June 7, 2020

Saturday Brunch, June 6, 2020

Good morning, my friends, and welcome to the weekend. Ready for some brunch?

The beauty of animals has always haunted and delighted us. The first artwork were cave sketches of animals. But George Wheelhouse takes a novel approach: “I started photographing animals against dark backgrounds due to my obsessive instinct to remove as much distraction as possible from my images. At times I’ve also played with the idea of how little I can show off an animal, with the rest falling to shadow. The aim of this project is to spark a connection between subject and viewer, and present animals in ways they haven’t been seen before.”

I will be interspersing his photos throughout the brunch. Let’s start with this:

Green-Winged Parrot

Let’s just get this out of the way: “Imagine” is worst song ever written. Well, maybe not the absolute worst. We do, after all, live in a world in which Muskrat Love made the Billboard Top 10 at one point. But certainly the most over-rated. And certainly, beyond-a-doubt, the worst song shallow politicians will evoke after weeks like this one. Matthew Walther gives us some of the problems with “Imagine.”

Where do you even begin? The droopy four-bar intro? The soporific nasal whine of Lennon’s voice? The mind-numbing facetiousness of ending the verses with ‘youuuuuuuu’ and then starting the chorus with the same word? The other lyrics that insult the intelligence with such ferocity that I’m pretty sure singing it violates the Geneva Convention? The part where the rock star who wrote this song in about an hour (it shows, by the way) in one of several luxury homes he owned encourages you maybe to consider having ‘no possessions,’ presumably including underwear and a toothbrush, and then passive-aggressively insists that you’re so attached to your stuff that you can’t even contemplate the idea?”

The real problem with “Imagine” is the theme, if that word can be used fairly to describe a series of nonsensical propositions delivered according to no detectable logical pattern.

Start with the word salad of Marxism, anarchism, and existentialism. Nowhere is there even the faintest hint of how any of the hypotheticals we are being asked to consider might be realized. Instead Lennon does the political equivalent of telling us that the real magic was inside us all along. A far more serious problem is that even if additional verses did somehow outline a series of discrete practical steps that tomorrow could bring about the actual world he envisions, no one would want to live in it. This is because it is fundamentally nihilistic, a vision of a reality in which “lol nothing matters” is elevated to a first-order principle. This is a problem. A world in which nothing is worth dying for is one in which exactly zero of the things from which we derive meaning and pleasure could exist. The effect is worse than purgatorial: It is an actual vision of hell.

Swaledale Sheep
Did some ancient Israelites use weed during worship? A well-preserved substance found in a 2,700-year-old temple in Tel Arad has been identified as cannabis, including its psychoactive compound THC. Researchers concluded that cannabis may have been burned in order to induce a high among worshippers. This is the first evidence of psychotropic drugs being used in early Jewish worship, Israeli media report.

The temple was first discovered in the Negev desert, about 95km (59 miles) south of Tel Aviv, in the 1960s. In the latest study, published in Tel Aviv University’s archaeological journal, archaeologists say two limestone altars had been buried within the shrine. Thanks in part to the dry climate, and to the burial, the remains of burnt offerings were preserved on top of these altars.

Frankincense was found on one altar, which was unsurprising because of its prominence in holy texts, the study’s authors told Israeli newspaper Haaretz. However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) – all compounds found in cannabis – were found on the second altar.

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is by far the greatest museum I have visited. Its collection of Renaissance art is unmatched. This week the director of the Uffizi said that  religious art in museums should be returned to churches: “Eike Schmidt, who has led the museum since 2015, told the Art Newspaper that ‘devotional art was not born as a work of art but for a religious purpose, usually in a religious setting.’ Schmidt cited a specific example from the Uffizi’s own collection, the Rucellai Madonna painted by the Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna in the Middle Ages. The gold-ground panel of the Virgin and Child enthroned, the largest painting on wood from the 13th century known to date, was removed from the church of Santa Maria Novella in 1948. Viewing such a work in the context for which it was created, says Schmidt, is not just appropriate from an historical perspective, but could also connect the viewer with its spiritual significance.”

“Devotional art was not born as a work of art but for a religious purpose, usually in a religious setting”, he told The Art Newspaper. He went on to say that, returned to the building for which it was created, it would be seen in the right historical and artistic space and the viewer would potentially be led to recognize its spiritual origins. “If we did not believe that context was important”, he said, the Italian state would not have the legal concept of the art or architectural fixture [vincolo pertinenziale], or practice contextual archaeology instead of an Indiana Jones-type scrabble for mere masterpieces”.

Hmmmm. What do you think?

Chameleon Close-Up

For the first time, the police in Hong Kong prohibited an annual vigil to honor the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Why the great anger among the black community towards the criminal justice system? The New York Times sums it up well:

For most white Americans, interactions with the police happen rarely, and they’re often respectful or even friendly. Many white people don’t know a single person who’s currently behind bars.
In many black communities — and especially for black men — the situation is entirely different. Some of the statistics can be hard to fathom:
  • Incarceration rates for black men are about twice as high as those of Hispanic men, five times higher than those of white men and at least 25 times higher than those of black women, Hispanic women or white women.
  • When the government last counted how many black men had ever spent time in state or federal prison — in 2001 — the share was 17 percent. Today, it’s likely closer to 20 percent (and this number doesn’t include people who’ve spent time in jail without being sentenced to prison). The comparable number for white men is about 3 percent.
The rise of mass incarceration over the last half-century has turned imprisonment into a dominant feature of modern life for black Americans. Large numbers of black men are missing from their communities — unable to marry, care for children or see their aging parents. Many others suffer from permanent economic or psychological damage, struggling to find work after they leave prison.
A recent study by the economists Patrick Bayer and Kerwin Kofi Charles found that 27 percent of black men in the prime working years of their lives — between the ages of 25 and 54 — didn’t report earning a single dollar of income in 2014. “That’s a massive number,” Charles, the dean of the Yale School of Management, told me. Incarceration, including the aftereffects, was a major reason.

The anger coursing through America’s streets over the past week has many causes, starting with a gruesome video showing the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But that anger has also been building up for a long time. It is, in part, anger about incarceration having become normal.

Stella's Sea Eagle On Black
I LOVE the videos from the Bible Project. Here is one describing the meaning of Jesus as the Water of Life:

N.B.A. takes Disney World. The N.B.A. is in talks to resume its pandemic-shortened season by hosting the league at Walt Disney World in Florida. Players would live in Disney hotels, and all games would be held at the nearby ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Why Disney World? Well, it doesn’t hurt that the ESPN facility is already wired to broadcast games on its network — and that Disney, its parent company, pays the N.B.A. more than $1 billion a year for the right to air them.

White-Tailed Sea Eagle

Where did the CDC go wrong? The New York Times waded through thousand of emails and conducted a hundred interviews, and they summarize the problems here:

Aging data systems left the agency with blind spots.

The C.D.C. clashed with White House aides who viewed them as the ‘deep state’.

The culture at the C.D.C. — risk-averse, perfectionist and ill suited to improvising in a quickly evolving crisis

The Director Redfield felt he was ‘on an island’ between his agency and the White House.

Confusing guidance left doctors, public officials and others to look elsewhere.

The customer is ALWAYS right. That was the mantra of this loader after the buyer of his top soil insisted that five yards of top soil would fit in his trailer. Enjoy!

I really, really, really don’t like to mention a certain politician in the brunch. But I was outraged at the way Trump used the Bible and Church as props to his verbal assault on the rioters. Even televangelist Pat Roberts criticized Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church this week. Jimmy Fallon said, “You know we live in crazy times when we’re all agreeing with the guy who once said gay people cause hurricanes.”

A high school sports policy in Connecticut that allows transgender students to participate in athletics based on their gender identity violates federal law and could cost the state federal education funding, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has found. The students bringing the lawsuit contended that the policy gave transgender students an unfair advantage in athletic competition and in the race for public recognition that is critical to college recruiting and scholarship opportunities. The office said that, after an investigation, it had found that the policy violated Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. By allowing transgender students to compete on female track teams, the policy “denied female student-athletes athletic benefits and opportunities, including advancing to the finals in events, higher level competitions, awards, medals, recognition, and the possibility of greater visibility to colleges and other benefits,” the office said.

Low Key Lion Portrait

Okay, we are going to end this brunch with an amazing video of Captain and Tennille singing their classic, Muskrat Love. Why? Because I don’t like you. And because no matter how bad things get in 2020, we need to remember that we no longer live in a time when this would be broadcast on network TV. (By the way, make sure you listen to at least the 2:20 mark, otherwise you will likely never hear the diarrhea setting on a keyboard again).


Another Look: Our Relational God

Trinity Icon, Rublev

Another Look: Our Relational God

This Sunday upcoming is Trinity Sunday, the day that bridges the two main divisions of the Church Year. We have been walking through the life of Jesus from Advent to Pentecost since last November. Now, we begin the days of “Ordinary Time,” when we live out the faith daily as Christ’s church, embraced by the Good News of salvation and filled with his Spirit.

About Today’s Art
“Many scholars consider Rublev’s Trinity the most perfect of all Russian icons and perhaps the most perfect of all the icons ever painted. The work was created for the abbot of the Trinity Monastery, Nikon of Radonezh, a disciple of the famous Sergius, one of the leaders of the monastic revival in the 14th-century Russia. Asking Rublev to paint the icon of the Holy Trinity, Nikon wanted to commemorate Sergius as a man whose life and deeds embodied the most progressive processes in the late 14th-century Russia.

…From the earliest times, the idea of the Trinity was controversial and difficult to understand, especially for the uneducated masses. Even though Christianity replaced the pagan polytheism, it gave the believers a monotheistic religion with a difficult concept of one God in three hypostases — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not only the uneducated population but many theologians had difficulties with the concept of the triune God; from time to time, a heretical movement, like Arianism, questioned the doctrine, causing long debates, violent persecutions, and even greater general confusion. Trying to portray the Trinity, but always aware of the Biblical prohibition against depicting God, icon painters turned to the story of the hospitality of Abraham who was visited by three wanderers. In their compositions, icon painters included many details — the figures of Abraham and Sarah, a servant killing a calf in preparation for the feast, the rock, the tree of Mamre, and the house (tent) — trying to render as faithfully as possible the events described in the text. (Genesis, 18:1-8)

• Alexander Boguslawski

The Holy Trinity
The Church’s belief in the triune God — we believe in one God who is three persons in one essence — is foundational for Christian faith. This teaching is fully spelled out in the Athanasian Creed. Of course, this doctrine is a mystery, transcending human mathematical logic. However, it is perhaps the most practically important fundamental teaching of the faith, for it clarifies who the true and living God is, and what he is like. In particular, it reveals that he is a personal, relational God.

This God who acts is not only a God of energies, but a personal God. When humans participate in the divine energies, they are not overwhelmed by some vague and nameless power, but they are brought face to face with a person. Nor is this all: God is not simply a single person confined within His own being, but a Trinity of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom ‘dwells’ in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. God is not only a unity but a union.

• Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Dioklesia), The Orthodox Church, p. 209

This mutual indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity has been known as “Perichoresis.” We use a word that comes from this — choreography — to describe the art of dance. The image brought out in the term perichoresis is that of dynamic movement and loving interaction, as in joyful dancing. As Peter Leithart describes it:

The unity of the Tri-unity should not be understood as “sitting together,” as if the Persons were merely in close proximity. Nor should perichoresis be understood as a static containment, as if the Son were in the Father in the way that water is in a bucket.

Rather, perichoresis describes the Persons as eternally giving themselves over into one another. It is not that the Father has (at some “moment” in eternity past) poured Himself out into the Son, but that He is continually pouring Himself into the Son, and the Son into the Spirit, and the Spirit into the Father, and so on. To talk about God’s “perichoretic” unity is to talk about a dynamic unity, and to talk about a God who is always at work, always in motion, pure act. It is to say that the life of God is peri-choreographed.

• “The Dance of God, the Dance of Life,” Leithart.com

Furthermore, through this knowledge of God, we come to know who we are as human beings. For we are created in the image of the triune God. As Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV) affirms:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Feodorov, is the dogma of the Trinity. Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian. The human person, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only the light of the dogma of the Trinity that we can understand who we are and what God intends us to be. Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity.”

• Ware, p. 208

As human beings, we relate to one another in the “dance of life” on this planet. The relationships between the three Persons of the Trinity — dynamic, interactive, loving, serving — form the model for our human dance steps. Unfortunately, through sinfulness we corrupt the dance into a choreography of conflict.

However, now through the Gospel, Christians have been brought into a special relationship with the triune God. Through Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, and by the regenerating action of the Spirit, we prodigals have been brought home and embraced by our Father. Gathered into the household of faith, we now enjoy the feast of the fatted calf, and participate in the dance party that is taking place in the Father’s house. In this way we exemplify the reality and nature of God and bring his Good News to a world that has forgotten how to dance.

The four texts for this Sunday are: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2Corinthians 13:11-13, and Matthew 28:16-20. From these four passages, the following truths emerge.

  • The true and living God is a personal, relational God who created us to be like him (Gen. 1)
  • The most important aspect of life is holy and healthy relationships (Gen 1, 2Cor 13)
  • As humans, we are created to live in relationships that are fruitful, exemplifying the goodness of creation and pointing to the new creation. (Gen 1, Ps 8, 2Cor 13, Matt 28)
  • God’s family, the church, is to be the ultimate exemplar of such relationships, living out the grace, love, and fellowship of the Holy Trinity in the world. (Matt 28, 2Cor 13)

I encourage you to take a few moments today and throughout this weekend to meditate on these Scriptures and contemplate the significance of the triune nature of God. Go further into these questions:

  • What does it tell us about who God is and what God is like?
  • What implications does it have for we humans, created in his image? W
  • hat does it say to the church, God’s ambassadors here in this world?

How Satire Challenges Misconceptions about Science

How Satire Challenges Misconceptions about Science

In the June issue of National Geographic there is an article by  Paul Brewer and Jessica McKnight entitled, “To challenge misguided beliefs about science, try satire”.  In it they show from various studies how the use of satire can change people’s minds about controversial scientific issues.  They say:

Since 2013, Paul has conducted three studies of how satire can influence people’s beliefs about issues such as climate change, genetically modified foods, and vaccinations. We worked together on two of these studies, and with other colleagues Jessica recently tested whether late-night television can debunk misperceptions of vaccines. Our and others’ research has shown that if you want to interest people in science and shape their views on hot-button science issues, satirical humor can work better than a straitlaced approach.

As our favorite science officer might say, “Fascinating”.  The article notes that most Americans pay little attention to scientific issues and the media they usually consume is a veritable desert of actual scientific information.  Yet Brewer and McKnight note that satirical humor can reach viewers who would never watch NOVA or read—well, National Geographic.  Shows like John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”, Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show”, Noah Trevor’s “The Daily Show”, and Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” are quite popular and well-watched (especially by younger people).  The article notes in 2016, when Brewer, his colleague Barbara Ley, and the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication polled a nationally representative sample of Americans, nearly one in 10 said they learned about science from late-night television shows and this figure was even higher among young people.

It’s not hard to see why this relationship between science and satire should exist.  By making science entertaining to audience members with little knowledge of the topic, satirical television is acting as a gateway to science engagement.  But does it effectively change minds?  Brewer and McKnight cite a number of studies that purport to demonstrate just that.  In 2013 they tested how watching a clip from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report influenced audience members’ beliefs about climate change. Viewers who saw Jon Stewart say that global warming is real came away more certain that climate change is happening.

In a 2015 follow-up study, they found that late-night humor can influence how viewers perceive climate science itself. They tested the effects of a Last Week Tonight segment in which host John Oliver and guest Bill Nye hold a “statistically representative climate change debate” to illustrate the scientific consensus on the issue. Their “debate” shows Nye and 96 other scientists drowning out three global warming doubters. Watching this segment swayed study participants to see scientists as believing in human-caused climate change—which, in turn, bolstered participants’ own certainty that global warming is happening. The effect was strongest among those least interested in science.

They note other research has revealed the same sorts of effects.  A study by Ashley Anderson and Amy Becker found that after watching a satirical video produced by The Onion, formerly apathetic viewers felt more certain that climate change is taking place and is a serious problem.  Late-night TV hosts have also derided groups that, for example, cite a single discredited study to blame autism on vaccines, or push for teaching creationism in public schools despite the mountain of evidence for evolution.  They theorize that humor may be more effective at debunking scientific nonsense because it doesn’t elicit the backlash that traditional science communication efforts seem to produce.  The article says:

And late-night humor can spark science engagement as well. A national survey by researchers Lauren Feldman, Anthony Leiserowitz, and Edward Maibach found that watching satirical comedy programs went hand in hand with paying more attention to science stories. Furthermore, the researchers concluded that satirical shows had the biggest impact among the least educated viewers, thereby helping to narrow a gap in attention to science.

I can bring my own personal testimony to this article.  My involvement as a participant in evangelicalism brought the belief in “pre-tribulation rapture” and the attendant belief in “Seven-year tribulation” and other such interpretations of Revelation made popular by Hal Lindsey, John Hagee, Tim Lahaye, and others.  I had read counter theology from preterists and others, but reading the series of satirical takedowns of the Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ “Left Behind” books by Fred Clark on his Slacktivist blog completely convinced me of the utter impossibility that the scenario Left Behind described could in any way be true or a true interpretation of the scriptures.  Through his satire, Clark completely demolished the pre-trib theology more thoroughly than any straight-forward theological tome possibly could.  And it was funny, too!

The article concludes:

At its best, late-night satire encourages viewers not only to follow science but also to think critically about it. An episode of Last Week Tonight made that point with a poke at how news outlets cover scientific studies. Host John Oliver warned against “thinking that science is à la carte and if you don’t like one study, don’t worry, another will be along soon.” He ridiculed media coverage of science that oversimplifies and sensationalizes findings, misuses statistics, and cherry-picks results. And he parodied such presentations with his own brand of “TODD talks”—for Trends, Observations, and Dangerous Drivel.  The members of his audience may be laughing, but they seem to be learning as well.

Using God — A Prophetic Critique

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Wednesday with Michael Spencer: “The exhausting effort to be a good Christian denies Christ.”

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