Monday, July 30, 2007

"Where'd My Queen Go?" chess tournament

Saturday was another chess tournament in Lexington. This one turned out to be a pretty significant one in my days playing in tournaments.

I've managed to get my USCF rating over the 1600 line, which in local tournaments is the line between the 'big boys' and the rest. When I returned to tournaments last years, almost exactly a year ago, I think I was about 1530, and for some reason my rating didn't go up very quickly. It also didn't help that I didn't play in many tournaments. I think it was the Kentucky Open that finally put me over 1600, and a solid tourney in June put me up a little more.

Still, in this tournament, I was the lowest rated of the Open/over 1600 section. Actually, the first couple of rounds, there was one other who was lower, but he didn't play the last two rounds.

The game in round 1 was against a guy named Baker, a guy I've known from my early days in the Lexington 64K Chess Club, and who was rated in the 2000s. I think this may have been the second time I've played in a tournament, I can't remember how that first game ended. This game was fairly even for most of the game. I did sacrifice a pawn to mess up his queen-side pawns, but he worked up an attack against my king, and then I goofed and dropped a pawn, and then with my king already vulnerable he sacs a rook and gets a convincing attack. In trying to surround my king, he made the kind of move that much more often then not would have been at least good enough, but he overlooked that his own king was vulnerable, and he wound up in a mating tactic.

The second game was a hard draw against a guy named Sword. I think I had an advantage in the middle game, but again my king got vulnerable (I'm noticing a trend here) and things got interesting. The middle and ending were back-and-forth, and with time running down we came to an obviously drawn position.

The third was against the highest-rated person in the tournament, another 2000, maybe close to 2100, named Wagner. It was, relatively speaking, a rather calm game. A few times it may have lit up and gotten interesting, but in the end we were well on the way to exchanging into a bishops-of-opposite-color endgame, which is as drawish as an ending gets. Instead of playing out everything to the inevitable half-point, my opponent offered a draw and I accepted. And we drew in only 24 moves. My first 'grandmaster draw' :-).

So, three games, two points--a win and two draws. This put my a half-point behind Sword who had 2 1/2 points, and tied with Wagner at 2. There were two other players at 1 1/2, one of whom had a bye in the last round.

So, the last round game was pretty weighty. I played one of the 1 1/2 point guys, an 1800 I think he was in rating. It was a game of getting an early advantage and grinding it out over 30-40 further moves into a win. The game closed up early, and I had a space advantage. In trying to gain some room, he allowed his pawn structure to get some weaknesses, and from that point it was manuever, manuever, exchange, manuever, exchange, win a pawn, win another pawn, win a piece through the threat of a knight fork, win the game. Maybe slow and ugly, but effective.

Wagner beat Sword in an adventure of an endgame, and with 3 points each Wagner and I tied for first overall in the tournament.

So, as lowly as it may be in the overall chess world, I actually won a Lexington chess tournament, or at least tied for first. Not just my section of it, but the whole enchilada. It was a 'wow' moment, and I'm still not completely over it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

because we all know cats are evil...

...and a bit of cat humor is a good way to round out the day.

Cat Predicts Patients' Deaths

Or perhaps as bad...

Pet Your Cat, Get Schizophrenia?

But fear not, there is hope...

Doggie Howser: Woman says dog detected her cancer

Thanks to jhud and brooklynblessed1 at for the articles. Funnny stuff. Here's the source I first saw them at.

Grim Reaper kitty?

thoughts about harry

Last weekend saw an event, a very unusual event. The release of the seventh and last Harry Potter book caused a very big stir. A friend of mine went to a book store close to midnight, and his description of the size of the crowd waiting for midnight to purchase the book was that it was huge--lines, not one but several, stretching over a hundred yards from the store entrance, the mall parking lot was filled, with people parking in a nearby theater and another store, and they were still coming.

Probably few books have caused the stirs these books have, at least in recent times. No doubt in other eras there have been books that have caused more severe reactions, but I can't recall one that has caused so much nowadays.

Of course, the stirs have been good and bad. In Christian circles, the books have been more then a little controversial.

On the one hand, there are those who condemn the books. They are, after all, about witches and wizards, with magical spells and curses, and not only that, but they portray those things in positive lights. Although they are obviously works of fantasy fiction and do not necessarily portray things realistically, they still glorify the training in and use of magic, and that makes them dangerous. Call it a gateway, or a slippery slope.

On the other hand, are those who seem them simply as literature. They are very well-written books, with characters that are well-developed and easy to care for. The magic in them is so cartoonish and unrealistic that it is hard to believe it can be taken seriously.

One of my first memories of the stories wasn't really about the books, at least in a direct sense. I was in Tennessee, and one evening I went to a nearby book store, to get some coffee and hang out for a bit. I think it was a Friday evening. It also happened to be the day leading up to the release of a Harry Potter book, I don't know which one, but as it was roughly seven years ago, it was probably towards the middle of the series. The store was more crowed then usual, with kids in costume, and I was unaware of what was going on until I was there for a while. The one thing I remember from that evening was something that didn't sit well with me--whether serious or not, there was someone doing palm reading for some of the kids.

So for some time, I wasn't really interested in the books. I wasn't necessarily against them, but I wasn't really for them, either. I did see the movies, which I thought were well-made.

It wasn't until late last year that I started reading the books, and went through the first six very quickly. I enjoyed them, and read through them as I haven't often read books, and I've read a lot. I liked the stories and the characters, and at times there were parts of it that were among the most moving I had read.

So, I suppose that explains where I stand on the books, more or less--I like them, and think they're fine. Much of my recent reading, in fact, has been in fantasy fiction--Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, for example, not to mention the occasional reading or rereading of Tolkien.

Where the more-or-less comes in, is that I understand why people don't like them, and I can respect their caution. But I have some thoughts for them, too.

How long and how many stories do we have that involve some kind of magical element? I write as someone from the US and from the west. How many of us were raised on stories of, say, Jack and the magical beanstalk, or Snow White and the dwarves and her witch step-mother, or Cinderella and her fairy god-mother who waves her wand and makes pumpkins into coaches. Magic is a major element in many children's fairy tales--even the fact that they are called 'fairy' tales tells us of their magical elements.

And our movies. Even disregarding the Disney fairy tale animated movies, what about, say, the Shaggy Dog--a guy gets a piece of jewelry which magically turns him into a dog. Or The Wizard of Oz, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?".

Shall I go on? Literature would be a good place. Several of Shakespeare's works have magical elements in them. Again, we could point to the Wizard of Oz as a literary example, even before the motion picure example.

And to really add to the things to think about, there are Tolkien, Lewis, Lawhead, and Hicks and Weisman who have written fantasy with a Christian message.

Perhaps these examples do not prove Potter is ok. Maybe they only show how subtly error has crept in over time. Maybe Lewis wasn't correct in using magical elements in his Narnia stories, no matter his intentions.

That is a fair position, and may be correct. But I don't want to go into such a debate for now. But it is something those both for and against the books need to consider, just how much magic is in our stories of various kinds. HP is only one of the latest in a long line, not really anything new.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I came across this yesterday. The link to the original is on the page.


I think the writer makes some good points about these questions. Some of the 'requirements' mentions seem to be rather shallow.

For myself, take this one--

2. Are people greeting me as a job or a joy?

I have to admit to having a certain small distaste for the whole 'greet people at the door' thing. It's not that it's wrong, but that I don't care for it. I would rather not have to run a gamut of hand-shakers and back-patters in order to enter a church.

A couple of months back, I went to a certain church for the first time (I had actually been in the building before, but for other reasons). I did manage to get in the building itself without incident, but on getting to the foyer of the chapel, there were people standing outside of it, and one man, obviously a greeter, practically jumped towards me in some kind of effort to greet me.

I don't want to impune (sp) anything about him, his assignment or his intentions, but it was almost unnerving.

It's not that I don't believe in caring for people or in making them feel welcome, and if for most people that does make them feel welcome, then so be it. I can accept that.

So, for me, that 'requirement' is not one of mine.

5. Is there spirited music playing as people gather?
6. Does the music move me?

There is something rather modern-day about such a question. If a church was playing somber organ music, for example, would that not be acceptable? Would such music not be moving?

The whole music thing is frustrating for me, especially as someone who did study music for a while. I like music, I enjoy it, but how much it is emphasized by some religious teachers is unsettling to me.

I do not listen to what is called 'praise and worship' music. I have listened to it at times, but I do not now, except when a church I'm at sings a p&w chorus. It all sounds santized, generic, the same.

Perhaps I am not any better then the guy and his 'requirements', though. It's just that what he may consider 'moving' I consider 'generic'.

9. Is there a printed outline with Scripture already printed on it?
11. Does the message title promise a relevant topic I am interested in?

I think the '...leaven' guy may be a bit unfair with his criticism of these, though they are silly 'requirements'.

15. Is the service no more than 71 minutes?

I am sympathetic to this one. I have sat through very long sermons in the past, and I don't think this 'requirement' is completely unreasonable. I can see where it may become selfish, but so can the idea the 'longer is better'.

The '...leaven' writer does make a good point at the beginning, about what things aren't mentioned--things like what the church's beliefs and doctrines are. That such things were omitted does cause me to raise the eyebrows. Are the superficials now more important then the essentials? I think some superficials, like a good Sunday School or good music, are fine, but only if the essentials of sound beliefs and doctrine are in place.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

bits and pieces

Gore Gorges on Overfished Sea Bass

What more can be said? Is this a case of "Do as I say, not as I do"? Of course, it's already been shown that he doesn't exactly do well at conserving energy, so is this really surprising?

I wonder when people will realize that the only 'green' this guy really cares about is the kind in his billfold?

Restricting Family Size May Become Unavoidable, Says Environment Group

All the wackiness is that the top of this article. Towards the end, some people with some sense are allowed to voice their opinions.

Bumble Bee Replaces Mickey Mouse Lookalike on Hamas TV

There is a surrealness to this sickness.

But on a better note is this last bit of news...

Christian Group Gathers in DC to Show Support of Israel

Saturday, July 14, 2007

review 6--a different kind of christian

This or the next review will probably be the last one for this book for a while. I have to return it to the library this weekend. I've slowed down on it a good bit this past week, one reason being that the week before was a vacation week, the other being that I've been reading another, lighter, fantasy fiction book.

But, such as it is, let's march on.

It would be easy to open this with a couple of quotes by Neo taken from chapter 11.

"Where are these people coming from, calling themselves Christians..."

"The whole judgmental thing is so contrary to the Spirit of Christ."

Easy, yes, and maybe not without merit. But a bit facetious, too.

Writers are people. They can contradict themselves just as well as any of the rest of us. And I can be as facetious as anyone else.

Instead of trying to find some deep level of hypocracy, it may be better simply to see the first statement as being a rant, an uncharitable one to be sure, and some frustration peeking through, and not indicative of an ideal way of thinking which he may possess. It may be an example of inconsistency, but nothing more.

Anyway, there is more to this chapter. Actually, it may be best to go back to the end of chapter 10. It ends with Dan listening to a taped sermon of Neo, and for most of the first part of it it's not a bad sermon. It only goes strange, and which is where 11 picks up, is the idea that Heaven and Hell may actually be the same place, but preceived differently by different people. Neo tries to enlist C.S. Lewis into this position by referring to an admittedly controversial part at the end of the last Narnia book "The Last Battle".

I've read enough to Lewis to know that he firmly believed in Hell. Whether he believed in chances after death (one could maybe see that in "The Great Divorce", although he stresses in the intro that it is a work of fiction), or whether there is a chance for followers of other religions to find salvation, is not known to me. The portion Neo refers to may support such a claim, but also it should be pointed out that only one such follower made it to Narnia-heaven.

But I think it was Lewis as well who pointed out that a separation between Heaven and Hell was necessary. If unregenerated, unrepentent people where allowed into Heaven (such where I thought, if I remember correctly), then we would run into much the same problems we have here--that those who choose to follow the wrong paths and to be miserable and selfish will have won out, because they would make Heaven something not very heavenly. Such people would again trump those who did right and made the right decisions, because they would be able to 'rain on the parade', so to speak, of the righteous.

No, those who do not choose Christ have chosen something else, and to put them in Heaven is tantamount to making Heaven not-Heaven.

I tried to downplay one of Neo rants above, but there is at least one statement he makes which I can't ignore.

Dan--" sounded like you were saying that everyone goes to the same place, heaven, but experiences it differently, when Scripture makes it clear that there (are) two roads and two destination, two diffeent destination."

Neo--"...But seriously, Dan, don't you think that all the language about heaven and hell is evocative language, not technical description? I know that moderns don't have much capacity for poetry, having been enslaved to modern technical correctness for so long. But Jesus--Jesus was allowed to be evocative in his language..."

Yeah, poor moderns. We just don't get it, do we. Jesus talks about narrow and broad roads, sheep and goats, the 'joy of your lord' and outer darkness, Heaven and Hell, and we actually take him seriously, Sheesh, why didn't we think Jesus was having a coffee-house poetry-fest moment.

Yeah, yeah, I'm being facetious again. I'm trying to be fair, honest, but such blatant condescension on Neo's, no Mclaren's, part is quite distasteful to me. Especially over something so important, and so numerously and consistently displayed in Scripture. For such language to be blown of as 'evocative' or 'poetry' not understood by us modern literalists has me quite as worked up as Neo was a few times in this chapter.

I'm not going to brand Mclaren as something way-out-there simply because his few of the afterlife may be a bit different form mine. I haven't seen in this book where he is has said there is any other way but Christ. But I expect more then just putting the label 'modernist' on a person or idea, and that being considered enough to disregard it.

There is actually an interesting back-and-forth between Neo and Dan early in this chapter. Here are Dan's words

"...we have many cohabiting, unmarried couples attending our church, and we welcome them, even though we believe that sexual relationships should be reserved for marriage."

I remember reading, I think it was in one of the Corinthian epistles, where Paul recalls telling them to keep form someone who lived wildly, but then pointed out that he didn't mean that they should do so from those who were not believers. The idea seemed to be that we should expect better behavior from those who believe then form those who don't. Several of Paul's epistles had in them the correcting of the behaviors of some peoples in those churches.

How long such a state as Dan describes could last, I don't know. Eventually, topics of sin and marriage would come up, if the church teaches and preaches the truth, and such couples would be put in the bind, would have to make a decision.

There is one other part of the chapter I want to mention. Neo contends that the 'new kind of Christian' will see sin in different ways then us 'moderns' do.

"...Let's say we've got a black teenager in the inner city who just swiped the purse of a white secretary to get money for his drug habit. That's definitely a sin, right? OK. A new kind of Christian will agree, but he won't stop there. He'll also want ot look at the ways that the woman who is victimized by his crime actually contributes to the system that produces desperate teenage drug addicts. It's a system thing.

"...Ten years ago this violent drug addict was a kid, stuck in the city with nothing to do and not much hope for the future...To use Jesus' words, the boy was her neighbot, and he was in need, and she succeeded in crossing to the other side of the road for all of her life..."

One obvious point is that, we don't know what of woman the hypothetical victim is. All we know from this hypothetical situation is that she was a secretary robbed by a drug user, and that the drug user was black and she was white.

We don't know what kind of person she was, so we can't say that she acted pharisaical. She may have been callous. She may not have been. She may have been neighborly to the people in her neighborhood, she may not have been. She may have given to charity, or not. Heck, she may even have known the kid who robbed her and been friends with his mom, or not. She may have been a secretary at a charitable organization or church in the young man's neighborhood. She may have children, and the money he stole may mean her children would go hungry. To automatically assume she is some kind of non-caring Pharisees is itself a form of judgmentalism.

And what would such judgmentalism be based on? If she was black instead of white, would it be her fault that the druggie got into the mess he was in?

And what about his responsibility? Not every child raised in the inner city gets into drugs, though I would guess the percentage may be quite high. But 'peer pressure' does not excuse such actions. What about the leaders in his neighborhood? His family? What did they teach him? Was he taught to overcome hardships, and to have faith in God? Or was he taught he would always be someone's victim, so they own him?

To look at a real-life situation, I remember when I was in Atlanta, and going to a certain church (which last I heard had gone very strange, but at the time seemed ok). There was a man there who was friends with some of the inner-city kids who came to that church. They would sometimes come to his place. He was single, and lived alone, and had some stereo or sound equipment in his apartment that was rathe expensive. One day, some of those kids visited him, attacked and killed him, and stole his equipment.

So, was that man a system-sinner? I think not.

Finally, Neo ends the chapter by more-or-less accusing us 'modern' Christians of being like the pharisees, concerned only with the outward appearance. I say he's full of it, and has no idea of how these 'modern' Christians he's so keen on condemning really live.

Perhaps I should try for a bit more fairness. Mclaren, after all, ministers I think in the DC/Baltimore area. Perhaps being in that kind of environment, where power is all and appearance is reality, can cause one to think that all of us are like that.

If I had any advice for him, and for what it's worth, I would suggest he get away from that environment for a bit. Just as it seems that politicians who stay in DC to long lose touch with the people 'back home', so it seems Mclaren has lost touch with those of us outside of the Beltway. He needs to meet the common Christian in their native enviroment. I'm not naive enough to think he'll approve of all they would say or do, but he would at least know more about them, and be able to encourage and critique by their reality, not on the suppositions that he seemed to have in this book.

It would be interesting to read what he would think, for example, of a place like where I work, where many qualified people work for very little in the way of monetary gain to teach and minister to students from all over the world. Or of one church I attended a few years ago, which despite being a very small store-front church has people in it who work and minister at a crisis pregnancy center in a small college town, and the church is one of the main supporters of that center. Or of the church I've been going to recently, which recently sent short-term missionary teams to a couple of places in the world. Or of the church I went to last year, which is very pro-active in witnessing and sharing Christ.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

review 5--a different kind of christian

I'm actually writing this a bit out of order. How it will effect how I write about what comes between the previous entry and this, I don't know. What I've been doing is reading ahead, and what I've read has been such that I suppose I need to write about it now.

I've been reading chapter 10. Dan has another meeting with Neo, this time in something like a pub, and Neo lectures again, this time about salvation.

"He said that he had been believe that the central story of the Bible was about saving individual souls. The gospel...was about getting individual souls to heaven...Several years earlier he had begun having problems with this for several reasons..."

Neo's reasons were this--this way of viewing the gospel seemed selfish, individualistic, and one dimensional.

Selfish--"Would God want a heaven full of people who wanted to be 'saved' but didn't necessarily want to be good?" I had a thought about this a few months ago, when I first read this, and it's returned to me now--that the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles was 'repentence'. I think that in at least one point the gospel was referred to as 'the gospel of repentence'. The nature of repentence is to "turn from sins to serve the living God", so if repentence is kept in mind, then the rather mercenary way of looking at salvation Neo refers to is not possible.

And I think that is not what has been preached in the places I have been. I have heard many appeals for the lost to come to Christ, so I cannot speak for all of them, but from what I do remember of them, they did involved acknowledgement of sinfulness and need for Christ to wash one clearn of sins, to repent and turn from one's sins, and to be forgiven.

Individualistic--This one is unclear to me in his description. He compares it insider trading on the stock market, where salvation is only for a few, and that right-thinking people would not want it if it wasn't also for their friends. Maybe he has some form of Calvinistic predestination in mind, where God may choose some for salvation and others for damnation.

But this is a non-starter, to my mind. It's griping against things that are already addressed in the Bible, and that Christians already believe. We already have the Great Commission, we already have many people who try to live out their Christian faith in everyday life.

Also, if there is a person drowning in the ocean, is that person necessarily selfish for wanting to be rescued? I honestly don't think so. More to the point, it is only when the person who was drowning is rescued and put on the solid place, be it land or a ship of some kind, that the person can then turn from their own predicament and become useful in helping others who are drowning.

So far, Mclaren may as well open his eyes, and realize that his complaints are of things that are not happening, at least not in all places. No doubt there are churches and people claiming to be Christians like he describes, perhaps people who at one time believed but went back into the world, or prodigals, or churches who have stopped preaching repentence because preaching something else brought in more people. But most evangelical and fundamentalist churches that I am aware of still preach repentence and living out their faith in their lives, sharing their faith and leading people to Christ.

I think the third is most telling--Neo's claim that salvation has two dimensions, not just one. Salvation, he says, is not just about saving souls, but about "saving the human race and the planet from destruction". He claims that the "biblical view of salvation was comprehensive of both".

This probably can't help but be nebulous. He describes different views of the Kingdom of God, and says that his view is that one that has a current social aspect. The church is some kind of catalyst for the Kingdom to go the world.

For one thing, he gives no scriptural support for his view. Second, there are already many Christians who are active in social concerns--helping the poor, helping the helpless, trying to insure justice. Whether they do it because they're trying to be catalyst is to my mind irrelevant, though I would suspect they do it more because they love God and love people and try to help them not just with physical needs but with spiritual ones, too. I would guess there aren't many Christians who aren't involved at some degree in such things, though some may not be as visibly dramatic as others.

But can we really say that salvation has this second dimension of saving the world and humanity? I can't see that very well. I don't deny that their is a social aspect to obeying God, but as well there is an aspect of that where it stands against society. In the NT we are told to obey those in authority, but that also "we ought to obey God rather then man". Paul did not lead a slave revolt, nor encourage one, but instead encouraged slaves who believed to obey their masters. He did not tell wives to stand to up to their husband and demand their rights, but to submit. He had words for husbands and masters, too. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to live quietly, and do their work.

In fact, rather then having a rosy picture of the world, Jesus and the Apostles had a view that was decided more pessimistic, or would be if it wasn't realistic. Jesus realized that the world hated Him, and would hate those who followed Him. I think it was Peter who described the world as being "reserved for fire". Themes of judgment and punishment for the world are not uncommon, and themes of redemption are closely tied to those 'negative' themes.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

mercy and justice

I think that by and large we see justice and mercy as being two different things, even at times opposite things. Not without reason, either. Justice seems to be seen more as reaping the consequences for one's actions, particularly in the sense that one is punished for breaking laws. Mercy is seen as either not being punished, or in someone else choosing to suffer the punishment instead of the one who broke the law.

A simple example may be best--a child plays with something he has been told to not play with, and breaks it. Justice would be punishing the child--no playtime, spanking, sitting in a corner, whatever may be deemed appropriate. Mercy would be to not punish the child, or to at least not be severe about it.

This isn't a nonsenical view of the two things, but I also wonder, are their not times when justice and mercy are, in fact must be, the same things?

Consider the child again. If the parents choose to punish him, are they being just or being merciful? If they had previously said "Do not play with that thing, or you will not have playtime", then if they punish him in such a way for disobedience, then that is just.

I would contend as well that it is mercy, too, or at least could be. If the parents think "We do not want our child to be disobedient and rebellious, as that will likely cause him to be a bad person", then the idea of enforcing a punishment because not only an act of justice, but also of mercy--they want their child to respect property, to obey his parents, to learn lessons he needs to learn. In fact, if they did not punish him, but instead allowed him to behave in such a way, it is likely (not a certainty, but likely) that he will behave in worse ways as he grows older, and if he learns the lessons, they will be by more severe ways.

I want to take it a bit further, and I fear this will be hard, if not harsh. I would contend that for some people the only mercy that can be shown to them is justice. They have simply reached the point where mercy as commonly seen is fruitless, and they have even taken advantage of such acts of mercy in the past to continue on their own roads to doing wrong. They have been kept from suffering consequences of their wrong choices, or at least the full consequences, and so have not learned the lessons, but have continued on doing with is wrong.

A point was reached in the time of the prophet Jeremiah when God told the prophet to not pray for the people. God still loved His people, I do believe, but they had come to where judgment, justice, could not be averted.

I don't like to think that. It is open to so much misunderstanding, even abuse, but I think it is a place can be reached by some people, where they must reach the very bottom before they can really be helped.

review 4--a different kind of christian

I guess it may seem a bit unbalanced, having spent two rather large entries on one short chapter. All I can say is that it seemed to warrant that much thought.

Chapters 4 and 5 are about the same event, and I will probably deal with them together here. 4 is a lecture Neo gives to college student members of some college Christian organizations (who happen to all be white students), and 5 is the Q&A after it. The lecture is in many ways a history lesson, where Neo tries to show how the present time is a transitional period from modernism to postmodernism, as the 1500s were a transition period from medievalism to modernism.

I don't know if it's necessarily an accident or not that the author makes all of the student's white, and of course we already know Neo is Jamaican, non-white. I deal a little later about the racial make-up of the crowd, but I can't help but think that Mclaren is giving some no-so-subtle racial message--that modernity is a white, Euro-centric thing while postmodernity is more 'open'.

By and large, Neo's claims is beyond my own knowledge of history. I know that we cannot really say that peoples did not know about the roundness of the earth, because it was know even back in antiquity--there was even on man who made a fairly accurate computation (he was Greek or Egyptian, I think) of the circumference of the Earth. There is even a place or two in the Bible which suggests that people of that time thought of the earth as a global shape. That doesn't mean that such knowledge was common, though.

To rely solely on Neo's words, that medievals thought of the universe as concentric circles which moved in a kind of divine cosmic dance, we must accept that when the concentric circles theory was shown to be false, then also the idea that the heavenly bodies moved at God's commands also was proven false. If the Bible did itself teach a geocentric universe, we would have cause to think that to find out otherwise would cause us to doubt God. But it doesn't, and if the medieval church really did hold their geocentric universe as being so important, then they were wrong.

Neo contends that modernity, and thus modern forms of Christianity, are passing away, even that while these good Christian youths are stuck in a modern form of Christianity, their fellow students have already crossed over in to postmodernity. He wants these youths to put aside modernity and strike out into postmodernity.

There is again a vagueness about what are modernity and postmodernity. We simply are not told what things need to be left behind, and what things need to be embraced. There are some attempts at it in chapter 5, which will be seen soon. There is also the idea that the world should influence the church, in that sense that Neo says that those in the world have already crossed over into postmodernity while these Christian kids are still modern. But whether those Christian kids should cross over into postmodernity themselves is based on if postmodernity is a good place to go, and that has simply not been shown. To use a crude example, if their fellow students have crossed over into a mindset of sexual freedom (which seems rather likely given how college can be), should the Christian students set aside their biblical conviction to follow?

If Christianity cannot cross over into a postmodern world without being twisted and deformed, if Christianity must be changed like Bishop Spong says it must or risk dying, then Christian must stand by their biblical convictions even at the risk of falling from what people may call 'current'. They must not give in to the spirit of the age.

Chapter 5 has more specifics in it. When one student asks what they should do, Neo is at first reluctant to give examples, but then he gives one. He asks why no Catholic students were invited to the lecture, or not students of other races, or those from more liberal organizations. He claims that if he is right, then "those distinctions are about to become inconsequential".

I remember my own time at Morehead State University in Kentucky, being a member of the Baptist Student Union there. Kentucky I suppose isn't considered a very 'progressive' place, but at the BSU we had black students and Asian students who were active and even in positions of leadership. I have a hard time imagining that a meeting like Mclaren writes about would have no students at all of other races in it, and I wonder if maybe it is Mclaren who needs to wake up. Maybe our BSU was different, but I doubt it.

I think the part about allowing liberals into the club may be the point of all of this--we could call it ecumenicalism. If Neo contends that those distinctions will soon not matter, I suspect it will not be because the liberals become conservative; rather, it will be because he thinks the conservatives will become 'progressive'. But of course this means that Neo either thinks the conservatives need to 'catch up with the times', or has at least the beginnings of a synthesis. Perhaps that is what some things later on are about (yes I have read ahead).

One student points out that evangelical churches are the fastest growing churches at that time, so Neo may be premature in saying they will soon die out. Neo claims that they are like the horse buggy in the early days of the automobile, and that a time is soon coming when the postmodern church will overtake and surpass the evangelical church, that this growth spurt is some kind of last gasp for evangelicalism.

This is, well, questionable, I think. For one thing, I think one could find many examples of 'next big things' that weren't as big as they turned out to be. One could think of the huge non-event that was Y2K. In religious circle, I think of the prophetic movement of a few years ago, which prophecied so much and delivered so little. This whole postmodernity and 'new kind of Christian' thing may be only another fad, for all that we know.

We still haven't seen much about what this 'new kind of Christian' will be like, or what Mclaren thinks it should be like. I have read the next few chapters, and I think they will open a bit more of it up to us.

Friday, July 6, 2007

review 3--a different kind of christian

Picking up where I left off in the last one (there are only three more journal entries and a small story in the chapter, so, courage :-)), the next entrie is about theology and how 'modern' it is. His claim is that theology in it's love of systems and ordered schemas and outlines is different from the Bible, which seems to consist most in stories and poetry and letters. He does say that he seeks "not to criticize but to observe", and that he is not against systematic theologies.

There may be something in saying that Bible consists of stories and poetry and letters, but we really can't say that such is only what it consists of. When God came down to the mountain and Moses went up it, God did not give him a novel or a set of short stories, He have him laws and rules. When Jesus preached from the mountain, he gave them lists of things that were also applied to real life ("Blessed are" some kinds of people, "You have heard it said...But I say" to act or not act in certain ways, "When you pray, or fast, or give, do it this way but not another way").

I would think that few people mistake systematic theology for all of the Christian life. I think it was C.S. Lewis who pointed out that when the Bible tells us to feed the poor, it doesn't provide up recipes and cooking lessons. We know very well that "thou shalt not steal" is a command that must be applied to real life.

The next is again a somewhat strange entry. He claims that "All of our Christian Institutions--seminaries, radio stations, denominations, Bible studies, and so--are in fact modern inventions". We are not given any support for such a claim, only the statement that it is true.

But is it? We are told in Acts that the Berean believers studied the scriptures to make sure that what they were being taught was really true, and the they seemed to have been hightly thought of by the writer of Acts (is it maybe telling the Paul does not write a corrective letter to Berea, maybe because he didn't need to?). If Mclaren means Bible studies as simply studying the Bible, such a thing could be traced back at least to Acts. As well, for quite a bit of time, people may not have studied the Bible themselves much due to, for example, Catholic ideas that it shouldn't be put in the languages of the people, the cost of getting a copy before the printing press, and the movement to put the Scriptures in the hands of common people that people like Tyndale fought and died for.

Radio stations is, well, silly. We didn't have the tech to send out radio waves until fairly recently. Denominations are not so very new, either, and if by seminars we could mean places where people could go to study scripture more thoroughly, then that would itself go back well before the modern era, I think.

Dan tells us that the world outside the church is become more and more postmodern, but we are not told how, or what that means.

The next part of the chapter is a story, where Dan speaks as a conference, and disagrees with another speaker on a panel where he participated. The overall message, I think, of this story is that his new 'postmodern' insights give him hope over the modern 'pessimistic' speaker he is contending against. While the 'modern' person saw something as an example of syncretism, Dan saw it as an indictment against a 'modern' Christianity that is not 'holistic' and not 'open to the mystical'. The person being talked about, a strange in a car one of them had seen, was not there to clarify or correct either of them.

The last journal entry is short. Again, the idea is given that modernity may have 'severly distorted, deformed' Christianity, but that we can't see it. But it's only a unsupported accusation, as of yet. There is also the idea that while 'modern' Christianity may have worked a few years, or a few hundred years, ago, it may not work for the future.

This is frustrating for me. We are being told that things are 'modern' when I can't think of them as being that. We are being told that we are becoming 'postmodern', when we are not being told what the heck that means. We have been told that we 'post--' certain characteristics that are themselves still very much with us. At least so far in this book, I feel as if I'm being told to accept something which cannot be adequately supported as reality.

review 2--a different kind of christian

Chapter 3 is short, but pretty full. It consist mostly of a few of Dan's journal entries between meetings with Neo.

In the first entry, we have Dan musing about how "all of our theologies (at least, all of our Roman Catholic and Protestant ones) are basically modern, having been created in a modern world". He acknowledges that those in those traditions would disagree, but still thinks he has a point.

I can't help but think that his claims are a bit of a reach, even granting that being 'modern' necessarily means being 'wrong' (which I don't). I cannot say much about his claims concerning Catholicism, being an outsider to their thoughts, but I can say a bit about what he says concerning Protestantism, "But can't we agee that the way they read the Bible, the way they feel the need to put a sola in front of scriptura, the way they follow the New Testament may possibly themselves be modern ways?"

For one thing, this is all vague, except maybe for the the sola scripture part. Here is a definition of sola scriptura from Wikipedia, "Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, "by scripture alone") is the assertion that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine."

I guess I would ask what is necessarily 'modern' about this? Looking at the list of modern-era characteristics, what ones would this fit under? I suppose it could be analytical, either in itself or a product of analysis. But then, I don't think that analysis is something that can be put only in the modern era. It isn't secular at all. It may be about control, but only in the sense in which the creeds, some of which predate it by centuries, are about control. It would be about criticism in the same ways. I suppose it is Protestant, but that is because it is one thing that defines Protestantism.

So, I do not think that I am forced to agree with Dan (or by extention, Mclaren) that sola scriptura is a 'modern' concept that should be open to being discarded. I would say that one must look that scriptural support for the idea to determine if it is sound or not. Which leads to what I would contend should be the main questions--not if something is modern or postmodern, but if it is scriptural or not.

Dan's second entry is rather convoluted. That's not a criticism. He does try to remind himself that modernism is not bad and postmoderism good, but when it comes to trying to make judgments about postmodern thought, he does say that it may be centuries from now when we'll be able to truly see the fatal flaws of postmodernism.

I have to wonder--can we allow ourselves such a lax attitude? If the understanding of Scripture is of the first importance, then can we really wait for several more generations before we can correctly critique a mode of thinking that is already making reality claims?

He says it isn't about good vs. bad, but appropriate vs. inappropriate, but then also wonders if that is all, with the idea that he may be "underemphasizing the ways that modernity twisted and deformed the Christian message". But again we are not given any insight into what these twistings and deformings may be, nor has he seemed to (yet) ask if postmodernism may be twisting and deforming the Christian message. There seems to be an assumption that modernity did the twisting and deforming and the postmodernity is doing the straightening.

Which leads back to the appropriate vs. inappropraite thing. He appeals to Paul's statement that he has 'become all things to all people', so as to win some. I suppose it may be said that even those 'all things' Paul became had its limits--I doubt that Paul became a thief in order to win theives, or a sexual pervert in order to win the sexual perverts of his age. I would contend that in becoming those 'all things', Paul first had to determine if those things were first good things, or not. In order to determine appropriate vs. inappropriate, we must first determine good vs. bad. Only when something has been determined to be good, can we ask if it is appropriate.

The next entry has to do with how Dan claims we think of the statement "God is in control". He says that we see it in a mechanistic way, and that this is a modern way of see it, not how the people of biblical times did.

It's not a completely incorrect idea, but it depends on if we really see God's control in only mechanistic ways. Perhaps there are people who do, or have at least used mechanistic analogies, like the watch and watchmaker, to help explain God's control. My own experiences may be different from Mclarens, but I have never had a mechanistic-only view of God's control. I have been taught that God is King, Lord, ruler of heaven and earth. In that sense, even if I have never been under an earthly monarch, I think that my perceptions of God's control are more like Dan says that of those in ancient times was, even if my understanding of it is in a sense second-hand, unlike theirs.

This is getting long, so I'll end this entry here.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

book review, part 1--a different kind of christian

These reviews are to a large degree an experiment. I'm not sure how they will work out, or even if they will. They will be about things that interest me, so I can't say for certain how they might or might not interest anyone else. I had thought at first to do them as a chapter-by-chapter thing, but I don't think that will work out well for many books. So I'll probably do it more in that sense of what I've read thus far. In that sense, I guess calling it a 'review' may not be completely accurate, but for the moment no better word comes to mind.

Also, it may not be a very linear thing. For one thing, I'll probably to looking at a lot of books from libraries, so there is the time limitation (don't like overdue fees). I may be reading more then one book at a time, too. I'll try not to let things get too confusing.

This first book will be "A New Kind of Christian", by Brian Mclaren. It's not a completely new read, as I read some parts of it a few months back. The book is set up more in a story fashion, even as a dialogue as one might find with Plato, then as a normal teaching book. The good and bad of that could be debated, but it's only secondary, I think.

The book opens with the disillusioned pastor, Dan, contemplating leaving the ministry. In the first chapter, he meets Neo, the Jamaican high school science teacher, and some early levels of friendship begin in the second chapter.

There is always a risk when trying to 'read things' into a writer. What is to be made, for example, with the fact the our white pastor Dan is being taught throughout the book by the black Jamaican teacher/former pastor Neo? Also, the book was published in 2001, so does Mclaren expect us to make the connections between Neo the Jamaican teacher and Neo the hero of the movie "The Matrix"? And how big of a connection is there? Given that the word 'neo' means 'new', and that the book is about a new kind of Christian, is Neo being set up as the prototype of this 'new' Christian, or something else?

I really cannot help but think that the use of the name "Neo" was not an accident. In a sense, it's an almost Bunyan-like thing for him to do, and it borders on being cheesy. Nor can I think that the racial makeup of the two men is accidental, though I suppose it should be pointed out that Mclaren himself is closer to being a Dan then a Neo. One should keep in mind, then, that the fictional Neo is giving the opinions of a white guy, though Mclaren's sources may themselves be of other races.

The second chapter gets into the real beginnings of the book's points. The two men meet at coffee shop, and as they talk Neo gives a history lesson, in which he contends that an age called the Modern is ending or has ended and an age called the Postmodern has begun or is beginning. He claims that Dan's main problem is that he is a Modern person in a Postmodern world.

Neo gives some characteristic of what he calls the Modern age, or modernity. He says that modernity was a time of --conquest and control, the machine, analysis, secular science, objectivity, criticism, modern nation-state and organization, individualism, Protestantism and institutional religion, and consumerism. He says that the Postmodern age, or postmodernity, is simply that we have gotten past those things, we are post-(insert modern characteristic here). Yet outside of that, postmodernity isn't really defined, and Neo even says that trying to define it may be premature.

It should be pointed out that Mclaren does say that describing modernity by the characteristics he lists is "a gross simplification", and that he is "painting with very broad strokes". Acknowledging that, we must still assume that he considers those characteristics (hormones as he calls them in the book) to be true, so we can deal with them as his real thoughts.

And one thing that struck me the first time I read that was simply this, that few if any of them could be considered as characteristics of only that age. One can find plenty of pre-modern examples of conquest and control, analysis, criticism, institutional religion, and even consumerism. Protestantism may be a characteristic of that age only, but such is because of the Reformation. The machine is iffy, as I think that has more to do with technological advances then with people of the past not using what machines they had. Secular science could also be another that may be safely relegated to modernity, at least as a recent phenomena. Still, conquest and control go back almost as far a history itself, as do religions that would be considered institutional in their cultures. Consumerism is simply a fancified word for greed. I think few moderns could be thought to have taken analysis as far as such Greeks as the Pythagorians, or criticism as some of the Greek philosophers and playwrights.

Nor am I so certain that postmodernsim can really be considered a post-any of it. I don't think we have gotten passed, or even begun to get passed, conquest and control--the only difference may be that the postmodern 'weapons' will be different then before. The weapons of the present time are such things as emotional appeals, misinformation, bias in media, silencing and marginalizing of those who disagree, labeling, and even legislation. The machine and technological advances are not going away, unless something incredibly drastic happens. If anything, postmodern will increase individualism, rather then lessen it. Perhaps analysis and objectivity will be casualties, but I even doubt that, as Mclaren's book itself is filled with analysis and even a few objective claims of its own.

If you've noticed so far, I haven't said anything about religious matters. They have been in the book, so please keep in mind that I'm not putting all of what is in the book in these reviews. But also, so far what is being written about is mainly a groundwork, which while not without fault, is still what the book builds on. The changes Neo claims to see are very much philosophical and cultural, and his claim is that they effect also religious and Christian thought and faith.