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I was born in the waning days of the Vietnam war so I missed the nightly news broadcasts, the footage of the fall of Saigon and all of the other cultural events that marked that era. I did however grow up in the aftermath and even though I was young I recall all too well the state of America when I was in elementary school, a nation reeling from the defeat in Vietnam, suffering under economic malaise under the Carter administration, impotent in the face of the Iran hostage crisis and under what we thought was the constant threat that the Soviets were going to nuke us at any moment. In the years since we have seen the Vietnam war being revised and retold to make it seem less of a military defeat and more a loss due to politicians undermining our brave and noble effort in Vietnam. In spite of this we still have the specter of Vietnam hanging over our national conscience. Iraq and Afghanistan both raised the question, is this the next Vietnam? Did we learn the lessons of Vietnam? Have we overcome at long last the demoralizing defeat in Vietnam that so stung a nation that had emerged relatively unscathed and triumphant from World War II as the undisputed leader of the free world?
Not everyone buys into the rehabilitation of the image of Vietnam. Nick Turse's book, Kill Anything That Moves, is an effort to dig through the massive data of reports and personal accounts with a singular focus. This book is an effort to show that the well publicized massacre of civilians known as the My Lai massacre where hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered by U.S. forces was not, as it is often portrayed, an outlier but instead the most visible symbol of a broader policy of intentional targeting of civilians by U.S. forces.
Kill Anything That Moves is a difficult read. Page after page of data painstakingly researched accounts lay out in grisly detail killings, rape, torture and economic devastation wrought on the Vietnamese people who were largely agrarian and just wanted to farm in peace and be left alone. Especially horrific are the stories of the weapons of Vietnam like napalm and white phosphorous rounds that killed in a terrible way and left horribly maimed many others "lucky" enough to survive. Equally disturbing are the witness recollections of the callous way that Vietnamese civilians were killed, raped or wounded without a second thought. It is not a book for light reading on a rainy day.
This book can come across as a slap in the face to U.S. servicemen in Vietnam. I don't know that Turse intended it to be that way as he takes great pains to show that the culture of targeting civilians or at least the complete disregard for civilian casualties came from higher up in the command hierarchy, a culture that took young men who months earlier were in high school, breaking them down psychologically and then rebuilding them to kill, dehumanizing the Vietnamese people as sub-human "gooks". I cannot imagine being taken from my hometown in Ohio as an 18 year old, being shipped around the world to Vietnam and then spending the next few years in constant fear of an enemy that you could rarely see, watching friends and members of your unit killed with no real way to retaliate. In light of that you can see how it would be easy to manipulate young men to seek after "body counts" and to convince them that every Vietnamese was a potential Viet Cong. That is not to excuse the callous actions of an unfortunately large number of American serviceman. The armed forces, in spite of efforts to paint them as an entirely noble group, are like any other large population. There are some great and noble members but also some absolutely depraved individuals who apparently found in Vietnam a legal outlet to engage in cruelty. I think most were in-between, just frightened young men who wanted to get home and were taught to obey orders without question.
What remains largely unsaid in this book is the "why" of Vietnam. That is a topic for other books I suppose. Why Vietnam? Who wanted us there and why did we stay so long? You can see the pattern developing of immense overkill, helicopters, jets, tanks, warships and even individual infantrymen with grenade launchers, M-60s and M-16s able to put out an incredible amount of firepower versus a borderline primitive enemy. We saw what that looked like when the enemy couldn't hide in the two Iraq wars, a technologically superior superpower steamrolling the entire combined armed forces of a sizable nation in a matter of days. In Vietnam that superiority mostly meant it was easier to inflict collateral damage on civilians rather than defeating the enemy in open battle. Still we poured an incredible amount of ordinance onto an enemy we couldn't even. As Turse reports: "'In all, the United States expended close to 30 billion pounds of munitions in Southeast Asia over the course of the war." (page 93) 30 billion pounds of munitions is a number so big as to be incomprehensible. Who benefited from this obviously ineffective style of warfare where munitions were expended at an unbelievable rate and the newest weapons of warfare were given a fertile testing ground? As always, follow the money and you often find your answer.
Kill Anything That Moves is not a book for everyone. It tells an uncomfortable tale with a clear agenda. Regardless of your opinion of Turse or his motivations this is a glimpse into an ugly event that has shaped American culture for decades since. For me it was unpleasant to read but a necessary one, one that helps me to understand the underlying motivations of those who benefited and profited from a horrific war.
Some time ago I read an interview with author Jonathan Last where he was talking about his latest book, a very troubling look at declining rates of child bearing, What To Expect When No One's Expecting. After reading the interview I was eager to check this book out and I was not disappointed.
Last's premise is a simple one but it runs contrary to virtually every doom and gloom Malthusian theory out there, theories telling us that the world is suffering from overpopulation. Last argues that just the opposite is true, that plummeting birth rates not just in the West but in the developing world as well spell serious trouble for our future as a species.
The math is pretty simple. People have a 100% mortality rate. Without exception. So when a couple dies and leaves behind less than two children (plus childless singles), the population shrinks. We see this right now in Europe and Last cites some startling statistics that show that some of the largest nations in Europe like Germany are headed for dramatically reduced populations in the next 50 years. This is especially problematic in cultures where the care of the elderly has been subcontracted to the state, a state that relies on a steady supply of young workers to support the older workers.
Another interesting observation Last makes is that at one time a large family was seen as a sign of success while now it is largely becoming the inverse where the more education and the higher your income, the correspondingly fewer children you tend to have. There are a lot of implications to that, some that can be dangerous if taken the wrong way (like the worldview of Planned "Parenthood" patron saint Margaret Sanger)
This book is not merely a veiled racial attack on minorities and immigrants because as Last point out they too are adopting at least this aspect of American life, having rapidly diminishing family sizes just like their Caucasian counterparts. Nor is it intended as a wagging finger in the face of families that struggle financially and see children as an expense. That mindset is deeply cultural and ingrained in our society. This book is simply looking at the numbers and seeing that our future is being lived out in Europe right before our eyes demographically, just as it is religiously and in many other ways.
On top of it all our economic system is broken and that has not helped. We are one of the few single income families I know and it is not an easy way to go. Our cultural norm has created an untenable situation where more and more families are two income and have fewer and fewer children which leads to an upside down demographic pyramid where more elderly people needing care are at the top being supported by fewer and fewer replacement workers.
While most of the information Last provided was quite useful and presented in an informative and often humorous fashion (given the gravity of the topic), his solutions presented at the seemed like more of an afterthought, mere tinkering, rather than substantive policies. Sure we need to have more flexible work arrangements and modify Social Security but what is really needed is a renewal of the social contract that has family at the center rather than government. Families need to be more than relative strangers who inhabit the same residence and become the generation spanning units that have held our social network together for centuries. The social breakdown of the family, the rise of single parent by choice households and the dual income couple, the seemingly endless increases in college costs and the simultaneous relatively diminished value of a four year degree, on and on, have led to a shattered social network and a soon to be bankrupted government. Last has done a service by pointing out the numbers and giving us some of the background that has led to this point but where we really need to focus is on the solutions and those will require more than mere tinkering around the margins. This is a book we need to be reading as a nation and taking a long, hard look at the reality being played out i Europe right now. We cannot serve as a nation and culture, and indeed we cannot survive as a species, if we stop having children but that is the very road we have gone pretty down already.
Let me state upfront that I read The Hobbit as well as Lord of the Rings (LOTR) when I was young and multiple times after my initial reading. I also just reread The Hobbit a few months ago while waiting for the DVD to come out. I own the extended versions of all three LOTR movies, saw all three movies in the theater (more than once on Fellowship of the Ring) and watch the DVDs fairly regularly. As a fantasy/sci-fi dork with children who love the same genre I should have been the perfect consumer of The Hobbit. I was leery about the movie based on the reviews and the lead up to the film so I actually decided to wait until the DVD came out. It came out yesterday (quite quickly I thought from a release date in mid-December) and our copy came from Amazon on the release date so after dinner we sat down as a family to watch.
Very disappointed. Like couldn't wait for it to get over disappointed.
I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey movie to be almost 3 hours of frustration. My kids mostly seemed to find it boring. Maybe I shouldn't have reread the book last month because the movie was only loosely based on it and every time the movie went astray it distracted me. I guess the comparisons were inevitable but they are valid and comparing the two trilogies is like comparing a high school play with a Broadway production.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a bold, risky production that was shot all at once before anyone knew if they would have commercial success and the result was one of the best adaptations of a beloved book that you will ever find. I left the theater after The Fellowship of the Ring bummed that I had to wait a year for The Two Towers. I couldn't wait for the movies to come out each December and bought the DVD sets as soon as I could. I can say that I have not only watched the movies over and over, I have also watched most if not all of the hours of special features.
The Hobbit has the feel of cheap exploitation; hey we made a ton of money on the LOTR movies so let's see if we can do the same thing with The Hobbit. I was quite concerned this would be the case after all the pre-production squabbling and then when it was announced that one book, The Hobbit, would be divided up into three movies while the much larger and more detailed LOTR trilogy was also done in three movies, I was definitely not excited. In many ways The Hobbit was just like so many other attempts to make a cheap buck by exploiting a beloved book. I enjoy the old cartoon version of The Hobbit more than what I watched last night.
There are so many places where the scenes just dragged on and either were clumsy attempts at linking the Hobbit to LOTR or ridiculous action sequences to spice up events from the book:
The backstory of the fall of the Lonely Mountain. The interminably long intro with Elijah Wood as Frodo. Every single scene involving Radagast was horrible, Radagast being turned into a failed attempt at comedy relief. The inexplicable gathering with Saruman and Galadriel in Rivendell. The random "pale orc" that was supposed to be Azog the Defiler was some of the worst CGI I have seen in a long time. The Great Goblin who looked like something from a kids cartoon rather than a fearsome beast. The escape scene from the clutches of the goblins that went on about ten times longer than necessary and included some just silly, over the top action scenes that were mediocre rehashes of the escape from Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring. The treeing of the dwarves by the goblins that devolved into a cheesy showdown between Thorin and the pale orc. Etc. Etc.
The whole thing was almost palpably painful. The few redeeming parts, like the riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum, we not nearly enough to make up for the clumsy, drawn out, "cheap thrill" nature of the rest of the movie. The dwarves looked ridiculous, the wargs were a downgrade from LOTR. I would prefer they start all over with a new film and cast new actors (other than Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Martin Freeman as Bilbo who was decent), better to wait five years for a decent film than to roll out parts 2 and 3 from a movie that was already too long in the first installment.
The next two films are still pending. I am hoping that the production team can fix whatever fiasco happened with the interminably long first movie. Perhaps Smaug will be impressive enough to make up for. Maybe the final battle will be more than CGI silliness. We will see. I know this for certain, unless the reviews are over the top positive for The Hobbit, Part Deux, we will again wait for the DVD and this time we will rent it from Redbox rather than buying it.
I don't use the word prophetic lightly. It is one that is so often misapplied from random kooks to shysters fleecing people to the leader of the mormon church. When it comes to Joel Salatin, I think it fits. He is someone who speaks out against prevailing culture in food and really against the culture that pervades every corner of our culture where no one is responsible for themselves, anything can be fixed by a new regulation and we blithely go around eating chemical compounds called "food" without a thought. I was first exposed to Joel the way a lot of people probably were in his cameo in the documentary Food Inc. Thanks to that movie I purchased one of his books and it was a great read from cover to cover (even though Kindle books don't really have covers)
Joel's book, Folks, This Ain't Normal is a labor of love by a man who is a voice crying out in the wilderness in our perverse culture where people live longer but live worse. As a farmer he chastises the farm industry. As a Christian he chastises fellow believers for our general uncaring attitude toward the environment. No one gets a free pass but none of his criticism is unwarranted and none of it is given in a vacuum.
Folks, This Ain't Normal is chock full of common sense (an uncommon virtue today) sprinkled with pretty savvy writing. Don't let the big glasses, suspenders and "aw shucks" mannerism fool you, Joel is a very bright guy and is not only bright but someone who sees through the garbage peddled to us by those who decide what is healthy for us in the belief that we are too dumb to think for ourselves. The basic message of the book is that as a culture we have completely lost control of our food supply in a historically unthinkable way. We all know people who think that meat magically appears on shrink wrapped foam platters in the store or that milk doesn't actually come from a cow. Joel is simply calling on people to get involved in one of the most basic functions of human life, namely eating. In a country with epidemic levels of diabetes, heart diseases, obesity and all other sorts of food related maladies, shouldn't we start wondering why we are living longer but living sicker? Joel looks at the ridiculous regulations, the growing threat of the armed food police, the efforts to monopolize food production, the historical reality of food production vs the modern industrialization of this most basic need. On and on, each chapter is valuable and engaging. Not one chapter had me yawning or wishing it would just end.
Although he goes to great lengths to encourage those who are just explaining that anything you can do helps, including a series of practical tips to put into place at the end of each chapter, you can feel overwhelmed. How can the average Joe who lives in a quarter of an acre in a suburb with association rules do anything to take control of his diet? I am not sure there is a solution to this but those who feel that way might try rereading the book and focusing on the places where Joel encourages the little steps that combined make a big difference. While I can see where some people might brush this off as pie in the sky utopian thinking, I found it to be absolutely reasonable. We might not all have a family farm large enough to sustain multiple generations but we all can do something to take control of our diet.
There are few books I recommend quite as unreservedly as this one. I am sure a lot of people don't like this message, many who would agree with me on most issues but who, thanks to the unquestioning allegiance to corporatism in what passes for conservatism in America, see a guy like Joel as a rabble-rouser and dangerous. Nevertheless there is a critical need for people to think seriously about issues of liberty and if the government can tell you what you can or cannot eat, there is really no limit to its power. The place I have arrived in my thinking on issues of liberty and freedom mesh quite nicely with the message of Folks, This Ain't Normal and we are already taking some of the steps outlined in this book. Are we even 5% of the way there? Not at all but each day we get closer as we raise our own hogs for meat, chickens for eggs and a cow for milk, as we plant a sizable garden and as we try to eliminate the worst offenders in our diet. We have a long way to go but Folks, This Ain't Normal has been an important wake up call for me and one that a lot of people need to hear. Get this book, read it and prepare to be challenged!
There is hardly a more cutting indictment of a man than to say he is weak. Being weak in our culture implies someone who cannot function as a man is supposed to function and likewise suggests an infirmity or femininity on his part. So for many men, especially Western men, the idea of weakness is abhorrent. How much more so when you are told that weakness is actually a source of strength? This apparent clash between the culture of our day and the Scriptures is one of the most perplexing for many people. In reaction we sometimes see one of two extremes, either an feminized church culture that is all kleenex and doilies and lillies or an overly masculinized church culture of belching, monster trucks and mixed martial arts. Neither captures what the Bible is talking about when speaking of weakness.
It is only when we study what the Bible, in particular the apostle Paul, has to say about weakness that we discover what it means to the follower of Christ. Into this study comes the revised edition of Dr. David Alan Black's work Paul, Apostle of Weakness. This is an important entry into the study of Paul's writing on a critical topic for conversation in the church.
A word of warning at the outset. This is not an easy book to read. Unlike many of Dr. Black's other, more accessible books aimed at a broader audience like The Jesus Paradigm, Paul, Apostle of Weakness (PAoW for short) is a meatier book studying a very specific concept and a particular word. As such it often had me bogged down as someone without formal training in the original languages. I would not hesitate to say that the casual reader would have a very difficult time reading PAoW. I know that in many places I did! That is not meant to scare you off, just give you a realistic view.
Dr. Black explores the use of the word astheneia in Paul's writings. We often run into the idea of "weakness" in the New Testament but likewise we often see it as part of a broader topic. What Dr. Black does is to pull together each of the different uses of astheneia and show the overarching themes that Paul is drawing from. The passages are familiar but when pulled together in this way they take on a new life and we see that weakness was not a passing complaint from Paul but a central reality of his daily living.
Perhaps the best part of the book is the concluding chapter where Dr. Black draws together everything he has written into a summary. I found it very helpful in making a broad application of how weakness plays into our understanding of the human condition, the preeminence of God's power and the often frustrating inter-relationships in the church. I have more thoughts on that topic, you can be certain!
All in all, a very challenging book both because of the counter-cultural nature of the topic as well as the more complex than average writing level but it is also a worthwhile use of your time. Weakness as a submission to God is not being a weakling but rather a discovery of the source of our truest strength, reliance on God who is all sufficient. Check out Paul, Apostle of Weakness to aid your study of this never ending fountain of true strength!
We have been looking forward to watching Farmageddon for some time. Thanks to a couple of hiccups with Netflix streaming it just became available on Friday. We wasted no time in sitting down after dinner to watch. What we observed was not news to us but when you hear mothers talk of the terror of having an armed agent pointing a gun at her with children in the house or the frustration of a farmer that is having their livelihood destroyed by bureaucrats, it brings home the reality of what is going on in our food system.
So much of our food comes from a bag or a box or a can or a cellophane wrapper. Little of what we eat is recognizable as actual food and is far removed from the farm. Sure it fills you up and sustains life but looking around at a growing population of people that are living longer but living less healthy lives is of major concern. The same government that seeks to take over "health care" in this country and regulate farmers who raise actual food at the same time coddles and subsidizes the production of unhealthy foods. The two major crops in this country, taking up enormous amounts of acreage, are field corn and soybeans. Guess what, you can't eat either of them! That is a little known fact. If you go into a nearby corn field or soybean field and try to eat what is growing there you probably will get ill. Our agricultural industry is focused on growing an inedible crop, crops that require a great deal of processing to turn them into something we can use or they are fed to livestock as unnatural feedstuffs that serve to pack fat onto animals at an incredible pace.
In this landscape there is another troubling development that has gone unnoticed for a long time but is finally getting the attention it deserves. This development is the intrusive action of the Federal regulatory bureaucracy, an unaccountable and increasingly militarized group, spending untold millions and ruining lives to prevent small scale agriculture from marketing their products to consenting and informed consumers. Into this war being fought across the country virtually unseen by the average America comes Farmageddon, a documentary look at just a few of the lives ruined and families terrorized by bureaucrats. When homes are broken into and businesses assaulted by agents pointing guns at law abiding, unarmed citizens for the "crime" of selling raw milk, something is very wrong. That a law enforcement agent should ever unholster his firearm, much less point it at an unarmed citizen who poses no threat, makes a mockery of our system of justice. We the people provide these men with firearms not for the purpose of terrorizing citizens or to make them feel like Rambo but to protect the people of the United States. Any agent of the government who pulls his gun and points it at an unarmed, cooperative citizen should lose his gun and his badge and face charges for menacing and assault.
As this film unfolds, we watch over and over again as the government of a country where hunger is a very real problem and obesity and other dietary related illnesses are growing into epidemic proportions sends armed officers to trash food supplies, force citizens to pour milk on the ground and seize the livelihood of farmers. While massive food conglomerates can sell unhealthy chemical compounds to consumers and call it "food" with the blessing of the government, small farmers are persecuted for selling actual food to consumers who make a conscious choice to pay more for a more natural product. I don't support the food police telling Wal-Mart that they can't sell Doritos and Mountain Dew but likewise I don't support the suppression of food producers filling a niche but growing market because it is seen as a threat by the mass produced food industry.
One of the things that stood out and was really cool was the diversity on the farms they showed. None of the this homogenization where a "farm" only has one species and one breed of livestock. The farmers in Farmageddon milked Holstein, Brown Swiss, Jersey and Guernsey cows, raised a variety of cattle and sheep and had a wonderful mix of poultry. One of the things we love about where we live among the Amish is the diversity and activity on their farms. While our neighbor has a huge hog operation you would never know if it weren't for the smell because you never see the animals. They live their lives in confinement from birth to death, hybrids designed to produce a uniform product as efficiently as possible. The problem with that system is that an awful lot of our food is dependent on a pretty narrow spectrum of crops and livestock. If anything happened to those handful of products we would be in trouble. That doesn't stop the extreme homogenization where farms rotate a few crops or one species of livestock. On the other hand many Amish and other small scale farms are teeming with chickens, horses of course, cows, sheep, bees, goats and on and on. When we drive around there is always so much going on in tune with the rhythms of the seasons. Ironically and sadly the Amish in our area tend to consume a ton of junk food from Wal-Mart as well.
Films like this and the proliferation of blogs and other alternate news sources has brought to light the sort of unaccountable soft tyranny that has become the hallmark of the Federal government. As seen in books like Rand Paul's Government Bullies, these sorts of acts of authoritarian overreach happen all the time. An unelected, unaccountable government bully decides to make an example of a farmer or a land owner or a businessman and then proceed to bring the full weight of the government backed up by badges and gun. They have no disincentive to stop and an ego driven incentive to "make an example" of those who don't cower before a piece of paper waved by an employee of the FDA. I would encourage you to check this film out and show it to your friends. It may not seem like a big deal if you buy your food at the supermarket but if the government can run a small farmer out of business and seize their property
At long last I have finished the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas, a book with a title as clunky and overly wordy as the text within: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Profit, Spy.
At the outset it is important to distinguish that this is a review of a book, not so much a review of the actual man Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, while not a "hero" and perhaps not even a martyr, was a fascinating if flawed man, a tantalizing "what if" figure. What if he had survived World War II? What if the plot had succeeded in killing Hitler? What if he had stayed in America instead of returning to Germany? I am not sure that I know him better now than before but as I will note later much of what I gleaned about Bonhoeffer comes in spite of the book rather than because of it.
While the flaws in this book are plentiful, perhaps a shocking statement given how generally well received it has been in the church and even the broader literary community, there are some positives to be had.
One of the most fascinating parts of this biography had to do not with Dietrich but with the church, a church that was so entangled with her identity as the "German church" that many times it found itself on the wrong side of history, caught up with her German identity that consumed and overshadowed her identity and mission in Christ. What a profound warning for the church in America, a church that likewise has been for many years overly associated with the secular nation we find ourselves in. I am afraid that the lesson of the entanglement of the church in Germany is by and large lost on the church in America.
Something else I found fascinating was the conflict between the man that Bonhoeffer was on a path to be and the way his life ended up. It is interesting that God used a man who came from such a comfy life, a life that seemed destined for a comfortable existence in academia, in such a way. Little did the young Dietrich Bonhoeffer know that his aristocratic lifestyle in German high society would be shattered by the fevered dreams of a madman and that his life would end ignominiously at the end of a Nazi noose just days before he could be rescued. Throughout his story his semi-aristocratic upbringing comes through, occasionally in an unconsciously arrogant way. How many examples like this do we see throughout history of God using the most unlikely of men in the most unlikely of ways?
Unfortunately there are few other bright spots in the popular Metaxas biography, a book that often was more chore than pleasure to read, not because the writing was difficult or overly academic but because the writing itself was a distraction from the story.
One of the biggest negatives in Bonhoeffer is Eric's writing style. Every now and again the reader is allowed to glimpse the complex man that Bonhoeffer was but often that is in spite of the author who seemed bent on forcing his own interpretation onto the story rather than letting the reader discover the story on his own. I found the narrative difficult to follow thanks to repeated attempts to editorialize, making this book in places more about Eric Metaxas than Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Throughout the biography Metaxas tends to be excessively wordy, especially when trying to use as many cartoonish adjectives to describe the Nazis as possible, preferably in the same sentence. Here are some of the myriad examples...
- The RSHA was led by the waxy lamprey Reinhard Heydrich
- contorted calisthenics of sycophancy
- Heydrich, the piscine ghoul,
- the albino stoat
..and on and on. The Nazis were bad guys. We get it.
Trying too hard to cram "big words" into your narrative just makes for clumsy reading and is a sign of someone insecure about his intellect. Let the story be the focus, especially in a biography, not how many terms from your "word of the day" desk top calendar you can squeeze into a paragraph. It seems forced and contrived which really diminishes the reader's ability to focus on the story.
Another issue is an unabashed hero worship of Bonhoeffer. In places Bonhoeffer seems less like a biography and more like a teen-aged girl's diary. Dietrich is so smart, so cultured, so wise, so mature. Did I mention smart? Over and over again Metaxas glosses over or ignores Bonhoeffer's potential flaws using a mixture of angry rhetoric and sketchy theology. Dietrich lied and deceived repeatedly? Well he was mature enough to not worry about sin in pursuit of following God! For a man who is clearly complex, Bonhoeffer reads like a cartoonish story of a superhero, a man who's only flaw was just being so darned awesome.
The biggest flaw is the uncritical way Eric treats Dietrich Bonhoeffer's participation in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. I would hope that a lot of thought and angst went into the decision but Eric skips mostly over that, perhaps assuming that any sane person would seek to assassinate Hitler. One moment we have Bonhoeffer struggling with his decision to go back to America and the next he is knee deep in a plot to kill Hitler and depose the Nazis. What happened? I would be far more interested in reading about that transition than endless anecdotes of Bonhoeffer's idyllic youth in a wealthy, privileged family. We are left with the assumption that Bonhoeffer was not only justified but being a faithful follower of the Prince of Peace who plotted, lied and participated in a plot to murder.
I don't see it that way. Rather I see Bonhoeffer's participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime as the greatest failing in an otherwise generally laudable life. That doesn't sit well with most people, even Christians. Hitler is the ultimate exception to the rule. How could anyone not approve of trying to stop a mass murderer? This is where the skilled biographer should bring out the details, let us see what Bonhoeffer was thinking and how he worked it out theologically. If Bonhoeffer was justified in plotting to kill Hitler because he was responsible for atrocities, would an American Christian be justified in plotting to assassinate the President and working to overthrow the government of the United States because the Federal government not only legalized but subsidizes the practice of abortion? Such hard questions are left by the side of the road in the march of canonization for Bonhoeffer. My point is not to stir up a Romans 13 argument re: Bonhoeffer but to point out that the big questions are left unanswered amidst the hero worship.
I came away from this biography feeling not renewed or encouraged but equal parts disappointed and exhausted. Finishing the book felt like a chore to be accomplished, not an achievement to be enjoyed. From his inexplicable decision to seek to murder Hitler to his relationship with the certainly immature and perhaps mentally unhinged Maria to his German nationalistic pride which seemed to be as much as driver of Bonhoeffer as his concern for the Jews, the picture I took away from Bonhoeffer was not the flattering portrait Metaxas tried so hard to paint but rather a more realistic picture of a man with great ideas that never came together cohesively in spite of and not because of the book. Had Dietrich lived to a ripe old age what might he have thought of his efforts to kill Hitler? We will of course never know and unfortunately Bonhoeffer doesn't help us in that task. As much as I looked forward to reading this book I came away glad to be done with it and eager to move on to something more worthwhile to read. Someday soon I hope to read a better biography of Bonhoeffer that perhaps will do more justice to this brother in Christ.
I received Senator Rand Paul's new book, Government Bullies, yesterday and read the whole thing today while, ironically enough, travelling all day and being greeted by the friendly neighborhood government agents of the TSA, those stalwart folks making travel not at all safer and immeasurably more unpleasant for all Americans. Senator Paul is on the list for potential candidates for President in 2016 if Romney loses in this election and this book is obviously his opening salvo.
First, the negatives. Senator Paul tends to be pretty repetitive in many places. I felt as though I was reading the same thing over and over in places and in a few I am sure I read the same thing more than once. The editing is not great. Most annoying Senator Paul spends a lot of time referencing the various legislation that he has put forth. After all he is a politician and he clearly has aspirations beyond the Senate seat from Kentucky. All in all this is not a great work of literature but it really isn't intended to be.
The gist of Government Bullies is a recounting of a litany of simply outrageous abuses of government power by unelected and unaccountable government bureaucrats, many armed to the teeth with guns and all armed with the nearly limitless power to make life miserable for average citizens for any or no reason at all. Each successive event that he records is more egregious than the last. A co-worker travelling with me couldn't even finish one chapter before he became so upset that he had to put the book down.
From groping airline passengers who have given no indication of being a threat to arresting and imprisoning citizens for moving dirt on their own property to early morning armed raids on Amish famers for selling milk, Government Bullies paints a picture of a government out of control. Certainly the examples he gives are the most extreme but the fact is that I read this book while traveling today and was required to remove my belt, my suit coat and my shoes before the TSA would permit me to fly on the plan that I had purchased a rather expensive ticket to fly on, a transaction between me and a corporation. We have our own cow that produces milk but that milk is viewed as a dangerous substance that can lead to my arrest if I sell it, as if milk is analogous to meth.
Government Bullies is like a repetitive punch in the stomach and a rude awakening for those of us with an overly nostalgic view of America as the land of the free. As Senator Paul is careful to point out, things are better in America than they are elsewhere around the world but we have strayed far indeed from the vision of the Founding Fathers and the principles that this land was supposed to be founded on.
If you can read this sort of stuff and not be outraged, you aren't really paying attention. In the name of "security" Americans have been trading liberty and freedom for a false promise for decades and the pace of this surrender is accelerating. From economics to "the war on terror" to knee jerk reactions to any event, we have as a people been far too willing and eager to turn over more and more of our lives to our benevolent overlords in Washington D.C. A chip off the old block and following in his father's distinguished footsteps, Rand Paul is a voice demanding that we stop the madness before it is too late. Of course it might already be too late.
Keith Giles released his latest e-book, War Is Not Christian, fittingly on Memorial Day. I downloaded it and read it over the last few days and it is a brief but interesting exploration of a topic that doesn't get nearly enough attention in the church.
I have to admit it wasn't what I expected but that is probably because I didn't pay attention to the description. War Is Not Christian is a series of shorter writings that generally tie together on the topic of non-violence. I was expecting a more comprehensive, cohesive book but that doesn't diminish that what Keith wrote is thought-provoking and more than a little unsettling.
Some chapters didn't seem to fit. I wasn't 100% sure why they were included in the book. In other places I had to question where Keith was going. On more than one occasion Keith references Gandhi, once saying that he has a "basic faith in Christ" and that he was "not a Christian per se" but that he read the Sermon on the Mount every day. I get concerned when someone who by all accounts denied the divinity of Christ is given a pass because they followed some of the moral teachings of Jesus. I don't care if Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every hour of every day, denying the divinity of Christ reduces Him to a mere moral teacher. A great one for sure but not the King of Kings and not the Lamb of God.
Having expressed a few concerns I will say that most of this collection of essays is well worth the reading. Even where I disagreed I was challenged to think anew about some of the questions that Keith raised that I have settled in my mind. While I would not use Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as paragons of Christian non-violence, I think Keith raises the right questions and that is enough in this day and age when violence, military glorification and redemptive violence are cheerfully accepted among the church.
This is a quick read and quite inexpensive at $1.99. While it is not in any way a comprehensive look at Christian non-resistance, it was not intended to be and it serves as a good launching point (for a more comprehensive look at this topic check out Guy Hershberger's War, Peace and Nonresistance). If you are looking for a good introdouction to this crucial topic, check out War Is Not Christian.
In response to Rob Bell's tragically popular book Love Wins, Francis Chan wrote Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up and it is both a timely and critical treatment of a crucial topic. The topic of the reality of a literal hell is one that is divisive and also one we cannot get wrong. I don't think anyone is going to spend eternity in hell for getting baptism wrong since half of the church (or more!) is wrong on that issue but if we miss on this issue we run the risk of missing the calling of the church and that has eternal consequences.
Chan's Erasing Hell is often emotional and gut wrenching but while it is highly accessible for even the novice student of the Bible, it is also very thorough in a short book and intellectually deep. This is not a difficult book to read from a reading comprehension standpoint but the material is tough. Like Francis I have looked around at crowds in airports and on trains and been struck with the reality that many, if not most, of them are outside of Christ and bound for a very real hell. Pretending that it all just works out in the end might be comforting but it is a huge disservice to those who have eternity outside of Christ as their current trajectory.
Chan doesn't, and really can't, do a deep study of every single passage but he does look at all of the major text that deal with hell and ties them all together well. I especially appreciated his inclusion of Romans 9 in the discussion, a chapter that makes people squirm and when coupled with the doctrine of an eternal hell Paul's words in this chapter make people upset. Combining God's sovereign election in salvation with an eternal hell seems so...unfair...to us but it is not really our place to question God on this (or anything else)
As Chan points out many times, the issue is not whether or not we want to believe in a literal hell but will we? There is nothing more asinine than someone who says "I can't believe in a God like that". We don't have a pantheon of gods to choose from, there is one God and we can either believe what He says or deny Him. The issue is whether or not God has decreed an eternal hell and if we believe Him when He reveals that truth to us. I think Chan makes a great case from Scripture that hell is indeed real and that the various iterations of "Christian Universalism" are untenable from Scripture when you look at the Bible as a whole and look at the alleged supporting proof-texts for universalism in context. The question then becomes what do we do with this revelation. Do we pout and impotently stomp our feet because of our perception of God being "unfair" or do we redouble our efforts to take the Gospel to the lost, acting as God's ambassadors to declare the very real penalty for sin but the glorious provision for salvation in Jesus Christ?
This was not a pleasurable read because the topic is so very weighty and the reality of hell is overwhelming but it is a necessary topic for the church to get a handle on. I recommend Erasing Hell for anyone who needs a good introduction to this topic and especially for those who have run into the oxymoronic "Christian Universalism" and are looking for a cogent response based in the Bible.