Showing posts from 2012

the self-defense argument for guns examined

This really isn't much of an examination. There have been many great articles on the irrational American obsession with weapon ownership. I've read several at (expected), the Economist (the non-American perspective which is WTF?) and at the American Conservative (totally unexpected).  The argument that armed citizens stop crime is pretty weak. Trained and armed police are more effective, but even they can cause collateral damage, see the NYC story. More guns in our country seems to have a pretty close correlation with more gun deaths in our country. If you need more depression in your life, make sure you follow the twitter feed @gundeaths, which tracks all reported gun deaths in the USA. It tends to fill up my twitter feed every single day. But many of my fellow americans, read the comments on facebook or on news websites, and the NRA just keep hollering that citizens need to be armed to protect themselves. Previously, I suggested people get dogs instead. I do realiz…

book response: Letters from a skeptic by Greg Boyd (2010)

I picked this up for my Kindle when it was free for a day. It's only two bucks and change now, and this book is worth so much more. It is so much better to read apologetics from a correspondence between an honest skeptic and a humble apologist. This is narrative instead of academic. Boyd knows a great deal, he studied theology at Princeton and Yale, but he is not ashamed to admit what he doesn't know, his own struggles with doubt, his own mistakes in faith, or the limits of what can be claimed on behalf of Jesus and the Bible. Boyd is not a fundamentalist which enables him to write about Jesus much more winsomely and not as a hard dogmatist. He acknowledges the diversity within Christendom, and explains why he makes the choices within it without condemning those who have chosen otherwise. He also talks about the fringe groups and what makes them fringy. In fact, he started his Christian journey in one of them, oneness pentecostalism. He wants his skeptical dad to know that he …

Top 10 UmBlog posts of 2012

This truly surprises me.

an explanation of ferrocement house constructionmy book review of Terror by Night by Terry Caffeymy book review of Rowling's newest book A Casual Vacancybuilding arched roofs without modern materialsgrain bin homes for Haitiansa book review of the excellent Jesus: A Theographymy hare-brained proposal about combining rammed earth with straw balesmy excitement over a bike with a drive shaft, the Runaboutmy thoughts on this crazy article at Slatemy proposal to drop the word "marriage" as a legal word Only one of these topics is directly involved with my stated purpose of this blog. I'm glad people are reading my book reviews, since I like reading books. I'm glad people are interested in crazy house ideas. They've also become popular on my Pinterest page. I found more houses than I can blog about and put them there. The same is true of bicycles. I have several of them pinned as well. I also don't link to as many blog posts either. I do…

book response: Manhunt The 12 day chase for Lincoln's killer by Swanson (2007)

One of my favorite things to do on holiday vacations is to read. Napping is the other, and they go together like hand and glove. Despite my napping, this book, which I had to borrow from the library after reading James Swanson's newest book, went too fast. Swanson writes history at a quick pace, it's only 12 days after all in this story, but adds so much color to the characters and their times. He incorporates the quirks, the dress, the songs, the headlines, the personal letters, diaries, sights, smells, and sounds into an immersive environment for the reader. In an afterword, incorporated into the Kindle edition, there is an author interview, where we find out Swanson, who shares Lincoln's birthday, grew up fascinated with Lincoln history, and was buying memorabilia when he was a teenager. He himself is fully immersed in Lincoln, but is able to write well enough to bring us, his readers along for the swim.

John Wilkes Booth was a white supremacist, a secessionist, a brilli…

i'm pretty sure cars are different from guns

In the ongoing internet debates in America about gun control, gun ownership advocates frequently like to compare gun owners to car owners. The common factor being that cars are just as capable as killing people as guns are. However, assault rifles and high capacity magazines and pistols are designed exclusively to kill humans. Cars are designed to protect humans, airbags and such. Other than the Ford Pinto, I don't know of any car designed exclusively for killing humans. In fact, car manufacturers do respond to complaints of deaths and injuries and will bend under pressure to improve their product. Gun manufacturers, however, despite technology to improve the safety of their products, do not. Even if James Bond makes it cool, by preventing  his own gun from being used against him in this summer's movie. In driving school, drivers are taught to avoid humans. At shooting ranges, life-size silhouettes of humans are optional targets, as well as faces of people. Not everyone uses t…

book response: Bloody Crimes by James Swanson (2010)

I borrowed from my local library the digital version James Swanson's book Bloody Crimes: The chase for Jefferson Davis and the death pageant for Lincoln's corpse, and I was so sad last night that I finished it. Swanson writes good history about a topic, the American Civil War, that I have read plenty about over the last dozen years. This was so good I already checked out his previous book, Manhunt: The twelve day chase to catch Lincoln's killer.

Swanson certainly admires Lincoln, he was certainly admirable, but he does not hide Lincoln's warts. He is not a fan of Jeff Davis, but he does not hide his admirable qualities either. The following paragraph is a good example of Swanson's presentation.
Lincoln, who was not an abolitionist, agreed with Jefferson Davis that the Constitution protected slavery. Thus, the federal government had no power to interfere with it wherever it existed. And like Davis, Lincoln—at least the Lincoln of the 1840s and 1850s—accepted white …

Charity vs. security: one dumb Xian's perspective

As an ambassador of Jesus, driving around my assigned territory of Connecticut yesterday, ;-), I heard an interesting piece on NPR yesterday about the incredible impact that wise giving can make in the world. I've talked about wise giving recently. The British group, Giving What We Can, founded by an Oxford ethics professor, Toby Ord, strips away all the  feel good aspects of charity and looks at what charities save the most lives per dollar. As an ambassador of a kingdom whose founder's basic premise for all our interactions is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not someone who's primary concern is the 2nd amendment of the USA, I'm really interested in how I can help more of my neighbors with the stipend granted me.

Other kind-hearted and well meaning ambassadors feel that possessing personal firearms, that they could use against those who would visit evil upon us, like at an elementary school Newtown, CT, 26 killed, or on a family in Cheshire, CT, three killed. W…

a dumb xian ponders american gun rights

I'm not speaking of anyone pejoratively in the title, because I am the dumb Christian. I've seen many insensitive Christians on my Facebook feed make sure the world knows where they stand on the 2nd amendment in light of the Newtown massacre. Insensitivity is not stupidity, though. I'm wondering though, as a citizen of another kingdom, an ambassador of Jesus, how I am to represent Him in these times, in this country I was born in, the USA. I keep thinking of Jesus' statement in Matthew, which I tweeted yesterday, because it seems to throw a monkey wrench in the 2nd amendment argument. When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, by a cohort of soldiers, one of his closest friends, Peter, whips out his sword and manages to clip the side of a servant boy's head, taking off the poor boy's ear. Jesus miraculously reattaches his ear and tells Pete, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword." …

Advent Christianity in tragedy

In times of great tragedy, most of us seek answers to the "why?" of the situation. It seems that some of the people of my religious persuasion like to explain it by the cessation of religious instruction in the public schools. The argument seems to be, Since Johnny wasn't taught the Ten Commandments in school, nor forced to hear or recite the Lord's Prayer every morning, he is more likely to shoot up his mother and her elementary school classroom. In effect, blaming the victims. I wish that would stop. I can't imagine losing so much and having someone come alongside me and blame the refusal of the government to pick a religion for official sponsorship. That's like hugging a cold stone. I imagine any human being who is able to put an arm around me and weep with me would be more than adequate. Their religious, or political, views would not interfere in that time of deep pain.

I led a Bible study last night with high school students through the 2nd chapter of M…

Fiscal cliff politics

Most of the news I encounter lately is about this budget deal, nicknamed the Fiscal Cliff, bearing down on Americans. It's a sledgehammer approach to reducing spending and increasing taxes. Wikipedia has a decent summary. The good part of this deal is that important programs for the needy, Social Security and Medicare, will not be cut at all. The bad part of this deal is the projected delay from the current recession. The in-between parts will be higher taxes for everyone and reduced spending on defense and non-defense items which will result in job losses at military contractors, in government offices, and programs that seek to improve our level of civilization in general. I call it the in-between parts because not everyone hates every part of those cuts. All of this could be resolved if the Republican party which controls the House of Representatives, where budget bills must originate, and Democrat President Obama can come to an agreement. Here is how I hear their positions boil…

be informed before you donate in a crisis

Renaissance Ronin's blog first attracted me because he's building affordable houses around the world out of shipping containers. He's been around the block for awhile and has seen the darker side of humanity take advantage of other's generosity in crises, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. That aid boondoggle is well documented, see this Haitian news blog. Good organizations do exist, they probably don't spend as much money advertising themselves. When it comes to housing, Habitat for Humanity, has done good in Haiti. But a recent blog at Ronin's, How do you help?, also shares how the poor who need to be helped get taken advantage of despite the good intentions of donors and helpers. He's not saying where to invest, I have suggestions for you, but he wants us informed.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work.…

book response: This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (2008)

I can't stay away from books on the American Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust's book, This Republic of Suffering was available in the library's digital lending section and seemed worth a shot. At first, I didn't know if I could push on through this book. The extended discussion in the beginning about the Victorian concept of the good death got old. Her examples piled on top of themselves about so many soldiers trying to die in a way that could comfort their families with memories of their devotion in their last moments. But it got better as I persevered. The facts of the war are brutal. (Instead of page numbers, the Kindle gives locations.)
The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War’s rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the si…

book response: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012)

Description unavailable (Photo credit: cindypepper) If Holden Caufield's soul was divided into seven horcruxes, each part bringing with it one aspect of his character, and put into new characters and set it in the English country side instead of New York City, one might discover Rowling's new world in The Casual Vacancy. What took J.D. Salinger to describe in The Catcher in the Rye, Rowling does in The Casual Vacancy, but across more characters and age groups. I am not saying that Rowling's work is inferior at all, but she can plumb the depths of the human soul with all it's earnestness, hypocrisy, pain, vengefulness, passions high and low, like Salinger. However, Rowling uses a dozen major characters, almost all well developed and tangible, instead of two. Rowling does develop the story around one character who dies at the beginning of the story, yet had provided a foil for so many citizens in his town.

This story passed my nap test. Every Saturday afternoon, I sit in…

book response: Jesus- A Theography (2012)

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have collaborated on a new book to help clueless Christians like myself, that Jesus was not lying when he said all the scriptures testify about him, John 5:39. I'm very grateful for their efforts. As I've engaged with the violent and genocidal passages of the Old Testament, the authors refer to it as the First Testament, I've been helped by learning how the Ante-Nicene fathers saw them allegorically, and in this book, the benefit of reading this way still, in our (post-) modern age. The first chapter, looking at the representation of Jesus in Genesis 1 is a relief, disentangling that chapter from a battle over the age of the earth, revealing it's portrayal of Christ. One method of interpretation divides the church the other unites it. I don't think they are telling believers anything new. In fact, I think they are introducing to us clueless evangelicals and fundamentalists what the historic church has already discovered. Although Sweet…

been reading and thinking

Sometimes a poorly reasoned book written by an earnest believer can start a ball rolling on reading well reasoned books by other earnest believers, which can cause this earnest believer to earnestly believe a little differently. But it is hard to say, whilst on that journey to the land of "little differently", if one is merely moving to a different view on the same country, or really traveling farther afield. Two of the well reasoned books I've finished are Divine Presence amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua by Walter Brueggemann and The Joshua Delusion?: Rethinking Genocide in the Bible by Douglas S. Earl. The Israelite invasion of Canaan with it's incitement to genocide by "God" has always bothered me, as it has many others, and as it should. Taken literally, it's a behavior inconsistent with the command to not kill. I'm leaning toward the idea of hyperbolic language. Earl goes much further than that, but not out of orthodoxy. One po…

book response: Savage Continent by Lowe (2012)

The subtitle of Savage Continent: Europe in the aftermath of World War 2 was what caught my attention on the book shelf at the public library. I've done plenty of reading on the 2nd world war, but I realized I don't know any details on the post-war recovery. After this book, I learned the killing kept going.

It's ironic that the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize this week. "Congratulations for not having any genocides in the last 10 years. Keep up the good work."

All I learned in high school was the United States lent money to rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan and the Soviet Union brought down an iron curtain around eastern Europe. But that's the view from high altitude. In the more granular view, ethnic cleansing continued, not as much against Jews, though this still happened, but Germans were expelled from countries they had lived in, outside Germany for centuries. Ukranians and Poles, Italians and Yugoslavians. If that weren't enough, ev…

pre-fab strawbale timber frame

I do have a weakness for strawbale construction. They are like big lego blocks which one can stack into a house you can live in. Even I can build with legos. Because they are bigger, they can make a wall quicker than earthbags, with insulation properties, unlike earth alone. There is some good work being done on the Pine Ridge Reservation with strawbale round homes, look at these beautiful homes. One difficulty is the need to keep them from getting wet though. One solution is having large work parties, who can bang it out over a few days. Another solution is to pre-fabricate straw bale walls under a roof, then deliver them to the home site and slap them together in a couple days, which ModCell in the UK has developed. They build a timberframe, cram the bales in tight, then spray on a lime plaster on both sides. This wall frame is then stuck together, like a SIPs panel, but unlike a SIP, it's all natural and massive, like 2000 lbs a panel. NatureBuilt in Ontario, Canada has a simil…

closed and centered sets in church

Update January 2016. Dave Schmelzer has addressed some objections like mine in his essay here.

This week I listened to most of a sermon from the Boston Vineyard on homosexuality from their 2011 series on hard questions. The sermon's title is Homosexuality and Churchgoing and was given by the lead pastor, Dave Schmelzer. I didn't hear the last fourth of the sermon, so he might have said what I am going to say here, but his ideas got me thinking. Basically, he appeals to a mathematical analogy for his ecclesiology, centered sets vs. closed sets.  This is nothing new, but for those to whom it is new, here is my quick breakdown. A closed set would be a circle defined by it's edge. A centered set would be defined by, you guessed it, the center. A church with a closed set ecclesiology would have some well defined behaviors expected of members, e.g. no smoking, drinking or dancing. A centered set church welcomes all who are …

Jesus' over the top sayings - dads and teachers

In Matthew 23, Jesus is ripping on religious leaders. In one part he says,
8 Don't ever let anyone call you 'Rabbi,' for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. 9 And don't address anyone here on earth as 'Father,' for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don't let anyone call you 'Master,' for there is only one master, the Messiah. v 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Taken literally, as some of us have, this results in finger pointing towards others in Christendom who do use the appellation "Father" for their leaders. At the same time, we ignore the fact that we'll call some of our leaders, "Teachers." I wonder if there are some who won't even refer to their biological male parent as "Father." Maybe they call them by their first names. Bu…