Monthly Archives: November 2017

Why Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

first-thanksgiving-at-plymouth1The Pilgrims stood on the deck of the Mayflower, exhausted from a three-month ordeal at sea.  With every breath of fresh air came the hope of a new beginning for the devout Christians who left all they knew for the sake of God’s call.  But, that raw, cold wind brought with it a bitterness that foretold of hardships to come.

Mayflower pilgrimsThat first winter of 1620-21 was difficult.  Of the 102 passengers, 45 died, including William Bradford’s own wife.  Only four of the couples who boarded the Mayflower still had each other when Spring arrived.  By April 1621, the Mayflower‘s captain determined that he had to return to England.  Even though the ship’s stores were low, he offered to take anyone who wished back to England.  None of the Pilgrims took him up on his offer.

SquantoIn an act of divine Providence, an Indian arrived named Squanto who spoke English, to the amazement of the Pilgrims.  He had been captured in 1605 by an English explorer Captain George Weymouth.  Similarly to the story of Joseph, what these English explorers did for evil, God turned into good.  Squanto was taken to England where he spent nine years and learned English.  In 1614, Captain John Smith took Squanto back to the American shores where he was reunited with his Patuxet people.  However, sailing with Captain Smith was another captain, Thomas Hunt.  Captain Hunt ignored Captain Smith’s orders to trade with the Indians, and instead lured many Patuxet men onto his ship, including Squanto, and shackled them in irons.  Most of the captured Indians were sold into slavery and sent to North Africa.  Squanto, however, was rescued by local friars who purchased him, and taught him Christianity.  Later, Squanto attached himself to an Englishman bound for London.  He found himself back in New England just six months prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival.

The Spring and Summer of 1621 Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to catch eels, when to “harvest” fish swimming upstream to spawn, and how to plant corn the Indian way.  In a massasoit.jpgthousand such ways Squanto helped the Pilgrims survive.  The harvest that year was bountiful, and the Pilgrims invited the local Indian chief, Massasoit to their public feast of thanksgiving.  Massasoit arrived a day early and brought 90 of his warriors with him.  Such a large entourage cut deeply into the winter stores.

On top of that, the Fortune arrived in November and dropped off 35 more colonists who had brought no provisions with them.  That winter, known to some as the “starving time,” required the daily rations to be reduced to just five kernels of corn.  Instead of giving into despair and resentment, they continued to put their hope in Christ.  Unlike the Jamestown settlement, not one of the Plymouth colonists died of starvation that winter.  Unexpectedly, a ship arrived, on its way back to England, and gave them trade goods—beaver pelts, beads, knives, trinkets—with which to trade for corn.  The Pilgrims would thus survive 1622.

In 1623, a drought hit the New England area and threatened to destroy the Pilgrims’ second planting.  The Indians performed their rain dances to no effect.  The Pilgrims got on their faces, sought the Lord, and repented.  God opened up the heavens and poured out his mercy for 14 straight days.  The Indians took notice and “admired the goodness of our God towards us” Edward Winslow remarked. The yield of crops that year was so abundant, that the Pilgrims had a surplus of corn which they used for trading with the Indians.

First-Thanksgiving-631Another thanksgiving feast was planned.  Massasoit was again invited and he brought his wife, three other chiefs, and 120 warriors.  Emmanuel Altham wrote to his brother of the feast, describing the abundance of food, from venison, hogs, hens, goats, plums, nuts.  “A better country was never seen nor heard of, for here are a multitude of God’s blessing.”  Before they all enjoyed the feast, however, each plate was provisioned with just five kernels of corn, lest they forget to give thanks to God for bringing them out of such hardship.

Giving thanks to God is what American Thanksgiving is about.  It is about remembering the fledgling settlement, where a small group of Christians began a new nation, conceived in liberty, and with the desire to be a City on a Hill for the world to see God’s glory.  Since then, America has liberated Europe twice, and Asia once, from tyranny.  America leads the world in spreading the Gospel by sending out missionaries.  America is the most generous nation in the history of mankind.  We’ve fought a war that ended slavery in our midst.  We finally embraced our principle that all men are created equal despite some opposition.  Without God’s blessings and the perseverance of the first Americans, the world would most likely have been ripe for global tyranny without the prospect of liberation.

Our Thanksgiving celebration is not just a reminder for us to be thankful for our own blessings, our families, our homes, our jobs, our churches, our neighbors.  It is a reminder that all Americans should give thanks for God’s blessings bestowed on our forebears.  Without them, the world would not know the blessings God provided because of America. 

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God’s Not Dead 2: A Movie That Scores on Its Own Net

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God’s Not Dead 2 is the second installment in the popular Christian films series.  The first film, God’s Not Dead, hit theaters in 2014.  The plot of that movie featured a Christian college student who accepted a challenge from his atheist professor to convince the class of God’s existence.  The third film, God’s Not Dead 3, is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2018.

God’s Not Dead 2 (2016) depicts the persecution of a Christian public school teacher who was sued because of her mention of Jesus in the classroom.  Grace, a dedicated history teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial High School, taught a lesson on how Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi both used non-violent methods to effect major social change in their countries.  A student asked whether Jesus’ statement to “Love your enemies” was similar.  The teacher agreed and mentioned how Martin Luther King, Jr. was heavily influenced by Scripture.  She was disciplined by the school board, and sued by the ACLU for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  This storyline resonates with Christians in America where bakers, florists, photographers, and the like, are losing their businesses because their convictions clash with the popular secular humanist ethics of the day.

The movie has a few side plots to go along with the main story.  A female reporter/blogger, Amy Ryan, a former antagonist to Christianity, discovers her cancer is in remission.  (See God’s Not Dead for more on this storyline.)  Now, she is struggling with godsnotdead2athoughts that her new-found faith was merely an emotional response to her cancer.  She begins a journey to explore this faith now without the interference of that crisis.  This subplot of a miraculous cure for cancer after conversion and prayer has the tendency to perpetuate the thinking that prayer will always be answered the way we want, and that all you have to do to be healed is to believe hard enough.  As any Christian who has been tested will tell you, that is not the case.  (Here is an example of what I mean from my own life experience.)  The subplot, however, is not too over-the-top with Christian emotionalism that leaves sound doctrine in the shadows.  The movie awkwardly gets free-lance reporter, played by Trisha LaFache, involved in the lawsuit when her niece, played by Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, asks for her help.  Her role was supposedly to get the word out that a Christian school teacher was being persecuted for her faith.  This part of the movie has no real flow, or believability.

Pastor Dave Hill, played by David A.R. White, seems to be going through a slump.  He stubs his toe at breakfast, has iced coffee spilled down the front of his shirt, and he inadvertently dumps his coffee when trying to unlock the church office door.  The slump continued with the mail: bills, bills, bills, junk mail, and, to top it off, a jury summons.  In his rut, he seems to be questioning God’s purpose for his life.  As the lawsuit moves on, that purpose is to be Juror No. 12.  He is a pastor with a cynical outlook on life, as portrayed by his reading the newspaper instead of paying attention to his online jury orientation.  He figures, as 1 of 300 jurors summoned, he has a better chance at getting godsnotdead-davidarwhitestruck by lightning than being assigned to the jury, so why should he waste his time.  (Incidentally, according to National Geographic News, the odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. are around 1 in 700,000.  So, Pastor Dave would be incorrect that his 1 out of 300 odds to be paneled on the jury is a longer shot than being struck by lightning.)  Instead of lightning, he is struck with acute appendicitis while in the courtroom.  He again wonders what the purpose for his jury service was.  He saw the opportunity to make a difference for God by being on the jury, but now he is in a hospital, recovering from surgery.  His friend encourages him to have faith, God’s plan is at work.

God often orchestrates events that do not make sense to us.  We can see only partly.  We do not have all the necessary information to understand events or motives.  But “[W]e know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.  Do we really trust God?  That is what faith really is about: trust.  Not believing hard enough that something is true.  Faith is about trusting what God said, even when our circumstances tell us otherwise.  (See my post A Celebration of Life.)  Our approach to our faith in God is often with the same cynical nature as Pastor Dave.  (I am looking me straight in the mirror.)  We come to expect disappointments from God because he seems to so often answer our prayers with “No” or “I have something else for you.”  But, this cynicism really stems from both ingratitude and mistrust.  We are ungrateful for what God does give us and we do not really believe God’s plan for us is for our good.  God does not always orchestrate our healing from cancer, or our winning court cases against secular humanists that seem to permeate all levels of government.  But, trust God we must.

The central struggle in this movie is certainly plausible.  An anonymous tip to an anti-Christian organization brings a team of angry atheist lawyers against a school teacher or school policy.  Organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU all are antagonistic toward God, and therefore to his family.  We have seen them persecute Christian bakers in Colorado and Oregon, a florist in Washington, photographers in New Mexico.  The list doesn’t stop there.  Military personnel, monuments, high-school coaches, college students, government mandated abortion coverage.  I could go on.  So, the plot in God’s Not Dead 2 is not only believable, it is already a reality.

Despite the plausibility of the plot, the storyline really has some glaring problems from a legal perspective.  Although the case is styled as a civil lawsuit, Thawley v. Wesley, it comes off as if Grace is a criminal defendant.  First, she is the only defendant.  The school gods_not_dead2courtroom1district is not on trial.  While this is not unusual for a state employee to be personally liable for violations of the Constitution, a lawsuit almost always includes the “deep pockets” as a defendant because that is how lawyers make their money.  In the movie, however, the school board attorney stated that the ACLU was not interested in suing the school, only the teacher.  This point is later contradicted by the ACLU attorney, but a second lawsuit against the school board may go nowhere because the plaintiff’s failed to join the necessary party for the first lawsuit.  A second reason the case comes across as a criminal trial stems from Grace’s first meeting with her union appointed attorney who was hired from the public defender’s office.  She insists to him that she is not a criminal.  Her attorney said “Don’t be so sure about that.”  Third, when Grace is called to the stand she questions the judge whether she is required to testify, as if a civil defendant has the same Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as a criminal defendant.  Fourthly, after the examination of Grace as a witness, the judge asks her attorney if he would like to change her plea.  He answers “No, your Honor. I say she is innocent of all wrongdoing” which sounds a lot like discussion about a criminal defendant.  Several aspects about this script make the nature of the case unclear.

Without getting into an esoteric discussion about the dynamics of the way voir dire (jury selection) was conducted (eg. attorneys do not object to jurors in front of the jury), or the fact that the godsnotdeadvoirdirelawyer for the defendant went straight into closing argument while his client was still on the stand, this trial scene was hard to watch as an attorney.  It makes for good theatre, but the movie script was very sloppy surrounding the trial.

More problematic for this movie than the sloppy script was the huge violations of the rules of professional conduct by Grace’s attorney.  Let’s start with their first meeting.  Grace meets with her new attorney in the non-confidential, public place of a coffee shop.  According to Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6 (c) (the setting of the movie is in Arkansas) states “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  By meeting in a public place where anyone could overhear their discussion, the lawyer might be violating this rule.  Also, he may lose the claim for Attorney-Client Privilege for the discussion in the coffee shop because the communication was not kept in confidence.

The most egregious violations, however, occurred when Grace’s lawyer put her on the stand.  First, in putting her on the stand against her will he violated Rule 1.2(a) where a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation, and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued.  Rule 1.4(a)(2) requires the attorney reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.  By surprising his client with his antagonistic tactic, he failed to consult with her on the objectives of the representation.

Second, in his questioning of his client on the stand he asks her to apologize and to admitgodsnotdead2perjury she made a mistake.  She told the court that she couldn’t do it because she did not believe she did anything wrong.  Her attorney then said “As your attorney, I’m advising you to do it anyway.”  By advising his client to lie under oath, he violated Rule 1.2(d) “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent….”  Perjury is a crime.  Advising his client to testify to the court something that she believes to be a lie is counseling her to commit a crime.

Third, he revealed confidential communications of his client to the court without consulting her in violation of Rule 1.6(a) “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted….”  Grace had told her attorney that God had spoken to her when she encountered a church sign that read “Who do you say that I am?”  In his witness examination of her, he revealed the existence and nature of that conversation to the court.  Thus, revealing information relating to the representation of his client without consulting her.

godsnotdeadlawyerGrace’s attorney is more of a clown than an attorney.  He comes across as incompetent when it comes to the rules of conduct he must uphold (which would violate Rule 1.1).  His behavior would certainly warrant disciplinary action from his state bar.

The most disappointing part of the movie was, however, the whole trial strategy employed by Grace and her attorney to transform the case from being about religious expression in the classroom to merely a discussion on what is or is not historical fact.  Grace tells her attorney “Listen, this isn’t about faith.  This is about history…Their whole attack is about me preaching in class, but I didn’t do that…We can separate the history based elements of Jesus’ life from the faith based element.”  No longer was that case godsnotdeadvoirdire2about her being persecuted for expressing her faith in school.  It became a trial on whether Jesus Christ existed.  Who is even arguing that Jesus never existed?  I suppose for a movie called God’s Not Dead, the existence of God the Son would be central to the plot.  However, the movie portrays her as a martyr who was persecuted for her faith, when in the end her defense was simply “Nuh-uh, I didn’t express my faith in the classroom.  I simply talked about an historical figure.  See, Jesus is an historical figure just like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.”  The implication is that expressions of faith still do not belong in the classroom.  The movie pretends to champion religious liberty.  But in the end it just reinforced the “separation of Church and State” myth by making the case about history instead of faith.

For a Christian movie, it was rather disappointing.  If this movie sought to inspire the own goal giffaithful to endure such persecutions, this movie was a dud, a swing-and-a-miss.  In fact, the true metaphor for this movie is to compare it to scoring on your own goal.  Instead of slaying a giant (the prohibition of religious expression in the classroom), the movie settled for knocking down a straw man (that Jesus Christ did not exist as an historical figure).  In doing so, this movie perpetuates the myth of separation of Church and state.  (And there goes the ball into our own net.)

I hope God’s Not Dead 3 is better.

 

 

The Brick Bible: Subtly Deceptive

brickbibleThe Brick Bible, which comes in several books (such as The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Brick Bible for Kids: Six Classic Bible Stories, The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids, as a complete set, etc.) claims to be “an original, modern interpretation of the Bible, based on older public domain translations such as the King James VersionDarby’s Bible, and Young’s Literal Bible.  In addition, modern English Bible translations were used as references, and the author consulted the original Hebrew for certain passages.”  After one reads (views) The Brick Bible, he should come to realize that it is not a Bible at all.

Up front note that the LEGO Group does not sponsor, authorize, or endorse the publication or content of these books.  

The Brick Bible attempts to illustrate the stories of the Bible using LEGO bricks in various dioramas.  The author states on his website “For ease of understanding and avoidance of bpsmith lego bible2copyright issues, The Brick Bible uses its own wording of the Bible’s text.  But chapter and verse numbers are always cited and also act as clickable links to the rendering of the same verses in the King James Version, the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the Easy-to-Read Version.”  The author is simply trying to appear to give a fair rendering of Scripture while using his own wording to create the impressions and emotions of the Biblical text that he wants regardless of whether it is faithful to the original text. 

The Brick Bible does not contain the Bible in its entirety.  Through selective editing, the author creates his own (mis)interpretation of Scripture.  Small, almost imperceptible edits turn a reasonable Biblical story into something suitable for mockery.  For example, brickbiblenoaharkthe author portrays on page 27 of The Brick Bible: The Old Testament an ark crammed with Noah’s family and the animals, which perpetuates the skeptic’s tactic of debunking the historicity of Noah’s flood by showing how the ark could not possibly have contained all the animals as claimed. 

He portrays Yahweh as a singular being, instead of a Trinity.  See page 20 where Yahweh is depicted as talking to the angels instead of the other members of the Trinity when he said “The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil….”  The author’s God-caricature is always as an angry, vengeful, human-killing monster.  As an example of this type of portrait, page 29 shows skeletons everywhere when God is brickbiblefallmaking his covenant with Noah.  Instead of emphasizing the promise of a new start, the author subtly reminds us that God (unjustly) killed everyone else in the world.  Every single facial expression of Smith’s chosen LEGO character for God is with furrowed brow and angry eyes.

In going through the Ten Commandments, and the punishments for violations, he depicts the punishments (death) to be carried out at the scene of the “crime” instead of after a trial and the testimony of at least two witnesses.  He creates two misconceptions in the mind of the reader.  First, that the punishments are disproportionate to the wrong, and secondly that the punishments are administered on the spot instead of after careful deliberation based on the evidence.  This strategy is to make God’s justice to be unreasonable, if not immoral.  The author chose to illustrate the more violent passages of the Bible, and failed to provide these passages in context.  The theme of his illustrations is simply God’s wrath. 

Depictions of the events in the New Testament are similarly flawed.  Matthew 27:52-53 describes the opening of graves and many who were dead came back to life after the brickbiblezombiesresurrection of Jesus.  On page 134 of The Brick Bible: The New Testament, the author states “At [the moment of Christ’s death] the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who died were raised to life.”  The author shows zombies leaving the tombs instead of resurrected bodies.  This alone is problematic.  He also misunderstood Scripture because the resurrection of these people occurred after Jesus’ resurrection, and not at his death.  This point is important because Colossians 1:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:20 state that Jesus is the firstborn of the resurrection, not these people who are mentioned in Matthew.  Downplaying the miracles, the author shows the Apostles performing “many signs and wonders” as if they were conducting mere magic tricks.  By doing this, the author turns brickbibleapostlesthese accounts into goofy legends and undermines the evidence of the Apostles’ authority as eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

The use of LEGO toys to depict Bible stories does not allow for a clear understanding of Scripture.  The depictions are often silly, and limited by the “brick” nature of the medium.  The limitations of the medium, combined with the likely nefarious aim of the author, turn the serious nature of the Biblical accounts into silly stories akin to the absurd tales of Norse or Greek mythology.  Through his Brick Bible the author would have us believe that God is hateful and vengeful.  He makes no attempt to portray the real theme of the Bible: redemption.

Though marketed to children, The Brick Bible is not suitable for children with its cartoonish depictions of killing and sex.  The Bible itself with its adult themes, may be unsuitable for children without their parents close supervision.  Parents need to explain the hard passages of the Bible to children, and not just assume kids are going to get the right impressions from descriptions of killings and rapes that are recorded in Scripture.

The content of this “Bible” is not accurate or theologically sound.  But now I want to discuss the author.  His name is, Brendan Powell Smith, or at least that is what his

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Brendan P. Smith, a.k.a. Elbe Spurling

name was until he legally changed it to Elbe Spurling after he announced that he is a “transgendered lesbian atheist.”  What he has told us is that he is a man who likes women, and that he doesn’t believe in God.  So, he is in denial about his gender, in denial about his sexual preference, and is in denial about his creator.  Such a person is not in a good position to offer spiritual guidance to our children.  Yet, some parents still think giving his books as gifts to children is a good idea.  After reading some customer reviews on Amazon, clearly some parents have no discretion.  Here are some examples:

Someone whose screen name is 250xGirl stated “Bought for my step son who is autistic and here (sic) loves Legos. This is perfect for him to relate to the Bible.”  Another customer identified as Janyre said “My little guy (who’s 8) LOVES this. Not only is it super creative, but the stories are quite accurate too. I’d recommend it to any other boy mom out there.” “Sombrero” exclaimed “My Kids (5 and 3) will not go a day without reading this bible. What can I say to the author besides THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for such a wonderful work of art that gets my kids to read their bible daily!!! Its beyond imagination how amazing this work is. God bless.”

Another Amazon customer gave the product five stars, stating “This was a huge hit as a gift as a confirmation gift.”  Confirmation of what?  That parents who do not read the actual Bible really have no discernment when choosing illustrated Bibles for their children?  The Brick Bible is not a gift to give to children for their spiritual growth.  Parents who give these books to their children are giving them a completely wrong understanding of God.

On his website Brendan Smith, a.k.a. Elbe Spurling, uses the imagery of his LEGO photos to misinterpret Scripture and cast the Word of God in a bad light.  For example, in brickbiblenazi1interpreting the source for governmental authority, Smith insists Romans 13:1 (“Everyone must submit to governing authorities, for those in positions of authority have been placed there by God”) required unquestioned devotion to Hitler and his Nazi government, and that the American War for Independence was also rebellion against God.  Smith also plays fast and loose with enemies, slavery, women, marriage, wealth, wisdom, those who will never inherit the Kingdom of God, justice, and the Jews.  He simply parrots how atheists characterize what Scripture says about these issues without bothering to understand context or nuance.

In his desultory, disconnected spirituality, Smith has drafted up something called “The New Morality: Living on the Right Side of History.”  He condensed this “new morality” into 10 “New Commandments” which are more like guidelines than commands.  These new guidelines, however, are a mishmash of some of the “Old Commandments” and some brickbibleguidelinesprogressive platitudes, like do not alter the environment, and minimize the suffering of “sentient animals” which presumably means we should protect the animals, but not babies in utero.  But, I will discuss this “New Morality” in another article.

Brendan Powell Smith is a troubled man.  That he is an atheist should lead us to question his motives for illustrating the Bible.  That he is mentally disturbed by his pretending to be a woman also raises concerns of whether we can trust his perceptions of Scripture.  Do not mistake my review of these books to be a call for burning them.  I believe God has given us liberty, even liberty to choose what is wrong.  Though, with wrong choices certainly comes consequences.  I also believe that truth will prevail in the ultimate sense over lies like those promoted in The Brick Bible.  But, until truth triumphs, lies may deceive many into forgoing eternal life offered to us by Jesus.

Also, do not think by my evaluating the author that I do not care about him.  We should pray for him.  He is deeply disturbed.  Atheism is currently being studied either as a cause of mental illness, or a mental illness itself.  His transgenderism is also a mental illness.  I am not saying this to insult him.  As a man created in the image of God, he is of inestimable worth.  But, we still need to be discerning in what we allow our children to consume.  Like the lie the serpent told Eve in the Garden of Eden, The Brick Bible is subtly deceptive.  It pretends to be a fair rendering of Scripture, but it paints a distorted portrait of who God is.  We should not let Brendan Smith’s fun, and somewhat funny, misinterpretation of the Bible put another brick in the wall that separates our children from God.