Archive for the ‘Religious’ Category

Mind the Gaps

I recently read a book about disasters. One of the author’s principle points is that geological disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, happen largely at random. We have little to no ability to predict their occurrence with any skill beyond saying that an event of a certain magnitude is likely to occur in a certain region at a certain rate. People hate random events, however. We ascribe meaning to everything, and refuse to accept that our actions have no bearing on the Universe writ large. As such, we look for supernatural explanations for events. We find some way to blame the event on ourselves, or, better yet, someone else, and then take steps to rectify the situation. When a rare event does not recur during our puny lifespans, we are satisfied that we have successfully appeased the previously affronted deity.

One example in the book was a massive earthquake in the eastern Atlantic which devastated Lisbon in 1755. As Portugal was a predominantly Catholic nation, their Calvinist Dutch allies refused to send aid, not wanting to subvert the chastisement brought upon them by a God who was trying to shake some sense into the papists. Meanwhile, the Jesuits in the city blamed the disaster instead upon the growing tolerance of Protestant groups in town. Were this disaster a message from God, it, apparently, carried with it no effective lesson. It’s like smacking your sleeping toddler upside the head in the middle of the night and leaving them to figure out what they did wrong.

The problem for the ancients is that these calamities were shrouded behind several layers of missing scientific theory. That which defied the logical explanations of the time was given over to the realm of God. Entire theologies were (and are, we’ll get to that) built around a providence that plugs holes in our understanding of our world and the Universe in general. There is a problem with building theology around miraculous events: what happens when we learn that they are not miracles? Lightning bolts occur for scientifically understandable reasons. They are not the whimsical fury of a God lashing out at trees and buildings and ships and the occasional person. Earthquakes don’t judge Papists. Volcanoes aren’t a chastisement of pagan Romans. Hurricanes aren’t sent by God to punish Oil Baron Texans. Tornadoes aren’t a judgment on sinful foundationless mobile houses. All of these things happen because the natural world functions by a set of rules. They are following the chaotic ramifications of natural law.

So, what happens when you build your theology around a God that casts lightning from his hands, or, on smaller scale, doles out pancreatic cancer on the righteous and unrighteous with statistically identical frequencies? One of two things. You ignore the world around you, denying truths for the sake of faith in an alternative reality. This requires that you put your head in the sand and avoid facts – these inconvenient realities shake the foundations of your faith and must be avoided. Alas, such people can’t go to the moon. They can’t cure cancer if cancer is God’s divine dart gun. The other option is that one day you learn, really internalize, a particular fact, and your worldview will fall to pieces like a house of cards. Putting God into your construct of the Universe, defined by your ignorance, is a good way to create for yourself a god as ignorant as you are.

Where does this leave one who would acknowledge that the world is on the order of 4.5 billion years old? That species arise by natural means – at least, that no hand is required to make it so? That disasters of all sorts: global, regional, local, and personal, happen for a variety of predictable reasons, and with deterministic likelihoods? The Universe and its inner workings were once filled with gaps, and with so many holes in our understanding, it was sensible to bundle them all up into a variety of natural gods. No longer. There are no remaining natural mysteries for which the most likely explanation is the supernatural. Even what we don’t know is adjacent to what we do know.

To me, the final frontier is the human condition; the human mind; the human soul. It is the gap that remains in the providence of a God who has intervened in demonstrable ways in the past. But what happens when the selfishness of sin is explainable by the selfishness of genes? Or when thoughts can be reprogrammed by a computer (future) or cable news (present)? Or when the soul is a natural manifestation of a consciousness struggling to negotiate that tricky moment when one day, in the arbitrary future, it will blink out of existence? Is it that all theologies are gap theologies? Plug the gaps, and what remains?


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Stephen Paddock did not “snap”. He meticulously planned to do evil. It is my suspicion that he did this to prove that he could do it – to prove that those idiot amateurs were incompetent and anyone with half a brain could do tremendously more damage. But that’s irrelevant. Stephen Paddock is depraved. So are we.

You see it all the time; someone else’s kid grows up to be a drug addict and you tut-tut-tut at their parents and you look at your angelic kids. I’m better than those parents, a silent, hidden commentary says. But then your kids do the same. The families of mass murderers are always mystified and stunned. Don’t think they are just naive. YOU are naive. That could be your brother or father or son. The drug addled woman that leaves her kids in a hot car at Wal-Mart could be your sister or daughter. The jilted lover that takes out revenge, the loving father with a penchant for prostitutes, the trusted accountant with the off shore shell corporation, the kind housewife with an urge to steal things she doesn’t even want, the police officer whose mind goes blank for just the minute around the time when he shoots an unarmed perpetrator, the guy in the pickup who rams the distracted teenager off the road, the mom who drives home after one too many drinks and kills a toddler. These people are not remarkable. They are not outliers. They are representatives of the human condition, guilty of the corruption that infects all of mankind.

You included. Me included.

Thinks you’re better because you don’t murder? Jesus has news for you. The same infection is in your soul. Think maybe this is for one class of people, but not your class of people? You go to church! You are a police man! You are in the military! You are kind to animals! You donate time and money! You help the helpless! No, you are a whitewashed tomb. And no, you’re not exempt. No one is righteous, not even one.

This condition is not new, it’s as old as there are people. It’s restrained by the rule of law and the societal norms of morality. Both of those are crumbling around us. During the Enlightenment, humankind felt that it was getting better, smarter, more compassionate, more illuminated. Then we killed 100 million of our fellow men and women in a decade’s worth of World Wars. We will not heal ourselves. We will not evolve out of this. Evil, as a general trend, increases proportionally to the population. Sure, for a decade or two things might look better. Sure, specific societal ills may decrease. But our true nature will break through in the end, and we will, sometimes, shoot 600 people. Stephen Paddock was not an Other. He was an archetype of the depravity of all of us. Don’t think yourself immune, lest you too lose focus and expose the evil of your soul.

For all that it has been abused over the centuries, this is one of the key draws of Christianity. Biblical Christianity does not make believe that we are perfect. It acknowledges our universal brokenness. It points to a second archetype, a new Adam, in the form of Jesus. It doesn’t make believe that we become Jesus, it surrenders to that fact that we can’t, and instead falls upon its knees to humbly beg Jesus to save us. From ourselves.

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As it is Christmas season, you may be wondering, “Daddy, who is Santa and why does he bring people presents on Jesus’ birthday?” This is a good question. Recall, on your birthday, people bring YOU presents – it’s not like the Easter Bunny delivers candies to the elderly when it’s your birthday. So why does Santa do it at Jesus’ birthday? Is Jesus OK with it? Is Santa Jesus?

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ. They have some similarities though, and Santa knows Jesus. Both of them were born, both of them died, and both of them live on in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. While Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive the same way he has always been alive, Santa lives in a different way.

Santa Claus is the new name for a man named Saint Nicholas, who lived in Turkey (the country, not the sandwich) a very long time ago, back when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire. He loved God and loved Jesus, and felt that giving people secret presents was a good way to show others that love. Jesus thought that this was a nice idea; after all, Jesus gives gifts to people that have done nothing to deserve them too. While Jesus’ gift is the biggest gift of all, eternal life, Santa gives littler gifts, gifts that you can hold and play with, or wear and play in. Jesus loves illustrations and parables. Santa is like a large, jolly parable in a red suit, giving gifts to the nice boys and girls, despite the fact that all are naughty and fall short of the high standards of true nice. Santa is like grace, if only grace rode a sleigh and ate far too many cookies.

So, how does it all work? Well, when St. Nick (that’s what his friends call him) died, he went to the heavenly registrar’s office and was given a few options for the jobs that he could fill in Heaven: gardener, roofer, lumberjack, poet. They were great jobs, but what he REALLY wanted to do, was to keep giving presents to boys and girls. He thought to himself, “When I was an imperfect man, I could give presents to a hundred children in my town. Now that I’m reborn with a perfected body, I should be able to give presents to all the children in the whole wide world!” As I mentioned before, Jesus thought this was a good idea. St. Nick was so happy to hear this that he decided to celebrate the yearly event on Jesus’ birthday.

There was a problem though: the people still living on Earth didn’t know when Jesus’ birthday was. You might think, “Come on, they didn’t know the most important person ever to live’s birthday??” Yup. They didn’t know it. Remember, Jesus wasn’t famous for almost 30 years after he was born. He was born in a manger, for crying out loud. His parents knew days and weeks and months based on the Jewish calendar, and most people on Earth were using a whole different calendar by this time. Everyone forgot, like when you don’t play with a toy for a month and it stays stuck behind the couch until you move.

Finally, someone decided to re-use a holiday called Saturnalia as Jesus’ birthday. This sent shivers down St. Nick’s spine. Saturnalia was at the end of December. Almost all the people in the world, particularly at that time, lived north of the equator. You see, in December, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the way the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is St. Nick was going to get cold when he delivered all those presents. Very cold. So cold that he decided that there was no way he could do it unless he lived someplace that was cold all year round so that he could get used to the chill. This was actually convenient, as Jesus thought it was prudent for Santa to stay away from people during the rest of the year. Jesus knows people, you see. People will steal, they’ll pillage, they’ll do all manner of sinful things. It was best for St. Nick to keep out of sight. The North Pole was just the place.

There was another condition on his new employment. He still had relatives on earth. He didn’t want his friends and family to know that he was doing the presents, so he had to come up with a new name. He decided on Santa Claus, because his first elves all came from a place that would eventually become Holland. They had strange accents, and used to mess up his real name all the time. He finally just started calling himself what they were calling him by mistake. It stuck.

So, by a few dozen years after he started, Santa Claus was all set up on the North Pole. He had elves to make toys – mostly swords and baby dolls at first, but eventually everything up to micro-electronics. The big companies, you see, waive their patents for Santa, since it is fantastic marketing to have one of your products seen in a sleigh. He had some major logistical challenges when getting started as well. Back then, there were no airplanes, no trains, no cars, and barely even any roads. Horses found the North Pole to be far too cold. He thought about riding polar bears, but they would get too hot in certain parts of the world, and they occasionally eat children, which is particularly inappropriate during the Christmas season. Really, the only option was reindeer driven sleighs. He requested an allocation of supersonic magic dust which was delivered within two business days by an armored vehicle. He was all ready to go, but no one knew that he was coming.

He started it out as a secret, then, dropping a toy here, a book there, some sweets in a shoe (that’s what people called candy in the old days), tasty meat and so on. People were confused, but grateful. Soon, they started to realize that all of this stuff was showing up on the same day, December 25th, Jesus’ birthday. Even more confused, they set up guards to watch. Nobody could see Santa though, at least not anyone who was too tall to ride the rides at the amusement park. Only kids could see him at first, because believing is seeing.

People sometimes say that seeing is believing. But this is all backwards, especially when it comes to Santa Claus. In order to see him, you have to know that he’s there, and look based on that assumption. Me, I saw him a lot of times when I was a kid. I saw his sleigh in the sky when we were driving home from Grandma’s house some years. I heard him on the roof. Once, he even knocked over something in my room in the middle of the night! See, Santa, though quick, is not very graceful. It’s all those sweets (candy), and the fact that he only gets one really good workout a year, on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, since I saw him when I was a kid, I can still see him. In fact, your mother and I interviewed with one of his elves, Henry, right before you were born. It’s standard procedure for Santa to consult with parents before a baby’s first Christmas. Even though Santa’s a nice guy, he’s only around one day out of the year. Some large elves make believe they’re Santa in malls and such, something which Santa is fine with: this is also great marketing. Your parents are around all the time, so we make the rules and Santa is completely fine with that. In fact, he uses our rules when determining whether you’re naughty or nice. So, you better be good for goodness sake. And good is defined by this guy, right here, Little Pea. Don’t you forget that!

We told Santa to only bring you one or two presents each year. I know, I know – but think about it little baby. You have all you need already, right? We have a little house! A bunch of presents wouldn’t fit! So, when Jesus’ birthday comes around, you get a couple presents from Mom and Dad, and a couple from Santa Claus. Occasionally, an elf or a reindeer, or even Mrs. Claus (they met in Iceland when he was on his way to the North Pole – it’s a whole different story) will send you a little present.

One thing is very important to remember. Some kids get a lot of presents from Santa, and it’s a good thing because if they didn’t, the economy would collapse. Some get very few, and we set aside some of your presents to help bring holiday cheer to those less fortunate every year. For you, you must understand that you can be happy with what you’ve got; a little or a lot. Stuff isn’t what makes you happy, and presents aren’t what makes Christmas special. It is the bigger things like family and love, friends and fellowship, mystery and holiness, and most of all Jesus that make Christmas special.

One last thing…not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Some folks can’t even see him when he’s right in front of them, dancing a jig. They think it’s silly (though they don’t complain about the presents) and there are even some people who think that you shouldn’t believe in Santa either. It’s possible to live your life without believing in anything, or believing certain things so much that there’s no space for other things. Maybe one day your relationship with Santa will become a bit more complicated than it is now, and maybe you’ll start to see him a different way, but just remember: there’s mystery, magic, and miracle in this world. Whether it’s Santa and elves or not, doesn’t much matter. There’s more to life than what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears. Believing is what makes life worth living.

So, Abigail, this year on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes on the sky. Listen for bells. Look for a jolly man in a red suit. It’s possible you’ll catch a glimpse, or even a smile and a wink if you’re lucky. Enjoy these simple, happy times. You’re only young once, and sometimes, it’s harder for old people to believe the way that you can. When you meet such people, give them a wink and a smile. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll see Santa Claus too someday.

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In Media Res

I haven’t written anything in several months, and then this. I acknowledge up front that this is going to be a little, uhh, outlandish, obscure, and, for most, mind numbingly stupid or incoherent. But, here it goes.

About 12 years ago, I tried to believe in a Young Earth creation scheme. I worked at it for at least half a year. I read a few books. I was a physics major at the time. I found the books to be insulting. They were written by people who were scientists in fields other than physics or cosmology or geology, folks who could leverage an impressive sounding title into sales while they dabbled in fields that were clearly not their day jobs. Not that I was the bees knees in theoretical physics – but it’s pretty easy to spot a charlatan. But I admired them for trying. They felt strongly obliged to believe that the Universe and all is in it was created 6,000 years ago and worked hard to justify that belief using some semblance of science. Having hit a few dead ends in that foray, I decided that the only way that one could believe in Young Earth creationism was to believe that God made a young Universe to look old – very much older than 6,000 years (let’s just call it 13.8 billion years, plus or minus a couple hundred million). He made galaxies way far away, all hurling away from each other for some reason or another. He made light en route, a trillion raised to the quintillion photons made in a flash, all looking as though they came from somewhere else, but, apparently, didn’t. They just were. It would be an incredible deceit, one that doesn’t seem very much in God’s character.

For a few solid years after I just ignored the problem. Then I started to ignore that I was ignoring it. Next, I started getting into real science and history a little bit again; after that decided, you know what, enough of this. And now I’m back on the path of regular science. I still have seen only two ways for someone to believe in Young Earth creationism without holding tremendous contradictions in their mind: 1) To believe that God created the Universe in media res, or 2) To be completely ignorant of science and to distrust all who grapple with scientific inquiry hence avoiding the problem of dealing with their ideas (ps, there’s no global warming).

Recently, this came up again, this time at Bible study with some really bright people who are legitimately struggling with how to synthesize the Bible with what they see in reality. When I moved away from everything looking like Young Earth creationism, I didn’t flush the Bible down the toilet as gobbledygook, mind you. While my goal here is not to explain what I actually believe, in brief, I see the creation account as being a true framework for the concepts under girding the generation of the Universe while not meant to describe the blow by blow with anything resembling scientific rigor. Much of Genesis falls into that category for me. Just as the incarnate Jesus didn’t know how to build a laser, the human authors of the Bible weren’t aware of string theory. Putting that aside, I spent the last few days trying to come up with something anyway. I was looking for a 3rd option to the Young Earth creation account; one that was a bit less implausible, one that could not have holes punched in it quite so easily, and one that didn’t ignore the Universe as we see it currently. It involves a bit of slight of hand, a bit of technicality, but I think it fits the bill.

So, what about this…

We know that the Universe is not the first thing to exist. God existed beforehand (and that’s a necessary assumption for this worldview, so you must grant me it or obviously we’re not having this discussion). Not only did God exist beforehand, but SOMETHING else did too. Angels were, prior to the creation of the world, cast from heaven to hell. So, God, angels (many of them), at least two locations. What housed this? Some spirit world, but where does that occupy with no Universe, no space, no time? Eh. Who knows. Unimportant, just know that when the Bible says “in the beginning”, it doesn’t mean “in the beginning of everything.” It just means “in the beginning of this thing, this reality in which the reader is currently living.”

What if God made many many Universes from his other-world beyond the beginning and the end of the horizon? What if he made trillions of them, boiling and bubbling, exploding and collapsing, coalescing and dissolving. There was a flash, there was heat, eventually light, then gas, then swirly collections of it. On fusion, on gravity, on nova and star dust. Ho planets and comets and asteroids and satellites. As these trillions of Universes writhed and convulsed, each every so slightly different from the other, God selected one and said, “this is the one in which I’m going to reveal my glory.”

From here, this basis, our (“the”) Universe was copy and pasted into existence. First the void, the fabric. Next the light; already en route because it was already made, just not “made”, not “real” because it was elsewhere not “here”. Then a planet, then oceans, then land, a story repeated quadrillions of times, a massive merger from an existing place into a newly created realm. Plants, here, maybe everywhere. Animals, here at least, why not everywhere else? Lastly man, he too already in progress, copied en masse with a pre-history all his own.

It’s hard to contradict such a theory. After all, this new Universe looks just like an old one. It basically IS the old one, though it isn’t. I don’t know how it all works, dimensions and whatever; the question of what exists before the Universe is part incomprehensible (as in, it’s not a valid question) but mostly metaphysics. There are problems with my idea, for instance, at what point does man become MAN? Where do Adam and Eve fit in? I’ve always liked them as the first spiritual man, the first man in God’s own image, in the image of his Son. There were men since who were not bearers of Christ’s image, why not also men before? It’s a bit herky-jerky I know, but no worse than Adam and Eve’s children moving into cities made up of who exactly?

Anyway, that’s what I came up with. If I die and learn that the Universe is 6,000 years old, maybe this is the general mechanism. At least this way, I wouldn’t have to ask, “but yeah, why does it LOOK so old,” because this at least builds in an explanation for that. Or maybe it’s 6,000 years old and the shells in the mountains are from the flood and anything else is a sort of demonic conspiracy. Consider me duped.

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I have little spare mental energy to write things most of the time, so when I have an idea for a post, I make an appointment in Outlook for it. Then Outlook nags me for weeks, as I kick the reminder 8 hours into the future over and over again. I do the same thing with Outlook at work for any number of chores, but I’m not here to talk about Microsoft Outlook.

My most recent pending topic has been about the predictability of nature and in how that impacts God’s sovereignty. This is a topic with obvious ramifications to both Christians and non-Christians alike, though oppositely obvious.

Hurricane Sandy came ashore after being predicted roughly 9 days before landfall. The models were sniffing at the solution that ended up occurring for a week – a preposterously long time and, as an aside, a marvelous job. The timing of this prediction doesn’t really matter. We understand nature to work in a certain way and make predictions based on this. It is, then, a deterministic system. Given more perfect knowledge, more accurate predictions can be made.

Such systems occur all throughout science. Exactly what should happen most often does happen given a set of well understood initial conditions. There are some exceptions to this of course. There used to be more exceptions. As time passes and our understanding of our environment increases, there are fewer and fewer unexpected results.

For centuries, people, not so much theologians, but regular people, have assigned to God the unexplained. Natural events of unexplained origins, are assigned divine cause. The idea that God has authority over all things is called sovereignty. I’ve been thinking about exactly when this sovereignty has to take place to have its effect recently. In a very real sense, God did not have to control where Hurricane Sandy went. We, with our computer models, knew where it would go, just based on the physical dynamics of the atmospheric system. There was no needs for divine steering of anything. Sure, two weeks out we didn’t know where it would go. If we had more data, better models and faster computers, would we? What if we were able to push it to three or four weeks? At some point, God barely fits into the system – in the limiting case, he’d have to perturb the young universe in such a precise manner that 13 billion years later, Hurricane Sandy would interact with a blocking high pressure system and slam into the New Jersey coast – everything else could be predicted. Once set in motion, it was not to be stopped. (pardon my passive voice)

To the atheist, this is all painfully obvious. It’s because there is no God, and all divine manipulation that we perceive is our own layer of interpretation on top of perfectly reasonable outcomes driven by an initial set of conditions. For the Christian, the opposite is true. Yes these things happen, but they happen to us for a reason, specifically to steer us to some greater trust or faith, some deeper understanding and some more transcendent experience of LIFE, real life. They happen for ANY reason – a plausible reason can be generated for any outcome in hindsight. This worldview could, if abused (or possibly, if allowed to reach its own conclusions), support the abolition of science in favor of the comfort of faith.

To do so would be dishonest. The world is not as simple as that. It does wheel through the universe under the control of knowable laws and forces. If there is a God who is somehow sovereign in the universe, he must operate through the determined courses of predictive science.

Now, I happen to believe that God can intervene within this system, though it certainly doesn’t seem that he does so on a macro sense very often. I may have less answers now that I did in the past, but I do know that the sun will rise and then set tomorrow. I could even tell you the times. But I still can’t explain to you why I find it beautiful. Somewhere in there, there’s truth.

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My brother, not impressed by bullying rhetoric, did not find Alan Miller’s Spiritual But Not Religious article on CNN compelling. I tend to agree. He misses the point, interpreting religion primarily as something to be affiliated with. He would like to draw a line in the sand and bunker down on one side of it – it is this that he seems to define as the value of religion.

I don’t disagree with his theme, even if I think he has missed the importance of it. To be “spiritual but not religious” is shorthand for “to define one’s own set of beliefs that provide succor and personal satisfaction”. As with many modern discussions on spirituality, the disconnect between modern society and the generations before boils down to a fundamental misalignment in the understanding of truth and reality. If there is some divine being, particularly an all-powerful one, then that god defines reality. To think that we could envelope ourselves in our individualized shroud of self-generated spiritual ecstasy does not make sense when the God of the universe has revealed the truth of himself in some different way.

If there is such an all-powerful being, our existences would be defined in terms of him. The spiritualism of today defines our existence in terms of ourselves. If there is an external, objective truth, a greater reality, then we do not define it, by definition. Doing so would make us to be god. In a sense, this is what the spiritualism movement attempts to do – start with oneself and learn to understand the universe in that egocentric manner.

If there is no universal truth, no reality, nothing external or eternal, then it makes no sense to worship a higher power – nothing could be higher in such a universe, as nothing really IS. In this universe, religion makes no sense, and humanism is the only meaningful “god”.

“Religion” is in need of a new PR man, as people tend to see the results of religion more than the genesis of it. Religion is a way of relating to something higher than you. It assumes an ultimate reality, and provides the framework through which mankind can interface with such a reality. In Christianity and Judaism, it is the God-inspired words of the Bible. In Islam, it is also the God-breathed word, though this time through the Prophet Muhammad. Eastern religions muddy the waters a bit more, but there is still an enlightenment, a higher form of life to be aspired for – with the middleware of religion providing ability to access the divine.

In generations past, everyone assumed that things were real, and that truths were true. In modern times, this has made people very uncomfortable, likely because a single truth renders many other statements false. People do not like this sort of exclusivity. Spiritual but not Religious is a rebellion against the idea that a truth exists and/or can be known. Because of this, science and religion find themselves as strange bedfellows in their common distaste of post-modern cuisine. Science sees the universe as an objective reality that can be understood and should be studied for this purpose. Religion sees the purpose of the universe as an objective reality that can be understood and studied. In both cases, reality is assumed, and systems are built from that basis.

Miller’s article didn’t deal with this at all. He says that we live in a world with sides, and you should pick one rather than stay on the sidelines. This is a necessary step in learning how to live in a world where truth exists, but to focus on a point further downstream is to highlight why religion should cause division – it’s no wonder that the areligious would find his style distasteful. First, establish that there is a truth. Next, point out that it is knowable. Lastly, mold your life around the outcomes of such an understanding. That’s where one starts down the road of religion.

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A couple days ago, North Carolina passed an amendment to their constitution defining marriage to be between a man and a woman.  I don’t agree with such an amendment, though I’m not as fired up (and frankly, as closed minded and vitriolic) as others who have been lambasting the vote.

A few things about the State here…

  1. I don’t see why the state should be involved in this question.
  2. That said, citizens in North Carolina have a right to define their laws via constitutional amendments…
  3. …which is an epically stupid way to run a state, as California can attest to.  Referendums are a horrid way to govern.  There’s a reason why we have a representative government.  The people are short sighted.  Mob rule has never and will never work.  My apologies to the communists and anarchists.  It’s against human nature for the individual to look out for the good of the community.

Despite the civic forum, however, this is primarily a religious question.  And the concept of gay marriage does fall into the religious arena.  Like it or not, the Bible is clear on the issue.  At risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic…that still doesn’t matter in this case.  The Bible Inc never trademarked any of its terminology.  Marriage, as recognized by Christian institutions, should adhere to the rules of the specific religious institutions.  Marriage, as a civil union between consenting individuals, is outside of the church’s scope.

The church (could use a capital C for the Church universal) is a body of believers.  Unbelievers get married every day.  Well, at least every weekend.  The church doesn’t seem to mind this – unbelievers mimicking the Christian institution of marriage.  In fact, I think that the church agrees with this idea.  As a God-ordained sacrament, marriage is an instrument of common grace.  It exposes sin, it roots out selfishness, it can act as an agent of sanctification.  So, if the church sees marriage as a useful tool for evangelism, why limit it through the creation of a legally binding glossary?

If I were to guess, however, legal marriage is only half of what the gay community wants here.  I’d guess that they not only want to be allowed to be married, they want people to agree that it’s not wrong for them to do so.  Can you imagine a state legislating “Gay marriage is both legal, and it is illegal for you to say that it’s wrong?”  I don’t think we’re particularly close to that happening.  Nor should we write a constitutional amendment condemning the wrongness of certain varieties of lifestyle.  We have a sort of constitution that already does that, and, while all men will one day be held accountable to its judgment, the state is not that court.  The Bible was never meant to be a basis for a Christian Sharia law.  We can’t be so aghast about Islam’s legislative morality if we’re so eager to pass our own brand.

So why did this pass so overwhelmingly?  Because people interpreted the amendment as a call to arms.  Because people thought that they were being asked “Please check YES for ‘Good’ and NO for ‘Evil'”.  Because this topic is a shibboleth, a representative issue used to prove your holiness against a tide of worldliness. But I don’t think this sort of legislation helps Christendom.

I’ve been wondering what I’d do if I lived in North Carolina.  I don’t like the question, so I would not provide an answer.  If this were put to a vote in my presbytery, I’d vote.  But in my state…it’s not a battle that I think needs to be fought.

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I have some coworkers who are sufficiently loud for me to hear them from my cube. The conversations, particularly the especially loud ones, are rarely about work. A few days ago, one of them was relating a story about how, a few years ago, another coworker told him “I don’t think God would want you to live with your girlfriend,” to which he replied, “I don’t think God would want you to be judging me!” He repeated it several times, as though looking for applause, or perhaps a fight. Everyone agreed or remained silent.

I wasn’t part of the conversation, and it was 20 feet away (they are quite loud), so I didn’t chime in. I also don’t care very much about the topic – whether or not he wanted to live with his girlfriend before marriage. I have a hard time bringing myself to care about such things. But what does irk me is that people use the word “judge” in ways beyond what it actually means.

When conversations like this come up, there is always a fundamental disconnect between the person who is supposedly judging and the one who feels as though he’s being judged. To the one doing the judging, he doesn’t see it as judging. He believes in an external source of right and wrong – some rule or law that is separate from him which discerns between moral goods and ills. The truth is, EVERYONE believes this. Everyone believe that there is a right and a wrong that is external to them. The person who tells someone else that it’s not right to live with your girlfriend feels more like a newspaper reporter, passing along the real Judge’s edict. He does not see himself as generating it willy-nilly from thin air, from his own moral interpretation of the world. He sees himself as relying on that external, superior morality. You might argue on many points whether or not he actually is relating this moral law accurately, but that’s a failure to report news, not a failure to render judgment.

The disconnect for the person that feels the judgment comes because he doesn’t realize that court is in session somewhere else, all the time. He thinks it’s in session right here, and that the reporter is generating the verdict instead of passing it along. Sure, he’d say, there are some obvious moral ills – no one likes murder and stealing and exploitation and what have you – but he fails to recognize that he’s appealing to a higher truth when he says something like that. Like everyone, he hates the idea that someone might look at any of HIS actions and find them to be falling short, or missing the mark. Instead of considering that some universal moral compass exists, he makes the assumption that since it does not, the person who says something that makes him uncomfortable must be applying his subjective set of rules outside of their jurisdiction.

Calling someone else judgmental when you feel uncomfortable is little more than blame shifting. Since I am not/incapable of being/never wrong, therefore you must be the wrong one.

I know Christians love to beat up Joel Osteen. He’s smiley and he paves over the large swaths of theology that make him uncomfortable, and he rakes in tons of money. However, I believe that he handled CNN’s over-hyped (a judgment) Piers Morgan appropriately on the topic of homosexuality. He was as conciliatory as he could have been. He was as gracious as he could have been. He stuck to the statement, to Morgan’s dismay, that homosexuality is a sin. He said, in essence, “I didn’t make that determination, the Bible did.” Morgan refused to acknowledge the possibility of an external, universal, superior source of right and wrong, and continued to press Osteen as though he just came up with that verdict on his own and he might backtrack upon appeal. And neither of them seemed to notice that they were speaking from two completely different sets of assumptions. It was a mess.

Eventually Morgan tried to personalize it, since it’s harder to tell a person that God says he’s in the wrong than it is to condemn a category. “Is Elton John a sinner?” he asks. Osteen waffles, but does hit a few good points that he could use to build the following answer (which I wish he said):
“I am a sinner. So are you. So is Elton. So is everyone, except for Jesus, who died for sinners. In fact, he only came and died because we are all sinners. Some of us (let’s be honest, most of us) have some form of sexual sin. Some of us (how about ALL of us) harbor some nasty manifestation of pride. Some steal, whether things or time or dreams. Some murder, people or characters or hope. But all fall short, all ‘miss the mark’, and THAT, Piers, is why Jesus came to die. It’s not about Elton John and his partner – it’s about all of us and all of our sins on one side, and Jesus’ sacrificial life on the other. It’s about the old and the new; it’s about something bigger than what we like and what we want and what we feel.”

And then I probably would have boxed his ears by trying to cut his teeth as the next Larry King by attempting to trap me on national TV, but I wasn’t there.

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A few months ago, Katy Perry’s cleavage raised eyebrows on Sesame Street. I personally, was very disappointed. I thought that Sesame Street was long dead. As it turns out, Sesame Street is still out there, motoring along as always, minding its P’s and Q’s (and so on), still managing to coerce those poor suckers in the alphabet into the daily sponsorship of its programming, even though I’m pretty sure the nation’s 4-year-olds are fairly saturated by the marketing of the Letter E by now. Besides, the allowance for picking up your cars and balls can hardly justify all this “brought to you by….!” nonsense.

The point is (there is one), Sesame Street is still there. I just stopped paying attention to it. It died to me. It disappeared from my view, and I ceased to acknowledge its existence as a part of my life. When I am occasionally reminded of its existence, I say to myself, “aww, that’s nice, they’re still doing the same old stuff they always do.” (Albeit with more breasts that I recall). It’s quaint in its own little way. I might change, but Sesame Street is always the same.

My attention span is not particularly long. I fail to retain many useful pieces of information. For instance, if you get a hair cut, I will notice that you got one…but will be utterly unable to recall what the previous one looked like. If we repaint the bathroom, I’ll forget what the previous paint color was. If I settle the free-will/predestination debate in my head, I’ll cease to remember that Arminian folk are still making a raucous, and will be mildly surprised when someone else brings the matter up, as though it’s still going on. People tend to think that I’m intelligent, but I’ve never really understood this inability to retain things that I’ve since deemed settled and done with – the best that I’ve been able to come up with is that I have a lot of RAM, but not a whole lot of hard disk space. I’m good at doing a lot of things at once, but not good at storing the information for later recall.

It extends beyond trivia and concepts. It extends to even supposedly foundational things such as feelings, relationships, and faith. I experience certain emotions quite vividly. But then they go away and I forget how I was able to have them in the past. I’ll meet someone who I was once close to, and forget the manner in which I was close to them. It’s worrisome. With people, I make efforts to keep a regular communication with old friends, lest I forget them and never re-remember. I jot down notes to myself, have Outlook remind me of important things, and formulate rules that govern the order of my life in such a way that I can reproduce events, feelings, arrangements in a self-consistent manner; it looks like recollection, but is really recreation.

At the moment, and for the last many moments, it has been God and his array of associate accouterments that I have forgotten. I’m reminded, and there it is, the same as it ever was, still brought to me by the letter J, still doing colors and numbers and eating cookies and whatever (though still no Katy Perry – who I had by the way not heard of before she and the twins debuted with Elmo).

It’s troublesome, all this forgetting. It makes you wonder how much is real and anchored, how deep the roots of reality dig, when the moment is all that there is to see and live. If things past are dead in the current, what are they really? It’s a fancy trick he pulled – before Abraham was, I am. It’s the answer to the riddle, somewhere somehow. But Sesame Street IS too…for those who are there with it.

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I’ve read the Old Testament cover to cover somewhere around 5 times. Every single time, I bog down in the Psalms, all 150 of them, then begin slogging. Every time I get mired even more in Isaiah…then hit chapter 40 and it all changes. Really, it changes a few chapters before then, when it switches from verse to prose. At chapter 40, it switches back to verse, but to me, it’s clearly a different voice.

All biblical scholars admit that Isaiah is split into at least two distinct sections. Most also believe that these sections have different authors. Part of their reasoning is that the speaker in deutero-Isaiah is speaking about a different time period. This is not a real impediment: if you take the concept of biblical prophecy at face value, shifting time periods isn’t a problem. To me, it’s clearly a different speaker. It’s hard to quantify, but when you’ve read a huge swath of writing like this, it just feels different. It’s the same reason that the New Testament book of Hebrews does not feel like it’s from Paul – you read a whole ton of Paul right before it, then you read Hebrews and say “that ain’t Paul.” (Hebrews never claims to be from Paul, by the way; the author is unknown.)

Some would take up a Biblical authority argument on behalf of a single author for Isaiah. I don’t see that as necessary. Just as no one takes (or should take) the placement of the Bible’s chapter breaks as inerrant/authoritative, it doesn’t seem to me like the organization of book structure needs be authoritative either. I have to say, and I say it to myself every time I read it, I thank God for Deutero-Isaiah. Especially after Proto-Isaiah.

Here’s more on the generally accepted view of Isaiah well-sourced from Wikipedia.

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I don’t really care about the topic of Glenn Beck’s pseudo-Christianity. I find it interesting how some politically motivated Christians make strange bedfellows for the sake of political expediency. For the record, I offer no condemnation of the Mormon people. I take issue with their theology; their behavior is generally admirable, until you get to the whole multiple child bride and baptism of holocaust victims stuff. Evangelicals acceptance of Glenn Beck as a spiritual ally is more of a shibboleth for their motives – are they driven primarily by Gospel or politics?

Anyway, I didn’t even read the entire article. I did think that Taylor’s little circle on core Christian beliefs was helpful, however. There’s not much to argue about there. Thoughts? Revisions? I might make a working copy of that somewhere and add/subtract. Though I’m not sure I can subtract.

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Two big pseudo-religious-political things going on this week. Thing one, an Imam wants to make an Islamic center on the former World Trade Center site. Thing two, a pastor in Florida wants to burn Qurans.

On the Imam. I think it’s a good move for America to build a moderate Muslim community center there. I don’t think that America will ever buy off on it, because Americans are emotional and prone to scapegoat. To be clear – I’m not a fan of Islam as a religion, I think it’s unbalanced on its understanding of God and that it naturally tends toward violence. I think it’s tacky that the guy wants to build a place there – he’s trying to create one symbol, but for many Americans, it will represent the opposite symbol. It would be akin to Christians invading the Holy Land and building huge churches in Palestine. Ok, it wouldn’t be that bad. There’s no conquest here, it just lacks sensitivity. Still, I think if we the people had any sense, we’d support softening our tone toward Muslims. It’s not our job as a nation to carry out some kind of reverse jihad…nor is it a Christian concept.

Speaking of unchristian concepts, let’s talk about burning a bunch of Qurans. There is nothing at all loving about that, in fact, it’s entirely divisive and inflammatory. Christendom has a knack of letting it’s most outlandish spokespeople be its most vocal. The media, in turn, interviews the interfaith all-stars whenever some overzealous, confused hatey-love-dove Christian spouts off. Let me clue everyone in. The interfaith all-stars don’t have any street cred with these guys. No fundamentalist Christian is going to yield under the condemnation of Oprah, some atheist Jewish leader, a gay Episcopalian bishop, the Cardinal of San Diego, Barack Obama and the woman from Touched By An Angel. The witness of the semi-spiritual has no clout with fundamentalists.

You know what might have clout with them though? The reformed all-stars; Begg and Sproul, Ryken and Duncan, heck, maybe even Wright and Bell and Driscoll. Unfortunately, these people aren’t interesting for the media to talk to, nor are they dynamic enough unto themselves to cast a wide enough net to circumvent the media altogether. The nutty firebrand pastor might not respect the theology of the Reformed All-stars, but they’d at least be able to use the Bible as a tool against his…well…heresy. It might not work, he might be too far down the road of division and hate to change his mind for any reason. But there’s zero chance the interfaith squad and CNN will enlighten his sensitivities, and at least some chance a bunch of conservative theologians and the Bible will turn him away from his sin.

I’m more than a little annoyed that the official spokespeople of Christianity are either loony, bigoted, or watered down so as to lose any distinctiveness. I’m hardly one to talk, I’m just saying it’s a shame.

In another example of why I love my church, here’s what our Pastor (currently on sabbatical) faxed to the pastor of the church in Florida.

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…white, upper middle class, educated. I have a theological periodicity of something like 8 years. It takes roughly 8 years for me to cycle through various flavors of Christianity. About three years ago, I peaked as a reformed person. And why not? I’m white, upper middle class, educated, old at heart, haughty, wordy. I enjoy being right. I’m a fan of tradition. The church, despite its appearances, is not a political entity. It’s not exclusionary, nor is it meant to be schismatic. When I look at the hard core reformed community, I see the same faces, over and over again. Why should white, upper middle class, educated people be the only ones able to see the truth? Why has God revealed this to us and not everyone else?

The other cliques are no better. The thing that we call the church is more often more about fraternizing with those who we already are comfortable and speaking in terms that communicate with our past sensibilities than experiencing God or emulating Christ. Our churches are social clubs with a religious bent.

Unfortunately, this is what we have now. It’ll change slowly, maybe. Just because it’s an imperfect system doesn’t mean that it’s a worthless system. Just please don’t waste zealotry on the particular bylaws of your specific club. That’s how we develop conflict and division. Those who focus only on distinctives miss the point, yet somehow feel puffed up while doing so. Not how it’s supposed to be. Quit it. Just look at congress, do you want that to be you?

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Here are the Furst family choices for Haiti donations:

Partners In Health is an organization that Jen has known about for a while. Haiti is their thing – they have over 100 doctors and 500 nurses that operate out of Haiti regularly. Boots on the ground.

World Relief has been my biggest non-church contribution for the last 6 years. Based out of Baltimore (and staffed by friend Amy), World Relief attempts to fulfill part of the church’s mandate to serve the poor. They are large enough to make an impact, and small enough that your donation will make an impact.

For a country with almost no previous infrastructure, something like this is a much bigger deal than just the event. It will take a logistical operation with substantial resources to feed, clothe, care for and house the displaced and injured for the next several months. Feel free to post other reputable organization – Lara, I’m looking at you…

Jen hit the nail on the head with Partners in Health. They have spent years building connections in Haiti and their expertise is coming in handy as the world ramps up its effort.

“Yesterday, Dr. Farmer arrived in Port-au-Prince to check in with our team and to meet with Government and UN officials. Since his visit, we have already seen the tide begin to change – this morning, the PIH/Zanmi Lasante team was designated by the World Health Organization to serve as the coordinators of the public hospital, Hopital de l’ Universite d’Etat d’Haiti (HUEH), where thousands are suffering in need of medicines and surgeries. In this new role, we will be supporting the administration and staff and recruiting other NGOs to help restore services, particularly triage, nursing, and surgical, at the city’s central hospital. Our priority is to increase stock of medicines and supplies, ensure steadily functioning operating rooms, and guarantee sufficient medical staff is available, particularly for nursing care to help with post-op recovery, iv management, and other care that has had to be self managed over the past three days.”

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Sour Grapes

A few years ago, my character was called into question by a yellow journalist. A couple years after that, it happened again, this time by a random lady. I know how it is. The urge to defend yourself is strong. It eats at you; someone thinks that you are deficient, you want to make amends. You want to feel justified before your accusers, you need vindication! Someone, some arbiter somewhere, has got to stand up and say “this person is right, and you, oh accuser, are wrong.” It is an exceptionally strong compulsion, the defense of one’s character.

In some ways, I can understand the urges behind the actions of a member of my church. Jilted by his wife, he took the fight to the church (which had supported her), setting up a mirror website, spepchurch.com, as opposed to the real one, spepchurch.org. As the story goes, his wife determined that he was emotionally abusive toward her. The church, whose job it is to adjudicate between congregants on such matters, agreed with her – admonishing him and not disallowing a divorce.

You don’t need to spend much time on this guy’s website before you understand why someone would want a divorce from him. I want to divorce him. He, meanwhile, has tried to vindicate himself. He insists up and down, the only “biblical” reasons for divorce are abandonment and adultery. He did neither of these. Interestingly, his definition allows for all varieties of abuse within the marital bound. According to this definition, he could beat her within inches of her life and she’d still be stuck with him. It belays a profoundly simple theological misunderstanding.

This is a person who would like to hold his wife to the letter of the law. The Bible specifies grounds for biblical divorce. In other places, it specifies behaviors suitable for mankind. It furthermore indicates that the Holy Spirit is available to inform redeemed individuals on right and wrong – the letter of the law is no longer that which justifies one before God, but instead the nature of one’s heart.

The poor fellow’s is broken. Instead of working toward cleansing himself of whatever it is that makes him so obnoxious and self-righteous (and, according to his wife, whose opinion matters, abusive), he has mounted a very high horse in an attempt to vindicate himself. This seems like one who has never been wrong. He’s saved by grace, because the construct fits him, but he’s the sort who never really needed it. How dare his wife leave him! She’s NOT ALLOWED! And moreover, she’s a sinner for trying, and the church, in condoning this, is wrong.

Forget the Bible extracts and woeful Jesus-speak in his posts. There’s more to it than knowing the words and concocting an unassailable Biblical position. You also, you know sometimes at least, need to love. There ain’t none of that in making a whitehouse.com type website to sham a church. It’s downright childish – preaching one’s spiritual defense from such a pitiful pulpit is not what the Bible means when it says we should take care of our problems in house so as to not shame Christ’s name among non-Christians.

The church, rightly I think, decided that it should preemptively send a letter to the entire congregation, informing us of this shadow site and pointing people to the correct one. The church informed us of the proceedings and invited us to pray for a peaceful resolution. The church, unsurprisingly, took the high ground.

There are few people who would take this fellows side here. Most modern people have little sympathy for those who are abusive to their spouses. Most nominal Christians have no particular problems with divorce. Most evangelical Christians recognize that in cases of abuse, physical or emotional, it is not sinful to escape that situation. The only people who would fall on his side here are those who are otherwise radicalized or jilted. I expect to see him show his truer colors some day. You can tell a tree by its fruit. Who will vindicate him then?

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Most non-Christian or mainline folk probably don’t know how many churches reach out to young folk these days, but thanks to someone for making this and thanks to Jason for passing it along. And thanks to Jen K for reminding me to watch it.

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Celibate Celebrity

A few months back, a popular Catholic priest, Alberto Cutie, was photographed with a woman. A few days ago, unable to regain his footing in the Catholic church, he chose to switch to the Episcopalian church. I think this warrants a list.

1) It remains beyond me as to where the Catholics get this celibacy thing from. The Bible is explicit on the topic – over and against the Catholic stance. The celibacy of clergy is a human institution, made by human hands, as a form of legalism. It is a form of cosmic Bible abuse to yank priestly vows of celibacy from the Bible.

2) That said, Rev Cutie did promise his boss he’d be celibate, and for this reason he should be disqualified from his Catholic leadership position until he repents of it. A couple things on that:
a) If they don’t give him the opportunity to repent of it, then they are sorely missing the point of the Gospel.
b) While breaking a silly celibate vow is probably technically a sin, somehow lost in all this is that Cutie is actually committing an indisputable sin against the law of God. He is a fornicator, as he is not married to this woman. This should disqualify him from service to ANY church, lest he, again, repudiate his sin. Those who unabashedly and unapologetically flout the law of God shouldn’t be in positions of authority – those who humbly submit to the law of God, even if they have broken it previously, are perfect for positions of authority. His past sin should not disqualify him for future service, so long as he recognizes it.

3) The Catholic stance on the validity of Cutie’s mass reeks of Donatism, a heresy they denounced 1600 years ago. It is not Cutie mass, even the Catholics would recognize that it is Cutie instituting Christ’s mass. If only perfect vessels could implement God’s plans, no one would be able to stand behind a pulpit. For their archbishop to suggest that his masses are invalid is yet again, missing the point.

4) The Episcopal Church never ceases to amaze me (excluding the African branch, but that’s another story – a good story that amazes me in the opposite direction). They are very accepting, which is nice. They don’t care about his sin, or the Bible’s version of sin in general, which is a problem. They don’t really seem to care about rectifying it. They don’t really seem to care about anything…except the publicity that a high profile priest gives to their floundering churches! I’m sure his flash in their pan will lead to increased interest, especially temporarily. I just hope that once people get in the door, they learn something about a holy God that offers fallen humans an opportunity to sanctify their souls through the cleansing of their sins, not the ignoring of them.

5) The Catholic archbishop’s comment about this hurting the ecumenical process is nothing more than political posturing. It’s shameful. They’re fighting over weekly monetary inputs – worried that money will follow people to Cutie – which is precisely what the Episcopals are banking on.

Not all publicity is good publicity, thank you very much.

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I can’t remember who pointed me toward Heresies and How to Avoid Them, but whatever the case, I’m reading it now. Right belief is important – why is it important? Because the truth about God is bigger than any fiction.

Take the ancient heresy of Theopascitism, which has been reinvigorated in various forms over the last century. This heresy states that the divine nature of Jesus suffers on the cross. While it is certain that Jesus the person suffers because of his full humanity, to suggest that the divine nature in him suffers makes him changeable, and God is immutable, unchanging. It’s a subtle Christological point, with important ramifications on the divine nature.

God’s changelessness needs to be understood not as a monotonous or loveless fixity, but as a burning, inexhaustible, unwavering, loving determination. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, God is said to possess “apatheia”, which does not mean apathy or insensitivity or indifference. Rather, it means that God has the freedom to act in a truly “dispassionate” way, seeing clearly and acting voluntarily, unclouded by storms of passion, because nothing can divert his loving nature from being itself. Perhaps it would help to say that God is dispassionate, but not unpassionate. His love is an action, not a reaction, and of course it includes what we would call passion (that is, “strong feeling, emotion”), but it is not determined by emotion; it is determined by his entire, steadfast, loving nature, of which “emotion” is a part.

That’s good to remember when I am apt to visualize God being as vindictive as I am.

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Sing Me A Song

If you want to write contemporary Christian music, these words are all you need.

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While the standard issue retreat ended up not happening, I did some background research on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians over the last 8 or 10 months.

Here is the resulting outline. You’ll notice it’s mostly just a book report of Hoehner’s Ephesians commentary – he was the most recent of the commentaries that I referenced, and leaned heavily on my other sources – I figured his distilling of their arguments was sufficient.

Anyway, let me know if you need anything else on the book, before I forget it.

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The Dudek Way

Unbeknownst to me, former Kubemate Karl knows of the existence of this website. When he told me that he wanted to ask me something about the site a few days ago, I was apprehensive – after all, most times that comes up it’s because I’ve insulted someone gravely. Thankfully, that was not the case, this time at least.

A few weeks ago, Karl’s father passed way. Karl, though not much older than me, is one of the youngest (if not the youngest, I don’t remember) of many children and his father lived a long, full life. Karl had wanted me to post his eulogy if I found it to be appropriate. I have never met Karl’s father, but I have met Karl – the apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree. It is my privilege to post Karl’s memories.

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First, you have Pope Benedict affirming sola fide, by “faith alone”. Now you have him pulling back on his claims of infallibility, hinting that only google is infallible. Well, shoot, we’re a bucketful of rosaries and a few dozen outlandish doctrines on the Virgin Mary away from some sort of meaningful reconcilliation!

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Justice and The Gospels

Without delving too deeply into the actual content of an NT Wright lecture that Jen’s house church was investigating tonight, I want to focus on a conclusion that he drew from it. The discussion focused on the last three minutes of the lecture. There was some balance of justice, beauty and evangelism, according to Wright. I think that the discussion was rightly interpreting him as implying that justice+beauty leads to evangelism, where “justice” here was social justice.

Unfortunately, there’s something missing.

This concept is what could be called the “Social Gospel”. Apply Christian concepts to world problems both from a practical (justice) and creative (beauty) starting point and you have a powerful form of evangelism. May I say that this is absolutely wonderful. There is nothing wrong with this, just as long as the social gospel always remains subservient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would rejigger that equation to capture things in a more theologically tenable way. Justice+mercy leads to evangelism. The discussion kept saying that we should bring justice to people. This is a next to impossible concept to define. For instance, is free food = justice? Is democracy = justice? Perhaps religious freedom = justice? A house and donkey = justice? The internet and railroads = justice? Whose version of social welfare is the universal social welfare? How do we impose justice without falling into the same “white man’s burden” sins of the 19th century? What is “social justice” in a universal sense?

What we can say is universal is God’s justice, and trust me, we don’t want that. For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son – to give eternal life – because the world stands condemned already. God’s justice is the punishment of our sins. Every single one of us. It is the substitutionary atonement that provides a solution, it is God’s mercy that is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His justice was fulfilled – just not on us – though the good news of the Gospel tells us that God’s mercy has allowed for Christ’s righteousness to be imputed onto us just as our sins were transferred into his sacrifice once for all offering.

The idea of justice is central to the Gospel, but it is not the justice that we spread to the world. It is the justice that we deserve coupled with the mercy that we freely receive that fuels evangelism. Wright made this point in his lecture too – he spent a goodly chunk of time discussing the very real brokenness of the world and our need to confront it. But then, at the end of the lecture, he shifts away from the Gospel of Jesus into a social gospel. He did it to make his over-arching point – what we do now in the world matters. But make no mistake – that is not and will never be the Gospel, and nor is the social gospel what is to be evangelized.

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Hey Mr Wilson!

My man Trevin Wax has led me to green pastures once again. I had never heard of Douglas Wilson, but NT Wright is so compelling in his arguments that I need an intelligent, informed counter-balance. I know that I am easily impressed by erudition, and some questions are too important to accept the answers without knowing the whole story. Wax linked to Douglas Wilson, a reformed theologian reviewing Wright’s new book on Justification – itself a rebuttal to John Piper’s attack on Wright’s position previously declared earlier this decade. Got that?

Anyway, Wilson is in the middle of an informative review (see here and so on). Like most theologians of worth their weight in salt, Wilson likes a lot of what Wright says. Wright really is a dynamic thinker – he already has and will continue to revolutionize the field. That said, you can’t just give him a blank check. He has leanings, he has agendas, and he’s just a little more silver-tongued than he needs to be. I, as a result, like him, because I’m about 40% more silver-tongued than he is, only about 1/100th as informed. I recognize my own.

Wilson gives an expert answer to one of Wright’s patronizing parables – I never heard of this Wilson fellow before, but if I ever move to Idaho, I’ll be looking him up.

He then puts into easily understood terms how he views Wright – and I am totally on board with this based on what I’ve read:

“Wright is like a wonderful three-point shooter in American basketball, but one who can’t be troubled to find out who is wearing what uniform, or which team is supposed to be going in what direction, so when he takes to the floor, he scores a dazzling series of points — sixteen for the home team, and twenty-four for the visitors. One can be simultaneously impressed and wish that he would just stop it.”

He goes on to make another fun point:

“And now to Wright’s main point, a glorious one, and again misapplied. Two quotes will suffice.

‘Paul does indeed think of history as a continuous line, and of God’s purpose in history sweeping forwards unbroken from Abraham to Jesus and on through himself and his work, in the mission of the church’ (p. 18).

It is central to Paul, but almost entirely ignored in perspectives old, new and otherwise, that God had a single plan all along through which he intended to rescue the world and the human race, and that this single plan was centered upon the call of Israel, a call which Paul saw coming to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah‘ (pp. 18-19, emphasis his).

This is great stuff, but it is hardly Columbus planting the flag on a virgin continent. Find me one word in that summary that would not bring forth a chorus of amens from B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards, or any Reformed stalwart between the years, say, 1550 and 1900.

Take that phrase ‘almost entirely ignored’ and hold it up to the light in wonderment. So where did I obtain the tall stack of books that I read that persuaded me of this view long before I had ever heard of N.T. Wright? Wright really needs to get out more, and stop acting like he has discovered things that many Christians have known and taught over the course of generations.”

He attributes Wright’s assertion of novelty in thought to the fact that Wright is an Anglican – not exactly a hotbed of Biblical teaching. “If you are treated like a green space alien for years, it is perhaps excusable to begin thinking you are one.” I’m positively giddy – someone just as clever as Wright, looking at him in a new perspective, as it were.

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Laundry List

I have a sizable handful of posts built up dealing with the post-modern “church”, the anti-tradition/establishment movement and the vague wishy-wash that is my generation, both religiously and in general. As of yet, I don’t have a full enough perspective to write on it for any real purpose – purposeless polemics present as little more than sour grapes…though I can’t see what, exactly, I’d be sour about anything. It comes down to not everything old is bad, not everything new is superior, and for crying out tears quit conforming my church to a world that stubs its toe with every drunken lurch into the dark! Sigh.

Anyway, my new favorite blogger, Trevin Wax (to whom I owe a great deal – he’s done more to help me understand the New Perspective debates than anyone) is currently reviewing two opposing books. Today’s was The Next Reformation. Tomorrow’s will be Above All Earthly Pow’rs. I’ll be honest, I didn’t finish the latter (or start the former), despite roommate Justin’s glowing review. Apparently I crapped out on it right before it got good. Who knew! I didn’t know where he was going and got sufficiently annoyed at post-modern thought that I didn’t even care about how he hoped to address it. As it turns out, I would have agreed with him.

As for Raschke’s defense of the post-modern church, I point to a brilliant comment by “Trogdor”:
Man, I love this line of reasoning! Problem: the church has been compromised by embracing the godless, secular, anti-Christian philosophy of modernism. Solution: the church must embrace the godless, secular, anti-Christian philosophy of postmodernism. Can’t ever get tired of hearing that.

And he’s absolutely right. I’ll deal with this more in the future, once I know why I want to write about it so badly. Until then I’ll keep my trap shut.

I shouldn’t discount the premises as completely out of hand. There is something to be said to investigating the Gospels in a relational way – something very good to be said about it even. That said, there is no reason to disregard the framework of truth derived from reading the Bible as a cohesive whole – the Old Testament provides a foundation, the Gospel a narrative, the Epistles and so on a theological framework marrying the entire work. To focus on only the narrative while disregarding the old foundations that makes Christianity a distinct entity is very dangerous – and you can see the ramifications of that in the church today.

Addendum 2
Here’s the review on Above All Earthly Pow’rs. I’ll probably link to his commentary over the next few days as well.

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A few weeks ago, I added a religious blog, that belonging to Southern Baptist pastor Trevin Wax, to my daily reading. He has been very informative in my ongoing study of the debate between NT Wright – who is a cross between Luther and Marcion – and the orthodox reformers (Piper, Carson, etc) and at least three times a week posts something informative.

Today, it’s a book review. The Fall of the Evangelical Nation is a blunt attack on the modern evangelical church. The “evangelicals”, as labeled by the media, are the modern day boogie-man, here to spy out your freedoms with their enormous lobbying clout. While few of my standard issue friends actually know any evangelicals (other than, by some loose definition, me), they know that these pesky evangelicals have been dictating public policy since the Reagan years, and damnit, it’s time to move out of the stone age people, they whisper, looking over their shoulder hoping no mob of evangelicals is around to slay them in the Spirit.

I hope it’s not much of a shock that according to this book, the evangelical megachurch is a dying breed. She comes to a conclusion that I disagree with wholeheartedly. For me, the reasons of this statistical failure are different, though the results be the same. Hamstrung by its own free-form anti-theological/liturgical wishy-wash, many churches are finding that they are better at bringing out questions than providing answers. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard how someone feels like they should do something while not having the theological framework to understand what or why, I’d be a rich man. As mentioned in the review of the book, this is something that the Willow Creek people know, but something they don’t know how to fix…and these megalithic warehouses are withering in place, like a seed in rocky soil under a hot sun.

It’s a fine line. For instance, by many definitions, I am an evangelical. I, for instance, subscribe to the Evangelical Manifesto – by the way, “manifesto” is a scary word, isn’t it? The book seems to define it differently though, focusing more on the supposedly independent or non-denominational denominations. I call them that because there is a non-denominational culture and pseudo-orthodoxy. Just because they don’t write it down, officially, doesn’t mean that it is not a distinctive entity – this is why non-denominational churches always talk about who planted them: that is their denomination. In many cases, the cultural norms of such churches, without much historical or theological foundational background, can ebb and flow in such a way that it is hard for an evangelical to know what, exactly, it is that they stand for. It changes from one flash in the pan initiative to the next.

While I have issues with the concept of such churches, I have few, if any, issues with the people. These are good churches, latently Biblical (though without any real understanding of how exactly they are biblical – which lens is used to view the Bible?), full of great people, many of whom do, or would like to do, a lot of good. And yet this book contends, rightly as you know if you listen to your gut, that they are failing. How do you take a bunch of good things, right things, true things, mix them together and end up with a failed concept? It’s not the things fault. It’s the model’s fault.

I’m not going to harp on this as long as I had originally planned to, but the single most egregious fault of non-denominational churches, in my mind, is their unrelenting commitment to demographic segregation. The young people don’t associate with the old people. In many cases, there are no old people! So, you have no firm theological roots, and no real cultural ones either? Old people serve a purpose! They ground you in reality, through experience. And some churches hide away the disillusioned, wishy-washy, directionless youth away from the very people who have the life experience to help them know where they are going and why! It’s absurd, and it is doomed to continued disillusion and eventual failure. No age, race, sex demographic should be isolated away from the others – you can have a nice little segregated community, but you can’t have a Christian community, a real one as it’s supposed to be, when you do that.

This points toward a few of the other problems. There is little theological basis, and often times not much interest in developing one. In fact, there is an implicit revulsion to developing an understanding of theological orthodoxy, as though it would somehow enslave people to an ideal other than the free-form Spirit led life. People are thirsting for truth, but sometimes the churches are focusing more on spirituality and personal comfort. There is little distinctiveness, little difference between Christian society and the world at large. The prosperity gospel, for instance, embraces the same things the world does – and is impacted by recessions as heavily as investment banks. The world dictates the cultural norms of foundationless churches. I could go on for a while. It is not surprising that this trend is faltering – it is a broken system.

That said, the Christian church, at large, isn’t going anywhere. This has happened in the past, this will happen again in the future – and it keeps going, and it keeps going, and it keeps going till the day it stops. With each new iteration, important lessons are learned, but important lessons are also forgotten, assumed unnecessary. What we are finding now is that tradition is not bad. Roots are not wrong. They fix you by the spring of God’s love and truth, they don’t imprison you or restrict your spiritual freedom. The Spirit is bound – it’s bound by the truth, it’s bound by God’s character; who says we should be willy-nilly free-form? Time will tell. If you care to look at history, time has already told in the past. And those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

I should clarify up front. It is possible for grass root type churches to NOT have the sort of problems that will eventually lead to their demise. New denominations are still possible today. We are not frozen in time with what we have. Always reforming, as they say. For whatever it’s worth, in the coming weeks I have two book reports that are going to explain arguments against standard reformed theology, as is espoused by the PCA. I am sympathetic to the New Perspectives on Paul (some of them)/NT Wright people, and think that this is the great theological debate of our time. Should it be ignored, with tradition holding serve just because it has roots in the past? Not at all. Just know what and why and how, and you’ve got potential as a church.

Addendum 2
The author, Christine Wicker, has responded to Wax’s review in the comments – an informative and interesting discussion has ensued. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

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I have in the past had discussions with people regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of short-term missions work. The question boils down to, Is it useful to go on/support short term missions trips?

For some types, the benefit is not debatable. Whenever a mission provides a skill set not present where it is being brought to, the indigenous population benefits. Medical missions come immediately to mind – if you have a medical skill that is in short supply somewhere, it is clearly advantageous to use it.

When it comes to budgeting in general, there are recurring and non-recurring costs. The problem with short term trips is that the non-recurring costs, those needed once and spent up front, dominate the total monetary pool. For instance, if I’m going to fly to Cameroon, it will cost me more to fly there than the average per capita yearly income of someone living there. If I’m going to be doing something that no one there does, more power to me, money well spent. However, if I am going to fumble my way through digging a well, perhaps 10 locals could get a months worth of income from my plane tickets? Another 5 from my living expenses while I’m there? Is my presence worth more than 15 employed natives?

There is an interesting article that gives an even handed approach to answering this question by a fellow named Trevor Wax. He brings up a good point – for instance, many short term missionaries end up becoming long term missionaries…which is where the real power comes in. Long term missions are qualitatively different, as they are part of a community, not just interlopers. Also some churches are, through consistent short term missions to the same place, able to garner cultural currency at that location, and greatly ease the burden of supporting short term missionaries.

I guess it comes down to one thing: who are short term missions trips for? You hear about how much the missionary’s life was changed by going – this is the sort of transformation that apparently leads to the development of long-term missionaries. If it is for the missionary, perhaps short-term missions really represent a sort of reality based, hands on, tourism. The money supports the local economy in the same way that a vacation might. The more I think about it, the less I think there’s anything wrong with that.

So I’ve come full circle. You get a couple weeks of human interaction, you get to experience a culture at a grass roots level, you discover the world in a new light, and maybe even some other people get a different impression of Americans or Christians. It might be able to be distilled to a simple question with a complicated answer:
Who is this for? If the answer is God, how is this for God? If the answer is the people, is it effective for the people? If the answer is you, well, I guess knowing that beforehand will help you know what to look for. The reality probably comes in some combination of the three.

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Meet The Parents

Before anyone starts putting two and two together here, I swear this particular thought has no real life motivation – I rediscovered it two weeks ago. Seriously.

I have, in the past, been frustrated by Christians who refused to read the Old Testament, considering it to be too esoteric or at least partially obsoleted. First off, it’s not obsolete, not a single jot or tittle. Second, think of it this way. It’s like you’re going to marry someone (you know, because you are! What I’m speaking about here is Christ and the church). If you really do love that person…aren’t you interested in meeting the family? Don’t you want to see where that person came from? Don’t you want to know what he or she is all about? You’re making a supposedly big commitment, aren’t you interested in learning about his or her character as much as you can? I mean, if you’re really making a commitment to the Creator of the Cosmos…shouldn’t you be at least a little curious about what he’s like? His name is YHWH – “I Am” – after all. I feel like that should at least induce the question, “I Am…what?”

This is what the Old Testament is. It’s an intro to God. It’s a collection of events that connect God to man – how have God’s other relationships worked out? It tells you what he values; what he loves and what he hates. It catalogs his conversations with others, it explains his views on the future, and this time of year it provides the reason for the season.

Without it, you are a ship without a rudder, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, susceptible to all varieties of half truths and subtle deception. It seems like a healthy relationship should not only plan for the future while rejoicing in the present, but should also be rooted in the reality of the past.

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No, Virginia

People have a tendency to create for themselves idols, whittled from their own imaginations, and then worship them. Some are innocuous – for instance, the Spirit of Christmas, embodied in Santa Claus, has driven his sled team further and further from the Spirit of God. It’s hard to de-Christ Christmas, but ho ho ho, Santa leads our impressionable youth toward materialism with the same surety that Camel Joe led them toward cigarettes two decades before.

But we don’t stop there. The same humankind that would slaughter 5 million of an ethnic minority would try to pass their self-created wisdom to the rest of us as some fine treasure. Frankly, I don’t believe that the idols of our carving are particularly worthy of our laud and honor. They are subservient to their master, and we, at our root, are not a reliable source of good. Let he who has eyes see the world around him.

So no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Nor, unfortunately, are we gods unto ourselves. We neither mold reality nor create it. Our consciousness carries no collective or individual divinity worth emulating. Our universe is not unique to our subjective interpretation of it – it exists external to us whether we like it or not – after all, it did long before we were born and will long after we die.

God IS who he is, not who we make him. We, on Christmas and on every other day of the year, are not sovereign, and no amount of meditation or harmony with some universe cast from our own corrupt mold will bring us any enlightenment. The best we can do is master a game of our creation; the get out of jail free card only works in Monopoly – real life is unconcerned.

The answer is not to look within us for answers. At our core, we share the same fallen soul as the rest of mankind. One doesn’t polish manure in search of shiny gold.

Ignore the world around you for the millionth time that I say this – we are not perfect, and close examination of those around us will show that they aren’t either. If you want to get some self-help, if you want to be empowered and enlightened, you should not look toward a fellow drunk, stumbling in the dark.

I take a priori the Bible to be true. I know, for instance, that the reality, external to me and out of my direct control, attests to its accuracy. It would tell me that we are indeed corrupt by nature. It would tell me that all of creation groans in anticipation of its final redemption. It proclaims from the wilderness: Make straight your paths, for you will be judged for the corruption in your soul. It tells me I stand condemned.

But today it tells me something else. From a stable, nestled amongst literal manure, our Savior was born – not to polish these soiled souls but to replace them. This same Bible would claim Jesus to be that perfect man, the one who should, and did, write a self-help book, backed by the authority of a sinless life and intrinsic deity to boot. No, you cannot make a dead man live. Yes, he can. It is to him who you should turn, it is he who can not only give you a realistic outlook and a legitimate hope, but a new soul, clean, and pure.

Make no mistake. The idols of our creation, be they manifested in materialism or vague spirituality, are paths that leave us unclean and still condemned. There is only one self-help book that can sooth the soul and only one guru whose wisdom carries any weight beyond your eternal grave. Choose your teacher wisely.

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In one of the least shocking editorials I’ve read recently, liberals are less charitable than conservatives. No matter how you try to flavor the numbers, they keep coming out showing the same things. One technique to try to explain it away was to attempt to say that many of those donations go to the church’s facade. A few things on that…
1) A huge percentage of church donations are re-donated to church supported ministries both here and abroad, and not to infrastructure or staffing. It’s nice to go to a church that votes on the budget – we are very transparent with this.
2) Even the staffing has a social benefit – who else is going to employ religion people?!
3) From my experience, the most image conscious church that I’ve ever been to was a black baptist church, and I’m not alone in that experience. It’s not as big a problem as I thought when I first got there. Culturally, the church becomes a symbol of the best the community has to offer. The pastor drive a Mercedes, despite the fact that they parishioners sometimes don’t have cars at all – they take pride in the fact that one of their own can look successful when discussing community issues with political figures. This was explained to me that the woman that gave me a ride to church, it’s not one of those opinions that I made up on my own (then sell as fact). Point being? Check the last election results to see where THOSE church contributions skew – what percentage of black church-goers are liberal? If you remove all church contributions and assume they’re from conservatives, you’re not just pulling money out of conservative coiffures.
4) Modern mega-churches, the supposedly socially enlightened branch of Christianity, are the most egregious over-spenders among the predominantly white evangelical community. My old church had a 40 foot high Easter set last time I was there. They have smoke and lights and 15 foot screens with dual projectors – they do a lot of good, but they are image conscious because they think that’s what they need to be to resonate with the world at large to spread the gospel. Don’t get me started, the concept makes me irate. Regardless, young people flock to these churches, and young people skew liberal, statistically at least.
5) I’d like to see where the correlation was stronger, between political affiliation or among religious affiliation. I’d be willing to bet a testicle that the conservative/liberal correlation is a secondary cause – driven by the percentages of Christians who are conservative versus liberal. Disentangle it by splitting between Christian and non-Christian groups, then pairwise compare those two sets. I bet that the disparity is much less intra-Christian and intra-non-Christian. It is the delta between Christians and non-Christians that drives that statistic, not the one between conservative and liberal.
6) If I’m wrong in the previous point, then one could only really come to one conclusion. Liberals want social welfare, but want someone else to do it. What might surprise you is that I don’t think that’s true, I think this is just a poorly designed survery.

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There is more than one way to miss the point of Christmas. Starting at its worst manifestation, Christmas is about us. It is about what we receive, and about the feeling we get when we give – it is a glorified Valentine’s Day, a holiday created to celebrate business’s ability to market wares to shallow people.

At some level, it steps up and becomes about family. It’s not so much about an individual “us” but a collective one, a community.

Saturnalia would accomplish those ends just as easily as Christmas. The next step is the big leap – Christmas becomes about Christ.

But I want to go one step further down that line of thinking. It is more than about Christ. It is about the birth of Christ.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

The King of the Universe, laid low in a manger. The Lord of all Creation, weak and feeble, frail and helpless. Christmas strips Christianity of any haughty theological constructs. It is a baby.

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

The Mighty King who is can’t keep his head up straight. The Prince of Peace spits up on himself. Lord of the Sabbath, but he soils himself.

He cries dramatically for attention. He learns to walk. He smiles, he giggles, he laughs, he calls his mother “Mama”, he stares at bugs, he causes mischief with his little brother, he runs after a butterfly, he bounces a ball against a wall, he watches his father leave for work, he learns from the Torah, he hammers his first nail – with the same hand that would one day receive them.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Jesus, before he was called The Christ, was Jesus, son of Mary, son of Joseph. A fragile baby boy grew up strong, a real live person, not much different than your son or your cousin or your fake nephew. A fragile baby boy who became a young man, a real one; blood ran through his veins, air flowed through his lungs.

Christmas time is a time to reflect not only upon the heralding of a king. You reflect upon the birth of a king, in humble estate, helpless and pure, Savior of mankind. It is a fragile dawn, a feeble sun glistening its first rays on the hilltop, chasing away the dark, melting the frost, thawing our hearts.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

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Then What?

In recent discussions, I’ve made a point that certain issues have become disproportionately emphasized in the modern church.

During a supernova event, if you’ll bear with me for a minute, the energy output from the one star undergoing supernova can briefly surpass the output of the entire remainder of the galaxy, dozens to hundreds of billions of stars. It seems like the church has been playing theological whack-a-mole with countless explosions so often these days, that the huge mass of Biblical thought has been marginalized by comparison.

We are reactionary. Like a basketball team that changes its style of play to match that of the opponent. Dallas Mavericks against Golden State Warriors in the playoffs two years ago, for instance. The Mavs were the better team…until they let the Warriors dictate the rules of engagement. When you have the God of the Universe roaming the paint, why is it that you’d start trying to play small ball against some pesky relativists? Sometimes you need to stick to your game. There’s a give and take, but today I’m oversimplifying on one side.

So, then. Lets say you’re a Christian. Someone asks you what the Bible is all about. The answer is not “abortion, feeding the poor, gay rights, stoning temple prostitutes, turning the other cheek, no sex before marriage, what else…did I mention abortion?” Then what IS it about?

Here’s my crack at it.

It all starts with a perfect, all powerful, eternal God who makes mankind in his image, inherently good.

Within a blink of a cosmological eye, mankind falls from this lofty perch and takes up metaphorical arms in rebellion against God. Under the figurative headship of the first fallen man, Adam, we served our new master, Sin.

For millennia, God laid the groundwork for his final solution for sin. The Law was given to restrain evil and allow for civilization to flourish. The Temple system was created to underscore the seriousness of sin, the holiness of God, and to introduce the concept of death as an atonement for our shortfalls. Israel itself, as a political/religious entity, existed to typify God’s redemptive relationship with mankind. The patriarchs came to be types and shadows, pointing to traits and ideas which would be encapsulated in one place later. The prophets were sent to speak on God’s behalf, revealing his character and will. Their prophecies pointed to the proximate and ultimate solutions for our problems with sin. Throughout, countless insights into the universe and into ourselves were provided. Wisdom was revealed, but man lived blind in the darkness of his own soul, seeing merely pinpricks of light piercing the veil that separated him from God.

When the time was right, God was born as fully human among us in the person of Jesus, the Christ, Messiah. Promised by the prophets, this Messiah would deliver Israel from her exile and return her to God’s love. It didn’t happen as expected. Jesus led no insurrection. He shed no blood, save his own and that for our salvation. After redefining the symbology of the Old Testament and explaining the holy scriptures in light of a new covenant, Jesus laid down his life, as a substitutionary atonement for our sins.

The law restrained evil and we broke it. The sin was serious, God is too holy, and death is the punishment. Jesus revealed the character of God spoken by the prophets and embodied the types established by the patriarchs. He was the culmination of the entirety of human history. And then he died in our place.

When he rose again, he did so having beheaded our sin nature, obsoleting Adam as our representative agent before God. Under Christ’s banner, we are made wholly acceptable before God. Through God’s Holy Spirit, we are enabled to take off the old man and put on the new. We are already saved, but not yet perfected. From the time of Paul to the time of me, we remain in this “already but not yet” tension. One day, when we least expect it and in a manner that we cannot predict, this will come to an end. The old universe will pass away and God, having given every opportunity to gather his people under his protective wing, will create a new heaven and a new earth, where we, for all of eternity, will live in the light of his presence. Or, on the other side of the coin, where many, for all of eternity, will live in the darkness of his absence – with the line of demarcation having been painted by the blood of our sacrificial lamb.

The human role in this story has always come down to, in its most basic form, a simple either/or. Either you are for God, or you are against him. Otherwise stated, either you have been accepted by God, or you have denied him. Equivalently, you have accepted Christ’s free atonement for your sins, or you remain dead in sin.

It is that simple. It is infinitely more complex. Childlike or otherwise, it comes down to a regenerative faith.

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You can always count on the Mormons to do silly religious things bolstered by flimsy theological reasoning. One of my favorites if the posthumous baptism of non-Mormons.

I can relate to the Jews discontent here. I was once informed by a friend who liked me that she would be praying that my heart would be adjusted to consider the possibility of being romantically involved with her as well. I was like, “wait a second, don’t you get God involved with this! I don’t want to like you! Stop!” It irked me. I suppose there was nothing wrong with it, I was just afraid that God would listen and I’d have to do something I didn’t want to do. I further suppose that I wouldn’t have considered this to be a problem if He did make some heart change to facilitate my affections, but it bothered me nonetheless. Sovereignty, free will, self-determination, the power of prayer…it’s a tacky situation.

Meanwhile, I refer back to Gamaliel’s advice as recorded in Acts. If God is for this sort of thing, you don’t want to be against it. If he’s against it, you don’t care because it’ll go away on its own. As an aside, there is a lot to be learned from Second-Temple Jewish wisdom, it is the backdrop against which Christianity grew, and tremendously influential on the thought patterns of people like Paul…who incidentally learned under Gamaliel prior to his conversion.

So the Mormons baptize dead people, presumably to bump them somewhere in their heaven hierarchy. This goes against both flavors of Christian salvation theology. It is neither an acceptance of God via free will, nor a predestined regeneration via election. It doesn’t require faith in anything, let alone saving faith in Christ. Mormonism is a submarine with a bunch of screen doors haphazardly drilled in the hull. Unfortunately, there’s no back door into heaven. Even if there were, baptism is not prerequisite for salvation either. It’s another one of those times when you visualize God wringing his hands up in heaven “drats, if only she’d found a baptismal fount before she died I’d totally let her in! Well, what a shame. Hell fire it is…”

By the way, as another aside, I still get hits every 6 months which include searches for “Hanna”, “Jews”, “Judaism”, and so on. I appreciate someone’s diligence. You’re fighting the good fight, even if nobody on this end ever realized there was a battle to be fought.

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On Marriage

First off, I like the headline for this article. “Church tells ‘obvious lies’ about gay marriage.” You’d think that maybe they’d give you an example…but no such luck. I’m interest in what “lies” were promulgated, but I suspect it was just an out of context quote that could have otherwise been recorded “I’m mad, and I’m going to make an accusation without having anything to back it up, because when you’re mad you’re allowed to do that.”

I’ve said this before. I don’t care much about gay marriage. I think that churches should have the right to decide whether they, in particular, marry gay people. They should adjudicate that decision based on what they value, for instance, the Bible. I’m not a huge fan of extending any ban beyond the church’s jurisdiction, as I really don’t see the point. Unlike abortion, which is much grayer, if not turning black, there is no victum in this instance. Legalizing gay marriage is like legalizing cocaine for drug addicts – knock yourselves out, it’s your life, I don’t much care.

That said, I find it hard to see how the church can desire to make gay marriage illegal while making divorce legal. The Bible is exponentially more clear on divorce than it is on gay marriage, which, of course, wasn’t even a concept in ancient times. You had gay mistresses (or whatever the word would be, concubines maybe) back then. So, why crack down on gay marriage and not heterosexual divorce? Because it’s a hell of a lot easier to condemn sins that you’re not entangled in than it is to condemn those that you also struggle with. We pick our fights based on whatever moral high ground we can hold on to, since we, Christian collectively, fail hypocritically on all of the useful sins. Perhaps our war should be directed against our own rebel hearts – there are battles aplenty to be waged there without going out in search of some foreign field.

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Despite how hilarious his pictures are, I generally find myself in agreement with Roland Martin on many topics, especially politics. I don’t know what his political affiliation is. I also tend to agree with Glenn Beck, and I think he’s a republican. One can only assume Roland is not a republican. He argues his points well, and I respect that, whatever his affiliation may be.

Anyway, he thinks he’s biting off a religious debate when he pronounces boycott against some big Christian store. The issue is females in the pulpit. This is one of those things that I don’t care about nearly as much as most conservative Christians think I should. Not my preference, I think that the Bible is generally opposed to it, and I’m not sure why systematic patriarchy is a bad thing – just like I’m pretty well convinced it’s OK for guys to lift heavy objects. I don’t want to argue about that. I don’t care. Really, just barely.

I also don’t think it’s relevant. If a bookstore or a bookstore doesn’t agree with the content of some magazine, then they have the right to not carry it. Why is this a problem? It’s not stifling freedom of expression. You can buy it somewhere else. It is their right to run their business in whatever way they see fit.

Maybe they’ll learn that this is a poor financial decision. Who knows. It’s not a religious debate here, nor is it about Roland’s wife’s sour grapes.

By the way, the media propoganda machine has turned me against the republican party when it comes to the economy. I don’t even have TV now. Damn republicans, always screwing up the economy. I don’t want CEOs to get $10 million either. Don’t think it’s a statistically significant number when compared to the amount in the bailout plan, but I don’t see why anyone needs $10 million. Of course, like I said, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

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Take the Bad With the Good

It all seems like a big, haphazard mess sometimes. Juxtaposition has been the theme of the past few days for me. There’s a big wedding coming up. But then there’s the new husband, maimed for life in a crash, his wife obliterated by how tenuous their life together has become. There’s dinner, but then there’s the hospital. There’s a new baby, but as a salve to the six miscarriages previous.

We don’t learn lessons easily. Perhaps that’s why these lessons don’t involve speeding tickets. They don’t involve detention after school, or a failing semester, or a defaulting on a business pursuit. There are victims – lives shattered – and for what? Had I robbed a man, I would justly go to jail. Whose sin caused the car to crash? Whose actions required the lives of a half-dozen unborn babies for restitution?

The answer is simultaneously all of ours and none of ours. It is because of our condition that there is evil in this word. It is a broken world, full of broken, hurting people. It is a dark world – pierced by a beacon of light, a city on a hill. There are plans at work that defy our ability to understand them.

The girl whose husband has little more than glimmers of brain function has awoken to an entirely new perspective on the sovereignty of God. The family who has lost the babies has been galvanized by prayer. My natural response is “but at what cost?”

The price is temporal but the purchase springs eternal. Our lives are but the passing of a night, an 80 year night. Pinpricks of light shine through an expanse of sorrow, guiding our paths and giving a taste of the brilliance that will one day dawn. A sunrise with no sunset, the things of this world burned away, our troubles evaporated like the morning dew.

In so many ways, it all boils down to one lesson. God is in control. Morning will come, and we are to be refined as silver is refined, tested like gold is tested. “They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”

Job would say “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” More than that, it is the trouble that sets our minds toward the good. There is no reason for hope where there is no hardship. This is why we learn this lesson over and over again throughout our temporal lives; hope is powerful, especially when that hope involves a faith that God is in control.

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I wrote a few weeks ago about Obama’s former pastor. It’s only fair that I cover Sarah Palin’s as well. I have some familiarity with the Assembly of God (AOG). I respect a few people that go to or used to go to that variety of church. The summer after I went to a black baptist church in Pittsburgh, I went to a pentecostal church in Flagstaff. I have experience in both types of venues, though the leadership of Ebenezer in Pittsburgh was much better than Obama’s church in Chicago.

I disagree with the AOG on several theological points. I believe that they have grossly misunderstood the concept of “tongues”. I am coming to believe that they have an inaccurate understanding of the so called “end times”. My new favorite charge to levy against modern churches is that they are anachronistic, namely, they are applying concepts of our present day to a book from 2000 years ago indiscrimenantly. Jesus meant something specific to his context when he said things, and we have put a layer of our own, uninformed, views into the readings. Paul spoke in a specific cultural climate, and we need to interpret what he says starting from that background, and not from our background. In the end, however, AOG churches are interpreting the Bible, which is a lot better than interpretting nothing in particular. I approve of using the Bible as your source of doctrine, though think they’re reading it through the wrong goggles.

Meanwhile, this specific pastor makes a few claims that I believe are his own views, loosely connected to the Bible for moral support:
1) He states that Palin wouldn’t drill because she’s a Christian. This is an overextension of Genesis, and ignores other parts of Genesis where we’re told to subjugate the natural world (not quite in those terms). My conclusion: The Bible doesn’t offer a clear opinion on pipelines in the Alaskan tundra. And to make a policy statement on her behalf, starting from such shaky biblical foundations, is manipulative and a little unsavory.
2) He underlines God’s sovereignty in dealing with the end times. This is a deft handling of that situation, and is accurate across most denominations. Whatever he really believes about specifics, he nailed that answer.
3) He gave an excellent answer for a summary of the worldview of a typical Christian in his congregation, namely “says God loves people, people can access him and he’s given us wisdom for living”. You can’t argue with that; it will resonate with most Christians.

The Jew-for-Jesus that spoke at her new church is a borderline heretic. Attributing specific disasters to God’s judgment involves divining God’s plan in dangerous ways. The same guy that would say that his grandfather died for God’s touchy-feely glorification somehow can’t willy-nilly decide that people dying when a bulldozer rams a car is judgment. Who winnows such events into those categories? Not this Brickner guy, I know that much.

Palin, meanwhile, is well versed in what I would call “Christian speak”. To “have a heart for XXXXX” is a very common modern Christianism. As someone who does not support legislative morality, I approve of Palin’s view on the difference between private views and public regulations.

Obama’s church background was a big black eye to his campaign. Palin’s shouldn’t be the same.

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I’m almost through with the low hanging fruit. Here are the pictures from Many Glacier and Gable Creek.

And how about it, lets do Glenns Lake too.

Addendum 2
Often times I will jot down notes on a little pad in my night stand right before bed. Sometimes I’ll write down fragments of dreams at 3 in the morning. Mostly it is there to represent the potential that I could write something down if I needed to. Having such a framework in place lends me peace of mind. The idea of thinking of something useful without a pen is roughly as depressing as seeing a picture without a camera.

A few nights ago, I wrote down some notes, having temporarily popped out of some pre-sleep netherworld. They were sort of coherent, though not particularly profound. Theological in nature, I tried to imagine a world where there was no hell, only heaven and Elysia or somesuch – good and neutral, but no bad. The idea of grace, I determined, required a parallel concept of condemnation. Like I said, not particularly earth shattering.

But it did include a pivot quote that I continue to amuse myself with. Sometimes I start with a creative title or a single sentence, then figure our how to fashion a post around it (for instance, here where the title existed a month before I hung any clothes on the line). This time I’m not going to bother with a real post.

As relating to the idea of a neutral/good (with no bad) universe, I scribbled:
Being the only kid without a lollipop is its own scarlet letter.

You can’t have good and neutral, because then neutral must necessarily readjust itself to the role of bad. It’s, like, the yin and the yang, man.

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Building on a foundation begun by Paul, reformed theologians have made much of the biblical distinction between leadership and headship. While there is significant overlap, a leader is what you would normally consider someone in charge, while a head necessarily involves a metaphorical representation of the rest of the body.

Biblically, this is used to describe humankind pre/post regeneration. Previously, we were united under the representative head of Adam, the first man and the originator of sin. Through the Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been purchased/transfered into a new humanity – one under the headship of Jesus. It’s like the captain of the team taking a coin toss, the union head representing the workers at the negotiating table, or, darker, the leader of an insurrection being executed instead of his underlings.

If you want to know about the nature of old humankind, you look to its representative figurehead – Adam. If you want to know about the nature of the new humankid, you look instead to Christ.

Did you see Barak Obama in Europe last week? He was a rock star. When was the last time you saw throngs of Germans that excited? Hasselhoff? Hitler? You’d think there were blond haired, blue eyed Beatles on the stage. This is in contrast with bumbling Bush.

As Americans, the president is our figurehead. In many ways what the president actually does means less than what he represents. Obama could be a hapless general and a moral albatross, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that he’s the wrong man for the job. His eloquence and likability lend an instant, if vacuous, credibility to the American people. In a world where impressions outweigh investigation, perhaps that is enough? Is hope misplaced better than no hope at all?

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Like a good reformed theologian, I subscribe to Table Talk from Ligonier Ministries. I actually signed up for a 3 year subscription. It was very economical, and it isn’t my intention to change appreciably between now and 2 and a half years from now. I also need to compensate for being only 70% reformed, but that’s neither here nor there.

The August issue focuses on Atheism as it manifests itself in the 21st century, discussing the views of Dawkins and his eminently forgettable pop-religious friends. They, of course, present it in a much more respectable manner, then attempt to burst the uber-zoologist/theologian’s bubble by poking at holes in the non-god theory. Hardly something that can be done in a two page article.

They rightly pointed out that the biological approach has no answer for the question “Why are we here?” They present it as a problem in the non-god thesis.

If I’m scoring the debate, I give the evangelicals zero credit for that point. If there is no god, the question “why are we here?” is meaningless. They are under no obligation to provide humankind with an answer for that question, simply because the question implies the conclusion. It’s circular any way you cut it, and not a necessary in a secular discussion.

On one hand, if there is a reason why we are here, then the question makes sense. I can’t conceive of an answer that doesn’t involve a higher power, though I’m open to whatever you have for me. The “why” is either about god, and any generic god will do, or about us. If the answer to the why loops back in on the one asking the question (to love one another, to make mankind better, to blah blah, whatever), then it is entirely circular. Human are here to love one another – uhh, why should we? If there is a reasonable answer to the why, it must somehow involve a god.

An atheist might answer that we are here to perpetuate the species. This is the biological answer to why everything exists – continued survival. But this doesn’t answer the question about why. It discusses the activities, not the causes. I eat and sleep as activities, not as some existential cause for consciousness. They should throw out the question, and ignore the philosophical ramifications – it doesn’t apply to them, and any answer they try to give will be lacking.

In fact, I hope it goes on the next humanist/atheist best seller. “You exist for no reason, but don’t worry, there’s no reason why you should exist for any reason.” I wonder how well that would be embraced by the popular masses? When push comes to shove, people think that things happen for a reason. Even if they don’t say it, they think that THEY exist for a reason. Get rid of religion, and you exist for no reason.

Tell you what. I’ll try to gather the evangelical ranks. We’ll stop rubbing your noses in your lack of answer to that question. In return, when you draft the Ten Commandments of the Modern Atheist, I expect to see “Thou shalt exist for no reason, and be comfortable with the philosophical ramifications.” in bold letters. And I am interested to see what a utopian new humanity looks like with that assumption taken a priori.

Remember: ideas have consequences.

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