Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer Update

Thankfully I have a few days of break.  The Lake Tahoe swim had to be cancelled, since preparation required swimming 15 to 20 hours a week, and I limited myself to about 10 hours.  The Greek vocabulary drill program has me at "90%", meaning that I have absorbed about 90% of the 2,000 + or - vocabulary words.  The system checks each word randomly three different ways:  Spoken Greek to English, Written Greek to English, and English to Greek.  I am a bit skeptical as to whether learning how to say "chopsticks" and "wombat" in Greek will assist me in my biblical studies.  But then there were many surprises, such as the modern Greek word for "seal" as in "seal an envelope" is basically the same as that for the seven seals in Revelation.  At this point all the words have been committed to memory, so it is just a matter of continuing the much reduced daily schedule of word practice until the program determines my error rate has reduced to near zero.

The formal Biblical Greek classes start today, which means I now have three semesters to continue the Greek program.  A challenge here is that Greek grammar is on the same order of complexity as German, so that grammar is going to be the key point requiring work.  Onward!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Swim Update

21 miles for the week.  Now I am a bit sore.

Today's swim was a 6.3 mile (10 km) adventure in Lake Del Valle which took me 3.5 hours.  That is about 11,000 yards, which is 2,000 yards more than I have done before.  Since I have been doing 5,200 yards per day in the morning, this is 37,000 yards for the week, which is the same as the cross Lake Tahoe swim.  With two months to train, the Tahoe swim certainly looks feasible, but it is still a lot of work.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Polite Notice

All of the politeness here is driving me nuts.  Everywhere I go there are signs declaring polite this or polite that.  Even the GPS gives a "please" before demanding you make a particular turn.  Now I am longing to get back to the land of the rude.

The following pictures include some polite geese, polite rowers, and a polite Thames river flowing through the town of Reading.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Hanging Out With The Dead

I finally arrived, but am too tired to post much.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Buzz Off

That admonition is for me.  Wondering where I will land.  The picture below is from the Albuquerque Botanical Garden, which is certainly worth a visit.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wedding

Yes, the couple is now happily married.  This is where the wedding was supposed to be, but wind and rain put an end to the outdoor hopes and sent everyone scurrying indoors.  No problem.  Everything worked out fine anyway.  Too bad I don't put relatives' pictures up on my blog.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 review

Greekpod101 is a product of Innovative Language Learning.  From the following review, it should be obvious that I have no affiliation to this company!  In fact I am not peddling any product on this blog that can be bought or sold.

My current language interests are driven by seminary requirements to learn Greek and Hebrew.  Normally pastor students do the minimum they need to check these requirements off, and then forget the languages.  My goal has been to familiarize myself with the modern versions in order to better appreciate the Biblical text as living languages.  Since I am also much interested in classical writings in both Greek and Hebrew, there is an additional incentive to learn.  Finally, unlike many other western languages, much of the vocabulary and grammar of Greek and Hebrew is shared with their ancient versions, thus, this there is a practical angle to this.  Then there is the fact that Hebrew and Greek represent the fifth and sixth languages that I have invested considerable time trying to learn.

What attracted me to this product was the vocabulary learning program.  But before commenting on the vocabulary tools, I will comment on the rest.  And before that, I will note that my favorite tool for language learning so far has been the Pimsleur method.  The Pimsleur system provides a lot of drill on pronunciation and grammar, while slowly introducing vocabulary.  In the case of Greek, however, they only have two of their 30 lesson modules available, so it is really limited, far beyond Pimsleur's usual level of limited.

The language lessons in GreekPod101 really provide no drill that I can see so far.  You simple hear, and repeat.  Thus, the key aspects of language, conjugating verbs, adjectives nouns along with choosing articles, etc., are really not possible in this system.  You will need to get that drill somewhere else, but language drill is one of the most important aspects.  Questions and answers are key.  A plus is that they can automatically send you the current lesson to look at.  I have been ignoring these recently, however, since they really aren't that helpful without the drill.  A separate aspect that bugs me with all the language learning products I have worked with recently is the boiler plate at the beginning and ending of each lecture.  This just wastes time.

Another annoying aspect to this system is the way they bombard you with spam, offering various discounts, which really just means that the original price is puffed up all the more.  This is irritating.  Then add to this that some of the early introductory lessons wasted time with too much silliness. There is a series of additional quick propaganda tapes about learning languages that added more annoyance by offering up sales rhetoric under the guise of study advice. 

Anyway, if they didn't have something good, I wouldn't have wasted the time to find out the above.  So far I have been pleased with the vocabulary program.  It does a good job of drilling you on whether you recognize the spoken Greek, the written Greek, or can correctly translate back into Greek from English.  a heavy emphasis on native Greek speakers gives me some confidence that my pronunciation is in the ballpark.  This I have use diligently to the point that I have about 600 vocabulary words I have committed to memory, out of a rumored 2,000 that are stored in the system for Greek.  The time spacing formula is quite effective at reminding you of the words you are weak at while not wasting a lot of time on those that you are familiar with.  If I can keep this going, I should know well over 1,000 words before my Greek semester formally starts.  Hopefully I can get the entire 2,000 words down by the end of the first semester, in addition to what is required by the class.

As much as I like this system, it still has some issues.  For example, the nouns don't quiz gender, which is a very big thing in Greek.  Then there are a few quality check things where the audio for a word is completely different from the printed.  In one case, the audio was left out altogether.  Most of the native Greek readers were using good quality recording equipment, but one did not, making a lot of the audio a bit tricky.  Ideally, the 3 or 4 readers would each do all the vocabulary, so that we could hear different speakers say the same word at random.  A male voice in the mix would be nice.

Separately, I purchased the Innovative Language Learning WordPower Hebrew program for my iPhone.  This is also a vocabulary drill program, but very different from the online version.  There seems to be a large amount of helpful vocabulary built in that is divided up into various categories to ease studying.  What is lacking is the three modes of drill that the online version has along with the spaced repetition.  The only drill I see is from the written to the audio and translation.  This greatly limits the usefulness of the iPhone programs compared to the full subscriptions.  A quality problem jumped out at me on the second usage, since the Hebrew verb "to go" was given audio in a participle form, rather than the usual 3rd masculine singular perfect, which is what the written text used.  

All this leaves me a little hesitant as to whether to recommend or not.  What I really would like is a vocabulary drill bundle for a couple languages, but not at the prices they are currently charging.  If they could provide some specific koine and classical word bundles for Greek, I would be in heaven.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Feel The Heat

The temperature wasn't that bad for a Friday Mission Peak event, but it seemed like I would pass out from heatstroke after the cold water swimming.  For those who are wondering, I am still exercising at least 10 hours per week, and I work a full time job, so blogging will continue to be light.

My weight dropped another 4 pounds this week, which is encouraging.  Losing weight will be harder over the next three weeks due to the wedding, and other interruptions.  There is now some awkwardness with pants and belts, so clearly something tangible is happening.  Thinking of Bible verses to help with this, we have Philippians 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice".  This should be the proper reaction to the disruptions.  Others might want to point me to the next verse, Philippians 4:5 - "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone".  Then we can discuss whether doing three hour workouts on an empty stomach while fasting is reasonable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Yesterday's swim finished with a 1/2 mile leg into the wind, which meant waves slapping in the face the whole way back.  I still can't understand why "water boarding" is considered torture.  The finish point was framed with a beautiful rainbow, as the rain was stopping and the sun rising.  My partner said that was the first time in 19 years he had seen a rainbow marking the finish.

I swam 2.6 miles each morning before work from Monday through Friday.  Tuesday we were treated to the sight of a bald eagle trying to steal a baby gosling while the Canadian goose family was swimming in the lake.  It is good to see someone willing to take action against all the illegal immigrants.

Wednesday and Thursday featured winds coming from the south west, which created diagonal waves across the lake that reflected off the shore into other diagonal waves moving in an opposite direction.  This creates the most annoying effect as the waves splash irregularly on the head and the body is bounced around in a strange manner.  Today we had a three hour swim in the morning, which covered 9,300 yards, or 5.3 miles.  The total for the week is 18.3 miles of swimming.  The Tahoe swim - if I choose to do it - is still a few months off.  The 5.3 mile swim today is close to a quarter of the Tahoe crossing distance.  This left me pretty tired.

Regarding the diet, I am down three more pounds.  This isn't as much as I like, but considering that my mother-in-law was here for the week, that is extraordinarily good.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Revenge of the Buddha Belly

As always, the first 20 pounds are easy to lose, but then something happens.  Part of the problem was the increased swimming caused me to have some elbow problems, so I had to back off from 4,600 yards per morning to 3,000 yards.  Then I usually let the diet go during the weekend.  The net result was that I only lost one pound last week.  Part of the fast weight loss earlier was also undoubtedly due to rapidly increasing my swim distance, which put a lot of stress on my body.  Of course the body adjusts, both to the increased effort and the lessened eating.

So the next step is to reduce food intake a bit more, and increase exercise to get things back on track.  Since I am limited on the amount of time I am permitted to swim by the park opening hours and my work schedule, the solution is to add in some trail.  Thus, Saturday I did the Mission Peak climb which I haven't done in a long time.  That means I am good and sore today.  It's all part of the fun.  For those who are into the counting, about 3.5 hours of hard exercise consumes roughly the same calories as a pound of fat.  The Mission Peak effort took 2.5 hours, which followed a 1.5 hour 4,600 yard swim.  If only I didn't have to work.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Facing The Buddha Belly

My two semesters of seminary classes just finished.  The primary thing that I learned from this is how the Buddha got his belly.  He spent too much time in religious studies and scripture reading and completely neglected exercise.  Than we have the fact that eating is a critical part of religion.  Thus, my weight went up to a record 238 pounds.

Now that the classes are done, I am switching to a Greek stoic/military method for bringing things back to a more sensible value.  This is fully appropriate, since my next task starting in the fall is to study Koine (Biblical) Greek.  For the summer semester, however, I will devote my energies to physical discipline and prepping Greek vocabulary.

This last week's exercise was a 2.5 mile swim each morning before work, for a total of 12.5 miles of swimming so far this week.  The other side of the stoic formula is restricting to one meal a day.  Thus, in ten days my weight is down to 225 pounds.  Hopefully I can keep it up.  Tomorrow will be a 2 hour swim, which should be about 3.5 miles.  The difficulty with this method is that it leaves me constantly fatigued and hungry.  Hopefully I can keep the discipline up for another month.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The person who prepared this was clearly "all wet", since the label for "California" is on the Nevada side.  The mind starts playing tricks when you are a quarter way through the swim.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Islam for Jounalists

A copy of this tome is here.  The basic thesis is that 9/11 was a complete surprise to American journalists, and they found themselves knowing nothing about Islam.  Where were they educated??? Thus, a group of journalists and academics decided to put together a guide book explaining all about Islam.  Many claim to have gotten their opinions from having been there witnessing events unfold.  Obviously, only journalists and academics who say the correct things have ever been exposed to Islam.  After going through a third of the book, it appears to largely track the conventional ivory tower story that pre-dated 9/11.  Here are a few gems:

"ONE of the questions that academic specialists of Islam have long explored is: inasmuch as Islam spread over such a vast linguistic and cultural expanse, what held the community of Muslims together? After all, Islam has no pope, and it lacks the centralized ecclesiastical structure (a “church”) that undergirded religious organization in Western and Eastern Christianity. Even with its centralized church structure, Christianity experienced schisms far more regularly than did Islam."

T.E. Lawrence's (yes an exposed academic) comments on the tribal animosity he witnessed should be highlighted here.  This isn't any less abated today, and has led to the catastrophe of the "Arab Spring", which the authors ignore.  There is much, much more that can be said here, but I will need to stop.

"Women also played a central role in Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, as well as the green movement pressing for reform in Iran today. Religious conservatives in many countries sometimes condemn women’s activism as un-Islamic."

Yes, but they were enjoying a last hurrah as they overthrew the Shah, who permitted them to enjoy life.

I will pass over the ignorance about an Islamic Golden Age, since this ignorance has been addressed in many other places.

"POLITICAL Islam is a set of political movements, founded in the 1920s, that seek to establish an Islamic state."

Yes, but let's not forget the context:  The centuries old Turkish Empire was destroyed, and the West's enthusiasm for colonialism was on the wane.  Thus, this was the first opportunity for any ideology to stake a claim in several centuries.  What pops up first?

"ISLAM is a “revealed” religion, in the tradition of the biblical prophets. Muslims believe that the Qur’an was transmitted to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel during meditation sessions in a cave outside Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia."

Um, no.  It is not in the tradition of Biblical prophets, because the word of God came directly to Biblical prophets without an angelic intermediary.  Angels were sent to ordinary people at times, but this is to announce what God is doing or to explain a vision.  According to the Biblical standards, Muhammed was not a prophet.

"Qur’an literally means “The Work.” It represents the words of Allah as revealed to Mohammed. This is an important distinction from the Bible, which is a gathering of accounts of events. The Qur’an is said to be God’s own words, not the teaching of the Angel Gabriel or Mohammed."

When the authors of this book are done, I recommend that they spend some time and try to learn something correct about the Bible, classical Judaism, and Christianity.

"ISLAM has existed in America since the early days of the colonies. Some evidence suggests that Christopher Columbus was able to make his famous voyage to the U.S. with the help of Muslim navigators. It has been suggested that Muslims had actually arrived in the Americas before Columbus."

I suppose this comes from Washington Irving's secret notes used to prepare his story of Christopher Columbus.

"AS a number of studies have shown, Muslims in the U.S. are no different from any other religious group."

As everyone knows, all religions are alike.  They are social institutions, but don't actually believe anything.  Or at least they don't believe anything that isn't so utterly overwhelmed by other factors of society and life as to become totally meaningless.

"Fundamentalism. This term comes from an analogy with Christian Fundamentalism, a theological movement that also became widespread in the 1920s. Christian Fundamentalism treats the religion’s holy book as literal revelation; by this criterion, almost all Muslims qualify as fundamentalists, not just supporters of “Political Islam.” In recent years, however, some supporters of “Political Islam” have adopted an Arabic translation of the term “fundamentalism,” Usuliyya, from the word “usul” (foundations or fundamentals)."

This is about as good of a definition of Christian Fundamentalism as a modernist would be capable of, although I should emphasize that Fundamentalists take their scriptures seriously, which is more accurately what distinguishes them from non-Fundamentalists.  Of course this begs the question of why there are so many groups calling themselves Christians who reject the Bible, yet claim to honor it nonetheless?  And what would reality look like if religions actually did have distinct fundamentals?

"So-called “honor killings” have no basis in Islamic law, but are customary practices of patriarchal societies with a high sensitivity to shame. In effect, “honor killings” are much like the “unwritten law” that for years permitted Texas husbands to shoot adulterous wives and their lovers."

So am I supposed to deduce that Texas is like Islam?  Or Islam is like Texas.  And when was the last time that a Texas mob rioted and burned down a non-Texan neighborhood over an adulterous wife?  And is there no moral distinction between an adulterous wife/husband compared to Romeo and Juliet?

"Existing religious groups (first Jews and Christians, and later Zoroastrians, Hindus, and others) were given the legitimate status of “people of the book.” This recognition stands in contrast to the lack of any legal protection for non-Christian minorities (in particular, Jews) in Europe before the French Revolution."

Ah, the glorious French Revolution.  I am not a fan of government imposed sectarian warfare, but should we really rejoice that this was replaced by government imposed class warfare?  And what about the all powerful government that sees all sectarianism as pointless given the reality of the totalitarian state?  Then there are fundamental differences in the rule of law of Western countries as compared to Eastern countries.

The introduction to this text talks about Edward Murrow, and lauds him as the patron saint of journalism.  More accurately, he is the patron saint of "drive-by" journalism, not legitimate journalism.  I cannot fault the authors for failing to uphold the standards of their patron saint.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The New Ghetto Music

The old Ghetto Music was typically a big old American car driving along blasting out some sort of rock and roll music.  This got updated to a string of profanity, rage and violence strung together in rapid succession with a rhythm, but not a tune which was designated "rap".  Another variant was the ultra-bass in a car with the windows rolled up.  This acted like a high frequency filter so that the overall sensation of being near the car was not too different from the low frequency thumping of a helicopter flying overhead.  The latest twist on this is some Indians or Pakistanis driving around in an SUV with loud Indian singing and music played at a volume sufficient to entertain everyone within 100 meters.  What is really disturbing about this is that I can't understand the lyrics and have no way to determine whether I should be pleased or offended.  Yes, the times are a-changin'.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Stranger to History part 2

I finished this book and gave it to another young friend of mine who is interested to learn more about the Middle East.  Part of me wanted to hang on to it to mine it for quotes.  The other said it was better to let someone else have a read.

There were a few additional thoughts that jumped out at me.  The first was about how the Muslims who fled what is now India to go to Pakistan at the time of the partition have still not been assimilated to their new homeland, even though most of them were born there.  This reminds me of the Palestinian problem where the refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan haven't been assimilated either.  On the other hand, the non-Muslim Indians who fled Pakistan have been all assimilated, thus, the argument is that this is really a problem stemming from tribalist tendencies of Islam.  Then there is Israel itself, which has assimilated Jews from all over the world.

Another idea is the notion that Islam must be absolutely dominant for its full virtuous effects to be felt.  This was stated by a number of ideologues.  Thus, even as Muslim countries spin economically out of control, there is the never ending hope that all this could be rectified if only a purer religion could be enforced.  This stands in contrast to my view that it is impossible for Christians to be absolutely dominant.  The reason is that as Christianity obtains more power, the top religious posts become far too attractive to closet atheists and the like, thus, precluding Christians from ever being dominant.  Unless God should choose to step in and do something different.  Anyway, the only absolute authority Christians expect is that absolute authority of the anti-Christ.  Then the end times will follow, but that will be God's doing, not ours.

The story of Iran was one where petty rules and lax enforcement resulted in a complete mockery of Islamic law.

A final point was the observation that in the countries Aatish visited, protests and riots were something spontaneous.  Instead, it was a combination of governmental planning and Imams stoking up the faithful.

Monday, March 31, 2014

2013 California Budget Surplus

One of the oddities of California is that the surplus or deficit is only announced at the beginning of the year.  This year the news is all about what to do with the $4.2 billion "surplus", which is considerably higher than last years "surplus", and last year was the first "surplus" in a decade.

A churlish conservative writer that I had seen claimed that the 2013 "surplus" amounted to -$12.6 billion, which was a bit less in magnitude than the +$15.6 billion "deficit" that had occurred in 2012.  This article claims that the actual "surplus" was only -$12.2 billion.  During 2012, there was a horrible screech from the state controllers office about inability to make payments, while the Republicans were clearly hell bent on destroying the states finances.  2013 came along with a super-majority, and poof!  the deficit was gone and there wasn't a peep from the controller.  There seemed to be some plausibility to this, since the stock market has been unnaturally soaring due to the fed, and rich Chinese party members are buying up million dollar properties so that they can contribute property tax.  Meanwhile, spending has also been going up.

Another journalist who specializes in California politics noted that the governor simply excluded certain payments from the deficit calculations.  For example, payments needed to keep pension funds solvent.  Of course my major hope is to witness the Apocalypse first hand, so all this is helping me to remain in a very cheerful mood.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Showers

Just so those who don't live in California won't feel too sorry for us.

California Water Woes

I just got a warning in the mail:

"Due to the ongoing drought, the Alameda County Water District can no longer meet ordinary water demands without depleting the available supply or reducing its quality to an unacceptable degree.  As a result, on March 13, 2014, the ACWD Board of Directors declared a water shortage emergency ..."

Some forbidden practices:

"Draining and subsequent refilling of swimming pools"
"Use of non-recycling decorative water fountains"
"Hosing off sidewalks, driveways, etc."

What caught my eye was the manner or enforcement:


Call (510) 668-4299 or visit if you see anyone violating these mandatory restrictions."

My immediate reaction was that encouraging neighbors to report one another is likely to bring back some bad memories to many who have resettled in the US.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Out Of The Closet Part 2

After two days and 2,000 child sponsorship cancellations, World Vision has reversed its reversal and will revert to the a correct notion of marriage.  What is fun to do in these cases is to take a look at the language of "apology".

"'They were not taking a position supporting same-sex marriage or homosexuality,' said Tim Dearborn, director of Fuller Seminary's Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching".

Apparently recognizing same sex marriage has nothing to do with taking a position.  Then it goes on:

"'First, to focus on the aspects of the biblical mandate that are non-negotiable: caring for the poor, victims of injustice, and especially children,' said Dearborn".

Um, no.  The Bible gives us commands to take care of orphans and widows, yet even here it is with caveats.  Relatives are to take care of them first.  Our obligation doesn't extend beyond the Ekklesia (assembly), unless God calls us to do otherwise.  When the Old Testament gives commands, it isn't about free handouts, but rather it is to not oppress, to forgive debts, and to make room so that the poor can work for a living.  Finally, there is the fact that for every command regarding the poor, there is probably a dozen that apply to everyone commanding them to refrain from sexual immorality.  This is non-negotiable.  Going further, most of the injustice and suffering of the poor is a direct consequence of sexual immorality.  Anyone who doesn't care about sexual immorality clearly does not care about injustice or the poor.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Vision Comes Out Of The Closet

World Vision is one of the world's largest private charities and was originally founded as a Christian organization.  Apparently a majority of their current representatives felt that being saved from sin was no fun.  Instead, they are now promoting a "gospel" of salvation to sin.  That is, they have embraced a total negation of the most important Christian belief.  These things are usually a long time in coming, so I am surprised no one mentioned this a few years earlier.

I had it in my mind that World Vision was related to Samaritan's Purse, but this seems to be in error:  Both organizations were founded by the same person, but they are independent.  Franklin Graham has a statement here on the decision of World Vision to declare for Depravityism.

A side note is that I usually don't get too worked up over what is or is not a "cult".  Yes, there is a lot of differences and really crazy beliefs out there, but the worst of the cults seem to understand that sin is bad and God wants to bring us into a relationship with Him by changing us.  Most of these are still much closer to Christianity than atheism.  Modernists, however, are drawn to promoting sin, which is a vector that leads further away from Christianity than atheism.  Of course abortionists, pimps, drug dealers, and pornographers do the same, but at least they have a profit motive that they can cite as a pretext.  The modernist, however, advocates evil for no other reason than the fact that evil is evil.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.  Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, ad their destruction is not asleep." - 2 Peter 2:1-3

There is nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stranger to History, A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands

This is a book recommended by Rummuser and written by Aatish Taseer.  Aatish was born as to a Sihk journalist and a Pakistani politician as the result of an affair.  He is somewhat confused about his identity growing up, but has a sense of being a Muslim.  In this book, he writes of his journey through Islamic lands speaking to different people and trying to get a sense of what it means to be Muslim.  I still have a ways to go in the book, but so far have been enjoying it very much.

I am a Western Christian, yet I am fascinated with ideas (beliefs), particularly as they are bundled together into philosophical, religious and cultural identities.  Aatish is trying to tease out what exactly these ideas are that constitute Islam, perhaps with the goal of finding out what his identity should be.  From the updated Introduction, it is clear that he found out what his identity wasn't, but I am not sure he figured out what it is.

One notion that jumps out of this book would seem to parallel Christianity:  A Turkish Muslim explains: "There is a conflict between the world and our ideas, our beliefs, our culture".  This conversation goes on to explain the alienation of true Muslims from just about everything in the world that deviates from a 6th century Arabian Sharia Law context.  And yet technology must be embraced, if only to get this message out.  Christians have a notion that is similar on the surface: "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." - 1 Peter 2:11.  The Christian view begins as one of me against myself.  My home is heaven, yet I must live in a world where my desires tempt me.  May these desires pass away.  Technological contexts, cultures and much more can change, but these basic human considerations of temptation never change.  The Muslim view expressed above is strictly us vs. them and morality itself takes a back seat in all this.

There remains much to read in this book and the Muslim voice I quoted above is just one of them, so we will see where this leads.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crimea Ponderings

This is related to my complete failure to comprehend western politics regarding the events in the Ukraine.  Maybe somebody can explain to me what I am failing to understand.

My understanding is that the Crimea, and more specifically Sebastopol, is one of the most strategically important cities to Russia, given its position as the port in the Black Sea.  The local population is mostly Russian.  If this territory remained in the Ukraine, and the Ukraine became subservient to the Union of European Socialist Republics, then the port would be under the domain of a hostile empire - one that also represents a hostile modernist religious theocracy.  Why would anyone in the West expect Putin, or any other Russian politician, to behave differently?  

This also has me reflecting back to the Crimean War, which was sandwiched between two other glorious Western Wars, The First and Second Opium Wars.  In the Opium Wars, the UK declared war on China for refusing to permit English companies to sell Opium to the Chinese.  Apparently it is legitimate to blow peoples brains out with drugs if it makes a good profit.  Modern Libertarianism owes its founding to John Stuart Mill who argued that this war was "just", because the Chinese had a right to commit suicide with opium that superseded any governmental jurisdiction.  The Crimean War was likewise purely a trade war where France and England allied with the Ottoman Turks against the Russians.  But then a religious dispute was sought out as a pretext, and the western atheist politicians sold the Crimean War as a Crusade against the Russian Orthodox devils.  Thus, we became allies with Islam against a more or less Christian nation.  From my Chinese acquaintances, I know that any mention of the Opium Wars is likely to put them into a state of rage.  The same reaction would no doubt be expected when dealing with the Russians over the Crimea.

With all that in mind, we have the leftist western politicians issuing idle threats against Russia.  Then there are the right wing politicians who are angry that the left's idle threats don't have any teeth to them.  One wants to tease the momma bear while grabbing her cub.  The other wants to bite the mamma bear in the nose, while grabbing her cub.  Or is there something to else this that I am missing?

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Malaysian Airlines Thoughts

I did take Malaysian Airlines once in and out of Kuala Lumpur.  Friends and relatives are on this airline fairly regularly.  We will need to wait and find out what happened, but I presume everyone on board is dead.  May God comfort the families of those who lost loved ones.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Walter Brueggemann: Cadences of Home, Preaching among Exiles

The actual title of this book is "Cadences of Home, Preaching among Exiles".  As it indicates, this is a book about preaching that I have been assigned to read for seminary.  The theme of this book is that of exile, which is an important topic both in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  What is inescapable at the start is that this white, American, male, tenured, mainline professor who has spent his entire life as a leader in America's dominant ideology of modernism is not exactly the best person to tell us of his experiences in exile.  As I read the laments of his sense of alienation, I can't stop smirking because our current president is from the same United Church of Christ (UCC) religion as Brueggemann and he (along with an army of judges) is busy imposing the UCC's religious ideology onto the US.  Exile?  Yeh, right.

At the same time, it is a fact that the mainline religion is rapidly shrinking.  This is deemed to be something lamentable.  I should be happy to see it dead and gone, except that there is the nasty fact that the mainline is dying precisely because it has succeeded.  Christianity says that God (i.e. Yahweh per the old testament Jewish naming of God), is powerful.  He has an objective existence that transcends any group's experience.  He interacts directly with you and me, but on His terms - not ours.  We are only involved in the narrative that Yahweh authors.  And then Yahweh came to Earth incarnate, as Jesus, to save us from our sins.  Mainlineism isn't even sure if Yahweh exists.  Instead it is convinced that the power of religion is entirely bound up in the Yahweh narrative, or whatever that might be for Mayans or Tartars or Inuits.  Once you go that route, however, you have the inescapable fact that everyone can make up their own Yahweh narrative.  Thus, Global Warming or anti-Imperialism can become your Yahweh, if you are persuaded that you are more sophisticated.  For others a football team will become their Yahweh.  Even marijuana, crass materialism, and child porn can become someone's Yahweh.  It is precisely because the Mainline theologians succeeded in their message of group Yahweh narratives that their houses of worship have emptied out.  In fact, many of these alternative Yahweh narratives are ones that Brueggemann advocates in this book.  The disenfranchised poor.  The American hegemony.  Yet somehow Brueggemann thinks that prescribing a return to the Yahweh narrative will help them recover.  The problem is that if Yahweh isn't real, unique and directly involved in the affairs of mankind, then you might as well make up the Yahweh narrative that suits you.  The Mainline has checkmated itself.