Russell and Duenes

Archive for November 2009

The first sunday of advent

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“Advent” is from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming,” and is traditionally celebrated over four Sundays in preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s birth. In the past I’ve written little reflections on advent, but this year I thought I’d just pass along some words by other saints throughout church history. Here’s one that my pastor shared tonight, and it is well worth pondering.

“For whatever reason, God chose to make us as he has: limited, suffering, and subject to sorrow and death.  He had at least the honesty and courage to take his own medicine.  Whatever game God is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and he has played fair.  He can exact nothing from us that he has not exacted from himself.  He has himself gone through the whole range of human experience: from the trivial irritations of family life, and the cramping restrictions of hard work, the lack of money, and poverty, to the absolute worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, betrayal, despair, and death.  When God became a man, he played the man.  He was born in poverty and he died in disgrace and he thought it well worthwhile to do it.”

~ Dorothy Sayers



Written by Michael Duenes

November 30, 2009 at 3:17 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Your God is too small

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Here’s a thought worth pondering from J.B. Phillips’ 1961 classic, Your God is Too Small:

“It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life. If, by a great effort of will, he does do this he will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of his faith…It often appears to those outside the Churches that this is precisely the attitude of Christian people. If they are not strenuously defending an outgrown conception of God, then they are cherishing a hothouse God who could only exist between the pages of the Bible or inside the four walls of a Church. Therefore to join in with the worship of a Church would be to become a party to a piece of mass-hypocrisy and to buy a sense of security at the price of the sense of truth, and many men of goodwill will not consent to such a transaction…

Many men and women today are living, often with inner dissatisfaction, without any faith in God at all. This is not because they are particularly wicked or selfish or, as the old-fashioned would say, “godless,” but because they have not found with their adult minds a God big enough to “account for” life, big enough to “fit in with” the new scientific age, big enough to command their highest admiration and respect, and consequently their willing co-operation.”


Written by Michael Duenes

November 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Thanks, Gentlemen

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I thought I’d take this opportunity to thank some of the men who have made a difference in my life.

Edward Duenes – You have loved me with great generosity since before I was born. You have exemplified for me what it means to be a man of integrity, responsibility, leadership, courage, perseverance, excellence and caring. The trips to various U.S. and world destinations with you gave me great joy and rounding as a young man. You have loved mom in marriage for 45 years, which is almost Herculean in today’s divorce culture. Your life brought security, stability and contentment to my own, and in many ways still does. Thanks for all the times you played catch with me, went bodysurfing with me, took me to Olvera St. to get tacquitos, made sure I did my schoolwork, let me drive your Mustang, paid for my music lessons and countless other things which would take an encyclopedia to name. Thanks for being my dad.

Palmer Aaen (Deceased) – Grandpa, if you were here, I’d thank you for all the foot rubs, the prayers, the gentle strength, the mints, and the laughs you provided with your “unique” driving skills. I couldn’t have had a better grandpa.

Duke Dillard – God brought you into my life during a dark and painful time, when I was in the proverbial wilderness, and you sought me out and befriended me. You invited me into your life and your family’s life as you would a beloved brother. Thanks for always opening your heart to me. Thank you for being the kind of friend with whom I can share anything. You let me join your small group, introduced me to Dallas Willard, and more importantly, introduced me to my wife in circumstances when almost no other men would have attempted. That alone is worth more than I can say. Thank you for being a man of substance, for always wanting to draw me back to Christ, for being honest about your own struggles, for sharing your marital wisdom with me, for finding ways to be intentional with me and for your generosity of spirit. If a man could have a better friend than you, he would likely live in another world.

Alex Van Riesen – You are one of those men who is larger than life. God gave you an authority in my life that has shaped my theology and my Christian practice to this day. Thanks for your sense of humor, your wit, your keen use of your intellect, your forthright counsel and your big-heartedness. Through you (and other I.V. staff) I came to know the writings of John Piper, for which I am eternally grateful. I’ll always be grateful for the week I spent with you, just living life and going where you went, seeing how you lived. Thanks for helping to shape my heart toward greater service to others for the sake of Christ. Thank you for the Scripture manuscript studies, for your penetrating talks at Intervarsity large group meetings and for the always open door at your Westwood apartment. I think of you always with joy, and am grateful to know you.

David Palmer – You inspired me to want to know the Scriptures. You helped me wrestle with the doctrine of predestination early on. Your thirst for God’s glory among the nations is contagious. And you are one of the most gentle men I have ever known. I’m so grateful for the time I had in your Bible study back in 1991, and it is a pleasure to count myself your brother and partner in the gospel.

Jamie Stovall – I can’t thank you enough for all the laughs. My heart swells with happiness just thinking about our shared sense of humor. Thanks for being the kind of friend I can call about any inane thing. But you are not all laughs. You have listened to my ramblings far better than anyone ought to. You have confronted me when I have wronged you because you care enough about our friendship to fight for it. I’m so thankful for all the things we have enjoyed together, from movies to church to sporting events to get-togethers to riding waves together to having heart-to-hearts about life, marriage, childrearing, and whatever else. Thanks for your wisdom. Thanks for sticking closer than a brother during that blackest of times back in ’04. Thanks for being real. I can’t imagine life without you.

Tony Gervase – Big Tones. Thanks for all the times at CSULB. The pleasure I derive just thinking about those times cannot be measured. Thanks for playing catch, for letting me be your “honorary roommate” twice (with Pups and with Jazz), for putting up with my stupid questions, for your generosity, for the fun we had in Kazahkstan, for all the pick-up basketball, for the visits in Monterey, for the Seinfeld laughter, for your willing ear, for humoring me and going along with some of my hair-brained ideas (like starting, er, not starting, a Bible study at CSULB)  and for your generous nature. I always love just hanging out with you. Your laugh makes me laugh like no other (except Stovall), and your loyalty as a friend is priceless.

Andy McHargue – Thanks for letting me officiate your wedding, a true privilege for me. You (or was it Alan Shlemon?) were one of the first people to get me thinking about the issues surrounding birth control and the fact that The Pill is an abortifacient. I’ve always enjoyed your dry sense of humor and your way with words. It’s been an honor to be a part of your ever-expanding family.

Eric Stelle – You invited and welcomed me into the larger Intervarsity community at UCLA. I thank God for your wit, humor and story-telling abilities. Being one of your roommates my senior year in college will always count as one of the best experiences of my life. Most of all, I’m thankful that you have always taken a “no BS” approach to knowing Christ. You want the real thing, not some bogus “religiosity.” And you bring this into your relationships. It rubbed off on me. I’ve always felt like you had not only an apt word for me to help me see something I was blind to, but also a way of giving it to me such that I could receive it and take it into myself and change. We are separated now by years and distance, but I will always be very deeply grateful for your friendship, for your partnership in the gospel, most especially during the formative years of my relationship with Christ.

Justin Robinson – Pups! I’ve greatly enjoyed our mutual love for sports and our interest in missions. Your zeal for God has been an inspiration, and I always appreciate that I can share ideas with you. Thanks for your constant example in ministry, how you show that relationships are most important. Thanks for letting me be your roommate back in 2000. You let me be a part of your world, and that led to friendships that I have greatly enjoyed over the years. You have always exemplified Jesus’ words: “It is better to give than receive.” I love to hear you laugh. I’m so glad that you have a wonderful family of your own. You are a tremendous example of a man who works hard and fulfills his God-given duties with tenacity. I regret we don’t see each other very much, but I cannot think of you without rejoicing.

Steven Duenes – The fact that you appear this far down on the list is no measure of my thankfulness for your friendship. To have you as my younger brother has been a singular joy in my life. There is little I did growing up that you were not a part of. I’m thankful that we shared a room as we grew up, that we enjoyed talking to each other each night as we went to sleep, that we did not compete with each other in ways that might have caused painful division. I’m grateful for your work ethic, your generosity, your easygoing attitude and approach to life, your intellect, your humor, and your evident care for others. Thanks for offering your artistic talents to the world for our enjoyment. I am honored that you were my best man at my wedding, and my visits to NYC have been wonderful. Thanks for being such a special younger brother.

Rod Howard – Few people have let me into their lives as you have. I don’t even know where to begin. You have done nothing but encourage the best in me. You have pushed me to know and live out my calling as a man of God in a unique way. You have always made me feel included, no matter what setting I’m in with you. You have tried to help me see things in ways that I had not previously considered. Frankly, you’re just a heckuva lot of fun to be around. You have been generous with me in every conceivable way. Our two trips to NYC together were a blast. I’m grateful to be a part of your already large family. Thanks for the use of, well, just about anything that’s yours. Hanging out and chatting over some cold ones is still one of my favorite past times. You’ve had a seminally shaping effect on my thinking about everything from the Creation Mandate to educational philosophy to dating to child-rearing to work to pleasure to the mission of the church to local politics to networking to what constitutes a good wine. Your friendship is one of the most constant reminders to me that God does not deal with me according to what I deserve, but gives me gifts exceedingly far beyond all we can ask or think.

Dennis Tuma – I moved to Berkeley solely because you were already there, such was the impact of your thinking upon me. Thanks for being my pastor for 6 years, for mentoring me and teaching me to direct my thoughts toward God’s truth, no matter what. Thank you for your constancy in preaching and teaching God’s Word, for your desire to have an intelligent, yet winsome faith. Thanks for your hospitality over the years, and for being with me when I had no hope and was in the slough of despond and panic. When I thought my faith was gone, you were there for me. I’m grateful for your teachable spirit and your desire to grow as a man of God. I’m grateful for the courageous decisions you have made in your life, by which God has brought about beautiful changes in you, and I thank God for your perseverance in your current trials. I hope I will always live likewise.

Charles Weller – How we came to be friends I don’t even recall. What I will always recall, as long as I have a sound mind, is the fundamental shifts in my thinking and approach to life that have come as a result of your friendship. You are the one who has encouraged me to take life as it comes, to not try and having everything figured out. You have been a heavyweight in my life when I’ve needed one, and a bringer of “lightness” when I needed to scale by my intensity about things. I’m so grateful that you’ve helped me to enjoy the things I’ve got going right in front of me, right now, rather than fret over every little move I make. You’ve taken me seriously as a thinker, and yet you’ve humbled me and forced me to think anew, to see my unexamined assumptions and my hubris. You’ve let me into the most profound joys and pains in your life. You’ve kindled in me a love for history and what we might learn from it. You have taught me what the pursuit of wisdom looks like. Though we are separated by great distance, I thank God that you are in my life, still influencing me, still pushing back against my strong opinions, still offering yourself to me in grace and love.

Curt Russell – Bro, what can I say here that I’ve not said already. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that God caused us to get hired by Redwood the very same year and that He put us in adjacent classrooms. I would not have made it this far without your friendship. Just thinking about all the conversations, the debates, the laughs, the frustrations and the successes makes me realize that I’ve experienced a love and faithfulness in our friendship that most people would gladly suffer loss of life and limb to experience. You’ve had a profound influence on me when it comes to thinking about race, history, economics, education, philosophy and government. But much more significant is that you have made life at work a pleasure, even when things weren’t pleasant. People are drawn to you because, well, it’s just a great joy to be around you. I will never be able to thank you properly for your kindness, loyalty, generosity, honesty and levity toward me.

And the list could go on. When I consider you men I’ve just thanked, I only wish that I were more deeply struck by the profound blessings that God has given me through you. A billion dollar salary would pale in comparison to the riches I have in your friendship. Whatever else I may be thankful for this Thanksgiving, I thought of you all and wanted to express my thanks. Thanks be to God for his kindness and faithfulness toward me, of which you all are the evidence.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 26, 2009 at 6:37 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Classic Atheist answer

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I’ve been listening to “The Great Debate” between the late Greg Bahnsen (Christian), and Gordon Stein (Atheist). It is utterly fantastic, and I highly commend it, especially if you want to engage your mind. At the end of their debate, they fielded questions from the moderator. The following question was put to Stein, with Bahnsen rebutting. This is a real doozy!

Moderator: The next question will be directed to you, Dr. Stein. And the question reads as follows: According to your definition and basis for evil, why was Hitler’s Germany wrong or was it? Note: Jews and others were defined as non-persons, so their happiness doesn’t really count. Once again, according to your definition and basis for evil, why was Hitler’s Germany wrong, or was it?

Stein: Well, Germany is part of the Western European tradition, its not deepest Africa, or some place or Mars. They have the same Judeo-Christian background and basically the same connection with the rest of the developed world, so therefore the standards of morality that have been worked our as consensuses of that society apply to them, too. They can’t arbitrarily, Hitler can’t arbitrarily, say “Well, I’m not going by the consensuses that genocide is evil or wrong. I’m just going to change it and make it right.” He has not the prerogative to do that; neither does the German society as a whole because it is still apart of a larger society, which you might call a western society. So, even though morality is a consensus of an entire civilization, he cannot just arbitrarily do that, so what he did is evil and wrong.

Bahnsen: Dr. Stein continues to beg the most important questions that are brought up. He tells us that Hitler’s Germany was wrong because Hitler or the German people didn’t have the right to break out of the consensus of Western civilization. Why not? Why is there any moral obligation upon Hitler and the German people to live up to the past tradition of Western morality. In an atheist universe there is no answer to that question. He gives the answer, but it is totally arbitrary.



HT: The American Vision

Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2009 at 7:51 am

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy

Unfettered economic “progress”

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I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about our economic woes.  Likely you have too.  What seems to bother us is that, at some level, such a massive downturn cuts into our notions of “progress.”  We in the west have grown accustomed to a rather constant advance of technological, medical, physical, and material wealth; and we gauge our sense of progress and well-being on the basis of how we are doing in these areas.  I’ve wondered to myself: “What are we looking for when we talk about ‘jump-starting’ the economy?  Are we simply hoping to be back in a place where we can enjoy unfettered economic and material growth?”  The goal is to “get us going again,” whatever that might mean.  Historian, Christopher Dawson, raises the question of whether a culture or civilization can be at the height her material and economic growth and still be “on the brink” of collapse, so to speak.  

Dawson writes, This liberal idealism [of the Enlightenment] is marked by a belief in an absolute Law of Progress and an unlimited faith in the power of reason to transform society.  Concepts such as Liberty, Science, Reason, and Justice are conceived, not as abstract ideas, but as real forces which determine the movement of culture; and social progress itself, instead of being regarded as a phenomenon that requires explanation, is treated as itself the efficient cause of social change. (Sociology as Science, 1934). The two world wars did much to obliterate this “unlimited faith” in progress, but those wars seem long behind us, especially here in America. 

Dawson goes on and says, During the last fifty years Imperialism, whether military or economic, has tended to predominate over the spiritual element in the European world-society.  The economic organization of the world has far outstripped its spiritual unity, and the natural development of regional life has been repressed or forced away by a less vital, but mechanically stronger world-power…These forces are in fact part of a movement of degeneration as well as of growth, yet they have been hailed all over the world as bringers of civilization and progress.  True progress, however, does not consist in a quantitative advance in wealth and numbers, nor even in a qualitative advance in technology and the control of matter, though all these play their subsidiary parts in the movement (Emphasis mine; Sociology and the Theory of Progress, 1921).

Finally Dawson brings the issue to the fore, Hellenic civilization collapsed not by a failure of nerve but by the failure of life.  When Hellenic Science was in full flower, the life of the Hellenic world withered from below, and underneath the surface brilliance of philosophy and literature the sources of the life of the people were drying up…Yet throughout the period of this vital decline, the intellectual achievements of Hellenic civilization remained, and Greek culture, in an abstract and standardized form, was spreading East and West far more than it had done in the days of its living strength. If intellectual progress – or at least a high degree of scientific achievement – can co-exist with vital decline, if a civilization can fall to pieces from within – then the optimistic assumptions of the last two centuries concerning the future of our modern civilization lose their validity.  The fate of the Hellenic world is a warning to us that the higher and the more intellectually advanced civilizations of the West may be inferior in point of survival value to the more rudimentary Oriental cultures (Progress and Decay in Ancient and Modern Civilization, 1924).

Dawson, I believe, is laying the groundwork that might cause us to question the assumptions of unfettered material and economic progress as that which drives civilization, and to see if there might be a true unifying force or power which drives human history.  Where he’s leading, I would argue, is to a manger in Bethlehem.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 20, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Duenes, Economics, History