Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Please tell me you're ashamed of yourself

Dear fellow confessional presbyterian minister,

  Believe it or not, I understand why you voted for Great Leader, and even encouraged others to do so. After so many years of overlooking Republican mendacity and embracing the false Manichean choice between two evils imposed on the electorate by our cynical political system, you felt you had no choice but to vote against Mrs. Clinton. Of course, there is no such thing as a "vote against" in our system, and Great Leader took yours as a vote "for" (as would any other politician).

  So let's stop pretending, shall we? You voted for Great Leader, and so bear some responsibility for his brutal mission to destroy what remains of the Republic.

  Now some of his supporters (open Nazis and Klansmen) have participated in a terrorist attack in Charlottesville (previously best known as the home of a small liberal arts college with pretensions of superiority over the great James Madison University). You objected that the last president wasn't strong enough against Muslim terrorists. Now I'd like to hear you object that Great Leader isn't strong enough against white supremacist terrorists. I'd like you to start talking like a minister of the Gospel instead of a shill for the Republican party. If you can't take a stand against Nazism, what can you take a stand for?

  Please tell me you're ashamed of yourself. I'm certainly ashamed of you.

  regards,
the Presbyterian Curmudgeon

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The anti-Macbeth

In his Interpretation commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, Walter Bruggemann observes of David's rise to the throne that he "takes no initiatives. He does not assert himself or express any ambition. He only receives what is given." David is almost passive as he comes to power, never taking direct action against King Saul or his family. Having been anointed as Israel's next king in 1 Samuel 16, David waits patiently for the moment his position will be recognized by all Israel.

David stands in striking contrast to William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Whereas David is anointed by a prophet long before he can take the throne, Macbeth is told his destiny to rule by three prophetic witches. Macbeth is a tragedy because a great and noble warrior determines to bring about his destiny through "murder most foul" (Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5) and makes himself cruel and corrupt. The witches, as the three Fates of Greek mythology, induce Macbeth to self-condemnation and destruction rather than glory.

In 1 & 2 Samuel, that royal tendency to hubris is expressed by King Saul. He knew he had lost the throne because of his sins of disobedience (1 Samuel 13 & 15), but refused to submit to the sentence pronounced by Samuel. Saul plotted to undo prophecy, and in so doing simply sealed his doom. Unlike Macbeth, Saul did not play out a fate written for him in a cauldron, but instead chose rebellion over repentance.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Saul : David :: Laban : Jacob

In 1 Samuel 18:17-30, King Saul offers first one daughter, then another, as wife to David in order to ensnare him in dangerous combat against the Philistines and, Saul hopes, death on the battlefield. This echoes Laban, who in Genesis 30 uses marriage to his two daughters to ensnare Jacob in indentured servitude and hopes to exploit the latter's labor for the rest of life.

If Saul plays the part of Laban, then David is Jacob, who was renamed Israel by the Lord (Genesis 32) and fathered the sons whose progeny would become the twelve tribes of Israel. This, in turn, suggests that, as king, David will become a new father to a finally united twelve tribes of Israel.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sometimes a commentary needs a commentary

In his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, David G. Firth titles 1 Samuel 18:17-30 as "Saul's attempts to kill David through marriage."

I can't be the first to wonder about this author's relationship with his in-laws.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

At last! A white man comments on race & gender relations

I've been listening to Pass the Mic (I believe on the recommendation of Mrs. Curmudgeon), the podcast of the Reformed African-American Network for a couple years now. It was thus that I heard the now-infamous "Gender Apartheid" episode, a crossover with the Truth's Table podcast. I won't bother recounting the sturm und drang which ensued; if you're blissfully unaware, the Google will tell you more than you need to know.

The kerfuffle gave me another occasion to reflect (as it seems I have had many occasions of late) on white people and what is wrong with them, especially the male ones who hold positions of influence and power in confessionally reformed circles. Anyone who knows me will freely tell you I have no idea what it would be like to hold a position of influence or power (despite the fact that every once in a while dozens [literally, dozens] of people read one of my blog posts), but I imagine that were I in one I would feel secure and self-confident. Instead, many of these men act like snowflakes (to coin a term) when they hear someone using terms which make them uncomfortable and describing reality in a manner to which they are unaccustomed.

Take, for example, R. Scott Clark, a professor at Westminster Seminary California, who recently commented on the original podcast at his Heidelblog in a two-part analysis. For the sakes of space and propriety, I will put aside the utter offensiveness and insanity of a late-middle-aged white Nebraskan taking umbrage at black women a decade or so younger than he using the term "apartheid" and presuming to lecture them on its historical context. (I am not making this up.) Instead, I will note that the first segment of his analysis focuses entirely on the terms "gender apartheid" and "toxic masculinity" without any engagement whatsoever with how the hostesses of Truth's Table defined those terms in their discussion. Notable also is a failure to interact with the problems they describe as occurring in confessionally reformed circles. Here's the closest Clark gets:
The question remains: Is there systematic oppression of females in NAPARC churches? Again, definitions are essential. In our late-modern subjectivist culture, recognition of sexual differences and of a creational pattern is regarded as “systematic oppression” but Christians may not simply adopt cultural categories and use them to leverage Scripture and nature. Christians recognize that there is such a category as nature, that there are such things as “givens.” There are laws of nature and there is a God who made nature. Properly defined, we should conclude that no, there is not a systematic oppression of females. Are there quarters within the NAPARC world in which females are told, in effect, to “sit down and shut up”? Yes. This is part of the problem. In reaction to the various iterations of feminism, some congregations do not allow females to vote in congregational meetings on the grounds that voting is an exercise of authority and therefore a violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. This strikes me as an unlikely inference and application of this passage.
I read this paragraph (and its broader context) several times, and am still confused. On the one hand there is no systematic oppression of females, apparently because on Clark's definitions there cannot be. On the other hand, there are "quarters within the NAPARC world in which females" are oppressed. Eh?

In the second section of his analysis, Clark presents an unobjectionable view of sexual relationships within the Creation order, but doesn't actually touch on anything in the podcast except in one paragraph. There, he states "When the podcasters spoke about qualifications for special office (e.g., elder) in the church they mocked the idea that only men are permitted to hold special office by reducing the qualifications to male anatomy." Actually, they said no such thing. Instead, they noted that opportunities for non-ordained persons to participate in a Church's ministries are often restricted to non-ordained persons who are "ordainable," which in practice often means nothing more than "male." (I will note that this is a complex issue worthy of much discussion by itself, and so I will not comment here.) At least in this regard, it appears Clark failed to listen carefully to that which he presumed to critique before presuming to critique it.

Sadly, Clark's response exemplifies most of the reformed white male responses to the "Gender Apartheid" podcast which I've encountered. (For the record, I am not a reformed white male, but a presbyterian white man.) To me, they read something like, "I am terribly offended by your recasting the discussions in terms which the people like me have not previously authorized, and will therefore excuse myself from paying any heed to the actual arguments you are making." The bitter irony, of course, is that many (although probably not all) of these middle- to late-middle-aged reformed white males have criticized today's young people for being overly delicate snowflakes.

Honestly, I listened to the original podcast and found nothing objectionable about it. The comments, particularly from the ladies, are trenchant, but that's what makes for entertaining listening. They were having an open and honest conversation, not attempting to educate me or reformed white males comfortable in their privilege: something which they have every right, before God and man in these United States, to do. Why would I bother to take offense?

And now I have given you just what everyone has been waiting for: a white man's opinions on race and gender relations. At long last.

The younger supplants the elder (again)

In 1 Samuel 18:2, King Saul brings David, until now the son of Jesse, into his royal household. The very next thing the narrative records is a covenant Jonathan, Saul's son and the crown prince, makes with David. Although the terms of the covenant aren't revealed, it is sealed by Jonathan giving David his robe, "and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt;" i.e. all the princely garb which signifies Jonathan's royal office. In other words, Jonathan recognizes and affirms that David, now his younger brother, is to take his place as Saul's successor.

This episode reflects the older/younger brother theme in Genesis, in which the younger brother supplants the elder as heir and in significance (ex. Jacob and Esau). That theme, in turn, teaches the reader to look away from Adam, the first man in Genesis, and forward to Adam's "younger brother," Jesus Christ. As the Second Adam, Jesus not only supplants Adam, but reverses the devastation wrought by Adam in the Fall and replaces it with life and glory (Romans 5:12-21). In his relationship with Jonathan, then, we find one more example of David as a type (figure) of Christ.

Friday, July 7, 2017

I admire boysenberry more than any ordinary syrup

As the legions of faithful readers of this blog will readily imagine, the list of reasons for me to go on is not only passingly brief, but growing briefer by the day. Over the years, pancakes have almost entirely dropped out of our Sunday-morning-breakfast rotation because the sugar-and-carb overload not only leaves one in a mild state of self-loathing, but even worse fails to fend off hunger pangs through the morning worship service.

Nonetheless, I cheerfully concede that the International House of Pancakes makes a quite excellent buttermilk pancake, and I get the occasional craving for a short stack covered in boysenberry syrup. I was accordingly driven to the depths of existential despair when told this morning that the blessed blackberry is no longer available at IHOP. O tempora, o mores!

Thankfully for you young people, the cause for boysenberry syrup's return has been taken up on the Facebook. It may be too late for my generation, but think of the children.

Another reason I will never leave Colorado

After last week's Bible camp in the bucolic Black Hills of South Dakota, I'm done with all the out-of-state travels planned for this summer, and apparently just in the nick of time. According to this survey, Colorado's are amongst the most polite in these United States. From this, I can only conclude that the rest of the nation has been overtaken by war boys on motorcycles festively bedazzled with human skulls, riding in convoy with mutants playing flame-throwing electric guitars across the apocalyptic landscape in search of potable water and oil refineries.

On the upside, there probably aren't any highways left onto which fellow drivers won't let you merge.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

An open letter to my adopted daughter

You're too young to read this right now, and by the time you're old enough to understand what I'm writing, it's possible I'll have changed my mind. Over the years, I've learned not to judge the younger me for disagreeing with the older me, and I hope you'll learn the same. Our younger selves had their reasons, and even if they didn't get everything right, those reasons and the views they supported deserve to be taken seriously.

Amongst adoptees, there's a growing movement to protest the common practice of issuing children new birth certificates upon their adoptions, ones on which the birth parents' names are replaced with the adoptive parents'. One major reason for this is that sometimes the adopted child has no connection at all with her birth parents, and even their names are a mystery. Of course, we know very well who your birth parents are, and in the miraculous age of the interwebs it would likely take little effort to track them down. Practically speaking, for families like ours, the birth certificate is purely an identity signifier.

I get how personal identity is an enigma to each person, and how the adoptee cannot help but feel her identity contains elements unshared by the rest of her family. She is doubly unique: a unique individual, as is every person, but also unique within her family. The birth certificate is a marker of her identity, and one with her adoptive parents' names can seem a counterfeit, a denial of her obvious uniqueness.

But identity goes both ways. I understand that you have to work out what it means that two sets of parents can legitimately claim you as their daughter. At the same time, you need to understand what it means for me to claim you as my daughter when the world is poised to reject that claim. It's not just that our skins and hair are so obviously different: it's that your mother and I were told, for over three years, that we weren't your real parents and had to defer to the whims of two people whose immaturity deeply wounded you.

I didn't just fight for you, although God knows I did. I didn't just fight to be your father. I also fought to be recognized as your father, and I deeply suspect the world around us refuses me that identity. I fear being thought of as the counterfeit.

This will be hard for you to read, and it's difficult for me to write because the solipsism is so obvious, but your birth certificate is not only about your identity. I don't know how to describe what it felt like to open up that envelope from the county and read your name, your real name at last, with your mother and me listed as your parents. Everything suddenly slotted into place. Here, after over three years, was proof, proof the world must recognize and acknowledge, proof of what I had known since we carried you out of the hospital that Good Friday: I am your father.

Your sense of identity matters to you, and it matters to me. As far as you and I are concerned, though, your identity is inextricably tied up in mine. You are my daughter, I am your father, and your birth certificate testifies to the truth.