Big Hopes for a Little Bang

The atom smasher in Switzerland is up and running–and scientists are excited to report,

We have a collision!

After 25 years and $10 billion dollars, the superconductor smashed to atoms together releasing energy the equivalent of

“two mosquitoes colliding together.”

Scientists  hope it will provide answers to questions about the creation of the universe, about who we are, and why we are here.  This is pure research, not designed to solve any problems or produce any tangible benefits.

Some will criticize the expense, but I think pure, theoretical research is important.  The fact that so much effort and expense has been put into this project shows how important questions about origins are.

One scientist said,

“This is a Genesis machine. It’ll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe.”

I agree that the moment of creation was a glorious event; I would call it the second most glorious event in the history of the universe.

The most glorious event in the history of the universe is the one we will celebrate this Sunday.

Government Takeover of Cheeseburgers

Now those bureaucrats in Washington are going to force us to be informed about how many calories are in our Big Macs and Double-Quad Bakonator triple cheeseburgers.

I’d like to start a campaign to “Take back our menu!”, but uhm, my Doctor says I need to trim my waistline, reduce my intake of fat grams and reduce carbohydrates at the same time.  Who would have thought my own family doctor is part of the great conspiracy?

But there’s another reason I’m not going to start a crusade to defend the beleaguered burger.  I think our political discourse is already too confrontational.  There’s too much name calling and hysteria out there.

Would it strike you as odd if the news reported on “Gandhi Militia” who called themselves “patriots” and were determined to murder police officers?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like domestic terrorists calling themselves Christians.  Do you think we could sue them for brand infringement?

Uncle Billy

It’s been a hard year for our family.   I have mentioned my uncle Warren, my mother’s brother, who passed away around New Years, and my father’s sister, my aunt Norma, who passed away in December.  My dad also lost another brother, my uncle Billy, earlier this year.

If uncle Warren was tough and strong, uncle Billy was always sentimental.  One early memory I have of him is at a family picnic.  He plucked a leaf from a tree and held it up to the sun and admired it’s intricate design.

“How could anyone say there is no God,” he marveled, “and look at this?”

We had family reunions in May or June, and a lot of my early memories run together.  It was always at a park and everything was green.

I was in elementary school and had read something in a Sunday School paper explaining the concept of the trinity using the concept of water existing in three forms: vapor, ice, and liquid.  The analogy is not very accurate, not very profound, and probably subject to heretical interpretations–and I can’t say it made a profound impression on my own life.  It was just something I had read as a child and was able to quote without investing much thought.

At one of the family gatherings Uncle Billy was in one of his contemplative moods, wondering about the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  I said, “Oh that’s easy, it’s just like water …”  It must have made more of an impression on him than on me.

That was over forty years ago, but Uncle Billy remembered it throughout the years.  He would point out to other relatives that when I was only a child I explained to him the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Uncle Billy served a career in the army, living many years in the Philippines.

One of my other early memories–I think I was in the sixth grade at the time–was when my uncle Raymond was killed in a truck-train accident.  It was during the Vietnam war.  He was 23 years old and had been injured in combat and returned home to recuperate.  It was in May and he had gone into town with a friend to buy strawberries for his mom.  Evidently they didn’t see the train.

Raymond was a twin, uncle Robert is still living.  They were my dad’s two youngest brother, Billy was next.  He was stationed overseas when the accident occurred.  I remember standing outside the church with the family waiting for him to arrive.  The army flew him there in a helicopter, which landed in the grass outside the church.  I still remember seeing him in uniform with tear-stained face as he emerged  beneath the whirling blades.

My dad’s family were all brought up in the church and always believed in God.  A few years ago–it’s probably been twenty, time passes so fast–uncle Billy was in town and called me.  He had become convinced of his need to receive believer’s baptism and asked me to do the service.

The last time I saw uncle Billy was at a family reunion, it will be two years this June.  He was suffering from congestive heart failure and very weak at the time.  But he was glad to be surrounded by his family, and we were all glad to see him again.  He was reminiscing about his father, whom he called “the greatest man that every lived,” and about his brother and other relatives who had gone on, and about the little boy that explained to him “the mystery of the Holy trinity.”

Government Takeover of Textbooks?

OK, not really–but there are new federal regulations that require colleges to list their textbooks with the course listing.  Since our line schedule comes out next week, I have to select books now for fall classes.  Here’s what I will be using:

For a new course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Life, Thought, and Influence, I will require the following:

  1. Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 8).
  2. Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6).
  3. Stephen Haynes, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians.
  4. Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World.

The new edition of Letters and Papers is due out this June.  It is nearly twice as long as the prior English edition–and will unfortunately be much more expensive.  But the Bonhoeffer Works volumes are magnificent editions, carefully edited and translated with helpful introductions and annotations.  The English series is nearing completion, following the German editions which appeared throughout the decade of the nineties.

The book by Stephen Haynes is also new and I haven’t seen it yet–I’m walking by faith here–but I assume it is of the same quality as his two prior books on Bonhoeffer.  Finally, I am using one of Moltmann’s little volumes because the course deals with Bonhoeffer’s influence.

Professor Moltmann spoke in 2008 at the Prague Bonhoeffer congress on Bonhoeffer’s influence on his own life and theology.  He mentioned that he was originally a bit put off by the formal and “churchy” language–Moltmann himself was brought up in a secular household and came to faith as a prisoner of war after an American army chaplain gave him a New Testament and Psalms.  He joked that his first reaction to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together was that after his years in prison camp, he had had quite enough of life together.

The book Jesus Christ Today is professor Moltmann’s attempt, some forty years later, to answer a question Bonhoeffer raised in one of his prison letters,

Wer ist Jesus Christus für uns heute?  Who is Jesus Christ for us today.

One answer is given in a chapter on Jesus Christ and Torture.  Jesus Christ is the brother of the tortured and the judge of the torturer.

Uncle Warren

My uncle Warren passed away on (or near, my memory is not perfect) New Year’s day this year.  He had suffered a serious heart attack a few days earlier and declined to have bypass surgery.  He died at home with his family near.  His grandson Jeffery kept a vigil at his side during his final days.

Our family always pronounced his name as one syllable–“Warn”–that is the Ozark dialect, I suppose.  I was pretty old when I realized he had the same name as president Warren G. Harding or the actor Warren Beatty.

Uncle Warren reminds me of the cowboy philosopher in Tom T. Hall’s song, “Faster Horses”–except that he didn’t care much for cows.  Or maybe Clint Eastwood’s character in “Gran Torino”–except that he didn’t use such offensive language, at least in polite company.  He was a tough man; you wouldn’t want to pull a knife on him in a dark alley.

He had faced several hardships in life.  He and my aunt Betty lost twin girls at birth and then later a son, my cousin Jeffery, who was I believe about six or seven when he died from an illness.  Jeffery’s was the first funeral I remember attending.

In more recent years Aunt Betty was disabled with Alzheimer’s disease.  She died a year or two ago in a nursing home.

I visited my cousins at the family home a day or two after Uncle Warren’s death.  He wasn’t really a farmer (or a cowboy) but lived in the country.  I noticed the absence of coon hounds, something that had always been a feature at his place.  Mary Lynn reminded me that he usually had a few beagles around as well.

He spent several hours nearly every night following his hounds through the woods.  He told me last year he thought those nightly miles of walking was probably what helped stave off diabetes–the family curse–until he was in his seventies.  (Most of us develop the symptoms much earlier.)

I used to think it was a cruel pursuit–hunting animals for their fur–though I did tag along one night years ago and can testify to the thrill of following the bay of the hounds through a moonlit woods.  I changed my opinion somewhat when Margaret (our friend who keeps us supplied with fresh eggs from happy, free-range hens) told us about a coon that got into the chicken house and tore the heads off of a dozen or more hens.  Raccoons can be pretty cruel themselves.

I did enjoy some good conversations with uncle Warren in the last few years.  He always enjoyed kids (he showed it by teasing us when we were young), especially his grandchildren.   He remained close to his sisters and his kids, my cousins, Charles, Mary Lynn, and Rhonda.    I regret that he won’t be able to take our grandson Elijah fishing some day.


Filliacide, the killing of daughters, is not a very elegant word, but neither are the terms gendercide or femicide.  But these newly coined expressions are not as ugly as the phenomenon they describe–the selective killing of female fetuses or newborn girls solely because of their sex.  It is not a new practice–excavations of ancient Roman sites show sewers clogged with the skeletons of newborn girls, according to Rodney Stark.  John Hobbins reports these and other gruesome details of the ancient and modern practice at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  John also points out how one factor in the history of the world has curbed the practice of killing girls because they are girls,  and that factor is the spread of the Christian faith.

How (Not) to Pick a Church

Radio personality Glenn Beck doesn’t say you have to join his church and become a Mormon, he simply says you should run from any church that has the words “social justice” in its website.  He says “social justice” are code words for Nazi, Fascist, and Communist policies.

The conservative Christian magazine Christianity Today disagrees on what social justice means.  CT says it is simply the application of Christian principles of compassion, fairness, and human rights–beliefs that come from the heart of the gospel.

Maybe the word “social” is redundant.  Justice implies conditions involving more than one person, and so is inherently social.  The prophet Micah declared there are only three things God requires,

To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Amos, another prophet from the 8th century before Christ declared,

Let justice roll on like a river.

Jesus criticized those who obsessed over the observance of religious minutiae, but neglected the weightier maters of the law:

justice, faithfulness, and mercy.

Fathers and Sons

The readings for this Sunday include the parable of the Prodigal Son, which along with the Good Samaritan, is one of the two best known parables in the Bible.  These two short stories are part of the greatest story ever told, the story of Jesus.

Together these two parables sum up what Jesus was all about–reconciliation between father and son, brother and brother, sister and sister, national enemies, and all broken human relationships–and at the same time reconciliation of sinners to God, the hope of unconditional love–and the life of love, showing compassion for a stranger, taking a risk to show compassion to one in need.

One thing puzzles me.  These two stories are found only in the Gospel according to Luke.  How could the other two evangelists have missed them?

I don’t have the answer, but maybe the other evangelists knew of the stories and understand them better than we do.  Maybe they found them too shocking.

Scholars tell us the cultures around the ancient Mediterranean were “honor and shame” cultures–as if there are any cultures that are not motivated by honor and shame.

(Maybe we are getting close to it–the deposed governor of Illinois was not bashful about appearing on David Letterman last week.)

It is plain enough that the prodigal son had disgraced his family.  He forced his father to liquidate the assets of the family farm so he could travel to a far place to find himself.  And when his money and friends ran out he found himself feeding pigs–some job for a nice Jewish boy–and lusting after the pods they fed on.  So when he gets desperate enough, he remembers his father is a generous man.  He’s willing to go home on probation, work as a hired hand.

Hadn’t the father ever heard of tough love?

Instead of accepting the offer of probation, the father loses all his dignity, runs to meet his son, and throws a party for him like he is some kind of conquering hero returned from war.  Can you blame the older brother for resenting the whole scene?

I think of another father in the  Bible who had two sons.  David’s son Amnon developed a sick obsession with his half-sister Tamar, lured her into his room, and raped her.  Then he hated her and sent her away.

Absalom, her full brother, waited to see what the king would do.  David evidently felt he had forfeited  any moral authority with his sons.  He was furious–but did nothing.  Absalom let his outrage simmer inside for two years.  Then he invited all his brothers to a sheep-sheering festival, where he had Amnon murdered.  David was again furious and Absalom went into exile for three years.

David was finally persuaded to allow his son to return.  He was allowed to live in Jerusalem, but David refused to see him.  Finally after another two years David allowed a formal reconciliation with his son.

The formal reconciliation was not enough for Absalom.  Again he allowed his rage to simmer until he found the opportunity to lead a rebellion against his father.

Our children break our hearts.  A broken heart can heal by hardening or by remaining tender.  People who have been deeply wounded can become bitter or sweet.  Most fathers are more like David than the father in Jesus’ parable.