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The Bibliotheca Bible: a Short Review

In the first quarter of 2015 my wife ordered me a special Bible for my birthday (which is in the summer). The Bible had been funded on Kickstarter and was still in production, with plans to ship that year. But things did not go as expected for Adam Lewis Greene and his Bible printing project. Some surprises were good―he received far more financial backing than he thought possible. That being so, he decided to increase the manufacturing quality of his project. Other surprises included the unanticipated difficulty and effort involved in “respectfully updating” an archaic English translation (more on this later), and other production hiccups. In the end, the project took far longer than he thought. It was finally packaged and delivered in December 2016. Greene calls the four-volume Bible set Bibliotheca. In an e-mail update dated 5 October 2016, Greene said:

I sincerely wish we had been able to deliver the finished product sooner. We did our best—and I’m confident that because we took the time we did, we have made the best books we could have shipped to you. The editorial team, the researchers, the proofreaders, the scholars, and Kösel have all brought their expertise to the table to create something that I trust you’ll find enjoyable, enriching, and enduring.

The Bible is a four-volume set. Each volume is very well made, having a cloth-over-board cover of a gray tone, with gold embossed title on the spine. Greene decided to spare no expense on the binding and the paper. The paper is a woodless, stone-based paper that is a hearty thickness for a Bible and allows very little “ghosting” of the text (where the writing on the other side of a sheet shows through). The books feel good in the hand, and are lighter than your typical Bible because it’s not the whole thing in one. Oh, and each one has a ribbon marker. Nice touch.

The main attraction of the Bible is that the text is laid out like that of a normal book. There are no verse or chapter numbers, no footnotes, study notes, or cross references embedded in the text. It is a clean and easy reading experience, without all the clutter we have somehow come to expect in our Bibles. The typeface (font) used for these books is a custom serif drawn by Greene himself especially for this project. Greene is a book designer by trade. The lines of text are aligned on the left, not justified (aligned on both sides), and I really prefer this. Even the ESV six-volume readers Bible and the NIV Books of the Bible have justified text, as do most books. This, I suppose, is because editors think the evenness on both sides looks better (it may also fit more text on each page). But justifying a column of text requires the word processing program to adjust the size of the spaces between words on each line. The unequal spacing that results can create visible “rivers” of white space on a page. Left-aligned text avoids this, as it leaves the spacing alone. Who cares if the text is “ragged” on the right side of the column?

The space between the lines (called the leading (pronounced “lehd-ing”)) in Bibliotheca is nice and generous. This reduces the density of the text on the page and makes for more pleasant reading. It is easier for the eye to track from one line to the next one. And the font size itself looks to be around size 9.5 to 10 (it is impossible to tell precisely). Many Bibles have smaller letters and lines packed closer together. This is understandable since the Bible is, well, really really long, and if you want it all inside of one volume, the laws of physics dictate that you’ll have to make some trade-offs. By splitting the Bible into four volumes, Greene was able to make each volume more spacious, with nice thick paper and a excellent typographical layout.

So, what’s not to like about Bibliotheca? Adam Greene and company really poured their hearts into this project and the end product is beautiful. There is only one possible place for critique, and that is the translation itself. Can a translation affect the reading experience, just like the size of the font and quality of the paper? Of course it can.

The text of Bibliotheca is based on the American Standard Version, published in 1901. The ASV was in turn based on the Revised Version, which was a revision of the King James Version, done in England in the 1800s. Adam Greene’s original idea was simply to replace the thees and thous and whatnot with modern equivalents. But updating a translation, it turns out, is not so easy. He ended up using some more of his funding on hiring some translation specialists of some kind to help with the update. The result is probably just what Greene was hoping for. (I heard an interview with Greene where he talked about what he wanted in the translation.) Now, I do not know how different the Bibliotheca text is from the original ASV. Granted, all the thees and thous are gone, but this was no “modernization” of the ASV. The Bibliotheca text has that very old and somewhat distant sound to it that some readers are sure to love. I, however, find reading it to be like chewing tough meat. For instance, on page 309 of volume I, we read about the time Balaam “smote” his “ass” because she stopped walking. On page 26, we read that the waters of Noah’s flood “assuaged.” We sometimes―though not often―talk of assuaging anger, but not water. Archaisms like these are not the only problem with this kind of translation. The phrasing and word order can also be odd and unnatural. Again, there are others who really enjoy this. To them, this is what “the Bible” sounds like! But the result for me, sadly, is that I often find myself reading my NIV Books of the Bible edition, a single-volume NIV readers Bible, instead of this beautiful and lovingly crafted set.

Some final notes: The original ASV is one of the few Bibles to transliterate the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Old Testament. That is, the covenant name God revealed to Moses―Jehovah, or Yahweh. The ASV uses “Jehovah.” Most English Bibles, including the KJV, follow the practice of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and use “Lord” (often in small caps) wherever the Tetragrammaton occurs, as did the Apostles in authoring the New Testament under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. (The Tetragrammaton does not appear in the Greek New Testament at all, even in quotations from the Old Testament from passages that include it―since the Apostles quoted the Old Testament out of the LXX.) There is some controversy as to which practice is better. Bibliotheca, an update of the ASV, employs “YHWH” in small caps. This looks very nice. I think it was better than retaining the ASV’s “Jehovah” since there is even more controversy about whether we should use that particular pronunciation. This in fact leaves the reader to choose a pronunciation or not to pronounce it all (since four consonants are not pronounceable without the reader’s express and personal addition of some vowel sounds, at least mentally). Finally, be it known that Bibliotheca prints the words of Christ in black, just like all the other words … as should all Bibles.

P.S., I had originally planned to include some pictures of my Bibliotheca books for this review. But good book pictures are hard to take and probably wouldn’t turn out well. And besides, professional pictures have already been taken. Have a look-see here: http://www.bibliotheca.co/#about

Pinning! What’s so Special About Windows Phone

Smartphones … It all began with the BlackBerry phone in 2003. Or perhaps with PDA devices earlier. But it with was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 (was it really only seven years ago?) that the smartphone began to evolve into what it has become today—mini computer powerhouses with hi-res screens and an explosion of features and capabilities.

Today, BlackBerry is all but extinct, and there are three major players on the smartphone scene: Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone, with the latter being a distant third in terms of popularity. iOS and Android systems have a very similar look and feel. Windows Phone, on the other hand, is something different. All these systems have many, many capabilities in common, so what do I think makes Windows Phone special?

Live Tiles and the Start Screen

three screens

Here are screen shots of the the iPhone 5 home screen, the Android Samsung Galaxy 4S home screen, and a screen shot of my very own Windows Phone’s start screen. The iPhone and the Android basically present you with static icons with which to launch you into various apps. It works fine, but the screen itself is rather uninteresting. Windows Phone, uses tiles instead of icons. These tiles are “live” with activity, receiving updated information and presenting that information before you ever have to open the app. The calender, weather, and to-do list apps are great examples of the usefulness of this function. It makes the start screen itself useful, in addition to being a launching point to get to the other useful stuff. It’s dynamic and beautiful. And in fact, the screen shot does not wholly communicate what sets the Start screen apart from the other two home screens because the Start screen is busy with motion–tiles changing, animating, or flipping around with relevant bits of data for you to see at a glance.

The second thing that’s special about Windows Phone is the ability to “pin” almost anything to the start screen. Obviously, you can “pin” or position app tiles on the start screen. But different apps will allow you to pin other things so you can get at them quickly and directly. It’s hard to describe this without showing it, but for example, OneDrive lets me pin a particular folder to my start screen. Spotify lets me pin a favorite playlist to the start screen. Maps lets me pin a particular destination, which is really nice. Facebook lets me pin a Facebook group. Several sports apps let me pin favorite teams to the start screen. My timer app lets me pin a particular preset timer. The weather app, cities. My YouTube app, videos. I could go and on. Basically, any app can allow you to pin elements within the app directly to start screen so you don’t have to dig for them in the app any more. You can go straight to them. It’s really cool.

Windows Phone still only represents a small percentage of all smartphone usage, and it has done better outside the U.S. than in its own home country. But that’s too bad, because Microsoft has built something unique here, with a fantastic user interface that is quick and dynamic and easy to navigate.

Does Reading the Bible Make You More Liberal (or More Conservative)?

I was pointed to an article last week with the intentionally surprising title “10 Reasons Why Reading the Bible Makes Us More Progressive.” By “progressive,” the author, Benjamin Corey, means “liberal” or left-of-center in the modern American political sense. His thesis is that taking the Bible more seriously will actually tend to move you in a leftward direction politically.

If this is true, it is something many evangelicals need to consider. For those of us for whom the Bible is the lodestar of our worldview, the implications of such a question are important. Unfortunately, Corey’s ten points did not seem as thoughtful as they should have been. In my view his conclusion about the correlation between reading the Bible and progressivism is unwarranted. So, in the spirit of critical thought and friendly engagement, let’s look at the 10 Reasons.

Corey’s Points Considered

1, 2, and 7). Let’s lump these together. His premise here is that reading the Bible makes you realize your shortcomings and develop a humble heart. The Bible shows us that we are full of flaws and the Holy Spirit convicts of us of our sin. It teaches us to be humble, quick to hear, slow to speak, and nonjudgmental. It preaches mercy and that justice and mercy are the more important parts of God’s law. Indeed, humility, gentleness, and mercy are important. Very important. They are characteristics that should be evident in every follower of Jesus Christ. We ought to be slow to anger, tenderhearted, patient, and forgiving. I absolutely agree with these things.

But what is the connection between these attributes and progressive politics? Corey states that, “the more I see others as being just like me, the more progressive I become because I move in a trajectory of love, tolerance, and am way less likely to pronounce judgment on someone else than I was before.” A trajectory of love, tolerance, and forbearance is admirable. How it makes you more progressive, though, Corey does not explain. We are left struggling to find the connection. He simply assumes a connection that he must also assume his readers see. I don’t. The implication here is that tolerance, mercy, and humility are found in greater degrees among liberals. This assumption I cannot allow him to get away with. It is simply false. Counter examples abound. And not only is this untrue, it is frankly small-minded and insulting. Is Corey close friends with many or any Republican voters? I don’t know. In any case, insisting on a link between humility and mercy and voting Democrat is a non-sequitor, if not a shameful argument to make.

3) In his third point, Corey says that the more you read the Bible, the more concern for the poor you develop. This also I hope is true for everyone who reads the Bible seriously. The problem I see here, though, is the false assumption that if you care about something, you must support a government agenda to deal with it rather than some other method. It is interesting that studies have shown conservatives probably to be more charitable than liberals in general. I will not argue that it’s because conservatives care more about the poor; conservatives and progressives both care about the poor but have different ideas about how to help them. Concern for the poor is important, and Corey is correct that it is preached all over the Old Testament. But, again, it has little to do with making someone progressive. It would only do so if you believed government was the best way to aid the poor—in which case you were progressive already.

4 and 5) “The more I read the Bible,” says Corey, “the more I realize ‘redistribution of wealth’ wasn’t Obama’s idea—it was God’s” and “the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.” These points and their explanations have holes, to say the least. Corey points out the Jubilee year and restrictions on gleaning your garden more than once, and the command from God that there should be “no poor among you.” He then points out the practice of the early church in the book of Acts of giving one’s wealth to the church leadership to distribute according to need.

The concern for the poor encoded in Old Testament law does serve as an example of sorts that laws against injustice and exploitation are warranted. The poor should not be taken advantage of. If Corey is a progressive, however, it follows that he would not want to implement the Old Testament law today. How far would he use it as a model for modern civil polity? For any progressive or conservative with an agenda, I foresee a lot of cherry picking when pointing to Mosaic law as a basis for modern policies. In the Reformed Christian tradition, there are those called theonomists that would see the Mosaic Law as the civil law that God desires us to put into practice today. This view is by far a minority view. The majority Reformed tradition sees the judicial (governmental) laws of Moses as expiring when the theocratic state of Israel expired, and not obligatory now. However, they are still seen as morally useful as regards their “general equity,” or overall moral compass. This latter use Corey must have in mind. Here, though, Republicans are plenty “progressive” enough. Only the strictest libertarians call for abolishing all government assistance programs in all cases. But even whether the Old Testament Law necessarily points to government assistance programs would be subject to interpretation. A direct link to progressivism? It isn’t there.

What about the practice of the church in Acts 4:34-35. The first point I must make is critical, but may actually surprise many evangelicals: the Book of Acts does not serve as a blueprint for how the church should be run. The epistles do. The books of Acts is a historical record of the church in a unique time in its history—the apostolic age between the Day of Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem. About this passage though, it should be pointed out that the communal giving is merely described, not commanded (is = ought fallacy?) , and that it is only mentioned here in two verses and nowhere else. A prescription for the church would be brought up again in more detail. Furthermore, even in this instance the giving was not mandatory. In the comments (some of which were to my encouragement very astute), someone pointed to Ananias and Sapphira to show that the giving was required. I will point to them to show that it was voluntary. From what Peter says in Acts 5:4a, it is crystal clear that Ananias retained his individual property rights, that the donation of proceeds was voluntary, and that the sin of his and his wife’s wasn’t holding back money, but lying about holding back money. Finally, this was a program of the church, not the state. The church today still has a ministry to needy church members which is administered by deacons. But many a staunch Republican gives gladly to the church and even serves as a deacon with joy. Now, church giving is mandatory, but this giving is to support the operation of the church, including its mercy ministries, and is not supposed to be a giving of all you have (in fact, in the New Testament no amount is specified beyond what we have decided in our hearts to give willingly and gladly); nor are Christians commanded to be dependent on the alleged redistributionary function of the church for their livelihood, which they would need to be if the Acts 4 pattern were practiced as described. Contrariwise, per 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 Christians are supposed to be self-sufficient if able, so as not to use up the church’s resources.  The connection to progressive politics once again dissolves.

Further, he says “There weren’t any mandatory drug testing programs, just assistance according to need.” Well, I’ll simply point to 1 Timothy 5:3-16, since Corey did not mention it, and observe that while there was no drug testing, there were some sensible prerequisites for receiving aid from the church funds.

6) Corey says that Jesus taught that we should pay our taxes. Well, sort of, though he moved on with the question quickly to get to talking about his mission. But still, Romans 13 and other places teach us to submit to the governmental authority and paying taxes is part of that. Since all Scripture encompass the mind of Christ, it’s fair to say this is a teaching of Jesus. Does this realization make one more progressive? As with all the other points, it’s very hard to see how. Taxes are used to pay the cost of government. Even the most right-wing libertarian believes in paying taxes. Among all but anarchists the debate has always been how much and what are they should be used for, not whether they’re necessary. Sorry, but this point of Corey’s is just much too shallow.

8 and 9) Points eight and nine in Corey’s article address the Bible’s attitude toward immigrants and the environment. Here is where I think he makes his best observations, but still makes a logical jump. The treatment of immigrants is a recurring subject in the Old Testament, and always, as far as I know, in favor of the immigrant, the alien resident, the traveler. Foreigners in Israel were to be treated with kindness, not contempt. And I would affirm that despite the change in contexts, Christians must act this way toward sojourners today. That this principle will make you more progressive is a bit of a leap, however. Personally, I believe in a pretty open and welcoming immigration policy. But that would be the libertarian in me—not exactly a “progressive” influence. Moreover, it goes without saying that the situation of ancient Israel was much different from that of the U.S. or any other country today, where the advances in weaponry and transportation and the complexity of the world make the dangers associated with porous borders unfortunately very real. I am not advocating a closed-border policy. I am simply pointing out that the issues are not so simple anymore, and that therefore, Corey’s basic equation that compassion and magnanimity towards the foreigner must coincide with a particular immigration theory is not sufficient. Many with stricter theories of immigration are not uncaring of the predicament of those seeking to relocate, but instead sensitive to the impact and risks connected with unchecked borders. The answers are not so easy and are not directly correlated with how compassionate someone is.

On the environment, though, let me give Corey the win. Conservative Christians have in the past decade or two begun to talk about environmental stewardship and care for God’s creation more frequently and more mainstream. This is a very good development. But it did take the left-leaning environmentalist movement of the prior decades to jolt Christians from complacency, and many evangelicals are still snoozing. That is not to say the issue was never seriously addressed by religiously conservative Christians before. Exhibit A: the book that helped me reevaluate my own approach toward the environment was “Pollution and the Death of Man” by Francis Schaefer. This gem was published in 1970. Still, it was the exception, not the norm.

On the other hand, it is only fair to note that conservatives considered collectively certainly do not have a monolithic view on how the government should or shouldn’t interfere to protect the planet. I, for instance, believe in protecting the planet but am no friend of the Executive cudgel known as the EPA, an agency most progressives not only support but would employ even more aggressively. But, to concede, reading the Bible should lead us to understand our dominion role as one of caretaker and steward of the beauty, diversity, and delicacy of God’s good earth—and progressives discovered this first.

10) Benjamin Corey’s final point is his worst. He says that as he reads the Bible, he realizes that “God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right—he’s judging us by whether or not we get the ‘love one another’ part right.” Actually, reading the Bible leads to no such conclusion. The oddity here is that if reading the Bible drove you to that realization, then it is itself a doctrinal realization. It is true that God is not judging us on whether we get *all* our doctrine right, in the sense that neither our salvation nor God’s acceptance of us is based upon passing a theology test. We are not saved by our knowledge per se, and our knowledge should grow as believers, which means it was smaller when we were first born again. But deemphasizing doctrine is always troublesome. The reason is because apart from an accurate understanding of who Jesus is, the predicament of the human race, Jesus’s atoning work, and faith, we actually cannot truly come to Christ and become one of God’s children. Corey says God is “less concerned with us all sharing the same doctrine  but is heavily concerned with whether or not we love each other.” God is certainly concerned with whether we love each other. But is he nonchalant regarding us all “sharing the same doctrine”? Consider 1 Corinthians 1:10, which says, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Paul tells Timothy to watch his doctrine closely and to shun anything contradicting sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10, 4:16). He likewise tells Titus he *must* teach what coincides with sound doctrine and to hold firmly to what he had been taught already, so that he could encourage others with sound doctrine and refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1). In Philippians 2:2, Paul emphasizes both that we love each other and that we share the same doctrines. They’re both very important to God. In fact, Paul in Romans 10:2 laments the condition of his fellow Jews, because they had a fervor for God—but it wasn’t based on an accurate understanding! Romans 10:2 should be taken to heart. It does not mean are saved by our knowledge, nor must we memorize Charles Hodge to know God as father; but it does mean there is some baseline of correct knowledge about the gospel we must have in order to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

“Doctrine” is not an academic theory. Doctrine is simply, “What does the Bible teach about this?” Even if the explicit verses about the importance of doctrine I gave were not there, we would still have to believe that doctrine is paramount for the obvious reason that if God communicates to something to us, it must be important to understand what he means. That is, we know doctrine must be very important from the very fact that we *have* a Bible to read.

Our love for one another is indeed, as Corey says, to be the calling card of the Christian church. It is our hallmark. It is how *the world* knows who we are. But how do *we* know who we are? Doctrine. Biblical Christianity posits a body of propositions to us and demands we believe them. That’s doctrine. Get it wrong, and you don’t have Biblical Christianity. And by the way, what this one has to do with political affiliation I do not know. There are Bible belt Republicans a plenty that go to church every week but care less about doctrinal matters than Benjamin Corey. This goes both ways. If Corey is implying care for doctrine for some reason made you more conservative (which he seems to be), then Corey’s whole thesis that “taking the Bible seriously” makes you more progressive would be a self-contradiction since “taking the Bible seriously” is just another term for doctrine!

Conclusion

So what’s my point? That, No Corey, reading the Bible should actually make you a good Republican? Not at all. My job was merely to complicate Corey’s simplistic reading of Scripture. In none of the above points did I swing the pendulum the other way and say that reading the Bible will actually push you towards the right. While this has of course been done often, I think that that too is a non-sequitor that needs to be abandoned. And that’s my real point in taking on Corey’s interesting article. I think he is making the same mistake in reverse. In many of his points, the problem was he simply did not give serious Bible readers who also vote conservatively the benefit of the doubt, and was too hasty in forging links between Biblical ideas and progressive ideology. His faulty assumption is that Christian conservatives must simply be conservative for tradition’s sake and if they would just study their Bibles more carefully and humbly, well …. Yet isn’t possible they have given the issues real thoughtful consideration, not casting off biblical authority, and simply come to more conservative conclusions? I would give the same benefit of the doubt to political progressives whose theological doctrine is orthodox—and yes, such people exist.

It is simplistic to use the Bible to advance a political agenda where the politics involved are not clearly hit upon in Scripture. And not many political issues are. Oh, there are moral issues coming into sharp focus now that the Bible speaks about, and that may have political implications. But the Bible does not say whether to increase or phase out Social Security. It does not tell us whether the Keystone Pipeline is a good idea. It does not explain Keynesian and Austrian economics and say which is a more accurate model of the real world. It really doesn’t. It isn’t because the Bible is insufficient. The Bible is a hundred percent sufficient for its purpose. Its purpose is to tell us a story about God, Creation, Fall, and Redemption, what it means for us, and what we must do in light of it. Trying to weave the Bible into politics gets hairy pretty quickly (see also, D.G. Hart and Carl R. Trueman). I am not saying there are no worldview implications derived from the Bible that will bleed into politics from time to time. But I am saying that taking the Bible seriously does not lead invariably to one contemporary American political affiliation or another. Conservatives have been rightly criticized for this kind of shoehorning, but they are not the only culprits. (I once visited a church where the pulpit was basically hijacked as a platform for a liberal political speech. I was furious—and not because I disagreed with the politics.) So now it’s my turn, as a conservative, to call a progressive to account for the same fallacious logic. Let us as Bible-believing Christians just knock it off.

Gearing Up

At 9:10 this morning I came back to the apartment from an exhilarating bike ride. I hadn’t ridden a bike for a very long time before that. Maybe six or seven years, really. I used to dabble in mountain biking with a friend of mine. He was the real cyclist; I just came along, but had a great time doing it. In those days, I had a bike that suited my needs, for the most part, but never really had a high caliber bike. My last bike was a Huffy from Wal-mart, and though I loved it, it barely made the cut after Ben and I started hitting the trails.

But as I was saying, I went on a ride this morning. I rode to Lake Murray, rode the lake loop, and rode back home. For those who are tempted to be a smidgen impressed, I must admit that I only live about a mile and a half from the lake.

Yesterday I bought the bicycle from Trek, right down the street from my apartment. I was deliberating whether to get a mountain bike or a road bike. The advantages of a road bike on paved streets are easily felt. In terms of resistance, there’s just no comparison to a mountain bike. But I didn’t know what kind of biking I would be doing. I needed something more versatile. You can always get away with riding a mountain bike on the street and then hit the dirt with no problems. Try a road bike on the dirt, and you’re in for a bad ride. The best thing is to have two bikes, but I can’t have two bikes; I had to choose, and ultimately the versatility of the mountain bike won the day. Already, after her maiden voyage, I’m glad I have the knobby, 2-inch tires, when I veered freely off the paved loop at Lake Murray and ventured a little off-roading.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

To Dream, Perchance to Succeed

The American dream, as it is called, seems to be the object of universal scorn, condemned from both inside and outside the church. Indeed, in some circles, faith in an American dream is no doubt considered the very litmus test of naiveté. This may be because such derision is in vogue, or because the American dream is an easy target; I don’t know.  But I do know this attitude toward the dream makes me sad, especially when it has for its object so noble a thing. But I think it’s not unlikely that the dream being criticized is deeply misunderstood.

What do dogs, “2.5” kids, the suburbs, and white picket fences have to do with the American dream? Well, very little. (I hate whenever someone says 2.x kids; every time I see it used, it is used as mockery.) The American dream, as I see it, is not primarily about one’s own success or comfort as it is about the wellbeing of one’s children, and dedicating one’s exclusive love to one’s spouse. That is, it is not centered around the self, as many seem to think, but around the family.  Surely, one’s own financial success is closely related to what a person is able to provide for his or her family. But therein lies the reason for seeking such success and why that success is tied as it is to the American dream—for the sake of others, namely one’s own dependents: one’s children, one’s wife, one’s husband.  The people you love and care for the most. Is the longing for this, the working for this, so wicked?  Would you aspire to raise a family in squalor?  If you did, why would your aspiration be more praiseworthy?  That’s what I can’t figure out.

If there is anything wrong with the American dream, it is that it is poorly named. It is the American dream to us only because we are American, but the dream is not uniquely American. Not at all.  It is universal in its scope, and is realized in countless forms in countless cultures around the world. It means the hope for a decent life, relative comfort, and opportunity for your posterity.  It is nothing more or less than is wanted by almost everyone. In fact, I have to be honest here: I find slinging mud at the so-called American dream to be one of the most judgmental exercises one can engage in. It is basically making a sin out of one of the most cherished and honorable goals that reside deep within the soul of man.

God may call Christians to abandon the American dream. He may call them to abandon a life of relative comfort, or the raising of children in a livable neighborhood. He may call them to celibacy. If this happens, jump ship and leave the American dream behind, by all means. You will not regret it. The point I wish to make is merely that such calls are the minority of cases and are not more holy than the call to plant yourself in the culture and city where you find yourself (be it in San Diego, Dublin, Tokyo, or Ulan Bator) and to work with your own hands and raise and love a family. That is what, and that is all, the American dream is.

The President’s Advice

Last Saturday, while I was at the beautiful Palomar Christian Conference Center, President Obama addressed the graduating class of the University of Michigan. He was there, not a little nauseatingly, awarded an honorary doctorate degree for, well, nothing really. And while his transparent attempt at this address to reposition himself as a centrist will probably fail (since, as he has been President for over a year, we have seen him in action) he did nonetheless make one statement that bears repeating. Said the President,

Still, if you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

Whether the President practices what he preaches here is irrelevant. What he said is good and true, and he’s got me.

Now, I’ve got a lot to say about Obama’s gross exaltation of government and his attempt to preempt criticism. But I do appreciate what he said about interacting civilly with a diversity of people and opinions. I also appreciate his comments about participation in public life and politics, including staying informed, paying attention, and contributing to the system.

Our freedoms, he concluded, did not come easy, “none of it was preordained.”  He said,

The men and women who sat in your chairs ten years ago and fifty years ago and one hundred years ago – they made America possible. And there is no guarantee that the graduates who will sit here in ten or fifty or one hundred years from now will enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that we do. America’s success has never been a given. Our nation’s destiny has never been certain.

Amen. And if we as Americans take this to heart, we will, I think, find the motivation to care about politics. Looking back at the birth of the United States, and the freedoms and form of government the Founders believed in, should give us the spirit to contend for the long life of “the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world” (Ayn Rand).

What Nature Means or Represents to Me

A couple of my creative friends are going to write a screenplay about a recent camping trip we took to Havasupai. In preparation, they asked us each to write about what the trip meant to us. They also asked us to say what nature means to us. Dan was expecting a paragraph or so, and actually, I was expecting to write a paragraph or so. But after coming to the question, I realized I had more to say about what nature means to me. Here is my response to Dan’s request.

What does nature mean or represent to you?

Being natural, we as human beings have a connection to nature that cannot be severed, but is always felt, and more so when we leave the amenities of modern life and head out into an environment more untouched, more raw, than we are used to. It inspires us in a superlative way. It also revolts us, sometimes as strongly as it inspires. Therefore, what nature represents is a startling paradox of awe and disgust. And if I may be so bold, you feel this way, too. We love to visit the wilderness. I love to visit the wilderness. But look me in the eye and tell me you would love to live there. Interesting, isn’t it? Nature is all at once the world as it should be and the world as it should not be—the world as pristine, unmarred and unadulterated, and the world as dirty, unkept and unordered. Nature is an escape, and I love it. But I also love toilets, telephones, and TVs. Nature is an interesting thing to me.

Nature: The world as it should be

I was captivated on first sight. There was something about its raw glory, its proud, even intimidating stature that betrayed a force to be respected. The canyon walls dove under my feet, plunging fast enough to make me dizzy, like a stunt pilot confident enough not to pull up until everyone, cringing, is certain he’s gone too far. Before the end of the day, I would tiptoe down the same path, until the walls would invert themselves, and I would be looking up as they, impervious to the fly on their back, stood like titanic sentinels where they had stood for years. Over the edge came leaping, in a suicide dive, a flood of water, falling a hundred feet, and hitting the pool below with powerful force in an unending roar. This was going to be an inspiring and humbling trip. The Grand Canyon. And this, a mere crack among its splintering subcanyons. The whole canyon system is a tribute to God’s creative power and his terrible anger. It is beautiful. Nature, as it stands, represents to me the creative genius of God, who made heaven and earth, who broke through the earth with millions of gallons of water and laid down the sediments of the Canyon walls. It represents to me the natural order and processes he thought of and put into action. It represents to me the elements, as he made them, working together to sustain life and to provide an environment that is not only functional as a biosphere, but is also, when it did not need to be, full of beauty.

An immense mountain range, or an alpine forest that stretches like a green carpet as far as you can see, or a cascading waterfall—all these things are glorious. They have glory, and we, for whatever reason, take delight in glory, in glorious things. We enjoy merely beholding them. We like knowing that there are things that exist that are bigger than ourselves and that have a quality of beauty that we can barely take in, let alone understand. Human beings are made to delight in glory. They are so made because God created us to delight forever in his glory, the most glorious glory that is or can be. In Reformed Christianity, this concept is not lost. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, What is the chief end of man? The answer is that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. But these two actions, you see, are not two ends, but one. We enjoy God when we make him known, when we revel in his gloriousness, because we are made to take enjoyment in glorious things. Nature is glorious, too. God made it beautiful and big. He made it awesome. He made it glorious, in fact, as a taste of his own gloriousness, to point us to him. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare God’s glory. God also made nature so that we would find in it opportunity to thank him for the gift of the world he blessed us enough to live in. Psalm 50 says that the heavens declare God’s righteousness. They show that God is right. In this way, nature also represents to me the goodness and love and provision of God.

Nature also represents the world as it should be because nature is one of the things least affected by sin. My ethics professor in college said that trees are, more than anything else, doing most what they did before the Fall. They are the least corrupted. Natural preserves stand, almost as if in a time capsule, as the closest representations we have of the antelapsarian earth. When I look out over a national forest, I can’t wait to see what the renewed world will look like when Jesus comes back again and fixes everything. And he will. Nature itself was affected by sin and needs redemption, according to Romans 8:21-23. But nature, not having a will, still stands less corrupt than anything else, and its present magnificence can only mean that the beauties of the new nature will be something we can hardly dream about.

Nature: The world as it should not be

Secondly, nature represents the chaotic portion of this world in need of the order human beings are uniquely qualified to bring to it. The unordered configuration of nature screams for some kind of order to be imposed upon it. And human beings alone were given the task of imposing that order. Human beings were not meant to live in an environment that they did not considerably rearrange.

Nature represents the world as it should not be in its sheer cruelty. Nature’s is a kingdom ruled by cruelty, by the brute force of strength, speed, and smarts, in which only the most suited and able survive. In this way, the world of animals cannot serve as any kind of positive example for living, nor would it be right to shun human civilization and retreat to the wild for a permanent home. This was the sad case of Timothy Treadwell of The Grizzly Man Diaries. Timothy loved the bears, but the bears didn’t love him back. And one day, they killed him, as grizzly bears are prone to do.

Lastly, Nature represents the world as it should not be because it is a vast reservoir of unused resources. What I mean is, not all of nature should remain as it is, but should be taken and utilized for the construction of other things—for the building of buildings and cars and computers, for use as fuel or fixtures, shaped and formed into the great things human beings need and want. What a shame it would be for nature to go completely untouched! It would sit there without realizing its real potential (or real purpose), to be used in the creative hands of human beings. Oh, the trees in the natural preserve are beautiful, but they are not the lucky trees! The lucky trees, the trees that would be happiest if trees had feelings, are the trees that are chopped down and formed into rafters, into beams, that are made into tables, dressers, or grand pianos, the trees that are cut into children’s toy blocks or burned to cook a man’s meal or keep him warm. These are the trees most fulfilled. Nature is beautiful untouched, but wasted untapped. It is nearly as inspiring, isn’t it, to look at the San Diego city skyline at night, as it is to look up at the Sierra Nevada Mountains! It is interesting, that God created human beings, and created them in his image—as if, to create. He gave us around 92 natural elements and said, “Make things out of this.” And the human race has done an astounding job of it, I must say. If you don’t feel comfortable with this view of nature as (but not as only) a stockpile of resources, then I dare you to give up the fruits of the utilization of nature. You love your Zune, your Xbox, and your 40-inch TV. You love your gasoline car, your spring coil mattress, and your favorite pair of jeans. So when I say nature represents the world as it should not be, I mean it represents the world as it should not remain.

Conclusion

But I don’t want to give the wrong impression either. I think national forests and national and state parks are a good idea. You know me—I’m a camper and hiker. I’ve backpacked Mt. Whitney and left with a deeper respect for its grandeur and its perils. I’ve seen giant sequoia trees and been in awe of their stature, pointing to the heavens. (No, folks, I don’t believe giant sequoias should be chopped down.) I’ve drunk to satisfaction from alpine lakes as clear as any water I’ve beheld. Certain swathes of special land ought to be protected and preserved, as nature, in its natural form, does declare God’s awesome creative power and genius and goodness. It makes us realize that we humans, kings of the world, are small and God is great. And besides that, it is just plain beautiful. It is a delight, sometimes almost dizzying, and we are blessed beyond measure to have the capacity to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation.

Don’t Beg at the Table

I saw a comic in the paper a while ago. “Duplex,” yes, that’s the one it was. Fang is telling Eno, in his own nose-turned-up way (how do dogs get so smart in cartoons?) how humans think they’re superior to dogs. Of course they aren’t, though. They just think they are. In answer to this, Eno drops a scrap of food on the ground. Fang eyes it, trembling in his attempt to resist the urge and maintain his dignity until, overcome, he licks the fragment up off the floor, cursing Eno between gulps.

My sister, also, has a dog–a chihuahua anyway. She teaches him tricks by offering treats as rewards for sitting, staying, or whatever it may be. Clearly we people are the higher animals.

But as I do my job every day, I see a humbling resemblance between my efforts and those of Jack, my sister’s chihuahua. I’m a parking valet at a downtown hotel. The wage is low, but there are tips involved. You want tips. The trick is following learned formulae. “Did you want to get valet today? Let me get you started. – Need any help with the luggage? I’ll get you a cart. – Here, I’ll get the door for you, ma’am. – Your car, sir.” It’s all a little game. Do the right trick, get the treat. I shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Like Jack, we all have to eat.

Three-thousand-year-old Mummy was twenty-first century American

or
WE’VE BEEN TOO CRITICAL OF THE AMERICAN DIET ALL ALONG. LIGHTEN UP, FOOD POLICE.

A few weeks ago the San Diego Union Tribune ran a story about Egyptian mummies. Or more specifically, a certain Egyptian mummy, Merenptah, who the UT says lived 3,200 years ago. What’s interesting about him is that autopsies show that Merenptah suffered from atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. According to the article, this ailment was supposed to be a “modern affliction resulting from unhealthy lifestyles with risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, stress and a rich, fatty diet.” Atherosclerosis leads to heart disease, the leading cause of death here in the U.S.A. But this new finding shows that it isn’t, as we had assumed, exclusively a consequence of the modern American way of life. It’s been around for thousands of years, leading Dr. Michael Miyamoto of UCSD to exclaim, “And now it turns out atherosclerosis is older than Moses!”

What’s the moral of the story? For me, it means that while it’s prudent to be conscience of your health and to make reasonable choices, it’s nutty to be a health nut. You can’t cheat death! We thought you could avoid hardening arteries by avoiding McDonald’s? Tell that to Merenptah. So live a little. I’ve got good news: your arteries are going to harden anyway! Might as well enjoy a rich, fatty diet before they do.

The Religion of Peace Strikes Again

Robin Williams used to have a joke he used routinely. It was something about wearing pants so tight, “I can tell what religion you are.” Okay, it’s a joke about circumcision. Pretty funny? Sure. But I’ve got a better one. “Man goes ape-shit and kills and injures a whole bunch of innocent people in shooting rampage. I can tell what religion you are!” This one’s not so funny, maybe. Maybe it wouldn’t work in the comedy clubs, but it would resonate with a lot of people who aren’t infected with the cataracts of political correctness. I picked up a copy of USA Today last night, and on the front page, this headline: Top Brass warn against anti-Muslim backlash. Isn’t this all they do nowadays? Is anyone noticing that authorities are constantly having to “warn against anti-Muslim backlash” because Muslims are always murdering folk. What a great religion. Maybe in a couple years we’ll stop saying “went postal” and start saying “went Muslim.” In most cases, though, that might literally be true. Islam is a fast growing religion. That’s bad news, because it is a supremely hateful, oppressive, intolerant, backward, and violent ideology, and we’ve seen its fruits too many times around the world.

I sure hope the top brass, whoever they are, do a good job curbing any anti-Muslim backlash. I guess they have, since, according to USA Today, no “angry phone calls” have “turned into action.” Well, yeah. Muslims should thank Allah the phone-callers weren’t Muslim or things might have been different. Janet Napolitano made sure to insist that “[the mass murderer Hasan] was an individual who does not represent the Muslim faith.” Do you buy this? I used to buy that line. But now, I don’t think so. I think I’ve grown a little more awake than to believe that dribble anymore. No, I think Nidal Malik Hasan was more likely a very good Muslim. A faithful Muslim. A Muslim little Muslim boys want to grow up to be just like. According to Muslims, I’m right, too. Muslim Imam al-Awlaki, who used to lead a mosque in Virginia which Hasan attended, said,

“Nidal Hassan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people. This is a contradiction that many Muslims brush aside and just pretend that it doesn’t exist. Any decent Muslim cannot live, understanding properly his duties towards his Creator and his fellow Muslims, and yet serve as a US soldier. The US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam.”

Note carefully that al-Awlaki equates a war on terrorism with a war on Islam. For him, at least, terrorist acts are an integral part of Islamic living. Any campaign to stop them is a campaign against the faith itself. And I believe him. He goes on to talk about “the heroic act of brother Nidal.” Great. For politicians, then, Hasan’s actions are not normative of Muslim behavior. But according actual Islamic leadership, they are. Who is the real authority on Islam? What does Janet Napolitano know about the Muslim faith? I have enough respect for the religion to take its practitioners on higher authority regarding it than those outside the faith, especially some white politician, or those in a position in which they have to say Islam is a peaceful religion no matter what they really believe. I hate all false religion because it keeps people from Christ. But I have a special place of hatred deep in my heart for Islam. I’ve got to hand it to Muslims, no other religion compares to Islam’s barbarity, incivility, or level of violent enforcement. Way to go, guys. You really do take after Mohammad!

This was not a very nice post. But I reserve the right to use my blog to express these things so that I don’t have to in real life.

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