Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Watch Out!

Looking for snakes . . .

It’s something I do every day, especially every morning when I first walk out the door, and every evening when I return from fishing or working outside, more especially on rainy days when heaven’s goodness drives the serpents to dry ground.

Looking for snakes. It’s a necessary trade off for living in a beautifully natural setting. I’ve killed over a dozen snakes, perhaps two dozen, over the last five years, seven in one day, mostly venomous copperheads.

I usually awake long before dawn and take my first stab at writing. Two cups of coffee (really two half cups) is my limit, and then at a stopping point I break to wake my puppy and take him outside. Before I do, though, I fill his bowls with water and food, and then turn on the back porch light. Before I step out the door, I always look down and from side to side. Usually I think to myself, "I hope I don’t forget to do this." The son of the previous owner had forgotten to look down and felt the strike, copperhead fangs to the ankle. I look down and from side to side, and then I walk the deck to be sure that some coiled and sleeping serpent has not made himself at home on my property or in my path. A strike would kill the dog and maybe me, at least make me very sick.

Every time I walk to the boathouse I carry a rake or a machete, sometimes my short-barrel shotgun, and always my pistol. I scan everything everywhere. I have killed several snakes on my deck steps. Walking down it’s difficult to see the serpent just beneath the lip of the next step; he's seldom there, but sometimes he is; you wouldn’t want to step on him.

Friday evening as I returned from fishing, I followed my pattern. "Shadow," I said to my little dog, "We have to watch for snakes." My two-million candlepower Q-beam scowered the yard, the flower beds, and every rising step. Nothing tonight, nothing, that is, until I reached my back porch. There, uncoiled but not straight, crooked and still, lay the villain lounging in the dusky light. I commanded my dog, "Shadow, stop! Stay!" I gently lay down my shotgun (I couldn’t shoot my porch, pooch, and living room) and coyly walked past the snake to the hard rake. Carefully and quietly I seized it, flipping the teeth upward and the straight bar downward. I lifted the rake with both hands and then swung downward with all my might. The first blow seldom kills the snake, just numbs it, or, worse, misses and agitates the snake. This time I did some damage to his spine. Second blow–I almost severed the head at three inches and deadly to the mark. Even dead snakes wiggle and writhe and always give me the heebie-jeebies. And he was a big one, about three feet long.

My heart is always in my throat when I kill a snake, I always sweat, and my heart-rate always increases. I also always experience a degree of anger and hatred toward the slithery thing. I turned the rake teeth downward, lifted the limp torso with the tendon-strung head, and said, "Turtle food." An epithet for the snake might have crossed my mind as well.

Snakes are everywhere. No, not those kinds of snakes, but the deadlier kind. The kind that slither into the soul and strike at the mind, will, and heart.

How alert are you? Are you careful or careless, watchful or naive, well prepared or passively unaware, empty-handed or adequately armed?

Snakes love the twilight, not the noonday, the gray day, not the bright.

Carry a Light, a familiar Weapon, and . . .

Watch your step!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Moral and Ethical Question

I'm in Dallas for the next few days. I'm staying with a person who is my superior, and we have a witness in town. We ate dinner last night, and their conversation was full of rampant wickedness.

What's my responsibility? If I'm at dinner hearing ribald humor, what do I do?

Frankly, it's a perplexing situation for me. I didn't participate, but I didn't denounce either. Well, I did at one point in a passive-agressive way

What am I supposed to do? Am I to just disengage, or am I to actively denounce, or something else?

Monday, April 27, 2009

God Doesn't Need You

The least understood aspect in the redemptive work of God is also the most important.

It is this—the first cause and highest motivation of God’s redemptive work is for His own sake, or more specifically, for the sake of His own holiness. Contrary to the most popular “Christian” mantra of the day—Jesus Loves You and has a wonderful plan for your life, God’s chief concern is not the manifestation of His love towards men; rather, it is His own holiness.

But what is holiness?

“Holiness is self-affirming purity. In virtue of this attribute of his nature, God eternally wills and maintains his own moral excellence. In this definition are contained three elements: first, purity; secondly, purity willing; thirdly, purity willing itself “ (A.H. Strong).

Wholly other is often how holy is described. Dorner writes, “that is holy which, undisturbed from without, is wholly like itself.”

Most often we associate “self-affirming purity” to holiness and less often its equally important counterpart—“maintain(ing) his own moral excellence.” However, scripture makes no such distinction:

“Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, ESV).

From Ezekiel (as well as I Jn 1:5 and elsewhere) we learn that the primary cause of God’s restorative action among men is “for the sake of (His) holy name” and the vindication of his holiness. The secondary effect is man. If He is as He is revealed by His word, then God must be holy. And to be holy is to remain holy--“it is the part of goodness to protect goodness” (Dorner). “God must maintain his holiness, for this is his very Godhead. If he did not maintain it, love would have nothing to give away, or to make others partakers of” (Strong).

While it is ever so popular to sing about holiness during praise and worship, it is equally as uncommon to ever hear about it during teaching. (At this point the smartly attuned reader might grab a towel to wipe the drops of sarcasm in my use of distasteful and inaccurate modern church vernacular). Among the reasons that the holiness of God is confined to the modern praise song genre--where verse twelve was established from verse one and reemphasized in six, seven and eight--is that mindlessness often substitutes for the mysterious in contemporary “Christianity.” And the mysterious is rarely explored or taught and hardly ever preached (sans HB). As such, the mystery of God's holiness just isn’t practical enough for the modern “Christian” mind, so it largely lies unexplained and unexplored.

As I have tried to grasp the significance of this idea--God’s vindicating holiness as the first cause and primary motive in setting His Kingdom aright—admittedly, I’ve struggled to find its practical import. Seemingly, this truth would set man further from God rather than closer. That God, and only God, is fit to satisfy His own wrath and maintain His own holiness must be true. But what does this mean for man? For me? How does the high truth of His holiness affect our daily lives? Are we merely an afterthought to God? And as weeks passed by, I found no good answers.

Then, this past week, it hit me.

As I was reading an essay from a particular Swiss theologian, I encountered an idea that I hadn’t considered in a long time—God doesn’t need you.

God doesn’t need anything.

While we are creatures of need, God is not. Further, I thought that this must be an all-important aspect of His holiness, His wholly othernessGod does not need. One of the key truisms of His being “wholly like itself” is just that--God does not need. Otherwise, every being not “wholly like itself” has need. Thus, they are distinguished as creatures.

This underestimated truth—God doesn’t need you—suddenly made the essence of God's holiness more understandable. The practicality of holiness is that at its highest level, in the essence of the Godhead, it isn’t very practical at all. Practicality always necessitates need. If something is to be practical it must first be needful, right? But God doesn’t need us in order to be God. In other words, God does not need to be practical. If He is so, then He wants to be so, but He does not have to be so. Contrary to popular thought, His high truths do not have to be contextualized to man in order to be any truer or effective or relevant. And he certainly doesn’t need you to establish His holiness, nor does He need you in order to preserve His holiness. Thus, the origin of holiness is not practical concerning men—it needs not men in order to be what it is.

“Neither is (God) worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Paul, Acts 17:25, KJV).

But if you insist on practicality, here it is--one practical implication of God’s holiness is for us to realize and rest in the truth that our God needs nothing.

Nothing from us makes Him any more or less God, any more or less holy, any more or less capable of carrying out His will.

But wait a second...Or does it?

I would submit that most “Christians” live as if God does need them. How else could He accomplish His will without our testimony, our prayer, our sacraments, and our efforts? The theological error that comes from this line of thinking—that God does need man in order to accomplish His will—is abundant and popular.

If you doubt what I am saying, then consider these common lines of thinking born from our false sense of God’s need, or just visit any run-of-the-mill church, look and listen:
God needed to create man because He was lonely;
God needs your decision and your cooperation in order to save you;
God needs some men to accept His invitation because He loves them all;
God needs you to help restore His creation and its culture in order to prepare the way for His second coming;
God needs to establish a physical kingdom on earth;
God needs a priest in order to establish His true church, one who perpetually atones for the sins of His people;
And on, and on.

The principle that holiness is a manifestation of love, or a form of benevolence, leads to the conclusions that happiness is the only good, and the only end; that law is a mere expedient for the securing of happiness; that penalty is simply deterrent or reformatory in its aim; that no atonement needs to be offered to God for human sin; that eternal retribution cannot be vindicated, since there is no hope of reform. This view ignores the testimony of conscience and of Scripture that sin is intrinsically ill-deserving, and must be punished on that account, not because punishment will work good to the universe,--indeed, it could not work good to the universe, unless it were just and right in itself. It ignores the fact that mercy is optional with God, while holiness is invariable; that punishment is many times traced to God’s holiness, but never to God’s love; that God is not simply love but light—moral light—and therefore is “a consuming fire” to all iniquity. Love chastens, but only holiness punishes in judgment” (Strong).

Where holiness is not seen as the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God’s action, men will generally have an inaccurate and exaggerated view of their own importance and a theology marked by “a summer ocean of kindliness, never agitated by storms” (Dale). They will also misunderstand God’s love. Where “holiness is a manifestation of love” or worse (ie. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life), then God must have need, since He would need everything to work towards “the securing of happiness” as “the only good, and the only end.” Since we know that this does not always happen, it would make God needy if true--if God is incapable of always accomplishing His will, then He is no longer wholly like himself if anything happens against His will. Incidentally, this is why Joel Osteen can never reconcile a 9/11—ie. certain bad things happen against God’s will. When “holiness is a manifestation of love” it must be this way since it is up to man to meet God’s need, to respond to God’s call, and to help secure the “happiness” God so desperately needs people to experience.

Let me introduce the God of modern America. What an impotent, namby-pamby God!

How different is a true understanding of God, where holiness is the preeminent and fundamental principle in all of God's action.

A true understanding of God realizes that He loves us not because His need is to love, but rather, He loves us because His desire is to love. He loves us because He will love us, not because He should love us. His love isn’t bound by need like ours is; His love knows no bounds. Born out of His holiness, the transcendent nature of the love of God (ie. greater than need since God doesn’t need) meets exactly what men need! If “holiness is the track on which the engine of love must run”(Strong), then all other imitations of love—love not born of holiness--are but malfunctioning trains soon to be derailed. Think of how this implicates our loves here on earth; think of how this should implicate our love towards Him--not solely born of need but of desire as it is reciprocated as best we can.

Only God can meet our deepest need because only God has no need Himself. And as we more fully understand that God needs nothing, perhaps we as his children can more fully know the depths of His holiness, His justice, and ultimately, His love.

Perhaps too, we can live with less need ourselves as we are holy as He is holy, shunning our fleshly idols more often, saying with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As we become more holy and we need less and less, the fear of the Lord will become grafted into our souls more and more as it was with Solomon and Job. We will come to understand how His wholly otherness makes His love possible and ultimately meaningful.

In light of these truths, we should live then not as if God needed us, but rather we should more fully live because He loves us.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Three Men and a Mountain

Once three men stood before a great and strange mountain.

All three men faced the ominous task of climbing the mountain.

The first man saw the mountain and said, "This mountain is too great for us to climb. It is too wide for us to circumnavigate, and too high for us to scale."

The second man was blind and said, "I do not see the mountain."

The third man saw the mountain but said to the other two, "The mountain is only an illusion; the mountain is not real. Even if the mountain is real, it is only temporarily so. If we wait long enough, the mountain will change with the tides or floods or winds, and then we can climb the mountain or detour around it with little problem, or perhaps the mountain is truly as I say, merely an illusion, and will completely disappear and become the faint etching of a faded dream upon our memories."

The mountain that rises before the three men is Evil. Respectively, the three men who stand before the mountain of Evil represent the theist and two kinds of atheists.

The first man is the theist who sees the mountain of evil and admits his impotency to navigate and scale the mountain. "This mountain is too great for us to climb," he says, "and its expanse so great that we cannot get over or around it. Someone Else must do that." The theist knows the mountain is there, but he cannot explain the mountain, or how it came to be.

The second man, the blind man, is the typical atheist who, while denying the existence of God, is blind to the mountain Evil. He does not see that, if he says in his heart, "there is no God," to be logically consistent he must also declare "there is no Evil"; but he is blind to his own illogic; he does not see the philosophical contradiction; he is blind to the ominous mountain that overshadows his boastful claim.

The third man is the logically consistent atheist. He is somewhat reticent to admit the truth of his convictions, but he recognizes that, if he admits the existence of Evil as an absolute entity, he must therefore admit its opposite, absolute Good, for absolute Evil demands the corollary absolute Good; and absolute Good demands the absolute existence of God. The consistent atheist recognizes this trilemma, and with cavalier boldness he decries the mountain as "only a temporary illusion, or an ultimate chimera." To him, Evil is at most only relative, not absolute; Evil is defined by individual or social opinions and, depending upon the tides of time, the floods of circumstances, and the winds of change, the mountain of Evil will erode or evaporate from one generation to the next. The logically consistent atheist knows, embarrassingly, that Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer were temporarily Evil only in relative individual and social terms; exterminating six million Jews, and murdering one’s homosexual lovers and eating their flesh, are Evil only in terms of prevailing opinion as to what is right and wrong. After all, should not the strong survive when nature itself is "red in tooth and claw"? The consistent atheist knows that Raskolnikov was correct when he said,

"Without God, everything is permissible,"

or Kurtz in the Heart of Darkness,
"Exterminate the brutes! Kill them all!"
Where is this Raskolnikov, this Kurtz, this Wise and Fearless One who says,
"Evil is no-thing, just a charming chimera, an elusive illusion, an imaginary mountain."
I have seen the blind man standing before the mountain; he is all around the mountain on every side but cannot see the mountain.

I have heard that the third man also stands before and around, and even on top of the mountain, the Wise and Fearless One with perfect vision of the relative height and depth, the illusory length and breadth of the mountain . . .

I have heard a rumor that he exists, but . . .

I do not see him, and . . .

I do not hear him, only his faint echo . . .

Could it be that this third man, this Wise and Fearless One, is himself an illusion?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Second Amendment Applicable to the States

Some of you will recall that I wrote a piece in this space last year in the wake of the Heller case, where the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to keep and bear arms (as opposed to the right being limited to the need for a militia or the like) and in the process struck down a law passed by Washington D.C. However, as many of you know the Bill of Rights initially worked only to restrict the federal government. For instance, “Congress shall pass no law” really meant the U.S. Congress only. Following the War of Northern Aggression, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified by the States. Jurisprudence interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment (which specifically limits the powers of the several States) gradually incorporated most of the Bill of Rights as being applicable to the States. So Texas can’t establish a religion, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, or engage in cruel and unusual punishment. Only recently have the States been governed by mollycoddling nannies, so the courts have previously not had an opportunity to speak to the issue of whether the Second Amendment is applicable to the States. (ADDENDUM: In doing some additional research, it appears that the 9th Circuit has previously looked at the issue, and in typical nanny-state style deemed the Second Amendment to be a collective right, and not an individual right. The Heller case destroyed that line of thinking.)

Well, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona (this is from memory, so I may have missed a state or two) has spoken, and I am surprisingly pleased by its holding.

The case, styled Nordyke, et al. v. King, et al. pits gun show vendors against the County Board of Supervisors for Alameda County. the County passed an ordinance making it illegal to bring onto or to possess a firearm or ammunition on County property. Historically, a gun show was held annually at the public fairgrounds in Alameda, which was effectively made illegal by the statute. The ordinance was passed under the auspices of being responsive to a shooting that took place at the County Fair and various school shootings, such as Columbine. In fact, one member of the Board (King) had been seeking for a way to specifically ban gun shows for some time, and even sent a memorandum to the City Council to figure out how to do it. In refreshing honesty, King had stated she’d “been trying to get rid of gun shows on County property [for] about three years,” but had “gotten the run around from spineless people hiding behind the constitution.”

In 1996, the 9th Circuit held that the Second Amendment protected only a collective right, not an individual right, which precluded an individual from bringing a suit to challenge the constitutionality of a gun law. The 9th Circuit opened its opinion by affirming that Heller abrogated the court’s previous assertion that an individual couldn’t challenge a gun law.

In the 9th Circuit’s discussion of the law it would apply to the Ordinance at issue, the court cited Heller and other sources to state, “The Second Amendment protects a right that predates the Constitution; therefore, the Constitution did not grant it.”

In order to determine whether a right is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (under a doctrine called Substantive Due Process) courts historically engaged, generally, in the following analysis: whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty; and whether the would-be right is one without which a fair and enlightened system of justice would be impossible. Obviously, that’s a bit esoteric and philosophical, so it has been replaced by a historical survey of whether the right asserted is part of the “actual systems bearing virtually every characteristic of the common-law system that has been developing contemporaneously in England and this country. Therefore, incorporation turns on whether given this kind of system a particular procedure is fundamental–whether, that is, a procedure is necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.” The 9th Circuit wrote that “this culturally specific inquiry compels us to determine whether the right is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” The court then engaged in a lengthy recitation of the history described in the Heller opinion, copiously tracking the history of gun rights in England and colonial America. Of course, this analysis inevitably leads to the conclusion that the right to keep and bear arms predates the Constitution.

The way in which the 9th Circuit quotes the Heller opinion is a testament to the Anglo tradition of jurists writing opinions rather than merely rendering decisions. The force of Scalia’s writing in Heller has lead the most liberal appellate court writing, “We therefore conclude that the right to keep and bear arms is deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” Further, the right “has long been regarded as the true palladium of liberty.” The court concluded that the “crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited.” The Second Amendment was thus determined to be incorporated by the Fourteenth.

In the end, the Ordinance was held to be reasonable since it only applied to government property. This is probably the right decision. However, the big issue in the case was whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right, which it was held to do.

Equally encouraging was this passage from the concurring opinion, “the right to bear arms is a protection against the possibility that even our own government could degenerate into tyranny, and though this may seem unlikely, this possibility should be guarded against with individual diligence.” Well stated.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Salt Minds

I thought of titling this post "Shaping (or being shapened by) Culture," but since (1) I am not a postmillennialist, (2) I disdain the cliched overuse of the term "culture" by quasi-intellectual Calvinists, and (3) the word "shapen" or its derivative "shapened" would confuse too many readers, I chose the catchier "Salt Minds."

From the previous paragraph one should easily deduce two things: first, everyone is influencing, being influenced by, or both influencing and being influenced by culture and, secondly, the viable and vibrant Christian will influence culture like salt influences that upon which it is sprinkled.

Into what category of cultural influence do we fit? Perhaps no one fits into the first category of influencing culture without being influenced by culture (even Jesus Christ emerged from a cultural milieu); that leaves two categories into which we can fall, influencers of, or influenced by culture. We are all in the Louvre, culturally speaking, painters or paintings, sculptors or sculpted, hanging or being hung. In every generation the vast majority of individuals are neither painters nor sculptors, but rather paintings and sculptures, fashioned like clay by superior hands and colored by hues and strokes from the cultural artist's palette and brush. Most of us are hung, not hanging, cynically described by Voltaire as "the savage herd." That leaves only a few cultural artists in every century, a Monet or Mozart here, a Marx or Maimonides there.

The brilliant postmillennialist Abraham Kuyper believed that Christianity, specifically Calvinist Christianity, was the chisel and the brush, not only capable of painting and sculpting culture on a grand scale but predestined to transform culture into a masterpiece fit for display in the very Holy of Holies. Kuyper envisions the Calvinistic transformation of culture in four areas: religion, politics, science, and art. Typical of postmillennialists, Kuyper theorizes that the triumph of Christ's cross necessitates the material and global transformation of culture prior to the Second Advent. Kuyper's cosmic optimism has waned among evangelicals and is embraced now only by those Calvinists who, like the Premillennialists they so ardently oppose, suffer from an errant hermeneutic that desires and expects the globalization of Christianity. Western socialism, Islam, China rising, rampant and rapid philosophical and moral deterioration, and the spectre of World War III seem to be mild setbacks to their optimism, not to mention a superior hermeneutic of which they are unaware.

We shall not deny that the kingdom has come, but we shall deny that it must come as the pathologically pessimistic dispensationalists and their unwitting cousins, the blindly optimistic postmillennialists, wrongly think it will come. "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" "NO!" is heaven’s perennial answer.

That stern negation still leaves everyone of us as sculptor or sculpted, painter or painted, hanging or hung.

But the better, in fact, the biblical metaphor is salt.

Salt does not transfigure its environment but rather seasons it by infiltration, permeation, preservation, and alteration. A little thing, a grain of salt, but large in its influence. Light, too, effects the same: infiltration, permeation, preservation, and alteration. An unsavory cut of meat and a dark night are respectively unpalatable and unnavigable, but with just a sprinkle of salt or one silver sliver of a hopeful moon, a rough-cut sirloin and a black midnight become savory and shimmering.

The world is what it is, and will be what it will be, but salt and light make it palatable and navigable, tasteful and beautiful, even when the world is tough and dark.

So what are you, painter or painted, sculptor or sculpted, hanging or hung, influencing or influenced?

Would you please pass the salt and, oh, yes, flip the switch before you leave, or at least light a candle?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Words Mean Things

I normally try not to bore people with shop talk, but I thought I'd share a work story from today.

Today I tried a case where the Plaintiff sued my client for breach of contract. The Plaintiff was a temp company---companies come to this temp service looking for individuals to hire on a short-term basis. My client signed a contract (which was prepared by Plaintiff's attorney) with Plaintiff, agreeing to pay a certain amount per hour for the temp. The contract also contained this provision (I'm just using Plaintiff and Defendant to identify the parties): "If Defendant hires an employee of Plaintiff within 90 days of the employee's last day on assignment, then Defendant will pay Plaintiff a conversion fee, which is calculated by . . . ."

The temp that was assigned to my client worked for about six months, until one day my client was rather late on a bill it owed to the Plaintiff (no dispute about this). Plaintiff called the temp and told him, "walk off the job; these people aren't paying us. Come back to our office and we'll try to find you another assignment." The temp didn't like the idea of being told to walk off the job (though he did it) and really didn't care for the possibility that the Plaintiff wouldn't be able to find him work, so he told the lady working for Plaintiff who called him that he quit.

After he quit he called my client, told her the story, and asked what to do with the office keys he'd been given. Several hours later, my client (the Defendant) called the temp back and asked him if he wanted to simply come work for Defendant. He agreed, and Plaintiff sued.

This case turned on the meaning of the word "employee." What is an employee? Do you interpret the document to capture its spirit and intent---Plaintiff clearly didn't want Defendant to hire the temp---or do you go with the basic and plain meaning of the term employee, regardless of the consequences?

I argued that (1) the contract must be construed against Plaintiff and in favor of Defendant (meaning that presented with two reasonable interpretations of the document the tie goes to the person who didn't write it), and (2) that the temp was no longer an employee of Plaintiff when my client hired him.

That the contract must be construed against the Plaintiff is black-letter law, and was a near given. However, I almost felt Clintonian disputing about the word "employee."

So let me tell you how it went. I have the president of Plaintiff on the stand and we have the following exchange:

Me: "Mr. G, how long have you been in the employee-staffing business?"

G: "18 years"

Me: "During that time have you come to an understanding of the meaning of the word 'employee'?"

G: "Yes."

Me: "What is the definition of the word 'employee'?"

G: "It's someone who has a job."

Me: "Fair enough. If was working for you, and I told you, 'I quit,' would I still be your employee?"

G: "No, but I'm not aware of Joe [the temp] doing that."

Me: "Are you saying you're not certain whether Joe still works for you?"

G: "As far as I'm concerned he hasn't quit."

Me: "Well, when was the last time he received a paycheck?"

G: "May 31, 2007."

Me: "Do you have a lot of employees you haven't paid in two years?"

G: "Well, sometimes there can be a gap between assignments."

Me: "Do you have workers compensation insurance with your company?"

G: "Yes."

Me: "Is Joe listed on your comp policy as an employee?"

G: "No."

And so it went.

I then put Joe on the stand who testified that he did, indeed, quit Plaintiff before being hired by Defendant.

Now everybody agreed that the purpose of the above-quoted contractual provision was to prevent companies from stealing staff from the temp service. But the issue before the Court (at least the way I presented it) was whether Joe was an employee of Plaintiff at the time he was hired by Defendant.

Well, the judge bought what I was selling and held that the contract did not preclude hiring former employees of Plaintiff.

So how much money was involved? The conversion fee was about $5,000. But the attorney fees sued for amounted to $18,000. Zilch on those claims. (I must note that the did owe about $500 on an outstanding invoice which we have to pay, and minimal attorney fees were awarded on that claim, but we had already offered $2,500 to settle which was rejected). The judge was a little annoyed that such a low-value case was taking up his whole day, but I think justice was served.

Morals of the story: it pays to go into any business that exists solely due to depravity (funeral homes, lawyering, doctoring, etc.); and just as we spent hours and hours arguing over what the meaning of "employee" is because the outcome of the argument had pecuniary implications, so too should we be careful to properly interpret Scripture, not by making frivolous arguments about minutiae, but by diligent study of the Eternal Word of God. It's actually kind of convicting that I spent so much time memorizing ridiculous provisions in this contract, and have memorized no Scripture this week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Ten minutes before the plane departed to California, we learned that our flight was overbooked and we were the last three to get tickets; translation - we were not going to make the flight.

After some scrambling and negotiating, we ended up with $900.00 in vouchers and a $200.00 discount on our rental car; not bad for a slight delay; we were $1100.00 up for the day. How could things get any better?

We finally boarded our new flight and my seat was 25F. A glance down the aisle told me I was n the window seat, and two ladies were already seated in seats 25E and 25D, 25D about 25 years old, and 25E about my age. I hated to trouble them, "Pardon me, ladies, I'm 25F. They stood up, I passed by them and sat down, and they returned to their seats.

Cover up and vividly colorful on the lady's lap next to me was a paperback novel by P. D. James. "My wife loved P. D. James," I said automatically. "Who else does she enjoy?" the lady asked.

The question hovered in my ethereal consciousness only for a moment before I replied, "She died February 11th." Immediately the lady responded, "I am widowed also. My husband died two years ago. I couldn't help but notice your Greek book. He was Greek, and English was his second language.

Amazing Providence - two books precisely relevant to two deceased spouses, two widowed people, two seats, 25E and 25F.

Providence had smiled on the delayed flight, and on the seat 25F. I hoped, and thoroughly believed, Providence was smiling on 25E as well.

The lady in 25E was a full professor of family medicine at the University of Connecticut, a northeastern intellectual culturally familiar with Jesus Christ. I told her about Matt, one more providential connection.

We had much to talk about for the next four hours. The connections were stupendous. The conversation danced around our mutual experiences of a spouse dying of cancer, her husband's being lung cancer and sudden death by a massive stroke that occurred with his first chemotherapy treatment; of course mine focused on Judy's long battle. 25E and I both loved and missed our spouses.

The conversation was heady; two academics exploring death and afterlife. Eventually, the conversation boiled down to the transcendent power of language as a medium to the absolute. 25E was definitely left brain, I right. "What does that mean?" 25E inquired. "It means that words can connect us to absolutes, for instance the word 'love'," I said. "Either an absolute thing called love does exist or it does not, and the word 'love' is our intellectual vehicle to that absolute."

"But don't you think that love is different for all people depending on who they are and their differing circumstances and relationships?" She asked.

"Let me put it another way," I said. "Consider the word 'evil.' Is there such a thing or not?"

"Well, I suppose," said 25E, "that evil is relative to every person's opinion."

"Not at all," I said. "If evil is relative, evil is nothing, only an opinion defined by psychology, sociology, or cultural circumstances and mores. This is where we corner the atheist. To be consistent, s/he must admit the relativity of evil and, once s/he admits that relativity, then the atheist must admit that evil is no more than personal or cultural opinion and therefore not an absolute reality; Evil then becomes nothing, and everything goes. But if the atheist admits the absoluteness of evil, then s/he must admit the absoluteness of good, and thus, of God. I have never met an atheist who would deny the absoluteness of evil, though I suppose Hitler did; so I consider most atheists intellectually inconsistent thinkers."

25E seemed stunned.

"I never thought about it that way," 25E replied. "You've given me something to think about."

I could have cheapened the moment by the cliche, "Would you bow your head and receive Jesus Christ into your heart," but she knew who I was, knew what I believed, and so I just left her to God.

Providence had smiled on 25E and 25F.

25F was amazed.