Prayer for the Sleep Deprived

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty and Loving Father, Lord of the Sabbath, Blessed Spirit,

All praise and honor be to you for you taught us how to rest even though you yourself never grow tired of work or of us. For you know that tired people cannot love you or their neighbors.

Forgive us for forgetting your good example and caring law. Remind us gently of our oversights and failures, but keep our families and friends safe from our neglect while we tarry.

Thank you for your patience. Teach us to honor you and your law rightly. May we grow to be good examples of a balanced life to those around us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, guard our careers and our self-esteem as we dial back on our work, our activities, and our frantic use of time to practice Sabbath. May our work obsession and stress addiction no longer rule our lives.

In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Prayer for the Sleep Deprived

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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Interpreting Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One can argue that a defining characteristic of the postmodern era is uncertainty, captured in the popular expression: “The only constant is change.⁠1” This uncertainty is compounded by a lack of consensus on basic values and the rapid pace of changes in technology and social conventions.

Postmodern uncertainty is also in sharp contrast with the stability of traditional society where tradition informs every important decision in one’s life—what gender roles we follow, who our friends are, who we marry, what profession we take up, and who and how we worship. Life has meaning in a traditional society because when we accept this guidance, we are rewarded with status and honor. 

Postmodern culture questions tradition and focuses on the individual who is responsible for every imaginable decision with little or no guidance. If we succeed as postmodern individuals, we are fully employed, have a medical plan, and can buy stuff, but we have no guarantee of status and honor because the culture’s standards keep morphing. Thus, anxiety has become a defining characteristic of the postmodern era.

The Indeterminacy Problem

Postmodern anxiety and uncertainty point to a more general problem of indeterminacy that is more typically masked when we act on consensus.

If you think that postmodern anxiety is a myth or an exaggeration, how do you respond to sleep deprivation? At one point, I got anxious and depressed. What was wrong with me? As I thought things through, I realized that my depression typically occurred on Saturdays. Then I realized that I was not depressed, I was tired from a long week. A good Saturday afternoon nap each week did away with my “depression.” I had interpreted my own physical condition incorrectly. Clearly, our attitude about the little setbacks in life can make all the difference in the living of it.

Indeterminacy arise in statistics because we know that correlation does not indicate causality. In theory, many causes can explain a particular correlation so a theory is required to suggest the cause of an observed correlation. Otherwise, the relationship can be entirely a random association.⁠2 If sunspots are associated with weather on earth, what explains this relationship?⁠3 The Rorschach (inkblot) test provides an interesting application of this indeterminacy problem (Smith 2001, 205-206). When a psychiatrist shows a patient a random inkblot and the patients sees patterns in the inkblot, the patterns arise from preconceptions of patient being imposed on the inkblot. Does the patient see angels or demons? Naked women or monsters? These preconceptions (or random associations) provide insight into the interior life of the patient that are hard to track any other way.

Telling a Faithful Story

The anxiety and uncertainty of postmodern society presents the Christian leader with a kind of cultural inkblot test. How can leadership successfully navigate through this perilous test?

One answer can be taken from my earlier comments on the book, Crucial Conversations, where I noted four stages in a dialogue: presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting (PGMS 2012, 110). They observe that once emotions take over actions get locked in. The formation of productive stories presents the last best chance to channel a dialog towards useful action. Crafting a vision for the church is an important starting point.

An infinite number of stories can be told, but not all comport well with the facts or are organizationally helpful. Three kinds of unproductive (clever) stories—victim, villain, and helpless stories—arise that are usually counter-productive (PGMS 2012, 116-119).⁠4 More productive is to tune into the church’s history and to compare it with other faithful churches or stories from the Bible.

Example of Barnabas

The story of Barnabas comes to mind when I see many churches in action. In his book, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, Paul Moots (2014, 2-3) 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.”

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 (Moots 2014, 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?

In Hebrew, Barnabas literally means “son of the prophet,” but Doctor Luke gives it a metaphorical translation: “son of encouragement.” Interestingly, it is a nickname given to Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Would that we all be remembered in such a way.

References

Greene, William H. 1997. Econometric Analysis. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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

Patterson, Kerry Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (PGMS). 2012. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

Footnotes

1 Ironically, this expression is attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) who actually said: πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει (everything changes and nothing stands still). https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus.

2 Statisticians frequently talk about the problem of inferring causality from correlations, but they seldom write about it because it undermines a lot of popular, but spurious statistical procedures. Greene (1997, 816) provide a review of the problem in discussing a statistical procedure called Granger casualty, a kind of statistical work around.

3 Superstition can be defined as a random association being confused with a particular causality. If seeing a black cat is a bad omen, exactly how does that relationship work?

4 Claiming victimhood means accepting no responsibility for what happens next or even offering to help turn things around. The same is true for pointing a finger at a “villain” or claiming a lack of power to change things.

Interpreting Life

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

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Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Marilynne Robinson. 2004. Gilead: A Novel. New York: Picador.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My clearest memory of November of 1974 when I returned to finish out the last two years of college at Iowa State University involved the need to learn the fine art of conversation. When offered a bar or cookie and a cup of coffee, one had to respond with a lengthy discourse on topics roughly summarized as small talk. This would not be gossip, nor items fit to appear in the Oskaloosa Herald, but mostly glimpses of life to acquaint those present with family matters missed due to the passage of time and travesty of distance. No one out East tutored me in coffee time etiquette 1.0 so for this class, required for graduation, I proved a slow learner.

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,takes the form of a lengthy letter from John Ames, a third-generation congregational pastor, to his son. Ames is dying of a heart condition at the age of sixty-seven while his son, the only child of a younger second wife, Lila, is still a preteen.

Gilead, Iowa

Gilead is an unincorporated town in southwest Iowa just south of Fontanelle along route 92 in Adair County. I last drove through this region in 1982 on a trip from Oskaloosa, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska while I was researching beef packing plants for my dissertation. This area left two distinct impressions on me. First, between Indianola and Omaha along route 92 one could find no McDonald’s restaurants, my measure of an area’s poverty. Second, along the way, I had to stop to round up some pigs that got loose from a local farm—I never did see the farmer—and had wandered into the road.

For purposes of the novel, Gilead’s location put it close to the Missouri state line where Ames’ grandfather had participated in partisan fighting leading up to the Civil War. West of Gilead is Nebraska, but west of Missouri is Kansas Ames’ grandfather later absconded and died. Ames’ father also left Gilead to retire in the South. The fact that John Ames faithfully remained in Gilead and retired as one of its pastors speaks to his grit and the strength of his faith.

Poverty

My father’s hometown of Oskaloosa, population 10,000, has not grown in a generation and occasionally appears on television as a location kids grow up and leave. Oskaloosa, with its McDonalds, high school, hospital, and indoor mall, is a big city compared to Gilead. Abject poverty is a theme in the book and Gilead remains a metaphor for poverty.

Robinson makes many references to this poverty. One that sticks in my mind is: “I am old enough to remember when we used to go out in the brush, a lot of us, and spread out in a circle, and then close in, scaring the rabbits along in front of us, till they were trapped there in the center and then we would kill them with sticks and clubs. That was during the Depression and people were hungry.”(198)

Robinson’s gift as a writer arises in her ability to paint one word picture after another.

John Ames Boughton

Another important theme in Robinson’s writing is the relationship between John Ames and his best friend’s son, John Ames Boughton. The best friend, a local Presbyterian pastor who grew up with John Ames, is normally just referred to a Boughton, but the son is also called Jack. As suggested by his name, John Ames Boughton has a father-son relationship with John Ames and is estranged from his biological father.

He plays out the rebellious pastor’s kid (PK) role virtually his whole life. For example, we read:

“His transgressions were sly and lonely, and this became truer as he grew up. I believe I said earlier that he did not teal in any convectional sense, but by that I meant he stole things of no value except to the people he stole them from. There was no sense in what he, unless his purpose was to cause a maximum of embarrassment and risk a minimum of retribution.”(182)

As a teen, this kid impregnated a local girl and later in life he took a black woman as his wife. Perhaps his worst sin was not being available when his mother and father died.

Ironically, this rebellious PK is so polite that strangers, including his future wife, assume he is a pastor. John Ames refers to him as a son and the boy refers to Ames as Papa. This odd relationship seems like a counterpoint to Ames himself, who never played out the PK role and remained a faithful pastor in the face of much adversity.

Assessment

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,is an engaging read that won the Pulitzer Prize. I picked up the book as a summer read because I have spent a lot of time in Iowa and heard that Robinson taught at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.[2]The conversational style of Robinson’s writing reminds me of that of my own grandparents and their siblings in Iowa. Some may not catch all her biblical and theological allusions, but for me they added a depth seldom seen in Christian literature.

Foonotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilead_(novel) [2]https://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu.

Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Also See:

Meredith: Robots Gone Wild

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy 

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Church and State: Monday Monologues, July 1, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Church and State.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Church and State: Monday Monologues, July 1, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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

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Prayer for Undivided Life

Pencils by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving father,

We praise you for making it possible to live an undivided life where our private and public lives are in sync and we can share your love with those that we meet and live with.

We confess that too often we hide ourselves in private lives, ignoring many of those that we run into everyday treating them more like furniture than like people for whom your son suffered and died.

We thank you for the freedoms that we enjoy, for supporting family, and for resources to live without fear. Oh that we would become the people that we enjoy and are thankful for more each day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, renew our commitment to build up your church and to engage those outside it with grace and dignity. May we be the ones who bring your kingdom here on earth a little more each day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Undivided Life

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Church and State

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Today when we talk about our freedom in Christ, we normally refer to our freedom to live within the will of God through Christ’s forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit. In the early church, freedom in Christ also meant freedom from the micro-management of daily life proscribed by Mosaic Law, which encompassed much more than the Ten Commandments and served as the foundation for the theocratic state of Israel.

The earliest mention of relationship between church and state is the reference to Jesus’ suffering under Pontius Pilate in both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds (PCUSA 1999, 1.2 and 2.2), an explicit statement of religious persecution—a measure of the level of this intrusiveness.

Church and State in the Bible

Two traditions of church and state relations appear in scripture: the theocratic state of Israel and the magisterium of Rome. Tensions between the two conceptions of state authority arise not only in the view of legitimate use of power, but also in influence of law as it effects the distinction between private and public space.

The theocratic state of Israel is most obvious in the Old Testament where we observe tension between king and prophet, but this is also the world into which Jesus was born. When Jesus taught about taxation with a denarius coin—render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21)—his concern was that the religious state—even as a client state of Rome—dominated public life to the exclusion of God.

We are reminded that John the Baptist was executed by King Herod because of his indiscrete comments about Herod’s adulterous marriage (Matt 14:3-11). Jesus’ own teaching on marriage put him at similar risk (Matt 19:9). Although Jesus is formally sent to the cross by Pontius Pilate, it is the Jewish authorities who hand him over to Pilate (Matt 27:1-2). In a theocratic state, the lines between public and private space are blurred and do not always enhance personal faith.

The early persecution of the church, like that of Jesus himself, had a Jewish origin. Before he became Paul the Apostle, Saul was a zealous Jew and persecutor of the church (Acts 8:1-3). Rome allowed Israel autonomy in religious affairs and focused on other matters.

The Apostle Paul, whose ministry was outside the nation of Israel, viewed the state as having more limited influence—that of a civil magistrate —which relieved much of the tension found in Jesus’ ministry. Paul exhorts us: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1).

Paul could travel the Roman Empire establishing churches—frequently over the objection of his Jewish colleagues—because civil authorities showed interest in matters of faith only to the extent that public order was disturbed. Even in Jerusalem, Paul is able to use his Roman citizenship to garner protection from the magistrates who by arresting him also saved his life from an angry Jewish mob (Acts 21-22). For the most part, religion fell in private space in polytheistic Rome even though Rome occasionally persecuted the church after it became more influential. 

The pertinent question today is this: does the secular state more closely resemble secular Rome or the theocratic state of Israel?

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

This dichotomy between the theocratic state of Israel (still subject to Mosaic law) and the magisterial state of Rome (subject mostly to civil law) found in the New Testament is lost in the writing of Augustine’s book, De Civitate Dei (The City of God). Augustine pictured two eschatological cities, the city of God, and, the earthly city, in opposition. The city of God consists of those who love God rightly and the earthy city consists of those contemptuous of God (Weitman 2009, 236-237).

Building on Augustine’s two cities and Paul’s magisterial state, Luther divided the world between the Kingdom of Christ (church) and the Kingdom of the World (secular state) which defined the concept of church and state in reformation thinking (Bainton 1995, 186-187). Because the reformation divided the Protestant Churches from the Catholic Church, this division between church and state was pragmatic giving legitimacy to German princes that aided Luther in his break from Rome.

Unlike Luther who was almost exclusively a theologian and pastor, Calvin was both a lawyer and civil magistrate. Calvin’s writing on church and state accordingly lent further credibility to Luther’s teaching on separation of church and state (Calvin 1939, 202-214). We think of Calvin primarily as a theologian, but he is best known in Europe for having been the first to introduce public education and public water works.

Why Do We Care?

One observation that we can draw from Old Testament law is that it tends to pervade all aspects of daily life. This is the nature of using rules verses principles. Principles can be outlined and apply in an infinite number of contexts; rules always to be updated constantly to deal with new circumstances. Secular law is no different.

Ethical behavior defined in secular law binds every Christian and yet the law need not comport with Christian ethical principles. Christians find themselves in an ethical bind with secular laws that legalize immoral behavior. The problem can be overwhelming in trying to explain to your children that the things that their friends are allowed to do, they cannot do because they are Christians. As teenagers, the temptation just to walk away from the faith can be real and immediate. 

The breakdown of the separation of church and state means that churches must lobby government to fashion laws that govern their own members and it makes it harder for them to do so. It also makes it harder for churches to discipline their members when they are unfaithful to biblical teaching and their church’s own confessions.

References

Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand:  The Life of Martin Luther.  New York:  Meridan.

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Calvin, John. 1939. A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Edited by Hugh Thomson Kerr, Jr.  Philadelphia:  Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Weithman, Paul. 2009. “Augustine’s Political Philosophy” pages 234-252 of The Cambridge Companion to Augustine.  Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Church and State

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

 

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Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton. 2019. Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management: Advancing Beyond the Basics.New York: Routledge.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra[1]

My interest in Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) dates back to late 1990s when I worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and reported on national bank risk taking. Frustrated with the focus on risk components and a slew of financial ratios, we started to examine indicators of “whole bank risk,”which we defined as the risk that a bank would fail. Later, I started using the term ERM (Hiemstra 2007). More recently government agencies have started employing ERM to assess threats to their missional objectives (e.g. Campbell 2006).

Introduction

In their 2019 book entitled, Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management, editors Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton define ERM as:

“the process of coordinated risk management that places a greater emphasis on cooperation among departments in order to understand and manage the organization’s full range of risks as a portfolio rather than trying to deal with individual concerns within organizational silos.”(4)

They see the audience for this book as “heads of risk functions, risk managers, and risk professional in the public sector”(5), which includes federal, state, and local governments. While public sector firms seldom fail the way that private sector firms do, their ability to succeed in pursuing their missional objectives is nevertheless of critical importance to their stakeholders.

Organization

This book is organized into four parts; an introduction, four case studies, three special topics, and a conclusion. The editors wrote the introduction together and each wrote their own chapter. The nine chapters are:

  1. Challenges in Implementing ERM in the Public Sector (Fletcher and Stanton)
  2. Change Management and Developing Organization Risk Culture: Transportation Security Administration Case Study (Fletcher)
  3. Using Data and Analysis to Add Value from ERM (Vetrano and Stayanovich)
  4. Laying the Groundwork for ERM: The Evolution of ERM at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Phelan and Weber)
  5. ERM and Local Government: King County, Washington (Hills and Catanese)
  6. Enhancing Capabilities and Culture through Effective Coordination of Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Control (Vineyard and Kaizer)
  7. Working with the IG and GAO: Creating a Win-Win Relationship (Westbrooks)
  8. Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM (Vitters, Oven and Gelles)
  9. Enterprise Risk Management: A Powerful Management Tool (Stanton) (vii-viii).

Having worked at six different federal agencies[2] during my career, I might have enjoyed case studies focused on other federal regulators and, from a strictly dollar perspective, at least one military agency.

Private and Public Sector ERM

ERM developed in the 1990s as an intensive management philosophy to aid in the development of interstate banks following the Riegle–Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994. Consolidation of regional banks into conglomerates with a national and international presence was a subject much debated in the Reagan Administration (e.g. Hiemstra 1990; Scott and Lodge 1985) because of fears that the U.S. could not compete with vertically integrated financial conglomerates in Germany and Japan.

Sophisticated financial modeling and ERM were believed to make these new U.S. financial conglomerates manageable and efficient. The chief risks identified as part of private sector ERM were credit, interest-rate, financial, and operations risk. Of these, operations risk proved to be the most enigmatic and theoretically difficult because markets typically would not price it into traded contracts and financial engineers did not know how to model it. A good actuary could estimate an expected value for operations risk, but few line officers would price their financial products in view of such estimates.

While this study does not try to estimate a value for operations risk, public sector ERM focuses almost exclusively on topics that fit into the category of operations risk, which makes it potentially interesting to ERM practitioners outside the public sector.

Culture Risk

One aspect of operations risk that challenges any assessment of ERM is evaluating the organization’s culture. In my own retrospective on the Great Recession, I wrote a series of articles entitled: “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” (e.g. Hiemstra 2009) The main culprit in private sector ERM might be characterized as taking ERM as a compliance activity—a kind of symbolic action—that did not fundamentally affect the risks taken or how they are mitigated. One flag of a compliance attitude might, for example, be finding template language in annual reporting of risk events. Far from being a theoretical nicety, culture risk can make or break a firm during financial crises.

Authors Cynthia Vitters, Carey Oven, and Michael Gelles write in their chapter, “Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM” defining culture risk as: “…the misalignments that can occur between the values and beliefs and what is actually happening within and around the organization…” (113) They advocate “closing the gap how people actually behave and what’s acknowledged on paper.” (117) Measures cited include noting patterns of at-risk behavior, keeping track of significant incidents and response to them, and numbers of cases received (121).

Interestingly, in my own research of public regulation in the early 1990s I noted a correlation between stakeholder complaints and poor management in other dimensions—gaps in one dimension of performance that is measurable suggest gaps in other dimensions not so easily observed. Keeping good records of risk events—information security, brand and reputation, reporting and performance incentives, and compliance—is an important first step in developing effective cultural oversight (116).

Assessment

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton’s Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management provides an overview of the theory and application of ERM in government agencies. The case studies given cover a variety of subject areas in federal service and local government. Risk managers both inside and outside government may want to be familiar with this work.

References

Campbell, Alexander. 2006. The Real Rocket Scientists [in NASA]. Risk. June. Pp. 50-51.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 1990. Prospective Rural Effects of Bank Deregulation. USDA, ERS, Rural Development Research Report No. 76. March.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2007.An Enterprise Risk Management View of Financial Supervision. Enterprise Risk Management Institute. International Institute of Enterprise Risk Management. October.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2009. Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?Society of Actuaries. Pp. 51-54 of Risk Management. June.

Scott, Bruce R. and George C. Lodge [ed]. 1985. U.S. Competitiveness in the World Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Footnotes

[1] I received a review copy of this book directly from the publisher.

[2] Economic Research Service, USDA, Farm Credit Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Also See:

Stanton: Creating Constructive Dialogue is the Key Management Skill 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Language. Monday Monologues, June 24, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Language.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Language. Monday Monologues, June 24, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

 

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Sensitivity Prayer

Roses
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father,

All of our homage belongs to you for while we were yet sinners you sent Jesus Christ to minister and die for us on the cross. Even now you continue to speak to us tenderly.

We confess that we do not treat each other with the tenderness that Christ modeled for us. Instead, we are silent when we should speak and we speak harshly when we should be silent.

But thankfully, you are patient with us and continue to forgive our sins, iniquity, and trespasses.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us ears that hear and eyes that see. Teach us to translate your word into tender words and prudent actions. May no one fail away from faith on account of us.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Sensitivity Prayer

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Language

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“And God said, Let there be light, 

and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bible takes words seriously. God uses words to create the universe. The Apostle John equates those words with the pre-immanent Christ:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

The original Greek of this passage uses the Logos, which translates into the noun  “word” in English, but in Latin and in modern Spanish Logos is translated as the “verb,” which emphasizes the action implied in the theology of this statement.

The seriousness of words is highlighted elsewhere in the Bible. In Genesis, Jacob tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, but when his deception is discovered, his father refused to take back the blessing. (Gen 27:35) In Exodus, two of the Ten Commandments in the Mosaic covenant govern proper speech: taking the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness (Exod 20: 7, 16). Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus heals and casts out demons with nothing other than verbal commands (e.g. Mark 5:13).

Pentecost Reverses the Curse of Babel

The importance of language in the formation of communities is highlighted in the Tower of Babel narrative, as we read:

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:1-4)

A couple of points need to be stressed about this account. First, having a unified language is explicitly related to the formation of community, in this case the city of Babel. Second, these people are proud, wanting to make a name for themselves, and they rebel, lest we be dispersed, explicitly against the divine commandment to: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) So God cursed them to be confused by language and thereby forced them to disperse as commanded earlier(Gen 11:7-9).

The giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost occurred in this way:

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they [the disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

Pentecost is celebrated today as the birth of the Christian church. Whereas language differences divided people in the Tower of Babel narrative, the gift of understanding and speaking different languages unite people through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church.

Christian Culture

Unlike other religions, Christianity does not assert that God prefers any particular language. The Bible is translated into more languages than you can name even though the Old Testament is written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament is exclusively written in Greek. The “language of the church” is our understanding and worship of God, not the speaking of any particular language. This characteristic is a direct consequence of Pentecost and it is formative.

We know, for example, that many modern languages, such as English and German, evolved in response to translations of the Bible into local dialects and the support that the church has given to literacy and education over the centuries. Left to themselves, many languages fragment along class and ethnic lines leading to greater divisions and conflict. Likewise, national cultures fragment into sub-cultures and lose their cohesion as we have seen in recent years with the development of slang and music traditions more representative of generational and political divisions than of ethnic identities.

The idea that somehow postmodern culture is inherently superior to Christian culture because of new cultural insights suggests primarily a lack of insight into the history of the church. Because Christian culture is truly transnational, multicultural, multiethnic, and transracial, the Christian message need not be watered down or changed to accommodate a local culture so much as be expressed in culturally sensitive language. As at the original Pentecost, the church’s message should be heard by each in their own heart language.

Language

Also See:

Value Of Life

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

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