168 Palm Sunday: All Your Songs
"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." ~ Psalm 118
All your songs
May all your songs be true.
Life is beautiful. Ugly is not. Everyone knows this.
But somehow we've gone and gotten ourselves tied in knots of such ugliness that we're not allowed to talk about ugly any more. Ugly doesn't exist, or something. You're all beautiful just the way you are. It's in the eye of the beholder or blah blah?
This nonsense ends up being little more than skin deep. While it is possible to say a woman's face is ugly or beautiful, that is certainly not the Christian meaning of the word. The ostricization of the word ugly from the Christian vocabulary for reasons of pure vanity is diabolical.
Life is beautiful. It is drastic and tragic and raucous. It is rash, and reflective and exhilarating. It is alive, and designed, and far more than meets the eye.
Ugly is different. It is vile and cruel and hateful. It is wicked and malicious and destructive. It is proud, and greedy, and gross.
A woman is ugly because of what she says more than what she wears. Men too.
The devil is ugly. His lies are ugly. In fact, everything ugly is ugly because of them. Therein lies the keystone. The only thing that is ugly is the lie. Perhaps that is the lie some kid on the playground called you a long time ago. Or maybe it is the lie that you keep repeating on the inside of your head because its just the way your mother talked to herself. Or maybe its the latest, greatest reason to hoard worldly goods for pious reasons, or to not have enough time for those you love, or not get to church, or fail to pray....
We don't usually call a straight line beautiful.
We call it true.
Till angel cry and trumpet sound,
The Mad Christian
In this edition of Mad Mondays:
Calling evil good in Nashville
Pausing the A.I. revolution
Plus our round up of news headlines.
In the shatter zone
New St Andrews College, a Reformed school in Moscow, Idaho, has done a bang-up job summarising our moment. If you haven't watched their viral video/advertisement, taking a minute or two away from the awfulness of the hour to watch it will no doubt lift your spirit. Their basic message? Believing lies got us in to mess we're in but the truth will set us free.
Yes, surveying the muck is a discouraging business, and it seems a bomb of strong delusion has exploded, ruining all we held dear. In his usual thoughtful style, writer Paul Kingsnorth tells of the overwhelm he feels in the face of the "disempowering of people everywhere" by a Leviathan. "Modernity can best be seen as a system of enclosure, fuelled by the destruction of self-sufficient lifeways, and their replacement with a system of economic exploitation, guided by states and exercised by corporations."
However, he goes on to say that our task is not one of building Utopia, but of living in the shatter zone. Kingsnorth suggests forming tribes so awkward that "it is hard for the state to absorb, or even to quite comprehend." A peculiar people, living in the light of the good, the true and the beautiful.
"Recovering journalist", Auron McIntyre followed a similar line of thought, using his podcast to call listeners to stop trying to preserve an imagined status quo and build something new. We are not the middle any more, but insurgents, reactionaries, radicals and pilgrims. McIntyre believes the culture war was more important than the Christian Right of the 80s might have understood, as it reflects and forms our values. We've done a good job defining what we're against, but we need to work out what we're for, ignoring the white noise and getting on with loving our neighbors and living for our Lord.
It is dark and the no doubt the hour is late. Minions of the evil one would seek to salt the earth with lies, so that nothing good could every grow again. Maybe America, as we know it is gone but it is not by chance that you are here now. Jesus Christ has been given all authority and nothing escapes his notice. When your race is run, there is no doubt that you, baptised child of the King, will be received into glory. So, hold fast that hope, take strength and roll up your sleeves. As they say in the New St Andrew's video, "the faithful and undeceived will rebuild in the ruins, and we will do it singing, feasting, loving and laughing." Deo volente.
The dreadful shooting deaths of three young children and three adults in Nashville has captured the attention of the America once again. As with so many other tragedies, reporting and reactions fell roughly along partisan lines. Everyone retreated to their priors with Democrats and their associated media blaming Republican's stance on guns while GOP Reps once again pitched arming teachers and ending gun-free zones in schools.
However, this tragedy has a new edge to it. The shooter, as many would know by now, was a woman, who had begun identifying as a man. It is reported she was being treated for a mental illness and emotional distress. Despite this history, she owned legally-purchased guns, which she hid from her disapproving parents with whom she lived.
As details about the shooting were coming to light, progressive media and politicians were in a bit of a quandary. The choice between denouncing a trans-identifying murderer or mourning white, Christian kids seemed a difficult one for them. In an unsettling display, talking heads could not bring themselves to outright condemn the shooter but quickly mustered an apology for "misgendering" her.
Such moral equivocation is a jarring reminder of the muck we're in. We really have reached a point where some people believe the shooter was as much a victim as the children and adults whom she killed. It really wasn't her fault – if the haters would just let her live her delusion, then everyone would still be alive. Actually, for preaching that God created male and female, Christian, the blame is yours.
But how many lies do you need to believe before it's your own fault? Does this latitude apply to disaffected young white men or radicalized black men? Are they just victims of fatherlessness, drug culture, faults in the justice system or radical elements on dark web? You know the answer.
We live in a society that no longer believes that the devil is the father of lies, that sin is real and that judgement is coming. Even when it is before their eyes and on their screens, they don't believe and they don't care. Their foolish minds are darkened and they are at ease calling good evil and evil good. The lies may be getting stronger, trapping unstable minds and those who love this world in a diabolical net, yet God does not change. As Romans 1 tells us: men are without excuse.
While much of conservative social media and commentators were quite breathless in their dire warnings for Christians to arm up against transgender revolutionaries, it is not clear that the shooter was deliberately targeting the faithful. Presbyterian Covenant School was a less protected than others she considered.
But let's be sober-minded about the enemy's schemes – he is still seeking whom he may devour. By all means, consider how you will protect your family and your congregation, and pray that days of peace may return. The wickedness seems formidable, praised by all around us, like a beast out of the sea. But as Joy Pullman writes at The Federalist, this tragedy is a call to repentance and a reminder that we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the host of hell.
The message Easter time could not be more timely. Despite our culture's arbitrary morality, all men stand guilty before God and tormented by sin. Yet Christ died that we may be forgiven. More than that, He has disarmed the real evil which sent him to the cross, making a public spectacle of it, triumphing over it by his death. So, whether we live or die, we must be faithful to him who paid our debt. We commend ourselves to our faithful Savior, who is risen and coming back soon.
Elon Musk and other tech luminaries have called for a pause on "giant A.I." experiments for at least six months. In an open petition, signatories asked A.I. labs to pump the brakes a little on the revolution. Proposals including setting up regulatory bodies to oversee future developments, guidelines for what to do about harm caused by A.I. and how to deal with the predicted displacement of human workers by machine learning. And of course, the role of A.I. in tackling the ubiquitous "misinformation".
But companies have already begun integrating A.I. into their work practices. Goldman Sachs is predicting that labor-saving effects of A.I. could see the global GDP increase by 7%. The scramble to incorporate machine learning into workplaces has seen employers willing to pay top dollar. Bloomberg says the demand for "A.I. whisperers" is on the rise. "'Prompt engineers', people who spend their day coaxing the A.I. to produce better results and help companies train their workforce to harness the tools" will be rewarded handsomely.
It might sound like a lofty goal – taking time to consider whether we are opening a Pandora's box. However, while the US debates who regulates what, China and other nations will not be halting their race to dominate the space.
After much to and fro on the part of the prosecution and dire predictions, former President Donald Trump has been indicted. The hot-takes have been coming thick and fast. We're sure somebody's got time for that, but us? Not so much. Although Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis said he would not cooperate with an extradition order from Trump's Palm Beach residence, Trump's legal defense team said the former President would "likely" present himself in New York to be arraigned.
It is difficult to say why Mr. Trump would cooperate, since Harvard Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz says the legal case against Trump is weak. The case in question, payment to a prostitute and potential misappropriation of campaign funds, had been examined by the DOJ and thrown out previously. But this legal action seems like an attempt at a "lifetime achievement" award, the culmination of many prosecutions and general bitterness on the part of the anti-Trump establishment. That is fitting since a media circus erupts at everything that Trump does. However it goes, Illya Shapiro writes, playing fast and loose with the justice system hurts everybody.
The exact charges will not be known until the documents are unsealed after arrest.
FYI: What is a grand jury?
A new survey published at the Wall Street Journal made some waves in conservative corners last week. The poll found that patriotism is on the decline. Having children, religious observance and community involvement have dropped precipitously in importance for Americans in just a few short years. The only thing that people valued more now is money.
Many commentators jumped at the opportunity to hand wring over the death of American values, but a couple of folks say, "Not so fast." The Hill pointed out that the data collected anonymously online may tell a different story than that collected years ago by phone. Pollster Patrick Ruffini wrote, "We know that patriotism and religion have been on the decline for quite some time" but he is suspicious of such a sharp decline. "Reality is almost always a lot more boring".
Odds and Ends
Money, markets and jobs
FTX founder, Sam Bankman-Fried has been charged with spending $40m in bribes to Chinese officials to unfreeze assets (AP)
First Citizen bank has bought up a big chunk of Silicon Vally Bank's debt (Reuters)
Which countries hold the most US debt? (Not the Bee)
The Department of Energy has issued new regulations for air-conditioners, citing the need to reduce the nation's carbon footprint and increase appliance efficiency. (WCTI12)
Authorities say water supply in Philadelphia is safe to drink after a chemical spill. (CBS)
The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Rail over the toxic train derailment in Ohio. (Gizmodo)
The GOP-led House has passed a bill aiming to increase US energy production and lower costs for households. Critics say it removes safeguards on pollution and rolls back Biden-administration rebates. (Just the News, New Republic, Capital Star)
A climate referendum in Berlin has failed to gain enough support. The motion to fast-track the city's push for carbon neutrality fell short after less than 25% of eligible voters turned out. (DieWelt)
Twitter says its source code was leaked online and is trying to find out who. There are probably thousands of disgruntle ex-employees who might know something. (The Verge)
Chinese-owned rival for Instagram is a hit in US app stores (TechCrunch)
TikTok attorney says their plan to safeguard US user data is foolproof. (AP)
Nammo, a Norwegian defense company, says it cannot expand operations to produce munitions for Ukraine as the TikTok data center next door is hogging all the electricity. (Vice)
Headlines from far away
Cubans have turned out in droves to vote in national election. There were no opposition candidates. (Reuters)
France bans all recreational apps from government personnel phones including TikTok. (The Register)
Amsterdam is asking British tourists to stay away if they just want to party. (BBC)
Scottish National Party elects first Muslim as leader. (BBC)
Turkey agrees to let Finland join NATO. (Reuters)
A multi-polar world
National Interest has published an interesting article pointing out that a slow change in the balance of global powers may finally have been realised. The British Empire gave way to US hegemony, and now a multi-polar world may soon be here. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, nations are mixing it up: "China and Brazil strike deal ditch the US dollar" (ZeroHedge)
Honduras establishes diplomatic ties with China after ending relationship with Taiwan (Politico)
Saudi Arabia and Iran are re-establishing ties with Syria (Reuters)
John Michael Jones Gets a Life is produced for Mad ⳩ Mondays by E. Darwin Hartshorn. Episodes can also be found on Tuesday, along with previous episodes, on Bunny Trail Junction at bunny-trail.com.
Quick Hits for the Eyebuds
🖼️ A dusty painting in French family home turns out to be genuine Brueghel.
🏆 A research team will award $1M to anyone who can translate text on the Herculaneum scrolls.
🐊 Knock, knock. Alligator who?
🪐 The James Webb telescope has collected telemetry from a series of exoplanets, orbiting a distant sun.
🚴♂️ The physics of riding a bike.
🐻 Could you outrun a bear?
📚 Beautiful libraries around the world.
🐸 A toad's tacky tongue.
💠 The Hat: Mathematicians excited about a new thirteen-sided shape.
🛼 The crazy roller blade suit.
💗 Um? no. The unique signature of your heartbeat could be used as a passport
A Good Word: Links from the Show Notes
Not a joke: Jonathan and Meridith go live to answer your questions every Saturday. If you've got questions, submit them here. And if you missed a rec (or song reference in many cases), check 'em out below:
Perfectly Loved by Rachael Lampa and TobyMac
Overflow by TobyMac
We the Kingdom- Don't Tread on Me
An Outsider Visits a Lutheran Church with Pastor Weedon
This Is the Kingdom by Skillet
Promo of Friends
If you missed registration for the 2023 Men's Gathering, but are looking for a fellowship event, Sons of Solomon has you covered. The Memorial Day Men's Muster is happening in Rockford on May 29th. Stay up to date by subscribing to the Sons of Solomon newsletter.
Sweetness You May Have Missed
Let us pray: Most merciful God, as the people of Jerusalem, with palms in their hands, gathered to greet Your dearly beloved Son when He came into His Holy City, grant that we may ever hail Him as our King and, when He comes again, may go forth to meet Him with trusting and steadfast hearts and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.