Friday, February 24, 2017

Current Events Write-Up: Trade, Milo, Media, Health Care, DeVos, Alan Colmes, the Progressive Pro-Lifers, and More

Time for my weekly Current Events Write-Up, in which I link to news and opinion pieces and comment on them.

Dallas News: The first casualties of Trump’s trade wars are Texas cattle ranchers, by Richard Parker. 

“Free trade” has its positives and negatives for Americans.  On the one hand, it allows U.S. businesses and exporters to expand the market for their products.  On the other hand, there are the problems of outsourcing and trade deficits.

Real Time with Bill Maher: Maher’s Interview of Milo Yiannopoulos.

We witnessed the rise and fall of Milo this week!  What interested me about Bill’s interview of Milo is Milo’s remark that humor and satire bring people together.  Maybe he has a point, though some would understandably say that there should be boundaries.  But, if we are to embrace humor and satire as something that brings people together, why should Donald Trump be so agitated and offended by the Saturday Night Live skits about him and his cabinet?

ABC This Week: Jonathan Karl on Trump’s Criticisms of the Media.

Karl was trying to argue that Trump has taken attacks of the media to a new level.  But Karl made good points about how previous Presidents have criticized the media, and how Trump as a candidate made himself available to the media, more than other candidates.  See his comments at the end of the transcript.  Maybe Trump made himself available to the media because he wanted to have his say, rather than allowing others to put words in his mouth (from his perspective).  His making himself available to the media may have coincided with a distrust of the press, in short.

Townhall: Fixing Health Care, by Bruce Biatosky. 

I agree with some of these ideas and disagree with others.  On areas of disagreement, I think that there need to be people who pay into the health insurance system, so that the health insurance can pay for people’s treatments, and also to spread the cost of the insurance around.  I don’t know how we can accomplish this without a health insurance mandate.  I also am skeptical that Health Savings Accounts, by themselves, would be adequate to cover the costs of certain medical treatments.  On areas of agreement, I support reducing the prices of prescription drugs, informing patients of costs, streamlining visits of doctors through usage of modern technology, and high-risk pools, provided that sufficient funds are provided for those pools.

Yahoo Finance: Ivanka Trump visits center for minority-owned businesses, by Catherine Lucey.

“‘I feel like Ivanka listened very intently and asked some very intelligent questions,’ [National Urban League President Marc] Morial said, noting that she wanted to understand which programs worked and could be implemented on a larger scale.”

I applaud Ivanka Trump for doing this.

Slate: Report: DeVos Wanted to Keep Trans School Protections, Was Overruled By Sessions and Trump, by Mark Joseph Stern. 

I am intrigued when someone does the unexpected in politics.  In this case, I was pleasantly surprised.  Betsy DeVos is a conservative Christian, but a conservative Christian who has compassion for transgender students.  And yet, this is not a great surprise to me, for I have read comments by people who know her, and they say she is a good person, one who sincerely wants to help others.  This is not to imply that those who oppose President Obama’s bathroom policies are bad people.  What interested me is that progressives online were praising DeVos for this, and then the next day they resumed attacking her.

London Review of Books: A Short History of the Trump Family, by Sidney Blumenthal.

I read this article over several days, since it is a lengthy article.  It is a damning portrait of Donald Trump.  This is especially the case when it discusses Trump’s alleged treatment of his brother Fred, Jr.’s family and of his mentor, Roy Cohn.  This article brings to my mind Elizabeth Warren’s question: “What kind of man does this?”  And yet, how much of this is unique to Trump?  John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon supposedly had ties to the mafia, which Blumenthal says was the case with Trump.  Blumenthal says that Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, Sr., ran a racist campaign, and yet what about the allegation that Blumenthal tried to help Hillary in 2008 by searching for Kenyan connections to Barack Obama (see here for a discussion of whether that happened)?  I am all for exposes, but I have to ask why I am expected to recoil in horror at Trump after reading about his dirty laundry, but not at the “respectable” politicians who likewise have dirty laundry.  Blumenthal’s article was a good read, though: I especially enjoyed his literary references.

Wall Street Journal: Bernie Sanders Loyalists Are Taking Over the Democratic Party One County Office at a Time: In fight to define party in age of Donald Trump, Sanders followers want to transform it from the bottom up by taking control of low-level state and county posts, by Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook.

This reminds me of a post that I wrote in May 2016: Can Bernie Sanders Supporters Replicate the Success of the Christian Coalition?  I doubt that Sanders supporters got the idea from me.  They are simply doing what is politically astute: getting involved at the local level and in Democratic Party politics.

Yahoo News: I’m a Silicon Valley liberal, and I traveled across the country to interview 100 Trump supporters — here’s what I learned, by Sam Altman. 

Altman interviewed Trump supporters, who were diverse.  Many of them expressed reservations about Trump.  All of the comments are worth reading, as they challenge liberal condescension and intolerance while expressing feelings of powerlessness.  The most poignant statement was this one: “He’s crazy, but it’s a tactic to get other nations not to mess with us.”

Yahoo: Fox News Veteran Alan Colmes Dies at 66, by Cynthia Littleton.

On the one hand, the partisan nature of the TV show “Hannity and Colmes” got on my nerves.  Hannity would make a big deal about a Democratic politician doing or saying something bad, then Colmes would provide examples to Republican politicians doing or saying something similar.  Or vice versa.  Here’s a newsflash: Republicans and Democrats are people, with strengths and weaknesses!  No political party has a monopoly on virtuous or wicked people.  On the other hand, I had to respect Colmes.  When he was on a local right-wing talk-show in 2004, the host was saying that John Kerry wanted to raise taxes, and Colmes articulately responded with a more nuanced presentation of Kerry’s position.  Colmes also kept a sense of humor, even when he was criticized.  I remember when Hannity had the audience applaud for him, then he asked Colmes supporters to applaud Colmes.  Nobody applauded for Colmes!  Colmes replied, “I think I heard a vibrator back there!”

World Net Daily: Doesn’t Romans 14 Say Sabbath Is Optional?, by Joseph Farah.

The right-wing site, World Net Daily, has an article defending the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.  This is of interest to me, since I grew up as a seventh-day Sabbatarian.

Townhall: An Echo of Trump in the Last of the Whigs, by Jeff Jacoby.

I read this on President’s Day.  Millard Fillmore was a nativist and was a bit lukewarm in opposing slavery.  That was a factor in the decline of the Whig Party, which was replaced by the anti-slavery Republican Party.  Whether or not the comparison to Trump is merited, the article was an interesting read.

Crux: How pro-life movement was born as a liberal cause, and more, by Charles C. Camosy.

Camosy interviews historian Daniel Williams, who argues against the idea that the pro-life movement was a right-wing reaction against Roe vs. Wade.  Actually, it existed before then, and it had a lot of progressives!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Write-Up: Angels----God's Supernatural Agents, by Ed Rocha

Ed Rocha.  Angels—God’s Supernatural Agents: Biblical Insights and True Stories of Angelic Encounters.  Minneapolis: Chosen, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.


The “About the Author” section on Amazon states:”Ed Rocha has a theology degree from International Bible Institute of London and is currently pursuing his M.A. in theology. His healing ministry takes him all over the world to speak and teach. Ed and his wife, Dani, have a daughter and split their time between the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they are planting a church with the Global Awakening network.”

The book is entitled Angels—God’s Supernatural Agents: Biblical Insights and True Stories of Angelic Encounters.  That is essentially what the book is: a collection of anecdotes about encounters with angels, combined with appeals to Scripture to answer questions about angels.

The anecdotes include experiences of the author and people he knows.  They include angels finding people’s lost items and retrieving them, healing people, fixing people’s cars, replacing people’s mercury fillings with gold fillings, leaving feathers and golden dust in churches, and healing a person of addiction in response to someone else’s prayer.  Perhaps realizing that some of this sounds rather carnivalesque, Rocha attempts to explain why angels would do such things.  Rocha refers to Hebrews 1:14, which calls angels ministering spirits to those who will inherit salvation.  In light of that, he wonders, why wouldn’t angels help Christians find their missing items?  Rocha also believes that angels do such things as signs to people, as Jesus did miracles to demonstrate to people who he was.  And benevolence is also a factor, for Rocha: Why wouldn’t angels replace people’s toxic fillings with sturdy golden fillings?  (I read that part of the book the day before I got a filling, by the way!)

On whether or not I find Rocha’s stories to be believable, I don’t know.  If there are angels, maybe they do things like that.  Of course, there are problem-of-evil questions: Why don’t angels do these things all of the time?  Why do Christians endure tragedies or even die from them, if angels intervene to help people?  And can I truly expect God to send angels to turn my fillings into gold?  Rocha does not really engage such questions.  The closest he gets is when he talks about a charismatic pastor who has a deformed face, and a renowned preacher in the Azusa Street revival who was blind in one of his eyes.  God was physically healing people around these preachers, but not them, and they actually viewed that as an asset to their ministry.  Rocha also explores the question of how people can come to have angelic encounters: for Rocha, it is not a matter of being moral, for God used imperfect people in the Bible.  Rather, it is a matter of having a thirst for God.  Rocha raises considerations that may be relevant to problem-of-evil questions, but he does not directly engage such questions.

I should add that Rocha links to a video in which an angel swoops down from heaven in a mall and picks something up: see https://vimeo.com/147844409.  Is that real, or special effects?  Draw your own conclusions there!  I guess that, if I have a policy, it is to ask God for what I want, and the ball is in God’s court: If God wants to send me an angel, fine, but, if not, then God must have a reason.

As far as Rocha’s biblical interpretation is concerned, it was good, overall.  Rocha addresses such questions as when God created angels, whether angels have wings, and what angels do.  Rocha’s methodology is not historical-critical, so he does not interpret the Bible in light of ancient Near Eastern stories about gods’ retinues.  His overall approach is to ask a question and to cite biblical passages that are relevant to that question.  Occasionally, he does more.  In addressing the question of when God created angels, for example, Rocha’s methodology is rather rabbinic, as he brings together different biblical passages and draws his conclusions.  That may be controversial to historical critics of the Bible, particularly those who believe that the Bible contains different creation stories and thus would be reluctant, say, to interpret Genesis 1 in light of Job 38:7.  Still, Rocha does cite relevant biblical passages in addressing questions about angels, showing that he cares about what the Bible says, not just religious experience.

Rocha’s sensitivity to nuances in Scripture is evident in his interesting observation that Jesus himself could not summon angels, for Jesus in Matthew 26:53 says that he could ask the Father to send angels.  While one may think that a book such as this wrongly focuses on angels more that God, my conclusion after reading it is different: Rocha focuses on God, and he depicts angels as beings who are God’s servants.

Rocha says that God sits on a literal throne, in a literal heaven, and that may be controversial.  To his credit, though, Rocha demonstrates awareness as to why such a proposition may be controversial, and he says that God, in sitting on a throne, condescends to our level of understanding.  There were areas, like here, in which Rocha was willing to get into unconventional territory, but there were also areas in which I wished that he would wrestle with difficult issues.  For example, on the basis of Matthew 22:30, he states that angels are “asexual.”  What about the sons of God who have sex with the daughters of men in Genesis 6?  Rocha does not address that.

In terms of areas of disagreement, Rocha discusses angelic hierarchies, drawing from the fifth century Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and St. Thomas Aquinas, who based their angelic hierarchies on Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16.  In the second sphere are dominions or lordships and powers or authorities, and in the third sphere are principalities or rulers.  My quibble is not so much with what Rocha says, as it is with what he does not say.  There are places in the New Testament in which the principalities and powers are depicted negatively (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:15; perhaps I Corinthians 2:7-8).  Are these angels?  Renegade angels?  Are there different kinds of principalities and rulers—-good and evil?  The book would have been better had Rocha explored such questions.

Rocha is a compelling storyteller, and his tone is conversational and winsome.  I especially liked his discussions of the charismatic pastor he knows: Rocha respects this pastor, yet disagrees with him, in areas.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews and Netgalley.  My review is honest!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Church Write-Up: Was Melchizedek Jesus?

For church last Sunday, I watched John MacArthur’s service on the Internet, then I watched the service of the church that I normally attend.  It was supposed to rain last Sunday morning, so I stayed home.  But it turned out that it didn’t rain, and I could have walked to church after all!  Oh well.  Maybe I’ll go to church next Sunday!

In this Church Write-Up, I want to focus on something that the speaker at MacArthur’s church said.  The speaker last Sunday was not MacArthur himself, but rather the person who is usually the master-of-ceremonies at the morning service at MacArthur’s church: the person who delivers the welcome, tells visitors where they can go after the service for snacks and conversation, and introduces the tithe and offering part of the service.  Since he was giving the sermon, someone else was the master-of-ceremonies.

The speaker briefly commented on Hebrews 7:3.  In this post, I will quote that passage, discuss some of my past interaction with the passage, say how the speaker interpreted it, then comment on whether the speaker’s interpretation makes sense to me.

Hebrews 7:3 states regarding the priest Melchizedek of Genesis 14 that he was “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (KJV).

Melchizedek was without father or mother, lacked beginning of days and end of life, and was a priest continually.

When I was growing up in Armstrongism, the interpretation that I heard was that Melchizedek was God the Son, the being who would become Jesus Christ.  After all, Hebrews 7:3 presents Melchizedek as eternal, it seems, and Jesus Christ was eternal.  Who else could Melchizedek be?

Someone I know, who also has an Armstrongite background, was questioning this interpretation.  His conclusion was that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Noah.  That interpretation was not new to me, for I went through Martin Luther’s lectures on Genesis back when I was in college, and Luther, too, believed that Melchizedek was Shem.  But how would that interpretation accord with Hebrews 7:3?  Shem was not eternal, right?  Shem had a father, Noah.  How could Shem be Melchizedek?

A relative of mine, appealing to E.W. Bullinger’s Companion Bible (which is popular in Armstrongite circles), said that Bullinger’s note said that Hebrews 7:3 is not suggesting that Melchizedek was immortal or eternal, but rather that Melchizedek lacked a recorded genealogy.  Melchizedek’s parents are not explicitly named in the Bible, in short.  Okay, but that raises questions in my mind: Why does the author of Hebrews make the point that Melchizedek lacked a recorded genealogy?  How does that fit into Hebrews’ larger argument?

To my shame, I admit that I never studied these questions, so they just lingered in the back of my mind.  That sermon that I watched last Sunday, however, engaged this topic.

The speaker was saying that the point of Hebrews 7:3 is that Melchizedek lacked a priestly genealogy.  Ordinarily in ancient Israel, priests were priests because they were part of a priestly line.  The priests in ancient Israel, according to P in the Torah, were descended from Aaron the Levite; in Deuteronomy, they were descended from Levi.  Melchizedek, by contrast, lacked this priestly pedigree, yet he was still a priest of God.

That made sense to me when I first heard it, for it seemed to be consistent with themes in the Epistle to the Hebrews.  The author of Hebrews argues in Hebrews 7 that Jesus was a high priest, even though Jesus descended from the non-priestly tribe of Judah rather than the priestly tribe of Levi.  How could Jesus be a high priest, when Jesus did not descend from Aaron or Levi?  According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who himself lacked an Aaronide or Levitical pedigree.

This speaker’s interpretation of Hebrews 7:3 is commonplace, as is the view that Hebrews 7:3 presents Melchizedek as an eternal being, maybe even Jesus Christ himself.  As I look at Hebrews 7:3 again, the speaker’s interpretation makes less sense to me.  The passage seems to suggest that Melchizedek lacked a beginning and an end, which arguably implies eternity.  Moreover, it says that Melchizedek continues to be a priest.  An eternal being would continue to be a priest, whereas that would not be the case for a temporal being who merely lacks a recorded genealogy.

Looking at Bullinger’s actual note on Hebrews 7:3 in the Companion Bible, I see that Bullinger goes with the “pedigree” interpretation, yet he also embraces a typological interpretation that seeks to account for Melchizedek lacking a beginning or an end and continuing to abide as a priest:

“Melchisedec is presented to us without reference to any human qualifications for office.  His genealogy is not recorded, so essential in the case of Aaron’s sons (Neh 7 64).  Ordinary priests began their service at thirty, and ended at fifty, years of age (Num 4 47).  The high priest succeeded on the day of his predecessor’s decease.  Melchisedec has no such dates recorded; he had neither beginning of days nor end of life.  We only know that he lived, and thus he is a fitting type of One Who lives continually.”

I have mentioned the pedigree interpretation of Hebrews 7:3 and the “Melchizedek is Jesus” interpretation, but Bullinger offers a third interpretation, which is also prominent: that Melchizedek was not actually Jesus but was a type of Jesus, a foreshadowing of Jesus.  According to this interpretation, Melchizedek had parents and lived a human life-span, but they are not recorded, and the fact that they are not recorded allows Melchizedek to foreshadow Jesus, a priest who actually was eternal.

There were different views of Melchizedek in Second Temple Judaism, which could have been part of the historical repertoire of the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Josephus in Antiquities 1.180 depicted Melchizedek as a human king.  11QMelch in the Dead Sea Scrolls, by contrast, appears to have a cosmic, heavenly conceptualization of Melchizedek, perhaps presenting him as an angel.  If one were to look at Hebrews’ historical context to determine whether Hebrews sees Melchizedek as merely a human or as a heavenly being, one would see that both options may have been available to the author, as part of the author’s cultural repertoire.

I have questions and doubts about all three interpretations of Hebrews 7:3.  In response to the view that Melchizedek was merely a human priest in Hebrews 7:3, I, again, note features of the verse that appear to suggest that Melchizedek was more than that: that Melchizedek lacked beginning and ending and continues to be a priest.

In response to the view that Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, I have questions.  Why does Hebrews 7:3 state that Melchizedek was like the Son of God, rather than saying that Melchizedek was the Son of God?  Moreover, I believe that, in Genesis 14 itself, Melchizedek was merely a man.  Melchizedek was the king of Salem, which sounds like Jerusalem.  A later king of Jerusalem was Adonizedek (Joshua 10:1-3).  Kings of Jerusalem, prior to King David, appear to have had the suffix “zedek” in their names.  That seems to undermine the notion that Melchizedek in Genesis 14 was some anomalous figure, or a celestial being who temporarily came to earth to visit Abraham.  Rather, he was a king of Jerusalem with “zedek” at the end of his name, like later kings of Jerusalem with “zedek” in their names.  This does not necessarily have any bearing on whether the author of Hebrews saw Melchizedek as a human king or as Christ, for the author of Hebrews may have had a different ideology from that of the author of Genesis; interpretations of biblical texts are not always consistent with the biblical texts’ original meaning.  For those who see the Bible as a consistent, divinely-inspired document, however, Genesis 14 would probably be relevant to how one should interpret Hebrews 7:3.

In response to the view that Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3 was seen as a type of Christ, but not as Christ himself, I note that Hebrews 7:3 states that Melchizedek abides as a priest.  If Melchizedek abides as a priest but is not Christ, are there two eternal priesthoods: that of Melchizedek and that of Christ?  Perhaps I am taking Hebrews 7:3 too literally, though.

Of the three views, the third one makes the most sense to me, yet it is not entirely satisfactory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Write-Up: Original Blessing, by Danielle Shroyer

Danielle Shroyer.  Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The “About the Author” page on Amazon says: “Danielle Shroyer is a sought-after speaker, respected pastor, and a founding member of the emerging church movement. She holds a BA from Baylor University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is the author of Original Blessing: Putting Sin in its Rightful Place, Where Jesus Prayed, and The Boundary-Breaking God.”

Original Blessing: Putting Sin In Its Rightful Place challenges the Christian concept of original sin and instead defends a concept of original blessing (a term coined by Matthew Fox, as Shroyer acknowledges).  Original sin states that the guilt of the sin of Adam and Eve was passed on to their descendants, along with a sinful human nature, a propensity to sin.  By “original blessing,” Shroyer seems to mean God’s unconditional love for and faithfulness towards human beings.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  Shroyer does not argue that human beings are morally flawless.  She likens human beings to Adam and Eve in the Garden: they were not weighed down by a sinful human nature, but they were still capable of making mistakes.  She also draws from the rabbinic contrast between the good and evil inclinations: the evil inclination is not “evil,” per se, but is egoistic and must be controlled.  Genesis 4:7, in which God tells Cain that he must master sin, features in her discussion.

B.  Shroyer’s treatment of Genesis 3 was well-informed, as she explored scholarly interpretations of the chapter, including the identity of the serpent.  Her conclusion was rather nebulous.  On the one hand, she seems to maintain that Adam and Eve were wrong to disobey God.  On the other hand, she holds that their disobedience was an essential aspect of their maturation.  Shroyer also makes the interesting observation that the Garden of Eden did not go away after Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience.  She disagrees with the narrative that Adam and Eve ruined everything through their sin.  Shroyer also observes God’s faithfulness to Adam and Eve after their sin, which coincides with her view of original blessing.

C.  Shroyer contends that Cain should have rested in God’s love for him rather than becoming upset after God had rejected his sacrifice.  She states that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, not Cain himself.  She does not interact with Genesis 4:5’s statement that God was not pleased with both Cain and Cain’s sacrifice, however.  Yet, her observation that God was faithful to Cain after Cain’s act of murder is a good argument for original blessing.

D.  The book wrestled with some Scriptures that have been associated with original sin but not others.  She does attempt to address Romans 5:12-21, which has been prominent in discussions of original sin.  She did not, however, address Paul’s depiction of the flesh as corrupt and sinful, which is a glaring challenge to her arguments against original sin.

E.  The description of the book on Amazon states: “In this book, Danielle Shroyer takes readers through an overview of the historical development of the doctrine, pointing out important missteps and overcalculations, and providing alternative ways to approach often-used Scriptures.”  In my opinion, the book was rather thin in describing the historical development of the doctrine.  History did feature in her discussion, on such topics as the dearth of the concept of original sin in early Christian writings, the negative attitude towards sexuality within ancient Christianity that resulted from the doctrine of original sin, the contrast between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity on the problem Jesus came to solve (death or sin, respectively), and the eighteenth century debate about infant damnation between Jonathan Edwards and Jeremy Taylor.  But, as far as I can recall, she did not really discuss how and why the doctrine of original sin developed.

F.  Shroyer addresses a question that a priest asked her: If original sin is untrue, then why did Jesus come?  She does well to argue that there are valuable things that Jesus said and did, apart from addressing the Fall.  I would add that there are few explicit references to the Fall throughout the Bible, which is odd, considering the emphasis on it within Christianity.  While one could conceivably tie everything that Jesus said and did to the Fall and its effects (e.g., Jesus healed people, which ameliorates disease, a consequence of the Fall), perhaps we should not be reductionistic, since the biblical authors may not have emphasized the Fall to the extent that later Christians did.

G.  Shroyer also did well to discuss the effects of sin-focused conceptions of the Gospel.  She said that many Christians hear the Gospel and say “whew!” because they have been delivered from God’s wrath, rather than “wow!” at what God has done.  One can respond that Christians can do both: that they can rejoice that God has delivered them from wrath and hell while also being awed by God’s acts of new creation.  They would have a point.  At the same time, speaking for myself personally, sin-focused Gospels often draw from me the “whew!” reaction.

H.  While Shroyer rejects original sin, she still seems to believe that Jesus came to solve some problem, some brokenness.  She also states that humans can resist sin with God’s help.  In a few places, however, she appears to suggest that Jesus came to improve what is already within humans, to add to the goodness or the potential that is already in God’s creation.

I.  This book is not exactly a rigorous Scriptural refutation of original sin.  It is more informal and anecdotal, though Shroyer does seem to know what she is talking about when she draws from church history.  While this book was not entirely what I expected, I am still giving it five stars because it did have good insights.  For example, Shroyer says that, instead of telling people that they are gifted at something, we should commend them for doing the right thing: for studying, for working to improve, etc.  That makes sense.  The book’s winsome quality also enhanced it and made what Shroyer said relatable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  My review is honest!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Write-Up: Treasures in Dark Places, by Leanna Cinquanta

Leanna Cinquanta.  Treasures in Dark Places: One Woman, A Supernatural Mission and a Mission to the Toughest Part of India.  Minneapolis: Chosen Books, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Treasures in Dark Places is Leanna Cinquanta’s story of how she came to faith and became a missionary to India.  Cinquanta also tells about the Indian people who became involved in the mission, and she closes the book with two different stories: one Indian girl receives an education, and another Indian girl is tricked into becoming a sex slave.  This closing part of the book is a call to action.

The writing style of the book was rather dramatic and flamboyant, but sometimes that enhanced the book.  For example, Cinquanta tells the story of how she came close to becoming a Christian when she was trapped in snow while skiing, but, once she returned safely back to the ski lodge, she forgot all about her vulnerability and need for God.  She likened that to Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, who submitted to God during the plagues but hardened his heart once the plagues had passed!

Her description of the Holy Spirit’s presence inside of her after she became a Christian was a compelling and vivid picture.  While her story about how she became a missionary was initially grandiose, as if God called her to convert India to Christianity single-handedly, that was counter-balanced throughout the course of the book.  Cinquanta did not always get what she wanted, for God placed her in an office job, while the work on the front-lines was to be done by Indian Christians themselves.  Cinquanta also tells the stories of how God chose certain people over others for specific tasks, and how their specific backgrounds equipped them.  In the course of the book, Cinquanta became one character among others, not the main star.  The main star was God.

The book is not exactly comprehensive in describing Indian culture and religion, but there are occasions in which Cinquanta provides glimpses into Indian religion: the disappointment of some Indians with Hinduism, and Hindu beliefs on heaven and hell.  Occasionally, reincarnation was a part of her picture of Hinduism.  Cinquanta’s view of Hinduism in this book was not particularly charitable, for she depicted Hindu gods as demons.  I tend to prefer Bradley Malkovsky’s more charitable Christian view of Hinduism in his excellent 2013 book, God’s Other Children: Personal Encounters with Faith, Love, and Holiness in Sacred India.  Still, Cinquanta speaks from her own experiences, and her stories provide a window into why some Indians forsake Hinduism for Christianity, as well as the uphill struggles they endure as a consequence.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews and Netgalley.  My review is honest!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Current Events Write-Up: Middle East Interests, Gorsuch's Non-Existent Fascist Club, Betsy DeVos, and Coal

Time for my weekly Current-Events Write-Up, in which I link to news and opinion pieces and comment on them.

The Middle East

Townhall: ‘Middle East Conflict’ Describes More Than Just Israeli-Palestinian Dispute, by Jonah Goldberg.

This part interested me: “Republican State Department veteran Elliott Abrams (recently denied a job as the No. 2 guy at the State Department because he had criticized Trump during the campaign) writes in the Weekly Standard that the Trump administration may be going for an ‘outside-in’ strategy rather than an ‘inside-out’ one: ‘Instead of using an Israeli-Palestinian deal to improve Israel’s relations with the Arab states, use Israel’s relations with the Arab states to advance an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal,’ Abrams writes.  One reason to follow this approach, Abrams notes, is that the Palestinians don’t have much to offer Israel. But good relations (which have been improving) with her Arab neighbors and a more united front against terrorism and Iran is perhaps the core of Israel’s national interest.”

Townhall: The Three-Headed Hydra of the Middle East, by Victor Davis Hanson.

Hanson is often associated with the neo-cons, whereas I lean more in the non-interventionist direction when it comes to foreign policy (not that I am Hanson’s intellectual peer, by a long shot).  That said, I thought this was an intelligent article.  Hanson explored various options that the U.S. could take concerning Russia, Syria, ISIS, and Iran, discussing positives and negatives.

Neil Gorsuch

FactCheck.org: Neil Gorsuch Didn’t Start Fascism Club. 

Just to get that out of the way!

Betsy DeVos

Yahoo News: What Betsy DeVos Will Mean for My Autistic Son, by Nish Weiseth.

Weiseth critiques DeVos’ commitment to vouchers and argues that she is ignorant about government law regarding disabled students in public schools.

Townhall: Interview of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, by Cal Thomas. 

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas interviews Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  She talks about such issues as school choice, decentralization, and students with disabilities.  A lot of what she says is vague conservative cheerleading.  Some of her comments are substantive, though.

Energy

ThinkProgress: Energy experts give Trump the hard truth: You can’t bring coal back: Coal wasn’t killed by a political “war” — cheap renewables and fracked gas were the culprits, by Dr. Joe Romm.

The title says it all.  Coal is already on its way out, due to renewables and natural gas.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Write-Up: All She Ever Wanted, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  All She Ever Wanted.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2005.  See here to buy the book.

Why this book didn't win a Christy Award, I have no idea!  It is my favorite Lynn Austin book that I have read so far.  I like it better than the ones I read that won Christy Awards!

I'll tell you what the book is about without giving away too many spoilers.

In 2004, Kathleen Seymour lives an affluent life with her husband Mike and her teenage daughter Joelle.  Joelle is caught shoplifting, and this baffles Kathleen: Why would Joelle need to shoplift, when she gets a weekly allowance and could have bought what she stole?  Kathleen and Joelle see a therapist, and Joelle is disillusioned because she does not really know Kathleen.  Joelle wonders about Kathleen's family (i.e., Kathleen's parents and siblings), whom Joelle has never met.  Meanwhile, Kathleen gets an invitation from her sister Annie to her father's birthday party.  Kathleen hasn't communicated with her family in decades, and she is bitter against them.  Kathleen and Joelle decide to take a trip to see Kathleen's family.

On the road trip, Kathleen tells her story to Joelle.  We flash back to the early 1960's, when Kathleen was a little girl.  Kathleen lived in dire poverty, in a dilapidated house.  Her mother Eleanor dressed like a bag lady, was continually depressed, and spent a lot of time in the outhouse, which she called her sanctuary. 

Kathleen's father Donald was away for long periods of time but was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky guy when he was at home.  He also liked to steal.  Her brothers Poke and JT were neighborhood terrors: JT was suspended from school when he was in kindergarten!  Her little sister Annie cried a lot and wet the mattress (no bed, just a mattress), on which Kathleen also slept.  Then there was Kathleen's Uncle Leonard, who was Eleanor's brother and lived with them.  Uncle Leonard was a Communist, who liked to argue with Walter Cronkite when watching the news.  Uncle Leonard has a girlfriend, Connie.  Connie is sweet but never finished high school, and she works in a grocery store.

Kathleen carried the stigma of poverty, but also the stigma of her uncle being a Communist.  Remember that this was the 1960's, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis!

An affluent woman, Cynthia Hayworth, donates toys and hand-me-down clothes to Kathleen's family.  Kathleen becomes friends with Cynthia's daughter, May Elizabeth, and Kathleen becomes a Christian at Cynthia's church, after learning of Jesus' compassion for the disadvantaged and marginalized.  Due to her aptitude in mathematics, Kathleen is able to go to college and escape her family and the town of Riverside.

We flash forward to 2004!  Joelle says that Kathleen's family at least sounds interesting, which contrasts with Joelle's own superficial, affluent upbringing.  Kathleen and Joelle arrive in Riverside, and Kathleen calls Cynthia.  The three of them meet, and Cynthia explains why she was helping Kathleen's family when Kathleen was growing up.  Cynthia was not just being an affluent Christian do-gooder.  Actually, Cynthia had been friends with Kathleen's mother Eleanor.

We flash back to the 1940's, when Cynthia and Eleanor are applying to work in a defense plant.  Eleanor is not yet the depressed bag-lady whom Kathleen remembers.  Eleanor is confident, poised, well-spoken, and intelligent.  How did Eleanor become the dour woman whom Kathleen remembers?  Cynthia tells that story.  In the meantime, we learn that there was a scandal involving Eleanor's mother Fiona.  Kathleen met Fiona once when she was a little girl, and Eleanor did not want anything to do with Fiona.

We flash forward to 2004.  Kathleen and Joelle visit Kathleen's old house in Riverside, and Uncle Leonard is living there with Connie.  Uncle Leonard tells them the story of Fiona, who immigrated with her father to the United States from Ireland.  This story takes place in the 1920's.  Later, Uncle Leonard explains why Eleanor left.  We also learn about how Uncle Leonard became so passionate about social justice issues.

There were scenes that I especially enjoyed: Joelle contrasting Kathleen's family with her own superficial, affluent upbringing; Eleanor and Cynthia in the 1940's reading the room at a bar, where servicemen were seeking female companionship; Connie getting to be the mother she wanted to be (and she a good mother!); and Uncle Leonard showing up on the podium at a mock debate at Kathleen's school when Kathleen was little and representing the Communist Party.  I got a laugh out of that last one! 

There were religious themes that I appreciated.  Cynthia talks about how tragedy pushed Eleanor away from God, whereas it pushed Cynthia towards God.  Fiona continually felt unworthy to approach God on account of her sins, yet she wanted her children to attend mass.  Donald learned a profound prayer: "Let what we suffer teach us to be merciful----let our sins teach us to forgive."  Donald also saw a divine purpose behind the ordeals that he experienced.

Page 390 had a thought-provoking statement: "[Kathleen] professed to be a Christian, yet she had cut herself off from [her family] so completely that she'd never even thought to pray for them.  She knew that she would have to ask God to forgive her for that.  It didn't matter how many great things she'd done for God, how many charities she'd contributed to over the years.  If she couldn't even show compassion and love----and forgiveness----to her own family, it meant nothing."

I wouldn't say that it meant nothing, since I'm sure that the poor appreciated Kathleen's donations to charity!  Still, Kathleen was highlighting a legitimate point: that she felt an incongruity or lack of wholeness in her Christian life, since she had forsaken the people in her family.   

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