Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 214

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The Revolt of the Feminist Law Profs (Wesley Yang, Chronicle of Higher Education): “The sex bureaucracy, in other words, pivoted from punishing sexual violence to imposing a normative vision of ideal sex, to which students are held administratively accountable.” This is a very good piece.
  2. Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders (George Brahm, Cogent Christianity: “I’ve been saying for 20 years (and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word.”
  3. Jeffrey Epstein and When to Take Conspiracies Seriously (Ross Douthat, New York Times): “Most conspiracy theories are false. But often some of the things they’re trying to explain are real.” Refreshing sanity.
  4. Deportation of a Chaldean Christian to Iraq, and where he died, gets some decent coverage (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “The more you look into this story, the more disturbing it gets. Mindy Belz, reporting for World, wrote that a third country had offered to take Aldaoud but that U.S. immigration authorities refused. Putting him on a plane to Najaf was an intentional twist of cruelty. Apparently, it was not an accident that he was sent there instead of Baghdad.”
  5. The Last Days of John Allen Chau (Alex Perry, Outside Magazine): “.…to those who know the tribes best, John’s mission did not spell the end of the Sentinelese. To them, he represented a possible means of survival.“ Chi Alpha makes an appearance in this article. Related links back in volumes 179 and 180.
  6. Jeff Bezos is quietly letting his charities do something radical — whatever they want (Theodore Schleifer, Vox Recode): “Giving $100 million to nonprofits based on little provided information and then letting them run with it sounds, on its face, like a recipe for disaster. It conjures the image of fat‐and‐happy charity leaders milking extravagant salaries from others’ generosity, or profligate spending on extraneous overhead — or even outright fraud…. Well, here’s the surprise: Multiple experts told Recode this strategy actually makes a lot of sense. They think philanthropies should give nonprofits substantially more leeway.”
    1. Related(ish): Missional Misconception #1 (Support Figures) (Seth Callahan, personal blog): “If the [Post Office] were a non‐profit, faith‐based organization, with all of their employees being responsible to cover their own operating costs… then each employee would need to have a monthly support level of $11,837.69. That figure does not represent what your mailman gets PAID, mind you. It is how much it COSTS for your mailman to perform the services that are required of him: transportation and storage of goods, packing supplies, vehicle maintenance, healthcare, retirement, social security…etc. His take‐home pay (what he lives off of) is a small percentage of those operating costs.”
  7. The Religious Hunger of the Radical Right (Tara Isabella Burton, New York Times): “Unlike Islamist jihadists, the online communities of incels, white supremacists and anti‐Semitic conspiracy theorists make no metaphysical truth claims, do not focus on God and offer no promise of an afterlife or reward. But they fulfill the functions that sociologists generally attribute to a religion: They give their members a meaningful account of why the world is the way it is.” 

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Planet of Cops (Freddie de Boer, personal blog): “The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7…. I don’t know how people can simultaneously talk about prison abolition and restoring the idea of forgiveness to literal criminal justice and at the same time turn the entire social world into a kangaroo court system.” First shared in volume 161.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Celebration of Discipline: Service

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

This week we come to the discipline of service — the habit of “quietly and unpretentiously… caring for the needs of others.” (page 130).

This is a solid chapter and full of insights.

“Of all the classical Spiritual Disciplines, service is the most conducive to the growth of humility. When we set out on a consciously chosen course of action that accents the good of others and is, for the most part, a hidden work, a deep change occurs in our spirits.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 130

As I sometimes remark, “God’s plan A for your life is humility. Plan B is humiliation. Choose wisely.” Pursuing humility through service is countercultural at an ambitious place like Stanford, and so we need to constantly remind ourselves of the model of our Lord. Jesus showed us that leaders are examples and not exceptions. A position of leadership does not exempt us from service — it gives us an opportunity to serve more people.

How can we tell if we are using a position as a platform for service? Robert Greenleaf, who was an executive at AT&T, wrote

“The best test [of your servant leadership], and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

Robert Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader

The passage I found most helpful, though, is Foster’s insight on the difference between serving and being a servant:

“When we choose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. And if we are in charge, we will worry a great deal about anyone stepping on us, that is, taking charge over us. But when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. There is great freedom in this. If we voluntarily choose to be taken advantage of, then we cannot be manipulated. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 132

Years ago someone told me that one of the truest tests of your servanthood is how you react when you are treated like a servant. It stuck with me, probably because I had recently felt the sting of being taken for granted. I had been treated like a servant and it bothered me, which meant that I did not yet see myself as a servant. In Philippians 2:7 we are taught that Jesus took “the very nature of a servant” (NIV). I came to see that if my goal was to have the very nature of a servant, then being treated like a servant was actually a marker of success.

What prevents this from becoming destructive is recognizing that although we are servants we are not serving the whims of people. Colossians 3:23–24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” He gets at the same idea in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. ”

In other words, our ultimate service is to the Lord. This limits the way we serve any specific person. I must not serve others in a way that undermines my ability to fulfill God’s purposes in my life.

  • I will help you move but not on my son’s birthday. I owe service to you but I also owe service to my son, and I owe him greater priority in service than I do to you. God has made me my son’s father and so my obligations in that regard will sometimes trump my obligations to serve you.
  • You don’t need to give your friend a ride to the airport when you are supposed to be taking an exam. Christ brought you to Stanford and you need to honor that part of His call upon your life.
  • And seeing yourself as servant doesn’t imply that you should only apply for minimum wage service jobs. If God is calling you to become a professor or an entrepreneur or a doctor or whatever, pursue that wholeheartedly and do what you need to do to prepare for that — and serve people at every step along the way.

Applying this principle requires wisdom, because if you are sufficiently clever you can justify forgoing almost any act of service or expression of humility. That’s really the clue, though. If you’re constantly seeking a way to avoid serving then you don’t have the heart of a servant, so stop rationalizing and start serving. If your heart, however, does not first say “must I?” but “can I?” when you see an opportunity to serve, then you are in little danger of using this principle to indulge your selfishness.

Next week we come to the corporate disciplines — the way that we live life together in the Kingdom.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 213

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Several articles related to the mass shootings:
  2. Conservative Christians have a porn problem, studies show, but not the one you think (Jana Riess, Religion News Service): “Drawing on numerous studies, Perry finds that, despite the statistical finding that conservative Christians are less likely to use porn, the perception within evangelical churches is that this has become an enormous problem for the faithful.”
  3. What Ails the Right Isn’t (Just) Racism (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic): “Put another way, the right is correct that crying wolf matters. And the left is correct that The Boy Who Cried Wolf ends with a wolf feasting on folks who concluded that they shouldn’t worry about wolves because one kid fibbed.” I found this far more interesting than the title led me to anticipate.
  4. Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “I worry the movement against billionaire charity is on track to damage charity a whole lot more than it damages billionaires.” This is a very interesting essay, and he has a follow‐up, Highlights From The Comments on Billionaire Philanthropy, which thoughtfully responds to criticisms. Highly recommended.
  5. How (and Why) to KISSASS (Kevin Mims, Quillette): “…if you’re not a member of the professional class, the key to getting your personal essays published in prominent publications is KISSASS—Keep It Short, Sad, And Simple, Stupid.” This is a follow‐up to an article I shared previously and I found it fascinating.
  6. Carol Swain Worked to Hold Politicians Accountable. Then She Felt God Call Her to Run. (David Roach, Christianity Today): “For Swain, change has been a recurring theme in her life. She went from low‐income single mother to Ivy League academic, from Democrat to Republican media commentator, and from Jehovah’s Witness turned non‐churchgoer to committed follower of Christ.” What a fascinating lady.
  7. Why I’m Not A Liberal (Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review): “Because liberalism is based on individual rights, it naturally favors the individual asserting his rights against traditional social subjects, whether they be the community, the family, or even his own marriage. If a classically liberal system has no effect on the values of society, it is an astonishing coincidence that wherever liberal political arrangements emerge, a new liberal understanding of marriage eventually replaces the previous Christian understandings as the legal and social reality.” This essay covers a lot of ground.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Dissolving the Fermi Paradox (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “Imagine we knew God flipped a coin. If it came up heads, He made 10 billion alien civilization. If it came up tails, He made none besides Earth. Using our one parameter Drake Equation, we determine that on average there should be 5 billion alien civilizations. Since we see zero, that’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? No. In this case the mean is meaningless. It’s not at all surprising that we see zero alien civilizations, it just means the coin must have landed tails. SDO say that relying on the Drake Equation is the same kind of error.”  First shared in volume 159.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Celebration of Discipline: Submission

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

I’m doubling up this week because I missed last week’s summary due to my travels. With this update we should be back on track.

This week, we examine the discipline of submission, which entails the rejection of the lust for power and even the presumption of autonomy.

“Submission is an ethical theme that runs the gamut of the New Testament. It is a posture obligatory upon all Christians: men as well as women, fathers as well as children, masters as well as slaves. We are commanded to live a life of submission because Jesus lived a life of submission, not because we are in a particular place or station in life. Self‐denial is a posture fitting for all those who follow the crucified Lord…. the one and only compelling reason for submission is the example of Jesus.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline page 117

Our culture celebrates the autonomous individual, and concepts such as “self‐actualization” and “self‐fulfillment” are pervasive. Our society’s main attitude toward the self is to indulge it, but Scripture’s main attitude toward the self is to deny it. The habit of submission denies self in a powerful way, and so two of the main opportunities we have to deny self are to submit to God and to submit to legitimate human authorities.

Submitting ourselves to God means obeying His Word, especially when we are puzzled by His commands. There is a very real sense in which we are not submitting until we disagree (or at least don’t understand). When we do what God says because it makes sense to us, it is not God we are obeying but ourselves. Meditating on Romans 12 might prove helpful as you think about this.

Submitting ourselves to legitimate human authorities means that we honor governmental leaders even when we disagree with them. Disagreeing with our political leaders is not uncommon; in fact, I cannot imagine a California voter who is simultaneously thrilled with both governor Gavin Newsome and president Donald Trump. Nonetheless, we honor and pray for both. Not only do we honor and pray for them, we also obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority. Likewise, we honor spiritual authorities such as pastors and obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority. We also honor our parents and obey them when they are acting within their sphere of authority.

I keep repeating “when they are acting within their sphere of authority” because keeping that in mind is what protects us from abusive and toxic situations. Every human authority has limits placed upon them, and when they step outside of their realm they should not be obeyed. Tyrannical governments, cultish religions, controlling workplaces, toxic family systems — wise Christians flee from or stand against these things.

Spend time thinking Biblically about the proper spheres of human authority — it will bear great fruit in your life. Sometimes, like in Acts 5:27–29, the point is made very clear — the government has no right to forbid you to obey God (I’m looking at you, China). But other times the lesson is an implication of the text rather than its main point. For example, Acts 5:3–4 presupposes that Peter would have had no right to command Ananais to sell his property or to give all of the proceeds to the church. That illustrates an important limit on spiritual authority. These are just two examples from one chapter of Scripture — I encourage you to keep the concept of spheres of authority in the back of your mind as you read Scripture. You’ll find insights in unexpected places.

Celebration of Discipline: Solitude & Preface

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

In this chapter, Foster invites us to the spiritual discipline of solitude: periods of physical isolation which make us into people who are content regardless of the judgments of others. It is closely related to remaining silent.

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

“One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust. The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pages 100–101

There are related comments in the chapter on study:

“If we will observe the relationships that go on between human beings, we will receive a graduate‐level education. Watch, for example, how much of our speech is aimed at justifying our actions. We find it almost impossible to act and allow the act to speak for itself. No, we must explain it, justify it, demonstrate the rightness of it. Why do we feel this compulsion to set the record straight? Because of pride and fear, because our reputations are at stake!”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 74

When I was in college someone asked what percentage of my words were devoted to influencing how others thought about me. The question gripped me, and so I tried to keep track for a few days. Every time I said something I asked myself whether or not I had said it mostly to make other people think better of me. The results were shocking — it was a HUGE percentage of my conversations. I resolved to strike anything from my speech whose primary purpose was either to impress others or to correct a possible misinterpretation of my motives.

In retrospect, I often went too far and made things awkward for everyone else. Pursuing solitude and silence is not an excuse for being rude. We are commanded to love God and people, so if your spiritual practices make you act in less loving ways then you’re doing them wrong. You will likely make mistakes as you experiment in this area. Don’t beat yourself up over them, just apologize and recalibrate as necessary. If you resolve not to speak for a day and someone asks you for directions, give them anyway. If you decide to spend the next Saturday in solitude and an elderly neighbor asks you to help them move some stuff, reschedule your solitude. If you want to avoid justifying yourself but someone asks you a point‐blank question about your motives, answer honestly and simply.

Also, don’t make your plans in this area vows to the Lord. Vows to God are potent things and should be made rarely, yet I often speak with students who have made a promise to God to do (or not do) something. In almost all cases the vow was an unnecessary add‐on meant to give their plan more oomph, and now they are in danger of breaking a vow to God. If you are considering making a vow, first meditate on Ecclesiastes 5:4–6, Deuteronomy 23:21–23, Matthew 5:33–37, and James 5:12.

My personal practice of solitude currently looks like this. When I wake in the morning I come downstairs and put my phone where I cannot easily get to it. I prepare my breakfast and begin reading a spiritually beneficial book. After a bit (usually a few chapters), I boot up my laptop, open a word processor, and write something that will be helpful to others. I don’t check my email or any social media while I’m doing this. Once I’ve written enough, I retrieve my phone to check for any text messages that may have come in overnight and also open my browser to check my email.

My habit is similar to the thirty‐minute abstention from technology Foster describes in the preface. His prescription reminds me of an old‐school saying: “No Bible, no breakfast.” In other words, we must remember to nourish our spiritual life before we nourish our physical life. Perhaps a modern parallel is “No Spirit, no screens.” Don’t check your email until you’ve checked in with God. Leave your text messages unread until you’ve read the Word. This is not an absolute rule, for there are seasons of life when it might be unwise or even wicked to cut yourself off from communication. Are you a surgeon on call? Turn your ringer up to max volume!

If you do engage in a daily practice of solitude you will eventually find yourself wanting something more. Remember that you can always drive over to Fasting Prayer Mountain of the World for a personal day‐long (or even overnight) retreat. More info at https://www.fpmw-sv.com/about-us

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 212

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Tourist Journalism Versus the Working Class (Kevin Mims, Quillette): “To university‐educated media professionals like Carole Cadwalladr, James Bloodworth, and John Oliver, an Amazon warehouse must seem like the Black Hole of Calcutta. But I’ve done low‐paying manual labor for most of my working life, and rarely have I appreciated a job as much as my role as an Amazon associate.” I learned many things from this article.
  2. Sixteen and Evangelical (Laura Turner, Slate): “A world without God wouldn’t make sense to me. But it now makes sense to many of my friends. I finally understand that we never had a shared faith structure. We went to the same church, some of us for years. We heard the same sermons, slept in the same cabins at camp, read the same books of the Bible, listened to the same music. But we went home to different families.” The author is John & Nancy Ortberg’s daughter.
  3. Stanford University Reportedly Bans All Martial Arts Groups Without Warning Over Email (Jin Hyun, NextShark): “According to Choi, the university’s justification behind the shutdown can be summarized in four points: ‘the groups like to unofficially practice during dead week, they recruit professional, internationally renowned coaches to run their practices, they compete and regularly win national championships without University help, they participate heavily in the local community by teaching students, alumni, and community members.’”
    • Stanford often seems conflicted about whether its undergrads are future leaders to be empowered or liabilities to be micromanaged.
  4. As administrators walk back ‘insufficient’ response, police reveal noose may have been on campus since March (Elena Shao and Daniel Martinez‐Krams, Stanford Daily): “The new information comes amid criticism of University administrators’ response to the incident, and one day after they held a solidarity rally and town hall. A self‐care event is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon.” There have been a lot of articles about this — but this once grabbed me with the tidbit in the headline. SINCE MARCH?
  5. On Court Prophets and Wilderness Prophets  (Timothy Dalrymple, Christianity Today): “Whether you view Trump as a David or an Antipas, whether you serve at the court of the resplendent king or stand over against the court from the wilderness, one thing Nathan and John the Baptist held in common was that both were willing to condemn unrighteousness in their rulers—even if it cost them everything.”
    • Also political: The Democratic Party Is Actually Three Parties (Thomas Edsall, New York Times): “What the data demonstrates is that the group containing the largest proportion of minority voters is the most skeptical of some of the most progressive policies embraced by Democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.” Perhaps the most interesting part of this op‐ed is when he talks about the unintended consequences of favoring small donors over large donors.
  6. In Hong Kong Protests, Faces Become Weapons (Paul Mozur, New York Times): “The police officers wrestled with Colin Cheung in an unmarked car. They needed his face. They grabbed his jaw to force his head in front of his iPhone. They slapped his face. They shouted, ‘Wake up!’ They pried open his eyes. It all failed: Mr. Cheung had disabled his phone’s facial‐recognition login with a quick button mash as soon as they grabbed him.”
  7. Canada’s bizarre trans‐waxing controversy (Brendan O’Neill, Spiked): “Yaniv says if the case is lost then a dangerous precedent will be set for trans people. In truth, the real danger is if Yaniv wins the case, because that would set a precedent whereby the law could require that women must touch penises or risk losing their jobs. It would be profoundly misogynistic.” The language in this piece is vulgar at times but in my estimation not recklessly so. Rod Dreher sums things up pithily with the headline: From ‘Bake My Cake’ to ‘Wax My Testicles’ (The American Conservative)
    • Related: Liberals’ astonishingly radical shift on gender (Damon Linker, The Week): “Slaves everywhere presumably know that they are unfree, even if they accept the legitimacy of the system and the master that keeps them enslaved. But what is this bondage we couldn’t even begin to perceive in 2009 that in under a decade has become a burden so onerous that it produces a demand for the overturning of well‐settled rules and assumptions, some of which (‘the gender binary’) go all the way back to the earliest origins of human civilization?”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Are Satanists of the MS‐13 gang an under‐covered story on the religion beat? (Julia Duin, GetReligion): this is a fascinating bit of news commentary. My favorite bit: “How does one get out of MS‐13? An opinion piece in the New York Times this past April gives a surprising response: Go to a Pentecostal church.” Highly recommended. First shared in volume 158.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Celebration of Discipline: Simplicity

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

I’m traveling right now and don’t have a lot of time to write up my thoughts on this chapter, so I’ll simply say that while I like this Foster’s thoughts on simplicity this chapter reminds me of how quickly he wrote the book. His thoughts are unfortunately jumbled at times, especially when it comes to economics. He has a good advice for individuals, but he seems to confuse wise individual choices with wise social structures. That aside, there’s a lot of solid advice in this chapter about living a simple life.

Foster doesn’t define simplicity clearly, but he mostly seems to mean being content, being generous and being suspicious of indulgence. I’m actually surprised he didn’t make generosity one of his twelve central spiritual disciplines. Generosity with a side of simplicity seems more faithful to the Biblical witness than simplicity with a side of generosity. Regardless, he made the focus simplicity (perhaps so he can bring in comments about simplicity in speech on pages 93–94).

If I had to pick one quote that stood out to me, it would be this one:

“The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order…. Focus upon the kingdom produces the inward reality, and without the inward reality we will degenerate into legalistic trivia. Nothing else can be central. The desire to get out of the rat race cannot be central, the redistribution of the world’s wealth cannot be central, the concern for ecology cannot be central…. The person who does not seek the kingdom first does not seek it at all.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pages 86–87.

There are many people who pursue a simple lifestyle for other reasons. Godly simplicity isn’t primarily about reducing your carbon footprint or engaging in effective altruism. The simplicity we pursue is rooted in our uncomplicated devotion to God.

One last comment and a bit of a tangent: “It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick” (page 80). Silicon Valley in general and Stanford in particular have very unhealthy tendencies, and to the extent we feel fully at home here we reveal unhealthiness in ourselves. In this regard I often reflect on 2 Peter 2:7–8, “Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).” If we are never distressed at Stanford then we are not paying sufficient attention to God, to Stanford, or to both.

Anyway, I hope you are challenged by this week’s reading! Remember that next week we are reading both the chapter on solitude as well as the preface.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 211

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. American journalists have duty to report on tragedies in countries like Sudan. (Isaha Sesay, USA Today): “If the suffering of these girls and their parents is not enough to make us pay attention to what has happened in Chibok, there is something else to consider: the threat to global security. The fate of these girls is in many ways a reflection of the Nigerian federal government’s longstanding inability to maintain peace and stability in the northeast of the country. Americans should see the disappearance of the Chibok girls as a flare, illuminating the existence of an ‘ungoverned space’ that is fertile ground for a powerful terrorist group.”
  2. Facebook and Google track what porn you’re watching, even when you’re in incognito (Isobel Asher Hamilton, Business Insider): “Researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 22,484 pornography sites using a site called webXray to identify tracking tools feeding data back to third parties. ‘Our results indicate tracking is endemic on pornography websites: 93% of pages leak user data to a third‐party,’ the study concludes.”
    • Numbers 32:23 comes to mind: “be sure that your sin will find you out.”
    • An unexpected consequence of porn: Streaming online pornography produces as much CO2 as Belgium (Michael Le Page, NewScientist): “The transmission and viewing of online videos generates 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or nearly 1 per cent of global emissions. On‐demand video services such as Netflix account for a third of this, with online pornographic videos generating another third.”
  3. An Epidemic of Disbelief (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Atlantic): “Historically, investigators had assumed that someone who assaults a stranger by the railroad tracks is nothing like the man who assaults his co‐worker or his girlfriend. But it turns out that the space between acquaintance rape and stranger rape is not a wall, but a plaza. When Cleveland investigators uploaded the DNA from the acquaintance‐rape kits, they were surprised by how often the results also matched DNA from unsolved stranger rapes. The task force identified dozens of mystery rapists this way.” Infuriating and highly recommended. 
  4. Oil‐patch evangelicals: How Christianity and crude fueled the rise of the American right (Darren Dochuk, Washington Post): “In the face of the Rockefellers’ progressive way, Texan oilers championed a theology of personal encounter with scripture and an active Higher Being. They heralded church autonomy and gospel teachings about prosperity and end times, a message that anticipated the violent disruptions of the oil age and the need to save souls and reap God’s — and the earth’s — riches before the world’s end.” The author is a history professor at Notre Dame and describes an aspect of modern evangelical history I had not heard before.
    • An interview with the above author: Anointed with Oil: Evangelicals and the Petroleum Industry (Thomas Kidd, The Gospel Coalition): “Oil historians may be surprised to hear it, but in some instances oil’s corporate structures evolved directly out of the theological commitments of its leaders.” The first piece felt a little hostile to me, whereas this one did not at all. 
  5. Stanford opposes bill that would let college athletes in California profit from endorsements (Ian Park, Stanford Daily): “The NCAA earns more than $1 billion in annual revenue from broadcasting rights and championships. In return, student‐athletes receive little to no compensation, other than scholarships. According to a study by Drexel University and the National College Players Association, scholarships aren’t enough for many student‐athletes, as surveyed athletes had to pay colleges scholarship shortfalls of as much as $17,000.”
    • In other and completely unrelated local news: SF does not have the highest rents in the Bay Area (Adam Brinklow, Curbed): “Menlo Park, home of Facebook, has the highest rents in the region, averaging $4,638 per month. Palo Alto also beat out SF with a startling $3,857 per month price tag.” 
    • Elsewhere in the article we learn that Redwood City rents average $1,956. I love Menlo Park, but there’s no way it is twice as nice as Redwood City. Sheesh!
  6. Trump vs. Dems: ‘Racist,’ ‘socialist’ lines drawn for 2020 (Lisa Mascaro, AP News): “With tweets and a vote, President Donald Trump and House Democrats established the sharp and emotionally raw contours of the 2020 election campaigns. In the process, they have created a fraught political frame: ‘racists’ vs. ‘socialists.’”
    • What Pelosi Versus the Squad Really Means (David Brooks, New York Times): “Liberalism arose out of the fact that political revolutions, while exciting at the outset, usually end up in brutality, dictatorship and blood. Working within the system is best. People who came of age in the past few decades did not grow up in an atmosphere of assumed liberalism. They often grew up in an atmosphere that critiques it.”
    • ‘It Makes Us Want to Support Him More’ (Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic): “A few conceded that Trump occasionally fires off an inappropriate tweet, but said his accomplishments in office overshadow any offense. If anything, they said, his language springs from an authenticity they find refreshing. None of the people I spoke with considered his comments about the congresswomen racist.”
    • People Who Have Screamed ‘Racism’ For Decades Wonder Why No One Is Listening To Them About Trump (Babylon Bee): this would normally go down in the amusing section because the headline is from a satire site, but this is one of those times where the Bee’s insight is relevant: “‘I mean, we compared John McCain to George Wallace,’ stated Democrat Maggie Wilkins, ‘and I’m not sure who to compare Trump to in order to show he’s an even more worser racist.’ Activists are considering coming up with other words to express that Trump is a worse kind of racist. They considered ‘white supremacist,’ but they’ve been using that a lot lately, so it would only mean to most people that Trump is as bad as the Betsy Ross flag. So they tried to invent a new term — double plus racist — to express how extra racist Trump is, but then remembered they already used that on Mitt Romney.”
  7. 5 Reasons to Disentangle Sexuality and Race (Rebecca McLaughlin, The Gospel Coalition): “Christian sexual ethics were as shocking to their original first‐century Greco‐Roman context as they are today. If Christians are to learn from history, the lesson must be this: hold fast to Scripture’s radical demands, whether the cultural tide is coming in or out. You won’t know which side of history you’re on until the last day.” Disclaimer: I know the author and have collaborated with her on events at Stanford.

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have When Children Say They’re Trans (Jesse Singal, The Atlantic): “ …to deny the possibility of a connection between social influences and gender‐identity exploration among adolescents would require ignoring a lot of what we know about the developing teenage brain—which is more susceptible to peer influence, more impulsive, and less adept at weighing long‐term outcomes and consequences than fully developed adult brains—as well as individual stories like Delta’s.” This is a long and balanced piece which has garnered outrage in some online circles. First shared in volume 157.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.

Celebration of Discipline: Study & Foreword

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer‐reading‐project‐2019. The schedule is online.

book cover - Celebration Of Discipline

“Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free. ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting ‘high on Jesus’ will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 63

This week we come to the discipline of study. Foster’s definition of study is a little wordy and hand‐wavy for me. I think what he’s getting at is this: study is thinking deeply about something until we understand it and its significance. When done well, it changes the way we think in the future.

Here are some suggestions:

  • While you are young, read a few “how to think” books. If you are fortunate, these will be assigned in some of your classes. If they are not, they are worth seeking out on your own. Don’t assume that just because you got into Stanford and are getting decent grades that you’re all set in this area. How To Read A Book by Adler is solid gold, as is anything by Richard Mitchell (aka The Underground Grammarian). Start with Less Than Words Can Say (legally available online). I think my favorite thing of his is “The Land of We All” from The Gift of Fire. I remember finding Stanovich’s How To Think Straight About Psychology helpful when I was in college, as I did Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies.
  • Resolve to read books by dead people. C. S. Lewis’s introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation explains why well: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.” His introduction is available many places online and I highly recommend it‐ https://www.bhmc.org.uk/uploads/9/1/7/7/91773502/lewis-incarnation-intro.pdf
  • Really do make it your goal to pass an ideological Turing test on every major issue: be able to articulate any position you reject so clearly that a well‐informed observer would think you really believe it. You cannot meaningfully say “I agree” or “I disagree” until you can say “I understand.”
  • If you follow current events, an excellent practice is to write down what you think the outcomes of a certain policy or decision are likely to be. Then go back a few months later and compare your predictions with reality. You’ll learn a lot about your blind spots and assumptions. Also write down what you would do if you were in charge and what you think would likely happen. This is more uncertain, but you will start to notice ways that reality surprises you and would have affected your plans. The key in either case is writing it down — don’t trust your memory. Written words have an outrageous stubbornness that does not permit you to believe you thought something different than you actually did.

Some tips for studying the Bible in particular:

  • Foster recommends picking a book of the Bible and reading it every day for a month. This isn’t as daunting as it may seem. The average person reads about 250 words per minute and the book of Ephesians has a little under 2,500 words. Depending on your reading speed, you can go from beginning to end in 10 minutes.
  • No time to sit down and read? Consider an audio Bible. The first audiences of the Bible heard it orally, and so you’re just following in their footsteps.
  • Get a simple one‐volume Bible commentary to help you with the challenging parts. You can find an excellent set of suggestions at Best Bible Commentaries.
  • If you wind up going into ministry, invest in a more substantive set of commentaries. Commentaries can be quite expensive, so first get a one‐volume overview and then build on it over time.
    • Here’s what I do: whenever I start a new sermon series, I get two or three new commentaries to help me prepare. I go to bestcommentaries.com and choose from among the highest‐rated ones labeled P or D. So if I needed a commentary on 1 Corinthians, I would go to https://www.bestcommentaries.com/1-corinthians/ and buy either Fee or Garland or both. It’s easier to do this when you’re preaching through books of the Bible (a series on James, for example). If you’re doing topical stuff then think about what one of your main passages will be and buy a commentary for that book of the Bible. Over time you’ll build a very solid library that way.
    • Avoid buying entire commentary sets; even the best series are uneven. It’s wiser to buy the best few commentaries for each book of the Bible.
  • Supplement your purchased commentaries with the amazing (and free) set of notes compiled by Dallas Seminary professor Thomas Constable. Download the PDF versions to your hard drive and you’ll even have access to them when you’re on a retreat or a mission trip somewhere.

I suspect Stanford students have a harder time with the discipline of study than with almost any of the others, because studying for grades becomes so consuming. I frequently talk with students who lament their inability to read the books they want to read. It’s important to remember that Foster believes all study can be spiritually beneficial — even studying for grades. If nothing else, you’re developing skills in this season that will serve you well for the rest of your life.

Also, bear in mind that you can often choose to focus your studies in a class in a way that will be spiritually beneficial. Taking a class on democracy? Use it as an opportunity to engage with Woodberry’s work on the religious roots of democratic governance. Taking a class on African‐American history in the 1900’s? Read about the black church. Studying the philosophy of science? Read what Christians have said about it. Skim our resource The Gospel and Green Library to find suggested books on a wide range of topics.

And if you know you’re going to struggle during the school year, take advantage of the summer to do some serious spiritual reading beyond the summer reading project!

A few notes on the foreword:

Skipping back many pages to the foreword… I really like what Foster says here. I had us save it until now because his thoughts seem linked to the idea of study to me — the foreword is an extended reflection on the nature of the spiritual disciplines. I will close with a few comments on this excerpt:

It is critical for us to understand that the Spiritual Disciplines possess no moral rectitude or righteousness in and of themselves. They are, most definitely, not “works righteousness,” as is sometimes said. They place us–body, mind, and spirit–before God. That is all. The results of this process are all of God, all of grace. Now, the opposite of grace is “works.” Works has to do with earning, and there simply is nothing we can ever do to earn God’s approval. Or God’s love.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pages xiv‐xv

As Dallas Willard once said, grace is opposed to earning not effort. 2 Peter 1:3–8 charts out the relationship between grace and effort nicely: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life… for this very reason make every effort to add to your faith goodness…”

His grace provides all that we need, therefore we should strive with all of our might. He gives us the platform upon which to stand, therefore we must stand to our full height.

Next week we move from the inner to the outer disciplines as we discuss living with simplicity. Get ready!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 210

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

It’s good to be back after last week’s hiatus.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. AI Trained on Old Scientific Papers Makes Discoveries Humans Missed (Madeleine Gregory, Motherboard): “In a study published in Nature on July 3, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used an algorithm called Word2Vec sift through scientific papers for connections humans had missed. Their algorithm then spit out predictions for possible thermoelectric materials, which convert heat to energy and are used in many heating and cooling applications.”
  2. Can Christian Compassion Influence How We Treat Migrants? (Alan Cross, The Bulwark): “Compassion is not inherited, either in individuals nor in nations. It must be cultivated and that cultivation often happens in trial when we are tested. America is being tested right now. How will we respond to the migrants coming to us desperate for help and refuge? How will we respond to the sight of Oscar and Valeria drowning and being found face down on the banks of Rio Grande in each other’s arms?”
    • Related: In the ‘battle at the border,’ evangelical leaders jostle for Trump‐era media relevancy (Julia Duin, GetReligion): “Unless you’ve been under a rock recently, you know much of the country is fixated on the mess at our border. What’s not as visible is how evangelical Christians are fighting among themselves over all of this.”
    • And yet: Republicans turn more negative toward refugees as number admitted to U.S. plummets (Hannah Hartig, Pew Research): “By more than two‐to‐one (68% to 25%), white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. Other religious groups are more likely to say the U.S. does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants: 65% say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while just 31% say it does not.”
  3. Manly wedding rings for tough guys who are dudes (Dan Brooks, The Outline): “I don’t hunt, but I briefly considered buying a camouflage ring, partly to signal my deep commitment to irony and partly to get better service at the auto parts store.” I really enjoyed this essay, and I hope that many of you have need of wedding bands in the not‐too‐distant future.
  4. Evangelical Christians Face A Deepening Crisis (Peter Wehner, The Atlantic): “Coppock mentioned to me the powerful example of St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, who was willing to rebuke the Roman Emperor Theodosius for the latter’s role in massacring civilians as punishment for the murder of one of his generals. Ambrose refused to allow the Church to become a political prop, despite concerns that doing so might endanger him. Ambrose spoke truth to power. (Theodosius ended up seeking penance, and Ambrose went on to teach, convert, and baptize St. Augustine.) Proximity to power is fine for Christians, Coppock told me, but only so long as it does not corrupt their moral sense, only so long as they don’t allow their faith to become politically weaponized. Yet that is precisely what’s happening today.”
    • Recommended by an alumnus. I wish that the American church was more visibly dismayed at some of Trump’s obvious sins. I remind people of all political inclinations that you can support someone’s overall agenda and still rebuke them for acts of wickedness. In fact, being willing to do so makes your support more meaningful. So vote for whoever you want, and hold the leaders you support to a high standard.
  5. Taiwan’s Status is a Geopolitical Absurdity (Chris Horton, The Atlantic): “’Taiwan’s government is democratically elected—we have a president, we have a parliament,’ Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said plaintively at a briefing for foreign media earlier this year. At the time, his government was trying to be included in the World Health Assembly. (It was ultimately blocked by China.) ‘We issue visas, we issue passports,’ he said, practically pleading. ‘We have a military and a currency … Taiwan exists by itself; Taiwan is not a part of any other country.’”
  6. Robespierre’s America (Bret Stephens, New York Times): “The data confirm what one hears and experiences anecdotally all the time: In the proverbial land of the free, people live in mortal fear of a moral faux pas. Opinions that were considered reasonable and normal a few years ago are increasingly delivered in whispers. Professors fear their students. Publishers drop books at the slightest whiff of social‐media controversy.”
  7. Gay Rites Are Civil Rites (Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex): “‘Civil religion’ is a surprising place for social justice to end up. Gay pride started at Stonewall as a giant ****-you to civil society. Homeless people, addicts, and sex workers told the police where they could shove their respectable values. But there was another major world religion that started with beggars, lepers, and prostitutes, wasn’t there? One that told the Pharisees where to shove their respectable values.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have a compelling series of articles on China by a history professor at Johns Hopkins (who also happens to be a Stanford grad): China’s Master Plan: A Global Military Threat, China’s Master Plan: Exporting an Ideology, China’s Master Plan: A Worldwide Web of Institutions and China’s Master Plan: How The West Can Fight Back (Hal Brand, Bloomberg). The money quote from the second article: “If the U.S. has long sought to make the world safe for democracy, China’s leaders crave a world that is safe for authoritarianism.” First shared in volume 156.

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it). And to the extent you can discern my opinions, please understand that they are my own and not necessarily those of Chi Alpha or any other organization I may be perceived to represent. Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it. If this was forwarded to you and you want to receive future emails, sign up here. You can also view the archives.