Russell and Duenes

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The Sloth May Be Very Busy

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In 1941, Dorothy Sayers wrote of “Sloth”:

[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body.  We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth.  And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth.  So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty-spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste.  Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and the scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evildoers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly “Whatever brute and blackguard made the world”; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour.  But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia (i.e., Sloth). 

Some Christian brothers and I have been reading and discussing Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. When I read this Sayers quote in the book, it went through me like a shot. I had never considered sloth and laziness in this way, particularly my own sloth. Yet I think Sayers is correct. Like other sins, sloth is not always, and likely not typically, identifiable by the observance of outward actions. While there are many who “sit around and do nothing,” there are also many who run around at breakneck speed, doing only that which “disguises the empty heart and empty brain.” I know from my own experience exactly what she means. My inward sloth is masked, or “cloaked” by other sins. To wit, I may not truly want to work and think hard, I may want simply to look better than my co-workers.

Sayers goes on, more pointedly:

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here Sloth is in a conspiracy with Envy to prevent people from thinking.  Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune: while Envy at the same time persuades us that intelligence is despicable—a dusty, highbrow, and commercially useless thing. 

The “conspiracy . . . to prevent people from thinking” is legion on our college campuses, in our primary public education system, and in our political and cultural discourse (if one may call it that). We Evangelicals suffer from a good bit of it as well. Yet we in the Church may suffer even more painfully from the view that “intelligence is despicable.” Dusty and highbrow, yes, but even more, we consider it unspiritual. arrogant, and perhaps even a “quenching of the Spirit.” If Sayers is right, there is more sloth beneath our failure to think hard and well than we had supposed.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

What Is It About Digital Addictions that Make Us Think the Occasional Break Will Suffice?

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So asks Cal Newport, the blogger at Study Hacks. I love Newport, and particularly his book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You. In a post entitled, “Digital Sabbaticals Don’t Make Sense,” Newport observes,

“[F]or most any other behavior that lures you in with positive attributes, but then takes over your life and drives you to exhaustion, our standard response is that you need to radically and permanently reduce or eliminate that behavior. The same could and should apply to the world of the digital.”

My experience confirms Newport’s observation. I have gone on a few “internet fasts” in the past, and they are nice while I’m on them, but once I go off them, I’m back to feasting on blogs just as I did before. So I agree with Newport that if one is concerned about his or her internet usage, one needs a radical and permanent change in internet behavior.

I know I spend too much time reading blogs. It’s like a compulsion when I have free moments (and sometimes when I don’t). But how do I change my behavior? Simply decide to? Not without Christ’s help and a good dose of intentionality. I must intend, with God’s help, to repent of my disobedience to God’s command to “redeem the time.” And I must be intentional about creating and following through on a plan or strategy for radically and permanently altering my internet behavior.

I don’t want to rash about some alteration and then simply fail, but I don’t want to make excuses either. As with all things, I want any change to be based on the power of God’s grace and not simply on some “laws” I set up for myself. My affection for blogs must be replaced by a superior affection for other things. So I think instead of telling myself how I will “give up” the internet, I ought to think about what I’d like to pursue in its place, and then focus on that pursuit.

Those are my initial thoughts. I may write more as I implement a plan and find some success with it.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Do Your Job or Go to Jail

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That’s the import of Federal District Judge, David Bunning’s decision to send Rowan County clerk, Kim Davis, to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

And please don’t tell me that, “No, she went to jail for contempt of court.” That’s a non-starter. As Constitutional attorney David French rightly states, “There were many options short of imprisonment for Davis, . . . but the court was apparently in no mood for moderation.” Davis is in jail because she refused to do her job and refused to resign, which is a chilling reality.

Also, don’t facilely quote Romans 13. Does anyone imagine every German Christian in the 1930s should have simply obeyed all of the Nazi laws, well, because Romans 13? The Nazi laws were “the law” after all, and Romans 13 says that “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” Thus, no resistance to the Nazis was allowed. No resistance to Jim Crow laws was allowed in this country either. Other examples could be adduced, so I think we must do better.

Most of the Christian opinion I’ve heard has argued that she should have resigned. Perhaps so, but I agree much more wholeheartedly with Douglas Wilson:

The end game here is not armed revolution. The end game is simply a refusal to cooperate with their revolution. Make them fire or impeach faithful officials. Once removed, such faithful officials should run for office again with a promise to continue to defy all forms of unrighteous despotism. As one friend of mine put it, “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.” Some might ask what the good in that would be. Wouldn’t it just result in no Christians in such positions? Perhaps, but it would be far better to have godless results enforced by the godless than to insist that the godly do it for them. It would be far better to have the “no Christians in power results” when it was actually the case that no Christians were in power. I would rather have non-Christian clerks acting like non-Christian clerks than to have Christian clerks do it for them. I mean, right?

Or as the Apostle Peter said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” Jesus does not cease to be Lord simply because one works for the government. If resignation from government work is the only way to submit to Christ’s lordship when we are asked by that same government to deny His lordship, then surely there should be a whole lot more resignations being handed in.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 3, 2015 at 8:42 pm

Do Nothing With Us

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Set a guard over my mouth, O Lordkeep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3). It seems like such a small thing to be able to keep one’s mouth closed when one should, but as I continue to find my way as an attorney, I see more clearly now why the Psalmist prays this prayer. An attorney’s work for his or her client, as well as the attorney’s standing in the profession and in the community, is almost entirely predicated on being able to keep one’s mouth closed. The Scriptures know the tremendous damage that can be done by a person who cannot control his tongue. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. . . but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:5-8). I’m seeing how greatly I need God’s grace to keep me back from sin, and to help me keep a door on my mouth. Everything depends on it. 

Frederick Douglass once said something that, in my view, should be heeded today as much as it was when he said it in 1865.

[I]n regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us…I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! . . . [I]f the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!…[Y]our interference is doing him positive injury.

 This seems particularly true in the area of education. The government has done so much, spent so much money, enacted so many schemes in public education to try and help blacks, and we might even charitably grant that it has done so with benevolent intent. Yet it is blacks themselves (and other minorities) who have been forced to remain in public schools, and who have been very vocal in wanting out. As Jason Riley points out in Please Stop Helping Us: “These days it is mostly charter schools that are closing the achievement gap, which is one reason why they are so popular with black people. . . Polls have shown that charter supporters outnumber opponents by four to one.” Yet we are told that impoverished, urban minority children are doomed without traditional public schools. Of course the issues run deeper than simply giving blacks school choice, but the educational issue is indicative of the way many of the race issues are handled in this country, namely, by having the government step in and “do something” to help, rather than taking Douglass’ advice. There is no doubt in my mind that in education, this “interference is doing him positive injury.”

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 6, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Power Is Where Power Goes

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LBJLyndon Johnson once said: “Power is where power goes.” He meant that it was not particular political jobs or offices that brought power to men, but rather, certain men gained power by what they themselves brought to any particular political job or office. Power followed such men, and Johnson had a master’s gift for drawing power to himself wherever he went. Indeed, as Robert Caro remarks, “All his life, Lyndon Johnson had been taking nothing jobs and turning them into something, something big.” Johnson went to a small college in the hill country of Texas, where student government meant virtually nothing, and became the most powerful student on campus, determining which students would and would not get jobs to help pay for their tuition. Once in Washington D.C., Johnson again took a “small potatoes” position and made it a powerful one, making himself the political conduit between oil money in Texas and northeastern political influencers. Same story in the Senate, where Johnson angled for and got the Majority Leader position, where he ruled the Senate with a powerful hand.

As with so many other things in Johnson’s life, there is the complexity of human nature here. There is something inspiring and compelling about Johnson’s ability to take seemingly meaningless positions or institutions, see the possibilities for power and influence, select and develop the key relationships and turn those positions and institutions into sources of influence. If done for the right reasons, toward the right ends, with proper accountability, I cannot see anything wrong with this. For some people simply must be in power. It’s not a question of “whether” some will be in power, but “who.” Indeed, I believe, along with Dallas Willard, that men and women whose character has been significantly formed by Christ are best positioned to engage in such a course. And Lyndon Johnson was not entirely without virtue in the power he sought and wielded.

But Johnson also sought power because he liked power. He wanted power, and according to Caro, used it sometimes just because he could. He brown-nosed the key people who could help him get power, and then once the power was obtained, he lorded it over those same people. Such self-aggrandizing hunger for power could not help but have harmful consequences for our nation, some of which are likely well-known, and some of which may not be known to this day, at least to their full extent. I don’t believe this was a case of power corrupting Johnson, but rather, the corruption already in Johnson’s heart marred what he did when he got power.

Thus, I find myself desiring to emulate Johnson in seeing possibilities for influence where others may not see such possibilities, and then taking those opportunities, particularly when it comes to advancing God’s purposes in this world. But I find that I must also note well my own penchant for pride and self-assertion, of which Christ so often warns, and not assume that my own desires for power and influence are pure and noble. The pursuit of influence must be carried out in humility, in submission to godly authority and wisdom coming from others in Christ’s body. It must surely be a difficult road to travel, pointing up the importance of character and spiritual formation.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

February 28, 2015 at 12:02 pm