Category Archives: Reviews

Justice

Not everything that is right is sweet. Not everything that is righteousness makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Good and evil are not synonymous with comfortable and uncomfortable. Often, evil is pleasant. Frequently, justice (and even mercy) are terrifying.

Sometimes, the righteous and holy action is stomach churning.

This is the story of Gibeon fight-
Where we smote the lords of the Amorite;
Where the banners of princes with slaughter were sodden.
And the beards of seers in the rank grass trodden;
Where the trees were wrecked by the wreck of cars,
And the reek of the red field blotted the stars;
Where the dead heads dropped from the swords that sever,
Because His mercy endureth for ever.

(The Ballad Of The Battle Of Gibeon: G.K. Chesterton)

I think Christians don’t read the Old Testament enough. We seem to gloss over the idea of Justice. We have become so obsessed with mercy that we fail to see that mercy is meaningless unless justice cries out for punishment. Another way to say this is that it seems we forget the Law in our rush to discuss the Gospel. But that fails us, as the Gospel’s power to forgive is in relation to the Law that condemns. We pay lip service to the fact that the God of the Old and the God of the New testaments are the same, eternal, changeless God. But it seems that the reality of the situation is sometimes sidestepped.

Was God wrong to slaughter the Amorites? What a ludicrous question:

‘By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death. … he that dies this year is quit for the next.’ (Henry IV… you know who…)

Anyway, back to reading for my Old Testament class….

An Offensive Weapon.

I’d like to start this post with a stanza of one of my favorite hymns: Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying, by Stephen P. Starke.

 Though around us death is seething,
    God, His two-edged sword unsheathing,
    By His Spirit life is breathing
       Through the living, active Word.

And now: The Church of Christ Wields an Offensive Weapon.

There is an image of a warrior that resides in the back (or sometimes the front) of everyone’s mind. There is another image that, though usually pushed much further back in the mind, also takes its residence in everyone’s mind: A man dying on his knees. The warrior is tall, he is strong, his grip is iron, his eyes are bright. He may be ruthless and wicked, or kind, a shield to the weak: but he is strong. His enemies fear encountering him. The man dying on his knees is weak, pathetic even. He is bound and has been tortured. His head is shaved and he is thin from being a prisoner. In the mind’s eye, this man is broken into pieces: he is not a man; he is a heap of the fragments of a man. And yet he sings. This man, this broken and dying man, is a witness: a martyr. His blood is spilled because he refuses to deny his Lord Jesus.

Strange, how the mind’s vision is so poor. We ought to look again at the two men before us. It is a paradox that confronts us. When Christ came into this world, everything went inside-out and topsy-turvy. In reality, everything went right-side-up: but if everyone else is upside down, the one who sees the world right side up is ‘topsy-turvy’. When the people of God sing ‘The white robed army of martyr’s praises you’, we confess that these saints, who died ‘poorly’, in truth, died well; that these who were slaughtered with their hands tied, fought and even triumphed in the war.

In today’s world, the church spends most of its time defending itself. It defends its doctrine. It defends its right to speak about what it believes. It defends the lives of the old and the unborn. All this good, yet something of a shame. It is a shame because the church is fundamentally made and equipped for offence. It does not primarily exist to defend its values, or its doctrines or its people. The Holy Church wields, despite appearances, a sharp and well-made sword. It is made to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ It sends its warriors out, and often, they die, and the church grows. The strange paradox that slaughter has never annihilated the Christian faith is explained by the fact that in death, the martyr’s victory over the devil is won for him, and the sword of the church strikes true.

And again, the many in the church spend their time doing their best to sound good. The most charitable construction of this is that they are trying to not be misunderstood: so let us think that. Yet, it is a travesty that the church cares overmuch if it offends people. It is not a coincidence that offensive (the technical term for attacking in a fight) and offensive (as in someone was offended) are the same word. The church has been literally guaranteed to offend people. Are people offended when they are told they are sinning? Yes. Are they offended when they are told that this thing, that the church ought to call a favorite sin, that makes them feel so happy, is going to damn them to hell? Yes! Do people loathe it when they are told that even nice people, people they liked a lot, will go to eternal damnation (which is torment) if they do not have faith? Obviously!

And yet: those who engage in sexual perversion need to be told that they are committing sins, that they are perverted. Likewise, people who gossip need to hear that their gossip is also a vile sin that must be repented of. People within, and especially without, the church must hear the conviction of the Law of God. Without the condemnation of the Law, the Gospel has no impact.

The church must be offensive and call evil, evil; and good: good. The Devil, the world and one’s own flesh will scream. People will take you to court, they will close down your businesses with lawsuits, they will threaten you and may one day again make martyrs in the streets. But consider this: the Church is filled with warriors intended to be specialists in offensive combat, and the most potent weapon in her armaments is the witness of the lifeblood of the saints.

I opened with a great hymn, now I will close with a great comic… If you haven’t spent time reading through at Adam4d, you ought to. Click through for the whole strip.

What kind though, Todd? [silence]

A Short Defense of Mysticism

Here is the introduction for the ‘Essays in Lutheran Mysticism’.

In our heavily scientized society, it is tempting to forget, in our great human arrogance, that God is not understandable. We as Christians confess that God is beyond our understanding, yet we often treat Him and His works as if this misunderstanding is one that is just barely out of the reach of Human reason. In fact, the only real difference effectively between the scientism of the modern world and the modern Christian is this: The secularist believes that all things which are currently out of reach will be eventually within reach, while the modern Christian often behaves as though the Nature and Mind of God are barely out of reach and will always remain ever so slightly out of reach. In reality the Godhead is infinitely out of reach. We have forgotten the Mystery (and in a real sense also the Majesty) of God.

In nearly every case this abandonment of the mystery of God is tied to intellectual arrogance as if the creator could ever be understood by the creation. Instead I propose a return to the appreciation of mysticism – not a mysticism that claiming that everything and every attribute of God is unknowable – rather a mysticism of humility. This mysticism recognizes that, while in the Holy Writ, God provides precise detail and clear language in all things necessary to salvation, the human mind is not capable of assimilating the whole (or even a fraction) of the infinite knowledge and wisdom and character and emotion of the Godhead. Thus, in many cases, we are therefore dependent on catching glimpses of God – and be as Moses who turned aside his face upon hearing the whisper of God.

There is a second reason I believe that a return to mysticism is important. This reason is about the state of the unbeliever in today’s Post-modern world. Every age has its own particular virtues and vices: often the latter is indeed a perversion of the former. That these virtues are warped does not negate the ability of the Word of God to sanctify them, and use them to great ends. I believe that the when the underlying virtue of an era’s vice is employed it can have a profound impact upon the lost of that time. St. Paul did not tell the Athenians to stop being so logical and feel more. Consider this: personal belief is a powerful component of the post-modern world, while one of the most distinguishable parts of Christian doctrine is that our relationship to God is a personal, intimate one: that of children with their father. Again, consider the pervasive lie of ‘what is true for you’, and consider the uncorrupted reality of the paradox. Lastly, the post-modern man feels as though his very soul is withered by the arid heat of impersonal science. The post-modern wanders in search of wonder, and ‘their very sins are sad’. In this world, I contend that it is the role of the Christian to be the last rationalist, the last empiricist, the last mystic, and the last hedonist all combined.

So here is my recommendation which may  feel like a paradox: intellectually rigorous mysticism.

The Korean Kid Hypothesis

Just today, I gave my final exam. I certainly hope that my students knew at least some of the answers. Over the last few days I had a number of office hours and a decent number of my students showed up. It doesn’t really matter how it came up, but I ended up sharing with 5-6 students one of my favorite maxims. It is a proverb of mine. I know that sounds pretentious, but stick with me… its a good one. I told them this:

‘No matter how good you are at something, there is always a Korean 9-year old who is better than you.’

It is a reminder to anyone who is the best in their geographical area, or their school, or their set of acquaintances, that the ocean of possible talent is huge. It is also a reminder of how one becomes excellent at something: hard work, lots and lots of hard work. Starting with some talent is helpful, but at the end of the day, it is hard work and nothing else that makes someone excellent at something.

And that is the Korean Kid Hypothesis.

Putin Dreaming

A while ago I hazarded a prediction on the future of ISIS — one based solely on telling a story. It was from a mind adept at predicting plot-lines and surprises in stories. (Here) Today I will venture again into the world of predicting the future. Or, at the very least, the future that I believe with almost certainty figures in the daydreams of one Vladimir Putin.

wink31

The daydream starts with the Kurds. See, the Kurds have always been somewhat close to Russia since Turkey was NATO and the Kurds and the Turks don’t get along (to say the least). Russia has certainly supported Kurdish separatists ( or terrorists, depending on who you ask) In fact, I would say that Putin already veiws the Kurds as a trump card to be played against Turkey.  I believe that the imminence of a Turkish intervention in northern Syria to ‘establish a safe zone’ but in reality to eliminate a budding Kurdish state on the Turkish border was the real cause of the recent Russian intervention in Syria. With the Russians running around and particularly bombing northern Syria, how would the Turkish army move in? Today, that would almost certainly involve going to war against Russia.

Since there are no ethnic Russians in Turkey, I have seen it assumed that Putin could not pull off in Turkey what he did in Ukraine. But, there are somewhere around 10 million Kurds in Tukey. Putin could put advisers in Syrian Kurdistan and send in Kurds. I think, under this hypothesis, that Ukraine (while part necessity from Putin’s point of view) was also a dress rehearsal for Putin’s plan for Turkey.

So Putin (who has probably long dreamed the daydream that I will get to) wakes up one day and realizes that it might (oh so infinitesimally small odds) be possible. (Due in some large degree to Erdogan.) The daydream requires a knockdown dragged out Turkish civil war. So Putin dreams thus:

The Syrian civil war and the Turkish unrest whirl together. The Turkish border (in the Kurdish regions at least) is currently well secured. But in the event of even a large scale uprising, the border would become more porous. Putin continues to dream. He dreams of massive civil unrest. The different pieces of the Turkish state finally tears themselves apart. The Kurds are only one piece of a messy puzzle. The Alevi are considered Heterodox and Shia. There are roughly as many of them as there are Kurds. They certainly know what happened to the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Christians in Turkey. There are the strict, zealous Sunni Turks and there are fairly Westernized almost European Turks… No country is even remotely as monolithic as it seems from across the sea. So Putin dreams of a civil war in Turkey like that on Syria. A mess with no on in charge. (And you would have to be very sheltered to think that Putin would not happily assist Turkey down this road of self destruction.)

And then, for two reasons, one altruistic and one practical, he would intervene. Both reasons are such that the international community would have a hard time condemning,.the Russians seize the Bosporus and the strait of Dardanelles. The practical reason is to protect international commerce and Russian military and civilian access to the Mediterranean.

2000px-Turkish_Strait_disambig.svg

Does anyone know what is right by the Bosporus?

That’s right… Istanbul… also known at one point as Constantinople. What is there? That is where Putin’s dream lives. The Patriarchate is there, also the Hagia Sophia is there. (The Hagia Sophia is the oldest Cathedral in Christendom, and it is currently owned by the Turks. ) Why, someone must protect the few Christians left in Turkey… Someone must be a shield to the Patriarchate. If that someone liberated the patriarchate from the Turks….

istmap

And so, Putin dreams on. He dreams of Charlemagne. The one who liberates the Patriarchate (so long as they at least pretend to Orthodoxy)  could be crowned Emperor. Not just any Emperor, but Roman Emperor — something the Russians have always been keen on. And Putin would be crowned in a renovated Hagia Sophia which would again become the seat of the Patriarchate.

Oddly enough, the world might be better off with an Emperor. Less pretense all around (since the Russians already basically are an empire, as are the Chinese, and Iran…)  It would be ironic, or poetic depending on how you look at it if this had the result I would write into a novel. I suspect that having an Orthodox emperor, and a free Patriarchate of Constantinople would breathe fresh life back into the some of the very countries whose souls were slaughtered by the Soviets (Bulgaria springs to mind).

———————————————————-

What would Putin do if he had this in mind? What would have to happen in a novel to make this even slightly believable?

  1. Prop up the Kurds
  2. Get Assad (or at least the Alawites… Assad is technically disposable) on the same page as the Kurds
  3. Generally provoke the Turks 
  4. Giggle about Erdogan 
  5. Start making noises about the Hagia Sophia (To signal to the Patriarchate that he was looking out for them)
  6. Set international precedent that seizing territory to protect military assets is something that everyone just complains about (no one actually does anything).
  7. Establish Russian presence  in the Alawite region of Syria (soon to be part of the Empire)… and invite all the oppressed Christian and Shia communities to relocate to there… that practically makes him a good guy
  8. Get seen in churches a lot
  9. ?

Well, that’s all for now… What does a powerful man dream of? More power and more prestige… maybe more on the topic later… such as Putin the intelligent and cautious… 🙂

 

The Appeal of Trump

Trump is like the blue-collar working man… An outrageous thing to claim perhaps, given his billions. But consider this: If you had a billion dollars, what would you do with it? Would you do all trust funds and tax shelters? Or would you build the billionaire’s version of a new bass boat… with a glitter finish?

TrumpInternationalHotelandTower-Chicago-00907-006a

If you added a few billion dollars to an average working man, would he dry up and be a desiccated figure like Warren Buffett? Or would he marry a supermodel and build an ocean-view golf course?

Q.E.D.

 

The rock I have been under

So as it turns out, I have dwelt under a large rock for the past long while, but with the upcoming installation of a fireplace, and the soon to be winter break, I think I shall write more. It is bad to not write when one has ideas. They grow and start picking fights with each other.

I have managed to write 92.76% of a novella (that number has far too many significant figures, of course). One of these days (after finals) I plan to write the last 11.23% of it… (If your round both of those numbers to one significant figure… it works out.)  But really nothing else managed to get written. (As long as you do not count the 6 lectures and 2 labs per week last semester and the 3 lectures, recitation, and so forth this semester… in which case, a lot of things were written, just they were not very interesting to the general population (or even to at least half my class, I am sure…)

I would like to share, before a go, the link to the recent Missouri synod statement on the intersection of science and Christian theology, It is so well done, I based a Senior level paper assignment on it this semester (in order to try and get the students to read it…)  If you search, you can also find the pdf for free.

Well, I will probably go back under the rock for a bit, but if I get a moment, I will be trying to write more here and elsewhere…

 

 

Novel contest time of year

Just for those looking, the novel contest that I am a part of the judging team for is accepting submissions for this year’s contest. The new deadline is the 20th of October, so a couple of weeks left to polish off your novel and submit.

Here is the link: ACM Novel Contest 

And a little description (hijacked from the website linked above) of what we are looking for:

Content: Manuscripts should be fiction, but can be in any genre: action/adventure, fantasy fiction, young adult, historical, etc. Stories can be written even for young people, say junior high, but illustrated books for children would not qualify. Think: Chronicles of Narnia, Wrinkle in Time, etc. If you have a specific audience in mind for your story please indicate as much in the story summary which must accompany your submission.

The Swansong of SciFi

It has been a very long time since I have posted. I have been ridiculously busy writing my dissertation etc, in preparation of defending in July and graduating in August. Therefore, I will likely not post much in the next few months either. That doesn’t mean that I wont be back when life settles down a bit.

Meantime, contemplate with me on the death of Science Fiction. SciFi  is fundamentally humanist. It is the glorification of human achievement and technology – it is a monument to the human spirit. But it is (almost always) without God… and therefore SciFi is dead (or at least mostly – dead). It died upon the birth of post-modernism. Recently I re-watched the scene that I think cut the heart out of SciFi, and I thought I’d share it.  The pointlessness of human innovation, summed up in the Replicants, and yet the only character with a poet’s soul is a replicant. Yes, its Blade Runner. Dark and nihilistic Blade Runner. Here, watch the scene and try to tell me how anyone in and of the world could write quality SciFi afterwords.

It is the most abandoned parts of Ecclesiastics, taken for life’s governing philosophy. Meaningless and chasing after the wind in SciFi speak is ‘lost in time, like tears, in rain.’

Well, if you haven’t read my short story where I try to have SciFi be something meaningful again, do give it a try: The Final Crate

Hawthorne the Sage

Aquila et Infans

I recently picked up my collected works of Nathanial Hawthorn, only to be reminded of how brilliant he was, and how sad it is that top ten lists can only have ten items on them. In particular, I was reading ‘The Celestial Railroad’ which is available from Gutenberg Press.

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The story was written in 1843 (according to the date on the website for the story… I didn’t look it up anywhere J ). It is almost shocking how all of the roots of postmodern life are on full display in this story. I would say that the real humanistic modernism was already plunging headlong off the cliff, they just hadn’t hit the pavement yet (that would the World Wars in this brief but hopefully apt analogy.

Anyway, I will copy a few passages here so that you know what I was talking about.

The dreamer sets out in…

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