Saturday, June 30, 2018

Don't Pray So Often

In Isaiah 1:15, God says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.” God tells Isaiah to tell the Israelites that their prayers and sacrifices are offensive to Him. The message is don’t pray—you’re wasting your time—at least until you walk in obedience, love and faith. 

In Isaiah 37:4-6, King Hezekiah sends officials to Isaiah, asking him to pray on behalf of Israel, given the blasphemies and threats of the king of Assyria. Isaiah’s response: “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard…” Perhaps Isaiah prayed, but nothing is recorded. It’s as if he already knew what God wanted to say without asking Him directly.

In Joshua 10:5-8, Joshua goes into battle against the five Amorite kings without praying. In previous chapters, he had walked closely with God, receiving God’s commands and counsel for the battle of Jericho and the battles at Ai. But here, Joshua jumps into battle to save the Gibeonites, with whom he had made a covenant. Joshua honors his word and responds to their distress—without prayer. God delivers victory including the famous miracle of making the sun “stand still.” 

What do these examples have in common? Prayer is not “the answer.”

In fact, prayer can even be counterproductive to obedience. Why? In the first case, prayer was accompanied by rank disobedience. Asking God for anything while we thumb our noses at Him is ridiculous. 

When you’re disobeying God, cut it out. Pray to Him—not as Santa Claus to bail you out, but as the God of your salvation. Repent and embrace His gracious lordship in your life. 

In the second case, Isaiah already knew the answer. So asking God was unnecessary and wasteful. How powerful was it that Isaiah could speak God’s words to them immediately—from his relationship with God—without directly asking God again! 

In the third case, Joshua already knew what to do. So asking God was a temptation to inaction and a potential cop-out. If you know what to do, just do it. Don’t pray. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul instructs us to “pray continually.” This speaks to the distinction between prayer as a lifestyle and an event. We commonly think of prayer as an event—something to do before meals, during one’s quiet time or before a big moment in one’s day. But prayer is more important as another angle on living a “Spirit-filled life”—a lifestyle or something akin to breathing.

Our most common error is failing to pray when we should, as an event or especially as a lifestyle. But when prayer is a prospective event—and you already know the answer—don’t pray; just obey.

Monday, June 18, 2018

the work and legacy of Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe was a great writer of both non-fiction and fiction. His work in both genres was informed by his passion and ability to understand his subjects. Aside from excellent writing and an eye for detail, what made him particularly amazing was the breadth of those subjects-- from 1960s beatniks and astronauts to 1980s yuppies and a turn-of-the-century college campus. 

Wolfe dressed the part of a genteel writer but was able to transcend that look to work with people of amazing diversity. He was at the heart of Rolling Stone in his early years, but routinely skewered liberals. He was a member of the vanguard that became "new journalism", along with others such as Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton. He was the height of "social" conservatism, but a liberal-in-outlook enigma. He was a visionary, perhaps a genius, and certainly a hard worker at the art and science of writing.

If you haven't read Wolfe, I'd start with whatever subject most interests you: astronauts and the space program in the heady days of the 1960s (The Right Stuff); the beatnik liberals and establishment largely-faux-liberal elites from the 1960s (Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical Chic / Mau-Mauing); the travails and peer pressures of higher society-- from career to higher education, from lifestyle to peer pressure in the 1980s and beyond (Bonfire of the Vanities, Man in Full, Charlotte Simmons, Kingdom of Speech).

In order of value-added for me, here are the articles I've compiled on Wolfe from his passing...

An excellent insider piece by David Browne in Rolling Stone-- where the magazine was a key part of Wolfe's early work (and Wolfe was a key to the success of RS.

A terrific piece in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball, The Big Short, etc. fame). Lewis credits Wolfe as a key inspiration-- and is a sorta of poor man's Wolfe, really. Lewis' opening is a hilarious intro to Wolfe's funniest book, Radical Chic/Mau-Mauing

Another excellent piece by Roger Kimball in The New Criterion. Kimball closes by describing Wolfe as "a literary treasure and a sly if undeclared culture warrior on the side of civilization". But Kimball focuses on Wolfe as satirist and argues that he would have found it more difficult to be successful today, since the gap between satire and truth is neither clear nor as-agreed-upon as decades ago.

In World, Lynde Langdon notes how Wolfe trashed the failure of Darwinian evolution to explain language in The Kingdom of Speech-- a book ignored by his eulogists. (Read my review of it here.) 

Bob Tyrell reminisces about Wolfe and identifies him as our "greatest social critic" and one of our greatest novelists: "His artistic gift was multifaceted. He had the eye of a great reporter, the tenacity of a great researcher, the sense of language of a poet." And then a great last line: "He died while I was on vacation in Italy. I wonder what he meant by that."

The first letter here is an eloquent but brutal take-down of a reviewer and a stiletto-like critique of a publication for a lapse in judgment-- using a reference to Wolfe and his courage. The last sentence in each paragraph is a haymaker! (Skim the first paragraph as needed. And note that "Moldberg" is how alt-right critics twist his pen name [Moldbug] to make it sound Jewish. Ehrenburg was a prominent Soviet writer and apologist/propagandist for the State.)

Here's George Weigel with a paean along with a caveat about Wolfe's portrayal of Gus Grissom in Right Stuff

Here's video of Wolfe receiving an honor from the Manhattan Institute in 2006, with various luminaries singing his praises and Wolfe giving a short speech.

Among other things, Lawrence Mone gives Wolfe credit for getting New Yorkers to consider the need for social change in New York and Giuliani's reference to Wolfe as "the Charles Dickens of our era". 
Here's Monica Showalter on Wolfe's repeated skewering of the cultural Left elites. She asks how he didn't receive a Nobel Prize and sees it as cultural bias by the same elites.

Leonard Madia with a brief review of The Right Stuff...
Steve Sailer focuses on his late-in-life first-efforts at novels-- the difficulties and his weaknesses as a writer of fiction...

Finally, a longer reflection piece by Michael Anton in City Journal: "Reading Wolfe [is] a combination of ice cream, champagne, laughing gas, and the most intellectually satisfying brain teaser you’ve ever solved." FWIW, he recommends Radical Chic as the first taste of Wolfe.