Our Lord has provided a redemptive theme from Genesis through Revelation: "Return to Me and I will restore you."
As people that love Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit who never contradicts Jesus by the book, an etiological diagnosis of America's decline concomitant to the aforementioned has been dominating the prayers and conversations of the faithful.
Frankly, or Shirley if you prefer, I've always understood Revelation 2:1-7 as descriptive of any culture's decline and prescriptive for redemption.
While that theology has dominated my noodle and undershepherding, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has provided existentially prophetic conjecture.
Certainly, as Christians, spending more time in the Bible than books about the Bible provides, uh, Christian grounding, perspective et weltanschauung.
Moretheless, a book comes across my desk every now and then that prompts me to entertain expanded possibilities.
When it comes to our efforts to understand the etiology of America's decline and search for a redemptive prescription, a gumba gave Stefan AArnio's Hard Times Create Strong Men to me for Christmas.
Confessing AArnio isn't as OCD as I am about Biblical Christology and embracing the first paragraph of this note as prescriptive for what's killing the country, he said, "You will be surprised by how much he lines up with what you've been writing and preaching."
I was stunned.
More articulate than I have ever been in my six or seven non-bestsellers trailing the toothy guy in Texas by a trillion to one in sales, this book, in my estimation, is etiologically and prescriptively spot on.
Here is a recurring theme: "As the cycles of history prove over and over again: Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. Weak men create hard times."
Here's a sentence that caught my attention: "Too many people would rather be popular than discuss the truth."
Here's a paragraph that caught my attention: "Men of 18 years of age stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in WWII with bullets flying past their faces. These men brutally killed Nazis in close-quarters with rifles, pistols, bayonets, shovels, helmets, and sometimes their bare hands in the name of service and freedom to their families. In contrast, today's 18 year-old kids need 'cry spaces' because their feelings are hurt."
That's a sampling of the mild stuff.
Even more raw and real than I Just Wanna Ride (FTW), the book comes with a warning that should repel fainthearts as it compels bravehearts: "This book is raw, real, and offensive, and it should threaten and challenge you. After all, being a man and facing the frontiers of survival...is threatening. If something in this book threatens you, then work through my argument rationally. I have done my best to back up my arguments with examples from history that have worked, and I contrasted them with examples from history that have not worked."
As we salt - sting to alert and heal a la the old priest to the young priest in Bernanos' The Diary of a Country Priest: "Salt stings on an open wound but saves you from gangrene!" - we will be accused of being mean and offensive when our love to heal and redeem and save in a John 3 and 14 kinda way exceed our pathetically weak need to be liked.
My academic background in the states and Europe goes back to when liberals were liberals and conservatives were conservatives and they weren't offended by engagement in rigorous conversation. Today, we've got "progressives" and "traditionalists" that aren't searching for truth or reconciliation or even conciliation because of their egocentrically condescending my-way-or-the-highway arrogance.
Truthful academics and believers search for intersecting verities. They don't just read what they like and listen to what tickles their ears. They read left, right, up, down, and all around. They watch CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Newsmax, NPR, the corporates, and all of the below. When they find agreement - like Biden and Trump and Fauci agreeing that our children need to be back to in person education now - they push forward. When truth eludes 'em with diametrically opposed "experts" like we have on CCP COVID-19's magnitude and duration, they keep studying, consulting, conversing, and...praying.
I like how AArnio puts it in quoting Marcus Aurelius: "Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness - all of them due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil...If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed."
It's like Luther has guided my pastoral ministry: "If you can show me my error by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense, then I will confess, ask your forgiveness, and repent. If not, then you can..."
Or as Daniel Boorstin observed too much of today's lack of seeking intersecting truth, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."
In short, if you've got the guts to engage someone who may offend, uh, whatever keeps you from addressing nakedly this moment of daunting challenges pregnant with gospeling opportunities, pick up a copy.
It's really raw...and real...and redemptive.
It's stretching me.
Didn't Jesus tell a parable about that?
Blessings and Love!
P.S. Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, and Luke 5:36-39.
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