Yearly Archives: 2013

Be Careful Who You Aim At

In 1997, I believe it was (maybe 2001), my denomination passed a resolution to boycott Disney, because Disney was extending benefits to gay partners. The boycott was quickly forgotten, but it has never been rescinded. So technically, we’re still boycotting Disney…which half-owns A&E, which airs Duck Dynasty. Which means, I guess, that we should be boycotting Duck Dynasty. I’m so confused.

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Book Review: “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”

zealotA few months ago I finished “Zealot,” by Reza Aslan. This wonderful book looks at what history tells us about Jesus, the people around Jesus, and that era in general. I learned so much, and as a result, I now read Scripture in a much more informed manner.

Aslan, a religious historian, is a Muslim with an evangelical background. He is fascinated by Jesus, and holds Christianity in high regard (he married into an evangelical family). While some of his views conflict with traditional Christian teaching, he never attacks or tries to discredit Christianity like the atheist writers–Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. He’s just saying, “This is what history tell us.” His views also differ from traditional Islamic teaching about Jesus–again, based on his objective findings as a religious historian.

The book is mostly straightforward history. He gives background on Herod, Pilate, the high priests, other “messiahs” (pretty much all of them killed by the Romans), the economic boom occurring in Galilee at the time, the mood in Israel (always on the verge of rebellion against Rome), the disciples, the divide between Paul and the church in Jerusalem, the destruction of Jerusalem, and so much more. His explanation of why Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man is excellent, and unlike anything I’ve heard before. In explaining the historical context of Galilee, he presents some utterly fascinating, and totally plausible, possibilities for how Jesus might have spent those “silent” years of his youth (helping build Herod’s “dream city” very close to Nazareth). He information about James, the brother of Jesus who led the church in Jerusalem, presents an incredible hero of the faith we never talk about.

I’ve found that Christian writers tend to regurgitate the same information. They use each other for references, and so you get nothing new. But Aslan comes at the life of Christ from a totally different perspective and illuminates that period of history in ways that continually made me stop and go, “Wow! I never heard that!”

Aslan’s writing style is clear and accessible–not academic in any way (though he footnotes extensively). It’s not a long book (less than 300 pages without the footnotes), broken into topical, fairly short chapters. He humbly admits, right up front, that his conclusions are nothing new, and that many of his claims can be rebutted with equally authoritative claims. There is no academic arrogance here. When he discounts a miracle, it’s not because he doesn’t believe in miracles, but because no historical source beyond the Bible mentions it. He divides events into matters of history, and matters of faith. For instance, he says the crucifixion of Jesus is a matter of history, but for Christians the resurrection is a matter of faith which goes beyond the historical record–and he’s okay with that. There are similar matters of faith in Islam.

Aslan describes himself as a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, but not a disciple of Jesus the Christ. Viewing Jesus as the Christ is a matter of faith. But even the historical record, he shows, contains evidences of Christ’s divinity, including his well-documented (I didn’t realize) reputation as a miracle worker and healer. He even gives one of the best proofs for the resurrection that I’ve heard (based on the disciples).

The book was just downright eye-opening to me. I learned so much about Jesus, and compromised none of my doctrinal views. Aslan never promotes Islam; doesn’t even mention it, I don’t think, except in the opening chapter in giving his background. It was easy for me to cling to my view of Scripture as the authoritative Word of God, and to slide over what conflicted with my views. Aslan apparently found the Bible authoritative from a historical standpoint (basically, with caveats), because he used the Bible as his main source of information about Jesus. Many times, in fact, I felt like I was in a Bible study.

I’ve been very simplistic here in reviewing “Zealot,” and can’t do justice to Aslan’s approach. I’m sure many of my fellow Christians are ready to go on the warpath to defend the faith. But please, just read the book. Yes, he raises lots of questions for us Christians, but always in a respectful way. Aslan’s Jesus and my Jesus inhabited the same world. Aslan helped me better understand that world and, in the process, better understand my Savior.

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Lincoln Vs. the Christmas Holiday

David Frum wrote an interesting piece for CNN: “The ‘War on Christmas’: Did Lincoln Start it?

He takes a historical look at how Americans have celebrated Christmas. He notes that the Founding Fathers, and our political leaders up through the late 1800s, took a far stricter view of “separation of church and state” than we do today. In fact, if they were alive today, they would argue on principle against any governmental recognition of Christmas (or any other religious holidays).

  • George Washington, as president, issued a proclamation about Thanksgiving (a secular holiday) but never one for Christmas or Easter.
  • Abraham Lincoln, in 1834, voted against making Christmas a state holiday. No state in the country closed offices on December 25 that year.
  • On his first Christmas as president, Lincoln held a cabinet meeting. The Lincolns never put up a Christmas tree, never sent Christmas cards.
  • In 1836, Alabama became the first state to recognize Christmas as a state holiday.
  • Christmas didn’t become a national holiday until 1870.
  • Benjamin Harrison, in 1889, was the first president to allow a Christmas tree in the White House.

Maybe the “War on Christmas” should be retitled the “War on the Original Intent of the Founding Fathers.”

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Thank You, A&E

duck-dynasty1

Dear A&E:

We Christians have been bashing you for the past week. It’s certainly not in line with James 1:9, which tells Christians, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (violations of which, Phil Robertson would agree, is sin). Corporately, Christians tend to be very prickly, and you’ve been the recipient of our ire. So, with Christmas approaching, let me–just one solitary Christian from Indiana–take a more positive approach.

Thank you–I repeat, THANK YOU–for airing Duck Dynasty for the past TWO YEARS. You permitted Christian values and beliefs to be broadcast to millions of people. I hope other Christians have commended you for this, but perhaps their voices are drowned out by the angry voices crying, “Persecution! Censorship!” But I greatly appreciate your willingness to invest in a show which lets Christians be Christians.

Duck Dynasty is a huge success now, but at the beginning, it was a gamble in which you were investing millions of dollars. I’m sure many corporate voices cautioned, “A show about a group of bearded conservative Christians?” Yet you took the chance, and we appreciate it. I’ve heard many people talk about the way the Robertsons are able to freely express their faith. You enabled that to happen. Thank you.

After two years of airing Duck Dynasty, A&E earned the benefit of the doubt. But instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt, we immediately hurled invective and righteous indignation at you. As Christians, we should have stepped back and considered things from your perspective.

You, as a business, also have values which apply to all of your shows. Your main purpose is to earn money–we understand that. One of your employees, in an entirely different medium, offended an important demographic and violated a corporate value. He endangered your investment. Companies have every right to take action in such circumstances.

In fact, Christians believe in accountability, in policing ourselves. Sort of. Yes, we too often give celebrity preachers and entertainers a pass when they violate Christian values, forgoing the discipline Scripture requires. But you, a secular company, took strong action even though you knew it would hurt you where it counts–the bottom line. You exist to make money, and Phil Robertson was making you lots of money. Yet you suspended him anyway. I don’t agree with the reason you suspended him. But I respect that you did it.

I apologize that Christians are giving you so much grief right now. If you’re looking for Jesus in the flood of criticism coming at you, you won’t find Him. We are behaving badly.

Like I said, after taking a chance on Duck Dynasty, and after permitting Christianity to be on bold display for two years, you deserved better from the Christian community. You had earned better. I hope our harsh reaction won’t make you wary of airing more programs which involve Christians. But if you avoid anything involving Christianity in the future, I understand. And I remain thankful for these two years of Duck Dynasty.

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Too Many People to Salute

american-generals-wwii-war-is-hell-store

An article in the November 4 Time magazine argued that the US military is way too top-heavy.

  • During World War 2, we had 2000 generals and admirals, 1 for every 6000 troops. Now we have 900 generals and admirals–1 for every 1500 troops.
  • During WW2, we had 1 officer for every 8 enlisted men. Now, it’s 1 for every 5.

The glut of officers leads to unnecessary bureaucracy to keep officers busy with questionable work. The Army says the 20-year pension requirement keeps too many mediocre officers around.

Higher-paid officers require higher benefits. One retired Marine officer says, “We’re going to turn the Department of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist.”

Interesting stuff to think about.

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Big Brother Comes for Christmas

The NSA Hymn: “They know if you’ve been sleeping. They know if you’re awake. They know if you’ve been bad or texting terrorists, so live off the grid for goodness sake.”

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Teen Non-Drivers: One Way to Solve the Energy Crisis

texting_driving_2008_12_11_tr-7

Four different studies show that America young people are driving less than previous generations, and many aren’t even bothering to get a driver’s license. Since 1983, the percentage of 19-year-olds with driver’s licenses fell from 87% to 70%. For 17-year-olds, it fell from 69% to just 46%. Insurance companies report a 12% drop in covered teen drivers since 2006. Teen traffic fatalities are also falling.

There are several theories about what’s happening.

1. Teens “hang out” via social media–Facebook, texting, etc. No need to be physically together. International data shows that the higher the internet use in a country, the lower the number of young people with driver’s licenses.

2. Teens can’t afford to drive. Can’t get good enough jobs to pay the car, gas, insurance, and upkeep.

3. Young people are opting for alternative transportation, and choosing life habits which require less time on the road.

4. They haven’t gotten around to it yet. In one survey, 37% of teens said they’re just too busy to get a driver’s license. (Too busy with what?)

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You Picked It. Live With It.

Lions Eagles Football

The NFL says if the weather is bad, they could move the Super Bowl from Sunday to either Saturday or Monday. Hey, you chose an outdoor stadium in New York City. Don’t wimp out. Own it.

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Some Enduring Choices

Lawrence-of-Arabia

Thinking of the late Peter O’Toole, I was wondering about the movies “Lawrence of Arabia” beat for the Best Picture Oscar. So I looked it up.

Other films from 1962: “The Longest Day,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Music Man,” “The Miracle Worker,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” “The Manchurian Candidate.”

And not a sequel, or a superhero, among them! Oh, to have a selection of movies like that today!

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China: Follow the Leader, Thank You Very Much

china-moonlanding

Congratulations to China for landing an unmanned vehicle on the moon last weekend. I apologize that we in the US consider it a blase achievement, since we landed on the moon 45 years ago. Maybe you didn’t notice, since you were all caught up in that Cultural Revolution thing you had going (how’d that turn out, by the way?). Oh–did anyone tell you we also included a couple actual people? And brought them back? Tiny little detail you may have overlooked.

Since you’re playing catch-up, you might try a couple other things we did in 1969.

For instance, we held a big music festival that year–called it Woodstock. You could try something like that in Tiananmen Square. Might go over real well. We also debuted something called the 747 Jumbo Jet. Do you have anything like that? Also in 1969, we created ARPANET. Today we call it the internet. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Anyway, keep up the good work. Imitation, as they say, is flattery, and China excels at imitation.

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