Yesterday I watched a story produced by ESPN that featured Josiah Vierra, a remarkable youngster who was born with progeria, a rare genetic condition that produces rapid aging in children. One of Josiah’s passions in life is baseball, and he plays it with all the energy his 27-inch, 15-pound body can muster.

During one segment of the show, his grandmother recalled with tears in her eyes that Josiah had recently been asking her about heaven. She related how that upon receiving her explanation of heaven, Josiah seemed satisfied. The camera then cut to the reporter tenderly questioning Josiah.

Reporter: “What is heaven?”
Josiah: “It’s God.”

Pause…

Reporter: “What does heaven look like?”
Josiah: “Jesus.”

Wow! It would be difficult for anyone to give a more concise or theologically profound answer than that!

The Hammer of GodThough the Swedish Lutherans depicted in this (translated) book are from a different era, the broad theological issues they dealt with then are not so different from what we face today.

The book is divided into 3 novellas, each taking place in a different generation. The first takes place in the early 1800s. The second in the latter 1800s. And the third in the early to mid 1900s.

The main character in each of the stories is a clergyman, which means that as readers we get to experience his relationships with other clergy, his care (or not) of the people in his parish, his theology, his schedule, and his friends. But mostly his theology.

There is an almost constant theological conversation that is carried on throughout the book that I found not only fascinating, but spiritually beneficial. For instance, more than one of the clergy, out of a zeal for reform and moral living, stresses (too hard, it turns out) the law of Moses. (Thus the title of the book.) The older, wiser clergy point instead to Jesus and his righteousness as the only hope of justification, and the only hope of sanctification.

The dialogue regarding the place of baptism (and perhaps the Lord’s Supper) was unsurprisingly slanted toward a Lutheran understanding of the subject. But even then it was apparent that those involved in the discussion were not simply trying to win a debate. They were, rather, trying to fully understand what the Bible teaches.

I really, really liked this book. In spite of the obvious differences, I hear hints and echoes of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

December 1, 2008. Driving home from work, I glanced at the twilight sky and saw what I assumed were two distant airplanes flying next to a cresent moon. Several moments later I looked again, and the “airplanes” were still in the same position. Huh?! I realized that the lights were not planes, but either stars or planets. Probably planets. Bright planets.

As an astonomer I’m pretty much clueless. Sun. Moon. Big Dipper. Milky Way. After that, my confidence at identifying anything astronomical takes a nose dive.  That’s why what I was seeing was remarkable — not that I could identify what I saw, but just that I even noticed.

I later learned that the two planets were Jupiter and Venus, and that the conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon will not be this dramatic again for another 40 years or so.

A couple weeks later as I was channel surfing, I came across an engaging documentary about the star of Bethlehem.

Which got me to thinking.

Why, I wonder, did God choose to announce the birth of Jesus to the wise men with a celestial sign?

The Teaching Company sells a course entitled “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.”

In the first lecture, Professor Brooks Landon demonstrates how word choice and syntax alter the meaning of what we say. He offers a mental model for thinking about this.

Take the sentence: “I then went to the store.”

Now imagine two axis: one vertical, and one horizontal.

On the vertical axis is a list of closely related words for each key word in the sentence. So along with “went,” you might see:
traveled,
drove,
biked,
walked,
ran,
and so on.

And along with “store” might be (from more abstract to more specific):
building,
Target, and
Brooklyn Center Target.

On the horizontal axis is a list of all the word-order variations of a given sentence:
I then went to the store.
Then I went to the store.
Then went I to the store.
I went, then, to the store.
To the store I then went.
I to the store then went.

The words you choose, and the order in which you place them affects the propositional content of your sentence. Sometimes it’s a subtle change of meaning.

Book coverIn The Last Days Acording to Jesus, master teacher and theologian R.C. Sproul  addresses the question: When did Jesus say he would return? By framing the question in that way, Sproul is able to focus on a specific slice of biblical prophecy. The primary text that Sproul examines is Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, but he touches on several other passages as well.

Of particular interest to Sproul are the time-frame statements Jesus made. Of these, Jesus’ assertion that “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Mark 13:30) is the most important. Skeptics try to discredit Jesus by claiming that he blundered when he made this pronouncement.

What made the book particularly engaging to me is that Sproul answers the question from what he calls a “partial preterist” (as opposed to a full preterist) point of view. That is, he believes that several of Jesus’ predictions can be best understood as having already been fulfilled. Indeed, according to a preterist interpretation, they were fulfilled thousands of years ago — specifically in AD 70, with the destruction of the Jewish temple — in the time frame suggested by a literal reading of Jesus’ words.

I found this observation from p.66 helpful:

“This problem of literal fulfillment leaves us with three basic solutions to interpreting the Olivet Discourse:

  1. We can interpret the entire discourse literally.
    In this case we must conclude that some events of Jesus’ prophecy failed to come to pass, as advocates of ‘consistent eschatology’ maintain.
  2. We can interpret the events surrounding the predicted parousia literally and interpret the time-frame references figuratively.
    This method is employed chiefly by those who do not restrict the phrase ‘this generation will not pass away…’ to the lifespan of Jesus’ contemporaries.
  3. We can interpret the time-frame references literally and the events surrounding the parousia figuratively.
    In this view, all of Jesus’ prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled during the period between the discourse itself and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.”

While there are additional passages I must consider before I could adopt the partial preterist viewpoint, I am impressed with the way it makes sense of the Olivet Discourse prophecies of Jesus.

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManHow does one distinguish repentant confession from fat cat remorse?

John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man presents an intriguing tale of US efforts to increase its political and financial power by manipulating underdeveloped countries into taking on extravagant debt. Perkins himself willingly (and for handsome gain) took part in the manipulation by preparing absurdly optimistic economic forecasts designed to encourage countries to hire US firms to upgrade their energy infrastructures.

Despite the initial intrigue, Perkins’ self-serving apologies had grown tedious enough to me that halfway through the book I nearly decided to close it permanently. Then Perkins dropped a series of unexpected allegations that caught my attention. On pp. 142-143 he writes:

Roldós [president of Ecuador] was the rare modern politician who was not afraid to oppose the status quo. He went after the oil companies and the not-so-subtle system that supported them.

For instance, he accused the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), an evangelical missionary group from the United States, of sinister collusion with the oil companies. I was familiar with SIL missionaries from my Peace Corps days. The organization had entered Ecuador, as it had so many other countries, under the pretext of studying, recording, and translating indigenous languages.

SIL had been working extensively with the Huaorani tribe in the Amazon basin area, during the early years of oil exploration, when a disturbing pattern emerged. Whenever seismologists reported to corporate headquarters that a certain region had characteristics indicating a high probability of oil beneath the surface, SIL went in and encouraged the indigenous people to move from that land, onto missionary reservations; there they would receive free food, shelter, clothes, medical treatment, and missionary-style education. The condition was that they had to deed their lands to the oil companies.

Rumors abounded that SIL missionaries used an assortment of underhanded techniques to persuade the tribes to abandon their homes and move to the missions. A frequently repeated story was that they had donated food heavily laced with laxatives — then offered medicines to cure the diarrhea epidemic. Throughout Huaorani territory, SIL airdropped false-bottomed food baskets containing tiny radio transmitters; receivers at highly sophisticated communications stations, manned by U.S. military personnel at the army base in Shell, tuned in to these transmitters. Whenever a member of the tribe was bitten by a poisonous snake or became seriously ill, an SIL representative arrived with antivenom or the proper medicines — often in oil company helicopters.

During the early days of oil exploration, five SIL missionaries were found dead with Huaorani spears protruding from their bodies. Later, the Huaoranis claimed they did this to send SIL a message to keep out. The message went unheeded. In fact, it ultimately had the opposite effect. Rachel Saint, the sister of one of the murdered men, toured the United States, appearing on national television in order to raise money and support for SIL and the oil companies, who she claimed were helping the “savages” become civilized and educated.

SIL received funding from the Rockefeller charities. Jaime Roldós claimed that these Rockefeller connections proved that SIL was really a front for stealing indigenous lands and promoting oil exploration; family scion John D. Rockefeller had founded Standard Oil — which later divested into the majors, including Chevron, Exxon, and Mobil.1

1. For extensive details on SIL, its history, activities, and association with the oil companies and the Rockefellers, see Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennet, Thy Will Be Done, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (New York: HarperCollins, 1995); Joe Kane, Savages (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995) (for information on Rachel Saint, pp 85, 156, 227).

Not surprisingly, SIL denies the charges.

How much of Perkins’ story is true? It may be worth investigating.

  • Did SIL have any kind of business arrangement with any oil company?
  • If such a connection existed, what did it consist of?
  • Were the missionaries themselves aware of any such connection (or was it strictly between the mission agency and the oil company)?
  • Did the missionaries donate food laced with laxatives?
  • Did SIL receive funding from the Rockefeller charities?

On the other hand, a healthy amount of skepticism regarding John Perkins’ insinuations would be neither unfounded nor unreasonable.

  1. The hardware and included software have been beautifully designed.
  2. The Multi-Touch trackpad provides an efficient way to scroll web pages.
  3. Within Finder I can add “places” to easily access frequently used folders.
  4. The little round green button resizes a window to optimally fit the screen.
  5. With a little bit of setup work, I can run my PC programs on my MacBook.

Vitus is a delightful (subtitled) story about a gifted boy who wants to live a normal life. No spoilers here. I give the movie 8 or 9 stars out of 10.

I received the following holiday greeting from a colleague recently, and was quietly affirming its truthfulness. (“How true. I am a special snowflake!”)

Then I noticed what my e-mail client thought of the message:

🙂

Mark Hurst offers practical suggestions on how to maintain our sanity in a digital world that threatens to overwhelm us.

Bits are tiny electrical impulses that make up every kind of digital file we use (e-mails, web pages, photos, music, text documents). And though they are physically weightless, the stress that accumulated, unmanaged bits add to our lives often makes them feel weighty to us. That is why we need to become “bit literate.”

Consider the following advice…

E-mail:

  • Don’t use the inbox as a storage area.
  • Instead, get your inbox to zero at least once a day.
    (A tool he created, gootodo.com, provides a way to turn requests into date-specific to-dos.)

Media diet:

  • Only subscribe to the very best e-mail newsletters, blogs, podcasts, etc. Don’t feel that you need to (or that you even can) keep up to date with all the news that is available.
  • Learn how to read a URL so that you can avoid certain online scams.

Photos:

  • Take several shots of each scene.
  • Delete all but the best.
  • Store with a two-level system (year | month-event)

Text formats:

  • If document doesn’t need to be printed: use ASCII
  • If document needs to be printed and edited: use Word, Google Docs, InDesign (then share the document in PDF)

Naming files and folders:

  • Most files: initials-date-topic.extension
  • Space name (or underscore) files (example: “_contact” or “_schedule”)
    These are special folders or files that you want to appear at the top of an alphabetical list.
  • Ongoing files: canvases and log files
    These use a slightly different naming convention (putting the date in the name wouldn’t make sense since you are continually adding to the file).

There are a lot of other tips in the book, some of which may need to be adapted to your specific situation. But I appreciate both the breadth and the level of detail that Bit Literacy provides.

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