Sunday, July 28, 2013

1st Chronicles

Today was the final program for our Vacation Bible School at church. Close to 200 children attended at some point during the week, but considerably fewer than that took part in the program. It was typical of these programs. Kids wiggling, waving, moving where they weren't supposed to, not singing along to the taped music, quoting Bible verses. It was kind of enjoyable. The pastor gave a brief sermon geared to visitors, and we were out in an hour and five minutes.

One service today, and no Life Groups. So I didn't have to study a lesson this week. Since the pastor finished his sermon series last week, and we start a new, 13-week series on August 18, I don't know what the lessons will be about for the next two weeks. We'll find out soon.

So I'll talk a little this week about my recent Bible reading which, somewhat surprisingly, is in 1st Chronicles. Why, you ask? Well, I read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy to improve my understanding of Jewish religion and culture at those times. Then it seemed right to move on with Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. The next logical books would have been 1st and 2nd Samuel followed by 1st and 2nd Kings, but I read a lot in them not all that long ago.

But it's been a long, long time since I read through 1st and 2nd Chronicles. I can see why with 1st Chronicles, with it's lists of names of heads of clans and who were gatekeepers and which Levites served in what capacity. I'm sure when I read this before, more than twenty years ago I would guess, I didn't feel much like reading it.

Not this time. For some reason the words are just jumping off the page for me. I'm reading every name, every word, and thinking about them as I do. I'm still not ready to call it the Bible's most interesting book, but I've found quite a lot of interesting stuff in there. It's 1st Chronicles from which the prayer of Jabez comes. Also it's in 1st Chronicles that we learn that Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba (the woman King David had the tryst with) was one of David's mighty men. So it was a long-term relationship with one of his 30 key soldiers that David violated when he took hold of Uriah's wife.

I won't go into all of them, but I find among the many names other tidbits of information that helps to round out my understanding of the Jewish nation as it was during those times. I have four more chapters to go, so I'll finish it this week and move on to 2nd Chronicles. Looking forward to it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Non-reunion Reunion

I can't remember how much I've written on this blog about my school days. I know I made a post after our high school class' 40th reunion in 2010, the first of the reunions I went to. And either in that post, or perhaps in another one, I talked about how my wife's class of 61 people had so much more of a bond than our class of 725. And I think I explained that this was because a class that small had many more shared experiences to relive than our larger class did. We went to two different junior high schools and about eight different elementary schools before coming together at Cranston High School East.

So I decided to do something about it. After consulting with a couple of classmates to see if they had a Facebook page for our class, and if not if they thought it would be a good idea. They said no and yes, go for it. Not being sure what to do, I looked into it and discovered that you don't actually create a page: you create a group on Facebook. And it is laughably easy to do it. An icon on the main page allows you to click and create a group. Then you enter a description, choose a favicon, do a very few other things, and presto, the group is created.

So I did that about three weeks ago. I had to add a few people to begin the group. Then I informed them and asked them to find class members. They did so, shouting from the rafters, and our group grew. Those that they invited then invited others. We are now up to 96 members. One is a duplicate, and one is a "friend" of the class, a girl I went to elementary school with who would have graduated with us if she hadn't moved away.

So that's 94 unique members of the class. That's almost 13% of those shown in the yearbook and 14% of those who are listed as graduating with us. That's not too bad for three weeks. It's probably close to everyone who is on Facebook. I know of two other people from the class who are Facebook members. I've invited them to the group but they appear not to be active on FB.

Last Sunday we had our first "event"—an oldies party, where we played a game with the lyrics of the songs we grew up with. Not too many attended, but we had fun. I have a couple of ideas for other events. After that I'll be out of ideas and it will be up to others to think of something.

A few days into the group's existence it was like a free-for-all one evening. A number of people were posting, threads were moving fast, things were posted in the wrong place. I received a concern that the group was drowning in all the posts. And at that point we had less than 50 members. But I've seen this kind of thing before, where a new group becomes overly exuberant but then settles down. And that's exactly what has happened. Every day we have people making a few posts and comments. We have memories being shared. More than that, our current lives are being shared. Slowly but surely we are learning something about each other. Of the 94 members in the group, I personally knew only 27, and about five of those I barely knew. A couple of others say they remember me.

So, to mangle the lyrics of that old Bee Gees song:

I started the group
that started the whole class talking.

Okay, an exaggeration on "whole class," but that's basically it. And it feels good.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of "The Genesis Enigma" – Conclusion

As I said in previous posts, The Genesis Enigma explains how science and God are not incompatible. Scientific advances have described how life and its diversity have happened, and how the first chapter of the book of Genesis exactly follows the scientific discoveries. One only needs to read that chapter without the word "day" meaning 24 hours, and it all works.

Andrew Parker also says that animal life, from the earliest single-cell animal, can be explained without any input from God. But, it is energy that resulted in the conditions that allowed those single-cell animals to come into being and then to differentiate themselves over several billion years, or maybe just a billion. But, there is no explanation of where that energy came from except for the big bang, and that big bang has no explanation except God.

God, though, deals with humans in non-scientific areas of their lives: the intellect, the emotions, etc. But creation, diversity, and sustaining of life? No, God had and has nothing to do with that.

Parker tried to write a popular book, rather than a scholarly book. He doesn't give a lot of documentation, and he doesn't fully explain the why behind his statements. That left me kind of flat. I'd like to have footnotes, I'd like to have better explanations. So from that standpoint I lower my rating of the book.

I found his explanation of the so-called Cambrian Explosion, wherein all the 37 phyla of animals showed up at more or less the same time, to be insufficient. He said it was the acquisition of sight that allowed the diversity explosion to take place, and that the eye suddenly appeared more or less intact. I'm sorry, but he didn't make the case. Maybe there's more to the story than he included in the book. But in the book he didn't make the case.

The appendix, wherein Parker explores who wrote Genesis—which I guess he thinks he must do since he believes whoever wrote the first chapter must have had knowledge that can't be explained by intellectual development—is woefully lacking. As I said in a previous post he seems to be echoing the work of a religious scholar, but the various statements in the appendix really don't prove anything and are not documented. Again, that's causing me to mark down the book.

I am not a young earth person. I see no reason to believe in the six days of Genesis chapter 1 to be literal 24 hour days. They surely refer to epochs of development, to steps that God used in the creation of everything.

Yes, I believe in God and that He did it; he created life. He set the phyla in place, probably in one event, probably 500+ million years ago if not before that. I believe God was an integral part of this, not a bystander after having created the energy that set everything else in motion.

So, I give The Genesis Enigma only three stars. While I agree with a lot of Parker's conclusions, the book doesn't make the case, and leaves me somewhat flat.

Monday, July 22, 2013

One Ending Begins Another Journey

Yesterday was the end of our pastor's summer series "A Journey of Faith". This has been a good series, designed as loosely connected stories as befit summertime when so many people are in and out, sometimes on vacation, sometimes playing hooky. Our Life Group has studied the same material to go along with the sermons.

Except, sometimes the teaching/study materials didn't match the sermon. The materials were taken from various published Bible studies, and if no published study was found that matched the sermon topic/scripture, we were given something close to it. That made for some interesting preparation to teach, as my co-teacher and I had to answer the question: Do we teach from the study materials provided to the teachers, or do we use that material for background and slide over to the real topic of the sermon?

I'm teaching several weeks in a row right now as my co-teacher is recovering after knee surgery. He managed to hobble into class yesterday with the aid of a walker, but I'll teach every week until he's much more mended. The sermon was on the faith journey of the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The study materials provided were on all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, except that the Emmaus Road experience was barely mentioned. So what to do? Teach the lesson from the materials provided, or teach a lesson somewhat related based on the sermon? It doesn't help, of course, that the sermon isn't given until right before our Life Group lesson.

The materials provided were a good study, with lots of probing questions and applications for life. But it wasn't what the pastor was preaching about. I decided to teach related to the sermon, and draw out from the materials provided as much as I could.

The class was fairly full, as some who had been away were back, as were some who were sick or had work commitments on previous weeks. I taught without notes, having decided in my mind what and how I would teach. Well, I did have some notes, as a copy of the semi-related, published study was provided in our attendance folder. Using that to see some of the questions, I jumped out. We read from Luke Chapter 24, in four segments. First was the condition of the disciples as they plodded along, having heard about the empty tomb and the testimony of the women who saw the risen Christ, but not really believing it. Then we read how Jesus taught them as they walked. Then we read the part where their eyes were opened and they recognized it was Jesus. At last we read how the disciples rushed back to Jerusalem, seven miles distant, where they learned that the other knew that Jesus was indeed alive, and where they gave their testimony.

The class was awesome! Everyone participated, as we broke down the story and considered time and distance, appearance and the blindness that grief can bring. We talked about how at each of his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus had to do something a little different to cause the skeptical to believe. He spoke Mary's name. He broke the bread. He ate some fish. He let Thomas touch his wounds. To some 500 believers he probably preached.

In the same way Jesus speaks to us today in different ways. He almost never speaks to me directly, but rather directs my decision-making process in ways I can't see, in response to prayer. People have told me that that means God hasn't spoken to me. They believe that the only way God can speak is the way He spoke to them. I reject that. I suspect God has around 7 billion ways of speaking to people and directing their steps. We are each unique in that regard, and I thank God for that.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"The Genesis Enigma" and God and the Bible

In The Genesis Enigma, Andrew Parker makes his case that science and religion don't contradict each other. Science gets down to the nitty-gritty about how the universe and life in it came to be, while religion stands back and looks at the big picture. At least that's what I believe he's saying.

But at times he talks about how this or that scientific discovery gave religion a black eye. And by "religion" he's essentially referring to Judeo-Christianity. He says, however, that the black eye occurred because Christianity clung to a rigorous interpretation of Genesis chapter 1, rather than realizing it should be interpreted figuratively. The specifics of that are: young earth vs. old earth; and whether a supreme being had any part at all in creating life. He, of course, comes down on the side of an old earth. He also says God was unnecessary for the creation of life.

Interestingly, however, he seems to believe that God was necessary for the creation of what came before life, that is what created the universe. He says that science has no answer—other than the Big Bang—as to what created all the energy necessary for the universe to have formed and then for life to have formed from natural processes. But that energy had to have come from somewhere; he says God is as good an explanation of that as any.

He also, in the last chapter, talks about what God is, and what he isn't. He doesn't like the anthropomorhic God that is seen in Christian art, man-like in appearance. The God that deals with so many things that science can't—emotions and intellect, for example—need not be confined to the shape of humankind's body. He could be much different.

Since Parker says that Genesis has it right as to how life began and diversified, he wonders who wrote Genesis and where he got his information. Parker deals with this in the lengthy appendix. He subscribes to the biblical scholarship of Richard Elliot Friedman [Who Wrote the Bible?, 1989] in saying Genesis had four authors, and that these authors can be somewhat known by the style of the writing and how they deal with Moses vs. Aaron and Levites vs. priests. His conclusion is that most of the words in Genesis were written by two authors, Jermiah the prophet and Ezra the priest.

I personally think Parker is on shakey ground with this. I'd have to read Friedman's book to know, but Parker doesn't give us enough information to make a convincing case.

I'm going to do one more post on this book, more of a "where I come down on the debate" type of post. Stay tuned for this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"The Genesis Enigma" and the Certainty of Science

Wikimedia Commons, author Nobu Tamura,
user "ArthurWeasley"
The Genesis Enigma by Andrew Parker, I should stress that Parker is a scientist, not a theologian. His background is impressive. In the Preface he goes into some of his accomplishments, specifically to discoveries he made which filled in a major gap that needed to be filled in for evolution to be true. I had trouble following his explanation of exactly what he discovered and how that discovery was made and how it filled the gap, but it appears the scientific community must think it did so.
Continuing my review of

Parker has no doubt whatsoever that science knows how life formed, and knows that from a single cell somewhere in the primordial soup the entire breadth of life that we now has evolved. Parker is certain of this. Throughout the text he gives many examples of geologists, archaeologists, astronomers, paleontologists, chemists, and others who used the scientific method to come up with critical theories and then conclusions concerning the origin of life. I found some of this hard to follow, some of it boring, and some of it unnecessary to the premise and discussion of the book. Some of it, however, was excellent.
He references experiments in the 1950s in which some professor created an apparatus and a mixture that represented what scientists think the early earth was like, and was able to create amino acids. To Parker, this is evidence that God was unnecessary for life to begin. Other reviews posted at Amazon state that these experiments have been widely discredited, and had been so discredited before Parker wrote his book, i.e. he ignored the issue. I don't know the correct answer to this, and have noted it for further research.
Parker comes out strongly and says evolution is no longer a theory. It has been proven beyond any doubt, and should be considered a fact.
The "theory of evolution" has become "evolution, the fact." ...By definition, all "theories" allegedly solving the same problem must begin with equal standing—in which case, anyone could invent a theory to account for the diversity of life...and be given equal standing on a stage with Darin and Wallace. ...As I said, evolution is a fact. [page 192]

Parker spent a lot of time on the Cambrian Explosion, which is the point in time, perhaps 510-520 million years ago, that number of life forms on the earth really grew, to the point where all phyla known today have been found represented in the fossil record from that time. Parker says science's explanation of why the Cambrian Explosion took place was the sudden and rapid evolution of the eye. He calls it the Light Switch Theory, e.g. somebody turned on the lights for these animals, and once they could see they could evolve quickly into many, many life forms.

Since then, says Parker, it's all been evolution. God had no part in it. God wasn't needed. Parker also says this is all very certain. Also, he's certain that science has it right. To him, new science never conflicts with older science. It just builds on itself. So what science learned in 2005 simply built on what it thought was correct in 1932, which was nothing but gap-closing from what Darwin said in 1859. He has no concern that scientific discoveries yet to be made will contradict scientific "facts" from years gone by. So certain is he.

So where does Genesis come in, then? I'll cover that in my next post, but here's Parker's lead-in.
Science came to its account of the history of the universe and of life through centuries of painstaking research, engulfing the life's work of many vigilant and impartial thinkers, forever fine-tuning the story until it fitted the facts. But how did the writer of Genesis come to his conclusion? [page 182]


Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Genesis Enigma"

For once I'm reporting on a book I didn't buy at a thrift store or yard sale. The Genesis Enigma by Andrew Parker [Plume Books, an imprint of Penguin; ISBN 978-0-525-95124-7] is a good book. I'm glad I spent the money on it at Barnes & Noble (the remainders table, of course). The subtitle of the book is Why the First Book of the Bible is Scientifically Accurate.

The premise of Parker is that science has all these tremendous discoveries; they seemed to go against church teachings; science learned even more that was against church teachings; the church dug in their heels before grudgingly yielding; the church's recalcitrance was due to a literal interpretation of the earliest part of Genesis; and when you read the creation story in Genesis figuratively rather than literally, it exactly aligns with the last 400 years of scientific discoveries.

The general format of his chapters is to first state something from Genesis chapter 1, then discuss something learned by science, something that he says worked to destroy the message of the church, but that it only did that because the church held too strongly to literal interpretation of what was figurative. He starts with "And God said 'Let there be light' and there was light." He then deals with the creation of everything, including our sun.

Actually, he starts with a chapter about the Old Testament record as being true based on various archaeological findings, and how the more they find the more true it becomes. In this first chapter be brings the scientific personalities into it, trying to tell something not just about the discoveries but also about how they went about their work and even something about them. It's a little distracting, but it does break up the purely scientific information.

Parker then goes through the steps of Genesis one by one, chapter by chapter in his book, showing how what Genesis says came next was exactly what science says comes next. He says if only the church had realized that at the time, how great it would have been.

I think Parker makes a fair case. He will make a statement something like "and this discovery was devastating for the church." If so, it was only because the church was trying to make the Bible say something it didn't say. I don't think he says that all that well. That could have been brought out more.

I have much more to write about this book, so I think I'll end this now and pick it up in a day or two. Right now I think I'll need two more posts to tell all I want to about this book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: "Letters from an American Farmer"

This is another of my thrift store pick ups. And it's actually two books in one volume—I think. The full title is Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of 18th-Century America. The original author is J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (I'll call him Crevecoeur), and the editor of this volume was John Seelye. Albert E. Stone, a professor of English and chairman of the American Studies Program at the University of Iowa, wrote a long introduction.

The book was originally published in 1782 as Letters from an American Farmer. As such, it is one of the oldest history books written and published in America. For it is a history book, a contemporary one to the times it was written. It seems that Crevecoeur realized that America was something special, and he wanted to document what was happening around him. The Sketches part of the book was published much later, in 1925, having been overlooked or purposely left out.

I picked this up thinking it would be good as part of my American history studies, and that some part of it might feed into a future volume of my Documenting America series. Alas, after reading it, I'm not sure that will be possible. It's kind of hard to tell how much of this book is fact and how much is fiction. As Stone said in the introduction: "That it is fable and not essentially history, travelogue, or autobiography seems clear, not only from the details of the author's own life already recited but also by contrast with other works on the America of the Revolutionary era." So much for using it as an historical reference.

It's quite interesting how Crevecoeur puts his book together. They are supposedly letters to an Abbe Raynal, a Frenchman of some renown, telling him about conditions in America. But were these real letters, or just a literary technique? I'm reminded of Robert Southey's book of letters, allegedly from a Spaniard (I think), telling of conditions in England. It was all just Southey's fabrication. I wonder if Crevecoeur's letters are fabrications as well.

Crevecoeur was not sympathetic to the American Revolution. I've read that the colonies were evenly split. About 1/3 of the people wanted independence, 1/3 wanted to stay under Britain, and 1/3 didn't much care either way. I'd put Crevecoeur in the latter category, but leaning slightly to the British monarchy. It seems he simply didn't like the effects of war: destroying homes and farms, tearing families apart, dividing towns. I can understand that and sympathize with that sentiment. Here's a telling paragraph concerning the Revolution.
No European can possibly conceive the secret ways, the great combination of poisons and subtle sophisms which have from one end of the continent to the other allured the minds, removed every ancient prejudice, and, in short, prepared the way for the exhibition of this astonishing revolution. From restlessness, from diffidence, from that jealous state in which free men always live, to pass in the course of four years to the implicitness of belief, to passive obedience, is indeed a melancholy proof that if slavery is often extended and cherished by kings, the people, in the hour of infatuation, will sometimes become the artificers of their own misfortunes.

All in all, this wasn't a great book. The lack of historical accuracy, the old-time language, and the choice of subject matter make me unlikely to ever pick this up again. I didn't read the last 30 or so pages, a play-like dialog. I think this is garage sale material.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: "Cracking the DaVinci Code"

When The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown reached the stratosphere in book sales, and when Dan Brown was so audacious to say that the book was mostly based on facts, even though it total it was fiction, it wasn't long before a series of books explaining TDC or taking issue with it hit the book stands. We picked up a couple of them from thrift stores. They were okay, but had all the characteristics of books rushed to market.

Sometime later I found another one at my local thrift. Simon Cox published Cracking the Da Vinci Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Facts Behind Dan Brown's Bestselling Novel. I picked it up for 50 cents, figuring it was another like the others I'd read (in whole or in part). However, once I got into the book I found out it is different.

It is arranged "encyclopedia" style. That is, significant subjects in TDC are given in alphabetical order, and an explanation given about how the subject is treated in the book, and why it is important. If it's a case where Cox found a reference from which Dan Brown probably drew his material, he gives that reference. I found this to be particularly helpful. Dan Brown supposedly claimed his book was mostly based on truth. Where did he find that "truth" to write about?

According to Cox, the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln was the source for much of Brown's material. This book claims to be an authority on the Priory of Sion. It includes the idea that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife and had his child, thus establishing his bloodline for all time. These are, of course, major themes in TDC.

Since the book was so different from others I'd read, and what I thought I was buying, it took me a while to get into it. What I finally did was keep it in the front seat of the pickup and read it during times at red lights. Some of the entries were short, and I knocked them out in one sitting. Others took the whole commute home, which includes 15 traffic signals, of which on any given day I might have to stop at 6 to 8 of them. Some entries were longer or didn't hold my attention, and might take a week to get through. I'm not advocating this as the right way to read this book, or any book, but it seemed to work for me.

I found the first dozen entries in the book almost comical, though I'm not sure why. It seemed to me that Cox couldn't be serious, in that things that were obviously fiction in TDC he was treating as if they were true. The seriousness on obviously fictional issues (obvious to me, that is) was what seemed comical, I suppose. However, the further I got in the book the better it seemed. Some of the entries actually helped to clarify things in TDC.

I give this book three stars. It was okay, not outstanding. I'm glad I read it, but I won't be keeping it to take up valuable shelf space, not even in a box. On to the yard sale pile it goes.

Book Review: "Not A Fan"

I posted a little about this book before, how our church was involved in a study of this while our pastor did a series of sermons on it and the concepts behind it. Not A Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, by Kyle Idleman, published in 2011 by Zondervan, is supported by a video study and, I suspect, pastoral notes. This review is of the book only.

As is my habit, when the church first gave me a copy of this book I went straight to Amazon to check the reviews. I read the 1-star reviews first. There were only a handful out of hundreds. The complaint of these reviews is that the book, if taken to its implied extreme, will result in legalism and tearing down the body of Christ rather than build it up. That concerned me, even though it was only a few reviews. I began reading it with my senses for legalism turned on.

I'm happy to say I didn't sense any of that in my reading. I found the book to be just what it said it is in the title and subtitle: intended to encourage people to deepen their walk in Jesus. We do not have a shortage of such books in the world, either modern or old. Why have another? A book, a study, a string of paragraphs and chapters describing concepts will speak to different people differently. One book speaks to one person while another person is turned off by it and finds similar information in a book written from a different perspective. Through the two different approaches more people are reached and led into a deeper walk with Jesus. That seems a good thing to me.

Idleman writes well, clearly lays out his premises and discusses them. I found no legalism in the book. In fact, my observation of Christians in the world is in accord with what he says. Many, probably even most, are not truly committed to the One whose name they bear, live exactly the same after their "conversion" as they did before. Their language is the same. Their coarse joking is the same. Their use of mind-altering substances is the same. Their outlook on life is the same. There were literally no change in their life. They made a statement of faith, then lived as they did before. As James said, "Can such faith save you?"

As I said, I found no trace of legalism in this book. To the one who wants to be named among the Christians but doesn't want to change their life, any call for a deeper commitment will seem like legalism. Be prepared to be challenged.