nature

Apocalypse

Demons

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Advent 4, Year C–Luke 1:39-56

Mary.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Here is my true confession.

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

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

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

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

I’m telling you, that will preach.


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

Hebrews 10:5-10

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

This leaves us to ask two questions.

Question One

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

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

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

Question Two

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

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

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

The Advent Angle

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

 

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Advent 4, Year C–Micah 5:2-5a

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

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

Micah 5:2-5a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent 3, Year C–Luke 3:7-18

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

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

You brood of vipers! Luke 3:7

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

We have Abraham as our Father. Luke 3:8

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

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

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

Share with him who has none  Luke 3:11

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

Be content with your wages Luke 3:14

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

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

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

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

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Advent 3, Year C–Philippians 4:4-7

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


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

Philippians 4:4-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent 3, Year C–Zephaniah 3:14-20

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

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

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

Zephaniah 3:15-15

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

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

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

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

Zephaniah  3:16B-17

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

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

Zephaniah 3:20

I am smitten by these words.

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

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

Zephaniah 3:20

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

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Luke 3:1-6

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

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

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

Luke 3:1-2

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

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

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

Luke 3:4-6

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

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

 

 

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Philippians 1:1-11

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

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


1. Opening

The apostolic greeting is familiar enough to most of us.

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

Philippians 1:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:3-8

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

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

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

3. Paul’s Prayer

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

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

Philippians 1:9-11

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

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

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

 

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Advent 2, Year C–Malachi 3:1-4

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

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

Malachi 3:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 3:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

1 Peter 2:9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advent 1, Year C–Luke 21:25-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord then comes back with promises.

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

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

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

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Advent 1, Year C, Zechariah 14:4-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Crimes of Grindelwald is a Crime

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NO SPOILERS! I PROMISE. NO SPOILERS


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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

Summary

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

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2018 Midterm Elections Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Now we can talk about the actual results.

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

 

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Fred and Christopher Made My Weekend

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

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

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

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

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Blood Letters: A Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

I highly recommend the book.