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text 2017-06-17 16:42
Reading progress update: I've read 12 out of 543 pages.
Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521 - Martin Brecht

Time to start one of my summer reading projects. Hopefully I will have more success getting through it this time around.


(And DAAAAAM, did this book get expensive! I'm glad I bought my copies before the quincentenary!).

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review 2017-03-11 20:45
A Bold One for God
A Bold One for God - Charles G. Edwards

Although he did not begin the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox has become its most identifiable proponent not only in the almost 450 years since his death but also during the last 25 years of his life.  In A Bold One for God, Charles G. Edwards writes a brief 160 page biography of “a not-so-well-known reformer” that served not only God but his nation as well.


Edwards’ biography of Knox begins in his early 30s after his conversion to Protestantism and his interactions with martyr George Wishart and how the influential preacher told him to remain a tutor to his pupils until God needed him.  In the reaction after Wishart’s execution, Knox was asked to preach by Wishart’s followers to lead their congregation after they had assassinated the Cardinal of St. Andrews.  His accepts and his powerful preaching began his rise as a man of note in the Reformation movement in Scotland while also resulting in his imprisonment after the movement is crushed for a time.  Over the course of the next 12 years, Knox serves as a galley slave before living in exile in England then Geneva and Frankfurt then back to Geneva with a brief visit to Scotland in-between.  In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland permanently and became a not only the leading Protestant preacher in the nation but also one with significant political power as he contended with the queen regent Mary of Guise then her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and then under the regents of the young James VI.


In the synopsis above, I have hardly scratched the surface of John Knox’s life and career.  Unfortunately Charles Edwards did the same in this short biography as well.  Although his intended audience is easy identifiable for young adults through his writing style and larger font, Edwards doesn’t treat his audience with respect by crediting them with any intelligence and made his subject less than what he was.  Through reconstructed conversations and paraphrasing of others, Edwards endeavored to give Knox’s life more depth but only made the man appear simple and artificial to the reader which seemed to indicate a condescending attitude towards his readers.


While Edwards does give an accurate picture of the chronology and historical background of John Knox’s life that does not make up for the lack of depth and unintended sterilization of his subject.  The lack of discussion of Knox’s first 30 years of life and the, most likely unintentional, patronizing attitude towards his readers severely undercuts the worth of A Bold One for God.

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text 2016-10-31 12:28
Happy Reformation Day!


Yes, I am a Lutheran and I celebrate Reformation Day. Halloween has never been a holiday that I've understood much beyond that I, like most others, love candy. Reformation Day, though, that I can get behind. May we all be as willing to stand up for what we believe as Martin Luther.



What would Martin Luther think of the fact that there is still a church bearing his name 499 years later? I have to think that he would not be thrilled. Five centuries and we're still struggling for reform and unity in the church? I think he would find that depressing.



When it comes down to it, I don't think most Lutherans and most Catholics are that different, but we've been being told that we are for a really long time.



For the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, my home congregation is teaming up with a local Catholic congregation to hold some joint events. I'm not sure how that will go or what people will think, but I think Martin Luther would be proud of the effort.



And for those of you who will be partying or trick-or-treating tonight while I turn off the lights and pretend I'm not home while watching Luther, Happy Halloween.


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review 2016-08-09 08:44
Is the Pope Christian?
Julius Excluded from Heaven - Desiderius... Julius Excluded from Heaven - Desiderius Erasmus

This rather short dialogue is written in the style of the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (though it is nowhere near as rude and crude as his plays) and is a simple interaction between Pope Julius and St Peter (with Julius' guardian spirit providing some snide comments as the dialogue progresses) after Julius arrives at the pearly gates and discovers that the keys to the kingdom of heaven that were given to St Peter are not the keys that Julius happens to have in his pocket. Basically it is a criticism of what the church has become in Julius' time and how Pope Julius, the supreme authority in Western Christendom was simply another power player in the political world of the time, and as such while he may go around with the title of 'Most Holy Father', it is just that – a title given to him by the world and nothing more.


Once again, as I was reading this dialogue I could not help but see how similar the church of Erasmus' age and the church of today happens to be. Sure, the church is supposed to be a moral compass, but in our day and age this moral compass seems to require a lot of recalibrating. For instance we have the church running around condemning people for 'sexual sin' and abortion, yet are doing nothing to actually provide support and assistance for those in real need, nor are they condemning unrestrained greed, corruption on politics, or environmental destruction. Also, like the church of Erasmus' age, it has become little more than a boys club, and while positions in the church may not be purchased directly, we still see such positions being handed out to the 'most worthy' individuals in the congregations, usually though who are quite well off. In fact I was told of one particular church that would hand out to elderships to those who had happened to have succeeded in life (which usually meant that they were giving a substantial amount of money to the church).



Pope Julius


Then there is the question of indulgences, namely where the church would sell admissions to heaven in the after life, and it didn't just rest with the living, you could also buy indulgences for the dead. The funny thing is that we see things like that going on today – did you know you can buy real-estate on Mars? To me it sounds a lot like an indulgence, namely something that somebody purchases that actually has no value whatsoever. Okay, you can apparently 'name' a star, but my research revealed that the name of the star does go on record, and it is a fundraising activity by an astronomical organisation (though I still haven't gone ahead and named a star after Schrodiger's Cat). As for the church, they may not sell indulgences directly, but there is a doctrine that goes around that basically says the more that you give to the church the more that God will bless you now and in the life here-after – what they are suggesting is that it is like the stock market – we buy into the Church and God will pay us dividends now, and also guarantee an entrance into heaven.


Another interesting thing that is raised is how the Pope can't actually do anything wrong, even if he does things that are wrong. It sounds remarkably similar today were the wealthy are able to get away from crimes much easier than those of the lower classes. As a friend of mine suggested most serial killers are white because they are less likely to be searched, or questioned, by authorities than are people of colour, which means that if somebody of colour happens to have the tenancies that give rise to being a serial killer they are usually caught, and taken out of society much sooner than a white person. Mind you Julius' position went much further in that being the Pope he could simply wipe away any consequence of any sin that he may have committed. In a way it is also similar with the concept of war crimes – I do not know of any post World War II Western leader that has been brought to The Hague for committing war crimes, but then again war crimes are only ever committed by the loser in a war.


As for the political nature of the church, well it seems that this is also the case today – one of the reasons that the church has become so powerful in the United States is that it has taken control of the Republican party, but even here in Australia, elements of the church have put their claws into the political system, and whatever their moral position is, it is their economic agenda that has me concerned because it is an agenda of small government, light taxation, and limited regulation – they may wish to make homosexuality a crime and punish people having an abortion by charging them with murder, but they will do little for the child once it is born and condemn them to a life of poverty and destitution. They also hate welfare because they believe it leads to laziness, and that those who are poor are poor because they are there by choice, not because of some other circumstance in life.


Another example of how the church interferes politically is with a program the Australian government developed to attempt to deal with bullying with schools, however the Christian right were so incensed that 'it promoted homosexuality' that they canned it, despite the fact that bullying in schools has a tremendous psychological effect upon the victims and the families involved. Sure, they might jump up and demand that we stop playing the victim, but as soon as society turns against the church all of the sudden they start screaming persecution.

In fact they also love crying out how they are being persecuted – you cannot criticises the church, or what it does, without being told that you are persecuting the church. However they claim unfair when the left calls them bigots for their stance against the LGBT community. I have been to churches where criticism is shut down through a variety of ways – you are denying Christ, you have unworked out sin in your life, you obviously don't understand the Bible, we cannot change our position because once we do it is a slippery slope into liberalism. No wonder people are deserting the church in droves.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1723181899
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review 2016-08-07 23:07
Let Stupidity Reign
Praise of Folly - Desiderius Erasmus,Betty Radice,A.H.T. Levi

Well, what better book to read when you are in the Netherlands than Erasmus' tributed to stupidity. Okay, I'm sure he is not being serious, though it is difficult to tell at times, particularly when he suggests that by being an idiot one does become healthy, wealthy (but not necessarily wise – actually, that would be quite the opposite). Actually, healthy is probably not necessarily something that comes either, but certainly wealth seems to come to a lot of people who simply don't seem to have all that many brains, and that a lot of people are running around with pieces of paper that seem to claim that they are actually really intelligent, but in reality are complete idiots. Actually, that is not at all surprising because my Dad, who was an academic, has actually confirmed that one thing that academics seem to lack is common sense – they may have a university degree, but they haven't made their way in the school of life where they learn that doing stupid things doesn't necessarily pay off.


Actually, what Erasmus was getting at was that in the Europe of his time it seemed to benefit one a lot more to be stupid than to actually be wise. For instance, there are a lot of philosophers out there that don't seem to have all that much to rub together – actually being an artist doesn't seem to do all that much for you, at least while you are alive: as people seem to suggest, the only famous poet is a dead poet (and I suspect that is also the case when it comes to other artists, unless of course you happen to be Justin Beiber, but then again I guess he goes to prove that Erasmus actually has a point).


Look, everybody could rile against bankers, lawyers, and the like, but the problem is that as long as there is money and trade they are going to be with us – which is probably why Lenin, rather unsuccessfully mind you, tried to do away with commerce. Actually, we need to also consider the world in which Erasmus was running around – it wasn't like today where the bankers, lawyers, and such, would actually be the rulers of the country – that was the job of the aristocrats (the Netherlands was still a couple of hundred years away from becoming a republic) – however they still managed to dig their fingers into anything and everything that they could (and if you wanted to see a prime example of stupidity then you need look no further than the aristocracy). It reminds me of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut – the job of a lawyer is to move money from one point to another and take some for themselves, though the reality is not a bit but as much as they can get away with (they'll take all of it if they can generate enough billing hours).


Yet this is the foolishness that Erasmus is poking fun at – the fact that people are so caught up with the acquisition of wealth that they don't actually see the beauty of the world around them. In fact as long as they can surround themselves in a bubble of niceness (such as the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – and that is a classic example – the city itself is beautiful, but jump across the straights of Malacca you will see an industrial hell hole – externalising to the extreme), it doesn't matter what goes on outside of their circle of comfort as long as it doesn't disturb that circle. However this is foolishness to the extreme – they want their comfort but comfort doesn't necessarily equate with happiness. I have lived in a big house with a swimming pool, but as soon as all my friends left after a three day party I was all alone again, and it all fell apart as well (and it wasn't as if I had money either – I didn't – it was just that I managed to score a room in a really cool sharehouse, and when I everybody moved out I was left with the entire house to myself).


They say that there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people, and I am sure this was going through Erasmus' mind at the time. The thing that makes a person stupid is because they don't ask questions, and the reason that they don't ask questions is because they don't want to seem to be stupid, but by not wanting to appear stupid they make themselves stupid by not asking any questions. At other times the reason they don't ask questions is because they believe that they already know the answer, or if the answer is wrong that is irrelevant because as far as they are concerned if that is their answer then that is the correct answer. Have you ever tried to argue with a stupid person? If you have then you'll know what I mean (though, of course, because we don't accept their answer, and their answer is actually right, then it makes us the stupid person).


The conclusion of the book comes down to a criticism of the church. Like [author:Martin Luther], Erasmus went to Rome and was horrified at what he saw. In fact he completely ruined his career by writing books such as Praise of Folly, however I will leave it at that because I am reading the next section of the book, and I will deal with criticism of then church therein.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1718547399
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