Rappin’ With Rick

The Machine Stops

I recently bought a copy of The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster. It’s a short story originally published in 1909. I learned of it, of course, in Touchstone.

It’s the story of a woman who lives alone in a comfortable pod underground, as do everyone. The surface has been rendered uninhabitable, but technology meets every perceived need at the push of a button. All are connected to a worldwide apparatus, and people can see and speak with one another by looking into a glowing round plate. She has a virtual audience of thousands with whom she shares her thoughts.

She’s very content, until she hears from a son who had been taken as an infant to a public nursery, and then placed in his own pod on the other side of the world. He wants her to come for a visit. She can’t understand why, but makes the trip.

In a meeting with her son she learns of his brief escape to the toxic surface with a respirator, and his feeling that the only thing that is really living is the Machine. Such thinking is heresy to his mother who worships the Machine. She can’t wait to get back to her pod.

Some years later, as the Machine is dying, they are briefly reunited. Then, when it stops, crawling over the bodies of the dead, he gasped, “Quicker, I am dying—but we touch, we talk, not through the Machine.” He then kissed her, and said, “We have come back to our own. We die, but we have recaptured life.”

The article in Touchstone closes by noting, “Forster wanted to offer a counterpoint to claims being made by the technological optimists of his day. His ability to imagine things like Zoom, Skype, and Instagram, and his insights into the potential dehumanizing effects of Machine Culture ought to inspire some serious contemplation. As we climb out of our Covid haze…let us realize the great gift of face-to-face communication.”

I would also add that it might do us all good to take an occasional break from dependance on our machines.

God Bless, Rick

Rick’s Reading List

The title seemed a little weird: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, but the first sentence really drew me in. “The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: ’I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.’” By the time I had read the first two chapters I knew I had to order a copy for myself, and one for Matt.

Kevin Lasley had loaned me a copy of Is Atheism Dead? by Eric Metaxas, which is an excellent book that makes it clear that in light of scientific and archaeological discoveries only someone who is intellectually dishonest can still be an atheist, and I thought he had also loaned me this one. But while telling Matt how excited I was about the books I was giving him for Christmas, he told me he had loaned the second one to me…at Thanksgiving no less! So, in light of my less than pristine memory, I better tell you about this second book before I move on to a third.

The author is Carl Trueman, a highly regarded professor and church historian. He notes, “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph—the normalization of transgenderism—cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood.”

Then, after sharing how 20th century philosophers have noted the reimagining of the self (who we are and why we are here) and our culture, based on an atheistic foundation laid in the 18th and 19th centuries by Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, and Freud, and brought into the mainstream by influential poets, he offers advice on how the church should respond to the challenges we face today. In short, we must maintain a commitment to biblical sexual morality, and be a part of a community that believes and practices it.

If you want to know more, I’ll loan you a marked-up copy.

God Bless, Rick

Christmas Bells

Bonnie recently mentioned how much she enjoyed still seeing Jack’s picture on the bulletin board. It’s there along with pictures of Nancy Montgomery, Joe Carter, and Jim and Mary Sexton. We lost the physical presence of all five within the last year or so, and their absence is keenly felt. Especially during the holidays.

I recently read that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was likewise feeling the loss of a wife who died in childbirth, a second wife who died when her dress caught fire, and worrying about a son who was clinging to life after being wounded in the Civil War when, during the Christmas season, he wrote “Christmas Bells.”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familial carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

An empty chair at the table, gifts no longer shared, and an empty stocking are painful reminders of lost loved ones. But the gift we received on that first Christmas brings with it the promise that if the babe of Bethlehem is received as our mutual risen Lord, the separation is only temporary. The tears we shed will one day be wiped away, the wrongs we suffered will be made right, and peace will actually become a reality.

Longfellow believed that to be true, and reminding himself of it, went on to write one more verse.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Merry Christmas & God Bless, Rick

Sisters and Sermons

One of the most controversial things the Apostle Paul ever wrote can be found in I Timothy 2:11-12. “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet,”

He expands on that in I Corinthians 14 when teaching on how the church was to receive prophetic messages. “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak… And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home;”

The way these verses have been interpreted have gone from one extreme to the other. Some say women are to teach no one, and to say nothing in church. Others dismiss this as simply being cultural, and that it has no bearing on us today. I’m not comfortable with either understanding.

I tend to settle somewhere in the middle, and see this as primarily an instruction for women not to seek positions of authority over men in the church, and to not challenge them when they are preaching. My understanding does not, however, keep me from soliciting questions about a sermon or the accuracy of something I’ve said from anyone. And thankfully I’ve recently been given the opportunity to restate a couple of things in my archived sermons.

In class, a sister graciously questioned the absolute nature of a statement I had made about God no longer giving direct marching orders to those He wishes to use to deliver his people from oppression. I adjusted that to note He may no longer do so. The following week another sister called to my attention something I had forgotten; that the disciples did anoint with oil as well as heal people when they were sent out two by two.

I am so thankful for brothers, and sisters, who keep me on my toes.

God Bless, Rick

He is God, and I am Not

We began Wednesday night’s Bible study with a look at a song in Isaiah that pictured God’s people as a vineyard God had planted, cared for, and protected. He expected it to produce good grapes, but it only produced worthless ones, so He removed its hedge and allowed it to be trampled. The hedge was a wall of thorn bushes or trees, like the hedge rows that were planted on farms to contain and protect livestock before barbed wire was invented.

The mention of a hedge led us to a couple of other passages where hedges can be found. In Job 1:10 Satan insisted that Job only served God because He had made a hedge about him to protect him. And in Hosea 2:6 we’re told that God hedged up Hosea’s unfaithful wife with thorns so she would no longer sin against him. These verses have led some to believe we should pray a “hedge of protection” to keep us safe from all harm, or a “hedge of thorns” to keep those we love from being tempted by sin.

In Psalm 91 David does say that God will keep plagues from the tents of His people, protect them in battle, and that no evil will befall them. His confidence in God’s protection is held up as a promise of what God will do for us if we’ll just trust Him, and pray a “hedge of protection.”

Is it wrong ask God to protect us from COVID, war, and evil? Of course not. Is it wrong to ask God to help someone resist temptation? Of course not. But did He promise to do so if we’d just pray a special prayer? I don’t think so.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He did teach them to pray “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil.” But He did not give them a prayer that would guarantee they would be given whatever they asked for.

As I said in Sunday’s sermon on playing God, I think we should all regularly remind ourselves that “He is God, and I am not.”

God Bless, Rick