Author Archives: Conrad

Yoann Bourgeois “La mécanique de l’histoire”

Wordless yet eloquent statement about human history & “progress.”

Life More Abundantly?

“God wants you to be rich” is a statement that, to me, seems almost indistinguishable from an assertion like “God wants to stuff you with a table full of cappucino-flavoured ganache.” Before accepting Jesus’ offer of “life to the full” (John 10:10), you need to understand his concept of what a full life is. That is unlikely to be the same as the assumptions of 21st century western culture.

Facebook & Trump: Social-Engineering Manipulation used as Propaganda

“We don’t know everything about Facebook’s role in [Donald Trump’s] campaign. What we do know — or certainly ought to know by now — is to not take Facebook at its word.”

— from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

“Facebook sold ads during the campaign to a Russian ‘troll farm,’ targeting American voters with ‘divisive social and political messages’ that fit right in with Donald Trump’s campaign strategy… Truth was not a requirement.”

— from Sullivan, “Facebook’s Role in Trump’s Win,” Washington Post

For a more complete and fascinating article, see Lancaster, “You Are the Product,” in the London Review of Books. (note: ironically, you have to sign up to receive email from LRB, but you can easily unsubscribe to these by clicking at the bottom of the first one.)

The Alien Logic of Both/And

My former colleaugue, Lish Eves taught that our western/Greek logic is based on “either/or” — we deduce things with the default that one thing will exclude the other thing. This has been a useful shortcut in, for instance, Newtonian physics, but turns out to be a real drawback in our attempts to understand quantum mechanics.

But, she said, many other non-western cultures, notably the ancient Hebrews, have a default logic that is “both/and” — this makes them appear to us illogical and incapable of reasoning when in fact it’s merely a different kind of reasoning and the only way of dealing with some truths. Einstein rejected quantum physics because he was “either/or.” But light IS both wave and particle; there are occasions where the photon/electron or whatever IS in superposition — both here and there. Jesus IS fully human and fully divine. etc. For ancient Jews, my comical example is “Your god does not exist, AND our God could beat him up with one hand tied behind his back, AND he doesn’t have hands anyway.” To us, this is funny; I’m not sure St Paul would understand why we think so.

In our lives, relationships are easier to see as both/and … most westerners can conceive of a love/hate relationship when it comes to themselves. But the extreme modernist frequently complains “How can you say God is a God of love when X Y and Z?” EITHER he is this and not that OR he is … etc.

You and I are culturally conditioned, I think, to lump things into either/or categories. Other cultures would find this arbitrary.

What I never got around to asking Lish is why it is that she thinks cultures need to be either one or the other….

Mac Malware Alert! Or not.

There was a rash of articles earlier this month in various newsites about a new report warning that 2017 would be a ‘banner year’ for cyber-security breaches on Macintosh computers. The report said that “Apple’s current strategies may not be enough to stop the rising tide.” (Wagenseil, “Mac Malware Reaches New Heights, Report Finds”) Did you get that? “may not be enough”!

Oddly enough, the information-security firm that released the report highlighting the many threats that were ‘likely’ to come is precisely the same information-security firm that has just introduced a new antivirus product for sale called Malwarebytes for Mac.  I wonder if they had any idea when they started working on the product that the month of its release would be the most dangerous time in all of Macintosh history! Pretty amazing.

Instruction and Counsel (Ps. 32:8-11)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:8-9)

Good theological education leads to independent thought and judgement. Even for the Old Testament writers, it wasn’t about mindless obedience to detailed regulations. Do NOT be like a broken horse being led here and there! This is what Paul is yammering about in Galatians and Romans. Judaism itself isn’t simply about obedience. As the passage goes on to say, it is about trust; it is about heart:

Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart! (32:10-11)

There Was No King (Judges 17:6 and //s)

Four times in the book of Judges, we run across this formula: “In those days Israel had no king” (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). The first and the last time, the author adds the phrase “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

Now, make no mistake, Judges is in scripture as a negative example: do not act like this. It has become common then, to read this repeating formula as if it were saying that the bad morality displayed in this period is because there wasn’t a king — that is, if they’d had a king, they’d have been better. There is a glaring problem with this: it’s clear from the book of 1 Samuel, which follows Judges, that having a king is itself part of the bad thinking, and not what God or Samuel want.

Mary Evans, in her new commentary on Judges, suggests a nuanced interpretation, one which doesn’t occur to us because we’re not living in the kind of monarchy that the biblical writers would have been writing in. If we lived under a dictatorial monarchy that we knew God didn’t really want, when things went badly, we would be tempted to blame everything bad on the monarch.

Into such a situation, Judges could be telling you about the old days, which were not good old days, and using our repeating phrase to say: yeah, but things were awful even before the kings; the problem is not the form of government, it’s deeper and wider than that. The problem is the unfaithfulness of the people.

Imperfect Followers (Mt 28:16-20)

Bart Tarman preached on the Sunday morning, the final session of SimplyJesus 2017. His text was from the end of Matthew’s gospel. And he said something simple, but true and reassuring. He read this about the Jesus, who was back from the grave, and his first followers: “then the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him…” there Bart paused before reading the end of the sentence… “but some doubted.”

Bart looked at us and said, “I don’t know about you. But that makes me feel a whole lot better about my doubts and fears.” They saw him, they worshiped him, and still there could be doubts.

And these are the people — we are the people — Jesus sends and promises to be with. “Surely I am with you always.” To which we might add, “but some doubted.”

Lord, is THIS the time? (Acts 1:6)

Put yourself in the place of the disciples. That’s hard. But imagine yourself as one of the guys who walked around with this miracle worker.

You believed in him when your family and friends were telling you to get real. In the real world, they insisted, his little miracles and big ideas didn’t count for much. The Sanhedrin were still calling the shots in the Israel, not him, and in the wider world, Rome’s military might and administrative control was unstoppable. But you believed Jesus, even when the Sanhedrin flexed its muscles and arrested him and then had him appear up there on stage with the Roman governor. Your blood boiled to see him act submissive — this man who could raise the dead and still the storms. Perhaps you felt a twinge of doubt at that point — clearly the crowds who didn’t know hom as well did. They turned on him, understandably. They had briefly shared your high hopes that he would confront and defeat the oppressive government as he confronted the moneychangers and dovesellers in the Temple. Instead, when push came to shove, confronted by the real powers, he was silent as a sheep before the slaughter.

But now, it’s the beginning of Acts. He rose from the dead and it shows — he’s different. Power leaks from him even more than before. You’re imagining the looks on the faces of High Priest and of Pilate when he enters Jersalem again to confront them to reply with their politics of violence with his peaceful, unstoppable Presence. It won’t be just the moneychangers he’ll be after this time. They’ll have to bow down, won’t they? The Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, even the Caesar. This time, it’s clobbering time. His first coming to Jerusalem was only the prelude. This will be his Second Coming! He’s back!

Remember that, when it was time, your God told his general Gideon “You have too many men,” and to whittle the forces down to a few (Judges 7:2); remember that, when it was time, your God told the armies not to beat against the city walls with hammers until they fell, but only to march round it, making noise (Joshua 6:2-5). Here we are, few in number and not impressive in fighting prowess, but there he is, resurrecrted from the dead, and he promising that we will soon be drenched in God’s Spirit, as John — who predicting coming judgement — had promised. If he says it’s time, then it’s time. We don’t need a huge, trained army.

Wouldn’t you ask, as they did, “Lord, is this the time when earthly governments fold and you become all in all?” Wouldn’t you?

And when he gently, cryptically replies and it becomes clear that the answer is “not now” and then — this man who death could not take away from you, this man who has the power now to set everything right — chooses to leave you. He just disappears into the sky. How do you feel?

He Believes in You

I enjoyed meeting and sharing the stage with Carlos Rodriquez at #SimplyJesus 2017 — he’s full of energy and his talks presented such an infectiously positive take on our relationship with Jesus.

In particular, the first of his talks was about the sending out of the 70 (or 72; Luke 10:1-24). The ultra-simple point that nevertheless really struck home was this: we often talk about how we need to believe/have faith in Jesus, but a story like this shows how much Jesus believes/has faith in us! The room was filled with tired Jesus followers and it was good to be so enthusiastically reminded how much Jesus likes us.