Brooks Introduces the Bobos

David Brooks.[1]2000. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I have time off to read, I often read popular titles that appear interesting. What are other authors talking about? What currently interests young people? These literary excursions often prove fruitful because they reveal blind spots in my own thinking. This line of thought led me to pick up a copy of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise.

Introduction

What is a Bobo? What looks like child’s mistake (booboo) is actually pronounced bow-bow and it is short for bourgeois bohemian. Brooks observes: 

“Defying expectations and maybe logic, people seemed to have combined the countercultural sixties and the achieving eighties into one social ethos…people who thrive in this period are the ones who can turn ideas and emotions into products”(10).

Brooks goes on to write: “This book is a description of the ideology, manners, and morals of this elite. I start with the superficial things and work my way to the more profound.” (11) The new upper-class professionals blend the artistic aesthetic of a hippy with the business acumen of a yuppy. What makes Brooks observations so intriguing is that almost twenty years later we see Bobo characteristics showing up among mere mortals, such as myself.

Background and Organization

David Brooks is a Washington-based political columnist who has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, and other venues. He is also a Jew married to an evangelical both of whom attend church. This brief description validates his self-identification as a Bobo, someone highly talented and inclined to seek reconciliation in all aspects of life.

Brooks writes in seven chapters:

  1. The Rise of the Educated Class
  2. Consumption
  3. Business Life
  4. Intellectual Life
  5. Pleasure
  6. Spiritual Life
  7. Politics and Beyond (v)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and are followed by acknowledgments and an index. 

Perhaps missing from these chapters is a detailed treatment of the role of technology in empowering young professions to become fantastically wealthy in such a short period of time. Prior to the 1990s, young professionals were forced to apprentice themselves in career paths that were less glamorous and more impervious to upward mobility, except among those coming from wealthy families.

What is a Bobo?

It is interesting that Brooks begins his taxonomy of a Bobo with a chapter on consumption. Bobo consumption is driven by new-found wealth that is a windfall to the highly educated few in the information age. Brooks observes:

“[in 1980] college graduates earned roughly 35 percent more than high school graduates. Buy by the mid-1990s, college graduates were earning 70 percent more than high school graduates, and those with graduate degrees were earning 90 percent more. The wage value of a college degree had doubled in 15 years.”(36)

This sudden accumulation of wealth by highly educated professionals affords them the opportunity to engage in consumption patterns unavailable to the bohemians of prior generations.

In my own information-crunching career, I spent roughly the first 20 years automating manual processes and exploring existing databases in the offices that I worked for. In my first major automation project I more than quadrupled the output of my manager within a year and improved the quality of the work done. This led to my promotion and eventual reassignment. This theme was repeated several more times before I left research and went into finance, but those behind me did not see the same boost to their career that I got because the low hanging fruit [of automation] had been exhausted and they entered finance after the field settle down. Timing matters, which suggests that the Bobos may not beget future Bobos.

Brooks writes about the aspect of Bobo culture that he knows—political consulting—where technology is not necessarily a big factor in success.

The Spiritual Deficit in Bobo Land

Brook takes an unexpected trip to Montana to explore Bobo spirituality. A surprising number of movies have been made in Montana in recent years, like A River Runs Through Itand the Horse Whisperer (218-219). Writing about the Montana “Soul Rush” Brooks observes:

“Everybody lives somewhere, of course, but not all places have that spiritual aura that we call ‘a sense of place.’ Only places that are inhospitable to ambition have that.”(221)

Having made their fortune, Bobos start to miss aspects of life that they have neglected that drives their interest in antiques, old houses, and places like Montana that seem more real than a computer screen. 

Brooks asks: “Can you have freedom as well as roots?” (227) He goes further to ask: “Can you still worship God even if you take it upon yourself to decide that many of the Bible’s teaching are wrong?”(228) It is out of this Bobo mentality (you can always split the difference and have choices) that people say that they are spiritual, just not religious. This is spirituality without obligation( 237), a meaningless idea because our spirituality defines our priorities. If our priorities are defined elsewhere, then our spirituality is likewise defined elsewhere.

Every chance I get, I remind people in my writing that the idea of multiple paths (think Bobo choices) up the mountain is a Hindu concept, not a Christian one. When God created the universe, he stood apart from it which implies that there are no paths up the mountain to God because God exists outside the universe and we exist within it. God must come down the mountain to us and as Christians we believe that he came in the person of Jesus.

Assessment

In his book, Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks writes like a sociologist observing some remote ethic group out in the jungles of New York and other metro areas in the United States. Still, he admits to being a card-carrying Bobo himself. Needless to say, Brooks has a keen eye for detail and has written an entertaining and readable description of the educated rich in our generation. 

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/04/29/is-david-brooks-christian-or-jew-his-latest-book-traces-his-faith-his-second-marriage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brooks_(commentator).

Brooks Introduces the Bobos

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Heintzelman Simplifies Vellum Publishing

Chuck Heintzelman.[1]2017. The Author’s Guide to Vellum: Creating Beautiful Books with Vellum 2.0. Mead, WA: Kydala Publishing Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2018, I became the proud owner of a MacBook Pro laptop to aid me in my writing and publishing. A number of computer programs focusing on creative activities like writing are available primarily in the Apple world. One of the first that I purchased was Vellum, which has a small cult following among fiction writers. On the back-cover of his book, The Author’s Guide to Vellum, Chuck Heintzelman writes: “Whether you’re new to Vellum or an advanced user, you’ll learn  something with this [How-To] book.”In my case, I published my first compendium of three books (a box set) in early 2018, which makes me a user, but certainly not an advanced user—I was tickled pink to find this book and found the author’s claim credible.

Author’s Background

Chuck Heintzelman describes himself as a software developer and an EBook bundler, having his own company—BundleRabbit.com. Having created more than 900 EBooks and more than 80 box sets in Vellum, he is certainly an advanced user with the experience necessary to offer advice on using Vellum.

Vellum Basics

For those new to Vellum, start by downloading and installing Vellum on your Mac. Vellum is not available for Windows or Linux, which was initially a sore point in my case. It is possible to rent a mac online, but that is expensive ($1 per hour).[2]The trial version of Vellum does everything but create your EBook file, which you can do on a pay-as-you-go basis, or you can simply buy the program.

Your starting point in EBook creation is to create a Word document (*.docx file) with your book. For those who compose their books in other programs, such as Scrivener,[3] this requires a conversion to the Word format taking care to follow the guidelines to make sure Vellum properly converts the Word document into a Vellum file. 

Heintzelman recommends that authors download a template from the Vellum website[4]that allows 17 Vellum styles to be applied directly to your Word file before making the conversion (16). These styles assure a clean conversion. The availability of this template and style book is a great tip that does not seem to appear in the Vellum documentation.

Why Vellum?

The Vellum selling points arise because most EBooks are fairly bland electronic books and it is not obvious how to assemble a compendium or box set of electronic books. Vellum is popular because it permits the creation of customized EBooks in multiple formats (*.mobi, *.ePub, and *.rtf) sporting features like drop-case letters, graphics, and wing-dings not available elsewhere. What I did not know until reading Heintzelman is that Vellum can also be used to publish print books.

Why Not Vellum?

Heintzelman wrote a short, but important chapter on what Vellum cannot do. Vellum cannot:

  • Insert a table
  • Footnotes
  • Internal hyperlinks
  • Fine tuning (128-129)

Vellum support says that since this book was published an endnotes option has been added. In general, Vellum makes publishing easy, provided that you like the default settings.

Assessment

Chuck Heintzelman’s The Author’s Guide to Vellum is a short, helpful guide to publishing with Vellum. Because the Vellum help system is very brief, this guide fills an important niche.

[1]https://kydala.com.

[2]Heintzelman(136-139) mentioned a service called MacInCloud (www.MacInCloud.com).

[3]Scrivener is a popular writing program for authors available for download at:https://www.LiteratureAndLatte.com. Scrivener is optimized for writing and is cheaper than Word, but can create a Word (*.docx) document.

[4]https://get.180g.co/download/VellumAdvancedImportDocuments.zip.

Heintzelman Simplifies Vellum Publishing

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out

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Moots: Disciple like Barnabas

Paul Moots. 2014. Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement. Herndon: Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. HiemstraOne of the most important ministries in the New Testament is largely unknown and, yet, provides a significant example to many churches. Barnabas was an early benefactor to the Jerusalem church and, because of his social standing, played a key role in reconciling Paul to the Apostles. He also mentored Paul in Antioch. Without Barnabas, Christianity might still be a dissident faction in Judaism rather than a world religion. Yet, only the most astute of Bible students know about Barnabas.

Introduction

In his book, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, Paul Moots writes:

“The ministry of encouragement is the art of leading and supporting others in the discovery of their own spiritual gifts and call to discipleship…We can become a Barnabas…encouragement allows the congregation to shape its ministry around its strengths rather than to base its work on some model derived from another congregation’s story, another pastor’s experience.”(2-3) 

Notice the role of story in this description. Each of us and each congregation has its own story of its Christian walk that deserves to be honored and built on. Herein lies our spiritual gifts and our strengths in ministry. 

Encouragement is at the heart of the multiplication of gifts and church growth (6). It stands in contrast to the usual concept of discipling that implicitly (or explicitly) defines discipling almost exclusively in a teacher-student role and seeks more to replicate than to strengthen. At the heart of encouragement is respect, much like Barnabas clearly respected Paul. Imagine what might have happened had Barnabas attempted to fashion Paul into a mini-me version of himself?

The Lessons of Barnabas

Moots sees five components of Barnabas’ ministry that together compose the ministry of encouragement: partnership, hospitality, courage, second chances, and character (xvi). He writes in seven chapters:

  1. The Ministry of Encouragement
  2. Standing With and Standing Aside: The Ministry of Partnership
  3. Standing with Outsiders and Outcasts: The Ministry of Hospitality
  4. Standing Against Fear: The Ministry of Courage
  5. Standing Against Failure: The Ministry of Reconciliation
  6. Authenticity in Ministry: Character and Call(v)

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by notes and readings.

Standing Against Fear

One of the most unexpected insights that Moots brings to the Barnabas accounts in the Book of Acts is his recognition of the need for courage in offering encouragement. Moots writes:

“One difficulty I may have in approaching the problem of fear in ministry is my reluctance to admit that the fear exists.”(61)

He notes that fear is an important component of stress in ministry. We experience the fears of change, of consequences, of losing control, of admitting weakness, and of failing God (62-68). Moots suggests meeting regularly with colleagues in ministry to care for each other in the midst of spiritual warfare (74). He reminds us that fear is about condemnation which is why love drives it out (76-77).

Sons of Encouragement

Barnabas is mentioned in twenty-eight verses in the New Testament. All but five verses are found in the Book of Acts. He is also mentioned in First Corinthians, Galatians, and Colossians. 

Acts 4:36 explains that Barnabas means son of encouragement, which is described as his nickname because his given name is Joseph and he is said to be a Levite which implies that he is a priest. This reference is curious because bar-nabas literally means son of the prophet in Hebrew. Prophets are known for offering encouragement, which suggests the alternative inference.

Assessment

Paul Moots’s book Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement is an accessible book filled with scriptural and ministry insights. While clearly pitched to pastors, lay leaders may also benefit.

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Simple_Faith_Out

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Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life(Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The failure of many churches, especially protestant churches, to teach moral discipline since the 1960s is beyond dispute. The consequences have been stunning both in terms of cultural change and public health. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

Half of STDs are among young people ages 15 to 24 years. These infections can lead to long-term health consequences, such as infertility; they can facilitate HIV transmission; and they have stigmatized entire subgroups of Americans.

Cases reported for Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea rose 31 percent over the period from 2012 to 2017 showing infection among 2.3 million Americans in 2017 after declining since the 1940s.[1]This statistic does not include hepatitis or AIDS, both of which are also sexually transmitted and especially prevalent among homosexuals.

Introduction

Unlike the protestants that began loosening restrictions on contraception in the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (87), Pope Paul VI ignored advice consistent with the protestant position to issue a papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968. The encyclical affirmed the traditional church teaching on the issue of contraception. The encyclical states:

In considering the problem of birth regulation, as is the case for every other problem regarding human life, one must look beyond partial perspectives—whether biological or psychological, demographic or sociological—and make one’s consideration in the light of an integral vision of man and his vocation, not only of his natural and earthly vocation, but also of his supernatural and eternal one….Marriage, therefore, is not the effect of chance or the product of the evolution of blind natural forces, it is a wise institution of the Creator for realizing in mankind His design of love.(52-53)

This encyclical was not popular among Catholics, especially American Catholics, and it was widely ridiculed by practically everyone else.[2]Now, after all the negative consequences of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Christians are taking another look at this encyclical.

A Second Look

The foreword to this publication by Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the encyclical that appear to have taken place:

“a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”(11)

The absence of a consensus on morality promoted uniformly by American churches has led to the perception that the church itself is irrelevant. The decrease in marriage, increase in illegitimacy, and increase in abortion have largely been ignored by the church. Secondary effects of the demise of the family like suicide, drug abuse, incarceration, and abuse of women get talked about without linking them back to the root causes (13). Safe irrelevance, not hard morality, tends to the be watchword in churches hemorrhaging members and young people.

In this context, Pope Paul VI encyclical is getting a second look by Christian leaders wondering what went wrong in our generation (35).

Assessment

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On Human Life, raises the important issue of contraception. It is worthy of discussion, especially as fertility rates decline in America below the population sustaining level of 2.1 children per adult woman. As an economist, I have long linked declining fertility rates to the need for immigration. If for no other reasons than to keep our Social Security and Medicare programs viable.[3]Support for families and basic morality is a prerequisite for a viable economy and for preventing social diseases that are devastating for the individuals affected and for the economic viability of our health care system.


[1]https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/2017-STD-Surveillance-Report_CDC-clearance-9.10.18.pdf.

[2]I still remember John Carson’s comment—if you don’t play the game, you don’t get to make the rules.

[3]Both Medicare and Social Security are pay-as-you-go programs. This means that employed young people pay for the benefits of retired old people. If you have fewer young people than emerging old people, either rates have to increase or benefits have to decrease.

Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Gumbel Answers Faith Questions

Nicky Gumbel.[1]2016. Questions of Life: Alpha. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Books about the fundamentals of the Christian faith fascinate me. No two of these books are remotely similar even though they presumably cover the same topics. The topics remain similar but the manner in which we approach them needs to ring true in different times and places. This makes the Alpha approach remarkable because it appeals to so many different people in different times and places. Nicky Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, sets forth these objectives:

“This book attempts to answer some of the key questions at the heart of the Christian faith. It is based on Alpha, which is designed for non-churchgoers, those seeking to find out more about Christianity, and those who have recently come to faith in Jesus Christ.”(ix)

Audaciously, Gumbel starts citing his own objections to the Christian faith: it’s boring, untrue, and irrelevant (11-12).

Background and Organization

Nicky Gumbel is an author, founder of Alpha, and an Anglican priest serving in one of the UK’s largest congregations. He studied at Hill House and Eton College, read law at Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Other books by Gumbel include: The Jesus LifestyleSearching Issues, and A Life Worth Living.

Gumbel’s Questions of Life is organized in fifteen chapters preceded by a preface and Foreword, and followed by endnotes. The chapter titles are:

  1. “Is there more to Life than This?
  2. Who is Jesus?
  3. Why Did Jesus Die?
  4. How Can I have Faith?
  5. Why and How Do I Pray?
  6. Why and How Should I Read the Bible?
  7. How Does God Guide Us?
  8. Who is the Holy Spirit?
  9. What Does the Holy Spirit Do?
  10. How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit?
  11. How Can I Resist Evil?
  12. Why and How Should I Tell Others?
  13. Does God Heal Today?
  14. What About the Church?
  15. How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life?”(v)

The chapters follow the Alpha course outline and provide content for small group discussion and sermon presentation. Some chapters include cartoon illustrations.

Alpha Context

The Alpha focus on non-Christians and Christians who do not attend church regularly helps explain the plain-English language, the choice of topics chosen and the large number of stories suitable as sermon illustrations. This audience, sometimes described as seekers, stumble over “churchy” words and misconceptions of the Gospel story. Even among believers it is perhaps rare to participate actively in a small group. 

Every effort is made to avoid placing people in an awkward position. A non-believer may find prayer intimidating or even discussing personal questions about what they believe or do not believe. Small group leaders are accordingly encouraged to giving everyone an opportunity to participate in discussions without being pushy about it or putting people on the spot. The illustration of a circle game of passing a beach ball around is a template for group discussions.

The Anglican origins of Alpha show up in the choice of topics. Among Presbyterians discussions about the Holy Spirit are usually brief—Alpha devotes about four chapters to the Holy Spirit (chapters 7-10)—have generally been skeptical about spiritual healing (chapter 13) and avoid discussions of sin and evil (chapter 1). The Anglican willingness to broach these subjects came as a pleasant surprise.

How and Why Do I Pray?

Gumble’s chapter on prayer provides a good illustration of this book’s contribution. Personal prayer is a Christian distinctive in that many religions suggest prayer, but it is a transcendent God and, for that reason, prayer tends to be formulaic, not spontaneous. Think of Moslem lined up for Friday prayer and reciting Surahs from the Koran. 

Personal prayer is harder because it is a deeply theological activity. I have often said that my prayer book (Everyday Prayers for Everyday People) is my most theological book. Gumble notes that before he came to faith, he recited mostly child formula prayers and mostly prayed in times of crisis (62). Now he focuses on his relationship with his heavenly father (63). While some people find relationships easy, many people today find intimacy generally hard and especially hard in a. lonely, technological society that does not encourage development of social skills. What do you say to your heavenly father when conversation with your earthly friends and relationship is strained and infrequent? Gumbel walks his reader through the Lord’s prayer, petition by petition (63-73).

Assessment

Nicky Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, is an accessible and helpful book. Small groups may find this book useful even outside of a formal Alpha course. I used it to prepare as an Alpha group leader. I also appreciated the head’s up on sermon material, which helped drill the subject matter in more deeply. Nonbelievers may find this book an excellent way to become familiar with the Christian faith before walking into an unfamiliar church.


[1]https://alpha.org/nicky-gumbel.

Gumbel Answers Faith Questions

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Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Bell Writes Finishing Well

James Scott Bell. 2019. The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The hardest part of ending a post or book is to end gracefully. It is generally good to offer a chiastic return to your opening comments or to highlight the theme with choice words. But endings also carry emotional weight—it’s like an only child getting on the bus to leave home for college or kissing a terminal relative for the last time. What words should your reader remember as they move on?

Introduction

In his latest craft book, The Last Fifty Pages, James Scott Bell uses a golf analogy to kick off his exposition: “It’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.” (1) In other words, the endgame in golf is all about the putting on the green. Bell goes on:

“If there’s one Word that sums up the feeling readers crave in an ending, it’s satisfaction. The word is broad enough to include any type of ending, so long as it is one that leaves the reader in a positive emotional state about the reading experience as a whole.”(4)

Part of this satisfaction comes in tying up loose ends. Citing John Gilstrap, Bell writes:

“Before you kill me, you’ve got to tell me why you did it, and how all of your compatriots fit into the puzzle.”(5)

This sort of egotistic protagonist is common in film, which Bell describes as a classic mistake–the talkative villain (76-77), but it points to the need not to the leave the reader hanging—a better way is to have a minor character fill in details.

Background and Organization

James Scott Bell[1]is a former trial lawyer and author of numerous writing books and thrillers. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated from the University of Southern California Law Center. His best-known writing book is: Plot and Structure.  Amore recent book of his, How to Write Dazzling Dialogue,was immensely helpful in my memoir project in 2017 (Called Along the Way).

Bell writes in eleven chapters:

  1. Endings are Hard
  2. What Should an Ending Do?
  3. Should You Know Your Endings Before You Write?
  4. About Act 3
  5. The Shape of Your Ending
  6. The Meaning of Your Ending
  7. Brainstorming Endings
  8. Resonant Endings
  9. Avoiding Common Ending Problems
  10. Some Endings Examined
  11. The Ending of This Book on Endings.

Following these chapters is an author’s note, list of other books, and an about section.

Plotters verses Pantsers

A fairly inane conversation that comes up among writers is whether to use an outline or to write “seat of the pants.” I say inane because only masters of the craft have the intuition to be successful as a pantser; everyone else either is better off starting with an outline or has an enormous among of time on their hands to rewrite their book. 

Stephen King (On Writing) is probably the most famous pantser (9), but no one would confuse him with being a beginner—if I recall correctly, he wrote his first book at the age of about eight. King does not want to outline his book because he writes suspense and argues that if he knows the ending as he writes, then the reader will figure it out and it will deflate the suspense. So he creates tension and a well-defined character, then reasons how that character would respond to the tension. Add a few twists and turns, and you have a King novel.

By contrast, Bell is a plotter. His advice on endings begins with the lead character’s mirror moment (11). The lead character’s mirror begins with a question: is the lead character willing (and able) to grow emotionally (transform) to become the hero that can overcome and win the struggle that is presented? (12) From that moment forward, the author needs to have a vision of how the book will end—this is the light at the end of the tunnel.

High Stakes in Three Acts

Remember that Bell writes thrillers, which implies that thrills are required. All of this happens in three acts and a bit of structure is required. Bell sees this structure summarized in LOCK—leader character is introduced (L), the lead has an objective (O), the is forced into confrontation (C), and the ending needs to be a knock-out (K; 15).

For Bell, the character is introduced in Act 1, but thrown into Act 2 by a life changing threat (14-15). The character cannot overcome this threat without dealing with a serious character flaw. At the end of Act 2, the lead discovers a clue, setback, or crisis that makes resolution possible, but not easy—the lead must be willing and able to meet the challenge a final battle that takes place in Act 3 (16).

Assessment

James Scott Bell’s The Last Fifty Pages is a short-but-informative book on the craft of writing a novel or screen play. Bell illustrates his points with vignettes taken from famous movies, the like Wizard of Oz, the Fugitive, and Casablanca. Authors will love it; I love it—maybe you will too.

References

Bell, James Scott. 2004.  Plot and Structure:  Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books. (Review)

Bell, James Scott. 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (Review)

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2017. Called Along the Way: A Spiritual Memoir.Centreville, VA: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

King, Stephen. 2010. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner. (Review)


[1]http://www.JamesScottBell.com.

Bell Writes Finishing Well

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Groseclose Studies the Hallel Psalms

Win Groseclose. 2015. The Egyptian Hallel Psalms: An Exposition of Psalms 113-118—Observations: Practical, Exegetical, and Theological. New Sewickley Township, PA

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Passover, the Egyptian Hallel Psalms are sung before (Ps 113-114) and after (Ps 115-118) the Passover meal. This implies that hymns sung after the Last Supper, as recorded in Matthew 26:30, were likely Psalms 115-118 (1).In his commentary, The Egyptian Hallel Psalms,Win Groseclose cites these objectives:

“My hope, as you reflect upon these psalms is that they encourage you in your worship life, but that they cause you to think and reflect upon how you can live out your praise and worship of our God in a way that draws outsiders into worship alongside of you.”(2)

The purpose of an expository commentary is more generally to describe and explain the passages under review.

Background and Organization 

Win Groseclose is the Senior Pastor, St. John’s (Burry’s) United Evangelical Protestant Church, Rochester, PA, an Adjunct Professor of Theology, International Theological Seminary of Donetsk, Ukraine, and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.[1]He writes in these chapters:

  1. Praise Yahweh, You Servants of Yahweh (Psalm 113)
  2. When the Mountains Leapt (Psalm 114)
  3. Glory in God Alone (Psalm 115)
  4. For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (Psalm 116)
  5. Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (Hymn)
  6. The Nations Should Praise (Psalm 117)
  7. For He is Good (Psalm 118) (vii)

The first chapter is preceded by an introduction. Because Grosdeclose organizes his book around the Psalms, let me sample two of them, Psalms 113 and 116, as examples.

Psalm 113

Grosdeclose’s exposition organizes his comments primarily verse by verse following his own translation of the Hebrew.  For example, in verse 1 we read:

“Praise Yahweh, praise him you servants of Yahweh! Praise the name of Yahweh.”(Ps 113:1, Grosdeclose’s translation)

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!”(Ps 113:1 ESV)

“αλληλουια αἰνεῖτε παῖδες κύριον αἰνεῖτε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου”(Ps 112:1 BGT)

‎הַ֥לְלוּיָ֙הּ׀הַ֭לְלוּעַבְדֵ֣ייְהוָ֑ההַֽ֜לְלוּאֶת־שֵׁ֥םיְהוָֽה (Ps 113:1 WTT)

For purposes of exposition, I have cited Grosdeclose’s translation along with the English Standard Version, the Greek Septuagint (BGT), and the original Hebrew (WTT). Several observations can be made:

Grosdeclose uses God’s covenant name, Yahweh (יְהוָ֑ה), while normally Jewish tradition substitutes the word, Lord. Yahweh is too sacred in Jewish tradition to use outside of a worship context. Most translations, starting with the Greek, use the word, Lord (κυρίου). 

In his discussion of verse 2 (6), he notes the focus on the sacredness of the name and relates it back to the Second Commandments:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.“(Exod 20:7 ESV)

We see an echo of concern about the name in Philippians 2:9 (7).

In his discussion of verse 3, he relates the phrase—“From the rising of the sun to its setting”—to Joshua 1:8: 

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”  (Jos 1:8 ESV)

Grosdeclose, like the Psalmist, is clearly interested in the Law of Moses and its careful study. We note that veneration of the name (of God) is a theme in all three of these verses. We also observe that the Greek Septuagint (the first translation of the Old Testament that took place in 200 BC) frequently organizes these verses differently than the Hebrew—in this case, verse one of Psalm 113 is found in a different chapter in the Greek. 

Psalm 116

Grosdeclose observes that the Hallel Psalms frequently appear in the hymns. In this case, he finds a parallel with the hymn, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing, written by Charles Wesley. Wesley’soriginal edition had noneteen stanzas, just like Psalm 116 and with a similar theme—Thanksgiving. Grosdeclose is so impressed with this hymn that he devotes an entire chapter to reviewing it.

Grosdeclose’s attention to translation shows up again in verse where he depresses theologically from common translations:

“I have loved because Yahweh will hear; my prayer of supplication.”(Ps 116:1, Grosdeclose’s translation)

“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”(Ps 116:1 ESV)

“αλληλουια ἠγάπησα ὅτι εἰσακούσεται κύριος τῆς φωνῆς τῆς δεήσεώς μου.”(Ps 114:1 BGT)

‎אָ֭הַבְתִּיכִּֽי־יִשְׁמַ֥ע׀יְהוָ֑האֶת־ק֜וֹלִ֗יתַּחֲנוּנָֽי  (Ps 116:1 WTT)

Again, we observe Grosdeclose sticking closely to the exact wording of the Hebrew. The key phrase is: I have loved because. I have loved is one word in the Hebrew (אָ֭הַבְתִּי) followed by the word because (כִּֽי). The Greek (and the Vulgate) agrees on this point, but also adds the word hallelujah (αλληλουια). 

The English Standard Version and most other translations insert a reference to God, presumably because the parallel cited in verse 2. The parallel mimics only the phrase starting with because. Thus, Grosdeclose’s New Testament cite—

“We love because he first loved us.”(1 John 4:19 ESV)

–seems like a direct quote of Psalm 116 verse 1.

Assessment

Win Groseclose’s book, The Egyptian Hallel Psalms, is an interesting exposition of

Psalms 113 through Psalm 118 with special attention to the translation from Hebrew. It is interesting both to those looking for a devotional reflection on these psalms and those interested in underlying translation issues.


[1]https://preacherwin.com.

Groseclose Studies the Hallel Psalms

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Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms, Part 2

Gordon J. Wenham. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Most Christians have a longstanding, often personal relationship with the Psalms. 

In my case, when I went to Germany as a foreign student in 1978, I carried a New Testament with Psalms—the only book in the Old Testament (OT) that I spent much time with at that point in my life. Later, I took an active interest in the entire OT and added a Psalm to my daily devotions.

As a chaplain intern at Providence Hospital in 2011-2012, when I asked patients their favorite Bible verse, six out of ten answered Psalm 23. Pentecostals often answered Psalm 91, but many times mentioned even more interesting verses. Chances were good, however, that these other verses were also Psalms.

Introduction

In his book,Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically, Gordon Wenham notes that the Psalms and Isaiah are the two Old Testament (OT) books most often cited in the New Testament and as many as 121 out of 150 Psalms are cited or alluded to (181-182). Examples cited by Wenham include:

  • Luke’s Gospel amplifies the Psalter’s concern for the poor and women (182). 
  • The New Testament focuses on the righteous suffering highlighted in the laments that pervade the Psalter (185). 
  • First Peter has been described by some as a sermon based on Psalm 34 (186-189). The first three chapters in Paul’s letter to the Romans draws heavily on the theology of the Psalms, particularly regarding the nature, effects and consequences of sin (193).

He takes other examples from the Book of Hebrews (194-197) and Revelation (197-201).

In part 1 of this review, I gave an overview of Wenham’s argument. In part 2, I will look more closely at three of his arguments: the focus on law, reading the psalms, and comments on the precatory psalms, such as Psalm 137 cited in part 1.

Law in the Psalms

The relationship between the law and the Psalms is highlighted as a theme for Wenham’s book in its title: Psalms as Torah. Torah is the Hebrew word for law, but it also means instruction, as Wenham reminds us (7). Using the poetry of the Psalms to teach the law is a bit like using stained glass windows to teach the illiterate stories from the Bible in years past or, today, coming out with a comic book edition of the Bible for the functionally illiterate.[1]

Wenham argues his case for the law being found in psalms first through the structure of the psalms. The Psalter divides into five books just like the Pentateuch and the first psalm (1) and the longest psalm (119) both focus on law. In the first sentence of Psalm 1, we read:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”(Ps 1:1-2 ESV)

Likewise, we read in Psalm 119:

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” (Ps 119:1)

In both topic sentences, the first word is blessed and it is related to delight and walking in concert with the law, which is an obvious source of emphasis to a postmodern reader. 

Less obvious is why Psalm 119 is highlighted in the Hebrew requires some explanation. Psalm 119 stands out in the Hebrew for three reasons: It is the longest psalm, it is an acrostic psalm, and it is found in the middle of book five. The first two reasons are related—an acrostic psalm has strophes beginning with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet—aleph to tau. The last reason—being in the middle—is the point of emphasis in a chiastic literary structure. Think of a chiastic structure as a journey where you go (ABCD), then return by the same route (DCBA), and the purpose of the journey is focused on your destination (D). Each of these three reasons highlight the importance of Psalm 119 to the overall purpose of the Psalter and Psalm 119 focuses on the law.[2]

Wenham make two other interesting points about the law in the psalms. First, the law appears in the Psalms often stated in positive terms rather than prohibitions found in the Ten Commandments. Instead of talking about adultery, for example, the psalms emphasize the blessedness of family. Second, Psalm 119’s acrostic structure pictures the law encompassing widely God’s will for humanity, not narrowly, as found in the Ten Commandments which anticipates Jesus’ interpretation of the law, not the compliance attitude adopted by the Pharisees.Just like Psalm 1 talks about delighting in the law, Psalm 119 expands rather than contracts the Ten Commandments.

Reading the Psalms

Wenham offers numerous pointers for reading the psalms, many times simply in passing, in part, because the ethical instruction provided by the psalms frequently is unconscious (1). Many psalms, for example, are written in the first person, addressed to God, and report on events that are outlined very briefly. The fifty-cent theological word that describes this sort of writing is laconic—using very few words—which my Old Testament professor repeated in practically every lecture.

Wenham summarizes speech act philosophy defining these words:

  • Performative acts—words that change our status, like a marriage vow.
  • Commissive acts—words that offer a promise.
  • Expressive acts—words that name an emotion.
  • Declarative acts—words that affect a change.
  • Assertive declaration acts—assertions that carry the weight of a declaration (65-67)

In prayer we often do more than one of these acts, a kind of exchange of vows with God. Noting the use of the first person, the kinds of acts, and the poetic and laconic language highlights the highly personal nature of the psalms and their use in prayer.

Justice and Pecatory Psalms

Pecatory psalms stand out in the Psalter because they are prayers that wish someone ill. Many times critics of the Bible will highlight these psalms in their complaints because they are decidedly not politically correct.

Wenham notes:

“Wheras modern readers see judging primarily as condemning the guilty, the Old Testament views judging primarily as an act vindicating the weak and exploited.”(113)

This point highlights the change in social position between the average first century Christian and today’s Christians in the United States. People routinely experiencing persecution will look on justice differently than those insolated from persecution. Thus, reading the pecatory psalms requires a change in perspective.

Let’s return a minute to Psalm 137, cited in part 1 of this review:

“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”(Ps 137:8-9)

The writer of this psalm is a Jew living in exile in Babylon. When female slaves are taken, their babies are typically murdered so the psalmist here is evoking lex talionis, a eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exod 31:23-25; Lev 24:17-21; Deut 19:19-21) or, in modern parlance, the punishment should fit the crime. Wenham notes that the psalmist does not suggest that they will take revengence themselves—punishment is left to God. In other words, the psalmist is simply asking for justice that has up-to-this-point been denied (112-113). 

If our postmodern sensitiivites have been offended by these pecatory psalms, it is only because we are accustomed to living in a relatively just society.

Assessment

Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically is an unusually clear guide to reading and understanding the Psalms, which should be interesting to any serious believer wanting to deepen their faith. I suspect that scholars will be citing this work for a long time.


[1]Wenham notes that most ancient societies encouraged enculturation through memorization and use of music. Hymns, poetry, and songs are memory aids for a periods before the modern era when paper was expensive and people learned their scripture through memorization.

[2]The middle of the first book of the psalms, Psalm 19, likewise focuses on law. 

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms, Part 1

Gordon J. Wenham. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you have ever thought of the Psalms as mysterious, you are not alone. The structure and the content of the Psalms can mystify. While no one would quibble over the majesty of passages like:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”(Ps 19:1-2 ESV)

But what do you make of:

“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”(Ps 137:8-9)

Postmodern readers are unlikely to hear such passages advocating child smashing as anything less than praying for God to commit war crimes. So, the Psalms clearly mystify us.

Introduction

Gordon J. Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically sets forth these objectives:

“It is the ethic taught by the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter, that is the focus of this book. The psalms were sung in the first and second temples, and in the subsequent two millennia they have been reused in the prayers of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church. As we will see, the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.”(1-2)

Wenham goes on to explain:

“This book, then, is an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking. I have called it Psalms as Torah out of my conviction that the psalms were and are vehicles not only of worship but also of instruction, which is the fundamental meaning of Torah, otherwise rendered ‘law’. From the very first psalm, the Psalter presents itself as a second Torah, divided into five books like the Pentateuch, and it invited its readers to meditate on them day and night, just as Joshua was told to meditate on the law of Moses (Ps 1.2; Josh 1:8).” (7)

This relationship between the Psalms and the Pentateuch proved interesting to me and motivated my purchase of this book.[1] 

Background and Organization

Gordon J. Wenham studied Old Testament (OT) at Cambridge University and has worked also at King’s College London, Harvard University, and in Jerusalem at the Ecole Biblique and the Hebrew University. He is the author of OT commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and numbers, and several other theology books.[2]

Wenham writes in ten chapters:

  1. Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms
  2. Critical Approaches to the Psalms
  3. The Psalter as an Anthology to be Memorized
  4. The Unique Claims of Prayed Ethics
  5. The Concept of the Law in the Psalms
  6. Laws in the Psalter
  7. Narrative Law in the Psalter
  8. Virtues and vices in the Psalter
  9. Appeals for Divine Intervention
  10. The Ethic of the Psalms and the New Testament (vii)

These chapters are preceded by several prefaces and an introduction. They are followed by conclusions, a bibliography, and several indices.

Memorizing the Psalms

A key insight that Wenham offers is the effect of memorization and putting the Psalms to music on ethical teaching. In my own case, I can remember memorizing Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 many times through the years, even in different languages, and I prayed Psalm 8 daily as a centering prayer for about 10 years. I used to joke, be careful what songs you sing because once you get Alzheimer’s, they are the last thing that you forget—you don’t want to leave this world singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jiggle!

Wenham notes that many Psalms are written in the first person. Repeating such psalms in prayer or song accordingly is like repeating a vow before God, yourself, and others. He writes:

“If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action.”(57)

Because many of us grew up singing hymns and liturgy inspired by Psalms, this tradition helped insulate us from less reflective and negative influences that seem so pervasive today—it’s not just the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials.

Assessment

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Wenham’s argument. In part 2, I will look more closely at some of his arguments, especially the innovative form that law takes when presented in the Psalter. I will also go over his view on the precatory psalms, such as Psalm 137 cited above.

Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically is an unusually clear guide to reading and understanding the Psalms, which should be interesting to any serious believer wanting to deepen their faith. I suspect that scholars will be citing this work for a long time.


[1]In seminary I did word studies in seminary to track this very relationship and found relatively few direct citations of the Ten Commandments or of Moses because some liberal scholars have alleged that the Pentateuch was a later development contrived by Israelite kings, such as David, to invent an ancient history that did not exist. Why? If Moses did not exist, he could not have authored the Pentateuch and various provocative prohibitions. Likewise, the miracles surrounding the creation of Israel, which liberal dispute, could not have been real. 

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Wenham.

Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms

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Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Kling Classifies and Raises Political Debate

Arnold Kling. 2017. The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is fair to say that zoology’s proclivity to classify has left an oversized mark on the social science over the past few decades. While writing about lists, like three ways to improve your XYZ or ten things you need to know about ABC, continue to be popular, classification schemes pitting variables in tension with one another provide unanticipated analytical insights. They also produce better charts!

Introduction

In his book, The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides,libertarian writer Arnold Kling writes:

“My goal in this book is to encourage people to take the first step towards healthier political discussion. I believe that this first step is to recognize the language of coalition mobilization so that we can resist being seduced by that language.”(3)

Kling sees the dominant three political languages as progressives (P), conservatives (C), and libertarians (L). These three languages are articulated in terms of polarities P (oppressor-oppressed), C (civilization-barbarism), and L (liberty-coercion). 

Kling’s leanings are ironically obvious from his cover’s display of colors of the French flag (bleu, blanc et rouge), which to my mind brings the image of socialist leaning during the Cold War rather than the current red-blue dichotomy in recent U.S. elections. Back then, the chief alignments were capitalist, communist, and socialist, which implied a bit of both along with strident denial of any communist influence. Kling’s trichotomy developed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that eliminated the primary external threat and resulted in more energetic competition among internal groups for limited resources and influence.[1]

Group Cohesion

Characterizing the dominant political tribes today in terms of the language of their discussion is an interesting way to highlight their differences without choosing sides. Kling is careful to outline examples of commentators that utilize these preferred polarities to draw attention to how the language itself highlights group affinities, how prestige is earned within a group, and how boundaries among the groups are defended. One example that Kling cites is from the 2012 gaffe by Mitt Romney when he was secretly recorded saying:

“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him [Barack Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name-it.”(32)

Romney was speaking to republican donors who Kling classifies as conservatives trying to strengthen civilization and keep the barbarians at bay, but progressive pundits argued that he had no sympathy for the oppressed (33). This gaffe was widely perceived to be a turning point in the presidential race both because of the characterization of progressive pundits and the perception that Romney [widely perceived as having an Eagle Scout image] had not previously expressed his true and negative beliefs about his opponent.

More generally, King outlines the three dominate affinities in eight examples:

  1. Dealing with the Holocaust
  2. Tax reform
  3. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  4. A 1992 Fed study of mortgage lending to African Americans
  5. Abortion and Unwed Mothers
  6. War on Terror
  7. Baker refusal to serve a homosexual wedding
  8. Soda Taxes (14-20)

Kling writes:

“Consider the goals that a political pundit might have. One goal might be to open the minds of people on the other side. Another goal might be to open the minds of people on the pundit’s own side. A third goal might be to close the minds of people on the pundit’s own side.” (33-34)

In this context, political pundits serve as tribal whips in aligning votes with tribal objectives driving greater polarization of the electorate.

Fast and Slow Reasoning

 The need for closure is associated with our natural aversion to uncertainty, ambiguity, and general impatience, which is a source of cognitive dissonance (59-60). Studies of divisive issues tend to reinforce our dominant political affinity at the presuppositional level because we tend to accept information consistent with our affinities unconditionally and to discount information inconsistent with these affinities, a tendency that Kling describes as motivated reasoning(60-63).

Kling looks for strategies to move beyond our default political settings. The first and most important is to be aware of the three dominate political affinities and to understand their polarities. Listening for their political language will allow you to identify biases and their basic logic. An important second strategy is to slow down political discourse. Kling observes that quick responses to emerging issues are more likely than more deliberative responses to adhere to dominant affinities.

The Ideological Turing Test

Kling offers an interesting standard for improving political discourse that he calls the Ideological Turing Test. Turing invented one of the earliest computers and argued that artificial intelligence could be described as equal to human intelligence when in a blind test a human subject could no longer distinguish between a human and computer in email (or telephone) correspondence. Kling argues that we will finally understand our competitors in the political realm once we could successfully masqueradeas a member of an opposing tribe. 

This Ideological Turing Test, if applied, would help move beyond trading straw man characterizations of one another and promote real understanding.

Assessment

In his book, The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling works to promote more enlightened political discourse through mutual understanding. This book is a quick read and readily accessible to anyone interested in more civilized political conversation.


[1]An echo of the previous alignments can be heard occasionally when progressives are characterized as cultural Marxists, a label that is typically rejected out of hand.

Kling Classifies and Raises Political Debate

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

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