Monday, May 25, 2015

Where’s Daniel?


One of the best known stories of the book of Daniel (and indeed the entire Bible) doesn’t include the character of Daniel. In his account of the story in Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, John Lennox doesn’t speculate where Daniel might have been, but he offers enough insights to at least suggest an answer.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a 90-foot-tall golden statue of himself built, and he expects the leaders of Babylon to set and tone and worship the statue.

By this time, Daniel and his three friends – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – have moved into significant government positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s government. Like the other leaders, they’re expected to bow the knee to the statue.

For whatever reason, Daniel does not say where he was. There’s not a single reference to him in the story, except that he had asked Nebuchadnezzar to appoint his three friends as administrators over the province of Babylon, which the king had done, overwhelmed by Daniel’s interpretation of his dream.

The story focuses on the three friends. They refuse to worship the statue. Given a second chance, they refuse again. They tell the king that their fate – incineration in the fiery furnace – is in the hands of God. They acknowledge that God may choose to save them or He may not, but regardless of what God chooses, they would not serve Babylon’s gods or worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

Enraged, the king orders the furnace heated seven times hotter than the usual experience. It’s so hot that the men preparing to fling Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flames are themselves incinerated.

Nebuchadnezzar comes to watch. And he and the others see four men walking inside the furnace – the three friends and one who strikes the onlookers as almost supernatural, “like the son of the gods.” Some theologians see the fourth figure as an angel; others see him as the pre-incarnate Christ. Whoever it was, it was clearly someone whose purpose was to be with the three men and, perhaps, to send a message to Nebuchadnezzar.

The result: the three friends come out of the fire, completely unaffected physically by the experience. Nebuchadnezzar praises their God, and he praises their courage and faith. And then he decrees that no one can say anything against their God.

So where was Daniel?

The text doesn’t say. I offer an answer: Daniel was right there all along. The story reads like an eyewitness account. I suggest that Nebuchadnezzar refrained from throwing him into the furnace, even though he, too, would refuse to worship the statue. But Daniel’s position as such that even the king would have hesitated to order his death; after all, this was the man who had not only interpreted the king’s dream but told the king what he dream was in the first place. Sending Daniel’s three friends into the furnace could also have been the king’s threat to Daniel – bow the knee, or you could suffer the same fate.

The account of the fiery furnace suggests a larger question as well, and not the obvious “What would you have done in their place?” No, the question is, what do we do if our own government requires – if not overt worship – obedience to the point that it clearly is idolatry?

I don’t think this is a question of “if” but of “when.”


For the past several weeks, I've been discussing Against the Flow. This post is based on chapter 11, "when the state Becomes God." 


Painting of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 by Philip Prescott Parham.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The prophets


After Romans 8:18-25

I listened to the prophets
before they were killed,
their words groaning,
plaintive cries of what
I knew was love, ultimately,
the groaning at the coldness.
the ignorance, the ignoring
of the obvious and so
they were called to speak,
to cry out the words given,
knowing they would be hated
but they spoke the words,
the groans, because they knew
no other course except
to obey.


Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

“Have You Ever Lied for Your Company?”


I’ve spent 40 years in organizational communications, mostly in the corporate world. I’ve been on the firing line more times than I want to remember – product crises, environmental crises, public controversies involving the company, and more. I worked for slightly less than year for an urban school district forced into massive change during a full-blown financial crisis and became the most familiar face on local television during that time.

Once, perhaps more than once, I was asked a question by an acquaintance that caught me up short, because I had never been asked it before.

“Have you ever lied for your company?”

I thought a moment, looked at the person asking the question, and answered.

“No. Not once.”

He was surprised. That’s what public relations people are supposed to do, right – lie on a regular basis? Or “mis-speak,” to use the more common word today.

I understand the question. I have seen PR people lie. I’ve also seen just about every other kind of professional and worker lie as well.

But with PR, it’s expected. PR carries a bias for the organization, or bias for the client.

And I will say this: the questioner actually asked the wrong question. The question he should have asked was: “Have you ever been asked, or told, to lie for your company?”

He would have gotten a very different answer. Actually, he would have received four different answers.

First, being directly and knowingly asked to tell a lie is exceedingly rare. It might have been more common in the days before tape recorders, listening devices, and email, but no one says “I need you to lie to the newspaper about this one.” It can happen, but it’s not at all common.

But things quickly get more interesting, more “gray.”

It is possible to speak the truth and lie at the same time – but omitting a key fact or number or situation or perspective. Most of what passes for “spin” – positive or negative – falls into this category, emphasizing one perspective while hoping no one asks about the other. This isn’t limited to business and the private sector, by the way; many others commonly do this. The list  includes politicians, social and environmental activists, lobbyists, attorneys arguing court cases, and teachers trying to explain why they don’t teach penmanship any more but that sensitivity training module for 8-year-olds was wonderful. Newspaper editorial writers are often especially prone to this.

Spin is not something done only by PR people.

The third form of lying is how you say something. You use enough high-sounding words to make a statement seem substantive but really say very little. You emphasize a particular word or phrase, directing attention away, such as “We would never consider doing something that dastardly” (meaning, “No, but we might have done something slightly less dastardly”). What may the most common form of lying in America today – the non-apology: “If I offended anyone with my statement, I’m sorry.” That little word “if” changes the entire meaning.

And finally there’s the old standby, “No comment.” In some cases, organizations truly can’t comment for valid legal reasons – like when an executive gets fired after losing an internal political battle, or a merger or acquisition is pending and what you say will be scrutinized to death by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Publicly traded companies have to be particularly careful.

But much of the time, “no comment” means you don’t want to talk about it because it’s embarrassing and the accusation is actually correct, or a response might get you sued, or answering the question will only drag you into a deeper quagmire.

So, have I successfully avoided lying in all of these contexts? The answer is yes.

In most cases, candid discussion will set things right. People often don’t realize that omitting something or a particular phrasing can be misleading or untruthful, and they will work to make it right.

But it’s made for some difficult work situations. If you regularly raise objections to a planned statement or course of action for valid reasons, you will not be seen as a team player. There can be and often is a cost to your career, your salary, your bonus and your position.

But if you take your faith seriously, and if your faith accompanies you into the office, cubicle or shop floor, that’s what you do.



This week, The High Calling has been having a community linkup on the theme of “Clear Conscience.” To see what others are saying, please visit The High Calling and check the links.

Saturday Good Reads


It was a dark week. Writer Ann Voskamp issued (wept may be a better word) a plea for the young girls who have come under ISIS’s control in Iraq, and the Christian community responded. Meanwhile, Washington military and Administration officials kept saying the American strategy for ISIS was still working in the Middle East, while ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and Iraq looks like it’s on the verge of a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.

Still, there are good things happening in our world. Writers like John Bloom at Desiring God are helping us to understand that our ministry is our vocation. David Rupert recognizes the fundamental importance of the trials we experience. Maureen Doallas writes a beautiful poem, and Seth Haines writes a poem to his sons.

ISIS and Iraq




Why Boko Haram and ISIS Target Women – Christianity Today.

We Must Not Do Nothing – Jon Bloom at Desiring God.

Faith

In the Marrow of Depression and Anxiety – Tania Runyan at Image Journal.


Christian, Your Job is a Ministry Job – Jon Bloom at Desiring God.

Some Thoughts on Vocation – Lanier Ivester at The Rabbit Room.

Bent and Tender – Winn Collier.

The Evangelical Advantage – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

Religious Freedom is Our Most Dangerous Idol – Matt Appling at The Church of No People.

Don’t Waste Your Trial: 6 Truths That Can Change Your Life – David Rupert at Outside the City Gate.

Laughing at the Fire – Sandra Heska King.

Poetry

The World’s Problem – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

To My Sons #2 – Seth Haines.

Passing Through – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Sometimes Loving God is Hard – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Writing

Write to Stay Connected – Mick Silva.

While My Pen Gently Weeps – Vic Sizemore at Image Journal.

Work


Photography and Art

Spring Showers – Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.

Artist Watch: Kay Juricek – Maureen Doallas at Escape into Life.

People

The Science Behind Why Introverts Struggle to Speak – Jenn Granneman at Introvert, Dear.


Why Men are Retweeted More than Women – Jessica Bennett at The Atlantic.


Photograph of the Roman ruins at Palmyra by Arian Wegers via Wikipedia Commons; sourced via Flickr

Friday, May 22, 2015

Jill Case Brown’s “Safe”


Bank (short for Bancroft) Jonsson is your rather typical high school sophomore. He’s tall – six foot four – and but not coordinated (or interested) enough to play basketball. He’s interested in girls but tends to get clumsy around them. He’s just gotten his driver’s license. And his best friend has just moved from their small Oklahoma town to Minnesota, and Bank is feeling the separation.

Oh, and his mother, Meredith, has distributed (or dissociative) identify disorder, meaning her body is occupied by numerous personalities. If you’ve seen the 1957 movie The Three Faces of Eve with Joanne Woodward or the 1976 movie Sybil with Sally Fields,  you’ll know what DID is. It’s a difficult disorder, not the least of which for the fact a cure is not known. Patients can be cured, but there’s no set path for that to happen.

Bank, a normal teenager living not quite the normal teenager’s life.  He’s become rather expert at identifying which personality has emerged at any given time. He also recognizes that new student at his high school has DID.

Jill Case Brown’s young adult novel Safe is the story of Bank, his family, and his friends. Brown tells a fine story, a story that respects both its teenage characters and the teenagers who will read it. I stayed wrapped up with the book almost start to finish; it was that difficult to put down.

What happens is that none of Bank’s friends really understand what DID is, and that leads to a succession of events that are life-threatening. Bank becomes the target of misunderstanding and meanness by one of his former friends. And his schoolmates turn against him.

Brown catches the scene and substance of life in a high school just right, with all of the emotional highs and lows (often at the same time), hopes, dreams and fears common to any high school experience.

For Bank, though, the experience is anything but common. Brown gets the reader inside his head, and inside his heart.

Safe is simply a wonderful story.


Illustration: "Dissociative identity disorder" by 04Mukti. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mike Duran’s “Christian Horror”


Christian publishing is uncomfortable with certain fiction genres, what’s generally called “speculative” but includes science fiction, paranormal, and horror. And yet some of the most successful speculative writers, like Stephen King, acknowledge the presence of Biblical imagery throughout many of their works.

For a number of years, Mike Duran, author of a number of Christian horror story collections and novels, has written about Christian publisher’s reluctance to embrace anything in speculative fiction. Publishers know their audiences, however, and is to the audiences that Duran now turns his attention. Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre makes a solid case why Christian readers’ attitudes toward the horror genre is misguided and possibly dangerous.

Duran has written an apologetic for the horror genre in Christian fiction, and it’s an impressive piece of work. And he lays claim for horror some of the most famous works in Western literature.

“Many have suggested,” he writes, “that the epic poem Beowulf is one of the earliest horror stories ever written. Possibly the oldest surviving long form in Old English, Beowulf is often cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. Though the story is in essence a pagan myth, most believe it was originally written down by a Christian monk who incorporated Christian elements into the text.”

He doesn’t stop with Beowulf. He also makes a convincing case for Christian elements being incorporated into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,  H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a work in which there is nothing subtle about Christian influence. And then there is the Bible itself, filled with any number of horrific stories.

Mike Duran
Duran examines religious themes in horror and horror themes in religion; how the evangelical culture has in general responded to the horror genre; what he terms “toward an apologetic” for Christian horror; and the main objections Christians voice against horror and similar genres.

I don’t ready much in the horror genre, but I’ve read books by Duran, Mike Dellosso, and T.L. Hines, among others, and I have found the quality of the writing and stories to be at least equivalent to if not considerably better than much of what’s published in mainstream Christian fiction.

And Duran is right: it doesn’t always have to be an Amish romance.

Related:

My reviews of Duran’s Subterranea and The Resurrection.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Elizabeth George’s “Just One Evil Act”


It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, unread, this book by mystery writer Elizabeth George. I know why it’s been sitting – a book of 723 pages requires serious commitment. It was a gift from my wife, who knew I liked the Inspector Lynley mysteries.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled it from the shelf, and began to read, hoping that I wouldn’t like it so I could put it back on the shelf. The story of Just One Evil Act begins with a women’s roller derby in London, of all things. I wasn’t hooked from the first page; the first few pages are about a potential new love interest for Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, an earl of the realm who happens to work for Scotland Yard. His wife Helen had been rather senselessly killed in a previous novel (and I still don’t think I’ve forgiven the author for that).

By page 15, however, when Lynley finally returns a frantic phone call from his erstwhile Scotland Yard partner Sergeant Barbara Havers, I’m fully pulled into the story, and ready to tackle another 708 pages.

Barbara’s good friend and neighbor Taymullah Azhar is desperate – his daughter Hadiyyah has been taken – kidnapped – by her mother Angelina. Azhar had returned from work at a London university microbiology lab to find his daughter and her mother gone, Hadiyyah’s room stripped clean. Azhar had never married Angelina; in fact, he had left his wife and family to live with her. His daughter is his world and his family, and now she’s disappeared.

This begins a story that moves constantly between London and Lucca, Italy; between the police investigations in both countries; between private detectives in both countries; and between a multitude of related side stories and a relatively large cast of characters. It is a feat to pull all of this off in one coherent mystery, but George does it, and does it incredibly well. It would have been an easy book to lose the reader’s way in, but it never happens; it’s that well-written of a story.

Elizabeth George (and friend)
The mother’s kidnapping of Hadiyyah goes somewhat awry when the girl is really kidnapped in one of Lucca’s open-air markets; the strong passions on all sides eventually results in a murder. The Italian policeman Salvatore LoBianco, a somewhat Italian counterpoint to Lynley, manages to continue a competent investigation in spite of an ogre of a boss who’s more concerned with the political than the criminal. Their characters and relationship is a good example of how well George creates and develops characters.

What makes the story even more compelling is watching Barbara Havers spin herself into a deeper and deeper hole, almost determined to break every written and unwritten rule in helping Azhar. She leaks to a tabloid reporter; she hides what she’s doing; she lies, even to Lynley. You read with increasing anxiety as her career is headed for what looks to be the inevitable crackup.

Any other who can keep a reader going for more than 700 pages knows how to tell a good story. Just One Evil Act is just possibly Elizabeth George’s best mystery novel to date, and that should be taken as a high compliment.


Photograph of Lucca, Italy, via the European Network for Accessible Tourism.