Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East

Ravi Zacharius and Abdu Murray, Seeing Jesus from the East: A Fresh Look at History's Most Influential Figure (Zondervan Reflective, 2020).

I have been anxious to read this book, and it did not disappoint. Ravi Zacharius was not on my radar prior to the beginning of June 2019, when he was recommended to me by the mother of a friend. Some time after that I planned to go to a Christian Legal Society retreat where the guest speaker was Abdu Murray, the senior vice-president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In between those two events Ravi was diagnosed with cancer and after the retreat COVID-19 hit, Ravi died, and the release of the book was delayed by an extra month.

Abdu Murray was one of the most powerful speakers I have had the privilege of hearing. Born to a Muslim family from Lebanon (the country, not the city in Pennsylvania) he converted to Christianity. Along the way, he also became an attorney.

Both Murray and Zacharius excel at apologetics- the defense of Christian beliefs or, as Peter states, "being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you....." (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Murray's legal training and construction of his defense issuperb, but that is not what fascinated me.

In this book, Zacharius and Murray write separate chapters highlighting how the Western interpretation of the Bible is different from the Eastern interpretation. While we know intellectually that Jesus was from the Middle East, we seem to think of his teachings as Westerners. We force the "Jesus-peg" into our hole. When Murray spoke at the retreat, he re-cast the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard into an Eastern perspective. That was one of the "a-ha" moments I had.

If the book was just a matter of demonstrating how we miscast the teachings of Jesus, it would be well worth the price. There is, however, so much more.  The reader learns how to witness to others and exposes some of the popular fallacies and misconceptions of Christianity and other faiths. 

In a little over 200 pages, plus endnotes, there is too much information for me to cover here. Just buy two copies- one for you and one to give to a friend (or donate to a church library) and keep your eyes open for another book from Abdu Murray- he intends to write a book on the subject of Jesus and slavery.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

What Can I Do?


I always like to take a few days before I comment on something. Often, the initial story is incorrect or misleading and new facts come to light. Other times I might be inclined to let emotion- or lack thereof- interfere. 

So it was with the murder of George Floyd. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Trayvon Martin. And so many more. 

I grew up in a time when the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. were the goal of society.  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I earnestly tried to live these words. To me, color was unimportant- because I was more interested in the person.  The color blind world was something noble to be achieved. We are no closer to achieving that goal now than we were when those words were first spoken. 

My realization is that I am complicit in the failure. I my fault lies in trying to be color blind before I had earned that right. I never understood the “Black Lives Matter” movement- until recently. The fact that Black Lives Matter was so obvious to me, that I missed the point. The point is, that in many circles Black Lives DON’T Matter.  If you question this, you haven’t been paying attention to prison population, poverty statistics, and the deaths of so many black men. 

So where do we- where do I- start to combat the problem? 

I don’t believe I have the right to decide how to combat the problem. I am not the one affected. There have been too many people who condescend with the best and worst of intentions. I can’t understand the history. I can have ideas- I can have suggestions, but I have no skin in the game. I have never been a black man, so I can never know what it is like to be a black man.

How does a white man stand for his brothers and sisters of other colors and beliefs? I must admit, I don’t know. I believe that ultimately there must come a meaningful conversation that transcends differences- while acknowledging differences exist. We cannot rely on government to direct us. None of our groups are monolithic. I am open to suggestions. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Secret Behind Legal Fees

Did you ever wonder why lawyers charge so much?  You'll hear the same old story about arcane knowledge and student loans. Malpractice insurance and office leases. Books and continuing legal education.  You'll hear the excuse that there so much that goes into a legal action and that if you want to get results you have to pay for it. Then there is the pet food for all those bull dogs, lions, tigers, and bears that attorneys try to convince you they are. Finally, you know they are competent because they either smile with artificially white teeth or the don't smile and strike a stern and threatening posture with their arms folded.

You may ask, "Are there any other reasons?"  Funny you should ask because there are other reasons.

1. Attorneys make money because you let them. They will ask for a retainer of several thousands of dollars. Many attorneys will not even consider a case unless you can pony up $5,000.00 or more of retainer. Twenty-five hours at $200.00 an hour. They will earn every penny of that. They will give you status updates when there is nothing has changed. They will send emails and make phone calls and draft letters and review your file. And they will dutifully mark the time on their billing software. Question them and the excuse is that "the other attorney is ___________ (fill in the blank)." You see, opposing counsel is responsible for the fees you are being charged.

B. More conflict = More fees. You have gone to see an attorney because there is conflict that you have been unable to settle. If you have one issue, the attorney will make "X" amount of money.  If the attorney can convince you that there are other issues, the attorney will make multiples of "X" amount of money. So, in an attempt to get you "what you deserve," the attorney "creates" conflict where none necessarily need exist. Furthermore, "what you deserve" is always something that the other person has- so it is their fault for not giving it to you in the first place. Opposing counsel is the reason you have to pay more.

Let me give you a real-life example from the case files of Christopher B. Enck. I was handling a divorce that could have been very simple. The parties were living apart and most of the marital estate had already been divided. There were a few minor issues that needed to be resolved and I presented the unrepresented spouse with a settlement proposal that was, in my eyes, very reasonable. That spouse decided to hire an attorney- which was their right. The simple litigation was prolonged for more than a year, cost the spouse several thousand dollars and my client several hundred. In the end, we reached an agreement that cost the spouse more than if he had accepted the proposal that I presented earlier.

It is true that my "loyalty" was to my client. It was also true that we discussed the settlement and I told my client that the opportunity existed to possibly receive a better settlement. My inclination is generally to be reasonable in an offer and to reasonably negotiate. It saves time and money if both parties are realistic and meet in the middle, rather than negotiate from extremes and meet in the middle anyway. My client respected that approach and approved of the position.

To be fair, there are times when conflict may need to be created and sizable retainers make sense. If you are planning a divorce and you have young children, working on custody might prevent future trouble. If you are faced with criminal charges, a big retainer to an attorney might keep you out of prison. There is also the fact that, unlike a mechanic who can keep your vehicle if you don't pay your bill, an attorney's work product is their knowledge and creativity. Once litigation is over, a client does not have an incentive to pay a bill- and I have had to file suit against numerous clients to recover my fees.

In the end you pay for what you get; you don't necessarily get what you pay for.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Der Kommissar's in town

Four months since my last post and I start by making a reference to an 80's pop song. https://youtu.be/vBfFDTPPlaM

This is the world in which we find ourselves.  In my state of Pennsylvania, we have had millions, er
thous, wait hundr... tens!  Yes, tens of cases of COVID-19!  76 as of Tuesday morning, March 17 to be exact.

Before you accuse me of insensitivity or thought-crime, I understand the seriousness with which the government and the media imbue this crisis.

Governor Wolf (according to his website www.governor.pa.gov) "strongly urged non-essential businesses across the state to close for at least 14 days to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19." Strongly urged? That sounds ominous. He also, "ordered all restaurants and bars close their dine-in facilities."  Ordered? That is ominous. Finally, Governor Wolf is "relying on businesses to act before the Governor or the Secretary of Health finds it necessary to compel closure." And there we have it- compel closure.  All this over tens of cases.

To be fair to Dear Leader Wolf, he is only following the lead of Emperor Trump. And really, when we run out of toilet paper we can just use our copies of the Constitution of the United States of America. We have a right to assembly pursuant to the First Amendment- but for some reason we have decided that we can do without that.

35 Pa Code §§7301 et seq places responsibility for dealing with crises in the Governor. Specifically the governor "may issue executive orders, proclamations and regulations which shall have the force and effect of law." (Emphasis added). Among the specific powers awarded the governor is the ability to "suspend or limit the sale, dispensing or transportation of alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives and combustibles."  Anyone see a problem with this? Bueller?\

There is another solution- one so painfully obvious there should be no need to pose it. But I will.

Let the people decide!! If a business owner believes it is wise to close the business, let it close. Likewise, a business owner may decide to keep the business open and, as the owner sees fit, implement whatever strategies are desirable.  And We the People can decide which businesses we want to patronize. Are we really that feeble-minded that we can't decide these things for ourselves? Yes, some people will get set. Yes, some people will die.

Or let Der Kommissar decide. "He's got the power and you're so weak."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

One Libertarian's View on Impeachment

We are being duped.

Why are we going through this impeachment debacle?

Representatives Schiff (D) and Pelosi (D) may be able to present a case that would be voted upon by the Democrat controlled House.  Suppose that the House of Representatives votes in favor of forwarding the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.  What then? 

A hearing would be held in the U.S. Senate, led by its President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley (R). The hearing would be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts.  With a Republican controlled Senate, what do you think the result would be?  Even if there was a slim chance of conviction, we would inaugurate President Michael Pence.

What about President Trump? Why does he persist in attacking the character of witnesses instead of the facts?  Why does President Trump not release all the information he has at his disposal to demonstrate his innocence- or at least support his position?

The voting citizenry? The latest polls have shown that we are equally divided on the result.  Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump voters are entrenched. Very few people will actually have an open mind and objectively assess the evidence.

We are being duped.

Why are we going through this impeachment debacle?  When one examines the situation, it makes no sense.

Except it makes perfect sense if you are Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Grassley. It makes perfect sense if you are the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee.  It makes perfect sense if you realize this is not about impeachment.  This is about money.

We are being duped.

This is a great fundraising opportunity.  Republicans will be able to cry “foul” if/when the Democrats pass the Articles of Impeachment. Democrats will be able to cry “foul” if/when the Senate votes to acquit.  In both cases, the donors will contribute more money to the coffers to keep their preferred party in power.  In Washington D.C., money is power.

Who else makes money? The media.  No matter which side you are own, your involvement leads to increased value in advertisement spots.  The longer the media, both Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump, make money by making sure that they keep stirring the pot of discontentment.

A crazy conspiracy theory?  Maybe.  Or, are you being duped?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Elegy for a Moribund Church

Elegy for a Moribund Church

Some go to church to take a walk; some go there to laugh and talk.
Some go there to meet a friend; some go there their time to spend.
Some go there to meet a lover; some go there a fault to cover.
Some go there for speculation; some go there for observation.
Some go there to doze and nod; the wise go there to worship God.
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

This is a painful post to write.  I have played my part in the decline.  I bear responsibility.  As someone who is responsible for the decline, it is my duty to do what I can to reverse the decline.

It is no secret that the Mainline Denominations are losing membership.  A recent (October 17, 2019) report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life notes a decline of 12% in the number of people who identify as “Christian” in the past decade. While one statistic from a longer research project means little, I encourage you to read the entire report, along with the supporting tables which break down the demographics to smaller groups. All can be found at: https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

In its Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Research Center found among Mainline Protestants:

66% are absolutely certain there is a God
54% Pray at least daily
29% Look to religion to determine right and wrong (51% rely on common sense)
32% Believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong (65% believe it depends
            on the situation)
24% Believe the Bible as the literal Word of God; 35% believe the Bible but not as literal.[1]
28% Believe the Bible is not the Word of God.
80% Believe in Heaven
60% Believe in Hell

The Church, both local and universal is in decline.  Attendance at worship is declining. Opportunities for Bible study and learning outside of worship is declining.  Programs that once thrived have either dwindled or ceased entirely.

I can speak directly of one program that I led. One day, after the pastor of the church belittled me in front of guests, I decided to end the program. Lest you think my decision was hasty I was previously told by a program overseer that the same pastor did not consider my program as celebratory of God.  I also asked those non-guests who were present at the belittling if I heard what I thought I heard. I was assured that the comment was made to put me down and to build her up.  Pardon the digression, but I put included the situation to reach my final point: No one outside of the participants noticed that the program had ended. 

The culmination of all of this was when I was asked to leave the church.  And for that I thank God. As so often happens when we ignore God, God takes the steps necessary to get our attention.  I am now blessed to be attending a growing church. A church that faithfully believes the Bible to be the inspired (we should say “expired”) Word of God, subscribes to its traditional confessions of faith, and hears the Word preached expositorily.  Expository preaching is essential, because it forces the pastor and the congregant to deal with difficult passages; passages that expose our sinful nature.

To the moribund church, I beseech you, listen to God!!  The signs are all about you.  You have replaced the God of the Bible with the God of self.  When only 66% believe in God, there are 34% who have replaced God with something else. When 51% rely on common sense, they have replaced God with themselves.  If only 80% believe in Heaven and 60% believe in Hell, they have no hope in salvation and no belief in damnation.

God is forgiving and God is patient. In the Old Testament covenant, God gave His people a law to establish a relationship between them and God. To paraphrase, if you obey God and observe his laws, God will set you above all nations, but if you do not obey God and observe his laws, God will send on you cursing until you are destroyed because of your wickedness. (Deut. 28:1-20).  I and II Chronicles and I and II Kings are replete with stories of curses visited upon rebellious people and blessings visited upon those who obeyed.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15).

The answers to your situation are clear. Return to God. Seek Him out. Read and believe His Word. Pray and give thanks at least once a day. Cleanse your temple of the gods of self and the secular world. Find teachers who “preach the word… for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (II Tim 4:2-4). May God bless you in your journey.

[1] This is problematic. The chart itself does not take into account the use of personification, hyperbole, and metaphor.  If you read the Bible like you read any other book, you know that you don’t read poetry like you read history. The writers of God’s word used poetry, narrative, proverb, epistle, sermon and many other styles. I bring this up to posit that you may not believe the Bible is not the literal Word of God simply because of the use of textual devices.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Hugest Book Ever

Did you ever get book expecting one subject only to find it was based on something else? Did the premise challenge your beliefs? Did you come away with a new appreciation for an unexpected concept and tips to make you a more effective person? I just had one of those experiences.

At a recent book sale, I picked up a copy of Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter. (Adams, Scott; Penguin Random House, 2017). Expecting some satirical take on President Trump (I’m not a fan) from the author of Dilbert (I am a fan), the book I was expecting was not at all what I read.

Well-written, carefully explained, and thoroughly illustrated with examples from the campaign, Adams explains why Trump was elected. While a basic knowledge of psychology might be helpful, the reader can rest assured that Adams takes terms and simplifies them to a level that most everyone can understand. Concepts such as “cognitive dissonance,” “confirmation bias,” and “persuasion” are the foundation. He then goes on to show how Mr. Trump used these tools to become President Trump. And after reading this you might come away with the idea, as I did, that President Trump is destined for a second term.

The analysis of the Trump victory is the main course. The ability to use those tactics in any situation where you may need to persuade others is the dessert. This is one of those rare books that I will re-read and take notes. My synopsis could never adequately describe the book. I can only highly recommend this to anyone who wants to improve their communication skills.