Tag Archives: Ministry

#240: Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #240, on the subject of Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.

One of the problems with writing a series of reminiscences like this is realizing how much of that time I have forgotten; another problem is recognizing how much of what was happening I missed.  Paul Clark falls into both of those categories.

This is the fifth entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music; previous entries are listed and linked at the end of this article.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

Looking over his discography, I recognize that five albums of his were released during the time I was at the radio station, but I only recognize the album covers of three; the third of those, Minstrel’s Voyage, was a best-of that was released during a long stretch in which he was not recording, and I recognize tracks from that.  Although the cover of Drawn to the Light is immediately recognizable, the only thing I recognize looking at the track list is that there was this weird three-song piece late on the second side; none of the titles recall any music for me.

Clark, though, predates my involvement.  His debut album Songs from the Savior Volume 1 was recorded in 1971 or 72, depending on whom you ask, followed shortly thereafter by Volume 2 of the same.&nbsp I eventually had access to a copy of the collaborative effort Good to Be Home which is listed as by Paul Clark and Friends and doesn’t show on his regular discography.  I remember being impressed by the collection, which featured guitar work from Phil Keaggy, bass and drums from Love Song alumni Jay Truax and John Mehler, and keyboards from Bill Speer.  However, until I heard it again I didn’t recall a single track from the disk.  Listening to it, I recall much, and the title Which One Are You? (second on the disk) strikes me as the one which got the most airplay on our station, although the final track, Abide.  It also features a great deal of nostalgically characteristic Phil Keaggy guitar work.

However, I got to hear Clark live once.  I suspect it was a promotional tour for Drawn to the Light, but I do not recall interviewing him or even meeting him at the show.  However, I remember one part of that show quite clearly.  Clark was alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, and he paused to explain that he did not do requests.  He explained that at this point he had recorded so many albums that he couldn’t keep all the songs performance ready, and just focused on those he planned to play.  He then told of playing a concert with a full band, and as they finished the first song someone near the front yelled, “Hand to the Plow!” (a funky rock piece after the quiet introduction), which is probably Clark’s single most famous piece, or at least the one I’ve most heard mentioned in connection with him.  Clark ignored the voice and played his second song, only to have the fan shout the title again at the end.  When this happened again after the third song, Clark called the fan to the stage.  “What’s your name?” he asked.  “Bob,” came the reply.  “Well, everyone, Bob is now going to sing Hand to the Plow,” and giving him a mike he started the band on the song, and Bob successfully muddled through the piece (“Not too bad, actually.”)  He told that story to discourage us from making requests.

He is generally acknowledged to be one of the original Christian contemporary/rock musicians; I only wish I knew him better.

(In my research for this article I stumbled on a two hour concert, pirated audio from somewhere in the audience, of Paul Clark and Phil Keaggy.)

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.

#234: Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #234, on the subject of Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.

This is the second article in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor.

For what seemed a lot of years I didn’t like Ralph Carmichael.  He wrote the song He’s Everything to Me, and was responsible for the little booklet of similar songs, songs of a particular style that I found irksome.  The way I have often described it is that these are songs older people bring into church services for the younger people, and young people tolerate as the best they’re likely to get but not really what they want.  The late sixties and early seventies were full of these pseudo-contemporary musicians, from the Hot Hymns and Cool Carols collection by Presbyterians Richard Avery and Donald Marsh to the Roman Catholic contemporary folk singer Ray Repp.  I viewed Carmichael as a facilitator of what I regarded musical pablum.

I was corrected.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

It’s not that Carmichael wasn’t responsible for the publication and promotion of a lot of this music I thought didn’t really appeal to the target youth audience (and really, that audience was a lot more varied than I credited at the time).  It isn’t even that there were some gems in the trash–I doubt I would have heard Kurt Kaiser’s Pass It On were it not published by Carmichael (and Kaiser’s Master Designer, while not in the same class as the marvelous Pass It On, is a decent song, too).  It’s that there was more to Ralph Carmichael than I knew.  Carmichael might not have been all that adept at writing music for the upcoming generations of the sixties and seventies, but he proved quite adept at finding people who were and getting them in the spotlight.  Ralph Carmichael spearheaded Light Records.

I have no idea who the leading labels are today, but by 1979 there were four major publishers of contemporary Christian record albums.  Word Records (originally Spoken Word Records) came out of Waco, Texas, and their Myrrh label was instrumental in launching careers of quite a few major artists of the time including Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts.  The Benson Group in Nashville had several labels, of which Greentree Records was the largest in the contemporary field, with a number of Nashville-based artists including Dallas Holm.  Sparrow Records was a latecomer to the field, but quickly became the label of choice for most of the California-based musicians and dominated a lot of the best music.  Carmichael started the fourth, not in time but in size, Light Records, connected to his Lexicon Music and loosely to Word Records.  Andre Crouch and Resurrection Band were the big names on Light, which featured many other artists in a mostly light contemporary sound.

It also released, on vinyl, a weekly half-hour interview and music radio show, The Ralph Carmichael Radio Special, featuring its new releases.  We would receive these in the mail, a disk on which Ralph himself would talk with an artist and introduce all the songs on the A side of a recent album, and then for the next week the B side of the interview record would cover the B side of the album.  This kind of behind-the-songs program was not really otherwise available in Contemporary Christian music–oh, we made our own when we were able, trying to land extended interviews with artists in the area for concerts or available by telephone from elsewhere, but Carmichael made it easy, putting his young artists in a spotlight that boosted their exposure significantly.  He did a tremendous amount for contemporary Christian music in those days.

He ultimately earned a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  It was well-deserved.

I still am not a big fan of the kind of music he wrote, but I have a lot of respect for the man himself.

I also have a story he told on himself, which I got from Barry McGuire, but it will arise in connection with another artist later in our series.

#232: Larry Norman, Visitor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #232, on the subject of Larry Norman, Visitor.

I floated the suggestion on social media that I might begin a somewhat disjointed series of my recollections of the Christian Contemporary and Rock music scene in the late 70s and early 80s, and it was well received, so I’m going to begin.  It seems that one cannot begin such a discussion without Larry Norman, so that is where we will start.

First, though, let’s clarify my credentials.  I was in high school from 1969 through 1973 (that’s four years, fall to spring), and although the east coast was a long way from the center of the action, the Jesus Movement had hit our town hard, so I knew a fair amount of the music of the time.  I then attended two Christian colleges in succession, and after obtaining two degrees in biblical studies along with a lot of exposure to the music my peers were hearing, I tried out for an established Christian band (more on that later) and in 1979 took a job as a disk jockey on a Christian radio station, WNNN-FM, which a short time before my arrival had been ranked the #12 CCM/Christian Rock station in the country, and just before my departure was said still to be on the short list of fifty radio stations which Christian record company promotions people made sure to call every week.  We reported our top songs to the magazine then called Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, which later shortened its name to Contemporary Christian Magazine but kept the CCM logo.  More significantly, during that span of five years and a month I heard every contemporary Christian recording released by a major label, and quite a few independent ones.  I lived this music.

Of course, memory is imperfect, but it’s one of those things that the longer you think about a subject the more you recall, so we’ll be remembering a lot along the way.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

Larry Norman Photograph by Michael Sierra upon induction to San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame

My problem with discussing Larry Norman is that I don’t really feel that I knew him all that well.  I owned a pirated copy of the live performance of Sing that Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (link is the studio version), and I must have heard other recordings of his.  I jammed on Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus with some college friends who knew it, and knew Six-Sixty-Six, Unidentified Flying Object, and I Wish We’d All Been Ready–three songs strongly reflecting his premillenialism, the last of which made it into a few hymnals–but I was never a serious fan beyond recognizing his importance in the field.  I attended a concert he gave at Gordon College, but only remember the conversation I had with him backstage afterwards (the gist of which is given in my previous web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician); my wife says we heard him again at the Levoy Theater in Millville, New Jersey, but I do not remember so much as being at the Levoy.  I can picture the cover of his cleverly-entitled album Only Visiting This Planet, but barely remember the title song and am not certain I heard any more of it than that.  In the five years I was on the radio station, we never received a single recording from him, so although he was still touring for years (it’s what musicians do, apparently–I recently heard that Blood, Sweat, and Tears was playing at the Levoy) he seemed to have largely dropped off the radar by the early 80s.  He died early in 2008 at sixty years old.

Still, his impact was never insignificant.  He is known to have been instrumental in the salvation of early CCM folk-rock artist Randy Stonehill (and we did receive one album from him during those early 80s years).  He was an acquaintance of Paul McCartney, and I recently heard that Bob Dylan came to Christ in Larry’s kitchen.  He is said to have been the original Christian rock musician, and may well deserve the title.

On the other hand, it might well be argued that his early dominance can be attributed to a lack of competition.  His at times squeaky tenor voice is an acquired taste, and his songs were mostly simple pop progressions and melodies with shallow lyrics–good solid evangelistic material, most of it, but not very competitive with the sounds that would come starting in the mid seventies.  If you liked Larry Norman, it was almost certainly because he was the first decent alternative to secular rock and pop music, or because you had met him and heard him live.  He was charismatic on stage, and well worth seeing in concert.  He was a powerful personality off-stage, and a minister with keen discernment and an understanding of the people he met.  His ministry counts for a great deal, even if his music is not all that remarkable.

And in heavenly terms, that’s what really counts.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#216: Why Are You Here?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #216, on the subject of Why Are You Here?.

Why are you here?

I don’t mean why are you reading this page, or sitting or standing wherever you happen to be at this moment.  The question I’m asking is deeper than that, more, if you like, philosophical.  I am asking, Why do you exist at all?

Statue of St. Athanasius, credited with the ontological argument for the existence of God, in essence that our existence proves His.

You probably have been told by someone at some time that God has a purpose for your life, which is true, and I hope that you have accepted this.  We think of that as a specific purpose, which is also true–but perhaps not in the way we think of it.

Our notion of a specific purpose is that God specifically wants me to be a housewife and mother, or office worker, or teacher, pastor, engineer.  It’s true that God created us to be that, but that’s not really why He created you.  That is, there is perhaps a difference between the purpose of your existence and the purpose of your design.  God designed you to serve specific functions within the world, but He created you with a purpose that is entirely separate from the design.  If you consider the matter, you should realize that that’s rather a narrow view, that God created you because He needed someone to do that job, fill that position in the world.  When it comes to it, if God had never created anyone else, that purpose, that position in the world, that job, would be meaningless.

God certainly created us all to fit together, to do different things, but that’s that’s not ultimately your purpose.  It’s only your function, your position, the way you fit in the world.

The deeper question is, Why did He create you?  Why, indeed, did He create anyone at all?  Your existence is not so much dependent on the fact that you fulfill certain job descriptions in the world.  It must be that the answer to why God created you applies beyond you to explain why God created everyone else.  Why did He create people, and thus why did He create you?

When you see the answer to this question, you’ll realize it’s also the answer to a lot of other questions:  why is this happening to me, why do I have these gifts, why do I have these faults, flaws, weaknesses?  In short, Why am I who I am?

I asked the question; I offer an answer.

Before time, before anything had been created, God existed as Trinity, three persons sharing love.

Love was good.

God wanted to create more love.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit loved each other, shared love between each other, and loved each other as much as it was possible to love.  How could there be more love, than the immeasurable love that existed between these three?

To create more love, God had to create more people, persons who could love and be loved as He within His Selves loves and is loved.

We were created to be those people, to love Him and each other, to learn to love as He loves.

Our entire world is created to teach us to love and to be loved.

That’s why the world is hard.  If the world were easy, love would be neither necessary nor valuable.  It is the fact that we learn to love amidst our trouble, and the fact that the trouble enables us to reach out to each other in love, that makes the world a good place to learn to love.

It is also why we have the flaws and the gifts we have, using our gifts to meet each other’s flaws, having our flaws addressed by the gifts of others, to learn to love and to be loved, and to understand that purpose, to love the way God loves and to be loved by God and each other.

That is why you are here.

#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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