Sunday, January 24, 2021

What is the world to me? God loves the world

I believe it would be tone-deaf and inappropriate for me to choose this particular moment to resume my prior series; that kind of thing in its own time. This post, in its way, intends to engage current events with a Christian response. 

Before I have written at length on how the faithful cultivate a heart like God's and pursue actions like God's in their humility, loving kindness, and goodwill. (Series index.) In that light, I'd like to consider one phrase: "For God so loved the world." It's easy to think of "the world" in the sense of "worldliness" as in the well-known hymn, "What is the world to me?" which reflects on the vanities that we do well to avoid. By itself, though, it is incomplete for a Christian to picture the world only in terms of its vanities. "For God so loved the world." For all its messiness, for all its heartaches and troubles, God loves the world.

What is the world to me? 

  • The gift of God's creation, very good in every way. 
  • His providence, his grace for all that he has made
  • The declaration of God's glory. 
  • The beauty of holiness.
  • The home of his people, the bride for his salvation. 

God loves the world and the people in it. The core of God's being, the fountain of God's grace, the origin of morality itself, is love. If our calling is to be like God as beloved children are like their Father, then our calling is to love the world as he does.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Risks for this week: Eyes open, calm, and standing absolutely firm for peace

As much as it's tempting to Monday-morning quarterback now, I think it's dangerously premature. The intent of this post is something I don't think I've ever done before: within my own small reach, I'd like to raise awareness of a couple of things and if possible lower the temperature too. 

I have spent the last 2 months trying to figure out where to find the on-line leaders for the various MAGA groups and allies who have concerns about the election. That's included everything from lawyers to MIT statisticians to professional insurance fraud analysts to patent-holding inventors in the field of optical scanning. (I've even tracked down some of the influential QAnon'ers. They're ... interesting ... but that's a story for another day.) I have not heard any of the conservative influencers call for violence; I have heard consistent calls for peace. That includes the lead-up to January 6, where the intended plan of conservatives at the rally was not violence -- and definitely not insurrection -- but to ensure that the legislators listened to the key evidence of election concerns and cheer for their pending proposal of 10 days to audit the vote. The conservative speakers had already worked out who was presenting which evidence, and the big rally was all about being heard. The bad actors -- and they were a mixed bag -- effectively sabotaged the conservatives' last chance pre-certification to break through the news embargo and get their voices heard. The main reaction among the MAGA people that day was both the horror of what happened and the creeping suspicion that the whole thing was orchestrated precisely to silence and discredit the peaceful majority. To be clear, I'm not weighing in on whether anyone else should agree with their assessment; I am saying that is the most common assessment that I've seen from the MAGA people.

Here's a significant risk moving into this week: By deplatforming the peaceful conservative leaders not just once but twice in the last 10 days, the rank-and-file conservatives do not necessarily know where to find their trusted voices, who to the best of my knowledge were unanimously calling for peace. De-platforming the leadership and hounding them from one platform to the next makes the situation that much more dangerous. In the switch from Twitter to Parler, then from Parler to a diaspora of whatever scattered other platforms exist, several key account names have been grabbed by impersonators. To state the obvious: I doubt that all the impostors are benevolent. Not all the impersonated people have been able to get the impersonators shut down yet on the various scattered platforms. There is no guarantee that everyone is aware whether someone is impersonating them on a platform that they never use, but where people may go to see if they can find a voice that they miss. What would happen if a trusted voice is being impersonated by a bad actor who calls for violence? On the off chance that any MAGA people are reading this: If you see a call for violence, consider that someone may be playing you.

Truly, the leading opinion on the MAGA side of the house is that they were played on January 6. I'd give that claim a mixed review in this: Clearly 99+% of the people there were peaceful. Clearly there was no plan at an actual insurrection even from the bad actors, who generally had round-trip tickets or plans to drive back home. And yet there is no doubt that the woman who was shot was MAGA, and was where she should not have been. One of the people in the vicinity at the time she was shot, and apparently from some audio may have been egging her on, was ... well.

By now, you have doubtless been informed that there were no left-wing agitators

at the capitol impersonating Trump supporters on January 6. 

You may have heard that from a very reliable source. 

I think it's good to look for ourselves and think for ourselves. It can be informative to see who works well together as a team, making sure a clear and consistent message is heard. At a time like this, it's important not to believe unsubstantiated stories. There's a lot of bad information out there.

Right now, the biggest fear that I'm hearing in the MAGA diaspora is that there will be another false-flag attack (from their point-of-view) on inauguration day, possibly even called for by a hijacked "trusted name" who is being impersonated, and that the next false flag will be a pretext to either rob them of their remaining civil liberties or prevent their evidence from ever seeing the light of day.

It is so, so vital this week that we all keep our heads, and do not let ourselves be provoked into turning on each other. Especially if someone starts trouble. The first way not to start trouble is for everyone to be of goodwill; I don't see that as a good bet right now. The other way to stop trouble is by not piling on. 

"Stand down. Stand for peace." "Do not escalate." "Do not retaliate." "Do not reciprocate." "Do not follow a bad order."


Lord, make your people instruments of your peace. I hope I'm wrong, but there's a genuine chance that this week is the week where we must raise our voices for peace more insistently and calmly and urgently than ever before.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Surrealism is not just an art form

At the risk of stating the obvious: The outbreak of violence on January 6 was horrifying and should never have happened. Emotions are far too raw all around for Monday-morning quarterbacking just yet. I'll leave off by repeating my thoughts from November 4, going to sleep when the election was not yet called:

What would it take to delegitimize hatred, dishonesty, and violence? That is our calling regardless of the outcome of the election. If we want a good next four years, it is no longer up to any administration that might be elected. It will take enough of the public to choose honesty and kindness -- not timidly but publicly, to stand firm against those who do not. 

Find out what your side is saying about the other that they consider to be ludicrous, outrageous, or demonstrably false.

Right now the political and media leaders are actively making things worse. If they are leading, it is in the wrong direction. As Christians, may we continue to take a firm stand for honesty and kindness, gentleness and respect. 

If I could try to add one constructive thought: There is a phenomenon called "coregulation" which is about how, for any group of people who are interacting, moods and attitudes will tend to average out and seek a common ground as people interact with each other. For example, if I get angry and communicate it, you are likely to become angry in return or may have to make some effort in order not to get angry yourself. Or if I am kind, you may find yourself feeling accepted and being kind in return. My actions influence your mood and vice versa, with the ultimate outcome affected by things like number of people, reach of influence, and persistence / perseverance / determination. 

That means we have an open path for what we can do to make a difference: If we Christians act in concert, we can be a dampening rod against the hatred, and a point of origin for calmness and reason. We are at such a critical juncture that many of our differences can and (I believe) must be set aside in order to keep things from becoming worse than they already are. If gentleness, civility, love, and respect are to win the day, it's time to raise their banners higher.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Best of the Blogroll 2020

My posting time was pre-empted by other things during the holidays this year; this piece is normally posted the last day of the closing year. I'd like to recognize Christian blogs that I read with links to interesting or edifying content found there. I would recommend these posts as exceptionally worthy reads: 

In previous years I have taken the time at the end of the year to go back through each blog on my blogroll and find a solid or worthy post to link even if I had not bookmarked one during the course of the year. This year again with my pre-empted schedule the last couple of weeks I have not done that; the links here are simply the ones that I bookmarked over the course of the year. I'm thankful for all the Christian bloggers who serve God and create outposts of wisdom, compassion, insight, holiness, and all the other ways we can serve God. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

"Who do you say that I am?" -- The Gospel of Mark

This is pre-written as a second post of the day. There was also an earlier one posted around noon. 

I have had discussions with people who believe that the Gospel of Mark portrays a simply human Jesus. I am not quite sure where that perception comes from. The Gospel of Mark starts by introducing John the Baptist and his mission. John the Baptist is important enough to have a prophecy about him. His job is to "Prepare the way of the LORD," where that last word is in all-caps here in keeping with the typographical conventions of some translations because, in the original language, the original word was the unique name of God, considered too sacred to speak. John the Baptist says he's not even worthy to be a servant to who is coming next, which the author uses as a transition to introduce Jesus. 

Here is a sketch of early passages in the Gospel of Mark, and their bearing on Jesus' identity: 

Mark 1:2-11: already summarized above; there are details that different groups claim as supporting their own views
Mark 1:22: Jesus teaches as one who has authority, contrasted with the religious leaders of the day. 
Mark 1:25-28: Jesus has authority even over unclean spirits
Mark 1:1:29-34: Jesus has the authority to heal illnesses
Mark 1:35-39: Jesus came to preach/announce/proclaim (depending on your translation)
Mark 1:40-45: Jesus has the power to heal leprosy
Mark 2:1-12: Jesus claims authority to forgive sins, leading directly to a confrontation with religious leaders who accuse Jesus of claiming authority that belongs to God alone. He heals a paralyzed man as demonstration of his authority. In this scene the healing is almost a side-note compared to questions about his authority. 
Mark 2:13-17: Jesus and Levi: following immediately on his claim to have authority to forgive sins, he says "It is not the healthy who have need for a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." 
Mark 2:18-22: Jesus answers a question about fasting by saying his presence is equivalent to a wedding celebration where it is inappropriate to fast. 
Mark 2:23-28: Jesus' comments about the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. 
... And we're only on chapter 2. As the text is so familiar, I won't make a complete catalog so much as sum up: 

The action in Mark is largely driven by the question of Jesus' identity and Jesus' authority, with lines between Jesus and God becoming at least blurred, to the outrage of the religious leaders. But in Mark, there is no visible sign of an interest in the Trinity as such. So far there is only that blurred line, without any clear resolution to how that could be. 

The value of primary sources -- and of hearing both sides -- applied to the current political mess

My next entry in the Trinity series is scheduled to post at 10pm tonight. This post is more about current events, which I'll occasionally write about when it seems warranted or simply decent to do that. 

Anyone who is familiar with this blog will know that I have a strong, long-standing preference for primary sources. Why should I get information from a middleman if I can get information from the same place that they got it? I can skip the delay and the filter/bias risks that comes with a middleman. When I use secondary sources, it's typically for the purpose of identifying primary sources.

Likewise, anyone familiar with this blog will know that I have a strong, long-standing distrust of commercial news outlets, and not only because of their role as middleman. Is there any major commercial news outlet that has never promoted possibly-doubtful stories or hidden possibly-important stories by editorial choice? Beyond that, it often comes with a certain amount of emotional manipulation, or cultivating biases that will perpetuate themselves once established. My ideal news outlet would make a point to avoid biases, not cultivate them.

For those on the right, consider: How much have you heard about Trump's tax returns on any Team(R) news outlets? How about any potential financial complications about things he's done while in office? For those on the left, consider: Remember in October when all the Team(D) outlets were saying that the Biden family was not involved in any shady business deals, and in fact the whole story was Russian disinformation? Recently, since the election, there's been a quick reversal to acknowledge that at least one is in fact under federal investigation for shady business deals and has been for a long time. There are some news outlets that prey on their viewers' distrust of the other side to avoid accountability for what looks like intentional dishonesty with a political motive. For stories like these, I usually take a Schrodinger's-cat view unless I have a way to get to the underlying information (or unless one side reverses its story so that now everyone is in much closer agreement). What people believe generally falls under "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward with questions." The first person that someone hears is generally the side that treats them with respect rather than contempt. We are so polarized that we tend to miss that step where we hear the other side of the story. And I think it's not always intentional on the part of news consumers; it takes some serious intention to get the other side, and the result is often less clarity (if more empathy). 

With the current question about "Was there large-scale election fraud in 2020?" I made a firm decision basically from Day 1 that I would not to take the word of any news outlet, all resolutely partisan as they are. Instead I have studied charts and tracked what underlying data that I could; as time went by I read some court filings where claims are backed by sworn affidavits, and (more recently, as they become available) I have read hundreds of pages of affidavits as my primary sources. I've listened to some video statements of witnesses with direct knowledge. And as an IT professional, I have also spent some time analyzing the election results data that is publicly available for download, focusing on some specific cases where the data is more readily available and the nature of the claim is easier to fact-check.

So among the literally hundreds of pages of affidavits that I've read so far, some are more relevant than others. For the lower-impact ones, I want my time back. (I am not doubting that the person is making a true report, but not all the complaints are at the same level of relevance. The stack of affidavits could benefit from some culling.) For others, I found them an excellent sleep aid regardless of the hour when they were read. But to my surprise, among them I found a series of affidavits that were specific, well-documented, and on a scale that would clearly have affected the outcome in the affected states. For those affidavits that are well-documented, verifiable, and on a significant scale, I think it is a disservice to the public to bury the affidavits rather than respond to them. I think the general position has been that acknowledging the complaints and responding to them would leave a cloud over the election. After reading the statements (good and bad alike), I find that there are several where I believe that failing to respond will leave a cloud over the election, where the claims are so well-documented that they should be easily verifiable (or falsifiable). If they can be refuted, it would definitely be a public service to do so. If no response is made to specific, well-documented claims of that scale, it will inevitably leave doubt. 

The reader may notice that I have described the claims as "well-documented" and left aside the question of whether any given claim is "credible" because that is a subjective measure. All of the large-scale claims -- and there are several different ones -- are disturbing (subjectively). It would be tempting to dismiss them if they weren't well-documented.

Where does that leave me? Back to my touchstone: "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward with questions." I'm aware that the hundreds of pages of affidavits tell only one side of the story and so it is still possible that there might be answers, even if we have not yet heard them. Ethically, I see a procedural obligation to get those answers. It disturbs me that well-documented, sworn affidavits are getting the brush-off rather than a proper response. That reinforces certain groups in their perception that they will not be given a fair hearing, or accorded due process and equal protection. For the record, I believe the perception of equal protection is ultimately the problem that lost Hillary the election 4 years ago: her "deplorables" speech was hostile and callous toward a rather large group of American citizens and left many people reeling, firmly of the belief that they would not be accorded equal protection under the law if she were in charge. Four years later Hillary is not on the political stage much but her legacy lives on: many in the DNC have added "deplorables" to their talking points, and there was an uneasy amount of politically-motivated violence against "deplorables" even before the election. According to some public figures who are heavily involved in the lawsuits, one of the witnesses who came forward was physically attacked, seriously injured, and had to be hospitalized as a result; I don't have the primary source for that specific claim so I put it in the "Schrodinger" stack in my mind. That is not a situation that inspires confidence in the system. To restore my own confidence in the elections, I want to see answers to the well-documented affidavits that are of a scale that they would affect the outcome of the states in question. To restore my confidence in equal protection, I would need to see far deeper changes than those.

To end on a lighter note, I'd like to leave you with my thoughts as they stood before the election, my private assessment of the likelihood of fraud as I saw it at the time. My premise focuses on Antifa and its involvement in the coordinated riots in many of our large cities this year, which left me in no doubt that there was widespread coordination among anti-Trump groups who were willing to break the law. My thoughts ran: "If they can find hundreds of people willing to attack other human beings, if they can find thousands of people willing to destroy property, how many do you think would be willing to stuff a ballot box? There's probably a wait list." 

My basic position is: Check the facts. Hear the facts. Address the well-documented claims regardless of who is bringing them. Too many people have lost faith in the integrity of the elections, and mocking or ignoring well-documented affidavits actively makes the situation worse. Seriously, wherever there is an honest answer, it would be a public service to provide it. 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

"Why did David call him 'Lord'?"

One of the big questions surrounding the life of Jesus is, roughly, "What just happened?" We understand that whatever just happened is large, out-of-the-ordinary. We understand that the answers will affect our view of God, of morality, of whether life after death is a pipe dream or if it's real. We understand that it will take us awhile to wrap our minds around what has happened. And we start with: Who exactly is this Jesus? It's a question that Jesus himself raised with his disciples. 

Some of the questions we have about the nature of Christ have fairly clear answers in Scripture. For example, consider the question "Did Jesus believe that the Messiah was simply a human descendant of David?" For the answer, many Christians are content to find their answer in Jesus own challenge to that thought in his own day: "Why did David call him 'Lord'?" That conversation is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 22:43-45, Mark 12:36-37, Luke 20:42-44), indicating that all the writers of the synoptic gospels considered it to be both accurate and important. 

In Acts 2:34-36, we have a record of Peter employing that same line of reasoning and the same quote to demonstrate: "Therefore, let all Israel know: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ." That seems to be a clear demonstration that Jesus is considered to be above us -- and that Peter attributed Jesus' status to God. It is fairly easy to read that quote from Peter as saying that Jesus is important over all the world, that he is in authority over us, and is the Christ. It is fairly difficult to read that quote from Peter and assume that he thought Jesus was either God or part of a triune God. To complicate matters, I can see how those words -- spoken by David, quoted by Jesus, cited by Peter -- are a direct claim not only to Jesus' special status with regard to God, but also at least a hint of his existence long before the human Jesus was born. Whatever is going on, it's not simple. 

The next direction of this series is to review the New Testament writings that are generally argued both for and against the different understandings of Jesus, whether orthodox or unorthodox. I'll skip the book of Revelation, where I find the symbolic elements too prominent for any argument from it to be logically conclusive. At any rate I am not aware of anyone taking an indispensable proof for their position from Revelation. 

To be continued