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Friday, February 2, 2018

Obama, not Trump, was a narcissist


Stung by criticism of Obama as being narcissic, Democrats have taken to calling Trump the same thing.  But narcissism is an actual psychological syndrome.  And it differs from egotism, a common symptom of politicians.  You have to think big of yourself to run for office because the opposition will be making all sorts of salacious, dire, wrongful allegations about you.  Most people would just say To Heck With It, but a pol drives on, desiring to change or advocate for the better of their country. 

            Narcissism is characterized by grandeur and complete lack of humility, ego that shuts out all others, self-worship that makes enemies of all who disagree, inability to learn from mistakes, and thin-skinned of criticism. When Trump picks up the Marine’s hat that blew off in the wind next to the helicopter, but Obama demanded the Marine hold an umbrella over him in the rain, that shows some humility in Trump but calls to question that in Obama. 

            Grandeur means an individual who dreams of his greatness, above all others in history.  The sun rises and sets on his opinion.  He thinks he is the smartest person in every room.  This was quite true of Obama.  Shortly after he became President, Treas. Sec. Geitner told him, “Your legacy is going to be preventing the second Great Depression.”  Obama replied, “That’s not enough for me.”  His cabinet meetings were few and according to former Secretaries, consisted in him doing virtually all the speaking.  Implication: The rest of you are fools. Listen to me. In Berlin, before he was elected, he gave a speech and said, “I’m the One you have been waiting for, the one the world has been waiting for.”  Narcissism is considered to have been the character of a number of hideous dictators of the 20th century--Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein.  These kind of leaders do autrocities with little remorse because in their minds everything is justified to promote them personally.  Of course, in a lesser individual, the delusion of being Napoleon or Caesar is grounds for institutional mental health. They are often incapable of achievement because, in gradeur, they attempt jobs for which they have not assembled skills, the guy who interviews for CEO who can’t read a treasurer’s report.

            Obama wrote not one but 2 autobiographies by age 40. He hardly showed up in the Illinois House for debates.  He only gave lectures that were My Way Or The Highway. When it came to foreign policy, Obama made all his own decisions, according to John Kerry, because he believed only he  understood the issues. When asked which President he was most like, Obama chose Wilson, a character whom historian Forrest McDonald said considered himself “little short of messianic.”

            Contrast this to Trump who addressed Li and China as equals, who loved throwing out packages to hurricane workers.  Trump has shown ability to make connections with people, has a pragmatic problem-solving skill, and is said by almost everyone that he listens a lot when you come into his office.  This was shown in the Immigration negotiations that were broadcast live TV with Democrat and Republican leaders in the White House. 

            Ego that blames all your problems on those you disagree with, who discards old friends and supporters with little thought is another characteristic.  Obama discarded Oprah, Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright suddenly. When a major supporter, labor leader came to the White House just days into Obama’s Presidency and asked him to reconsider a certain bill because it was adverse to the union’s members, Obama had him abruptly shown the door. He was never invited back.  This treatment was echoed by many others, including Oprah. Using Valerie Jarrett, a lesser-endowed intellect, and Michelle to be his gatekeepers, Obama locked to door to many supporters. Jarrett eventually locked horns with Rahm Emmanuel, a skilled politician, and Obama lost his legislative majority. They had disagreed over advocacy of Chicago as an Olympic destination and support of Solyndra.  Wealthy Jews complained that they gave Obama great sums of money and never heard from him.

            Contrast this with Trump who argues often with Tillerson and Ryan.  He has kept holdover Democrats in his administration thinking he can win them over, only to discover he couldn’t  (Comey).  He relies on Generals for military advice instead of purging them like Obama did. 

            Solyndra and other eco-companies are good examples of how Obama was so cock-sure of his opinion that he never learned—another common delusion of a narcissist.  When Boehner told him that the economy’s problem was uncertain on taxes, cap and trade and healthcare, Obama slapped his hand on the table, “you’re WRONG!” Boehner said after the meeting, “He’s got so little appreciation of how Congress works.  If you challenge him, he’s furious.  He gives you the death stare.  He has no close relationship with any member of the Senate and certainly not in the House.” Pelosi said his relationship with House Democrats was “frosty.”  Harry Alford, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce said, “we are all happy about the symbolism—America’s first black President.  His view of business is that it should be a few major corporations, totally unionized, working with government.” [the very definition of fascism]

            So for good reason, many would describe Obama as a genuine narcissist.  Trump is like that old loud guy you used to have for a boss.  Big ego, caustic comments, but he sure knew real estate (or banking, or farming, or auto mechanics). 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The danger to Democrats


The politics of negativism works when the people feel bad about their situations.  It worked wonders when FDR lambasted the Hapsburgs and Boubons (meaning the rich) as people saw newsreels of Hoovervilles (shanty towns of poor people) and thought Hoover was clueless.  It worked for Reagan when Carter was stuck in malaise with a deep recession going on. It worked similarly for Obama to get elected.  But decrying during prosperity only makes you look like Eeyore, or worse, an out-of-touch wacko.  And that is the danger for Dems this year.  They refused to applaud low unemployment, veterans, and police working against MS-13 when Trump noted it in SOTU.  And if they don’t change their tune, it will start to work against them in the midterms. 

            Already, the generic ballot advantage to the Democrats has fallen from 13% to 5-7% with the passage of the tax reform.  In some ways R’s are lucky.  When I heard that Obama was going to pass a near trillion dollar infrastructure stimulus in 2009, I thought, “Well, that will provide short-term stimulus and the R’s will look bad.”  But it turned out that Obama had no such intents.  He handed out the money to unions like the federal workers and teachers to guarantee full employment for 4 years. “No such thing as a shovel-ready project,” he later told us sheepishly.  As a result, the US economy didn’t take off like a rocket after the recession, but growth languished, 1.7% after June ’09 while inflation was 2.1%.  The public said, we ain’t getting’ ahead, and elected Trump.  Trump walked into office preaching lowered regulation, tax reform, and security—a sure bet to spur growth.  And he cheer-led the markets to new highs.  Then, by doing a tax reform with simply majority for passage, he has brought about 3% growth.  This isn’t magic.  It’s a time-tested method.  Hence the fall in D-advantage in the generic ballot. 

            The Dems have roused their base with Tweet hatred and a tale of how Trump stole the election by colluding with Russians.  But the story grows anemic and false.  Now Trump gives a generic but truly rousing State of the Union.  He gets away with the less-issues presentation because the D’s have hardly any issues and certainly aren’t talking about them.  They are just full of vitriol.  (Boys and girls, what sound does the kitty make? Me-ow.  What sound does the piggy make? Oink.  What sound does the donkey make?  Ur RACIST!)  With Trump offering compromise on DACA and infrastructure, if Dems won’t talk to him, they run the risk of being perceived as a**holes. Moreover, they drive R’s to emotion, to organize, and to Get Out The Vote against them.  When they won’t stand for the flag or the military, many people will conclude “they ain’t us,” just as Trump’s tweets have led D’s to the same conclusion. If this continues, we may see the generic ballot poll drop to neutral. 

            D’s win when they can pin the racist and unfair label on R’s, when they involve thousands of teachers and union members to campaign in the summer, when they outdo R’s on social media, and when they out-raise in funding.  So far the funding has been dismal for them.  The R’s are learning to do social media.  Private sector unions feel left behind by globalism, and are gradually leaning to Trump and the R’s.  They have lost a lot of the fairness narrative and calling half the population racist, a “basket of deplorable” didn’t work too well for Hillary. Their disdain for Christianity has a certain following, but it works against the evangelical vote.  Finally, the mid-terms will be about issues, both local and national.  Minimum wage might be an issue for the Dems, but with huge layoffs in Seattle and San Fran, this has lost popularity.  When people find out about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, billed as free trade, but secretly containing an unelected court that could dictate US policy about environment, copyrights, and health standards, TPP started to look like the EU and a loss of sovereignty.  Environmental issues have languished with many folks as dire predictions have not come true. So what’s left?  Trying to claim it is Armageddon to let people keep more of their own money via tax reform. 

            Usually mid-terms occur when the party who elected a President sees some of it’s programs turn sour.  People back down from voting for them.  It is also a time when traditionally, fewer young and more elders vote.  The old-timers are in the habit.  The youth have a girlfriend and weekend plans that extend a couple days.  And the seniors vote 60-40 Republican.  Add to this the fact that we see a growing trend of Republicans to hate and refuse to answer polls.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that only about 1 in 3 answers a pollster.  The old way of using telephones was easier for someone to answer.  If they got bored, they just hung up.  Now pollsters must rely on internet polls which cannot guarantee that a robo-device doesn’t vote a million times, knows not what party affiliation.  Or they rely on street polling, where respondents are busy, or don’t like the looks of the pollster, or a dozen other things. 

            All of this paints a very real possibility that if the Dems can’t keep their base steamed up about impeaching Trump, they may not make much gain in November.  We’ll all just have to watch.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Original meaning "merry" in Merry Christmas


Spent 4 days in Branson seeing 6 Christmas shows. The show part was great; the Christmas part was dismal.  No carols! It was an Irving Berlin/Aaron Copeland Christmas.  So help me if I ever hear about “having a merry little Christmas” for the rest of the year.  All the while the girls come out dancing in costumes like wrapped gifts, showing a lot of leg.  Finally a country group said they were going to sing about the real meaning of Christmas and I thought, ‘hot dog! Here comes.’  Doggone, it didn’t.  They sang a medley of gospel songs like “Amen” and even there, no meaningful lyrics.  But the steel guitar guy put on a terrific solo. 

            I never realized we have become so PC secular. Oh, I’m probably wrong on my details.  They do sing Silent Night but only the first verse which goes over most people’s theological heads.  Ditto the first verse of ‘What Child Is This?’ No second verse which tells the Christian story.  They make an exception once in awhile by singing the first verse of ‘O Holy Night’ which does contain strong meaning but the exception seems like it’s only to allow the Big Singer to show off the wonderful finale with her Great Voice. 

            So I propose that if you are surrounded by Agnosticland which only wants to glory in Winter Wonderland, here’s how to respond.  Say this.  Do you realize that the Old English word “merry” as in Merry Christmas originally meant “being at peace spiritually.”  The song ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ alludes to this,”God rest ye merry gentlemen…to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/ O tidings of comfort and joy!”  Merry Christmas meant being at peace with God, the Prince of Peace.”  Hence the Pilgrims, rather stern believers, didn’t believe in feasts and rabble rousing. They practiced fasting and meditation and repentance and watchfulness the 4 weeks before Christmas.  Advent (those weeks) were known as Little Lent.  So Divine Arrival means forgiveness and thus peace with God, “Merry Christmas.”

            It sure beats Silver Bells, though that’s a good song too.   And concerning that Berlin/Copeland Christmas, stripped of a chance to offend anyone, Christmas’ date was truly picked to do just that.  By picking the same week as the winter solstice and Roman orgies of Saturnalia, Christmas stood as a story of such a humiliating birth it would almost bring tears.  “Yet in that dark street shineth/ The Everlasting Light/ The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in Thee tonight.”  Christmas upended everything, beginning with Roman macho triumphalism all the way to hopeless legalism by Jewish authorities. And it was nothing that man would have devised.  “God is Great!” the Muslims say, but here was God who could be as small as an embryo in Mary.  Heralded by a heaven full of angels, yet leaving shepherds with a very concrete verifiable sign—baby wrapped in rags, lying in a manger which could only be found in one of those manure-filled cave-outcrops that shepherds use in the rainy winter months.  Don’t believe the story?  Ask the shepherds who were still alive when the gospels were written. Ask Mary or other witnesses. God came to the poorest, most reviled, which shows a God who won’t let go of even the worst and most pitiful of us.   While the Broadway version of Christmas deals in the sacarine imaginary, God came among us in truth and fact and the only way possible to bring eternal forgiveness with no help on our part.  Peace with God. Thus, Christmas is Merry indeed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Global warming and the Wood experiment


1909 Johns Hopkins physicist, R.W. Wood did an experiment that disproved “The Greenhouse Effect” for greenhouses.  That is, greenhouses mainly heat by trapping convection (air exchange), not by trapping infrared (heat) re-radiated. In as sense, the effect is misnamed. This has ticked-off global warming enthusiasts for years.  In 1980, physicist Vaughan Pratt of Stanford tried to duplicate the experiment and pronounced it a failure. Global warming enthusiasts rejoiced.  The heck of it is, they only read the headlines.  I laugh because I have done the experiment many times and Wood was basically right but a greenhouse is not an atmosphere.  Pratt was correct too. Put on your thinking cap and realize that climate change is terrifically complex. 

            Wood's experiment tried to test the effect of a visible-light transmitting glazing that won’t transmit infrared (heat) and compare it to one that will.  Glass won’t transmit heat, rock salt will.  So he built two “greenhouses” of insultated cardboard, one with a glass cover and the other with a slab of rock salt.  Set both in the sunshine and they both heat to about 130 F. Pratt built similar vessels and emplaced a number of thermocouples at various heights within the interior and found some differences in various vertical temp measurements of the two.  More heat was trapped under glass. 

            Well, that’s what you’d expect.  The glass greenhouse not only traps convection but also infrared radiation.  But the difference is not large in the two final enclosures.  What this shows is that convection is the larger method of transfer.  And because of this, you can make a greenhouse out of acrylic or polycyanurate or a host of plastics (Ha! even visqueen plastic) that are often used today as a substitute for glass without regard to heat losses due to infrared radiation losses.  It explains why, when you sit next to a large window on a cold night you get a draft.  The room air convects over the surface of the window and descends as cold air.  Convection counts for 90% of the transfer!  And this also explains why you can spend a fortune on windows of low emissivity and it only changes the R-factor (heat transfer rate) from .61 to .68.  Add cellular shades and the R-factor goes up by 2.0 or 3.0. Open the window or the greenhouse door and all the heat goes out (convection). And so the windows and greenhouse industry has happily shrugged and used the Wood result. And Pratt noted the bigger importance of convection deep within his paper.

            Pratt’s right as well.  There is an infrared component and a difference in the Wood greenhouse's temps.  Moreover, the atmosphere is not a sheet of glazing.  The only way for the atmosphere to transmit energy to space is by radiation.  There is no convection.  So does atmospheric chemical composition make all the difference?  That’s where the na├»ve go wrong in supposition.  There are other trapping mechanisms and they apparently work in differing conditions giving surprising results.  Cloud cover is not constant but apparently increases with CO2 content predominantly in the tropical regions. This is Roy Spencer’s finding.  And the tops of clouds reflect about 98% of incoming radiation. (When we add CO2, the earth corrects somewhat) There may be other self-correcting traps.  Ocean currents affect only the upper 500 feet of the ocean.  Below that depth, very little temperature change is observed even though the oceans are almost uniformly14,000-18,000 feet deep. Several historic climate changes due to melting ice ages have shown that current changes have altered temperature in large amounts, over 10 times as much as CO2 compositon.  What’s going on? Is the lower temp of deep ocean water being tapped like a heat(cold) sink? This needs more study.  And what of overall solar radiation?  We now realize that the sun’s magnetic field must change but how and what does it do?  More study.  Mega-vulcanism?  More study.  Finally there’s the wobble of the earth, known as nutation that occurs every 100,000 years and correlates almost perfectly with the previous 26 ice ages.  Until we can understand at least all but the last effect, we should admit our ignorance of man’s effect on global warming.

            Oh, if you want to do the Wood experiment with your grandkids, you can use a flat plate of acrylic and a plate of clear glass to make your “greenhouse”. (Acrylics transmit part of the infrared spectrum)  Make sure you put the thermometers in the exact same location to equalize measurements.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The lesson of Luther's spiritual awakening


            Luther got faith and assurance circuitously but ultimately by listening to God, a lesson for anyone.  Let me explain the story of this, in case you aren’t familiar.  Young monk, top of his class, but tortured over not just his sin but his state of mind and his faith.  Catholicism had taught that salvation is a journey.  Once in faith, you start confessing and God changes you.  You get better and this makes you love God all the more. Not Marty.  He worried in confession that he wasn’t sincere, that his mind was devious and self-centered, fooling himself so then he’d have to confess that too.  He never thought he had confessed enough. Not love but fear worried Luther. What Luther feared was not punishment and hellfire but God himself and His judgment. That’s because the ultimate judgment was God’s. “A harsh judge on a rainbow.” Who could measure up?  Well the Church's version was that if you die before you reach perfect sainthood, you just go to purgatory for clean-up.  And thus people bought indulgences to get relatives or themselves out of purgatory. 

            The Monastery tried to fix Luther’s angst by sending him to Rome to enjoy the majesty of the church, but his disgust was akin to mine when I first went to Washington, DC.  Such decadence!  The pope should be humble.  (And the conservative in me said that the federal gov should reside in a Butler building while we the people live a better life.)  Then Luther’s mentor Johann Von Staupinz promoted Luther to be President of a new small college in Wittenberg AND parish priest there.  He thought Marty would desist the navel gazing if he was worked to death.  Staupinz was right for the wrong reason.  On a night in autumn, we think 1513 (but maybe 1514) Luther was working on lectures for Psalms in his tower study.  He ran across Ps. 31:1 (or 71:2) “Deliver me in Thy Righteousness” and he was stunned.  For a long time he’d struggled with Romans 1:17 “for in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, for as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’” But here was a psalm that described God’s Righteousness, not as harsh judgmental perfectionism but the reason for God’s salvation and deliverance.  Here was a God who loves us, saves us, comes after us, puts faith in us, forms a relationship with us.  Hallelujah! Luther, the guy who had all this scripture in his head, jumped for joy.  He wrote about how all of scripture suddenly seemed to open wide and the gates of heaven too.

            And it was all God’s doing for mankind who deserve only death.  “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8.  “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life.” Rom 6:23.  It all came through faith, Eph. 2:8-9, Luke 18:13-14. And all about Jesus. John 20:30-31.  Grace Alone. Faith Alone. Scripture alone. Luther began to teach and preach this by 1515 but few noticed him until he wrote the 95 Theses against Indulgence sales in 1517. Posted them as the usual habit for scholarly debate. Snitched by students who printed them. Luther was suddenly, reluctantly famous.

            If a guy has gone from death to life, you’ll never let go of the belief that was given you.  If you are leadership personality and phenomenally intelligent, found the answer simply by listening to God’s words in scripture, you’ll never shut up.  That was Luther.  Leadership personality is what many entrepreneurs have.  He’s the guy who comes into the room where everyone is glum over an insoluable problem, saying “I have the answer.”  Vision. He thinks outside the box. Then he persuades the others until they buy into his idea. Persuasive. But how will  this be accomplished? He’s already thought out a stepwise plan. Strategic thinker. And once everyone wants to do it, he starts assigning different personalities to handle the different steps and tasks. Delegator/Manager.  Only about 7% of a population have Leadership Personality, though some of it can be taught.  Luther’s dad was a peasant who ended life owning 7 mines and 2 smelters.  And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

            He convinced Wittenberg’s faculty to a man of his Grace/Faith/Scripture alone.  Among them was Europe’s foremost Greek translator, Phillip Melancthon. And did they ever have things to say! The Gospel fills believers with comfort, good cheer, and gratitude, so that they are glad to love and obey God. ”I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Phil 3:8. We are all helplessly dead in faith. Romans 3.  Or think how Jesus told authorities "From these very stones I will raise up a people greater than these." (Whew! That's DEAD.) We are not ready for the Gospel until we give up all hope of justifying ourselves by works. Parable of the two sons, Matt. 21:28-32.  Parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. Luke18:9-14, and of the pearl of great value, Matt. 13:45-46. Yet even believers remain sinners—Simultaneously Saints and Sinners. Romans 7:24-25 says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Because all our righteousness comes by faith, all sin is unbelief.  Eph. 2:3.  Parable of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25.  Spiritual life is less like a journey, because Christ is a gift we receive rather than a road we travel. If sin is unbelief, we daily fall many times and require salvation, every time bestowed by a gracious God. It is like Kathy Troccoli’s song, “Traveled long, traveled hard, stumbled many times along the way.  I’ve I've bruised my knees a lot ,and turned my back on God, and seen His mercy.I've been quick to judge, and slow to learn, so many times I've gotten in the way.  I think I know so much, I've questioned God a lot,but still He loves me.” Or Luther’s favorite parable of the prodigal son, Lk. 15:11-32, shows we fall back, yet God runs to meet us with His gift of life. Faith alone re-makes us inwardly from the bottom of our hearts by changing our conscience, our awareness of how we stand before God. A Christian is perfectly free, lord of all, subject to none. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the spirit of Christ has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Rom. 8:1,10. “my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.” Rom 9:1

            And sacraments. In the O.T. God commanded sacrifices as a sacred act, which through faith, brings forgiveness and salvation.  Luther applied the principle to the 7 sacraments and found only 2 meet this test, baptism and communion.  He translated the Bible from Greek to German, a translation so much followed that it established the standard for German language to this very day.  When people clamored for German worship, he designed a singing service and began writing hymns which led to 25,000 German hymns composed in the following century.  His catechism, a help for parents to teach the faith to their children spawned universal education.  Sans medieval philosophy, mostly protestant mathematicians and engineers began to experiment and measure phenomena that began the scientific revolution which propelled the Western world to world dominance.  And when a Puritan, John Locke, “father of modern psychology” became a fan of Luther’s writings about conscience, he wrote a new theory of government where men would have Liberty, rights, and equality and it heavily influenced USA’s founding fathers. Quite a few things came from a guy who listened to what God said, and found salvation from God’s grace.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A letter on Luther


            I’ve been part of several interdenomination Christian ministries—Campus Crusade, Navigators, Promise Keepers.  In every case you meet those of other church traditions and I’ve studied many of them.  It seems every one of us struggles with the issue of whether we are true to our faith and we’re curious about the mechanism of just how one comes to faith.  I think the final answer is that this is God’s mystery, how He enters our life, but He also leave hints about the way it happens all over scripture.  Jesus in John 8, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Or in John 3: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Well then we all argue about what born again and truth consists of. 

            Yet, I submit that Luther’s vantage point on what God tries to tell us is closer to the reality than any other version of Christianity. For that reason alone, it’s worth keeping Lutheranism around and it is what keeps me Lutheran after all those years of other fellowships.  First Luther was brilliant.  I don’t know about you but I’m amazed that he could find 95 reasons not to buy indulgences.  I couldn’t find 95 reasons to do or not to do just about anything.  His students thought the 95 were so cute they translated them from Latin to German and handed them to a printer who printed thousands of copies and it became all the talk of Germany.  Luther attended Latin school at age 4.  He translated the New Testament from Greek in 6 months.  He got a bachelor’s degree in 1 year.  Smart guy (170 IQ?) meets scripture and just turns it every which way but loose.  Secondly he was as sincere in wanting his faith to grow as just about anybody.  He had 2 best friends in school who died suddenly of bubonic plague and he may had survivor’s guilt.  He vowed to become a monk after almost getting lightning struck.  He tried all the monastic rituals of self-deprivation in hope of getting assurance of his faith. He memorized nearly the entire bible. 

            And then in what is called the Tower Experience (autumn 1513 or 1514), he found a profound answer.  How we come to faith is still a mystery and we know that it is entirely a gift of God and comes by trust, i.e. faith.  And given that church councils and popes have often disagreed and squabbled, plus what scripture says about itself: “In the beginning was the Word”, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God abides forever.”, God’s Word alone is the absolute authority.  Hence Luther’s motto, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides, Sola Scriptura. God gives us not only salvation as a free gift but the ability to believe it. “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Eph. 2:8,9. A friend and pastor who is a Greek scholar told me that the key word is “that”.  The Greek version of “that” is a form that connotes that all the things previously mentioned are the “that”, in other words, the saving and the faith.  Some translations therefore insert “even that” as a better translation.  And, of course what grace means is that it had nothing to do with ourselves. 

            But we humans don’t talk that way enough. We talk in first person. We talk about accepting, making a decision for Christ, experiencing Jesus, saying the sinner’s prayer, receiving, etc.  So Luther says talk all you want, just make sure you realize God gets all the credit.  He puts the faith inside you to not only acknowledge the Gospel’s promise, but believe it as true, and swear allegiance making Jesus your Lord.  And so I’ve heard Lutheran pastors tell parishioners who were making an evangelism call and worried about how to ask a person if they would like to receive faith, to go ahead and frame it any way comfortable, just give God all the glory. Technically, Luther would say that the moment you say you came to faith, God was already in your heart moving you to say the words.  So you should just ask the person you are witnessing to if they want to thank God for the wonderful free gift.   But that, of course, is not good worldly salesman talk.

            Well then, how does one know that one has faith?  Since we don’t create it, we just look for it and rejoice.  Say a prayer and feel close to God? Sing a song that puts your heart closer? Money turns up to pay the bills and you attribute it to God’s providence? Rejoice at God giving new life to a baby?  That’s the Holy Spirit working inside you!  So with us Lutherans, our assurance of faith is not some contractual affair about having a religious experience or some choice (though that might seem to happen)  How does Luther figure that?  First we are entirely bankrupt spiritually.  The entire world is guilty as Romans 3 says. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Eph. 2:1.  So Luther writes, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.” Dead; can’t make it unless God infuses “His breath” (Literal Old Testament Hebrew for “Holy Spirit”) in us to bring us to faith—which it says in vs. 5. And since we are naturally dead spiritually, we have only the ability to refuse the Gospel.  We can say NO.  But God moves us to say YES.  That’s different than Calvinists who insist that you get to choose (which leads to a quandary about God electing some people to hell.  Wait! Didn’t He say, “God would have all to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth.”) Or you have Arminians who are waiting for a big experience that “moves their heart” from the monumental choice of faith by a free will. Luther says that it is God who sets our will free. Of our own, our will is in bondage to sin.

            Finally there’s the matter of the Christian who really doesn’t follow.  Romans 6-8 has good things to say about the person who yields their life to God and gets an abundant life despite the conflict of our two natures. This leads Luther to the conclusion that we are not motivated by drudgerous seeking of works, but through gratitude and the Holy Spirit using our conscience to nudge us to a better life. People who have no thanks or desire to know God sometimes claim forgiveness, but it is doubtful that they have it— Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it ‘cheap grace’.  “Faith without works is dead.” But realize when we quote that, the ultimate ‘good work’ is when God works faith in us.   

            This is bombshell stuff, but let’s not give up on our brothers in Christ from another background.  God imparts faith in a lot of different people and situations.  Maybe that’s why he multiplied denominations in the Reformation.  Hope you enjoy this.  We’ll talk later.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How English conquered the world


So how did English get to be so important?  I’m no linguist but I take the following summary from The Mother Tongue by Bill Brigdon, and numerous conversations with our foreign exchange students and a couple of good linguists I’ve know.  English is advantaged because it has simple grammar.  For example, there is no gender or declination of nouns except pronouns.  (“Dog” doesn’t have 7 different endings depending on how it is used—or 40 in Finnish!)  Verb conjugations are simple compared with other languages.  Latin alphabet beats every other language from Egypt to Japan. 200,000 words in common usage, is twice most other languages.  That is because English welcomes new words from other languages.  Thus English is chock full of subtle meanings of words.  Few other languages even print a “thesaurus”.  Easy cases, flexible word ordering, allows a new user of English to break-in fast.  As Ta-Weit used to say, “You just give it a try and let ‘er rip.  Then smile a lot.  And somehow everyone catches on.” The perfect language for engineers with less verbal skills.  Concise meaning means less writing.  So how did English get that simple, that easy to add onto? 

Historical linguists say that it happened because of the quirks of history that relegated English to peasants in the middle ages while the nobles spoke Norman French, then Norman French became an object of derision by the rest of France, setting up the adoption of English in England as a simplified official tongue. 

Let’s start with the Anglo-Saxons.  Angles, Saxons, and Jutes emigrated to Britain beginning about 450 AD.  They didn’t really invade, just took advantage of the land where Celts were left defenseless by the Romans who had pulled out.  Celts were sophisticated and Roman, needing baths and police to survive.  The functionally illiterate Germans didn’t and they swamped the kingdom with a more or less common tongue.  Celtic Bretons retreated to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.  A few Breton inclusions may have survived for centuries but the new talk was almost all in Anglo-Saxon “Old English”.  You can still find enclaves of Old English dialect in Angleland (German Danish border) and Frisian coast where they say you will be stunned by the dialect of German so close to English. Some local guy may come up to you and say in perfect Angle-Old English, “What the clock?”  Few of the early Anglo-Saxons could read or write—only a few priests and important people did.  But the spelling is radically different than our English.  On paper it looks utterly foreign.  But you understand the phonetic letters, the  words sound womewhat like English, but very archaic. This was the language of Bede and Alcuin in the 700s after the Anglo-Saxons had become Christianized, educated and writing became commoner.

Then came the invasions.  First the Danes conquered northern England on the east coast beginning about 850.  Then in 1066, 7000 Norman knights beat Saxon king Aethelred the Unready, and found themselves in possession of a nation of 1.5 million.  Old English was relegated to a second class language of peasants.  For over 300 years it remained so.  And with Danes in the North, some Celts in the South, the dialects arose all over the place.  In order to understand one another, they had to simplify into a kind of pidgin.  Thus the loss of cases, conjugations, etc.  Instead of remembering 11 different cases of an adjective, there arose just one. Gender was scrapped by the illiterate serfs.  And the nobles, of course could care less.  But that was critical.  Instead of a learned class who are the cause of complexity in language (to make stories more poetic, speak more precisely, and separate themselves from the masses by manner of talk) English grew common. 

Meanwhile Norman-French was held with some disdain by the Parisians and other French.  Norman French or “Frensh” as it was laughingly called was a dialect put out to disdain by the other French.  Worse, the English nobles started using some of the common English in daily life.  Consequently, by the 1400s, the English nobles began to abandon Frensh in favor of an English with about 10,000 Frensh terms included. Legal, government and church terms were borrowed from Frensh. Meanwhile about the era of Chaucer, English,evolved into its simplest form and spellings, were becoming modernized as the language became more and more written.  This was complete by Shakespeare and Elizabeth in the late 1500s. 

Then the Spanish Armada couldn’t win and Elizabeth did.  A few years later, Britain was building a national navy and conquering the world.  The language spread everywhere. By the 19th century English, French, German and Spanish were in a dead heat for the most international language.  France, the bounteous and populous country with all the science and engineering in the 19th century, was favored by 1900.  Then WW I killed the wide influence of Germans and French. But there were other ingredients to their linguistic demise.  French people hate changes to their tongue.  German was Europe-wide but not world-wide.  English was the easy-to-use.  And nobody was easier in usage than those Americans who became leaders after WW II.  Quite simply, the world adopted English.  Since 1945, English has gone from 3% of world usage to 14%.  Hence every foreign exchange kid lists as Goal #1 to learn English fluently.  Our Finnish exchange kid called me up to celebrate acing his university language exam. I guess he’d underlined my colloquialisms in my letters to him.  Used them in his exam and the profs were very impressed.  He laughed and said, “Dad Z, you have a colorful speech.”  So there it is.  Okies and other peasants conquer the language world.