Sunday, February 26, 2017

Seminary PL36: Risk Management

This is the fifth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-sixth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was on leading meetings. This post is on the topic of risk management.
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1. Risk is part of human life, and the church is no exception. Our individual personalities vary in our propensity for risk. The young tend to take more risks, it sometimes seems. They are more resilient, better equipped to rebound from failure or tragedy, and often unaware of potential consequences.

We tend to get more conservative in our risk-taking as we get older. As we get older, we often have less to gain from risk and more to lose. We may also know more stories of failure and be more aware of danger.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," goes the quote by Benjamin Franklin, and the church is no different. A church that risks nothing is probably a dying church. Jonathan Haidt suggests that the majority of human beings probably fall on the more protectionist end of the spectrum, which suits our survival as a species. [1] At the same time, there is usually a minority of risk-takers in a culture who push the protectors out of their comfort zone. And of course sometimes the protectors kill the risk-takers.

2. Risk management is that part of an organization that calculates the risks associated with various practices, policies, or procedures. It is an important part of any organization, although it should only speak into the decisions of an organization. An organization run by those whose major focus is to avoid risk is probably an organization on the decline.

I heard a parable of two presidents of an organization once. The first president used lawyers to get the organization out of trouble. The second ran decisions through lawyers before making decisions. The organization experienced phenomenal growth under the first. It started a significant downward trend under the second.

Risk should not be taken lightly, but it should not be allowed to paralyze a church or organization. Small churches are notorious for change and risk avoidance. Meanwhile, growing churches and organizations can usually point to key moments when reasonable risks were taken. Mind you, we are probably not talking about crazy risks. Jim Collins and Morton Hansen disabuse us of the notion that successful businesses are run by leaders who are wild, intuitive risk takers. Rather, they are individuals who have good data-driven intuitions. [2]

3. What kinds of risks are there? Here are some areas of risk for a church:
  • legal risk - the major focus of this entry, risks relating to potential lawsuits or legal penalties
  • financial risk - risks to the financial health of the church
  • operational risk - risks to the healthy functioning of the church's operations
  • membership risk - risks to the attendance or participation of a church's attendees
  • impact risk - risks to the impact of the church on the community or the world
  • spiritual risk - risks to the church's relationship with God
Church boards and congregations weigh these sorts of risks all the time when making decisions. How will those who come to this church react to this decision? What impact will this decision have on the community around us? Will this decision improve the spiritual condition of the church or cause it to deteriorate? Will this decision help the church function better or worse? Do we have adequate finances to undertake this venture or will it have a negative impact? What will be the impact on morale if we make this decision?

4. Even though I classified this post in terms of legal risk, I don't mean to give the wrong impression. For the most part, the regulations of the law serve to protect and benefit the people in our churches, including the pastor and staff. Excesses here and there do not outweigh the general good of the law for the people in the church.

Local contexts often have laws that an individual congregation has to address. There are zoning laws, for example, that affect where a church can be located. I knew a church that had to make major changes to its landscaping when it entered into a building program because of local laws. Some contexts can be hostile to churches, making it increasingly difficult to advance. Others direct their prejudices toward other groups.

Perhaps 1 Peter 2:12 is relevant here: "Have such good conduct among the nations that, even when they slander you as bad people, they will be forced to glorify God on the Day of his visitation because they have seen your good conduct." Similarly, "Always be prepared to testify to those who ask about the reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15). If Romans 13:1-7 means anything, it suggests that Christians and churches should abide by the laws of the land--whether they make sense or not--unless they come into direct conflict with serving God.

5. Some of the topics related to legal risk include:
  • contracts
  • background checks
  • taxes
  • insurance
  • financial audit
There are sites that go into much more detail with much more expertise on these sorts of matters than I possibly could. Here are a few:
6. Smaller churches have traditionally handled such things by way of someone who happens to be gifted with accounting or finance. Small churches often have individuals with such gifts in attendance and they often get elected church treasurer. Churches also usually have a small group of individuals appointed trustees to be the legal representatives of the church.

Being part of a denomination usually helps in these areas, as there are usually individuals within the larger organization who can create forms and inform about best practices. The larger organization usually has a legal structure within which it operates and the smaller church can simply fill in the blanks of that legal framework. Larger churches will typically hire someone to take care of these dimensions of the church.

7. So a church should have by-laws that establish who has legal authority within the church. For my church, The Wesleyan Church, our Discipline establishes the overall legal framework for churches in the denomination.

My denomination gives yearly tax advice to its pastors and churches. The tax situation of ministers is more complicated than for most people, and it is not uncommon for those who prepare taxes not to be familiar with the details. Ministers are usually considered to be self-employed, which means that they can deduct a housing allowance from their salary. They also then have to pay their social security directly (rather than the church paying it).

8. The ins and outs of such things can be rather complicated. For example, the Affordable Care Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act put restrictions on part time labor and require insurance for certain people. But these are moving targets, especially as presidential administrations change. Hopefully a local church is either part of a denomination tracking such things for them or it has one or more gifted individuals who can seek out the proper information.

The Affordable Care Act provided new means for pastors to have solid health care. Denominations use different insurance groups. Some pastors use groups like Brotherhood Mutual or Christian Healthcare Ministries. Some of these groups operate by reimbursing members after they have paid for an expense. In this way, their yearly cost depends on the actual amount of medical expense after the fact rather than on a calculation of a probability beforehand. The downside is that the insuree may be out of pocket some in the meantime.

9. A church's financial books should have a yearly audit by a third party that does not have conflicts of interest with the treasurer. Accountability is key to preventing and catching wrongdoing, as well as to making the broader congregation have confidence in the church.

10. Special care should be taken in relation to those who would work directly with children. A background check is in order. This should be a policy rather than a matter of special resource. No one should be singled out.

It is good practice for youth groups to have parents sign their permission for any special activities that may take place. Such permission usually asks for emergency contact information and perhaps permission to get medical treatment if necessary. Sometimes such permission forms ask the parent not to hold the church responsible for any accidents that may take place on the trip or outing. Such statements would not let the church off the hook for any gross negligence.

11. Confidentiality is not only loving and therefore Christ-like. It is wise. The private information of employees should be kept private. The biblical world was a shame culture but the Western world is not, and shaming does not have the same consequences that it had in the biblical world. "Discretion is the better part of valor."

12. I would hope that the church--of all institutions--would be an equal opportunity employer. Churches that do not hire women or people of color for those reasons are a disgrace and embarrassment to God and the kingdom. The composition of a church should at least look like the community in which it is located. Even better, it should move toward the kingdom of God in Revelation 7:9, where people of every nation, tribe, people, and language will be present on an equal footing.

13. When deciding whether to take a risk, there are a number of options:
  • Don't take the risk.
  • Reduce the risk in some way.
  • Share the risk with some other entity.
  • Fully take on the risk. [3]
Doing a risk assessment should be part of any new proposal. There will always be risk in any decision--including not making a decision. Doing nothing is often much riskier than taking a chance on some other course of action. This relates to the hats of Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats. In this tool, he suggests your group think through a decision by going through several "hats" in the process. You are not supposed to mix the hats but only use the way of thinking of each hat, one at a time (I have changed the hats from how he used the colors):
  • gray hat - facts and figures, data only
  • red hat - how are you feeling about it (no facts, just feelings)
  • yellow hat - what are the negatives (I am changing this to relate to caution)
  • orange hat - possibilities thinking, positive speculation (changed from his list)
  • green hat - creative thinking
So when you are wearing the yellow hat, as I am defining it, you consider risk and possible negatives. You get it all out of your system. Then you have to let the other hats have their full say when you are doing them. The yellow hat can be put on again but it is not allowed to infect the orange or green hat times as I am defining them. This limits naturally negative people to just those parts of the discussion when the negatives are being discussed, when the "yellow hat" is on.

Bottom line: "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 37: Muzzling Oxen and Burying Talents

[1] The Righteous Mind.

[2] Great by Choice.

[3] See "Risk Management" in Wikipedia.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Saturday, February 25, 2017

7.2 Voltage Reference

This is the second section of Module 7 in the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series, a module on parallel circuits. The first section was:

7.1 Solving Complex Circuits

1. This section largely looked at the difference in voltage depending on where you are measuring that difference in a circuit. Here I'm reminded of a distinction that was made earlier in the series. Technically, voltage is not the same as the electromotive force coming out of the battery. Voltage is a difference in potential.

So close to the negative post of a battery you have more electrons than you have at the positive post of a battery. The difference is the volts. Positive voltage means that the point we are measuring has fewer negative charges than the point to which we are measuring.

2. Some circuit components require "negative voltage," so circuits can be designed to supply both negative and positive voltages. Both of course have the same "zap," but one involves more electrons than the other.
symbol for ground

3. A ground is when part of the circuit runs through, say, the chassis of a car. The symbol for a ground is at the right.

Sometimes a ground doesn't complete a circuit but is a reference point. You can then measure different voltages between this point and other parts of the circuit.

The symbol for a connection to a chassis, perhaps used as a reference
Chassis ground
point is to the left.

4. A telegraph operated with a single wire over long distances, grounded at both ends. The sending telegraph connected the circuit for a short or longer moment, the ground completing the circuit on both ends, standing for a dot or a dash.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Seminary PL35: Leading Meetings

This is the fourth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-fifth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was on project management. This on is on leading meetings.
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1. I have often said that only people who do not like meetings should lead meetings. Meetings that go on and on without accomplishing anything are torturous to many and probably a waste of people's time.

Of course, if it's fellowship you're going for, then that is a valuable purpose. But you have to wonder if there are better ways to accomplish it. Church board meetings often take place on a weeknight after people have had a full day's work. It's unlikely that most people are looking for hours and hours of time given where nothing is accomplished.

Different people also have different personalities. An extrovert may thrive on lots of personal interaction in a business meeting while the introverts are suffering in silence and the task-oriented personalities are going crazy. In most cases, meetings for fellowship should be kept separate from meetings meant to accomplish things.

2. Again, some people love to schedule meetings. But in an organization, a meeting that does not accomplish anything or move toward accomplishing something robs the organization of time that could have been spent accomplishing something. If you do not have any business, cancel the meeting. Most people will thank you.

The leader calling a meeting can forget that the other people may not be as invested or focused on the domain of that meeting as he or she is. The people in the room may be sitting there dreaming of all the other things they need to do while the oblivious leader of the meeting is obsessed with his or her world. Again, this will be perceived as a waste of time.

3. So there are ad hoc meetings that are called to address a specific task or purpose and there are regularly scheduled meetings. A specially called meeting can help bring the right people into a room to address a specific concern or project. In such cases, you want the right people in the room--the people with the best ideas and the people who are in a position to get something done. You'll have to use your judgment on people who might be offended if they are not invited or consulted.

A friend of mine once said, "If there are more than six people in the room, then the decision is being made elsewhere." Groups of a certain size are not well-suited to formulate plans or draft policies. In most cases, some smaller group will have come together to draft a proposal that is then only modified in a larger context. A church board or organization's board should thus not be too big, unless smaller committees are doing the heavy lifting and the larger board is only amending or ratifying the proposals drafted elsewhere. Ten is a round number.

4. Regularly scheduled meetings ensure that the normal operations of the church or organization are moving forward. Sometimes such meetings serve as a check in, a time to report and keep the different members connected. Again, such sharing can get out of hand, but keeping connected as a team is a significant function. Sometimes the function of such meetings is to keep the boss informed of what the organization is actually doing, what its successes and problems are.

I have been on several committees where the purpose was not so much to make decisions but to keep communication flowing between separate parts of the organization. For example, I am on a "coordinating council" whose current purpose is to keep the three different ministry units of the university aware of what the other units are doing, even though they are organizationally separate from each other. At one time I was on a council whose main purpose, I thought, was to keep the Provost of the university informed about what all the different academic units of the school were doing, although occasionally to seek advice. So there are other legitimate purposes for a meeting, not only to make decisions.

5. An agenda should be sent out before a meeting, and then minutes should be kept of the meeting. Minutes are a record especially of the motions and votes taken at a meeting, perhaps including who made motions and who seconded them. A person is usually elected or designated as a secretary to keep the minutes. They can be more or less detailed. Some items can be left out of the minutes or only referred to obliquely, if they are sensitive. The most important aspects of minutes are the motions and decisions made.

A typical agenda consists of:
  • Opening prayer
  • Approval of minutes
  • Reports
  • Old Business
  • New Business
  • Adjournment
A good leader of a meeting (the "chair" of the meeting) will try not to let things get bogged down at any one point. Some people like to talk, for example. Others probably do not talk enough. I knew one group that had a stuffed animal that you held if you were speaking. Then someone else could take it away from you if you went on too long. I personally felt that approach was unnecessarily demeaning, but it seemed to work for that group.

Reports can especially sap a lot of time. You might ideally then distribute them before the meeting so that they only need to be summarized at meeting time. Getting materials to a committee several days in advance is extremely helpful in minimizing the actual amount of time you need to spend on matters when you are together.

Assigning time limits to each part of the agenda is especially helpful in moving the meeting along.

6. If you get bogged down at some point of the agenda, you will need to make some decisions. What really needs to get done at this meeting for the organization to move forward? What can wait for the next meeting? You might arrange the schedule to get a number of small tasks done quickly so that the remainder of time can be given to a larger item.

There is one meeting I go to where I know I will be deferred to the next meeting if we hit any snag with my proposals. I would say that the leader of the meeting has an internal clock and if I don't have my ducks in a row, I will get postponed. I would say that is the sign of a good leader of a meeting.

Old business is of course business carried over from a previous meeting. Usually you will address such matters first, but it is generally the prerogative of the person leading the meeting to order the agenda in such a way that the most urgent items get taken care of. New business is of course business being introduced for the first time.

Many meetings last an hour, a nice duration. Many others go an hour and a half or two hours. The more important the meeting, the more appropriate for it to go a little longer. But meetings shouldn't waste people's time.

The chair of a meeting usually does not participate in the debate but serves to make sure it runs smoothly and that the proper rules are followed. If a chair wishes to participate in debate, he or she might ask someone else to chair the meeting or might relinquish the chair for a brief period of time. The goal of a chair should be to be objective, like a judge.

7. It is conventional to use Robert's Rules of Order as the basis for running a meeting because they provide a framework for maintaining order. Otherwise, especially when there is disagreement, a meeting can descend into chaos. Many organizations have "by-laws" or "standing rules" for the way they conduct business. Often one of these by-laws will state that Robert's Rules of Order serve as the basis for how business is conducted. These rules are also called, "parliamentary law."

Of course some personalities can go overboard. It's almost comical, but also quite frustrating, when debates over parliamentary law erupt in the middle of a meeting. In such cases, an organization sometimes has a "parliamentarian" to give a ruling on who is in the right. Process oriented people can especially get obsessed with the way things are done and lose sight of what you are trying to get done.

It should go without saying that the goal is the goal, not the process to get there. Good practice in process serves the purpose of getting to goals smoothly with everyone on board and with proper ethics observed. Obsession on process that goes beyond moving toward the goal smoothly and ethically is just plain unhelpful, perhaps even neurotic.

8. Parliamentary law follows the pattern of 1) motion, 2) second, 3) discussion, and 4) vote. The idea of a "second" is that more than one person has considered the idea worthy of discussion. "Seconding" a motion does not necessarily mean you will vote for it. In fact, you do not have to vote for something even if you motioned it. Something can be worthy of discussion even if it is voted down in the end. Motions that come from another committee are considered already to have been seconded.

Usually you do not discuss a motion until it has been seconded, but common sense is in order. If you know you are going to discuss and vote on something, then taking the motion and a second is a bit of a formality. Remember, the purpose of the rules is to get you to the goal. Man was not made for parliamentary law, but parliamentary law for man.

Most votes require a majority vote, and you need to have a quorum for the vote to count. A quorum usually means that one more than 50% of the voting members are present at the meeting. If it is an important issue with strong feelings and a divided committee, it is most ethical to defer consideration until a substantial number of the committee are present. However, if appropriate notice has been given and the meeting is normally scheduled, then any decisions technically stand. [1]

9. There are some subsidiary motions that are sometimes used in more formal settings. Here are just a few:
  • If discussion is dragging on and on, such that the discussion has reached a kind of stalemate, you can "move the previous question" in order to end debate. Simply saying these words does not end debate. You need a two-thirds vote to end debate. The motion is not subject to discussion but must be taken immediately. If two-thirds vote in favor of ending debate, then you must then immediately take a vote on the motion that had been under consideration.
  • The motion to table a motion means that the topic will go away indefinitely until someone moves to take off the table that item. Both motions require a simple majority vote. Neither of these motions is debatable. A vote on whether to table or take from the table should be taken immediately. [2]
  • You can move to amend a motion. That motion must be seconded. Then you discuss the amendment and vote on it. It is common for people to get lost in what you are voting on. Good leaders usually then clarify, "We are voting on the proposed amendment now, not the original motion."
  • A point of order is when someone wants to point out that the process has somehow gotten off track. A point of clarification or information asks for the leader to clarify what's going on.
  • Other motions include to postpone, to refer to committee, to call for a "division of the house" (that is, to count the votes rather than simply go on the impression of a voice vote), to "reconsider" something already voted down (someone who voted for the motion needs to make this motion), to have a "point of personal privilege," to appeal the chair's decision, and to "divide the motion" into parts to be considered separately.
Here's an online "cheat sheet" for Robert's Rules. Many of these rules are unnecessary for a smaller, less formal situation where everyone is on the same page. For example, if everyone is ready to adjourn, taking a vote seems a bit overkill. Similarly, most will be in complete agreement to "postpone" an item to the next meeting. Why waste time taking a vote? However, if in doubt, do it right.

10. A colleague of mine tells a story from Wesleyan Church history to impress on students the value of knowing parliamentary law. In the 1970s, there had been a study committee to explore a merger between The Wesleyan Church and the Free Methodist Church. The committee recommended merger.

But at the general conference, the crafty general superintendent asked for a motion to "receive" the recommendation with heart felt thanks, not to "adopt" the recommendation. A motion to receive was made, seconded, and the majority of the body voted to "receive" it. I personally left the conference thinking that we had just merged denominations.

But they had only voted more or less to thank the committee for their work. No motion to adopt the recommendation had taken place, and the two churches remain separate to this day.

Next Week: Pastor as a Leader 36: Risk Management

[1] Although see the motion to "reconsider."

[2] I heard a story recently about a motion that had been tabled, but a certain group was so insistent that it be killed that they voted to take it off the table. The motion then went on to be passed. If they had just left it alone on the table, it might have never been brought up again. :-)

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

11. Security Corps

Joseph Goebbels
The review continues of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the first eleven chapters were:
1. In this chapter we see the team of crazies that surrounded Hitler as they began to come together. We also see how he steadily took control of the National Socialist Party and how he put in place the SS (security corps), his personal bully squads.

The title of the chapter is "Few Flames Burn in Germany," It comes from a quote by one of Hitler's key circle, Joseph Goebbels, who believed that there were only few really great men in Germany, one of which, of course, was himself.

Goebbels was a key player in Hitler's taking power over the National Socialist party. He had actually been the right hand man of Hitler's main opposition in the party, Gregor Strasser. Ironically, Goebbels had a disability, a crippled foot. It is ironic because of the way the Nazis would go on to treat those with disabilities. Goebbels tried to pass off his disability as a result of fighting in the Great War, something that was patently false. When Goebbels switched sides from Strasser to Hitler, that perhaps marked a turning point in Hitler's control over the National Socialist party.

2. It was during the late 1920s that Hitler would retreat to property owned by his half-sister in the southeast of the country, Berechtesgaden. It was also during this time that Hitler wrote his two-volume work, Mein Kampf ("my struggle"). "The keynote of the book is the noisy style which signifies: Be silent, you others, I alone am right; disappear, I am the only one who matters" (283).

"In the whole book hardly a single actual fact is related tangibly and credibly" (284). Here is the fake news from another time. They create "a whole school which falsifies facts and calls the result higher truth." Hitler more or less controlled the party media, another key to his success. Goebbels would write lots of fake news for the paper in the late 20s, made up stories of his own heroism. Jews were often the fabricated enemy in these stories, out to destroy him.

Goebbels would be in charge of propaganda.

3. As he tried to solidify his place in the National Socialist party, Hitler sided with whomever he needed to. While others sided with the grass roots people, Hitler sided with the upper class who were affording him what little funding he had. "We stand for the maintenance of private property," he said when he needed the leaders of capital on his side. And yet at the same time "We are at odds against the old bourgeois world." "The movement against the princes is a Jewish swindle" and yet the Jews were the bankers trying to take over the world.

"Step by step, the party became Hitler's property" (291). And when he had control, "the Nationalist Socialist Party ceased to be a democratic party" (292). Now Hitler would appoint all those down the line and there would be no elections for his leadership. His powers over the party are very substantial and will not be questioned.

4. Interestingly, there were a number in the National Socialist group who were openly homosexual (Hitler's old friend Röhm, Zentner, Heines with the SA, Bäumler). They argued that the superior person was the male who was not distracted by women and referenced Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, Caesar, and others, along with Plato's Symposium. They would eventually meet a similar fate to the Jews. But for a time they formed a significant subgroup of the National Socialists.

5. Hitler was immensely afraid in this period of doing anything illegal. He didn't want to be kicked out of Germany as an Austrian. He wanted to take over Germany legally now. In 1928, the Nazis had twelve people in parliament, including Hermann Göring, who returned from abroad during a time of amnesty.

Hitler provoked quarrels among his lieutenants. He set up a kind of party court to process accusations within the party. But to outsiders all Nazis were innocent. "If a party member was proved guilty of private immorality, dishonest business conduct, exploitation of employees," the formula was, "Well, what of it?" (302). The party had no time for squabbling over personal morals.

Within the storm troopers, the SA, or perhaps to take their place, Hitler set up the S.S., the security corps. "My honor is loyalty" was their motto, and they had to purchase their own uniforms. "A small band of the best and most determined is far more valuable than a large mass of camp followers" (304).

The SS were "chosen average men in positions of mastery" (308). They were merely "good material." "The good material does not discuss, but only obeys and commands" (309).

6. It is at this point that Heinrich Himmler also joins the scene. He is not brilliant but he is industrious, precise, and thorough. "Himmler is an excellent example of what a task can make of a man. He had a task of the first order to solve, and the task made him" (306). "He is a wire activated by the electric current, connecting important parts." He has a certain frightful detached objectivity. He can bring about the most grisly of horrors because he is merely accomplishing a task in a precise and thorough way.

"It is a quality inherent in a body of men working for a common purpose that great results can be achieved by the men who are not great." Hitler remarked, "the strength of a political party lies, not in having single adherents of outstanding intelligence, but in disciplined obedience."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Paul 8

I probably will remove and edit these installments of the Paul novel as each chapter finishes. For the moment, here is the end of the first chapter.
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Chapter 2
It was some thirteen years later that Saul and Barnabas embarked on their mission to Cyprus. It was during that mission that "Saul" started going by "Paul," even though he had that name from the first year of his life. It started one day when Sergius Paulus called him "Paul."

"Why not go by your real name?" he teased.

That night in a dream the Lord said to him, "Yes, Paul, with this name you will be my apostle to the Gentiles."

The mission team had originally planned to return straight to Antioch after they had preached on the island of Cyprus. But Paul was now thinking much bigger. If the door was open to Gentiles, then the good news needed to be preached throughout the whole world as quickly as possible. After all, Jesus might return any day to be king of the world. So the church needed to get moving a whole lot faster than they were. Just think of how many people were without hope if they did not hear!

Paul sensed the tug of the Holy Spirit northward from Cyprus, to Galatia. As always, Barnabas listened patiently and thoughtfully to Paul's change of plans. If they needed more resources, Paul said, they could merely run over to his home city in Tarsus.

Paul's family was rich compared to most people in the Roman world. In 64BC, when the Roman general Pompey had intervened in the politics of Jerusalem, he had forced Paul's great grandfather into service making tents and other leather goods for him. Pompey dragged him north to Cilicia during his battle with the pirates of the area.

As unpleasant as it was, his great-grandfather was granted Roman citizenship as a result, and his family became very prosperous in the years to come. So Paul was born Gnaeus Pompeius Paulus. At home, he was not accustomed to working with his own hands. He was used to bossing others around to do that.

Paul had spent about eight years back in his home country of Cilicia after Jesus appeared to him...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Riddles of Hebrews

I was honored to be part of a panel at the regional SBL at St. Mary's College in South Bend along with Amy Peeler, Jason Whitlark, Jared Callaway, and Clare Rothschild, with Eric Mason giving an overall response. Brian Small moderated. I felt like we were being invited to indulge a little in the sin of speculation, so I did. My whole 15 minute response is on academia.edu

Why Hebrews?
The central exhortation of Hebrews, repeated over and over, is that the audience needs to "hold fast" and persist in faith.

What's causing the hesitation?
While there are probably multiple factors, the exhortation to hold fast is most centrally supported by the author's central argument, which is that Christ's atonement is sufficient. So,
  • Something has caused them to doubt that atonement for their sins is secure.
  • They are also fearing impending persecution and hardship for their faith.
What might cause them to doubt atonement and fear impending persecution?
  • destruction of the temple
  • hard to think of what might cause this prior to temple's destruction, since even expulsion from the synagogue would not clearly imply that the temple was not effective for them
  • There is language of place alienation--"we have here no remaining city," "they are strangers and aliens," "they are seeking a homeland," "a city," "go outside the camp." Rome and Jerusalem are the two cities that come to mind, perhaps both. If Jerusalem were in mind, its destruction would fit this language.
When was it written?
  • If written before 70, it is a strong polemic against the temple. But the central argument of Hebrews does not argue not to utilize the "tabernacle."
  • If written soon after 70, it is a strategy to help them not to be troubled by the destruction of the temple.
  • 2:3 seems to imply a second generation, post-Paul Christian author
  • Hebrews seems like a post-Pauline development, one step further
  • Mention of Timothy suggests it can't be too late, as does its quotation by Clement
Where?
  • Can't be said definitively, but Rome commands the most support: "those from Italy greet you," reception history in Rome versus east, quotation by Clement of Rome
  • Leaders have died in a previous persecution, property taken--we don't know much of the early church, but this fits Rome.
  • Timothy was in Ephesus recently, perhaps written from Ephesus, although this is really speculation.
Audience?
  • 6:2-3 doesn't have a list that a Jewish audience would have learned upon coming to Christ. But it would be appropriate for Gentiles.
  • An argument can be made that the Roman church was primarily Gentile and that it was more in continuity with Jerusalem Christianity than Pauline.
  • The unargued incorporation of Gentiles within the seed of Abraham, the universality of Psalm 8, may suggest more a Gentile than Jewish audience. To say such things to Jews would be quite exclusive of Gentiles, but Hebrews does not have that feel.
Type of Literature?
  • A mailed sermon
Author?
  • A he (11:32)
  • Greek-speaking, highly educated, probably a Jew
  • Someone well aware of the Pauline school and the Jewish Scriptures
  • A cumulative case of superficial similarities to Philo's writings would fit an Apollos, although we cannot know.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

10. Germany's Return from Despair

Chapter 11 today. I've been reading Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the first ten chapters were:
1. 1925 was a year of recovery for Germany. For a while, things were going too well for Hitler to gain traction. He got out of prison in December, 1924. It was a far shorter time than his sentence should have been, but he had sympathetic--or perhaps guilt ridden acquaintances in the Bavarian leadership. They wanted to have nothing to do with him when he got out, though, for his instigation of the coup attempt.

Hitler hoped for a time when the economy might fall out and he might find once again an ear for his fiery rhetoric.

In the meantime, his strategy was, "Be simple, be primitive, be brutal!"

I recognize rhetorical genius here. Complexity loses when you are trying to convince a large group of people. The current president won using simple slogans like "Crooked Hillary," "Lying Ted," and "Lock her up," which he repeated over and over again. Such slogans overwrite detailed arguments or reasoning.

"In propaganda the same thing must be repeated indefatigably" (256).

2. Hitler knew that to gain momentum among the masses, he needed to find an enemy that was a kind of person and an ideological cause. For Hitler, the type of person was the Jew. The cause was communism. Right now in America, it is the Muslim and the liberal (e.g., "elite liberal media"). All Muslims are lumped together as terrorists and anyone who objects to the president's agenda is called a liberal, even though both of these notions are patently false.

Again, Hitler cleverly realized that "By one enemy, if necessary, many can be meant" (257). In other words, the key was the label, not the substance. You throw all your enemies into the title. The key is not whether it is true but whether you can get the labels to stick.

Hitler also recognized that you can't take on every enemy at once. Take the Catholic Church. Hitler saw it as an enemy, but he knew not to take it on at first. Reserve it for later. So the person rising to authoritarian power sometimes allies with a group that he or she then may turn on once in power.

3. There was a wave of authoritarianism and conservatism sweeping Europe in the 20s. Mussolini had taken over in Italy. A dictator took over in Poland. Spain had a dictator. "An ideal was extinguished which had shone for a century; the association of national freedom with the immortal human rights of the American and French revolutions" (271).

Meanwhile Hitler had his work cut out for him. He had "to convince the masses that they were doing badly while actually they were getting along fairly well." It is easy to compare ourselves with where we might be. It is harder to recognize how things could be worse. The grass is always greener on the other side, even though it usually isn't.

4. A couple quotes to end the chapter:
  • Hitler took any statement of fact as a criticism. (251)
  • "Reason can treacherously deceive a man, emotion is sure and never leaves him." Hitler (255).

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Paul 7

from last week
__________________
After he received the letter from Pilate to Flaccus, Saul began the journey of about a week from Jerusalem to Damascus. He started by going down to Jericho. He had spent enough time spying out these Jesus-followers, that their stories filled his head.

So on the way to Jericho, he thought of that story about a man who was mugged on his way to Jericho, and how a Samaritan helped him along the way. He hated that story. Filthy Samaritan. The priest or Levite should have been the hero. But deep down he knew that as a Pharisee, he wouldn't have stopped to help the man either. It would have made him unclean. It repulsed him that Jesus made this ill-bred Samaritan with a skewed religion the hero of the story.

At the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea, he headed north. Here he saw the place where John the Baptist had baptized, the place where Jesus was baptized. He liked the call to repentance--at least calling other people to repent--but for him it should have been a call to keep the Law. On the other hand, he had never felt like he really needed to repent much, because he kept the Law so perfectly.

Three days later they reached the Sea of Galilee. Here he remembered stories of Jesus calming storms and calling followers. Jesus' followers believed that he had appeared to Peter here after his death. Preposterous, although Saul did believe in resurrection. He believed strongly in the resurrection of the righteous out of the grave when God restored the world. But it was supposed to happen all at once, not just one person out of order.

It took three more days to get to Damascus from the Sea of Galilee. Damascus had featured prominently in one of the founding documents of the Essene community, their "Covenant of Damascus." Some Essenes took the scroll literally and thought that the Messiah would establish his rule there. Saul had heard that at least one of Jesus' disciples, a particularly zealous one named Simon, had launched a mission in that area.

But the whole time he had this gnawing question inside. Could he be wrong about Jesus? It was hard to argue with the reports of miracles. Stephen had died with such confidence. How did Philip escape him so easily? What if God turned out to be gracious and compassionate, full of mercy. Isn't that even what Jonah and other passages said?

As they neared the city of Damascus, Saul suddenly was blinded by a bright light. He heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He answered by asking, "Who are you, Lord?" But he knew the answer. It was Jesus. All his inner fears were released and he knew. He had been on the wrong side all along. Jesus in fact was the Lord!