Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

#196: A Church and State Playground

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #196, on the subject of A Church and State Playground.

Back in the winter we noted, in web log post #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, that the United States Supreme Court was going to decide a case concerning whether a church-affiliated school could be denied participation in a public welfare program simply because it was sponsored by a religious institution.  That decision has been reached, in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and the majority opinion is very like what we previously suggested, but there are three concurring opinions that quibble on the details and one dissent that is scathing, fairly well reasoned, and as long as the other four opinions combined.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, joined in full by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan; Justices Thomas and Gorsuch also joined the opinion, with the exclusion of “footnote 3”, and each of them filed a concurring opinion, and joined in supporting each other’s concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement.  It is Justice Sotamayer who wrote the lengthy dissent, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

To recount briefly, Missouri runs a program which provides funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires.  There is a tax on new tire purchases which funds the collection and recycling of discarded tires, converting these into a “pour-in-place” durable soft surface which reduces injuries on playgrounds.  The application process for determining eligibility to receive such a “grant” examines many factors including the economic circumstances of the area, the public use of the playground, and more.  On a list of forty-four applicants, the school ranked fifth, but did not receive one of the fourteen grants because it was affiliated with a religious institution, and the department had a policy of refusing to provide money to any religiously-affiliated institution, consistent with the Missouri State Constitution Article I, Section 7, which we quoted in the previous article.  This led to a court battle over whether the State, by refusing to permit a religiously-affiliated school from participating in a program that provided aid for non-religious programs, had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, by making eligibility for a public assistance program dependent on renouncing a religious belief or association.

All five opinions discuss the balance between the Free Exercise Clause, that the government cannot interfere with someone’s beliefs, and the Establishment Clause, that the government cannot support one set of beliefs over another.  Neither clause is exactly absolute.  For example, it is agreed that the Establishment Clause does not mean that the publicly-funded fire department can’t put out a burning church or synagogue, or that the police won’t investigate a theft of church property.  The Free Exercise Clause has also been tested, and laws have been overturned which prevented ordained ministers from serving in elected public office, on the grounds that such laws forced a person to choose between his religious beliefs expressed in his vocation and his right as a citizen to run for office.

A lot of the discussion on both sides concerned the previous case Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004).  In Locke, the State of Washington ran a post-secondary education scholarship program based on outstanding scholastic achievement, but with a specific clause stating that the scholarship money could not be used for ministerial training.  The student claimed that the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, but the Court held that under the Establishent Clause the State could refuse to fund ministerial training, particularly given that the program did not exclude schools which offered such courses or the courses themselves, only a degree program of that nature.  They have always maintained that there was some space between the two clauses, in which States were not compelled by either to act in a particular way; the question was whether in this case the state was forced to act one way or the other, or was free to act as it chose.

The majority felt that this case was more like McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978), in which ordained ministers were barred from seeking election to public office, and the Court held that this amounted to denying a citizen a fundamental right available to all citizens (running for public office) based solely on religious belief.  The playground was not part of a religious training program, but a part of ordinary educational aid made available broadly to the community, and the church had been excluded from the program solely because it was a church, having a religious purpose in its existence.  The denial of the right to participate in the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because it required the church to choose between abandoning its religious faith and participating in a common government welfare program designed for the protection of children.  A significant part of the decision can summarized in the Court’s words

…denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest “of the highest order.”

Under such “strict scrutiny” the policy failed.

To some degree, the concurring opinions have to do with footnote 3, which reads

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.

Justice Thomas expressed the view that Locke failed to apply strict scrutiny to the facts in that case, and ought to be overturned–but that that was not a question before the court at this time.  However, he thought footnote 3 too limiting, and deferred to Justice Gorsuch’ concurring opinion for that.

Justice Gorsuch says that the Court makes an indefensible distinction between religious status and religious use, and so distinguishes Locke from the present case.  He makes the point thus, comparing the two cases:

Is it a religious group that built the playground?  Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?….was it a student who wanted a vocational degree in religion?  or was it a religious student who wanted the necessary education for his chosen vocation?

The only justification for the decision in Locke, in Gorsuch’ view, is the “long tradition against the use of public funds for training of the clergy”.  As to footnote 3, he feared it would be misconstrued as saying that the principles on which this decision was based do not apply outside very narrow fact sets, which he thought was incorrect.

Justice Breyer put the emphasis on the fact that the program involved was intended “to secure or to improve the health and safety of children” and was in that sense not different from other public welfare programs such as police and fire protection.  He did not want to extend the decision too far, but thought in this case it was a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, and that for programs akin to this the fact that the applicant was a religious school should not exclude it.

Interestingly, none of these opinions declared that the Missouri Constitution’s Article I section 7 was unconstitutional; the majority opinion merely stated that as interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court it ran afoul of the Free Exercise Clause, and so would have to be understood differently in the future.

Justice Sotamayer’s dissent is long, involved, and pointed.

Her most cogent point is that the church identifies the school as part of its ministry, intended to build the foundations of Christian faith in its students, whether children of church members or others from the community.  We have established that States can refuse to pay scholarships for ministerial training.  It is reasonable to conclude that the State can refuse to pay for Bibles, Korans, Torahs, as well as vestments, chalices, sacramental elements.  Arguably the doors, windows, roofs, and walls of church buildings are part of the ministry.  We would not use government money to pay for such acoutrements, because they are in a sense part of the ministry.

Yet it is clear that this is not so.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was established the Federal Flood Insurance and Disaster Relief could be used to rebuild damaged churches, as long as it was distributed even-handedly–that is, not favoring any particular religion.  So government money can be used for repairing physical plant of religious buildings.

Further, the National School Lunch Act provides discounted and free lunches to students in private and parochial schools without regard for the religious nature of the school, because lunch is neutral and it would be discriminatory against the religious choices of these families to exclude them from an otherwise neutral benefit because they are attending a religious private school.

So on the one hand we ask ourselves whether the playground is part of the ministry of the church, and in a sense it is, but in the same sense that the lunchroom is part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, from the perspective of the Christian faith, every congregant is an extension of the ministry of the church, and yet we know that people cannot be excluded from government assistance programs simply because they are members of a faith which regards all of its members as ministers.  The government cannot avoid giving money to church ministries, as the church understands them, because whenever money is given to people who belong to the church, it is aiding the ministry of the church.

And on the other hand, we ask ourselves to what degree the support of the playground is supporting the religious mission of the church.  In many states it is a requirement that schools include a physical education program, and although Trinity’s school is essentially preschool the playground may be necessary to their certification–that is, if all schools must have some kind of playground for physical activity, then the playground is clearly meeting a secular, a non-religious, requirement.  Stating that it is a part of the ministry of the church certainly calls the matter into question, but seen in perspective, the answer should be obvious, that state money given to religious institutions for secular purposes such as meals and playgrounds are not a violation of the Establishment Clause, and might well be required, as the majority observes, under the Free Exercise clause.

None of this touches the deeper problem, that the language in the Missouri State Constitution is Blaine Amendment language, which as we observed was inserted for essentially religious (anti-Catholic) purposes.  However, since no party addressed this, that issue remains for the future.

#192: Updating the Bible’s Gender Language

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #192, on the subject of Updating the Bible’s Gender Language.

The Southern Baptist Convention, presently the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, created a bit of a stir when it announced that it would be working to update the gender language in the Bible.  Among those outside the church who post on article reaction forums, there were two general types of reactions, the one that it didn’t really matter what one did with texts that were written millennia ago by ignorant peasants and repeatedly altered since, the other that it made no sense to claim that something was a communication from God but that it could be revised by people.

The former group might be excused their ignorance in a field in which many ridiculous notions have been promulgated as if they were true, among them this notion that the writers of the Bible were all ignorant uneducated peasants.  That status was so rare among Biblical authors that the Prophet Amos makes a point of asserting it about himself, as a difference between him and all the other prophets.  As to the New Testament writers, they were generally educated members of the middle class–a tax assessor, a son of wealthy parents, a medical doctor, the owner of a business large enough that he was able to leave it in the hands of subordinates for several years and return to find it still profitable.  Indeed, Paul was a rabbinic scholar, trained by Rabban Gamaliel I, who is one of the scholars whose teaching is included in the Talmud.  They were not ignorant peasants.  As to the alleged alterations of the text, our scientific textual critics have established the original text of the New Testament to within ninety-nine-point-nine percent using sources dating into the first century; very few “intentional” changes were ever made, and those which were were obvious and easily restored.

However, the latter group has a point, which is based on a very subtle misunderstanding of exactly what the Bible is and how we regard the Bibles we read.

The problem is that the Bible is not written in English; it’s written largely in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (which is a language closely related to Hebrew commonly spoken by Jews in the New Testament age).  When we read English translations of the Bible, we are reading the best renderings of those original texts which translators thought they could produce–but it means that decisions are made regarding the best way to represent the ideas in our language.  Dr. J. Edwin Orr spoke of a man telling a story through a translator.  The speaker said, “My friend was tickled to death.”  The confused native translator told the audience, “I do not understand this myself; his friend scratched himself until he died.”  Translations can be tricky.  And on the subject of gender, four things should be noted about Greek to English translation that will illustrate the overall problem.

The first is the use of the word anthropos.  It means “man”, and it is a masculine word.  (Gender of words is also one of these four things.)  However, there is another word for man, andros, and the words are different.  Anthropos means man in the general sense, the way we use the word “man” to refer to humanity.  In many contexts it would be better to render it “person”–but there are contexts in which it is obvious that the person or persons in question are men, that is, males.  In that sense, anthropos refers equally to men and women; andros refers to men only.  But we tend to render anthropos as “man” because we don’t usually use “human” that way, and because philosophers and theologians sometimes use the English word “person” in something of a technical sense that has nothing to do with whether you’re a human.

So it makes sense that we might want to revise our translations such that the word anthropos is not usually rendered “man” but something more generic like “person” or “human”, sometimes “humanity”.  That would be a revision of gender language that is attempting to produce a more accurate representation of the meaning of the original text.

There is another aspect particularly in Greek that creates great headaches for translators.  The word andros, “man”, has a counterpart, gune, “woman”.  The problem is that in common usage the words “husband” and “wife” were rarely used, the natives speaking of a couple as man and woman, with the sense of a man who belongs to a particular woman and a woman who belongs to a particular man.  Thus particularly in many places where we have the word gune, we are not certain whether it means “woman” or “wife”; it happens also sometimes with andros, but not as frequently.

We also have, as mentioned, the problem of the gender of words.  Anyone who has studied a Romance language (e.g., French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) knows that nouns in those languages have gender–they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter.  In Greek, the word anthropos is masculine, and thus adjectives and pronouns that are referential to that word must also be masculine, and we have the result that “man” is always “he”, even when it means “person” or indeed when it means “humanity”.  On the other hand, “church”, ekklesia, is feminine, and thus is always “she”.  In English, we tend to reserve masculine and feminine pronouns for people, and thus humanity and church are both “it” or sometimes “they”–although we make exceptions, sometimes personifying objects such as perhaps affectionately calling a boat or car “she”.  The problem sometimes arises that we are not certain whether a writer is referring to a woman or a feminine noun, a man or a masculine noun.  A masculine noun, such as soldier or guard, could be used of a female person, and in the Greek it would be proper for the pronoun to be masculine if its antecedent is the noun, feminine if it is the person.

Finally, there is the problem that Greek does not require the use of pronouns, and thus many statements lack any gender definition.  To understand this, perhaps an example left over in modern English from earlier forms might help.

In the present tense, “I say”, “you say”, “we say”, “they say”, but “he, she, or it says“.  If we see the form says, we know that it is third person singular.  We don’t really need the pronoun to know that, but we always use it.  In Greek, though, all verbs are conjugated for person and number, and because of this a Greek could have said, “says” and the hearer would extrapolate that some third person singular subject is the antecedent, the person or object who says.  That means that in many places where it says “he” does something or should or may or might do something, the “he” is an extrapolation of our Indo-european language, a word that we provide because we need a pronomial subject in English which is not present in the Greek.

This is a much more difficult issue to address, because it will not do to extrapolate in every instance where there is no subject “he, she, or it” says or does whatever the text indicates.  Nor will translating them to “she” or “it” make the text clearer.  Indeed, it is problematic, as there is very little way for the reader of an English translation to know whether that “he” is what the Greek says or what the translator extrapolated to make sense of the English.  Further, Greek is also an Indo-european language, and from Sanskrit to German to Portuguese it is the standard in such languages that where the gender of the subject is not determined by the gender of a noun, the feminine pronoun represents a female person, the neuter pronoun a non-person, and the masculine pronoun a person of either male or unspecified gender.  Thus even if the Greek says “he”, that does not necessarily mean that the author was excluding “she”.

Revising the gender language in the Bible is a challenging undertaking for these reasons and more.  It will not be done perfectly, and it certainly will not be done to everyone’s satisfaction.  Yet it is not as foolish a notion as it sounds.  In many places the specification of gender in the English translations is an artifact of translation, not a certain representation of what the original said.  Language and usage change over time; new translations are created to keep pace with the changes.  This may be one of them long overdue, but difficult to manage.

#187: Sacrificing Sola Fide

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #187, on the subject of Sacrificing Sola Fide.

img0187Luther

My Gordon College friend Walter Bjorck has apparently been posting a series of suggestions concerning how to create a genuinely Christian genuinely non-denominational fellowship.  He has been doing this via Facebook–which I find a particularly poor medium for that kind of thing, both because it is challenging to find all the posts in the series and because it provides a rather limited opportunity to respond and discuss.  To the former, I have no easy answer for him (try a web log, or possibly start a Facebook group?), but for the latter I have removed a piece of the discussion hither.  It happens that shortly after he posted this it was his birthday, so I was alerted to visit his page and saw this, and was prompted to respond here:

6. Justification by faith. All Christians believe in justification by faith, but Protestants went a step beyond by saying justification by faith alone. Both views must be allowed, understanding that all viewpoints have usually agreed that true faith produces godly works. We should also understand that Christians have agreed that fallen human beings cannot produce good works apart from the grace of God in Christ. Christians agree that Christ alone lived a sinless life and fulfilled the mission that Adam and his descendants have failed to fulfill.

Let me mention that Walter is one of those people whose intellect impressed me.  In our collegiate days he would visit meetings of various unorthodox groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) and discuss with them how their views differed from Evangelical Christianity, and why the latter was more likely true.  That he was able to do this at all impressed me; that he did it in an open and friendly non-confrontational way which created dialogue and got people listening even more so.  So as I come to his ideas here, I think it important to express my admiration of his ideas and his efforts.

I must also mention that this is the only item on the list I found, but I found part of the list (without links) and recognize that there are some other issues on it I would find problematic and might eventually address if I manage to locate his comments on them.  Overall, I think C. S. Lewis was right when he somewhere said that what divides Christians is not that we disagree about the important things but that we disagree as to what the important things are.  I have a wonderful example of this, reported to me by Presbyterian Reverend John Highberger who said that an Episcopalian priest commented to him that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would never get together because Episcopalians go forward to receive communion and Presbyterians have it delivered to them in their pews.  It sounds silly to the Presbyterian that this would be an issue, but that specific act conveys a tremendous amount about the beliefs of the two denominations:

  • To the Episcopalian, the priest is a representative of Christ and God, and so standing as Christ gives the bread and wine to the individual individually, an act of communion between the individual worshipper and God.
  • To the Presbyterian, the minister is an officiant, a servant performing the ritual, which partly for convenience is done all at once by everyone so that everyone is involved in the service continuously (i.e., no one is sitting awaiting his turn to be involved again) and which incidentally connects the worshippers to each other as they take the bread and then the wine simultaneously, corporately as one body.

The form of the act itself expresses the theology behind it.  In this case, Episcopalians go forward because the act of going forward matters to them; Presbyterians remain in their pews because it does not matter.  I am disinclined to believe that either represents first century practice or the origin of the ritual, but on some level that’s not the point.

There is a degree then to which Sola Fide, “Faith Alone”, matters to Protestants.  Yet the deeper question is, should it?  Should we be willing in the name of Christian unity to sacrifice this doctrine, one of the defining identifiers of Protestantism, or should we maintain it?

I think there is a problem with the Reformation doctrine of faith, but I do not think it is in this aspect of Sola Fide.  For those who do not understand it, Sola Fide means that faith is the only means of obtaining grace and thus the only way to obtain salvation, and specifically justification.  Nothing else matters but that you have faith in Christ.  If you do not have faith in Christ, nothing else will ever be sufficient to earn God’s forgiveness; if you do have faith, nothing else will ever add anything to that salvation or reduce it in any way.

For those for whom Sola Fide is not a correct doctrine, there must of course be some alternate means of justification.  Two candidates are commonly mentioned.  Walter references one, good works.  The other is technically known as “means of grace”, which we will explain in a moment.

In regard to faith and works, I am going to mention Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who visited us at Gordon College and addressed us on this subject (among quite a few others).  I will be citing some of his statements on it.  The issues are, can one obtain justification by doing good works without faith, and if one has obtained justification by faith can that be improved by works?

The first question suffers from the issue of the perfect score, the 4.0 grade average, “batting a thousand”.  To be “justified”, as in the colloquial definition “just as if I’d never sinned,” you have to be perfect.  Doing good works doesn’t earn you points because that’s the default–you lose points every time you fail to do good works.  As Dr. Orr suggests, if you think that doing good works will make up for bad ones, ask your local police chief whether it would be all right for you to murder your spouse if you build a clinic first.  To earn justification by good works you would need to be perfect every minute of your entire life–including all that time before you realized that you needed to be perfect.  That not being humanly possible, you are going to need grace, and thus presumably faith, and you are now looking for justification based on works plus faith–not much different from justification based on faith plus works, addition being commutative.

So the other side of the question is if you are justified by faith, what can works add to this? Can you then be more justified?  If being justified means being treated as if one is sinlessly perfect, without flaw or blemish, what can be added to that?  Or are those justified soley by faith somehow less justified, regarded as less perfect, than those who are justified by faith plus works?

Certainly works are part of our salvation.  However, as Dr. Orr put it, we are saved by “the faith that works”, that is, faith that inspires us to act differently–and at this point maybe we should stop and identify what “faith” actually is.

One of the complications is that the New Testament has only two words for the concept we call “faith”, a noun and a verb–which would not be problem but that we recognize that there is a range of meaning in those words which we then attempt to capture by rendering the word to different English words in different contexts.  We take the one verb and make it “have faith”, or “believe”, or “trust”, or “be faithful”, all of which are valid senses of the word–but then we think that because the English words are different the meaning is different.  We do much the same with the noun.  Fundamentally the sense of the verb is to trust, and the noun then refers to that trust.  Being justified by faith means that by placing our trust in Christ we are treated as if we had never failed, never done anything wrong.

It is that aspect of complete justification that becomes the problem for any doctrine of “faith plus”.  If we say that those who add works to their faith are “more justified” than others, then we have unquestionably said that those others are “less justified”.  However, in all of Jesus’ parables about judgement, the outcome is always black and white–no one is told, I’m sorry, you can come to the party after we clean you up a bit.  Either you are completely justified and “in”, or you are not completely justified and “out”.

Arguably, in quite a few different senses some are “more saved” than others.  The penitent thief on the cross had enough time to make a confession of his own sin and his trust in Christ, and received a promise of salvation without anything else (and it is difficult to imagine that he had no ill thoughts toward those who would be watching him struggle for life and then breaking his legs so he could no longer do so).  Of some we might recognize that they went through far more trials and struggles toward a life of devotion to Christ than most of us; for others, we might recognize that they seem closer to God, more changed, more loving, than most people.  Some people clearly are able to trust God through far worse challenges than others, and so seem to have–and to need–more faith.  Grace expresses itself differently for each individual it touches.

Yet there is a sense in which that is an illusion.  If I ask whether you have faith, I must mean do you trust God completely.  That faith might be more or less tested, and all of us will fail on one point or another during life, but that trust means that we also trust He forgives our failures, and that the tests we fail were there to make us stronger.  Trusting God completely is in that sense a yes/no proposition–either you do or you don’t.  Trusting Him enough for the problems that come in life is different, but only in the sense that the problems come to teach us to trust Him completely.

What, though, of “means of grace”?  These are often called “sacraments”.  The Roman Catholic Church has at least a half dozen of these; the Baptists as a rule have none.  Lutherans have a couple, and it is more difficult to tell exactly what things are and are not sacraments in other denominations.  Baptism and that bread-and-wine ritual for which we have at least four distinct names (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper) and many times as many theologies are the two most commonly recognized.  I have never been a “means of grace” person, so I am sure to misrepresent this, but the theory seems to be that you use up the grace you were given in the past and have to replenish it, and that the performance of these rituals by authorized persons delivers more of God’s grace to you.  It is the difference between the belief that justification by faith at a specific point in your life forgives you for all the wrongs you have not yet committed and the belief that you have been forgiven for everything you have done so far but need more grace for those wrongs which you continue doing.  However, it also involves the recognition of a priesthood as a conduit of grace–you do not receive forgiveness by confessing your sins, exactly, but by being given forgiveness by God’s representative.  It again suggests that the grace of initial total justification is less than total, and needs to be supplemented if you are to have any hope of heaven.

Yet to some degree this might be less egregious than faith plus works, because it seems fundamentally to be faith plus faith.  That has not always been so, or at least, not everyone has so understood it–stories of Spanish conquerors in the New World having priests throw water at Native Americans and pronounce the ritual words so that when the Spanish armies slaughtered them they would go to heaven suggest a mechanical magical process by which the power of the ritual releases grace even on those who do not have faith, but this is still based on the theory that someone else has faith by proxy, that the faith of the one performing the ritual releases grace on the unbeliever.  So “means of grace” are fundamentally about faith, faith in God through a ritual believed to have been instituted by Him for the purpose of conferring grace on His people.  I don’t believe in the ritual delivery of grace; I do believe in grace through confession and prayer and other aspects of a personal relationship with God, though, and accept that for some people, at least, those personal aspects might include rituals which have no meaning to me.

Ultimately, then, it seems that justification must be by faith only, or it fails to be justification at all.

On the issue of the relationship between faith and works, I recommend my Parable of the Boiler, elsewhere on this site.

#184: Remembering Adam Keller

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #184, on the subject of Remembering Adam Keller.

Some of you know who Adam Keller is (that is a link to his Facebook profile).  Indeed, some of you know him better than I, although I have known him for over a decade, having met him at Ubercon (I do not recall which number, but I’m betting on III), gamed with him online and at conventions, and exchanged visits to each other’s homes.  Still, he was much closer to my second son Kyler and our perennial houseguest John, both of whom lived in his home for a while, probably more than once.  I knew him, but never very well.  But then, I know very few people very well.

img0184Keller

However, I was notified of this, and ultimately found it on that Facebook profile (dated April 24th, 2017, posted by someone from Adam’s own personal account):

I regret to inform all of Adam’s friends and family that he passed away last night at 11:20 pm at home.

We are looking for any family members of Adam. If you are family or have contact information for family please call….

As we make arrangements for Adam I will post them here.

Thank you very much.

Digging through threads on that page I learned that he died of pneumonia.  Co-workers say he was sick and in some pain for most of a week, but refused to go to a doctor.  Some attributed this to his fear of the high co-pay on his (Lockheed) company employee health coverage policy, and so some blamed the Affordable Care Act.  That is more than I know.  I do know that many excellent company health care plans have been eviscerated to avoid the tax penalties of that law, and there are claims that it is discouraging people from obtaining needed medical care.  If that is the case here it makes the event the more tragic, but it’s also not the point.

Adam was a gamer, and an outstanding one.  He was a champion Hackmaster player (I understand he held a national title thrice) and ran the game at conventions, in some capacity on behalf of Kenzer & Company.  It was while he was running a Hackmaster game at Ubercon that he heard me running a Multiverser game at the next table for Kyler, and became interested enough to inquire about it and test play it.  He became an avid fan, player, and supporter, coming sometimes to company meetings, trying to advise us on our hopeless financial situation, and promoting the game to his gaming friends.  He was one of the best power players I ever ran, and he has left behind a couple of characters who genuinely earned their superhero status and abilities through game play, whom I will seriously consider how to use as non-player characters in the future.  I will not forget him.

Because I am the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, I am often asked whether I believe a particular departed individual is in heaven.  I try not to speculate, but I realize that it matters to people, particularly in regard to those I have at least briefly known.  The only person besides Jesus that I am completely certain will be in heaven is me, because I have that promise from God; for everyone else, there are some that it would shock me were they not there, and probably some that it would surprise me if they were, but I am not the one who makes those decisions.  Regarding Adam, I can only say that I have insufficient information.  He never talked about spiritual matters, but he was generally quiet and with me he rarely spoke about anything other than gaming.

(Just because people will ask, and some (notably Timothy and Anne Zahn) have asked, I am reasonably certain of Gary Gygax, and very sure of Dave Arneson.)

Multiverser gamer John Cross has several times said that he believes that when I created Multiverser, God revealed to me what heaven was going to be like:  that we would leap from world to world becoming involved in adventures of all kinds forever.  I deny it on every level.  God revealed nothing to me; the concept of leaping between universes was not new with us, and most of how it worked came from Ed Jones, not me; it is not the heaven which I am eagerly anticipating.  However, somehow I think if it were so, Adam would like that.

Rest in peace, friend, and whatever adventure you find beyond the grave, may God have mercy on you.

#181: Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #181, on the subject of Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration.

I have long been of the opinion that the best way to learn to write songs, initially, is to find someone who already does and work with him, in essence apprenticing as a songwriter.  That’s how I learned, although it occurs to me that I never really wondered how my mentor learned.  Still, I had learned quite a bit of music theory and had attempted quite unsuccessfully to write songs before I met him, and very quickly learned the secrets once I started working with him.  I have since worked with quite a few people who had never written a song before, and taught them the basics of how to do so.  So there might be other ways to get started, but working with someone who already knows what he is doing is a tried and true approach.

img0181Music

Because of this, I’m not claiming that anything I write could ever teach you how to write a song.  I can teach you quite a bit of music theory (I did some of that in Mr. Young’s Music Theory Class on Facebook), but to learn to write a song I think you would have to go through the process with me.  On the other hand, this past weekend I persuaded my youngest son to collaborate on a song, and it came out fairly well, and so I am going to attempt to explain the process that brought about the song here.

I am going to state the caveat I have often stated in other contexts:  all songs are different, and there are many different ways in which they come into being.  When people ask whether the words or the music come first, I always say no, because it does not work that way.  There have been times when I have begun with words that had no music, and other times when I had a melody but no lyric, or even a chord progression or background that was worth forming into a song.  How it happened this time is one example, but it shows aspects of process.

It began while I was driving in the car.  I should credit the Reverend Jack Haberer, because if I recall correctly when we were together at Ramsey High School he put under his yearbook picture, “Secretly desires to be born again again,” and the line has stuck with me over the decades.  It was nagging at me as I was driving, so I pulled a digital recorder from my pocket (I have one on my cell phone and another that is just that) and dictated something roughly poetic.  I do this sometimes with ideas for articles, stories, songs, and tasks I should complete, because I know I will forget quite soon if I don’t, and even with the convenience of recorders that I don’t always think to use too many ideas escape me.

Upon arriving home, I played back the recording and cleaned it up a bit, typing up a document that read

If deep in your heart you remember when–
Did you want to be born again again?
The good news is the news is true:
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.
Even you.

So I had the beginning of a song idea, but I had no melody, no music for it at all.

What I did have was a desire to help my youngest son Adam with his own music.  He happens to be a natural–like me, he picks up instruments and figures out how to get music out of them.  He plays the piano for hours, but has very little notion of the names of the chords or key signatures.  He is learning; he questions me frequently, about what he’s doing on the piano or the guitar or the recently-added cello or other instruments.  He is very creative, but he doesn’t often write what we call “songs”–he does improvisational music, and then tries to remember fragments of it, or he records himself jamming at the piano and uploads it to the Internet but can’t otherwise reproduce it.  I wanted to give him something of an understanding of how I write a song, and so I wanted to collaborate with him on something.  I printed those words and kept them on my desk for a couple hours.

He is notoriously difficult to catch, but while I was rushing about getting his mother ready for work I saw him standing in the living room, grabbed the lyrics, and said something on the order of, “I thought you might like to collaborate on a song.  Here are some lyrics to get it started.”  He took them over to the piano and started playing something and singing something.  I was only half listening as I was otherwise occupied, and by the time I joined him he had worked some of the bugs out of it and I tried to pick up his melody.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the rather stock chord progression he had adopted, even with the unusual stray notes, and the melody was nothing terribly original–but the song had vitality and drive, and that fit it extremely well, so I quickly tried to learn his melody, which probably changed a bit in the process.  He had also doubled the end words, so that Even you was sung four times rather than two.

He then grabbed the paper and ran looking for a pencil or pen.  People who know me will wonder that I didn’t just reach into my shirt pocket and hand him one, but around the house I don’t wear the shirt with the pencils, only the pocket T-shirt, so I only sometimes have a pen available.  He grabbed one from the kitchen, and scrawled words on the page as the pen died in his hands.  Still, there was enough there that we had a second verse, and I got one of my pens and filled it in, with a few tweaks, thus:

There in your mind when you feel abused,
Don’t you get tired of being used and used?
Darkness falls, then the light breaks through.
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

After that, we were talking about a bridge.

That progression I mentioned was A minor, G major (with a suspended 4 frill), F major, E major (with a suspended minor second frill)–yes, quite common, quite boring from a musical theory perspective, and it repeated, playing through three times for each verse.  I wanted to exit into a bridge with an unusual transition, and he had played something I liked (he was on the piano, I was on the guitar).  I started talking about where the chord would be “expected” to go, and before I’d gotten very far he told me what chord to play.  Well, he didn’t exactly tell me, “Play an F major 7 with an added augmented four,” but he told me where to put my fingers and that’s the chord he wanted.  As root progressions go, it was not terribly interesting (from the V of VI to the IV), but the dissonance inherent in the chord was interesting, and he wanted to slow it down so I shifted to a light picking (I tend to avoid tempo changes in my songs, preferring meter changes that achieve the same effect but are more precise).  He sang the next words, You want what you want, creating the shape of the melody for the bridge, and then started spitting out words that he liked as individual lines.  I told him to write them down, because it was obvious we were going to lose some potentially good material if we didn’t do something.  He wrote you got the joy, Jesus got the pain, then crossed out Jesus got and replaced it with He took, and added away to the end.  He next wrote your sin is a stain–redemption sustains, but it was all disjointed.  I said I wanted to invert that line, strike the away, and make pain rhyme with stain, but we needed a line between to make it fit.  He suggested you get what you get, and with a bit of scribbling arrows on the page we wound up with

You want what you want.
You got the joy, He took the pain.
You get what you get.
Redemption sustains, sin is a stain.

I still wanted a second bridge, something that would break out of the ordinariness of the progressions so far, because the other chord in this bridge was a G six nine, and we played it in essence F to G to F to G, returning to the original progression–and the melody was only slightly different from that of the verses, although slowed.

My vision at this point was that we were going to write a third verse related to that idea of sin, do a different second bridge, and resolve it in a fourth and final verse.  The tempo being what it is, the song was moving fast and I thought felt short.  I put forward an opening line for the third verse, Asking yourself why you want to sin, and we started talking about what to say next.  The contrast between losing and winning came to the fore, and I wanted to say something about choosing to lose, but couldn’t fit it comfortably and still get to the word win for the rhyme scheme.  Between us we hammered out the second line, and along the way Adam said that the words to win should flow into the next line, the object won opening that line.  I observed that the second line in previous verses always had the double ending–again again, used and used, and that we should maintain the pattern, to win to win–and then that this would achieve what he wanted, if we made it to win.  To win victory in the opening of the next line.  The rest of that flowed quickly, and we had a third verse,

Ask yourself why you want to sin,
Why you lose, you were made to win.  To win
Victory, and to make it through
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

And now we came to the point where I wanted the second bridge, and I pushed for the resolution from the E major to go to something at least a bit unanticipated, the C major.  I also agreed again to reduce the drive.

At this point we needed a progression, and Adam said that he wanted me to go from the C up half a step, so I slid it into the D-flat major.  That certainly satisfied me for unusual progressions, and he liked it as well–but he said we needed to resolve that, and since I was the expert on that point he left it to me.  I decided I could go from the D-flat to the A-flat to the E-flat, and from there I could get back to the C easily enough (all major) and repeat the progression.  I also recognized that the last note of the melody of the verse was the E, and I could hold it into the beginning of the bridge and start this melody on the same note.  The melodic line at the first chord change was tricky, but I managed to bring it down to be on the G by the time we reached the E-flat chord, which was the common note going back to the C chord, and a leap back up to repeat the line worked.  I wrote the words with the melody at this point, and Adam put them on paper.  I also after the second descent held the G with my voice and changed the chord from the E-flat to the G major, thinking that it would give me the leading tones to get back to the A minor for my final verse.

But–

That fourth verse was supposed to resolve the message of the song.  There were probably a lot of things we could have said, but I had none of them in my mind yet and I realized that the unexpected shift to the G major chord provided a musical resolution to the song, and that the words of what was supposed to be the second bridge resolved the message rather well.  I presented the alternatives to Adam–write a closing verse, or end the song here–and he agreed that this was a decent ending for the song.  Thus our fourth verse never materialized, and our second bridge became instead our coda:

Thank God for what He’s done
To set us free
He gave His only Son
For you and me.

And you should be able to hear the song here on SoundCloud.

#179: Right to Choose

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #179, on the subject of Right to Choose.

It made the news this past week, that a teenager in Arizona (her name is Deja Foxx, and her stated age is 16) challenged Republican Senator Jeff Flake with the statement, condensed in headlines as “Why is it your right to take away my right to choose?”

Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore
Senator Flake, Photo by Gage Skidmore

Let’s be fair to Miss Foxx.  What she actually said, according to transcripts of the town hall meeting, is

So, I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood and to choose no-co-pay birth control, to access that.

That’s a little different, and a considerably more defensible question.  I also want to examine the more fundamental question, though, the one presented in the headlines, because that question comes up quite a bit, particularly in arguments about abortion:  why does anyone have the right to take away anyone else’s right to choose?

The first thing to say is that law is fundamentally about taking away the right to choose–or more precisely, about creating negative consequences for choosing conduct we as a society want to prevent or discourage.  You do not have the right to choose to help yourself to retail products off the shelves of a store without paying for them.  As much as you might wish to do so, you don’t have the right to kill your annoying little brother.  You don’t have the right to operate a motor vehicle on public roads while under the influence of an intoxicating substance.  You can, if you wish, choose to do any of these things; if you are caught, you will face penalties for doing them.  Whether or not you have the right to do things, in our society, is defined by the laws on which we, through our legislatures, executives, and judiciaries, agree.

So the people of Arizona who elected Senator Flake to office gave him the right to take away some of our rights, to curtail our freedoms, to put limits on what we can and cannot do.

Yet that is not quite what Foxx means.  She had prefaced her question with a tirade about how she, as an underprivileged homeless black girl trying to finish high school, was dependent on Title X (read “ten”) funding for Planned Parenthood, recently cut by a new law barring funding for any family planning center that also provides abortions.  She was fundamentally asking what right America has to refuse to pay for that; she would not have put it in those terms, but that’s the essence of the question.

There are a lot of questions we could ask in response to this.  What right does she have to expect that we are going to fund her promiscuous life choices?  When I was sixteen I did not need any funding for birth control.  I knew, and everyone I knew knew, that if you had sex you risked having children, and there were a lot of consequences to that.  There were ways to reduce the risk, but it could not be entirely eliminated.  Most of us made the intelligent choice:  we did not have sex.  If you want the privilege of making stupid choices, you should expect to bear the costs of that yourself.  If you stupidly steal from grocery stores, expect to go to jail.  If you stupidly drive while intoxicated, expect to lose your driving privileges.  If you stupidly engage in sex, expect to face the risk of pregnancy (which is clearly a risk for boys possibly even more so than for girls).

Of course, hidden in both sides of that is the fact that the new law has not terminated funding for low-cost no-co-pay birth control.  It has cut funding to organizations that fund or perform abortions.  There are other programs that provide birth control and birth control advice that do not promote abortion in the process.  Further, Planned Parenthood could continue receiving as much money as it has been receiving simply by terminating all programs related to terminating pregnancies–and in the process would have more money for the other birth control programs because none of its funds (which as we previously noted are a fungible resource) are going to those cancelled programs.  The government is not providing less money for birth control services and advice; they are only refusing to provide that money to or through those who would advise you to kill your unborn baby, and who would help pay for that.

So if the question is who has the right to decide that American taxpayer money will not be given to organizations that kill unborn babies, the answer is that American taxpayers have that right.  In fact, American taxpayers technically have the right, if we so chose, to refuse to provide any kind of support for teenager promiscuity.  It is American generosity that provides those things; Foxx has no superior right to expect them from us, whatever she thinks about supposed entitlement arising from her lack of privilege.

There is, though, the other level of all of this, the level hinted by the headline, the question Foxx was not asking but which Planned Parenthood undoubtedly wants us to hear in her question:  what right do people like Senator Flake, people like me, people like roughly half the American population plus anyone else who agrees with them, have to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot abort the preborn child she carries?  What right does anyone else in the world have to tell that woman that she does not have the right to choose whether to give birth to that child or not?

And let me agree that for millions of women, their choice of what they do with their own lives, their own bodies, is not my business.  Should they want facelifts or breast implants, stomach banding or tattoos or piercings, however they wish to improve or mutilate their own bodies, my approval or disapproval is immaterial.

However, your own body is where that right ends.  If you want to kill that annoying little brother, I think he has a right to object to that–and I think the rest of us have a responsibility to protect his right.  Indeed, if you want to kill your own annoying preschool child, that child has a right to choose to live, and we have a responsibility to intervene on behalf of that child.  Further, if that child happens still to be inside you, it has the right to choose to be alive, and we the corresponding responsibility to speak on its behalf to protect that right.  We certainly have the right to refuse to help you do it.

So ultimately the question

who gave you the right to take away my right to choose?

is one that every unborn child can ask of its mother, and of Planned Parenthood and anyone else who becomes involved in deciding that the child does not have the right to live.

Jefferson wrote that we were endowed with inalienable rights–rights that no government could take from us without just cause and due process–and the first of these is life.  They, those unborn children, have the right to choose life.  Who are you, to take that right away from them?

#178: Alive for a Reason

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #178, on the subject of Alive for a Reason.

I heard a woman on the radio recounting how she had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed nose-first into an oncoming car.  Rescue workers had to cut her out of her vehicle.  She says, and everyone who hears her story says, God has a reason for you to be alive.  You have a purpose.

img0178Crash

It is something we often hear in similar situations–the person rushed to the hospital who survives a heart attack or some other life-threatening condition or incident, the person who has, or nearly has, a potentially fatal accident and walks away unscathed.  It is often said of such people, by themselves and by others, that God has a purpose for them, a reason for them being alive.  “I should be dead,” they say, “but God has a reason for me to be alive.”  In fact, we hear it from people who somehow missed being at a disaster–accounts from people who were supposed to be at the World Trade Center when it was attacked, for example, have been collected in a book somewhere recounting how it just happened that they didn’t get there in time to die.  They should be dead, and many of them credit God’s intervention for the traffic jam, the sick kid, the emergency call, whatever it was that diverted or delayed them such that they were not there.

Of course, the skeptics will say that this is nonsense, that these people were simply very lucky.  We hear that all the time:  “You’re lucky to be alive.”  I think a mechanic once said that to my mother when he found that the front wheel of her car was loose and had cut through three of the five lug bolts and was working on the other two:  “You are one lucky lady.”  I was in the car at the time, so that must make me lucky, too.  However, I am inclined to credit God for these survivals; that’s not the problem I have here.

The ultimate statement of this lesson is this:  You are alive, therefore God has a reason for you being alive, a purpose for your life.

My issue is, did you really need to come within a hair’s breadth of death to learn this?  There is nothing in that truth, as stated, that requires such a harrow.  It applies to anyone who is in fact alive, regardless of how close they have ever seemed to have come to not being alive (and really, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic warfare).  You were born; there was a purpose for you to be alive.  You are still alive; there is a purpose for that as well.

In Philippians 1:21ff Paul makes this point from the opposite direction.  He says that he would be happy to die and be with the Lord, but apparently they (the Philippian recipients of the letter) still need him.  Since he was still needed on earth at that time, he concluded that he was not going to die–a very real possibility given that he wrote from prison awaiting a trial that could have ended in his execution.  Yet as long as there was a reason for him to be alive, he knew he couldn’t die.  The same is true for you:  as long as you are needed, as long as God has a purpose for you being here, you will be alive; therefore, as long as you are alive, it is proof that God has a purpose for you and your life.

Years ago I shared this with the mother of two young girls who was concerned about whether she was going to survive upcoming medical procedures.  I told her what Paul had said, and admitted that this did not mean we knew she would not die.  What it meant was that God had already taken into account the needs of her daughters, and if she did die she could do so resting in the assurance that He already knew a way to care for them without her that was better than caring for them through her.  If He needed her to care for her daughters, she would not die; if she died, it was because she was no longer needed for that.

Incidentally, she has not yet died.  Apparently, God still has a reason for her to be here.

I have not yet died, either.  I tell my wife that I am required to stay here as long as she needs me here, and then I will be permitted to die.  She tells me that in that case she is going to die first, because she is never not going to need me as long as she lives.  Of course, we don’t really know that, but I did think I was going to die once, and it turned out that I was still needed, so here I am.

Doctor, doctor, will I die?
Yes, my dear, and so will I.
Doctor, doctor, tell me when?
When you do, and not ’til then.

Does this mean we effectively have “plot immunity”, that we cannot possibly die until our time and can do nothing to live beyond that?  That’s a much more difficult question.  Did Keith Green’s plane crash because he carelessly overloaded it, or because God had decided there was no purpose to keeping him here any longer?  That, though, is an entirely different question, the question of whether we are able to thwart God’s purpose for our lives–and the answer is that millions of lost people do that every day.  Carelessness is not God’s will for your life.  God will keep you alive as long as you are needed, and that means as long as He can use you.  Your purpose might not be active–the world needs people who need help, because most of us need to learn how to be servants, and there might come a time in your life in which you are that person who is needed specifically to be the burden on those who need to learn to bear the burden.  Many lost people are alive because mercy is giving them time to be saved, but some lost people are alive because we need to learn to love the lost and serve them.

However, that is not the question with which we began.  The question is not even what your purpose in life is.  It is only whether you have one, and the answer is, as long as you are alive, God has a purpose for that.  You should not need to experience some miraculous escape from death to know this–for all you know, you may have been saved from death a thousand times simply by His intervention in ways of which you were unaware, delayed by the traffic light keeping you from the accident, tossing out the old lamp that would have caused the fire, eating at the restaurant that would have been the bomber’s target had he not taken ill that morning.  You could be dead.  You are alive.  Ergo, you have purpose.

#177: I Am Not Second

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #177, on the subject of I Am Not Second.

img0177Washing

Bill Cosby said it:

I am not the boss in my family.  I don’t know how I lost it; I don’t know if I ever had it.  But I’ve seen the boss’s job, and I don’t want it.

I am not the boss in my house, either.  The boss tells me what I need to do and when I need to do it, and anything I think is important I do on my own time.  I’d like to tell you that I am second, but I don’t think that’s true.  I think actually the dog is second; in any case, I’m pretty sure he outranks me.  If he wants to go outside in the middle of the night, he wakes me so I can let him outside.  If somehow his whining and wheezing does not get a response from me, he wakes the boss–and the boss wakes me, and tells me to let him outside, usually with the words, “You’re not going to make me get up and take him out, are you?”  Thus it is clear that the dog outranks me and gets to decide when I am going to give up my sleep so he can go out.  This is the same dog of which I said, “I don’t want a dog,” and “you can have a dog as long as he is never my problem.”  He is also the same dog that I feed and water every day, and let out several times a day, and deal with whenever he is a problem for someone else.  So I am not second; both the boss and the dog rank above me.  There are almost certainly other people who rank above me, but I don’t really want to try to enumerate them at the moment.  It sometimes (read “often”) feels like everyone in the world outranks me; I am pretty far from second.

This tirade was inspired by what is apparently a fairly successful ministry under the name “I am second.”  I expect it’s the best Christian catchphrase since “What would Jesus do?”  I get it.  It’s saying I need to take myself out of first place and put Jesus in first place; that puts me second.  The thing is, it doesn’t, really–or it shouldn’t.  I had a bad reaction to it the first time I heard it, and my wife had the same bad reaction quite independently of me.  I am not second, and I am not supposed to be second.  Whoever might will to be first of you will be slave of all.  I am not called to be second; I am called to be last.

img0177Bracelet

The problem with the formulation “I am second” is that it might state my relationship to God correctly, but it misstates my relationship to the dog.  O.K., maybe not to the dog–but to everyone else, certainly.  The hierarchy in my life is not supposed to be Christ, me, everyone else.  It’s supposed to be Christ, everyone else, me.  I am not second; I am last.

I am sure that it is a wonderful ministry doing wonderful things, and I do not mean to denigrate it.  However, I feel that a significant point has been missed here.  Don’t put yourself second.  There are a lot of other people who should be above you in the hierarchy.  And remember, it is not a single fixed universal hierarchy.  Jesus is always first for all of us, if we have it right.  In the hierarchy that governs my life, you–all of you, each of you–outrank me; but in the hierarchy that governs your life, I, along with the rest of us, outrank you.  We were called to serve each other, to put everyone else above ourselves, to be a long distance from second place in our own lives.

Don’t put yourself second, either.

#173: Hospitalization Benefits

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #173, on the subject of Hospitalization Benefits.

This is not about health care or health care coverage.

Some of you are aware that I was recently hospitalized twice within two weeks.  It started on a Wednesday afternoon, when someone needed a ride to a clinic and I thought while I was there I should get an opinion about a previous umbilical herniorhaphy that was not doing well.  The people at the clinic desk said they could certainly look at it, but it would almost certainly require tests which they were not equipped to perform, so I should go to the emergency room.  I did, and indeed they performed the obvious test, having me drink the contrast and wait around for it to work through my digestive tract so they could get a clear Computer (Axial) Tomography (C(A)T) image.  Hours later someone was poking at my belly, and said that this might be very serious and he did not think we should wait until morning, so despite the fact that he and I both wanted to go home and the anaesthesiologist had already done so, I was to be prepped for surgery.

Ilford Hospital chapel windows.
Ilford Hospital chapel windows.

I’m told that the condition was not as bad as feared, and the surgery went well–so well in fact that I was placed on clear liquids in time for Thursday breakfast, and on full diet by Friday morning, and was discharged after supper on Friday.  There were the usual restrictions about lifting and driving and the like, but in the main I came through well–except that my arm hurt.

The pain in the arm was apparently related to the IV site, that is, the place where they had connected the intravenous feed to give me such medications as were deemed necessary post-surgery.  I think every nurse that looked at it said it did not look good and she (or he) was going to move it when there was time, but they pushed me through so fast that it was out before anyone had the time to start one somewhere else.  Below the site (further out into the extremities) my arm was swollen and inflamed, painful to the touch and when moved in certain positions.  I was also having some difficulty breathing and a worsening cough.  Respiratory problems do not normally alarm me because I have allergy-related asthma and the list of allergies which aggravate it include just about anything that has a smell other than real food (artificial food scents can be trouble, particularly if they are linked to smoke as in incense or candles).  However, I have a history of pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which a blood clot usually from an extremity migrates to the lung and lodges there, and thus there was at least the chance that the swelling in the arm and the respiratory trouble were related.  It thus called for more tests, and again of a sort that required a visit to the emergency room.  This time the CT scan was of my lungs, and there was an ultrasound of my arm, and the major conclusions were first that the two problems were not connected, but second that there were definitely two problems that needed to be addressed.

There was no evidence of a pulmonary embolism, but there were some small clots in the veins in my arm which could be problematic and were going to require treatment.  There was also a shadow in my lung which the emergency room doctor took to be a very mild pneumonia, but of concern because it might have been contracted in the hospital, and if you get an infection in the hospital it is likely to be a serious microorganism.  My wife, the registered nurse who would rather have me home where she can tend me herself, argued that there was not much they could do in the hospital that she could not do for me at home, and this is where it gets weird.  The emergency room doctor said that the treatment for the clots was going to involve heparin injections, a drug that ought to be monitored fairly closely as it really does promote bleeding, and so I would have to be admitted for the heparin.  However, before I got the first shot of heparin or got moved out of the emergency room to an inpatient bed, the order was changed and I was put on the very expensive (mostly covered by my wife’s employee health care coverage) new drug Xarelto, which is taken P.O., that is, per orum, by mouth.  So I did not have to be in the hospital for that.  However, because the pneumonia might be some drug-resistant organism they were planning to treat it aggressively, with vancomycin and cefepime, two IV antibiotics, instead of oral antibiotics, so the reason I had to be admitted had changed.  Still, I was admitted, and I was not complaining because this time they were going to let me eat, and Elmer Hospital has mostly decent food, and I don’t have to cook it or do the dishes.

The next day the specialists appeared.  The hematologist said in essence that the Xarelto had been cleared through our prescription plan, so as far as he was concerned I could go home and take the medication there, as long as I came to see him in four to six weeks.  The pulmonologist was even more optimistic:  the lung shadow on the CT scan was identical to that in a scan from 2012, and I did not have even the slightest touch of pneumonia, the antibiotics were unnecessary, and I could go home any time.

It was still another day before that got through the red tape so that the hospitalist overseeing the whole case ordered my discharge, but in essence I was not really very sick.  I still have to get the staples from the surgery removed and see the hematologist, but the surgeon did stop by and look at the incision during my stay and said that I am permitted to drive, so I am overall on the mend.  (The staples were removed at his office today.)

And at the risk of stealing a line from Arlo Guthrie, that isn’t what I came to talk about today.

In the wake of these hospitalizations, many people, some of them readers, some connections through social media, some “real world” connections, have mentioned that they were, have been, are, or would be praying for me.  They fall into three categories, that I’ve noticed.

First, there are people who mentioned that they are always praying for me.  Prior to this I could not have named more than one person (my wife) whom I could say I knew was praying for me regularly or consistently.  I’m sure my grandmother was, years ago.  This aspect of having someone praying for you, when you are in ministry (as I am–Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild and Christian teaching music ministry), is very important.  Pastor Ern Baxter once told of how his grandmother always prayed for him and he never really gave it much thought, as he had been seminary trained in how to preach and had the necessary skills–until the day his grandmother died and he went to preach a sermon and found nothing.  He told his congregation, right then, that he had never appreciated his grandmother’s prayers until that moment, and now she was gone.  Someone in the congregation rose and said, “Pastor, I’ll be your grandmother.”  She prayed for him, and he said thereafter he kept an army of praying grandmothers to support his ministry.  So to discover that there are people I did not know were praying for me is an encouragement.

Second, there are those whom I know pray and who probably are not usually praying for me, who having heard of my hospitalization turned some of their prayerful attention my direction.  Some of these people I have not met outside the Internet, or only met once or twice.  Many of them have ministries of their own.  That they have raised prayers on my behalf tells me that they care, that I matter to them at least enough that they noticed my condition and put some prayer into it.  It means there are people out there who will support me, at least with prayers, when it is needed.  That, too, is an encouragement.

Third, there were some people praying for me through these events whom I would not have guessed were praying people.  Some are people who do not express much of a belief in God in our interactions.  Some are people with whom I have only recently reconnected after decades who have seemingly found faith in the interim.  This, too, is an encouragement, as it tells me that these people are not lost, that they are praying, connecting with God, and while I am always hesitant to say that I know any individual is saved, it is good evidence that they might well be.  After all,

he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him,

in part because who would pray who did not believe at least that much?

So I thank you all for your prayers and encouragement, and now I return to that long “not what I wanted to say” part at the beginning.  One of the lessons I learned many years ago came from II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

That is, the reason God wants us to agree in prayer, and is more likely to answer prayers when many agree, appears to be that way when the prayers are answered all those people who asked will all say thank you.

Thus your prayers on my behalf have obligated me to let you know that God has been healing me, I am improving rapidly, and there is cause to give thanks.

Thank you.