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2017 February 25 -- Very "Christian" Fiction

I read the first four novels in Rosenberg's The Last Jihad series not long after they came out -- hmm, I see in my post "Brain Dead" some four years ago that I read all five at the time; I guess the fifth one was forgetable (I did not recognize any of it re-reading it just now) -- then moved on to other books, some also by Rosenberg, although he doesn't get much shelf space in small libraries such as I frequent. I liked and repeated the acronym "NAMEstan" (for "North Africa, Middle East, and a bunch of 'stans") which I think Rosenberg invented then later stopped using for reasons I don't know. I seem to recall the fourth book looking like the end of the series, with apocalyptic fire and great hailstones raining down from Heaven and destroying the enemies of Israel, so I was surprised to see Dead Heat show up in his list of novels as the fifth and last of the series.

The local library had it, and I just now finished reading it. When he isn't getting all religious, Rosenberg is a pretty good writer, but this is by far the most religiosity I have seen in any novel in many years -- at least since reading Randy Alcorn's novel that violated his own "Four P's" (see the explanation in "Brain Dead"). Maybe that's why I don't remember reading it. Whatever.

Anyway, I wanted to mention today how the American religion of Relationshipism interferes with the Christian message Rosenberg tries to portray in this fifth novel. He spends a lot of ink describing God's "love" for people, never mind that nowhere in the Bible is that expressed as an apologetic, but only as an encouragement to people who are already believers. But it makes his hero rather simpy and less than credible when he continues to gush all over us about his love for his wife, especially as the author spells out what that love looks like, which is a very feminine selfish weepy clinging (see "'Love' in Fiction" two years ago). If a Christian is going to express that kind of devotion, it should be directed toward God, not another person, not even your spouse. But it's not a guy thing, and it's not taught as a virtue anywhere in the Bible. "Love" in the Bible is mostly other-directed self-sacrifice better translated as "charity" and not an emotion at all.

This problem with "love" manifests itself again a few chapters later, when a newly converted guy ascends to the Presidency just when the nation is about to launch a nuclear war:

Was he really supposed to turn the other cheek to America's attackers? Was he really supposed to love his enemies, even if they committed genocide on American soil? [p.343]
This is only a problem when you consider "love" to be a warm, fuzzy emotional response. Does anybody really believe God had a warm fuzzy emotional response to His Son dying on the Cross? It doesn't make sense. "Loving your enemy as yourself" means doing The Right Thing for them. If they attack you personally, don't fight back (because your anger will cloud your perspective), but if they attack somebody you have an obligation to protect -- notably widows and orphans, but if you are in a place of authority, then anybody under your protection -- then protect them, even if that means bringing harm to the attacker. There is no conflict.

2017 February 21 -- Choosing a Church

I mentioned church-shopping here in Ore-gone a few times. This town is bigger than where I was in Texas, and is also the county seat, so there are more to choose from, and (I think I mentioned) better quality, but I've pretty much worked through the whole list. The last couple weeks I visited a couple churches across the river, which is farther than I prefer to go if there is something acceptable closer. Last Sunday -- I almost crossed that one off unvisited -- was the most delightful church experience I've had in years. I do not go to church for what I get out of it, because mostly it's pretty close to zero, but rather because God tells me to go. However, every once in a while the sermon speaks to me (not this time, but several other times in the last three months). Sometimes I get to help somebody, perhaps more often than I know about (see "Helping People" last October), but probably less often than I would hope. Oh well.

This week it was the music. I like singing out of the hymnal so I can sing the harmony. My previous church (in Texas) sang from the hymnal but a cappella, and it's much harder to find the key that way. The pianist this week was very good, and her prelude included one of my favorite Bach tunes, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," which the bellmaster at Berkeley often played from the Campanile in the mornings when I was a student there. She also played another favorite Bach hymn during communion, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (I think from the St.Mathew Passion, which I sang several times when as a member of the San Francisco Bach Choir many decades ago) and which I first sang from the hymnbook (again as a student) at the Urbana InterVarsity Missionary Conference in 1964. Wow, I must be getting old, when pleasures date back to student years; mostly I still look forward, not back ;-)

There were young people there, parents with children, a good mix. This church, which I almost didn't try at all, leapt to the top of my Short List. It didn't stay there long. After I got home and thought more about it, I realized that the pastor used those code words "under the authority of elders," which clearly point to an insistance on membership as a requirement for communion. After I did the study, I can't support it. I have nothing against making membership a requirement for teaching -- the church has the right and obligation to control their teachings to be whatever they have determined to be what they stand for (even if it's contrary to the Established Religion of the host country, which is already becoming the case in this country in the matter of sexual preference; it's called "free speech" and it's not free if the government can tell you what to say or not say) -- but if what they stand for is the right of a small number of people (often one, the pastor) to boss people around, Jesus said not to do that, and I can't support it. Jesus clearly taught that the leaders of a church should be servants, not slave-masters, and many more pastors give lip-service to that concept than practice (they call themselves "servant-leaders" while their focus is clearly on the "leader" part rather than the "searvant" part, see my essay "Servant Leadership" written back when I was teaching at a university that used the term).

It's not like I want to be rebellious, but all of my conflicts in churches in the past have been over pastoral staff doing what they ought not, and I shouldn't ignore clear signs that this is likely to be another of them. I hope whatever church I choose here and now will (can) be the last one I choose for the rest of my life, so I should do this responsibly. Bad Things still Happen (and God alone controls that), but at least I can give it "due diligence" (my best shot). Like I said, I don't go to church for what I can get out of it.

Turns out there's a tiny church within walking distance. They're not in the yellow pages, Google knows nothing of them, but they left a flyer on my door giving their hours. When I visited, I didn't see the usual denominational paraphernalia on the walls, just a bookshelf with a row of identical untitled books (the words to hymns, but no music). No hymnal racks on the pews. Nobody standing around, nobody sitting in the sanctuary. A table saw in the far corner, where the piano usually sits in most churches. No microphones up front, no band instruments, but a woman's purse flopped on the back pew. Finally guy came out from somewhere in back to greet me, and yes they were about to start. It seems they were finishing up a lunch or something, visiting with the guest speaker, a missionary from Ireland to Malawi. That's usually a good sign. I asked about their affiliation, and he dodged the question, "We're completely independent." but he used a code word "assembly" that I recognized from a church I had been involved with some 50 years ago.

When I got home I Googled "Plymouth Brethren Oregon" and got several hits (not counting multiple church-finder sites that basically don't). A couple offered lists of "assemblies" and "Gospel Halls" but the link was broken on one of them, and the other had no listings at all for Oregon (but they did list the church in California I had gone to). Several of the hits were blogs that said nothing of Oregon, but mostly griped about the denominational factiousness in one way or another. I'm probably too inclusive for their taste. I guess I'll go back and invite myself to meet with one or more of their leaders -- as I recall, most PB churches have no paid clergy and no formal membership -- to see if they'll have me. I think (I hope) I made a reasonably good impression on my first visit. Otherwise, somebody's going to need to bend a little... sigh

2017 February 8 -- SciFi as Religion

Long long ago in a far-away place, I was obliged to read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for some class. What I came away remembering from that experience is totally different from what I found today in one of the top-rated Google hits, so maybe I confused the book with some other imponderable novel equally distant in my memory, or maybe the post-modern academics cannot reconcile what Conrad really meant with how they view the world. In any case I'm not going to re-read the novel, but I still think of Conrad's title as reflecting the human condition first reported in Genesis 6:5 "that every imagination of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually."

The author of the sci-fi novel I'm currently trudging through is no Joseph Conrad, real or imagined. It's the sequel to an end-of-the-world story with the aliens coming in at the last minute (see "Sci-Fi Redemption") to rescue an Ark (his word) full of people and animals and literature. I like positive stories better than doom and gloom -- this is, after all, leisure diversion from working too hard -- so maybe he is trying to make this one more positive. The result is oversexed (I almost returned the book the second day) and total fantasy as to what 85 children with no adult supervision might grow up into. Y'all know what I think of fantasy. Halfway through the book, one of the kids is inventing a feel-good religion, which the hero (obviously an atheist like the author) has little sympathy for. He has inherited Christian morals -- except sexuality, which he strives to be politically correct (all the top math and science whizzes are female, and the guys tend to think in their loins) but can't quite bring himself to give equal time to graphic depictions of homosexual acts, and his females tend to seek affirmation while the guys don't understand it (which is realistic, not PC) -- but he can't explain his morals. Atheists in America cannot.

The author has several novels on the library fantasy & sci-fi shelf, but I probably won't be checking them out. One of them with "Darwin" in the title, the jacket blurb gushes on how he takes evolution to its next step. Most people who write positively about Darwinism don't really understand how it is supposed to work (as imagined by the Darwinist biologists themselves), they just see the label as a cheap and easily fictionzalized mechanism for inventing unrealistic life-forms in very short time scales. I told you, they don't understand it, it just fiction, "it's sci-fi, it's make-believe, you can do whatever you want, because who's to say it can't work?" (as one author I reviewed four years ago said openly). The blurb is as far as I expect to go on that one.

2017 February 7 -- Fearing the Future

Wow, has it been a whole month since my last posting? How does that line go, "Time flies when you're having fun." I have been working hard preparing for my first paid work in I don't know how many years. It's great to feel useful and wanted.

I guess I mentioned it once or twice, I'm looking for a suitable church here. This Sunday it was the only Presbyterian church I saw in the yellow pages, but they seem to have fallen on hard times. The sanctuary is quite large, but crowded in on all sides by unrelated businesses, as if they used to have the whole block (like some of the other churches in town), but sold off most of it. Churches do that. After hearing the guy preach, I kind of see why. I mean, his sermon was OK, but he started his general prayer off "Oh God, whom we call Father, and who loves us like a Mother,..." Conservative preachers do not commit gender neutrality in their prayers. He then talked about his relationship with his own father, whom he described as opposite to himself in both politics and theology, but he (the father) loved him (the preacher). I don't recall if he said that love was reciprocated, but at least he was trying, once a month. The introductory topic of the sermon was the perilous times we face in this country, as reported to him by parishoners both Republican and Democrat (he didn't disclose his own political preference, except indirectly as noted).

Most conservative pastors everywhere (and also here in southwest Oregon: I heard this several times in the last three months) tend to tell their congregation that "God is in control, trust God and do not be afraid." It's the message all over the Bible, you can't miss it. But less-than-conservative pastors and laity alike tend not to read and/or believe their Bibles, so they don't have that assurance. So all this guy could offer his fearful congregation was to love their neighbors, as if somehow that would make things better (he didn't say it would).

The problem is that half of this country hates the current sitting President, and the other half hated his predecessor. That's been true for at least 20+ years, but I think it's getting worse -- probably because the left-wing bigots, who have no god greater than the government, are beginning to convert the right-wing bigots to the same religious persuasion, and when your god is replaced by the Devil Incarnate (that's certainly what the lefties think of Trump), all Hades will break loose. When a Sovereign God (that's a Calvinist notion, and Presbyterians should all be good Calvinists, but I don't think this guy is), when God is in control, it doesn't matter who is in the White House, God has the final say.

My sister keeps telling me what a terrible thing it is that Trump is Prez, and I keep reminding her that he can't override Congress. The Senate needs a 60-vote super-majority to do anything, and the Reps have only 52 votes. Half of the Reps hated Trump almost as much as the Dems did; he's not going to succeed on anything that's bad for the country. That's the whole point of "checks and balances." Anything Obama could do on his own without Congress, Trump now has a precedent for, so be careful what rules you set up when you are in office, because you get to live under them when the other team is in. You knew I didn't think highly of Obama, but I don't like Trump either. I voted "none of the above," so you can't blame me.

Anyway, I already read the last chapter, there is no USA in the final battles, so maybe Trump will be the catalyst that takes the USA down from being #1 in the world -- it doesn't really depend on the White House: Iran or North Korea or Pakistan could do it in a weekend by launching four nukes from offshore at NewYork, LosAngeles, Houston, and any other large port like Atlanta or Seattle. We cannot stop them, and it would devastate the economy. I sort of expected Obama's giving nuclear permission to Iran to start it. Pakistan is right on the edge of Jihadist take-over, and North Korea is as crazy as ever. Most of the other countries with nuclear power wouldn't dare (Putin is getting belligerent, but we still have our nukes pointed at Moscow, and he's not that stupid: Ukraine yes, USA no). Dunno about you-all, but I haven't lived in a target area in years -- well, maybe Dallas was, but who cares about southwest Ore-gone? It's already gone to pot. Literally.

2017 January 7 -- Winter

The Windows development team has put a lot of effort into making their system harder to use than OSX -- and Apple has tried even harder to make sure that is no easy task -- but everybody succeeded. As a consequence, I'm now waiting for I guess this is the fifth or sixth system restore since I got this Win10 computer last month. There's a lot of stuff that simply doesn't work. Restoring from a system backup is exceedingly difficult to get started, and once started it takes a couple hours, so I have time to blog and go eat lunch and do any number of other things I normally don't get around to...

Maybe y'all know about the ravages of winter. Me, I spent 12 years in the relatively mild winters of the State of Misery, but the house was on city water. I had the pipes freeze once in the kitchen (which faced on the north wall and got the storm blast); thereafter I left the under-sink doors open to allow the warmer house air access to the sink pipes. Usually the house heat keeps the pipes under the floor from freezing, but the kitchen pipes were too close to the wall.

I never lived in a house with its own well and pump house -- until two months ago. So I never gave any thought to keeping the water flowing through the winter. Yesterday none of the taps worked. When I turned another tap on, I could hear the whistle of air being sucked down the pipe to balance out the water level under the house, so I guess nothing under there was frozen, it had to be the pump. I'd seen a van drive by earlier this week with "Pump-something" on its side, so I figured this was a common problem here. Sure enough, all the pump service companies in the yellow pages were either busy or went straight to voice mail (on one I got a recording saying voice mail had not yet been set up for that account; I guess he figured that he could only handle one customer at a time, and didn't need to plan future business, so he won't be getting mine). Anyway, one the numbers that actually got through to a person, the guy suggested I put a space heater out in the pump house. It took about four hours, but it worked. What I really should have done is left the water running at a trickle all night (and probably all day too); I did that last night and this morning the water flowed, but very slow for several minutes while it melted the ice build-up in the pipe.

The restore finished, and now it's showing the Blue Screen of Death "Working on updates / 100% complete / Don't turn off your computer." It will hang there for hours, so I normally just force-off the computer (hold the power switch for 5 seconds) then restart. Nothing bad seems to happen from it, at least not as bad as being frozen on the Blue Screen of Death. WinXP was never this bad.

I need to do this because I have been tasked with building a Java interface to a camera which only has a Windoze API in C. VisualStudio, the Microsoft development environment seems to have been done by the same team as the Win10 system, so it's completely non-functional. I downloaded the Eclipse development environment, but it's incomplete in various unspecified (unixy) ways. Fortunately, Google has all the answers for stuff that's broken. That's why I needed to restore the system to a pre-Eclipse level and re-install everything today. This happens a lot on non-Mac (both OSX and Win10) systems. sigh I'm sure glad I insisted on full system backup capability, which is something early Windoze and OSX systems lacked; now it's built in but hard to find (in both cases). It was always there and easy to use on the Mac, but the Mac is dead, and none of its successors were ever any good. I still use the Mac (a 15-year-old computer) for everything I can, it's sooo much faster than the newer garbage, even though the Mac hardware is ten times slower than the newer trash.

2017 January 4 -- 144,000 Women

I'm now almost finished reading the New Testament in Greek, and I just finished Revelation 14 this morning, the first verse of which astonished me. John the Dreamer/Revealer saw "the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 women having his name on their foreheads." He didn't use the Greek word meaning "woman" but only the participle "having" is feminine plural. It makes perfect sense in Greek, because John didn't see persons, he saw souls (which is feminine in both Greek and Hebrew), and the reader is expected to figure that out from the fact that he also saw souls under the altar eight chapters earlier (in Rev.6:9). We tend to think of souls as ethereal and invisible, but in John's dream he can see them. Check it out, not one of the so-called "gender accurate" translations correctly (per their own standards) represent the 144,000 as females, but the participle parsed out for us in the Net Bible Greek rendition is clearly feminine plural. They lucked out, because in English (like Greek) the plural possessive pronoun "their" (in "their foreheads") is gender neutral, so by neglecting to add an English word to reflect the participle gender, they can claim to dodge the bullet. Hogwash.

See my blog post "Translating Gender" five years ago for the whole story on so-called "gender-accurate" translations.

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