Review: Under Our Skin

This may seem odd advice in a book review but listen. Listen not only what you agree with, but when you disagree, stop and really listen. Benjamin Watson has something to say in Under Our Skin that all of us need to hear.

If you’re white and don’t understand why blacks can’t just work harder and get ahead like “the rest of us” start with chapter 2, “Introspective”. If you’re black and can’t understand why whites still don’t get it, start with chapter 2 as well. Watson confesses that he sees things from a black perspective and yet tries to critique and affirm both side fairly. I think he succeeds.

There are no simple answers to the problem of racial tension in our nation and Watson offers none. Under Our Skin started as a Facebook post Watson wrote when a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the ensuing riots. The post went viral and Watson expanded it into this book. His chapter titles reflect the complexity of this issue: Hopeless, Hopeful, Fearful and Confused, Encouraged, etc. The symptoms he identifies are likewise complex—hip hop, rebel flags, disproportionate policing, fear of and resistance to police, blacks using the N-word, and whites using the N-word. Watson leads us through these complicated issues telling gripping personal stories, asking tough questions, and providing biblical wisdom for healing our nation’s racial divide.

What Watson affirms to equip us for reconciliation is our common humanity and the forgiveness we find in the gospel. “The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the gospel” (xvi).

Pastors and church leaders should read Under Our Skin and reflect on it. If your church is in an area that is largely racially homogeneous, Watson can help you see the problem. If your church is in a racially mixed area, you’re probably already aware of these tensions; he offers you some perspective and wisdom. Watson shows that we are all part of the problem and therefore we all need to be part of the solution so Under Our Skin can be easily recommended to anyone.

I found Watson’s strongest and most convicting points were that what unites us is our common humanity and what divides us are the “cultural lenses” by which we see the world. Watson does not call for the annihilation of those differences, rather, he says, “we should preserve and celebrate our cultural differences, embrace the uniqueness of our histories, and pursue the distinctiveness of our arts and enterprises. We are beautifully different. But we are commonly human” (63-64). If we’re all the problem, why should churches especially read this book? “The church, I believe, has the greatest opportunity to affect changes in our communities” (10). The church, armed with the doctrine of the imago dei and the hope of the gospel, has been and can again be a beacon for and host of reconciliation to the world.

Cultural Captivity

On November 30, 2017, John Piper shared a message live about racial brokenness in America. The entire message is worth listening to but I wanted to share this edited excerpt:

As the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads through the world it encounters thousands of new ethnicities/cultures. There is always at play a pilgrim principle and an indigenous principle in tension every time the culture is penetrated by the gospel. The pilgrim principle says some aspects of the culture are going to come into conflict with Christianity. When those cultural features don’t change, the people of God have to assume a pilgrim mentality, i.e. we’re not at home in this culture.

The indigenous principle means that in every culture where the gospel penetrates there are cultural aspects, cultural dimensions which are not necessarily sinful and which, without changing, will become incarnations and expressions through which Jesus Christ and his ways can be expressed.

These two principles, the indigenous and the pilgrim, are always in tension with each other and most minorities feel it. They’re compelled to come to terms with the fact that they have a culture as they try to be Christians.

The problem for whites for centuries in this country is that we have felt so at home as Americans with our civil-religion Christianity that we haven’t even, by and large, thought in terms of “Oh! I have a culture and my culture is in tension with the claims of Christ on me and I have to work at this. I’ve got to work at how my culture and my faith might be at odds.” Commitments to certain things in America, certain aspects of nationalism, certain ideologies, certain priorities have to be thought through more carefully than many of us have. The more dominant the culture is the more invisible it seems to us. I think its true that there is more cultural captivity in our churches and in our lives than most of us realize.

I believe Americans, especially culturally dominant Americans, need to carefully, prayerfully consider the pilgrim principle. It is getting easier for us to recognize as our country sluffs off the “civil-religion Christianity” and embraces more of the “do anything you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” ideology. Christians are called to more.

Build Up, Don’t Trip Up

Balaam is famous for his talking ass but there is more to his story. He is the ancient forerunner of an idea that has begun to blossom on social media. Balaam establishes the biblical precedence for the idea of loving God but hating his people. It surprised me to find this fairly contemporary idea in the Bible, but there it is.

Balaam was a prophet (2 Pet. 2:15-16). Okay, but there are false prophets in the Bible, was he one of those? It doesn’t appear so. Peter explains that God rebuked Balaam “for his own transgression.” It was Yahweh who did that, not Baal: “But God’s anger was kindled because he [Balaam] went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Num. 22:22). In verse 18 Balaam says “I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God…” Balaam confessed God as his own, using his covenant name; he was not manipulating a foreigner god, but was obeying his own. God spoke to Balaam. He rebuked and corrected him. He used Balaam to bless Israel when Balak hired him to curse them. It appears that Balaam had a relationship with the true and living God.

And yet. Though he wouldn’t curse Israel because God told him not to, Balaam didn’t really love Israel either. While he couldn’t curse them, he did figure out a way to bring about their downfall. Balaam had Balak, the king of Moab, trip up Israel through a temptation they wouldn’t resist. In Numbers 25 the people go after the women and gods of Moab and 24,000 Israelites died because of God’s anger at their idolatry and sinfulness. According to Numbers 31:16 this was Balaam’s idea.

So could Balaam really love God if his plan was to drive a wedge between God and that which he loved? What does it mean to “love” someone and seek to destroy their work? It must cast doubt on the reality of your love for that person.

To love God and hate the church didn’t turn out well for Balaam. In Numbers 31:8, Israel kills him with the sword. God’s restraint of the prophet’s madness (2 Pet. 2:16) only went so far then the restraint turned into something more permanent.

What does this mean, then, for people who love Jesus and are frustrated with his church? If we take Balaam as an example we must recognize that God wants us to help make the church more faithful, not trigger them to behave less faithfully. God does not care for the prophet who confesses his name and hates his people.

Israel was not perfect. God hated the generation he led out of Egypt (Psa. 95:10) and threatened to wipe them out a number of times. God can be angry and frustrated with his people but it is up to God to deal with his people, not us. If you truly love God and have problems with his church, the answer is not to stir up controversy and then point out the foibles of those who answer you poorly. Rather:

Strive to excel in building up the church. (1Cor. 14:12)

We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1Th. 2:12)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Heb. 10:24-25)

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.” (Isa. 35:3-4)

God Judges Social Constructs

Nearly everyone now says gender is a social construct and therefore fluid or a spectrum rather than a binary. Many conservatives dismiss or ridicule them while many progressives chant them enthusiastically. Rachel Doelzal (now Nkechi Amare Diallo) uses skin darkener, hair dye, and gets her hair permed in order to be a light-skinned black woman. She claims “race is a social construct” and considers herself “trans-black.” But no one has stopped to ask what we mean by “social,” how it constructs anything, and what God thinks of social constructs. Let me take a few moments to consider these questions.

By “social constructs” what I believe we mean are generally agreed upon definitions of what we expect of people. When you see photos from the ‘40s and ‘50s, men commonly wore jackets and ties and hats. Now men wear them (minus the hats) in more formal settings. In Burma men commonly wear long skirts tied at their wastes with a particular kind of knot and carry their belongings what we would call purses. Likewise, they wear suits in more formal situations. So what we mean by “social” is what we agree upon. Social constructs are the rules that societies have so people can live together.

How these rules are made is immensely complex. In older societies, they are rooted in deep traditions. For example, a friend from New York was surprised when she went to a party in the Midwest and saw people sit down. She said in New York you would never sit down at a party because it would be rude. The society in New York is older than it is in Chicago; Chicago was at one time considered the frontier. The further West you move across America, the more lax the rules get yet there are rules or constructs. Constructs are formed by things like tradition, media, necessity of survival, reaction against old rules, influences from other societies, etc.

Read On…

Raspberry Airplay

My next Raspberry Pi project was to stream music to my stereo system. Since I’m all Apple at home, I decided I need something that uses Apple’s Airplay and the Raspberry Pi seemed the natural choice.

After some research, I learned (unsurprisingly) that the earphone jack on the Pi would be insufficient. It just doesn’t have a high enough bit rate DAC (Digital/Analog Converter) driving it. The first option I explored was to use an external USB DAC. There are some fine ones but they are expensive and bulky. I have to admit though, some of the tube-based DACs look pretty good and I’m sure the sound is impressive but they are cost prohibitive. What to do?

I found HifiBerry. They have a few choices of DACs that plug right into the GPIO (general purpose I/O) port on the Pi. They also sell cases that hold the Pi and DAC very nicely. I found the HifiBerry DAC I wanted on Amazon, added the case and Pi 3 B to my cart but found that ordering a bundle straight from HifiBerry was about $20 cheaper. I already owned a spare MicroSD card an power cord so the project cost me around $100.

I decided on the DAC+ Standard. I didn’t need the DAC+ Pro with its gold plated RCA connectors because I don’t think they make a difference. But some real audiophiles will disagree.

Ordering a bundle from HifiBerry was a bit confusing. What comes with the bundles and what do I need to add? Turns out you need to pick your package and customize everything. For me, I selected the DAC+ Bundle and added the DAC+ Standard, the HifiBerry Universal case, and the Raspberry Pi 3B. If you need a power supply you might find one cheaper elsewhere. If you don’t have an adapter to plug the SD card into your computer, you will need one and HifiBerry’s seems a reasonable price.

If you buy from HifiBerry, the order ships from Switzerland so expect some delay. Shipping information from Switzerland to JFK was provided but once it hit JFK, shipping info disappeared. Since I didn’t get a notification that it was stuck in customs I decided to wait. Ten days later it showed up via USPS. So if time is important, you might pay more and get it from Amazon.

Instructions below the fold…

Read On…

Who Created You?

A while ago I was in a coffee shop trying to work. Two post-high schoolers were sitting across the table from me talking, (having bought nothing). They both were all about “goin’ home and cutting some beats.” One played a song on his cellphone so we all got to listen to it. It was some sick beats and I mean that in the same sense that Huey Lewis and the News meant “sometimes bad is bad.” “Ah, kids!” I thought to myself. What must I have sounded like to people 35 years older than me when I was their age? Probably similar.

One said he had to wait for his mom to pick him up. The other asked him why and explained that the first kid’s mom should buy him a car. And this is where my response as a 20 year-old would have differed greatly from theirs.

“Who created you?” kid A asked.
“I know. I don’t wanna make her buy me a ride.” answered kid B.
“She created you so she owe you!” opined kid A.

This made my blood run cold. Various lines of post-modern thought collided here:

  • First, it highlights a horrible, unintended consequence of the pro-choice world we live in: post Roe v. Wade children see themselves as disposable.
  • Second, since mothers have a choice to not give birth to them, these children are only there because of mom’s decision and therefore mom is somehow more responsible for them. “If you didn’t want to provide for me, you should have aborted me. Since you didn’t, you gotta provide!”
  • Third, for all the talk about women’s “freedom to chose” and how abortion would liberate them sexually and socially, this places a gigantic burden on mothers; at least in eyes of their chosen children. Add to this the huge number of fathers who walk away since the woman chose not to abort and how is a single mother supposed to live with this kind of responsibility?

Abortion does not liberate women. It damages them and their children, both the victims and the survivors. I understand that sometimes women who become pregnant see a future that feels crushing. Any choice they make will have consequences for them and for their child. This coffeehouse conversation highlighted for me implications I hadn’t seen before.

Lord have mercy on us all.

Queen Vashti in Ephesus

If you read Esther chapter 1 and your takeaway is that Queen Vashti is the hero because she stood up to the patriarchy, you’re reading it wrong. I don’t say that to defend the patriarchy but to defend the historical setting of the text.

In a nutshell, Ahasuerus was the king of the known world and he threw a party. When you’re king of the known world, your parties tend to be epic and not in the sense in which we use the word “epic” to describe a burrito. At the end of a feast, when the king had a pleasant wine buzz, he called for Queen Vashti to come and present herself before the princes and the people (verse 11). Vashti was a beautiful woman and judging from the way Ahasuerus threw a dinner party, I’m sure she would be decked out in the best clothing and jewels the kingdom had to offer. Ahasuerus wanted to parade her out as he did with the decorations of the palace (verse 6-7). Vashti refused to come.

Why? The Bible doesn’t say because it doesn’t matter. The chapter isn’t about a brave proto-feminist standing up against the patriarchy. Vashti didn’t burn her bra in protest, she simply refused to come (verse 12). The author’s point isn’t Vashti. It is Ahasuerus. He consumes the first chapter of the book and that chapter establishes the magnitude of Ahasuerus’ power and his ruthlessness. If anyone, including his wife, defies his orders they are dealt with in a swift, kingdom-wide manner (verse 20). The intent is for us to fear Ahasuerus, not the patriarchy. Vashti isn’t a hero, she is a victim just as the Jews will be targeted to be, just as Mordecai will be targeted to be, and just as Haman will be after his attempt to manipulate Ahasuerus’ power becomes known.

Along similar lines, there is an interesting account of the history of first century Ephesus. According to the article, the people who eventually go on to establish the city were a pretty vicious matriarchy lead by a queen who “promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude.” These women may have been the fabled Amazons from whence comes Wonder Woman.

If this accurately represents the historical background on the city of Ephesus (granting, for the moment, that it is correct), we may get a richer, more nuanced understanding of 1 Timothy. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was writing to a young minister working to establish the church in Ephesus. Establishing leadership would require that he take care to not allow any abusive control present in the culture to be included within the new community of the church.

Where we can run into the same danger of misreading Timothy the way we might misread Esther when we want to layer on top of the text our current culture issues. When we think we’ve found the approach that shows how the text speaks to our current issue, we can be blind to other parts that may make it not fit. So with Esther the silence as to why Vashti refused to do as the king commanded could be filled in with our pet issue.

Likewise with Timothy. The article linked to above applies the history briefly recounted and concludes:

Given this understanding of “authentein” and the religious history of Ephesus, it is unlikely that Paul was warning against women (in general) “exercising authority” over men in the church. It is more likely that along with his warnings against false teaching, mythology, and forbidding marriage and the eating of certain foods, he was also warning against an abusive form of power.

The meaning of the Greek word authentein is disputable since it only appears in 1 Timothy 2:12, but the article trys to explain its apparent prohibition on women in authority in church by pointing to a history of abusive matriarchy in Ephesus. In the end, the author believes, this does not establish patriarchy in the place of matriarchy but rather 1 Timothy 2 is supposed to ensure that there is no abusive leadership in place in the church.

Except it doesn’t. You can’t take half of 1 Timothy 2 in isolation, even with this historical data, and claim to have correctly interpreted the meaning of one word. Let’s assume for a moment that 1 Timothy 2 doesn’t establish patriarchy. Okay. Keep reading. When you get to chapter 3 you run into Paul’s requirements for the role of elder/bishop/presbyter and deacon. An elder must be “the husband of one wife.” That’s not something a woman can do. Also, all of the qualifications for elder are given in masculine pronouns; “he must”, “he must not”, etc. This sounds like Paul is indeed establishing a patriarchy.

What about deacons? A similar thing happens there but then we get to 1 Timothy 3:11. The ESV says “Their wives likewise must be dignified…” but that’s not a translation, it is an interpretation. The word behind “wives” is gune which can be translated as “wife” or “woman”. Paul is allowing for women to be deacons but not elders. Let that sink in for a moment. Paul give the qualifications for female deacons but not for female elders. And just to make the point that this is not a unique situation in Ephesus, he tells the same thing to Titus on Crete in Titus 1:5-9. Again, all masculine pronouns and no qualifications for female elders.

Looking beyond the verse in question and asking more of the text can give us better answers. The rest of the book of Esther is not about ending patriarchy but about God delivering his people though brave and faithful Esther and Mordecai. The rest of the context of Paul’s instruction to Timothy about establishing leadership is about faithful men as elders and men and women as deacons.

But let’s go back a little. The history of Ephesus used in the article is sketchy. According to the Wikipedia article on Ephesus:

The mythical founder of the city was a prince of Athens named Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kadros. According to the legend, he founded Ephesus on the place where the oracle of Delphi became reality (“A fish and a boar will show you the way”)…

Later, Greek historians such as Pausanias, Strabo and Herodotos and the poet Kallinos reassigned the city’s mythological foundation to Ephos, queen of the Amazons.

Catch that? “Later” they “reassigned” the foundation to the queen of the Amazons. The foundation of Ephesus is wrapped in mythology. This seems a very shaky foundation to build Biblical exegesis on.

When interpreting scripture, we must resist the desire to push our modern ideas and sensibilities into gaps, point, and yell “Ah ha!” Let’s keep Vashti out of Ephesians.

Raspberry Pi as Apple Time Capsule

I’ll skip the obvious stuff about having to own a Raspberry Pi and external hard drive and how to set up the Pi since the first two should be obvious and the third you can find 1,000 other places. Instead I’ll just cut to the chase. This worked for me on a Raspberry Pi 2 and so it should work on a 3 as well.

I found the instructions here. They are mostly right but the formatting is a little inconsistent and I thought some of the steps were out of order so I’m going to summarize it, clean it up, and inject what I learned from my experience. Instructions after the fold.

Read On…

Two Natures in One Person


The Chalcedoinian Definition (451 A.D.) says, in part, that Jesus is “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved…” He is fully human (without sin) and he is fully divine.

In Jesus, these two natures don’t mix into something else (“inconfusedly”) and they are not “active” in him at different times (“indivisibly”). His human nature does what sinless, unfallen human nature does and his divine nature does what undiminished divinity does. The two natures must remain distinct from each other and yet united in the one person of Jesus because the distinction is not taken away by the union.

This raises very rich questions when you think of Jesus as one person with two natures. For example,

  • When Jesus was tempted could he have sinned?
  • Is Jesus’ humanity omniscient? Is it omnipresent?
  • Did Jesus’ divine nature sleep in the stern of the boat?
  • Can divinity die?
  • Did the will of infant in the manger hold the universe together?
  • Did Jesus create Mary who gave birth to him?
  • Did the Second person of the Trinity “grow in wisdom and stature before God and man”?

As you contemplate these questions, remember to keep his natures truly human and truly divine, not mixed, confused, or separated.

As difficult as this is to understand, it is the only way that God could become human and still be fully God and fully human at the same time. And that means that our salvation depends on this union of natures in Jesus. It is confusing and mysterious and glorious. We worship an amazing God.

Christians After The 2016 Election

I’d like to report that the sun came up this morning. However it did not scorch the unrighteous nor was it attended by a choir of singing angels. Today isn’t the end of days nor the dawning of the new heavens and new earth.

I hear sirens and helicopters but they’re not coming to take our guns nor are they rounding up immigrants. They are going to help hurting people and to deal with crime.

Employment and joblessness are at levels about where they were yesterday and it seems they will stay there in the immediate future.

Indications are that the moon will rise this evening and not be blood red. Nor will it be a perpetual silvery full moon that smiles on us and sings happy songs.

Regardless of what the American people decided on November 8th, there are still people in need, people hurting, people who feel empty and hopeless, people who say, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry!” and have no idea that God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you!”

The call, the commission, the mission of the church remains. Go make disciples, whether Diocletian or Constantine is on the throne.