Monday, February 28, 2011

The problem of perception

“We perceive, as a rule, what we expect to perceive. We see largely what we expect to see, and we hear largely what we expect to hear. That the unexpected may be resented is not the important thing—though most of the work on communications in business and government thinks it is. What is truly important is that the unexpected is usually not received at all. It is not seen or heard, but ignored. Or it is misunderstood, that is, mis-seen or mis-heard as the expected.

“The human mind attempts to fit impressions and stimuli into a frame of expectations. It resists vigorously any attempts to make it 'change its mind,' that is, to perceive what it does not expect to perceive or not to perceive what it expects to perceive.”— The Essential Drucker, page 263

<idle musing>
Change seems pretty hopeless, doesn't it? No wonder people get so depressed; they think everything has to remain the same because they are stuck in the rut of their own thinking. But, as Flannery O'Connor once said, “Your history doesn't have to define you.” Personally, I think Revelation 21:5 ἰδοὺ καινὰ ποιῶ πάντα—Behold, I make all things new (KJV) is a wonderful promise. The newer translations make it an ingressive: I am making all things new. Not sure I like that translation as well, though.
</idle musing>

But, what would Calvin say?

Hey, I read Calvin—probably as much or more than some Reformed people do :) Anyway, I just ran across this last week:

...all the blessings that we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition,that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours...Whatever God has conferred on us, which enables us to assist our neighbour, we are the stewards of it, and must one day render an account of our stewardship; and that the only right dispensation of what has been committed to us, is that which is regulated by the law of love.—John Calvin, Instititutes III.vii.5

<idle musing>
Isn't that good? We hear about the Protestant Work Ethic, but we rarely hear what Calvin suggested we do with the increase...good advice.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 25, 2011

Decision making

“...the guidelines are so clear that a decision in the concrete case is rarely difficult. They are:
*Act if on balance the benefits greatly outweigh the cost and risk.
*Act or do not act, but do not 'hedge' or compromise.

“The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection or shock as if he did the whole job. And he has not cured the condition, has indeed made it worse. He either operates or he doesn't. Similarly, the effective decision-maker either acts or he doesn't act. He does not take half-action. This is the one thing that is always wrong, and the one sure way not to satisfy the minimum specifications, the minimum boundary condition.

“The decision is now ready to be made. The specifications have been thought through, the alternatives explored, the risks and gains weighed. Everything is known. Indeed, it is always reasonably clear by now what course of action must be taken. At this point the decision does indeed almost 'make itself.'

“And it is at this point that most decisions are lost. It becomes suddenly quite obvious that the decision is not going to be pleasant, is not going to be popular, s not going to be easy. It becomes clear that a decision requires courage as much as it requires judgment. There is no inherent reason why medicines should taste horrible—but most effective ones are.”— The Essential Drucker, pages 258-259

<idle musing>
Wow. There's a lot here. I'm reminded of Jesus statement about the person who puts their hand to the plow not turning back. I'm also reminded of the rich ruler; the decision was right there in black and white—and he walked away. The cure was too painful—in the short term.
</idle musing>

Jesus' view versus the view from the top

I was reading in John, the upper room discourse, today. It reminded me of this passage from Luke 22:25-27:

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (TNIV)

<idle musing>
Not a whole lot has changed, has it? Benefactors--right :( If you ever needed a reason to believe in total depravity, this would be it. And, it predates Orwell's newspeak by almost 2000 years!

Now, if we could just get the servant leadership thing right...
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thought for today

Why do we (including myself) always suspect baser motives on the part of those we disagree with? Are "they" really as evil as we believe? And, are we as clean as we think? Just an
<idle musing>

Thoughts from a former Wisconsinite

I spent 20 of the first 23 years of my life in Wisconsin. In some ways, it is still home, even though I haven't lived there since 1979. Perhaps that is why what is going on in Madison bothers me so much. Or, more likely it is this kind of stuff:

The call, which surfaced Wednesday, also showed Walker's cozy relationship with the billionaire Koch brothers, David and Charles - who have poured millions of dollars into conservative political causes, including Walker's campaign last year.

Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation's air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981.

"That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets," Walker said on the recording.

Murphy told The Associated Press he carried out the prank to show how candidly Walker would speak with Koch - even though Democrats say he has been refusing to return their calls.

Murphy said he spoke Tuesday with two Walker aides, including the governor's chief of staff. He placed the call using the online service Skype and recorded it.

Mind you, I don't approve of the deception, but it does show the degree to which one person, one vote has become one dollar, no vote, one million dollars, all the votes. Of course, the $137 million shortfall is because the legislature voted a $140 million tax cut for corporations. You know, political contributions must be a pretty good return on investment: the Koch brothers donated about $2 million and got a $140 million tax break! Nice ROI. Not ethical, but hey! when you worship the dollar and power, who cares, right?

Anyway, I digressed...I was musing about the legacy of Wisconsin. It is the home of the Republican party, back when they were the progressives (!); it is the home of Robert La Follette and the Progressive party; it is the home of the anti-war protests of the 1960s-early 70s. Of course, on the flip side, it is the home of Joseph McCarthy.

Guess which side is winning now?

Ever notice how often the rich are chided in the Bible? And, how many times God is called the defender of the widows, orphans, and the helpless? Well, why do we worship the powerful, rich, and influential? Just asking...

The gods-again!

“But first and foremost, a temple was the abode of a deity or a group of associated deities where they, in the form of their cult statues, were served endlessly—one might almost want to say, relentlessly—by the rituals of the cult. Our own interests, which are influenced by the religious sensibilities of western culture, understandably lead to a fascination with texts that speak to such issues as creation or cosmology or lay down rules for correct or moral conduct. Unfortunately, though, this can lead us to underestimate the central importance of the temple cult in Egypt (and in other ancient civilizations as well), which operated according to the principle of reciprocity, or do ut des [I give in order that you might give]: just as the resources of the community—and ultimately the nation of Egypt—were put to the service of the god, so the god in return would 'protect Egypt.'”—David Lorton in Born in Heaven, page 131

<idle musing>
I know I keep repeating this, but it is extremely important that we don't import our monotheistic understandings into the ancient texts. The religions of the ancient world were about taking care of the deities' needs so that the deities would take care of the people that served them. Hey! Maybe that isn't so different than some people's view of God after all :( But, it isn't biblical.
</idle musing>

Finney for a Thursday

Many seem to consider themselves quite pious if they can put up with it when they are injured or slighted; if they can possibly control themselves so as not to break out in a passion. If, however, they are really wronged, they imagine they do well to be angry. O, to be sure! Somebody has really wronged them, and shall they not resent it and study how to get revenge, or at least redress? But notice that the Apostle Peter says, 'If when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.' 'For even hereunto were ye called,' as if all Christians had received a special call to this holy example. O, how would such an example rebuke the spirit of the world!”—Charles Finney (emphasis his)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Listen and learn

“...the effective decision does not, as so many texts on decision-making proclaim, flow from a consensus on the facts. The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.

“To get the facts first is impossible. There are no facts unless one has a criterion of relevance. Events by themselves are not facts.

“People inevitably start out with an opinion; to ask them to search for the facts first is even undesirable. They will simply do what everyone is far too prone to do anyhow: look for the facts that fit the conclusion they have already reached. And no one has ever failed to find the facts he is looking for.”— The Essential Drucker, page 252

<idle musing>
If only our politicians would learn this! Mind the qualification though: serious consideration of competing alternatives. I'm reminded of Stephen Covey's “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Of course, that's too dangerous! We might have to revise our opinions and admit we aren't infallible! Oh, wait, you already knew that, didn't you? Hmmm...then why aren't we willing to listen to others?

Maybe the reformers were right. Humanity is in se curvatus—curved in on ourselves...Only Jesus can break the curvature.
</idle musing>

Indiana, the land of extremes

Indiana is an interesting state; I've lived here for over 7 years now and am still amazed at the extremes. For example, you have Amish, who won't use electricity, automobiles, etc., right next to huge farms with all the monstrous equipment associated with cash crops of corn and soybeans. It's not uncommon to see a horse and buggy tied up outside a department store with SUVs parked close by. Just south of us, there is a small family dairy farm right next to a confined cattle operation.

But, the extreme I'm thinking of right now is the political one. I just saw this:

About as far to the right as you can get. The guy who tweeted it is a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana! But, not more than 45 minutes away from us is a Mennonite seminary where you see "Pray for Peace" bumper stickers everywhere. In a parking lot here I saw a wonderful bumper sticker the other day: "When Jesus said love your enemies, I think he meant don't shoot them." I love it!

Personally, I come down very firmly in the pacifist camp...

Update, Thursday, 2/24
: He was fired last night. The official blurb:

"We respect individual's First Amendment right to express their personal views on private online forums, but as public servants we are held by the public to a higher standard, and we should strive for civility."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


"With the coming of the computer this [need to go and see in person] will become even more important, for the decision-maker will, in all likelihood, be even further removed from the scene of action. Unless he accepts, as a matter of course, that he had better go out and look at the scene of action, he will be increasingly divorced from reality. All a computer can handle are abstractions. And abstractions can be relied on only if they are constantly checked against the concrete. Otherwise, they are certain to mislead us.

“To go and look for oneself is also the best, if not the only, way to test whether the assumptions on which a decision has been made are still valid or whether they are becoming obsolete and need to be thought through again. And on always has to expect the assumptions to become obsolete sooner or later. Reality never stands still very long.”— The Essential Drucker, page 251

<idle musing>
Reality is moving faster than ever, necessitating checking assumptions even more frequently than ever before. The willingness to check assumptions isn't a natural ability or desire; we like to think that what we've figured out once is set in stone. It isn't!

If we are alive, then we need to be open to learning something new, revising what we thought we knew, reexamining our assumptions—in other words, growing. I praise God that he doesn't let me sit in the same spot I was yesterday. I pray that he keeps me open and receptive to new ideas and fresh thoughts as long as I live. I want to keep learning—and applying what I learn. Head knowledge in and of itself is, how does Paul say it? Oh yeah, σκύβαλα—garbage, dung, worthless refuse, the stuff we throw away and haul off to the landfills.
</idle musing>

Today with Finney

“Those who keep up a living intercourse with God know many things they do not tell, and had better not tell.”—Charles Finney

Monday, February 21, 2011

Some interesting links

A collection of stuff I've been collecting for about a week now:

Rod Decker has an excerpt from a new book about textual criticism which is very interesting:

Apparently, Burgon would argue modus ponens:

(1) If God inspired the New Testament autographs, then he
would also prevent them from being seriously corrupted.
(2) God inspired the New Testament autographs.
(3) Therefore, God has also providentially prevented the
New Testament manuscripts from being seriously corrupted.

Ehrman, in contrast, seems to be arguing modus tollens:

(1) If God inspired the New Testament autographs, then he
would also prevent them from being seriously corrupted.
(2) New Testament manuscripts show numerous signs of
(3) Therefore, God did not inspire the New Testament

The author goes on to point out that the problem is in (1). I agree. Go read it all.

Roger Olson explains semi-Pelagianism, the official religion of American Christians:

What is Semi-Pelagianism? It s a technical term used in the discipline of historical theology for the teaching of the “Massilians” John Cassian, Faustus of Riez and Vincent of Lyons (and others such as possibly Prosper of Aquitaine) that the initiative in salvation is on the human side even though full salvation can only be by God’s grace.

Cassian termed the initiative in salvation “exercising a good will toward God” and argued that God awaits it before he offers grace.

He notes that this is not what any classic Arminian/Wesleyan teaches. The main difference between Calvinism and Wesleyan/Arminianism is that Calvinism believes that grace is limited to the elect, Wesleyan/Arminianism believes in Free Grace for all. The initiative is all God's in both systems; the human is totally depraved. It is only by grace that you can respond.

And, this one is close to my heart, having lived in Madison, WI right after the violent demonstrations of the 1960s and early 1970s. Some elected representatives have been calling the Madison gatherings "riots." Far from it:


Law Enforcement Praises Protesters' Conduct

On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights. You conducted yourselves with great decorum and civility, and if the eyes of the nation were upon Wisconsin, then you have shown how democracy can flourish even amongst those who passionately disagree. As of 5:00 p.m., no major incidents had been reported. There have been no arrests. However, discourse and discussion was - at times - loud and heated. That was to be expected. As previously indicated, the goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day.

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? I guess if you don't agree with the rights of non-billionaires to have a say in politics, it does look like a riot...
"Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you." James 5:1-6 NRSV

Prefer the Greek?
Ἄγε νῦν οἱ πλούσιοι, κλαύσατε ὀλολύζοντες ἐπὶ ταῖς ταλαιπωρίαις ὑμῶν ταῖς ἐπερχομέναις. ὁ πλοῦτος ὑμῶν σέσηπεν καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια ὑμῶν σητόβρωτα γέγονεν, ὁ χρυσὸς ὑμῶν καὶ ὁ ἄργυρος κατίωται καὶ ὁ ἰὸς αὐτῶν εἰς μαρτύριον ὑμῖν ἔσται καὶ φάγεται τὰς σάρκας ὑμῶν ὡς πῦρ. ἐθησαυρίσατε ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις. ἰδοὺ ὁ μισθὸς τῶν ἐργατῶν τῶν ἀμησάντων τὰς χώρας ὑμῶν ὁ ἀπεστερημένος ἀφ᾿ ὑμῶν κράζει, καὶ αἱ βοαὶ τῶν θερισάντων εἰς τὰ ὦτα κυρίου σαβαὼθ εἰσεληλύθασιν. ἐτρυφήσατε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐσπαταλήσατε, ἐθρέψατε τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ σφαγῆς, κατεδικάσατε, ἐφονεύσατε τὸν δίκαιον, οὐκ ἀντιτάσσεται ὑμῖν.

Either language, it doesn't bode well for those who line their own pockets and ignore their workers.
</idle musing>

Thought for a Monday

“For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that unless I believe, I shall not understand.”—Anselm in Proslogion

Friday, February 18, 2011

Work and mission statements

“Unless a decision has 'degenerated into work,' it is not a decision; it is at best a good intention. This means that, while the effective decision itself is based on the highest level of conceptual understanding the action to carry it out should be as close as possible to the working level and as simple as possible...

“In fact, no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone's work assignment and responsibility. Until then, there are only good intentions.

“This is the trouble with so many policy statements, especially of business: the contain no action commitment. To carry them out is no one's specific work and responsibility. No wonder that the people in the organization tend to view these statements cynically if not as declarations of what top management is not going to do.”— The Essential Drucker, pages 241-242, 249

<idle musing>
Reminds me of a line I read the other day from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”

Perhaps that's why New Year's resolutions only last about a week or two? No action plan with no accountability = nothing happens.
<idle musing>

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New e-mail options

I pretty excited about this one. Andy and I have been working on it for a while. Well, he's been working on it and I've been breaking it...From today's BookNews

BookNews from Eisenbrauns

Some of you wish you could get less e-mail from Eisenbrauns; a surprising number of you wish that you could get more. We're working on making it easy for you to control what, and how much, e-mail you get from us.

Our first announcement is that you can now subscribe to our Deal-of-the-Day offerings by e-mail:

We encourage you to subscribe to the HTML version (It's pretty!). Also, be sure to add to your "Safe Senders" list.

While you're there, you'll notice that there are four other lists available:

* Ancient News: Announcements, contests, conference information, and other general news. Messages go out about once a month, and fluctuate with the seasons. All lists will receive these messages.

* New and Noteworthy: New books as they become available. About one e-mail per week.

* Sales and Specials: Announcements of sales and special offers. About one e-mail every 10 days.

* Used Books: Get them while they're hot: used books as they're added to our database. Length and frequency will depend on what the market brings us, but we'll send out no more than one e-mail every weekday.

Your current BookNews subscription is equivalent to three lists: Ancient News, New and Noteworthy, and Sales and Specials. Subscribe to as many, or as few, as you wish. As with the current BookNews, you are in control. Feel free to subscribe even if the list is "under development."

Don't unsubscribe from BookNews yet; the "under development" lists aren't carrying any messages yet and we need to work out all the bugs first. If you'd like to be a Beta tester, let us know!

Some projects take a while

Like the one I just finished last week. It wasn't hard, it just got split up over the SBL conference, Christmas, and forgetfulness.

We had a closet in the front entryway of our house. It wasn't very accessible, and in the winter, all the coats were cold. Plus, it made the entryway smaller. So, in the beginning of November, I began the task of removing it.

Several problems immediately surfaced. One, the wall, while not structural, was solid. There was drywall on both sides with a good solid layer of plaster on top of that. I ended up with blisters. Second, it is an original wall, which means 1943, which means dust! Everywhere! I put up a plastic barrier, but it still got everywhere. Here's what it looked like after I got the wall down.

Of course, my little run-in with the lawn tractor put a bit of a delay in things; it isn't easy to mud and sand with a hand that doesn't work :( And then, I missed a few spots with the grout. But, finally, here's what it looks like now.

What do you think?


None but an eminently praying man is a safe religious teacher. However scientific and literary, if he were not a praying man, he cannot be trusted.

“A spirit of prayer is of much greater value than human learning without it. If I were to choose, I would prefer intercourse with God in prayer before the intellect of Gabriel. I do not say this to disparage the value of learning and knowledge, for when great talents and learning are sanctified with much prayer, the result is a mind of mighty power.”—Charles Finney (emphasis his)

<idle musing>
A wonderful recommendation for those desiring to teach.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Attaining to mediocrity

“Far too many people—and especially people with high knowledge in one area—are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas or believe that being 'bright' is a substitute for knowing. And the the feedback analysis soon shows that a main reason for poor performance is the result of simply not knowing enough, or the result of being contemptuous of knowledge outside one's own specialty...

“Feeding back from results to expectations soon shows where a person should not try to do anything at all. It shows the areas in which a person lacks the minimum endowment needed—and there are always many such areas for any person. Not enough people have even one first-rate skill or knowledge area, but all of us have an infinite number of areas in which we have no talent, no skill, and little chance to become even mediocre.”&mdash The Essential Drucker, page 219

<idle musing>
Man! He's too honest, isn't he? Wouldn't we all love to believe that if we just tried hard enough, we'd be able to do whatever we wanted? After all, we're the center of the universe, right :) Praise God for the gifts he's given you and use them well; don't go chasing the ones he hasn't given you!
</idle musing>

Ah yes, the weather...

“Why does He [God] send or not send rain? If the object were to raise as many potatoes as possible, this is not the wisest course. But if the object were to make us feel our dependence this is the wisest course possible. What if God were to raise harvests enough in one year to supply us for the next ten? We might all become atheists. We should be very likely to think we could live without God. But now every day and every year he shuts us up to depend on Himself.”—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Isn't that a wise statement? We look at things from a very different perspective than God does. And, to make matters worse, we consider our perspective to be better and more correct than God's! Talk about hubris!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top down?

“We have been working at communication downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate. But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship. This much we have learned from our work in perception and communications theory. The harder the superior tries to say something to his subordinate, the more likely is it that the subordinate will mishear. He will hear what he expects to hear rather than what is being said.”— The Essential Drucker, page 214

<idle musing>
Yep. That sure makes Philippians 2 come alive:

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων
οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο
τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,
ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν
μορφὴν δούλου λαβών,
ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος·
καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος
ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν
γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου,
θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ.

or, in English (NRSV):

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Not that this even begins to exhaust its wealth!

It also explains why so many people consider Christianity as works-based—it's what they expect to hear! The good news is too good to hear—free grace to all! God's already done it and he invites us to participate in it. What could be better news than that? And, what could be more unexpected?
</idle musing>

Joy and Legalism

“Again, very few realize how much the absence of spiritual joy and its manifestations dishonour God. Few realize how great a stumbling block it is to men to see professed Christians go about with a heart all sorrowful, bowed down and hatefully selfish. Many show no trust, or almost none, in God; no joy in the light of His countenance; and no preparation of heart for doing anything efficiently in God's service. It is a living reproach to the name of Jesus, that His people should appear thus before either their brethren or the world...

“Legalists are greatly stumbled at those who possess the joy of God's salvation. Legalist are never happy in themselves but always in a straitjacket with every muscle drawn up with a tightness never to be relaxed. They do not know about such a joyous state of mind. They see a great many things that look suspicious.

“When they see souls rejoicing greatly in the Lord, O, they don't know about that. If a Christian's soul triumphs in his God, alas, they say to themselves, what can that mean? There is nothing like that in my religion! There is quite too much cheerfulness often in other people's religion to suit their taste, or to tally with their own experience. Never having had any experience in such joys as those, they are greatly scandalized.”—Charles Finney

Monday, February 14, 2011

Knowledge that you can use

“The person of knowledge has always been expected to take responsibility for being understood. It is barbarian arrogance to assume that the layman can or should make the effort to understand the specialist, and that it is enough if the person of knowledge talks to a handful of fellow experts who are his peers. Even in the university or in the research laboratory, this attitude—alas, only too common today—condemns the expert to uselessness and converts his knowledge from learning into pedantry. If a person wants to be an executive—that is, if he want to be considered responsible for his contribution—he has to concern himself with the usability of his 'product'—that is his knowledge.

“Effective knowledge workers know this. For they are always imperceptibly led by their upward orientation into finding out what the other fellow needs, what the other fellow sees, and what the other fellow understands. Effective people find themselves asking other people in the organization, their superiors, their subordinates, but above all, their colleagues in other areas, 'What contribution from me do you require to make your contribution to the organization? When do you need this, how do you need it, and in what form?'”— The Essential Drucker, pages 212-213

<idle musing>
Wow, “their upward orientation,” “what the other fellow needs,” “what do you require from me.” Those should be descriptive of the Christian—especially the servant leader! What good is your seminary education or graduate training if it isn't used to equip the saints? It “converts his knowledge from learning into pedantry” and condemns you to uselessness. I would also add that it is a good feeding ground for pride...
</idle musing>

Can you say biased?

Over the weekend, I was at a conference. After the conference, I had a bit of time, so I went to the local bookstore, as I do sometimes. I was looking over the history section and found a book about Charles Lindbergh that looked interesting. The title was good: Lindbergh Vs. Roosevelt: The Rivalry That Divided America by James P. Duffy. I was unfamiliar with the author, so I began reading the preface when it happened on page xi. The author made a comparison between FDR and Obama—fine, Obama wouldn't mind that—and then made an equation between Lindbergh and...Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh!

I closed the book and put it back. I've seen rhetorical tricks in my day—you should read some good Greek or Latin speeches—but that one just left me speechless. To compare Lindbergh, someone who actually did something history making to "I can't get my facts straight, so I'll make them up" Beck and "The only thing sacred to me is my ego" Limbaugh was more than I could believe.

You know, the book might be ok, but I wouldn't trust a thing he says without reading all his sources myself. That being the case, why read the book? Just go to the sources (ad fontes!) and draw your own conclusions...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pray for peace

I just heard (I'm traveling) that Mubarak stepped down. Pray for peace in Egypt! May the people of Egypt get a responsive government—even if it isn't friendly to the U.S.—and may it be a peaceful transition.

Thought for the day

“They [some Christians] scramble after dress or money, as anxious after worldly good as if there were no other good for them to seek and as anxious for this world as if God had told them to seek first the kingdom of this world and its good things. Therefore, they press on, running to this concert, to that show or party of pleasure, always lusting after something sensual and worldly. Such are their pursuits, and such of course is their character.”—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Mind you, he's writing in the 1800s. But, he could just as well be writing it today...
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Drucker on quality

“'Quality' in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not 'quality' because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. That is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes 'quality.'”— The Essential Drucker, page 172

<idle musing>
Ain't it the truth! Not sure what else there is to say...
</idle musing>

A thought and some interesting links

As usual, I rode my bicycle in today—even though the temperature was -11º F (-24º C). My experience has been that once it gets below about 5º F, there isn't a whole lot of difference unless the wind is strong. But, it is fun to watch the reactions of people in their cars. I thought one person was going to have to pick their jaw up off the steering wheel! Most at least did a quick double-take. But from my perspective, it sure was a refreshing and energizing ride.

OK. Now for those links...

For those of you interested in textual criticism, Larry Hurtado has a nice little post. It's a summary of a forthcoming article about the textual stability of the gospels versus some Apostolic Fathers writings. Looks intriguing:

His calculations for the NT manuscripts included show an average textual stability of 92.6% (of the words in the test passages), the spread of results for individual manuscripts ranging from 87.1% to 99.7%.

To achieve some perspective, Heide then conducts the same sort of analysis of extant manuscripts of Shepherd of Hermas (the single most frequently copied extra-canonical text, and more frequently copied than most canonical texts in the first several centuries). The average stability is ca. 86%. Heide notes that this doesn’t “even reach the worst value of the New Testament text, as reprsented by P45 [the Chester Beatty Gospels codex].”

And, for those of you who like to eat (I think that includes just about everyone!), here's something to think about:

The real problem, again, is Wal-Mart’s other promise: “healthier” packaged foods. And whether baked, low-salt chips are “better” than fried ones, is not only arguable — the baked ones are more likely to be chemical-laden — but misses the point which, again, is that real foods are superior in every way.

The truly healthy alternative to that chip is not a fake chip; it’s a carrot. Likewise, the alternative to sausage is not vegan sausage; it’s less sausage. This is really all pretty simple, and pretty clear. But the messages we’ve heard recently are as clear as . . . well, a SOFA [Solid Fats and Added Sugars, a new acronym of what to avoid].

You want an acronym? Let’s try ERF: Eat Real Food.

Oh, the article links to a very good article that is now over 4 years old, but still very relevant. Of course, it's 12 pages long...but the meat (pun intended) is on the first 2 and last pages.

And, finally, a short little reflection on US Interests and democracy.

In short, we would rather support a tyrant who does what we want than a democratic movement that may not be our puppet. So much, then, for America’s grand talk about wanting democracy all around the globe. We really don’t. We want tools so we can implement our foreign policy without interference. And that’s quite shameful.

So, to the rising democracies around the world, I apologize on behalf of the good people of the US who value true freedom above imperialism. Choose your own paths. You may not get foreign aid, but you’ll have freedom of choice- and that’s more valuable.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


“Our civilization suffers from a superstitious belief in the magical effect of printed forms. And the superstition is most dangerous when it leads us into trying to handle the exceptional, nonroutine situation by procedure. In fact, it is the test of a good procedure that it quickly identifies the situation that, even in the most routine of processes, does not fit the pattern but require special handling and decision based on judgment.”— The Essential Drucker, page 123

<idle musing>
I love that first sentence; it is sooo true. I've worked in many different companies over the years, and every one of them suffers from this to at least a small degree. No wonder C.S. Lewis chose the corporation as his model for hell in The Screwtape Letters!
</idle musing>

Thought for today

“The soul that delights itself in God is pleased with whatever happens. It has no way or will of its own, and therefore cannot be disappointed. It has no craving or lusting of a selfish nature, and therefore is not disappointed by being crossed and denied things on which its affections are set, because its affections are set on nothing but God. While it delights itself in God it is of course cheerful and happy under all circumstances, and can rejoice evermore, and pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks.”—Charles Finney

<idle musing>
Amen! This is death to self...
<idle musing>

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Where's the cross?

Roger Olson asks where the cross has gone:

Why this trend over the past 50 years away from preaching and singing about the cross of Jesus? Why do we no longer sing “What can wash away my sin (nothing but the blood of Jesus)?” or “There is a fountain filled with blood” or “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light”? Or at least similar hymns and songs about the cross?
What can explain this? Given the centrality of the cross and atonement in the New Testament and in evangelical tradition, the only explanation I can think of is accommodation to culture. We know talk about “the blood” is offensive to many people and maybe it is to us as well. It doesn’t fit very well with our shiny new sanctuaries and all the shiny new cars in the parking lots. We’re educated and upwardly mobile now. We’re affluent and sophisticated. The imagery of the cross just doesn’t sit very well with us.

Another possible reason for the dearth of language about the cross (especially blood, wrath of God, etc.) is that churches that consider themselves moderate and non-fundamentalist don’t want to do anything that smacks of fundamentalism. But I ask why give the rich New Testament and historical evangelical emphasis on the cross over to the fundamentalists? We are so often ruled by what we’re against or afraid of. We need to overcome that.

I would go so far as to say that crossless Christianity is not real Christianity. Or at least it is seriously defective, accommodated, negotiated, shallow Christianity. (Of course, most evangelical churches are not quite totally “crossless” yet, but my fear is they may be on that path.)

<idle musing>
He's right. I was at an evangelical church building recently that didn't have a cross anywhere. I asked about it, and they said they wanted to be able to make the building available to the community and that the cross would be a stumbling block. Amen! It's supposed to be a stumbling block! What does Paul say? "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (I Cor. 1:23-25 TNIV)

John Fischer wrote a book On a Hill Too Far Away that looks at the disappearance of the cross from Christianity. Great book; still true—even more true—10 years later. In fact, I think that book is a new edition of something he wrote back in the early 1990s, but I might be wrong.

Maybe we should put the cross back in Christmas?
</idle musing>

More on food

Debbie is at Joel and Renee's right now (go there for great pictures of grandson and grandma!), so I am making some (vegetarian) baked beans. Background: the smell of baked beans simmering overnight keeps her awake, so when she goes on trips like this, I make lots and freeze them—we both like to eat them :)

Anyway, I went to the local grocery store the other day to get some molasses for the baked beans. Normally, the molasses have been on the top shelf amongst the honey and by the syrup. Last time, there were three options: Grandma's™, Brer Rabbit™ dark, and Brer Rabbit™ light. But, not anymore. Now, there is only one choice, Brer Rabbit™ dark and it is on the bottom shelf. The top shelf is mainly honey, with some real maple syrup. The rest of the section, 3.5 shelves worth, is pancake syrup—you know, the high fructose, fake maple flavoring, sickeningly sweet stuff that is supposed to substitute for real maple syrup. The bottom shelf, where the lone bottle of molasses sat, is surrounded by light and dark corn syrup. :(

Doesn't anybody cook anymore? I wouldn't be surprised to see that the next time I go to buy molasses there isn't any. But, I'm sure I could buy some fake molasses made of high fructose corn syrup :(

Doing all in love

Great post by Ted Gossard today on controversy and Christian love. Here's the ending paragraph:

While we’re not going to escape controversy, it is required that we do all things in love. That we listen well. And be open to where we may be wrong, or where our position on a matter needs to be refined. That we hold as first priority that we love God and each other, no matter what our differences. That will require effort, but more than that it requires the grace and work of God. But it is part of our walk of faith in this life. That we will learn to love each other in spite of differences and things we may not like. Knowing that indeed is a two way street.

<idle musing>
Read the whole thing. You may, or may not, agree with some of his stands, but as Christians, we are called to love anyway. Good stuff.
</idle musing>

Monday, February 07, 2011

Take action

Alan, at The Assembling of the Church has been going through Colossians in preparation for teaching it next month. Right now he is reviewing Paul's (and Timothy's) prayer for the church in Colossae; one thing jumped out at me that I would like to highlight:

...knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, and spiritual understanding never remain in the mental realm. Instead, they result in action on the part of the person/group who knows God’s will and has wisdom and spiritual understanding. The purpose of knowing God’s will is so that we will live according to it.

<idle musing>
In my line of work, this is a truth that needs to be emphasized over and over again. It is so easy to get caught up in the cerebral aspects. But, as the Eastern Orthodox repeatedly say, study should result in worship. And worship includes obedience. Alan goes on to say “the power to live according to God<'s> will is supplied by God alone. We work from the power that God provides.” To which I give a hearty “Amen!
</idle musing>

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Real food options

I strongly agree with this opinion piece.

<idle musing>
We are destroying ourselves with bad food, bad herbicides, and bad pesticides. The problem is we aren't just destroying ourselves, we're destroying other plants and animals, and insects (especially honey bees) as well. Below are a pair of excerpts, but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Then go out and buy local (good) or grow your own (better). And then try to get congress to be honest about labeling food—they do work for the people, right? OK, at least in theory they do!
</idle musing>

Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn’t nanny-state paternalism but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health — including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.

Mandate truth in labeling. Nearly everything labeled “healthy” or “natural” is not. It’s probably too much to ask that “vitamin water” be called “sugar water with vitamins,” but that’s precisely what real truth in labeling would mean.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Remember when Customer Service meant service?

If only people in management would read more, they would (maybe/hopefully) get it that customer service matters. Drucker sure knew it:

“...the starting point for management can no longer be its own product or service, and not even its known market and its known end uses for its products and services. The starting point has to be what customers consider value. The starting point has to be the assumption—an assumption amply proven by all our experience—that the customer never buys what the supplier sells. What is value to the customer is always something quite different from what is value or quality to the supplier. This applies as much to a business as to a university or a hospital.”— The Essential Drucker, page 86

<idle musing>
That is definitely true. And, given the difficulties of communication, is it any surprise?
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Today's thought

One does not “manage” people.
The task is to lead people.
And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual.
The Essential Drucker, page 81 (bold in original)

<idle musing>
Isn't that a good definition of servant leadership?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Where's the snow?

Well, I haven't received any official reports on how much/little snow we received, but it fell well short of the 18 inches they were predicting. The wind was very strong last night, though. And, we had freezing rain/ice pellets for a while. The power didn't go out, but it did flicker a bit.

So, this morning I was faced with a dilemma. Should I try and ride my bike in, hoping that the bike path was plowed? Or, should I take the safe way and ski in? I opted to ski in. Here' a picture of my parking area at work:

I haven't had a chance to check on the hoop house yet, but it looks like it held together. That's good news, as I got a new set of metal reinforcers for the plastic clamps I have been using. Nothing else I had tried worked. This morning it looked like it might have come apart a bit at the top by the door. I didn't reinforce that because I thought it was too small an area to come apart—of course :( We'll see.


“We have known for fifty years that money alone does not motivate to perform. Dissatisfaction with money grossly demotivates. Satisfaction with money is, however, mainly a 'hygiene factor,' as Frederick Herzberg called it all of forty years ago in his 1959 book Motivation to Work. What motivates—and especially what motivates knowledge workers—is what motivates volunteers. Volunteers, we know, have to get more satisfaction from their work than paid employees, precisely because they do not get a paycheck. They need, above all, a challenge. They need to know the organization's mission and to believe in it. They need continual training. They need to see results.”— The Essential Drucker, page 80

<idle musing>
People are looking for something to believe in, to give their life to. What has a better mission statement and something to believe in than the church? And what better training than the indwelling Holy Spirit? And what better results can they see than the transformation of their life as the Holy Spirit lives through them?

Hold on! I'm not saying you work at it! I'm saying that the Holy Spirit does it through you. Not works sanctification—any more than it is works justification! It is the Holy Spirit living and loving through you as you yield to Him.
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

“This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.“—Zechariah 7:9-12 TNIV

<idle musing>
As usual, we do exactly the opposite of what God says we are supposed to do...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Don't do this with my books

Seen on the web:

This has got to stop!

OK, I just looked at the search terms that are being used to find this blog. Some are downright funny, others understandable—like "what is the plural of index" (which is one of my favorite posts!). But, this one has got to be put to rights:

I am not, and never have been, a "Jim"! While there is nothing wrong with the name in itself, it isn't what I go by. I am James. In fact, I've been tempted to change the jps on the blog to "James—not Jim—Spinti!"

Now that I have that off my chest, we return to our regularly scheduled programming...

Some good stuff from Peter Drucker

I mentioned a while back that I had just finished a few management books. I'm planning on blogging a few (OK, maybe more than a few!) excerpts from Peter Drucker's The Essential Drucker which is a collection of his essays from about 50 years. It is amazing to me how relevant most of them are to the church. Maybe that's because he believed in the human element of management. Anyway, here's the first of several:

“We talk incessantly about 'teams'—and every study comes to the conclusion that the top management job does indeed require a team. Yet we now practice—and not only in American industry—the most extreme 'personality cult' of CEO supermen. And no one seems to pay the slightest attention in our present worship of these larger-than-life CEOs to the question of how and by what process they are to be succeeded—and yet, succession has always been the ultimate test of any top management and the ultimate test of any institution”— The Essential Drucker, page 76

<idle musing>
In the preceding paragraph he specifically mentions the appropriate, eh? In our world of super-pastors and super-authors, but no thought of shared leadership, his statement is especially damning. The church—to her own hurt—is just as enamored with worldly success as the world. We may cry out “Where is the God of Elijah,” but God is asking us “Where are the Elijahs of God?” Unfortunately, we cultivate a personality cult instead of a relationship with the living God. The heavens are brass, but we gladly substitute the latest paperback by so-and-so on how to live the christian life instead of seeking the only one who can live the Christian life—God via the Holy Spirit!
</idle musing>

How about that garden?

Well, today marks the end of the “Persephone months” as Eliot Coleman calls them, the days of less than 10 hours of daylight. Things tend not to grow in those months. So, to celebrate, over the weekend I planted my garden! Sure, its snowing now and they predict 10-18 inches :) But, I have a hoop house with cold frames in it (right about now I wish I had a bigger one with more frames, but its probably just as well that I don't).

Anyway, on Sunday, I planted carrots, lettuce (Romaine), radishes, spinach, and green onions (from seed) in the garden and watered them. Then, I started broccoli and Roma tomatoes inside for setting out in March. Last night when I got home, I propped up the middle of the hoop house with a 2x2 and added a few reinforcing clips to the plastic to protect against the wind. We'll see how it does...if we really do get that snow! Then I came in and had a nice hot bowl of chili made from last year's tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Nothing like a nice hot bowl of chili to warm you up—it was 16º F out with a strong wind, but it hadn't started snowing yet.

After that, I decided I might just as well plant a few green peppers as well. They will be ready to go out at the end of March. By then I should be able to move the cold frames out of the hoop house and use them to plant early peas, potatoes, and some other items yet to be decided. The peppers and tomatoes will go in the hoop house, but the broccoli will go in a bed with only row cover over it; the row cover protects down to about 29º F, so I might need to add some more covering on colder days. Again, we'll see how it does. This is all just one big experiment, so come on along for the ride and avoid making the same mistakes I do :)