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Posts Tagged ‘interpretation’

Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” In the United States, our legal system calls things “marriage” that the Bible most certainly would not. But if we only looked at that one verse from Hebrews, we could believe that the thing called marriage that isn’t, is “honorable”. We could pull in other teachings about marriage and how great it is and what it means spiritually, and encourage people to accomplish those great things and represent those great truths by practicing the thing falsely called marriage. If this stood for a few generations, most people would forget that it is a perversion of what the Bible calls marriage.

What if there are other Christian practices that this has happened to, in the forgotten past? How do we trust that what we understand to be the biblical and Christian practices of Church gatherings, pastoring, church leadership and decision-making, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, ordination, etc. are the things the Bible is discussing?

Like we can with marriage, we can compare other Scriptures to our practices, right? We can ask, “Did God say anything else about these practices? Did God address what we are doing, regardless of what it is called, in positive or negative ways?”

I believe it is possible for God to reveal corrections to us* if we are humbly seeking Him, and if He wants to at the moment. It seems like sometimes He doesn’t want to, and I’m not quite clear why.

I want to have respect for generations of believers who have been inviting God’s discernment, and to value their conclusions. I don’t see any honest way to do this without acknowledging that there have been stretches of time where Christianity (the public institution, anyway) has promoted false understandings of things, and it has taken a long time to straighten some of them out. I have to acknowledge that different parts of the Church, distanced by geography (at least) have for long periods of time held different beliefs from one another.

How much weight should we put on our own experiences? If our experiences seem to line up with a teaching, and be fruitful for the Kingdom of God, does that indicate that these understandings and practices are the things God intends?

*Who ought “us” to be, though? Is it my job, without holding a position of authority in the Church, to discern these things? For myself? For the Church? For society? Is it my job to say anything to others if I believe I have discerned that our conventional practice is wrong?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Response to Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Endorsement of Donald Trump, July 2016

A missionary I know, Cal Zastrow, said, “If the primary goal of voting is winning, instead of being a faithful witness for Christ, then all kinds of evil grows.” I believe that as Christians, more than being patriotic to our nation, we are called to be faithful ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, and to further that kingdom.  We do this, in part, through involvement in earthly matters like grocery shopping, like changing diapers, like giving food to the poor, and like voting.

This week, respected theologian Wayne Grudem endorsed Donald Trump for president in an article, “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice”.  A friend shared the article on Facebook.  I admit that I was shocked at how much I disagree with such an influential evangelical Christian.  I was overwhelmed by how many things seemed 1) unsubstantiated; 2) rational leaps; and most grievingly, 3) misinterpretations of Scripture.  There were other things that may be qualified as more differences of opinion. These do not surprise me; I am used to being in a minority in what I believe about how government should function.  For a brief discussion of these things, see Footnote [1].

The first category of concern, things that seem to me to be unsubstantiated, mostly fall into three subsections.  They are either wild speculations or what I believe to be delusions of fear.  Most of these have to do with the future.  The third subsection is ignoring relevant truths.

The treatment of third parties at least excludes some truth: the truth of why our political system allows third parties; the truth of what some third party candidates (with far more demonstrable integrity and intelligence than Trump or Hillary) have said they will do as president[2],[3]; the truth of history, that parties have fallen and risen[4], including the Republican Party which was a new, third party when Lincoln was elected president[5]; the truth that the reason we don’t presently see third parties as viable is because we have consistently refused to vote for third party candidates who better represent us; and the truth that votes for third parties have impacts on future elections.

This year’s election is not an unusual opportunity.  Every year there is an evil candidate, or rather many evil candidates (for many third parties put forward evil candidates), which we the people have an opportunity of defeating.  Sort of:  I can try to persuade you to help me to defeat evil.  I can pray.  And I can vote.  It may not actually be within my power to defeat the Democrat or any other candidate.

Grudem believes that Trump sincerely wants what is best for America.  I am not in a position to say that this is false.  I don’t have evidence that Trump is plotting the demise of the United States.  I get a different impression, though, that Trump actually wants to further his own interests and to build his own ego.  I am wondering what evidence Dr. Grudem has for his belief in Trump’s motives.

Will the election be close?  (If he didn’t believe the election will be close, would the arguments in his article be the same?)  We’re three months from Election Day.  Polls of the popular vote, even when factoring in the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, show Hillary Clinton neck and neck with Donald Trump[6].  But elections in the United States are not decided by the popular vote.  They are decided by electors in each state.  News outlets[7],[8], analyzing polling data and voting patterns in previous cycles, have Hillary in the lead by about 50 electoral votes likely to go to her.  Estimates have her with around 200, Trump with around 150, and around 180 votes from a number of states too close to guess.  But if you look at the breakdown of how strong each candidate is in the votes analysts think they are likely to get, you can see that Hillary has far more votes in the “almost certain” and “very likely” categories, whereas about half of Trump’s fall into the “leans towards” Trump description.  If third party campaigns are somewhat successful, as many Republicans fear, more of the independent voters will go to the Libertarian or other conservative parties than would be persuaded to vote Republican, and Hillary’s lead could be even bigger.

Given the extent of the criminal behavior already documented on Hillary Clinton, without producing prosecution or sufficient public outrage[9], it is very unlikely that “additional shocking email disclosures” would have any new effect.  Obama has endorsed her[10] and has nothing to lose (except before God) from standing behind her and abstaining from prosecution.

The article gives a description of liberalism, “pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government…”  The author applies it to Clinton and Obama, but the definition can just as honestly be applied to Trump[11]Therefore, we will not defeat “that kind of liberalism” by voting for Trump.  He is that kind of liberal.  He may practice it to a different degree, but the essence is the same.

The judicial supremacy described in this article may be a dominant theory, but it is not true, constitutionally speaking.  We should hold judges accountable for the subversion they commit by usurping the rule of law (the US Constitution) and exceeding their jurisdiction.  Impeachment could moderate their extremism.  And it could remove actual vigilante judges from office.  Then the activism wouldn’t be locked-in.  States and presidents, especially, are obligated to obey the supreme law of the land, the United States Constitution, and there is an argument to be made for states and executives to defy broad applications of specific decisions by the courts.  That is, Obergefell, for example, wouldn’t have to apply to any actual laws (court rulings are not laws) or states or cities or policies that were not included in the original case being brought.  This is the position that Alabama Justice Roy Moore seems to be most recently in trouble for[12].  There are also third party presidential candidates[13], [14] in the current election who agree with at least some of these answers to the Supreme Court argument, and would be willing to act accordingly.  I do appreciate Grudem bringing these problems to light, even if I disagree with his submit-to-the-corrupt-system solution.

Grudem mentions several close votes on the Supreme Court over the past 30 years, such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Act[15] and Hobby Lobby’s conscience and religious freedom case against being forced by Obamacare to pay for employees’ abortifacient contraceptives.  Some of these have gone in ways we agree with, submitting to the clear language of the Constitution and upholding liberty.  Many significant others have not.  Republican-appointed judges have a long history of assenting to egregious Supreme Court decisions.  Four of five Supreme Court justices giving us the decision in Utah v. Strieff[16], weakening the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches[17], were Republican-appointed[18].  Republican justices have given us Roe v. Wade[19], upheld Obamacare[20], and decided Obergefell[21] (attempting to mandate homosexual marriage).

I don’t see how a “right to abortion” could be found in the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, nor how it would be substantially different from the Supreme Court rulings already dominating our political climate.  Groups seeking to end abortion are seeking to have Roe v. Wade overturned.  Some are doing this, not by increasing laws that would regulate abortion[16], but by using the wording of the Constitution, including the Equal Protection Clause.  These laws include so-called “Personhood” legislation[22] and the “Sanctity of Life Act”[23].  With an unaccountable judiciary, the court is likely to strike such laws down.  They are, perhaps, slightly more likely to “with one decision” remove all abortion-regulating laws from our country, as Dr. Grudem fears.  I don’t see how a more liberal court would be much more likely to do this than the court we already have, or the one we had when Roe was decided.

In the history of our country, few significant Supreme Court decisions have been overturned by that court[24].  Fashions have shifted.  The Constitution has been amended.  Wars have been fought.  These have affected the application of some rulings.  Christians want Roe v. Wade to be overturned.  We want justices who uphold justice and the rule of law.  Republicans have not given us such radically righteous justices.  It is an extremely unlikely hope that Donald Trump (who is more liberal than previous Republican presidents) would appoint enough justices who would oppose the trend of popular opinion (our country is more liberal than ever) on abortion, and overturn Roe v. Wade.  I cannot find such a wild speculation to be even a considerable justification for voting for a man who disregards morality (unashamed adultery[25], owning a strip club[26], lying[11], essentially stealing[11]) and justice and the rule of law (promotion of unconstitutional laws, executive orders[27], and policies) himself.

At multiple points, Dr. Grudem indicates that he is a proponent of state-regulation of things like marriage and abortion.  On both of these issues I believe he is wrong.  Under the United States Constitution, Article IV: Section 1[28], separate states must honor the laws of other states.  If Massachusetts “marries” same-sex partners, then Connecticut is obligated to consider the couple married if they visit or even relocate there.  Thus marriage ought not to be excluded from the jurisdiction of the federal government.  Regarding abortion, the Constitution requires[29], “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Thus the federal government also has a responsibility to enforce this part of the Constitution, taking only an oversight role if the states are in compliance.  States allowing abortion are not in compliance.  The solution to the immoral and unjust status of our laws is not just to have Supreme Court decisions return authority to the states.  We have a bigger problem.

Many of the threats to our religious liberty are not coming from courts, but from private businesses or from other branches of government.  Trump, if he were to be elected as our executive, is sympathetic to the homosexual agenda[30], at least, and would no doubt be influenced by that perspective when “executing” his office.  That is, we wouldn’t need a liberal Supreme Court to infringe our rights; the president (whose power via executive order has gone basically unchallenged for decades) would be committing the very trespasses we’re afraid of the court for.

Even if I prove so wrong, and Trump is electable, and Trump does nominate an honest and wise and selfless judge, and the judge passes the scrutiny of the Senate to have the appointment confirmed, and if the court can hear and rule on cases in such a way as to reign in the courts – we will still have the problem of a lazy, impotent Congress and a largely-unchecked executive branch (the latter of which would likely be exacerbated by a Trump presidency as by a Clinton one – Trump has promised to use executive orders to accomplish his will[27]).

While the argument that historically, politicians have not “gone back on most of what [they have] promised to do, especially on issues that are crucially important in the election,” might be accurate (and I have doubts even about this), it would be hard to apply to Donald Trump for two reasons.  The first is that he is demonstrably a liar[11].  And the second is that he has, in this one campaign, made many contradictory “promises” about what he will do.  It actually seems incredibly gullible to let a politician take many possible positions that could appeal to different constituencies, and to assume the one he’ll actually faithfully come through on is the position that you prefer.

Since the article focuses on the issue of the Supreme Court, let me here briefly address the things that Trump has said about the court during this presidential campaign.  Early on, Trump suggested that his sister would make a “phenomenal” appointment to the Supreme Court.  She’s already a federal judge, and she’s not a conservative[31].  Afterward, he said he was joking[32].  Then, he said he would release a list of 5-10 names of potential Supreme Court appointees, and guarantee that, if president, he would pick from that list[33].  Then he released a list of 11 names[34].  Within days of publishing this heralded list, he said he was not guaranteeing that he would appoint a judge from the list[35].  There is also the chance that he would attempt to appoint one, and then back down at the least resistance from the Senate, and appoint someone else.

Trump has also taken confusing positions on Israel.  Dr. Grudem says that Trump has promised to vigorously defend Israel.  In this same campaign, he has also said that he will remain neutral[36] on Israel’s dispute with Palestine.  But a top advisor has also said that Trump might be against a two-state solution[37].  On the other hand, and in contradiction to the fearful portrayal of “facts” that Grudem’s article gives, we have decades of speeches and actions by Hillary[38],[39] that, even if we don’t fully trust or agree with them, distance her from Obama’s snubbing of Israel.  Grudem’s only evidence that Hillary would be worse than Donald on Israel is that Hillary worked for and is of the same political party as Obama.  She is, however, also married to President Bill Clinton, of the same party, whose treatment of Israel[40],[41] was very different from Obama’s[42].

My second concern was about Wayne Grudem’s reasoning.  If he has a way of connecting principles to his applications, he is not including them in the article.  He asserts that it is OK to vote for someone bad (he calls them “flawed”) because he will do more good for the nation than his opponent.  But he doesn’t justify why he believes this is OK.  This is pragmatism.  I am not opposed to we humans evaluating the world in order to figure out what would be most effective – so long as, in the flow-chart of decision-making, we consider those things after we have determined if we could do them without committing an unrighteous act.  A good end does not make the “means” moral.

Grudem believes Trump will do the most good for the nation.  Some of this is founded in conservative policies.  Some is founded in speculation (particularly on the power and goodness of the Supreme Court under Trump).  Some is based on subjective consideration of some things as more important than others.  That is, if Trump is too busy doing harm to this nation to do it the good that his supporters hope, this reasoning might turn out to be inaccurate.  I see potential, especially in foreign relations, for Trump to do great harm to our country, including getting us into wars resulting in American casualties.  And in this one area, I believe that he may be likely to get us into bigger wars than Clinton would.  There are also the more abstract ideas of the good or harm of having such a man as Trump represent conservatives and Christians in this country.  What does that mean for the future of the Church here?  What about the future of the Republican Party?  What influence are conservatives and Christians left when we have demonstrated that we are willing to compromise – or worse, been led to justify the wickedness we are endorsing?

I am just as horrified that a vote may help Trump as I am that a vote may help Clinton.  This whole line of reasoning, that a vote for a third party is actually helping the slightly-leading candidate, has redefined what a vote[43] means.  A vote, to my mind, ought to be viewed as a contribution to collectively making a choice.  Like every choice, one choice excludes another.  If I say that my favorite flavor is chocolate, then I am automatically stating that vanilla and strawberry are not my favorites.  A vote is an endorsement, approval, help.  I am helping whom I vote for.  And there will be all sorts of indirect consequences for what I choose.

Some sure indirect consequences of Christians not voting either Trump or Clinton are: Republicans will receive less votes than they believed themselves entitled to.  The influence of third parties will be increased for the future.  Speculating now, Republicans in the future may feel less confident that the liberal candidates they’ve been putting forward are electable.  They may begin to reform, to shift to the more conservative end.  Or the system might be too corrupt already.  The powers behind the GOP may be too ideologically against justice, righteousness, the Constitution, economic liberty, and limited government to nominate conservative candidates, even if it might help the Republicans to gain power.  In which case, enter speculation category number two: third parties.  If lesser parties collectively get more attention and votes this election cycle, it strengthens the chances of any third party to gain momentum for the future.  If one third party gets a lot more attention and votes, it makes that one all the more powerful for future elections.  There are federal laws that give campaign money[44] to political parties based on if they reached a certain threshold of the popular vote in the previous election cycle.  There are state laws that grant ballot access based on thresholds of votes in that state[45].  (In Colorado[46], I’m not sure if votes for president apply.  The legal language is confusing to me.)  There is market pressure for websites and television and radio to give attention to things their audiences care about.  And votes indicate that we care.  The whole election paradigm in the United States could be shifting. 

Grudem suggests that we should see Trump’s vice presidential pick as an indicator of the trend of his policy shifts.  Trump is, the author says, moving towards the conservative.  While it is possible for a politician’s choice for vice president to reflect one’s values, in a man famed for “closing the deal”, I have a different hypothesis: that he picked someone who would appeal to a demographic that Trump hadn’t secured by his own personality and variously-contradicting policies.  Maybe he picked Pence to lure conservative Republicans to vote for Trump.  This would also be a tactic seemingly consistent with those of past presidential candidates.

The third point I raised is – coming from a theologian, seminary professor, and author of a much-used systematic theology – by far the most concerning.  This is his use of Scripture in his argument.  I am certainly interested in learning how the Bible applies to the decisions that we make in this life.  So I am not objecting to a Christian leader making a statement about politics, or bringing the Bible into it.  Rather, I am concerned by the hermeneutics he uses.

The first, general subject of biblical relevance is whether we can classify such a man as Donald Trump as “evil” or “wicked”, or if we should just remind ourselves that “nobody’s perfect” and consider him “flawed”, but decent as statesmen go.  I will agree with Wayne Grudem when he says that Trump is flawed.  I probably see more flaws than Dr. Grudem does, given the differences I have with him on policy issues.  And I agree with Dr. Grudem’s list of character flaws in Donald Trump.  I have some to add, as well[11]He is a liar and an adulterer.  He has, under cover of law (eminent domain for private use and intentional bankruptcy), stolen for his own gain.  For such things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience[47], and we are commanded to have nothing to do with these things[48].

I’m sure, like every evil dictator in history, that Trump has his good points.  The Bible acknowledges that no one is righteous[49].  We have all fallen short[50]But the Bible also categorizes people into righteous[51] and wicked[52], and warns against associating with the wicked.  I especially commend to you the Proverbs[53] for a study of which type of people fall into which category.

Christians have been cleansed from the unfruitful works of darkness, and are therefore not classified as evil.  Trump, by his own testimony[54], has not repented, has not sought God’s forgiveness.  He has not been made clean by Jesus’ blood.  So, he remains where his enumerated sins have put him, in the category of an evil man.

The Bible records what Moses’ father-in-law advised the Israelites about what kind of men to appoint to their government: “Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness….” – Exodus 18:21[55]  Wayne Grudem does not mention this verse when he declares that despite the wicked character of Trump, voting for him is a morally good choice.  Instead, he uses a passage from Jeremiah[56], about the Israelites seeking the welfare of the nation in which they are exiled.  He then goes on to expound what he believes is meant by “welfare”: that which is most likely to bring the best results.  And from there, he says that to vote for anyone who doesn’t have the best chance of beating evil and liberal and full of bad-policies Hillary is disobeying this instruction.  He claims that this command to Israel is to give us the “overriding question” we must ask ourselves when voting.  I wonder why the overriding question does not come from Exodus 18:21 that I quoted above, or Proverbs, or Romans[57]?

Perhaps the verse could be better interpreted as exhorting the Israelites to pray or warning the Jews against insurrection?  Something like Timothy’s exhortation[58] for Christians to “pray for… all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence”?

How would we actually foretell what will be “most likely to bring the best results”?  It is far less arrogant to decide things based on truth and what is morally good in itself – and maybe on direction straight from God – than to weigh out pros and cons of policies and possibilities and contingencies.  Which items hold more weight as we’re weighing?  National security?  Jobs and taxes?  Civil rights? Abortion?  Marriage? Education?  Good Christians can argue all day long on which should be weightier.  But when we vote for president, I contend that is not what we are being asked to do.  We are being asked to choose a leader (specifically one who will carry out the laws in existence, including the Constitution, to command our military in time of war, and to be the head of our foreign relations).  And a nation is blessed when the ruler is righteous[59].

Which brings up an interesting point.  What about God’s blessing?  What about God’s power to deliver and guide and reform?  If we’re being pragmatic about what is possible from a human standpoint, the way our government is in the habit of functioning (not even trying to exert ourselves to reign it in towards how it should, under the Constitution, be functioning) – then we’re leaving out part of the picture.  Is God more likely to do good to a people who choose evil individuals for rulers?  Or is God able to do much good with our faithful choices?  If a remnant of Christians abides by its conscience and votes for actually good, actually qualified candidates – don’t you think God is more likely to show our whole nation mercy for our sakes? 

Next, Wayne Grudem says that defeating Hillary would be a good thing to do, and that since supporting Trump is a way to do that, it is a good thing to do.  According to James 4:17[60], he says, if we know a good thing to do and don’t do it, we’re sinning.  But what is the intended application of the verse?  It is good to do my dishes.  It is good to do my friend’s dishes.  It is good to be a sidewalk counselor outside abortion clinics.  It is good to perform ultrasounds at a pregnancy center.  It is good to pray.  It is good to write books.  It is good to preach the gospel.  It is good to teach doctrine.  It is good to rest.  It is good to feast.  It is good to fast.  We cannot possibly do every good thing, all at once.  Is defeating the Democrats the only good thing to do?  In a given situation, we need to discern the good thing that God wants us to do.  If we don’t do the good thing that God wants us to do, more so if we know what it is, it is sin.

But, as we’re discerning about the “right thing to do”, let’s take into consideration this other Scripture: “And why not do evil that good may come?–as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.” – Romans 3:8[61]  So even if some good things could possibly result from our choices, the end does not justify the means.  We have to figure out if the choice itself is evil or good.

There is a quote going around, attributed to C.H. Spurgeon, “Of two evils, choose neither.”  To some Christians, what seems best to them is to not vote at all in this presidential election.  Wayne Grudem believes this is also sin, citing Obadiah 1:11.  The verse he quotes could be taken to mean that the Edomites did nothing at all, if it weren’t for the context[62], which describes them cheering for evil and aiding those who were attacking Israel.  Cross reference to Psalm 137:7[63].

I don’t believe that abstaining from voting is inherently wrong.  There are some times in the Bible where abstaining from something “good” is advised.  Take, for example, Ecclesiastes 5:5: “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” Or, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1 Or, “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” – Matthew 19:10-11  Or, “And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”” – Judges 7:7 Or, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”” – Exodus 14:14

So the questions we need to ask are: Has God given us the obligation to vote? Are we responsible for the outcome of the election even if we chose a morally acceptable but arguably less strategic vote?  Is it wrong to choose an evil person as our ruler? 

I would exhort everyone, especially Christians, to do all things out of faith and not out of fear.  Or, at least, that we would fear God alone.  Fearing Him, may we be diligent to find out the truth, to seek His perspective on these matters, and follow His will for us personally.

Update, October 9, 2016: Wayne Grudem removed his endorsement and published this apology, in light of recent revelations about Trump’s previous moral corruption: Trump’s Moral Character and the Election.

Footnotes:

[1] I disagreed with some of Grudem’s approvals of Trump’s policies and what he considers “most likely”.  Below I mention some.

Lower taxes are good.  They do not in themselves constitute a more just or more limited government.  In fact, if unaccompanied by a budget a fraction the size of what it has been, lower taxes will only mean more borrowing, which is a hidden tax on the future[i].  It is also debatable whether graduated tax rates are just[ii].

I am not convinced that Trump would be good at diplomacy[iii],[iv],[v],[vi],[vii].  He may be convinced that he will not be manipulated, deceived, or out-strategized by Russia, Mexico, or Middle-Eastern nations, but I am not.  Trump’s “tough guy” persona may be useful in standing up to bullies, or it may make our international representative into a bully himself.  He has said that he would be in favor of having our military “go after the families of terrorists”[viii],[ix], and to, when fighting them, match the level of violence terrorists and ISIS use[x].  Victory at the cost of virtue is an unacceptable goal for me to support.  I am also concerned that it would not be so easy to win a war (without making many more enemies globally) as Trump seems to think.

My personal belief is that Hillary is rather smart, and rather interested in maintaining whatever power she can get her hands on.  Therefore, I think that she is actually less likely than Trump to get us into a big war or to alienate our allies.  (And if she does, she’ll probably do it behind the scenes where no one will be able to verify it was her doing it.)

Both Trump and Hillary have taken contradictory positions on fracking during this campaign, which perhaps could be characterized at this time by saying that they believe in local decision-making about fracking[xi].  I would find it impossible, without prophetic revelation, to determine what each candidate will actually do for or against this energy issue.

Trump’s words about health insurance have not always sounded like they are entirely free-market solutions, even during this campaign season[xii].  Like many Republicans this year, he does support repealing – and replacing – Obamacare, apparently with a mixture of free market solutions and with some sort of forced “safety net” for the poorer people.  Does this mean retaining an expansion of Medicaid?  Something else?  I believe there is a substantial difference between Hillary Clinton’s intentions for the health care industry, and that of Donald Trump.  But it may be a difference of degree only.  There are manifold problems with Obamacare.  One of them is the individual mandate, what I still believe to be an unconstitutional imposition on our liberties (whatever the Supreme Court says about the penalty being a tax).  The second is that the government funding for these programs is unconstitutional.  They have no enumerated jurisdiction to be spending money on a private citizen’s health care.  Trump’s plan would, presumably, deal with only one of these objections (the individual mandate). 

From what I have read and heard, there seems to be some debate about whether Trump owes his so-called business success to his own abilities[xiii] to “solve problems and get things done.”  Commentators have pointed out that Trump started with a substantial sum of money inherited from his father.  They say that his fortune, if invested in mutual funds back in 1982, and left there, accruing, would be twice what he claims to have made it today through business acumen[xiv].  They mention that more than one of his business ventures has gone bankrupt.  Some of them bring up his wielding of eminent domain for personal gain (abetted by corrupt politicians)[xv]; his use of bankruptcy (not paying bills) to pass off the risk of his investments to those providing the actual goods and services[xvi]; and that he is defendant in a lawsuit for fraud[xvii] in the case of Trump University.  There is even some question as to whether Trump is as wealthy as he claims.  All of these things cast doubt on the prudence of employing Trump to use his reputed problem-solving skills to tackle the big, nuanced problems the United States is facing.

[i] Mises Institute, “Tax Cuts Without Spending Cuts Are Pointless” https://mises.org/blog/tax-cuts-without-spending-cuts-are-pointless

[ii] Capitalism.org, “What About a Progressive Tax?” http://capitalism.org/taxation/what-about-the-fair-tax/

[iii] The New York Times, “Transcript: Donald Trump on Nato, Turkey’s Coup Attempt and the World” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/us/politics/donald-trump-foreign-policy-interview.html?_r=0

[iv] Talking Points Memo, “How Donald Trump Is Already Doing a World of Damage Abroad” http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/no-election-necessary-trump-already-doing-damage-abroad

[v] The Boston Globe, “The Day Trump Trashed US Diplomacy” https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/07/21/the-day-trump-trashed-diplomacy/gXunS1AcEhkSKGdpiErVvL/story.html

[vi] War on the Rocks, “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/open-letter-on-donald-trump-from-gop-national-security-leaders/

[vii] The Chicago Tribune, “Column: On Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton is Bad. Trump is Worse.” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman/ct-hillary-clinton-foreign-policy-trump-perspec-0605-md-20160603-column.html

[viii] CNN, “Donald Trump on Terrorists: ‘Take Out their Families’ ” http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/

[ix] The video clip here is important. Mediaite, “Trump: The Military Would Not Refuse My Orders Even If They Consider them Illegal” http://www.mediaite.com/tv/trump-the-military-would-not-refuse-my-orders-even-if-they-consider-them-illegal/

[x] YouTube CNN, “Donald Trump Anderson Cooper CNN Interview (part 3)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5NGbI3snZg

[xi] OilPrice.com, “Is Trump Flip-Flopping on Fracking?” http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Is-Trump-Flip-Flopping-On-Fracking4276.html

[xii] Originally compiled and published on Facebook January 2016, this is my own research on “Donald Trump’s Similarities to Democrats”.  It is a list of sources about various positions Trump has taken, with a section of sources also demonstrating that he is a liar.  https://www.facebook.com/notes/lisa-cress/donald-trumps-similarities-to-democrats/10153386583390954

[xiii] Alternet, “Exposing How Donald Trump Really Made His Furtune: Inheritance from Dad and the Government’s Protection Mostly Did the Trick” http://www.alternet.org/story/156234/exposing_how_donald_trump_really_made_his_fortune%3A_inheritance_from_dad_and_the_government’s_protection_mostly_did_the_trick

[xiv] Money Talks News, “Trump Worth $10 Billion Less Than If He’d Simply Invested in Index Funds” http://www.moneytalksnews.com/why-youre-probably-better-investing-than-donald-trump/

[xv] National Review, “Trump and Eminent Domain” http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431005/trump-eminent-domain

[xvi] Forbes, “Fourth Time’s a Charm: How Donald Trump Made Bankruptcy Work for Him” http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2011/04/29/fourth-times-a-charm-how-donald-trump-made-bankruptcy-work-for-him/#3fae39ec6f7a

[xvii] The New Yorker, “Trump University: It’s Worse Than You Think” http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-its-worse-than-you-think

[2] Tom Hoefling for President 2016, “Platform” http://www.tomhoefling.com/platform.html

[3] Darrell Castle for President 2016, Constitution Party, issues page http://castle2016.com/issues/

[4] Wikipedia, “Political Parties in the United States”, history and early political parties section https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_parties_in_the_United_States#History_and_early_political_parties

[5] Great American History, “How Lincoln Won the 1860 Republican Nomination” http://www.greatamericanhistory.net/nomination.htm

[6] Real Clear Politics, Polls, “Election 2016 Presidential Polls”  http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/latest_polls/president/

[7] Real Clear Politics, Polls, “Battle for White House” http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/2016_elections_electoral_college_map.html

[8] 270 to Win, “2016 Election: Clinton vs. Trump”  http://www.270towin.com/maps/clinton-trump-electoral-map

[9] Huffington Post, “5 Reasons the Comey Hearing was the Worst Education in Criminal Justice the American Public has Ever Had” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5-reasons-the-comey-hearing-was-the-worst-education_us_577ee999e4b05b4c02fbdcd5

[10] Politico, “President Obama Endorses Hillary Clinton” http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/president-obama-endorses-hillary-clinton-224130

[11] Originally compiled and published on Facebook January 2016, this is my own research on “Donald Trump’s Similarities to Democrats”.  It is a list of sources about various positions Trump has taken, with a section of sources also demonstrating that he is a liar.  https://www.facebook.com/notes/lisa-cress/donald-trumps-similarities-to-democrats/10153386583390954

[12] Liberty Counsel Connect, “Chief Justice Roy Moore Counters Politically Motivated Complaints on Marriage” http://libertycounsel.com/chief-justice-roy-moore-counters-politically-motivated-complaints-on-marriage/

[13] Tom Hoefling for President 2016, “Tom Hoefling: Judges, and politicians, behaving badly” http://www.tomhoefling.com/home/tom-hoefling-judges-and-politicians-behaving-badly

[14] The Castle Report, “Original Intent” http://www.castlereport.us/original-intent-2/

[15] Some people who oppose abortion also oppose these incremental or compromise regulations.  Some of these people believe all regulations are wrong or counterproductive[a], while others only oppose language in laws that implies that if you follow the regulations, “then you can kill the baby”[b].

[a] Abolish Human Abortion, position paper on “immediatism” http://abolishhumanabortion.com/immediatism/

[b] American Right to Life, position paper on abortion regulations http://americanrtl.org/abortion-regulations

[16] The Washington Post, “Supreme Court construes the exclusionary rule narrowly in Utah v. Strieffhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/06/21/supreme-court-construes-the-exclusionary-rule-narrowly-in-utah-v-strieff/

[17] Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, “U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment

[18] A 5-3 decision, given in October 2015 by Justices Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, Alito (these four were appointed by Republicans), and Breyer (appointed by a Democrat). Supreme Court of the United States Blog, “Utah v. Strieffhttp://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/utah-v-strieff/

[19] Ironton Tribune, “Republican Nominees have Upheld Roe v. Wadehttp://www.irontontribune.com/2008/09/30/republican-nominees-have-upheld-roe-v-wade/

[20] The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was upheld 5-4, with Chief Justice Roberts being the only Republican-appointed Justice to vote in favor.  The National Law Review, “Analysis: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act: Roberts Rules?” http://www.natlawreview.com/article/analysis-us-supreme-court-upholds-affordable-care-act-roberts-rules

[21] Obergefell v. Hodges was another 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 2015, all 4 Democrat-appointed judges voting in favor, and Republican-appointed Justice Kennedy joining them.  Wikipedia, “Obergefell v. Hodges” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges

[22] Personhood, Education page, “A Right to Life” section http://www.personhood.com/education

[23] Legislators who support the Sanctity of Human Life Act reintroduce it frequently.  Here is 2015’s bill.  Congress.gov “H.R. 426 – Sanctity of Human Life Act” https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/426

[24] Wikipedia, “List of overruled United States Supreme Court decisions” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_overruled_United_States_Supreme_Court_decisions

[25] The Washington Post, “GOP Senator Calls Out Donald Trump’s ‘Many Affairs’ in Lengthy Tweetstorm” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/25/gop-senator-calls-out-donald-trumps-affair-in-lengthy-tweetstorm/

[26] Life Site News, “ ‘Anyone But Donald Trump’: Here’s His Record on Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty” https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/anyone-but-donald-trump-heres-his-record-on-life-marriage-and-religious-lib

[27] Bloomberg, “Trump Embraces Executive Orders to Avoid Congressional Gridlock” http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-06-27/trump-eyes-executive-orders-to-sidestep-congressional-gridlock

[28] Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, “U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 1.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleiv

[29] Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, “U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

[30] PBS NewsHour, “Donald Trump May Support Gay Rights, but Does the Republican Party?” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/donald-trump-may-support-gay-rights-republican-party/

[31] National Review, “Trump Praises His Sister, a Pro-Abortion Extremist Judge” http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/423196/trump-praises-his-sister-pro-abortion-extremist-judge-ramesh-ponnuru

[32] The New York Times, “Trump Says He Was Kidding in Suggesting His Sister for the Court” http://www.nytimes.com/live/supreme-court-justice-antonin-scalia-dies-at-79/trump-says-he-was-kidding-when-he-suggested-his-sister-for-the-court/

[33] Fox News, “Trump Says He’ll Release List of Potential Supreme Court Justices” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/03/21/trump-says-hell-release-list-potential-supreme-court-justices.html

[34] Politico, “Trump Unveils 11 Potential Supreme Court Nominees” http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/trumps-supreme-court-nominees-223331

[35] The Washington Examiner, “Trump Might Not Stick to Supreme Court Nominees on His List” http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/trump-might-not-stick-to-supreme-court-nominees-on-his-list/article/2591733

[36] Commentary Magazine, “Is Trump Really Pro-Israel?” https://www.commentarymagazine.com/politics-ideas/campaigns-elections/trump-really-pro-israel/

[37] The Jerusalem Post, “Top Trump Advisor to ‘Post’: Settlement Annexation  Legitimate If PA Continues to Avoid Real Peace” http://www.jpost.com/US-Elections/Top-Trump-advisor-to-Post-Settlement-annexation-legitimate-if-PA-continues-to-avoid-real-peace-460856

[38] The Intercept, “Hillary Clinton Wasn’t Always This One-Sided on Israel” https://theintercept.com/2016/05/17/hillary-clinton-wasnt-always-this-one-sided-on-israel/

[39] Truth Out, “What We Can Expect From  Hillary Clinton on Israel/Palestine http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33868-what-we-can-expect-from-hillary-clinton-on-israel-palestine

[40] It is very difficult to find somewhat neutral historical summaries of the Bill Clinton administration’s relationship with Israel.  This source has almost a more social take on it. The Washington Post, “What Bill Clinton Can Teach Obama About Israelis”   https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-bill-clinton-can-teach-obama-about-israelis/2012/11/23/e654ef34-334d-11e2-9cfa-e41bac906cc9_story.html

[41] This one is more political and historical regarding Bill Clinton’s interactions with Israel. Gale Student Resources in Context, 2011 “Bill Clinton’s Role in Israeli Peace Accords” http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/suic/ReferenceDetailsPage/DocumentToolsPortletWindow?displayGroupName=Reference&jsid=874b6aa16ce31d9be921dfffb8e9df12&action=2&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CEJ2181500121&u=sand55832&zid=24730bc50ec2547e7f8807b03925dbb2

[42] The Wall Street Journal, “How Obama Abandoned Israel” http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-obama-abandoned-israel-1434409772

[43] Dictionary.com, “vote” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/vote

[44] Federal Election Commission, “Public Funding of Presidential Elections”, General Election Funding section http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/pubfund.shtml#General

[45] Ballotpedia, “Ballot Access for Major and Minor Parties” https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_access_for_major_and_minor_party_candidates

[46] Ballotpedia, “Ballot Access Requirements for Presidential Candidates in Colorado” https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_access_requirements_for_presidential_candidates_in_Colorado

[47] ESV Bible, Colossians 3:6 http://www.esvbible.org/Colossians%203/

[48] ESV Bible, Ephesians 5 http://www.esvbible.org/Ephesians+5/

[49] ESV Bible, Romans 3:10 http://www.esvbible.org/Romans+3:10/

[50] ESV Bible, Romans 3:23 http://www.esvbible.org/Romans%203%3A23/

[51] Blue Letter Bible, KJV occurrences of “righteous” in Proverbs https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=righteous&t=KJV&csr=Pro#s=s_primary_0_1

[52] Blue Letter Bible, KJV occurrences of “wicked” in Psalms and Proverbs https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=wicked&t=KJV&csrf=Psa&csrt=Pro#s=s_primary_0_1

[53] ESV Bible, Proverbs http://www.esvbible.org/Proverbs%201/

[54] CNN, “Trump Believes in God, but Hasn’t Sought Forgiveness” http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/18/politics/trump-has-never-sought-forgiveness/

[55] ESV Bible, Exodus 18:21 http://www.esvbible.org/Exodus+18/

[56] ESV Bible, Jeremiah 29:7 http://www.esvbible.org/Jeremiah%2029/

[57] ESV Bible, Romans 13 http://www.esvbible.org/Romans%2013/

[58] ESV Bible, 1 Timothy 2:2 http://www.esvbible.org/1%20Timothy%202/

[59] ESV Bible, Proverbs 29:2 http://www.esvbible.org/Proverbs%2029%3A2/

[60] ESV Bible, James 4:17 http://www.esvbible.org/James%204%3A17/

[61] ESV Bible, Romans 3:8 http://www.esvbible.org/Romans%203%3A7/

[62] ESV Bible, Obadiah http://www.esvbible.org/Obadiah/

[63] ESV Bible, Psalm 137:7 http://www.esvbible.org/Psalm%20137%3A7/

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In a world where (aggressively shifting) vocabularies rule our comprehension and communication is often compressed into a “tweet” or a “text”, the elegant structure of grammar as an aid in clearly passing thoughts and information from one person to another may be a lost art.  How can we withstand it?  Maybe language ought to be more poetic, about the images it gives us, the feelings with which we respond, the ways we wish to interpret what we hear.  In which case, all those little in-between words aren’t so necessary anymore…

 

I once had an experience with a young woman who believed God wished all people to be vegetarians.  We read together from Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, [that is], its blood.”  She picked out a few words on which to base her application: “not eat flesh” and she said this was because of the “blood” and respect for “life”. 

 

This girl had a subjective interpretation that served her preconceptions.  The last words had more impact on her, too, I believe, because she remembered them better than the first sentence.  She seemed unable to grasp the relationship between one thought and the next, though she used cause and effect words (not rationale, only the vocabulary) in defense of her own position.  People like her know what words sound persuasive, what words make people feel good.  I wonder how often more intelligent speakers are condemned for being judgmental simply because our vocabulary made people feel bad, made them feel that we were dealing in stark absolutes. 

 

And I am encountering this phenomenon in lesser degrees more and more.  A word in a sentence might just as easily suggest its opposite as its traditional meaning.  A word may or may not be modified by other words in context.  My interpretation of what you say or write is just as valid, just as likely to guide my decisions, as the interpretation you intended.  Ideas cannot be comprehended if they take more than three sentences to build and capstone. 

 

What is our obligation to combat these trends?  How much are we the communicators responsible to mind our audience and deliver our messages in ways that will have the effect we desire? 

 

These are the questions I wish to explore with my new blog, “Retold for the Modern Reader” at www.LanguageDeconstruction.blogspot.com

 

To God be all glory, 

Lisa of Longbourn

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The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus.  Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel.  A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16.  In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation.  I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke.  Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable…  (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!) 

You know the other thing that really gets me?  When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t.  Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke.  How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit? 

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth.  And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs.  A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary.  Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage.  For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”? 

So we began to study.  I looked at the context.  Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea.  First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12.  But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter.  John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’”  Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think.  How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God? 

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit.  It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic.  Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective.  Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted.  Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign.  John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine.  But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.”  Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment.  People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions.  John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’”  His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate.  All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.” 

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response.  The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings.  Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority.  Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it.  Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker. 

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life.  This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category.  This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category.  Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out?  Or that passage or prophecy?  They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God.  Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it.  I admit I’m tempted to do the same.  Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases.  But one Bible study help proved immensely useful.  A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of. 

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down.  We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3.  Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making.  Scholars call this an intertextualization.  By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point.  Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way).  What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5.  If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint. 

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.  Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit.  You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do. 

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life).  But you can watch them happen.  You can even predict them when you see the signs.  If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful.  When harvest comes you will reap nothing. 

Back to John 3.  Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things.  First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event.  Knowledge isn’t enough.  Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge.  He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works.  The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 

Verse 8.  Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind.  Be born of the Spirit. 

Then the crux.  If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God.  You are not born again of the Spirit.  Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see.  Faith is essential.  Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten Son, has eternal life. 

Get up from your wind-watching.  Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know.  (Ecc. 11:6)  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The other night I watched a movie with a friend. It was a thinking movie, the kind I love. Do people ever tell you a movie is “about” the plot? I mean, a movie or book is rarely about what happens. The events and characters are about something else. Jane Austen was kind enough to tell us in her titles what her books were about. Some people don’t realize the subject of their art until they themselves step back to view the metaphor against the big picture.
This movie, it quoted Shakespeare. And even though I’m familiar with about two Shakespeare plays (a comedy – translate: happy ending and a tragedy – translate: everyone dies, but only in the end) and a sonnet, I’ve figured out that Shakespeare wrote about things. I don’t always know what. And so to quote a line from Shakespeare is to imply the subject of his play.
Because my examples are limited, I’m going to use the one I can think of. In Hamlet, the title character arranges for a pointed stage drama designed to convict his mother of her sins. (He ruins the effect by talking straight through the play; Shakespeare should have better appreciated the power of art when left to speak for itself.) In this drama within a play is a woman who worries aloud about whether she is making the right decision. She hesitates to give into temptation. At the end of the play, Hamlet asks his mother for her review of the performance. “Methinks she doth protest too much,” says the mother. And so we have a commonly quoted phrase of Shakespeare.
When someone quotes that line, they are often and most correctly implying the context, too. They’re even bringing with them the end of the tale, with its vilifications and justifications. Being familiar with the anthologies referenced in works of art can go a long way towards comprehension. Another advandage to interpretation is to have already made a thought venture or two into the subject. The Matrix, I believe, is about fate. How powerful is the human will? Whether I agree with The Matrix’s statements on this subject or not, I can more readily grasp those statements because I’ve spent a lot of time investigating free will and the sovereignty of God.
These references to shared philosophical questions, literary experiences, etc. make up a story-mosaic within the larger story. And it can be done in a movie, in a poem, in witticism, in art, and even in everyday conversation. A frequent form of Context Matrix is the inside joke phenomenon.
 

Image from DiyHappy

 

My brother writes poetry. Sometimes he just writes whatever is in his head that jumbles into verse form. Some evolutionists wrongly suggest that organisms acquire additional DNA information (to change them into new species) by sort of colliding with other organisms with different DNA (we have the eye factory organism over here, going through generations of natural selection to finally reach vision, and he’ll share someday with the organism working out wings and flight). This is not a sufficient mechanism for biology, but it seems to happen in the thought realm of my brother’s mind. But he isn’t in control of his mental context matrix, of all the things he encounters in his life to fuel his thoughts and shape his experiences. I believe there is a designer at work on each of our lives, and sometimes before we are even aware, He is writing patterns into the mosaic of experiences. Those patterns come out like (good) toxocology reports on my brother’s thoughts.

Let me tell you, though, that unless you know my brother on a day-to-day basis, interpreting his poetry is impossible. He doesn’t care. For whatever it’s worth to you, whatever the words mean to you, take them or leave them. I suppose a lot of art is like that, subjected to the needs and interests of the connoisseur.

I’m really bad at getting metaphors. There is probably a common representative language among poets into which I, for lack of study, have not been initiated. When I do catch on to a metaphor, I’m really excited.

One breakthrough recently is the willingness to admit my ignorance and ask for help in understanding things. (For years I’ve been trying to help my “blonde” – literal or figurative – friends appear smarter by teaching them to wait a while and see if they catch on before they admit themselves to teasing by that inimitable expression, “Huh?” Now they’re teaching me to learn by being willing to ask.) Having a brother like mine helps. Sometimes, you just have to ask the source. Such was my plan of action for a blog I read.

A friend told me that his friend was disappointed in the lack of response to his blog. I’ve been blogging for two and a half years, and let me tell you, the blog world is big; finding an audience is hard. Out of compassionate curiosity, I found the blog and read it. It didn’t make any sense. I mean the words made sense, but they were the plot, not the subject. Months later I checked it again. This time I was convinced that the blog was more than the product of bored hours of creatively mimicing archaic literature. The author was getting at something flying over my head at light speed. So I asked.

And today the author answered. By now I forgot most of what I read, so I have to re-read the post, too. Here it is: The Perilous Journeys of St. Upid I dare you to leave comments (on my blog as well as his) with what you think it’s about.

My point here is that my friend understood his friend’s blog because he knew the context matrix his friend was using. They’ve talked in unambiguous language about these topics. They’ve also both seen Monty Python, which may have helped me if I’d seen more of his stuff. That’s your only hint.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn 

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In my review of Family Driven Faith, I think I mentioned wanting everyone in my church to read the book.  They would be exposed to new ideas, and I wouldn’t have to do all the explaining and defending.  My idealistic vision was of friends and leaders with changed understanding of church. 

Today I’m reading No Little People, a collection of essays by Francis Schaeffer.  The same thoughts are coming to mind.  Earlier this week I read the essay “God’s Work God’s Way.”  To me the points exactly contained evangelical Christianity.  We want to do God’s work, but instead of looking for biblical directions, we take our corporation-based programs and modify them for church.  Or we adopt the evolutionary view of education that is used in the public schools and implement it in our discipleship.  We see what is effective for the entertainment industry and we make our “services” more attractive. 

Last night I was listening to a sermon entitled, “My People Perish,” by R.C. Sproul, Jr.  He argues against adopting the world’s goals.  We don’t raise up children to be missionaries so the kingdom will increase.  We raise up children to increase the kingdom.  I think he’s saying first things first.  Our goal is not to take back Harvard or Hollywood, but to serve Jesus Christ and bring Him glory. 

A friend was telling me about how God is teaching her about money.  She’s being sanctified a little bit at a time.  At this point she’s trying to take God’s perspective that money is not the object.  He embraced sacrifice, and calls us to, as well.  The question is not, “Can I afford that?” or “Is it in my budget?” or even, “Have I set aside money for God first?”  The question is does God’s Spirit call your members to hand over money for more clothes, for Pizza Hut pizza, for a coffee or a soda, for a cd, for that concert? 

If our lives are going to be radically faith-led, shining brightly in a world of darkness, we have to be different.  We can’t put a Christian icing to a worldly practice. 

All this to say that this week conditioned me to pull the above applications from their respective situations.  I felt the force of No Little People to be sanctification and faith (not sight) because of where I am and how I read.  I’m willing to heed every word when I can.  It may surprise you, but as a writer I know that most of the time the words we use are not just fillers in between bold-faced headings.  We have something to say. 

As evidence, I turned to the contents page of No Little People to find a note scribbled there over twenty years ago, I’d think, when my parents were in college.  I think it was Mom who wrote “good – about waiting for God’s timing” next to the “God’s Work God’s Way” chapter.  She had a very different perspective on the author’s intended application. 

Even when interpretation is not subjective, for the force of a book to fall on someone, they have to be thoughtfully reading the words.  In a way they must be interacting with the text. 

This reminds me of a revelation I had this month.  I watched a film production of Cyrano De Bergerac.  I could imagine the actors delighting to speak the lines and play the parts.  There were twice as many characters as listed in the play, because I was allowed by the staged medium to consider the fictional players in the story as well as the motivations and feelings of the actors portraying them, and how they all interacted.  Later I was delighting in Wives and Daughters, Pride and Prejudice, and other films so well done that you are sure the actors are the literary heroes and heroines.  But really they are not.  In fact they are only able to give in their performance one interpretation of what the author was originally saying.  But I can pause these movies and talk for five minutes a frame about what is being said in an expression or a gesture or a muttered comment.  Do books have such depth?  Imagine approaching a book so engaged that on every page you subconsciously ask the text and yourself: If I were Mr. Darcy (for example), what would I be thinking and feeling?  Why did I come?  Why do I speak?  Why don’t I speak?  What do I see? 

Perhaps long ago when books were read aloud for entertainment and individuals prided themselves at their skill in doing so, the reader was forced to ask those questions, and so instantly come to a more vivid comprehension of the story. 

Thus I have every intention to read a classic piece of literature in that way.  I will keep you informed on how it is going. 

To God be all glory.   

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