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.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

News I can use

My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 78, and my paternal grandfather of heart disease in his mid-60s. In order to beat my dismal odds, and in line with my policy of following medical advice I like, I will be sure to maintain my daily dose of chocolate, per the counsel of the latest most absolutely reliable medical study.

Also, since I always make sure to eat the red and blue peanut M&Ms for their antioxidants, I will never get cancer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13

In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel the prophet represents the reader's point of view, having to guess at the Lord's intent as best he can until David is revealed in verse 13. Saul also represents Israel's perspective on qualifications for rule (1 Samuel 9:2 & 10:23-24), as both Saul and David are outwardly qualified but only David has the right heart.

Interestingly, David's anointing as king by Samuel parallels Saul's earlier anointing by Samuel. Both occurred in a private setting (1 Samuel 16:13 & 9:27-10:1) and in the context of a sacrifice (1 Samuel 16:2-5 & 9:11-13, 19-24).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

For the Vos completist

Ordained Servant, an online journal for Church officers produced by the OPC's Committee on Christian Education, has been serializing a new biography of Geerhardus Vos by Danny Olinger. Vos is to date the most prominent, and perhaps the most accomplished, Biblical theologian working within the confessional tradition of Protestant orthodoxy. Olinger's biography helpfully situates Vos' work within the contexts of his life and history. Recommended.

[The latest installment can be found here, along with links to previous issues of Ordained Servant.]

Friday, April 14, 2017

When it feels bad to be right

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” the president told the [Wall StreetJournal. “I felt pretty strongly that [China] had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. ... But it’s not what you would think.”

I thought very little of Great Leader before coming across the above quote. As this Vox article observes, the manner in which he learns and makes decisions about foreign policy confirms that I was correct in my assessment. 

Now I am even more depressed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Batman vs. Emma Stone

I've been hearing the movie musical is making a comeback, especially after the recent success of La La Land. I suppose it's possible, but I have my doubts.

Stage theatre and film are both constructed on "the suspension of disbelief," the convention whereby the audience pretends it doesn't know the people they are watching are pretending to be people who don't know they're being watched. Said suspension is more easily done at the movies, where the projected image necessarily alienates the viewer from the persons viewed. It's a tad more complicated at the theatre, where the physical, embodied presence of actual persons makes the "play" part of play-acting all the more obvious.

Over the last century, this epistemological fact has resulted in popular spectacle, once a staple of the stage, moving over almost entirely into the cinema. Because we nearly automatically surrender our disbelief in front of the screen, we are willing to believe almost anything, up to and including spectacle the like of which simply cannot exist in real life. Take, for example, the truly wondrous moment in Captain America: Civil War when the Winter Soldier grabs hold of a moving motorcycle, reverses its direction in midair, mounts it and speeds back in the direction whence he came. Now, I haven't take a physics class since high school, but I'm pretty sure that scene violates all three of Newton's laws of motion. Nonetheless, I stood up and cheered because it was SPECTACULAR.

A generation ago, the spectacle of choice was the movie musical. No, ordinary people in mid-twentieth century America were no more likely to break into song and dance than those of our day, but that's not the point. The emotional experiences of film characters were such that singing and dancing were the only available means by which to express themselves. This seemed so commonsensical that every major Hollywood actor had to appear in a movie musical. (Exhibit A: Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. Oh, the humanity.)

Times have changed, and not for the better. Instead of a street crowd breaking out into a synchronized dance number, we think it far more plausible that cars chase each other through crowded Los Angeles streets and freeways at dizzying speeds while their drivers make accurate shots, one-handed, with PISTOLS. Talk about suspension of disbelief. This genre has evolved, thanks largely to Marvel Studios, into the superhero picture. Now genuinely respectable Marlon Brando-caliber actors (looking at you, Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Hopkins) are all flying into the air and doing battle with villainy and nefarious conspirators who have secretly riddled the state's security apparatus.

In other words, the niche once occupied by the movie musical now belongs to the superhero/action film. Emma Stone and Damien Chazelle don't have to win over skeptical audiences. They have to take on Batman.

The sun & the moon & the stars

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
There's something about Deuteronomy 4:19; I just can't get it out of my head. It puts me in mind of what Paul said at the Areopagus in Acts 17:26-28.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being;'
as even some of your own poets have said,
 ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Israel's particularity as God's chosen people (one of the major points of Deuteronomy 4, by the way) is sometimes taken as a sign of God's rejection of all other peoples. However, the Lord of Israel is simultaneously the Lord of Creation, and he has written signs in his creation, signs which we are unaccustomed to reading as such. We think time is a malleable social construct (Exhibit A: Daylight Savings Time) and national borders are arbitrary political constructs. But Paul, in his Acts 17 meditation on the aftermath of the Babel debacle (Genesis 11), argues that time and borders were made by God in order to channel our social relationships back into a search for him.

The sun and the moon and the stars, Genesis 1:14-19 tells us, tell us the days and hours and years are passing in ordered succession, and so the moment is arriving when we must reckon with their Creator. But instead of feeling our way toward him and finding him, the nations are drawn away and bow down to them. They turn these governors into idols, failing to recognize that theirs is merely a designated authority.

We who are now God's chosen people in the new Israel, his Church, are as prone as our ancient fathers to bow down to idols. Rather than worshiping the evident power of the sun and the moon and the stars to govern our lives, however, we, along with the nations of today, think we can claim and manipulate that power to our own ends. We are lords of time and space, displacing the Creator of space and time alike.

The particularity of God's chosen people isn't a sign he has rejected all other peoples. In his mercy, he has left us all allotted periods and boundaries so that we should seek him. In our sin, we are too readily and quickly satisfied instead with the sun and the moon and the stars, and, too often, with our infantile conviction we cannot be governed even by them. Because we cannot and will not find God, then, he came to be not far from each one of us.

For in him we live and move and have our being.

The Flintstones

I didn't see it coming, but apparently no one else did, either, if the interwebs are a reliable indicator for this sort of thing. It was recommended during a segment on the Slate's Political Gabfest podcast. I found it on the Hoopla digital library site (thanks, Aurora Public Library!), and figured I had nothing to lose by checking it out. Boy, howdy, am I ever glad I did.

I speak, of course, of DC Comics' reboot of The Flintstones.

It's more than a little shocking, especially for those of us with no particular fondness or animus toward the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Steve Pugh's artwork is in the classic modern "realistic" comic-book style, and he does a competent job of rendering the visual complexity of the town of Bedrock. However, the real genius behind the project is writer Mark Russell, who uses this page right out of history to examine our moment in history. I've been trying to remember when last I came across a biting social satire of this caliber with such an intensely human heart, and the closest I can come is somewhere between the British and American versions of The Office.

A bit of dialogue from Slate's Quarry, as a new Cro-Magnon employee queries Fred Flintstone.

"Can I ask you a question?"
"How come you wear a tie?"
"I read an article once that said you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have."
"So how long have you been wearing that tie?"
"Fifteen years."

Everything in our culture gets skewered, but I can forgive all the jabs at religion since Unitarianism ends up taking the hardest hits. So, so good.

Monday, April 10, 2017


At the end of John 10, Jesus flees from a homicidal mob to Bethany across the Jordan (John 10:40-42 & 1:28). At the beginning of John 11, he is summoned by Mary and Martha to Bethany near Jerusalem. In John 11:16, the Evangelist identifies Thomas as "called the Twin."

In John 10-11, we have twin mentions of twins: the villages Bethany and Thomas the disciple. I have no idea what this means.