Books read in 2017

There was a lot less blogging but more reading this year.

  • Translating the Message, Lamin Sanneh
  • All Creatures Great and Small, James Harriot (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen
  • The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
  • Taking God at His Word, Kevin DeYoung (partial)
  • Evidence of Satan in the Modern World, Léon Cristiani
  • Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, Ed. Eric Johnson
  • African Friends and Money Matters, David E. Maranz
  • Beyond Surgery: Injury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital, Anita Hannig
  • The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay, Christopher Clapham
  • Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves (partial)
  • The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin (read aloud to the kids)
  • Towards an African Narrative Theology, Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz (partial)
  • The Prince Warriors, Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy
  • Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Forbidden Door, Jeanne K. Norweb (read aloud to the kids)
  • Weep Not, Child, Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  • Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (read aloud to the kids)
  • Creed or Chaos?, Dorothy Sayers (2nd time)
  • Three Days in the Life of an African Christian Villager, Jim Harries
  • The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George G. Hunter III
  • The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance, Philip Marsden
  • Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
  • The Master of Wisdom, Jeanne K. Norweb (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  • Reviving Old Scratch, Richard Beck
  • Danny, The Champion of the World, Roald Dahl (read aloud to the kids)
  • Communication in Mission and Development: Relating to the Church in Africa, Jim Harries
  • The Night the Bear Ate Goomba, Patrick McManus (partial, read aloud to the kids)
  • Finding God, Larry Crabb (2nd time)
  • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester

Time and Rockstar: Simultaneously lamenting and celebrating the sexual abuse of women

In 2017 we saw an explosion of wealthy and powerful men exposed in public as serial sexual abusers, using their positions and influence to prey on vulnerable women. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and scores of others in the media and entertainment industry were revealed to be, behind their feminism-affirming public personas, a parade of dicks and dirtbags. It’s not like this is anything new or that even a fraction of a percent of the foul play made it into the limelight, but it was a sizable enough portion for many folks to take notice. Time Magazine, highlighting the phenomenon, decided to make the “Silence Breakers” – the women who risked their livelihoods to fight back – the official “person of the year” on the cover of their latest issue.

Oh look, there’s Taylor Swift there on the cover too. And what’s on the radio right after her song? The new hip hop tune ‘rockstar’ by rappers Post Malone and Savage 21. It’s been playing at least once an hour on the local top 40 station every day in December. When I open up the iTunes store on my phone, a full-size ad for the album covers the screen. It’s just coming down from #1 on the Billboard charts. Let’s briefly take a look at the lyrics, shall we?

I’ve been f**kin’ hoes and poppin’ pillies
Man, I feel just like a rockstar

Drankin’ Henny, bad bitches jumpin’ in the pool
And they ain’t got on no bra
Hit her from the back, pullin’ on her tracks
And now she screamin’ out, “¡No más!” (yeah, yeah, yeah)
They like, “Savage, why you got a twelve car garage
And you only got six cars?”

Here in the rockstar song, we have the celebration of a rich and powerful man, bragging about having sex with a woman he just met, pulling on her hair while she is, literally screaming, “No more!” – essentially, “Stop it!”. The hell is going on in this song? Sounds like as soon as this gal can wrestle herself away from the abusive “Savage 21” or whatever the artist calls himself, she should join the #MeToo movement and get the community support she needs to face her abuser. Maybe she can get on the cover of a magazine for it. But nope. She’s in the song, as we pay millions of dollars to make this track #1 and honor the (real or imagined) escapades of these young men.

This kind of gangster storytelling and gloating has been standard schmandard fare in rap music for decades. There is nothing new to see here. The only point I want to make is the incredible amount of cognitive dissonance it takes to hold these two things next to each other in the mainstream media with seemingly no sense of irony. By “mainstream media” I don’t mean some amorphous blob of stuff I just don’t happen to appreciate, like some old man yelling “darn kids, get off my lawn!”. I simply mean, in the simplest sense, national television, national syndicated magazines, news, radio, and top reach brands on the internet.

There, in front of the nation, side-by-side, literally seconds apart from each other we find the following: a concerned-looking journalist interviewing an actress who was pressured to sleep with the director in order to be cast in a movie. Immediately afterwards, the top song on pop radio plays as bumper music, blasting with a catchy drum rhythm: “I’ve been f**kin’ hoes, green hundreds in my safe, hundred bitches in my trailer, tryna grab up on my pants”.

I’m not making this up. Let me suggest that the first problem (sexual abuse by powerful men) cannot improve simultaneously while we ramp up the artful idolization of sexual abuse by powerful men. This isn’t rocket science. The first one isn’t going to get better while the second one gets worse. They’ll either both continue to get better as sexual morality is held in higher esteem or they’ll both get worse. You can’t effectively honor women on the cover of the final Time magazine while simultaneously dishonoring them in the top song on pop radio. The two things cancel each other out. To heal the world we need a deeper and more excellent approach.

Postscript: Yes, I realize the song ‘rockstar’ may in fact be tongue-in-cheek, that is, intended to be satire. It is certainly interpreted by some to be. I suspect it is to some degree, but regardless, the overt sexual violence in it offers a stark contrast to the sympathy with the abuse victims it sits next to. I also don’t buy this line of reasoning as an excuse in general. For example, I think the 2014 film The Kingsmen ultimately glorified debauchery, even as it satirized and critiqued the real debauchery of James Bond films.

Blog shuffle

Not many people read this blog of course, but occasionally a friend or acquaintance will go to look something up and they will inevitably have trouble finding it because the root of the domain points to my old coffee enthusiast blog, which I no longer update. This is the “main” blog, but it’s lived for years in a subdirectory.

Well, they have now essentially traded-places. The coffee blog can still be found at /coffee and simply typing in the domain ( will take you here. That should avoid some confusion in the future. I probably should have done this eons ago!

‘Solemn’ as feast, not just fast

My friend Austin posted this except from the preface that C.S. Lewis wrote to Paradise Lost.

Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity’. The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for a pomp–and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of a ‘solemnity’. To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people to enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual… . You are to expect pomp. You are to ‘assist’, as the French say, at a great festal action.

This is great on several different levels, so I wanted to save it here. It informs my recent foray into Anglican worship in the past month and why some parts feel uncomfortable to me (or others!) when it seems like they shouldn’t be.

It also makes me realize that I said my line about “solemnity” totally wrong when I played Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. If only I had known!

For in the temple by and by with us
These couples shall eternally be knit:
And, for the morning now is something worn,
Our purposed hunting shall be set aside.
Away with us to Athens; three and three,
We’ll hold a feast in great solemnity.

Because, in my head, “solemn” only ever meant something like “grave”, I couldn’t bring myself to say this line in anything but an over-serious manner. It should have been more joyful. More feast, less fast. Sometimes worship, even in heavy formality, should be the same thing.

Where Josephus skips the part where Rome gets destroyed

Josephus, in book X of his Antiquities of the Jews, tries to explain the life of the prophet Daniel to his Roman audience. Included is the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel 2. But Josephus stops at the part where Daniel explains how the Roman empire will take over and doesn’t explain the great stone at the end crushing the statue of gold, bronze, iron, and clay. Instead he mumbles the following:

Daniel did also declare the meaning of the stone to the king but I do not think proper to relate it, since I have only undertaken to describe things past or things present, but not things that are future; yet if any one be so very desirous of knowing truth, as not to wave such points of curiosity, and cannot curb his inclination for understanding the uncertainties of futurity, and whether they will happen or not, let him be diligent in reading the book of Daniel, which he will find among the sacred writings.
(Josephus, Antiquities, 10.210)

How embarrassing to have to explain a prophecy about how God will likely wipe out the reader’s kingdom! He decided to just leave that part out. It’s just like history books today.

When Disability Incites Misplaced Charity

Here are some great thoughts from my wife, who typed this up and sent it to me while she was out of town for a few day. It begins with an extended excerpt from a new biography of the Inklings.

“The Four Loves sustains the avuncular tones of the recorded talks as Lewis analyzes four forms of love: affection, friendship, Eros and Charity. The first three arising in the natural order of things may be beautiful or good but have the potential to be twisted into something ugly and destructive. Thus, Storche, or affection, the warm animal love between mother and child or dog and master May become a tyrannous stranglehold, as Lewis explains in a passage that may reflect his experiences with Mrs. Moore. If people are already unlovable, a continual demand on their part as a right to be loved: their manifest sense of injury; their reproaches, weather loud and clamorous or merely implicit in every book and gesture of resentful self-pity produce in us a sense of guilt (they are intended to do so), for a fault we could not have avoided and cannot cease to commit. Friendship, too, maybe perverted into exclusivity. Yet it offers incomparable joys, as in Lewis’s glowing account of male friends, gathering in an inn after a hard day’s walking, which doubles as an idealized portrait of the Inklings. Those are the golden sessions: when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze, and our drinks at our elbows. When the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk. And all are free men and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time and affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life, natural life, has no better gift to give; who could have deserved it? Eros, too, which binds two individuals together, transforming them into lover and the beloved, harbors its deadly snares, such as obsession and uncontrolled passion. Charity, however, stands alone. Charity, Agape, is supernatural: a sheer gift. Love Himself working in a man. It allows us to do what we would not ordinarily do: Embrace our enemies, kiss lepers, give away money, take on the sufferings of others. Through Charity, we draw close both to God, and to our fellow human beings. Lewis rejects the idea, which he discerns in Augustine’s account of the loss of his friend, Nebridius, that one must beware of creaturely love and embrace only God, who never dies. Instead, he stands with Charles Williams, without mentioning him by name, arguing that human and divine love complement and complete one another. And, that in the beatific vision, the culmination of Charity we will find our earthly beloveds in their completion and consummation, united in God.”

Excerpt from “The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, c. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams”, By Phillip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski

Because Lewis defines Charity as coming at the sole impetus of God, he doesn’t acknowledge that Charity also can be warped, or perhaps misdefined, as in the case of unwanted pity, or misplaced altruism. Possibly because Lewis was rarely on the receiving end of such charity, it didn’t really register on his radar, but people with disabilities, especially in the modern era of technology when independence is more achievable, have to push back against this concept continually. When we were adopting our daughter, for instance, we received several comments about our “saintliness” with regards to read adopting a child who has a disability. The idea that parental affection can exist for a child with a disability in equal measure to a non-disabled child did not seem to occur to most people. Additionally, people who have disabilities are rarely seen as bringing in equal measure to the table qualities and attributes which a non-disabled person might covet. Therefore a parent would have to be a “saint” to parent a child with so much less to offer.

This brings us naturally to a discussion of Lewis’s second love: friendship, which he describes rather vividly as existing between “equal and free men”. Interestingly, one of the equal and free men to which Lewis undoubtedly refers, and greatly admired, was Charles Williams who had a significant vision impairment of the sort which inhibited many of his activities. However, he was not encouraged to discuss his vision with his circle of friends; no record of it occurs in any correspondence or records of their interchanges. He was left to get by completely on his own as best he could minimizing the impact that it had on his life at all times.

Likewise, society has encouraged me throughout my life to suppress or ignore any visual problems I may be having and not to identify with the blind community but to struggle through, passing as sighted. The pitfall of exclusivity that Lewis describes in connection with friendship has plagued me on both sides of the blindness and sighted divide, as one group throws gates in my way for receiving any sort of services or belonging their shared set of experiences, while the other mocks my inefficiencies and ineptitudes arising from lack of seeing, and ignores the intense strain I put myself under to do things their way. Thus am I never seen as free and equal and worthy of friendship but am often relegated to the arena of pity disguised as charity unless I am absolutely silent about my perceptions and experiences.

Other friends who are blind describe the same phenomenon. They will describe instances where people ask them if they are lost or need help in a building where they work for example. A sighted person, when reading such a statement does not understand why this should cause offense. The person will invariably say, “Well, weren’t they just trying to be nice?”

What must be understood in the circumstances, is that the blind person is perceived to be in need of charity, where in reality they are simply in need of friendship. Just like any person walking through their workplace looking to engage casually with a coworker, it’s assumed to be on free and equal terms. They belong there. When this assumption unravels because the sighted person decides that the blind person does not belong there and that the blind person is thought to be in need of pity or charity it creates an imbalance in the equality of the interaction.

This inequality constitutes the real pitfall of charity. Of course altruism, especially Christian love motivated solely by God is a wonderful thing. Through it is much suffering alleviated. The problem arises when like the pitfalls of the other loves sin creeps in–in this case in the form of fear or guilt; a sighted person who fears going blind will approach a blind person with the sort of consolation and help that he (or she) imagines he would need in the instance of himself going blind. This deep-seated fear usually results in pity which results in excessive over-helpfulness.

And this misguided charity also results in confusion when the recipient does not react in gratitude but rather in anger and offense. The reason for this is simple: the blind person was not in need of charity to begin with, but rather friendship. Most disabled people who are going about their daily lives desire love, friendship, and affection in equal measures to the general non-disabled public. What they often receive, is pity disguised as charity which is ultimately not from God but is an attempt to allay the giver’s fears or to make the giver feel better about himself. Like the other loves when they fail, charity taken to extreme and lavished upon misidentified subjects becomes smothering. One easy way to identify whether charity is misplaced or not, is to observe the gratitude level of the recipient.

Historically, people unwilling to receive charity were branded as prideful and reprimanded. What we need to do rather, is to realize that ingratitude may indicate an unwarranted amount of charity and a desire instead for affection, friendship or love. The thing needed to make these happen is both an acknowledgment of equality and an acknowledgment of complementarianism where inequality exists. As many disabled thinkers have pointed out, we are all interdependent. Once we accept interdependence and acknowledge that people with disabilities have value to bring to a relationship; that equality can be established and a friendship or romance can flourish.

True creation entails preservation

God views his work and is satisfied with it; this means that God loves his work and therefore wills to preserve it. Creation and preservation are two aspects of the one activity of God. It cannot be otherwise than that God’s work is good, that he does not reject or destroy but loves and preserves it. God sees his work; comes to rest; he see that it is good. God’s seeing protects the world from falling back into the void, protects it from total destruction.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, p.22

My children want to save everything they make forever. My youngest son drew at least a hundred pictures of mallard ducks last year with colored markers. He kept them in a stack by his bed. As soon as I clean off the fridge and free all the magnets, it’s covered again with new drawings before I’ve had time to fill it with fresh groceries. Clay and Play-Doh works hide behind the curtains on window sills. An incredible number of Rubbermaid bins hold all piles of afternoon crafts, mixed with last years Sunday school creations and VBS projects. We are like God in that we love to create. This has been pointed out by many before, Dorthy Sayer’s “The Mind of the Maker” being the best treatment of the topic that I know of. But here, Bonhoeffer brings in another key component to the idea, the good, of Creation and that is its sustenance and maintenance. I had never considered this quite so acutely before, and so I’m writing about it.

God doesn’t just create something and then throw it in the trash. He keeps it around, because he loves it. He sustains it. He puts it somewhere safe. If it’s living, he feeds it and clothes it. To love making is to love preserving. They are inseparable. To be a builder is also to be a curator and a keeper.

A few years ago, I heard about a composer who had written a piece of software that composed symphonies in the style of Mozart all on it’s own. Imitating Mozart’s harmonic style and instrumentation, the app would develop a randomly generated melody into a sophisticated piece of high classical music. He was even able to fool several Mozart experts into believing he had found a previously undiscovered work. In the interview, he said that his software could generate a hundred such pieces just over his lunch break – music that a university student might slave over for months to produce. (I know, I used to be that very student.) The interviewer wondered aloud if this made the student’s music worthless, or if the programmer’s random pieces were worthless, or neither, or both. As much as I love software and have been a hobby programmer since I was eight years old, I experienced mostly distaste at the dehumanizing nature of the Mozart symphony generator. Yes, the end result was quantifiably the same on paper and even in the ear, but I had a rather visceral reaction to the thought. Why? I couldn’t answer at the time, but now I think I could say a bit more.

According to Bonhoeffer’s analysis here, true God-like creation doesn’t just create but sustains. Generating a hundred symphonies only to throw them into the virtual garbage can in the sky is not real creation. The pieces are never loved, never heard, never rehearsed, never played. It’s not just that their source was not in some kind of human emotional experience or muse (the first point most commenters made), but that AFTER it is made, it is not sustained.

The university student talks his friends into performing his piece. He arranges rehearsals. He rewrites parts after he discovers some of the passages are too difficult for his hack cellist buddy to pull off. He directs it during the composer’s concert and studies it with his professor for hours to discuss where he succeeded and failed in his compositional techniques. He knows it’s not that great, but it’s a significant stepping stone that he keeps in his memory as he works on future projects. Sometimes he pulls out the old CD recording that was made during his recital. The power of the music fades with memory but it only really dies when he, the composer dies. The hundreds of virtual symphonies die an instant digital death in silence as the volatile memory they are sitting on is reclaimed for the next task of the operating system. Perhaps the generated music could leave the computer and be cherished and nurtured – rehearsed, performed, and contemplated. In doing so, it would be loved and sustained and become much more like the student’s hard-won creation, even though it’s origin was different. But when that doesn’t happen (and for all but a handful of the generated symphonies, it didn’t), then the creation is essentially dead on arrival. It returns to the formless void from which it was conjured.

Our house would quickly be taken over by paintings and sculptures and Lego towers if my wife and I, as parents, didn’t put our foot down and throw things away and ensure they be disassembled. It’s completely necessary. Our kitchen table is for eating meals. It cannot be a permanent Lincoln Log museum. This is a lesson that all the kids have had to learn – not to throw a fit when their creations can no longer be sustained. I remember having to learn the same myself. I think it completely natural that this be a difficult lesson to learn. We want our creations to continue because we love them. To let them go is a mature exercise. Maybe this is what God feels like when he lets us rebel and go our own way. But it doesn’t seem like God would make anything that was destined for the trash can, even as he was building it. He also seems rather keen to often rescue things from the trash can and refashion them into even better creatures than before.

Not being embarrassed of God as “imaginary friend”

Secularists have often ridicule Christians for believing in an “imaginary friend”, conjuring up pictures of a young child playing a bit too seriously with a large teddy bear or having an engaging tea party with empty chair. In response sometimes, not wanting to be associated with what seems to be an embarrassing image, we have resorted to describing our faith more as an abstract set of ideas or of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force bringing well-being. Since Jesus and his serious work is anchored in the historical past, he naturally doesn’t fit into this embarrassing image from the skeptics and can be safely emphasized instead.

But the Holy Spirit is a person, not force. And his voice sounds with (almost) audible words in our hearts and heads. He is indeed much more like an imaginary friend than any of the less personal things we might substitute in his place to describe him. To be sure, he is augmented by our imagination, sometimes in ways that obscure his face, but that doesn’t mean he is entirely imaginary. He is real a person and here with us right now. Jesus is in heaven and will return, but in his stead, the Spirit (still completely God and completely personal) has joined with us in fellowship. Let’s not be quick to de-personalize him in an attempt to remain respectable to the skeptics. Let us instead pray the Holy Spirit speaks to them too, erroding their unbelief.

Is there anything new under the sun? (With the Holy Spirit, perhaps!)

Is man’s consciousness static or dynamic? Depending on your discipline or what you are used to reading, you might prefer if I ask whether it is ‘crystallized’ or ‘fluid’. Lately it seems that ‘rigid’ or ‘plastic’ are in vogue. I’m not just talking about one individual man or woman, but about all of mankind, throughout the known history of our race. Does our thinking really change throughout the ages, or has it pretty much been the same for time out of mind? Certainly cultures and technologies change, but does our thinking really do anything besides repeat itself in different permutations?

One currently prominent theory says that our thinking does indeed change. On the one hand, despite it’s largely imaginary evidence and origins, evolutionary theory is widely popular today. In this story, evolution, progression from a lower state into a higher state, is the recurring theme. Once we were monkeys, then animalic cavemen, then clever, but still superstitious pagans. The ‘Renaissance’ and the ‘Enlightenment’ exploded our minds and we fit contemporary ideas about our own longed-for trans-human ‘wokeness’ being part of this same trajectory. Of course consciousness is dynamic they say! Our brains are physically changing in size and density, our imaginations are expanding, and our incredibly rapid growth in technology in the last century is irrefutable proof. The secularization theory (that religion will fade and become irrelevant in the modern world), fills in the gaps.

On the other hand, Christianity has often taught (or at least emphasized) something that looks like the ‘static’ answer to the question above. Our thinking WAS at a certain place, but since the Fall of man, it’s been brought low and it’s been stuck low in sin ever since. We are born into sin and we die in sin. We are no more clever than the ancients. In fact, they were probably smarter than us, despite our spacecraft and smart phones. Though some woefully pronounce it a devolution, others are quick to point out that ancient Rome was just as morally corrupt as we are today and in many of exactly the same ways. The short answer is that there is nothing new under the sun. Oh, except Jesus. He’s a big deal, but things are pretty much going to stay the same until he comes back to redeem all of creation… later, perhaps much later. In the meantime, the world is full of stupid, petty jerks just like it always has been.

In the world of Christian thinking and scholarship, I have often observed a peculiar kind of push-back to and put-down of new or imaginative ideas. It’s often not explicit, but is more of an undercurrent – the idea that orthodox belief is unchanging in a reality that doesn’t change with minds that don’t change and brains that don’t really change either. We are not discovering truth so much as just articulating it better, or communicating it more effectively in the latest iteration of our corrupt cultural morass. C.S. Lewis’s condemnation of “chronological snobbery” is often invoked (I have invoked it myself on many occasions!), but it seems to me to be used too quickly and too often. The assumption is that there are no really new ideas – cannot be in fact. Even the Reformation, as big a deal as it was, wasn’t anything new but just a ‘back to basics’ ecclesiastical reform movement. Calvin didn’t say anything Augustine didn’t already say (or would have said if he had lived longer), and Augustine didn’t really say anything St. Paul didn’t already say, except that perhaps he was a more clever writer. We’re not evolving. We’re not getting better. Maybe we got some freebies dropped on us about the time of Pentecost, but that was straight from God and it was a long time ago. We aren’t ‘progressing’ like the ‘progressives’ want us to believe. In fact, the virtue of humility is often indicated in a public admission of how hopelessly derivative our work and thinking is.

But wait just a minute. Shouldn’t Christian theology allow for and even hopefully encourage us to expect new life, new ideas, new thinking, and (dare I say it), ‘progress’? Perhaps even a consciousness that wasn’t possible before? Something the prophets yearned to see but could not (but we can)? If the Holy Spirit is at work, constantly at work, relentlessly at work in our hearts and minds, and in the hearts and minds of (literally) millions and billions of people, shouldn’t we allow for the possibility of genuinely new ideas, or genuinely new awareness of aspects of reality? That is, actually improved philosophy and theology, even as we have actually improved science?

Someone is scared of this idea and the bad company it keeps and has decided that the best defense is to make theology (and a host of other disciplines along with it) as boring as possible.

C.S. Lewis argues in The Allegory of Love that something significant happened in the middle ages that dramatically and permanently changed our conception of what romantic love is. This wasn’t just a recycling of ideas or restating of them in a fresh way, but a deeply fresh thing in and of itself. The scripture writers did not foresee it. It hadn’t happened yet. We are so engulfed in it now that we project it back onto ALL the old stories as if things have always been that way. Even if we now scale it back or temper it with cynicism or “realism” or historical knowledge, we can’t get away from it entirely. Love has a new dimension to it and more possibilities than it ever did for our distant ancestors and there’s no reversing this (dare I say it again?), “progress”.

Rene Girard’s work also hinges on the possibility of man’s whole psychology and consciousness taking a crucial turn at a particular point in history. Girard shows that all the myths of Earth are always written by the victors in such a way as to cover up their founding murder and guilt. The victims, especially those cast out by their people, have no voice, no rights, and no recorded (true) history. Concern for victims wasn’t just uncommon, but was literally UNTHINKABLE. Only the Old Testament, especially a few of the psalms, even hint at other possibilities. That all changes with Jesus Christ. He’s innocent and everyone knows it, but is killed anyway, even while forgiving his enemies. He comes back from the dead and continues to acknowledge evil and then forgive it. In this way he is nothing like any of the other myths. From that moment in history forward, scapegoats quit working. Not entirely of course, but their power steadily diminishes and they become less and less effective at restoring order and helping us sweep our sin and failure under the rug. Things can never go back to the way they were. We are too deeply aware of the innocence of victims now.

One can disagree with all sorts of details regarding what I just recounted in both Lewis’s and Girard’s ideas. I’m not entirely convinced myself about parts of either of them. That’s fine. The point I want to make is that these are NOT boring ideas that emphasize how stagnant and static mankind is, but rather an account of how we have perhaps REALLY changed and for the better. Who could bring about such change in such a stubborn people? May I suggest the third person of the Trinity? Let’s be on the lookout for his hand rather than assuming he’s asleep. Man may be mired in sin like cement, but jackhammers exist.

Producing an Oromo braille bible, Part 5

Third time was a charm for getting old used embossers to work! A Juliet Pro 60 embosser we got on eBay for about $400 turned out to be in fully working condition. What’s more, it can print double-sided (interpoint) braille on large sheets of tractor feed paper. With the wider format and using both sides, we were able to squeeze the entire Oromo Gospel of John into 73 pages – low enough to fit in one volume. We used 2.5 inch 19-hole comb bindings to put them together. Here is a picture of all ten copies ready to go.

It also helped a lot to use the Duxbury software for formatting. We were able to get some help paying for a legit license. It saved a lot of time to not mess around with my own hand-written scripts as much. Incidentally, about this same time I received official permission from the International Bible Society to print and distribute these.

I sent them to Ethiopia in the extra suitcase of my friend Josh Quaade, who helps run One Changed Life, a street child sponsorship organization in Addis Ababa. He delivered them to my friends Berhanu and Tafesse who took them to Sebeta a few days later. I just received pictures of their arrival.

They were happy with the result. The only feedback I got was that plastic covers would help them stand up a lot longer. I agree. I looked into nice plastic 11 x 11.5 19-hole punch covers earlier, but they were $1.50 a sheet. I didn’t feel like making the project $30 more expensive was a good idea at the time. I’m going to try to find a less expensive source for them in the future – likely punching them myself. They are a pretty oddball size so not readily available.

The plan is to print and ship one more batch of scriptures sometime before the end of the year. This time maybe 50 volumes or more. I’m waiting to hear back on what books of scripture would be the most helpful to distribute. Maybe just more of John, but perhaps Psalms or other NT books. In addition to the fellowship of Oromo speakers in Sebeta, some of these would likely go further west to Bako.