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Archive for the ‘Religious’ Category

Two Wrongs

You may have seen the recent stir caused by Obama’s theologically misinformed statements on the Bible. It’s actually more of a “retro stir” as he said these things two years ago, and we dug them up to try to beat him with it now that we think he needs a good political flogging. Nevertheless I can see why James Dobson, the evangelical Christian’s political champion, would call him out on it. Obama’s statements framed the Bible as an unreliable source for moral truths – not a tactic that’s going to earn very many Christian political allies.

By the way, as a digression, doesn’t that picture of Dobson, make you think he’s about to pronounce some self-righteous judgment on your sin? CNN.com is so subtle with their jabs against conservative people – scary evangelical, zoom in on his mouth! Condemnation to follow! Fear him!

Focus on the Family is no Bob Jones University and James Dobson is no Jerry Falwell, but he’s still about 70% too political for my comfort. In the same way that I don’t need Obama telling me how to interpret the Bible, I don’t need Dobson condemning how people interpret the constitution. His post as pastor does not make him an expert on that field, I’m sorry to say. Furthermore, while Dobson is right in mentioning Obama’s confused theology, I really don’t see how he’s “dragging the Bible through the gutter”. Melodrama much?

I’d rather he used his wisdom (he does have wisdom, like I said, he’s a respectable Christian thinker) to explain to us why Obama is wrong, using the Bible as his framework. And maybe he did this, who knows. CNN.com probably wouldn’t quote it, not out of that giant, angry, judgmental face!

So I will.

Traditional Christian views hold that there are three standard categories of Old Testament laws. The first, centering on moral laws and including the Ten Commandments among others, focuses on how people should treat each other in a way that maintains order and peace. Jesus and Paul (our theological Grandpa) uphold the moral law, though it is important to note that it is no longer adherence to the law that justifies us before God; that’s what Jesus is for, but that’s another topic.

The second category is the ceremonial law. This deals with the sacrificial system established to maintain the separation of the Jewish people as a holy race before God. This includes sanitary laws, like the crustacean one referenced by Obama, as well as the Temple sacrifices, which are meant to point toward Christ. Jesus was the culmination of this sacrificial system, and the sacrificial laws are fulfilled/abolished in him.

The third category is the civil law. It lived and died with the kingdom of ancient Israel/Judah. While it might be nice to see how God ordered his people to live and the sort of justice system they themselves used, it was not meant to be applicable to all nations at all times. This set of laws, including the stoning of people for adultery etc, is also abolished. Though adultery is still frowned up. Like a big, mean frown, from a zoomed in scary evangelical face.

Now, I personally would like to see Dobson’s opinion of the Sermon on the Mount quote. Because, damn straight, it was radical, and you’re right, the defense department better not adopt that as its mantra. You see, the church’s task is to further the kingdom of God. It’s job is not to run the government. As a member of a church, and an American citizen, it is my duty to vote for what I believe, personally. As a corporate church entity, however, we shouldn’t be holding court over the nation. So while Christians are called to non-violence in spiritual matters (and perhaps further, I’ve written on this before I’m sure), Obama would be confused to try to apply those principles to the military.

By the way, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Obama has a warped understanding of Christianity. Can you even imagine the sort of spiritual feeding he was receiving at the table of his nut job former pastor? Cut the man some slack. I almost can visualize him responding well to solid biblical teaching – the man might actually care to know the truth.

I really can’t tell. I can’t get a read on the guy. I know one thing for sure. Obama is one of the most clever people on the planet.

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Meaning In Context

One of NT Wright’s main goals in “Jesus and the Victory of God” is to find common ground between theology and history. Wright, though himself a Christian, is also an academician. When one wages his battles in that war, he can’t assume the same premises that many Christians do.

A major question to historians of Christianity over the past 200 years deals with whether the accounts of Jesus and his ministry that we have accurately represent what the historical Jesus really was all about. He never wrote anything – who knows if he was even literate in the Greek that the original New Testament was written in. If he could read it, would he have agreed, “yes, that’s what I was trying to communicate with my ministry” or would he say “no, you’re off in left field, that’s not what I was talking about at all”?

Clearly, at the most basic level of the truthfulness of the Bible, this is an important question. But even if you blast on through such inquiries, ignoring the arguments as too academic and establishing your “faith baseline” further upstream of this sort of issue, it’s still important to understand Jesus in his historical context. Remember, Jesus existed in time. He taught within the constraints of a specific geographical region and spoke within the bounds of a specific culture. Things that he said might have carried a different significance to the original hearers than they would to us. And since those words existed in time and were spoken for a purpose, it is we who need to adjust our thinking to match what Jesus really meant when he said things.

Wright, almost in passing, drops a very interesting example. In Luke 10, Jesus and the gang visits Martha and Mary. Martha labors in the kitchen while Mary listens at Jesus’s feet with the disciples. Martha complains about Mary’s lack of help and Jesus says that Mary is actually justified in her decision. We oftentimes take this to mean that spiritual things of God are more important than acts of service. We say that you can’t be too busy, you need to focus on Jesus more.

But how would a first century Jew have interpreted this story?

Screaming off the parchment to our ancient reader would be Mary, a woman, learning at the feet of a male teacher. They would have applauded when Martha came to pull Mary back to the kitchen; about time! And what sort of godly teacher eats with sinners and teaches women?! This is the major take away to someone who trusted Jesus’s example in the first century – women can hold the same place as men in this system. They leave shaking their heads over that, not over Martha’s lack of perspective.

What other scriptures have we tainted with our modern perspectives? These are important questions for historians and run of the mill evangelicals alike. The text can be infallible in content, but if we read ourselves into it, we destroy the original intent and stain perfect teaching with imperfect interpretation. We’ll never get there 100%, but we can at least yank our head out of the sand to recognize the potential for problems. “Scripture has one meaning, but many applications.” Our job is to use all that we have at our disposal to figure out that original meaning.

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Study Guide

Justin, Ben McCoy (emeritus) and I will be reading NT Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God” early this summer. I’ve started a forum for us to discuss it, if there’s any reason why you’d think that you’d want to follow along, take a gander here. I can tell you that it looks to be a challenging study.

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Blood Split

The king of the multi-task, I was not in Philadelphia for the Penn Relays exclusively this weekend.

Now, I have never been to a Christian conference. When offered the opportunity by some new friends from my church (I can say that now, as I officially joined it last Sunday) to go see the Reformed All-Stars at 10th Presbyterian, I accepted.

I can tell you that it was well worth the cost of admission. In fact, it was one of the most worthwhile weekends I’ve ever had. The topic, crude though it may sound, centered on Christ’s blood.

Now, the blood is what you would call a synecdoche, a word representing a larger concept. For instance, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread..” in the Lord’s Prayer, it is not just bread that we’re after, but our physical needs, be they food, shelter, sleep, whatever it is that is necessary. In the case of Jesus’s blood, we’re really referring to the broader topics of his atoning sacrifice.

As much as modern day folk like to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher and so on, that wasn’t his primary purpose. Jesus, despite his popular line of quotable fridge magnets and bumper stickers, was crucified. He was sacrificed, per God’s plan and because of our sins, for the ransom of our souls. It’s not exactly warm and fuzzy, but it is entirely necessary – without it there is no salvation.

Eventually, I’ll start filtering my findings through here. They were multiple and useful.

So, it was basically like 3 days of church, complete with six sermons (probably 6 of the top-10 sermons I’ve ever heard, and Sproul might have been the best preacher I’ve ever seen in person, which is saying something) and a phenomenal orchestra/choir led worship time. The first hymn sticks with me though – 1000 Christians packed like sardines into a church, expectant and excited, belting out “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that the hymnal was vibrating in my hand. Very potent stuff.

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Calvin’s Razor

If the Bible is one thing, it is God-centric. The hero of the Bible is not man, but God. God does the action; even when we do the action, he takes credit for it. Why? For his own glory.

We like to humanize God, and as a result we have a hard time dealing with this. God, it would seem, is an egotist. As it turns out, he almost has to be, by definition. Still, it is uncomfortable to admit that all good things come through God. Even the ones that come through us.

And that, I believe, is why people are uncomfortable with Calvinism. I have written on the supposed 5 points, as summarized in the acronym TULIP previously, to the ire of some. Even in the old post, my current malaise could be seen brewing.

A few disclaimers:
1) Terms like “current” in describing my immediate mental state have an exceptionally short shelf life. Almost no particular state lasts longer than two weeks – in fact, this one seems to be coming to an end as we speak. Which is good, because it was miserable.

2) I’ve fought it for years, but there’s no denying it. Reformed Theology, with its easy to remember TULIP heralding a rich tapestry of ever complex theological concepts, is biblically irrefutable. I’ve taken various stands against it for years; I was still holding out on the P up until sometime within the last two years, as evidenced by the link above. That too is falling if it hasn’t already fallen.

3) While my new church, SPEP, is reformed – which in this context is synonymous with “accepts the Westminster Confession of Faith” – they do not explicitly teach TULIP, the five Solas or whatever else. Now, being a Bible church, they end up teaching it implicitly. You’d have to take special effort to avoid those principles, as they are there, omnipresent within the Bible.

Now then.

For whom did Christ die?

Sounds like an easy enough question. Surely, you’d think, Christ, almighty and all-merciful, died for everyone.

And yet everyone is not saved. So, did he fail in his plan?

Really, what does it mean to “die for someone” anyway? Were I to jump in front of a train to knock you off the tracks (in case you didn’t hear it coming, which is hard, because trains are gigantic), then I’d die for you, in particular. Christ’s death for us falls into the category of an atoning sacrifice – an offering for all of our sins, fulfilled in his blood. Again, it comes down to “whose sins”. For whom did Christ die? For everyone, or for the elect?

TULIP stands upon two pillars, T and L. The L, Limited Atonement, claims that Christ died for those are are to be saved. I’m going to defer to the excellent teacher John Piper for an explanation of how that follows – it’s a waypoint but not the end of where I’m flying my plane of thought today. Through Limited Atonement, you get the idea that Christ died for those whom he would save.

Total Depravity, meanwhile, says that we are not capable of saving ourselves. Limited Atonement and Total Depravity, if I might steal from Piper, fit together thusly:

“If you say that he died for every human being in the same way, then you have to define the nature of the atonement very differently than you would if you believed that Christ only died for those who actually believe. In the first case you would believe that the death of Christ did not actually save anybody; it only made all men savable. It did not actually remove God’s punitive wrath from anyone, but instead created a place where people could come and find mercy — IF they could accomplish their own new birth and bring themselves to faith without the irresistible grace of God.

For if Christ died for all men in the same way then he did not purchase regenerating grace for those who are saved. They must regenerate themselves and bring themselves to faith. Then and only then do they become partakers of the benefits of the cross.”

If you take T, which makes the above scenario impossible, and L to be true, the rest is falls in line. Unconditional Election falls out of T – it would have to be unconditional given our initial state. Irresistible Grace flows out of the L (God already knows who), and also from the T (better not let it be resistible, because we’d resist it). Perseverance of the Saints arises, by my mathematical formulation, from a combination of U and I.

Like people, however, Limited Atonement comes with baggage. For instance, if God predestines some for salvation, he must, almost, by the Venn Diagram, predestine others for damnation. This concept is termed “Double Predestination”, and it is sufficiently disconcerting that it’s on my to-study list. Then there’s one of the fanciest words I’ve yet been exposed to, courtesy of McCoy, “supralapsarianism”. Here’s an excellent link describing this tangled nest of theological paradoxes – in essence that particular set of concepts relates to the timing of God’s unachronistic (my own word) decisions on who is saved, whether some will be created solely for the sake of being sent to hell and whatnot. A royal mess, and more than I can wrap my head around to be certain.

But that was not my issue these past few weeks. My issue was more basic.

God choses some for mercy, others face wrath. They have no say in the matter.

Can you ever really know that you’re saved?

You can know, through the P, that once you’re saved, you’re always saved. But Calvinists, and most other Christians, will always point to the circular “well, then he must not have ever really been saved in the first place” if a supposed Christian falls away. There’s no avoiding it – I’m not sure that it’s possible to know in this lifetime.

We’re supposed to adjudicate our salvation based on our “fruit”, but yet, that’s subjective. Doubt clouds not only our faith in most anything, but also the understanding of the worthiness of our fruits – especially since the entire theology would point to our intrinsic unworthiness. It is a tangled mess. And I’ve more or less given up on trying to synthesize it into a coherent structure at the moment. That was my answer this morning.

This too shall pass.

When we are perfected, not only will whatever it is that holds us back from a full life be forever cast asunder, but our doubts and fears will be summarily dismissed. On that day, it will all make sense. Here’s to hoping we make it there, for now all we have is to trust and obey. I’m sorry my answer isn’t more profound. The question is profound enough on its own.

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Music One

I got a gift certificate at work today. Instead of giving real money or bonuses, there was a rumor that they sometimes gave out gift certificates, even though no one ever confirmed it. Well, they do. $100 to be exact.

I save a lot of money, and spend a lot of it too. That said, I’m a horrendous tightwad – I never buy something that I don’t intend to buy, and my books are carefully monitored.

This is why I love gift certificates that I must spend. If they gave me a $100 bonus, I’d put it in the bank and forget that it existed. Now, no, now, I’m giddy. I get to spend money without thinking about it! What am I going to get? The possibilities are endless! I may launch a several day inquiry into all things worthy of purchase.

I’ve already transmutated some of the money into a Barnes and Noble gift card. I’ll go to the store and buy a book that’s not on the discount rack. As it turns out, most of the books on the discount rack are there because they suck. But $10 for Gray’s Anatomy, the original book? That’s worth it! Maybe one day I’ll have a kid that likes that sort of thing, she’ll read it and become a surgeon or forensic mortician or something.

The rest of it ($100 goes a long way when you’re me) will be used on CDs. I am in the middle of a musical revolution. I might delve into my new trends over time, we’ll see how the next batch of music goes before I launch into it.

A few years ago, I decided I didn’t want to listen to FM radio anymore. I was sick of the obnoxious DJs, and, as it turns out, certain music makes me intense in ways that I often try to avoid. I don’t consider Christian music to be FM radio – it’s more like clear AM radio – so that was fair game. I tried very hard to get into it. I failed. Why? I think it’s mostly awful.

Not all of it is awful, mind you. I really like at least two Christian artists/bands, to the point where I buy their CDs whenever they come out. The David Crowder Band is pretty good (Collision A and B are intense) and I’m a fan of Phil Wickham. Not sure if it counts as Christian, but Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” is exceedingly awesome.

Then there’s someone like Chris Tomlin. The man has a stranglehold on modern worship music – it’s hard to go an entire modern church service without hearing one of his songs. That is, for him, both a blessing and a curse. I have yet to hear a Chris Tomlin song where he sounded better than my old church sounded performing him. Grace Community Church in Columbia – particularly the young adult’s Fusion service – consistently out Chris Tomlins Chris Tomlin. He never sounds as good as the songs did at that service, and I can’t listen to him on the radio without noting the comparative emptiness in the sounds. A personal CT worship experience has yet to match the corporate one, and hence I don’t want to hear his music.

The same is true for a bunch of other artists/bands. Most of them have moved away from the inherent corniness of the Christian harpsichord, but not yet embraced the sort of sounds that they’d need to differentiate themselves from a standard high-end worship band. This is by design. They want the bands to be able to emulate them and share their encouragement with the masses. I just don’t want to hear it in the car.

In case Tim “The Closer” Sabermetrics is wondering, Over the Rhine is good, but not really a Christian band.

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Powerfully Powerless

The Bible Study guys tend to refer to me by one of three terms/concepts. Previously, I was called “Logistics”, for my penchant for hatching elaborate schemes and planning them with military efficiency. Recently, they have chided me for my “general rightness”, taking a term that I once used to describe myself (tongue in cheek, I swear) and sticking my nose in it when I pee on the rug. Throughout they’ve referred to me as Eric “Analogous” Furst in response to my steady stream of analogs. These range from horribly stretched to vaguely appropriate; I really only do it to make Steve Miller happy. There is no higher calling than making Steve Miller happy in my opinion.

When I was a freshman in college, a guy named Ron Hess, a valued friend whose children you know, was our anchor. He was Bucknell’s champion, whenever we went to a meet, everyone stopped to watch Ron run, because without exception we knew he’d wear the BU orange with honor. We in the 4×800 had a certain faith in him – whatever we did, we believed Ronnie Ballgame would bail us out on the anchor leg. In what was generally received as a miserably over-extended analogy, I tried to link this concept to the sort of faith that we need to have in Jesus when we’re running against the wind of sin, just believe that your anchor, your champion, will always prevail in the end.

Well, Ron didn’t always win. Once, for instance, he went to Sea Ray Relays in Tennessee to run a hot 1500 and try to get a NCAA qualifier. His ferocious kick was spent in a frenetic early pace and he died in the last 200 meters. We were shocked when we watched the tape; the whole team moped around like our collective dog had died.

Whenever I read the Gospels, I get to a point when the champion, Jesus, is hanging on the cross, and I want to see him win. People are scoffing at our champion, they’re taunting our king. Come on, shoot some laser beams out of your eyeballs! Consume them with one of these flaming swords from your mouth that we hear so much about. Rip the nails from the wood, shuck the cross from your back and devour the entire Roman army! You can do it, we know you can!

And that misses the entire point.

I decided this morning, as I read through the end of Mark, that maybe he’s more like a cosigner on a loan. Only instead of signing up front, he, God incarnate, signed on when we were already drowning in our debt. Through our sin, we owed a debt to God that we could never repay. His justice (Romans 3:22-25 was in the study this week, that covers some of this idea) demanded that this contract be fulfilled – sin leads to death. It might be uncomfortable, but the sin->death correlation is a definition, a priori; that’s just the way it is. With no hope to repay, David waited for his redeemer. Israel groaned for his redemption. Abraham had faith in him, a faith accounted as righteousness.

And while we were stuck in this mire of debt, Jesus came along, and signed right there on the line below us. The idea of transferring sin is difficult for us to grasp, but less so for the Israelites, who had done it allegorically in their sin offerings for centuries. The idea of sharing a financial burden might be more palatable, but the fact remains: we were beyond broke when Jesus signed to take on our debt. He couldn’t very well go to the Father and arm wrestle him double or nothing over our sins – there is no justice in arm wrestling. No, he paid them. It was our sin that held him there. Until it was accomplished, no sooner.

Now, then, we owe in a different sense. Not bound by a contractual debt, obligated to repay the price of sin with our own blood, we are freed from that covenant to one of grace. We are bound to our cosigner not by contract, but by love. No longer are we help captive by the slavery of sin, no, liberated and lost only in a debt of love. His real power was not in consuming the world with his wrath – we’d surely have died in the same flames. It was his meek obedience to the justice we deserved – it was by that submission that we were set free and on that cross that we hang our hopes.

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Yesterday marks the start of one of my least favorite Christian rituals – Lent. The Catholics have, over the past thousand or so years, set up an elaborate set of religious symbols. This isn’t necessarily wrong, in and of itself. The Old Testament, for instance, is a set of type formulas for the New Testament. The old rituals and rites point to the new paradigm in covenantal relations with God, as embodied in Jesus.

Lets imagine for a second that these systems were still necessary/useful once Jesus came in the flesh. If you don’t understand these symbols precisely you can easily slip down a steep slope into dangerous heresy. Lent is at the top of this list. If you think that
a) you can trade off periods of good behavior for periods of bad behavior
b) comparative lack of sin in one part of your life makes up for the pervasive sin that comprises the rest of our lives
or worse yet
c) anything you do is accredited to you as righteousness, ie, your specific actions are somehow effective in justifying you before God
d) God cares about your capacity to create and follow meaningless laws
then you have fallen into one of the more egregious categories of theological heresies.

It has always seemed obvious to me that an enormous percentage of Catholics mindlessly adhere to traditions with no real thought to the meaning behind them. It is my understanding that Lent is meant to be a proxy for “fasting”. In this case, by fasting, I mean an abstention from something for the sake of narrowing ones focus on God. It, anachronistically, is aligned with the Easter holiday (despite the fact that Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness was completely decoupled from this event in time and location) to further cloud matters.

As far as I can tell, Lent exists only to make Catholics feel like something controllable in their actions is generating justifying favor in the eyes of God. Biblically, only Jesus can do that in us.

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A River Runs Through It

I just spent the last 15 minutes pouring through my old entries, looking for the post there I compared the Christian’s existence to a river. I don’t know if I wrote it in comments, if I threw it in as a minor afterthought, if I didn’t post it on the internet at all – I have nursed this concept previously, but cannot find where. The context then was understanding what it meant to be “in the world, but not of the world.” So far as I can find, that exact phrase is not in the Bible (though the concept is clearly championed in John 17); it has nevertheless become the Christian-speak catch phrase for our relationship to the world. The problem is that it is meaningless to the unindoctrinated ear.

On a run between the maze of developments in Columbia one morning, I understood what it meant. That town did not encapsulate who I was. Yet running between the sub-divisions was a network of urban trails in the woods, somehow disconnected yet still interleaved within the fabric of the society to which I did not belong. Running down those trails, I was in Columbia, though not necessarily of it. My existence, though limited by my proximity, was not defined wholly by something so foreign to me as a pseudo-communist planned community.

This morning in the Introduction to SPEP class that I’m taking at my fantastic church, we touched upon this verse:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

and I was again reminded of the river.

I, as a spiritual being, am a river.

My origins – at least the spiritual underpinings of my origins – are from the distant, pristine mountains, where life giving rains replenish the flow regularly.

My destination is not the plains of the midwest, it is the sea.

Yet I spend this life separated from both my origins and my destination. From source to delta, I am in the world around me.

Ideally, I nourish it. The surrounding environs are enriched by this distant source of live-giving water, though they themselves are oftentimes intrinsically barren.

While some cut a canyon, clear and crisp, slicing through stones, rapidly speeding their way to the ocean, others are slow and wide.

Being in the world, though coming from and going to someplace entirely different, leaves one open for pollution. In a very real sense, my life is polluted. Though my spiritual self is nourished from afar, my physical self aids and abets this process, carving canals of sin.

Yes, it’s a lot like a river. Also like the wind, but a lot like a river.

Addendum
I can finally recommend a CS Lewis book, after years of trying. I loved The Great Divorce.

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Previously, I delved into my views on the Biblical concept of speaking in tongues. In brief, the charismatic understanding of “tongues” is something of a ubiquitous swiss army spiritual language. Having no intrinsic earthly meaning, this language is something heavenly, channeled through an earthly medium, conveying some divine concepts.

I am opposed to this understanding. Not because I am aspiritual. I think that the charismatic conception of tongues is not biblically supported.

The first item of business is to figure out what Paul means when he uses the word “tongue” in his epistles. You need not go too deep into this investigation until you run into a problem – he’s primarily talking about languages, not fanciful mystery jibberish.

The word, in Greek, is “glossa”. I am a layman, but based on its nearly 50 references in the New Testament, it is used in roughly the same way that we use the English word tongue. A tongue is both a physical organ and a figurative representation of speech; glossa seems to be the same. Go here, and browse the 47 locations that the term is used in the NT.

I am interested in these usages. Is the word unrelated to our discussion; for instance, is it used to describe the organ inside your mouth? Is the word ambiguous? I’d like to understand whether Paul is talking about a miraculous spiritual language, or whether he’s talking about foreign languages, heretofore unknown to the speaker. Many of these usages can mean either, and the context doesn’t help us disentangle them. Is the word used in the spiritual sense? Is it used in the language sense? Understanding the context of the word when it is used in the 1st century will give us a better understanding of how we should interpret it.

It should be noted before I begin that I don’t take the language application to be any less miraculous. I think that early believers were given an understanding of language beyond what they should have known without the help of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure if it still happens today – that’s a different question.

Here’s my breakdown of the verses:
Unrelated
Mark 7:33
Mark 7:35
Luke 1:64
Luke 16:24
Acts 2:3
Acts 2:26
Romans 3:13
Romans 14:11
Philippians 2:11
James 1:26
James 3:5
James 3:6
James 3:8
1 Peter 3:10
1 John 3:18
Revelations 16:10

Ambiguous
Mark 16:17
Acts 10:46
Acts 19:6
1 Corinthians 12:10
1 Corinthians 12:28
1 Corinthians 12:30
1 Corinthians 13:8
1 Corinthians 14:5
1 Corinthians 14:6
1 Corinthians 14:9
1 Corinthians 14:13
1 Corinthians 14:18
1 Corinthians 14:19
1 Corinthians 14:23
1 Corinthians 14:26
1 Corinthians 14:27
1 Corinthians 14:39

Spiritual
1 Corinthians 13:1 (see 13:8)
1 Corinthians 14:2
1 Corinthians 14:4
1 Corinthians 14:14

Language
Acts 2:4
Acts 2:11
1 Corinthians 14:22
Revelations 5:9
Revelations 7:9
Revelations 10:11
Revelations 11:9
Revelations 13:7
Revelations 14:6
Revelations 17:15

Your place for disagreement with this list is in my determination of the “ambiguous” usages. Some of them are clearly not aligned with a language interpretation or a spiritual tongue interpretation. Others are a little more hazy, especially if you want to believe one or the other interpretation badly enough. Take 1 Corinthians 14:18 and 19, for instance. Paul is talking about speaking in tongues – more of them than others. That might mean that he has a more profound manifestation of this spiritual gift, but how would someone prove that, how would someone measure it? What if Paul, the super-missionary to the Gentiles, spoke several languages. Easily verifiable and even plausible, yes? Would it be strange for him to claim that? “Listen folks, you want to talk about languages – I know languages. I could talk to you all day in Thracian, but it wouldn’t make one iota of sense would it? Five words in a tongue that you understand is worth a thousand in one that you don’t.” That is my plain, common, straightforward interpretation of the passage.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contain three chapters that provide the ENTIRE basis for the concept of a heavenly language spoken by inspired people on earth. Of those three chapters, I count four verses that seem to speak to a spiritual language. The most clearly stated of these verses, 1 Corithians 13:1, is, in my opinion, certainly a literary device. Paul is saying that no quantities of spiritual gifts are worth their weight in salt without love. It’s like owning a Porsche and driving it 55 mph on the interstate – fantastic car, but you’re missing the point if you use it like that. Paul took the most potent language he could think of, “heck, it doesn’t matter if you’re trumpeting the language of the angels themselves, without love, it’s worthless noise!” That’s what the verse means. He’s not talking about the literal use of a angelic language, nor is he indicating that the option is available to us. That’s not what he’s trying to accomplish in the argument.

We are then left with a cluster of three verses, tightly spaced in one chapter. This is what we call “proof-texting”, when we read something external into a difficult passage to pull something out of it that is not really there. The point of the first two verses listed in Chapter 14 is not about tongues, but instead about the usefulness of prophecy. I think he’s saying, “hey, you’re our missionary to Ghana, great, your spiritual gift is good and useful in its context, but not here. I’d rather edifying teaching in English.” I will freely acknowledge that my interpretation here is less supported than what I feel is a very strong argument regarding the previous chapter’s verses.

In fact, the second paragraph of chapter 14 (14:6-14:12) goes on to make it very clear that Paul is speaking of earthly languages. If someone doesn’t understand him, he is a foreigner to that person, despite the fact that all languages have intrinsic meaning in the appropriate context.

I don’t know what 14:14 means. One difficult verse does not an entire enterprise of spiritual expression make.

So, then, where did this all come from?

It seems to me that the straightforward explanation, that missionaries were given the ability to communicate with those who they were ministering to, is the simplest and most natural reading of the word glossa. As you can see, the idea of tongues was utterly unimportant to Jesus – he never mentioned it in clear terms, and barely used the word at all. Luke, in Acts, and John, in Revelations, use the word with stark clarity, speaking indisputably about earthly languages. Luke’s account of “Pentecost” is unequivocably language based, and yet the Pentecostal denomination is the most tonguey sect around! James and Peter never use it, and Paul only speaks of it in the tail end of one of his many letters – even then he does it in terms of speakers and translators. We use translators today in the United Nations. Nothing magical there. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the New Testament’s only foreign missions author is the only one who brings it up. Languages of other nations wasn’t an issue within the Jewish church, where Peter, John and James operated in Jesus’s similarly narrow wake.

The idea of mystery cults have been around since the time of Christ. Gnostics had a special knowledge of spiritual things – gnosis means literally “knowledge of deeper truths”. From the Free Masons, to the Mormon Temples, to most every modern religion, we love mystery. We also love being elitist. In my mind, and you can feel free to use the scriptures to dispute me, the simple explanation is that Paul is talking about language. And we want it to be more.

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Begotten Not Created

I’m going to join a church, officially. It’s something of a big deal over there in the erudite PCA, and so SPEP has us taking a 13 week course on the core beliefs of the church, which lean heavily on the reformed theology of John Calvin and friends. Today was my first class (though they had three without me), and we discussed how one would answer the question regarding whether Christ was a created being. The context is Colossians 1:9-20, but no man is an island, neither is any scripture.

Specifically, 1:15 is used as a so called “proof text” for this Christological heresy. The difference between a created Christ and a pre-existent Christ might not seem like much, but it ends up manifesting itself in a subservience (in nature) to God. Christ becomes, then, some kind of super-human, a man with the attributes of God as opposed to God himself. This is at the very core of Christian theology, that Christ is both man and God, fully and simultaneously.

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

To address this issue, one of the elders (a church councilman in the Presbyterian church) rightly led the discussion to verse 18, where we see “firstborn” in context once again. It is clear from other scripture that Christ is not create, ergo we need to investigate 1:15 more to find out how we’re getting confused. An investigation of the word “firstborn” is in order.

18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

The NIV uses supremacy, whatever translation we were using (probably ESV, they seem to like that one) used “preeminent”. His main argument was that Christ’s preeminence made him a non-created being.

I do agree, in a way. The other elder mentioned the creedal “begotten, not created” phrase from the Nicene Creed. I brought it back to that seminal verse, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (italics mine). You see, I think that pre-eminence is a quantitative difference. Vladimir Putin is the preeminent Russian, but he is still a Russian, qualitatively similar to other Russians. I think that the firstborn terminology here is to indicate Jesus’ relationship to God, as principle heir and responsible fiduciary.

Jesus, on the other hand, as the only begotten son of God is qualitatively distinct from the rest of us. We are created, he is begotten. If I have a child, I don’t say that I have created him (OK, maybe I say that, but only because I think it sounds funny). I don’t say that I’ve begotten him either because the English language doesn’t work like that colloquially, but that is actually exactly what I mean. Jesus, in these terms, is God’s son. We are his handiwork. There is a qualitative difference.

While a created individual could still be preeminent among his peers, the distinction between begotten and created enforces the age old concept that Jesus, while being fully human, is also qualitatively different than us. It so happens that this difference is also one of quantity – he is supreme, preeminent as well.

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Wisp of Light

For the last 25 years, this time slot had been spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Warwick. For all but one of two of those 25 years, we’d presently be preparing to go to the Christmas Eve candle lighting service at Warwick UMC. At the end of said service, the congregation would pass a flame around, each lighting his candle as it passed while we sang Silent Night.

I can’t recall the pastor ever explaining why we were doing that.

We live in a dark world. 2000 some on years ago, that world was pierced with a single, solitary radiant beam, son of God, love’s pure light. Wispy and fragile, dancing perilously in the chill of the night air; a new born infant, with all the human predilection for hunger and thirst, lay shivering in a manger.

When I go camping, I don’t sleep at night. I lay in the tent or out under the stars and wait until morning. This summer, as we camped in the high sierras, I lay freezing until dawn. There was a hint of it at first, the sun, then more, then trees and shapes, then an irradiated mountain top. When that boundary between light and dark finally reached me, the entire landscape changed. Warm, tender, silent. The universe was qualitatively different than it was 10 minutes earlier, with the dawn of redeeming grace.

I picture a small handful of people gathered in an unfurnished apartment, with farm animals milling about slowly outside. All is calm. All is bright. There’s a stunned shephard boy, cap in hand, head bowed, looking at a helpless child with a tear hanging from his eye. Silence, a holy infant, so tender and mild, sleeping in heavenly peace. Sleeping there in heavenly peace.

With the flames flickering peacefully, with shadows peaking out from every crevice only to retreat from the light once more, an exhausted mother, a weary father, a sleeping baby. And a dark world craning its neck out from the depths, hoping to catch a furtive glimse of its redemption, now at hand.

What wisdom, what calamity, what triumph, what majesty awaits, but today, this dawn, it is a silent night. A holy night.

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

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The Saab and I had a moment this afternoon, as I broke the longstanding family record for the Bucknell to Goshen trip. Flawless conditions, lack of construction and empty roads allowed for me to navigate the rural highway trek in 2:25. The previous record was held by my mother, who has a lead foot when she drives by herself, 2:27. I had posted a 2:31 while at Bucknell (in the Jetta), and I believe a 2:29 in the Saab after graduation. It was a bonding experience, she runs as good as ever. Though assuming nothing disasterous occurs, I’ll have a new car come the 1st of the year. Contract is signed, just pending delivery.

Meanwhile, I was in Lewisburg to see my children. They were good as ever. Jake is a little man, so poised and responsible, Tommy’s a free spirit with a textured mind, and Jonathan’s, well, 7 months old. The resolution is a little low, but you can see them all here:

Jake’s Pledge, Tommy’s manipulation of candy system

Jake had to lead the pledge for his preschool class, so he was practicing. You can see how little kids come to learn about God – it’s sort of pavlovian.

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For the past 10 years now, there is one thing that is almost certain at a large family dinner. I will be saying grace.

Now, I’m not a huge food blesser on my own, though I go through spurts and many people that I often dine with do so regularly. I would be shocked if I learned that my family blessed food except for at those family dinners. So, why do it then? The answer is “religion”.

A religion is a set of beliefs and guidelines that provides a framework for some advanced understanding of something greater than us. It doesn’t have to be supernatural – there are plenty of adherents to secular philosophies whose zealotry easily rivals those who believe in theological constructs. It is this religion that tells us that we should bless the food. It is religion that tells us to run our liturgy in a certain order. It is religion that justifies the annihilation of uninvolved people in crowded marketplaces. The last thing anyone needs is “religion”.

These words may seem surprising coming from me. After all, I’m “religious”. That’s why I say grace every Thanksgiving and Christmas – I hold the family lead in outward religiosity. I do things associated with my faith based belief system, my religion. I go to church basically every Sunday. I read the Bible 5 or 6 mornings a week. I even meet with others to talk about the Bible regularly. I tithe, I take communion, I pray to the specified deity, and I even sing in His general direction – completely against my natural tendency mind you, I’m no song lark. I do religious things.

But I don’t believe in religion. I certainly don’t support the “finding” of religion. What does that even mean? If one finds the Magna Carta, he doesn’t end tyranny. Finding the Constitution does not a democracy make. As the people of this country can attest, even living by a Constitution does not “form a more perfect Union,” even if it explicitly attempts to do so. Nay, never once has a set of rules, discovered and assented to, meant anything in and of itself.

It goes deeper than a set of rules. One does not sample the religions of the world like some spiritual a la carte, searching for the most ideal system. There is not one set of beliefs that works better than another, taking the good with the bad. My intellectual acceptance of a belief does not make it any more objectively real than it was before. There is no such animal as being “true to me.”

If “finding one’s religion” could be replaced with “identifying a truth that exists external to myself,” I would buy into the concept. You see, it is Truth that should dictate every “religion” Religiosity for the sake of being religious has no great value. Granted, it might promote a social order. It might give a structure to our otherwise wayward lives. It gives us an impression of a purpose – at least most religions build that in. But it does not make it true. One thing is true. There is one right belief – no amount of finding by us will change that. If the truth is the God of Christianity, then let God be true and every man a liar.

What we think about God doesn’t change God. It must be the other way around. If a tree falls in the forest, you better believe it makes a noise. Maybe there is no God, god, whatever. Maybe that is the truth. It could be. It’s in the realm of possible outcomes. But whatever the case, we seriously delude ourselves if we think that we are the ones that choose this truth. Truth chooses us. No, I take that back. Truth doesn’t have to choose us. Truth IS. What we think of it is irrelevant.

Religion is something of a holster for the truth. The thinking goes that since this truth is beyond our capacity to hold, we must create something tangible that we can put it into – something to hold this truth close to us so that we might have access to it. As a result, we create a set of behaviors that are right for the proper handling of our precious information. We are righteous when we handle with care, we are heretical when we misrepresent what we are handling and we are apostates when we get so sick of that which holds the truth that we throw out the baby with the bath water.

I will be bold now. I know humanity’s biggest problem. Me, little old me, apparently I know it. Too many of us build our lives around the container that is supposed to hold the truth, somehow letting that singular jewel of objective reality slip away, leaving us with only the cold strictures that have no intrinsic meaning unto themselves. We worship that which we have created instead of the thing which we created it for. This is the problem with religiosity. The only thing that matters is lost when we think that what we’ve made for ourselves has self-sustaining value. We worship the clam, ignoring the pearl.

There are religious practices in Christianity. I’m not going to get deep into this, after all, it’s an entire book worth of material, but these practices are not bad. To think that moral behavior or sacramental reminders are useless is to limit the truth, to descope it until it is no more than an attestation with no ramifications. There is, however, one main difference about Christ. Through Christ, we don’t need a holster to contain truth. He is our access to an infinite God – not some set of rules, not some group of rituals. A relationship with God is available to man because of the conduit to our Divine Truth was laid down by his son, Jesus the Christ, man-God, Savior. I’m not planning on justifying now. What I have written is true about whatever the real, objective truth is, regardless of whether the God of Christians in this truth. I happen to believe that God is true, and because of my belief in this, I believe many other things. One does not first believe many things, and find the truth at the core of it. That’s backwards.

And that is why you don’t “find” religion. You recognize truth, and the truth necessitates belief. You codify your belief (if you must) and arrive at a religion. The religion always takes back seat to the truth, and you, me, all of us have no say in the matter. Once we do, we get the bastard child of our own jealousies and hatreds, our own guilts and insecurities. We manifest our shortcomings in our beliefs, and we lose the truth. Look around. What we have come up with is far from ideal. This is why I don’t want people to think of me as “religious”.

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This morning I woke up with a double-thick knot on my right achilles as yesterday morning I woke up with throbbing pain because two nights ago I chased a toddler around a house on my bum legs. Last weekend, bolstered by the improvement in the condition of said achilles’, I sketched out my plan for a return to running dominance. Yesterday afternoon, it was revealed to me that my best laid plans are worth next to nothing, regardless of how effective they are. Who knows how it will turn out, maybe next week I’ll be fine. Maybe tomorrow it’ll feel better. And maybe by next month I’ll have forgotten this lesson once again, only to have to relearn it in a perpetual cycle until the day I die.

Last year, an aggressive bout of wanderlust sent me down a road. Last month, I found that this road did not go to where I thought it would – it brought me back to where I am. It is here, last Thursday, that I decided I was very tired, and that I needed a nap after church on Sunday to help catch up. And yet today, now at least, physical fatigue be damned, I am not going to take a nap, I have to go to my bench and write something down.

Life – specifically to this post, my life – is a puzzle with many pieces. It’s a tapestry with many colors and patterns. I’ve devoted my life to trying to piece it together on my own. I’ve disciplined myself, I’ve developed techniques, I’ve deployed tactics all toward the end of stealing a view at the end result, jamming in that next piece, weaving those next threads. But it’s not my puzzle. It’s not my tapestry. And it’s not my job to build that puzzle, because what I build cannot stand. What I build is corrupt. What I build will rot. What I build forces in the pieces, what I build disrupts the pattern.

Today was supposed to be the first day of a several month training cycle, but then I woke up with a new and improved injury to my proverbial achilles heel. Today I was supposed to take a nap because I am tired, but now I realize that I can’t.

Yesterday I glimpsed the forest through the trees, caught a peek of the misty castle in the puzzle, spied the arches and pillars in the trapestry. And today I have an idea.

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Evangelizing Suburban Maryland

Toward the end of my workout at the Y this morning, I was stretching in the small free weight area when a cavalcade of new young folks came in. First off, the place is already tight. Adding 8 high schoolers and some boyish fellow who claimed to be post collegiate (I overhead it) makes the place overly crowded. I, even I, was bound to talk to one of them, as they were lifting awkwardly in my vicinity for several minutes. Prior to that though, I surveyed their ranks, trying to figure out exactly who they were. There was a strange predominance of Asians, statistically unlikely based on the demographic, and all of them looked like typical semi-athletic high school kids. Had their shoes fit the right description, I might have thought them to be a high school track team doing some pre-school weight training. They wore no distinctive clothing, which typically eliminates missionaries. When you get 8 missionaries together, at least one of them is a holy roller type with the “Christ is Super!” bright orange shirt. They seemed mild mannered, I thought maybe they were a math team (you know, because of the Asians), but math teams typically don’t lift weights together, even light ones. None of them had glasses either. I was stumped.

So I struck up a conversation with the one nearest to me.

“So what’s the story with you guys?” I asked.

“Oh, uhh, we’re just doing missionary stuff,” he apologetically replied.

“Hmpf. OK, where from?” I goaded, since I know it’s next to impossible to share your faith.

“Uhhh, all over. California, Minnesota…New York.”

Thinking that a bit strange I continued, “So who are you with, who do you represent?”

“It’s called the Unification Church,” he muttered. He then quickly scurried away to join the main group without so much as saying good bye.

So they were missionaries, heretical ones, though I didn’t know that they were Moonies until I looked it up a few minutes ago. Still, it’s a tough thing, and I was as close to a lay-up as they’ll get. A lone guy who strikes up conversation in a gym and specifically requests information about the cause – if you’re ever going to proselytize someone, 8 on 1 with your spiritual mentor right there is probably the right time. But not this morning. Today they’ll talk about it as a group, and it will become a conquest for them. If they come back, talking to the intimidating guy from the Y will be a small step in their spiritual journeys. I eagerly await it, and intend to do a little bit of research tonight. It’s too bad they weren’t, you know, not heretics. I would have liked to help them get on their way. Instead I intend to horde information and do my best to refute it before they realize that I am more knowledgeable on the topic than the average man on the street. Look the lily but be the serpent beneath; innocent as a dove, cunning as a serpent.

Anyway, I got to the locker and showered. Now, if you’re a high schooler, you’re not used to real locker rooms. “Real” locker rooms here are places where people are naked. It’s very uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. I remember still when I got to Bucknell. First practice, you go from never being around naked people to being around 30 naked guys that you barely know – it’s not a fun experience. Needless to say, as a missionary, stranger in a strange land, showing up at a real locker room is not going to help your comfort level. One of the high schoolers came in while I was dressing. Since he likely completely avoided looking directly at me, he thought that I was one of his friends, instead of a random person he didn’t know. “Are you gonna shower?” he asked me, not even glancing in my general direction. “Huh?” I replied. At this point he realized his error, apologized saying that he thought me to be one of his friends, and scampered away. So a moonie asked me to shower with him this morning.

I’ll let you know how it plays out. If you have any specific knowledge on the Unification Church or Rev Moon’s movement, I’m all ears.

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My grandmother has more than once expressed her dissatisfaction with “modern” church worship. If it’s not an organ, or a piano when the church is sufficiently small, she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She says that the young folk singing Christian music as they are apt to do sound angry. For her, loud is synonymous with angry.

I don’t argue with her, I’ll nod and smile even, as she’s old and I don’t want to upset her. She might think I play the organ at this point, it’s hard to say. Regardless, I have studied her some and decided that things outside of her comfort zone are threatening, and henceforth considered evil. I think that this happens everywhere, in every facet of religious expression, and for most people – once a new form comes out, the old guard is unsettled. Heretics are branded, and lines are drawn. Eventually the old ways die out, and the new ways replace them, ready to condemn the next generation. At least that’s how I visualize it.

I have not been to the young adults service at my old church, Grace, in a few months. This week, I decided that I wanted to go. I love my new church and enjoy the music, it is good mixture of the old and the new, with hymns intermixed with modern songs. Fusion, the young adult ministry, is much edgier. I decided that I needed something like that. Even if it is carefully emotionally engineered, I was in the mood to be so manipulated, I needed to sing loud and watch a couple hundred of my contemporaries rapt in joyous spiritual ecstasy. I needed a recharge in that area, and I counted on Fusion to deliver it.

I got there, and the normal band was replaced by nearly 20 twelve year olds in designer jeans. I was annoyed, “this is inappropriate!” I growled. The thing is, there was nothing expressly inappropriate about it. It just wasn’t what I wanted. I couldn’t sing along, I considered leaving. At some point, the thought popped into my head, “man, I bet Grandma would be spinning in her grave.” Not that she’s dead, she’s immortal actually. But there is no living version of that expression in my lexicon, so that’s what came up.

I realized that I was now the old line. I was out of my personal comfort zone, my own expectations for what church should be, however loud and obnoxious they are by normal standards, were not met. I was like Grandma, stuck at my zenith 50 years hence. It used to be the organ, then the xylophone and 70s cheese (ahem), then rock, and I got stopped there. Little kid punk rock was not in my list of acceptable expressions of worship.

But the thing is, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. More than that, there was something tremendously right about it. An old, cantankerous, curmudgeon is exactly what ruins bona fide worship for entire generations of seekers. My rebuke in hand, I decided to stick it out. Even though the guy that I wanted to hear speak wasn’t speaking, I stayed and listened. Instead of getting the worship that I was hoping for (and seriously, is that for ME anyway?), I got a surprisingly fantastic sermon. And then I got the worship I wanted anyway at the end of the service. It was a coup, a genuinely uplifting event. But it wouldn’t have happened if I had remained in my sour old man mood.

Moral of the story? I must not become the close minded stick in the mud that I roundly condemn in my own mind. As a Christian, it’s important to always be on look out for unacceptable mutations in teaching and worship. Like mutations in nature, most variations to the religious status quo are negative. Through the lens of the Bible, that can all come into focus. A bunch of middle schoolers shouting and jumping might not be my cup of tea, but that’s fine – they’re not worshiping me. I’m not anywhere near that cool.

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Spotlight On: Benin

If you gave me a list of all the world’s nations, and you asked me to compile a ranking of the least notable countries on the planet, Benin would undoubtedly be top-10. It’s no knock on them, they can’t help it. It doesn’t make them less worthy of aid efforts or what have you. The fact that it can be so easily overlooked is even a reason why overtures should be made toward it. Just because they don’t cause much of a stir doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same recognition. They have hopes and dreams too, I’m sure.

Here’s more than you’ve ever cared to know about Benin:
1) This Benin has no direct connection to the more notable Kingdom of Benin.
2) Benin was heavily impacted by the slave trade.
3) Richard Burton (OK, not that Richard Burton) called them “a little black Sparta” because of their traditional infatuation with military preparations. They even had a corp of crack woman commandos, nicknamed the Dahomean Amazons.
4) If you sowed their flag in sowing class, no one should be impressed.
5) Their per capita income is less than $1200 a year.
6) It’s shaped like one of several things.
7) Despite being inherently unstable due to diverse ethnics constituents, it seems to be one of the least troublesome countries in the region.
8) The primary religion is an ancient form of voodoo. Modern religions are present, but incorporated into this traditional system.
9) Their new president Yayi Boni is an evangelical protestant.
10) Lauren, regular contributor and hostess of laurenlaughs will be going there for as many as two years to serve in a missionary capacity starting in July.

You can support her here by selecting her name from the pull-down list. She, by nature, is more of a supportive person than an aggressive evangelist person, which should appeal to the humanists among us. I’m sure she already has or could if requested concoct some concise mission statement if you want to hear more. So if you have money floating around and you’re thinking to yourself, “the huddled masses in Benin aren’t getting enough love, and I’m too busy to go there myself, whatever shall I do?” then that’s an option for you.

As a side note, it takes 16 minutes and 22 seconds for the minute hand to find itself 90 degrees away from the hour hand. In case you were wondering.

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Proselyte

I am an ideologue, in that I imperialistically promote my ideas to the world around me. I fearlessly support Battlestar Galactica and 24. I contend for garlic and soy sauce, I have championed flavor ice as an all season treat, and I proclaim orange juice mixed with other juices to the masses. When I think about it, I feel strongly about a very many things, and an unapologetic in communicating said truths to anyone within earshot.

During the sermon today, something clicked. I am supposed to have that same ardor for Christ. When a conversation about the best shows on television comes up, I’ll endure ridicule to pronounce BSG as the best drama, or Deep Space Nine as the best Star Trek – I will bereave myself of my dignity for things like that. But I will not joyfully support my purported worldview with the same unsolicited ferocity. That’s not to say that I won’t take the field if pressed. That’s not even to say that I won’t argue for my beliefs whenever I see the need. But there’s a difference. It is as the pastor said, a duty and not a joy. Ironically, I will sing the praises of my church, SPEP, to Christians like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I won’t do the same for my faith.

And that’s because I do not cherish it as though it is valuable. I consider it as a burden and don’t rejoice in it as a gift. I see people around me and think, “well, one day they’ll wish they had this, but I can totally see why they wouldn’t want it now.” I can, without reservation, offer pearls of wisdom about flavor ice, but faith, that’s another story.

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Not So Near Past

While, in the end, I agreed with most of what a couple of punk looking Christians said on cnn.com, I had a hard time getting past the first paragraph.

“What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity,” asked Bakker (son of THAT Bakker) and Brown.

Later they hit the nail on the head, but there’s something about the diatribe that bothers me. There is nothing new about Christianity being “co-opted by a politcal party.” I think they speculate rightly that it started around 300 AD. The moment Christianity fell out of the hands of the persecuted, it became a weapon of the persecutors. Hell (since we’re saying “hell” now), we’re lucky to have political parties to represent both sides – Christianity’s morality co-opted entire cultures in previous times.

“Force others to live by their standards?” Is that a new thing? No, perhaps it was less public 10 years ago, but I guarantee you that it was much more blatant, not to mention legislated, for hundreds and thousands of years before that. I have never really agreed with legislative morality, especially in victimless situations (which might explain how I do lean toward pro-life while not particularly caring what gays do), but to insinuate that the United States political landscape is now moving toward that extreme is ridiculous. In most instances, it is not new laws that are being imposed, but the rescinding of old laws being opposed.

I’m not fond of his alarmist thesis statement either, again Christianity survived and thrived for hundreds of years as something force fed upon the populace. I’ve never been too bothered by the actions of Christian extremists from a missionary point of view – it opens up dialogue if nothing else.

Otherwise, I don’t disagree with anything they said. I liked how they deftly avoided condemning abortion or gay marriage as right or wrong, I would have done the same thing. In some sense, it doesn’t matter if they consider it to be wrong, the root issue is how we handle the wrongs of others. Especially in light of our own wrongs. If one abstains from passing sweeping judgments, he does not open himself for similiarly sweeping claims of hypocrisy. We are lucky that we were never commanded to be judges of the souls of men; it makes things a whole ton easier not having to weed through mankind, dooming half of it to hell.

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New Trends

1) Roughly 20% of all weeks at Bible Study, we get in a situation where I am forced to stifle my laughter in the middle of our closing prayer. Basically, we go through the group, whatever the size (sometimes we do the whole group, which like like 6 or 7, sometimes into smaller groups), share our prayer requests, which run the gambit and are occasionally quite personal (making laughter inappropriate) before settling in and praying. Most times, we have some pattern, pray to the person to your left, for instance. Sometimes, however, we do a “pray for someone, anyone,” algorithm.

Let’s say we’re in a group of three, Tim, Steve, and I. Steve goes first, he prays for me. I go second, I pray for Steve. This leaves Tim to pray for himself. The very thought of this scenario is just the funniest thing to me. After 2-3 hours worth of study (which is intermingled with ridiculousness anyway), I’m ready to find anything hilarious, and at least once a month this is the greatest thing for me. It is so obvious who I’m supposed to pray for, and yet there’s Tim, “Maaahhhhhh,” that’s what he’d say because he makes that noise when you make fun of him. “Maaaahhhh.” Oh man. I’ve never pulled the trigger on this by the way. But it would be funny.

2) I am something of a trend setter. For instance, mixing juices together was all the rage for a little while – that came from me. Flavor ice, I’m the people’s champion of Flavor Ice. Freezing your shredded cheese? I pioneered it. That time when I decided I wanted to be a professional puppeteer and then Sean Penn did it too? See, a trend setter.

I’m very proud of my recent trend at work. You see, there’s this one urinal, the second one in from the door (third if you count the midget, err, little people urinal) that flushes whenever you walk by. This is the same reason why I am neurotically worried about forgetting to flush when I use a toilet, the ones we have at work all have electronic eyes so they flush themselves. Anyway, this is a tremendous waste of water, so I started putting paper towels over the eye after I wash my hands. I was the only one to do this for about two weeks, but then it started to happen when I wasn’t around. Now, several months later, there is almost always a paper towel over it. Yet every day, without fail, someone takes it off. Anyway, I have started a trend there, paper towels.

While looking for this link, I found a few more urinal based entries. For instance, peeing in the sink, short people like Weiss peeing, and FN shaking too much. There are more. Search for urinal. It’s fun, toilet humor.

3) Speaking of trends, you know how when you wear a cast it ends up smelling like rot? Well, a boot is not too much different, except I can take it off. Since it is sort of moist (moist, who is it that hates that word? moist…), and since it smells, I decided to use baby powder to replace the odor. How many 25 year old (single) guys tramp around smelling like baby powder? Don’t you think that would stir up some pheromones? I feel like I’ve stumbled on to something here. Although I am back in the pool at the Y, and I also smell like dirty chlorine. I smelled it on myself this morning while lifting weights BEFORE being in the pool, which means that I smell like dirty urban pool water 24/7. And baby powder. And rotting flesh. Follow me, I will not lead you awry.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales

Though the utmost respect is required when taking pictures in a graveyard, the biggest draws to me are the angles and the lighting. I treat the graves deferentially, though artistically. I read a few of them at random.

The cemetery next to Bucknell, and across the street from my house senior year, is very old, featuring the graves of people who died before the beginning of the 19th century. It is, most notably, the final resting place of one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Christy Mathewson, a Bucknell alum. I took a picture of his modest grave, it is no different than hundreds of others in the graveyard. Death is the great equalizer.

As I was walking back to the Hess household after spending 45 minutes snapping something like 70 pictures I saw an interesting little plot.

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Looking closer, the theme became evident.

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Six gravestones of children under the age of 4, spread over 18 years, born to the same parents.

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We had Mary Jane Ginter, 3 years, 7 months, 13 days, who died in the winter of 1836. Less than a month, later Aaron Nevius Ginter, aged 2 years, 1 month and 4 days followed his sister. Five years later, at just one month of age, James Taylor Ginter was buried alongside.

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Then came Catherine Jane Ginter, 6 months young, dead in September of 1847. David Wilson Ginter was just over 2 years old in May of 1852 when he passed, and rounding out the set was Thomas Howard Ginter, just 7 months old, dead in August 1854.

Four boys, two girls, all perished, all to the same mother and same father.

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David Ginter lived a full life, dying at the ripe old age of 84. His wife, Margaret, lost Mary Jane at age 26, though she lived 68 years. David left Proverbs 4:18 as an epitaph. Margaret quoted Deuteronomy 33:12, “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety.” It was stunningly ironic. I stood and stared. Safety? Safety? Margaret rests no more than 3 feet from Thomas Howard and within 10 feet of 5 of her other children. No additional Ginters are buried on the plot. “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety.”

I don’t know anything about the Ginters, other than they buried 6 of their children before they reached their 4th birthdays. I wonder. Maybe they had other children. I picture the surviving child, burying his mother, thinking about his brothers and sisters, saying to himself, “never, never will they put me in this God-forsaken plot.” I wonder about David looking into his wife’s eyes as she lay dying on that spring day in 1878. I start to visualize the wearied pain, I wonder if she saw in her husband the eyes, the nose, the cheekbones of Mary Jane or Catherine, I wonder if he looked at her and had an unspoken exchange. “Our lives…have not been easy. But I love you.” Maybe he took early morning walks in the graveyard, remembering the laughter with the children and the tears with his wife, watching the sun pour between the stones, “the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”

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And now there is no more pain, the children aren’t dying, there is peace and the beloved of the Lord are dwelling in safety.

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You wonder if it’s all related. Anyone would be disappointed with humanity after this week – between Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania we’ve unleashed a potent salvo of the worst that we have to offer.

The man in Colorado is a criminal, you can see it in his eyes. The man in Florida is a pervert, his face tells that story clearly enough. The man in Pennsylvania is tortured. I wonder about him. He got into the classroom with his elaborate plan and he realized that he didn’t have the capacity to pull it off. I don’t disagree with him shooting himself in the head in that case – after you kidnap little girls with an assortment of sex apparatus, I can see why you don’t want to live any more. At least one form of torture ends – the one that you can’t face, the one that stalks you in the silence. But it’s the slaughter of the innocents, that’s the hard part to deal with. What do they have to do with your demons? It’s unconscionable. If you think the solution is to rampage your way through a bunch of kids, man up and end it before you get to that.

Humanity is capable of evil greater than it could come up with on its own. You want a proof of supernatural, perhaps if God is untenable the Devil makes more sense. In the hands of humans, there is no end to this free fall of depravity. Laud the erosion of values for the cause of freedom all you wish – just see what that “freedom” has wrought. No, there is no freedom, man is born a slave and he will die a slave. More and more are a slave to one and the world daily decays.

I do not desire a new world order, I don’t want a pristine theocracy. No temporal kingdom, no fundamental rule will cure the world’s ills. It’s not the point, if a human rules this will happen. We look down our noses at the murderer, the rapist, the molester and we think about how depraved he is. But he is made of the same substance that we are. We don’t know from where he came, under the same circumstances that he dealt with, are you sure you are any better? You’re not, we’re not. Humanity has the capacity for evil beyond comprehension, and if you doubt it, open your eyes. No I don’t want humans in charge, godly or pagan. We fulfilled our destiny. How much longer before You fulfill Yours?

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In the movie “Signs,” each of the characters’ personality foibles are exploited within minutes of each other in the climactic scene. To the preacher whose faith had been wavering for a large part of the movie, seeing seemingly disconnected and asinine traits fuse into their personal salvation is enough to send his mind spinning into a euphoric realization – God’s sovereignty, his personal control over events, is layered, profound and infinitely complex. The “things happen for a reason” cliche becomes a reality as the tapestry that is his family’s life is displayed prominently on the wall in the den, even if only for a moment.

I have long held a controversial and insulting opinion about Christianity. It is a psychological chicken and egg paradox, one with ramifications that are not easily dismissed. Rarely do you see the beautiful, the affluent, the well-adjusted, the “chosen ones”, the “golden boys” in the church. You see those who are rejected by their peers and uncomfortable in the world. You have various flavors of victims, an assortment of acne riddled, disproportioned and awkward – those who cannot gain full acceptance from men grope for it from a source that must love them.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some who meet the world’s approval in and of themselves. Oftentimes these are the converts from later in life, or the future apostates, those who fall away. I’m not so much interested in them.

Yesterday, as I was driving away from Raleigh, I got to thinking. I never did fit into the society that college people typically live in. I can’t carouse, I am incapable of being wanton; even if I met external standards I would not be able to fill the expectations. And maybe I do, I’m a scholar, a state champion, all conference, responsible, Mr. Everything in all ways that I can control. But it doesn’t matter, it is not the way that I am. I cannot follow the rules that other people follow, and I have always considered it as a deficiency.

And so I made a choice. I began to use a crutch, embraced the “opiate of the masses,” began to adhere to the system that most closely matched my intrinsic leanings. At least, it seems like that – I can’t unravel my motivations, my actions, and whatever external calling might meld them together. I began to wonder, well, not began, I’ve wondered this for years and years, do I believe that I believe because if I didn’t my failures would be lain bare with no excuse, no recourse, just me sucking at life?

But the ends justify the means. Why am I the way that I am? So that I would make the choices that I’ve made. Predestination makes for stormy theological waters. It seems to strip us of our will, to guide our reality and cheapen the events for those who believe in it. I’m beginning to think that our conception of the idea is misinformed. My life is a path through the woods. To one side is a cliff, the other a raging river. If I walk forward, I walk the way that I have walked. The decisions that I make, the choices that present themselves, all the forks, all the detours, guide my path down the same trail. In a sense, if I choose to move forward, I choose to take the path that I have taken.

In Christianity, it is the not the vector that is important so much as the disease. We begin afflicted by our ignorance, and we end with a malignant growth, an otherworldly tumor that we can neither remove nor negotiate. It stands opposed to our earthly humanity, but intermeshed with our very existence. How it gets there is immaterial. In the end, it is that foreign outcropping which will justify – in the end, we will be entirely overcome by that which we obtain when our own defenses are at their weakest. Christianity is unapologetic about it gains adherents. It is for those whose immune systems have been compromised by the failings of their human nature, what is so difficult for the most of us is realizing that we need to have this sickness – that our weakness is our strength.

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Pseudo-Religica

Here’s some miscellaneous religious stuff out of my file repository. Just be glad I’m not busting into the archives on my computer.

Aborted Meshach Book
BibLit Essay On Genesis God-Titles
BibLit Essay On The Other Commandments
BibLit Essay On Repetition Of Core Theologies
BibLit Essay On John’s Epistles
Summary of My Beliefs Circa 2000
James Retreat Study
Jonah 1
Jonah 2

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Epistles

When the situation has warranted it, I have produced writings which I have called “books”. These mirror books of the Bible, specifically Paul’s letters. While obviously not of the same form, clout, inspiration or talent, they are of the same theme. However, instead of writing to a city, which has become difficult, I wrote to a person.
In chronological order:
Book of M (Spring 2001)
Book of L (Summer 2001)
Book of S (Spring 2004)

(mind the gap, as they say)

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It is noteworthy that today is Easter. I’m not writing about that at the moment, but I would like to make a quick mention to one aspect. On day one of the Nevada vacation, I played a strange game in which I spoke to three and a half complete stranger women on the planes. One of them, with whom I spoke for about two and a half hours, is a practicing Catholic. We discussed many things and I gained more respect for the Catholic church. One point that she made, though not novel, comes to my mind today. When a Catholic enters mass, certain things always happen. The texts are similar, the format is identical, the atmosphere almost anywhere is standard; if one associates a certain set of conditions with meeting God, the reproducibility of those conditions in varying environs allows for a Catholic to meet God in most of their churches throughout the country. Certain stimuli are linked to certain emotional responses. For me, Easter is infused with the family traditions. Despite the fact that I was only nominally a Christian growing up, Easter had more comparative meaning then than it does now. Yes, the theological ramifications are more evident now, but the comparatively elevated status of this Sunday over every other on the calendar made it seem to be more important. Catholics, at least, maintain the comparative elevation of their holy days, through meticulous adherence to time tested traditions. Is this the way religion should be? I don’t know.

A few weeks ago now, and you can see that I don’t easily forget people’s questions, I was asked whether a denomination known for its liberal policies was a Christian church. I have decided not to answer a question like that specifically. I, after all, do not judge Christianity any more than I define tax brackets. Instead, I have made a list that I believe contains core beliefs that all Christian churches must hold. I will admit ahead of time that this hasn’t been a several week study, this is a top of the head sort of thing. Am I missing things? Probably. Are my Biblical pillars not comprehensive or overly constrained? Perhaps. I feel they are at least defensible, though I am willing to engage in a dialog over the specifics.

1) Preach John 3:16-19

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Everyone embraces John 3:16, and with good reason. What people sometimes miss is the context. The world has been judged already. The world is already fallen. The world is drowning. It doesn’t need a friend, a spiritual adviser, or a moral teacher. It needs a Savior, and that is what was provided. Churches must accept Jesus in that capacity to be Christian.

2) Preach Luke 12:8,9

And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God;
but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.

Forget the “angels of God” phrase, which I take to mean something like “heavenly host” in old doxology language. If you’re a CHRISTian church, you uphold Christ. You don’t downplay his significance, or negotiate his teachings. You are subordinate to Christ, or you are not a Christian church.

3) Preach Romans 10:9,10

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

As a Christian church, you must uphold the teachings of the Christian Bible. One such teaching is that there is a mechanism for salvation. The converse is also true, however, acceptance brings acceptance. Rejection can’t also bring acceptance. Some churches would have you belief that every way is the right way. This isn’t true. Or, perhaps it is true, just not in the Christian religion. I suggest they give themselves a new name so as to not confuse people.

4) Promote the knowledge of the Bible
The Bible is central to Christianity. Without it, people are haphazardly creating their own systems. I happen to think these systems are invalid, because I don’t believe that man has the authority to define divine institutions, but in the very least, these groups should acknowledge that they are not Christian. It reminds me of the tendency (as lambasted by Isaiah and Jeremiah) to craft one’s own idols of wood, stone or clay and then begin worshiping them.

5) Play a positive role in the community
Some churches take this to mean “infiltrate the government and subjugate the masses”, which is a different topic altogether. Here, I am speaking of the sort of actions that everyone would agree are beneficial. This is community service; selfless service that comes without strings and hawks no agenda.

6) Baptism, Communion, Prayer, Missions
I thought about this one for a few minutes before deciding that it needed to be here. Catholics, with their layers of man made infrastructure, have 7 sacraments. Biblically, one can only make a strong case for 2. Jesus only made a few commands regarding what we should do. He focused mostly on how we should live. While 7 is a clean, perfect Biblical number for completion, one can’t find evidence for symbolic remembrances other than Baptism and Communion. More practically, we are commanded to prayer and missions. Prayer is easy enough for most Christians and pseudo-Christians, but missions implies that our beliefs are superior to the beliefs of a different worldview. This is a major winnowing tool, separating the wheat from the chaff.

7) Stand for something
Christian churches must have backbone. They can’t sway in the breeze of modern culture. It is what it is.

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I posted a schedule of events for my spiritual musings a few weeks ago. I am deviating from that order. I have been percolating this post for a while now, which means nothing, since I don’t write down my thoughts as they drift away into the netherworld of unspoken musings.

It shouldn’t surprise you that Christian people, especially Christian girls, devour relationship books as though they were the latest release in the Harry Potter series. There is no group of people who is so constrained or repressed as Christians, and yet there are also few cultures where successful relationships are given such high priority by adherents, their families and their friends. To make matters worse, the bounds of Christian culture has collectively castrated males while leaving the females hamstrung, tied and bound in spires dangling their hair out the window waiting for Prince Charming to finish confessing to his peers that he has hormones like regular biological entities. Little is accomplished in such a system, and where little is accomplished, frustration abounds.

It is my belief that cultural and traditional constructs of man have muddied the original intent behind man/woman relationships. Liberals and feminists will criticize God for his system, as though he implemented a hierarchical power structure that has trampled womankind under foot. In reality, God has instead laid out an organizational system, one where neither gender is given superiority over the other, where relationships are dichotomous but not subordinate.

At the root of the issue is the biological predisposition that dictates the foundation of all society. A feminist might blame religion, but in reality, she should blame genetic makeup for her plight. Men are stronger than women. In ages past, from time immemorial, the stronger person, family or army was elevated while the weaker was subjugated. By the law of averages, men dominated society and culture. What’s more, women are likely to begin brewing 8 pound parasitic beings at the prime of their productive lives. It is no wonder that society has passed down a tradition of subservience. It’s certainly hard for a pregnant 16 year old girl to gain a foothold in the world when her 27 year old husband is out beating off barbarians with the legions. The positions were set early on, and certainly not by Christianity.

But, you might rightly say, the Bible propagates those cultural themes. The Bible, you might remember from about 17 million previous posts, is the lifeblood of the Christian faith. From it springs truth, and by its words we are bound. It is, then, for people such as myself, of central importance to investigate how the Bible deals with gender roles and relationships.

First, we need to dissociate between history and moral teaching. Should we be setting the Patriarchs, your Abrahams, Isaacs, Jacobs, Davids and Solomons up as our exemplars? Unequivocally, no. These people exist to teach us lessons, lessons of what NOT to do. Otherwise, we’ll be running around with anywhere from 3 to 1200 concubines and wives. We’d be marrying packs of sisters, and playing favorites. In other words, we’d all be Mormons.

Their examples should carry a warning, “do not try this at home”. Should Solomon’s Song be central to a Christian understanding of marriage? To which of his wives was Solomon speaking? He lives by a different standard, a cultural standard, one which measures the temporal power of a regent by the number of young virgins he can amass for his pleasure. We should, I hope, not live by his credo. He speaks in a literary/metaphorical manner, he speaks of love, earthly and divine, from this we can find beauty. From this we can gather tidbits, from this we can understand that there is no shame in the human condition, when properly harnessed. But it’s hardly an instruction book.

Who’s to say that these examples are any better than that of Ruth, who slept at the feet of the man she wanted until he was forced to acknowledge her? Or the story of Esther, a queen who used her surpassing beauty to become a subtle power broker in the world’s most potent kingdom of the era? We have girls who spend their whole lives waiting by the well, hoping for the first polygamous sheep herder to show up and whisk them away for a life of servitude, all because cultural constraints crept into their religious studies, forcing them to believe that to be the right way.

Who is responsible for this? Books, of the “self-help” variety, is my guess. Somehow, and at least three girls right now think I’m singling them out, they grasp onto this “protect my heart” concept like guys are heart stealing boogeymen and they are terrified, helpless 6 year olds. Who told them this? It certainly wasn’t Proverbs 4:23, where a father speaks to his son about walking the straight and narrow in wisdom. No one else does that for you, yes, there is context in the Bible, and it is important. You protect your own heart.

But the Bible does have things to say about relationships and gender roles. I’d point to three passages at first glance.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is not perfectly applicable to men/women relationships, lest you think your husband can sanctify you with cleansing water. By the way, I think Paul gives a little hint about how to read the passage when he says “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” Yet we continue to try to read it literally. It is hardly different than Romans 6, where Paul uses slavery as an metaphor.

1st Corinthians 7 is more applicable. What does it stress? Duty to one’s spouse, a servant’s attitude, unselfishness, and then a bunch of stipulations pivoting around verse 25, where Paul admits he’s giving an expert opinion. But the servitude here goes both ways equally. Christians tend to know this, but non-Christians use our supposedly traditional doctrine to point out yet another reason why such a system is at best not for them, and at worst archaic or repressive.

Proverbs 31:10-31 defines a godly woman in a way that would be frowned upon for hundreds of dark years in the middle ages. She is not subservient, if anything, she should be on “The Apprentice: Tyre Tycoon”. Sure, knitting seems like a meek thing to do now, but for biologically contrainted women, it beats spearing whales and clubbing Elamites 3000 years ago.

I stand for equality. However, there is an organizational structure. Somewhere along the line, my company made a vice president of manufacturing, and another one for engineering. They have different jobs, but neither is superior to the other. Yes, manufacturing’s actions are dictated by the designs of engineering, but with no finished product, there is no point in being an engineer. Yes, it’s like a body, an organic and seamless organization, where each part complements the other and none is more important. In the Bible, it is the man’s job in the relationship to protect, provide and guide. It is the woman’s job to nurture, polish and produce. It might seem unfair, but really, Mrs. Christian doesn’t have the muscles to build a deck, and Mr. Christian doesn’t have the mammary glands to feed a baby. Blame it on biology. If you believe in a creator God, blame it on him. He, however, made an organizational structure, where man and woman are vice presidents of their own respective tasks. Neither gives glory to the other, and neither should expect glory from the other. To the CEO, the President, the Chairman, to Him goes that glory, equally and harmoniously.

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Theological Slop

It is very convenient for me that Bess works for a publisher. Knowing that I like all things bookish and bound, she lurks amongst the throw away pile, or, from her wonderful beneficence, even around the best sellers, for the possibility of sending me some literary morsel. Many times, being that she is, after all, Bess, she does it to get a rise out of me, or at least induce a smirk. This time, I got “Evangelicals and Their Habitat”. I can tell you that I like the book, I think it’s amusing, though I seriously question that the author, who is a supposed insider, could really be so irreverent. Furthermore, it has made me realize that I, in particular, and to a lesser extent my church, in general, are not evangelicals by his definition.

When he described evangelical music the other day, one thing caught my eye. He claimed that contemporary music boasts “theologically sloppy lyrics”. Today, for whatever reason, I started examining them. I tend to agree. “Inaccurate” wouldn’t work, but sloppy certainly does.

Now, we need to look inside the motivation behind most of the songs we sing. They are meant to inspire hope, ease suffering, induce comfort, or provoke joy. In this there is no issue. I am afraid that in highlighting certain aspects of a Christian walk over all others, evangelical thought has simply created a new denomination. I listen to my friends talk occasionally and hear the same things. Phrases lifted from self-helpish, spiritual-buildish books pour from their mouths like papers from a copier machine. Wishy-washy, touchy-feely, humanist lyrics make order and thoughtful theology the enemy. All things old are not from faith, but from tradition, they seem to imply. These are the pillars of the new Christianity.

Now, during church, I had an intense time pouring forth an entire entry that will never be read. I was, while not listening to the sermon, rebelling against the entire concept of modern church. There is certainly no question that my current church and everyone in it would be stamped out by every socio-religious entity until 40 years ago. 400 years ago, we’d have been burned at the stake. But then again, Catholics censured their own saints and burned any dissenters. Lutherans killed those not under their worldview. Reformed churches used death to extend their viewpoint. And forget being a Baptist, you were headed to an early grave for certain. Heck, in England, Anglicans killed Puritans, then Puritans for a time killed Anglicans, then it switched back leading Puritans to flee to the United States so they could drown witches in peace. That said, it’s not surprising that all of the past would consider modern churches to be straight from hell.

These days, the tools are not excommunication, beheading, or even scarlet letters. Instead, it’s a subtle snobbery extended to those who don’t play by identical rules. For my own edification, I went through Matthew writing down everything that Christ tells us we should be like and every example that he gives of right living. During that process, I let go of my full scale piss and vigor post. The lyrics, it seems, are not inaccurate. They’re just sloppy.

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Tongues of Angels

Most of what I have said so far in my religious musings has been fairly standard in Christian theology. I have, perhaps, annoyed the outsiders, but not so much the insiders. That’s about to change, because I have some opinions regarding the more outlandish works of the Holy Spirit that will send a small cadre of Cunninghams into a tizzy.

For the layman, the Holy Spirit is the ever present helper/advocate given to believers upon the ascension of Christ. A card carrying member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit runs intercom for the Godhead-Three, along with Father and Son. It is this Holy Spirit that clarifies right and wrong for believers and evokes life change. He is the promise, almost a down payment of the future incorruptible existence of the elect.

There are several other things associated with the Holy Spirit. It is important, at this juncture, to point out a schism within the church; that between so called charismatics and, I guess, non-charismatics. The Charismatics are the ones whacking people on the head for healing, speaking in strange languages amongst themselves, and generally creating large quantities of noise. There are a few problems with this for me, and these disagreements is what classifies me as a non-Charismatic.

First, to speak in tongues is to have some heavenly energy piped through your body and passed along in divine language. There’s a problem here, namely that everyone in Charismatic churches does this, while no one in non-charismatic churches do. There are two explanations for this. Either, A, only people in Charismatic churches actually have the Holy Spirit, or, B, precedent. It comes down to a question of nature versus nurture. Is it because you have some different nature that makes you a conduit to these words, or is it because everyone around you does it and you’ve adopted these practices for yourself?

I occasionally mention the summer that I spent at a Black Baptist church in Pittsburgh, where I was literally the only white male out of about 400 weekly attendees. What I rarely mention is my summer at a hardcore charismatic church in Flagstaff. Every prayer was a cacophony of interjections, “amen, yes Jesus, oooh, thank you Jesus”, nothing wrong with that, but EVERYONE was doing it. And the same things. Why were they doing it? Because those are the things that one interjects in such situations. Further, there was rampant un-biblical tongue speaking. All would agree that to speak in tongues, even in the sense which I feel is erroneous (more in a second), requires a translator, lest it be useless. Lets just say there was an awful lot of useless jibber-jabber going on. And it all sounded the same, like a strange mixture of Hebrew and Native American tribal incantations.

Here’s my problem. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “tongues” is the same word that they use to describe when people are speaking in different human languages. For instance, and this should be a big red flag, when the Holy Spirit explicitly descends upon the crowd at Pentecost, they begin speaking in foreign languages that they do not know. It is quite clear on this.

Yet, elsewhere, we decide that tongues is to mean “tongues of angels”. Perhaps this phrase is what is problematic. When someone says that they had “the nectar of the gods”, do they mean it? Is French really the “language of love”? No. This is hyperbole meant to prove a point. When Paul muses that he might speak in the tongue of angels, he, I believe, is not implying that he’s going to speak Heaven’s language. He is pointing out that eloquence, without love, is useless. Further, when he says that we need a translator, he is speaking to a diverse audience where missionaries from all lands are floating around spreading the news in differing situations. An Aramaic sermon in Ephesus is about as useful to those listening as an Arabic math lesson at Johns Hopkins. Clearly Chinese would have been more useful to the student body.

Besides, what makes us think we even have the capacity to produce the sounds used in heaven? Does sound travel in compression waves there? Can our vocal chords produce these noise? Why should heaven be so similar that our language concepts and means of communication make sense there? One doesn’t communicate underwater the same way he does in the air, shouldn’t the eternal nether-land also be so qualitatively different?

I have only begun to investigate the tongue dilemma. Thus far, I am quite convinced that humans have hijacked Paul’s literary license and used it to drive far from the original meaning. Even if, even if Paul means to imply that humans have the capacity to speak angel-ese, I find it hard to believe that only certain alcoves of faith would have this privilege, and there would have it in overflowing abundance, while the rest of Christendom flounders, parched from scarcity of Spiritual outpouring.

The major problem here is that people never can tell when they’ve been programmed and when they’ve actually experienced something for real. I’m sure there are many here who enjoy that I’ve made that admission. In the same way that I get defensive when my faith is deemed ridiculous, those who proudly carry the banner of heaven-obonics fiercely oppose any criticism such as mine. I don’t particularly feel the urge to argue about it. To me, it is not a critical matter of the faith. I’m rather annoyed that those big-haired pastors who end up embezzling money from their churches are also the ones who employ the most egregious brainwashing techniques. They, and what they, in turn, stand for, sullies the name of Christ among the Gentiles. Perhaps the gratuitous “Gentile” name drop is the sort of sing songy mumbo-jumbo that Bess so despises.

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Buying Damaged Goods

A few days ago, I discussed my definition of sin. At some point, it is necessary to consider the initial condition. Here we look to the idea of “original sin” which, simply put, defines the state of a human upon his birth. Say what you will about Catholics, but they tend to be thorough in their doctrine. Since they are largely responsible for the conception of the idea, see their comprehensive treatment in the so called Catholic Encyclopedia for a more complete explanation of the idea. Feel free to ignore large tracts of their outline.

A few questions are central in our understanding of the origin of sin, both corporately and individually. Are humans intrinsically prone to sin? Are humans born condemned to hell by default? Is humanity as a whole hereditarily tainted at birth?

I’ll address these point by point, and without the 1000 words of fluff.

1) Are humans intrinsically prone to sin?
Absolutely. Have you ever looked around? People want, occasionally, to do good, but even our attempts at good things oftentimes end up degrading into selfish pursuits. We do right and take pride in it, souring the experience for ourselves. We automatically default to manipulation for our own gains. No one has to teach us this. It is built in, hardwired into our very being.

2) Are humans born pre-condemned to hell?
In one sense, the whole world is condemned, and then, yes, so are humans. But do I see God tormenting little babies who die in infancy? It hardly seems like there would be a point to that, and I don’t see God doing something for no reason. It teaches no lesson. But then again, I can’t visualize a baby in heaven either; prior to acquiring the life experience that will shape its personality, a young child is hardly a conscious human being. Maybe there’s a babyland in heaven.

3) Is humanity hereditarily tainted at birth?
This is the root concept in original sin. To borrow from my metaphor from earlier today, is man originally full of fresh or salty water? In this sense, I align with the idea of original sin. We begin brackish and it only gets worse. It is from grace through Christ that we are made clean, separating us from the tainted water of the world.

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If you send me an email about anything, be it for logistical consultation, word connotation, weapons replaceable assembly combustion, or religious conundrum, I will send something back of greater length and breadth than you actually desire. Someone from work recently came to me with a two page print out of one of my emails categorizing a failure mode and led with, “well, I, uhh, read your dissertation…” and that’s really my main mode of communication.

Recently, in response to my lengthy statements, I received an email from a friend who is legitimately pondering the topics of which I am writing. Some people, and I’ll just point to Matt instead of trying to subtly hint at him, aren’t legitimately considering my religious opinions. I should point out that no one is under any obligation to, opinions are like something, everyone has one and they all smell like something (nevermind, you had to be there, where “there” is 9 years ago by the high school). That’s not to say that he hasn’t devoted his significant mental prowess toward the topics; the difference is that he does so to discredit them to others as opposed to attempting to synthesize them with his own beliefs. While it can occasionally spur discussion, to take the field arrayed for battle leads to a different mind view than when one approaches a topic with the intention of negotiating a truce with ones own troubled mind.

I’ve stripped out some things from the email and proofread my response, so it’s not going to look very familiar to the one to whom I originally sent it, but I think the questions are relevant enough to apply to most everyone. They are viable questions.

as usual, i have some questions. if you ever get annoyed by them, let me know.

I should once again caveat everything by pointing out that there are certainly those who would disagree with things that I say. Theologians would find subtle faults, and people of different denominations would each point to some inadequacy. Catholics or eastern orthodox people would see more problems. That being said, I think those things that I say are biblically supported. If I were pressed by someone in biblical debate, I have verses in mind to support my points. I’ll answer you, however, without further justification, under this assumption.

so if you don’t believe in God, all of your good deeds are selfish acts? what if you are genuinely acting out of a desire to help others? is that still a sin?

Well, like I said, bean counting sins is not a valid practice. Think of us as barrels full of water, with a bunch of muck on the bottom. Lets say we are salt water barrels. Scoop from the muck and you have something vile. Scoop anywhere else, even from the top, clean water, and you still have salt water. Now, say we’re cleansed, that salt water being replaced with fresh water. Maybe we still have muck on the bottom, and scooping from the bottom is still going to bring it up, but now scooping from the middle yields fresh water. No matter what the salt water person does, he is tainted by that salt. I don’t hold too strongly to this point anyway, oftentimes in other aspects of life, I default to a “the proof’s in the pudding” mindset.

do you ever feel that you lose your individuality in your faith?

My individuality has changed, but never been lost.

i was just wondering if you personally had ever felt that way. i know sometimes when i used to go to church, bible study, etc., i sometimes felt that i was morphing into the same person as everyone else in the room. i know that we all have our unique relationships with God, but i couldn’t help feel that at least outwardly i was giving up some of my individuality. is that what God wants? does he want a little mob of carbon copy followers? why didn’t he just make us all to look like Jesus? is he testing us with our differences?

No. Look at the people in the Bible. Jesus is different than Peter who’s different than Paul. Everyone is his own person. Becoming a Christian is like going to graduate school for biology. You get to the lab, and after a while, you start thinking about biology more, talking like a biologist, and having quirky golgi body jokes that no normal person would find amusing, but you’re still your own person. You’re just a biologist now. Does becoming a biologist make you feel like you’ve relinquished your individuality?

Is he testing us with our differences? No, if you’re allowed to be different, then the question is moot. What you might really be asking is “can I still believe things that are counter to what the bible says and still be a Christian?” Not honestly, no, I don’t think so. There are beliefs that people can hold which have nothing to do with right and wrong, and these are fine. If you, by your individuality, mean to imply that your version of right and wrong is different than that of the Bible, then there is a conflict. Much of this is resolved by the idea of love; you, in particular, are compassionate, which makes you question rules that seem exclusive. The answer is not to change the rules, they can’t change, none of us has that power. The answer is to love those who break the rules instead of condemning them. We can’t condemn, we don’t have that right.

do you personally ever do something that maybe you don’t really want to b/c you think, “God would like this?” doesn’t that in itself seem a little selfish? like you are doing the act just to win his favor? how much of the time do you feel like you are acting against your own intrinsic desires when you do good?

Ahh, motivation. I’d tell you the story of Thomas a Beckett, but alas, I’m tired of telling it. Doing the right thing is occasionally inconvenient. For instance, recently I had to choose between using a forged receipt to pass state vehicle inspection or sucking it up and trying to get through the front door. I chose the latter, and, thank God, it ended up working out. If you mean deferring to someone else’s desires and eating a piece of humble pie every so often, then yes, pride does come in the way of that. If it means not heeding your own desires, then yes, it can certainly be, ahem, inconvenient.

The difference is in the aftertaste. It might go down bitter, but eventually it gets kind of a sweet glow to it after you’re done. It’s kind of like when you chew sourdough bread for long enough. Your saliva begins to break the carbohydrates down into simple sugars. Horray for 12th grade biology. The opposite might be savory at the time, but it tears up your stomach, like too much butter or chicken gravy.

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A few days ago, I decided that I would begin to tackle certain fundamental beliefs, with the intention of updating my personal public statement of faith. Thus far, I have discussed life after death, the attainment of salvation as well as the mechanism required for us to begin that process. I admit freely that my own thoughts are muddled when it comes to predestination versus free will, however, one thing that I am certain of is that one must live as though every choice or decision he makes regarding spiritual matters is of utmost importance.

The concept of sin arises from the examination of those decisions. To frame it simply, everything that comes from faith is not sin. Those things that come from selfish desire are. Grey area abounds and most lines are blurred.

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Thus far, as part of my recent faith-based content initiative, I have spoken on my views regarding the afterlife as well as how one gets where. The top layer of the how is easy. The Bible is clear on the criteria. What it is not perfectly clear on is the mechanism by which we are able to choose to accept the grace gained through the Christ’s sacrifice. There are two prevailing thought patterns for this, Calvinism and Arminianism. In Calvinism, we are predestined, nearly forced into our path by a presentient, omnitemporal God that knows the past, present and future so intimately that our choices are but a formality in a grand plan that has been known from the beginning of the Universe. In Arminianism, free will is actually free will, and God waits with baited breath for our decision.

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It would seem, from a few days ago that I hope to build on my own foundation. In reality, I can’t claim this foundation as my own. The individual thought processes might proceed from my head, but the underlying truths are not mine. I’m taking someone else’s truth, namely my good friend Mr. Bible, and digesting them in such a way that I can understand it. I think it makes logical sense, at least in concept, but there are two issues that arise. First, who defines logic? Second, why should a faith-based system conform to any logic at all? I decided long ago that I don’t need to make a comprehensive and cogent argument for my faith. In fact, none exists. I only hope to show that the concepts are less unreasonable than a thinking man might think, that it is possible to arrive at a conclusion which includes the divine without completely suspending observable or rational reality. The truth, if paradoxical, should at least seem reasonable.

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On Life After Death

Anything I say in this sort of post can be caveatted with an “according to me”.

The terms of salvation are not particularly complicated, but the idea is more intricate. First, what does “salvation” mean? It is the mechanism that opens the doors for an eternal, life-after-death paradise-like experience. It is the ticket for the train that goes to heaven, it is the means to the end. To understand the price of the ticket, one must have a concept of the destination.

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Systematic Theology

Many years ago, before the Bible epoch or my study of said Bible, I scribbled down a statement of core beliefs in an attempt to spark conversation with someone who later became a trusted friend and spiritual mentor, Ron. It is dreadfully outdated in many ways, but much of the core philosophical leg work is still valid.

Regardless, things have changed. I have thought more, studied more, learned more, and I now have a better understanding of the way Christianity works, more specifically my Christianity. When classes ended, I committed myself to a few filler activities, one of which was writing. There were several unspoken subcategories under that billet, and rewriting a statement of faith was among them. I have, however, been lax in a lot of things of late.

Despite the fact that I often make claims and do not fulfill them, I have a few items of theological import that I hope to speak on. Combined, they will constitute an updated statement of beliefs. They will be controversial to some, of this I am certain.

I realize, of course, that I don’t have the attention span to accomplish all of these items. I might try anyway.

Here are the topics:
1) prerequisites for salvation
2) predestination/election/free will
3) definition of sin
4) concept of original sin
5) irrevocable/irresistible salvation
6) Holy Spirit activities in modern society
7) inspiration of scripture
8) point of baptism/communion
9) asceticism v worldliness
10) legislative morality
11) gender roles
12) creation/evolution/faith/science

I can comment on anything really, once I start on it, let me know if there is anything else about which you’d like to hear me pontificate.

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I realized, after writing this, that it is too long, not interesting, and somewhat disjointed. Instead of simply disgarding it, I’ll dump it in as an extended entry. You can find it here:

Read Long Boring Post

It has to do with Biblical inspiration and interpretation.

Actually, if you go no further, read these thoughts and be wary of the first type of teaching.

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My ability to conceive of the world is, at least partially, bound by the realm of my actual experiences. There are ideas which I cannot truly understand; the death of a child, the overarching impact of love, the immediate confrontation of death. I can visualize these things, but when I think of them, I do it as an inflation of some basis in my experiential reality. It’s like our concept of God; we make Him to be us, times a scaling factor. That is not the post I’m looking for, but I can’t find it; it is lost to the annals of history and AE. At least the picture works.

The point is, no matter how clever our ideas, creative our analogies or coherent our logic, we cannot create something from nothing. I cannot make stone out of wood, I cannot bend my mind so far that it becomes someone else’s mind, even though I spend a huge portion of my time trying to put myself in others’ shoes. As such, I have always wondered many things. Some of them are profound, the mysteries of the Universe. Others are quite banal. Others involve the cosmos, but are otherwise of little import.

For instance, this weekend I was able to expand my mind. Before I get into the commonplace events that enabled said expansion, I should mention that I spent the weekend studying the Bible, almost non-stop, with 9 other guys in a rented house at Bethany Beach, DE. While circumstances such as those are mentally draining, they foster abnormal levels of thought and feeling.

After an intense morning of study, I went on my second run of the day. I had to. It was snowing and I was at the ocean. I’ve been to this same beach roughly 8 times since I was 12, and while there are subtle differences between June and August, my experience was hardly comprehensive. I have tried to visualize the ocean, waves crashing with snow flakes drifting to the sand; a study in chaos, violent waves and peaceful flakes, jutxaposed to show both nature’s wrath and serenity while highlighting our utter lack of ability to predict even the next second’s events.

The waves, it turns out, were not very large. The snow wasn’t sticking. It wasn’t really drifting downwards so much as driving sideways. Regardless, I had the opportunity to run along the waves, dashing up and down the breakers deftly avoiding the water while never wavering more than a few feet away. I’ve done that before, but never with snow caked to my eyelids. The ocean, it turns out, is not a summertime phenomenon. It’s always there. It was an eye opening experience, a blessing.

Then there was the next morning. The air temperature was below 20 and the wind chill was under 10. I was determined to run up the shore once more, to see what the ocean did when it was brutally cold. Tidal pools froze, the foam stuck to the beach, my cheeks burned, the zipper froze to my neck just like they do when it’s cold everywhere else. The ocean, I learned, still does what it does when it’s frigid. It’s not only for refreshment from the heat. I think I would have lost toes if I got my feet wet yesterday, whereas typically crabs are the only threat to my toes.

If I can find a way to expand my conception of the world once a week, even once a month, then life is worth living.

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After an over the top post a few hours ago, I flushed some of the built up annoyance out of my system with a workout and Pink Floyd’d underappreciated “Obscured by Clouds”. Really, only the first and last songs are underappreciated. No one appreciates the other songs either, but for good reason.

I also had the privelege of watching roughly 2 hours of “This channel is temporarily experiencing technical difficulties” flash on the screen, as ESPN was out of service. How can you leave me at a time like this ESPN? I wanted to watch basketball and continue my “get into pre-racing shape” initiative, really, was that so much to ask? But, since ESPN has always been there for me in the past, I figured I owed it to the station to sit there and wait until it came back on, which happened about 45 minutes ago. By that point, the Cavs were down 21 points to the Spurs, and there was no point in watching.

I dislike watching the Spurs anyway. They are too foreign for a big xenophobe such as myself. Manu Ginobili can get his dirty european self back to Argentina, that’s what I think.

It wasn’t so much that I just sat there. The epileptic flicker of the screen sort of added to the mood of the workout, and it doesn’t much affect my ability to vacuum. But vacuuming takes about 6 minutes when you live in an apartment. I think I probably exaggerated when I said that I watched that message for two hours. It must have been more like an hour and 20 minutes.

But I am certain that I watched the Korean channel when I was in high school for 2 straight hours. Not because I understand a word of Korean, just because I wanted to see what my mind would do if I listened singularly to something completely incoherent for so long. The idea was to focus on the nonsensical noises coming from the screen in such a way that one’s intelligible thoughts are completely purged from one’s mind. I also spent hour long bus rides prior to meets, occasionally, staring directly at the seat in front of me without making any discernable motions. The goal there is to completely block out whatever extraneous stimuli might be present.

These days, as I sit by myself in church prior to service, I’m afraid that people will feel bad for me. But really, I’m absolutely fine there, no, I enjoy it there. What’s 12 minutes of letting my mind float from conversation to conversation (other people’s conversations, mind you) compared to two hours of watching the Korean channel? Those people talk about such jovial triffles. Never anything important. Or maybe sometimes things that are important, but always the same things. People, you will learn, tend to get into ruts with their inconsequential small talk, so they like to have an armory of ponderous issues so that they can sometimes convince themselves that they are having weighty conversations. Most of the time they fabricate the issues a few minutes before and then convince themselves of their reality; a handy technique. So I don’t mind sitting there listening.

After three weeks of not running, however, this is all much more difficult. I’m about 450% more antsy without my daily endorphine fix, and it’s leading me into all varieties of horrid situations. It’s much easier when one has run 20 miles earlier in the day; you’d be amazed how little I care about how the world relates to me in those times. It can go ahead and do whatever it wants, I don’t mind, I’m just content to sit there. Sit there and use semi-colons, that’s all I want to do. Semi-colon after semi-colon after semi-colon.

leaves.jpg

AE, if you’ve made it this far, I have a question. I’m reading Exodus and Psalms right now. Do those who focus on the Old Testament find the actions of the Israelites funny? I do. Like, Exodus 4:1-3, that’s funny. I almost picture Moses thinking “Holy crap! Where’d that snake come from?!” Or Exodus 14:11-12. These people will bitch about anything. I think they’re complaining in a clever way in this passage, so I give them credit for that. Forget that God just killed, you know, all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, they’re still flipping out and whining about their situation.

And Asaph doesn’t hold a candle to David in psalm writing.

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