A Provocative and True Quote

Yes, it’s been a while. Those who know me well can verify that I usually talk when I have something to say. The same goes for blogging. What’s been going on? Well, a visit to the doctor this summer resulted in the very good advice that I should have a drink immediately before the first service Sunday morning. No, not that kind of drink. Something like Gatorade, preferably. Worked like a charm. No, charms don’t really work. It worked better than a charm.

We also had a family vacation in September, and I was happy to take another course at Front Sight. Looking forward to taking it again. They are challenging, and the best way to learn how to prepare for one is to take it first. You should be able to find prior posts here about Front Sight, if you’re interested.

Anyway, here’s the timeless quote. It’s worth a ponder. It’s attributed to Winston Churchill.

“If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

So then, what is the “right” today? What’s worth fighting for, with or without bloodshed?

Infographic on the History and Effects of Homeschooling

I’m usually the last to hear about things like this, so if you’ve already seen it, feel free to disregard this post. But it’s just so interesting, and anyone who hasn’t seen it yet really should.

Keep in mind as you read this that not everyone is able to provide a homeschool education for their children, even if they would like to. I bet that similar positive statistics would support Lutheran parochial schools, especially the kind we’re interested in starting at Bethany in The Dalles. It’s certain that on balance, parochial schools do far better for each student, with less money, than public schools do. I say that as a Head Start through 12th-grade product of the public school system, and as a home-schooling dad. The effort required to homeschool or to send your children to a good-quality parochial school is most certainly worthwhile.

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com

Brief Review of “Hey Mom, What About Dinosaurs?”

I received this book from a source that I have since forgotten, and must apologize if someone passed it to me. The good news is that I finally read it. The author is Russell Husted, described on the cover as a university researcher and former teacher of evolutionary science. “He decided to test the original Hebrew Scriptures, treating the creation account as if [it] was a scientific theory. What he discovered revolutionized his faith (and his scientific thinking).”

Husted certainly learned some Hebrew, and translated from the original text of Genesis. He also used linguistic tools available for correlating the usage of Hebrew words in Genesis to their usage elsewhere in the Old Testament. His endeavor was intriguing from the start.

I had hoped that Husted would examine existing scientific evidence in light of the biblical text, allowing the natural meaning of Scripture to guide him, but was disappointed to find that this was not his method. Instead, he has strategically chosen from the possible meanings for the Hebrew words of the creation account, and has made certain hypotheses about the implications of those meanings, so that the account would mirror the hypothetical sequence of events posited by naturalistic science that has supposedly brought about the universe and the world we know today. In other words, the accepted sequence hypothesized by naturalistic science takes a somewhat higher priority for Husted than the natural meaning of the biblical creation account.

To be fair, Husted makes some interesting points about the meaning of certain vocabulary in the creation account, especially in view of the prevalent understanding of that vocabulary among English speakers. For example, where the NKJV in Genesis 1:11 uses the word “grass,” following the Authorized Version (KJV), Husted points out that a more precise rendering might refer instead to the microscopic flora much more prevalent across the face of the earth than what we usually call “grass.” In similar ways, he reconsiders what the most precise rendering would be for each item created, given the present-day conceptual model of the world around us. Some of his suggestions seem to have merit.

However, Husted’s agenda is to demonstrate to evolutionists that the biblical account of creation is not as far as they thought from their own beliefs. Coming from the other side of that conversation, I think that the Bible ought to be the starting point for Christians, rather than naturalistic theory.

While Husted’s work is appreciated, he also demonstrates that he is not an expert linguist, at least in biblical Hebrew. For example, much of his later reasoning depends heavily upon a distinction between the Hebrew word Adam (meaning the ground, and later the name of Adam) and the Hebrew word ha-adam. He supposes that this shows a distinction on God’s part between a sub-human creature like the Neanderthals, and the humanity of Adam and Eve. But really, the only difference between them is that the latter word has the Hebrew definite article attached to it, as in “man” vs.\ “the man.” I am not an expert Hebrew linguist either, but I know a definite article when I see one, even in transliteration (latin characters).

The reasoning of Husted’s presentation becomes quite forced toward the end, when he suggests that the description of Eve’s creation really means something quite different from the natural meaning of the text. Perhaps the meanings he attributes to the Hebrew words can be justified from Hebrew dictionaries, which simply list words without context, but multiple layers of context here point the reader toward the traditional understanding of Eve’s creation. Besides the context in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we also must consider that readers of Hebrew much closer to the time it was written have agreed with the traditional understanding. The Hebrew words date to about 1450 BC, and may have been translated by Moses (with divine guidance) from an earlier language. For the Bible to have the authority it does, we must maintain that it was inspired and preserved by God so as to present clearly what He wishes us to know.

While I don’t question Husted’s sincerity as a Christian, it seems that his desire to make the biblical creation account palatable to his evolutionist colleagues has introduced a naturalistic presupposition that undermines the authority of divine revelation. If we can accept that God created all things, including Eve, with a power we would consider to be miraculous, then the only reason to conceive of such a convoluted alternative explanation for her creation is to align the Bible with naturalistic science, which denies the possibility of miracles as a basic premise. It may be an entertaining exercise, but the Bible is divine revelation about our origin, identity, and salvation. It’s dangerous to entertain the possibility of a higher authority, and much more dangerous to accept one.

As a result, I can’t recommend Husted’s book for Christians who are drawn to the question in the title: “Hey Mom, What about Dinosaurs?” It may be appropriate for exegetical and scientific discussion, but not for general consumption.

A Christian Living under Authority

My how time flies! We have projects at church, projects at home, and the continuing cycle of obligations like Synod Convention, which meets next week. As I wrap up preparations to fly out later today, I was musing a bit about the nature of law and the country we know as the United States of America.

For quite a while, I’ve been learning about the distinction between common law (or natural law) and the kind of law enacted by the fiat of a legislature or ruler. This distinction has come into sharper focus thanks to Richard Maybury’s books, like Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? and Whatever Happened to Justice?. I was provided with a collection of these books by members at one of my congregations, and have found them fascinatingly informative.

What I realized today is a corollary of the special uniqueness of the United States. It was founded upon the principles of individual liberty and limited government that proceed from common law as discovered over time in English history. (Not only English history, but that’s what affected the American colonies.) Every other nation was under a different kind of law, even if the particular laws were somehow voted into existence. Maybury calls the other kind “Roman” law, which is what practically everyone knows today. Common law is all but forgotten.

It was this basis in common law that produced the peculiar character of the Declaration of Independence, which was further enfleshed in the Constitution with its Bill of Rights. If someone were to ask, “What’s a Lutheran?” the best answer would be based upon the basic principles of Lutheranism, found in the 1580 Book of Concord. If someone were to ask, “What’s American?” the best answer would be based upon the basic principles of the United States of America, found in the Declaration and the Constitution. That’s common law.

Now, the corollary I mentioned comes from the peculiar identification of the American people as that which is sovereign in the United States. In other political systems, the monarch may be sovereign, or the legislature, or the judiciary, or some combination of them. In the United States, by definition, it is the people which are sovereign, so that the government (i.e. the executive, legslative, judiciary, or even the new bureaucratic arm) is not to be identified with the nation, and those who are in positions of government must always answer to the people.

The question often arises in the minds of Christians, “What if my government tries to force me to contradict my faith?” The answer is obvious when the contradiction is clear. But sometimes it is not. The corollary recognizes that the answer is different in a country constituted upon common law, in which the people are sovereign, than it would be in a country constituted upon fiat, “Roman” law.

If we consider the Constitution to be binding still, and that it still presents the principles of the Declaration, then an American Christian’s earthly obedience is not ultimately due to any part of the Federal or State government, nor even the government as a whole. Our Christian obedience is due to the people, according to the common law principles of the Constitution. Yes, we must still honor the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but only insofar as they carry out the will of the true sovereignty in the United States, which is in the people.

But here’s the rub. The duty of an American to the people of the United States is actually weightier than the duty of the subject of a monarch. Yes, we are free people, but as the saying goes, “freedom is not free.” It’s encumbent upon every American, and owed to the sovereign power of the country (the people) to maintain the liberty in which the country was founded. Inasmuch as we have allowed encroachment to take place upon our liberty under the Constitution, we have been derelict in our duty as Americans, and have failed to perform the sacred duty that God has given to Christians toward our sovereign ruler.

Chew on that for a while. I intend to.

A Good Little Story

On Sunday afternoons we have a group that studies the Lutheran Confessions. We are Lutherans, and the Confessions define what that means. This Sunday I took a tangent in our conversation to express my deep appreciation for good stories, works of fiction. A good one makes you think and maybe even teaches you something in a way that’s memorable. I suppose that’s why some preachers tell lots of stories in the pulpit, but I think preaching the gospel is a different kind of thing from communicating with a story. The ambiance, scope and aim are different, though Jesus demonstrates a masterful use of stories to serve the purpose of preaching.

Anyway, here’s a very brief example of what I mean. This little story could be expanded and adjusted in many ways. As short as it is here, it borders on an allegory, but really most good stories also serve as allegories in some way, so I don’t mind.

There’s something everyone can learn here. I hope you enjoy it.

Where do your taxes go?

Here’s an article from Dave Ramsey’s organization, explaining several sides of the question. I think there’s enough information here to figure out whether the federal goverment’s financial problems come from not-enough-taxes or too-much-spending. It also adds another possibility: too-much-waste.

New look, Bugs, and Deporting German Homeschoolers

[Caution: Geek content follows. Others may skip down two paragraphs.]

If you have read this blog before, and you actually visit the web site, you probably notice that it looks different. Well, it is different. A hard drive failed in the old machine that was hosting this web server. It was backed up and all, but I realized that this machine is 13 years old now, and some of its parts might be even older. The whole thing has been on borrowed time for years already, and I had an idea. In fact, it works. Everything that machine was doing is now accomplished within my regular desktop machine, by a virtual machine living inside it. In the process, I also ported The Plucked Chicken over to WordPress. Why WordPress? In the end, because it’s very well tested and supported. And of course, free, like Linux. (Try getting that much use out of a Windows machine originally built in 2000!)

So when there is time, I’ll spruce things up around here with some images and other media. There are a few little bugs or snafus from the blog conversion, but they can wait. In the meantime, just enjoy the simplicity.

In case you haven’t seen it, Gene Veith blogged about this case of deporting illegal immigrants. It seems the US Attorney General is very tough on them, and wants them deported, at least when they’re from Germany, and when they have obtained political asylum in the United States from religious persecution in their home country. And when they’re homeschoolers.

It’s worth reading about. I find the AG’s obtuse understanding of the religious freedom protected by our First Amendment to be sadly lacking. It may be a safe bet that he wasn’t home-schooled. Of course, it may not really be him behind it, but his minions acting under his name. Well, those minions need schooling too. So please read it, and click through the link Veith provides to read more about it. Note especially this, “Holder claims that the family’s fundamental rights have not been violated by Germany’s law forbidding families from homeschooling.”

This is really the same obtuse lack of understanding we find in the way our executive branch has dealt with the ACA (“Obamacare” for those who don’t recognize that acronym.) and its universal requirement for people like the owners of Hobby Lobby religiously to violate their consciences. In both cases, it seems our government has compartmentalized religious freedom into an area thoroughly insulated from public life. They have no clue that religion should affect every aspect of a person’s life. How far the United States has fallen from her founding!

New Impressions of Les Misérables

What a wonderful story. I wrote a paper in college about it, having seen the musical in high school and read the book. As usual, I think I could do a much better job now. My dear wife and I indulged in a rare date tonight to see the new movie. I want to summarize a few of my impressions now while they are still fresh.

One of the great themes I caught back in college was the theme of freedom, but I don’t remember seeing that it’s so nuanced and pervasive in this story. So many characters have a deep connection with freedom. The chief character, Jean Valjean, starts the story at the end of his 19-year prison sentence. Though he is released from prison, he finds that freedom still eludes him, and he carries a resentful hatred of all that subjected him to his unjust prison sentence.

The lawman who released and pursues Valjean through most of the story is iconic of the law. Named Javert, he believes himself already free and above those who must be subjected to the due punishments for their sins. To Javert, Valjean can never be free because his crime has permanently defined his personal character.

The students in the barricades with Marius consider themselves to be fighting for the freedom of the common people. In their point of view, the bourgeoisie and the king have denied freedom to the poor of the land. The students hope to obtain freedom for the downtrodden through bloody revolution, as the French people had seen before.

We could also bring in Fantine and Eponine, and even the Thenardiers. Each has a position in the story that relates to freedom of one kind or another. Each either struggles to become free somehow (Fantine in her misery and Eponine in her unrequited love), or believes he is already free (the Thenardiers in their profligate theft).

But here’s the question: Which of the characters finds true freedom in this story, during the course of the story? The ending hints that many of them are in heaven, but who finds freedom before then?

The obvious answer is Valjean. But more importantly, how does he find this freedom, in contrast to the way others either pursue it or think they have already obtained it? Here’s where it gets really interesting, at least from the perspective of the Christian faith.

Valjean first thought that true freedom was freedom from injustice such as he suffered. He was wrong.

Javert believed that freedom was the same as outward righteousness, but that turned out to be a fragile thing.

The students seeking political and economic freedom through rebellion against the rightful authority found that rebellion cannot obtain it.

So obedience to the law can’t make you free in the end, and neither can rebellion. Those are the two possible responses we can have when we are confronted with the distinction between right and wrong, as we find in natural law, and also summarized in places like the Ten Commandments. We can be inspired to be as good as we might be. But like Javert, we will fail in the end, and find no room for mercy in the law that once inspired us. We can also reject the law and strive against its authority. But like the students on the barricades, we will always find ourselves outgunned. Resist as we may, the law will remain our invincible authority.

Valjean never escaped injustice during his life, but he did stop trying to escape it. In the end, he even submitted his future to the authority of Javert. But despite living with injustice, Valjean is the obvious character who found true peace, and it came from a completely different place than those I’ve previously mentioned. His peace came from God’s forgiveness of his sin. It’s not stated quite as obviously as we find forgiveness conveyed in the average Confessional Lutheran church service, but Valjean’s forgiveness is the foundational event for the entire story, and the reason he found true freedom and peace.

The movie did a great job of symbolizing Valjean’s forgiveness by repeatedly showing those candlesticks, and his strong attachment to them throughout the years of the story. The candlesticks are his most prized possession, because they represent and remind him of the forgiveness God gave him. That forgiveness ended his former life of bitter, hateful resentment against all that was done to him, and it gave him a new life of joy and thankful purpose in service to God. The candlesticks become to Valjean a kind of sacramental artifact, because when they were given to him, they actually carried with them the forgiveness of his sin. He carried them through his life the way every Christian should treasure his baptism.

With the peace of forgiveness, Valjean was free from the guilt of his condemnation. By ripping up his papers and essentially giving them to God, he shows not only that he’s a new man, but a new creation of God’s mercy. No longer does he wish for relief from the world’s injustices. No longer does he resent or hate others for the unfairness poured upon him. That’s why he was able to save Javert’s life and release him. That’s why he was ready to give everything to save Marius, out of a selfless love for Cosette. His freedom does not consist in leaving behind suffering and the cross, but in willingly and joyfully serving others because of his confidence in God’s forgiveness.

Valjean was touched by the merciful hand of a forgiving God, and so became an extension of that hand as God brought mercy and forgiveness to Fantine, to Cosette, to Marius, and to Javert. Fantine died in peace, like Lazarus who had laid at the rich man’s gate his whole life long. Cosette and Marius were the unlikely couple rescued from poverty and abuse on one hand and the romantic error of rebellion on the other hand. Javert was finally killed by the law that had inspired him.

Well, that’s a start anyway. As you can tell, I just love stories like this. They are such compelling expressions of the way God deals with sinners like us.