Thursday, December 24, 2009

John Polkinghorne on the dangerousness of scientific and religious belief

There is one important difference, however, between scientific belief and religious belief. The latter is much more demanding and more dangerous. I believe passionately in quantum theory, but that belief doesn’t threaten to change my life in any significant way. I cannot believe in God, however, without knowing that I must be obedient to his will for me as it becomes known to me. God is not there just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity; he is there to be honoured and respected and loved as my Creator and Saviour. Beware! Let me utter a theological health warning or, rather, promise: “Reading the Bible can change your life” John Polkinghorne.

I haven't read any of his books yet, but if this is any indication of who he is then I can't wait. The above quote comes courtesy of An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. And since Christians across the world are celebrating the birth of our Savior, who is called the Word/Logos made flesh, we know because He is the font of all knowledge. Praise God and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

It seems our President is an Augustinian Democrat

This morning's speech by President Obama struck me as being the most Augustinian speech by an American politician that I've seen in my lifetime. It did confirm what I had suspected all along: That he was more moderate than either his most liberal supporters or his most conservative detractors thought. His acknowledgment of our fallen human condition, though not expressed in explicitly Christian terms, nonetheless shows that he understands that the hyper idealism that drives many on the left is not what shapes his understanding. Again, he's not the pacifist that either his most left-ward supporters had hoped or the hard right had feared and, I believe, secretly wished for too. The hard right, just like the hard left, both have an overly idealized vision of the world in which they each have the secret "key" to understand everything. This causes them both to see everything in starkly black and white, Manichean terms and also causes them to see the political "other" as an eternal enemy to be stopped at every turn. Thus, when I read or watch the far right in their interaction with Obama, they want him to be as far left as possible. This theme, or meme, gives energy to their cause. Anything that contradicts this is either ignored or seen as being one more example of his dastardly plan. It's typical conspiratorial thinking that predominates in the extremes of the left and right.
Well, this is turning into a post more about Obama's critics than about him. Suffice it to say I was very impressed by his speech today. It illustrated a nuanced understanding of the human condition that has been largely absent in most political discourse. If this speech reflects even a part of who the President is, than I'm very glad he's the man God has placed in power at this dangerous and troubling time. A realist with idealistic aspirations is not a bad combination.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Final Notification

Getting a "Final Notification" from any one of the "Christian" websites I happen to belong to, tells me nothing, except that they seek to coerce me into accepting their terms.
Getting 'final notification' notices is now so common-place, that I ignore the term all-together. It's emotionally coercive. Some of the sites that use this terminology are considered "Christian." Sadly, that means nothing. Coercive commercial techniques aren't considered anti-Christian by these entities. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. But as a Christian, in my naivete, maybe I should be. I thought being Christian should illustrate something better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Bodies

Wounded, bleeding, flailing
and even my best success
a failing.
Slipping, sliding
inching ever closer
as the shoreline
slips away.
Grasping at straws
as the one who grasps me
breathes into my gasping
breath.
My body broken
dies a little bit
more today.
My body broken
by hands unforced.
My body broken
by me.
And yet your body
breaks and bleeds
every day
for me.
Your body broken
calls out to me
to die
to me.
Your body broken
nourishes
my body
with new life
that my old body
can never see.
The old wounds of your
new body
call to my wounds.
Bloodied, broken, bruised
still seen
still touched
still real.
Renewed, restored, reborn
resurrected.

And once again, my savior looks like this.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Genocide and Forgiveness

Tonight I watched the finale of a film about the Holocaust, from the perspective of a survivor who decided to "forgive" the Nazis who experimented on her and her twin sister during the war. Questions were raised about whether she even had that right to forgive those beyond her own experience of persecution. The film gave us a very complicated woman, Eva, who decided for her own sake, to forgive those who had tortured her and her twin sister on behalf of the Nazis. She decided to forgive not only those who had done these crimes against her and her sister, but also decided to forgive the entire German people and the Nazis among them for what they did. Then, later in the film, she, Eva, visited Israel, and more importantly, the Palestinian territory, to try to work her "forgiveness" into their fabric. The experience, however, for her, was unnerving to say the least. She found herself being the person who represented "power" (as an Israeli) being confronted by those who knew no power of any sort. They confronted her with the many crimes that were committed by Israelis against Palestinians on a daily basis, including outright murder. She saw, if I may say so myself, and I don't know I have this right, the discomforting sight of being on the other side the victimization table. I think she was not able to see herself as belonging to a people who could ever do such a thing. She had "forgiven" those who had victimized her from a perspective of innocence. And certainly, as a child, she was indeed innocent. In that sense she could forgive those who had violated her and her sister from a vantage point of actual innocence. In other words, they had no power to resist the violence against them. In this she was correct. Yet, when she ventured to scenarios which reflected a picture which had Jews, Israelis, being in positions of actual power, she did not have the emotional or intellectual framework available to her to allow that her own people could be guilty in the way (though not by any means in the way Nazis had been numerically) other oppressors had been before. And yes, including the Nazis. That's the most disturbing part of this. Could a people, a people victimized so horribly, become a people capable of the same horror?
This is where forgiveness takes into account, and must take into account, that every human being has within himself and herself the ability to forgive and yet also has the ability to be the perpetrator of the greatest crimes known to humanity. This brings to mind that we must always be attentive to what stirs within us as much as what drives those we would be against.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Twitter Evangelism

Tonight I discovered that Twitter is a powerful means to interact with people, whether far away geographically, or ideologically. I interacted with someone who "follows" me on Twitter about both politics and religion. It was fascinating. He's someone who is "conservative" politically, and who I thought was similarly conservative, i.e. orthodox, in his Christian convictions. Yet at the end, after finding out he believed in some pretty wild conspiracies regarding certain birth certificates, I also came to find that he questioned the basics of the reliability of the Christian text.

This exchange was enlightening to say the least.

It showed me that many among "Christian" conservatives are driven as much by a mindset that is governed by a conspiratorial way of seeing the world that not only questions our current President's origins, but also questions the foundational origins of the historic Christian faith. This, quite honestly, surprised me. It betrayed a radical skepticism that I hadn't assumed for the person I was interacting with about these issues. In my initial interactions, I saw the typical Christian conservative expressions. And in this I assumed that he had a basic trust in the reliability of the text governing Christian life. It was only as we engaged, back and forth, about political issues, that he mentioned the "birther" issue. That was my first clue. Then, within minutes, he asked about 'sources' and 'codices' regarding the basis of scripture. My first inclination is to think that he's been overly influenced by Dan Brown nonsense. But I don't want to prejudge. He may simply be examining the textual variants that do actually exist. But the fact that he brought it up so quickly after offering up the 'birther' argument does make me wonder if he's operating from a framework that is inherently conspiratorial and unrealistically dualistic. Other topics came up that, I think, point also to an either/or mindset, such as a strong focus on illegal immigration issues. In any case, it's been a good conversation so far. He's been receptive to what I've had to say so far. I hope it can be fruitful and help us both come to a better sense of what is true. In any case, it's been really interesting.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Auschwitz and memory

Every life lost
is a life extinguished
before its time

Systemized extermination
is inhumanity
depersonalized

We must
Must
remember

And yet
we must remember
well

So that
IT
never happens again

God
help us
all

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Honest Doubts

Sharing doubts when doubts confront from within or without are ways of honestly acknowledging what's actually going on inside. Even though sharing a doubt or two or more is scary and sometimes scandalous, it ultimately takes much less energy than maintaining uncertain certainties built on sands shifting beneath our intellectual and emotional feet. When we refuse to acknowledge any uncertainty, but instead stand steadfast against any questioning inquiries, internal or external, we mount up with wings of Dodo's, flapping furiously against the forces of nature itself. Nature, like the God who created it, has rules that govern how things work. When something or someone goes against those rules, eventually they pay the price. Either they pay it quickly and relatively painlessly, or they keep trying to prove themselves right and everything and everyone else wrong, and the price keep rising. Eventually, the impulse to control reality on our terms causes the flightless Dodo to try to fly off a cliff to "prove" it can. While it is often said that nature abhors a vacuum, nature also abhors fools who refuse to learn they're fools. The one who acknowledges a doubt or two or three knows enough to hold back from the cliff's edge. Paying attention to the reality surrounding us and the reality inhering within us gives us an opportunity to consider that maybe, just maybe, I might be wrong. This is wisdom.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day, Tish B'av and Native Americans

Today is Columbus Day. If you're a European American, it's customary to wish someone a happy Columbus Day. It's a holiday I celebrated gladly every year as a child back in New York City. I've lived in Italian neighborhoods just as much as I've lived in Irish neighborhoods (not to mention Latino and black neighborhoods). Both holidays (Columbus and St. Patrick's) are extremely popular on Staten Island, no matter your background. But regarding Columbus Day we always celebrated it as the day America was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus. We'd recite the names of his three ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; Memorize the nice little poetic device of "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and hear about how he, and all those after him, brought European civilization to North America. Columbus Day was always a fun holiday. After all, I had the day off from school! What more could you ask for?

In August, there's a little known Jewish holy day called Tish B'av. Even most Jews hardly know about it. It's a holy day you never say have a happy one about. It commemorates the day the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, first by the Babylonians and then centuries later by the Romans. According to tradition, these events both happened on the same day, the ninth of Av, which is what Tish B'av means. So this day holds a special and very somber meaning for Jews, since it commemorates a day of disaster for their people not just once, but many times, culminating of course in the modern holocaust.

Meanwhile, back to Columbus Day. How about the opinion of those who already lived in the land he "discovered"? This day, which is so celebrated by millions of Americans as a day of great discovery, is seen as the darkest day in Native American history. It's a day that marks the beginning of their end as a people connected to their land. It's a day that marks the beginning of a genocide that still has not been fully, or even partially, in most American's eyes, recognized or admitted. What of the enslavement of American Indians by Columbus himself? What of the consequent eradication of large swaths of peoples from the Alleganies all the way to the west coast?

Columbus Day is celebrated as a day of discovery.
Tish B'av is remembered as a day of mourning.
Native Americans also see this day as a day of mourning.
This day is their Tish B'av.

Let us walk in their steps and mourn with them. But better yet, let us walk with them towards a better future. We must be honest about what has happened. To lie about it is to perpetuate the crimes of the past. But we must move forward.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning as mitzvah

To learn is to do God's work after him. Since us humans are made in his image, we have at our bestowal a vast resource if we would but take advantage of it. Most of us most of the time live our lives barely beyond crawling out of the mud. Not that there's anything wrong with mud. It's what we're made out of and God called it (us) good. We must never forget our origins and how deeply we're embedded to the land that gave us birth. Mud is where we've come from, but it's not all of who we are. And it certainly isn't where we are called to stay. We also are these creatures that have this breath of life breathed into us from above. Not just nephesh, all living creatures have that. We all breathe and have our being with them. But we, these human creatures, seem to have had a breath of heaven breathed into us, this breath called ruach. Somehow this living breath gives us eyes in a way that even other creatures, our brothers and sisters of the soil, don't have. We have a sense of divinity that may exist in other creatures, but isn't expressible by words, or maybe I mean concepts. We look out beyond ourselves and wonder about what and why, where and when, and ultimately Who. All of the other creatures, animate and inanimate, have this ingrained sense of the divine within their being. But we wonder about it. We struggle with it. We look around and see, and wonder at what we're not seeing. Thus we learn. We seek out what isn't yet seen. We struggle to learn what isn't yet known. And in doing so, we see more of what God has created. We read of God as he has shown himself to us, whether by words breathed out on scrolls, or in words found as we breathe in air given to us from our brothers and fellow creatures, the trees that surround and feed us every day. As creatures who stand between heaven and earth, filled with spirit and soil, we straddle two worlds as we struggle through this world. Our knowledge is our blessing and our curse. God help us to learn from every teacher you have given us. Help us to learn what the world, in all its entirety, is. Help us to see what is and be at peace with that reality. To learn is to grow in the knowledge of God and his world.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biblical Global Justice

This semester at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary one of the classes I'm taking is Biblical Global Justice with the Rev. Dean Borgman. As soon as I saw the syllabus I knew I wanted to take the class. Our first textbook is "Rise Up, O Judge: A Study of Justice in the Biblical World" by Enrique Nardoni. It's by far the most scholarly of the books he's requiring for the class. But it's well worth the reading, if only for the fact that it makes abundantly clear that the Biblical model of justice predated the Biblical text. I know that this can seem scary to many Christians, especially evangelicals, since it seems to put into doubt the uniqueness of the Biblical witness. I used to struggle with that same tension. Many years ago I used to say that the pagan writers borrowed their ideas from the Hebrew writers and that that explained the similarities between the Biblical text and the surrounding cultures. I didn't know then that these writings predated the Biblical witness by hundreds of years in some cases. So as I came to realize that the Biblical writers were the ones doing the "borrowing" I had to decide how I was going to deal with that. I couldn't go back to my previously held position. The archeological evidence is far too strong to put the Hebrew text in the front of the line chronologically. I still believe very strongly that the Biblical text is unique in comparison to other texts, in that it reveals like no other texts of that time (or since) the singular Creator God Yahweh over and against the other gods of the surrounding nations. Is there a great deal of similarity between the temples, the covenant language, the creation stories, the flood narratives, and the Biblical narratives? Absolutely. As an evangelical, I believe that God has spoken in a peculiar way through the Hebrew prophets so that his Person and attributes are revealed in a way that gives us an accurate picture of Who God Is. Is it exhaustive? Not in the least. But is it sufficient for a right knowledge of the Creator God of the universe. Yes. It is also sufficient for a saving knowledge of that Creator God to those up to the time of the first advent of Christ. Once again, as an evangelical Christian, I believe in the unique salvific centrality of Christ's Person and Work.

The reason for all of the prolegomena here is that it is sometimes the case that those who would affirm what I've just affirmed regarding the composition of the Biblical text also negate or at least relativize the centrality of the Biblical witness and by extension the centrality of Yahweh in the OT and Christ in the NT as regards salvation.

In tonight's class, in particular, we dealt largely with the issues of economics and what the Bible says about economic issues. The readings so far have leaned liberal in their analysis. But remember, this is Gordon Conwell Seminary, which is not, and never has been known as, a liberal seminary. It's a very theologically "conservative" i.e. orthodox school within the evangelical Christian tradition. But because this class is dealing specifically with the issues of global justice, and it's trying to address them from a Biblical perspective, some of the passages (and analyses) are going to sound downright liberal, whereas other passages are going to come off sounding very conservative. If your theology offends political partisans of both stripes, you're probably somewhere that's good. It's not guaranteed of course. The standard isn't who you offend. It's who God offends. If you find yourself offending the same types of people He offends in the OT and NT, then you're doing well.

Do you sound like you might be a crypto communist because you like early Acts too much, and Mary's Magnificat gives you the warm fuzzies? But at the same time you're thought to be dangerously narrow-minded because you actually believe Jesus when He says that there is no way to get to the Father except through Him, and that in the same Acts you agree that there is no other name under heaven by which women/men may be saved? If you believe that all of these passages are equally inspired, then you just might be a Christian who is equipped to speak to the idolatries of both the left and the right. You may also be a Christian who can speak to the idolatry of consumeristic consumption that has ravaged the spiritual life of American evangelicalism. But in order to be able to speak to that particular idolatry, you (I) must first own up to our part in partaking of that deadly delicacy, turn from it, and then reach out to those caught up in the same mesmerizing meme which tells us we are what we own. And that we can never own enough. Our diagnosis must be savagely precise so that we can administer the anointing oil of the good news of Christ and His Kingdom. Nothing else will do. Nothing more, because nothing more is needed. Nothing less, because nothing less will suffice. Christ and his Kingdom gives us the motivation to move mountains in our world all the while knowing that moving a mountain and not knowing Christ means you've just rearranged the chairs on the Titanic. As Christians, we're called to heal, mend, tend, and minister to the whole person, body and soul. Nothing less and nothing more. Because nothing less will suffice and nothing more is needed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

It's day two here at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I'm still settling into the routine of life out here. It's been eight years since I last was in an academic environment. Classes start on Friday morning. Yesterday, today and tomorrow is orientation for all of the new students. I drove out on Monday morning and drove through the day until about 1am. I stopped in Lee, Mass. for the night and took off again at 6am for the last leg of the trip. I got into Boston around 8:30am and drove right into rush hour traffic. It was stop and go for about half an hour. But once I hit 95 north it cleared out considerably. As I got closer to GCTS I kinda knew where I should exit and I kinda knew what the main roads were that led into South Hamilton. Well, needless to say I drove for almost 2 hours around the northern suburbs of Boston looking for GCTS. Eventually, I found a cop in Beverly, a neighboring town, and asked him for directions (he was the third person I had asked BTW!). Once he realized that I was hopelessly lost, he told me he would lead to the seminary himself. A few minutes later, after he got done having a vehicle towed, he pulled beside me and led me to the front gate of Gordon Conwell! What a blessing! I wish I had gotten his name, but in any case I am very grateful for the services of this gentleman from the Beverly Police Department. He made what was turning into a very stressful day into one that I now look back on with gratitude.

The days leading up to my trip out here were just as dramatic. I only applied three weeks ago. And I also only received confirmation that I was accepted last Wednesday! My last day at work was last Friday, so either way I had to move on to something new. I drove out here with only the acceptance confirmed, nothing else. No housing had been secured. No financial aid had been secured (that's still being worked on!). But I came out with my car packed to the rafters trusting that God was behind all of this. I was excited, anxious, sad, happy, nervous; just about every emotion ran through me in the past week. In fact, on Saturday I really struggled with anxiety right off the bat and had a hard time getting packed. Thankfully, good and faithful friends helped me that day get through and I was able to get most of my belongings packed away in storage.

Then Sunday came. I went to church. It was great as usual, but it was also emotional to see my friends there, knowing that I wouldn't be seeing them again for several months at least. Then after church Jeff and Melissa had a dinner for me with a bunch of other friends, many of them from my Hope College days. That was even more emotional. Finally, Sunday night came and I became so anxious that I thought I might not even go. Every potential drawback came roaring into my mind of why I shouldn't do this. Everything that could go wrong stared me in the face. I was terrified of what might happen. I was also very sad at the prospect of leaving Holland after 12 years. I had built up many very important friendships over the years, not the least of which was Jeff and Melissa and their little boy Tsepo. That was the hardest part by far. Even writing this causes tears to well up in my eyes.

But once again, Jeff spent time with me late Sunday night and we talked, I cried, he listened, and he asked the right questions. A little later a friend (Jon) who is staying at the house came in and we also talked for nearly an hour until I calmed down. I finished up packing what I could into my car that night, got what sleep I could, and got up Monday to leave.

I woke up later than expected simply because I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. So I didn't actually leave until 9:30am. But because of the rest and the conversations I had had the night before I awoke in a much better frame of mind. I packed what was left that could fit in my car and I said goodbye to Jeff, Melissa and Tsepo and drove off. I found out the next day when we spoke on the phone that that moment was the hardest one for them. We've shared our lives for over two and a half years and had become family. I will always be grateful for what they have been for me both as friends, but also as my sister and brother in Christ.

The trip ended up being much better overall than I had expected. The car ran perfect the whole way. The trip itself, by the end, was just over a thousand miles (part of that of course was due to my getting completely lost right at the end). Anyway, here it is, day two, and my housing is provided for; which was my biggest worry. And my financial aid is slowly coming together. I still need to find work. But I trust that that too will fall into place. So far I've had no reason to doubt that God will provide for me. After all, he's been doing just that throughout my whole life. This particular adventure is just one more example.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Gospel Coalition

I just discovered the Gospel Coalition website when reading Michael Spencer's twitter feed (yes, I "do" twitter!). Michael had linked to a particular video of John Piper and Tim Keller speaking about how important it is for those who are God centered to listen to those who are Christ/Cross centered and vice versa. Upon listening to the initial link, I visited other chapters in the series and was very impressed. I look forward to seeing more of what they have.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back from NY, next stop, Boston and Gordon Conwell Seminary!

What a week. I get back at 2:30am Monday morning after driving 15 hours from NY. Upon coming into Michigan I realize I'm not supposed to move to NY, but I'm not supposed to stay in Holland either. It dawns on me that my long dormant and delayed dream of Gordon Conwell Seminary may finally come true. Each day this week I've taken a step and so far so good. My transcript from Hope College is heading to GCTS as we speak. I've gotten part of the online application done. I've got three people to write the recommendation letters. I hope to have my own essays done by tonight, or at the latest, by Monday. Thankfully, since it's now an online process, once I'm done, it's received by them instantaneously. I can almost taste the lobster and clams! I hope they still do the seafood cookout for new students!

It's strange how events can change so fast. I shouldn't be surprised of course. God has long worked that way in my life. Whether 12 years ago this week when I first came out to Holland to attend Hope College on very short notice, or even further back, when God worked His strange grace through my homelessness when I was 21. Or more recently, when He worked through a convicting (literally!) grace nearly three years ago. In all of these events, God has reminded me each and every time that He has always been in the midst of my circumstances. It's just that my typical hard heart and hard head needed a glaring flashing light in my face before I would recognize His face in that light. I am and always will be grateful for the various ways that God has used the people around me to intervene in my life. His love is truly beyond comprehension.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Heading off to NYC

Well, I'm heading off to NYC. Specifically Staten Island, my hometown. I lived my first 32 years there before I moved to Holland, Michigan to attend Hope College. That was 12 years ago! It's hard to believe that I've lived here that long. Holland is seriously one degree of separation! I'm looking forward to Pizza (yes, with a capital P, b/c NY Pizza is the real thing! Thin crust rules!), gyros, and serious Chinese food. Though China Kitchen does rule Holland, and with good reason. Those fried dumplings are to die for! Boy, I seem to be food obsessed. But best of all, I'm looking forward to seeing friends (and my sis) and taking tons of pics and video for my friends. It'll be good to get away and have some down time. I definitely need to recharge.

In the coming days and weeks I hope to have some new posts on issues related to our cultural slide toward extremism. It's such a big issue, that I've been intimidated by it and haven't posted anything so far. I'm also planning a detailed review of Derek Webb's new album Stockholm Syndrome, which I finally bought and have listened to many times. Still processing that one! It's different to be sure. I like the message, but the style is taking some time. If I have access, I've post from NYC with pics and video!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Matthew Elmore-Calling All Navigators!

A customer at my store (thank you so much!) gave me a CD of a musician from Hudsonville, just up the road from Holland, named Matthew Elmore. The CD is called Calling All Navigators! His vocal style is reminiscent of Josh Garrels and to some extent Phil Ochs, an old sixties protest singer I've always enjoyed. In one of his songs his raw vocals remind me of Keith Green and his unapologetic passion. The final song, Rescue Me, Almighty God, could easily become a new hymn classic. It reminds me of the theological richness found in the hymns of William Cowper and Augustus Toplady. Needless to say, I look forward to hearing more from this gifted young musician. As I said yesterday at work, sometimes we get our best theology from the poets and musicians. This is an example of just that.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The "controversial" Derek Webb

Derek Webb is a Christian musician who used to sing lead vocals with Caedmon's Call back in the 90's until 2003, when he left to pursue a solo career. It's since then that he has gotten the label of "controversial", since his lyrics have included what some consider to be mild profanity and have also touched on political/social issues in a confrontational way. What is it about Derek Webb that makes him so controversial? Is it just the "strong" language that he occasionally uses in his songs? Is it the hot button issues that he tackles in his songs? Well, the answer to these questions is yes, and more. Derek has written what I consider to be the most theologically mature lyrics in Christian music in recent years. There are others who also write theologically accurate lyrics, to be sure, such as Michael Card and Fernando Ortega. But Derek takes these theological insights and lets them loose on politics and culture. It's in this that he's gotten himself in trouble. You see, Derek Webb is speaking with what is sometimes called the "prophetic voice", a voice that is never popular, because it speaks to the idolatries of God's community, the church. Whether it's Wedding Dress calling us whores chasing after other lovers besides God, Saint and Sinner saying that we're a damned mess before being united with Christ, or King and a Kingdom, where he says that one of two great lies he's heard was that Jesus Christ was a white middle class Republican, Derek hits the American Evangelical church where it hurts. He hits them where they have chosen to elevate these cultural issues above the call of the gospel. Derek makes clear in his music that we are all guilty, himself included. In one song from his first solo album, he says that he's a dangerous crusader, turning over tables, but he's starting in his own living room. This is what a real prophetic voice does. Many, who would like to be seen as prophetic voices, whether on the left or the right, simply use their accusative voice to make their own side sound better. That's not a prophetic voice in the biblical sense, that's just another partisan trying to sway the vote. A true prophetic voice will point out his own log before mentioning the splinter in any one else's eye. His new album, Stockholm Syndrome is more of the same true prophetic voice. The "controversial" song on this album is What Matters More, where he uses scandalous words like damn and shit. What seems to be lost in the midst of the controversy is what the song is actually about. Derek Webb is an important artist, not just for his social commentary, but for the fact that his commentary comes from his Christian convictions. Maybe the true controversy is what the American evangelical church has become.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Regina Spektor's Laughing At

Regina Spektor has a new album called Far and it's fabulous. Her voice has even more range than before, and her nuance and control is stronger than ever. The song I'm most interested in, the one featured on her website front page, is Laughing At. The song basically declares that no one's laughing at God when bad things happen. It then also declares that God can be funny, even hilarious. I know that Spektor is a Russian Jew, but I have no idea of what her own views are of religion/spirituality. I have to admit that my favorite part of the song is when she rips on those who offer a god more like a Genie, Houdini, Jimminy Cricket or Santa Claus then the One who actually exists. In this she seems to intuitively know that these gods are just our selfish wishes externalized. God is not our cosmic bell hop, rushing to feed our glutinous appetites. But who/what is the god of Regina Spektor? Since her songs are pretty post-modern, what we get are the questions, but not the answers. I am curious though.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Catholic voice on living a sustainable life

A good friend of mine emailed me an essay written just today about being environmentally attuned, advocating eating locally through organic farmers, and looking at where our clothing is made before we buy it. A typical arugula eating lefty? Not in the least! The author is a traditional Catholic who recognizes that we live in an enchanted world, and that this means that everything natural is of value, because Yahweh, the God of the universe, is the Creator of it all. I look forward to seeing what else he has to say.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who is Dennis Petersen, and what is Young Earth Creationism (YEC)?

Last week I asked an online friend, James Kidder, who runs a website called Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist, if he knew who Dennis Petersen was. I was quite pleasantly surprised when he responded with a full essay on his blog with details including a review of the text in question from fellow YEC's (young earth creationists) that is surprisingly critical. Please check out his essay in response to my question and check out what else he has to say. His voice represents a much needed antidote to what is usually thought to be the "Christian" view on all issues scientific, and especially anything regarding evolution. Thankfully, as my sidebar attests, there are several Christian voices out there now that are doing yeoman work of showing that scientific literacy and Christian orthodoxy do not need to be mutually exclusive.

The combination of the YEC book, Jim's response, and the question concerning the Creation Museum that came up at church today makes me realize that an avenue of communication needs to be established within the theologically conservative community concerning what it means to be Christian in light of scientific advances, in particular as they relate to evolution and cosmology. My biggest concern is for those Christians who adhere to traditional orthodox Christianity, of which I'm one, but who have also rejected almost completely modern science when it comes to biology and cosmology, of which I'm not.

Many of my Christian friends are concerned to raise their children in the faith so that they will pass on that faith for many generations to come. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Yet part of what it seems to mean when the "faith" is described includes YEC belief. I understand the impulse. To take doctrine seriously and in detail is to go against the grain in almost every way. Our culture, whether secular or even Christian, is consumed with the desire to avoid anything that divides. We seem to be guided by a public theology that says, along with Rodney King, Can't we all just get along? Pragmatism rules the day. Relativism relagates anything distinctive and exclusive as irrelevant or even a threat. Thus the temptation is to avoid any controversy by avoiding anything precise, anything exact.

Here we find an irony that connects, in a healthy way, the disciplines of orthodox Christianity and the scientific enterprise. Both require precision and exactness. Both disdain flabby logic and rationales from emotionalism. They also share a common thread of questioning the assumptions of a stale orthodoxy that loses its vitality as the environment changes. They both deal with the details on the ground as they are. In both cases, the institutional forces usually strike out at these "heretics" in their midst, whether scientific or religious. They upset the norms as they have been understood for ages. It is my contention that to be an orthodox Christian does not neccessitiate being a Young Earth Creationist. In fact, to be faithful to the God who has revealed Himself through the word of Scripture and the final Word, Christ Himself, is to honor the achievements of scientsts, both Christian and non-Christian, who have made amazing discoveries of our natural world. The God of the universe, who is the Word Incarnate, and Who is Reason Incarnate, rules the universe according to His own nature. God is coherent. Thus the natural world is coherent. Thus even fallen human reason is capable of understanding aspects of this creation as it searches it out diligently.

I drive a car every day to work. The reason I am able to drive a car is that multiple people working in multiple places worked together to put that car together. So far it works enough for me to get where I want to go. But where did those people working together get the idea to put this car together so that I can drive it? The car was designed by engineers working with materials and formulas. (BTW, I'm not going where you think I'm going. I don't buy into ID) The materials and formulas are themselves the product of the scientific enterprise, which came out of the enlightenment, sometimes called the scientific revolution. Some of the people involved were Christian. Many were not. However, the modern industrial economy we experience is a direct result of their scientific and theoretical work in years past. We do all of what we do and live the way we do because of the work of men and women who labored in laboratories and worked on theorems that have borne fruit both intellectually and economically.

The "theory" of evolution is no different. It's a theory just like Einstein's theory of relativity. And it's had just as much practical effect. Einstein gave us nuclear power (and weapons) and a much deeper understanding of the universe. Sounds pretty practical to me. The theory of evolution, especially in light of modern genetics, has given us an incredible tool to be able to understand the natural processes of mammals, both human and many other. The practical impact of this of course is medicine. How we treat diseases is directly related to our evolutionary relationship to every other species on earth. I can't think of anything more practical than that.

In thinking about this, my thought is that I would like to see a paper written to Christian parents of children concerning their educational future. If you are a Christian parent, and you want your child to glorify God as fully as possible, then you should want your child to be as scientifically literate as possible. If you are are a Christian parent who wants to homeschool your child (a position I'm sympathetic to), please consider how your child's faith will be effected when they enter higher education. Many lose their faith because they see the scientific evidence and then think it means that Christianity must not be true.

Christianity and science are not enemies. In fact, the coherence of science, I believe, is predicated upon the nature of God, Who is coherent and is Reason Incarnate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Here's a cool thunderstorm video from Monday night.

A new blog I just found by Gershom Gorenberg called southjerusalem

I was reading Foreign Policy's online magazine and saw that they had an article by Gershom Gorenberg and knew I needed to read what he had to write. My previous experience with Gorenberg was his masterful work, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. In his FP piece, he was laying out why Bibi Netanyahu needs to be careful in his upcoming speech this weekend in Tel Aviv concerning the settlement issue. In a nutshell, "natural growth" ain't what we think it is. Gershom's vision for an Israeli/Palestinian future is idealistic to be sure. But even if we acknowledge every past hurt, there has to be a time when we decide to move forward. I'll be honest, I'm not hopeful for the near future, but that doesn't mean we stop working for a better future with those willing to work with us. It may not be our generation that gets to enjoy the benefit of lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians (although I hope it is), but we can at least do the work of planting the seeds of peaceful coexistence between two peoples so different and yet so similar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is an oblique mitzvah?

An oblique mitzvah is a good work done, if you will, from a sideways glance. It's almost an inadvertent good deed. It's not quite intentional. An oblique mitzvah manages a moral act in the midst of an immoral situation; a situation I might add, that emanates from within. I think when we engage in oblique mitzvahs, we illustrate the goodness of God. The Creator's goodness is shown in a dirty, messy situation. The term came about when I picked up a call today at work and it turned out to be a telemarketer. Instead of hanging up, which is what I (and everyone else) normally do, I set the cordless phone on the counter and let the recorded voice continue its spiel. It's at that moment that I realized that by putting the phone aside without hanging up that I was keeping one phone line busy at that telemarketing company, and thus they were unable to make another call to someone else at that moment. The whole event lasted maybe a minute. It won't go down in the annals of human history as a transformative moment. It won't even go down in my own life's history as being a game changer. But, for one moment, I kept a company that's most likely a scam operation, from harassing someone else. That, my friends, is an oblique mitzvah.

Grateful

I am grateful for faithful friends. I'm reminded that this is how God usually speaks to my deepest needs.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A good article from Christianity Today

Christianity Today has an article about the relationship between the radical fringe and the mainstream of the pro-life movement. The fringe, both on the left and the right, end up effecting the mainstream, again on the left and right, in such a way that they both speak what the other is unable or unwilling to say. Obviously, the violent expressions that both extremes occasionally act out cannot be sanctioned, but they do effectively express concerns that the center is usually unwilling to entertain. In any case, it's a delicate balance. Both the right and the left should consider what their respective voices at the fringes have to say without giving in to the violent impulses that too often drive their actions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

George Bush and the End Times, Next on Fox!

This is scary stuff! I first discovered this on Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. Apparently, all of the paranoid fantasies among those on the left about George Bush's religious beliefs might have some basis in reality. Now, since this story comes from alternet, which is a well known liberal website, it might be easy to dismiss it as typical partisan ranting. But the combination of the accounts from Chirac and academic essay seems to give it some more credibility. But of course, since this account comes from "French" sources, we can automatically discount it. After all, who needs to think, we can always just hate the French! In any case, all I can say is that I am so glad he is not president anymore!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why the god of the gaps must die

Each time a new scientific discovery is made that had previously been considered the domain of mystery or even miracle, the god of the gaps gets smaller and smaller. Since this particular god is nothing like the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, I couldn't be happier to witness its very timely demise.

This god needs to die.

Ironically, at least for those who seem to be most concerned to defend the biblical witness against any encroachment on its authority, the most anti-scientific believers have posited a god that is only the god of the supernatural, the miraculous, and the spiritual, but gets short shrift when anything is found to be just natural. This attitude belies an inherently gnostic impulse that relegates the physical to an inferior status to the spiritual. We see this in popular Christianity, with its various programs that promise miraculous results if you just follow this ten point/seven spiritual laws, etc. secret formula. In other words, if you're truly spiritual, then you'll do this and not do that.

In this plastic Jesus version of spirituality, we have a cosmic bellhop who must answer to our whims because we figured out His formula. This false god, one we've made in our own faulty image; while doing our bidding, quickly shrinks down to our size, unable to ever deal with anything biggier than us. Thus to argue from a god of the gaps perspective is to always fight from a defensive posture. Therefore, to equate Christianity with this particular dogma is to make Christianity a defensive posture always on its heels, always fighting to hold onto less and less of the pie.

However, if the God of Christianity is the one actually described in scripture, then we see there a God who is not just the God of the spiritual, the miraculous and the supernatural; but the God of the entire universe. This God is present in the minute details of genetics as well as the vast distances between galaxies. This God is slowly but surely discovered through the scientific enterprise as we grow in our knowledge of physical processes, whether through discovering the grandeur of evolutionary biology, or the vast reaches stretching over billions of light years across space and time. This vision offers us, at least to my mind, a much more majestic God, a Lord over all creation, Who is seen and unseen, known and unknown, completely sovereign and completely immanent, distinct, yet found whenever we open our eyes and ears and all of our senses.

I need a big God. Scripture gives us that God. The god of the gaps gives us instead an anemic little godling that can't even keep its small piece of the pie from being eaten up by simple human reason. And as I said above, that god needs to die. Or better yet, we need to know that this "god" never really lived to begin with. The sooner we know this, the better off we are.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Christianity and Evolution

Over the years, as a Christian, I've struggled with what it means to be a faithful Christian while also believing that the scientific endeavors as expressed by the disciplines of biology and cosmology are largely accurate in their assessment of the physical reality. Cosmology looks at the "macro" picture and sees an exceedingly ancient (13.7byo) universe, vast and beautiful, born of a big bang that has given rise to everything we now see. Biology, to a large (!) extent, has looked at the "micro" picture, and given us amazing insights to the origin of species through genetics and the somewhat larger (4.3byo) discipline of geology. The more I read, the more I am convinced of the Truth of evolutionary biology and cosmology. Yeah, I used a capital T when I spelled truth. I believe it's that true. Are there areas left that haven't been understood, even investigated? Absolutely! Is it possible that further discoveries may change how we understand our origins as a species? Of course. Is it in any way likely that these forthcoming discoveries will show us to be ontologically distinct (genetically speaking) from all of the creatures that have existed on earth from the beginning of single celled life? Not in the least. Does that have any impact on my faith as a Christian? Not in the least.

Are there tensions in my having accepted this position? Of course there are. The big issue of the historicity of Adam and Eve come up. The issue of when natural death came about also poses problems. But to acknowledge that the view of Theistic Evolution (the "official term" that I espouse) has tensions with the biblical text is not to close the door on its strength as an option. Each view, whether, theistic evolution, or Intelligent Design, or Young Earth Creationism, or Materialist (atheistic) Evolutionism, have their own tensions. Every opponent can point to the weak points in a view and say that this therefore "proves" that their view is false.

This tendency in the current environment gives too much voice to the culture warrior impulse that seems to be the zeitgeist de jour, whether theistic or atheistic. None of us actually engages the strengths of our antagonists arguments. We each look to their weakest point and take advantage of that in order to score easy points; hoping against hope that no one is noticing that we're acting like a magician using sleight of hand in order to distract attention away from the very issues that cause us most concern.

As usual, I'm concerned that we should give each other the benefit of the doubt. We should each allow that we might not have the corner on the truth. We should listen. I mean really listen, to each other. Even if we disagree. Especially if we disagree.

Who knows, we might actually learn something!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

How the left can save capitalism

Regulation. It's actually much simpler than we think. We were a country that thrived after the second world war in part due to the regulation that reined in the worst impulses that would exert themselves if left unchecked. Regulated capitalism is a tremendous engine for growth. Remember the fifties? No, of course not! You're too young. Well, you see, Dwight David Eisenhower was president back then. He was the great WWII hero we elected as president to usher in the American century. He was a Republican (nowadays a RINO). But he also believed in the basic premises of the New Deal, which said that Americans should not have to be subject to the vagaries of the economic cycles unprotected by a social contract overseen by a responsive government. Anyone espousing anything similar to what he took for granted (such as a much more graduated income tax up to 90%) would be called a socialist nowadays. And yet a certain segment of our population looks back to that era as the "good old days" to be restored. Even Richard Nixon would be called a borderline communist now for advocating a nation minimum income; a policy he publicly affirmed in the early seventies. As a conservative Republican! Oh, how times have changed.

If we look to the changes in credit card regulations in the late seventies under Jimmy Carter (sorry to say), we see the beginning of the end of our economic vitality. I use the term "vitality" carefully because we see it as a term that effuses growth and life in itself, and yet vitality is anything but what we've seen in the time since the birth of the modern credit card. We certainly saw an explosion of spending, and the growth that came from that. But to call that vitality is to confuse categories. What we saw were several 'bubbles" popping up over the course of three decades that gave us the appearance of economic growth predicated on money being made on money through an e-economy that would somehow bring magical profits (the 1990's) to an un-real estate economy that presupposed an always increasing property value (the 2008/2009 debacle) to a belief that collateralized debt obligations were a good idea up to the last few months.

In each of these areas, their very existence owes to the power of financial institutions being able to "contribute" to congressional members, and thus able to contribute to the writing of the laws related to financial affairs. And surprise of surprise, investment bankers and their congressional allies brought about sweeping changes from those that had been established during the Great Depression. And what were those regulations that had been established during the Great Depression? The regulations that Roosevelt enacted were established in direct response to the excesses that had brought the depression about. Insider dealing, officials being former bankers, and bankers being former officials. Sound familiar? It should. Lord Acton was right when he said that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's true of government. But it's also true of the private interests which seek their own power.

Again, being an augustinian democrat helps me to see that every human institution is effected by our common corruption. Nothing is exempt.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

On the subjectiivity of knowledge

"That which is received is received in the manner in which it is received by the receiver." St. Thomas Aquinas.

Courtesy of a Sally Rogers comment via a Rod Dreher (aka, Crunchy Con) blog entry "Culture and the knowability of truth."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Biologos

Francis Collins, the author of "the Language of God" has come out with a new venture, a website called Biologos which provides answers to those interested in the intersection of faith and science. I was pleased to see right at the top of his recommended reading list "Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?" by Denis Alexander. This is, I believe, the best book out there on the topic. Alexander delves into the science deeply enough that it helps to have some scientific know-how, but you don't have to have a PhD to understand it. Other books recently have been written by Christian defenders of evolutionary biology, but many of them, while strong on the science, have been weak on the theology. This is where Alexander stands out. His theology is exceptional. He deals with the thorniest issues in a straight forward way that affirms a very high view of scripture while still being scientifically sound. It's good to see more Christians coming out and declaring that Christianity can indeed be a "reasonable" faith.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More voices on torture

It seems that the torture memos have garnered quite a reaction from across the political spectrum. Some have decried their release, saying that this has made our country less safe. Yeah, nobody knew we were torturing until these memos came out. Right. Others have seen this decision as a cleansing act. Others, even if they're opposed to torture, not so much. I don't know if a "truth commission" is in order, but I do believe that if we're a nation of law then we need to let the law speak. It seems pretty clear that what we as a country engaged in over the last several years constitutes a legally defined war crime. Although it is interesting that even our adherence to that treaty was under attack during the Bush years. Gee, why would they want to change that law? But I digress. The whole reason I'm writing this is because of the several voices raised against torture from religious and conservative voices. Rod Dreher has done a yeoman's job of showing that (my personal favorite) there are conservatives and Christians (the best by far) out there who oppose torture. The truly sad thing is that he even felt the need to do so. I could easily link to hundreds of more left leaning essays concerning the same topic, but of course, they're biased. They hated Bush. They hate traditional values. Therefore they can't be listened to on any topic. But what if our enemies on the left are right sometimes? What if the right is sometimes wrong? Maybe that's where being a Christian comes in handy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Christianity and torture.

In the past week we've seen Shepard Smith express his own feelings on the issue of "torture", a term that apparently doesn't have any meaning anymore. "Waterboarding" is something that doesn't count anymore as "torture" since we now do it. Even though we prosecuted those who did it (exactly what we recently did) after WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and certain southern American cities in 1983, to say that "waterboarding" is "torture" is to be, somehow, unamerican.

I ask one question: Is it Christian?

Can we as Christians affirm a policy, a behavior, that directly contradicts what our Lord and Savior has called us to? Maybe it's OK for the pagans around us to do it. Maybe we can "outsource" this policy to them so we don't feel so guilty. Maybe we can elect a leadership that will do for us what we're not quite willing to do ourselves. After all, if "they" do it, then we're not "really" guilty.

Yeah....right.

I know the answer to this question. You know the answer to this question. That's not the question. The question is this: Can we be faithful to Christ while giving support to what our Bible says is murder? Can we be good citizens while giving support to what our Constitution strictly forbids? Can we go along with "effective" policies that make us our enemy?

The ends justifying the means leaves us real mean.

Christ Jesus calls us to something better. Pragmatism leaves us all acting as monsters, the resurrection allows us to serve and suffer.
Please let us live in the light of the resurrection. It's in this light that we can let go of our own petty and provincial powers; powers that convince us that violence is the only answer.

God help us to see a better day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

Well, I finally finished the Daniel Tammet book "Embracing the Wide Sky." The author is autistic, more specifically he has Aspergers syndrome, which I am pretty familiar with. His writing is lucid and clear, which isn't surprising of course, since he values logic and clear thinking so much. I could see some of his autism coming through the pages as I read through the book. It's those parts of the book I enjoyed the most. I felt I could "see" him in those parts more than in the other parts. When I worked with the developmentally disabled years ago, I always preferred working with those with autism spectrum disorders (I don't like "disorder", I prefer differently ordered), since I think I thought a little like them myself. I could see a little of what they saw and thus interact with them more appropriately. I hope they liked it too. I know they helped me see better.
After I finished his book I watched Cadillac Records with Beyonce Knowles. I wanted to watch it primarily because of her being in it, but it turns out she doesn't even show up in the movie until halfway through. That's not to say that the movie is any worse for that. All of the characters are strong from beginning to end, not least of all hers, where she plays the legenary Etta James. If you can get past the cussin', which infuses the movie like heaping spoonfuls of sugar in an AA's bitter coffee, and the sexual stuff, which is fairly limited, then you'll find a story bound up in many stories that is the blues. I loved it. It was about the music. It was about race. It was about hope and despair. It's raw. That's why it's good.
So now I'm listening to the Grateful Dead while writing this because of an article in today's New York Times about them reuniting for a tour as the Dead (sans the Grateful). They included links to popular Dead sites that feature their best music, and as a former(?) Deadhead, I couldn't resist checking them out. Needless to say I ended up downloading five shows from May of 77', which is considered by most to be their peak of concert performances.
Ironic that I'm listening to the Dead on the day that commemorates the resurrection of Christ. I guess that's the not yet intruding on the already. Thank God for the already.

Christos aneste

Am I held by that which I hold?
Do I live by a life given?
Can I trust in words
spoken in ages past.
I live in tomorrow.
I live in the hope
of what will be.
Predicated on words already spoken,
in ages past.

Can I trust that
ancient
words
just might be true?

Can I trust
that God
has actually spoken
to them
and to
me.

According to accounts
involving Paul
formally known as
Saul.,
can we say these accounts are
true?

It seems we can.
My faith is not in vain.
I have a hope
beyond my corpse.

Wisdom and Foolishness

Knowledge without wisdom is just as foolish as ignorance without wisdom. Either way, in the end you play the fool.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

God

Lately, I feel like I'm reading about God at best. Thankfully I see His work at work at my work on nearly a daily basis. But in my own time I find that He is an academic exercise, a topic among many to be perused . I want Him, God, to be at the center of who I am. He isn't. At least that's how I feel. Right now I'm reading "A Scandalous Freedom" by Steve Brown. When I'm reminded of what God has done through Christ, fully, then I get a glimpse of what God has won for me, and His glory. I need those glimpses. I don't know why I never seem to really believe in His provision. And yet He provides.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A "healthy" populism?

Recently, there have been numerous articles written arguing for what has been called a "healthy" populism. Several essays have been written by Rod Dreher, AKA crunchy con, where he says we need a new, healthy, populism. Also, the new Newsweek, has as their cover story, the various voices of the new populism. Since, in this current climate of economic and cultural uncertainty, we seem to be seeing a resurgence of populism. What exactly "is" populism?

At least in the American context, populism has expressed itself traditionally in left/right manifestations which, although obviously different in their political expressions, is nonetheless a fundamentally reactionary expression that seeks to find its heart and soul in finding an enemy with which it can say, "they" are the enemy. It must never be me. Populism is always and only the voice of the people in reaction to the current circumstances, but in such a way that never allows that the guilt may lie within. It's those greedy capitalists! It's those dirty Jews! It's those filthy...(fill in the blank)!

Populism, at least so far as it has been expressed so far, sees the voice of the people as the voice of God. You know, vox populi, vox dei. The only problem with the voice of the people is that they are human. And if you're a Christian, as I am, then you are constrained by the assumption that every human is fallen, and thus not to be trusted as the final voice, whether individually or collectively. Only God's voice is ultimately authoritative. And even then our apprehension is tentative, in that we see through a glass darkly.

So far, of the populisms I've seen so far, whether of the left or right variety, they all contain within themselves the inherent weakness of assuming that "the people" have an innate wisdom that is greater than the powers that be. Populism assumes that the "common man" has a grasp of common sense that doesn't exist among the privileged classes. The upper, privileged classes have become corrupt by their laziness brought upon by their expectation of always being in a place of power. In large measure this is true. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of power have acted as though this is their natural right, never to be overturned. But even with this reality being true, it doesn't mean that those on the bad end of the privilege standard are by nature better.

The Christian view is that every human being is effected, infected if you will, by an internal conflictedness that seeks its own short-term gain, over and against anyone else, and many times even against its own long-term interests. Even though many of the founders of the US were not Christian, they nonetheless understood (esp. Madison) that human nature was such that government needed to be constrained by a divided structure in order to avoid the temptation of one part exercising tyranny over all others, whether as a majority or a minority.

Populism has always assumed that the voice of the "people" is sacrosanct. But as Christians, we know that any crowd that calls out "hosanna!" can in no time cry out "crucify him!" The American founders knew this, and we should too.

Precipice

The world,
and by that I mean
God's plans,
is bigger than,
downfalls
pitfalls
recessions
and
depressions,
individual and collective.
Thank God.

Precipice is an edge
we always
stand upon.
Whether economic,
moral
spiritual
or political.

Always we stand
or fall
depending on
the ground upon
which we stand.

Is it strong?
Is it sound?
Does it stand beneath me?
and ultimately,
does it stand
above
me?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tom Friedman and Bibi

Tom Friedman just called Bibi Netinyahu the LePen of Israel. Ouch! I don't know if I would go that far, but the fact that he would even consider including in his government Lieberman (not ours!) is a very bad sign for the future. Lieberman is most definitely a LePen type. He's Meir Kahane reincarnated.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Soon to be high speed!

By this time next week I should high speed at home! This will allow me to upload my videos from the shows I record at jude3 or elsewhere. It will also allow me to write online more often. It's funny how being online helps in my creative process, since it seems that having the items I'm interested in right before me allows me to multitask and process whatever topic I'm obsessing about. It should be fun.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Inspiration and Incarnation

I'm nearing the end of a book called Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns. He wrote it in 2005 and it has since gotten him fired from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia because it supposedly violates their standards concerning the inerrancy of scripture. His views expressed in the book may well violate their standards at the seminary. I don't know. But if they do then Westminster should reevaluate their view concerning scripture and how we've gotten it. So far Enns has addressed many of the most difficult issues that confront evangelicals when it comes to the Old Testament and its "diversity" both regarding the recording of historical events as well as to issues strictly theological. I can see why this book got him in trouble. But I can also see why he had to write what he has. He's being honest with the information before him. I hope some school, seminary or not, has the wisdom to offer him a position. He will make any school better.

Discovering Josh Garrels

Last week a customer came in and was looking for music and in the process of talking music stuff I mentioned Derek Webb as an artist who spoke/sang with a prophetic voice. The customer then asked if I had heard of Josh Garrels. I told him I hadn't. He bought his stuff and left. Less than a minute later he came back in with a CD of Josh's and left it with me to listen to until his special order came in (an ESV Study Bible. Cool!). Well, since that night I've become thoroughly hooked on Josh's music, listening to him just about every day, whether the CD or through his website. His style is really unique, with a combination of folk, reggae, rap, all sung in his high alto voice. Amazing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Being pro-life under a pro-choice president

Barack Obama has already re-opened the funding for international aid to groups that fund contraception and abortion services. Bush had cut that off during his years after Clinton had funded them during his. The seesaw continues. Of much greater concern is FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act), which Obama has promised to sign if the congress passes the bill. That would effectively nationalize abortion policy in such a way that states would be unable to effectively limit any abortions at any stage or for any reason.

I consider myself to be pro-life. Yet I voted for Obama. My decision to vote for him is based on many issues, economic, environmental, military, and more, in which I believe he offers a better direction than do the Republicans. Over all, I believe that his policies will be better for America than would the policies of McCain, even though I highly respect McCain and even voted for him back in 2000 in the Republican primary. This go round I was very disappointed by McCain's choice of Palin and his swinging to the right on issues he is typically more moderate on.

How can someone work on pro-life issues during these upcoming years under Obama? First of all, work on the ground. Help women who need help in carrying their pregnancy through to term. Volunteer or donate to a local Crisis Pregnancy Center. And if president Obama does sign FOCA into law, work to have it overturned as unconstitutional. Nationalizing/federalizing a policy that has tradionally been seen as a state issue may well be challengable as unconstitutional. And work to get state and federal candidates elected who are pro-life, whether they're Republican, Democratic or Independent.

Remember, there are many folks out there who are sympathetic to the pro-life cause, even if they're more "progressive" than is usually found in pro-life circles. There are pro-life Democrats. Click on the link to the right for their site. They're doing great work, and they defy the usual ideological divide. Read what Nat Hentoff has to say. He's a left wing Jewish athiest who's pro-life, and strongly so! See why he believes so strongly in protecting the unborn, it could help broaden the appeal to those beyond the religious right.

Lastly, work for small victories. Look around you. See if there's someone who needs help who might otherwise be left aside and left alone. Help the poor, the sick, the old, the alone, the scared girl not knowing what to do now that she's pregnant. Let her know she's not alone and that there is help. If we focus our energy in this way during the next few years (and I would hope permanently!), the pro-life movement will do what electoral politics has not been able to do in the last 35 or so years. I hope that this is what it will mean to be pro-life in the time before us.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Theology of Gaza

How do we approach the current conflict between Israel and Gaza in light of what scripture says? As I have already mentioned in my previous post, I grew up being fervently pro-Israel. This sentiment was based in part on a particular theology that saw the birth of the modern nation state of Israel as being a fulfillment of prophecy, thus necessitating Christians' and Americas' unqualified support. I also leaned towards Israel in part because of personal affection for many Jewish friends as well as my own reaction against anti-Semitic beliefs held by some in my family. I still wince when I hear antisemitic terms or ideas used in casual conversation, just as much as I do when I hear casual racism as well. Thankfully, my mother was very good in reminding me that Jesus is Jewish and that all of his followers were too. That shaped and continues to shape my understanding of my faith.

However, as regards my understanding of what scripture says concerning who God "blesses" and why, I have sharply changed my own understanding concerning America and Israel. The underlying assumption behind many Christians, especially American Christians, is that God has established a "special" relationship with America, because of its being a "Christian" nation. And likewise God has miraculously brought about the rebirth of Israel. This dual belief sees America's well-being as being contingent to its relationship with modern Israel. The assumption is that modern Israel is coterminus with ancient Israel, and that both are to be allied with if anyone would hope to be "blessed" by God.

But what if these assumptions concerning Israel, both modern and ancient, and America as a "Christian" nation, are wrong? As might be expected by what I've already written, I do believe they are wrong. The basis for my rejection of these views comes from key scriptural passages that speak directly to who God says are his people. In the Old Testament God clearly worked through the tribal framework of the Israelites. Although even then the text makes clear that God worked salvifically through non-Israelites as well. But we see much more clearly in the New Testament that Christ Jesus is the center-point of all history. All of the Old Testament promises point forwards to Christ. All of the New Testament (and subsequent history) points back to Christ. He is the lens through which all of history must be seen. Nationality, race, class, sex, and any separating distinction, are all relegated to unimportance in light of our identity in Christ.

How does this relate directly to the events in Gaza? If Christ is the center of all of history, and all identities are driven by their relationship to him, then that defines the modern state of Israel as well as Gaza. It also defines America in the same way. Scripture declares that God will bless the "seed of Abraham" and he will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. Contrary to many Christians who believe that this scripture refers to the modern nation state of Israel, scripture unambiguously states that the "seed" spoken of is none other than Christ himself and no one else. That then means that Israel, America, Palestine, Gaza, etc., are to be seen as normal nations judged in their relationship to Christ. In that light, they all fall under the judgment of being unrighteous because of their unbelief in Christ. Therefore, the only "covenanted" nation is the church. And the church is made up of "every nation, tribe, and tongue."

This means that Israel's invasion of Gaza and indescriminate bombing is to judged by normal international law. Likewise, Hamas is to be treated according to their words and actions as well. In other words, we should look at the whole of the picture, complicated as it is, and judge according to the reason God has given us all.

They all have blood on their hands. But so do we.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Island of Misfit Toys as Church

The island of misfit toys is a place for those who don't "fit in" in any other place. Whenever I would watch the cartoon when I was a child, that part of the cartoon was always my favorite part. It was the place where all the "rejects" were accepted. I like that. As an adult I've spent many years looking for a church that reflected something of that sensibility. In some ways, when I read the New Testament and even the Old Testament, I see a reflection of that "ideal" in how God chooses his people.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't end up speaking to or meeting someone who is an outcast, a misfit, someone who doesn't play well with others and so on. In almost every case, I find that they have felt, and more often than not, have actually experienced, being rejected by various churches because of their oddballness. Sometimes it's their own fault. Sometimes they really are difficult people. Sometimes they're not very good at "boundaries." Sometimes they make those around them feel uncomfortable just by their presence. Believe me, I've seen it and felt it myself.

So what.

Even if this were always true, which it clearly isn't, according to God's way of choosing, none of this is any reason for exclusion. We, if we are to call ourselves "the church," do not have the right to operate according to our comfort zone. In fact, God's way of choosing is explicit in it's basis. It is based entirely and only on his will and desire, apart from any merit in our part. As a matter of fact, whether it's the Israelites in the Old Testament as a people group, or it's individual believers in the New Testament, any time God chooses, it's in spite of us every single time.

Therefore, if we are to entertain any "ecclesiology" at all, it's to be an ecclesiology of inclusion. An immediate objection can be heard already. Doesn't this kind of approach to "doing church" lead to chaos? What about church discipline? Let's look at how Paul handled that pristine first century church in the lovely town of Corinth. After all, don't we all want to be just like the New Testament church instead of having to settle for what's available today?

The hands of God

When the poorest of the poor
have called upon you,
have we been there?

They call upon your name
knowing you will deliver.
Do they know that you have called
us who are called by you
to deliver you
to them?

Israel and Gaza

As I write this, Israel is invading Gaza. This is being done in order to end the missile firings of Hamas into southern Israel. American media is essentially parroting Israeli propaganda. If you watch American news outlets, especially Fox News, then Hamas is the only evil actor involved in this tragedy. Israel is only doing what it can to "survive" against a vast and intractable enemy. I have yet to see any mention of why for every 1 Israeli killed by Hamas rockets, over 100 Gazans have been killed. Is that considered to be a reasonable ratio? So much for an eye for en eye. It might be assumed that I'm somehow anti-Israel by the comments I've made already. Maybe I'm somehow an apologist for Hamas. The truth is, I grew up fervently pro-Israel. I was baptized by a Jewish Christian in NYC when I was 21 years old. I long held that Israel's founding as a modern state in 1948 was borderline miraculous and "clearly" portended the beginning of the end times. I was one of those Christian Zionists the secular left always talks about. Needless to say, I no longer consider myself to be a Christian Zionist, at least as far as the term is currently understood. I have friends who are Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians. I mourn for all those caught in the middle. I mourn how the dynamics of this long conflict have shaped each people's attitudes towards each other. I mourn that both sides have chosen at each stage of the conflict to listen to the most radical expressions from their own midst. One side has brought the matches. The other side has brought the gasoline. And each wants to "prove" that it's all the other side's fault for why everyone is burning. God have mercy on us all.