Nothing says “freedom in Christ” like consumerism!

So today is Reformation Day. Quite possibly, one of my favorite days of the year! Why? Because I’m a Protestant and I happen to take that very seriously. Today is the “birthday” if you will, of my faith. Although, I prefer to think of today as the day that the one, true, historic, apostolic, faith was “rediscovered.” A couple of Christian organizations are having sales in honor of the freedom in Christ we now have.

Dr. Timothy George, perhaps the most readable church historian currently alive, has written a brief piece reflecting on the Reformation for First Things. I’ve copied and pasted it here, since no one seems to click on my links.

“It was around two o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of the Day of All Saints, October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, hammer in hand, approached the main north door of the Schlosskirche(Castle Church) in Wittenberg. There he nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses protesting the abuse of indulgences in the teaching and practice of the Church of his day. In remembrance of this event, millions of Christians still celebrate this day as the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31 is not a day for the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween but a time to remember the Reformation, especially what Luther wrote in thesis sixty-two: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

But did this event really happen? Erwin Iserloh, a Catholic Reformation scholar, attributed the story of the theses-posting to later myth-making. He pointed to the fact that the story was first told by Philip Melanchthon long after Luther’s death. Other Luther scholars rushed to defend the historicity of the hammer blows of Wittenberg. In fact, the door of the Castle Church did serve as the official university bulletin board and was regularly used for exactly the kind of announcement Luther made when he called for a public disputation on indulgences.

But whether the event happened at two o’clock in the afternoon—or at all—is not the point. Copies of Luther’s theses were soon distributed by humanist scholars all over Europe. Within just a few weeks, an obscure Augustinian monk in a backwater university town had become a household name and was the subject of chatter from Lisbon to Lithuania. Today in Germany, Catholic and Protestant scholars alike are once again studying the Ninety-Five Theses and Luther’s lengthy explanations of them. This ecumenical study project is in view of the 500th anniversary commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

It was not Luther’s intention to divide the Church, much less to start a brand new church. To the end of his life, he considered himself to be a faithful and obedient servant of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Though Luther renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun, Katarina von Bora, he never forgot that he had received a doctorate in Holy Scripture. His vocation was to teach the written Word of God and to point men and women to the Lord of Scripture, Jesus Christ.

On this Reformation Day, it is good to remember that Martin Luther belongs to the entire Church, not only to Lutherans and Protestants, just as Thomas Aquinas is a treasury of Christian wisdom for faithful believers of all denominations, not simply for Dominicans and Catholics. This point was recognized not long ago by Franz-Josef Hermann Bode, the Catholic Bishop of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when he preached on Luther at an ecumenical service. “It’s fascinating,” he said, “just how radically Luther puts God at the center.”

Luther taught that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo, before God, confronted face-to-face by God. This led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the Church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. “The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline,” Bode said. The bishop’s views reflect the ideas of many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, have come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable just a century ago.

The year 2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Like The Gift of Salvation statement issued by Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1997, the Joint Declaration represents a measure of convergence between Catholic and Reformational understandings of that article of faith by which the Church either stands or falls, to cite a favorite Lutheran saying. For example, the Joint Declaration asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

But convergence on justification does not equal consensus on all aspects of the doctrine of salvation. The framers of the Joint Declaration itself were forced to add an annex to the document delineating unresolved differences on simul iustus et peccator, Luther’s idea that justified believers are at one and the same time sinful and righteous before God. How justification and sanctification are related in the life of the Christian still continues to be debated. On these and many other issues related to authority and ecclesiology, the way forward is not to smudge over deep differences that remain between the two traditions but rather to acknowledge them openly and to continue to struggle over them together in prayer and in fresh engagement with the Scriptures. The way forward is an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation.

Several years ago I was asked to endorse a book by my friend Mark Noll called Is the Reformation Over? I responded by saying that the Reformation is over only to the extent that it succeeded. In fact, in some measure, the Reformation has succeeded, and more within the Catholic Church than in certain sectors of the Protestant world. The triumph of grace in the theology of Luther was, and still is, in the service of the whole Body of Christ. Luther was certainly not without his warts, and we do no justice either to history or to his legacy by glossing over his faults and failures. (Remember: simul iustus et peccator!) But the question Karl Barth asked about him in 1933 is still worth pondering this Reformation Day: “What else was Luther than a teacher of the Christian church whom one can hardly celebrate in any other way but to listen to him?” ”


Almost Heaven

I always appreciated Appalachia until I moved here. Now that I live in Appalachia, I still appreciate it but not in the way I used to. But it still has a special place in my heart and I’m sure I’ll always appreciate it. It is a region that is hurting, nationally mocked, and a mission field. You just have to be the properly trained and equipped mission for this field.  I’ve recommended it before, but  in case you missed it, Hollow is a fantastic documentary on McDowell county.

Anyway, PBS did a great and fascinating photo essay on Grow Ohio Valley. They are seeking to help revitalize Wheeling WV through Urban farming. Check it out, it is a great read. Best part? The guy who started the movement did it while spending time in prayer and service to the community. Hmm….sounds a bit like two very important commands.

The Least of These

Last night I served food to the material impoverished at a local soup kitchen. I still struggle internally with those acts because of Corbet and Fikkert’s book, but at the same time I cannot forget what our Lord said:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25.34-40)

And, while it may sound odd, feeding the material impoverished is one of my favorite things to do. So there I was when the first group came up to receive their food. Leading the way was a very young, little girl. Probably 2 or under (I’d guess under). She clearly didn’t understand what was going on or what was expected of her. Expecting such a young girl to lead the way on a buffet line is crazy. But, her mother got mad and smacked her with the paper plate. The girl froze and visibly shut down. We tried to guide her by calling her to us in a friendly way, but that only seemed to frighten her (understandably so) more. She rubbed her eyes. The mother yelled at her again. One of the servers pointed out that the little girl seemed tired. The mother responded by informing us that she was a very bad girl, never listens, etc etc. She then gave her daughter a…push…with her foot to get her moving again.

As a father of 3 with 2 girls basically 2 and under, this really hit home for me. I cried. Not a lot, just some tears and I don’t think anyone noticed but I couldn’t help but wonder what her “home” (assuming she has a home) life is like. It was especially hard for me because Mrs. Wine and I plan on adopting several children. We do not plan on adopting newborns so this little girl could have been of the age that we might adopt from. But we can’t right now because like the other 40 million Americans, we have student loan debt.  We can’t afford to adopt until the debt is paid off.

I know many people want money because they want to be rich. We just want out of debt so that we can have the financial freedom to help others. It is a hard burden: wanting to have the financial freedom to help others but being unable to do so because of student loan debt. It is a burden we chose, to be sure, but hindsight is 20/20. So in the mean time, I’ll try to use the face of that girl as motivation to continue to be frugal and deny myself so that we can continue on our plan of debt reduction. I’ll also continue to pray for some sort of amazing financial windfall from someone that will pay off our loans.

As for you, dear reader, have you considered adoption? Or perhaps becoming a foster parent? Think and pray about it. Here is an excellent, though definitely emotional, video on being a foster parent.

Does that make me crazy?

Charles Barkley just said something really stupid or really insightful: your opinion on that probably depends on a plethora of things: your race, education, culture, political affiliation come to mind. I think maybe the most remarkable thing about this interview is how clearly I can understand him. Why can’t he speak this articulately during March Madness?

Oh well.

What did he say?

“On an interview Thursday with Philadelphia radio host Anthony Garano, ex-NBA all star Charles Barkley responded to the rumors over Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s receiving criticism over not being “black enough” from some of his teammates. He then addressed a larger issue within the black community, one Barkley described as a “dirty, dark secret.”

As I tell my white friends, we as black people, we’re never going to be successful, not because of you white people, but because of other black people. When you’re black, you have to deal with so much crap in your life from other black people. It’s a—It’s a dirty, dark secret; I’m glad it’s coming out. It comes out every few years. I wrote a big chapter in my book about it, to be honest with you.

I said, you know, when young black kids, you know, when they do well in school, the loser kids tell them, ‘Oh, you’re acting white.’ The kids who speak intelligently—

They tell them, ‘You’re acting white.’ So it’s a dirty, dark secret in the black community.

One of the reasons we’re never going to be successful as a whole, because of other black people. And for some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough. If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent, and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person. And it’s a dirty, dark secret, Anthony.

Most, I—I heard Stephen A. [Smith] talkin about it, and it, listen, I hate to bring white people into our crap, but as a black person, we all go through it when you’re successful. Uh, you know it’s like one of the reasons, you know, one of the reasons a lot of black players go broke is because when you’re successful your friends say to you, ‘Oh, you ain’t cool. You ain’t down with us anymore.’

And you end up giving up all your money to these damn losers, and you end up broke again.

But it’s a dirty, dark secret in the black community. There are a lot of black people who are unintelligent, who don’t have, uh, success. It’s best to knock a successful black person down because they’re intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school, and they’re successful. And they don’t..if you think about it—

Anthony Gargano: Well it’s crabs in a barrel, right?

It’s crabs in a barrel. The thing that’s hap—we’re the only race that tell people if you don’t have street cred, with like, that means you been arrested—

Like, like that’s a compliment. We’re the only ethnic group who say, ‘Hey, if you go to jail, it gives you street cred.’ It’s just typical BS that goes on when you’re black, man. But don’t waste a lot of time on it please.”


Source with the audio version of the interview.

The case of the misleading headline

Elon Musk, who is probably the closest thing to a real life Tony Starks, did an interview with MIT. During the interview he stated that we need to be careful about our development of AI.  His explanation was perfect fodder for sensationalist editors. Google “Elon” in Google News right now and you’ll see all kinds of ridiculous headlines.

So what did he say exactly?

“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” he said. “In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”

Careful, if you read that sentence twice you may go crazy too! In all seriousness, I don’t think we need international regulation when it comes to AI development (something he mentioned) but I also don’t think what he said is crazy. All he is saying is we need to be careful that we don’t develop something we can’t control.

Houston, I think we have a problem…

Technology is so commonplace in our society anymore that I don’t think we pause to give it a second thought. But it is turning our nation into a collection of unobservant idiots! My favorite example: one day while driving through a neighborhood I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a young teenage boy who stepped right in front of my car. You’d think he was deliberately trying to commit suicide. I probably came 2 feet from hitting him. Did he stop? No. Did he look up from his phone he was playing on? No.  What did he do? He continued across the street until he tripped on the curb. Did that cause him to look up? No. Instead he proceeded to walk into a tree. Then he looked up from his phone.

Okay, that’s an extreme example–but it really happened.

However, we definitely have a problem. You know how I know? Because there is a new market emerging: technology free tourism. Turns out The Renaissance Hotel in Pittsburgh has a “Family Digital Detox” package.  For $289 a night this is what your family can experience:

“This is a chance to revive your family from an over stimulated world and reconnect with each other. This package includes overnight accommodations in Deluxe Queen-Queen Riverview Room. All family member’s laptops, cell phones, and digital devices must be surrendered upon check in, and will be held until your departure. Prior to your arrival, the television, phone, and ihome dock station will be removed from your guest room and replaced with board games and playing cards. This is one of our most popular Pittsburgh hotel deals, so don’t miss out!”

Did you notice it is one of their most popular hotel deals?

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I’ve made a huge mistake

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I finally figured out how to embed Youtube videos in my blog. It was embarrassingly easy to do. I also decided a few months back to try to blog nearly every day but I don’t really have much to talk about today. So, I offer you the joys running gags from one of the funniest television shows in history. If you aren’t laughing by minute 4, you should call the doctor because something is seriously wrong with you.

Help support a new Gluten Free Brewery!

When I was experimenting (mainly learning) how to brew gluten free I spent many hours reading on Homebrewtalk’s GF forum. One of the main contributors when I was there who really taught me a lot was Igliashon. Turns out, he is now a brewer with a new gluten free brewery (Ghostfish Brewing Company) in Seattle. They are launching a kickstarter campaign and if you have some spare cash, I’d urge you to contribute and help him out. His beers are unique and outside the box and I brewed one based on his advice once…and it was the best gluten free beer I’ve ever had. And I’m not exaggerating. Here is his post copied from Homebrewtalk.

“Long time no see, fellow gluten-free homebrewers! Some of you may know me, some of you may not, it’s been a while since I was posting obsessively here. The reason: I’ve turned pro, and my brewery is a few months away from opening!

We’re called Ghostfish Brewing Company, and we are gluten-free start to finish. Our beers are made with Grouse gluten-free malts and I have been obsessively perfecting our flagship recipes over the last several months. The results have been nothing short of incredible–I am completely confident that all of our beers could enter competition against barley beers and the BJCP-certified judges would be none the wiser.

However, as is the case for most homebrewers-turning-pro, banks have been rather shy about lending to us. My partners and I, along with a lone angel investor, have ponied up enough to get everything we need to get rolling–a 15 bbl steam brewhouse, 6 tanks, an awesome building with a sweet taproom, and ingredients for our flagship brews. The one thing we couldn’t quite stretch for was a pilot system and lab to develop new beers. I’m brewing my R&D batches on a 5-gallon homebrew setup in the brewery kitchen, but I’m about to get kicked out so that the kitchen can resume being “just a kitchen”. This means that I’m basically going to be unable to brew anything but our flagship beers, and while these ARE three of the best beers I’ve ever made, I’d really like to be able to offer a broader range. My dream is to someday offer amazing gluten-free versions of nearly every BJCP style, not just for my personal enjoyment but so my fellow gluten-intolerants can experience the full range of beer styles.

So we’ve launched a Kickstarter:

I’d like to draw your attention to a couple rewards that may be of interest to those of you with a bit of interest in turning pro yourselves. For $1500, we’ll invite you in to the brewery to brew a 1/2-bbl batch of collaborative beer with us to be served in the taproom. This could be straight-up YOUR recipe, I call it “collaborative” because some potential backers may not have the brewing experience to put together a recipe of their own. But anyway, that brew session also includes a tour of the brewery and all the Q&A you could want, as well as all the rewards below it (a 64-oz stainless insulated growler, 4 pint glasses, 4 coasters, a poster of our can art, and an instrumental song composed for you by me!).

But it gets better. For $5000, we’ll take that taproom beer, refine it, and brew it on the 15 bbl system as a limited-release beer that will actually be sold, AND we’ll put your name on the label as “Co-Brewer”. If you’re in Washington or can make it to Seattle for the brew day, you can actually participate in the brewing of it. So you actually get two brew-days with us, one in the lab that you helped fund, one on the brew deck.

For those trying to turn pro, let me tell you that a bank will look at your SBA application a little more favorably if you can tell them that you co-brewed a commercial beer and have the labels to prove it. Heck, I’ll even write you a letter of recommendation.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to be able to share a pint with all of y’all in my taproom soon!”

So once again, go to the kickstarter page and support him!

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

If you happen to have access to Netflix, I’d recommend you watch the documentary Print the Legend. Recently, I had the joy of getting to watch it. Print the Legend is a documentary following several 3D printer start-up companies, most notably MakerBot. I’ve been fascinated with 3D printers ever since I read the Great North Road. The author really did a good job of imagining the possibilities of 3D printing in that book. After watching the documentary I must say: I’m excited about 3D printing technology. Heck, if I had the money I think I’d buy one. I mean look at all of the sweet things you can print with your own 3D printer!

I couldn’t help but think we are on the cusp of replicator technology–ya know, the replicator that creates food and drinks in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although maybe, even that isn’t that far off.