A “Modern” King James Bible? Yeah, We Have Lots of Those

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull,and their ears heavy,and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes,and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,and turn and be healed.” – Isaiah 6:8-10

I was surfing around at “realclearreligion” just now and I ran across an article titled “Christian Publisher Unveils ‘Modern English Version’ of the Bible” – naturally I had to take a look. To be honest, what caught my eye was the RCR tagline: “King James Bible Goes Modern English.” My first thought – “Umm, the Bible has gone modern English quite a few times over … but how can an Old English translation be anything other than Old English?”

The article turns out to have been consistent with the RCR wording. The first paragraph reads:

A Christian publishing house has recently unveiled a new translation of the Holy Bible labeling itself “most modern King James translation in 30 years.”

Maybe I’m just thick. It seems that we have a number of original sources for the Bible. We have the Hebrew old testament (some actually written in Aramaic). We have its first translation into Greek – the Septuagint. And we have the various gospels and epistles written largely in Greek. These are Christianity’s historical connection to what was said and done in the origins of Judaism and then the Church.

The King James Bible (KJV) was translated from these (with references to the Latin Vulgate text) between 1604 and 1611. No doubt, it was a nice translation – but it was just a translation of the original writings. The KJV was not, itself, a new revelation.

Since then we have seen quite a few newer translations. I tend to prefer the English Standard Version (the version used in my Isaiah 6:8-10 reference above), or the New American Standard Version, though the most ubiquitous these days is the New International Version. Are these “better” translations? It depends on what we mean by “better”. If we mean that they more accurately reflect the true meaning of the original texts, then I have almost no basis to make such a declaration. If, however, we mean that they better reflect the original meaning of the text in a language that can be understood by modern readers, then the answer is undoubtedly (and emphatically) YES.

My point? When someone says they are producing a modern language version of the KJV, what they mean is that all of the other modern language translations are insufficient and do not accurately reflect the translational goodness of the KJV (I guess because it was “authorized”). Now, they may be right in this claim (I don’t know). But it is important to note firstly that the KJV is not the standard – the original writings are the standard. Secondly, that people who make such claims are rarely Biblical scholars who specialize in original languages – but rather backwoods Bible thumpers (and there’s nothing wrong with that) who don’t like the newer translations because they “lose” some traditional inferences drawn out of the 400-year-old language in the KJV filtered through modern vernacular … OK, perhaps I’m editorializing a bit.

To put things simply and bluntly, the further we get from 1611 the less understandable the KJV becomes. It is already quite beyond the understanding of many Americans (as is the language of Shakespeare, who wrote around the same time). To advocate its use now I think leads to dangerous places … like: “well, you may not understand what the words mean, so you have to just trust what the pastor says about it.” We’ve been down that road a number of times in Christendom – it never ends well.

This may well be the point of the “Modern English Version” – the modernized KJV in question. But why then relate it back to the KJV at all? One has to doubt that KJV-only types will go after the MEV … it’s newfangled after all.

Side note. I was reading my Bible (in the ESV) the other day and I got to Mark 4, where Jesus references the Isaiah 6 verse above. I had an odd mental connection at that point. What if all of this KJV-only business is simply a modern instantiation of Isaiah 6? What if there are people with their hands on a Bible, but are unable to read anything other than a 400-year-old language that they barely understand? Do they see and not perceive, hear and not understand?

Please recognize that I don’t ascribe any sort of special “revelation” to this notion – it was just a random and curious thought. Though, I will say that I’ve known more than one KJV-onlyist in my day, and have found them to hold some rather odd beliefs.

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George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom, and Golden Rule Democracy

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matt 13:24-30

I had occasion today to sit down and read some of George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom, a wonderful book recommended to me by a good friend who I dub “OTS” (Old Testament Scholar) in these blogs. As I read Dr. Ladd’s exposition on the parable of the wheat and the tares I was struck by the similarity of his interpretation of the activity of the Kingdom in the world today and my views on Golden Rule Democracy. I’m going to quote at length from Dr. Ladd tonight, and hopefully I will not run afoul of “reasonable use” of his text:

———

This is the mystery of the Kingdom: that the Kingdom of God has come among men and yet men can reject it. The Kingdom will not experience uniform success. Not all will receive it. This was a staggering thing to one who knew only the Old Testament. When God’s Kingdom comes, it will come with power. Who can resist it? Who can withstand God? But precisely this is the mystery of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here, but it can be rejected. One day God will indeed manifest His mighty power to purge the earth of wickedness, sin and evil; but not now. God’s Kingdom is working among men, but God will not compel them to bow before it. They must receive it; the response must come from a willing heart and a submissive will.

God is still dealing with us in this same way. God will not drive you into His Kingdom. It is not the business of those who are called to the ministry of the Word to speak with authoritarian compulsion. We speak as emissaries of God, but we plead and do not demand, we persuade and do not drive. We implore men to open their hearts that the Word of His Kingdom may have its fruitage in their lives. But man can reject it. They can spurn the Gospel of the Kingdom. They can scorn the preacher of the Word; and he is helpless.

The parable of the tares or weeds illustrates another facet of this same truth. A man sowed wheat in his field but his enemy sowed weeds. When the weeds were discovered the servants wanted to pull them out, but they were told to let both wheat and weeds grow until the harvest. Then the separation would take place. Until harvest time, weeds and wheat must grow together.

It is of utmost importance to note that “the field is the world” (v. 38). Where do we get the notion that the field is the Church? Jesus Himself said that the field is the world, not the Church. It is a misinterpretation of the Word of God to say that the parable teaches that in the Church the good and bad, the regenerate and the unregenerate, are to grow together until the harvest and that we cannot exercise church discipline since it would disrupt the order of things. Our Lord said no such thing. He was not talking about the mixed character of the Church but about the world.

———

And thus, Golden Rule Democracy. The Church may well exercise discipline within the Church – but to attempt to exercise discipline within the world runs expressly counter to the Lord’s teaching.

Thus, I contend, that whatever “enforcement of morals” arguments we construct for government intervention against sin are suspect, to say the least. The Church may well enforce benevolence, but to justify forced benevolence in the world (through democracy) is out of bounds. The Church may well enforce sexual morality, but to justify forced sexual morality in the world (through democracy) is out of bounds. The Church may well enforce a Biblical definition of marriage, but to justify forced marriage definition in the world (through democracy) is out of bounds. The Church may well enforce substance morality (though many disagree on what it means), but to justify forced substance morality (through democracy) is out of bounds.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” – Matt 7:12

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Using a Hammer to Turn a Screw at the Federal Reserve

“The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy’s long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates.” – 1977 Amendment to the Federal Reserve Act

Above is the wording that gives us the so-called “dual mandate” of the Federal Reserve. The Fed has one tool at its disposal – money supply (a hammer). They can print money. They can pay interest to banks holding “excess reserves” at the Fed (printing money). They can buy and sell bonds so as to manipulate the yield curve (printing money … they almost never sell). According to congress, the Fed is to use this tool to promote maximum employment and stable prices. Alas, it is just a hammer though, and sometimes a screwdriver is needed.

“How,” you might ask, “does printing money promote stable prices and maximum employment?” It’s a valid question, but to ask it shows that you don’t understand the Federal Reserve system at all. Printing money promotes the effective transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the already wealthy and the politically connected. Terms like “maximum employment” and “stable prices” are just the cover story. And yet, anybody who has read a good spy novel knows that a cover story has to be true.

So, here’s the cover story: “stable prices” means “2% inflation”. I’m not sure why prices doubling every 35 years is “stable” – but that’s the interpretation that the academics at the Fed have applied to Congress’s wording back in 1977 (when inflation was running at about 6.5%). Furthermore, “maximum employment” means “an unemployment rate lower than it is today”. So, whenever we are not at those levels the Fed must print up some more money to meet their goals.

The more the Fed prints, the more upward pressure is inherently placed on prices. (We’ll focus on price inflation for a bit – “full employment” is just too amorphous.)  But there are other factors that play as well. For instance, technology advancements inherently place downward pressure on prices by altering the supply side of the “supply vs demand” crossing. Similarly, things like disease, famine, natural disasters, and war place upward pressure on prices due to supply shortages. None of these are expressly the Fed’s concern. If the price inflation (calculated by whatever poor method is chosen today) is below 2%, the cover story is still intact.

But what if the cover story fails? What if there is a disease that drives up prices (e.g., the recent outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus – PEDv – that has killed over 7,000,000 pigs in the US alone)? What if there were a drought in Oklahoma that hampered food production? What if annual food price inflation were really running at 22% as Breitbart claims (with numbers to back it up)?

At first the Fed will trot out some nonsensical argument as to why food prices don’t count in the “core” inflation numbers. But the Fed is ultimately a political organization (having a mandate from Congress), and the notion of angry villagers storming the barricades over rising prices doesn’t sit well with them.

As a last gasp they will also trot out some line about how “rising food prices aren’t caused by monetary inflation, but by extenuating circumstances like drought and viruses” – as if that matters. The questions at hand are these: (a) are food prices rising dramatically and (b) could the Fed slow that rise if it changed monetary policy? The answers on both counts are emphatically “YES”.

What to do? Dare we raise interest rates and halt asset purchases to strengthen the dollar and bring food price inflation under control? But that would violate the foundational goal of the Fed! (transfer of wealth from poor and middle class to wealthy and political class).

Time will tell, but time is also running short. The summer vacation months are upon us. Food prices are soaring. We’re one spike up to $4.00 or $4.25 a gallon at the pump before there is a serious outcry from the masses.

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The Technical Skills Tariff

“And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.” – Frederic Bastiat, The Law

About six weeks ago I stopped drinking soda. I’ve dropped 10 pounds in that time and have had far fewer problems with acid reflux. (I wasn’t obese before, but 6’3″ 200lbs feels better than 6’3″ 210lbs.) Before that I was a self-proclaimed soda aficionado, and I had a significant preference for soda made with real sugar – cane sugar – not high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, most soda in the US is made with corn syrup.

Beyond the taste benefits, cane sugar is both cheaper to produce and has fewer health detriments than corn syrup. Given that it is preferable in every way (taste, cost, health), one might wonder why we use corn syrup at all. The answer is policy. The “Sugar Program” limits the amount of foreign sugar that can be imported, puts a floor under the price of sugar in the US, and provides loans to domestic sugar producers. Why? Because if the program didn’t exist, US sugar producers would go out of business. The government has decided that this is not a good outcome, and thus we have the sugar program.

When it comes to the economics of free trade the situation is quite frustrating. I, a presumably free citizen of the US, want to make a trade with a foreign sugar cane grower. I’ll trade some dollars (simply an expression of stored value from my previous production) for some of his production. I’m better off (as I see it), he’s better off (as he sees it) – end of story, right? Wrong.

Somehow, my neighbors have decided that we’re all better off (collectively?) if I am not allowed to trade with that foreign sugar producer. In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is the people – and the people are my neighbors – and they have decided to  not allow me to engage in free trade with some poor Uruguayan who makes sugar.

The economic argument here is a flat-out failure. Further, any moralistic argument falls flat as well. In asking me to pay more to an American sugar producer I’m being told that it is right for me to pay extra, because the exchange partner is also a citizen. Or, put another way, I’m being told to pay market price and give some extra money to the American simply because he’s an American. This is silly.

(For the record, I hold a similar policy with Christians bookstores. I own plenty of Christian books – but I don’t buy them a Christian bookstores. Why? Because they’re cheaper on Amazon. “But you should support Christian businesses!” Why? That argument amounts to paying the Amazon price for a book and then giving the overage to the store owner because he’s a Christian. I can assure you, when I give money away to Christians, I generally do not choose wealthy bookstore owners, but rather poor indigent children in the third world.)

The Technical Skills Tariff …

A good friend passed along an article the other day regarding the nonexistent “lack” of skilled workers. The article I have is from Breitbart (a well-meaning, well-researched, yet otherwise conspiracy theorist though not quite tinfoil hat outfit). The article attacks the standard talking point that we need a large number of skilled-worker visas because we have a lack of skilled-worker citizenry to fill the jobs.

The gist is simply this: there is no innate shortage of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workers in the US. Thus, the constant harangue from both the legislature and the “pro-business” lobby that we have a massive shortfall is utter nonsense.

Now, I work in a technical field. In fact, I work in an “unbiased arbiter” field – people from the government pay me to (a) vet the technical merits of various proposals and (b) not take sides. That’s my job. Quite often this leads me to a debunking role. I pick apart proposals and claims and cry foul when indeed proposals and claims run afoul of a sound technical basis. (Again, that’s my job … and I’m actually pretty good at it.)

Thus, I am sympathetic with the first argument made in the Breitbart article. Governments and pro-business groups have used this “we have a STEM shortage” argument to bring in far more STEM workers than we actually need for years. In the process, they have damaged the employment outlook and compensation for citizen STEM workers (a group that includes me!). And sometimes we just have to call people out on their bad arguments (again, that’s my job … sometimes). So “good-on-you” Breitbart. It’s a junk argument and it needs to be abandoned by the powers that be.

And yet, there is a free trade argument in here as well that Breitbart completely misses. There is a technical company somewhere in America who wants to procure STEM services. There is a poor man in India (randomly chosen country for the sake of example) who can provide those services and is willing to do so for a paltry some (by American standards). Why shouldn’t they be able to get together and make a free trade? Why should the neighbors of the American businessman decide that we are all better off if he pays market price for STEM services and then gives a significant overage to somebody simple because they are a citizen of the US?

Now, I fully recognize that I, as a STEM worker, would benefit if all foreign STEM visas were curtailed immediately. I’d make more money. (And, having four kids, I can always stand to make more money.) But I can’t get away from the fact that such an outcome stands in stark contrast to my commitment to freedom. So far as I can tell it is the only form of human governance that innately acknowledges the supremacy of God and the equality of man.

So I say end the technical skills tariff – hand out as many STEM visas as you can. Of course, I also say end the non-technical skills tariff while you’re at it. Let’s take all the Mexicans (or other Latin and South Americans) who want to work here and issue them visas today. While we’re at it, let’s eliminate the minimum wage (free trade is free trade). Anybody want to guess how long the United Auto Workers union would last? I’ll tell you this, your next new car would be a lot less expensive.

While we’re at it, let’s end the “legitimate store of value tariff” placed on dollar-denominated earnings by the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve Bank. The banking cabal would falter overnight in the face of a free market.

Americans have a tendency to think they want freedom, to think that they actually support freedom. And yet what we really support is policies that provide the most benefit to us. Such policies almost always run counter to freedom. In a free country, government policies don’t directly benefit anybody at the expense of another.

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Ms. Yellen Goes to Washington

“By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly an unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens” – John Maynard Keynes

In human experience, “the system” has always served those at the top, those with power, wealth, prestige … those at the top of the system. Sure, there have been times when systems changed (e.g., American Revolution, or Bolshevik Revolution). But, eventually, the system turns to serve its new masters.

Today the global financial system serves the wealthy banking class and the wealthy political class (and all their hangers-on). The mode by which the system transfers wealth from the working class to these masters is the fiat currency. Central banks print money, stuff it in the pocket of their friends (in the system) and tell us all that they are doing God’s work (liars! … well, perhaps they tell the truth, but they serve a different god).

We’ve certainly harped on central banking, and a Biblical opposition to it, before:

In the last one we note that the Federal Reserve will justify printing until its hand is forced somehow. In the early 2000s they justified printing (or artificially low interest rates) based on the need to help the economy in the wake of the dot-com bust. They only stopped when the general public finally capitulated and agreed that, indeed, good times were here to stay and housing would never decline. The Fed tried in vain to slow things down a bit, but bubbles don’t deflate, they pop.

Nowadays they justify printing to help the economic recovery. Of course, the statistics they typically quote are inflation and unemployment rate. As we touched on in “New Statistics” above, the Fed uses the least useful definition inflation (i.e., prices for things I don’t buy). I can tell you that the price of food is up big time (as the father of four boys) … but this doesn’t count in “core” inflation.

As for unemployment, everybody knows it’s a flawed statistic. It only measures the number of people who want “a job” but don’t have one and are currently looking. The headline number then doesn’t include people who have stopped looking for a job, but still want one. Further, it doesn’t include people who have settled for a bad job because there are no good jobs to be had. Both of these weaknesses are in play today. Obamacare has led to a surge in part-time employment as employers dump full-time jobs in favor of tax savings (more jobs = lower unemployment). Further, Congress has recently cut off long-term unemployment benefits (good for them), and history shows that quite a few of these people will drop out of the work force instead of continuing to look. The latest jobs report showed 800,000 people dropping out of the workforce, and the lowest participation rate since 1978.

So here you have Yellen’s difficult situation. Prices are up on things that working folks buy. The employment situation is not great, with people dropping out of the workforce or working bad jobs to make ends meet. But, the justification for more printing (e.g. unemployment above 6.5%) is fading (unemployment is now at 6.3% … and Kyle Bass suggests it will get as low as 5.5% by this summer – see video here).

She faces a tough choice – well, a tough choice for a central banker anyway. Does she find a cover story to print more, which she wants to do (either because she believes it will help the economy or because she wants to stuff more money into the pockets of the banking cabal)? Or does she deliver the tough news that the party is over, the Quantitative Easing (QE) taper will continue, and rates will eventually rise?

We’ll look for clues in her testimony to congress today. Needless to say things are on a razor’s edge. Continue down the QE taper road (which I prefer, as a Christian who doesn’t want to see the working people destroyed by greater central banking graft) and the stock market could throw a tantrum. Threaten reintroduce full-force  and the bond market could throw a tantrum … after it front-runs the trade, of course. And that doesn’t even bring into account the fit that Congress will pitch if they cannot borrow money on the cheap to continue their massive deficits.

One thing we can count on though: the common man does not enter the calculus here. What’s “best” is what’s best for the system.

Ball’s in your court, Ms. Yellen … good luck.

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Donald Sterling is Banned, Reactions, and The Game

“OK, I’ll put it like this: I doubt if we’ll see another All-American basketball athlete who is a Rhodes Scholar” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m a few days late in piling on to the Donald Sterling story. For those who don’t know, here are the basics: Donald Sterling is the 80-something owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. He apparently has a history of racial, umm, “bias” (though I was unaware until this latest story broke). He was apparently recorded, while on the phone with his 20-something girlfriend (let that sink in for a second) saying the following (among other things):

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people … You can sleep with (black people). You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it … and not to bring them to my games.”

(By the way, at issue was a picture that the young lady took with Magic Johnson … the horror.)

In response, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling from association with his team for life and fined him $2,500,000. My understanding is that Silver will need backing from 3/4 of the NBA owners to make good on the punishment (a number I can only imagine he has locked up). As you can imagine, any and everybody has chimed in with something to say. I’ll get to those in a moment, but first let’s consider the offense and the punishment.

Freedom of Speech …

Does anybody remember the Dixie Chicks? They were a well known female country trio (even I own a CD … they were good). In 2003, lead vocalist Natalie Maines criticized the impending US invasion of Iraq, and then president George W. Bush while on stage at a London concert. Their career ended about 12 hours later as just about every country station in the nation refused to air their songs anymore. It turns out that country music fans by and large supported the Iraq war (at the time, anyway – given the proximity to the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001). The country stations were left with a simple choice: cut the Dixie Chicks, or be boycotted by your fan base. It was a business decision … and a no-brainer.

After the blacklisting, Al Gore and other Lefties cried foul, indicating that this was some sort of violation of freedom of speech. They were wrong, of course. The free speech provision in the First Amendment applies to the ability of the government to infringe on your speech, not to the right of others in the free market economy to interact with you however they see fit – perhaps even in response to your speech. You are defended from government reprisals against your speech, you are not defended against all consequences of your speech.

The same holds true for Sterling. The NBA is not the federal government. It is a business. The bylaws of the league apparently allow for such punitive actions, and the NBA really had no choice. If all black players in the league decided to boycott (and they may well have) then the league would have ended.

Naturally there are differences with the Natalie Maines situation. Maines was speaking into a microphone in a public place. Sterling was having (he thought) a private conversation. Be that as it may, he said what he said and the impact of those statements threaten the very existence of the NBA. The league could not possibly have hidden behind “it was a private conversation” – either Sterling is gone, or the NBA would have been.

Kareem Weighs In …

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who apparently worked for the Clippers under Sterling after his NBA carrer) put together a nice piece on the the situation. It’s certainly worth a read. Two points that I took away from his article:

First, the girlfriend committed a crime by taping Sterling without his knowledge. I’m not sure about the statutes in California, but I suspect the releasing of the recording was a separate crime (though, at some point the girlfriend had denied involvement in the release). To my knowledge, she has not been charged with anything. Perhaps we tolerate felony offenses as long as they are done “for the greater good” …

Secondly, this information about Sterling is nothing new. In 2006 he was sued by the DoJ for housing discrimination, and is alleged to have said that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.” Further, he was sued in 2009 for employment discrimination. This is just the public information. Folks who know Sterling can probably come up with much more damning material. Remember that in just moment – Sterling’s racism was was apparently already known.

Then the NAACP Weighs In …

Following the commissioners decision, the NAACP weighed in to indicate that a lifetime ban wasn’t enough. A longish blurb from the article:

But Sterling’s suspension isn’t enough, the groups said, calling for Silver to meet with them to ensure Sterling “remains an anomaly among the owners and executives in the league.”

“Sterling’s long-established pattern of bigotry and racist comments have not been a secret in the NBA,” the statement said. “Yet until now, they have been tolerated and met with a gentle hand and a blind eye.”

The groups want Silver to talk with them about diversifying the executive ranks of the NBA, similar to efforts in other sports.

OK, a few points. First, what exactly is the need to work on diversifying the ranks of NBA ownership? It’s a business. When teams become available for purchase (which happens very rarely) the NBA goes through a process of reviewing ownership bids. Is there any indication at all that this process is racially biased? If not, what exactly does the NAACP want? Should the NBA force some owners out (in addition to Sterling) and require that minorities be given ownership stakes? I suggest this is nonsense and has no place in a free society.

Furthermore, aren’t there minority owners in the NBA? Most notable are Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan (Charlotte Bobcats), and Jada Smith (Philadelphia 76ers). Jay-Z owns a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets. Other past racial minorities with minority ownership stakes include Magic Johnson (Lakers), Isaiah Thomas (Raptors), David Robinson (Spurs), Bill Cosby (Nets), Usher (Cavaliers), and Edward Gardner (Bulls). If we just take the current three, that comes to 10% of the league (30 teams total). Given that African Americans comprise about 12.6% of the US population, I’d say things look about right.

But there’s something troubling in the NAACP position. It notes that Sterling’s bigotry is long established. Why then, if the pattern was long established, and even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (hardly an investigative reporter) was aware of it, was the NAACP giving Sterling a lifetime achievement award?! (His second one, by the way – they gave him another in 2009.) Ahem … “Yet until now, they have been tolerated and met with a gentle hand and a blind eye.”

Perhaps the NAACP is willing to overlook racial bigotry as long as the offender is duly donating money to NAACP-backed causes (including the NAACP itself), unless there is a blowup so big that the NAACP sees an opportunity to try and press its advantage and get something more out of the deal. The words “shakedown artists” come to mind.

I Would Have Given a Slightly Different Punishment …

I think Silver missed slightly with the punishment. I’m reminded here of the Penn State University football punishments handed out in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Instead of giving out four years of reduced scholarships (and some fines), I felt the NCAA should have given PSU a one-year death penalty. This was not, after all, a recruiting issue. School administrators had turned a blind eye to child rape in order to defend the football program. They needed a timeout. One year ban, and after that no further punishment.

In the Sterling case, I think the punishment would have served its purpose better without the $2.5 million fine. The money is inconsequential. It’s attachment to this issue subconsciously distracts from the thrust of the primary punishment – the lifetime ban. Everybody knows that fine is inconsequential. It exists only as punishment, but not as justice (or whatever the approximation of justice is in the business sense).

Grandmama Has Thoughts Too … I Think

Former NBA player Larry Johnson (Grandmama) also chimed in. The article here notes that “Former Knicks’ Great Response to NBA Race Scandal.” I double checked. They did mean Larry Johnson when they referenced a “Knicks great” … umm, playing fast and loose with the definition of greatness, aren’t we? Johnson was a very good player, but five years with the Hornets, followed by five with the Knicks – most of which saw him greatly diminished due to injuries – hardly makes one a great player.

Anyway, “LJ” apparently wants a black-only league. He made his announcment with the following tweet. (Note I usually put sic erat scriptum references for bad grammar … but there was just too much to do here. So consider the whole tweet as sic.)

“Black people your Focusing on the wrong thing. We should be focusing on having our own, Own team own League! To For Self!!”

I suspect that a majority of NBA owners do not agree with Sterling, just as I suspect a majority of black players do not want to go back to “Negro League” days. But, LJ has a history of making everything about race.

My bigger question is this: what does “To For Self” mean? No, seriously, I want to know. I can’t even imagine what he was going for. Is this the new amalgam of FUBU (For Us By Us)? If anyone has the answer, please let me know. I’m thinking about making it my new catch phrase.

Who Makes the Game?

Sterling had more to say in that “private” conversation. When confronted by his girlfriend about the fact that all his players are black, he launched into plantation-speak:

“I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have — Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?”

First, the notion of “giving” the players anything is absurd. They are well worth it in the revenue they generate. Second, there is this out of time notion of “who makes the game”. There was a time, perhaps 40 years ago, when the NBA was hardly as lucrative as it is now. There was a time when it took owners with guts and a willingness to risk big dollars to make this thing work. Those days are long gone. Today the players make the game. A simple thought experiment demonstrates the point.

Suppose all NBA players on all 30 teams walked out tomorrow. A general strike. Could we find replacements? Sure, but the quality of the game would drop significantly. The NBA would be a somewhere between a European professional league and the NBA developmental league. Would fan support wane? Oh yeah. Revenues would slide dramatically.

Now turn it around. What if all 30 owners (or ownership groups) walked away. Could we find 30 new owners? Sure. More of them would have to be conglomerates, but we could find the capital to repurchase the teams and support the existing contract structure. Would the quality of the game dip? Nope. I mean, perhaps there are some visionary owners who make things better, but I suggest we’d hardly notice. Sterling and the rest are replaceable. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul are not.

Skeletons and Thought Police …

Let me stipulate that I find Sterling’s bigotry offensive. Further, I have no problem with the NBA’s lifetime ban – it was Sterling or the league (and, I prefer to keep the NBA).

That said, there is a small chance that this precedent opens the door for invasive probing of skeletons in the closet. The system grinds to a halt of we have to vet every owner to make sure they have, and have always had proper thoughts regarding diversity.

On that note, a number of commentaries have pointed out that other owners may now be worried about skeletons in their closets, or phone conversations they hope were not recorded. Heck, maybe Sterling will even play dirty and try to dig up past misbehaviors before the official removal vote. (People worth a reported $1,900,000,000 can afford to play dirty.)

I suspect it will all come off according to script and we’ll go back to basketball as usual. But if the thought police do attempt a takeover, we can look back to the Donald Sterling incident as the tipping point.

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The Beautiful Church and the Church for the Beautiful

“The early church was married to poverty, prisons, and persecutions. Today ‘the church’ is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity” – Leonard Ravenhill

In the 20th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet discusses (in clear agony) why he preaches and prophesies as he does. Verse 9 is perhaps the most well known verse of the chapter: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Over the past few weeks I have wanted to write posts about politics, the Ukraine, Venezuela, immigration, and gay marriage … but every time I think to start writing I am stuck at one place: The Beautiful Church and the Church for the Beautiful. While I don’t at all want to liken my piddly little blog to Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry, I mention him here to note that sometimes there are things that so consume our thoughts that we cannot be clear on anything else until we have gotten them out. Sometimes you have to, as I heard an old preacher say “write yourself empty”. And so I shall.

As I read my Bible, particularly the minor prophets and the gospels, I tend to wonder if there was ever any group more despised in prophetic ministry than religious leaders. The prophets railed against he priests and their corruption of the law; and no group was more lambasted by Jesus than the scribes and pharisees. I don’t point this out to say that “all religious leaders are always bad” – not by any stretch. Rather, I hope to make the opposite point – that religious leadership (whatever that means today) is no de facto stamp of legitimacy.

The Bible is addressed, by and large, to the believers, and the things that are written there are written with purpose. The warnings to “watch out” and “do not be deceived” are all meant for the faithful, and they are put there for a reason. So if we are told to watch out (e.g., for the leaven of the pharisees) and if the ministries of the prophets and the Lord Himself made great strides against the persons heading up the religious structures of the day, then I think, at the very least, it behooves us to keep a weather eye on the state of our hearts, the state of the church, and the motives that drive it.

The early church carried on the ministry of the Lord in seeking out the poor and bedraggled souls of this world. When the Lord kicked off His ministry He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, and would later refer back to the same verse when He defended His ministry to queries from John the Baptist. The broken and hurting were and are of great value to Him. In Matt 25 He indicates that a person’s standing at the final  judgment will be related to how he dealt with “the least of these” while he was on the earth. James goes on to decry “partiality” amongst the church – favoring those who are well dressed while telling the poor to “stand over there or sit down at my feet” (see James 2:1-4).

In the Beautiful Church, people are of value. The more they have been hated and oppressed by the world the more the Beautiful Church values them, and longs to hold them close and share the love of Christ. But the church must always be on guard for the leaven of the pharisees, and for dysfunction in its mission. The Beautiful Church stands in stark contrast to the Church for the Beautiful …

I’ve noted in many times and places my disdain for the Word of Faith movement (i.e., New Age Mysticism wrapped in a veneer of scriptures twisted out of context). While some reading this may extend the notions here of the “Church for the Beautiful” to places like the Emergent Church, my focus will tend to be on what I have seen and dealt with in WoF.

I’ll reiterate here that WoF is not simply “prosperity doctrine” – but rather self-worship. It focuses on the power of the individual (released by “faith” … though typically “faith in faith” rather than “faith in God”). Furthermore, the WoFers hold that a Christian should walk in “victory over the world” and that suffering, poverty, and sickness are all an indication of defeat by the world. Thus, just like Job’s friends, they come to the indelible conclusion that Christians who are hurting, or poor, or sick, (or add your own list of common human conditions) must be the way they are because they lack faith, and thus must somehow be “worth less” than those who don’t have these problems.

(In various times and places the WoFers will go so far as to despise the cross. Teachers like Kenneth Hagin and Joyce Meyer have even indicated that the cross was not sufficient for redemption, but that Jesus had to suffer horrors in hell before we could be saved. Of course this is nowhere in the Bible, and I merely point it out to say that these folks will even minimalize the cross, because it seems like loss and failure to them.)

Sadly for these folks the church is still filled with people who hurt. Yes, these hurting ones are Christians, but they still struggle with the abuses they have suffered at the hands of this world. This grinds against the desire for “beautiful” people without problems. (I don’t mean physical beauty, of course – but implied, perceived faultlessness.) So, in the Church for the Beautiful, there is a strong preference for folks who don’t have issues – perhaps who have never faced real hardships in life (and thus have very little to overcome) … the beautiful people.

There’s more to it, naturally. There is a love of the hierarchy and who is in “leadership” (or who is the “queen bee”) – this continual (often subconscious) drone of pecking order and who is the greater and who is the lesser. (The disciples themselves struggled with this at times too.) In the Church for the Beautiful there will be special seats for the special people – but someone with physical difficulties ought not try to sit in such seats (so they can see) … they will be asked to move, they are not amongst the beautiful ones (please, if you haven’t read it already, turn over to James 2:1-4). Those with issues, challenges, difficulties, and ugly scars aren’t told to leave, of course – they are merely told to “know their place” (… like in the back row).

Perhaps most importantly, the Church for the Beautiful is focused primarily on the functioning of the enterprise of the church, perhaps without regard as to whether this relates well to the agenda of the kingdom of God. Social gatherings that strengthen the community are of great value (as, I think they should be) but selfless giving to third world brethren or homeless single mothers, well, these are far less interesting.  And there is an absolute dread of anything that smells of disunity (and people who disagree can expect to be moved out of the way with all due haste). This is not to say that unity is bad, but unity that comes at the cost of openness and integrity is indeed a bad thing.

It is nothing new to human history that people will work contrary to the will of God, believing they are in His service. The Lord warned in John 16:2 that people would kill Christians and believe they were doing a service to God. Saul was so zealous for God that he persecuted the Christians (until the Lord intervened). Indeed, it is the nature of wolves that they eat the sheep and think nothing is wrong … this is (as they see it) the purpose of the sheep, to be consumed to fulfill the desires of the wolf. The Church for the Beautiful is merely a mild reflection of these.

So what shall we do with this Church for the Beautiful? What shall we do with these practitioners of social church who measure greatness in the filling of seats and the smiles across the pews and the success and “well adjustedness” of the people – with little passing thought for the mission of the church in a broken world? What shall we make of these Stepford Christians?

I honestly don’t know. Other than to say we need not fear them or clamor for their approval (and it is of little use to convince them of their error). We serve the Lord and Him only. One suspects passages like “they have their reward already” and “come out from among them” are reasonably applied here.

I have more to say on the subject. But for now, I will note that I think I have successfully said enough to blog about something else in the morning. But, if the time should come that I must “write myself empty” again, then we will have another chat.

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