Thursday, December 31, 2015

The early church on military service

Great post on the early Christian view on war over at Christianity Today's Books and Culture section. Read the whole thing, but here's a brief summary:
Indeed, there is very little basis in the texts for describing the early Christian view as "divided and ambiguous." There are no authors who argue that killing or joining the military is permissible for Christians. On these questions, every writer who mentions the subject takes essentially the same position. Some pre-Constantinian Christian writers say more about these topics than others. Some do not discuss them at all. But to conclude from this relative silence or paucity of some surviving texts that other writers disagreed with the extant texts would be sheer speculation. The texts we have do not reflect any substantial disagreement. Every extant Christian statement on killing and war up until the time of Constantine says Christians must not kill, even in war.
I need to get that book The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.
The Early Church on Killing

HT: Jim Eisenbraun

Well-ordered militia?

I’m convinced the inflammatory language of talk show hosts have caused the rise of armed militias in America, which have tripled in number in 2009, growing 245 percent. In March of last year [2011] nine members of the “Christian militia” in Michigan were arrested for plotting to kill law enforcement officers, whom they said are “the foot soldiers of the federal government.” They had hoped their actions would spark a national uprising. These “Christians” are members of only one of the 512 armed militias and hate groups in the country.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 50

<idle musing>
"A well-ordered militia" indeed! If they were Islamic, they'd be called terrorists, but they're white, male, Protestant, so they are just patriots, right?

</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Yes, Virginia, the words we use DO matter

[After a 2 ½ page listing of gun-related slang, the author says this:] Colloquial British English has but a few words and phrases that refer to guns, violence, and killing. I’ve been told neither the French nor the Spanish languages employ such a large volume of violent terms in their every-day conversations.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 48


The words we use are not neutral. It’s commonplace to hear a family member say, “I’m so angry I could shoot you,” or “She made me so mad I could kill her.” Small children, the mentally ill, as well as intelligent, gentle people are influenced by such words. Could violence be so much a part of our culture that we are totally unaware of the explosive power of the words we speak?—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 48

<idle musing>
Indeed. As I said before, metaphors and words influence how we react. Read Lakoff and Johnson's marvelous Metaphors We Live By. It's an eye-opener.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Some act as if violence is only an incidental facet of human personality and like a light switch, we can turn it on or off, depending on our needs or whims. Not so. Violence is a pervasive spirit that touches and affects everything we do and everything we are. It is a spirit loose in the world and like the genie that escapes, it cannot be crammed back into the bottle where we can keep it out of sight and out of mind. Violence captivates, thrills, and fascinates us, and it starts beguiling us early in life, often when we hear our first boom and watch the first victim fall. Having the power to dominate others is fascinating and addictive. It gives us a thrill even if we are just pretending.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 43

<idle musing>
Boom! and you're addicted. It's too true—and only the power of the Holy Spirit can set us free. But, before we can be set free, we have to want to be set free—no, scratch that. We have to realize that we aren't free! And, again, that is by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Even so, come Lord Jesus! Come and set your people free!
</idle musing>

Monday, December 28, 2015

But it's just a movie...

We do not like excessive violence, but we enjoy violence lite. It makes life more exciting. I plead guilty to being fascinated with it. I’m a regular voyeur. And you? Do you watch crime movies on television? Is there a connection between violence lite and the violence inherent in war? Is there a link between violence lite and the 30,000 gun deaths every year which we say we abhor? Can we coolly dismiss such questions as irrelevant? Is it a stretch to link toys, sports, movies, and videos, etc., to gun violence, murder, and mayhem? Is there more to violence lite than meets the eye? Whenever we talk about violence we are on a continuum. I argue there are dots to connect between violence lite and our fascination for weapons of war and those three million handguns that come off our assembly lines this year.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 42 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Indeed! What we feed our minds has an effect on how we think, as an old (1948) book says, Ideas Have Consequences". Violence lite is still violence and still reflects a heart that isn't resting in shalom. As the scripture says, as we think in our hearts, so we are (Prov 23:7).
</idle musing>

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thought for the day

“The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: "The Lord! The Lord! a God who is compassionate and merciful, very patient, full of great loyalty and faithfulness, showing great loyalty to a thousand generations, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion, yet by no means clearing the guilty, punishing for their parents’ sins their children and their grandchildren, as well as the third and the fourth generation."”
Exodus 34:6-7 CEB (

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Straining a gnat...

For many, to watch the violence is not a problem. I know two young men who were in a game store when an irate grandmother tried to return a copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which she purchased for her ten-year-old grandson. When she discovered it contained sexual content, she was outraged and shouted at the clerk. The murder of police, mugging of civilians, and killing of prostitutes with a baseball bat was of small importance to her, but having her ten year old exposed to sexual scenes was a scandal.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 36

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Quote for the day

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organised in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”—Peter Drucker

Can you say, "Wrong focus"?

In Europe, such movies [previews that contain violence] are rated X because of violence. In the United States, an X-rated movie contains profanity or implicit or explicit sex. We are disturbed if our youngsters are exposed prematurely to sexuality on the screen, but we virtually ignore the effects of disproportionate violence that dominates almost every set of previews of coming attractions.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 34

<idle musing>
What's with our love of violence? We label a movie R because of profanity, but we'll allow a PG-13 or PG that shows murder? What's up with that? As if swearing is worse than killing?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Do you like it?

I recently led a series of studies on Gun Violence and Gospel Values in adult education classes at five different churches in the Greater Washington area. I often began the sessions by asking, “Do you like violence?” In each instance, there was a provocative, even embarrassing, silence until some honest soul replied, “It depends,” or “Sometimes.” After a few reminders of today’s most popular TV programs, movies and videos, and what we do for recreation, with some reluctance, virtually all of us in four of these groups agreed: in varying degrees, we liked violence. One class, however, refused to say they liked it, though they did confess, “Violence engages us.” We then listed ways violence fascinates or engages us, and how it has become a valued, or at least, an accepted part of our daily lives.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 34 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Need I say more? It's sin! And it's a sin that needs to be rooted out by the Holy Spirit.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 21, 2015

Maybe it's time to repent?

The front page of any major newspaper is full of violence or threats of future violence. Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post is reputed to have said, “We don’t cover safe landings at Dulles Airport.” What then makes it into our papers? In spite of peacemaker’s rhetoric and denunciations of violence, we gravitate to articles about violence in every part of the world. Some actually like it. We are used to it. It is as much a part of the American scene as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. To be candid, our lives would be rather boring without it. What kind of people would Americans become without our fascination with aggression and violence?—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 33

<idle musing>
Personally, I think this love of violence is a major sin in our culture. It's so much a part of the texture of our society that we don't even see it. We talk about morality, sexual sins, maybe, if we're really daring, we'll talk about greed and materialism. And some—perish the thought!—might even talk about the sin of nationalism. But, no one talks about our obsession with violence.


Perhaps because it is so much a part of our culture we don't see it?

Lord! Open our eyes that we might see true peace and cooperate with you in bringing it to pass!
</idle musing>

Saturday, December 19, 2015

All I want for Christmas is to be divine...

What we really want from science is an end to randomness. We want to know why diseases strike some people and not others. We want to know how to protect ourselves against the scourges that have our name on them. We want, in short, to banish unpredictability.— Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, page 109

<idle musing>
No, what we want from science is the ability to become our own gods—but that's basically what he is saying here anyway, isn't it? An end to randomness; the ability to know; the ability to protect ourselves. Those are all basically divine attributes.
</idle musing>

Friday, December 18, 2015

How safe are we?

Humanity is never limited in its choice of idols. In every generation people have bowed down and worshiped everything on earth, including themselves, stones, flowers, trees, streams, wells, oceans, and animals. Yet, they have never really worshiped anything that did not represent what they both cherished and feared the most . . . power.

Many biblical scholars agree when the Israelites fashioned the golden calf they had no intention of rejecting the God who saved them from bondage in Egypt. They planned to use the calf only as a tangible symbol of their redeeming God. They could not see their God, nor could they see Moses who was up on the mountain with God, but they could see and touch the calf, which served as a vivid reminder of God’s power and presence. They believed this symbol enabled them to tap into God’s power as they struggled in the desert. This young, virile bull also confirmed their own dreams of being virile and powerful, just like their God.

As the golden calf gave the ancients a false sense of security, many twenty-first-century Americans look for security in weapons. When our leaders are absent or fail us; when our God is invisible and from all appearances is absent from our lives; when we don’t know how we can keep going; when we are consumed by our fears and feel threatened by those who are not like us, those are the moments when new idols are imagined and fashioned and desperate people give them their ultimate concerns, devotion, and focused attention.

Our national trust in our weapons has grown exponentially since the Second World War and has led us to purchase more and more of them. Part of America’s national creed is that the tools of violence, be they large, as in war materiel, or small, as in handguns and assault weapons, will keep us safe, secure, and “free.”

America’s military, for example, possesses 3,200 tactical combat aircraft of all kinds. We lead the world in spending more for military preparedness at $698 billion a year, compared to the expenditures of the next nineteen countries combined. The U.S. Navy is larger than the next thirteen navies of the world combined, eleven of which belong to our closest allies and partners. Domestically, we possess more than 300 million guns, almost enough for every man, woman, and child, and an additional three million come off assembly lines each year. Has all this firepower made us more secure? Have these weapons removed or reduced our fear? Suppose we only spent more than the next ten nations combined or if our navy was only larger than the next seven navies of the world combined, would we be any less secure? Are we safer today than we were four years ago when America had twelve million fewer handguns and assault weapons?—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, pages 24–25 (emphasis original)

Watch out!

“That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson as quoted in America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 23

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Luther on false gods

A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god. God says to us “See to it that you let me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of me, and look to me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.”—Martin Luther, Larger Catechism as quoted in America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, pages 22–23

<idle musing>
That's a mouthful there, isn't it? Not just the gun culture fits it, but many other things as well: Nationalism, Materialism, Capitalism, etc. come immediately to mind.

By the way, there's a good post about how guns make you stupid. This post is by an expert marksman and former Army counter-terrorism guy, so he knows of what he speaks. Give it a read; here's a snippet to whet your appetite:

As someone who used to carry, I can say that - when I was armed - I would go anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, respond to anyone any way I wanted, be as rude as I wanted, as inconsiderate as I wanted, and meet those little non-verbal challenges that strange men throw at each other because it's a man-thing any way I wanted, and respond to rudeness and idiocy (to which I could choose not to respond) . . . because I could. There it is! The criterion for stupid. I have a damn gun, and I know how to use it. I can put two rounds in your thorax in less than a second. I can erase you.

I used to claim it was for self-defense; but for quite a few years now, I've gone unarmed and miraculously survived. I do avoid certain people and places, i.e., drunk people (the most dangerous of animals) and places with a lot of drunk people. These were the people and places that most often put me at risk back in the day. I don't do that any more just 'because I can.' I am also deferential, courteous, and friendly (when possible) with strangers; I don't do the dominator-stare-down thing with other men. Common decency/common sense stuff, that you can abandon - stupidly - when you pack heat. (emphasis original)

With thanks to Jim Eisenbraun for the link.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dysangellion, not euangellion

I define America’s idolatry with guns as a confrontational belief system based on acquiring power over others. The system is buttressed by a fascination for and devotion to the violence guns provide. Those who believe need guns to prove to themselves and others they are in control, to protect them from harm, and to give them a sense of security. This belief system is committed to the expansion of gun ownership that encourages owners to take their guns literally everywhere to stop crime and save lives. Claiming divine blessing and the highest of national values, they depend on deception and distortion of the truth to gain influence in the world, but take no responsibility when thousands of Americans die by guns each year.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 22

<idle musing>
Sounds about right, doesn't it? Evangelistic fervor—for the wrong cause. Rather than spreading a gospel of peace and servanthood, they are spreading a bad news version that preaches fear.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

When does it become an idol?

I believe a gun becomes an idol when the following conditions prevail:
1. An owner believes there are no circumstances when a regulation or restriction for public safety should be placed upon it.
2. An owner believes that guns don’t kill; they only save lives.
3. An owner has no doubt that guns preserve America’s most cherished values.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 21

<idle musing>
A good start, anyway. I would probably add a few more, but they would just expand on these three.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 14, 2015

Is it a religion?

Not for one minute do I believe all guns are idols, but I do believe some guns are idols. I’d never say all gun owners are idolatrous, but I insist some gun owners are. I don’t use the words “idol” and “idolatry” to be melodramatic, only accurate. Former NRA executive, Warren Cassidy, was serious when he exclaimed, “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.” This belief helps explain why the fight over any gun control measure immediately takes on the quality of a crusade for those whose guns have become idols.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, pages 19–20

<idle musing>
Indeed it does. I've run into people like that. They seem to be the ones who are controlling the debate; for them any form of gun control is an affront to their rights. While 12,000 die every year from gunshot wounds...
</idle musing>

Fulfilled prophecy

In the mid-sixties the Presbyterian Church began calling the nation’s attention to the gun violence that was tearing apart our inner cities. In 1990, they issued a warning: “The religious community must take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns that overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse.”

Twenty years after the warning, 600,000 more American civilians have been killed and a million more injured. These numbers convince me that the warning has become reality.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 19 (emphasis original)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yep, it's a spiritual problem

I was blind to the truth that Upton Sinclair shared with the world years before: “It is very difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary, or his power (italics mine) is dependent on not understanding it.” For the church to ask Congress to confront America’s idolatry of guns was asking the fox to guard the chickens.

What our nation needs is balanced legislation that respects two fundamental constitutional rights: the right to keep and bear arms and the right to enjoy domestic tranquility as one pursues life, liberty, and happiness. Because we are a country governed by laws, eventually, Congress will write balanced laws. But, first, there must be a spiritual awakening from God’s people for those laws to find the necessary traction in our highest legislative bodies.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 18 (author’s emphasis)

<idle musing>
I must admit that I think he's still too optimistic! But, I agree that it is a spiritual problem. In this case, a two-fold one: our country worships money and it worships power. The gun lobby has money and the gun represents power. What's not to love?

Oh, there is that pesky little problem of Jesus and what he said, but it's just a small little inconvenience. After all, most Christians haven't ever read the Bible anyway and depend on their culture and pastors to tell them what it, no problem.
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When all else fails, threaten them!

Church folk should be aware that those who resent any organized restraints on their personal power, wealth, or control, however they are expressed, are skilled in introducing both of the concepts inherent in the words “political” and “spiritual” to defend their ideology and keep certain subjects like guns, profits, and sharing the wealth out of the realm of moral and ethical discourse. Both words can be used with great effectiveness.

Gun zealots are well aware when they label gun violence a political matter, whether in the faith community, the PTA, or gatherings of citizens that the charge will make enough members nervous over losing unity or togetherness or their 501-C-3 status, that they will drop or table the subject. If someone is determined to keep a particular concern from being raised in the church, the most effective tactic is to label it “political” and remind the body we are “spiritual,” not community leaders.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 16

<idle musing>
Because we all know that fear works. It certainly sells! I suspect that's why John says that perfect love casts out all fear. And Jesus says, "Fear not!" And, in the upper room discourse, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid for he has overcome the world.

Would that we believed him! Lord, set us free from fear that we might see you in all our circumstances!
</idle musing>

A Christian response (guest post)

This is a guest post by Daniel Bradley. He originally posted it on Facebook in response to my posting a link to the excerpt on Tuesday.

One of the most difficult aspects of Christianity—one with which Christians in every era have struggled (including myself)—is its wholesale rejection of violence in any and every form. Within the teachings of Jesus lies such an ethic of nonviolence and non-retaliation that it runs counter to the very grain of human nature and logic. It is an ethic that does not render evil for evil; it turns the other cheek. It’s an ethic that loves enemies until death and tells Peter to put away his sword. And, well, that simply doesn’t square with our natural instincts for self-protection/preservation.

But here is where the beauty of the Christian faith shines: Once a person says, “I am crucified with Christ,” and names Jesus as “Lord,” the paradigm completely changes. What may be permissible in the eyes of the State may be wrong for the Christian. Take the Second Amendment for example. Within the scope of Jesus’ teaching, we can find no place for answering violence with violence. Many have attempted to dilute this by means of appealing to self-defence (claiming that self-defence is not violence), but that’s just the problem. Jesus never defended himself; when he was reviled, he didn’t revile back. Nor did he prevent the martyrdom of the Apostles. On the contrary, Jesus stated that he was sending them out as sheep among wolves. He basically promised them they would die! Stephen didn’t take up a sword when being stoned, and neither did Paul and the other of the earliest followers take up arms to defend themselves or one another. This is one of the gut punches of the Gospel: laying down the sword, and really laying it down for the sake of Christ. Can I truly say I am loving my enemy when I’m putting a bullet in his head??

Yes, I honestly grapple with the scenario of an intruder breaking into my home to kill me and my family, and with the question of what would I do. To some there’s no question at all – they would shoot to protect themselves and their families. Yet, the real question to ask is, “What would following Christ look like in that moment?” Of course, my natural instincts say, “Fire away! Load with lead and aim for the head!” But that’s not what Jesus did when he died, and that’s not what the early Christians did when being fed to the lions in the Circus Maximus or burned as human candles in Nero’s Pleasure Garden. We must all face the fact that someone is going to suffer because of *our* convictions, no matter where we stand on the issues. People make their choices, and others will feel the impact of those choices in some form or degree – whether we are pacifists or we happen to side with those who opt for war or their gun “rights.” As Christians, however, we should want to side with Jesus no matter what the cost, and teach our families what it means to be one of his disciples. This means not holding one’s life precious to oneself, but rather entrusting our existence to the one who gave his life for us, and following after his pattern. Far from being a cakewalk, this is a very courageous, daring, and yes, dangerous way to live. But it *is* the way of Christ. In short, as we discuss these matters, we have to carefully articulate what “You shall not kill” and “Do not repay evil for evil,” and other such statements of nonviolence mean. Sadly, American culture (and even Americanized Christianity) is in such a state that these questions and considerations have difficulty even being articulated, because we have lost the ethical framework in which they can be accommodated. Christian ethics are quickly tossed out to sea and drowned in the bloody waters of fearmongering and war propaganda with a firm, religio-political strangle hold.

Finally, let me say that many professing believers speak concerning this issue more as Americans than they do as Christians, and like James Spinti said, that’s the idolatry—dare *I* say apostasy-- of it all. Christians are foreigners in a foreign land, a culture within a culture, and we must act, speak, and think like it. Just to the extent that Christians allow their attitudes and actions to be contoured by anything or anyone other than Jesus, it represents a misalignment with the Christian faith. In short, just because it is in the American Bill of Rights doesn’t mean it is Christ/ian. “Religious liberty,” an Americanized version of “freedom,” and the wielding of our American “rights” have, in my estimation, done great harm to the Christian faith in America, to where it is no longer intelligible to itself. Instead of being a prophetic voice in our culture, Christians have capitulated to the spirit of the age and have relied on politics and the “arm of flesh” to carry/legislate their moral agendas. American Christians nowadays, especially right-wing, conservative Evangelicals, are guilty of a kind of nationalistic, civil religion which blends God and country, and basically (and blindly) underwrites the American war agenda so long as our leaders tip their hats to Israel. Allegiance to Jesus has become equated with certain political parties and convictions, to the point that if some were asked “What denomination are you?” they would answer, “Republican.” All this to say, it is not Jesus. It represents a departure from His teachings, and is nothing short of idolatry. The second we appeal to Caesar to justify our convictions is the second we reject Christ’s kingship.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Raising the veil

If the city council announced an adult book and video store had applied for a business license close to the church and high school, would the elder gather the congregation for a prayer meeting? Would the elder merely pray that the owner of the porn shop would have a change of heart? Would the proposed store be a political or a spiritual problem?

Gun violence is nonpartisan. Guns kill Republicans, Democrats, and Independents every day. The victims are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, whites, blacks, Latino, Asian, men, women, boys, girls, young, old, gay, straight, rich, poor, rural, and urban. No category of person escapes. Gun violence is no more a political issue than drunken driving, selling crack cocaine, or arson.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 14

<idle musing>
What more can we say? The fact that this is our response shows what our true god is...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Let's talk about the spiritual

There are political dimensions whenever guns are discussed, but what happens in society because of guns makes them a profound spiritual concern that must be dealt with by people of faith. In spite of the metaphysical rhetoric to the contrary, guns actually do kill. That is their purpose. Although one cannot dismiss the political implications of guns, the spiritual implications, in my mind, far outweigh the purely political.—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 12

<idle musing>
Indeed! It is a spiritual problem when we send 12,569 people to their graves because of gun violence (figure is from here). Think about that for a minute. That means gun violence destroys 10 towns the size of Grand Marais every year! Ten towns!

And we're getting uptight about admitting refugees because they might be terrorists? What kind of irony is that? Oh my! A terrorist might kill some people! Yes. That's true. And I'm not trying to minimize that potential or the fact that real people might die. But—and this is huge—we allow over 12,000 people to die every year and don't blink an eye. Twelve thousand! Every year! And this year we're way ahead of that. Last year there were 281 mass shootings. This year we already have 355 (last I checked, but that was 3 days ago, so we are now probably at 360 or more). We have over 300 million, yes million guns in the U.S. If guns could make you safe, then we should be the safest nation in the world. But, apparently not, because we need more guns. And now you want to allow conceal and carry on college campuses? Insane!

And Christians are leading the charge in many cases! All in the name of Jesus, who said love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Vengeance is mine saith the LORD! What is going on here?

OK. Enough ranting...
</idle musing>

Monday, December 07, 2015

This looks interesting

Ohhh!! Book lust! Just ran across this in a book I'm editing:

Sievers' Law and the History of Semivowel Syllabicity in Indo-European and Ancient Greek
P. J. Barber
Oxford Classical Monographs
Published: 28 January 2014
464 Pages
ISBN: 9780199680504

This book is an investigation of how semivowels were realised in Indo-European and in early Greek. More specifically, it examines the extent to which Indo-European *i and *y were independent phonemes, in what respects their alternation was predictable, and how this situation changed as Indo-European developed into Greek.

Here's the link:

But the price...OUCH! $185.00! Oxford, why do you do this? Interlibrary loan! Closest place is Duluth, at least according to WorldCat. I wonder if that library does ILL? Update: Nope. According to MNLink, it doesn't exist for ILL : ( Guess I'll have to talk to the librarians...

The agony of being 5 hours from the nearest research library. But the setting more than makes up for it! After all, with ILL (if I'm willing to wait for a week) I get the best of both worlds.

The right to bear arms? Or the right to die by arms?

Though I own guns, I do not believe they should be exempt from safety requirements, wise regulation, and restrictions. Guns are made to kill. America has an abominable record of balancing an individual’s right to have a gun with the public’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Public safety in the company of three hundred million guns should not be a wish or the pipe dream it is today. Children in the United States are twelve times more likely to die from firearms injury than children in twenty-five other industrialized nations combined. Gun murder rates in the United States per one-hundred thousand people are more than seventeen times higher than those in Australia; thirty-five times higher than in Germany; thirty-seven times higher than in Spain; and 355 times higher than in Japan. If the United States respected both the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and the right of its citizens to live on safe streets, these figures would drop precipitously. We should be embarrassed to be first in the developed world for gun deaths—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page 5

<idle musing>
Remember the antiwar song by Country Joe and the Fish? "Hey moms, be the first on your block to get your boy home in a wooden box." That's basically what we're doing by allowing the Gun Empire to set the rules. This book will reveal how they do really should buy this book and read it, or check it out of the library. Somehow, get your hands on this book and read it.
</idle musing>

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The source of the problem

Gun violence is not so much a political or social problem as it is a spiritual problem, and God’s people must be in the lead of the moral and ethical struggle for the soul of America—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page xvii (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
But he doesn't stop there as too many do. He goes on to expose the idolatry at the root of it. Stay tuned!
<idle musing>

Friday, December 04, 2015

Wake up!

If our nation finally decides to save thousands of lives every year by reducing gun violence, it will be because a sleeping spiritual giant is waking up and realizes God is calling it to name and unmask the idols of power and deadly force that are perpetuating murder and violence in our communities. These idols are the principalities and powers, which are nourished by death. The good news is it does not have to be this way. There are things we can do. It is not the will of God that between eighty-two and eighty-four people die every day by guns. Many of these lives will be saved the moment the faith community wakes up, learns about the Gun Empire, and decides to do something about the violence that is all too routine in America—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page xvii

<idle musing>
I find it sadly ironic that the day I begin reading this book there is another mass shooting. Twenty people dead. Boom. Just like that, their lives are snuffed out. There have been more mass-shootings in the U.S. this year than there have been days! And people say this is a political issue? Sorry! This is a spiritual issue.

"It is not the will of God that between eighty-two and eighty-four people die every day by guns." Amen! The gun empire is indeed an idol, based on fear. If perfect love casts out all fear, then why do we allow this idol to continue to dominate us?
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 03, 2015

It's the ideology

U.S. exceptionalism, in turn, requires not only a strong military force, but a military ideology that gives privilege to military adventurism and military personnel, and that assures limitless funding for such adventurism that is deeply engrained in machismo posture. The presence of the military ideology in advertising and sports means that military posturing is pervasive, so that the national anthem must be sung everywhere always, a kind of pervasiveness that shocks us when we see it performed in “lesser” societies of an authoritarian ilk. Thus military exhibits of flags, anthems, marching, and saluting of the kind that endorsed National Socialism in Germany become commonplace among us—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page xii

<idle musing>
I'll bet you don't even notice it, do you? It's so commonplace that it's like the fish who doesn't know it's wet. Flags everywhere—especially since 9/11/2001.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Now that's a scary thought

"The report says that on Black Friday, November 25, 2011, more handguns were sold in the United States than on any previous single day in U.S. history. That datum might produce staggering dismay, for it indicates a level of fear and anxiety, posturing power, and readiness for violence that defies reason. Sadly, however, that dismaying report does not in fact even evoke surprise among us, so inured are we to guns and to the culture that sustains their legitimacy and popularity."—America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, page xi of the foreword by Walter Brueggemann

<idle musing>
I wonder if this Black Friday beat all previous ones—actually, I'd be surprised if it didn't leave all the other ones in the dust. The fact that I don't feel outrage about it confirms that Brueggemann is correct. And that is a frightening thought, even more frightening than the prospect of more weapons in an already flooded market!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


When returned to the context of human activity in general, so-called ritual acts must be seen first in terms of what they share with all activity, then in terms of how they set themselves off from other practices. Ritualization is fundamentally a way of doing things to trigger the perception that these practices are distinct and the associations that they engender are special. A great deal of strategy is employed simply in the degree to which some activities are ritualized and therein differentiated from other acts. While formalization and periodization appear to be common techniques for ritualization, they are not intrinsic to 'ritual' per se; some ritualized practices distinguish themselves by their deliberate informality, although usually in contrast to a known tradition or style of ritualization. Hence, ritual acts must be understood within a semantic framework whereby the significance of an action is dependent upon its place and relationship within a context of all other ways of acting: what it echoes, what it inverts, what it alludes to, what it denies.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 220

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from this book. I hope you learned something from it. I found it very interesting, but then...well, we won't go there : )

Not sure what I'll be extracting from next. I got a whole bunch of great books at AAR/SBL that I can't wait to dig into. We'll see what happens. I'm also in the middle of editing two books, plus working for Eisenbrauns part-time, so I don't have a lot of free reading time right now. And the books I'm editing don't lend themselves to extracts very well—Syriac grammar anyone?

Maybe this one:

America and Its Guns
A Theological Expose
BY James E. Atwood
FOREWORD BY Walter Brueggemann

Monday, November 30, 2015

What do you think of first?

I was reading in Psalms this morning, specifically Psalm 51, and it occurred to me: What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions David and Bathsheba?

Do you think of the adultery? Or do you think of the death of Uriah the Hittite, her husband?

I'll warrant that 90% of American Christians think of the adultery first. In fact, I'd bet that a goodly percentage don't even know the murder of Uriah! But back to Psalm 51. There's no mention of the adultery in the psalm, aside from the superscription, and even there it just says, "after he had been with Bathsheba" (CEB). But there is mention of violence:

Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. Ps. 51:14 CEB
I think the fact that we don't think of the death of Uriah says a lot about the casual acceptance of death and violence in our culture. Just an
</idle musing>

But are we really one?

Ritualization both implies and demonstrates a relatively unified corporate body, often leading participants to assume that there is more consensus than there actually is. It leads all to mistake the minimal consent of its participants for an underlying consensus or lack of conflict, even when some conflict is objectified and reembodied. Most of all, ritualization leads participants to mistake the group's reformulation of itself as a straightforward communication and performance of its most traditional values.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 210

<idle musing>
Yep. Social commentators fall prey to this all the time. Think of the way Muslims are stereotyped. And conservative Christians too, for that matter.
</idle musing>

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Refried brains

Remember those old public service announcement from the late 20th century? You know, the ones with the hot frying pan and they would say, "This is your brain." Then they would drop an egg into it and say, "This is your brain on drugs." Well, here's a modern version:
By the way, Unshelved is a great daily cartoon!

Musings on exercise rooms

As you know, I recently returned from the annual AAR/SBL meetings, this year in Atlanta (you can read about my trip there and back again). Over the years, I've noticed a distinct trend in the use of exercise equipment in the conference hotels.

When I first started attending the conference back in 2003, if you didn't get to the exercise room by 6:00 AM, you likely wouldn't get the machine you wanted. In my case, it is the recumbent bicycle. More than likely you would have to take the upright bicycle or an elliptical machine. I started getting up a bit earlier and getting to the room at 5:55. If you waited until 6:15, you likely would stand in line for about 10–15 minutes to get a machine.

Over the years, that has changed. The change was gradual, the lines disappeared with people arriving later. It became less essential to arrive before 6:00, indeed 6:15 became early enough to get whatever machine you wished. The number of pieces of equipment also changed. Where before you would see 1 recumbent bicycle, 2 upright bicycles, 3–4 ellipticals, and 3–4 treadmills, now it is 1 recumbent, 1 upright (or none), 1–2 ellipticals, and 2–3 treadmills.

This year was the most dramatic, perhaps because I haven't attended for 2 years. Every day I arrived in the exercise room between 5:45-6:10 (depending on when my first appointment was). On most days, no one else arrived in the room until 6:15. On no day did more than 2 other people enter the room before I left (usually at 6:40) and on some days, I was the only person in the room.

Meanwhile, the nation has a growing problem with weight. Hmmm...

But, exercise is only half the issue. The other half is diet. At one of the hotels I stayed at, they offered "grab and go" lunches. Basically, a sack lunch. I took one. Here's what it had: 1 white bun with ham and cheese, 1 bag of potato chips, 1 Rice Krispie™ bar, 1 packet of real mayonnaise, and 1 packet of yellow mustard. Basically, the healthiest thing in there was the mustard packet! No fiber, no fruit, no vegetable (potato chips are not a vegetable!). Needless to say, it isn't healthy; even aside from the ham, cheese, and real mayo being animal products, the white bun and Rice Krispie™ bar would cause a pre-diabetic / diabetic's sugar levels to go nuts. But this was passed off with no apparent thought as a normal lunch. Add to that the probability that whoever ate it would grab a can of sugar-laden beverage, be it carbonated or not, and you've exceeded the recommended sugar intake for the day by about 3 times! And that's just one small lunch!

Any wonder we're a nation of obesity?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And the road home from Atlanta is paved with...delays!

For those of you just tuning in, the record of my trip to Altanta is here. I arrived in Atlanta safely, late last Thursday, after a 13 hour day, what with traffic and all. We set up the booth for AAR/SBL on Friday and the conference opened on Saturday. Yesterday, Tuesday, the exhibit closed at noon.

Once a large conference closes, mayhem ensues. Everybody wants to get torn down, packed up, and outta there as quickly as possible. Usually it's because they have a flight to catch. Well, of the four of us, one lives in Atlanta, and the other three of us drove, so the flight deadline wasn't looming. But, I had to get the van out of valet parking before 3:00 or pay for another day, so we wanted to get done. Because everything sold so well (thank you!), the teardown went well. In fact, we were waiting for them to bring our stuff out of the storage so we could pack up. Huh? Well, when you set up, you have to put all the empty boxes and crates on a skid and they store it someplace, fire regulations and all that. So, one of the first things they do is bring up the storage skids—usually!

That wasn't happening, so I went looking (along with other vendors!). I found the foreman, who was frustrated. Apparently the freight elevator had ceased working! Not a good thing. But, they had managed to get it fixed and our skid was soon to be delivered. Sure enough, 5–10 minutes later it showed up.

We still had to skid everything up, even though I drove. The loading dock is down one floor, so they move the skid down there and then it goes on the van. No problems there—until the guy decided he wanted to just load the skid on the van instead of unstacking and restacking. Oops! Too tall. Tear off a few layers and on it goes. Pack the stuff we took off around the skid and I'm ready to go.

I asked the guys standing there about the fastest way to the Interstate. Mistake! They gave me bad directions! I lost 20 minutes trying to get unlost from following them! Oh we go into the wild construction zones of I-75 and I-65! I had hoped to get to Louisville before stopping. Originally, I had hoped that would be around 9:30—10:00. As the traffic moved slowly through the construction zones around Chattanooga, I started hoping for 10:30. It looked like I might make it as I pulled onto I-65 in Nashville. That is, until about 20–30 miles south of Elizabethtown (E-town to those of us who know). There was a 16 mile section where the lanes split; I chose the one with the exits, figuring that if there was an accident, the exits would make it easier for them to clear the road. Bad choice! About 5 miles into it, traffic came to a dead stop. For 27 minutes! And there was no cell phone coverage, so I couldn't even look at what was happening on Google maps. I still don't know what it was, because once traffic started moving, the lane was clear. I hit Louisville around 11:00 and stopped a bit into Indiana.

Today I took off around 8:00 or so and hit the offices in Winona Lake before noon. No problems! I hope the flight out tomorrow is as uneventful!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Christian and violence

Great post by Preston Sprinkle—actually it's a paper he recently presented at ETS—entitled "A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence" (he doesn't like the word "pacifist"). Here's a small snippet, but do read the whole thing
If Jesus does not walk out of a grave and sit at the right hand of the Father, then we have no business loving our enemies. Unless Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale, I will most certainly destroy my enemy before he destroys me. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, all forms of nonviolence, I believe, are uncompelling.

To be clear, I believe in Christian—or more explicitly, Christocentric—nonviolence. Christocentric nonviolence says that we should fight against evil, we should wage war against injustice, and we should defend the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, and oppressed. And we should do so aggressively. But we should do so nonviolently.

In other words, Christocentric nonviolence does not dispute whether Christians should fight against evil. It only disputes the means by which we do fight. (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Amen and amen!
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And he made it!

I just rolled in from Indiana with a van load of goodies! Tomorrow we set up. My luggage was indeed waiting for me when I got to the airport in Fort Wayne, so all is good there.

Now I'm heading over to the exhibit hall to see what I can see...more later! But it sure was a long drive!

The road to Atlanta is paved with . . . delays!

Well, I finally got into Warsaw, coming via South Bend airport. But my luggage went to Fort Wayne! I'll have to pick it up tomorrow on my way through to Atlanta.

For those of you just joining us, I am on my way to the annual AAR/SBL meeting in Atlanta. I'm going via Warsaw, IN, because I'm picking up a van full of Eisenbrauns books for the show. I started this morning (well, actually yesterday now) at 7:00 AM from Grand Marais, MN. I drove to Duluth through rain, and as I got near the Duluth airport, the fog got extremely thick. Not good, I thought. My flight might get delayed.

Well, it was delayed, but not because of fog in Duluth, but because of wind in Chicago. The plane I was supposed to board was still grounded at O'Hare! It finally arrived around 2:00 and it looked like we might get a fast track for me to catch my connecting flight to Fort Wayne. Nope. We sat on the tarmac for an hour before they sent us back to the terminal. Then it looked like we might not get out at all. Just about the time I was weighing my options—drive home and try again Thursday, drive to Indiana, or just stay in Duluth—they said that Chicago had cleared them to come on down. So, we loaded up the plane and headed south. This was about 5:00. We got into O'Hare around 6:30 and deplaned. I headed to the customer service counter, hoping to catch the last flight into Fort Wayne, but it was already much for that! Maybe I'd be spending the night in Chicago.

They asked if I had an alternate destination. I said, South Bend. It's about an hour from Warsaw, about the same as Fort Wayne. There was a flight leaving in 20 minutes and there was one seat left. I took it and headed to the gate. I got to the gate just in time for them to announce that there was a mechanical problem on the plane and they were switching planes. We should be leaving around 7:30. And then around 8:00. And then around 8:15. We finally left at about 9:00, which is actually 10:00 South Bend time. We landed in South Bend at 11:00.

Dan (the business manager at Eisenbrauns) had driven up to get me. As I was landing, I got a text message from the airline saying that my baggage had missed my flight and I needed to talk to a customer service rep. Fine, except there was no one there. They were unloading the cargo, running a short staff in the evening. He finally made it to the customer service counter around 11:45. Sure enough, my baggage was on another flight—it was waiting for me in Fort Wayne!

So, we headed toward Warsaw. We got in around 1:00, but Dan needed to show me how to run all the point-of-sale computers. And then we loaded it all into the truck and here I am, almost 2:00 AM and I'm hitting the road for Atlanta in the morning, with a detour through Fort Wayne, where hopefully my baggage awaits me! And then on to Atlanta!

Isn't travel fun? : )

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

But it doesn't count

Wuthnow has explored what he calls the "ritual aspects" of left-hand turn signals and the mass viewing of the television series "Holocaust." Given the analysis advanced in this chapter, however, the first case is not one of ritualized activities, merely regularized (rule-bound) behavior that functions as a signal of intentions in the context of driving. Why? The answer is cultural. In this culture, such legally articulated modes of regularized behavior are insufficient to count as 'ritual' for most people. In the second case, the network and general media undoubtedly used a variety of strategies to heighten the sense that people were viewing a unique and profound event, that the television was a medium of communal participation with other viewers for witnessing an important simulation of reality, and to dramatize the solemnity of the broadcast in contrast to the usual television fare. Indeed, there was sufficient evocation of ritual ways of acting that many people probably reacted with some of the conventions of consent used in ritual—"If it is this unique and important I should watch and accept," and the like. Nonetheless, in this culture, viewing the series was not likely to be judged ritual for those involved due to cultural distinctions among ways of acting, distinctions vital to any analysis of social action.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 205

<idle musing>
That's refreshing to hear. So many people count just about everything that is regularized as ritual that it has been emptied of its meaning. I agree with her that the cultural distinctions have to be maintained in order for an understanding of what ritual is and what it does.
</idle musing>

Musings on ten years of blogging

I've been blogging for over 10 years now; I started in October, 2005. In those days, blogs were still considered controversial for academics and I wasn't sure how well my blogging would be received by Eisenbrauns' customers. Because of that, I just put it up under my initials, jps. It's been that way for 10 years now and blogs are now passé, but I've still been musing along, putting up excerpts from stuff I'm reading, commenting on the book industry, reflecting on gardening, bicycling, sharing the joys and frustrations of being a cabin caretaker on the North Shore.

All that to say, I looked over the sidebar of my blog today for the first time in ages. I'm amazed at how many of the blogs on my blogroll have fallen silent. I'm sure there are many new ones, and I've added some of them to my newsreader periodically. But I've been less than diligent about keeping the blogroll current. I think part of it is that I keep hoping some of the old standbys will start blogging again. Maybe they will, but probably not. I suppose I should update the blogroll this winter, once AAR/SBL is over.

While I was looking at the sidebar, I noticed the pattern of my posting. I'll bet you can't guess which month(s) were the busiest for me, between the cabins, Eisenbrauns, and editing. Here's the graphic for those of you who read this in an RSS newsreader

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How it does what it does

[R]itualization involves the differentiation and privileging of particular activities. Theoretically, these activities may differentiate themselves by a variety of features; in practice, some general tendencies are obvious. For example, these activities may use a delineated and structured space to which access is restricted; a special periodicity for the occurrence and internal orchestration of the activities; restricted codes of communication to heighten the formality of movement and speech; distinct and specialized personnel; objects, texts, and dress designated for use in these activities alone; verbal and gestural combinations that evoke or purport to be the ways things have always been done; preparations that demand particular physical or mental states; and the involvement of a particular constituency not necessarily assembled for any other activities. These are not universal features, however. At best, ritualization can be defined only as a 'way of acting' that makes distinctions like the foregoing ones by means of culturally and situationally relevant categories and nuances. When such culturally specific strategies are generalized into a universal phenomenon, much of the logic by which these ritual strategies do what they do is lost. This becomes particularly clear in recalling that the situational and strategic nature of ritualization affects even the degree to which such ritualized acts differentiate themselves at all from other forms of activity. In other words, an essential strategy of ritualization is how it clarifies or blurs the boundaries that identify it as a specific way of acting.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, pages 204–5

<idle musing>
As she keeps saying throughout the book, when you try to analyze ritual, you destroy its power. When it becomes an object of intellectual inquiry, it ceases to be effective—for you, not for the ones participating in it!

I must say, now that I'm almost through with the book, that this is a dense book and difficult to get through. It might be that I'm not familiar enough with the field, or it might be just plain difficult! But, I didn't always follow her arguments and frequently felt she was being convoluted; maybe that's the nature of ritual—to be difficult to describe clearly...I dunno, just an
</idle musing>

Monday, November 16, 2015

A bit of Tozer for a Monday

Life has settled down a bit, so I'm getting some time to read again, consequently, I think I'll start posting some Tozer. Let's start with some excerpts from The Dangers of a Shallow Faith.
So, my Christian friend, if you are settling back, snuggling into your foam rubber chair and resting in your faith in John 3:16 and the fact that you have accepted Jesus Christ, you had better watch yourself. Take heed, lest you also be found wanting. Take heed of your own heart, lest when all is said and done, you have become tied in with the world.—The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, page 15
Speaking of Tozer, I just saw that there is a new compilation that just got published: Delighting in God. Here's the blurb on the web site:
Delighting in God is the message A.W. Tozer intended to be the follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy. He demonstrates how the attributes of God—those things God has revealed about himself—are a way to understand the Christian life of worship and service. Because we were created in the image of God, to understand who we are, we need to understand who God is and allow His character and nature to be reflected through us.
Sounds good; I'll have to get a copy!

Not necessarily

Any ideology is always in dialogue with, and thus shaped and constrained by, the voices it is suppressing, manipulating, echoing. In other words, ideologies exist only in concrete historical forms and in specific relations to other ideologies. Similarly, people do not simply acquire beliefs or attitudes imposed on them by others. If the manipulation of bias is a matter of unarticulated dispositions (e.g., "Stand up straight!"), then these dispositions must be embodied and reproduced in many activities that actively support them without much contradiction.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 191

<idle musing>
In other words, it's complicated! That's why those people who say, "Do it this way, and you'll have perfect kids!" are wrong. It's complicated! There are so many factors interacting in so many ways that you are never in control of the results. Praise God for that! He is in control, and I find that reassuring.
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Broken record

Despite the evidence for the ambiguous, unstable, and inconsistent nature of belief systems, recent literature persists in the view that ritual has an important social function with regard to inculcating belief.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 186

<idle musing>
Yep. Just like I said yesterday. And this was written in 1992!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The limits of ritual, or how I launch into a rant

These studies give evidence for the ambiguity and instability of beliefs and symbols as well as the inability of ritual to control by virtue of any consensus based on shared beliefs. They also suggest that ritualized activities specifically do not promote belief or conviction. On the contrary, ritualized practices afford a great diversity of interpretation in exchange for little more than consent to the form of the activities.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 186 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
When was this book written? Hmmm...1992! Over 20 years ago. And I'm still reading books written this year that claim that ritualized activities form a community around shared beliefs! What's with that? I even edited a book earlier this year that had that claim as a centerpiece of the argument!

Get a grip folks! It doesn't work that way! </rant>
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Illogical? Yep!

Hinduism for Hindus is not a coherent belief system but, first and foremost, a collection of practices. It is the collection of practices as such that needs to be explored further in order to understand their sense of religious action. Converse's conclusion about formal beliefs in comparison to particular practices also recalls the story of one exasperated foreign missionary in China. He could successfully convince the Chinese that they were foolish to bow to statues, he asserted, only to have them giggle shyly and admit that they would continue to do it anyway.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 185–86

<idle musing>
Of course. Why not? After all, we don't act from our logic most of the time anyway. We'd like to think that we are logical beings, you know, homo sapiens and all that stuff, but the actual truth is we are emotional beings. And we want to cover our bases, too. After all, that statue just might have some power, and I don't want to anger it! And what harm will it do to bow just a little bit to it? It's cheap goes the justification anyway. But it's all just trying to justify to our minds what we wanted to do anyway.

We need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, working from the inside out. That's the only way we will get deliverance!
</idle musing>

Monday, November 09, 2015

Don't expect consistency or coherence

In addition to the evidence for the fundamental ambiguity of symbols, there is also evidence that religious beliefs are relatively unstable and unsystematic for most people. Instead of well-formulated beliefs, most religions are little more than "collections of notions." Philip Converse demonstrated this point quite graphically in a study of belief systems among elites in contrast to such systems among the mass public. With regard to political beliefs, he found that systems of ideas, beliefs, or ideological attitudes do not filter down much beyond the class of professionals who deal with them on a regular basis. Among the public at large, beliefs and opinions become increasingly incoherent with each other as the level of sophistication and education decreases. That is to say, beliefs or attitudes are increasingly less constrained by logic on the one hand while becoming more affected by local group interests on the other. The dissociation of logically related ideas proceeds down the social ranks to such an extent that it is impossible to find any significant public participation in the belief systems found among elites. In addition, nonsystematic clusters of ideas, so much more prevalent than wide-ranging systems of beliefs, show great instability over even short periods of time. Converse concluded that the factors affecting the juxtaposition of beliefs were most likely to be social (group affiliations), then psychological (expressive of individual idiosyncratic orientations); the logical coherence of beliefs was the least likely factor to affect which beliefs were juxtaposed.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 184–85

<idle musing>
Yep. I agree 100% with that. Don't expect consistency or coherence in people's belief system. I am repeatedly amazed that people don't recognize the logical contradictions in things they claim to believe. When I bring it up, they say they just hadn't thought about it. Which reminds me of a post that I read this morning on Christians and philosophy. Here's a good little snippet:

Maybe we do not find many people interested in anything philosophical because of the growing anti-intellectual sentiment around us. Maybe cultural pressure from bite-size pieces of information delivered rapid-fire via digital media has conditioned our minds in such a way that we cannot think deeply. My concern is not so much with the culture-wide absence of philosophical conversation, but how a lack of thinking has grown among Christians and kept so many followers of Christ underdeveloped. It seems like many who call themselves evangelicals living in twenty-first century America typically find little or no interest in philosophy, theology, or engaging the intellect.

Mark Noll made this observation over twenty years ago when he declared, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” (emphasis original)

"Lack of thinking has ... kept so many followers of Christ underdeveloped." Quite the accusation! But, I think he's correct. Now, what do I do to counteract that? Give me wisdom, Lord! I'd like to think that this blog (now over 10 years old!) is part of my attempt to counteract the lack of thinking. So, a question for both of you who read it: Does it stimulate thinking on your end?
</idle musing>

Friday, November 06, 2015

We hide it

In brief, it is my general thesis here that ritualization, as a strategic mode of action effective within certain social orders, does not, in any useful understanding of the words, 'control' individuals or society. Yet ritualization is very much concerned with power. Closely involved with the objectification and legitimation of an ordering of power as an assumption of the way things really are, ritualization is a strategic arena for the embodiment of power relations. Hence, the relationship of ritualization and social control may be better approached in terms of how ritual activities constitute a specific embodiment and exercise of power.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 170

<idle musing>
I like that nuancing. If it were blatant, we might/would see it. Peter Leithart has a post today about what he calls our "double consciousness" in these types of things. Here's the relevant paragraph, but the whole thing is worth a read:

The double consciousness is most evident in the fact that we won’t admit that we have a double consciousness...He [Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want?] offers a simple illustration: “when students scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them to take a photograph of their mother and cut out the eyes” (9). And he offers the image of the destruction of the World Trade towers as a more complex example. The images we saw were layered, since the event itself was meant to be a message more than a strategic military action. And the images of the event are living symbols that are part of the ongoing aftermath of the event they depict. Pictures of the billowing fire and smoke against the deep blue Manhattan sky live because they crystallize a form of life that is feared and despised.

With pictures as with so much else, we really haven’t escaped our pre-modern past. We have never been modern.

Ain't that the truth!
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 05, 2015

What happened to my Character viewer?

I upgraded to OS X El Capitan the other day. Ever since, I haven't been able to get the Character Viewer (they renamed it Emoji & Symbols) to show. At first it just wouldn't show if I was in Word; I was still able to get it to show when I was in TextEdit, so I was copying and pasting between TextEdit and Word (what a pain!). Now it won't appear anywhere! I use ʿ and ʾ all the time, plus I need the paragraph marker (not the pilcrow [¶], but this one §). I'm using the HTML entity on that last one because I can't find it on the keyboard. The ʿ and ʾ I have in my Syriac keyboard cheatsheet, so I'm just copying and pasting. But I can't use the HTML entity in a Word doc!

Frustrating! What is the keyboard command for the § sign? Or better yet, Apple! Fix the Character Viewer!

Update: the § is Option 5. But I still need the Character Viewer for some other characters!

Two weeks

Actually, 13 days. Thirteen days until I leave the glorious promised land of the North Shore for the delightful experience of wallowing in a sea of books at the annual carnival that is AAR/SBL.

Two weeks from yesterday I fly out of Duluth, heading for Winona Lake, IN. Once there, I'll pick up the cargo van loaded with books and goodies and drive it to Atlanta. I'll leave Winona Lake on Thursday morning and arrive in Atlanta early evening, I hope, anyway! Friday will be set-up most of the day. We have a smaller booth this year, so either it will go faster because there's less space. Or, it will take longer because we're trying to shoehorn all those great books into a smaller space!

Either way, I'm hoping to find time to head over to the ASOR book exhibit in the afternoon. It would be nice to see the ETS book exhibit as well, but I doubt I'll have time for that. No worries, I'll have 4 days to wander around the AAR/SBL one...

Stay tuned for this year's special offers! Forty years of business calls for special offers, doesn't it?

How past is the past?

A textually constituted tradition must continually and simultaneously create both the gap and the authority structures that can bridge it. Goody suggests that priestly control of literacy and sacred texts promotes the codification and standardization of 'orthodox' ritual practices in textual form, which in turn establishes a basis for a type of interpretive and exegetical discourse. Such discourse works to constitutes a class of experts and vice versa. These experts maintain both the pastness of the past and their access to it through the elaborate medium of a discipline of interpretation with its methods, skills, first principles, institutions, and credentials.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 137

<idle musing>
A kind of warped hermeneutical spiral, eh? And self-reinforcing at that. I suspect that only the Holy Spirit can deliver us from it. What do you think?

Deliver us from confirmation bias, Lord!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

An inverted Midas curse

Once we accept that we must “do” theological scholarship coram deo, as an inescapable fact, our entire paradigm shifts. We encounter a call to the very subject matter that is a personal other. This leads us to continual reflection and self-criticism: do I know in whose presence I am standing? Do I know to whom I am responsible with my historical reconstructions, my didactic, homiletic, and poimenic theories, my dogmatic and philosophical systems? Theology is the answer. If we look at modern neo-liberal or postmodern theology, the question may be raised whether this claim is valid. Following Gerhard Ebeling, I would like to make a case for Job 42:7 and propose: “Prayer is the hermeneutical key to understanding God. We understand the being and the attributes of God from a position of prayer.” “If it is true that we can only decide in prayer who God is and understand our relationship to him, then it follows that the nature of God cannot be the object of neutral analysis and objectified conclusion.”44 “Thus we may refer to prayer as the syntax of faith.”45 Non-relational speech, even when it makes correct statements in weighty and aesthetically pleasing language, is the proton pseudos. Like an inverted Midas curse, it transforms all valuable theological gold into worthless stuff, all speech about God into “the kind of God-babble that is deplored in the heavens.”46 We all must reflect repeatedly47 on whether our theology has lost its source and its destination and mutated into “God-babble,” for which we too may face God’s wrath—because we did not speak to him like his servant Job.—Job's Journey, pages 100-101 (emphasis original)

44. G. Ebeling, Dogmatik des christlichen Glaubens 1 (4th ed.; Tübingen: Mohr, 2012), 204. [“Das Phänomen des Gebets wird somit zum hermeneutischen Schlüssel der Gotteslehre. Von da aus öffnet sich das Verständnis für das Gott zugesprochene Sein und für die Gott zugesprochenen Attribute.” “Wenn es zutrifft, dass am Gebet herauskommt, was es um das Gottesverhältnis ist, dann ergibt sich daraus, dass Gott wesenhaft nicht zum Gegenstand neutraler Einstellung werden kann, dass er nicht objektivierbar ist.”]
45. See Ebeling, Dogmatik, 210. [“Deshalb könnte man das Gebet die Syntax des Glaubens nennen.”]
46. H. Timm, Sage und Schreibe: Inszenierungen religiöser Lesekultur (Innen & Außen 2; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995) 61 [“das im Himmel unterträgliche Gottesgeschwätz”]. 47. On theological reflection, see H. Timm, Wahr-Zeichen: Angebote zur Erneuerung religiöser Symbolkultur (Stuttgart 1993) 155–59.

<idle musing>
This book went to press yesterday; should be in stock by the end of next week. You need to buy this book and read it! Well, at least if the parts I've read are any indication. But these three excerpts that I've posted (and the stuff in between that I didn't) are worth the price of the book!

This line is definitely worth thinking about: "Like an inverted Midas curse, it transforms all valuable theological gold into worthless stuff, all speech about God into 'the kind of God-babble that is deplored in the heavens.'” Good stuff!

May our speech (and thought!) be more than "God-babble!"
</idle musing>

Monday, November 02, 2015

Where does the power lie?

Some features appear to be basic to systems of ritual specialists with or without literacy. Most obvious, of course, is how their authority rests on the intrinsic importance of ritual as a means of mediating the relations between humans and nonhuman powers. Yet correct performance of the ritual tends to be critical to its efficacy. An emphasis on the correctness of performance promotes and maintains expertise, but it is not uncommon that other groups, such as the general audience or another lineage of experts, have the right to pass judgment on the performance's correctness. Moreover, the power to do the ritual correctly resides in the specialist's officially recognized or appointed status (office), not in the personhood or personality of the specialist. In this way, the institutionalized office can control, constrain, and pass judgment on a specialist. The separation of the person and the office not only stabilizes the specialist's power and legitimizes it through the social sanctions by which the office is given and recognized; it also controls that power by requiring its conformity to establish models. Indeed, various studies have suggested that the emergence of a priesthood—religious specialists by virtue of holding an office—provides a stabilization and control of religious power not possible with shamanic or mediumistic mediators.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 134

Friday, October 30, 2015

Augustine had it right!

As a young student, I shook my head when reading how St. Augustine would interject prayers into his exegetical writings. Is this not bad scholarship? Based on my understanding of the book of Job today I would say: No! This is the very foundation that allows true interaction with the text and the reality contained in it.—Job's Journey, page 99 n. 41

<idle musing>
I've got to read this book! Isn't that a wonderful sentiment? Reminds me of something I read (and posted) back in 2013:

[T]rue theology ought to end in prayer. If theology is the study of God, the knowledge of God, and if God is God, then the end of our study ought to be worship. If it is not, if it has been only a study about a subject and our thoughts on that subject, that is idolatry; I have made God a thing. It does not matter how accurate my thought is; if it does not bring me to Him as a living Person, I have only found a substitute for Him, a knowledge of something other than God. When one comes to know the true God, the only response is, in the language of the Old Testament, fearful worship.— Lectures in Old Testament Theology, pages 15-16
Good stuff, indeed!
</idle musing>

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why is Job praised by God?

Thus I come to the conclusion, based on an analysis of the Masoretic Text and supported by the ancient versions, that God does not praise a specific statement made by Job (neither the patient sufferer of the beginning, the passionate rebel of the middle section, nor the individual who rebukes himself in the end). God does not justify a specific teaching about himself but rather the direction of Job’s speech, his internal stance, his knowledge of the place to which and from which his thoughts proceed. God praises Job’s speech as a speech to God. In contrast, the friends are not scolded for what they have said, but for their attitude toward God. It is their distant stance toward God that incurs God’s wrath: Job’s friends are studious and earnest theologians. They use their full cognitive competence and produce an impressive system of thought. Yet their mistake lies in the foundation of their theology: “You have not spoken well to me, not toward me, not in personal relation to me. Instead, you only spoke of me. In this, all theology is perverted, becomes sinful, and incurs God’s wrath.” Job may speak against God and perhaps even make mistakes, but he speaks to God and thus receives God’s praise. We can describe the paradigmatic form of Job’s speech with a phrase coined by Martin Luther: “contra deum in deum,” to speak against God to God. The friends’ error lies in their objectified speech; they never speak to God! Instead of prayerfully speaking to God and wrestling with God, they practice theology as speech about God. Instead of praying for Job or with Job, they theorize about God. In this manner, they completely miss God, even if they do make theologically correct statements.—Job's Journey, pages 98–99 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Isn't that great? He defends the reading in the preceding two pages, based on the MT, LXX, and Vulgate, but you'll have to wait for the book to be published to find out : )

As for me, I can't wait to read it! Jim shared that snippet with me and I can't help sharing it with you. Here are all the details:

Job's Journey

Job's Journey
Stations of Suffering
Critical Studies in the Hebrew Bible - CSHB 7
by Manfred Oeming and Konrad Schmid
Eisenbrauns, Forthcoming, Nov. 2015
Pp. xiv + 110, English
Paper, 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781575063997
List Price: $29.95
Your Price: $26.96

</idle musing>

The same but different

Theories that have defined ritual activity as first and foremost the reenactment of historical or mythical precedents, such as those formulated by Eliade, risk a certain blindness to a group's constant reinterpretation of what constitutes these precedents and the community's relationship to them. As I indicated earlier, the evocation of tradition differs significantly in the early Christian eucharistic meal, the Roman rite codified by the Council of Trent, and the post-Vatican II folk mass of liturgical renewal. These liturgies display not only different formulations of the significance of Christ's last supper but also different understandings of the relationship existing between the ritual and the original event. Similarly, in each case a different type of community is constituted around different values and forms of authority—and all within a relatively stable liturgical tradition that presents itself as quite fixed.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, pages 123–24

<idle musing>
There's a saying in anthropology that two people doing the same thing aren't necessarily doing the same thing! This illustrates that truth. The actions might look the same, but they aren't being done for the same reason or with the same understanding of what is happening.

I love reading Eliade; I find him stimulating—even though I think he is wrong about 80% of the time! I think part of the reason he's wrong so often is because he offers a "flat" reading of the rituals, which is what Bell is getting at here. The community is formed by the rituals, sure. But, just as importantly, the community forms the rituals. It goes both ways, and that is something Eliade never considered. For that matter, do we?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

End of another season

Well, we closed the cabins for the season (our third with Max & Sherri, fourth overall) on Monday. The last guests left Monday morning and we began the chores of shutting down for the year.

The most important (and usually urgent) task is draining the water lines. This year it has been warmer, so it wasn't as urgent as some years, but you never know what the weather may hold. Blowing the lines out is a bit of a complicated process. First you have to install bypasses at all the water heaters, then drain them. Water heaters don't drain very fast—about 1/2 hour per tank—so you need multiple hoses.

While the tanks are draining, you can begin blowing the lines out. Dave had created a nice system whereby he plugged an air compressor into the line (after shutting off the water main! You don't want to inject air into the city water line!), opened and shut a few valves, and voila! You can open the faucets and blow the water out. Of course, you need to remove the aerators or they plug up with all the junk the air breaks loose in the lines from 60 years of use.

Did I mention it's very messy? The compressed air shoot water out at you and around you. I've taken to wearing a rain jacket and carrying a few hand towels to block the water. It seems the sinks are shaped to direct the water right up at your face!

Dave learned from experience that just blowing the lines wasn't enough. There was always a low-lying spot in the mains where the water would pool. Add -20ºF temperatures in the winter, and you have broken mains. Not a good way to start the spring! So, he added a 30 gallon holding tank for RV antifreeze. Turn a few more valves, and go back through the cabins, turning on each faucet again until pink stuff shows up.

Here's where I learned a few tricks, too. If you aren't careful, the pink stuff will puddle in the bottom of the tubs or sinks. Add 5 months of sitting there, and in the spring you have a pink stain. Believe me, with 50+ years of use, the tubs don't have much protection over the enamel anymore. They soak up that pink like a sponge. Guess whose job it is to get it out in the spring? Yep, mine.

Here's where the towels come in handy. Let enough pink come through so you know the pipes won't freeze, but not too much or you'll have a pink sink/tub. Take a towel to that little puddle ASAP before it can soak in. Works like a charm. You still have to use cleanser in the spring, but not a bucket of it!

Oh, did I mention that each toilet needs to be drained, too? The bowl has to be empty or you'll be replacing toilets. Not on my list of favorite (or cheap!) things to do. So, you need to bail out the majority of it with a cup, then siphon out the last bit. Dave used a drill-powered pump—you know, one of those little portable things. But I found that to be too unwieldy, so I just us a turkey baster and suction it out. Don't worry, it doesn't get used for anything else : )

Then it's the laundry. All the blankets, shower curtains, bath mats, and mattress covers need to be washed and stored. In the case of the mattress covers, they go back on the beds right away and we put the bedspreads over the top. The bedspreads get washed in the spring so that all the dust from the winter doesn't matter.

And then all the lawn chairs and lawn furniture needs to be stored. And the grill needs to be put away. And the gas turned off. And the electricity gets turned off in each cabin. And the signs get put away. And all the soap bottles need to be brought in or they will freeze and separate. That's a funny looking sight, but it sure makes the soap (actually detergent) unusable. Learned from experience: The windows need to be screwed shut or the winter storms will blow them open. This happens gradually, as the rattle of the wind slowly loosens the latches. Eventually, the window blows open and you get a pile of snow everywhere. Or, as happened the first year, the window blows open and knocks a lamp on the floor, which then shatters and scatters everywhere, mixed with snow, of course! Not a pretty sight. So, we learned to screw the windows shut.

Well, today is Wednesday, and all I have left is washing the mattress covers. Not bad for 2 days work. But it's raining today, and I don't want to track dirt, leaves, and grass into the cabins, so they probably won't get done until tomorrow...there's always tomorrow : )

Problem? Simple, redefine it and conjure it away...

What does ritualization see? It is a way of acting that sees itself as responding to a place, event, force, problem, or tradition. It tends to see itself as the natural or appropriate thing to do in the circumstances. Ritualization does not see how it actively creates place, force, event, and tradition, how it redefines or generates the circumstances to which it is responding. It does not see how its own actions reorder and reinterpret the circumstances so as to afford the sense of a fit among the main spheres of experience—body, community, and cosmos.

Ritualization sees its end, the rectification of a problematic. It does not see what it does in the process of realizing this end, its transformation of the problematic itself. And yet what ritualization does is actually quite simple: it temporally structures a space-time environment through a series of physical movements (using schemes described earlier), thereby producing an arena which, by its molding of the actors, both validates and extends the schemes they are internalizing. Indeed, in seeing itself as responding to an environment, ritualization interprets its own schemes as impressed upon the actors from a more authoritative source, usually from well beyond the immediate human community itself. Hence, through an orchestration in time of loosely and effectively homologized oppositions in which some gradually come to dominate others, the social body reproduces itself in the image of the symbolically schematized environment that has been simultaneously established.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, pages 109–10

<idle musing>
That's a bit complicated, isn't it? But I think she's spot-on with it. It all boils down to control. We respond to a problem of some kind by redefining it and then dealing with it in a way that has worked in the past...

That's why walking in the Spirit is so difficult for us; we're not in control. And that's why legalism appeals to us so much. We're in control; even if we fall short, at least we have something to hang on to that's shows us where we stand.

At least, that's my take, but maybe it's just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

But what are you doing?

Ritual practices are produced with an intent to order, rectify, or transform a particular situation. Ritualized agents would see these purposes. They would not see what they actually do in ritually ordering, rectifying, or transforming the situation. Foucault implies a similar principle when he notes that people know what they do and they know why they do what they do, but they do not know what what they are doing does. For Althusser, this constitutes the intrinsic "blindness" of practice. For our purposes, it is a strategic 'misrecognition' of the relationship of one's ends and means.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 108

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why all those verb forms in Greek?

From a book I'm editing: Why are there seven verb-forms in the indicative mood and only three in the nonindicative moods? The answer is simple: the forms in the indica¬tive mark both aspect and tense (the future forms may mark only tense and not aspect); outside of the indicative they mark only aspect. Since there are only three aspects, there are only three verb-forms outside of the indicative.

An explosion

Last Saturday put an end to the garden for the year, except for the kale, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and kohlrabi. They're a bit more cold hardy than others. But the tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, etc. all bit the dust as the temperature plunged to 21ºF. Even the stuff in the hoop house got bit.

So this week has been garden cleanup. The tomatoes have all been brought inside to the basement to ripen slowly. Last year I ate the last one the week before Christmas. Sure, they don't taste as good as fresh from the vine, but they're still better than those red things in the store that they call tomatoes.

Quite a few of the tomatoes were almost to the point of being ripe, so last night I canned 7 quarts of stewed tomatoes. For those of you who don't know, part of the process of canning is processing the quart jars in a pot of boiling water for about an hour. The instructions say 50 minutes, but I usually prefer to err on the side of caution and give them an hour. Then you pull the jars out and let them seal. Debbie loves to hear the "pop" when they seal.

As I said, I was canning 7 quarts of tomatoes last night. After they went into the boiling water bath, I went into the other room to do some editing. About 50 minutes into the processing, there was a huge Boom! Debbie yelled at me to come quickly because the pot was boiling over.

That's an understatement! I've been canning now for the better part of 40 years, and I've never seen anything like it before. One of the rings holding the lid on had let loose. The jar was intact, but the boiling tomatoes inside had acted like a cannon, shooting the lid and ring into the lid of the pot. The lid had actually moved over about an inch, and tomato was all over the top of the stove and down the front of it, onto the floor, and all over the rug!

Sometimes a jar will have a weak spot in it and break, but then you just get tomatoes (and glass) in the canning water. Sure it's a pain to clean up, but it isn't a mess like this! It took us the better part of 1/2 hour, working together, to clean it up.

The jar is still intact. But I threw that ring away! In feeling it after the fact, I could tell that the threads weren't as deep as normal. What a way to discover that, though! Gardening, hazardous to your health!

Endless iterations

People do not take a social problem to ritual for a solution. People generate a ritualized environment that acts to shift the very status and nature of the problem into terms that are endlessly retranslated in strings of deferred schemes. The multiplication and orchestration of such schemes do not produce a resolution; rather, they afford a translation of immediate concerns into the dominant terms of the ritual. The orchestration of schemes implies a resolution without ever defining one.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 106