Foreigners and Nomads

Recently I finished a book called The 21st Century Card Counter (see: Amazon link). In case you’re wondering, I was interested in this not because I plan on playing Blackjack professionally but because I’ve been fascinated by the idea of card counters. Sometimes you gotta let curiosity lead you.

Fun fact: one of the things the author is famous for is running the “Church Team” that won $3.2 million from casinos. The team was named for the fact that they all knew each other from church. There’s even a documentary about them called “Holy Rollers.”

The logic in the book is fascinating and can apply to a lot of areas in life. One of the themes is that card counters are looking to generate something called ‘positive expected value.’ Expected value is the “amount you expect to win over a given time period, based on the pure math of your playing decisions and the variables of the game that don’t change.” This is what gives a card counter an edge over a casino and why they are technically an investor rather than a gambler.

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The Limits of Evil

The Limits of Evil

I wrote a post last week about my reaction in reading David Bentley Hart’s latest book (see: How To Consider New Ideas). But beyond that, there are two quotes from the book that I’ve found myself continually thinking about.

Hart has a unique view on the role of evil and he describes it this way:

…evil and sin are always accidental conditions of human nature, never intrinsic qualities; all evil is a privation of an original goodness, and so the sinfulness that separates rational creatures from God is only a disease corrupting and disabling the will, robbing it of its true rational freedom, and thus is a disorder that must ultimately be purged from human nature in its entirety, even if needs be by hell.

David Bentley Hart, That All Shall be Saved

This is a profound thought. If we choose to do something evil (as all of us are capable of doing), it does not highlight the fullness of our free will. It highlights the disease that negatively limits our free will. The implication here is that a fully healthy free will would intrinsically choose God. To whatever degree we choose something other than God, the disease shapes our reality.

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How to Consider New Ideas

How to Consider New Ideas

Recently I had an epiphany while reading the latest book from David Bentley Hart called That All Shall be Saved (see: Amazon link). Before I explain my epiphany, a bit of context on the book itself would be helpful. In this book, Hart methodically dismantles the traditional view of hell. In case you are unaware, there are at least three (although with numerous other variations) traditional Christian ways of understanding the concept of hell.

Not only does Hart go after the most common view today, but he doesn’t even blush a little while he does it. One of the funniest sections in the entire book comes in his final remarks. That’s when Hart drops this little beauty:

Custom dictates and prudence advises that here, in closing, I wax gracefully disingenuous and declare that I am uncertain in my conclusions, that I offer them only hesitantly, that I entirely understand the views of those that take the opposite side of the argument, and that I fully respect contrary opinions on these matters. I find, however, whether on account of principle or of pride, that I am simply unable to do this.

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The Problem with Being Polite

The Problem with Being Polite

As I reflect on many of the tensions we are all experiencing right now, it strikes me that the value of politeness is the thread that runs through it all. Especially for those of us who are Christians, politeness can often seem like the goal of it all.

I value being polite when possible and beneficial. There’s a moment when the great theologian Albus Dumbledore shows how to harness strength and resistance wisely, even in the face of enemies. In J.K. Rowling’s Half-Blood Prince, we find the following exchange:

“Good evening, Amycus,” said Dumbledore calmly, as though welcoming the man to a tea party. “And you’ve brought Alecto too. . . . Charming . . .” The woman gave an angry little titter. “Think your little jokes’ll help you on your deathbed then?” she jeered. “Jokes? No, no, these are manners,” replied Dumbledore.

Dumbledore can profoundly incorporate manners even in the midst of conflict. Yet one of JKR’s most fascinating characters—Dolores Umbridge—is known for being polite in all things… annoyingly polite. Yet she’s also one of the evilest and despised characters in the Harry Potter series. A look at how these two characters use manners captures the confusion we may have on this topic. Some politeness is good, yet it can also mask the presence of evil.

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What Could Have Been

What Could Have Been

As you may have heard, I resigned from my role as Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church. I requested the chance to share with the church as to my reasons why but was declined the opportunity.

2020 has emphatically highlighted how the church in the United States is at a crossroads. There are systems in place to reinforce a particular narrative and way of living which enable the current structures of power. If that is to be changed in the future (as many hope), it will cost something to create. As my friend Mike recently wrote: “The church is not called to protect and preserve, but rather to call forth a people to a new humanity. May we be the brave and courageous church that we have preached towards, sang about, and prayed for.”

A few weeks ago, I invited some of my friends who experience racism differently than me to share their perspective on my blog (see: Dear Church). I also preached about racial injustice specifically in my last two messages (see: An Opportunity to Learn and Following Jesus When It’s Hard). As many other churches and pastors have experienced lately, this led to some pushback in our church.

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Dear Church, from Karl

This is part of a series of posts inviting friends to share their perspectives.

Sit.

Just sit with me.

This is the beginning of the process.

In the Book of Job, we meet a man named Job who in an instant has his world turned upside down. Job is weary, tired, and seemingly hopeless. Then three of his friends pay him a visit.

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

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