Saturday, May 29, 2010

Robin Hood (spoiler alert)

I took the family to Robin Hood on Friday. I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would -- and I mean that in just as backhanded a way as it sounds. To be sure, it is a perfectly adequate bit of summer fluff. I must confess, however, that quite a bit of my enjoyment derived from the many amusing anachronisms in the film.

My most favorite of these by a wide margin was the inclusion of a 12th-Century version of "Higgins boats" that the French king used in the movie to land his troops in his invasion of Britain. Of course, Higgins boats in the 12th Century were, appropriately enough, made of wood and rowed by oarsmen.

If you don't know what these craft were, Higgins boats are thoroughly modern inventions used to deploy troops in 20th century amphibious assaults. They were used widely throughout WWII, including, of course, in the Allied invasion of France on D-Day. (So the fact that the French were using these to invade Britain seven centuries earlier is all the more amusing.)

I just about fell out of my chair laughing when I saw the French invasion army landing in a flotilla of these in the movie.

And, of course, there were a lot of other anachronisms as well -- thoroughly modern political sensitivities and gender roles not being the least of these.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not at all a purist in these sorts of things in film. Still, for all the pretensions this movie ostensibly has to not being Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, at the end of the day Russell Crowe's Robin Hood is not one whit more serious than its earlier cousin. That's not a problem, however, if this movie is received as the piece of thoroughly enjoyable fluff that it is. The only difference is that Errol Flynn knew he was making a piece of thoroughly unserious fluff. I'm unsure that Russell Crowe is quite as self aware.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Texas Conference on Ex-Offenders Transitioning to the Outside

Prison Fellowship began a much-needed program to help ex-offenders transition successfully to the outside. They're hosting a conference in late June in San Antonio, Texas. The link to the web announcement is here. I don't know all that it will cover, but PF usually does a good job at these sorts of things.

Most of my experience with prison ministry has been with in-prison work. (I did sit on a board for several years that ran a half-way house for ex-offenders.) But if I came to one conclusion it was that the men needed a lot more assistance in making the transition to the "outside" than organizations or the government provided.

The difficulties that even strong Christian men face when making the transition to the outside are daunting: They are torn from the social support of their prison church, they face the need to find a means to support them (no mean feat for ex-cons), and they often face residual hostility from folks on the outside and rejection from by their families. In short, at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives, they have almost no social or financial support structures to draw on. It is incredibly difficult, and so it is little wonder that recidivism rates are as high as they are. It is not at all that criminal activity of any sort can or should be excused, but the current system is a tragedy for almost everyone involved.

The half-way house that I was involved with ultimately had to close -- it proved impossible to find full-time staff for the facility given the resources it had to draw upon. (I wasn't asked to come on board until after it had started and had run into difficulty. While I did what I could to sustain it, in my opinion the "business model" was fatally flawed at its inception.) I'm hoping that I can learn about successful transition programs to support financially and, potentially, to get involved with.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Liturgical Movement in the Revelation

The "movement" in Revelation follows Jesus' ascension, and the significance of that ascension. In the book we see, as it were, movement from the Holy Place to the Holiest of Holies.

At the beginning of Revelation, we see Jesus attired as the high priest, standing in the Holy Place -- the anterior room to the Holiest of Holies. We know this because of the presence of the seven lamp stands (Rev 1.12, cf., Ex 25.37). This is, as it were, where the normal course of daily religious business went on for the OT priesthood -- taking care of the lamps, changing out the show bread on the sabbath & etc.

But with Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension (in particular the ascension, the implications of which is the particular focus of the Revelation, Rev 1.7 w/ Dan 7.13), humanity once again gets to approach and dwell with God. We see this in the movement from the Holy Place in Rev 1 to the Holiest of Holies in Rev 21.

Before getting to the argument, however, recall that the significance of the ascension is not that the Second Person of the Godhead sits enthroned in heaven. God is always king over all. The significance of the ascension for redemptive history is that once again a human sits enthroned in God's very presence and over the earth. This is the position that Adam ceded to Satan by believing Satan's word rather than God's word. Jesus, the second Adam, takes back what the first Adam lost. (A lot of the book of Revelation is about this precise point.)

In the OT, God's special dwelling presence was localized in the Holiest of Holies, which was a cube-shaped room in the Temple (1 Kings 6.20).

When we get to the new Jerusalem in which there is no sun and moon because God's glory and the Lamb illumine it -- and where God dwells with his people -- we see here, too, that the shape of the city is shaped in a cube like a huge Holy of Holies(Rev 21.16).

So we see this overall movement, not only in Revelation, but throughout the Scriptures. The movement of humanity, as it were, is first exile from God's presence in the Garden in Genesis 3. This is illustrated in the almost total exclusion from the Holiest of Holies in the OT. (Even the high priest did not fellowship with God in the Holiest of Holies, but was still separated from God's presence/throne by the cherubim.)

Salvation history then is completed with the reestablishment of this relationship (albeit, in a glorified fashion) in the New Jerusalem in the greater Holiest of Holies.

We see this broad "movement" in Revelation itself, from the Holy Place in chs 1-3, "through" the door to the action in the Holiest of Holies in Rev 4.1. (The action here of course implicates what happens elsewhere in heaven and on earth, so the "action" is not thematically limited to the Holiest of Holies subsequent to Rev 4.) To the now eschatologically-finished Holiest of Holies, which is the New Jerusalem.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Gospel in the OT Alien & Sojourner Laws

So two posts below I quote several OT passages dealing with how Israelites were expected to treat aliens and sojourners.

These really are a remarkable set of laws, particularly for that time (or even for this time).

So a couple of observations.

First, modern Christians tend to treat the hospitality statutes as sort of second-order laws. They're not the ten commandments, they're not talking about lying or sex or murder. Conservative Christians tend to view their invocation with skepticism, because they're usually invoked by this-worldly liberals. (I guess my attitude is that if Balaam could be rebuked by his ass, then conservatives can be corrected by liberals, no matter what their intention.)

But I want to pick up on the centerpiece of the hospitality laws, because in point of fact, I think we scarcely see the gospel presented more clearly than in those laws.

Who is the alien and the sojourner before God? Fallen humanity is.

In Leviticus 25:23 God tells Israel, "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me."

Sinners are outcast before God. Yet like the prodigal son's father, rather than despising us, God has mercy on us.

Hence, the centrality of the hospitality laws in OT Israel: She was the alien in Egypt. God welcomed her into the holy land, even though they were also aliens before him. Israel was to show forth God's love by welcoming aliens as God had welcomed them. They could not reject the alien without rejecting the very basis by which they were welcomed into a relationship with God in the promised land.

To be sure, the U.S. is not OT Israel, and the OT laws are not binding on modern nations as they were on Israel. The hospitality laws are fulfilled first in the church. (And there's enough to convict us there -- given the social, economic, and racial stratification of most churches these days.)

Nonetheless, I cannot help but believe that whatever kind of claim a nation can have to being a "Christian" nation, that a significant part of that claim must be tied to how and whether it welcomes aliens into its midst.

The U.S. has been blessed richly by God -- so much that it boggles the mind. Most of these blessings have come upon the descendants of immigrants to the U.S. And now many Americans want to shut the door; they want keep God's blessing to ourselves and not share them. As the world thinks, we're scared that if we have to share our blessings that we'll lose them. So we seek to hold on ever the more tightly to what God has given us.

In doing so we do not understand the divine inversion -- that to keep the blessing we need to give it away. The open hand is never empty, but the closed hand loses what it grasps.

We need to work to open the borders, first, of our churches -- making sure that everyone, everyone, feels welcomed there. And, secondly, if the U.S. is to have any pretense to being a Christian nation, then our borders must be open as well.

Another Thought about Immigration

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Some Thoughts About Immigration

Leviticus 25:35
"Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you."

Leviticus 19:34
"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God."

Numbers 35:15
"These six cities shall be for refuge for the sons of Israel, and for the alien and for the sojourner among them . . ."

Deuteronomy 10:18-19
"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

Deuteronomy 14:29
"The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do."

Deuteronomy 23:7
"You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother; you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land."

Deuteronomy 24:20
"When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow."

Deuteronomy 24:21
"When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow."

Ezekiel 47:22
"You shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst And they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel."

Malachi 3:5
"'Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,' says the LORD of hosts."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Samuelson on "The Welfare State's Death Spiral"

Whether you want to celebrate it or lament it, demographic changes in Europe and the U.S. means that social insurance as we know it (a.k.a. "the welfare state") cannot be sustained at current levels. Robert Samuelson makes the argument here.

I'd add that globalization merely speeds to process -- it can neither solve nor prevent the problem.

There are two consequences to note.

First, the problem of "illegal immigration" will solve itself in 20 years or so. Maybe less. The U.S. is going to be begging for Mexican workers to immigrate to the U.S. in order to work here, and to pay the taxes necessary to sustain the aging Anglo population. This will prove increasingly difficult as Mexico continues its economic development -- soon enough, wages in Mexico will rival those in the U.S., thus deterring any incentive for Mexican workers to immigrate to the U.S. (whether legally or illegally).

Secondly, while globalization means wage supression in advanced industrial countries, it means increasing wages in developing countries. Knowing that doesn't necessarily make it easier for U.S. workers, but the fact is that average wages across the world increase as a result of globalization, even if they decrease (or don't rise as quickly) in the U.S.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Just too funny -- "Sunday's coming"

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

HT - Maison D'etre (a.k.a. "The Presbyteer")

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Not eating Unclean food is the puzzle

We often refer to the "Old Testament" when talking about Moses, as if the two were synomous. But that's not the case.

Take the question of eating "clean" and "unclean" foods "in the Old Testament."

Well, that distinction does not inhere in "the" Old Testament, rather, it is a Mosaic innovation.

After all, God tells Noah in Gn 9.3 that “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything."

Recall that there were "clean" and "unclean" animals for Noah (Gn 7.2), although these apparently do not map directly onto the Mosaic dietary laws, since "clean" animals for Noah apparently included all birds and animals that creep along the ground (Gn 7.3, 8).

So the puzzle isn't why the "Old Testament" restriction on eating certain foods lifted in the New Testament, the puzzle is why God placed the restrictions on Israel in the first place, after giving permission to humanity to eat every kind of animal. (See here for my answer.)

Getting the flow points to the exceptionalism of the Mosaic covenant, and points again to the overall teaching of the book of Hebrews, that the Mosaic covenant teaches its own contingency. I.e., it was the exception to the previous Biblical history, which then begs the asking of the question, why? And that's the fruitful question to ask the New Testament authors.