Today — Thursday, May 5, 2016 — is Ascension Day, when Christians commemorate the moment when Jesus Christ left His disciples to ascend to heaven, returning to God the Father.

He then sent the Holy Spirit to them on the first Pentecost, which the Church celebrates in ten days’ time — a week from this coming Sunday.

Vanderbilt Divinity Library lists all the Lectionary readings, complete with text.

(Image credit: Feeding the Lambs)

The account of the Ascension is in the first 11 verses of Acts, the Epistle reading for this feast day. St Luke addressed the first verse to a Christian, Theophilus, stating that he (Luke) had written about all that Jesus had done and taught ‘from the beginning’. That refers to his Gospel.

Luke wrote that, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to instruct the disciples (verse 2). However, between His Resurrection and Ascension, He appeared to them ‘by many convincing proofs’, speaking of the kingdom of God (verse 3).

During that time, He told them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for ‘the promise of the Father’ (verse 4) which was the baptism with the Holy Spirit (verse 5). This refers to Pentecost and to the later ordinance — for Catholics, the sacrament — of Confirmation.

The disciples were eager to know when the kingdom of Israel would be restored (verse 6), but Jesus replied that only God the Father knew when that time would come (verse 7). They were not to concern themselves with that, but rather receive the Holy Spirit and be witnesses of Christ ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (verse 8). And that is what happened.

Two of my previous posts discuss verses 9 through 11:

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension

A Reformed view of the Ascension

John MacArthur makes pertinent points about these first several verses of Acts, excerpted below (emphases mine):

You can never finish the work of Christ unless you know what the content of His message was. Wouldn’t it have been a horrible thing if the Lord had said, “Finish My work,” and never given us any information about it? But He’s given us the Word …

Make sure, people, that if we’re going to finish the work that Jesus began, we’re going to have to teach what Jesus taught, right? And Jesus didn’t stop teaching with the gospels. That’s why I tell you, I don’t like red letter Bibles. That assumes that only what Jesus said is important. Jesus taught all through the Epistles of Paul, did he not? Jesus taught all through the Epistles of John, James, Jude, Peter, and everybody else that wrote in the New Testament. The Lord continued to speak His truth, and it behooves us to know that truth.

Now, one note at the end of verse 1: “Jesus began to do and teach.” Did you notice that there’s an interesting parallel there? Whatever Jesus taught, He also what? Did. You know, this is the credibility factor, isn’t it? Don’t tell me what you tell me unless you show me that what you tell me is what you are. Practice what you preach …

Notice verse 3…I love this…talking of the apostles here, he says, “To whom also He showed Himself alive after his death”…that’s what His passion refers to…”by many infallible proofs being seen by them 40 days.” Stop there. Now Jesus knew it wasn’t enough just to have information. There had to be, to those apostles, a personal manifestation. And so He appeared to them at special and repeated intervals so that they might know that He was alive.

Then verse 8…then you will receive what? “Power after the Holy Spirit has come on you.” That’s why to wait. Because if you try to do it on your own, you wouldn’t have the energy. “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit”…that’s a classic use of the passive verb…”you shall be baptized.” You don’t earn it, you don’t generate it, you just get it from God sovereignly. There’s no effort involved. The Spirit of God descends and comes as the Father sends Him. And what happens? The result? Power.

Now, you see, it would be like Michelangelo saying, “Now MacArthur, I want you to finish this, but I’ll hold both your hands.” Oh, that’s different. Then it would be exciting, wouldn’t it? I mean then I’d feel like, “Wow, you know, I’ve held the hands of the master while he did his work. I’ve been a part of it.” And that’s essentially what God is saying here…what Christ is saying to his disciples…”I want you to finish My work. I’ll give you all the tools you need. And just to make it possible, I’m going to put My Holy Spirit inside of you, and He’ll do it through you” if you’ll yield to him.

The power to accomplish, the power to fulfill, the power to do the thing that God has given us to do, is the energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit … Releasing that divine power through the Holy Spirit …

So he gave us the proper message, manifestation, might, and mystery, and then fifth, the proper mission. While we’re waiting for Him to come, and as long as we’ve got the message and the manifestation and the might, or the power, what do we do? What is the Christian supposed to be doing? Verse 8…the middle of the verse…“And you shall be” what? “Witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and the outermost part of the earth.”

Incidentally, that is the outline of the Book of Acts. The first section deals with Jerusalem…Judea, the second with Samaria; and the third section of Acts from chapter 13 or 14 on deals with the outermost part of the earth. That’s the spread of the Gospel

For Christians today, he has this message:

We cannot finish the unfinished work of Christ unless it flows out of a vital reality of Christ in our lives, unless we’re seeing and feeling and knowing and fellowshipping and sharing with Him.

Also, if we are to be proper Christian witnesses, we need to know Holy Scripture and base what we say on it rather than on our own happy experiences:

I’m not against giving out testimony because I’ve done it many times. But I’m just careful in my own mind to realize that true presentations of Christianity involve much more than a testimony. They involve proper content, and the truths of the Kingdom have to be there

A more sure word than experience is the Word of the Scripture. We[‘ve] got to know the Word, or we can’t finish the work that Jesus began…it behooves us to study.

And it’s so easy. Sometimes you get trapped in that experience-centered Christianity, where all you’ve got to say to anybody is all about your experience, and there isn’t any content there. I mean this is my argument in one area with the charismatic movement as we see it today. It’s all experience. Everybody’s got an experience, but nobody knows anything about the Scripture. That’s a blissful ignorance of the Word of God.

If we are not experts on the Bible, let us begin to take gradual yet diligent steps, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to know it. We should strive to know where to go scripturally when someone asks us a question. And, these days, questions are many.

The Ascension was the first step in our Lord’s plan of sending the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice and be glad.

 

Ted Cruz suspended his campaign after the Indiana primary on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

Donald Trump won the state with 53.3%. Cruz’s share of the vote was 36.6%. John Kasich picked up the remainder.

A number of Cruz’s supporters will not be supporting Trump — at least for now.

However, it is worth noting two things.

One is that Trump’s life has been an open book since he entered the Manhattan property market in the 1970s. I have been following his life and career since 1980. Everything worth knowing about him — good and bad — appeared in the media as it happened, not years later.

The other is that he is the only Republican who can defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election. He has the facts and the rhetoric, whether one likes his style or not, to reveal who she is.

The possibility of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic Party nomination is rather narrow at this point. However, should he win, Trump will prevail.

Trump struck a chord with Hoosiers (Indiana residents) because he understands the economic climate. While Cruz focussed on conservatism, Trump spoke of jobs and lamented the number of firms going overseas. Indiana’s governor Mike Pence heard this and praised him for it. Pence’s fine words for Trump greatly outweighed his tepid endorsement of Cruz, no doubt pledged sometime earlier.

As I write, it is unclear as to what the exact catalyst was for Cruz’s withdrawal from the race was. The first few days of May were difficult for him, even though he went to Indiana at the end of April to make the state his. At the time, it seemed possible.

Soon, things began to derail. Cruz called a basketball hoop a ‘ring’ in a basketball-mad state. Then, with just over half of Trump’s delegate total, Cruz strangely named Carly Fiorina — another of the failed GOP presidential hopefuls this year — his running mate. On Monday, the day before the primary, she lost her footing at one of Cruz’s rallies and fell off the stage. Was it a sign? One cannot help but wonder.

Also that day, five out of six polls for the state showed Trump in the lead between two and 15 percentage points.

Then, on Tuesday morning, the polls had been open only a few hours when Cruz launched into an attack on Trump, who had spoken of a National Enquirer story linking Cruz Sr with Lee Harvey Oswald. (Wayne Madsen’s story about the two, complete with photos, has been on the Internet for several weeks now.) CNN described Cruz’s lengthy tirade as:

extraordinary even by the standards of the 2016 campaign …

Trump responded, in part, with this:

Today’s ridiculous outburst only proves what I have been saying for a long time, that Ted Cruz does not have the temperament to be president of the United States.

There are a number of unanswered questions surrounding Ted Cruz and his parents: his father’s political involvement before and after leaving Cuba, his mother’s possible Canadian citizenship in years past and, more importantly, Cruz’s own citizenship story. He appears not to be a natural born citizen of the United States, a requirement for both the presidency and the vice presidency. No one can say for sure because his records are sealed. However, all that can rest unless, heaven forfend, he has a major role to play in a possible Trump administration or puts his hat into the ring in 2020.

For the moment, we can focus on Donald Trump. Let us hope that it is he and not Hillary Clinton who nominates Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court. The next president may also have to make between one and three more Supreme Court nominations between now and 2020.

Thomas L Friedman wrote a considered editorial for The New York Times called ‘Trump and the Lord’s Work’. The last two paragraphs read in part (emphasis mine):

It’s clear: Free trade with China has hurt more people than originally thought. It’s clear: Low-skilled illegal immigration has hurt more American workers than we’ve fully understood. (And more high-skilled immigration in a knowledge age would enhance our economy more than most people understand.) It’s clear: Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare all need fixes to remain sustainable. It’s clear: Capitalism driven more by machines and robots poses new challenges for both white-collar and blue-collar workers.

Every one of these challenges can be met if we put our heads and hands together. For that to happen, though, this version of the Republican Party had to be destroyed, so a thinking center-right party can emerge. If that is what Trump has done, he’s done the Lord’s work

Amen!

This evening, my better half and I will celebrate with lobster and a glass of Meursault.

May God bless Donald Trump and keep him and his family safe from harm.

For the past 20 years, I have made a conscious effort to articulate views in conversation without saying ‘I feel’, instead using ‘I think’ or merely making a statement.

I knew a business professor at the time, now retired, who often introduced his conversational opinions with ‘I feel that …’ He said it so often that I began listening for those words from others, including friends, acquaintances and colleagues. There was a lot of ‘I feel’ among them as well as in television interviews with famous people.

SpouseMouse also noticed this.

Were we the only two who had?

We had a long wait, but, finally, it now emerges that other people have had enough of ‘I feel’. Before exploring their criticism of those words, let’s look at a bit of background from the late 20th century to today.

Thinking is being

Until recently, secondary school and university students took an introduction to philosophy course.

They read René Descartes, the French philosopher who wrote in his Discourse on the Method in 1637:

Je pense, donc je suis.

In 1644, he wrote the statement in Latin in Principles of Philosophy:

Cogito ergo sum.

Translated in English, it means:

I think, therefore, I am.

Wikipedia explains:

This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one’s own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.

St Augustine of Hippo wrote similarly in the 5th century in his works The City of God and the Enchiridion, in discussing the errors of sceptics. By being alive, we are prone to error:

… one cannot err who is not alive. That we live is therefore not only true, but it is altogether certain as well …

Other philosophers and great thinkers also addressed the certainty of our existence, which revolves around the ability to think and to reason.

My point here is not to engage in philosophical discussion but rather to point out that thinking was seen as the foundation for rational expression.

When I was growing up, my parents asked me to substantiate my opinions with facts. Facts require thought in order to process the information therein. Facts give us solid reasons to support certain perspectives.

Thinking is not emotion. As my parents used to say, ‘Any fool can feel. You’re supposed to use the God-given gifts of thought and reason.’ To some that will sound tough, but it will produce critical thinking.

The therapeutic era

Most people under the age of 35 or even 40 will have encountered a therapeutic approach to language rather than a rational one.

If this approach to linguistics does not begin at home, it will certainly be taught at school.

Everything must be couched in inoffensive terms. Prefacing an opinion or even a fact with ‘I feel’ is understood to be more acceptable than using the more definite ‘I think’ or making a direct statement.

Defenders of ‘I feel’ think they and others who use those words are demonstrating humility, gentleness and openness towards others. ‘I feel’, they say, signals a willingness to change one’s mind if a good case can be made to the contrary.

However, there is also a manipulative side to ‘I feel’ when it is used by people who self-identify as victims. It is a passive-aggressive way of saying, ‘I’m a delicate little flower. Therefore, please don’t contradict me, because that will invalidate my feelings. Truth be told, I am not interested in what you have to say, anyway, unless you agree with me.’

The case against ‘I feel’

On May 1, the SundayReview in The New York Times featured an article by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a contributing editorial writer to the NYT. Worthen’s most recent book is Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

Her article, ‘Stop Saying “I Feel Like”‘, is a must-read for both supporters and detractors of that perspective. The accompanying illustration of a woman opening her mouth with flowers falling out of it makes the point perfectly.

Worthen begins by saying she has been hearing people opine on the presidential candidates this year. Too many of them make statements similar to the following:

Personally, I feel like Bernie Sanders is too idealistic

or, as someone said of Rafael ‘Ted’ Cruz, the ex-Canadian:

I feel like I can trust that he will keep his promises.

Worthen points out (emphases mine):

The imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates that “I feel like” became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for “I think” or “I believe” only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve, and curmudgeons like me are always taking umbrage at some new idiom. But make no mistake: “I feel like” is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument — a muddle that has political consequences.

Although women use the phrase more often than men, she says that among her own students:

male students begin almost every statement with “I feel like.” The gender gap is vanishing because the cultural roots of this linguistic shift were never primarily a consequence of gender.

Some students Worthen interviewed are making a conscious effort not to say the words:

Jing Chai, a senior at the University of Chicago, said: “I’ve tried to check myself when I say that. I think it probably demeans the substance of what I’m trying to say.”

As I said above, ‘I feel’ can be a passive-aggressive conversation stopper. Worthen agrees:

“I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.

When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.

You know, we can’t have that these days. The atmosphere on campus is meant for victimhood rather than learning. Worthen says that Bradley Campbell, a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles, has written about the shift:

from a “culture of dignity,” which celebrates free speech, to a “culture of victimhood” marked by the assumption that “people are so fragile that they can’t hear something offensive,” he told me.

People like that should not even be at university, regardless of their intelligence. University is for people who can think critically and encounter new ideas. It’s a place for well-reasoned, tempered debate and discussions which result in learning. Yet, for all their linguistic kindness, today’s university students, sometimes aided by lecturers or professors, violently shut down opposing viewpoints. Think of the Chicago ‘protests’ (assaults and vandalism) a few months ago by university students — encouraged by radical professors — which prevented a Trump rally from taking place. Elsewhere, earlier this year, one student purposely damaged a Trump supporter’s laptop because he couldn’t stand looking at the bumper sticker on it. Trump aside, many universities — including those in the UK — have had to cancel certain speakers’ appearances because they are not politically correct. This is in response to student protest and threatened violence. The wimpy ‘I feel’ is, in reality, manifesting itself as physical harm or damage. But I digress.

Worthen also interviewed Christopher Lasch’s daughter Dr Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, who is carrying on her late father’s fine work in social commentary. If you have not read Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, you are missing out on a treat. I read it in the early 1980s and it analyses our society to a T.

Of ‘I feel like’, Lasch-Quinn told Worthen:

It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.

In 2001, Lasch-Quinn’s book Race Experts lamented that no real improvement is being achieved with equality or economics. Instead, the Left focusses on sensitivity training. ‘I feel like’ is part of this pattern:

a means of avoiding rigorous debate over structures of society that are hard to change

Cultivating the art of conversation goes a long way toward correcting these things,” Dr. Lasch-Quinn said. 

Her father wrote about what, today, Americans call ‘self care’. Worthen explains:

“self-care” — can lead to what the writer Christopher Lasch called “pseudo-self-awareness.” It can leave us too preoccupied with personal satisfaction to see the world clearly. “The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety,” Mr. Lasch wrote in his 1979 book “The Culture of Narcissism.” “He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life.”

Unfortunately, times have moved on. In the 2010s, it is all too apparent that those who are emotionally-driven actually do seek to inflict their own certainties on others, either by shutting down opposing viewpoints or threatening people. ‘I feel like’ is a contributing linguistic factor to this phenomenon.

Although philosophers have for centuries acknowledged emotion as essential to thinking, we can take our feelings too far. When Worthen spoke to the neuroscientist Dr Antonio Dimasio, who teaches at the University of Southern California, he agreed that ‘I feel like’ is:

“bad usage” and “a sign of laziness in thinking,” not because it acknowledges the presence of emotion, but because it is an imprecise hedge that conceals more than it reveals. “It doesn’t follow that because you have doubts, or because something is tempered by a gut feeling, that you cannot make those distinctions as clear as possible,” he said.

The best gift parents and teachers can give children is to get them to figure out why they like or dislike and agree or disagree with something or someone. Insist that they think about it and articulate it factually, without one-word answers or labels. Furthermore, when they see a soundbite from someone they disagree with, ask them to research further. Did they understand the full context in which a statement was given? Did they read or hear the full quote?

Saying ‘I feel like’ prevents our getting the full story. Using ‘I think’ or — even better — doing away with the first person preface altogether will produce sharper thought processes and a more reasoned point of view, easily articulated to our listeners and readers. Children should learn that as quickly as they can. It will serve them well in life.

Embedded image permalinkLast week, The Spectator held a debate on Brexit at the 2,200 seat London Palladium.

The event was sold out.

The evening included perspectives from both Leave and Remain supporters as well as questions from the audience.

At the end, although a significant portion of the audience was still undecided, Leave won the day.

A summary of soundbites follows, emphases mine. There is much more at the aforementioned link, including audio and responses to questions from the audience.

Remain

Arguing for Remain were Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat, former Deputy Prime Minister), Liz Kendall (Labour MP) and Chuka Umunna (Labour MP).

Chuka Umunna said:

The EU isn’t perfect, I don’t think any of the three of us are saying that. But the question on 23 June is whether we are safer and stronger and better off in than out, and I think we are. The bedroom tax, NHS, robbing tax credits from the working poor: whatever you think about these things, they have all been implemented by a Tory-led government. They have nothing to do with the EU. Nor do most things that you hear discussed on the news every day …

being connected makes sense to the young because that’s what we’re used to. We’re not at war with these guys any more.  We live in a complex world and we can either adopt a small vision of Britain, where we fail to live up to our history. Or we can give the next generation a proud ambitious and self confident nation. So I say: let’s go big, let’s make Britain even greater than it is already and reject the small vision for our country offered up by the people who want us to leave. Let’s stand tall.

Pretty weak and typically Labour: it’s all the fault of Tories. But let’s maintain the EU status quo because we’re used to it? That has to be the worst reason ever.

Never mind the added pressure on our infrastructure — especially housing, schools, hospitals, utilities — from the continuing influx of Europeans from newer member countries who want to come here because they all speak English and can earn more here than they can at home.

Nick Clegg said:

This is a once in a generation vote, if we decide to close the door in the face of Europe, lock the door, throw the key away, we’re not only denying opportunities for us now but we’re also closing the door for future generations – my kids, your kids, for all of our grandchildren. We must not just think about ourselves, we must also think about the duty we have to future generations. Because they are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of the decision taken by this generation more than anywhere here today. I believe, however flawed the European Union and of course it is, the future generations of this country will be safe, will be better off, will be stronger by remaining in the European Union.

Clegg is half-Dutch (mother) and part-Russian (father is half-Russian). He is married to a Spaniard. He says he is proud to be British, but not everyone is convinced. The Lib Dems were routed in the 2015 general election.

Liz Kendall said:

I think President Obama was absolutely right. Being a member of the EU gives Britain more influence and power, not less.

Cutting ourselves off from our neighbours and allies in Europe would diminish Britain’s power not increase it. And it would give us less control to shape our future, not more. In the end, this referendum will come down to the central question of our economy. There is not a single, serious, credible independent organisation that thinks we would be better off out.

Obama said that TTIP would be our reward for staying in Europe! No! I have a post on TTIP coming soon which will explain why it is so bad.

Leave

Arguing for Leave were Daniel Hannan (Conservative MEP), Nigel Farage (UKIP MEP and party leader) and Kate Hoey (Labour MP).

Daniel Hannan said:

as long as we’re in the European Union, we cannot sign independent trade deals with non-EU countries.

The EU deal with Australia is being held up because some Italian tomato-growers are challenging it. The EU deal with Canada is being held up due to an unrelated dispute about Romanian visas. How have we put ourselves in a position where we can’t do those deals? Liz Kendall quotes some Davos men telling us that we can’t leave because we’d be worse off – but wages would rise, prices would fall. If we stay in, neither will happen.

I did not know that. Interesting.

Davos guys want us to stay in. Consider the source and make up your own mind.

Kate Hoey said:

Our basic right is our right to make laws. I don’t believe you can trust people in power if they can’t be removed by elections. No one can deny that the EU’s government, the Commission, is unelected and cannot be removed by any of us through elections. That fact alone is enough to reject the EU. It’s not socialist or democratic – the EU is anti-democratic. Its princip[le]s are those of a free market, but not of a political system. The EU’s purpose is to rule in the smooth running of a corporatist economy.

At least when I oppose Tory policies, I can vote on them. We can’t do this with the EU. The EU is an attempt to replace the democratic power of the people with a permanent administration in the interests of big business. Everything else is a smokescreen. It’s very clear why Obama was threatening us. The EU can never be reformed. What does Leave look like? It looks like all the other 169 countries in the world, most of them with true democratic accountability. Let us be clear, there is no certainty in remaining in the EU. We need to set our country free from future servitude.

I completely agree — and often wish Kate Hoey were a Conservative. She is a sensible, persuasive speaker and an excellent MP. I’ve never read anything bad about her.

Nigel Farage said:

The Remain side – or the ‘Remainians’, as I think they are now known – have clubbed together. They’ve got Goldman Sachs, they’ve got Siemens, they’ve got the IMF, they’ve got Obama, telling us if we don’t remain a part of the European Union, dreadful things will happen to us. They are putting the leave camp on the backfoot to try and put us off the main arguments in this referendum. The fact is, we don’t have a good deal. Do not believe them when they say that we can’t access the single market. Even in the worst case scenario where Britain has to rely on WTO rules, the cost of tariffs would be less than our next contribution. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote to take back the independence and control of this country’s laws, this country’s courts and this country’s borders.

I believe in democracy. When a European law is made, there is nothing we can do to reverse it. There is no direct democratic accountability in this system.

All of that is so true!

Conclusion

For my fellow Britons who are still undecided: look at the people and institutions who support either side.

In the Remain camp — in addition to The Spectator‘s pro-EU speakers and those Farage mentioned — are The Financial Times and The Economist, both of which promote globalism. Do you think they care about the average citizen? Do you think they care about you and your family?

The scare stories from Remain and the polls from their agenda-driven pollsters are frippery. Remember how accurate the polls were in predicting the 2016 general election result?

There is plenty of time to pause and reflect before June 23. Think carefully.

The Spectator reports that Helena Kennedy — Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC* — recently presented a two-part programme on human rights for Radio 4.

The magazine’s Theo Hobson was bemused by the fact that Kennedy overlooked Christianity as being at the heart of human rights even when one of the interviewees said that religion was paramount in this regard:

but Kennedy failed to pursue this with real curiosity.

Furthermore:

No Christian theologian was consulted.

Instead, Mesopotamia and Buddhism were invoked by human rights lawyers and non-Western participants. One imagines they mentioned the Code of Hammurabi, named after the ruler of Babylonia who developed it, in 1754 BC. Babylonia was part of Mesopotamia. Incidentally, the ‘talk‘ page of the Code of Hammurabi has an intense discussion about its relationship to Mosaic Law. Revisionists claim Moses took his codes from the Babylonian.

Kennedy grew up in a devoutly Catholic home, yet did nothing to defend the faith despite the fact that she remains a practising Catholic.

As Theo Hobson points out, it was only the spread of Christianity, greatly aided by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which saw human rights become what they are today:

It was the Christian West that gradually heaved such aspirations into politics. It was in Protestant lands, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that the crucial right to freedom of conscience took root – modern citizenship flowed from this. And as one of the contributors said, it’s only within nation states that rights are really secure.

Absolutely.

It’s a pity Hobson couldn’t have been on instead. But, then, that wouldn’t have fit into the BBC’s agenda. Or Kennedy’s, one suspects.

*Queen’s Counsel

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 17:24-27

The Temple Tax

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.[a] Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

—————————————————————————————

This scene no doubt took place at Peter’s house, where Jesus stayed when He was in Capernaum.

The temple tax was a religious tax and not a Roman one.

John MacArthur says it was first recorded in the Book of Exodus (emphases mine):

In Exodus chapter 30 when the tabernacle was established and it was carried from there to the temple, God gave a law through Moses. And the Lord spoke unto Moses,” Exodus 30:11, “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord.” How much, verse 13 says, “Half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary.” A half shekel shall be the offering to the Lord. Verse 15 says, “They shall not give more if they’re rich, they shall not give less if they’re poor when they make an offering to the Lord, half shekel for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord to make atonement for your souls.” Half shekel.

Now Nehemiah reduced it to a third shekel when they came back from captivity because they were so poor. But the half shekel had been reinstituted and in this particular temple in Jerusalem, there was a half shekel temple tax that had to be paid by every Jewish male and had to be paid annually. And, by the way, if you didn’t pay it, they took compensation out of your personal belongings.

As for the word ‘two-drachma’, or ‘didrachma’ in some translations, and Jewish term ‘stater’, meaning ‘half a shekel’, he explains:

Now the term used here is didrachma. And basically a half a shekel, that’s a Jewish concept, was equal to two Greek drachmas, d-r-a-c-h-m-a-e, two Greek drachmas. And the tax then became known as the double drachma, or the didrachma, that’s the Greek term. And that is the one…it basically represents two days wages. That is the tax they were after. The half-shekel which equals the didrachma in Greek coinage.

And so, they came to collect that. Now commonly speaking, it was customary because there was no double didrachma in Greek coinage, they had the term but the economy had inflated to the point where they didn’t have didrachma. So what they used was a stater. And the stater was equal to two didrachma, or four drachma. Are you with me? So people would normally go together and pay one stater, and that would cover their temple tax.

However, Matthew Henry says that this tax was not insisted upon so much in Galilee. Therefore, when the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the tax (verse 24), it was not meant as an attack but as a genuine, respectful enquiry — so much so that they did not want to bother Him, so they asked Peter. The tax collectors knew of Jesus, possibly witnessed His teachings and miracles, and thought He might be exempt from paying the tax:

The demand was very modest[;] the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master’s mind …

they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.

Peter answered ‘Yes’, meaning that Jesus paid His taxes (verse 25). MacArthur reminds us that His is our example to follow:

There are people who are Christian people who don’t pay taxes. They don’t think they have any reason to pay taxes, they don’t like what’s done with their money and so forth and so they don’t pay. And some of them get away with it because the government knows that to prosecute and track them all down and go through the fight would be to lose more money than you would gain. But Jesus, does He pay taxes? Verse 25, “Peter said yes…yes, Jesus always pays His didrachma.” And you can imply from that that He always paid His taxes…always. Jesus is not a tax evader. He’s not a tax dodger.

Peter went indoors and Jesus asked him if kings taxed their own sons or other people. He was asking whether God would tax His Son. Peter replied that taxes came from other people, and Jesus affirmed that kings’ sons do not pay it (verse 26). The implication is that He is actually exempt from paying temple tax.

However, in order ‘not to give offence’ (verse 27), Jesus told Peter to go to the Sea of Galilee, take the first fish he caught and give the coin in its mouth to the tax collectors. The shekel would cover both Jesus’s and Peter’s temple tax.

Henry explains the possible offence given and why Jesus paid the tax:

Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people’s prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it.

He makes this point:

Note, Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it

Henry also observes that a humble fish had the coin which would go to pay for the maintenance of the temple and provide the spiritual sustenance for God’s people:

when he could have taken it out of an angel’s hand.

That Peter had to go angling in order to catch the fish signifies that:

Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him

Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up where the heart is opened to entertain Christ’s word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.

Finally, Jesus allowed Peter to benefit from his obedience and endeavour:

Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked upon as a debt what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world’s goods, not only to be just, but to be kind not only to be charitable to the poor, but obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a man to do so much the more good?

Next time: Matthew 18:1-4

Coventry Scouts groups have a visit from Bear Grylls.jpgThis week in Britain, the notional artist Grayson Perry took issue with the masculinity that adventurer Bear Grylls displays, terming it ‘useless’.

(Photo of Grylls courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Perry is known for his cross-dressing, which you can see in a Spectator article on his sniping against alpha males. Perry is currently doing a show for Channel 4 which explores the ‘problems’ that ‘masculinity and manly men’ cause society.

Perry, 56, has enjoyed cross-dressing from his childhood. Not surprisingly, this fractured the relationship he had with his parents and his step-parents. In 1979, his step-father told him not to return home. He has been estranged from his mother since 1990.

He is best known for his pottery, although he has also created tapestries. Some of his work explores explicit sadomasochism and child abuse. However, he has had a one-man exhibition at the Stedjick Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 which led to him winning the Turner Prize in 2003. Incredibly, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to contemporary art. In 2015, he became chancellor of University of the Arts London.

He is married and has a daughter, born in 1992.

Unlike Perry, Edward Michael ‘Bear’ Grylls does not have any honours, although he has been Chief Scout since 2009. He was the youngest ever Briton to become one. He was 35 at the time.

His parents are Conservatives. He attended Eton College and has two university degrees. He has been interested in mountaineering and martial arts since his teenage years. For several years he served in the Territorial Army and as a reservist with the 21 SAS Regiment (Artists Reserve) until 1997.

His expeditions are too numerous to mention but include Everest, the Himalayas and Antarctica. He has starred and presented several television programmes for Channel 4 on extreme life in the outdoors. He also gives motivational talks to various organisations, including schools and churches.

He is married and has three sons.

His Christian faith is deeply important to him.

Perry finds Grylls appalling:

Top of his no-no list? Bear Grylls. Yes, Perry says that the Old Etonian adventurer is a ‘hangover’ who represents a ‘masculinity that is useless’:

‘Try going into an estate agent in Finsbury Park [London] and come out with an affordable flat. I want to see Bear Grylls looking for a decent state school for his child!’

Bear Grylls would have no problem at all in choosing a school for his sons, state or otherwise.

Perry also attacked Grylls’s show The Island:

Perry says it helps foster a masculinity that makes life in modern society more difficult.

Grylls responded in his usual gentlemanly style:

In the wild, quiet courage, humility, persistence and selflessness makes a man and also a woman. That is never outdated.

I agree with the Spectator when they say they’d be interested to see how Grayson Perry would fare in the wild — if only he could bring himself to leave leafy London.

Although I do not watch his shows, I’ll take Grylls’s alpha male masculinity any day, especially when he says:

my faith is a quiet, strong backbone in my life, and the glue to our family.

It’s time he was awarded an honour.

Now that Spring has sprung, many of us are thinking about new — or more — plants for our garden without spending too much money.

An easy and guaranteed way to get plant cuttings to root is to use an wine bottle filled with water as the growing medium.

I’ve been using this method regularly since friends shared it with me at university many years ago.

Tips for success:

1/ Use a wine bottle made from dark glass.

2/ The plant cutting should not be flowering.

3/ Be sure to top up the water level as necessary.

4/ Allow the cutting to develop a good root system before planting in soil. This might take several weeks, depending on the type of plant.

You can also leave the plant in the wine bottle. Most will grow quite happily. You’ll be amazed at the root system.

However, not all plants like such a wet environment. Once you see yellowing leaves, it’s time to transfer the plant to soil.

This is an ideal way to start or grow new plants, particularly for people who have a green thumb but do not have their own gardens. It’s tidier as soil is not needed. A plant growing in a wine bottle is also a great conversation piece.

The Atlantic has an excellent article on Peanuts‘ creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000.

‘The Spirituality of Snoopy’ explores Schulz’s Christianity and how it informed his long-running comic strip, which first appeared in print in 1950.

Stephen Lind, author of the recently published book A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz, gave an interview to the magazine. He said:

Many familiar with the Peanuts strip don’t think of Charles Schulz as a Christian pioneer. But he was a leader in American media when it comes to both the strength and frequency of religious references.

Interestingly, Blondie‘s creator, Chic Young, warned cartoonists in that era not to mention religion in comic strips.

Schulz was raised a Lutheran but, after serving with the United States Army in World War II and coming to grips with his mother’s death at that time, he drifted away from church. His father was worried his son was losing his faith. His widow Jean explained how Charles — Sparky — returned to the fold:

When he came back from the army he was very lonely. His mother had died and he was invited to church by a pastor who had prepared his mother’s service from the Church of God. Sparky’s father was worried about him and was talking to the pastor and so the pastor invited Sparky to come to church. So Sparky went to church, joined the youth group and for a good 4-5 years he went to Bible study and went to church 3 times a week (2 Bible studies, 1 service). He said he had read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday school. He was always looking for what those passages REALLY might have meant. Some of his discussions with priests and ministers were so interesting because he wanted to find out what these people (who he thought were more educated than he) thought.

When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.

This particular Church of God is a Wesleyan holiness group based in Anderson, Indiana. (There are other Churches of God.) Wesleyan pietism forbids alcohol and smoking.

Schulz’s daughter Amy Schulz Johnson eventually became a Mormon. In November 2015, she told the Deseret News that:

Her parents never told her not to drink alcohol, but because they never drank, she didn’t either.

“Our great life prepared me [for Mormonism], because I didn’t have to change much of anything,” Johnson said.

When Johnson was growing up, she said that her father dropped everything when she or her three siblings walked into his office. In fact, as a young child, she actually thought he was unemployed because he was always there for them.

That dedication also ended up saving some of the Schulz children’s friends. Johnson recalled:

“Some of my friends didn’t tell me until they were in their 40s the things that were happening in their homes,” Johnson said. “And … I can’t really word this properly, but they said, and this had everything to do with Dad, that coming to our house every weekend is what saved them emotionally. … Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. … Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.”

Johnson refers to her adolescence as “wonderful, happy and clean-cut.” She often tells people, “If you think Utah Valley Mormons are sheltered, you should’ve been a Schulz!” Johnson believes the Schulz residence was a place where God’s influence could be felt because “the Spirit is in homes of goodness.”

By that time, Schulz had made a lot of money from Peanuts and was able to transform his 28-acre estate in Sebastopol, California, into a self-contained family compound complete with a swimming pool, baseball fields, a golf course and a park.

The Atlantic article points out that, when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965, fewer than nine per cent of Christmas specials on American television contained religious references. The programme shows how materialism does not satisfy the Peanuts characters. Linus ends up going to the Bible and reads aloud the King James Version of Jesus’s birth from the Gospel of St Luke.

Two years before that, the debate over prayer in state schools was at its peak. Schulz penned a strip with Sally reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and ending it with ‘Amen!’

Schulz once said:

I preach in these cartoons, and I reserve the same rights to say what I want to say as the minister in the pulpit.

Out of nearly 17,800 strips, 560 contain a spiritual, biblical or theological reference. Clergy noticed and asked Schulz for permission to reproduce his comic strips for use at church. He willingly granted permission in nearly all cases.

His Bible had many handwritten notes in the margins. He also enjoyed reading theological commentaries on the Bible. During his time as a Sunday School teacher, he once led a group in a study of the entire Old Testament.

The Atlantic shared some of Schulz’s wry Biblical references in Peanuts:

In June of 1952, the somewhat sad and self-deprecating Charlie Brown borrowed Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 1:14: “All is vanity!” In December of 1955, a shivering Snoopy found solace in Jesus’s words from John 16:33: “Be of good cheer, Snoopy … Yes, be of good cheer.”

Sometimes the Bible references were clearly cited. When he catches Snoopy taking food out of the refrigerator, Charlie Brown pulls out a Bible and quotes from the Ten Commandments: “Look, it says here in Exodus, ‘Thou shall not steal.’” Snoopy borrows his book, flips the page and hands it back. “Deuteronomy 25:4 …” Charlie Brown reads, “Thou shall not muzzle the ox while he treads out the grain.”

But often, they were more cryptic. When Linus asks Snoopy, “Does it bother you that the Bible doesn’t speak very highly of dogs?” the beagle replies with a reference to one of Jesus’s teachings, “Sure it bothers me, but I just turn the other muzzle.” In a famous strip from 1959, Linus built a sandcastle that the rain washed away. Linus concludes, “There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is …” But many readers would have recognized the allusion to Jesus’s parable about a man who built his house on sand in Matthew 7, and Schulz later said that this was exactly what he intended.

In 1965, a Presbyterian minister, Robert L Short, wrote The Gospel According to Peanuts, which featured Schulz’s famous illustrations. Over 10 million copies were sold. Westminster John Knox Press published a 35th anniversary edition in 2000.

In 1968, Short wrote The Parables of Peanuts, which HarperCollins reissued in 2002.

Schulz was careful not to be didactic or domineering with his beliefs. He is remembered as a loving, generous, kind man.

Interestingly, he appeared regularly in Forbes‘s 400 wealthiest Americans lists. His success came from his gentle personality which shone through in his comic strips and characters. He wrote about what he knew and enjoyed.

His characters are based on real-life people — and a dog — in his milieu. He and Charlie Brown shared similar traits. Schulz was shy and retiring growing up. He was the youngest in his high school class. His family owned a dog that resembled Snoopy. Lucy was based on his first wife, Joyce Halverson, and Peppermint Patty on one of his mother’s cousins.

In later life, his Christianity took on a vaguer tone and, by the 1980s, he stopped going to church. However, his daughter Amy Schulz Johnson said that when she was on missionary work with the Mormons in England, Schulz wrote her weekly. She treasures those missives:

“It’s funny because if I read you parts of them, you would think that my dad was a stake president in our church or something,” Johnson said. “He would have the most beautiful things to say about Christ and the scriptures.”

In closing, it is interesting that Charles Schulz made ‘Good grief!’ common parlance and introduced ‘security blanket’ into the English language. In fact, in Britain, it’s called a ‘Linus blanket’!

Democratic Party voters should know about Hillary Clinton’s career.

It dumbfounds millions that this woman can even countenance running for the presidency. However, as one of the videos below explains, this has been the plan since 1986, when Bill was the governor of Arkansas.

It is interesting that Hillary considers Donald Trump her opponent in the general election. A few days ago, her campaign launched an ad against the billionaire attacking his ‘extreme makeover’ recently announced by convention manager Paul Manafort to the GOPe in Hollywood, Florida. Meanwhile, Trump is unsure whether he will even be the Republican nominee without Manafort and his team going on a PR offensive with delegates.

In other Hillary news, one of her supporters, David Brock, is heading a new Super PAC called Correct The Record (CTR), which will employ online trolls at the cost of $1m to ‘correct’ Bernie Sanders’s supporters in social media comments. Obama’s 2008 campaign team were the first to use this bullying technique. Oh, my. Who can forget how down and dirty they were?

Clinton voters point to Bill’s stellar presidency and how wonderful it was having a first lady who was a lawyer. Millions of other Americans did not share their enthusiasm, but having Bob Dole as the lacklustre Republican candidate in 1996 effectively swept Bill into office for a second term.

After they left office — and ‘they’ is no mistake — warm, fuzzy memories lived on in voters’ minds. So, when Hillary became a New York senator, her fans cheered. However, when she lost to Obama in 2008, they fractured. Some went to Obama, but the rest broke off to support either John McCain (and, later, Mitt Romney) or the Green Party. As they left the Democratic Party and became unaffiliated, they started researching their former heroine’s background. What they discovered wasn’t pretty.

A Bernie Sanders supporter has an interesting site called Won’t Vote Hillary which lists a number of reasons — greater and lesser — as to why not.

Unless I missed it, one hasn’t made the list: her smoothing over New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s racist joke at an event on April 10. The New York Daily News reported:

Their big moment became a big blunder when a tasteless joke — built off the stereotype that black people are chronically late — fell flat.

“Thanks for the endorsement. Took you long enough,” Clinton deadpanned.  

“Sorry, Hillary. I was running on C.P. Time,” de Blasio replied, riffing on the phrase “colored people time,” meaning always late.

When the event’s compère, black actor Leslie Odom Jr, objected, Clinton said:

“’Cautious Politician Time.’ I’ve been there.”

The New York Post has the video clip with subtitles.

Can you imagine if Donald Trump had been involved in a tasteless skit like that? The media would still be talking about it.

There are serious questions Hillary’s current supporters need to ask themselves about her candidacy. Why have questionable ethics been at the forefront throughout her career? What is her end game?

The compelling videos below provide those questions — and answers — against Hillary.

White House questions

The ‘Anonymous’ video below is 25 minutes long. In a simple and straightforward manner, it covers the many Clinton scandals from Bill’s time in the White House to Hillary’s time as Obama’s Secretary of State through to the present day. Benghazi (‘What does it matter?’) starts at the 16:00 mark:

Hillary’s 2016 campaign and the Clinton Foundation are also discussed. This is well worth watching, because seeing all these scandals and unethical activity bundled together makes the case against Hillary all the more powerful.

Arkansas questions

Two other videos raise ethical and criminal issues concerning the Clintons from their Arkansas days through to the campaign for the presidency in 1992.

Both feature interviews with a one-time Clinton insider, Larry Nichols, who eventually disassociated himself from the couple.

The Clinton Chronicles is nearly 90 minutes long and explores the couple’s shaky ethics at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock and later when Bill was Arkansas governor:

It’s shocking and, as the notice says at the beginning of the film, is intended for mature audiences only.

The next film is 33 minutes long and was made last year. In it, Nichols discusses the past and present. He says that, 30 years ago, the Clintons devised their 1986 Plan, which ultimately involves Bill becoming the Secretary General of the United Nations. If he achieved that power and if Hillary were President of the United States at the same time, they would accomplish their goal of being the most powerful couple in the world:

Nichols cautions against voters being taken in by Hillary’s attempt to position herself as the underdog in her campaign. She is anything but. He also says that the New York Times — knowingly or unknowingly — serves as a PR machine for her.

Nichols, who is battling cancer, thinks there is a very real possibility that the 2016 election could be the last one that Americans recognise. He says that if Hillary Clinton wins, the nation may be irrevocably changed — and not for the better.

He said that Hillary has always been the power behind the throne. It was she who directed Bill’s career. He explained that Bill is much more laid back, but Hillary’s mind is focussed on power.

Nichols sees only one viable option for reversing America’s travails and restoring the Great Republic: Donald Trump in the White House.

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