Image: Photo by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash

We have been posting links on Saturday’s Weekly Meanderings to websites and blogs and newspapers for more than a decade – all for your weekend enjoyment with coffee! Many of the links are sent to me by family and friends, so send along or simply read on.

Ramsey was a wonderful man, and I will miss him:

Hamilton, MA - J. Ramsey Michaels, 88, of Hamilton and formerly Portsmouth, NH, died January 18, 2020. He was born in Skaneateles, NY on May 1, 1931.

Ramsey was a theologian, a New Testament scholar, and ordained minister who for many years was a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Southwest Missouri State University. He continued to teach occasionally as an adjunct professor at Bangor Theological Seminary in Portland, Maine, and as a visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Author of numerous scholarly books, he is perhaps best known for his commentary on John which is a replacement volume in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series. He also published commentary on the works of Flannery O’Connor.

He is predeceased by his wife Betty L. Michaels and is survived by his four children, Carolyn Kerr of Hamilton, MA, Linda Donahue of Dallas,TX, David Michaels of Stoneham, MA, Ken Michaels of Jamaica Plain, MA; his nine grandchildren, William, Renee, Grace, Michael, Luke, Kyle, Stephen, Zoey and Jakob, and two great-grandsons, Theo and Abraham.

Ramsey graduated from Princeton University and went on to Grace Theological Seminary in Michigan where he met his wife Betty. He then got his Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School. He spent sabbaticals in Germany, Israel and England, and traveled throughout Europe. He was a member of Middle Street Baptist Church and enjoyed spending time with family and friends, reading, skiing, travel, palindromes and telling jokes. He was also a 1970 table tennis champion on a Nieuw Amsterdam ocean liner voyage.

Popular place? The local library!

The US film industry may have generated revenues somewhere in the region of $40 billion last year, but it seems Hollywood still has plenty of work to do if it wants to compete with that most hallowed of American institutions: the public library.

Yes, according to a recent Gallup poll (the first such survey since 2001), visiting the local library remains by far the most common cultural activity Americans engage in. As reported earlier today by Justin McCarthy:

“Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far. The average 10.5 trips to the library U.S. adults report taking in 2019 exceeds their participation in eight other common leisure activities. Americans attend live music or theatrical events and visit national or historic parks roughly four times a year on average and visit museums and gambling casinos 2.5 times annually. Trips to amusement or theme parks (1.5) and zoos (.9) are the least common activities among this list.”

The results of the Gallup poll have been broken down in a range of different ways, all of which you can peruse at your leisure, but two of the more interesting (though unsurprising) findings are that women report visiting the library nearly twice as frequently as men do, and that libraries are visited most by adults in low-income households and least by adults in high-income households.

Congratulations to all you librarians out there; keep fighting the good fight.

To mask or not to mask?

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - “Do not wear a mask if you are well” read a warning plastered across the front of Singapore’s main newspaper on Friday, as authorities around the world sought to calm panic buying of masks seen as a guard against the fast-spreading coronavirus.

In neighboring Malaysia, the government urged people to always have masks and hand sanitizers ready, similar to advice by authorities in Thailand and Vietnam.

Conflicting messages have sowed confusion over how to protect against an epidemic that has claimed over 200 lives in China and spread to over 20 countries, with some experts saying wrong handling of masks could even increase infection risk.

“Wearing a mask only when u feel unwell? Then why do u need soldiers when there isn’t war? It’s better to be safe than sorry” Facebook user Kenny Chan Wai Kong posted in Singapore, where authorities have announced plans to give four masks to every household as retailers’ stocks run dry across the island.

In parts of Asia, wearing face masks is common when people are sick or to counter urban pollution.

Official guidance from the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention makes no mention of wearing a face mask as a preventative measure against the virus - but their websites do not specifically advise against them.

Bobonbooks links us to a good test for sharing on social media:

This does raise the question of how we assess the truthfulness of posts and tweets. The Huffington Post recently published an article on “How to Recognize a Fake News Story” that reflects my own practices. They suggested nine practices:

Read past the headline. Check what news outlet it is published on. (Google the site’s name.) I would add, be aware of the bias of all news outlets, even mainstream media. Check the publish date and time (sometimes old events are represented as current). Who is the author? (Search their past articles to see if they are reputable or have a reputation for hoaxes) Look at what links and sources are used. Look for questionable quotes and images. (The article suggests tools you can use). Beware of confirmation bias. (Don’t just share something because it agrees with your point of view–it could be false.) Search if other news outlets are reporting it. (Especially those with a different bias). Think before you share.

What Peter Wehner writes in this (very long) article is both accurate and needed. Grudem’s editorial response to Galli was a case of fiddling with poor ethical reasoning:

An editorial last month in the evangelical world’s flagship publication, Christianity Today, argued that Donald Trump should be removed from office.

The editorial, the last one written by the editor in chief Mark Galli before his planned retirement, heartened those evangelicals who have been unsettled by their co-religionists’ enthusiastic support for Trump. But the editorial upset many others, since white evangelicals constitute arguably the strongest base of support for the president.

Among those who fired back was Wayne Grudem, a distinguished research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Grudem is hardly a household name, but he is a significant theologian within evangelicalism. A dedicated Calvinist, he has been at the center of many recent theological debates. Grudem, who served as the general editor of the English Standard Version Study Bible, has taught ethics courses in higher education for more than 40 years. He’s the author of several major books.

In a lengthy rebuttal to the Christianity Today editorial, Grudem offers an impassioned defense of Trump, something he also did in 2016, in a column titled “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Because Grudem carries considerable weight in certain evangelical quarters—to many, he’s an authoritative figure when it comes to biblical ethics—and because his position is representative of the views of many white evangelicals, it’s worth explaining why his case is ultimately unpersuasive. ….

What’s most interesting to me in all this is the psychology at play. From what I can tell, in many cases Trump’s most devoted evangelical supporters are blind to what they’re doing, so in a sense they’re not acting cynically or in bad faith, even as they are distorting reality.

I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.

A really good interview of Daniel Vaca by John Turner: one (good) question, one (long) answer:

JT: At the outset, you profess yourself skeptical of regnant definitions of evangelicalism that hinge on a set of theological propositions. Instead, evangelicalism, like other publics, is a product of “active participation, attention, and imagination.” My question: does it make any sense to talk about an evangelical public prior to the 1940s?

DV: If the work of the historian is the work of interpretation, then our choices about the terms we use and the ways we use them ultimately depend on our goals. For as long as historians have used sets of theological propositions to try to define evangelicalism, that approach has had at least three limitations. It minimizes people, places, and practices that don’t seem to embrace or express the propositions adequately. It makes it difficult for scholars to consider the many other ways and reasons that people associate with each other—including the “participation, attention, and imagination” you mention. And it treats theological propositions themselves as evidence of evangelicalism’s coherence and continuity. But it’s always possible for someone to accept any or all of these limitations, depending on their goals. I am skeptical primarily when theological propositions and their limitations are presented as some sort of objective index of evangelical identity rather than what they really are—interpretive claims, made with particular priorities in mind.

This has been a long way of approaching your question, to which I say: sure, it makes sense to talk about evangelicalism before the 1940s. But scholars shouldn’t pretend that the term “evangelical” has ever been anything but an instrument of interpretation—for scholars as well as evangelicals themselves. As you suggest, historians have noted that the term became prominent beginning especially in the 1940s, when fundamentalist leaders decided that they needed to rebrand their coalition. But as those 1940s “neo-evangelicals” themselves noted, the term had been used throughout the nineteenth century. Usage varied, but it’s fair to say that people often used the term to refer collectively to people that seemed to share their own sensibilities and subjectivities. In other words, it was a term used to signal that someone was the right kind of Christian—or even the right kind of person—beyond attachments to particular ecclesial institutions. For avowedly “evangelical” institutions in the nineteenth century no less than the 1940s, it was a way of branding themselves for their ideal audiences.

The bigger question for me is how to talk about all of the people who participate in evangelical cultures occasionally, or who might read a popular evangelical book and imagine themselves as part of its public yet not do much beyond that. As evangelical media companies note, these people are essential to the growth of the evangelical market throughout the United States and wider world. Are these people evangelicals? Since my task was to make sense of the market for evangelical media, I thought it was important to think about all consumers of evangelical media as participants in evangelicalism an as members of evangelical publics.

A case FOR religious discrimination?

It’s going to be a long wait until June. That is when we’re expecting the SCOTUS decision in Espinoza v. Montana. You might be sick of reading about this case by now, but here’s one more point to consider: Now is a good time for states to discriminate. Why? They need to discriminate against religious schools to avoid having to choose between good and bad religions.

First, a little background: The issue in Espinoza v. Montana is whether or not states can discriminate between religious schools and secular ones. A parent wanted to use voucher money to send her kid to a religious school. The state’s constitution prohibits state funding of religious schools. The state supreme court said no. SCOTUS now has to weigh in. …

In 1970, SCOTUS reinforced the new vision of the proper role of government in school religion. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court laid out its famous three-prong “Lemon test.” In judging complicated cases of schools and religion, the court ruled that any law must 1.) have a secular purpose; 2.) neither promote nor inhibit religion; and 3.) avoid “excessive government entanglement with religion.”

When it comes to Espinoza, the dangers arise from the overthrow of these Lemon rules. States like Montana do indeed have a compelling reason to leave all religious schools out of their funding programs. If they do not, they will have to decide which religious schools to include and which to exclude, or simply to include all religious schools. …

If, on the other hand, states decide simply to include ALL religious groups in voucher programs, they will need to be prepared for the fallout. Certainly, that will include religions that endorse anti-LGBTQ ideas or racist ones. It will include religions that force brutal, even fatal “healing” services on children. It will also include churches of flying spaghetti monsters and Satan.

Is any state really ready for that?

They are not. We are not. I agree with Professor Hall that states should avoid discriminating against religious groups without a compelling reason. That might mean providing playground equipment for a religious school is okay. But when it comes to sending tax dollars to the actual religious schools themselves, states have a very compelling reason to avoid wading into religious wars.

Even the Wienermobile has to follow the law:

WAUKESHA COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Following the rules of the road is important -- even if you're the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department pulled over the Wienermobile for not following the Move Over Law. The driver of the Weinermobile was given a verbal warning.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department would like to remind motorists that when a vehicle is on the side of the road with its emergency lights flashing, the motorist is required to move out of the lane closest to the vehicle if possible. If a safe lane change is not possible, or the motorist is traveling on a two-lane roadway, they are required to slow their vehicle, maintain a safe speed for traffic conditions, and drive at a reduced speed until completely past the vehicle.