Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin

Palin is a politically asute pick for McCain, in the sense of hitting a bullseye right at the Hillary supporters who Obama dissed. Beyond that, the Palin nod just sucked all of the the wind out of the just-completed Dem convention.

But inexperienced state politicians are very risky -- from hidden skeletons to unvetted answers on matters of national policy.

The thing is, when you consider Palin in the abstract, it's possible to come up with objections to naming her as McCain's veep. But when you think about the obvious alternatives -- from Romeny (and almost sure loser) to other inexperienced (male) governors, I actually think it's a pretty easy case to make that Palin was about the best choice that McCain could have made. To be sure, that says some sad things for the relative lack of talent right now in the national GOP. I do think, however, that four to eight years will make a difference. And the Dems are hardly better. Biden? Gimme a break!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Presidential Polls

Obama leads in a number of polls; McCain leads is a couple of polls. But Obama's campaign can't take much solace from that fact. All of the recent polls I've looked at that had Obama in the lead (maybe six or so of the most recent polls) are polls of registered voters. That may sound sensible enough, except that elections aren't determined by registered voters, but by voters who turn up and the polling place on election day.

Historically, Democrats have a lead among registered voters, but Republicans tend to turn out in greater proportions at the voting booth. So surveys of registered voters will tend to overreport support for Democratic candidates relative to who shows up to vote on election day.

So that fact that Obama leads in polls of registered voters, while McCain leads in two recent polls of likely voters (although one of those "leads" is within the margin of statistical error, si technically should be counted as a "tie" with Obama), has to be pretty sobering news for Obama's campaign.

Still, I'm unsure that even the polls of likely voters provide much solace to the McCain campaign: Surveys of likely voters depend critically on models of who the pollster predicts is in fact a "likely" voter. Those models seemed to track pretty well historically, but haven't seemed to be doing as well in recent presidential elections.

And there's reason to think that models based on past behavior won't predict turnout for this election either: those groups of Democrats who historically had tended to vote the least -- the young and minorities -- are those groups most activated by Obama's campaign. So I don't put must trust in "likely voter" models based on turnout in previous campaigns.

A couple of final thoughts. First, as an historical matter, that McCain is even as close as he is at this point in the campiagn is pretty surprising. GOP candidates often poll far behind their Democratic rivals during the summer, and then catch up either to win (Bush v. Dukakis) or lose very closely (Ford v. Carter). But, again, the lengthy Democratic campaign may suggest that this campaign should not be analogized to previous campaigns.

Secondly, that a Republican candidate is this close to the Democratic candidate, given eight years of a controversial Republican presidency, and continuing animus against GOP congressional candidates, also says a lot about what a strange election year this appears to be.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Holy Gas Chamber Lutheran Church

Over the centuries Christians have (rightly) come to view the Cross as a blessed thing -- it is where Jesus died for our sin. But in doing so, I think we also may have become a bit dulled to recognizing just how offensive "the message of the Cross" would have been in Jesus' day. To understand perhaps just a glimpse of that offense, I sometimes play a game where I substitute modern execution devices for the word "Cross" in different phrases. As in:

"I attend Holy Electric Chair Lutheran Church."

"Just take your problems to the Gas Chamber."

"The Blessed Hangman's Noose."

"On Being a Theologian of the Firing Squad."

Those phrases sound pretty repellant to me, so I figure that they capture at least a little of the offense that the ancients faced when confronted with the message of the Cross.

Or think about this: What would parents do if their daughter began wearing a little golden electric chair on a necklace around her neck? Or what if she wore tiny silver hang-man nooses as earrings?

The point isn't at all to censure that behavior. It's just that after centuries of hearing that the Cross is a blessed event -- which it certanly is -- I think it's also obscured the fact that the Cross was a Roman execution device, one in fact more terrible than the relatively humane (at least in intention) execution devices used today.

I've found it useful for myself occasionally to shake myself out of thinking of the Cross as a purely benign event by thinking about modern execution devices as replacements for the cross, and so reminding myself how truly horrible sin is, and what a truly horrible thing Jesus needed to undergo in order to procure my forgiveness on the Cross.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Jesus & the Bread of Presence in Mt 12.1-8

[Sorry, this is in outline form only. Between an NSF proposal to finish this week, and a conference paper to write, and a new administrative position to master, I haven't had time to put it in narrative form. I hope there's enough here to follow the argument.]

I. Bread of Presence (or “face”).

This is bread that is offered and eaten in God’s presence. Ex 25.30 (cf., Ex 33.14-15), Lev 24.5-9.

So, why did David and his men eat the bread (1 Sam 21.1-7)?

II. Jesus talks about the event in Mt 12.1-8.

vv. 1-2. Jesus is criticized for his disciples eating grain on the Sabbath (cf., Dt 23.24-25).
vv. 3-4. Jesus invokes David & the Bread of Presence
v. 5 Jesus talks about priests “profaning” the Sabbath
v. 6 Jesus’ disciples’ actions are allowable because something greater than the temple is here with them.

So how do vv. 3-6 answer the Pharisees? Note the parallels. The Pharisees assert that what the disciples do is “unlawful.” Jesus argues that, yes, it is lawful, because otherwise what David did is “unlawful” and what priests do on the Sabbath in fact profanes the Sabbath. Jesus’ argument is that what David did is not unlawful, and that the priests do not profane the Sabbath. Therefore, Jesus’ disciples eating the grain on the Sabbath is not unlawful.

A. Both of Jesus’ examples – David eating the Bread of Presence and the priests ostensibly profaning the Sabbath – relate to the Bread of Presence.

That David’s action relates to the Bread of Presence is obvious. But the Bread of Presence seems to be reserved for priests (Lev 24.9).

But what’s the connection of the Bread of Presence with the priests ostensibly profaning the Sabbath?

Recall that kindling a fire on the Sabbath is expressly forbidden by Mosaic law. Ex 35.2-3. But the law regarding the Bread of Presence required that the new loaves be “baked” and set out on the Sabbath (Lev 24.5, 8). Note that the new Bread of Presence placed before the Lord in 1 Sam 21 was “hot bread” (v. 6). I.e., it was fresh out of the oven, which meant that the priests must have kindled a fire on the Sabbath, which would technically violate Ex 35.2-3.

B. What is Jesus teaching us?

We’ll need to dip into the Old Testament, then come back to the NT with the answer.

Now it’s obvious that the priests are ordered to bake the bread, so it’s obvious that they’re not really profaning the Sabbath. But what about David and his mean eating the Bread of Presence? Isn’t that obviously a violation of the law?

First, that Jesus simply winks at the OT law is not an option. Mt 5.17-19 (Mt 15.3-9), Jn 5.45-47.

The “Bread of Presence” is bread that is shown and eaten before God’s presence in the tabernacle.

There is a clue regarding David and his men being qualified to eat the Bread of Presence in the curious exchange between David and the priest about whether his mean have had sex with women anytime recently.

Consider when Israel approached God’s presence in Ex 19.4-25, and ate in God’s presence, Ex 24.1-2, 9-10. (Consider esp., Ex 19.6, 15.) So Israel becomes consecrated (including the avoidance of sex), and then approaches God’s presence, and eats in God’s presence.

Consider also a military campaign – God is present with Israel. Dt 23.9-14. (Think also of the campaigns in 1 Samuel with Saul, the anointed one, and with the major judges in the book of Judges.) The camp is in God’s immediate presence – much like the priests are in the tabernacle.

C. Putting the OT lessons together for 1 Sam 21, and then for Mt 12.

David’s men eat at the invitation of the priest – i.e., the priest shares his bread with David’s men. That would be unlawful if David’s men were mere laymen at that time. But they aren’t. They were consecrated as in Ex 19.17, which suggests they were, at least temporarily, like priests (Ex 19.6). Further, they were a military-like camp, moving under the command of God’s anointed one. So they lived in his presence (Dt 23.10-14) and therefore were qualified to eat the Bread of Presence, and could eat it in a holy place without polluting the holy place (Lev 24.9).

In Matthew 12, Jesus says one greater than the temple is there – Jesus himself who is Yahweh incarnated. As the priests work and eat in God’s presence in the temple, so Jesus’ disciples may work and eat in God’s presence (i.e., in Jesus’ presence). So, too, Jesus’ disciples are a consecrated band of men, moving with God’s anointed, and among whom God moves among, as in Dt 23 and 1 Sam 21. Moving and dwelling in God’s presence, then, they may eat, as it were, the Bread of Presence in the form of the grain.

But Jesus’ explanation for why it was legitimate for them to do so wasn’t based on winking at the law of Moses, it was based on fulfilling it directly, based on Jesus being the incarnation of Yahweh, Israel’s Lord.

I suspect that it is Jesus’ implicit claim to be Israel’s Lord that provokes the Pharisees to respond by plotting his death (Mt 12.14), rather than the mere fact of his disciples disobeying the Sabbath law.