Archive for February, 2014

Post-Christian Era

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

As part of the symposium at the dedication of the Presbyterian Center, Louisville, Kentucky, October 28, 1988, the theologian Walter Brueggemann surprised the Presbyterian Church (USA) ? as well as all Americans ? by calling them to repentance. “We religionists [Evangelicals] are caught in an odd endorsing and legitimating, when in our knowing, we may want to talk about the sovereign absence of God, an absence evident in the secularization of a society which seems to manage very well by itself.” Brueggemann further suggests that we Evangelical Christians are in exile and need to act accordingly.

Okay. We live in a post-Christian era. So what?

Deborah lived in a post-Jewish era, a time where worship of Yahweh was no longer practiced by her society. There was a great falling away — like now — and God called Deborah to make things right — like God is calling you now.

Deborah was a prophetess and the fourth judge of Israel. She was a warrior mom, a culture creator. The only female judge mentioned in the Bible, Deborah led a successful counter-attack against the forces of Jabin, king of Canaan, and his military commander Sisera.

Judges 5:6–7
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.”

I want you to be Deborahs to this generation. I want you to capture the high culture of this land, and I want you to do that by being very smart. Be very, very smart!

I am persuaded that Deborah was not merely a great warrior — she was that — but she was much more. She won military victories, true, but she won a cultural war too.

Judges 5:10
“You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the victories of the Lord, the victories of his villagers in Israel.”

It was at the “watering places” that culture was created and maintained. The “watering places” were places of sustenance for body, mind, and spirit. It was the place where one came for gossip, for water, and for spiritual insight. In other words, the “watering places” were the universities of Deborah’s time. There, insight was shared and policy was debated. This was the epistemological center of Jewish life.

Haute Culture

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

I want you to go the place God is calling you, perhaps the universities, and make some high culture!

The term “high culture” was introduced into English largely with the publication in 1869 of Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold. Arnold defined high culture as “the disinterested endeavour after man’s perfection” and argued that having culture meant to “know the best that has been said and thought in the world.” Arnold saw high culture as a force for moral and political good. I do, too. Arnold saw culture as that which promotes and creates the way of life that a civilization enjoys — the art that it views; the movies it enjoys; the books that it reads. I am not talking about fads and superfluous external minutiae. I am talking about the things that determine the way we think, govern, and worship. The term is contrasted with popular or mass culture, as well as with traditional cultures. I want you to create a new, high culture ? a wholesome, godly high culture.

You need to be the best you can be for our God. I want you to put the high culture creation epicenters of education, government, entertainment, health, law, and religion in your sights, go to those spheres, and be the best you can be.

I am excited! “Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour, and caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping.” — Rupert Brooke (who died in WWI in 1915)

Damage Control

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard, the George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Sector Management at Harvard Kennedy School and the Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, studies crisis management and leadership. He spoke with the Harvard Gazette about the challenges facing Christie and Target and their performances to date.

Professor Leonard said, “I think the fundamental driving force in how well these events go is how well they are being handled from a substantive perspective. The critical question to ask is: How well have these officials at Target and in Gov. Christie’s office — and the governor himself — gotten on top of the actual substantive event? If, in hindsight, we say, ‘That was about as good a job as they reasonably could have done,’ then I think they’ve done a good job both from a substantive perspective and from a process or public-relations perspective.”

The problem, to me, is that these two brilliant scholars try to control public relations damage by manipulation, smoke and mirrors. How about telling the truth? What if politicians simply said, “Oh I was wrong?” I made a mistake. Would you forgive me?” Truth, though, is a casualty of the 21st century. Or so it seems.

Just saying . . . .

A Way with Words

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Harvard Medical School reports that babies are primed to learn language—any language—while still in the womb, and are born ready to continue the task. Takao Hensch, an HMS professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital, puts it this way, “All infants are born as citizens of the world, meaning that an infant born in Japan could just as easily acquire English as Japanese or any other language.” The newborn brain is highly plastic; that is, it can readily form new synaptic connections, the types of connections that are vital to processing the continuous streams of new information infants glean from what they hear, see, and touch. Research shows that in the early postnatal period, an infant’s brain forms an abundance of neural connections, and then, over time and in response to environmental influences and experience, pares those connections that are not useful.

Hello? Babies are primed to learn language? In fact there is a lot of evidence that they even respond to language in the womb. It turns out that when I spoke to Peter in Karen‘s womb, he was listening (but not sure he heard me).

All this is intriguing but what astonishes me is that not once did any Harvard professor ask the million dollar question, “If babies hear language—the penultimate evidence of human life—in the womb, why do we murder them?” Yes, we are aborting 3000 babies, many of whom are hearing discussions occurring outside the womb . . . A very sad, tragic though.

Just saying . . .

Discovered Treasures

Monday, February 17th, 2014
Today I found my 29 year old son Timothy’s unopened Deluxe Wood Burning Kit hidden in my workshop.  It was given to my oldest son for his 9th birthday by my deceased mother.  I hid it from my son until he was older—and forgot about it. Until today.  Hiding behind the old bow and arrow set, it had been hibernating for two decades.
My wife, homeschool mother extraordinaire, an inveterate, dedicated educator made sure all her toy gifts had pedagogical double duty—“learning while having fun” mom was fond of saying.
Likewise, my mother, a natural born teacher, if not a particularly able child psychologist, nonetheless taught me most everything.  She taught me how to read.  To write. Dad taught me how to observe my world; mom taught me to grab that world and to make it my own.
I so enjoyed finding the Deluxe Wood Burning Kit. Still don’t think I will show it to my 30 year old son. . .

Lowering the Bar

Friday, February 14th, 2014
Established in 1925, the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry at Harvard University has been awarded to important figures from across the arts. Past Norton Professors have included T.S. Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Eames, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, Nadine Gordimer, Orhan Pamuk, and William Kentridge. This year it was awarded to Herbie Hancock.
Ok. I confess. I like Herbie Hancock.  I have liked him since my son Peter inundated me with the name when he played his Phish CDs. One of my favorite is: “Hush, Hush, Hush.”
Long white arms
Losing their strength and form
Sixty year man on twenty year old skin
Skeleton, your eyes have lost their warmth
Look to your father for some support

Hush, hush, hush

Says your daddy’s touch
Sleep sleep sleep
Says the hundredth sheep
Peace peace peace
May you go in peace

Cruel joke you waited so long to show
The one that you wanted wasn’t a girl
All your life you kept it hidden inside
Now when you step
You stumble
You die


Oh maybe next time
You’ll be henry the 8th
Wake up tomorrow, alexander the great
Open your eyes in a new life again
Oh maybe next time
You’ll be given a chance

Hush, hush, hush

At the same time, it is incredible to me that Harvard has asked Herbie Hancock to be a visiting professor! Yikes! He is certainly no T. S. Eliot. Not even a John Lennon.
So what is he doing in the Harvard Faculty Lounge?
I think that today, in America, we confused what we like with what is good.  They are not necessarily the same.  Herbie Hancock is popular.  His lyrics are pretty good.  But not of the same caliber as T. S. Eliot. So, I conclude, we have lowered the bar.
Just saying . . .

The Politics of Public Space

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
New York Times architecture critic Michael S. Kimmelman discussed the design, occupation, and politics of public spaces, from parks to public transportation systems, in a lecture at Harvard. “So much of life in a city is spent in public spaces…. To me public spaces are integral to how we live, and the subject of architecture is also really about how we live.”  Kimmelman continued, “Too many cities around the world are growing not denser, but larger, sprawling, by adding suburban-style gated subdivisions,” he said. Kimmelman talked about the relationship between public spaces and protests as well, such as the Occupy Wall Street Protests as well as other recent protests in Egypt, Turkey, and Brazil.  Ironically, he argued, open spaces encouraged irascibility.
Interesting.  It made me think about the Christian concept of “grace.” We are giving all sorts of open spaces in our lives, thanks to our loving Father, who gifts us with grace.  Who loves us not because of what we do, or don’t do, but because of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. But does this make us into “Occupy Wall Street Protester Types” or “Occupy Grace Protesters?” Will grace cause us to become whinny, selfish, grasping tent-dwellings on the edge of God’s purposes?  I wonder.
Do we use our grace that God has given us as an excuse for shoddy ethics? I hope not.  I hope we want to obey God, to behave, because we love Him in a measure of the way He loves us. I hope we will grow up and stop being afraid of our Daddy and respond appropriately to His love.
Just thinking . . .

Layers of Choice

Monday, February 10th, 2014
In my alumni digital magazine Harvard Gazette, reporter Colleen Walsh writes:
Daniel Kahneman an emeritus professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on “prospect theory. This theory asserts that a person’s decision-making process is based on an assessment of perceived risk measured in gains and losses, and that people more often make decisions based on the perceived gains versus the perceived losses. During the talk Kahneman offered his take on how the mind processes information in two distinct ways. “System 1,” he explained, is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach. Or, in layperson terms, we make mostly knee jerk decisions based upon our pleasure potential. I choose things because it feels good! “System 2,” he said, refers to the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates. But the first often dictates the second. “The idea is that System 1 is really the one that is the more influential; it is guiding System 2, it is steering System 2 to a very large extent,” Kahneman said.
 You bet it does, Dr. Kahneman.  Don’t you wish you were a Princeton professor who gets a ton of money to state the obvious?
The thing is, I do want my own way—ask Karen! But I also know that God can transform my mind so that my decisions are not based upon what I gain but who I know.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:10-12)