August 24, 2019

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: August 24, 2019

Promenade Park, Ft. Wayne, IN

The IM Saturday Monks Brunch: August 24, 2019

Greetings from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I am with my young grandson for a weekend of soccer games. The weather is supposed to be ideal — highs in the 70s, with bright blue sunny skies. Last night my other grandson’s team had their first game of the high school football season, winning 27-17 (I’m sorry I had to miss it). So, fall sports have begun, even though it’s hard for me to fathom saying that before Labor Day.

Fort Wayne is the second largest city in the state, behind Indianapolis. It traces its beginnings back to the Revolutionary War, when a series of forts was built in the region. It became a trading post, then a village that boomed after completion of the Wabash and Erie Canal and the coming of the railroad. Fort Wayne grew into a manufacturing hub and remains a center for the nation’s defense industry.

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge. Photo by tquist24 at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Fort Wayne is where our fellow iMonker David Cornwell goes to church, and we plan to spend a bit of time together this weekend.

Replica of Abe Lincoln’s cabin, Foster Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Photo by David Cornwell at Flickr

But most of the time, I’ll be trying to capture a few more shots like this…

…and cheering for my grandson.

• • •

The Amazon is on fire…

Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, on Wednesday. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Along with a series of remarkable photos, NPR gives this succinct report:

A view of the devastation caused by a fire during the dry season in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday. (Adriano Machado/Reuters)

International concern is growing over the rapidly spreading fires that are destroying large swaths of the Amazon rainforest.

The fires were most likely started by farmers clearing land, but have spiraled out of control. In just the past month, about 36,000 fires have ignited — nearly as many as in all of 2018, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Overall, there have been 74,155 fires so far this year — mostly in the Amazon — an increase of about 80% compared to last year.

World leaders are starting to sound the alarm.

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tweet Thursday.

Calling it an international crisis, he urged asked those attending the G-7 Summit this weekend — hosted by France — to put the fires at the top of the agenda.

Meanwhile, the country’s leaders appear to be fiddling while the rainforest burns. Brazil’s President Balsonaro, a right-wing nationalist, advanced a conspiracy theory, blaming NGO’s for intentionally setting the fires to get attention. Bolsonaro has angrily played down the fires as a “domestic Brazilian issue” and an annual phenomenon, while accusing Macron of a colonialist mindset in raising alarms. Finland has called upon the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports as a way of holding Balsonaro and his policies to account.

• • •

Tinker, tailor, missionary, spy…

I might just have to get this one. A fascinating review at Christianity Today looks at Matthew Avery Sutton’s book, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War.

Many of America’s first spies were missionaries or came from missionary backgrounds. Often enough, they were the only Americans who had lived abroad—not just among locals but as locals. While other American spies learned about the world through books and couldn’t really grasp its full range of quirks and complexities—“like tourists who put ketchup on their tacos,” as Sutton puts it—missionaries spoke several languages and knew the subtle differences between local dialects. They understood local cultures and faiths from the ground up and knew intuitively how to navigate between them. They knew, in short, “how to totally immerse themselves in alien societies.” But they always identified first and foremost as Christians and as Americans, and when they were called to serve the nation, they did not hesitate to do so.

…Being a missionary spy was fraught with moral and spiritual tension. The missionary aspires to the highest morality, while the spy deliberately blurs the lines between right and wrong; the missionary preaches a gospel of love and kindness, but the spy must lie, cheat, and steal in order to complete the mission. “It is an open question,” Eddy later observed with some regret, “whether an operator in OSS or CIA can ever again become a wholly honorable man.” Sutton’s title, Double Crossed, is a clever play on words that reveals these tensions between the methods of God and those of Caesar.

• • •

And, more on the “Billy Graham Rule”…

From the Charlotte Observer

Manuel Torres, 51, is a devout Southern Baptist who sometimes serves as a deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, North Carolina. Up until 2017, he was also a deputy in Lee County.

Torres said he was fired from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office after declining to train a new female hire alone — a violation of his Christian beliefs under the so-called Billy Graham rule. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in North Carolina federal court, the former deputy is now seeking more than $300,000 in damages for religious discrimination.

“Torres holds the strong and sincere religious belief that the Holy Bible prohibits him, as a married man, from being alone for extended periods with a female who is not his wife,” the suit states.

The order to train a female deputy would reportedly require him to “spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee,” the lawsuit said.

“The job duty of training female deputies, in such a manner, violates (Torres’) religious beliefs against being alone for periods of time with female(s) who is/are not his wife and leaving the appearance of sinful conduct on his part,” the suit states.

Torres said he asked for a religious accommodation that would exempt him from the training in July 2017, according to the lawsuit, but he said his sergeant ultimately denied the request.

After Torres reportedly brought his concerns to higher-ups in the department, he said in the complaint, the sergeant retaliated by allegedly failing to respond to a call for backup “in an unsafe area in which Torres had to tase two fighting suspects, and a gun was present on the scene.”

In early September 2017, one of Torres’ superior officers also reportedly “expressed his anger” at the repeated requests for religious accommodation.

Less than a week later, Torres said he was fired without explanation.

• • •

How do you respond to these statements?

I can’t follow Christ and also succeed at being nice.

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing…

…and this may affect how you read the Bible

[Google] has issued new community guidelines, saying, “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news” doesn’t “build community,” and employees should, therefore, “avoid conversations that are disruptive to the workplace or otherwise violate Google’s workplace policies.”

In practice, meritocracy now excludes everyone outside of a narrow elite.

• • •

Greatest songs of my lifetime…

Each Saturday from now on, I’d like to contribute a section devoted to songs that I consider among the finest that have been written and performed during my lifetime. This will cover songs from the 1960s to today. I hope you will enjoy these sound bites from the soundtrack of my life.

On today’s edition of greatest songs, I’d like to remind us of Jimmy Webb’s three “city” songs that he wrote and then released in collaboration with Glen Campbell:

  • By the Time I Get to Phoenix (Campbell’s version released in 1967)
  • Wichita Lineman (released 1968)
  • Galveston (released 1969)

This is as fine a song cycle as you’ll ever find. May you find joy in listening to them today.

Conversation is Difficult — Let’s Do Better

Conversation is Difficult — Let’s Do Better

In his book Disagreeing Virtuously, Olli-Pekka Vainio names three specific virtues that keep communities in conversation even when they disagree: open-mindedness, humility, and courage.

• C. Christopher Smith. How the Body of Christ Talks

• • •

I’ve been getting more criticism lately about the moderation of our comment threads here at Internet Monk. This pops up occasionally, but it seems like it has been more frequent in recent days.

But in reality, it’s been like this from the start. Here are some excerpts from a post I wrote just a couple of months after Michael died, back in 2010.

Wow.

We’ve had quite a week so far here at Internet Monk. The comments have been pouring in faster than I can follow them, and I’ve had to go back and clean up several messes where people spilled venom or knocked down a wall trying to create a new corridor for the conversation.

If your comment was deleted in one of these discussions, it may have happened for one of several reasons:

  1. You were denying someone’s salvation.
  2. You were being just plain mean. Rude. Impolite. OK, a jackass.
  3. You posted a comment so extensive it broke the record for longest essay on iMonk.
  4. You got off the subject.
  5. You got caught up in a discussion that was off the subject.
  6. You got caught up in a little game of “You vs. Me” and forgot there’s a whole community involved in this discussion.
  7. You gave off the attitude that everyone else involved in the discussion was unworthy of your attention, so you shouted what to you seems obvious, rolled your eyes at being seen in the company of such ignoramuses, and stormed out again. (see #2)

I thought I’d throw out a few reminders today to help us as we listen and talk with one another.

ONE: Internet Monk is a conversation, not a church.
Some of you seem exasperated that we are not upholding a particular confession of faith here. We’re not calling certain commenters heretics. We’re allowing the “liberals” to have a voice. Gasp, even non-Christians are allowed to make points.

Friend, this is not a church. I am not your pastor. We have not entered into a covenant here. This is a conversation. Yes, we come from a distinctly Christian point of view. Yes, we talk about the Bible and theology and church and missions and following Jesus. I hope people are edified and helped. There is definitely a ministry aspect to this blog.

But it’s also a conversation blog, and a conversation is an open proposition. All are welcome. Yes, those who enter the discussion should be aware that making and defending arguments can be a rough and tumble business. But they should also expect respect. No matter what their views, they are human beings, made in God’s image, people for whom Christ died, and our neighbors.

Let’s all learn the fine art of conversation.

TWO: Internet Monk is a blog, not a free speech forum
Some of you think we’re being unfair when we edit or delete your comment or speak in a way that you think is inconsistent. I’m going to be brutally honest — what matters in the final analysis is what we who moderate the blog think about whether or not a comment is appropriate, not you.

Michael Spencer once wrote:

I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog. I have worked hard for the success I have in this medium, and I do not share it or allow others to denigrate or manipulate it. You may participate, but I do not sponsor wars, slander, threats or pointless arguments.

I’m not a perfect moderator, so if you want to accuse me of being hypocritical or inconsistent, I already agree with you and it doesn’t matter. You won’t win the comment war.

If you insist on getting your point of view heard, and are frustrated here, you are free to start your own blog. It’s easy to do, and that would give you complete freedom to set your own rules. Here, we have ours, and they’re clearly defined.

To read about us and how we operate, go the FAQ/RULES page.

THREE: Internet Monk is a trust, not my bright idea.
Even though you are hearing my voice as the main writer on this blog, I write (and solicit the contributions of others) as one entrusted with a legacy, not as one starting from scratch. That means I have a responsibility to keep the material at iMonk at a high level, and also to maintain a certain continuity with the voice and emphases of its founder, Michael Spencer, as well as to chronicle my own journey and perspectives.

Michael’s writing is why I and hundreds of thousands of you were attracted to this blog in the first place. Not only because he shared his own life with such vulnerability and grace, but also because he was willing to pick some fights, make a few enemies, and point out regularly that many of the “emperors” we are all enamored with have no clothes.

Sacred cows make great barbecue, and we’re gonna keep the cook fires burning. You are not going to like everything you read on Internet Monk. If you do, we’re not doing our job. In fact, those of us who write on IM don’t agree with each other on everything. How boring would that be?

Conclusion
So, please, stay in the conversation here at Internet Monk, and invite others to join us. We promise to do our best to keep it fresh, stimulating, thoughtful, and sometimes disturbing.

We are always open to constructive criticism and suggestions. You can contact Chaplain Mike by email through the link at the top of the page.

In general, I have always been a more lax moderator than Michael Spencer was. The main reason is simple. Michael worked at a Christian boarding school and had opportunities throughout the day to devote time to keeping up with what was happening on the site. I work full time out in the community, am on call 2-4 nights each week, have a different family situation, and therefore have much less freedom to carefully follow along with the conversation on Internet Monk.

I have also overseen the transition of this blog to a more conversation-oriented blog, with a wider berth given to the kinds of comments that might well have been deleted or even gotten commenters banned in the past. For the most part, except for off-topic material, I will only delete comments if I think they are way out of line or represent a condemning spirit, an unwillingness to engage honestly or fairly with others, or attacks that come from downright meanness.

And I definitely have my weaknesses as a moderator. In particular, I have not been as good at something I probably should work on — making sure that certain voices do not dominate the conversation or persist in trying to have the last word.

In days to come, I am going to do my best to pay more careful attention and engage more to keep conversations on topic and civil.

It is my hope that each of you who wants to participate here at Internet Monk will also take a little time to think about how you can make this conversation more vital and helpful to everyone.

The old rule applies in conversation: “Measure twice, cut once.”

Or as Eugene Peterson’s rendering of James puts it: Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.”

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey,

Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway

We now come to the end of our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey.  Today is Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway.   Beliefs have consequences. Jon says, “When beliefs involve such a core doctrine of Christianity as creation, they cannot fail to affect the life of the believer – and on the larger scale, of the church – profoundly”.  Jon asserts that it makes a huge difference whether one believes the “traditional view” that the natural creation is fallen and corrupted or whether, as he has argued in the book, it retains the same “goodness” that was accorded it by God in the beginning.  What you do not love, you will not value.  If God values not only “Nature” as an abstract concept, but each creature, to the extent that “not one sparrow is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6) then there is a mismatch of values if we love them any less.

Jon says the first thing to be restored when the idea of fallenness is seen as unbiblical fiction the sheer sense of joy in natural things.  He quotes Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) who saw that the creation stemmed from God’s insatiable desire to spread his love beyond himself into everything he made.  Traherne said:

Till you see that the world is yours, you cannot weigh the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your redeemer’s love.  One would think these should be motives sufficient to stir us up to the contemplation of God’s works, wherein all the riches of His Kingdom will appear. For the greatness of sin proceedeth from the greatness of His love whom we have offended, from the greatness of those obligations which were laid upon us, from the great blessedness and glory of the estate wherein we were placed, none of which can be seen, till Truth is seen, a great part of which is, that the World is ours.  So that indeed the knowledge of this is the very real light, wherein all mysteries are evidenced to us. (Traherne, Centuries, p. 80)

Thanksgiving for creation.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Jon says God cannot work for good in all things unless he works in all things (“all things” in the passage being applied to everything in all creation).  And if he is, indeed, working in all things created, they are his servants for our good, and worth of thanksgiving.  The basic Christian prayer of thanksgiving, then, depends on belief in the goodness of God’s creation, or suffers the death of a thousand qualification.

Prayer within creation.  Since thanksgiving requires the creation to be fully obedient to God’s purpose for it, then the very same applies to prayer on similar grounds.  Jon says:

“If nature is in revolt against God, is it going to be any more submissive to him because we pray to him?  If we pray for the bane of disease to be turned into the blessing of health, are we (in fact) asking God to pit his strength to oppose his own creature (the bacteria or whatever), or are we asking him to command his servants to spare us?  If we cry out in distress from a ship foundering in a storm, are we whistling in the wind because storms are “just a natural phenomenon”? It is only the truth of God’s continued sovereignty within his universe that makes the discipline (and joy) of prayer that Jesus practiced and taught worthwhile, or even rational.  What did Jesus teach about God in creation when he commanded us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”?

Worship on behalf of creation.   One sign of the continuing goodness of creation is its own participation in the worship of God:

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.  22. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.  Praise the Lord, my soul. Psalm 103:19-22

In itself the irrational creation is, metaphor apart, only capable of giving God praise by being what it is.  That in itself, given that Scripture in many places says it does praise him, is firm evidence against its fallenness.

Relating science to creation.  Jon says, “…the biblical belief that creation is both good and subject to God dethrones the still-common Enlightenment principle that the universe is a closed causal system, in which God cannot act and, by implication, on which only science has the final say concerning physical truth… Secondly it is claimed that God would be cheating the freedom and dignity of his own creation by ‘breaking its laws’… Thirdly, some people complain that were God to be actively involved, he would be deceiving scientists in their pursuit of predictable natural causes and laws.”  Jon summarizes:

In summary, to recognize that science is just one useful source of provisional truth, rather than the arbiter of truth, even in the physical and material realm, is a necessary corrective for our scientistic age, and this is greatly encouraged by the knowledge that creation is not only good, but God’s servant for governing the world.  This in no way denies any scientific evidence, though it may involve being skeptical about certain scientific theories in their metaphysical aspect – for one of the achievements of philosophy of science is the understanding that theories are the products of cultures and their largely unevidenced worldviews.

Care over creation.  Some of us can very well remember when any talk of creation care in conservative and dispensational evangelical circles was frowned upon as “environmentalism” and associated with “liberalism” and a general state of unbelief that Jesus would return at any moment and rapture the RTCs away.  “Environmentalism” was seen as a liberal plot or wedge to spread the big-government gospel of earth-worship and secular humanism… blah… blah… blah.  You know the drill if you came from that sub-culture, and if you don’t know the drill… count yourself fortunate.

It does seem that attitude is changing and a more realistic idea of “stewardship” of God’s creation does seem to be spreading among evangelicals, or was until the retrenchment of Trumpism.  Hopefully, that retrenchment will be short-lived.  Jon says:

Care for creation, then is part of Christian mission – given the truth of Genesis 1:28, it is actually the original part of that mission.  Fortunately this work has attracted the support of leading scientists as well as theologians and church leaders, which at the very least is a testimony to society that this is God’s world and that his people recognize it.  It goes without saying that one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than it one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil.

But there is more to it than that, because the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ is the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement and, still less, a mass evacuation from earth to heaven prior to its annihilation.

Creation and resurrection.  Jon notes that it was due to Gnostic dualism that infected Christianity in the second century, that matter is corrupt versus pure spirit, which led to the idea that our “souls” leave our bodies at death to “go to heaven”.  He says the unique Jewish concept of resurrection arose in the context of the equally distinctive biblical belief in the goodness of God’s material creation.

Jesus’ resurrection endorsed this view as he was the “firstfruits” or deposit on the eventual complete renewal of the original physical creation.  That what was naturally empowered (psuchikos) would at the coming of Christ be swallowed up by the “spiritually empowered (pneumatikos).  But the very promise of that transformation affirmed that it had been “very good” from the beginning.  The resurrection confirms God’s love for, and approval of, the human body.

Conclusion.  Jon concludes:

I will just add a word of personal testimony.  In the time since I began to suspect that what I had assumed about creation’s corruption all my life was mistaken, I’ve begun to see the world with new eyes. When I look out of my study window, I find I can admire the beauty of what I see without a subconscious “Yes but…” imposing itself on the view.  I can love the freedom of a soaring buzzard without thinking, “Yes but it’s spoiled by the evil suffering that sustains it”.  I can rejoice in a gorgeous metallic red and blue parasitic Chrysis was on the patio and leave its lifestyle in God’s wise hands, rather than accept uncritically Darwin’s jaundiced assessment. If I pick up an ammonite from the beach, or read about a newly discovered function for DNA, I find that what I see and experience leads me, in a new way, into expressing worship on the creation’s behalf; a role for which I myself was created.  The more of nature I appreciate, the more of it I may bring into the sacred space of God’s temple of creation.  Practically, I will be more its steward and less its exploiter.  Finally, I will rejoice as much to see it new, yet familiar face, come the transformation of the end of the age, as I shall at the sight of my own face in the mirror.

That, in a very real sense, is to return to Eden, and to extend its borders.

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