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American Religious Naievete – Projecting Christianity On To Other Religions

February 25th, 2013 9 comments

This is really a thoughtful piece.

Allah, Odin, and Thor: Mythical Gods of War, Not of Love

Brian James’ novel Ragnarok brings the brutality of the Viking Apocalypse to the modern world.
by

David Forsmark

Americans have a naïve view of religion. The religious freedom that is so ingrained in our tradition — and our Constitution — has morphed beyond tolerance to a sort of anthropomorphic acceptance of pretty much anything.

In other words, in order to prove how tolerant we are, we take our basically Judeo-Christian view of what religion and God should be, and assume all other religions share the same goals, have the same values, and are just differing manifestation of the same loving and just God.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, the God of the Bible is unique in the history of the world’s religions. From Baal to Zeus, from Jupiter to Allah and Odin, the gods of paganism are capricious masters, not loving fathers. Control is their goal — when they think of humans at all — not justice or peace.

But saying so is sooooo judgmental!

Marvel Comics master storyteller Stan Lee took the most interesting of the Norse gods, Thor, the God of Thunder, and made him a crusader for truth, justice, and maybe even the American Way… or at least Western values.

But think of it from the view of the Vikings — what could be more capricious and destructive than the god of the weather?

But of course, a self-centered destructive superhero who loves war and longs to be worshiped would make for a crappy comic book.

On the serious side, though, a misunderstanding of a leading world religion has serious implications for most of the current world conflicts.

Even George W. Bush mouthed the diplomatically convenient canard “Islam means peace.” Yes, and Pravda means “truth.”

A non-rebellious slave is at “peace” with his master, too. Read more…

Categories: Books, books and reading

Book Lover Meets E-Books: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

September 21st, 2012 16 comments

When Amazon first released the Kindle, I was, of course, an early adopter. But…I rarely used it. Why? Because I rarely read fiction. My nose is, usually, and always has been, buried deeply in non-fiction: history, theology, current events, politics, biography, you name it. Non-fiction has been my steady diet for a long while now, though, as a boy, I read fiction and literature voraciously.

Sure, I’d take my Kindle along on trips, and it was great to use, but otherwise, I’d just set it aside until the next trip.

But in the past year I have become a total Kindle addict. It feeds my long buried fiction addiction and I have read, perhaps, more fiction in the past year than I have in the previous ten years, or more.

I thought I was alone in this, but my friend Dr. Gene Edward Veith recently commented on this and told me that using a Kindle to read e-books has reawakened his passion for reading fiction, which got him into his lifelong journey to begin with, leading to his doctorate in literature, etc. He has become one of my best “recommenders” of fiction to read, he turned me on to The Hunger Games, for example. Told me, “Once you start reading them, you won’t be able to stop.” He was right.

I realized that his experiences with the Kindle are precisely my experiences in the past year.

At first, I thought the Kindle was a nice toy, a nice gadget, but surely it could not replace the “experience” of reading. No physical paper or pages. Sure, reading would not be the same. I was one to snort it off and look down my nose at it. No more.

I’m telling you today that in fact reading is every bit as much a pleasure and then some because of the Kindle. I can take my books with me wherever I go and read them wherever I am and whenever I want.

Kindle is with me anywhere my iPhone is, which is to say, everywhere, all the time.

I find myself ending most days now spending at least thirty minutes, to an hour, with my Kindle reader, reading some work of fiction. I’ve got titles stacked up now in the list waiting to be read, all kinds of fiction.

Most recently it has been The Hunger Games [what a great read!], next up will be another read of the British seafaring fiction of Patrick O’Brian which rises to the level of fine literature.

So, that’s my story, the Kindle and I have a beautiful friendship.

Care to share your own experiences with the Kindle or e-books in general? Do you find yourself reading more fiction?

Categories: Books, books and reading

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

March 1st, 2012 7 comments
New book explores a Jewish view of the New Testament
ENI-12-0117By Chris Herlinger
New York, 29 February (ENInews)–A new edition of the New Testament has done what none other has done before — explain the core body of Christian writings through the lens of Judaism.

“The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” published by Oxford University Press, takes at its starting point the fact that the central figures in the New Testament — Jesus, Mary, the apostle Paul, as well as the gospel writers — were Jewish and lived in a Jewish cultural milieu.

The new volume, edited by American Jewish biblical scholars Amy-Jill Levine, who teaches at Vanderbilt University, and Marc Zvi Brettler, who teaches at Brandeis University, is being called a landmark for placing the New Testament text in historical and cultural context.

The book “fills a huge gap in the world of biblical interpretation,” said the Rev. William Brosend, who teaches at the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, and who heads the Episcopal Preaching Foundation.

As one example of the annotations, the Jewish Annotated New Testament deals squarely with the issue of the Gospel of John and anti-Judaism. The editors note that the gospel has a number of explicit references to Judaism that are hostile, even though the book “draws extensively on Jewish tradition.”

They noted that “while John’s difficult rhetoric should not be facilely dismissed, it can be understood as part of the author’s process of self-definition, of distinguishing the followers of Jesus from the synagogue and so from Jews and Judaism.”

Asked by ENInews to characterize the reaction to the book so far, Brettler said it has been “overwhelmingly positive” across religious traditions, and among both conservatives and liberals. “If there has been any surprise, it is the surprised delight at how enthusiastic the response has been,” he said.

Brettler said he has heard of groups planning on using the book for interfaith study, and some have even suggested producing a study guide for such groups. Most readers and nearly all scholars and journalists seem to “understand the book and its purposes,” he added.

“On Amazon and several blogs there have been some comments by people who never opened the book.  These range across a wide gamut, from Jews who feared that the book is a secret attempt at converting Jews to Christianity, and Christians, who had the reverse fear,” he said.

“These comments are the result of the fear and misunderstanding that the book attempts to ameliorate, and we are very happy that those who have actually opened the book have not expressed these reactions,” he said.

The book uses the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament.

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Categories: Books, books and reading

Boot Up and Read? — An Argument Against E-Books

September 10th, 2011 16 comments

My experience with e-books and e-readers has been … interesting. I’m still undecided if I enjoy reading a book on a Kindle more than holding the actual book. I can say for sure I enjoy being able to take a portable library with me wherever I go, reading it wherever I am, and I enjoy the reading experience every bit as much as turning pages. It’s taken me a while to be able to say that, but with the Kindle, I am drawn as much into the text as I am when it is printed on paper. Though, I like to own a book, as opposed to only owning a right to read my “book” on my gizmo, when it really exists “out there” in a cloud on some servers, somewhere, which download it to my device. My gizmo will grow old and I’ll have to buy a new gizmo and the book in some new format…once I own a book, it’s there. I don’t have to upgrade it, or update it, or buy a new one in order to read it.

My colleague, Laura Lane, sent me this interesting article declaring that the book will remain the better reading experience because of the “non-linear thinking” it encourages.

Here’s the link to the article.

Here’s a snippet from the article:

But if we stop reading on paper, we should keep in mind what we’re sacrificing: that nonlinear experience, which is unique to the codex. You don’t get it from any other medium — not movies, or TV, or music or video games. The codex won out over the scroll because it did what good technologies are supposed to do: It gave readers a power they never had before, power over the flow of their own reading experience. And until I hear God personally say to me, “Boot up and read,” I won’t be giving it up.

“The Man in the Middle” – My Good Friend’s New Book

September 6th, 2011 1 comment

I’m thrilled to tell you that my good friend, Mr. Timothy Goeglein, with whom I have enjoyed working closely over the years, has written a book: The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era. You can place an order for it via Amazon. Be sure to watch the video preview below. Tim’s book will be available starting on September 15.

Timothy S. Goeglein is vice president of External Relations for Focus on the Family, lobbying for the Colorado-based organization’s pro-family causes in Washington, D.C. He served as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison under President George W. Bush for nearly eight years. Goeglein and his wife have two sons. I would be remiss if I did not also point out that Tim was a key leader in the President’s Commission on the Sanctify of Human Life for many years, under the LCMS Presidency of Dr. A.L. Barry and was instrumental in obtaining for us a talented writer to help us draft what I believe to be, to this day, one of the very finest statements on the sanctity of life produced for English speaker: That They May Have Life. That writer was Michael Gerson, who went on to become President Bush’s speech writer.

Tim has served our nation in many capacities, and weathered a personal crisis in a way that was so admirable for the manner in which he dealt with a failure in an honest and open manner, a very Christian manner. Read the first chapter of his book and you will understand what I’m talking about. Link here.

Here is the publisher’s description of Tim’s book.

Timothy Goeglein spent nearly eight years in the White House as President George W. Bush’s key point of contact to American conservatives and the faith-based world and was frequently profiled in the national news media. But when a plagiarism scandal prompted his resignation, Goeglein chose not to dodge it but confront it, and was shown remarkable grace by the president. In fact, Bush showed more concern for Goeglein and his family than any personal political standing. So begins The Man in the Middle, Goeglein’s unique insider account of why he believes most of the 43rd president’s in-office decisions were made for the greater good, and how many of those decisions could serve as a blueprint for the emergence of a thoughtful, confident conservatism. From a fresh perspective, Goeglein gives behind-the-scenes accounts of key events during that historic two-term administration, reflecting on what was right and best about the Bush years. He was in Florida for the 2000 election recount, at the White House on 9/11, and watched Bush become a reluctant but effective wartime president.

Goeglein, now the vice president with Focus on the Family, also looks back at how Bush handled matters like stem cell research, faith-based initiatives, the emergence of the Values Voters, the nominations of both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito-in which Goeglein had a direct role-and debates over the definition of marriage.

In all, The Man in the Middlebacks historians who view the legacy of President George W. Bush in a favorable light, recognizing his conservative ideas worth upholding in order to better shape our nation and change the world.

Categories: Books, books and reading

How to Pick the E-Book Reader that is Right For You

May 10th, 2011 8 comments

People who are thinking of buying a device to read e-books face a bewildering range of options and choices. Sadly, people buy a device before they really understand what e-books are, and how they work, and which devices are best for which kind of e-book or e-publication. I was reading a publication about all these issues and there is contained in the document a helpful summary of the differences across e-book devices, smartphone and tablets. I’ll summarize that information below, and provide some short, to-the-point advice.

E-Readers (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.)
Primary User Interaction: Consume e-books
Display size: Medium
Display font: grayscale
Display speed: slow
Connectivity: 3G and/or wireless
Battery life: Long
Outdoor use: Excellent
Best content match: Books in linear format (straight running text)

Is a dedicated e-book reader right for you? If your primary interest, mind you, *primary* interest is reading e-books, a dedicated e-reader is the way to go. The display is very easy on the eyes. They are light. They have become more fast. They can be used, easily, in bright sunshine or anywhere where the ambient light is strong and there is no glare. They are the closest thing to reading an actual page in an actual book. BUT…if you want to do *anything* more than read e-books you will quickly be frustrated with dedicated e-book readers, like the Kindle and Nook, to whatever degree they offer you internet access, the interface is very difficult to manage. If you want more than e-book reading function, then you should consider a tablet.

Smartphones
Primary User Interaction: Communication
Display size: small
Display format: color, increasingly in very high resolution
Display speed: Fast
Connectivity: Full voice/graphics on 3 and 4 G networks, where available
Battery life: short
Outdoor use: Fair to poor
Best content match: News and single media

Is a smartphone the best choice for you? It’s kind of a moot point, since most smartphones will make it possible for you to install an application, like the Kindle app, and you can read e-books on your smartphone. If you prefer a small, compact, all-in-one device that also makes it possible for you to read books, the smartphone will, by default, be your best choice.

Tablets
Primary user interaction: Engagement in media experience
Display size: medium
Display format: color in increasingly high resolution
Connectivity: Full data
Battery life: medium
Best content match: magazines/multimedia

Is a tablet the best choice for you? If you want more than a simple e-book reader, like having access to the Internet, easily, for checking/responding to e-mail, or texting, or if you intend to consume a lot of multimedia, such as movies and music, and you want a larger display size, a tablet is right for you. But, be prepared, reading books on a tablet is not as pleasant as on, for example, a Kindle. There is glare and you are reading a backlit display. It is nearly impossible to use it outside, even in the shade.

Based on this information, here are my recommendations:
My recommendation for dedicated e-book reader: Kindle, hands down the best choice.
My recommendation for a smartphone that does it all? iPhone
My recommendation for a tablet? iPad, though I do not consider the iPad the best choice for straight reading of books though.

Will You Read the Book of Concord This Summer With Me?

May 27th, 2010 19 comments

I came across an excellent blog post by Pastor Johann Caauwe, and he has given me permission to share it with you. By the way, the Book of Concord is on sale, right now, for only $20. That’s 35% off the regular price. But that special price ends in a week. Here is Pastor Caauwe’s invitation, which I join him in making. This reading plan/scheduled begins on May 30, this Sunday, Holy Trinity.

I will be using the CPH Reader’s Edition (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions) again. This has become my standard English version which I use. If you don’t have a copy of the Book of Concord, get one. Read the paragraph below to explain why. It is currently on sale for $20 at cph.org. If you have a different version (Triglot, Tappert, Kolb/Wengert), there is an older version of the summer schedule here. If you don’t want to buy a book, you can read it on the internet right here, or purchase an electronic version here. You might also consider the pocket edition if you want to keep reading while on vacation and not have to lug a big book around.

Are you interested in reading with me? If so, I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps we can even discuss a few topics as we go through it. I’ll warn you that the schedule is pretty ambitious. This is the third time I’ve attempted this schedule and I’ve never yet finished on September 6th. But maybe if I had a few reading partners, you can help me stay on track. Here is the reading schedule, just click on the link and it will download as a PDF file to your computer: summer-reading-schedule-for-reading-concordia

This is not just a book for pastors and church “professionals” or “academics.” In fact, it is important to realize that the people most directly responsible for the Lutheran Confessions were laymen, not pastors and theologians. At tremendous personal risk to their own lives, their property, and their profession, laymen boldly stepped before the emperor and the pope’s representatives. They asserted that these Confessions were their own. They did not back down or compromise. For this reason, it is unfortunate that down through the years the Book of Concord has come to be regarded more as a book for pastors and professional theologians.

Tucked into the middle of this book is the most widely used of all the Lutheran Confessions: Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther wrote this document not simply as a resource for the church and school, but, first and foremost, for the head of the household. Luther intended this little book to be used by laypeople, daily, to help them remain anchored to the solid teachings of God’s holy Word, the Bible. So keep this important fact in mind: The Book of Concord exists because of the faith and conviction of laypeople, who risked their very lives in order to have these Confessions produced, published, and distributed. The Book of Concord is a book for all Christians, church workers and laypeople alike.

Christians who want to be true and faithful to the teachings of the Bible return, again and again, to this book. In these confessions of faith they find agreement, unity, and harmony in the truths of God’s Word. (from the General Introduction to the Book of Concord)

So dust off those Books of Concord and we’ll get started in just a few days! Will you join me?

A Little Book on Joy: Take and Read!

March 14th, 2010 Comments off

Today is Laetare Sunday. Laetare, is the Latin word for “rejoice” and what a perfect time for me to tell you about a truly superb book that I can not possibly recommend to you enough. You will be delighted with it. Pastor Matthew Harrison’s newest book . You can buy a copy here, and you can hear Pastor Harrison talk about his book.

Here is a nice PDF sample from the book, with all the endorsements for it: little-book-of-joy-sampler(2)

Here is the book’s description provided by the book’s seller:

“So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today,” my friend observed. “These are difficult times.”

With these words Matthew Harrison embarks on a quest to rediscover the joy of being a Christian, the secret of living a Good News life in a bad news world. In A Little Book on Joy, Harrison takes the reader on a journey…

* from the father’s joy at the prodigal’s return, to the joy of Mary’s Magnificat.
* from the joy of the Holy Spirit and repentance, to the manifold joys of life together in community, marriage, and family.
* from the joy of forgiveness and perfect righteousness in Christ, to the joys of humor, worship, the sanctity of life, and the wonders of creation.
* from the joy of a faithful pastor and cheerful giving, to the joy found in weakness.
* from the joy of the Gospel mission throughout the world, the joy of everyday life and of a genuine and faithful Lutheranism, to the joys in store for us in the life of the world to come.

Study questions follow each chapter making A Little Book on Joy the perfect guide for a Bible study on the topic of Christian joy.

A Bible reading guide for “The Great Ninety Days of Joy after Joy: Daily Texts with Prayers to Gladden the Heart from Ash Wednesday through Pentecost (or any time),” makes this the perfect devotional guide for Lent and Easter, or any time of year.

Pastor Matthew Harrison was baptized in a small rural parish, raised in a large suburban church, was a missionary to native Canadians in Ontario, served as a graduate assistant at the seminary, studied in Australia, vicared in Texas, and served as pastor in rural Iowa and inner city, Fort Wayne, Indiana. After co-founding a nationally recognized neighborhood renewal project in what was the poorest census tract in Indiana, he became the Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care and has administered nearly $100,000,000 of charitable giving worldwide. He writes, translates, and speaks extensively. He delights in his wife, Kathy, and two boys, Matthew and Mark. He is an avid bluegrass banjo player and luthier, and finds joy in it all.

I’m no Lutheran, but this book “almost maketh me” one!

December 10th, 2009 1 comment

531154Check out this interesting blog post over at “Reformed Reader” blog site. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions continues to be a popular book and a strong seller for Concordia Publishing House. We are fast approaching 100,000 copies sold, which considering the nature of this book, is truly nothing short of remarkable. I have long ago lost track of the number of laypeople who have picked it up and started looking through it and can not put it down until they are finished reading all the notes, introductions, photo captions, time-lines, helps, annotations, charts and the like. It opens to them a whole world of authentic, confessing Lutheranism that they never even knew existed. We often hear people huffing and puffing about “the Lutheran Confessions”and how “of course, we are “faithful to the Lutheran Confessions” but to be honest about it, I do hope we do more than talk about the Book of Concord. Let’s resolve actually to read it, and use it.